First Forgiveness, then Healing
“When he saw their faith, ho said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” — Luke v. 20.
I HAVE read to you the narrative of the healing of the man taken with the palsy; and many of you remember that, last Sabbath evening, I preached upon the Pharisees and the doctors of the law who were “sitting by.” I tried to represent the position of many in our congregations who are just “sitting by.” I preached to the outsiders of the congregation, on the divers reasons which led to this “sitting by.” I must confess that I did not reckon on so large a blessing as I have already seen as the result of that sermon. When I came here on Monday afternoon, that being Whit-Monday, when everybody is supposed to take a holiday, I was surprised, on my arrival, at about three o’clock, by a friend running up to me, and saying, “We are glad you have come, sir, for there is a room full already.” There is quite a nice number of friends who have come forward from the congregation, and who one after another have said, “We cannot be ‘sitting by’ any longer; we feel that we cannot remain among the sitters-by, but that we must come in and partake of the gospel feast, and join ourselves with the disciples of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.”
This blessed result of my sermon has set the bells of my heart ringing all the week, and I have felt deeply thankful to God for it. I said to myself that, as I had taken one arrow, which had sped so well, out of that quiver, I would take another. Having spoken to those who are “sitting by”, I think I will now speak to those who are not sitting by, but who indeed are the principal persons in the congregation, namely, those who are sick and sorry, and who need the Saviour. For this palsied man, who was let down by ropes through the ceiling, was the most remarkable person in that congregation. We may readily forget those Pharisees and learned legal gentlemen; but we can never forget this man to whom, as soon as ever they “let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus,” the Saviour said, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” I trust that, at this time, there are some present in this audience who are not sitting by, but who are already praying, “God be merciful to me!” some whose prayers are rising to heaven in accents like these, “Lord, help me!” “Lord, save, or I perish!” You are the principal persons in the congregation both to the preacher and to the preacher’s Master. He cares more about you, and about what shall take place in you, than about any of the Pharisees or doctors of the law who may be sitting by. God is glorified in scattering his miracles of mercy where there is the greatest need of them. Our Lord Jesus, when the poor man was let down by his four friends through the ceiling, said to him at once, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Matthew puts our Saviour’s words thus, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee;” while Mark’s record is, “Son, thy sins be forgiven thee.” Well, Jesus may have uttered all of these words, and all the different versions of the story may be correct, for it is not every man’s ear that catches the whole of every sentence that is spoken, and we may be glad that there are three Evangelists who have recorded what the Saviour said. There is no real difference in the sense, and the difference in the words may only show that Jesus said all three sentences.
I am going, on this occasion, to talk a little about this man, first, before his forgiveness; next, a little more about his forgiveness itself; and then a little about what followed after his forgiveness.
I. First, then, let us think of this man BEFORE HIS FORGIVENESS.
We are not told much about him. If I indulge in imagination a little, you will take it for what it is worth. This man, it seems to me, first, had faith which went out towards the Lord Jesus. Evidently, as I read the narrative, he had been suddenly paralyzed. This affliction usually comes upon a sudden; men who have been about their business, as active as usual, have been in a moment struck down with paralysis. This man appears to have been completely paralyzed, so as to have been unable to move; and, as he lay in that helpless state, he heard that Jesus of Nazareth had come to the city, and he believed that Jesus of Nazareth was able to heal even him. It does not strike me that his friends would have brought him to Christ unless at his own request; the most rational explanation of the whole proceeding seems to me to be this, he believed in Jesus as able to heal him, and he continued to cry out earnestly, and to pray that he might somehow or other be taken into Christ’s presence. He could not stir hand or foot, but he had friends, and he begged those friends to take him to Jesus.
Well now, there never was a soul yet that had faith in Christ but what Christ revealed himself more fully in the way of love to that soul. If thou knowest that thou canst not save thyself, if thou believest that Christ can save thee, and if thy one anxiety is to be laid at his feet, that he may look upon thee, and save thee, he will assuredly accept thee. “Him that cometh to me,” saith he, “I will in no wise cast out.” Whether lie comes running, or walking, or creeping, or borne of four, so long as he doth come, Christ will accept him; and if his faith be but as a grain of mustard seed, our Lord Jesus will not let it die. If there be but a smouldering faith, he will not quench the smoking flax. Believest thou this? If thou dost, let it cheer thee and comfort thee. There is something that is well with thy soul already. It was better to be paralyzed and to have faith in Christ than to be walking upright like the Pharisees and lawyers who had no faith in him. The apparent wretchedness of thy condition is not the real wretchedness of it; it may even turn out to be the blessedness and the hopefulness of it. If thou believest in Jesus, I care not how far thou hast fallen, nor how great is thy inability; if thou believest in Jesus, thou art brought into contact with omnipotence, and that omnipotence will heal thee.
This man, I believe, further, thought that Christ could heal him, but he began to feel his great sinfulness. I am certain that he did, because Jesus never does forgive where there is no repentance. There was never yet the fiat, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” until first there was a consciousness of sin, and a confession of sin. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This man, lying there paralyzed, wept at the thought of his past life, his omissions and his commissions, his falling short and his transgressions, and his heart was heavy within him. He seemed to say to his friends, “Get me somehow to the great Prophet; got me within sight of this wonderful Saviour. Oh, get me within touch of him, that I may be restored, that I may have this great load, which presses me down so sorely, taken off my heart! Worse to me even than the paralysis is this awful sense of sin. Take me, oh, take me into the presence of this Messiah, this Son of David, that he may have mercy upon me!” That I conceive to have been his condition before the word of pardon was spoken to him.
Next, being hopeful himself, he inspired those about him with hope. Of course, they would not have taken him to Christ if they had not had some sort of belief that possibly he might be healed. It is wonderful what sick people can do even when they can do nothing; how, when they seem to be utterly powerless, they find a strength in feebleness. Their very helplessness seems to be a plea where there is anything of generosity left in the heart of those who are near them. So this man pleaded, “I believe Jesus will heal me, I believe he will have mercy upon me; get me to him, do get me to him.”
They resolved to do it if they could; and he was willing to be carried to Christ. Four stout stalwart men said, “Yes, we will get you to him somehow, though it is a difficult task, for the house is small, the room is crowded, and there is sure to be a press about the door.” “But,” said the poor man, “oh! try to do it, for it is my only hope. If I could but get where Jesus could see me, he would look on me, and save me. Oh, get me to him, get me to him!” The palsied man would make no dispute about how it was to be done, so they carried him to the door of the house, and then they said to the people crowding around, “Make way for this poor palsied man,” and he would say, “I pray you, friends and neighbours, make way;” but they could not; perhaps they, too, had their friends who wanted to be healed, or they themselves had an anxiety to hear the great Teacher, so they pushed and pressed to get as near him as they could. You see, those quibbling Pharisees and doctors of the law had got in first, and they blocked up the road. They are always in a poor sinner’s way. What must be done? The poor man’s bearers would have abandoned the task, I think, but he said, “No, do not give up trying to get me in; it is my only hope. Oh, get me to him! Get me near him!”
So, next, the man was willing to be lowered into the presence of Christ. There was no other way but to go up those stairs outside the house, and to take him to the top of the roof; and he, not fearing as many would have done, said, “Ay, break it up, and let me down.” These four men, belonging to a fishing town, were adepts in the use of ropes, and they soon had their tackle ready, and they broke a way through the roof. As I told you in the reading, I always feel pleased at the idea of the dust and the debris of the roof coming down upon the heads of the Pharisees and doctors of the law. It always delights me to think that those gentlemen would have dust on their heads for once; since they wore there, they were bound to have a little of it. Of course, when these gentlemen come to a place of worship, one feels bound to be respectful to them; but if they come at an untimely hour, when there is any rough work going on, one does not feel any particular regret. If, when souls are being saved, these gentlemen should have their corns trodden upon, we do not even ask their pardon, or make any apology. Such a work as Christ had to do could not stand still for the sake of reverence to the learned doctors of the law; so the roof was broken up, and this man, though paralyzed, was not afraid to be let down. It is probable that there were no outcries from him when they began to let him down; I think, if it had been my case, I might have been afraid that one rope would go a little faster than the other. But no, the man keeps still in his paralysis and courage mingled, till down drops the pallet just before the Saviour.
There he lies upon his mattress, on the floor of the house, just before the Saviour’s eyes, exactly where he wanted to be. Here I address myself to some who would give all that they have if they could but be brought under the eye of Jesus. The one thought of such a sufferer is, “Oh, that I could be near him! Oh, that he would look on me, and cure my helplessness, and pardon my sin! What a wonderful picture this scene would make! The crowd are obliged to make way, or else they will have to bear the man and his bed on their heads; so he is dropped down into their midst, and there he lies. The great Preacher has been preaching, and he stops. There is an interruption which is indeed no interruption to him. His discourse is but broken off for a minute, to be illustrated with engravings, that men may see, in after years, that what they have heard is but the letter-press, and that the miracle which is now to be wrought shall be the engraving which shall convey the Teacher s wonderful meaning to all eyes. So the poor palsied man lies there before the Saviour.
Is that where you desire to lie, dear friend? In your deadly sorrow, and sin, and weakness, do you wish to lie at the Saviour’s feet? That is where I want you to lie; and if you will to lie there, that is where you do lie. The Lord Jesus is in the midst of us to-night, and you can at once cast yourself down before him. Do so, tell him about your paralysis, tell him how sick you are, how sinful you are. Nay, you need not speak so that I can hear you; his ears will hear the whisper of your soul. Your heart-beats will be vocal to his heart, and he will note all you say or feel in your inmost soul. Just lie before Jesus; and as you lie there, what are you to do? This man did not speak a word; but, as I believe, he lay there repenting that ever he should have lived as he had done, mourning that he should have wasted his life and misspent his time. I think, too, that he lay there believing, looking at that wondrous Man, and believing that all power was in him, and that he had only to speak the word, and the sinner should be at once forgiven. So he lay there, in the presence of Jesus, hoping and expecting forgiveness and healing.
II. Now, in the second place, we are to consider THE FORGIVENESS ITSELF.
This poor paralyzed man had not lain there long before the blessed Master broke the silence, and said to him, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” I think that the four men up on the roof, looking down to see what would happen to their friend, would hardly understand what that sentence meant. They had brought him to Jesus because he was paralyzed, but he had wanted to come first of all because he was a sinner. He did desire to have his paralysis cured; but secretly in his soul there was another matter which they might not have understood if he had tried to interpret it to them. It was his sin that was his heaviest burden; and the Saviour, the great Thought-reader knew all about that sin, so he did not first say to him, “Rise up and walk,” but he began by saying, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
Observe, that the pardon of sin came in a single sentence. He spake, and it was done. Jesus said “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee,” and they were forgiven him. Christ’s voice had such almighty power about it that it needed not to utter many words. There was no long lesson for the poor man to repeat, there was no intricate problem for him to work out in his mind. The Master said all that was required in that ono sentence, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” The burden of a sinner does not need two ticks of the clock for it to be removed; swifter than the lightning’s flash is that verdict of absolution which comes from the eternal lips, when the sinner lies hoping, believing, repenting at the feet of Jesus. It was a single sentence which declared that the man was forgiven.
Next, remember, that it was a sentence from One who was authorized to absolve. He was sent by the Father on purpose to forgive sin; and do not imagine that he has now lost his authorization to forgive; for “him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” Jesus is appointed as High Priest on purpose that he may stand on God’s behalf, and declare the remission of sin. What Jesus said was spoken with divine authority. It is vain for a priest to say to a sinner, “I absolve thee.” What can he do in such a case? He, or any other man who does not call himself a priest, may speak in his Master’s name, and say to the penitent, “If thou dost sincerely repent, if thou truly believest, I know thou art absolved, and I comfort thee with the assurance of this absolution.” So far, so good; but the Master alone can really give the absolution, it must come from him who has power upon earth to forgive sins.
Now, my hearer, hast thou never been forgiven? Art thou in thy pew, and yet lying at that dear Master’s feet, and dost thou desire above all things that he should say to thee, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”? And dost thou believe that he can say it, and wilt thou accept it from him as being by divine authority? If so, I think he says it to thee, for in his own Word he declares that they who believe in him are forgiven. He says to each one of those who are penitent, and believe in his grace, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Take thou the absolution, and go thy way. Do as Martin Luther did, in the days of his dark distress, when a brother-monk said to him, “Dost thou not believe in the Creed, and dost thou not say, ‘I believe in the forgiveness of sins’? Now believe in the forgiveness of sins for thyself.” Trust Christ’s Word, and thou wilt be believing what is absolutely true. Trust it, take the comfort of it, and go thy way. It is thus that Jesus Christ, by the preaching of the gospel, and by the revealed Word of God, says authoritatively to each penitent, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
Further observe, that this sentence, although it was but one, and was so short, yet was wonderfully comprehensive: “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Not one sin alone, nor many sins, but all thy sins are forgiven thee. When you go into particulars, you are apt to leave something out; hence, the declaration is made all-inclusive, there are no particulars given. “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” Sins against the holy God? Sins against a righteous law? Sins against the gospel? Sins against the light of nature? Sins of this and sins of that kind? No, there is no enumeration. “The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Murder, adultery, theft, fornication, blasphemy? Yes, in a word, “all manner of sin and of blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men.” “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” What a far-reaching pardon it is! “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” At one sudden sweep of the divine wave of mercy they are all washed away. There is no such thing as a half-pardon of sin. I heard someone talking, the other day, about original sin being forgiven, and the other sins left; but sin is a whole, it goes or it stays altogether, it cannot be broken up into pieces, it is all there or it is not there at all, and it is not there if thou believest in Jesus. This blessed and comprehensive sentence sets free from every jot and taint and stain of guilt: “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
Observe, also, that this sentence contained no conditions; and the blessed gospel, speaking to every repenting and believing sinner, gives him absolute forgiveness. Behold, the tally is destroyed, the record of thy debt is nailed to the cross; and as for thy sins, they are like the Egyptians when the Red Sea swallowed them up, the depths have covered them, there is not one of them left, however great or many they may have been. If thou art now a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, lie says to thee now by his Word, “Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” I pray the blessed Master by his Holy Spirit to make his Word come home to many here with power. Oh, that those dear lips, which are as lilies dropping sweet-smelling myrrh, did themselves speak to you! Oh, that those wounds of his, which are mouths that preach pardon to sinners, might speak to you, and say, “Thy sins are forgiven thee”! There is no mouth that speaketh pardon like that gash in his side, out of which his very heart speaks, as he says, “I have loved thee, and given myself to death for thee. Thy sins I have borne on the tree, and put them away once for all. Man, thy sins are forgiven thee.” Oh, that Jesus himself might thus speak effectually to many of you!
But note, that this sentence sufficed the receiver. When the Saviour afterwards raised this palsied man to health and strength, he did not do it to let the man himself know that his sins were forgiven. The man knew that already, and did not need any more evidence of it; but Jesus did it for another reason. To the scribes and Pharisees he said, “That ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.” Those unbelieving men had not evidence enough that Christ could forgive, but he to whom Christ spake wanted no further proof than the power of that voice in his own conscience; and if he shall speak to thee, my hearer, thou wilt not want any books about the evidences of Scripture, the proofs of inspiration, and so on; to thee, this indisputable miracle of pardoned sin shall stand for ever as a holy memorial of God’s mighty grace. It shall be unto you for a sign, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut oil, that God has pardoned you, and spoken peace to your soul; and this God shall be your God for ever and ever. To every soul that is in a similar case to that of the poor palsied man lying repenting and believing at the feet of Jesus, his Word gives the comfortable assurance, “Believe, and thy sins, which are many, are all forgiven thee.” Believe it, and go thy way in peace.
III. Now I close by noticing, thirdly, what followed AFTER THIS MAN S FORGIVENESS.
He was absolutely, irreversibly, eternally forgiven; for “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” He never plays fast and loose with men; he never issues a pardon from his throne, and afterwards executes the pardoned sinner. His pardon covers all that may come afterwards as well as all that has gone before. But what happened to this man?
I believe that, first, there was an inward peace that stole over his soul. If you could have looked into the face of that palsied man, whilst still palsied, and lying there in that hammock, you would have seen a wonderful transformation. Did you ever see a face transfigured? If you are a soul-winner, you have often seen it. All human faces are not beautiful, some are absolutely repulsive; the countenances of some who have lived long in sin are dreadful to look upon. Yet I have noticed faces, that at first I could scarcely endure, when the persons have been gently led to the Saviour, and they have perceived the love of God to them, and have at last believed, and felt within their soul the kiss of peace, why, they have looked positively beautiful! I should have liked to have had them photographed, only it was too sacred a thing. Speak of physiognomies; the grace of God is such an eternal beautifier that the face, from which you would have turned away in disgust, and said, “There can be no good thing behind that countenance,” is absolutely changed by the Lord’s mighty working. I say not that a single feature may be altered; the person may be the same in feature, but, oh! what a marvellous difference there is in the expression of the whole contour of the countenance when free grace and dying love have cast their magic spell over the spirit, and the Holy Ghost has made the dead to live, and the person has been born again in Christ Jesus. Well, that change took place in this man’s mind, I am sure it did, when Jesus said to him, “Thy sins are forgiven thee.” He was in no hurry to be raised from his palsied state; he does not appear to have said a word, and those scribes and Pharisees looked on with their malevolent countenances, but they did not frighten him; he lay quite still, and was in no haste even for the Master’s next blessing. It would come in due time, he knew it would, and he was of good cheer, for had not Jesus said to him “Be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee”?
But next followed the man’s immediate cure. The Master said to him, “Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house.” Our blessed Master was accustomed to preach the gospel in a way which I have heard some friends greatly question. They tell us that we ought not to bid men to believe and repent, because they cannot. There are two parties on opposite sides of this question; one says, “If you tell a man to believe and repent, that proves that he can,” which I do not believe; and others say, “If they cannot repent, you ought not to exhort them to do so,” which also I do not believe. Though I know them to be as helpless as that poor palsied man, unable to lift hand or foot, yet in the Master’s name we do say, as the Master was wont to say, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” “Oh!” says one, “I could not say that to an unregenerate man.” Do not do it, brother, if you cannot do it; go home, and go to bed; what is the use of you for such work? The man who can speak miracles is the one who is wanted, and the man who can speak as his Master has bidden him speak. Surely, the faith does not lie in believing that the man can himself do what he is bidden to do; the faith lies in believing that Christ can do it, and therefore, speaking in Christ’s name, we say to the sinner just as the Lord Jesus did to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thine hand,” and he does so. Look at Ezekiel speaking to the dry bones in the valley. Ezekiel, dost thou believe that these dry bones can live? “Not I,” says he, “I know that they are dead.” The Lord says to him, “Ezekiel, prophesy upon these dry bones!” How can he do it? It would be inconsistent with what he said just now. “I have nothing to do with that,” says he, “I was sent by the Lord to do it, and I do it in the name of God.” That which may seem perfectly inconsistent with your reason, is quite consistent when faith brings in the supernatural element with which God moves those to whom he gives the commission to preach the gospel in his name.
The Saviour said to this man, “Arise, take up thy couch, and go into thine house.” Now observe his precise obedience. “Immediately he rose up before them all.” The tendency of a paralyzed person is to be paralyzed in will. There are some persons, no doubt, who have ailments that can easily be cured if they believe they can be cured, because there is not much the matter with them after all; but this man was completely paralyzed, yet he so fully believed in Christ that up he rose, and stood before the Master. Then Jesus said, “Take up thy couch.” I think I see him undo those four ropes, and quickly he shoulders his mattress. “Walk,” says the Master, and he walks. “Go into thine house,” says the Master. He might have stopped, and said, “No, Lord, do let me stay and hear the sermon out;” but no, not a word did he say about it, but off he went to his own house.
Oh, that all were as obedient to Christ as this man was, that, having the simplicity of faith, they would render the fullest obedience! But thus it often is that the very chief of sinners, when pardon is given to them, have given to them at the same time a tender conscience, a willing mind, a yielding spirit. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it,” said the virgin mother to the servants at Cana of Galilee; and that is good advice for you. If Christ hath healed you, obey him, obey him at once, obey him exactly, obey him in everything, be it little, or be it great. If some say it is non-essential, remember that what is not essential to salvation may be essential to obedience. Do it if Jesus commanded it. Do it whether it appears to thee to be essential or not. That is not a question for thee to ask, that is a heartless, loveless question He hath healed thee, do what he bids thee, as he bids thee, when he bids thee, and raise no question about it. Take up thy bed, and go into thy house, if so he bids thee. Or, if he puts it to thee, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved,” believe thou, and be thou baptized. Be thou obedient unto him who deserves to be obeyed.
Now, lastly, this man, it is said, “immediately rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house glorifying God.” I think I hear what he said. “Glory!” he Cried, “Glory be to God!” He felt so glad, so happy, that he took up his bed before them all, and as he walked along he glorified God; and would not you have done the same if you had been paralyzed, and had been restored as he had been? And will you not do so? If you have been sin-bound, and Christ has set you free, surely, you will take the earliest opportunity of telling others what Jesus has done for you, and you will seek to glorify his name. I did not wonder when a brother lately said to me, “I have been spending all the morning in the workshop telling the men that I have found the Saviour,” and one, last Sunday, turned to his wife in this Tabernacle, and said, “I am saved!” She said to him, “Don’t disturb the worship,” but I almost wish he had done so. What a mercy it is to be saved! Salvation puts a new sun in our sky, and a new joy in our hearts. Believe on Jesus, and this salvation is yours. God grant that it may be, for his dear Son’s sake! Amen.