On another Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was withered.
This occasion, apparently belonging to the same
sabbath as the incident preceding in our Gospel, of the blame laid ostensibly on the disciples of Christ, really on himself, on account of their plucking the ears of corn on the sabbath day, did really belong, as we learn from the account or' St. Luke, to the following sabbath. The present passage, it may also be observed, is one of those which most fully illustrate the advantage of comparing with one another the accounts of the three synoptic evangelists. There is double or tenfold advantage in doing this when the first comparison seems simply to show variations
, but the task does not come to its end before those very variations are shown to corroborate and to complete the account. Thus, e.g.
, the narratives of St. Mark and St. Luke would at the beginning of them actually seem to proceed on the very showing for part of their efficacy that the enemies of Christ had not
asked Christ in the first instance the question of shallow cleverness only, "Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day?" But the words at the close of St. Luke's account, that Jesus said, "I will ask you
one thing," make all plain and certain. Again, the mention on the part of St. Mark of the righteous "anger" of Christ adds an important touch to the scene, and fills the gap in St. Luke following the words, "And looking round about upon them all;" and find their place in St. Matthew after the word "then" in ver. 13. Notice -
I. THE BARE SHIFTS TO WHICH THE DISPOSITION AND THE WICKED WISH "TO ACCUSE" TEMPT MEN TO RESORT.
II. HOW THE SIMPLEST SUBSTITUTION OF A PLAIN WORD FOR AN AMBIGUOUS WILL BE SUFFICIENT TO CONFOUND ALIKE THE CASE AND THE FACE OF MEN WITH THIS SORT OF EVIL IN THEIR HEART. FOR THE WORD "TO HEAL," JESUS OFFERS THE ALTERNATIVE'S "TO DO GOOD" AND "TO SAVE LIFE," AND THEY HAVE TO BE ACCEPTED. FOR THE SUPPRESSED "NOT TO HEAL" JESUS OFFERS THE ALTERNATIVES "TO DO EVIL" AND "TO KILL." AND THE TRIUMPHANT VICTORY IS HIS, WITHOUT ANOTHER SENTENCE.
III. HOW ALL ENMITY, ALL MALIGNITY, ALL SMALLEST PASSIONS RAGING ROUND ABOUT, AND DEEP JUST ANGER KINDLED IN THE HEART AND LOOK AND WORD OF JESUS, NONE THE LESS LEAVE UNHURT, UNPOISONED, UNTOUCHED, EVEN UNDELAYED, THE FLOWING FORTH OF HIS PITY, MERCY, POWER, AS SAVIOUR, - FOR THE SUFFERER HIMSELF. - B.
And there was a man whose right hand was withered.
The miracle is a picture of sublime moral instruction.
I. THE BEST ENERGIES OF THE SOUL ARE IN A WITHERED CONDITION.
1. Man's intellectual nature withered, and cannot attain to the inner meaning of Divine truth.
2. Man's moral nature withered, and cannot attain to the rich blessings of the gospel.
3. Man's compassionate sympathy withered, and not deeply sensitive to the woe occasioned by moral evil.
4. Hence, seeing that the best energies of man are withered, he cannot render to God the service due to Him.
II. THE WITHERED ENERGIES OF THE HUMAN SOUL ARE CAPABLE OF EFFECTIVE RESTORATION BY CHRIST.
1. We see from this narrative that Christ beholds the withered energies of the human soul with tender compassion.
2. That there is an intimate connection between the word of Christ and the restoration of the withered energies of the soul.
3. That the restoration of the withered energies of the soul is immediate, visible, and complete.
4. That the restoring of the withered energies of the soul can only be accomplished by Christ.
III. THERE ARE MANY INDIVIDUALS WHO HAVE BUT LITTLE SYMPATHY WITH CHRIST IN HIS WORK OF SOUL-RESTORATION.
1. The Pharisees were cunning in their watching of Christ.
2. They were refuted in their contempt of Christ.
3. They were regarded by Christ with mingled feelings of pity and anger.
IV. WHY DID THESE PHARISEES OPPOSE THE BENEFICENT ACT OF CHRIST?
1. Because He did not fall in with their views as to the manner and time of the cure.
2. Because they were too proud in spirit to rejoice at the cure thus wrought.
3. Because they saw not the full meaning and blessing of the cure.
Tyndal writes of his ascent of the Weisshorn: — "There is scarcely a position possible to a human being which at one time or another during the day I was not forced to assume. The fingers, wrist, and forearm were my main reliance, and as a mechanical instrument the human hand appeared to me this day a miracle of constructive art... I opened my note-book to make a few observations, but soon relinquished the attempt. There was something incongruous, if not profane, in allowing the scientific faculty to interfere where silent worship seemed the reasonable service."
With the hand we demand, we promise, we call, dismiss, threaten, entreat, supplicate, deny, refuse, interrogate, admire, reckon, confess, repent; express fear, express shame, express doubt; we instruct, command, unite, encourage, swear, testify, accuse, condemn, acquit, insult, despise, defy, disdain, flatter, applaud, bless, abuse, ridicule, reconcile, recommend, exalt, regale, gladden, complain, afflict, discomfort, discourage, astonish; exclaim, indicate silence and what not I with a variety and multiplication that keep pace with the words spoken by the tongue.
If the man in our text had been a scholar, his thought most likely would have risen up in instant protest against Christ's command. Had he been a physicist, had he in particular been an anatomist, he could hardly have been healed. He would have thought too much. He would instantly have fallen into reasoning upon the utter anatomical and physiological impossibility of a withered hand stretching itself out; and such thinking would have been ruinous. It is here that religion and science break fellowship. Science thinks everything out. Thought is from its very nature surgical; it cuts in pieces. It is analytic, and unjoints and unhinges. Suppose that you are in the presence of a speaker that powerfully affects you. You realize his hand upon you and his mastery over you. This wakes up your inquisitiveness, and puts you upon asking the secret of his power, its elements. Thought begins at once to show how surgical it is; and before the speaker's address is completed you have his oratorical talent accurately and elegantly dissected; such a percentage due to figure, such a percentage to manner, to matter, and the rest. And yet the process of analyzing his power has, so far as relates to you, destroyed his power, and you go home with the pocketed ingredients of his power when you might have gone home with an inspiration. You thought too much and too nicely. And it is remarkable how Christ in His intercourse with His disciples laboured to keep their thoughts quiet. He never provoked argument. He indulges in no definition-making. Hews and wherefores He regularly discouraged. Nicodemus wanted the matter of the rebirth stated analytically. Christ declined. One of the disciples wanted a statement of the methods of the Spirit's operation. Christ declined. One trouble with our thinking powers is that they work at such a level as to create more problems than they solve. They are like a fly caught in a web, whose very struggles and buzzing only draw the tangled skein about it the more imprisoningly. All that saved the man in our story was that he did not stop to think. He pro-seeded as though there were no difficulties; and forthwith for him there were none. The unconverted men in our congregation can see just where this presses. All Christ's commands to you are in the present tense, which means that the command is issued without any allowance of time for comprehending the mysteries of salvation, or for acquiring power to become a saved man. It is simply levelled to the range of the instant; not because thought is not advantageous in some circumstances, but because it is not in point here. The paralytic, with never so much thinking, would never have seen his way clear to do as he was told. Giving ourselves to Christ is not a matter of understanding what we are doing, but a matter of doing; something as when you tell your boy to raise his hand; he does not know how he raises his hand, and you know no more about it than he as regards the physiological intricacies of the act. And if he were to decline raising it until he understood the matter, you would tell him to do it first and understand at his leisure; your command was aimed at his will, and his resort to the intricacies of physiology only a side issue raised to divert your attention from his insubordination. God's commands stand out of all relation to human power to grasp the problems, moral or theological, associated with obedience to those commands. God's commands are like the pole-star, which with swift intuition finds out the magnetic-needle as easily by night-light as by daylight, and beats upon it with relentless compulsion equally in the darkness and the sunshine. They are not a question of can, but a question of will; and with the will once trembling obediently on the verge of action, all needed resource of power is at its instant service. This is another lesson of our text. In the case of the paralytic, God's power came in just after the man's will to stretch forth his hand, and just before the stretching act. As he had the will to do, God furnished him the power to do with, and that made out the miracle. It was pretty much the same thing done divinely as is done humanly when a child goes tottering and clambering up a staircase that is too steep for it, and the parent takes hold of the child's hand liftingly. The child has the will to go up, and the parent puts some of his own strength at the service of that will; and in this way weakness does impossibilities by virtue of superior strength temporarily loaned. This is the incident of the paralytic turned into terms and relations of familiar experience. It is of the utmost necessity that we should feel that this case of the paralytic stands in Scripture to represent the continuous action of God, the continuous miracle of God, if you please, in so lending Himself to us as to match our power to the measure of our holy intents, and so making us able to do that which there is in us a righteous will to do; precisely as in our story Christ evened up the paralytic's power exactly to the level of his willingness. This ought not to disturb us as implying a familiar and presumptuous dependence upon the Divine resources and bounty. It is only doing in the spiritual realm what every man does in a greater or less measure in the physical one. The forces that we call natural, that we use in every foot-tread, in the transportation of every pound of merchandise by wind or by steam, in the carrying of every shuttle and revolution of every spindle, these forces are as truly grounded in God as are the influences that emanate from the Holy Ghost, and that work in us holier purposes and affections of heart. It is from Him that cometh down every good and perfect gift. We are His beneficiaries in everything. It is as much making use of God to unfurl our sail in the draft of the west wind as it is to spread out our unfilled capacities of emotion and action in the draft of a spiritual Pentecost. It is a part of God that He yields Himself in all this rich diversity of ways to piece out man's infirmity. There is no way in which we can so well serve Him as by letting Him serve us in our pursuit of holy ends. Religious ideas get their only value from their fitness to serve as conduits for the conveyance of Divine supply. We have all our city under-]aid with water-mains, but we prize them only because there is water in the reservoir that works down through those mains and presses up into our dwellings. Ideas do not strengthen us any more than the water-pipe refreshes or gas-pipe illuminates. And faith is not conceiving of God as an idea, but it is laying hold upon Him as a power and utilizing Him to the ends of holy living and Christian achieving, in just the same strenuous and practical way in which we lay hold on wind-pressure and steam-power, and let them even our resources up to the level of our secular ambition. If now the Church would link all its energies, all its devout desires as confidingly to the spiritual influences of God as the world links its ambitions to His cosmic energies of earth, sea, and air, hardly are there any results possible to be named that might not be achieved for the glory of God and the saving of men before the dawn of the approaching new century. And then one other lesson that follows on directly from this is the position of enlarged accountability and responsibility in which we are set. It is a common thing for us say that we are responsible for our use of the talents we have; that present power is the measure of accountability. It appears from what we have seen in our story and from the general drift of Scripture in fact, that our responsibility lies all the way around beyond the outer edge of our power and talent. The man in our text was responsible not only for his use of what was in him, but for what, as a result of his faith, he was able to have divinely added to him. All the way through Scripture God was continually commanding men to do more than they in themselves had the means to do, exactly as in our verse. One object of the miracle was to show that by faith we acquire a property in power that to our unfaith lies at an utter remove from us. We need some of the old-time audacity — some Pauline and Petrine presumption, which was audacious, not because it was uncalculating, but just because it was so grandly and discerningly calculating, and calculated not only on its own intrinsic force, but on a magnificent increment of working energy from on high.
()I. Discuss THAT SPIRITUAL POWERLESSNESS, OF WHICH THE WITHERED HAND IS A JUST AND APPROPRIATE SYMBOL, EXPLAINING WHAT IT IS AND WHEREIN IT CONSISTS.
II. I SHALL POINT OUT BRIEFLY WHAT CHRIST REQUIRES TO BE DONE, IN ORDER TO ITS REMOVAL.
1. "There was a man" in the synagogue "whose right hand was withered." Here then are three distinct points to be noticed in our comment.(1) The organ was a hand. The hand, as you know, is the organ of touch. The sense of touch, then, brings us into closer connection with matter than any other sense. If I only saw an object, however steadily it might abide before my eyes, I might imagine it was an unreal vision." "Again, if I hear a sound, I experience" indeed a sensation; but it is not a sensation which irresistibly forces upon me the conclusion that matter exists. So it is with taste, considered in itself and abstractedly from touch, with which, how. ever it is almost always combined. A flavour is a sensation which, if we did not touch the object that excited it, would not irresistibly force upon us the conviction that such an object existed. But touch — the actual handling of any object — does, as I think you will grant, force upon the mind such a conviction. But there are also realities of eternity, permanent and abiding, which will be felt and acknowledged to be realities, when Time and the mortal body have passed away. These realities are the truths of which revelation assures us — the truths, for example (I select a few as specimens out of a great mass) that an all-seeing Eye is about our path and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways — that God is a God who hears and answers prayer — that we must all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ, and receive the things done in the body. Can you be said to grasp, to touch them, to live under the influential conviction of their reality? Weigh now in your mind what must infallibly be the effect upon our character of the doctrine of future judgment and the peril of unrenewed men, if we possessed such an impression of its reality as might fitly be compared to the impressions of things material derived from the sense of touch. His hand was withered. While he had all the other senses complete, he had lost the power of feeling, so far as the chief organ of feeling was concerned. And such is the case with us with regard to the things of the Spirit and the realities of eternity. We can (as it were) see them, hear them, contemplate, gaze upon, attend, give heed to them, but we cannot (by nature) touch them. I feel that herein I am powerless, and I am sure that you must feel the same. My understanding follows along with their evidence, even unto the clearest mental conviction, but an abiding energizing persuasion of their deep reality, this I have not, and, what is more, I am incompetent of myself to produce it; my hand is withered. And until the Lord speaks the word of power, it must remain withered.(2) Our second remark on the case of this poor man was, that not both his hands were withered, but the better and more serviceable of the two. He could handle and feel to a certain extent, but it was only with his left hand. By what has already been said, it will have appeared that the spiritual faculty, corresponding to the bodily faculty of touch, is faith. Faith it is which realizes things eternal. And from the study of it we learn that this principle of faith does operate and energize, to a certain extent, even in those who are unrenewed in the spirit of their minds. And such most assuredly is the case. So far as his mere temporal interests are concerned, unrenewed man is no stranger to the occasional workings — nay, no stranger to the continuous life, of faith. Let us cast our eyes around us, and this will become sufficiently and incontrovertibly evident. Here is a man laying up for his family, or for himself in old age, subjecting himself to much self-denial, imposing upon himself many restrictions — with the view of meeting and providing against the future but foreseen emergency of his own death, or the natural decay of his faculties. And all such provision testifies to the existence of faith, testifies to the existence and operations of a faculty, which realizes things unseen, and what is this but faith? Alas! that when faith approaches the realities of eternity, the solid truths of revelation, and endeavours to realize them, it finds its powers shattered as to their highest and noblest exercise l The man's right hand is withered; he knows, indeed, still, what the sensation of touch is, for he can touch bubbles and toys and trifles, but anything weighty, anything of real substance and worth, he is incompetent to handle. He exercises just enough of the faculty to be aware how powerful it would be, if brought to bear on Divine verities, and to desire that it might be so brought to bear. But this is all. He can do no more, until God visit him in power. When our range of eyesight is for the first time enlarged by the telescope, it is no wonder if we run away hastily with the impression that we have gained a now sense. Such, however, is not the case; it is as the renewal of a withered hand, an old sense made competent to gather things.(3) A third point to be noticed in this man's state is the mode in which the organ was affected. The man originally had the use of the organ — it was the design of nature that he should use it — but disease had thwarted this design. The organ, however, remained still, though it hung powerless by the man's side. It was not cut off — not abolished. Brethren, in so far as man has no power of realizing things eternal, and the Divine verities of which Revelation assures him, he is an imperfect, a fallen being. This lamentable defect is a deviation, a deflection from the original image in which he was created. You know how influentially conversant man's body is with matter, with outward nature. I cannot stir, I cannot lift up my eyes, I cannot walk abroad without a continual influx of impressions from matter. Suppose, now, that my spirit were equally susceptible of impressions from the realities of eternity, that in its every motion it was swayed and influenced by these realities, that it received impulses from the invisible at every turn, this surely would be little less than complete renewal of my nature. It would be the recovery of me from my acquired infirmity, the restoration to health and vigour of the withered limb. And, oh 1 brethren, in every soul of man there exists a capability of such a restoration. No one is disqualified for recovery. In all there is the organ; if life can but be infused into it from above, all will be well.
II. But I hasten on to point out briefly WHAT CHRIST REQUIRES US TO DO, IN ORDER TO THE REMOVAL OF THIS INFIRMITY. We have said that He alone is competent to this removal — that man is utterly helpless and powerless in the work of his restoration. Brethren, God demands exertion and energy on our parts before He will consent to put forth that healing power, which alone can recover us from our soul's infirmity. He bids us act as recovered men, ere yet we be recovered, and only in our sincerely striving so to act, will He visit and bless us. And if there be one holy exercise rather than another to which I must give myself, it is that of prayer. The Lord only can restore me. Shall I not apply to Him for restoration?
()A paper was recently read before the German Asiatic Society of Japan on the magic mirror of Japan. It really possesses no magical quality, but, owing to the peculiarity of its structure, the reflection of the sun from the mirror OH the wall or ceiling reveals the figures or letters written on the back of the mirror. Thus the deepest secrets, the hidden thoughts, the hidden purposes of the heart are brought out by the light God turns upon us, and will turn upon us. What is written out of sight in our spirits shall be written by a sunbeam on the wall.See yonder poor wretches whose ship has gone down at sea, they have constructed a poor tottering raft, and have been swimming on it for days; their supply of bread and water is exhausted, and they are famishing, they have bound a handkerchief to a pole and hoisted it, and a vessel is within sight. The captain of the ship takes his telescope, looks at the object, and knows that it is a shipwrecked crew. "Oh!" says he to his men, "we are in a hurry with our cargo, we cannot stop to look after an unknown object; it may be somebody perishing, and it may not be, but however, it is not our business," and he keeps on his course. His neglect has murdered those who died on the raft.
()To save a limb is a great thing. A poor young man was in a hospital who had crushed his arm at his work. The doctor said there was no help for it; his arm must be cut off or he must die. But the young man could not bear the thought of losing his arm, and said he would rather die first. But the lady at the head of the hospital did all she could to heal the young man's arm. She dressed it carefully, she watched night and day, and did whatever she could to keep up the young man's strength. And at last the arm was saved. The young man became quite well, and used to call that arm her arm, because she had been the means of saving it. It is a great thing to save a limb, but to save a soul is far greater.
()My sister got her arm put out of joint. The neighbours of the country place came in, and they tried to put that arm in its place, and they laid hold and pulled mightily; they pulled until she was in anguish, but the bone did not go back to its place. After a while the surgeon came, and with one touch everything was adjusted. So we go out for Christian work, and for the lack of a sympathetic nature, or the lack of this gentleness of Christ, we make the wounds of the world worse, when some kind and gentle spirit comes along after us, and by one touch heals the torn ligaments, and the disturbing bones are rejoined.
()A Sunday-school teacher, when teaching his class on one occasion, left his seat and went round among his scholars with his watch in his hand. Holding it out to the first child, he said, "I give you that watch." The boy stared at it and stood still. The teacher then went to the next and repeated — "I give you that watch." The boy blushed, but that was all. One by one the teacher repeated the words and the action to each. Some stared, some blushed, some smiled incredulously, but none took the watch. But when he came nearly to the bottom of the class a small boy put out his hand and took the watch which the teacher handed to him. As the latter returned to his seat, the little fellow said gently, " Then, if you please, sir, the watch is mine?" "Yes, it is yours." The elder boys were fairly roused by this time. "Do you mean to say, sir, that he may keep the watch?" "Certainly; I gave it to any boy who would have it." "Oh, if I had known that," exclaimed one of them, "I would have taken it." "Did I not tell you I gave it to you?" "Oh, yes; but I did not believe you were in earnest." "So much the worse for you; he believed me, and he has the watch." Saving faith is as simple as this. It just takes God at His word and trusts Him.
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