I have thrown together these two clauses for our text now, simply for the sake of that one feature which they both portray so strikingly.
'They took Him even as He was in the ship.' Now many expositors suppose that in the very form of that phrase there is suggested the extreme of weariness and exhaustion which He suffered, after the hard day's toil. Whether that be so or no, the swiftness of the move to the little boat, although there was nothing in the nature of danger or of imperative duty to hurry Him away, and His going on board without a moment's preparation, leaving the crowd on the beach, seem most naturally accounted for by supposing that He had come to the last point of physical endurance, and that His frame, worn out by the hard day's work, needed one thing—rest.
And so, the next that we see of Him is that, as soon as He gets into the ship He falls fast asleep on the wooden pillow—a hard bed for His head!—in the stern of the little fishing boat, and there He lies so tired—let us put it into plain prose and strip away the false veil of big words with which we invest that nature—so tired that the storm does not awake Him; and they have to come to Him, and lay their hands upon Him, and say to Him, 'Master, carest Thou not that we perish?' before compassion again beat back fatigue, and quickened Him for fresh exertions.
This, then, is the one lesson which I wish to consider now, and there are three points which I deal with in pursuance of my task. I wish to point out a little more in detail the signs that we have in the Gospels of this characteristic of Christ's work—the toilsomeness of His service; then to consider, secondly, the motives which He Himself tells us impelled to such service; and then, finally, the worth which that toil bears for us.
I. First, then, let me point out some of the significant hints which the gospel records give us of the toilsomeness of Christ's service.
Now we are principally indebted for these to this Gospel by Mark, which ancient tradition has set forth as being especially and eminently the 'Gospel of the Servant of God,' therein showing a very accurate conception of its distinguishing characteristics. Just as Matthew's Gospel is the Gospel of the King, regal in tone from beginning to end; just as Luke's is the Gospel of the Man, human and universal in its tone; just as John's is the Gospel of the Eternal Word, so Mark's is the Gospel of the Servant. The inscription written over it all might be, 'Lo, I come to do Thy will, O God.' 'Behold my Servant whom I uphold.'
And if you will take this briefest of all the Gospels, and read it over from that point of view, you will be surprised to discover what a multitude of minute traits make up the general impression, and what a unity is thereby breathed into the narrative.
For instance, did you ever observe the peculiar beginning of this Gospel? There are here none of the references to the prophecies of the King, no tracing of His birth through the royal stock to the great progenitor of the nation, no adoration by the Eastern sages, which we find in Matthew, no miraculous birth nor growing childhood as in Luke, no profound unveiling of the union of the Word with God before the world was, as in John; but the narrative begins with His baptism, and passes at once to the story of His work. The same ruling idea accounts for the uniform omission of the title 'Lord' which in Mark's Gospel is never applied to Christ until after the resurrection. There is only one apparent exception, and there good authorities pronounce the word to be spurious. Even in reports of conversations which are also given in the other Gospels, and where 'Lord' occurs, Mark, of set purpose, omits it, as if its presence would disturb the unity of the impression which he desires to leave. You will find the investigation of the omissions in this Gospel full of interest, and remarkably tending to confirm the accuracy of the view which regards it as the Gospel of the Servant.
Notice then these traits of His service which it brings out.
The first of them I would suggest is—how distinctly it gives the impression of swift, strenuous work. The narrative is brief and condensed. We feel, all through these earlier chapters, at all events, the presence of the pressing crowd coming to Him and desiring to be healed, and but a word can be spared for each incident as the story hurries on, trying to keep pace with His rapid service of quick-springing compassion and undelaying help. There is one word which is reiterated over and over again in these earlier chapters, remarkably conveying this impression of haste and strenuous work; Mark's favourite word is 'straightway,' 'immediately,' 'forthwith,' 'anon,' which are all translations of one expression. You will find, if you glance over the first, second, or third chapters at your leisure, that it comes in at every turn. Take these instances which strike one's eye at the moment. 'Straightway they forsook their nets'; 'Straightway He entered into the synagogue'; 'Immediately His fame spread abroad throughout all the region'; 'Forthwith they entered into the house of Simon's mother'; 'Anon, they tell Him of her'; 'Immediately the fever left her.' And so it goes on through the whole story, a picture of a constant succession of rapid acts of mercy and love. The story seems, as it were, to pant with haste to keep up with Him as He moves among men, swift as a sunbeam, and continuous in the outflow of His love as are these unceasing rays.
Again, we see in Christ's service, toil prolonged to the point of actual physical exhaustion. The narrative before us is the most striking instance of that which we meet with. It had been a long wearying day of work. According to this chapter, the whole of the profound parables concerning the kingdom of God had immediately preceded the embarkation. But even these, with their explanation, had been but a part of that day's labours. For, in Matthew's account of them, we are told that they were spoken on the same day as that on which His mother and brethren came desiring to speak with Him,—or, as we elsewhere read, with hostile intentions to lay hold on Him as mad and needing restraint. And that event, which we may well believe touched deep and painful chords of feeling in His human heart, and excited emotions more exhausting than much physical effort, occurred in the midst of an earnest and prolonged debate with emissaries from Jerusalem, in the course of which He spoke the solemn words concerning blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and Satan casting out Satan, and poured forth some of His most terrible warnings, and some of His most beseeching entreaties. No wonder that, after such a day, the hard pillow of the boat was a soft resting-place for His wearied head; no wonder that, as the evening quiet settled down on the mountain-girdled lake, and the purple shadows of the hills stretched athwart the water, He slept; no wonder that the storm which followed the sunset did not wake Him; and beautiful, that wearied as He was, the disciples' cry at once rouses Him, and the fatigue which shows His manhood gives place to the divine energy which says unto the sea, 'Peace! be still.' The lips which, a moment before, had been parted in the soft breathing of wearied sleep, now open to utter the omnipotent word—so wonderfully does He blend the human and the divine, 'the form of a servant' and the nature of God.
We see, in Christ, toil that puts aside the claims of physical wants. Twice in this Gospel we read of this 'The multitude cometh together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread.' 'There were many coming, and they had no leisure so much as to eat.'
We see in Christ's service a love which is at every man's beck and call, a toil cheerfully rendered at the most unreasonable and unseasonable times. As I said a moment or two ago, this Gospel makes one feel, as none other of these narratives do, the pressure of that ever-present multitude, the whirling excitement that eddied round the calm centre. It tells us, for instance, more than once, how Christ, wearied with His toil, feeling in body and in spirit the need of rest and still communion, withdrew Himself from the crowd. He once departed alone that He might seek God in prayer; once He went with His wearied disciples apart into a desert place to rest awhile. On both occasions the retirement is broken in upon before it is well begun. The sigh of relief in the momentary rest is scarcely drawn, and the burden laid down for an instant, when it has to be lifted again. His solitary prayer is interrupted by the disciples, with 'All men seek for Thee,' and, without a murmur or a pause, He buckles to His work again, and says, 'Let us go into the next towns that I may preach there also; for therefore am I sent.'
When He would carry His wearied disciples with Him for a brief breathing time to the other side of the sea, and get away from the thronging crowd, 'the people saw Him departing, and ran afoot out of all cities,' and, making their way round the head of the lake, were all there at the landing place before Him. Instead of seclusion and repose He found the same throng and bustle. Here they were, most of them from mere curiosity, some of them no doubt with deeper feelings; here they were, with their diseased and their demoniacs, and as soon as His foot touches the shore He is in the midst of it all again. And He meets it, not with impatience at this rude intrusion on His privacy, not with refusals to help. Only one emotion filled His heart. He forgot all about weariness, and hunger, and retirement, and 'He was moved with compassion towards them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd, and He began to teach them many things.' Such a picture may well shame our languid, self-indulgent service, may stir us to imitation and to grateful praise.
There is only one other point which I touch upon for a moment, as showing the toil of Christ, and that is drawn from another Gospel. Did you ever notice the large space occupied in Matthew's Gospel by the record of the last day of His public ministry, and how much of all that we know of His mission and message, and the future of the world and of all men, we owe to the teaching of these four-and-twenty hours? Let me put together, in a word, what happened on that day.
It included the conversation with the chief priests and elders about the baptism of John, the parable of the householder that planted a vineyard and digged a winepress, the parables of the kingdom of heaven, the controversy with the Herodians about the tribute money, the conversation with the Sadducees about the resurrection, with the Pharisee about the great commandment in the law, the silencing of the Pharisees by pointing to the 110th Psalm, the warning to the multitude against the scribes and Pharisees who were hypocrites, protracted and prolonged up to that wail of disappointed love, 'Behold! your house is left unto you desolate.' And, as though that had not been enough for one day, when He is going home from the Temple to find, for a night, in that quiet little home of Bethany, the rest that He wants, as He rests wearily on the slopes of Olivet, the disciples come to Him, 'Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of Thy coming?' and there follows all that wonderful prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, the parable of the fig tree, the warning not to suffer the thief to come, and the promise of reward for the faithful and wise servant, the parable of the ten virgins, and in all probability the parable of the king with the five talents; and the words, that might be written in letters of fire, that tell us the final course of all things, and the judgment of life eternal and death everlasting! All this was the work of 'one of the days of the Son of Man.' Of Him it was prophesied long ago, 'For Jerusalem's sake I will not rest'; and His life on earth, as well as His life in heaven, fulfils the prediction—the one by the toilsomeness of His service, the other by the unceasing energy of His exalted power. He toiled unwearied here, He works unresting there.
II. In the second place, let me ask you to notice how we get from our Lord's own words a glimpse into the springs of this wonderful activity.
There are three points which distinctly come out in various places in the Gospels as His motives for such unresting sedulousness and continuance of toil. The first is conveyed by such words as these: 'I must work the works of Him that sent Me.' 'Let us preach to other cities, also: for therefore am I sent.' 'Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?' 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work.' All these express one thought. Christ lived and toiled, and bore weariness and exhaustion, and counted every moment as worthy to be garnered up and precious, as to be filled with deeds of love and kindness, because wherever He went, and to whatsoever He set His hand, He had the one consciousness of a great task laid upon Him by a loving Father whom He loved, and whom, therefore, it was His joy and His blessedness to serve.
And, remember that this motive made the life homogeneous—of a piece. In all the variety of service, one spirit was expressed, and, therefore, the service was one. No matter whether He were speaking words of grace or of rebuke, or working works of power and love, or simply looking a look of kindness on some outcast, or taking a little child in His arms, or stilling with the same arms outstretched the wild uproar of the storm—it was all the same. To Him life was all one. There was nothing great, nothing small; nothing so insignificant that it could be done negligently; nothing so hard that it surpassed His power. The one motive made all duties equal; obedience to the Father called forth His whole energy at every moment. To Him life was not divided into a set of tasks of varying importance, some of which could be accomplished with a finger's touch, and some of which demanded a dead lift and strain of all the muscles. But whatsoever His hand found to do He did with His might and that because He felt, be it great or little, that it all came, if I may so say, into the day's work, and all was equally great because the Father that sent Him had laid it upon Him.
There is one thing that makes life mighty in its veriest trifles, worthy in its smallest deeds, that delivers it from monotony, that delivers it from insignificance. All will be great, and nothing will be overpowering, when, living in communion with Jesus Christ, we say as He says, 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.'
And then, still further, another of the secret springs that move His unwearied activity, His heroism of toil, is the thought expressed in such words as these:—'While I am in the world I am the light of the world.' 'I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.'
Jesus Christ manifested on earth performs indeed a work—the mightiest which He came to do—which was done precisely then when the night did come—namely, the work of His death, which is the atonement and 'propitiation for the sins of the world.' And, further, the 'night, when no man can work,' was not the end of His activity for us; for He carries on His work of intercession and rule, His work of bestowing the gifts purchased by His blood, amidst the glories of heaven; and that perpetual application and dispensing of the blessed issues of His death He has Himself represented as greater than the works, to which His death put a period, in which He healed the bodies and spoke to the hearts of those who heard, and lived a perfect life here upon this sinful earth. But yet even He recognised the brief hour of sunny life as being an hour that must be filled with service, and recognised the fact that there was a task that He could only do when He lived the life of a man upon earth. And so, if I might so say, He was a miser of the moments, and carefully husbanding and garnering up every capacity and every opportunity. He toiled with the toil of a man who has a task before him, that must be done before the clock strikes six, and who sees the hands move over the dial, and by every glance that he casts at it is stimulated to intenser service and to harder toil. Christ felt that impulse to service which we all ought to feel—'The night cometh; let me fill the day with work.'
And then there is a final motive which I need barely touch. He was impelled to His sedulous service not only by loving, filial obedience to the divine law, and by the consciousness of a limited and defined period into which all the activity of one specific kind must be condensed, but also by the motive expressed in such words as these, in which this Gospel is remarkably rich, 'And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth His hand and touched him.' Thus, along with that supreme consecration, along with that swift ardour that will fill the brief hours ere nightfall with service, there was the constant pity of that beating heart that moved the diligent hand. Christ, if I may so say, could not help working as hard as He did, so long as there were so many men round about Him that needed His sympathy and His aid.
III. So much then for the motives; and now a word finally as to the worth of this toil for us.
I do not stay to elucidate one consideration that might be suggested, viz., how precious a proof it is of Christ's humanity. We find it easier to bring home His true manhood to our thoughts, when we remember that He, like us, knew the pressure of physical fatigue. Not only was it a human spirit that wept and rejoiced, that was moved with compassion, and sometimes with indignation, but it was a human body, bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh, that, wearied with walking in the burning sun, sat on the margin of the well; that was worn out and needed to sleep; that knew hunger, as is testified by His sending the disciples to buy meat; that was thirsty, as is testified by His saying, 'Give Me to drink.' The true corporeal manhood of Jesus Christ, and the fact that that manhood is the tabernacle of God—without these two facts the morality and the teaching of Christianity swing loose in vacuo, and have no holdfast in history, nor any leverage by which they can move men's hearts! But, when we know that the common necessities of fatigue, and hunger, and thirst belonged to Him, then we gratefully and reverently say, 'Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also Himself took part of the same.'
This fact of Christ's toil is of worth to us in other ways.
Is not that hard work of Jesus Christ a lesson for us, brethren, in our daily tasks and toils—a lesson which, if it were learnt and practised, would make a difference not only on the intensity but upon the spirit with which we labour? A great deal of fine talk is indulged in about the dignity of labour and the like. Labour is a curse until communion with God in it, which is possible through Jesus Christ, makes it a blessing and a joy. Christ, in the sweat of His brow, won our salvation; and our work only becomes great when it is work done in, and for, and by Him.
And what do we learn from His example? We learn these things: the plain lesson, first,—task all your capacity and use every minute in doing the duty that is plainly set before you to do. Christian virtues are sometimes thought to be unreal and unworldly things. I was going to say the root of them, certainly the indispensable accompaniment for them all, is the plain, prosaic, most unromantic virtue of hard work.
And beyond that, what do we learn? The lesson that most toilers in England want. There is no need to preach to the most of us to work any harder, in one department of work at any rate; but there is great need to remind us of what it was that at once stirred Jesus Christ into energy and kept Him calm in the midst of labour—and that was that everything was equally and directly referred to His Father's will. People talk nowadays about 'missions.' The only thing worth giving that name to is the 'mission' which He gives us, who sends us into the world not to do our own will, but to do the will of Him that sent us. There is a fatal monotony in all our lives—a terrible amount of hard drudgery in them all. We have to set ourselves morning after morning to tasks that look to be utterly insignificant and disproportionate to the power that we bring to bear upon them, so that men are like elephants picking up pins with their trunks; and yet we may make all our commonplace drudgery great, and wondrous, and fair, and full of help and profit to our souls, if, over it all—our shops, our desks, our ledgers, our studies, our kitchens, and our nurseries—we write, 'My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.' We may bring the greatest principles to bear upon the smallest duties.
What more do we learn from Christ's toil? The possible harmony of communion and service. His labour did not break His fellowship with God. He was ever in the 'secret place of the Most High,' even while He was in the midst of crowds. He has taught us that it is possible to be in the 'house of the Lord' all the days of our lives, and by His ensample, as by His granted Spirit, encourages us to aim at so serving that we shall never cease to behold, and so beholding that we shall never cease to serve our Father. The life of contemplation and the life of practice, so hard to harmonise in our experience, perfectly meet in Christ.
What more do we learn from our Lord's toils? The cheerful constant postponement of our own ease, wishes, or pleasure to the call of the Father's voice, or to the echo of it in the sighing of such as be sorrowful. I have already referred to the instances of His putting aside His need for rest, and His desire for still fellowship with God, at the call of whoever needed Him. It was the same always. If a Nicodemus comes by night, if a despairing father forces his way into the house of feasting, if another suppliant finds Him in a house, where He would have remained hid, if they come running to Him in the way, or drop down their sick before Him through the very roof—it is all the same. He never thinks of Himself, but gladly addresses Himself to heal and bless. How such an example followed would change our lives and amaze and shake the world!—'I come, not to do Mine own will.' 'Even Christ pleased not Himself.'
But that toil is not only a pattern for our lives; it is an appeal to our grateful hearts. Surely a toiling Christ is as marvellous as a dying Christ. And the immensity and the purity and the depth of His love are shown no less by this, that He labours to accomplish it, than by this, that He dies to complete it. He will not give blessings which depend upon mere will, and can be bestowed as a king might fling a largess to a beggar without effort, and with scarce a thought, but blessings which He Himself has to agonise and to energise, and to lead a life of obedience, and to die a death of shame, in order to procure. 'I will not offer burnt-offering to God of that which doth cost me nothing,' says the grateful heart. But in so saying it is but following in the track of the loving Christ, who will not give unto man that which cost Him nothing, and who works, as well as dies, in order that we may be saved.
And, O brethren! think of the contrast between what Christ has done to save us, and what we do to secure and appropriate that salvation! He toiled all His days, buying our peace with His life, going down into the mine and bringing up the jewels at the cost of His own precious blood. And you and I stand with folded arms, too apathetic to take the rich treasures that are freely given to us of God! He has done everything, that we may have nothing to do, and we will not even put out our slack hands to clasp the grace purchased by His blood, and commended by His toil! 'Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.'
THE LORD OF DEMONS
'And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. 2. And when He was come out of the ship, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, 3. Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains: 4. Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. 5. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. 6. But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped Him, 7. And cried with a loud voice, and said, What have I to do with Thee, Jesus, Thou Son of the most high God? I adjure Thee by God, that Thou torment me not. 8. For He said unto him, Come out of the man, thou unclean spirit. 9. And He asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many. 10. And he besought Him much that He would not send them away out of the country. 11. Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. 12. And all the devils besought Him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. 13. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea. 14. And they that fed the swine fled, and told it in the city, and in the country. And they went out to see what it was that was done. 15. And they come to Jesus, and see him that was possessed with the devil, and had the legion, sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid. 16. And they that saw it told them how it befell to him that was possessed with the devil, and also concerning the swine. 17. And they began to pray Him to depart out of their coasts. 18. And when He was come into the ship, he that had been possessed with the devil prayed Him that he might be with Him. 19. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee. 20. And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all men did marvel.'—Mark v. 1-20.
The awful picture of this demoniac is either painted from life, or it is one of the most wonderful feats of the poetic imagination. Nothing more terrible, vivid, penetrating, and real was ever conceived by the greatest creative genius. If it is not simply a portrait, Aschylus or Dante might own the artist for a brother. We see the quiet landing on the eastern shore, and almost hear the yells that broke the silence as the fierce, demon-ridden man hurried to meet them, perhaps with hostile purpose. The dreadful characteristics of his state are sharply and profoundly signalised. He lives up in the rock-hewn tombs which overhang the beach; for all that belongs to corruption and death is congenial to the subjects of that dark kingdom of evil. He has superhuman strength, and has known no gentle efforts to reclaim, but only savage attempts to 'tame' by force, as if he were a beast. Fetters and manacles have been snapped like rushes by him. Restless, sleepless, hating men, he has made the night hideous with his wild shrieks, and fled, swift as the wind, from place to place among the lonely hills. Insensible to pain, and deriving some dreadful satisfaction from his own wounds, he has gashed himself with splinters of rock, and howled, in a delirium of pain and pleasure, at the sight of his own blood. His sharpened eyesight sees Jesus from afar, and, with the disordered haste and preternatural agility which marked all his movements, he runs towards Him. Such is the introduction to the narrative of the cure. It paints for us not merely a maniac, but a demoniac. He is not a man at war with himself, but a man at war with other beings, who have forced themselves into his house of life. At least, so says Mark, and so said Jesus; and if the story before us is true, its subsequent incidents compel the acceptance of that explanation. What went into the herd of swine?
The narrative of the restoration of the sufferer has a remarkable feature, which may help to mark off its stages. The word 'besought' occurs four times in it, and we may group the details round each instance.
I. The demons beseeching Jesus through the man's voice. He was, in the exact sense of the word, distracted—drawn two ways. For it would seem to have been the self in him that ran to Jesus and fell at His feet, as if in some dim hope of rescue; but it is the demons in him that speak, though the voice be his. They force him to utter their wishes, their terrors, their loathing of Christ, though he says 'I' and 'me' as if these were his own. That horrible condition of a double, or, as in this case, a manifold personality, speaking through human organs, and overwhelming the proper self, mysterious as it is, is the very essence of the awful misery of the demoniacs. Unless we are resolved to force meanings of our own on Scripture, I do not see how we can avoid recognising this. What black thoughts, seething with all rebellious agitation, the reluctant lips have to utter! The self-drawn picture of the demoniac nature is as vivid as, and more repellent than, the Evangelist's terrible portrait of the outward man. Whatever dumb yearning after Jesus may have been in the oppressed human consciousness, his words are a shriek of terror and recoil. The mere presence of Christ lashes the demons into paroxysms: but before the man spoke, Christ had spoken His stern command to come forth. He is answered by this howl of fear and hate. Clear recognition of Christ's person is in it, and not difficult to explain, if we believe that others than the sufferer looked through his wild eyes, and spoke in his loud cry. They know Him who had conquered their prince long ago; if the existence of fallen spirits be admitted, their knowledge is no difficulty.
The next element in the words is hatred, as fixed as the knowledge is clear. God's supremacy and loftiness, and Christ's nature, are recognised, but only the more abhorred. The name of God can be used as a spell to sway Jesus, but it has no power to touch this fierce hatred into submission. 'The devils also believe and tremble.' This, then, is a dark possibility, which has become actual for real living beings, that they should know God, and hate as heartily as they know clearly. That is the terminus towards which human spirits may be travelling. Christ's power, too, is recognised, and His mere presence makes the flock of obscene creatures nested in the man uneasy, like bats in a cave, who flutter against a light. They shrink from Him, and shudderingly renounce all connection with Him, as if their cries would alter facts, or make Him relax His grip. The very words of the question prove its folly. 'What is there to me and thee?' implies that there were two parties to the answer; and the writhings of one of them could not break the bond. To all this is to be added that the 'torment' deprecated was the expulsion from the man, as if there were some grim satisfaction and dreadful alleviation in being there, rather than 'in the abyss'—as Luke gives it—which appears to be the alternative. If we put all these things together, we get an awful glimpse into the secrets of that dark realm, which it is better to ponder with awe than flippantly to deny or mock.
How striking is Christ's unmoved calm in the face of all this fury! He is always laconic in dealing with demoniacs; and, no doubt, His tranquil presence helped to calm the man, however it excited the demon. The distinct intention of the question, 'What is thy name?' is to rouse the man's self-consciousness, and make him feel his separate existence, apart from the alien tyranny which had just been using his voice and usurping his personality. He had said 'I' and 'me.' Christ meets him with, Who is the 'I'? and the very effort to answer would facilitate the deliverance. But for the moment the foreign influence is still too strong, and the answer, than which there is nothing more weird and awful in the whole range of literature, comes: 'My name is Legion; for we are many.' Note the momentary gleam of the true self in the first word or two, fading away into the old confusion. He begins with 'my,' but he drops back to 'we.' Note the pathetic force of the name. This poor wretch had seen the solid mass of the Roman legion, the instrument by which foreign tyrants crushed the nations. He felt himself oppressed and conquered by their multitudinous array. The voice of the 'legion' has a kind of cruel ring of triumph, as if spoken as much to terrify the victim as to answer the question.
Again the man's voice speaks, beseeching the direct opposite of what he really would have desired. He was not so much in love with his dreadful tenants as to pray against their expulsion, but their fell power coerces his lips, and he asks for what would be his ruin. That prayer, clean contrary to the man's only hope, is surely the climax of the horror. In a less degree, we also too often deprecate the stroke which delivers, and would fain keep the legion of evils which riot within.
II. The demons beseeching Jesus without disguise. There seems to be intended a distinction between 'he besought,' in verse 10, and they 'besought,' in verse 12. Whether we are to suppose that, in the latter case, the man's voice was used or no, the second request was more plainly not his, but theirs. It looks as if, somehow, the command was already beginning to take effect, and 'he' and 'they' were less closely intertwined. It is easy to ridicule this part of the incident, and as easy to say that it is incredible; but it is wiser to remember the narrow bounds of our knowledge of the unseen world of being, and to be cautious in asserting that there is nothing beyond the horizon but vacuity. If there be unclean spirits, we know too little about them to say what is possible. Only this is plain—that the difficulty of supposing them to inhabit swine is less, if there be any difference, than of supposing them to inhabit men, since the animal nature, especially of such an animal, would correspond to their impurity, and be open to their driving. The house and the tenant are well matched. But why should the expelled demons seek such an abode? It would appear that anywhere was better than 'the abyss,' and that unless they could find some creature to enter, thither they must go. It would seem, too, that there was no other land open to them—for the prayer on the man's lips had been not to send them 'out of the country,' as if that was the only country on earth open to them. That makes for the opinion that demoniacal possession was the dark shadow which attended, for reasons not discoverable by us, the light of Christ's coming, and was limited in time and space by His earthly manifestation. But on such matters there is not ground enough for certainty.
Another difficulty has been raised as to Christ's right to destroy property. It was very questionable property, if the owners were Jews. Jesus owns all things, and has the right and the power to use them as He will; and if the purposes served by the destruction of animal life or property are beneficent and lofty, it leaves no blot on His goodness. He used His miraculous power twice for destruction—once on a fig-tree, once on a herd of swine. In both cases, the good sought was worth the loss. Whether was it better that the herd should live and fatten, or that a man should be delivered, and that he and they who saw should be assured of his deliverance and of Christ's power? 'Is not a man much better than a sheep,' and much more than a pig? They are born to be killed, and nobody cries out cruelty. Why should not Christ have sanctioned this slaughter, if it helped to steady the poor man's nerves, or to establish the reality of possession and of his deliverance? Notice that the drowning of the herd does not appear to have entered into the calculations of the unclean spirits. They desired houses to live in after their expulsion, and for them to plunge the swine into the lake would have defeated their purpose. The stampede was an unexpected effect of the commingling of the demonic with the animal nature, and outwitted the demons. 'The devil is an ass.' There is a lower depth than the animal nature; and even swine feel uncomfortable when the demon is in them, and in their panic rush anywhere to get rid of the incubus, and, before they know, find themselves struggling in the lake. 'Which things are an allegory.'
III. The terrified Gerasenes beseeching Jesus to leave them. They had rather have their swine than their Saviour, and so, though they saw the demoniac sitting, 'clothed, and in his right mind,' at the feet of Jesus, they in turn beseech that He should take Himself away. Fear and selfishness prompted the prayer. The communities on the eastern side of the lake were largely Gentile; and, no doubt, these people knew that they did many worse things than swine-keeping, and may have been afraid that some more of their wealth would have to go the same road as the herd. They did not want instruction, nor feel that they needed a healer. Were their prayers so very unlike the wishes of many of us? Is there nobody nowadays unwilling to let the thought of Christ into his life, because he feels an uneasy suspicion that, if Christ comes, a good deal will have to go? How many trades and schemes of life really beseech Jesus to go away and leave them in peace!
And He goes away. The tragedy of life is that we have the awful power of severing ourselves from His influence. Christ commands unclean spirits, but He can only plead with hearts. And if we bid Him depart, He is fain to leave us for the time to the indulgence of our foolish and wicked schemes. If any man open, He comes in—oh, how gladly I but if any man slam the door in His face, He can but tarry without and knock. Sometimes His withdrawing does more than His loudest knocking; and sometimes they who repelled Him as He stood on the beach call Him back, as He moves away to the boat. It is in the hope that they may, that He goes.
IV. The restored man's beseeching to abide with Christ. No wonder that the spirit of this man, all tremulous with the conflict, and scarcely able yet to realise his deliverance, clung to Christ, and besought Him to let him continue by His side. Conscious weakness, dread of some recurrence of the inward hell, and grateful love, prompted the prayer. The prayer itself was partly right and partly wrong. Right, in clinging to Jesus as the only refuge from the past misery; wrong, in clinging to His visible presence as the only way of keeping near Him. Therefore, He who had permitted the wish of the demons, and complied with the entreaties of the terrified mob, did not yield to the prayer, throbbing with love and conscious weakness. Strange that Jesus should put aside a hand that sought to grasp His in order to be safe; but His refusal was, as always, the gift of something better, and He ever disappoints the wish in order more truly to satisfy the need. The best defence against the return of the evil spirits was in occupation. It is the 'empty' house which invites them back. Nothing was so likely to confirm and steady the convalescent mind as to dwell on the fact of his deliverance. Therefore he is sent to proclaim it to friends who had known his dreadful state, and amidst old associations which would help him to knit his new life to his old, and to treat his misery as a parenthesis. Jesus commanded silence or speech according to the need of the subjects of His miracles. For some, silence was best, to deepen the impression of blessing received; for others, speech was best, to engage and so to fortify the mind against relapse.
A REFUSED BEQUEST
'He that had been possessed with the devil prayed Jesus that he might be with Him. 19. Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, but saith unto him, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.'—Mark v. 18,19.
There are three requests, singularly contrasted with each other, made to Christ in the course of this miracle of healing the Gadarene demoniac. The evil spirits ask to be permitted to go into the swine; the men of the country, caring more for their swine than their Saviour, beg Him to take Himself away, and relieve them of His unwelcome presence; the demoniac beseeches Him to be allowed to stop beside Him. Two of the requests are granted; one is refused. The one that was refused is the one that we might have expected to be granted.
Christ forces Himself upon no man, and so, when they besought Him to go, He went, and took salvation with Him in the boat. Christ withdraws Himself from no man who desires Him. 'Howbeit Jesus suffered him not, and said, Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.'
Now, do you not think that if we put these three petitions and their diverse answers together, and look especially at this last one, where the natural wish was refused, we ought to be able to learn some lessons?
The first thing I would notice is, the clinging of the healed man to his Healer.
Think of him half an hour before, a raging maniac; now all at once conscious of a strange new sanity and calmness; instead of lashing himself about, and cutting himself with stones, and rending his chains and fetters, 'sitting clothed, and in his right mind,' at the feet of Jesus. No wonder that he feared that when the Healer went the demons would come back—no wonder that he besought Him that he might still keep within that quiet sacred circle of light which streamed from His presence, across the border of which no evil thing could pass. Love bound him to his Benefactor; dread made him shudder at the thought of losing his sole Protector, and being again left, in that partly heathen land, solitary, to battle with the strong foes that had so long rioted in his house of life. And so 'he begged that he might be with Him.'
That poor heathen man—for you must remember that this miracle was not wrought on the sacred soil of Palestine—that poor heathen man, just having caught a glimpse of how calm and blessed life might be, is the type of us all. And there is something wrong with us if our love does not, like his, desire above all things the presence of Jesus Christ; and if our consciousness of impotence does not, in like manner, drive us to long that our sole Deliverer shall not be far away from us. Merchant-ships in time of war, like a flock of timid birds, keep as near as they can to the armed convoy, for the only safety from the guns of the enemy's cruisers is in keeping close to their strong protector. The traveller upon some rough, unknown road, in the dark, holds on by his guide's skirts or hand, and feels that if he loses touch he loses the possibility of safety. A child clings to his parent when dangers are round him. The convalescent patient does not like to part with his doctor. And if we rightly learned who it is that has cured us, and what is the condition of our continuing whole and sound, like this man we shall pray that He may suffer us to be with Him. Fill the heart with Christ, and there is no room for the many evil spirits that make up the legion that torments it The empty heart invites the devils, and they come back, Even if it is 'swept and garnished,' and brought into respectability, propriety, and morality, they come back, There is only one way to keep them out; when the ark is in the Temple, Dagon will be lying, like the brute form that he is, a stump upon the threshold. The condition of our security is close contact with Jesus Christ. If we know the facts of life, the temptations that ring us round, the weakness of these wayward wills of ours, and the strength of this intrusive and masterful flesh and sense that we have to rule, we shall know and feel that our only safety is our Master's presence.
Further, note the strange refusal.
Jesus Christ went through the world, or at least the little corner of it which His earthly career occupied, seeking for men that desired to have Him, and it is impossible that He should have put away any soul that desired to be present with Him. Yet, though His one aim was to draw men to Him, and the prospect that He should be able to exercise a stronger attraction over a wider area reconciled Him to the prospect of the Cross, so that He said in triumph, 'I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me,' he meets this heathen man, feeble in his crude and recent sanity, with a flat refusal. 'He suffered him not.' Most probably the reason for the strange and apparently anomalous dealing with such a desire was to be found in the man's temperament. Most likely it was the best thing for him that he should stop quietly in his own house, and have no continuance of the excitement and perpetual change which would have necessarily been his lot if he had been allowed to go with Jesus Christ. We may be quite sure that when the Lord with one hand seemed to put him away, He was really, with a stronger attraction, drawing him to Himself; and that the peculiarity of the method of treatment was determined with exclusive reference to the real necessities of the person who was subject to it.
But yet, underlying the special case, and capable of being stated in the most general terms, lies this thought, that Jesus Christ's presence, the substance of the demoniac's desire, may be as completely, and, in some cases, will be more completely, realised amongst the secularities of ordinary life than amidst the sanctities of outward communion and companionship with Him. Jesus was beginning here to wean the man from his sensuous dependence upon His localised and material presence. It was good for him, and it is good for us all, to 'feel our feet,' so to speak. Responsibility laid, and felt to be laid, upon us is a steadying and ennobling influence. And it was better that the demoniac should learn to stand calmly, when apparently alone, than that he should childishly be relying on the mere external presence of his Deliverer.
Be sure of this, that when the Lord went away across the lake, He left His heart and His thoughts, and His care and His power over there, on the heathen side of the sea; and that when 'the people thronged Him' on the other side, and the poor woman pressed through the crowd, that virtue might come to her by her touch, virtue was at the same time raying out across the water to the solitary newly healed demoniac, to sustain him too.
And so we may all learn that we may have, and it depends upon ourselves whether we do or do not have, all protection all companionship, and all the sweetness of Christ's companionship and the security of Christ's protection just as completely when we are at home amongst our friends—that is to say, when we are about our daily work, and in the secularities of our calling or profession—as when we are in the 'secret place of the Most High' and holding fellowship with a present Christ. Oh, to carry Him with us into every duty, to realise Him in all circumstances, to see the light of His face shine amidst the darkness of calamity, and the pointing of His directing finger showing us our road amidst all perplexities of life! Brethren, that is possible. When Jesus Christ 'suffered him not to go with Him,' Jesus Christ stayed behind with the man.
Lastly, we have here the duty enjoined.
'Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.' The man went home and translated the injunction into word and deed. As I said, the reason for the peculiarity of his treatment, in his request being refused, was probably his peculiar temperament. So again I would say the reason for the commandment laid upon him, which is also anomalous, was probably the peculiarity of his disposition. Usually our Lord was careful to enjoin silence upon those whom He benefited by His miraculous cures. That injunction of silence was largely owing to His desire not to create or fan the flame of popular excitement. But that risk was chiefly to be guarded against in the land of Israel, and here, where we have a miracle upon Gentile soil, there was not the same occasion for avoiding talk and notoriety.
But probably the main reason for the exceptional commandment to go and publish abroad what the Lord had done was to be found in the simple fact that this man's malady and his disposition were such that external work of some sort was the best thing to prevent him from relapsing into his former condition. His declaration to everybody of his cure would help to confirm his cure; and whilst he was speaking about being healed, he would more and more realise to himself that he was healed. Having work to do would take him out of himself, which no doubt was a great security against the recurrence of the evil from which he had been delivered. But however that may be, look at the plain lesson that lies here. Every healed man should be a witness to his Healer; and there is no better way of witnessing than by our lives, by the elevation manifested in our aims, by our aversion from all low, earthly, gross things, by the conspicuous—not made conspicuous by us, conspicuous because it cannot be hid—concentration and devotion, and unselfishness and Christlikeness of our daily lives to show that we are really healed. If we manifest these things in our conduct, then, when we say 'it was Jesus Christ that healed me,' people will be apt to believe us. But if this man had gone away into the mountains and amongst the tombs as he used to do, and had continued all the former characteristics of his devil-ridden life, who would have believed him when he talked about being healed? And who ought to believe you when you say, 'Christ is my Saviour,' if your lives are, to all outward seeming, exactly what they were before?
The sphere in which the healed man's witness was to be borne tested the reality of his healing. 'Go home to thy friends, and tell them.' I wonder how many Christian professors there are who would be least easily believed by those who live in the same house with them, if they said that Jesus had cast their devils out of them. It is a great mistake to take recent converts, especially if they have been very profligate beforehand, and to hawk them about the country as trophies of God's converting power. Let them stop at home, and bethink themselves, and get sober and confirmed, and let their changed lives prove the reality of Christ's healing power. They can speak to some purpose after that.
Further, remember that there is no better way for keeping out devils than working for Jesus Christ. Many a man finds that the true cure—say, for instance, of doubts that buzz about him and disturb him, is to go away and talk to some one about his Saviour. Work for Jesus amongst people that do not know Him is a wonderful sieve for sifting out the fundamental articles of the Christian faith. And when we go to other people, and tell them of that Lord, and see how the message is sometimes received, and what it sometimes does, we come away with confirmed faith.
But, in any case, it is better to work for Him than to sit alone, thinking about Him. The two things have to go together; and I know very well that there is a great danger, in the present day, of exaggeration, and insisting too exclusively upon the duty of Christian work whilst neglecting to insist upon the duty of Christian meditation. But, on the other hand, it blows the cobwebs out of a man's brain; it puts vigour into him, it releases him from himself, and gives him something better to think about, when he listens to the Master's voice, 'Go home to thy friends, and tell them what great things the Lord hath done for thee.'
'Master! it is good for us to be here. Let us make three tabernacles. Stay here; let us enjoy ourselves up in the clouds, with Moses and Elias; and never mind about what goes on below.' But there was a demoniac boy down there that needed to be healed; and the father was at his wits' end, and the disciples were at theirs because they could not heal him. And so Jesus Christ turned His back upon the Mount of Transfiguration, and the company of the blessed two, and the Voice that said, 'This is My beloved Son,' and hurried down where human woes called Him, and found that He was as near God, and so did Peter and James and John, as when up there amid the glory.
'Go home to thy friends, and tell them'; and you will find that to do that is the best way to realise the desire which seemed to be put aside, the desire for the presence of Christ. For be sure that wherever He may not be, He always is where a man, in obedience to Him, is doing His commandments. So when He said, 'Go home to thy friends,' He was answering the request that He seamed to reject, and when the Gadarene obeyed, he would find, to his astonishment and his grateful wonder, that the Lord had not gone away in the boat, but was with him still. 'Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel. Lo! I am with you always.'
And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw Him, he fell at His feet, 23. And besought Him greatly, saying, My little daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray Thee, come and lay Thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live. 24. And Jesus went with him; and much people followed Him, and thronged Him.... 35. While He yet spake, there came from the ruler of the synagogue's house certain which said, Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further? 36. As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not afraid, only believe. 37. And He suffered no man to follow Him, save Peter, and James, and John the brother of James. 38. And He cometh to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and seeth the tumult, and them that wept and wailed greatly. 39. And when He was come in, He saith unto them, Why make ye this ado, and weep? the damsel is not dead, but sleepeth. 40. And they laughed Him to scorn. But when He had put them all out, He taketh the father and the mother of the damsel, and them that were with Him, and entereth in where the damsel was lying. 41. And He took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, Talitha cumi; which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. 42. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. And they were astonished with a great astonishment. 43. And He charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.'—Mark v. 22-24, 35-43.
The scene of this miracle was probably Capernaum; its time, according to Matthew, was the feast at his house after his call. Mark's date appears to be later, but he may have anticipated the feast in his narrative, in order to keep the whole of the incidents relating to Matthew's apostleship together. Jairus's knowledge of Jesus is implied in the story, and perhaps Jesus' acquaintance with him.
I. We note, first, the agonised appeal and the immediate answer. Desperation makes men bold. Conventionalities are burned up by the fire of agonised petitioning for help in extremity. Without apology or preliminary, Jairus bursts in, and his urgent need is sufficient excuse. Jesus never complains of scant respect when wrung hearts cry to Him. But this man was not only driven by despair, but drawn by trust. He was sure that, even though his little darling had been all but dead when he ran from his house, and was dead by this time, for all he knew, Jesus could give her life. Perhaps he had not faced the stern possibility that she might already be gone, nor defined precisely what he hoped for in that case. But he was sure of Jesus' power, and he says nothing to show that he doubted His willingness. A beautiful trust shines through his words, based, no doubt, on what he had known and seen of Jesus' miracles. We have more pressing and deeper needs, and we have fuller and deeper knowledge of Jesus, wherefore our approach to Him should be at least as earnest and confidential as Jairus's was. If our Lord was at the feast when this interruption took place, His gracious, immediate answer becomes more lovely, as a sign of His willingness to bring the swiftest help. 'While they are yet speaking, I will hear.' Jairus had not finished asking before Jesus was on His feet to go.
The father's impatience would be satisfied when they were on their way, but how he would chafe, and think every moment an age, while Jesus stayed, as if at entire leisure, to deal with another silent petitioner! But His help to one never interferes with His help to another, and no case is so pressing as that He cannot spare time to stay to bless some one else. The poor, sickly, shamefaced woman shall be healed, and the little girl shall not suffer.
II. We have next the extinction and rekindling of Jairus's glimmer of hope. Distances in Capernaum were short, and the messenger would soon find Jesus. There was little sympathy in the harsh, bald announcement of the death, or in the appended suggestion that the Rabbi need not be further troubled. The speaker evidently was thinking more of being polite to Jesus than of the poor father's stricken heart, Jairus would feel then what most of us have felt in like circumstances,—that he had been more hopeful than he knew. Only when the last glimmer is quenched do we feel, by the blackness, how much light had lingered in our sky, But Jesus knew Jairus's need before Jairus himself knew it, and His strong word of cheer relit the torch ere the poor father had time to speak. That loving eye reads our hearts and anticipates our dreary hopelessness by His sweet comfortings. Faith is the only victorious antagonist of fear. Jairus had every reason for abandoning hope, and his only reason for clinging to it was faith. So it is with us all. It is vain to bid us not be afraid when real dangers and miseries stare us in the face; but it is not vain to bid us 'believe,' and if we do that, faith, cast into the one scale, will outweigh a hundred good reasons for dread and despair cast into the other.
III. We have next the tumult of grief and the word that calms. The hired mourners had lost no time, and in Eastern fashion were disturbing the solemnity of death with their professional shrieks and wailings. True grief is silent. Woe that weeps aloud is soon consoled.
What a contrast between the noise outside and the still death-chamber and its occupant, and what a contrast between the agitation of the sham comforters and the calmness of the true Helper! Christ's great word was spoken for us all when our hearts are sore and our dear ones go. It dissolves the dim shape into nothing ness, or, rather, it transfigures it into a gracious, soothing form. Sleep is rest, and bears in itself the pledge of waking. So Christ has changed the 'shadow feared of man' into beauty, and in the strength of His great word we can meet the last enemy with 'Welcome! friend.' It is strange that any one reading this narrative should have been so blind to its deepest beauty as to suppose that Jesus was here saying that the child had only swooned, and was really alive. He was not denying that she was what men call 'dead,' but He was, in the triumphant consciousness of His own power, and in the clear vision of the realities of spiritual being, of which bodily states are but shadows, denying that what men call death deserves the name. 'Death' is the state of the soul separated from God, whether united to the body or no,—not the separation of body and soul, which is only a visible symbol of the more dread reality.
IV. We have finally the life-giving word and the life-preserving care. Probably Jesus first freed His progress from the jostling crowd, and then, when arrived, made the further selection of the three apostles,—the first three of the mighty ones—and, as was becoming, of the father and mother.
With what hushed, tense expectation they would enter the chamber! Think of the mother's eyes watching Him. The very words that He spoke were like a caress. There was infinite tenderness in that 'Damsel!' from His lips, and so deep an impression did it make on Peter that he repeated the very words to Mark, and used them, with the change of one letter ('Tabitha' for 'Talitha'), in raising Dorcas. The same tenderness is expressed by His taking her by the hand, as, no doubt, her mother had done, many a morning, on waking her. The father had asked Him to lay His hand on her, that she might be made whole and live. He did as He was asked,—He always does—and His doing according to our desire brings larger blessings than we had thought of. Neither the touch of His hand nor the words He spoke were the real agents of the child's returning to life. It was His will which brought her back from whatever vasty dimness she had entered. The forth-putting of Christ's will is sovereign, and His word runs with power through all regions of the universe. 'The dull, cold ear of death' hears, and 'they that hear shall live,' whether they are, as men say, dead, or whether they are 'dead in trespasses and sins.' The resurrection of a soul is a mightier act—if we can speak of degrees of might in His acts—than that of a body.
It would be calming for the child of such strange experiences to see, for the first thing that met her eyes opening again on the old familiar home as on a strange land, the bending face of Jesus, and His touch would steady her spirit and assure of His love and help. The quiet command to give her food knits the wonder with common life, and teaches precious lessons as to His economy of miraculous power, like His bidding others loosen Lazarus's wrappings, and as to His devolution on us of duties towards those whom He raises from the death of sin. But it was given, not didactically, but lovingly. The girl was exhausted, and sustenance was necessary, and would be sweet. So He thought upon a small bodily need, and the love that gave life took care to provide what was required to support it. He gives the greatest; He will take care that we shall not lack the least.
THE POWER OF FEEBLE FAITH
'And a certain woman ... 27. When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched His garment. 28. For she said, If I may touch but His clothes, I shall be whole.'—Mark v. 25, 27, 28.
In all the narratives of this miracle, it is embedded in the story of Jairus's daughter, which it cuts in twain. I suppose that the Evangelists felt, and would have us feel, the impression of calm consciousness of power and of leisurely dignity produced by Christ's having time to pause even on such an errand, in order to heal by the way, as if parenthetically, this other poor sufferer. The child's father with impatient earnestness pleads the urgency of her case—'She lieth at the point of death'; and to him and to the group of disciples, it must have seemed that there was no time to be lost. But He who knows that His resources are infinite can afford to let her die, while He cures and saves this woman. She shall receive no harm, and her sister suppliant has as great a claim on Him. 'The eyes of all wait' on His equal love; He has leisure of heart to feel for each, and fulness of power for all; and none can rob another of his share in the Healer's gifts, nor any in all that dependent crowd jostle his neighbour out of the notice of the Saviour's eye.
The main point of the story itself seems to be the illustration which it gives of the genuineness and power of an imperfect faith, and of Christ's merciful way of responding to and strengthening such a faith. Looked at from that point of view, the narrative is very striking and instructive.
The woman is a poor shrinking creature, broken down by long illness, made more timid still by many disappointed hopes of core, depressed by poverty to which her many doctors had brought her. She does not venture to stop this new Rabbi-physician, as He goes with the rich church dignitary to heal his daughter, but lets Him pass before she can make up her mind to go near Him at all, and then comes creeping up in the crowd behind, puts out her wasted, trembling hand to His garment's hem—and she is whole. She would fain have stolen away with her new-found blessing, but Christ forces her to stand out before the throng, and there, with all their eyes upon her—cold, cruel eyes some of them—to conquer her diffidence and shame, and tell all the truth. Strange kindness that! strangely contrasted with His ordinary care to avoid notoriety, and with His ordinary tender regard for shrinking weakness! What may have been the reason? Certainly it was not for His own sake at all, nor for others' chiefly, but for hers, that He did this. The reason lay in the incompleteness of her faith. It was very incomplete—although it was, Christ answered it. And then He sought to make the cure, and the discipline that followed it, the means of clearing and confirming her trust in Himself.
I. Following the order of the narrative thus understood, we have here first the great lesson, that very imperfect faith may be genuine faith. There was unquestionable confidence in Christ's healing power, and there was earnest desire for healing. Our Lord Himself recognises her faith as adequate to be the condition of her receiving the cure which she desired. Of course, it was a very different thing from the faith which unites us to Christ, and is the condition of our receiving our soul's cure; and we shall never understand the relation of multitudes of the people in the Gospels to Jesus, if we insist upon supposing that the 'faith to be healed,' which many of them had, was a religious, or, as we call it, 'saving faith.' But still, the trust which was directed to Him, as the giver of miraculous temporal blessings, is akin to that higher trust into which it often passed, and the principles regulating the operation of the loftier are abundantly illustrated in the workings of the lower.
The imperfections, then, of this woman's faith were many. It was intensely ignorant trust. She dimly believes that, somehow or other, this miracle-working Rabbi will heal her, but the cure is to be a piece of magic, secured by material contact of her finger with His robe. She has no idea that Christ's will, or His knowledge, much less His pitying love, has anything to do with it. She thinks that she may get her desire furtively, and may carry it away out of the crowd, and He, the source of it, be none the wiser, and none the poorer, for the blessing which she has stolen from Him. What utter blank ignorance of Christ's character and way of working! What complete misconception of the relation between Himself and His gift! What low, gross, superstitious ideas! Yes, and with them all what a hunger of intense desire to be whole; what absolute assurance of confidence that one finger-tip on His robe was enough! Therefore she had her desire, and her Lord recognised her faith as true, foolish and unworthy as were the thoughts which accompanied it!
Thank God! the same thing is true still, or what would become of any of us? There may be a real faith in Christ, though there be mixed with it many and grave errors concerning His work, and the manner of receiving the blessings which He bestows. A man may have a very hazy apprehension of the bearing and whole scope of even Scripture declarations concerning the profounder aspects of Christ's person and work, and yet be holding fast to Him by living confidence. I do not wish to underrate for one moment the absolute necessity of clear and true conceptions of revealed truth, in order to a vigorous and fully developed faith; but, while there can be no faith worth calling so, which is not based upon the intellectual reception of truth, there may be faith based upon the very imperfect intellectual reception of very partial truth. The power and vitality of faith are not measured by the comprehensiveness and clearness of belief. The richest soil may bear shrunken and barren ears; and on the arid sand, with the thinnest layer of earth, gorgeous cacti may bloom out, and fleshy aloes lift their sworded arms, with stores of moisture to help them through the heat. It is not for us to say what amount of ignorance is destructive of the possibility of real confidence in Jesus Christ. But for ourselves, feeling how short a distance our eyesight travels, and how little, after all our systems, the great bulk of men in Christian lands know lucidly and certainly of theological truth, and how wide are the differences of opinion amongst us, and how soon we come to towering barriers, beyond which our poor faculties can neither pass nor look, it ought to be a joy to us all, that a faith which is clouded with such ignorance may yet be a faith which Christ accepts. He that knows and trusts Him as Brother, Friend, Saviour, in whom he receives the pardon and cleansing which he needs and desires, may have very much misconception and error cleaving to him, but Christ accepts him. If at the beginning His disciples know but this much, that they are sick unto death, and have tried without success all other remedies, and this more, that Christ will heal them; and if their faith builds upon that knowledge, then they will receive according to their faith. By degrees they will be taught more; they will be brought to the higher benches in His school; but, for a beginning, the most cloudy apprehension that Christ is the Saviour of the world, and my Saviour, may become the foundation of a trust which will bind the heart to Him and knit Him to the heart in eternal union. This poor woman received her healing, although she said, 'If I may touch but the hem of His garment, I shall be whole.'
Her error was akin to one which is starting into new prominence again, and with which I need not say that I have no sort of sympathy,—that of people who attach importance to externals as means and channels of grace, and in whose system the hem of the garment and the touch of the finger are apt to take the place which the heart of the wearer and the grasp of faith should hold. The more our circumstances call for resistance to this error, the more needful is it to remember that, along with it and uttering itself through it, may be a depth of devout trust in Christ, which should shame us. Many a poor soul that clasps the base of the crucifix clings to the cross; many a devout heart, kneeling before the altar, sees through the incense-smoke the face of the Christ. The faith that is tied to form, though it be no faith for a man, though in some respects it darken God's Gospel, and bring it down to the level of magical superstition, may yet be, and often is, accepted by Him whose merciful eye recognised, and whose swift power answered, the mistaken trust of her who believed that healing lay in the fringes of His robe, rather than in the pity of His heart.
Again, her trust was very selfish. She wanted health; she did not care about the Healer. She thought much of the blessing in itself, little or nothing of the blessing as a sign of His love. She would have been quite contented to have had nothing more to do with Christ if she could only have gone away cured. She felt but little glow of gratitude to Him whom she thought of as unconscious of the good which she had stolen from Him. All this is a parallel to what occurs in the early stages of many a Christian life. The first inducement to a serious contemplation of Christ is, ordinarily, the consciousness of one's own sore need. Most men are driven to Him as a refuge from self, from their own sin, and from the wages of sin. The soul, absorbed in its own misery, and groaning in a horror of great darkness, sees from afar a great light, and stumbles towards it. Its first desire is deliverance, forgiveness, escape; and the first motions of faith are impelled by consideration of personal consequences. Love comes after, born of the recognition of Christ's great love to which we owe our salvation; but faith precedes love in the natural order of things, however closely love may follow faith; and the predominant motive in the earlier stages of many men's faith is distinctly self-regard. Now, that is all right, and as it was meant to be. It is an overstrained and caricatured doctrine of self-abnegation, which condemns such a faith as wrong. The most purely self-absorbed wish to escape from the most rudely pictured hell may be, and often is, the beginning of a true trust in Christ. Some of our superfine modern teachers who are shocked at Christianity, because it lays the foundation of the loftiest, most self-denying morality in 'selfishness' of that kind, would be all the wiser for going to school to this story, and laying to heart the lesson it contains, of how a desire no nobler than to get rid of a painful disease was the starting-point of a moral transformation, which turned a life into a peaceful, thankful surrender of the cured self to the service and love of the mighty Healer. But while this faith, for the sake of the blessing to be obtained, is genuine, it is undoubtedly imperfect. Quite legitimate and natural at first, it must grow into something nobler when it has once been answered. To think of the disease mainly is inevitable before the cure, but, after the cure, we should think most of the Physician. Self-love may impel to His feet; but Christ-love should be the moving spring of life thereafter. Ere we have received anything from Him, our whole soul may be a longing to have our gnawing emptiness filled; but when we have received His own great gift, our whole soul should be a thank-offering. The great reformation which Christ produces is, that He shifts the centre for us from ourselves to Himself; and whilst He uses our sense of need and our fear of personal evil as the means towards this, He desires that the faith, which has been answered by deliverance, should thenceforward be a 'faith which worketh by love.' As long as we live, either here or yonder, we shall never get beyond the need for the exercise of the primary form of faith, for we shall ever be compassed by many needs, and dependent for all help and blessedness on Him; but as we grow in experience of His tender might, we should learn more and more that His gifts cannot be separated from Himself. We should prize them most for His sake, and love Him more than we do them. We should be drawn to Him as well as driven to Him. Faith may begin with desiring the blessing rather than the Christ. It must end with desiring Him more than all besides, and with losing self utterly in His great love. Its starting-point may rightly be, 'Save, Lord, or I perish.' Its goal must be, 'I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.'
Again, here is an instance of real faith weakened and interrupted by much distrust. There was not a full, calm reliance on Christ's power and love. She dare not appeal to His heart, she shrinks from meeting His eye. She will let Him pass, and then put forth a tremulous hand. Cross-currents of emotion agitate her soul. She doubts, yet she believes; she is afraid, yet emboldened by her very despair; too diffident to cast herself on His pity, she is too confident not to resort to His healing virtue.
And so is it ever with our faith. Its ideal perfection would be that it should be unbroken, undashed by any speck of doubt. But the reality is far different. It is no full-orbed completeness, but, at the best, a growing segment of reflected light, with many a rough place in its jagged outline, prophetic of increase; with many a deep pit of blackness on its silver surface; with many a storm-cloud sweeping across its face; conscious of eclipse and subject to change. And yet it is the light which He has set to rule the night of life, and we may rejoice in its crescent beam. We are often tempted to question the reality of faith in ourselves and others, by reason of the unbelief and disbelief which co-exist with it. But why should we do so? May there not be an inner heart and centre of true trust, with a nebulous environment of doubt, through which the nucleus shall gradually send its attracting and consolidating power, and turn it, too, into firm substance? May there not be a germ, infinitesimal, yet with a real life throbbing in its microscopic minuteness, and destined to be a great tree, with all the fowls of the air lodging in its branches? May there not be hid in a heart a principle of action, which is obviously marked out for supremacy, though it has not yet come to sovereign power and manifestation in either the inward or the outward being? Where do we learn that faith must be complete to be genuine? Our own weak hearts say it to us often enough; and our lingering unbelief is only too ready to hiss into our ears the serpent's whisper, 'You are deceiving yourself; look at your doubts, your coldness, your forgetfulness: you have no faith at all.' To all such morbid thoughts, which only sap the strength of the spirit, and come from beneath, not from above, we have a right to oppose the first great lesson of this story—the reality of an imperfect faith. And, turning from the profitless contemplation of the feebleness of our grasp of Christ's robe to look on Him, the fountain of all spiritual energy, let us cleave the more confidently to Him for every discovery of our own weakness, and cry to Him for help against ourselves, that He would not 'quench the smoking flax'; for the old prayer is never offered in vain, when offered, as at first, with tears, 'Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief.'
II. The second stage of this story sets forth a truth involved in what I have already said, but still needing to be dealt with for a moment by itself—namely, that Christ answers the imperfect faith.
There was no real connection between the touch of His robe and the cure, but the poor ignorant sufferer thought that there was; and, therefore, Christ stoops to her childish thought, and allows her to prescribe the path by which His gift shall reach her. That thin wasted hand stretched itself up beyond the height to which it could ordinarily reach, and, though that highest point fell far short of Him, He lets His blessing down to her level. He does not say, 'Understand Me, put away thy false notion of healing power residing in My garment's hem, or I heal thee not.' But He says, 'Dost thou think that it is through thy finger on My robe? Then, through thy finger on My robe it shall be. According to thy faith, be it unto thee.'
And so it is ever. Christ's mercy, like water in a vase, takes the shape of the vessel that holds it. On the one hand, His grace is infinite, and 'is given to every one of us according to the measure of the gift of Christ'—with no limitation but His own unlimited fulness; on the other hand, the amount which we practically receive from that inexhaustible store is, at each successive moment, determined by the measure and the purity and the intensity of our faith. On His part there is no limit but infinity, on our sides the limit is our capacity, and our capacity is settled by our desires. His word to us ever is, 'Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.' 'Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.'
A double lesson, therefore, lies in this thought for us all. First, let us labour that our faith may be enlightened, importunate, and firm: for every flaw in it will injuriously affect our possession of the grace of God. Errors in opinion will hinder the blessings that flow from the truths which we misconceive or reject. Languor of desire will diminish the sum and enfeeble the energy of the powers that work in us. Wavering confidence, crossed and broken, like the solar spectrum, by many a dark line of doubt, will make our conscious possession of Christ's gift fitful. We have a deep well to draw from. Let us take care that the vessel with which we draw is in size proportionate to its depth and our need, that the chain to which it hangs is strong, and that no leaks in it let the full supply run out, nor any stains on its inner surface taint and taste the bright treasure.
And the other lesson is this. There can be no faith so feeble that Christ does not respond to it. The most ignorant, self-regarding, timid trust may unite the soul to Jesus Christ. To desire is to have; and 'whosoever will, may take of the water of life freely.' If you only come to Him, though He have passed, He will stop. If you come trusting and yet doubting, He will forgive the doubt and answer the trust. If you come to Him, knowing but that your heart is full of evil which none save He can cure, and putting out a lame hand—or even a tremulous finger-tip—to touch His garment, be sure that anything is possible rather than that He should turn away your prayer, or His mercy from you.
III. The last part of this miracle teaches us that Christ corrects and confirms an imperfect faith by the very act of answering it.
Observe how the process of cure and the discipline which followed are, in Christ's loving wisdom, made to fit closely to all the faults and flaws in the suppliant's faith.
She had thought of the healing energy as independent of the Healer's knowledge and will. Therefore His very first word shows her that He is aware of her mute appeal, and conscious of the going forth from Him of the power that cures—'Who touched Me?' As was said long ago, 'the multitudes thronged Him, but the woman touched.' Amidst all the jostling of the unmannerly crowd that trod with rude feet on His skirts, and elbowed their way to see this new Rabbi, there was one touch unlike all the rest; and, though it was only that of the finger-tip of a poor woman, wasted to skin and bone with twelve years' weakening disease, He knew it; and His will and love sent forth the 'virtue' which healed. May we not fairly apply this lesson to ourselves? Christ is, as most of us, I suppose, believe, Lord of all creatures, administering the affairs of the universe; the steps of His throne and the precincts of His court are thronged with dependants whose eyes wait upon Him, and who are fed from His stores; and yet my poor voice may steal through that chorus-shout of petition and praise, and His ear will detect its lowest note, and will separate the thin stream of my prayer from the great sea of supplication which rolls to His seat, and will answer me. My hand uplifted among the millions of empty and imploring palms that are raised towards the heaven will receive into its clasping fingers the special blessing for my special wants.
Again, she had been selfish in her faith, had not cared for any close personal relation with Him; and so she was taught that He was in all His gifts, and that He was more than all His gifts. He compels her to come to His feet that she may learn His heart, and may carry away a blessing not stolen, but bestowed