and a woman there had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was hunched over and could not stand up straight.
I. OUR LORD'S OPPORTUNITY, and the use he made of it.
1. He found this in the presence of human infirmity. There he saw a woman who had been afflicted in body for eighteen years; she was "bowed together," etc. Not only was she subject to very considerable privation, but, as one whose figure was uncomely, she was exposed to the ridicule of the flippant and the heartless; and this without break for a very large proportion of human life. Here was a most fitting object of tender pity and, if the way were clear, of Divine help.
2. We mark the ready manifestation of his sympathy. lie instantly spoke to her words of cheer and kindliness, awakening such hopes as she had not cherished for many a long year; and then he laid upon her a healing touch: "he laid his hands on her." It means much when God "lays his hand upon us." It meant everything to this woman with the new hope in her heart, that this kind, strong Prophet laid his hand of love and power upon her person; then she felt how near he had come to her, how close at hand was the delivering hour.
3. Then came the exercise of his benignant power. A great as well as a good work was wrought.
(1) The injury by long disease was undone in a single moment; the rigidity of eighteen years was "immediately" relaxed (see Acts 4:22).
(2) The great Healer raised to the full stature and to the dignity and capacity of perfect womanhood one who had been helplessly and hopelessly disfigured and crippled.
(3) And he called forth from her, and from all who witnessed his work, reverent and grateful joy; she and they rejoiced and glorified God.
II. OUR OWN OPPORTUNITY.
1. The presence of human wrong, and its manifold consequences. Around us are ignorance, unbelief, vice, crime, sin; around us, therefore, are poverty, want, suffering, shame, degradation, death. No man who has an open eye for the condition of his kind can fail to see, day by day, some pitiful object that may well excite his deepest and tenderest compassion - men and women, all too many, whom sin has "bowed down," and who can "in no wise lift themselves up."
2. The manifestation of our sympathy. And how shall we show our feeling of regret and of desire?
(1) By our voice; by speaking the kind, true, enlightening, hope-giving word.
(2) By our touch; we shall not succeed without this. To take a man by the hand, or to lay a brotherly hand upon his shoulder, is to come into healing contact with him. It is to "come near" to the one we are seeking to bless; it is to give him the sense that, instead of "standing aloof," we feel and own and claim our brotherhood with him; it is to stand on the same level with him - the level of our common humanity, our erring, striving, suffering, aspiring humanity; it is to be where the healing and restoring power can be exercised and received.
3. The result of our healing touch. We exert the influence that elevates. The first result is enlightenment concerning himself; then faith in a Divine Saviour; then uprightness of character and erectness of spirit. The man is "made straight." He is no longer bowed down in spiritual bondage, with eyes directed to the earth; he stands erect in spiritual freedom, in purity of heart, in a large and blessed hopefulness; he has attained, through the influence of Christian love, a noble elevation; henceforth he will walk in the way of life, with all true dignity, in all gladness of soul, giving glory to the great Healer. - C.
A woman, which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen yearsI. Observe one thing at the outset: HOW MANY ANONYMOUS BELIEVERS THERE ARE IN THE BIBLE RECORD WHO GIVE HELP ALL ALONG THE AGES. Put alongside of this story the account previously given of the man healed of leprosy, and the other man at the same time cured of palsy. Of this last we have precisely the same record — "And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God." In close connection with these cases there are mentioned "multitudes," but no personal particulars are furnished. The pages of God's Word are crowded with such incidents. The woman of Samaria, the man of God that came to Eli, the lad who gave his bread and fishes at Tiberias — all these have had a mention, but nothing more to identify them in the inspired annals. It is really of little consequence who we are; it matters more what we are.
II. Observe, in the second place, THAT EVEN IN EXTREME HOPELESSNESS OF DISEASE ONE MAY EXHIBIT A SUPREME AND ILLUSTRIOUS FAITH. This woman was evidently in a most deplorable condition; she was actually doubled up with deformity. When a believer is smitten terribly, he is not always just in the mood to be reasonable. Every nerve is quivering with agony; he cannot see the wisdom nor the fairness of its infliction. The more common danger for a Christian under trial is that he shall sink into a state of stupor, of listlessness, or despair. A great numbness settles upon the soul. There are pains which lie a great distance lower than the bottom of the grave. The poet Cowper, tearing out a leaf from his own awful experience, says, "There are as truly things which it is not lawful for man to utter as those were which Paul heard and saw in the third heaven; if the ladder of Christian life reaches, as I suppose it does, to the very presence of God, it nevertheless has its foot in the very abyss." Now against both of these baleful postures of mind, the passionate and the listless, does this thought of preaching the gospel from a pulpit of patient suffering for the great glory of God array itself. It is wise to keep in mind the fact that souls may be won to the Cross by a life on a sick-bed just as well as by a life in a cathedral desk. Pure submission is as good as going on a foreign mission.
III. Right here, therefore, observe, in the third place, AN EXPLANATION IS OFFERED OF THE MYSTERY AND THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING. Pain is a sort of ordination to the Christian ministry. It furnishes a true believer with a new pulpit to preach from. A wise man will do better to learn this lesson early. I am anxious now to bring this thought close to our own minds and hearts at once. In the rooms of the American Tract Society, in New York, were until lately standing two objects which I studied for some meditative years, once a month, at a committee meeting. One is a slight framework of tough wood, a few feet high, so bound together with hasps and hinges as to be taken down and folded in the hand. This was Whitefield's travelling-pulpit; the one he used when, denied access to the churches, he harangued the thousands in the open air, on the moors of England. You will think of this modern apostle, lifted up upon the small platform, with the throngs of eager people around him; or hurrying from one field to another, bearing his Bible in his arms; ever on the move, toiling with herculean energy, and a force like that of a giant. There, in that rude pulpit, is the symbol of all which is active and fiery in dauntless Christian zeal. But now look-again: in the centre of this framework, resting upon "the slender platform where the living preacher used to stand, you will see a chair — a plain, straight-backed, armed, cottage-chair; rough, simple, meagrely cushioned, unvarnished, and stiff. It was the seat in which Elizabeth Wallbridge, "the dairyman's daughter," sat and coughed and whispered, and from which she went only at her last hour to the couch on which she died. Here again is a pulpit; and it is the symbol of a life quiet and unromantic and hard in all Christian endurance. Every word that invalid woman uttered — every patient night she suffered — was a gospel sermon. In a hundred languages the life of that servant of God has preached to millions of souls the riches of Christ's glory and grace. And of these two pulpits, which is the most honourable is known only to God, who undoubtedly accepted and consecrated them both. The one is suggestive of the ministry of speech, the other of the ministry of submission.
IV. Hence, WE MAY EASILY LEARN WHAT MIGHT BE ONE OF THE MOST PROFITABLE OCCUPATIONS OF A CHRONIC INVALID. NO one can preach from any pulpit without the proper measure of study. Sick people are always in danger of becoming egotistic and selfish, and the best relief from that is for each child of God to busy himself in labouring for others' salvation. Said the intelligent Doddridge, even while he was lingering in the last hours of his life, "My soul is vigorous and healthy, notwithstanding the hastening decay of- this frail and tottering body; it is not for the love of sunshine or the variety of meats that I desire life, but, if it please God, that I may render Him a little more service." Such a purpose as this will lead a Christian to thoughtful examination of what will make his efforts most pertinent. He will study doctrine. He will study experience too.
V. SOME PEOPLE RECOVER FROM LONG ILLNESS; CHRIST HEALS THEM, AS HE DID THESE MEN IN THE STORY. SO there is one more lesson for convalescents — what are they going to do with their lives hereafter?
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)I. Our first subject for consideration is, THE BOWING DOWN OF THE AFFLICTED. We read of this woman that "she had a spirit of infirmity and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself."
1. Upon which we remark — first, that she had lost all her natural brightness. Alas, we know certain of the children of God who are at this moment in much the same condition. They are perpetually bowed down, and though they recollect happier days the memory only serves to deepen their present gloom.
2. This poor woman was bowed towards herself and towards that which was depressing. She seemed to grow downwards; her life was stooping; she bent lower and lower, as the weight of years pressed upon her. Her looks were all earthward, nothing heavenly, nothing bright could come before her eyes; her views were narrowed to the dust, and to the grave. So are there some of God's people whose thoughts sink evermore like lead, and their feelings run in a deep groove, cutting evermore a lower channel. You cannot give them delight, but you can readily cause them alarm. "All these things are against me," say they, for they can see nothing but the earth, and can imagine nothing but fear and distress. We have known certain prudent, but somewhat unfeeling, persons blame these people, and chide them for being low-spirited; and that brings us to notice next-
3. That she could not lift up herself. There was no use in blaming her. Of what use is it to advise a blind person to see, or to tell one who cannot lift up herself that she ought to be upright, and should not look so much upon the earth? This is a needless increase of misery. Some persons who pretend to be comforters might more fitly be classed with tormentors, her spiritual infirmity is as real as a physical one.
4. Note further about this poor woman, that bowed down as she was both in mind and body, she yet frequented the house of prayer. Our Lord was in the synagogue, and there was she.
II. I invite you, secondly, to notice THE HAND OF SATAN IS THIS BONDAGE. We should not have known it if our Lord had not told us, that it was Satan who had bound this poor woman for eighteen years.
1. He must have bound her very cunningly to make the knot hold all that time, for he does not appear to have possessed her. You notice in reading the evangelists that our Lord never laid his hand on a person possessed with a devil. Satan had not possessed her, but he had fallen upon her once upon a time eighteen years before, and bound her up as men tie a beast in its stable, and she had not been able to get free all that while. The devil can tie in a moment a knot which you and I cannot unloose in eighteen years.
2. Satan had bound the woman to herself and to the earth. There is a cruel way of tying a beast which is somewhat after the same fashion. I have seen a poor animal's head fastened to its knee or foot, and somewhat after that fashion Satan had bound the woman downward to herself. So there are some children of God whose thoughts are all about themselves; they have turned their eyes so that they look inside and see only the transactions of the little world within themselves. They are always lamenting their own infirmities, always mourning their own corruptions, always watching their own emotions. The one and only subject of their thoughts is their own condition. If they ever change the scene and turn to another subject it is only to gaze upon the earth beneath them, to groan over this poor world with its sorrows, its miseries, its sins, and its disappointments. Thus they are tied to themselves and to the earth, and cannot look up to Christ as they should, nor let the sunlight of His love shine full upon them.
3. This poor woman was restrained from what her soul needed. She was like an ass or an ox which cannot get to the trough to drink. She knew the promises, she heard them read every Sabbath day; she went to the synagogue and heard of Him who comes to loose the captives; but she could not rejoice in the promise or enter into liberty. So are there multitudes of God's people who are fastened to themselves and cannot get to watering, cannot drink from the river of life, nor find consolation in the Scriptures. They know how precious the gospel is, and how consolatory are the blessings of the covenant, but they cannot enjoy the consolations or the blessings. Oh that they could! They sigh and cry, but they feel themselves to be bound.
4. There is a saving clause here. Satan had done a good deal to the poor woman, but he had done all he could do. He can smite, but he cannot slay. The devil may bind you fast, but Christ has bound you faster still with cords of everlasting love, which must and shall hold you to the end. That poor woman was being prepared, even by the agency of the devil, to glorify God.
III. I want you to notice in the third place THE LIBERATOR AT HIS WORK. We have seen the woman bound by the devil, but here comes the Liberator, and the first thing we read of Him is that —
1. He saw her. His eyes looked round, reading every heart as He glanced from one to another. At last He saw the woman. Yes, that was the very one He was seeking. We are not to think that He saw her in the same common way as I see one of you, but He read every line of her character and history, every thought of her heart, every desire of her soul.
2. When He had gazed upon her, He called her to Him. Did He know her name? Oh, yes, He knows all our names, and His calling is therefore personal and unmistakable.
3. When the woman came, the great Liberator said to her, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity." How could that be true? She was still as bent as she was before. He meant that the spell of Satan was taken off from her, that the power which had made her thus to bow herself was broken.
4. Our Lord proceeded to give her full enlargement in His own way: He laid His hands on her. She suffered from want of strength, and by putting His hands upon her, I conceive that the Lord poured His life into her. The warm stream of His own infinite power and vitality came into contact with the lethargic stream of her painful existence, and so quickened it that she lifted up herself. The deed of love was done: Jesus Himself had done it.
IV. I will not linger there, but invite you now to notice THE LOOSING OF THE BOUND.
1. She was made straight we are told, and that at once. Now, what I want you to notice is this, that she must have lifted herself up — that was her own act and deed. No pressure or force was put upon her, she lifted up herself; and yet she was "made straight." She was passive in so much as a miracle was wrought upon her, but she was active too, and, being enabled, she lifted up herself. What a wonderful meeting there is here of the active and the passive in the salvation of men.
2. The most remarkable fact is that she was made straight immediately; for there was something beyond her infirmity to be overcome. Suppose that any person had been diseased of the spine, or of the nerves and muscles for eighteen years, even if the disease which occasioned his being deformed could be entirely removed, what would be the effect? Why, that the result of the disease would still remain, for the body would have become set through long continuance in one posture. But this woman was cured entirely, instantaneously, by the power of the Lord.
3. The cure being thus perfect, up rose the woman to glorify God. What did she say? It is not recorded, but we can well imagine. It was something like this: "I have been eighteen years in and out among you; you have seen me, and know what a poor, miserable, wretched object I was; but God has lifted me up all in a moment. Blessed be His name, I have been made straight." What she spoke with her mouth was not half of what she expressed. No reporter could have taken it down; she spoke with her eyes, she spoke with her hands, she spoke with every limb of her body.
V. Fifthly, let us reflect upon our REASON FOR EXPECTING THE LORD JESUS TO DO THE SAME THING TO-DAY as he did eighteen hundred years and more ago. What was His reason for setting this woman free?
1. According to His own statement it was, first of all, human kindness. Tried soul, wouldst thou not loose an ox or an ass if thou sawest it suffering? "Ay," sayest thou. And dost thou think the Lord will not loose thee? Hast thou more bowels of mercy than the Christ of God?
2. More than that, there was special relationship. He tells this master of the synagogue that a man would loose his ox or his ass. Perhaps he might not think it his business to go and loose that which belonged to another man, but it is his own ass, his own ox, and he will loose him, And dost thou think, dear heart, that the Lord Jesus will not loose thee He bought thee with His blood, His Father gave thee to Him, He has loved thee with an everlasting love: will He not loose thee?
3. Next, there was a point of antagonism which moved the Saviour to act promptly. He says, "This woman being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound." Now, if I knew the devil had tied anything up I am sure I would try to unloose it, would not you? We may be sure some mischief is brewing when the devil is working, and, therefore, it must be a good deed to undo his work. But Jesus Christ came into the world on purpose to destroy the works of the devil; and so, when He saw the woman like a tied-up ox, He said, "I will unloose her if for nothing else that I may undo what the devil has done."
4. Then think of her sorrowful condition. An ox or an ass tied up to the manger without water would soon be in a very sad plight. Pity it, poor thing. Hear the lowing of the ox, as hour after hour its thirst tells upon it. Would you not pity it? And do you think the Lord does not pity his poor, tried, tempted, afflicted children? Those tears, shall they fall for nothing? Those sleepless nights, shall they be disregarded? That broken heart which fain would but cannot believe the promise, shall that for ever be denied a hearing? Hath she Lord forgotten to be gracious? Hath He in anger shut up the bowels of His mercy? Ah, no, He will remember thy sorrowful estate and hear thy groanings, for He puts thy tears into His bottle.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)I. Our first reflection, as we look at this brief narrative, is that it furnishes us, on the part of the woman, with an illustration of ATTACHMENT TO THE PUBLIC WORSHIP OF GOD. A characteristic of devout and earnest religion in all ages. Public worship bears on it the stamp of Divine approval. See you neglect it not.
II. Our second reflection is, that the text supplies an illustration of THE COMPASSION AND POWER OF JESUS CHRIST. Not only was the woman in the synagogue with her ailments; the Lord was there also with His wondrous grace. He did not neglect external ordinances. Jesus, then, was in this synagogue, and as usual He was on the look-out for some good work to do. He had a quick eye for suffering and sorrow. No sooner did He see this woman, than He healed her. What power, and what compassion! He exercises the same today. Earth has no sorrow that He cannot heal. And besides curing diseases, He can heal sins.
III. I observe, next, that the text supplies an illustration of THE BLESSED ADVANTAGES OF BEING FOUND IN THE WAY OF DUTY. TO the synagogue, at the time of worship, this woman went. Likely enough she was tempted to absent herself for one reason or another, just as we are tempted now; but she refused to listen to the temptation. She chose the better part of obeying .God's law, and in doing so she was blessed beyond all expectation or hope. Little did she think, when she left home, what mercy was in store for her. Had she stayed in the house, or gone to see her friends, or been anywhere but where she was, she would have missed it all. So may we always, when in the way of duty, expect a blessing.
IV. I remark, once more, that the text supplies an illustration of THE GRATITUDE OF A HEART ALIVE TO THE BLESSING BESTOWED ON IT. As soon as the woman was made straight, she "glorified God." Even if she had never spoken a word, she would have been a monument to the Divine praise. Sun and moon and stars, as they shine in the heavens, declare the glory of God. All great productions glorify their author. So this healed woman glorified her Healer. And not only so, but also audibly, there and then, before all.
(W. Walters.)I. THE STATE OF THE WOMAN. Diseased in an extraordinary degree, and for a very long period.
II. THE CHANGE PRODUCED BY THE POWER OF JESUS. This case presented no difficulty to Him. Yet, to new-model the diseased frame, to make straight what was crooked, to relax what had been rigid for many years, required a power as great as that of creation.
III. THE MEANS EMPLOYED. He used no resources of art, no remedies whatever; He even employed no means to astonish or surprise; He made no display of His power. He said nothing of the violence or inveteracy of the disorder; nothing to influence the imagination either of the woman herself or of the spectators. Conscious of possessing the power of curing all diseases, He exercised it by merely declaring the simple fact that her disorder was removed; while she exhibited the most undeniable proofs of complete restoration, by standing in a firm and erect position.
IV. We have next to observe THE IMPRESSION PRODUCED BY THIS MIRACLE, first, on the woman, and then upon the ruler of the synagogue.
1. The effect on the woman was highly pleasing. She was delighted with the change which she instantly experienced; and her heart rose in gratitude to God, who alone, she was convinced, could have effected so wonderful a cure.
2. How different was the effect of this miracle on the mind of the ruler of the synagogue! Instead of directing his attention to the display of power, such as he had never witnessed before; instead of thinking of the goodness which had voluntarily removed so distressing a disease from a person so helpless; instead of sympathizing with the unexpected and rapturous happiness of the woman, he thought only of the captious objections which an enemy might raise.
V. We have, lastly, to inquire, WHY THIS MIRACLE WAS DOSE ON THE SABBATH? Our Saviour graciously condescended to reason, and He reasoned, as upon all other occasions, in the clearest and most conclusive manner. His mode of reasoning is always best adapted to the object which He had in view. Here it was sufficient to show, that the ruler of the synagogue, and all other Jews, did actions every Sabbath deliberately and intentionally, which, though humane and unavoidable, were not more so than the relief which He had just conferred upon the unfortunate woman. "Hypocrites;" said He, "who is there among you, that doth not on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And must not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath kept bound these eighteen years, be released from this bond on the Sabbath-day?" Thus our Saviour argues from the practice which they themselves sanctioned, which led to the conclusion that the action He had done was still more laudable, because an act of greater humanity.
(J. Thomson, D. D.)
Expository Outlines.I. THE AFFLICTED WOMAN.
1. The nature of her complaint. Probably her spine was affected, so that she could not stand erect. Such a deformity, while humiliating to all, would be particularly trying to a female.
2. Its duration. A sharp affliction, if short, is much easier borne than a lighter one that is long continued, as in this instance.
II. THE UNEXPECTED CURE SHE RECEIVED.
1. Where she was cured. In the synagogue. In spite of her deformity, she did not absent herself from the sanctuary. Well for her that she did not!
2. The manner in which she was cured. Two things are mentioned.(1) The gracious words which our Saviour uttered. As in the case of the ten lepers, she is declared to be cured before the act was performed. But with Christ, purpose anal accomplishment, willing and doing, are identical. When He speaks, the thing is as good as done; when He commands it is sure to stand fast.(2) The condescending act He performed.
3. How she felt when cured. It is said that "she glorified God," by which is meant that she adored and magnified His holy name for the wonderful deliverance she had experienced. There are many ways in which we are to glorify Him, and this is one of the most important. It might have been supposed that all present would have joined with her in praising God; such, however, was not the case. Other feelings than those of grateful homage and adoration were called forth, which leads us to the next particular, namely —
III. THE REFLECTIONS WHICH HER CURE OCCASIONED. In this, the concluding part of the narrative, we have —
1. The charge.
2. The defence.
3. The result. It is shown in regard to two classes.(1) The ruler and his party. "And when He had said these things all His adversaries were ashamed." They felt that no answer could be given to what Jesus had been saying; they were therefore speechless and confounded.(2) The multitude. "All the people rejoiced." The miracle had been so signal, and the subsequent vindication had been so complete, that they gave unequivocal demonstrations of their gladness and delight. In applying this subject there are three classes to which it more especially speaks.
1. The wretched vassals of sin and Satan. The condition of this poor sufferer may be regarded as emblematic of every individual who is tied and bound with the chains of his iniquities. Let the sinner's cry therefore be, Lord, loose this miserable soul of mine, which Satan hath so long bound in his slavish fetters.
2. Those whose minds are too much enthralled by earthly affections. It was the misfortune of this woman that her eyes were bent downward, but what was her unavoidable calamity is our wilful sin. Our souls cleave to the dust, and we seek, not the things above, but the vain and perishable objects of time and sense. O how important is it that we Should be lifted up from such a grovelling condition, and be liberated, in order thereto, from the thraldom of this present evil world!
3. The downcast and sorrowful.
(G. Dawson, M. A.)
(Henry R. Burton.)
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