The Work of Grace the Warrant for Obedience
“He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk.” — John v. 11.
JUST a few observations upon the narrative itself. It was a feast day, and Jesus Christ came up to Jerusalem to find opportunities for doing good among the crowds of his countrymen. I see all the city glad; I hear the voice of rejoicing in every house as they hold high festival and eat the fat and drink the sweet. But where does Jesus keep the feast? How does he spend his holiday? He walks among the poor, whom he loves so well. Behold him in the hospital. There was one notable Bethesda or house of mercy in Jerusalem: it was a poor provision for the city’s abounding sickness, but such as it was it was greatly prized. There was a pool which every now and then was stirred by an angel’s wing, and wrought an occasional cute, and around it charitable persons had built five porches, and there on the cold stone steps a number of blind and halt and withered folk were lying, each one upon his own wretched pallet, waiting for the moving of the waters. There were the weary children of pain, fainting while others were feasting, racked with pain amid general rejoicing, sighing amid universal singing. Our Lord was at home amid this mercy, for here was room for his tender heart and powerful hand. He feasted his soul by doing good. Let us learn this lesson, dear friends, that in the times of our brightest joys we should remember the sorrowful, and find a still higher joy in doing them good. It well becomes us in proportion as a day is gladsome to ourselves to make it so to the sick and poor around us. Let us keep the feast by sending portions to those for whom nothing is prepared, for else the famishing may bring a curse upon our feasting. When we are prospered in business let us set aside a portion for the poor. When we are full of health and strength let us recollect those to whom these privileges are denied, and aid those who minister to them. Blessed shall they be who, like the Lord Jesus, visit the sick and care for them.
Coming into the hospital our Lord noticed a certain man whose case was a very sad one. There were many painful cases there, but he singled out this man, and it would seem that the reason for his choice was that the poor creature was in the worst plight of all. If misery has a claim on pity, then the greater the sufferer the more is mercy attracted towards him. This poor victim of rheumatism or paralysis had been thirty-eight years bound by his infirmity. Let us hope there was no worse case in all Bethesda’s porches! Thirty-eight years is more than half the appointed period of human life. One year of pain or paralysis has a weary length of torture about it, but think of thirty-eight! We may well pity "the man who endures the pangs of rheumatism even for an hour, but how shall we sufficiently pity him who has not been free from it for hard on forty years? Even if the case was not one of pain, but of paralysis, the inability to work and the consequent poverty of so many years were by no means a small evil. Our Lord, then, selects the worst case to be dealt with by his curing hand, as a type of what he often does in the kingdom of grace, and as a lesson of prudence to us, instructing us to give our first aid to those who are first in point of need.
The man whom Jesus healed was by no means an attractive character. Our Saviour said to him when he was healed, “Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee,” from which it is not an improbable inference that his first infirmity had come upon him by some deed of vice or course of excess. In some way or other he had been guilty of that which brought upon his body the suffering which he was enduring. Now, it is considered generally to be a point beyond all dispute that we should help the worthy but should refuse the worthless,— that when a man brings a calamity upon himself by wrong doing we are justified in letting him suffer, that he may reap what he has sown. This cold Pharisaic idea is very congenial to minds which are bent upon saving their coin. It springs up in many hearts, or rather in places where hearts ought to be, and it is generally regarded as if it were a rule of prudence which it would be sinful to dispute, an axiom infallible and universal. Now, I venture to say that our Saviour never taught us to confine our alms to the deserving. He would never have bestowed the grand alms of grace on any one of us if he had carried out that rule; and if you and I had received no more at the hands of God than we deserved, we should not have been in this house of prayer. We cannot afford to cramp our charity into a sort of petty justice, and sour our almsgiving into a miniature assizes. When a man is suffering let us pity him, however the suffering has come. When a man had been in misery so long as thirty-eight years, it was time that his infirmity should be more considered than his iniquity, and that his present sorrow should be thought upon more than his former folly. So Jesus thought, and therefore he came to the sinner, not with reproach, but with restoration; he saw his disease rather than his depravity, and gave him pity instead of punishment. Our God is kind to the unthankful and to the evil; be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Remember how our Lord said, “Pray for them that despitefully use you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven; for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Let us imitate him in this, and wherever there is pain and sorrow let it be our joy to relieve it.
In addition to the supposition that this man had at some time been grossly guilty, it seems pretty clear from the text that he was a poor, shiftless, discouraged, inanimate, stupid sort of body. He had never managed to get into the pool, though others had done so who were as infirm as himself. He had never been able to win a friend or secure a helper, though from the extreme length of his infirmity one would have thought that at some period or another he might have found a man to place him in the pool when the angel gave it the mystic stir. The Saviour’s asking him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” leads us to think that he had fallen into such a listless, despairing, heart-sick condition, that though he came daily to the edge of the pool as a matter of habit, he had not only ceased to hope, but had almost ceased to wish. Our Lord touched the chord which was most likely to respond, namely, his will and desire to be made whole, but the response was a very feeble one. His answer shows what a poor creature he was, for there is not a beam of hope in it, or even of desire: it is a wail, a hopeless dirge, a grievous complaint: “I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.” But the utter imbecility and want of brain of the poor creature is most seen in the fact that like a simpleton he went to Christ’s enemies and told them that it was Jesus that had made him whole. I am sure there was no malice in his thus informing our Lord’s enemies, for if there had been he would have said, “It was Jesus who bade me take up my bed,” whereas he worded it thus, “It was Jesus which had made him whole.” I hardly dare, however, to hope, as some do, that there was much gratitude about this testimony, though doubtless the poor soul was grateful; I conceive that his long endurance of pain, acting upon a weak mind, had brought him to an almost imbecile state of mind, so that he spoke without thought. Our Lord did not, therefore, require much of him, he did not ask even for a distinct avowal of faith from him, but only for that small measure of it which might be implied in his answering the question, “Wilt thou be made whole?” This poor man evinced none of the shrewdness of the man born blind, who answered the Pharisees so keenly; he was of quite another type, and could do no more than state his own case to Jesus. Thank God, even that was enough for our Lord to work with. The Lord Jesus saves people of all sorts. He hath among his disciples men of quick and ready wit, who can baffle their opponents, but quite as often
“He takes the fool and makes him know
The wonders of his dying love:
To bring aspiring wisdom low,
And all its pride reprove.”
So here he chose this poor simpleton of a creature and wrought a great marvel upon him, to the exceeding praise of his condescending grace.
Note well that this man’s mind, though there was not much of it, was all engrossed and filled up with the fact that he had been made whole. Jesus to him was “he that made me whole.” Of the person of Jesus he knew next to nothing, for he had only seen him for an instant, and then he wist not that it was Jesus: his one idea of Jesus was, “He that made me whole.” Now, beloved brethren, this was natural in his case, and it will be equally natural in our own. Even when the saved ones are more intelligent, and of larger mind than this poor paralytic, they must still chiefly think of the Son of God as their Saviour, as he that made them whole. If I do not know much about the Lord, yet I do know that he has saved me. I was burdened with guilt and full of woes, and could not rest day nor night until he gave me peace. If I cannot tell another much concerning the glory of his person, his attributes, his relationships, his offices, or his work, yet I can say “one thing I know, whereas I was blinded by error, now I see; whereas I was paralyzed by sin, I am now able to stand upright and walk in his ways.” This poor soul knew the Lord experimentally, and that is the best way of knowing him. Actual contact with him yields a surer knowledge, and a truer knowledge, than all the reading in the world. In the kingdom of Christ wonderful facts transpire, such as conversion and finding peace with God; and happy are they to whom these facts are personal experiences. When men are turned from the error of their ways, and when their heart finds rest and peace in Christ great deeds are done by the Lord Jesus; and if you are acquainted with these two things, even though you should be ignorant of a great deal else, be not afraid of exaggerating their importance, but set your mind on them, and call Jesus by that name,— “He that made me whole.” Think of him under that aspect, and you will have a very valuable and influential idea of him. You shall see greater things than these, but for the present let these happy and sure facts be much upon your mind, even as his being made whole was upon this man’s mind.
As for the cavilling Pharisees, you observe that they took no notice of the glorious fact of the man’s cure; they wilfully ignored what Christ had done, but they fell full swoop upon that little, insignificant circumstance that it had been done on the Sabbath-day, and then they spent all their thoughts and emotions upon that side issue. They say nothing of the man’s being restored, but they rage because he carried his bed on the Sabbath-day. It is much the same with the men of the world at this day. They habitually ignore the fact of conversion; if they do not deny it they look upon it as being a trifle, a matter not worth caring about. What though they see the harlot made chaste, and the thief made honest, and the profane made devout, and the despairing made joyful, and other moral and spiritual changes of the utmost practical value, they forget all this, and they attack some peculiar point of doctrine, or mode of speech, or diversity of manner, and raise a storm concerning these. Is it because the facts themselves, if fairly looked at, would establish what they do not care to believe? The fact that Christianity is doing marvels in the world, such as nothing else ever did, they persistently forget, but that fact is just what you and I must as persistently remember. We must dwell upon what Christ has by his Holy Spirit wrought within our nature by renewing us in the spirit of our minds, and we must make this work of grace a fountain of argument which shall establish our faith and justify our conduct. This poor man did so. He did not know much else, but that he had been made whole he did know, and from that fact he justified himself in what he had done. “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, take up thy bed and walk.”
This is the truth which I want to enlarge upon this morning— first, by saying that the work of Christ furnishes us with a justification for our obedience to his command — “He that made me whole, the same said to me”— that is our complete justification for what we do. In the second place, the work of Jesus Christ throws upon us an obligation to do what he bids us— if he that made me whole says to me, take up thy bed and walk, I am bound to do it, and I ought to feel the obligation of his goodness pressing upon me; and, in the third place, it is not only a justification and an obligation, but the deed of grace becomes a constraint to obedience — he that said unto me, “rise,” and so made me whole, by that same word of power made me take up my bed and walk. The power which saves us also moves us to obey our Saviour. Not with our own might do we fulfil the will of our Lord, but with power which the Healer gives us in the self-same hour. You see the drift, therefore, of our discourse. May the Holy Spirit lead us into the power of this truth, for I am persuaded that a sense of the Lord’s work within us is a great force, and should be excited and applied to the highest ends.
I. First, then, this is our JUSTIFICATION for what we do when we obey Christ. This poor man could not defend the action of taking up his bed and walking, for his enemies were learned in the law and he was not. You and I could defend it very easily, for it seems to us a very proper thing to do under the circumstances. The weight of his bed was not much more than that of an ordinary great coat, it was a simple rug or mat upon which he was lying; there really was no violation of God’s law of the Sabbath, and therefore there was nothing to excuse. But the Rabbis laid down rules of which I will give you but one specimen— “It is unlawful to carry a handkerchief loose in the pocket;” but if you pin it to your pocket or tie it round your waist as a girdle you may carry it anywhere, because it becomes a part of your dress. To my unsophisticated mind it would have seemed that the pin increased the ponderous burden, and that so there was the weight of the pin more than was necessary! This was quite a weighty business according to Rabbinical estimates. The most of the Rabbinical regulations with regard to the Sabbath were absolutely ludicrous, but this poor man was not in a position to say so or even to think so, for, like the rest of his countrymen, he stood in awe of the scribes and doctors. These learned pharisees and priests were too much reverenced for this poor creature to answer them in their own manner; but he did what you and I must always do when we are at all puzzled;— he hid behind the Lord Jesus, and pleaded, “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, take up thy bed.” That was quite enough for him, and he quoted it as if he felt that it ought to be enough for those who questioned him. Truly it ought to have been so. I may not be able to find in my own knowledge and ability an authority equal to the authority of learned unbelievers, but my personal experience of the power of grace will stand me in as good a stead as this man’s cure was to him. He argued that there must be in the man who made him whole enough authority to match the greatest possible rabbi that ever lived. Even his poor, feeble mind could grasp that, and surely you and I may do the same, we can defend ourselves behind the breastwork of our Saviour’s gracious work, and the consequent authority which belongs to him.
There are certain ordinances to which a Christian man is bound to attend, about which the world raises a storm of questions. The world does not take notice that this man was once a drunkard and has through divine grace become sober, and so has become a good father, and a good husband, and a good citizen. It lets that miracle pass by unheeded, but he is going to be baptized, and they at once object to the ordinance, or he is going to join a Christian church, and straightway they jeer at him as a Presbyterian, or a Methodist, as if it matters what sort of name they give him so long as he is a better man than themselves, and is redeemed from sin, and taught to be upright, and chaste, and pure in the sight of God. The work of grace goes for nothing with them, but just the peculiarity of sect, or the peculiarity of religious rite is made a world of. Blind creatures to despise the medicine which heals because of the bottle which contains it, or the label by which it is named. However, our answer is, “He that made us whole,” the same gave us a command, and by that command we will abide. We seek no justification but this, that he who wrought a miracle of grace upon us bade us do it. What if I am about to be baptized as a believer, the same that said “Believe” said “Be baptized he who gave me salvation the same said, “He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved.” Over against all objections we set the divine authority of Jesus. He by whose blood we are cleansed, and by whose Spirit we are renewed, is Lord and lawgiver to us. His precept is our sufficient warrant. If we go to the communion table, and revilers say, “What is the use of eating a piece of bread and drinking a drop of wine? Why think so solemnly of so small a matter?” We reply, He that made us whole, the same said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We abjure what he has not ordained, but we cling to his statutes. If he had commanded a rite still more trivial, or a ceremony still more open to objection in the eyes of carnal man, we would make no further apology than this:— He who has created us anew, and given us a hope of heaven, and led us to seek after perfect holiness — he has bidden us do it. This is our final reply, and although we could find other justifications they would be superfluous. Stand that for our defence — the Saviour commands.
The same apology applies to all the doctrines of the gospel. I say again, ungodly men will not admit, or if they admit it they ignore it, that the gospel works a marvellous change in men’s hearts. If they want proof we can find them instances by hundreds, and by thousands, of the reclaiming, elevating, and purifying power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is daily working spiritual miracles, but this they forget, and they go on to find fault with its peculiar doctrines. Justification by faith they frequently quarrel with. “Well now,” they say, “that is a shocking doctrine: if you teach men that they are to be saved by faith alone, and not by their works, of course they will lead loose lives; if you continually declare that salvation is of grace alone, and not of merit, the inevitable result will be that men will sin that grace may abound.” We find a complete answer to this calumny in the fact that believers in justification by faith and in the doctrines of grace are among the best and purest of men, and that as a fact these truths work holiness; but we do not care to argue thus; we prefer to remind our adversaries that he who has caused us to be regenerate men himself taught us that whosoever believeth in him shall be saved, and expressly declared that he that believeth in him hath everlasting life. By the mouth of his servant Paul he has said that by grace are men saved through faith, and that not of themselves, it is the gift of God. He hath also told us that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified, and he has bidden us declare that “the just shall live by faith.” He who is daily by his gospel turning men from sin to holiness has given this for the sum total of the gospel we are to preach— “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.” If this gospel does not make men better, and change their evil natures, you may question it if you like, and we do not wonder that you should; but while it continues its purifying work we shall not blush or stammer when we declare the doctrines which are its essence and life. Our regeneration proves to us our Lord’s authority, and upon that we are prepared to base our creed. To us the best of evidence is his work within us, and in that evidence we place implicit faith.
The same applies also to all the precepts which the Christian is called upon to obey. For instance, if he is true to his colours, he keeps himself aloof from all the sinful pleasures, practices, and policies of the world, in which others take delight, and consequently the ungodly world says that he is singular, precise, and self-opinionated. This is the answer for all Christians — “He that made us whole, the same said to us, ye are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Come ye out from among them and be ye separate, touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you.” If you follow the precepts of the Lord Jesus Christ you may meet all charges of singularity by urging the supremacy of the Saviour, whose power has made you a new creature. Where his word is, there is a power to which we bow at once. It is not ours to question our Saviour, but to obey him. We are cleansed by his blood, we are redeemed by his death, and we live by his life, and therefore are not ashamed to take up his cross and follow him.
This apology ought to suffice even those who oppose us, for if they felt as grateful as we do they would obey also. They ought at any rate to say, “We cannot blame these men for doing as Jesus bids them, because he has done so much for them.” Surely the poor man who had been thirty-eight years paralyzed could not be blamed for obeying the command of one who in a moment restored him to health and strength. If he became his servant for life, who would censure him? Who would say that he too tamely submitted? Should not such a benefactor exert a boundless influence over him? What could be more natural and proper? Now, you unconverted people must excuse us, if we, in obedience to our Lord Jesus, do many things which to you seem very singular, for though we would not needlessly offend, we cannot please you at the risk of displeasing our Lord. We do not owe so much to you as we owe to him. We do not owe so much to the whole world as we owe to the Lord Jesus; in fact, truth to tell, we do not feel that we owe anything to the world. The time past sufficeth us to have wrought the will of the Gentiles, for when we are asked the question, “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” we have to confess that we had no fruit, except the sour grapes, which have set our teeth on edge. Like the shipmen who put out to sea against Paul’s advice, our only gain has been loss and damage. In serving the world we found the labour weariness and the wages death; but as for our Lord Jesus, we owe him everything, and so you must excuse us if we try to follow him in everything. It seems to us that this is an excuse which you ought to accept from us as covering the whole ground, but if you refuse it we are not at all dismayed, for it quite suffices us, yea, more than suffices us, it makes us glory in what we do. Does Jesus command? Then it is ours to obey. Objectors may say concerning one of his ordinances, it is unsuitable to the climate, it is indecent, it is needless, it is I do not know what: all this is no concern of ours, if Jesus bade us do it, his command stands for us in the place of reasoning. He who made us whole gives us sufficient excuse for obedience in that very fact. “Oh, but it is contrary to what the fathers teach, and to what the church teaches.” We care not the snap of our finger for all the fathers and all the churches under heaven if they go contrary to what our Lord teaches, for they did not make us whole, and we are not under obligation to them as we are to him. The authority of Jesus is supreme, because it is from his lips that we received the word which healed the sickness of our sin. This satisfies our conscience now, and it will do so amid the solemnities of death. How can we make a mistake if we follow the words of Jesus in all things? My brethren, we can plead his precept as our warrant at the last great day, before the Judge of quick and dead. What better plea can we have than this, “Thou didst make us whole and thou didst bid us do this”? Such a justification of our conduct will make our death pillow soft and our resurrection bright with joy.
Instead of admitting that this is not an ample justification, let us go further still in the strength of it. If the world has accounted us vile for obeying our Lord, let us be viler still; and inasmuch as he that made us whole said, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature,” let us endeavour to spread abroad everywhere the savour of his name, consecrating ourselves body, soul, and spirit to the extension of his kingdom. He who made us whole will make the world whole yet by his own wondrous power. Have we not abundantly shown that our Lord’s command is a solid justification of our conduct?
II. And now, secondly, the cure brought forth AN OBLIGATION:— “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk.” The argument takes this form: first, if he made me whole he is divine, or he could not do this miracle; or, to say the least, he must be divinely authorised: and if he be divine, or divinely authorised, I must be bound to obey the orders which he issues. Is not that a plain argument which even the poor, simple mind of the paralytic man was able to grasp and wield? Let us try and feel the force of that argument ourselves. Jesus who has saved us is our God; shall we not obey him? Since he is clothed with divine power, and majesty, shall we not scrupulously endeavour to know his will, and zealously endeavour to carry it out in every point, as his Spirit shall enable us?
In addition to the divine character which the miracle proved and displayed, there was the goodness which shone in the deed of power and touched the poor man’s heart. His argument was— “I must do what my great Deliverer bids me. How can you think otherwise? Did he not make me whole? Would you have me, whom he has thus graciously restored, refuse to fulfil his desire? Must I not take up my bed the moment he gives me strength to do it? How can I do otherwise? Is this to be the recompense I pay to my good Physician, at once to refuse to do what he asks of me? Do you not see that I am under an obligation which it would be shameful to deny? He restores these limbs, and I am bound to do with them what he orders me do with them. He says ‘walk,’ and since these once withered feet have been restored, shall I not walk? He bids me roll up my bed, and since I could not have used my hands till just now his word gave them life, shall I not use them to roll up the bed-rug at his bidding? These poor shoulders of mine were bent with weakness, but he has made me stand upright, and since he now bids me carry my bed, shall I not throw the mattress on my shoulders, and bear the easy load which he lays upon me?” There was no answering such reasoning. Whatever might have been the claim of Jesus upon others, he clearly had an indisputable right to the loyal obedience of one whom he had made perfectly whole.
Follow me briefly in this, brothers and sisters. If you have been saved by the grace of God, your salvation has put you under obligation henceforth to do what Jesus bids you. Are you redeemed? Then ye are not your own, ye are bought with a price. Have you been in consequence of what the Lord has done for you rescued from Satanic slavery and adopted into the divine family? Then it clearly follows that, because you are sons, you should be obedient to the law of the household; for is not this a first element of sonship, that you should reverence the great Father of the family? The Lord has been pleased to put away your sin, you are forgiven: but does not pardon demand amendment? Shall we go back to the old sins from which we have been cleansed? Shall we live in the iniquities from which we have been washed by the blood of our Lord Jesus? That were horrible to think of. It would be nothing less than devilish for a man to say, “I have been forgiven, and therefore I will sin again.” There is no remission where there is no repentance. The guilt of sin remains on that man in whom the love of sin still remains. Let us practically feel the force of this, and follow after purity and righteousness henceforth.
Brethren and sisters upon whom Christ has wrought his great work, you have experienced the love of God, and therefore, if God has so loved you, you are bound to love him in return. If God has so loved you, you must also love your brother man? Do not love to God and love to man spring up as a sure consequence of the love of God shed abroad in the heart? Does not every one see the necessity which calls for the one love to follow the other? But love is the mother of obedience: thus everything connected with our Lord lays us under obligation to obey him. There is not a single blessing of the covenant but what necessarily entails its corresponding duty; and here I scarcely like to say duty, for these blessings of the covenant make duty to be our privilege and holiness to be our delight. Henceforth redeemed from sin we would live no longer therein: henceforth made heirs of heaven we endeavour to lead the heavenly life, so that even while we are below our conversation may be in heaven, from whence we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Brethren, he that made you whole has commanded this and that to be done by you: I counsel you to keep the King’s commandment. As Mary said to the waiters at the wedding at Cana so say I to you — “Whatsoever he saith unto yon, do it.” Doth he bid you pray, then pray without ceasing. Doth he bid you watch as well as pray, then guard every act, and thought, and word. Doth he bid you love your brethren? Then love them with a pure heart fervently. Doth he bid you serve them and humble yourself for his sake? Then do so, and become the servant of all. Hath he said, “Be ye holy, for I am holy”? Then aim at this by his Holy Spirit. Hath he said, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect?” Then strive after perfection, for he that made you whole has a right to direct your way, and it will be both your safety and your happiness to submit yourselves to his commands.
III. Enough, however, upon that; for now we call your attention, in the third place, to the text under the sense of CONSTRAINT— “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, take up thy bed and walk.” He made him whole by saying, “Rise, take up thy bed.” The carrying of the bed was part and parcel of the cure. The first part of the healing word was “rise,” but the second was “take up thy bed.” Now, it was not an ordinary word which Jesus spoke to that man— a mere word of advice, warning, or command; but it was a word full of power, like that which created light out of darkness. When the Lord said to the poor man, “Rise,” he did rise. A thrill went through him; those stagnant blood vessels felt the life-blood stir and flow, those dormant nerves were aroused to sensations of health, those withered sinews and muscles braced themselves for energetic action, for omnipotence had visited the impotent man and restored him. Oh it must have been a wondrous joy to the long enervated, nerveless, powerless frame to be capable of healthy motion, to be equal to bearing a happy burden. The joyful man rolled up his bed, threw it on his back, and marched abroad with the best of them. The bed-carrying was part of the cure, and proof of the cure. The paralytic man had not been called upon to deliberate as to whether he should rise or not, but Jesus said, “Rise,” and he stood upright: the same word said, “Take up thy bed,” the bed was up at once, and according to the last word “walk,” the man walked with delight. It was all done by the power of the one thrilling sentence, which tarried not to be questioned, but accomplished the end for which the Lord had sent it. Not unwillingly did the restored man carry his bed, yet he did it of constraint, for the same power which made him whole made him obedient. Before the divine energy had touched him, he seemed scarcely to have any will at all, and the Lord had to hunt to find a will in him, saying, “Wilt thou be made whole?” But now he cheerfully wills obedience to his benefactor, and in the force of the command he carried out the Lord’s behest. I say that his taking up his bed, and walking, was done by Christ’s enabling, and done by Christ’s constraining, and I pray that you may know by experience what this means. What I want you to feel is this— “I cannot help obeying Christ, for by his Holy Spirit he has spoken me into a life which will never die and never be vanquished. He has spoken a word in me which has a continuous force over me, and thrills me through and through continually. I can no more help seeking to obey Christ than this man could help carrying his bed when the Lord, by a word of power, had bidden him do so.”
Brethren, look at this, and be instructed and warned. Do you feel reluctant this morning to enter upon your Lord’s service, because of conscious weakness? Has the devil tempted you to draw back from obedience, because of your unfitness? Do you hesitate? do you tremble? Surely you need to draw near to the Lord again, and hear his voice anew. Take your Bibles and let him speak to you again out of the word, and may the same thrill which awoke you out of your death-sleep wake you out of your present lethargy. There is need that the living word of God should come home to your inmost soul again with that same miraculous power which dwelt in it at first. “Lord, quicken thou me,” is David’s prayer, but it suits me every day, and I think the most of God’s people would do well to use it daily. “Lord, speak life unto me now as thou didst at first. Speak power, speak spiritual force into me.” “The love of Christ constraineth us,” says the apostle: this constraint is what we want to feel more and more. We need divine life perpetually to bear us forward to acts of obedience. We do not want to destroy willinghood, but we would have it quickened into entire subservience to the will of the Lord. Like Noah’s ark on dry land, the will keeps its place by its own dead weight; O for a flood of grace to move, to lift, to upbear it; to carry it away by a mighty current. We would be borne before the love of Christ as a tiny piece of wood is drifted by the gulf-stream, or as one of the specks which dance in the sunbeam would be carried by a rushing wind. As the impulse which began with Jesus found the poor man passive because utterly unable to be otherwise, and then impelled him on to active movements as with a rush of power, so may it ever be with us throughout life. May we for ever yield to the divine impulse. To be passive in the Lord’s hands is a good desire, but to be what I would call actively passive, to be cheerfully submissive, willingly to give up our will, this is a higher spiritual mood. We must live, and yet not we, but Christ in us. We must act, and yet we must say, He that made me whole bade me do this holy deed, and I do it because his power moves me thereunto. If I have done well I lay the honour at his feet; if I hope to do well in the future it is because I hope for strength from him to do well, believing that he will work in me by that same power which converted me at the first. Beloved, endeavour to abide under this influence. May the Holy Spirit bring you there!
My last word is a practical lesson. The church of God on earth at this present time anxiously desires to spread her influence over the world. For Christ’s sake we wish to have the truths we preach acknowledged, and the precepts which we deliver obeyed. But mark, no church will ever have power over the masses of this or any other land, except in proportion as she does them good. The day has long since passed in which any church may hope to prevail on the plea of history. “Look at what we were,” is a vain appeal: men only care for what we are. The sect which glorifies itself with the faded laurels of past centuries, and is content to be inactive to-day, is near to its inglorious end. In the race of usefulness men nowadays care less about the pedigree of the horse and more about the rate at which it can run. The history of a congregation or a sect is of small account compared with the practical good which it is doing. Now, if any church under heaven can show that it is making men honest, temperate, pure, moral, holy, that it is seeking out the ignorant and instructing them, that it is seeking out the fallen and reclaiming them, that in fact it is turning moral wastes into gardens, and taking the weeds and briars of the wilderness and transforming them into precious fruit-bearing trees, then the world will be ready to hear its claims and consider them. If a church cannot prove its usefulness, the source of its moral strength will have gone, and, indeed, something worse than this will have happened, for its spiritual strength will have gone too; for a barren church is manifestly without the fruitful Spirit of God. Brethren, you may, if you will, dignify your minister by the name of bishop, you may give to your deacons and elders grand official titles, you may call your place of worship a cathedral, you may worship if you will with all the grandeur of pompous ceremonial and the adornments of music and incense and the like, but you shall have only the semblance of power over human minds unless you have something more than these. But if you have a church, no matter by what name it is called, that is devout, that is holy, that is living unto God, that does good in its neighbourhood, that by the lives of its members spreads holiness and righteousness; in a word, if you have a church that is really making the world whole in the name of Jesus, you shall in the long run find that even the most carnal and thoughtless will say, “The church which is doing this good is worthy of respect, therefore let us hear what it has to say.” Living usefulness will not screen us from persecution, but it will save us from contempt. A holy church goes with authority to the world in the name of Jesus Christ its Lord, and this force the Holy Spirit uses to bring human hearts into subjection to the truth. Oh, that the church of God would believe in Jesus’ power to heal sick souls. Recollect this man, thirty-eight years sick, had been longer ill than Christ had lived on earth. He had been seven years afflicted before Christ was born. And even so this poor world has been long afflicted. Years before the Pentecost, or the birth of the present visible church, the poor sinful world lay at the pool, and could not stir. We must not be hopeless about it, for yet the Lord will cast sin out of it. Let us go in Jesus Christ’s name and proclaim the everlasting gospel, and say, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk,” and it shall be done, and God shall be glorified and we shall be blessed.