The Healing Action of the Church

Rom. 7:24.---' O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?'

So long as the world lasts this tragic experience of heart and conscience will be known and the Church of Christ will claim the power to cure, for if its gospel is not in action here, at that very point, in those lowest depths, where men and women need it most, it would be vain to look for it elsewhere. And in that healing action help will doubtless be gained from modern physiological discoveries, as more is learnt of the workings of the mind and will, and of the effects upon them of the sufferings which they experience. Surer will be the Church's grasp on all that may be needed to bring the broken will into touch with the healing and creative powers of Christ. And the old gospel of the grace of God who forgives our sins will become more intelligible and powerful when it is possible to read more clearly the mind of the sick man who needs the physician.

Let us consider two facts which stand out from this cry of the Apostle's---in the first place, the light that shines through its darkness, and, secondly, the responsibility that it throws upon others.

This cry of tormented conscience is not simply a cry of gloom, but from the gloom there bursts a passionate longing for deliverance, and while that longing lasts there is hope. He who wishes to be free has the possibility of freedom. It is the conscience complying passively that is in the deadliest danger; it is the giving up of the fight that means the passing of hope; it is when the deep inward protest against evil ceases that the wound has sunk almost too deep for a cure. 'Quench not the Spirit,' said St. Paul, and though it was of something else that he thought, we may apply his command to that voice of conscience which means, if anything means, that the Spirit moves and works within us.

And that longing for deliverance bears witness that the world is so made that deliverance is possible, that conscience does not mock us. Anyone who can say, as says the Apostle in the next verse, 'I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord,' knows that that very misery of his was God's opportunity. Nothing is more distinctive of Christianity, of the gospel, than its claim and power to answer this desperate cry, 'Who shall deliver me?' And if ever that other saying of St. Paul, 'For the word of the cross is, unto us which are being saved, the power of God,' which was for him the fullest and most compelling note of his evangel, could find no echo in Christian experience, then we could close our churches, and never again allow their myriad memories descending upon us from the past to deceive us into supposing that they still mediated the life which is life indeed.

But the cry is not only light through darkness, not only a witness to hope, but a trumpet-call to the Church and to all Christian people to take up the burden of a common human responsibility. For that cry is a cry for help which only God indeed can give, but which again and again He gives through men. There are more ways than one in which that cry can be met, but first it must be heard and recognized for what it is. Not always are our ears open to that deep cry which rises from our brother's soul. This power of hearing those cries of need was one of the most blessed characteristics of our Lord's Humanity displayed before us in the gospel story. Think how again and again He says the word which shows that He knew the need of each longing soul. To the paralytic he says first---not Rise, take up thy bed, but---Thy sins are forgiven thee. Or that woman of the city who was a sinner He speaks the assuring word which brings to her soul the certainty of her cleansing from the stains of her past life. To Zacchaeus, seeking freedom from love of money, anxious to make amends for any wrongful exaction, He gives the great pledge of restored health of soul---'This day is salvation come to this house'---and seals that pledge by His own presence under the tax-gatherer's roof, and the willing enjoyment of his hospitality. And then the multitudes besides---those publicans and sinners unknown and unnumbered, those lost sheep upon the mountains---what was it that drew them to Him? Was it not this, at least, that He understood because He saw and heard all the burden of their souls? Because He could help, they found in Him what they found nowhere else, the sympathy and the power which alone could minister to their needs.

And now he calls His Church to see and to help, for always there are souls that cannot express their needs till others find them out and enable them to speak. The help which He calls upon us to give makes its way not only through prescribed and long-proved channels. We would not for a moment under-value such historic ways, ratified as they are in the repeated and abiding experience of Christian life. Through the preaching of the gospel comes the knowledge of the forgiveness of sins. In the gracious messages of the New Testament He is made known to us who is ever beforehand with us in the mercy which runs to meet us, and embraces us, while we are yet a long way off. All these are ways well tried, trodden by the heavenward footsteps of countless pilgrims, as true and firm today as ever. But the stricken conscience may need the insight and sympathy of the understanding heart before it can begin to respond to the gospel. How little we often think of word or tone or look! They may seem to go out into the void, to go from us---as the old Greeks would say---unwinged; and yet it is just because they do go unwinged that they fail in what they have the power to do, for by tone or look or word we can reach the hearts of others far more often than we know. This does not mean that we should always be consciously thinking of it; that would be to run the risk of lapsing into an unnatural and quite unchristian pedantry and self righteousness; but we, as Christian men and women, must walk through life with our ears open to hear the cry which at any moment may smite upon them and enter them, if open they be---the cry that may be expressed in many a different way, the cry which always means one thing, 'O wretched man that I am who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' Our ears must be open to hear, our mind prepared to understand, our heart enlarged to feel, our w! ill prompt to help. The great fight for good is not an individual fight; it is a soldier's battle, where each may help his neighbor. There Jesus may be our example; there we may follow the steps of His most holy life.

In Christ, timothy. maranatha