Part 2 out of 3
perhaps a ganglion as we call it, whence power anew goes forth upon his
fellows. He is a redistributor, as it were, of the divine blessing; not
in the exercise of his own will--that is the cesspool towards which
all notions of priestly mediation naturally sink--but as the self-
forgetting, God-loving brother of his kind, who would be in the world as
Christ was in the world. When a man prays for his fellow-man, for wife
or child, mother or father, sister or brother or friend, the connection
between the two is so close in God, that the blessing begged may well
flow to the end of the prayer. Such a one then is, in his poor, far-off
way, an advocate with the Father, like his master, Jesus Christ, The
Righteous. He takes his friend into the presence with him, or if not
into the presence, he leaves him with but the veil between them, and
they touch through the veil.
The first instance we have in this kind, occurred at Cana, in the centre
of Galilee, where the first miracle was wrought. It is the second
miracle in St John's record, and is recorded by him only. Doubtless
these two had especially attracted his nature--the turning of water into
wine, and the restoration of a son to his father. The Fatherhood of God
created the fatherhood in man; God's love man's love. And what shall he
do to whom a son is given whom yet he cannot keep? The divine love in
his heart cleaves to the child, and the child is vanishing! What can
this nobleman do but seek the man of whom such wondrous rumours have
reached his ears?
Between Cana and Tiberias, from which came the father with his prayer,
was somewhere about twenty miles.
"He is at the point of death," said the father.
"Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe," said Jesus.
"Sir, come down ere my child die."
"Go thy way, thy son liveth."
If the nobleman might have understood the remark the Lord made, he was
in no mood for principles, and respectfully he expostulates with our
Lord for spending time in words when the need was so urgent. The sun of
his life was going down into the darkness. He might deserve reproof, but
even reproof has its season. "Sir, come down ere my child die." Whatever
the Lord meant by the words he urged it no farther. He sends him home
with the assurance of the boy's recovery, showing him none of the signs
or wonders of which he had spoken. Had the man been of unbelieving kind
he would, when he returned and found that all had occurred in the most
natural fashion, that neither here had there been sign or wonder, have
gradually reverted to his old carelessness as to a higher will and its
ordering of things below. But instead of this, when he heard that the
boy began to get better the very hour when Jesus spoke the word--a fact
quite easy to set down as a remarkable coincidence--he believed, and all
his people with him. Probably he was in ideal reality the head of his
house, the main source of household influences--if such, then a man of
faith, for, where a man does not himself look up to the higher, the
lower will hardly look faithfully up to him--surely a fit man to
intercede for his son, with all his house ready to believe with him. It
may be said they too shared in the evidence--such as it was--not much of
a sign or wonder to them. True; but people are not ready to believe
the best evidence except they are predisposed in the direction of that
evidence. If it be said, "they should have thought for themselves," I
answer--To think with their head was no bad sign that they did think for
themselves. A great deal of what is called freedom of thought is merely
the self-assertion which would persuade itself of a freedom it would
possess but cannot without an effort too painful for ignorance and
self-indulgence. The man would _feel_ free without being free. To assert
one's individuality is not necessarily to be free: it _may_ indeed be
but the outcome of absolute slavery.
But if this nobleman was a faithful man, whence our Lord's word, "Except
ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe"? I am not sure. It may
have been as a rebuke to those about him. This man--perhaps, as is said,
a nobleman of Herod's court--may not have been a pure-bred Jew, and
hence our Lord's remark would bear an import such as he uttered more
plainly in the two cases following, that of the Greek woman, and that
of the Roman centurion: "Except _ye_ see signs and wonders ye will not
believe; _but this man_--." With this meaning I should probably have
been content, were it not that the words were plainly addressed to the
man. I do not think this would destroy the interpretation, for the Lord
may have wished to draw the man out, and make him, a Gentile or doubtful
kind of Jew, rebuke the disciples; only the man's love for his son stood
in the way: he could think of nothing, speak of nothing save his son;
but it makes it unsatisfactory. And indeed I prefer the following
interpretation, because we have the other meaning in other places;
also because this is of universal application, and to us of these days
appears to me of special significance and value, applying to the men of
science on the one hand, and the men of superstition on the other.
My impression is, that our Lord, seeing the great faith of the nobleman,
grounded on what he had heard of the Master from others, chiefly of his
signs and wonders, did in this remark require of him a higher faith
still. It sounds to me an expostulation with him. To express in the best
way my feeling concerning it, I would dare to imagine our Lord speaking
in this fashion:--
"Why did you not pray the Father? Why do you want always to _see_? The
door of prayer has been open since ever God made man in his own image:
why are signs and wonders necessary to your faith? But I will do just as
my Father would have done if you had asked him. Only when I do it, it is
a sign and a wonder that you may believe; and I wish you could believe
without it. But believe then for the very work's sake, if you cannot
believe for the word and the truth's sake. Go thy way, thy son liveth."
I would not be understood to say that the Lord _blamed_ him, or others
in him, for needing signs and wonders: it was rather, I think, that the
Lord spoke out of the fulness of his knowledge to awake in them some
infant sense of what constituted all his life--the presence of God;
just as the fingers of the light go searching in the dark mould for the
sleeping seeds, to touch and awake them. The order of creation, the
goings on of life, were ceaselessly flowing from the very heart of the
Father: why should they seek signs and wonders differing from common
things only in being uncommon? In essence there was no difference.
Uncommonness is not excellence, even as commonness is not inferiority.
The sign, the wonder is, in fact, the lower thing, granted only because
of men's hardness of heart and slowness to believe--in itself of
inferior nature to God's chosen way. Yet, if signs and wonders could
help them, have them they should, for neither were they at variance
with the holy laws of life and faithfulness: they were but less usual
utterances of the same. "Go thy way: thy son liveth." The man, noble-man
certainly in this, obeyed, and found his obedience justify his faith.
But his son would have to work out his belief upon grounds differing
from those his father had. In himself he could but recognize the
resumption of the _natural_ sway of life. He would not necessarily know
that it was God working in him. For the cause of his cure, he would only
hear the story of it from his father--good evidence--but he himself had
not seen the face of the Holy One as his father had. In one sense or
another, he must seek and find him. Every generation must do its own
seeking and its own finding. The fault of the fathers often is that
they expect their finding to stand in place of their children's
seeking--expect the children to receive that which has satisfied the
need of their fathers upon their testimony; whereas rightly, their
testimony is not ground for their children's belief, only for their
children's search. That search is faith in the bud. No man can be sure
till he has found for himself. All that is required of the faithful
nature is a willingness to seek. He cannot even know the true nature of
the thing he wants until he has found it; he has but a dim notion of it,
a faint star to guide him eastward to the sunrise. Hopefully, the belief
of the father has the heart in it which will satisfy the need of the
child; but the doubt of this in the child, is the father's first ground
for hoping that the child with his new needs will find for himself the
same well of life--to draw from it with a new bucket, it may be, because
the old will hold water no longer: its staves may be good, but its hoops
are worn asunder; or, rather, it will be but a new rope it needs, which
he has to twist from the hemp growing in his own garden. The son who
was healed might have many questions to ask which the father could not
answer, had never thought of. He had heard of the miracle of Cana; he
had heard of many things done since: he believed that the man could cure
his son, and he had cured him. "Yes," the son might say, "but I must
know more of him; for, if what I hear now be true, I must cast all
at his feet. He cannot be a healer only; he must be the very Lord of
Life--it may be of the Universe." His simple human presence had in
it something against the supposition--contained in it what must
have _appeared_ reason for doubting this conclusion from his deeds,
especially to one who had not seen his divine countenance. But to one at
length enlightened of the great Spirit, his humanity would contain the
highest ground for believing in his divinity, for what it meant would
come out ever and ever loftier and grander. The Lord who had made the
Universe--how _should_ he show it but as the Healer did? He could not
make the universe over again in the eyes of every man. If he did, the
heart of the man could not hold the sight. He must reveal himself as the
curing God--the God who set things which had gone wrong, right again:
_that could_ be done in the eyes of each individual man. This man may be
he--the Messiah--Immanuel, God with-us.
We can imagine such the further thoughts of the son--possibly of the
father first--only he had been so full of the answer to his prayer, of
the cure of his son, that he could not all at once follow things towards
their grand conclusions.
In this case, as in the two which follow, the Lord heals from a
distance. I have not much to remark upon this. There were reasons for
it; one perhaps the necessity of an immediate answer to the prayer;
another probably lay in its fitness to the faith of the supplicants. For
to heal thus, although less of a sign or a wonder to the unbelieving,
had in it an element of finer power upon the faith of such as came not
for the sign or the wonder, but for the cure of the beloved; for he who
loves can believe what he who loves not cannot believe; and he who
loves most can believe most. In this respect, these cures were like the
healing granted to prayer in all ages--not that God is afar off, for
he is closer to every man than his own conscious being is to his
unconscious being--but that we receive the aid from the Unseen. Though
there be no distance with God, it looks like it to men; and when Jesus
cured thus, he cured with the same appearances which attended God's
The next case I take up is similar. It belongs to another of my classes,
but as a case of possession there is little distinctive about it, while
as the record of the devotion of a mother to her daughter--a devotion
quickening in her faith so rare and lovely as to delight the very heart
of Jesus with its humble intensity--it is one of the most beautiful of
all the stories of healing.
The woman was a Greek, and had not had the training of the Jew for a
belief in the Messiah. Her misconceptions concerning the healer of whom
she had heard must have been full of fancies derived from the legends of
her race. But she had yet been trained to believe, for her mighty
love of her own child was the best power for the development of the
child-like in herself.
No woman can understand the possible depths of her own affection for her
daughter. I say _daughter_, not _child_, because although love is the
same everywhere, it is nowhere the same. No two loves of individuals in
the same correlation are the same. Much more the love of a woman for her
daughter differs from the love of a father for his son--differs as the
woman differs from the man. There is in it a peculiar tenderness from
the sense of the same womanly consciousness in both of undefendedness
and self-accountable modesty--a modesty, in this case, how terribly
tortured in the mother by the wild behaviour of the daughter under the
impulses of the unclean spirit! Surely if ever there was a misery to
drive a woman to the Healer in an agony of rightful claim and prostrate
entreaty, it was the misery of a mother whose daughter was thus
possessed. The divine nature of her motherhood, of her womanhood, drew
her back to its source to find help for one who shared in the same, but
in whom its waters were sorely troubled and grievously defiled.
She came crying to him. About him stood his disciples, proud of being
Jews. For their sakes this chosen Gentile must be pained a little
further, must bear with her Saviour her part of suffering for the
redemption even of his chosen apostles. They counted themselves the
children, and such as she the dogs. He must show them the divine nature
dwelling in her. For the sake of this revelation he must try her sorely,
but not for long.
"Have mercy on me," she cried, "O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter
is grievously vexed with a devil."
But not a word of reply came from the lips of the Healer. His disciples
must speak first. They must supplicate for their Gentile sister. He
would arouse in them the disapproval of their own exclusiveness, by
putting it on for a moment that they might see it apart from themselves.
Their hearts were moved for the woman.
"Send her away," they said, meaning, "Give her what she wants;" but
to move the heart of love to grant the prayer, they--poor
intercessors--added a selfish reason to justify the deed of goodness,
either that they would avoid being supposed to acknowledge her claim on
a level with that of a Jewess, and would make of it what both Puritans
and priests would call "an uncovenanted mercy," or that they actually
thought it would help to overcome the scruples of the Master. Possibly
it was both. "She crieth after us," they said--meaning, "She is
troublesome." They would have him give as the ungenerous and the unjust
give to the importunate.
But no healing could be granted on such a ground--not even to the prayer
of an apostle. The woman herself must give a better.
"I am not sent," he said, "but unto the lost sheep of the house of
They understood the words falsely. We know that he did come for the
Gentiles, and he was training them to see what they were so slow to
understand, that he had other sheep which were not of this fold. He had
need to begin with them thus early. Most of the troubles of his latest,
perhaps greatest apostle, came from the indignation of Jewish Christians
that he preached the good news to the Gentiles as if it had been
originally meant for them. They would have had them enter into its
privileges by the gates of Judaism.
What they did at length understand by these words is expressed in the
additional word of our Lord given by St Mark: "Let the children first be
filled." But even this they could not understand until afterwards. They
could not see that it was for the sake of the Gentiles as much as the
Jews that Jesus came to the Jews first. For whatever glorious exceptions
there were amongst the Gentiles, surpassing even similar amongst the
Jews; and whatever the wide-spread refusal of the Jewish nation, he
_could_ not have been received amongst the Gentiles as amongst the Jews.
In Judaea alone could the leaven work; there alone could the mustard-seed
take fitting root. Once rooted and up, it would become a great tree, and
the birds of the world would nestle in its branches. It was not that God
loved the Jews more than the Gentiles that he chose them first, but that
he must begin somewhere: _why,_ God himself knows, and perhaps has given
Upheld by her God-given love, not yet would the woman turn away. Even
such hard words as these could not repulse her.
She came now and fell at his feet. It is as the Master would have it:
she presses only the nearer, she insists only the more; for the devil
has a hold of her daughter.
"Lord, help me," is her cry; for the trouble of her daughter is her own.
The "Help _me_" is far more profound and pathetic than the most vivid
blazon of the daughter's sufferings.
But he answered and said,--
"It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs."
Terrible words! more dreadful far than any he ever spoke besides! Surely
now she will depart in despair! But the Lord did not mean in them to
speak _his_ mind concerning the relation of Jew and Gentile; for
not only do the future of his church and the teaching of his Spirit
contradict it: but if he did mean what he said, then he acted as was
unmeet, for he did cast a child's bread to a dog. No. He spoke as a Jew
felt, that the elect Jews about him might begin to understand that in
him is neither Jew nor Gentile, but all are brethren.
And he has gained his point. The spirit in the woman has been divinely
goaded into utterance, and out come the glorious words of her love and
faith, casting aside even insult itself as if it had never been--all for
the sake of a daughter. Now, indeed, it is as he would have it.
"Yes, Lord; yet the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs."
Or, as St Matthew gives it:
"Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their
A retort quite Greek in its readiness, its symmetry, and its point! But
it was not the intellectual merit of the answer that pleased the Master.
Cleverness is cheap. It is the faith he praises, [Footnote 5: Far
more precious than any show of the intellect, even in regard of the
intellect itself. The quickness of her answer was the scintillation of
her intellect under the glow of her affection. Love is the quickening
nurse of the whole nature. Faith in God will do more for the intellect
at length than all the training of the schools. It will make the
best that can be made of the whole man.] which was precious as
rare--unspeakably precious even when it shall be the commonest thing
in the universe, but precious now as the first fruits of a world
redeemed--precious now as coming from the lips of a Gentile--more
precious as coming from the lips of a human mother pleading for her
"O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt."
Or, as St Mark gives it, for we cannot afford to lose a varying word,
"For this saying, go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter."
The loving mother has conquered the tormenting devil. She has called in
the mighty aid of the original love. Through the channel of her love it
flows, new-creating, "and her daughter was made whole from that very
Where, O disciples, are your children and your dogs now? Is not the wall
of partition henceforth destroyed? No; you too have to be made whole
of a worse devil, that of personal and national pride, before you
understand. But the day of the Lord is coming for you, notwithstanding
ye are so incapable of knowing the signs and signals of its approach
that, although its banners are spread across the flaming sky, it must
come upon you as a thief in the night.
For the woman, we may well leave her to the embraces of her daughter.
They are enough for her now.
But endless more will follow, for God is exhaustless in giving where the
human receiving holds out. God be praised that there are such embraces
in the world! that there are mothers who are the salvation of their
We now complete a little family group, as it were, with the story of
another foreigner, a Roman officer, who besought the Lord for his
servant. This captain was at Capernaum at the time, where I presume he
had heard of the cure which Jesus had granted to the nobleman for his
son. It seems almost clear from the quality of his faith, however, that
he must have heard much besides of Jesus--enough to give him matter of
pondering for some time, for I do not think such humble confidence
as his could be, like Jonah's gourd, the growth of a night. He was
evidently a man of noble and large nature. Instead of lording it over
the subject Jews of Capernaum, he had built them a synagogue; and his
behaviour to our Lord is marked by that respect which, shown to any
human being, but especially to a person of lower social condition, is
one of the surest marks of a finely wrought moral temperament. Such a
nature may be beautifully developed, by a military training, in which
obedience and command go together; and the excellence of faith and its
instant response in action, would be more readily understood by the
thoughtful officer of a well-disciplined army than by any one to whom
organization was unknown. Hence arose the parallel the centurion draws
between his own and the Master's position, which so pleased the Lord by
its direct simplicity. But humble as the man was, I doubt if anything
less than some spiritual perception of the nobility of the character
of Jesus, some perception of that which was altogether beyond even the
power of healing, could have generated such perfect reverence, such
childlike confidence as his. It is no wonder the Lord was pleased with
it, for that kind of thing must be just what his Father loves.
According to St Luke, the Roman captain considered himself so unworthy
of notice from the carpenter's son--they of Capernaum, which was "his
own city," knew his reputed parentage well enough--that he got the
elders of the Jews to go and beg for him that he would come and heal his
servant. They bore testimony to his worth, specifying that which would
always be first in the eyes of such as they, that he loved their nation,
and had built them a synagogue. Little they thought how the Lord was
about to honour him above all their nation and all its synagogues. He
went with them at once.
But before they reached the house, the centurion had a fresh inroad of
that divine disease, humility, [Footnote 6: In him it was almost
morbid, one might be tempted to say, were it not that it was own sister
to such mighty faith.] and had sent other friends to say, "Lord, trouble
not thyself, for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my
roof. Wherefore, neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee; but
say in a word, and my servant shall be healed. For I also am a man set
under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and
he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do
this, and he doeth it."
This man was a philosopher: he ascended from that to which he was
accustomed to that to which he was not accustomed. Nor did his divine
logic fail him. He begins with acknowledging his own subjection, and
states his own authority; then leaves it to our Lord to understand that
he recognizes in him an authority beyond all, expecting the powers of
nature to obey their Master, just as his soldiers or his servants obey
him. How grandly he must have believed in him!
But beyond suspicion of flattery, he avoids the face of the man whom in
heart he worships. How unlike those who press into the presence of a
phantom-greatness! "A poor creature like me go and talk to him!" the
Roman captain would exclaim. "No, I will worship from afar off." And it
is to be well heeded that the Lord went no further--turned at once. With
the tax-gatherer Zacchaeus he would go home, if but to deliver him from
the hopelessness of his self-contempt; but what occasion was there here?
It was all right here. The centurion was one who needed but to go on. In
heart and soul he was nearer the Lord now than any of the disciples who
followed him. Surely some one among the elders of the Jews, his friends,
would carry him the report of what the Master said. It would not hurt
him. The praise of the truly great will do no harm, save it fall where
it ought not, on the heart of the little. The praise of God never falls
wrong, therefore never does any one harm. The Lord even implies we ought
to seek it. His praise would but glorify the humility and the faith of
this Roman by making both of them deeper and nobler still. There is
something very grand in the Lord's turning away from the house of the
man who had greater faith than any he had found in Israel; for such were
the words he spoke to those who followed him, of whom in all likelihood
the messenger elders were nearest. Having turned to say them, he turned
not again but went his way. St Luke, whose narrative is in other
respects much fuller than St Matthew's (who says that the centurion
himself came to Jesus, and makes no mention of the elders), does not
represent the Master as uttering a single word of cure, but implies
that he just went away marvelling at him; while "they that were sent,
returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick." If
any one ask how Jesus could marvel, I answer, Jesus could do more things
than we can well understand. The fact that he marvelled at the great
faith, shows that he is not surprised at the little, and therefore is
able to make all needful and just, yea, and tender allowance.
Here I cannot do better for my readers than give them four lines, dear
to me, but probably unknown to most of them, written, I must tell them,
for the sake of their loving catholicity, by an English Jesuit of the
seventeenth century. They touch the very heart of the relation between
Jesus and the centurion:--
Thy God was making haste into thy roof;
Thy humble faith and fear keeps Him aloof:
He'll be thy guest; because He may not be,
He'll come--into thy house? No, into thee.
As I said, we thus complete a kind of family group, for surely the true
servant is one of the family: we have the prayer of a father for a
son, of a mother for a daughter, of a master for a servant. Alas! the
dearness of this latter bond is not now known as once. There never was a
rooted institution in parting with which something good was not lost for
a time, however necessary its destruction might be for the welfare of
the race. There are fewer free servants that love their masters and
mistresses now, I fear, than there were Roman bondsmen and bondswomen
who loved theirs. And, on the other hand, very few masters and
mistresses regard the bond between them and their servants with half the
respect and tenderness with which many among the Romans regarded it.
Slavery is a bad thing and of the devil, yet mutual jealousy and
contempt are worse. But the time will yet come when a servant will serve
for love as more than wages; and when the master of such a servant will
honour him even to the making him sit down to meat, and coming forth and
The next is the case of the palsied man, so graphically given both by
St Mark and St Luke, and with less of circumstance by St Matthew. This
miracle also was done in Capernaum, called his own city. Pharisees
and doctors of the law from every town in the country, hearing of
his arrival, had gathered to him, and were sitting listening to his
teaching. There was no possibility of getting near him, and the sick
man's friends had carried him up to the roof, taken off the tiles, and
let him down into the presence. It should not be their fault if the poor
fellow was not cured. "Jesus seeing their faith--When Jesus saw their
faith--And when he saw their faith, he said unto the sick of the palsy,
Son, be of good cheer--Son--Man, thy sins are forgiven thee." The
forgiveness of the man's sins is by all of the narrators connected
with the faith of his friends. This is very remarkable. The only other
instance in which similar words are recorded, is that of the woman who
came to him in Simon's house, concerning whom he showed first, that her
love was a sign that her sins were already forgiven. What greater honour
could he honour their faith withal than grant in their name, unasked,
the one mighty boon? They had brought the man to him; to them he forgave
his sins. He looked into his heart, and probably saw, as in the case of
the man whom he cured by the pool of Bethesda, telling him to go and
sin no more, that his own sins had brought upon him this suffering,
a supposition which aids considerably to the understanding of the
consequent conversation; saw, at all events, that the assurance of
forgiveness was what he most needed, whether because his conscience was
oppressed with a sense of guilt, or that he must be brought to think
more of the sin than of the suffering; for it involved an awful rebuke
to the man, if he required it still--that the Lord should, when he came
for healing, present him with forgiveness. Nor did he follow it at once
with the cure of his body, but delayed that for a little, probably for
the man's sake, as probably for the sake of those present, whom he had
been teaching for some time, and in whose hearts he would now fix the
lesson concerning the divine forgiveness which he had preached to them
in bestowing it upon the sick man. For his words meant nothing, except
they meant that God forgave the man. The scribes were right when they
said that none could forgive sins but God--that is, in the full sense in
which forgiveness is still needed by every human being, should all his
fellows whom he has injured have forgiven him already.
They said in their hearts, "He is a blasphemer." This was what he had
"Why do you think evil in your hearts?" he said, that is, _evil of
me--that I am a blasphemer_.
He would now show them that he was no blasphemer; that he had the power
to forgive, that it was the will of God that he should preach the
remission of sins. How could he show it them? In one way only: by
dismissing the consequence, the punishment of those sins, sealing thus
in the individual case the general truth. He who could say to a man,
by the eternal law suffering the consequences of sin: "Be whole,
well, strong; suffer no more," must have the right to pronounce his
forgiveness; else there was another than God who had to cure with a word
the man whom his Maker had afflicted. If there were such another, the
kingdom of God must be trembling to its fall, for a stronger had invaded
and reversed its decrees. Power does not give the right to pardon, but
its possession may prove the right. "Whether is easier--to say, Thy
sins be forgiven thee, or to say, Rise up and walk?" If only God can do
either, he who can do the one must be able to do the other.
"That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive
sins--Arise, and take up thy bed, and go thy way into thine house."
Up rose the man, took up that whereon he had lain, and went away,
knowing in himself that his sins _were_ forgiven him, for he was able
to glorify God. It seems to me against our Lord's usual custom with the
scribes and Pharisees to grant them such proof as this. Certainly, to
judge by those recorded, the whole miracle was in aspect and order
somewhat unusual. But I think the men here assembled were either better
than the most of their class, or in a better mood than common, for St
Luke says of them that the power of the Lord was present to heal them.
To such therefore proof might be accorded which was denied to others.
That he might heal these learned doctors around him, he forgave the sins
first and then cured the palsy of the man before him. For their sakes he
performed the miracle thus. Then, _like priests, like people_; for where
their leaders were listening, the people broke open the roof to get the
helpless into his presence.
"They marvelled and glorified God which had given such power unto
men"--"Saying, We never saw it on this fashion."--"They were filled with
fear, saying, We have seen strange things to-day."
And yet Capernaum had to be brought down to hell, and no man can tell
the place where it stood.
Two more cases remain, both related by St Mark alone.
They brought him a man partially deaf and dumb. He led him aside from
the people: he would be alone with him, that he might come the better
into relation with that individuality which, until molten from within,
is so hard to touch. Possibly had the man come of himself, this might
have been less necessary; but I repeat there must have been in every
case reason for the individual treatment in the character and condition
of the patient. These were patent only to the Healer. In this case the
closeness of the personal contact, as in those cases of the blind, is
likewise remarkable. "He put his fingers into his ears, he spit and
touched his tongue." Always in present disease, bodily contact--in
defects of the senses, sometimes of a closer kind. He would generate
assured faith in himself as the healer. But there is another remarkable
particular here, which, as far as I can remember, would be alone in its
kind but for a fuller development of it at the raising of Lazarus. "And
looking up to heaven, he sighed."
What did it mean? What first of all _was_ it?
That look, was it not a look up to his own Father? That sigh, was it not
the unarticulated prayer to the Father of the man who stood beside him?
But did _he_ need to look up as if God was in the sky, seeing that God
was in _him_, in his very deepest, inmost being, in fulness of presence,
and receiving conscious response, such as he could not find anywhere
else--not from the whole gathered universe? Why should he send a sigh,
like a David's dove, to carry the thought of his heart to his Father?
True, if all the words of human language had been blended into one
glorious majesty of speech, and the Lord had sought therein to utter the
love he bore his Father, his voice must needs have sunk into the last
inarticulate resource--the poor sigh, in which evermore speech dies
helplessly triumphant--appealing to the Hearer to supply the lack,
saying _I cannot, but thou knowest_--confessing defeat, but claiming
victory. But the Lord could talk to his Father evermore in the forms of
which words are but the shadows, nay, infinitely more, without forms at
all, in the thoughts which are the souls of the forms. Why then needs he
look up and sigh?--That the man, whose faith was in the merest nascent
condition, might believe that whatever cure came to him from the hand of
the healer, came from the hand of God. Jesus did not care to be believed
in as the doer of the deed, save the deed itself were recognized as
given him of the Father. If they saw him only, and not the Father
through him, there was little gained indeed. The upward look and the
sigh were surely the outward expression of the infrangible link which
bound both the Lord and the man to the Father of all. He would lift the
man's heart up to the source of every gift. No cure would be worthy gift
without that: it might be an injury.
The last case is that of the blind man of Bethsaida, whom likewise he
led apart, out of the town, and whose dull organs he likewise touched
with his spittle. Then comes a difference. The deaf man was at once
cured; when he had laid his hands on the blind man, his vision was but
half-restored. "He asked him if he saw ought? And he looked up and said,
I see the men: for like trees [Footnote 7: Could it be translated,
"_As well as_ (that is besides) trees, I see walkers about"?] I see them
walking about." He could tell they were men and not trees, only by their
motion. The Master laid his hands once more upon his eyes, and when he
looked up again, he saw every man clearly.
In thus graduating the process, our Lord, I think, drew forth,
encouraged, enticed into strength the feeble faith of the man. He
brooded over him with his holy presence of love. He gave the faith time
to grow. He cared more for his faith than his sight. He let him, as it
were, watch him, feel him doing it, that he might know and believe.
There is in this a peculiar resemblance to the ordinary modes God takes
in healing men.
These last miracles are especially full of symbolism and analogy. But in
considering any of the miracles, I do not care to dwell upon this aspect
of them, for in this they are only like all the rest of the doings of
God. Nature is brimful of symbolic and analogical parallels to the
goings and comings, the growth and the changes of the highest nature in
man. It could not be otherwise. For not only did they issue from the
same thought, but the one is made for the other. Nature as an outer
garment for man, or a living house, rather, for man to live in. So
likewise must all the works of him who did the works of the Father bear
the same mark of the original of all.
The one practical lesson contained in this group is nearer the human
fact and the human need than any symbolic meaning, grand as it must be,
which they may likewise contain; nearer also to the constitution of
things, inasmuch as what a man must _do_ is more to the man and to his
Maker than what he can only _think_; inasmuch, also, as the commonest
things are the best, and any man can do right, although he may be unable
to tell the difference between a symbol and a sign:--it is that if ever
there was a Man such as we read about here, then he who prays for his
friends shall be heard of God. I do not say he shall have whatever he
asks for. God forbid. But he shall be heard. And the man who does not
see the good of that, knows nothing of the good of prayer; can, I fear,
as yet, only pray for himself, when most he fancies he is praying for
his friend. Often, indeed, when men suppose they are concerned for the
well-beloved, they are only concerned about what they shall do without
them. Let them pray for themselves instead, for that will be the truer
prayer. I repeat, all prayer is assuredly heard:--what evil matter is
it that it should be answered only in the right time and right way? The
prayer argues a need--that need will be supplied. One day is with the
Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. All who
have prayed shall one day justify God and say--Thy answer is beyond my
prayer, as thy thoughts and thy ways are beyond my thoughts and my ways.
VII. THE CASTING OUT OF DEVILS.
Before attempting to say the little I can concerning this group of
miracles, I would protect myself against possible misapprehension.
The question concerning the nature of what is called _possession_
has nothing whatever to do with that concerning the existence or
nonexistence of a personal and conscious power of evil, the one great
adversary of the kingdom of heaven, commonly called Satan, or the devil.
I say they are two distinct questions, and have so little in common that
the one may be argued without even an allusion to the other.
Many think that in the cases recorded we have but the symptoms of
well-known diseases, which, from their exceptionally painful character,
involving loss of reason, involuntary or convulsive motions, and
other abnormal phenomena, the imaginative and unscientific Easterns
attributed, as the easiest mode of accounting for them, to a foreign
power taking possession of the body and mind of the man. They say there
is no occasion whatever to resort to an explanation involving an agency
of which we know nothing from any experience of our own; that, as our
Lord did not come to rectify men's psychological or physiological
theories, he adopted the mode of speech common amongst them, but cast
out the evil spirits simply by healing the diseases attributed to their
There seems to me nothing unchristian in this interpretation. All
diseases that trouble humanity may well be regarded as inroads of the
evil powers upon the palaces and temples of God, where only the
Holy Spirit has a right to dwell; and to cast out such, is a marvel
altogether as great as to expel the intruding forces to which the
Jews attributed some of them. Certainly also our Lord must have used
multitudes of human expressions which did not more than adumbrate his
own knowledge. And yet I cannot admit that the solution meets all the
appearances of the difficulty. I say _appearances_, because I could not
be dogmatic here if I would. I know too little, understand too little,
to dare give such an opinion as possesses even the authority of personal
conviction. All I have to say on the subject must therefore come to
little. Perhaps if the marvellous, as such, were to me more difficult
of belief, anything I might have to say on the side of it would have
greater weight. But to me the marvellous is not therefore incredible,
always provided that in itself the marvellous thing appears worthy.
I have no difficulty in receiving the old Jewish belief concerning
possession; and I think it better explains the phenomena recorded than
the growing modern opinion; while the action of matter upon mind may
well be regarded as involving greater mystery than the action of one
spiritual nature upon another. That a man should rave in madness because
some little cell or two in the grey matter of his brain is out of order,
is surely no more within the compass of man's understanding than the
supposition that an evil spirit, getting close to the fountain of a
man's physical life, should disturb all the goings on of that life, even
to the production of the most appalling moral phenomena. In either case
it is not the man himself who originates the resulting actions, but an
external power operating on the man.
"But we do not even know that there are such spirits, and we do know
that a diseased brain is sufficient to account for the worst of the
phenomena recorded." I will not insist on the fact that we do _not_ know
that the diseased brain is enough to account for the phenomena, that we
only know it as in many cases a concomitant of such phenomena; I will
grant so much, and yet insist that, as the explanation does not fit the
statements of the record, and as we know so little of what is, any hint
of unknown possibilities falling from unknown regions, should, even as a
stranger, receive the welcome of contemplation and conjecture, so long
as in itself it involves no moral contradiction. The man who will not
speculate at all, can make no progress. The thinking about the possible
is as genuine, as lawful, and perhaps as edifying an exercise of the
mind as the severest induction. Better lies still beyond. Experiment
itself must follow in the track of sober conjecture; for if we know
already, where is the good of experiment?
There seems to me nothing unreasonable in the supposition of the
existence of spirits who, having once had bodies such as ours, and
having abused the privileges of embodiment, are condemned for a season
to roam about bodiless, ever mourning the loss of their capacity for
the only pleasures they care for, and craving after them in their
imaginations. Such, either in selfish hate of those who have what
they have lost, or from eagerness to come as near the possession of a
corporeal form as they may, might well seek to _enter into_ a man. The
supposition at least is perfectly consistent with the facts recorded.
Possibly also it may be consistent with the phenomena of some of the
forms of the madness of our own day, although all its forms are alike
regarded as resulting from physical causes alone.
The first act of dispossession recorded is that told by St Mark and St
Luke, as taking place at Capernaum, amongst his earliest miracles, and
preceding the cure of Simon's mother-in-law. He was in the synagogue on
the Sabbath day, teaching the congregation, when a man present, who had
an unclean spirit, cried out. If I accept the narrative, I find this cry
far more intelligible on the old than on the new theory. The speaker,
no doubt using the organs of the man, brain and all, for utterance,
recognizes a presence--to him the cause of terror--which he addresses as
the Holy One of God. This holy one he would propitiate by entreaty and
the flattering acknowledgment of his divine mission, with the hope
of being left unmolested in the usurpation and cruelty by which he
ministered to his own shadowy self-indulgences. Could anything be more
What other word could Jesus address to such than, "Hold thy peace, and
come out of him"? A being in such a condition could not be permitted to
hold converse with the Saviour; for he recognized no salvation but what
lay in the continuance of his own pleasures at the expense of another.
The form of the rebuke plainly assumes that it was not the man but some
one in the man who had spoken; and the narrative goes on to say that
when the devil had thrown him down and torn him and cried with a loud
voice--his rage and disappointment, I presume, finding its last futile
utterance in the torture of his captive--he came out of him and left him
unhurt. Thereupon the people questioned amongst themselves saying, "What
thing is this? It is a teaching new, and with authority: he commandeth
even the unclean spirits, and they obey him;" [Footnote 8: St Mark, i. 27.
Authorized Version revised by Dean Alford.] thus connecting at once his
power over the unclean spirits with the doctrine he taught, just as our
Lord in an after-instance associates power over demons with spiritual
condition. It was the truth in him that made him strong against the
powers of untruth.
Many such cures were performed, but the individual instances recorded
are few. The next is that of the man--dumb, according to St Luke, both
blind and dumb, according to St Matthew--who spake and saw as soon
as the devil was cast out of him. With unerring instinct the people
concluded that he who did such deeds must be the Son of David; the
devils themselves, according to St Mark, were wont to acknowledge him
the Son of God; the Scribes and Pharisees, the would-be guides of
the people, alone refused the witness, and in the very imbecility of
unbelief, eager after any theory that might seem to cover the facts
without acknowledging a divine mission in one who would not admit
_their_ authority, attributed to Beelzebub himself the deliverance of
distressed mortals from the powers of evil.
Regarding the kingdom of God as a thing of externals, they were
fortified against recognizing in Jesus himself or in his doctrine any
sign that he was the enemy of Satan, and might even persuade themselves
that such a cure was only one of Satan's tricks for the advancement of
his kingdom with the many by a partial emancipation of the individual.
But our Lord attributes this false conclusion to its true cause--to
no incapacity or mistake of judgement; to no over-refining about the
possible chicaneries of Beelzebub; but to a preference for any evil
which would support them in their authority with the people--in itself
an evil. Careless altogether about truth itself, they would not give
a moment's quarter to any individual utterance of it which tended to
destroy their honourable position in the nation. Each man to himself was
his own god. The Spirit of God they shut out. To them forgiveness was
not offered. They must pay the uttermost farthing--whatever that may
mean--and frightful as the doom must be. That he spoke thus against them
was but a further carrying out of his mission, a further inroad upon the
kingdom of that Beelzebub. And yet they were the accredited authorities
in the church of that day; and he who does not realize this, does not
understand the battle our Lord had to fight for the emancipation of the
people. It was for the sake of the people that he called the Pharisees
_hypocrites_, and not for their own sakes, for how should he argue with
men who taught religion for their own aggrandizement?
It is to be noted that our Lord recognizes the power of others besides
himself to cast out devils. "By whom do your children cast them out?"
_Did you ever say of them it was by Beelzebub? Why say it of me_? What
he claims he freely allows. The Saviour had no tinge of that jealousy
of rival teaching--as if truth could be two, and could avoid being
one--which makes so many of his followers grasp at any waif of false
argument. He knew that all good is of God, and not of the devil. All
were _with_ him who destroyed the power of the devil.
They who were cured, and they in whom self-worship was not blinding the
judgment, had no doubt that he was fighting Satan on his usurped ground.
Torture was what might be expected of Satan; healing what might be
expected of God. The reality of the healing, the loss of the man,
morally as well as physically, to the kingdom of evil, was witnessed in
all the signs that followed. Our Lord rests his argument on the fact
that Satan had lost these men.
We hear next, from St Luke, of certain women who followed him, having
been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, amongst whom is mentioned
"Mary, called Magdalene, out of whom went seven devils." No wonder a
woman thus delivered should devote her restored self to the service of
him who had recreated her. We hear nothing of the circumstances of the
cure, only the result in her constant ministration. Hers is a curious
instance of the worthlessness of what some think it a mark of
high-mindedness to regard alone--the opinion, namely, of posterity.
Without a fragment of evidence, this woman has been all but universally
regarded as impure. But what a trifle to her! Down in this squabbling
nursery of the race, the name of Mary Magdalene may be degraded even to
a subject for pictorial sentimentalities; but the woman herself is with
that Jesus who set her free. To the end of time they may call her what
they please: to her it is worth but a smile of holy amusement. And just
as worthy is the applause of posterity associated with a name. To God
alone we live or die. Let us fall, as, thank him, we must, into his
hands. Let him judge us. Posterity may be wiser than we; but posterity
is not our judge.
We come now to a narrative containing more of the marvellous than all
the rest. The miracle was wrought on the south-eastern side of the
lake--St Matthew says, upon two demoniacs; St Mark and St Luke make
mention only of one. The accounts given by the latter Evangelists are
much more circumstantial than that by the former. It was a case of
peculiarly frightful character. The man, possessed of many demons, was
ferocious, and of marvellous strength, breaking chains and fetters, and
untameable. It is impossible to analyse the phenomena, saying which
were the actions of the man, and which those of the possessing demons.
Externally all were the man's, done by the man finally, some part, I
presume, from his own poor withered will, far the greater from the
urging of the demons. Even in the case of a man driven by appetite or
passion, it is impossible to say how much is to be attributed to the man
himself, and how much to that lower nature in him which he ought to keep
in subjection, but which, having been allowed to get the upper hand, has
become a possessing demon. He met the Lord worshipping, and, as in a
former instance, praying for such clemency as devils can value. Was it
the devils, then, that urged the man into the presence of the Lord?
Was it not rather the other spirit, the spirit of life, which not the
presence of a legion of the wicked ones could drive from him? Was it not
the spirit of the Father in him which brought him, ignorant, fearing,
yet vaguely hoping perhaps, to the feet of the Son? He knew not why he
came; but he came--drawn or driven; he could not keep away. When he
came, however, the words at least of his prayer were moulded by the
devils--"I adjure thee by God that thou torment me not." Think of the
man, tortured by such awful presences, praying to the healer not to
torment him! The prayer was compelled into this shape by the indwelling
demons. They would have him pray for indulgence for them. But the Lord
heard the deeper prayer, that is, the need and misery of the man, the
horror that made him cry and cut himself with stones--and commanded the
unclean spirit to come out of him. Thereupon, St Mark says, "he besought
him much that he would not send them out of the country." Probably the
country was one the condition of whose inhabitants afforded the demons
unusual opportunities for their coveted pseudo-embodiment. St Luke says,
"They besought him that he would not command them to go out into the
deep"--to such beings awful, chiefly because there they must be alone,
afar from matter and all its forms. In such loneliness the good man
would be filled with the eternal presence of the living God; but they
would be aware only of their greedy, hungry selves--desires without
objects. No. Here were swine. "Send us into the swine, that we may enter
into them." Deprived of the abode they preferred, debarred from men,
swine would serve their turn. But even the swine--animals created to
look unclean, for a type to humanity of the very form and fashion of its
greed--could not endure their presence. The man had cut himself with
stones in his misery; the swine in theirs rushed into the waters of the
lake and were drowned. The evil spirits, I presume, having no further
leave, had to go to their deep after all.
The destruction of the swine must not be regarded as miraculous. But
there must have been a special reason in the character and condition
of the people of Gadara for his allowing this destruction of their
property. I suppose that although it worked vexation and dismay at
first, it prepared the way for some after-reception of the gospel. Now,
seeing him who had been a raving maniac, sitting at the feet of Jesus,
clothed and in his right mind, and hearing what had come to the swine,
they were filled with fear, and prayed the healer to depart from them.
But who can imagine the delight of the man when that wild troop of
maddening and defiling demons, which had possessed him with all
uncleanness, vanished! Scarce had he time to know that he was naked,
before the hands of loving human beings, in whom the good Spirit ruled,
were taking off their own garments, and putting them upon him. He was
a man once more, and amongst men with human faces, human hearts, human
ways. He was with his own; and that supreme form and face of the man who
had set him free was binding them all into one holy family. Now he could
pray of himself the true prayer of a soul which knew what it wanted, and
could say what it meant. He sat down like a child at the feet of the man
who had cured him; and when, yielding at once to the desire of those who
would be rid of his presence, Jesus went down to the boat, he followed,
praying that he might be with him; for what could he desire but to
be near that power which had restored him his divine self, and the
consciousness thereof--his own true existence, that of which God was
thinking when he made him?
But he would be still nearer the Lord in doing his work than in
following him about. It is remarkable that while more than once our Lord
charged the healed to be silent, he leaves this man as his apostle--his
witness with those who had banished him from their coasts. Something
may be attributed to the different natures of the individuals; some in
preaching him would also preach themselves, and so hurt both. But this
man was not of such. To be with the Lord was all his prayer. Therefore
he was fit to be without him, and to aid his work apart. But I think it
more likely that the reason lay in the condition of the people. Judaea
was in a state of excitement about him--that excitement had unhealthy
elements, and must not be fanned. In some places the Lord would not
speak at all. Through some he would pass unknown. But here all was
different. He had destroyed their swine; they had prayed him to depart;
if he took from them this one sign of his real presence, that is, of the
love which heals, not the power which destroys, it would be to abandon
But it is very noteworthy that he sent the man to his own house, to his
own friends. They must be the most open to such a message as his, and
from such lips--the lips of their own flesh and blood. He had been
raving in tombs and deserts, tormented with a legion of devils; now he
was one of themselves again, with love in his eyes, adoration in the
very tones of his voice, and help in his hands--reason once more supreme
on the throne of his humanity. He obeyed, and published in Gadara, and
the rest of the cities of Decapolis, the great things, as Jesus himself
called them, which God had done for him. For it was God who had done
them. He was doing the works of his Father.
One more instance remains, having likewise peculiar points of
difficulty, and therefore of interest.
When Jesus was on the mount of transfiguration, a dumb, epileptic,
and lunatic boy was brought by his father to those disciples who were
awaiting his return.
But they could do nothing. To their disappointment, and probably to
their chagrin, they found themselves powerless over the evil spirit.
When Jesus appeared, the father begged of him the aid which his
disciples could not give: "Master, I beseech thee, look upon my son, for
he is mine only child."
Whoever has held in his arms his child in delirium, calling to his
father for aid as if he were distant far, and beating the air in wild
and aimless defence, will be able to enter a little into the trouble of
this man's soul. To have the child, and yet see him tormented in some
region inaccessible; to hold him to the heart and yet be unable to reach
the thick-coming fancies which distract him; to find himself with a
great abyss between him and his child, across which the cry of the
child comes, but back across which no answering voice can reach the
consciousness of the sufferer--is terror and misery indeed. But imagine
in the case before us the intervals as well--the stupidity, the vacant
gaze, the hanging lip, the pale flaccid countenance and bloodshot eyes,
idiocy alternated with madness--no voice of human speech, only the
animal babble of the uneducated dumb--the misery of his falling down
anywhere, now in the fire, now in the water, and the divine shines out
as nowhere else--for the father loves his only child even to agony.
What was there in such a child to love? _Everything_: the human was
there, else whence the torture of that which was not human? whence
the pathos of those eyes, hardly up to the dog's in intelligence, yet
omnipotent over the father's heart? God was there. The misery was that
the devil was there too. Thence came the crying and tears. "Rescue the
divine; send the devil to the deep," was the unformed prayer in the
Before replying to his prayer, Jesus uttered words that could not have
been addressed to the father, inasmuch as he was neither faithless nor
perverse. Which then of those present did he address thus? To which of
them did he say, "How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer
you?" I have thought it was the bystanders: but why they? They had not
surely reached the point of such rebuke. I have thought it was the
disciples, because perhaps it was their pride that rendered them unable
to cast out the demon, seeing they tried it without faith enough in
God. But the form of address does not seem to belong to them: the word
generation could not well apply to those whom he had chosen out of that
generation. I have thought, and gladly would I continue to think, if
I could honestly, that the words were intended for the devils who
tormented his countrymen and friends; and but for St Mark's story, I
might have held to it. He, however, gives us one point which neither St
Matthew nor St Luke mention--that "when he came to his disciples he saw
a great multitude about them, and the scribes questioning with them." He
says the multitude were greatly amazed when they saw him--why, I do not
know, except it be that he came just at the point where his presence was
needful to give the one answer to the scribes pressing hard upon his
disciples because they could not cast out this devil. These scribes,
these men of accredited education, who, from their position as students
of the law and the interpretations thereof, arrogated to themselves a
mastery over the faith of the people, but were themselves so careless
about the truth as to be utterly opaque to its illuminating power--these
scribes, I say, I do think it was whom our Lord addressed as "faithless
and perverse generation." The immediately following request to the
father of the boy, "Bring him unto me," was the one answer to their
A fresh paroxysm was the first result. But repressing all haste, the
Lord will care for the father as much as for the child. He will help his
"How long is it ago since thus hath come unto him?"
"From a child. And oft-times it hath cast him into the fire, and
into the waters, to destroy him; but if thou canst do anything, have
compassion on us, and help us." [Footnote 9: Again the _us_--so full of
pathos.] "_If thou canst_?" [Footnote 10: The oldest manuscripts. (_Dean
Alford_). "If thou canst have faith--All things," &c. ("New Translation
of the Gospel of St Mark." _Rev. F.H. Godwin_).] All things are possible
to him that believeth."
"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
Whether the words of Jesus, "him that believeth," meant himself as
believing in the Father, and therefore gifted with all power, or the man
as believing in him, and therefore capable of being the recipient of
the effects of that power, I am not sure. I incline to the former. The
result is the same, for the man resolves the question practically and
personally: what was needful in him should be in him. "I believe; help
thou mine unbelief."
In the honesty of his heart, lest he should be saying more than was
true--for how could he be certain that Jesus would cure his son? or how
could he measure and estimate his own faith?--he appeals to the Lord of
Truth for all that he ought to be, and think, and believe. "Help thou
mine unbelief." It is the very triumph of faith. The unbelief itself
cast like any other care upon him who careth for us, is the highest
exercise of belief. It is the greatest effort lying in the power of the
man. No man can help doubt. The true man alone, that is, the faithful
man, can appeal to the Truth to enable him to believe what is true, and
refuse what is false. How this applies especially to our own time and
the need of the living generations, is easy to see. Of all prayers it is
the one for us.
Possibly our Lord might have held a little farther talk with him, but
the people came crowding about. "He rebuked the foul spirit, saying unto
him, Thou dumb and deaf spirit, I charge thee, come out of him, and
enter no more into him. And the spirit cried and rent him sore, and came
out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead.
But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose."
"Why could not we cast him out?" asked his disciples as soon as they
"This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting."
What does this answer imply? The prayer and fasting must clearly be
on the part of those who would heal. They cannot be required of one
possessed with a demon. If he could fast and pray, the demon would be
It implies that a great purity of soul is needful in him who would
master the powers of evil. I take prayer and fasting to indicate
a condition of mind elevated above the cares of the world and the
pleasures of the senses, in close communion with the God of life;
therefore by its very purity an awe and terror to the unclean spirits, a
fit cloud whence the thunder of the word might issue against them. The
expulsion would appear to be the result of moral, and hence natural,
superiority--a command resting upon oneness with the ultimate will of
the Supreme, in like manner as an evil man is sometimes cowed in the
presence of a good man. The disciples had not attained this lofty
condition of faith.
From this I lean to think that the words of our Lord--"All things
are possible to him that believeth"--apply to our Lord himself. The
disciples could not help the child: "If thou canst do anything," said
the father. "All things are possible to him that believeth," says our
Lord. _He_ can help him. That it was the lack of faith in the disciples
which rendered the thing impossible for them, St Matthew informs us
explicitly, for he gives the reply of our Lord more fully than the rest:
"Because of your unbelief," he said, and followed with the assertion
that faith could remove mountains.
But the words--_"This kind"_--suggest that the case had its
peculiarities. It would appear--although I am not certain of this
interpretation--that some kinds of spirits required for their expulsion,
or at least some cases of possession required for their cure, more than
others of the presence of God in the healer. I do not care to dwell upon
this farther than to say that there are points in the narrative which
seem to indicate that it was an unusually bad case. The Lord asked how
long he had been ill, and was told, from childhood. The demon--to use
the language of our ignorance--had had time and opportunity, in his
undeveloped condition, to lay thorough hold upon him; and when he did
yield to the superior command of the Lord, he left him as dead--so close
had been the possession, that for a time the natural powers could not
operate when deprived of the presence of a force which had so long
usurped, maltreated, and exhausted, while falsely sustaining them. The
disciples, although they had already the power to cast out demons, could
not cast this one out, and were surprised to find it so. There appears
to me no absurdity, if we admit the demons at all, in admitting also
that some had greater force than others, be it regarded as courage or
obstinacy, or merely as grasp upon the captive mortal.
In all these stories there is much of comfort both to the friends of
those who are insane, and to those who are themselves aware of their own
partial or occasional insanity. For such sorrow as that of Charles and
Mary Lamb, walking together towards the asylum, when the hour had come
for her to repair thither, is there not some assuagement here? It may be
answered--We have no ground to hope for such cure now. I think we
have; but if our faith will not reach so far, we may at least, like
Athanasius, recognize the friendship of Death, for death is the divine
cure of many ills.
But we all need like healing. No man who does not yet love the truth
with his whole being, who does not love God with all his heart and soul
and strength and mind, and his neighbour as himself, is in his sound
mind, or can act as a rational being, save more or less approximately.
This is as true as it would be of us if possessed by other spirits
than our own. Every word of unkindness, God help us! every unfair hard
judgment, every trembling regard of the outward and fearless disregard
of the inward life, is a siding with the spirit of evil against the
spirit of good, with our lower and accidental selves, against our higher
and essential--our true selves. These the spirit of good would set free
from all possession but his own, for that is their original life. Out
of us, too, the evil spirits can go by that prayer alone in which a man
draws nigh to the Holy. Nor can we have any power over the evil spirit
in others except in proportion as by such prayer we cast the evil spirit
out of ourselves.
VIII. THE RAISING OF THE DEAD.
I linger on the threshold. How shall I enter the temple of this wonder?
Through all ages men of all degrees and forms of religion have hoped at
least for a continuance of life beyond its seeming extinction. Without
such a hope, how could they have endured the existence they had? True,
there are in our day men who profess unbelief in that future, and yet
lead an enjoyable life, nor even say to themselves, "Let us eat and
drink, for to-morrow we die;" but say instead, with nobleness, "Let us
do what good we may, for there are men to come after us." Of all things
let him who would be a Christian be fair to every man and every class of
men. Before, however, I could be satisfied that I understood the mental
condition of such, I should require a deeper insight than I possess in
respect of other men. These, however numerous they seem in our day,
would appear to be exceptions to the race. No doubt there have always
been those who from absorption in the present and its pleasures, have
not cared about the future, have not troubled themselves with the
thought of it. Some of them would rather not think of it, because if
there be such a future, they cannot be easy concerning their part in it;
while others are simply occupied with the poor present--a present grand
indeed if it be the part of an endless whole, but poor indeed if it
stand alone. But here are thoughtful men, who say, "There is no
more. Let us make the best of this." Nor is their notion of _best_
contemptible, although in the eyes of some of us, to whom the only worth
of being lies in the hope of becoming that which, at the rate of present
progress, must take ages to be realized, it is poor. I will venture one
or two words on the matter.
Their ideal does not approach the ideal of Christianity for _this_ life
Before I can tell whether their words are a true representation of
themselves, in relation to this future, I must know both their conscious
and unconscious being. No wonder I should be loath to judge them.
No poet of high rank, as far as I know, ever disbelieved in the future.
He might fear that there was none; but that very fear is faith. The
greatest poet of the present day believes with ardour. That it is not
proven to the intellect, I heartily admit. But if it were true, it were
such as the intellect could not grasp, for the understanding must be the
offspring of the life--in itself essential. How should the intellect
understand its own origin and nature? It is too poor to grasp this
question; for the continuity of existence depends on the nature of
existence, not upon external relations. If after death we should be
conscious that we yet live, we shall even then, I think, be no more
able to prove a further continuance of life, than we can now prove our
present being. It may be easier to believe--that will be all. But we
constantly act upon grounds which we cannot prove, and if we cannot feel
so sure of life beyond the grave as of common every-day things, at least
the want of proof ought neither to destroy our hope concerning it, nor
prevent the action demanded by its bare possibility.
But last, I do say this, that those men, who, disbelieving in a future
state, do yet live up to the conscience within them, however much lower
the requirements of that conscience may be than those of a conscience
which believes itself enlightened from "the Lord, who is that spirit,"
shall enter the other life in an immeasurably more enviable relation
thereto than those who say _Lord, Lord_, and do not the things he says
It may seem strange that our Lord says so little about the life to
come--as we call it--though in truth it is one life with the present--as
the leaf and the blossom are one life. Even in argument with the
Sadducees he supports his side upon words accepted by them, and upon the
nature of God, but says nothing of the question from a human point of
regard. He seems always to have taken it for granted, ever turning the
minds of his scholars towards that which was deeper and lay at its
root--the life itself--the oneness with God and his will, upon which the
continuance of our conscious being follows of a necessity, and without
which if the latter were possible, it would be for human beings an utter
When he speaks of the world beyond, it is as _his Father's house_. He
says there are many mansions there. He attempts in no way to explain.
Man's own imagination enlightened of the spirit of truth, and working
with his experience and affections, was a far safer guide than his
intellect with the best schooling which even our Lord could have given
it. The memory of the poorest home of a fisherman on the shore of
the Galilean lake, where he as a child had spent his years of divine
carelessness in his father's house, would, at the words of our Lord _my
Father's house_, convey to Peter or James or John more truth concerning
the many mansions than a revelation to their intellect, had it been
possible, as clear as the Apocalypse itself is obscure.
When he said "I have overcome the _world_" he had overcome the cause of
all doubt, the belief in the outside appearances and not in the living
truth: he left it to his followers to say, from their own experience
knowing the thing, not merely from the belief of his resurrection, "He
has conquered death and the grave. O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave,
where is thy victory?" It is the inward life of truth that conquers
the outward death of appearance; and nothing else, no revelation from
without, could conquer it.
These miracles of our Lord are the nearest we come to news of any kind
concerning--I cannot say _from_--the other world. I except of course our
Lord's own resurrection. Of that I shall yet speak as a miracle,
for miracle it was, as certainly as any of our Lord's, whatever
interpretation be put upon the word. And I say _the nearest to news we
come_, because not one of those raised from the dead gives _us_ at least
an atom of information. Is it possible they may have told their friends
something which has filtered down to us in any shape?
I turn to the cases on record. They are only three. The day after he
cured the servant of the centurion at Capernaum, Jesus went to Nain, and
as they approached the gate--but I cannot part the story from the lovely
words in which it is told by St Luke: "There was a dead man carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and much people of the
city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her,
and said unto her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier; and they
that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee,
Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered
him to his mother."
In each of the cases there is an especial fitness in the miracle. This
youth was the only son of a widow; the daughter of Jairus was his "one
only daughter;" Lazarus was the brother of two orphan sisters.
I will not attempt by any lingering over the simple details to render
the record more impressive. That lingering ought to be on the part of
the reader of the narrative itself. Friends crowded around a loss--the
centre of the gathering that which _was not_--the sole presence the
hopeless sign of a vanished treasure--an open gulf, as it were, down
which love and tears and sad memories went plunging in a soundless
cataract: the weeping mother--the dead man borne in the midst. They
were going to the house of death, but Life was between them and it--was
walking to meet them, although they knew it not. A face of tender pity
looks down on the mother. She heeds him not. He goes up to the bier, and
lays his hand on it. The bearers recognize authority, and stand. A
word, and the dead sits up. A moment more, and he is in the arms of his
mother. O mother! mother! wast thou more favoured than other mothers? Or
was it that, for the sake of all mothers as well as thyself, thou wast
made the type of the universal mother with the dead son--the raising
of him but a foretaste of the one universal bliss of mothers with dead
sons? That thou wert an exception would have ill met thy need, for thy
motherhood could not be justified in thyself alone. It could not have
its rights save on grounds universal. Thy motherhood was common to all
thy sisters. To have helped thee by exceptional favour would not have
been to acknowledge thy motherhood. That must go mourning still, even
with thy restored son in its bosom, for its claims are universal or they
_are_ not. Thou wast indeed a chosen one, but that thou mightest show to
all the last fate of the mourning mother; for in God's dealings there
are no exceptions. His laws are universal as he is infinite. Jesus
wrought no new thing--only the works of the Father. What matters it that
the dead come not back to us, if we go to them? _What matters it?_ said
I! It is tenfold better. Dear as home is, he who loves it best must know
that what he calls home is not home, is but a shadow of home, is but the
open porch of home, where all the winds of the world rave by turns, and
the glowing fire of the true home casts lovely gleams from within.
Certainly this mother did not thus lose her son again. Doubtless next
she died first, knowing then at last that she had only to wait. The dead
must have their sorrow too, but when they find it is well with them,
they can sit and wait by the mouth of the coming stream better than
those can wait who see the going stream bear their loves down to the
ocean of the unknown. The dead sit by the river-mouths of Time: the
living mourn upon its higher banks.
But for the joy of the mother, we cannot conceive it. No mother even who
has lost her son, and hopes one blessed eternal day to find him again,
can conceive her gladness. Had it been all a dream? A dream surely in
this sense, that the final, which alone, in the full sense, is God's
will, must ever cast the look of a dream over all that has gone before.
When we last awake, we shall know that we dreamed. Even every honest
judgment, feeling, hope, desire, will show itself a dream--with this
difference from some dreams, that the waking is the more lovely, that
nothing is lost, but everything gained, in the full blaze of restored
completeness. How triumphant would this mother die, when her turn came!
And how calmly would the restored son go about the duties of the
world. [Footnote:11 Those who can take the trouble, and are capable of
understanding it, will do well to study Robert Browning's "Epistle of an
He sat up and began to speak.
It is vain to look into that which God has hidden; for surely it is by
no chance that we are left thus in the dark. "He began to speak." Why
does not the Evangelist go on to give us some hint of what he said?
Would not the hearts of mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives,
children, husbands--who shall say where the divine madness of love
will cease?--grandfathers, grandmothers--themselves with flickering
flame--yes, grandchildren, weeping over the loss of the beloved gray
head and tremulously gentle voice--would not all these have blessed God
for St Luke's record of what the son of the widow said? For my part, I
thank God he was silent.
When I think of the pictures of heaven drawn from the attempt of
prophecy to utter its visions in the poor forms of the glory of earth, I
see it better that we should walk by faith, and not by a fancied sight.
I judge that the region beyond is so different from ours, so comprising
in one surpassing excellence all the goods of ours, that any attempt
of the had-been-dead to describe it, would have resulted in the most
wretched of misconceptions. Such might please the lower conditions of
Christian development--but so much the worse, for they could not fail to
obstruct its further growth. It is well that St Luke is silent; or that
the mother and the friends who stood by the bier, heard the words of the
returning spirit only as the babble of a child from which they could
draw no definite meaning, and to which they could respond only by
The story of the daughter of Jairus is recorded briefly by St Matthew,
more fully by St Luke, most fully by St Mark. One of the rulers of the
synagogue at Capernaum falls at the feet of our Lord, saying his little
daughter is at the point of death. She was about twelve years of age. He
begs the Lord to lay his hands on her that she may live. Our Lord goes
with him, followed by many people. On his way to restore the child he is
arrested by a touch. He makes no haste to outstrip death. We can imagine
the impatience of the father when the Lord stood and asked who touched
him. What did that matter? his daughter was dying; Death would not wait.
But the woman's heart and soul must not be passed by. The father with
the only daughter must wait yet a little. The will of God cannot be
"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?" "Ah! I thought so! There it is! Death has won the race!"
we may suppose the father to say--bitterly within himself. But Jesus,
while he tried the faith of men, never tried it without feeding its
strength. With the trial he always gives the way of escape. "As soon as
Jesus heard the word that was spoken"--not leaving it to work its agony
of despair first--"he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue, Be not
afraid; only believe." They are such simple words--commonplace in the
ears of those who have heard them often and heeded them little! but
containing more for this man's peace than all the consolations of
philosophy, than all the enforcements of morality; yea, even than the
raising of his daughter itself. To arouse the higher, the hopeful, the
trusting nature of a man; to cause him to look up into the unknown
region of mysterious possibilities--the God so poorly known--is to do
infinitely more for a man than to remove the pressure of the direst evil
without it. I will go further: To arouse the hope that there may be a
God with a heart like our own is more for the humanity in us than to
produce the absolute conviction that there is a being who made the
heaven and the earth and the sea and the fountains of waters. Jesus is
the express image of God's substance, and in him we know the heart of
God. To nourish faith in himself was the best thing he could do for the
We hear of no word from the ruler further. If he answered not our Lord
in words, it is no wonder. The compressed lip and the uplifted eye would
say more than any words to the heart of the Saviour.
Now it would appear that he stopped the crowd and would let them go no
farther. They could not all see, and he did not wish them to see. It was
not good for men to see too many miracles. They would feast their eyes,
and then cease to wonder or think. The miracle, which would be all, and
quite dissociated from religion, with many of them, would cease to be
wonderful, would become a common thing with most. Yea, some would cease
to believe that it had been. They would say she did sleep after all--she
was not dead. A wonder is a poor thing for faith after all; and the
miracle could be only a wonder in the eyes of those who had not prayed
for it, and could not give thanks for it; who did not feel that in it
they were partakers of the love of God.
Jesus must have hated anything like display. God's greatest work has
never been done in crowds, but in closets; and when it works out from
thence, it is not upon crowds, but upon individuals. A crowd is not
a divine thing. It is not a body. Its atoms are not members one of
another. A crowd is a chaos over which the Spirit of God has yet to
move, ere each retires to his place to begin his harmonious work, and
unite with all the rest in the organized chorus of the human creation.
The crowd must be dispersed that the church may be formed.
The relation of the crowd to the miracle is rightly reflected in what
came to the friends of the house. To them, weeping and wailing greatly,
after the Eastern fashion, he said when he entered, "Why make ye this
ado, and weep? The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth." They laughed him
to scorn. He put them all out.
But what did our Lord mean by those words--"The damsel is not dead, but
sleepeth"? Not certainly that, as we regard the difference between death
and sleep, his words were to be taken literally; not that she was only
in a state of coma or lethargy; not even that it was a case of suspended
animation as in catalepsy; for the whole narrative evidently intends us
to believe that she was dead after the fashion we call death. That this
was not to be dead after the fashion our Lord called death, is a blessed
and lovely fact.
Neither can it mean, that she was not dead as others, in that he was
going to wake her so soon; for they did not know that, and therefore it
could give no ground for the expostulation, "Why make ye this ado, and
Nor yet could it come only from the fact that to his eyes death and
sleep were so alike, the one needing the power of God for awaking just
as much as the other. True they must be more alike in his eyes than even
in the eyes of the many poets who have written of "Death and his brother
Sleep;" but he sees the differences none the less clearly, and how they
look to us, and his knowledge could be no reason for reproaching our
ignorance. The explanation seems to me large and simple. These people
professed to believe in the resurrection of the dead, and did believe
after some feeble fashion. They were not Sadducees, for they were the
friends of a ruler of the synagogue. Our Lord did not bring the news of
resurrection to the world: that had been believed, in varying degrees,
by all peoples and nations from the first: the resurrection he taught
was a far deeper thing--the resurrection from dead works to serve the
living and true God. But as with the greater number even of Christians,
although it was part of their creed, and had some influence upon their
moral and spiritual condition, their practical faith in the resurrection
of the body was a poor affair. In the moment of loss and grief, they
thought little about it. They lived then in the present almost alone;
they were not saved by hope. The reproach therefore of our Lord was
simply that they did not take from their own creed the consolation they
ought. If the child was to be one day restored to them, then she was not
dead as their tears and lamentations would imply. Any one of themselves
who believed in God and the prophets, might have stood up and
said--"Mourners, why make such ado? The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.
You shall again clasp her to your bosom. Hope, and fear not--only
believe." It was in this sense, I think, that our Lord spoke.
But it may not at first appear how much grander the miracle itself
appears in the light of this simple interpretation of the Master's
words. The sequel stands in the same relation to the words as
if--turning into the death-chamber, and bringing the maid out by the
hand--he had said to them: "See--I told you she was not dead but
sleeping." The words apply to all death, just as much as to that in
which this girl lay. The Lord brings his assurance, his knowledge of
what we do not know, to feed our feeble faith. It is as if he told us
that our notion of death is all wrong, that there is no such thing as we
think it; that we should be nearer the truth if we denied it altogether,
and gave to what we now call death the name of sleep, for it is but a
passing appearance, and no right cause of such misery as we manifest in
its presence. I think it was from this word of our Lord, and from the
same utterance in the case of Lazarus, that St Paul so often uses the
word sleep for die and for death. Indeed the notion of death, as we feel
it, seems to have vanished entirely from St Paul's mind--he speaks of
things so in a continuity, not even referring to the change--not
even saying before death or after death, as if death made no atom of
difference in the progress of holy events, the divine history of the
individual and of the race together. In a word, when he raised the
dead, the Son did neither more nor less nor other than the work of the
Father--what he is always doing; he only made it manifest a little
sooner to the eyes and hearts of men.
But they to whom he spoke laughed him to scorn. They knew she was dead,
and their unfaithfulness blinded their hearts to what he meant. They
were unfit to behold the proof of what he had said. Such as they, in
such mood, could gather from it no benefit. A faithful heart alone is
capable of understanding the proof of the truest things. It is faith
towards God which alone can lay hold of any of his facts. There is a
foregoing fitness. Therefore he put them all out. But the father and
mother, whose love and sorrow made them more easily persuaded of mighty
things, more accessible to holy influences, and the three disciples,
whose faith rendered them fit to behold otherwise dangerous wonders,
he took with him into the chamber where the damsel lay--dead toward
men--sleeping toward God. Dead as she was, she only slept.
"Damsel, I say unto thee, arise." "And her spirit came again," "and
straightway the damsel arose and walked," "and he commanded to give her
meat." For in the joy of her restoration, they might forget that the
more complete the health of a worn and exhausted body, the more needful
was food--food which, in all its commonness, might well support the
miracle; for not only did it follow by the next word to that which had
wrought the miracle, but it worked in perfect harmony with the law which
took shape in this resurrection, and in its relations to the human being
involved no whit less marvel than lay in the miracle itself. The
raising of the dead and the feeding of the living are both and equally
divine--therefore in utter harmony. And we do not any more understand
the power in the body which takes to itself that food, than we
understand the power going out from Jesus to make this girl's body
capable of again employing its ministrations. They are both of one and
must be perfect in harmony, the one as much the outcome of law as the
He charges the parents to be silent, it may be for his sake, who did not
want to be made a mere wonder of, but more probably for their sakes,
that the holy thing might not evaporate in speech, or be defiled with
foolish talk and the glorification of self-importance in those for whom
a mighty wonder had been done; but that in silence the seed might take
root in their hearts and bring forth living fruit in humility, and
uprightness, and faith.
And now for the wonderful story of Lazarus. In this miracle one might
think the desire of Jesus for his friend's presence through his own
coming trouble, might have had a share, were it not that we never find
him working a miracle for himself. He knew the perfect will of the
Father, and left all to him. Those who cannot know that will and do not
care for it, have to fall into trouble that they may know God as the
Saviour from their own doings--as the fountain of all their well-being.
This Jesus had not to learn, and therefore could need no miracle wrought
for him. Even his resurrection was all for others. That miracle was
wrought in, not for him.
He knew Lazarus was dying. He abode where he was and let him die. For a
hard and therefore precious lesson for sisters and friends lay in that
death, and the more the love the more precious the lesson--the same
that lies in every death; and the end the same for all who
love--resurrection. The raising of Lazarus is the type of the raising
of all the dead. Of Lazarus, as of the daughter of Jairus, he said "he
sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep." He slept as every
dead man sleeps.
Read the story. Try to think not only what the disciples felt, but what
Jesus was thinking; how he, who saw the other side, regarded the death
he was about to destroy.
"Lord, if thou hadst been here," said Martha, "my brother had not died."
Did she mean to hint what she had not faith enough to ask?
"Thy brother shall rise again," said the Lord.
But her faith was so weak that she took little comfort from the
assurance. Alas! she knew what it meant. She knew all about it. He spoke
of the general far-off resurrection, which to her was a very little
thing. It was true he should rise again; but what was that to the
present consuming grief? A thousand years might be to God as one day,
but to Martha the one day was a thousand years. It is only to him who
entirely believes in God that the thousand years become one day also.
For he that believes shares in the vision of him in whom he believes. It
is through such faith that Jesus would help her--far beyond the present
awful need. He seeks to raise her confidence in himself by the strongest
assertions of the might that was in him. "I am the resurrection and the
life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live!"
The death of not believing in God--the God revealed in Jesus--is
the only death. The other is nowhere but in the fears and fancies of
unbelief. "And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die."
There is for him nothing to be called death; nothing that is what death
looks to us.
"Believest thou this?"
Martha was an honest woman. She did not fully understand what he meant.
She could not, therefore, do more than assent to it. But she believed in
him, and that much she could tell him plainly.
"Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which
should come into the world."
And that hope with the confession arose in her heart, she gave the
loveliest sign: she went and called her sister. But even in the
profounder Mary faith reached only to the words of her sister:
"Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died."
When he saw her trouble, and that of the Jews with her, he was troubled
likewise. But why? The purest sympathy with what was about to vanish
would not surely make him groan in his spirit. Why, then, this trouble
in our Lord's heart? We have a right, yea, a duty, to understand it if
we can, for he showed it.
I think it was caused by an invading sense of the general misery of poor
humanity from the lack of that faith in the Father without which he, the
Son, could do, or endure, nothing. If the Father ceased the Son must
cease. It was the darkness between God and his creatures that gave room
for and was filled with their weeping and wailing over their dead.
To them death must appear an unmitigated and irremediable evil. How
frightful to feel as they felt! to see death as they saw it! Nothing
could help their misery but that faith in the infinite love which he had
come to bring them; but how hard it was to persuade them to receive
it! And how many weeping generations of loving hearts must follow! His
Father was indeed with them all, but how slowly and painfully would each
learn the one precious fact!
"Where have ye laid him?" he asked.
"Lord, come and see," they answered, in such mournful accents of human
misery that he wept with them.
They come to the grave.
"Take ye away the stone."
"Lord, by this time he stinketh, for he hath been dead four days," said
she who believed in the Resurrection and the Life! They are the saddest
of sad words. I hardly know how to utter the feeling they raise. In all
the relations of mortality to immortality, of body to soul, there are
painful and even ugly things, things to which, by common consent, we
refer only upon dire necessity, and with a sense of shame. Happy they in
whom the mortal has put on immortality! Decay and its accompaniments,
all that makes the most beloved of the _appearances_ of God's creation a
terror, compelling us to call to the earth for succour, and pray her to
take our dead out of our sight, to receive her own back into her bosom,
and unmake in secret darkness that which was the glory of the light in
our eyes--this was upper-most with Martha, even in the presence of him
to whom Death was but a slave to come and go at his will. Careful of his
feelings, of the shock to his senses, she would oppose his will. For
the dead brother's sake also, that he should not be dishonoured in his
privacy, she would not have had that stone removed. But had it been as
Martha feared, who so tender with feeble flesh as the Son of Man? Who so
unready to impute the shame it could not help? Who less fastidious over
the painful working of the laws of his own world?
Entire affection hateth nicer hands.
And at the worst, what was decay to him, who could recall the disuniting
atoms under the restored law of imperial life?
"Said I not unto thee, that if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see
the glory of God?"
Again I say _the essential_ glory of God who raises all the dead, not
merely _an exceptional_ glory of God in raising this one dead man.
They should see not corruption but glory. No evil odour of dissolution
should assail them, but glowing life should spring from the place of the
dead; light should be born from the very bosom of the darkness.
They took away the friendly stone. Then Jesus spoke, not to the dead
man, but to the living Father. The men and women about him must know it
as the Father's work. "And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father,
I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me
always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they
may believe that thou hast sent me." So might they believe that the work
was God's, that he was doing the will of God, and that they might trust
in the God whose will was such as this. He claimed the presence of God
in what he did, that by the open claim and the mighty deed following it
they might see that the Father justified what the Son said, and might
receive him and all that he did as the manifestation of the Father. And
"Lazarus, come forth."
Slow toiling, with hand and foot bound in the grave clothes, he that had
been dead struggled forth to the light. What an awful moment! When did
ever corruption and glory meet and embrace as now! Oh! what ready hands,
eager almost to helplessness, were stretched trembling towards the
feeble man returning from his strange journey, to seize and carry
him into the day--their poor day, which they thought _all_ the day,
forgetful of that higher day which for their sakes he had left behind,
content to walk in moonlight a little longer, gladdened by the embraces
of his sisters, and--perhaps--I do not know--comforting their hearts
with news of the heavenly regions!
Joy of all joys! The dead come back! Is it any wonder that this Mary
should spend three hundred pence on an ointment for the feet of the
Raiser of the Dead?
I doubt if he told them anything? I do not think he could make even his
own flesh and blood--of woman-kind, quick to understand--know the things
he had seen and heard and felt. All that can be said concerning this, is
thus said by our beloved brother Tennyson in his book _In Memoriam_:
'Where wert thou, brother, those four days?'
There lives no record of reply,
Which telling what it is to die,
Had surely added praise to praise.
Behold a man raised up by Christ!
The rest remaineth unrevealed;
He told it not; or something sealed
The lips of that Evangelist.
Why are we left in such ignorance?
Without the raising of the dead, without the rising of the Saviour
himself, Christianity would not have given what it could of _hope_ for
the future. Hope is not faith, but neither is faith sight; and if we
have hope we are not miserable men. But Christianity must not, could not
interfere with the discipline needful for its own fulfilment, could
not depose the schoolmaster that leads unto Christ. One main doubt and
terror which drives men towards the revelation in Jesus, is this strange
thing Death. How shall any man imagine he is complete in himself, and
can do without a Father in heaven, when he knows that he knows neither
the mystery whence he sprung by birth, nor the mystery to which he goes
by death? God has given us room away from himself as Robert Browning
..."God, whose pleasure brought
Man into being, stands away,
As it were, an hand-breadth off, to give
Room for the newly-made to live,
And look at Him from a place apart,
And use His gifts of brain and heart"--
and this room, in its time-symbol, is bounded by darkness on the one
hand, and darkness on the other. Whence I came and whither I go are
dark: how can I live in peace without the God who ordered it thus? Faith
is my only refuge--an absolute belief in a being so much beyond myself,
that he can do all for this _me_ with utter satisfaction to this _me_,
protecting all its rights, jealously as his own from which they spring,
that he may make me at last one with himself who is my deeper self,
inasmuch as his thought of me is my life. And not to know him, even if I
could go on living and happy without him, is death.
It may be said, "Why all this? Why not go on like a brave man to meet
your fate, careless of what that fate may be?"
"But what if this fate _should_ depend on myself? Am I to be careless
then?" I answer.
"The fate is so uncertain! If it be annihilation, why quail before it?
Cowardice at least is contemptible."
"Is not indifference more contemptible? That one who has once thought
should not care to go on to think? That this glory should perish--is it
no grief? Is life not a good with all its pain? Ought one to be willing
to part with a good? Ought he not to cleave fast thereto? Have you never
grudged the coming sleep, because you must cease for the time to _be_
so much as you were before? For my part, I think the man who can go to
sleep without faith in God has yet to learn what being is. He who knows
not God cannot, however, have much to lose in losing being. And yet--and
yet--did he never love man or woman or child? Is he content that there
should be no more of it? Above all, is he content to go on with man and
woman and child now, careless of whether the love is a perishable thing?
If it be, why does he not kill himself, seeing it is all a lie--a false
appearance of a thing too glorious to be fact, but for which our best
nature calls aloud--and cannot have it? If one knew for certain that
there was no life beyond this, then the noble thing would be to make the
best of this, yea even then to try after such things as are written in
the Gospel as we call it--for they _are_ the noblest. That I am sure of,
whatever I may doubt. But not to be sure of annihilation, and yet choose
it to be true, and act as if it were true, seems to me to indicate
a nature at strife with immortality--bound for the dust by its own
choice--of the earth, and returning to the dust."
The man will say, "That is yielding everything. Let us eat and drink,
for to-morrow we die. I am of the dust, for I believe in nothing
"No," I return. "I recognize another law in myself which seems to me
infinitely higher. And I think that law is in you also, although you are
at strife with it, and will revive in you to your blessed discontent.
By that I will walk, and not by yours--a law which bids me strive after
what I am not but may become--a law in me striving against the law of
sin and down-dragging decay--a law which is one with my will, and, if
true, must of all things make one at last. If I am made to live I ought
not to be willing to cease. This unwillingness to cease--above all,
this unwillingness to cease to love my own, the fore-front to me of my
all men--may be in me the sign, may _well_ be in me the sign that I am
made to live. Above all to pass away without the possibility of making
reparation to those whom I have wronged, with no chance of saying _I am
sorry--what shall I do for you? Grant me some means of delivering myself
from this burden of wrong_--seems to me frightful. No God to help one
to be good now! no God who cares whether one is good or not! if a God,
then one who will not give his creature time enough to grow good, even
if he is growing better, but will blot him out like a rain-drop! Great
God, forbid--if thou art. If thou art not, then this, like all other
prayers, goes echoing through the soulless vaults of a waste universe,
from the thought of which its peoples recoil in horror. Death, then, is
genial, soul-begetting, and love-creating; and Life is nowhere, save in
the imaginations of the children of the grave. Whence, then, oh! whence
came those their imaginations? Death, thou art not my father! Grave,
thou art not my mother! I come of another kind, nor shall ye usurp
dominion over me."
What better sign of immortality than the raising of the dead could God
give? He cannot, however, be always raising the dead before our eyes;
for then the holiness of death's ends would be a failure. We need death;
only it shall be undone once and again for a time, that we may know it
is not what it seems to us. I have already said that probably we are not
capable of being told in words what the other world is. But even the
very report through the ages that the dead came back, as their friends
had known them, with the old love unlost in the grave, with the same
face to smile and bless, is precious indeed. That they remain the same
in all that made them lovely, is the one priceless fact--if we may but
hope in it as a fact. That we shall behold, and clasp, and love them
again follows of simple necessity. We cannot be sure of the report as if
it were done before our own eyes, yet what a hope it gives even to him
whose honesty and his faith together make him, like Martha, refrain
speech, not daring to say _I believe_ of all that is reported! I think
such a one will one day be able to believe more than he even knows how
to desire. For faith in Jesus will well make up for the lack of the
sight of the miracle.
Does God, then, make death look what it is not? Why not let it appear
what it is, and prevent us from forming false judgments of it?
It is our low faithlessness that makes us misjudge it, and nothing but
faith could make us judge it aright. And that, while in faithlessness,
we should thus misjudge it, is well. In what it appears to us, it is a
type of what we are without God. But there is no falsehood in it. The
dust must go back to the dust. He who believes in the body more than in
the soul, cleaves to this aspect of death: he who believes in thought,
in mind, in love, in truth, can see the other side--can rejoice over
the bursting shell which allows the young oak to creep from its
kernel-prison. The lower is true, but the higher overcomes and absorbs
it. "When that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part
shall be done away." When the spirit of death is seen, the body of death
vanishes from us. Death is God's angel of birth. We fear him. The dying
stretches out loving hands of hope towards him. I do not believe that
death is to the dying the dreadful thing it looks to the beholders. I
think it is more like what the spirit may then be able to remember
of its own birth as a child into this lower world, this porch of the
heavenly. How will he love his mother then! and all humanity in her, and
God who gave her, and God who gives her back!
The future lies dark before us, with an infinite hope in the darkness.
To be at peace concerning it on any other ground than the love of
God, would be an absolute loss. Better fear and hope and prayer, than
knowledge and peace without the prayer.
To sum up: An express revelation in words would probably be little
intelligible. In Christ we have an ever-growing revelation. He is the
resurrection and the life. As we know him we know our future.
In our ignorance lies a force of need, compelling us towards God.
In our ignorance likewise lies the room for the development of the
simple will, as well as the necessity for arousing it. Hence this
ignorance is but the shell of faith.
In this, as in all his miracles, our Lord _shows_ in one instance what
his Father is ever doing without showing it.
Even the report of this is the best news we can have from the _other_
world--as we call it.
IX. THE GOVERNMENT OF NATURE.
The miracles I include in this class are the following:--
1. The turning of water into wine, already treated of, given by St John.
2. The draught of fishes, given by St Luke. 3. The draught of fishes,
given by St John. 4 The feeding of the four thousand, given by St
Matthew and St Mark. 5. The feeding of the five thousand, recorded by
all the Evangelists. 6. The walking on the sea, given by St Matthew, St
Mark, and St John. 7. The stilling of the storm, given by St Matthew, St
Mark, and St Luke. 8. The fish bringing the piece of money, told by St
These miracles, in common with those already considered, have for their
end the help or deliverance of man. They differ from those, however, in
operating mediately, through a change upon external things, and not at
once on their human objects.
But besides the fact that they have to do with what we call nature, they
would form a class on another ground. In those cases of disease,
the miracles are for the setting right of what has gone wrong, the
restoration of the order of things,--namely, of the original condition
of humanity. No doubt it is a law of nature that where there is sin
there should be suffering; but even its cure helps to restore that
righteousness which is highest nature; for the cure of suffering must
not be confounded with the absence of suffering. But the miracles of
which I have now to speak, show themselves as interfering with what we
may call the righteous laws of nature. Water should wet the foot, should
ingulf him who would tread its surface. Bread should come from the
oven last, from the field first. Fishes should be now here now there,
according to laws ill understood of men--nay, possibly according to a
piscine choice quite unknown of men. Wine should take ripening in the
grape and in the bottle. In all these cases it is otherwise. Yet even
in these, I think, the restoration of an original law--the supremacy of
righteous man, is foreshown. While a man cannot order his own house as
he would, something is wrong in him, and therefore in his house. I
think a true man should be able to rule winds and waters and loaves and
fishes, for he comes of the Father who made the house for him. Had Jesus
not been capable of these things, he might have been the best of men,
but either he could not have been a perfect man, or the perfect God, if
such there were, was not in harmony with the perfect man. Man is not
master in his own house because he is not master in himself, because he
is not a law unto himself--is not himself obedient to the law by which
he exists. Harmony, that is law, alone is power. Discord is weakness.
God alone is perfect, living, self-existent law.
I will try, in a few words, to give the ground on which I find it
possible to accept these miracles. I cannot lay it down as for any
other man. I do not wonder at most of those to whom the miracles are a
stumbling-block. I do a little wonder at those who can believe in Christ
and yet find them a stumbling-block.
How God creates, no man can tell. But as man is made in God's image, he
may think about God's work, and dim analogies may arise out of the depth
of his nature which have some resemblance to the way in which God works.
I say then, that, as we are the offspring of God--the children of his
will, like as the thoughts move in a man's mind, we live in God's mind.
When God thinks anything, then that thing _is_. His thought of it is its
life. Everything is because God thinks it into being. Can it then be
very hard to believe that he should alter by a thought any form or
appearance of things about us?
"It is inconsistent to work otherwise than by law."
True; but we know so little of this law that we cannot say what is
essential in it, and what only the so far irregular consequence of the
unnatural condition of those for whom it was made, but who have not yet
willed God's harmony. We know so little of law that we cannot certainly
say what would be an infringement of this or that law. That which at
first sight appears as such, may be but the operating of a higher law
which rightly dominates the other. It is the law, as we call it, that a
stone should fall to the ground. A man may place his hand beneath the
stone, and then, _if his hand be strong enough_, it is the law that the
stone shall not fall to the ground. The law has been lawfully prevented
from working its full end. In similar ways, God might stop the working
of one law by the intervention of another. Such intervention, if not
understood by us, would be what we call a miracle. Possibly a different
condition of the earth, producible according to law, might cause
everything to fly off from its surface instead of seeking it. The
question is whether or not we can believe that the usual laws might be
set aside by laws including higher principles and wider operations.
All I have to answer is--Give me good reason, and I can. A man may
say--"What seems good reason to you, does not to me." I answer, "We are
both accountable to that being, if such there be, who has lighted in us
the candle of judgment. To him alone we stand or fall. But there must
be a final way of right, towards which every willing heart is led,--and
which no one can find who does not seek it." All I want to show here,
is a conceivable region in which a miracle might take place without
any violence done to the order of things. Our power of belief depends
greatly on our power of imagining a region in which the things might be.
I do not see how some people _could_ believe what to others may offer
small difficulty. Let us beware lest what we call faith be but the mere
assent of a mind which has cared and thought so little about the objects
of its so-called faith, that it has never seen the difficulties
they involve. Some such believers are the worst antagonists of true
faith--the children of the Pharisees of old.
If any one say we ought to receive nothing of which we have no
experience; I answer, there is in me a necessity, a desire before which
all my experience shrivels into a mockery. Its complement must lie
beyond. We ought, I grant, to accept nothing for which we cannot see
the probability of some sufficient reason, but I thank God that this
sufficient reason is not for me limited to the realm of experience. To
suppose that it was, would change the hope of a life that might be an
ever-burning sacrifice of thanksgiving, into a poor struggle with events
and things and chances--to doom the Psyche to perpetual imprisonment in
the worm. I desire the higher; I care not to live for the lower. The one
would make me despise my fellows and recoil with disgust from a self I
cannot annihilate; the other fills me with humility, hope, and love.
Is the preference for the one over the other foolish then--even to the
A higher condition of harmony with law, may one day enable us to do
things which must now _appear_ an interruption of law. I believe it is
in virtue of the absolute harmony in him, his perfect righteousness,
that God can create at all. If man were in harmony with this, if he too
were righteous, he would inherit of his Father a something in his degree
correspondent to the creative power in Him; and the world he inhabits,
which is but an extension of his body, would, I think, be subject to him
in a way surpassing his wildest dreams of dominion, for it would be the
perfect dominion of holy law--a virtue flowing to and from him through
the channel of a perfect obedience. I suspect that our Lord in all his
dominion over nature, set forth only the complete man--man as God means
him one day to be. Why should he not know where the fishes were? or
even make them come at his will? Why should not that will be potent as
impulse in them? If we admit what I hail as the only fundamental idea
upon which I can speculate harmoniously with facts, and as alone
disclosing regions wherein contradictions are soluble, and doubts
previsions of loftier truth--I mean the doctrine of the Incarnation; or
if even we admit that Jesus was good beyond any other goodness we know,
why should it not seem possible that the whole region of inferior
things might be more subject to him than to us? And if more, why not
altogether? I believe that some of these miracles were the natural
result of a physical nature perfect from the indwelling of a perfect
soul, whose unity with the Life of all things and in all things was
absolute--in a word, whose sonship was perfect.
If in the human form God thus visited his people, he would naturally
show himself Lord over their circumstances. He will not lord it over
their minds, for such lordship is to him abhorrent: they themselves must
see and rejoice in acknowledging the lordship which makes them free.
There was no grand display, only the simple doing of what at the time
was needful. Some say it is a higher thing to believe of him that he
took things just as they were, and led the revealing life without the
aid of wonders. On any theory this is just what he did as far as his own
life was concerned. But he had no ambition to show himself the best of
men. He comes to reveal the Father. He will work even wonders to that
end, for the sake of those who could not believe as he did and had to be
taught it. No miracle was needful for himself: he saw the root of the
matter--the care of God. But he revealed this root in a few rare and
hastened flowers to the eyes that could not see to the root. There is
perfect submission to lower law for himself, but revelation of the
Father to them by the introduction of higher laws operating in the upper
regions bordering upon ours, not separated from ours by any impassable
gulf--rather connected by gently ascending stairs, many of whose
gradations he could blend in one descent. He revealed the Father as
being _under_ no law, but as law itself, and the cause of the laws we
know--the cause of all harmony because himself _the_ harmony. Men had
to be delivered not only from the fear of suffering and death, but from
the fear, which is a kind of worship, of nature. Nature herself must be
shown subject to the Father and to him whom the Father had sent. Men
must believe in the great works of the Father through the little works
of the Son: all that he showed was little to what God was doing. They
had to be helped to see that it was God who did such things as often as
they were done. He it is who causes the corn to grow for man. He gives
every fish that a man eats. Even if things are terrible yet they are
God's, and the Lord will still the storm for their faith in Him--tame