After this there was a feast of the Jews: and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem, by the sheep market, a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in, was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, 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. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.
The darker the picture of human guilt, the brighter shines the grace that is brought into contact with it. It is the power of contrast that brings its virtues to light in a special manner, just as the darkest background reflects most brightly the colors on its surface. It is preeminently so in grace. It would seem as if, apart from all other considerations, the Holy Spirit would thus anticipate the great objection of Pharisaic righteousness, and encourage the sinner to hope, by showing him that the Saviour is most glorified when He comes in contact with cases the most hopeless. The more guilty the sinner, the more hopeless the subject, the farther removed from all human possibility, the greater the glory reflected on the Saviour. This is the reason why, in the history of the Lord as recorded in the NewTestament, it is generally the worst cases that come under His notice. We may ask why other cases are not recorded; why, for instance, more of such cases as the centurion, instead of such a large proportion of cases of the worst kind? It was the design of the Spirit to bring out in a full blaze of light what would be most needed in this world of ours—Hope for the most guilty.
One of these striking contrasts, so encouraging to the sinner, is brought before us in the narrative we have chosen for consideration; the meeting between the impotent man and the Lord of glory. While the glory of the Saviour is so brightly reflected on the one hand, the poverty of religion, its fasts and festivals, its gorgeous temple and external observances, are brought before us on the other. That which was the great medium of the display of His glory; the impotent man, was the standing testimony to the poverty of Judaism in all its outward grandeur. It was no Gentile city, where the light of truth had never shone, where the Lord of glory had never appeared in the Shekhinah and published His righteous laws, but in Jerusalem itself, the very centre of boasted righteousness and truth, that this spiritual poverty is displayed. There were the temple, the synagogues, the preachers and teachers of the law, and the symbols and figures of holy things all around.
On every side the eye fell on some testimony to the holiest of all religions; the stranger was reminded that he stood within the very precincts of the sanctuary of Jehovah. Yet what of all this? In the midst of this outward display of religion, there lay the blind, and halt, and withered, a standing testimony of its utter inability to meet man's deepest need; the only Being who is alone the very life of all religion, and to whom every ordinance pointed, a stranger in their midst, rejected, persecuted, and pursued with relentless hate even unto death. Oh, striking testimony to the poverty of all religion of which Christ is not the sum and substance, the beginning and the ending, the all and in all! What is all its righteousness, its ordinances and ceremonies, even though they be imprinted, as these were, with the seal of Jehovah himself, without Jesus? They may be outwardly the very scaffolding of heaven, but with Him left out, there is impotence on all—”blind, halt, and withered”—the very center of the system mocking the showy exterior, and silently testifying to its poverty and degradation.
And yet, this picture is strikingly prophetic. What the Church was at our Lord's first coming, so will it be at His second. “Having the form of godliness (as they had here), but denying the power”—even Jesus. Yes, it is this that will be lacking, as it was then. Not, indeed, Jesus in name, Jesus in profession, Jesus in doctrine, Jesus in creeds and rituals: no; not these will be lacking. Nay, they will increase; the outward, as is ever the case; just in proportion as the gangrene is eating within. Not these will be lacking, but just what was lacking in the religion of Jerusalem at this very moment—Jesus in active power; Jesus the life of everything, small and great; Jesus the secret moving spring of every service and duty, whether great or little. He was, in the midst of Jerusalem, the stranger, the rejected. So will He be in name in the Church, but in vital power still the stranger, the rejected.
Oh, solemn warning for the Church of God in this day! How stealthily this spirit may creep upon us! How the body may be there in the profession of Christ; while the soul is dead! This is not a warning for Tractarian or Romanizing Churches, but for the Evangelical Churches of Christ, and for Evangelical churchmen; for those whose boast is that they preach “Christ crucified” and the utter depravity of the human heart. Amid all this form of godliness is Jesus, in His ever working power, in the midst? Is He the spring of every motive? Is He the one thing uppermost in the heart? Are Churches and rituals kept in subservience to His glory? Are the conventional rules, the strict routine, the exact conformity, held secondary when that Name may be glorified? Oh! our hearts are not overflowing with love to Christ, or the stream would overleap all our self constructed barriers. There may be a degeneracy in all this to a form of godliness; sound as far as human eye can penetrate, yet in the center the Saviour not holding supreme sway. He may be the stranger still—the practically rejected.
May this not be an individual picture also? Alas! may not Jerusalem with its external religion and its “blind, halt, withered” at the center, be the very type of many a heart? With not a flaw in the moral or religious standing before men, esteemed by the world, accounted as pillars in the Church of God, conscious that they possess unparalleled spiritual light, looking down with self complacency upon others who dare not so much as lift up their eyes to heaven; in profession acknowledging all is from Christ, and thus the more deeply deceiving themselves; the spiritual phraseology ever ready, adding the appearance of sanctity to their persons. Yet with all this outward imprimatur of Divine grace, there may be, in the inner man, that which is a standing testimony to the poverty of the exterior. There may be the impotent, the lame, the halt, the withered, testifying to the utter powerlessness of all this outward godliness to meet its hidden state. There needs the presence of Jesus laying His hand on the impotence of the soul, and by His mighty word dispersing its moral palsy, renewing, strengthening, and invigorating, rousing it from the bed on which it has for so many years been slumbering. Oh, many a heart tells to conscience the sad story of its impotence within! Many a soul with all its outward trappings of religion shrouds a spiritual corpse! Many a Christian man has fallen through the insidious advances of the world, from a high spiritual state of watchfulness against sin, from earnestness of heart in the cause of Christ, and from fervent love to the Saviour, into a slumber that has rendered him spiritually impotent.
Reader, what is the state of your heart before God? You may have your picture in Jerusalem, as to outward things, while the secret conscience may whisper that the moral death of the pool of Bethesda is within. Is this your state? Oh, remain not in it! Let nothing tempt you to sleep on in your spiritual impotence. It may not, it need not, be so with you. There is One at your side who is only waiting for you to open your heart to Him, and He will speak the word and bid thee live again. His voice will awaken thee from thy slumber. It may be you have been in this torpid, world loving state for many a year. Say not, there is no hope—Jesus is at thy side. Breathe thy wants to Him. Tell Him thy desires. Disclose to Him the impotence of thine heart, that none may know but God. Thy confession of sin and hard heartedness will bring down a fresh assurance of pardon through His blood, a fresh anointing of the Spirit within, and new strength to run thy race anew.
Oh, rest not without these inward spiritual revivings. Rest not without this spiritual renewing of your soul. Can you live without the love of Jesus burning within you? Can you go on year after year with a fading assurance of pardon, with a clouded evidence of your union with Christ, with a restless uncertainty as to His love to your soul, with a feverish anxiety as to the future? Have you arrived at that state when the things of the world, of time, and of sense are allowed to conceal your inward uneasiness and misery; the sorrowful conviction that there is a cloud between your soul and heaven continually pressing upon you, and leaving you peaceless, joyless, and unhappy? Can you live on thus?
Oh, better a thousand times, the eye should be red with the tears of penitence, the heart be broken by a continued sense of its backsliding, and the whole soul secretly prostrate and bleeding at the Saviour's feet. Better a thousand times to be heartbroken and in the dust, with the hand smiting on the breast and the eye scarce uplifted to heaven from conscious shame and unworthiness, than to remain in a state of spiritual alienation from God. Though joy should not be the portion, yet thrice welcome the sorrow. Though gladness of heart may not be the heritage, yet blessed are the sacrifices of a broken and contrite spirit. Yet are there among God's own people many, it is to be feared, whose hearts are mirrored in this pool of Bethesda, who deeply need these spiritual revivings from the Lord. Blessed Jesus, thou who didst speak the word of almighty power to one poor impotent of old, so speak to each of our souls! So speak, blessed Lord, to him or her whose eye falls on these lines! Speak thus, Lord, for thy dear name's sake, and thy servants shall hear, and shall “rise, take up their bed, and walk,” under thy secret, reviving power!
But to pass on now to the narrative. There was much in the circumstances connected with this pool characteristic of the dispensation. Those who crowded within its porches reflected, as in a mirror, the needy and helpless objects of sovereign grace; and the means by which their needs were met accord with the character of that dispensation. It was one of imperfection. It was only one at a time that could be healed. It was only at certain seasons that its waters were efficacious. It kept its weak and helpless ones waiting, and required them to use their efforts to avail themselves of its healing efficacy. In, all this it corresponded with the ordinances of the Jewish dispensation. The day of atonement kept its worshipers waiting. The law of the leper required him to come to the priest. The repetition of the sacrifices evidenced their imperfection. They were all like this pool of Bethesda, only “shadows of good things to come.”“The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.” The veil was not rent.
How strikingly does the shadow of grace, reflected in Bethesda's pool, contrast with the present time! The Saviour Himself showed this in the act of mercy He performed. It was not the helpless one coming to the great High Priest, but the Priest in the defiled place, among the moral lepers, seeking and saving the lost. It was not the poor cripple waiting for a certain season before the Saviour could extend that mercy, but that Saviour coming to the cripple and, just as he was, meeting all the needs of his soul. It was not the sinner coming to Christ, but Christ coming to the sinner. It was not the law requiring something on the sinner's part, but grace giving him all, just as he was. What a contrast! Jesus thus drew aside the veil and gave man a glimpse of better things, which was to have its full accomplishment on Calvary. It was the dawn of the Sun eclipsing the stars in the Levitical horizon, while as yet that Sun had not risen in its splendor. It was the lifting of the veil for a moment, before it was rent forever. It was the first droppings of the showers of grace which fell from the hill of Calvary, that “Where sin abounded grace should much more abound.”
But, in these earthly shadows of grace there were blessings, and there was much also to instruct the worshiper. Whether in the sacrifices of old, or in the pool of Bethesda, the helpless and needy one was made to feel that he was dependent upon heaven for the necessities of his soul. Of old everything depended on God's acceptance of the atoning sacrifice; everything depended here on the descent of the heavenly messenger to stir up the stagnant waters. Dispensations may differ as to perfection, clearness, and permanent satisfaction, but, the great vital principles of salvation are un-dispensational. It was blood of old that saved; it is blood still. It was the altar and the priest of old; it is the same still. It was sovereign grace of old; it is sovereign grace still. Man was made to feel that he was a sinner, that as a sinner he needed a Saviour, and that it was sovereign grace that provided and accepted a substitute, whether in the form of a lamb, or in the antitype of after days—the Lamb of God. These are the foundations of everlasting salvation; and they are not one whit different now from what they were in the days of Abel, Moses, David, or the cripple at the pool of Bethesda. The light of the star differs nothing from that of the Sun in principle. So it is with the great truths of redemption. It was starlight then; it is sunlight now. It was shadow then; it is substance now. Beyond what God has done now in Christ, heaven cannot go. “There remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” All the resources of heaven have been developed. Beyond the cross of Calvary, neither God nor man can go.
But the pool of Bethesda, like the sacrifices of old, had its points of instruction, pointing to the manner in which the Saviour should accomplish His work. The watchful believer could discern in the burning of the sacrifices, in the shedding of blood, and in beating into fineness the elements of the offerings, as well as in the troubling of the pool, the sorrows and sufferings of the cross of Christ. “Now is my soul troubled,” was the Redeemer's mournful cry. “By His stripes we are healed.”“He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities.” All this was foreshadowed in type, and ceremony, and figure, in every varied form, from the very gates of Eden till the coming of the great Antitype. The animal was slain. The flour was ground. The incense was beaten. The sacrifice was burned. The pool was troubled. All spoke in varied but expressive language, of the bruised and smitten, the bleeding, dying Jesus. Such is the price of the believer's salvation, but not only of his salvation, but of every blessing he enjoys. Oh, that we might remember this as we press our fondest blessings to our hearts!
“And a certain man was there which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.” Such is the object towards which the Lord's attention is directed. So long had he waited, and waited in vain. This is the feature of every human system, no matter how excellent it may be—it keeps the sinner waiting. In all of them, though outwardly, like Jerusalem, they may bear the impress of heaven, yet inwardly there is the impotence of Bethesda's pool. In all of them the sinner is left behind, just as at this pool. In the best and holiest of all; the Jewish system, the sinner had to wait for his pardon till the great day of atonement, and scarcely was that over ere a fresh set of unpardoned sins weighed upon the conscience, not to be set at rest till the next great meeting. The conscience was not at rest, so in every human system. The only comfort for the conscience is the hope of pardon hereafter; no certainty yet. So also in angelic agency; it kept the poor helpless cripple waiting to be healed, and kept him waiting in vain. Nor is this the case with systems only. It is the thought lying deep in the heart of every natural man. No present pardon. No already accepted worshiper. No conscience peaceful and happy in the assurance that sin has gone, wrath has gone, condemnation has gone—gone forever. No, the secret thought is, 'that is presumption.' There is; and often, alas, in God's own people, a trembling anxiety, a secret fear, an inward uneasiness, an ever present doubt, troubling the conscience and drawing a veil over the perfect peace of the poor heart. It flutters in doubt and uncertainty. Now more satisfied, then becoming restless. Now happy when its feelings correspond with the truth, then wretched when it loses the sensible assurance of the fact. Now happy and rejoicing when its conduct has been in harmony with God's holy will, then miserable when the feet have slipped and conscience is secretly charging.
Oh, why is all this? Why this restlessness, this anxiety, this misery within, as if the work of your eternal salvation had not been everlastingly finished? as if your warm, feelings, or your right faith, or your holy life, or your own steadfastness, had redeemed you, instead of the precious blood of Christ! Why not rest on Jesus and His finished work? Why not have done with all these self constructed refuges? You are a poor sinner; the chief of sinners, none viler than you—none more unworthy or undeserving; your faith is weak; your feet are continually slipping; your prayers are half hearted—a mockery of God; your resolutions are all broken; your feelings are as changing and restless as the tide; your heart seems as hard as stone; you look within, there everything is discouraging; you look forward, all seems dark.
Be it so, my brother; what has all this to do with the finished work of Jesus on thy behalf? Nothing; nothing. Though you should change, and become viler in your own estimation than ever, can it affect at all the finished work of Jesus? Oh, not the shadow of a shade! Cease expecting to make yourself worthy of that great work. Cease from all thoughts that it depends, in any measure, on your faith, or feelings, or righteousness, or anything else belonging to you. God's love sent Jesus to save you. He came and finished your salvation, every jot of it, and has left you nothing to do but accept it—to believe and be happy.
You may change, but your salvation is finished. You may grow cold, but your salvation is finished. You may slip and stumble, but your salvation is finished. You may not feel happy, but your salvation is finished. Jesus saved you, not your warm feelings. Jesus finished your redemption, not your right faith. Jesus has secured your everlasting salvation by His work on the cross; it is not your own steadfastness that has done it. Believe, and honor God's word. Believe, and have peace of conscience. Believe, and be a happy man. Believe now. You are not saved because you are a saint, but because you are a sinner. You were not saved because you would have right faith, or a better character, or pious feelings, or a holy life, or steadfastness of character; you were saved when you had none of them, and because you had none of them. When Jesus died to save you, not one of these things were taken into consideration. He saved you as a poor, needy, guilty sinner, having nothing at all; to sovereign grace alone be all the praise!
But to proceed. Jesus takes the worst case. He takes the one left behind. It was not that there were not others equally diseased there. Doubtless there were. But they retained some strength of their own to get into the pool. Here was one that did not. He was left behind. He always had been. He always would be. He was “without strength.” For such did Jesus die. This poor soul was left behind, even in angelic agency. So of every human system. It leaves the one “without strength” behind. To such did Jesus come. To the one left behind by every human system, to the one left behind by law, to the one left behind by man, to the one left behind by angels. It was because he had always been left behind that Jesus came to save him. Precious thought! Sinner, are you left behind? Are you “without strength?” Are you without righteousness, without character, without one thing to commend you to God or man; and because of this are you left behind? To you Jesus comes. To you He speaks, “Wilt thou be made whole?” Dost thou feel thy need of Him? None more welcome to His heart than thou. Such are the objects of His salvation. Now, as then, He goes forth by His Spirit through our world, seeking the one left behind of every system, left behind of every hope, left behind of himself, “having no hope, and without God in the world.”
How strikingly the Holy Spirit brings before our notice the poverty of all human systems to meet the deep necessities of the soul! “A certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.” How the time is mentioned, as if to bring out the utter impotence of the means he had been seeking to meet his deepest needs. True, the pool could do much for those who were not altogether without strength, but for such a one as he it could hold out no hope. It left him thirty and eight years, and would have left him thirty and eight more. For those “without strength” it had nothing to offer. None could meet these but Jesus. The deepest needs need the deepest grace, and such grace is only in Him. In Him they find their only response. He was sent to meet them, and had He not come, our world would have lain in its impotence forever, and have been like the cripple at Bethesda's pool. The law could do much; angelic agency could do much; but there was one thing they could not do—they could not reach the deep needs of man's soul, they could not meet the one “without strength” and make him whole. Only Jesus could do that. Jesus only! This is now our song. Saved sinners can sing no other. No other name but His can wake the chords of the heart, or retune the broken instrument. It must be Him or nothing. 'None but Jesus' is the utterance of earth, and re-echoed in heaven throughout eternity. It is the “new song” which none can sing but those who know they are “without strength,” and who have experienced the grace of God meeting them in Christ Jesus, and making them whole.
Let us learn, in passing, several brief but important lessons from this narrative. The Saviour took the worst case here, to show us that however bad ours may be, it is not beyond His mercy and grace. He took up the one who had been thirty and eight years in impotence, to show us that no matter how long we may have wandered in sin, how far we may have gone from Him, there is salvation, full and free, at our very side. And, lastly, He takes one case only, to show us that the soul's salvation must be an individual thing. These are stereotyped truths, but we need them continually brought before us from the word of God. Oh, how encouraging are they to the poor sinner! How they cry to the far off sinner, “Come!” How they re-echo the beautiful lines, so well known—
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come I”
How they inspire hope within the darkest bosom! What a heavenly beam penetrates the dungeon of darkness, misery, and despair, lighting it up with joy and gladness! Far off sinner, come! Ye whose consciences are writing dark and bitter things, whose past lifetime is one guilty blot, whose crimes are numbered in the sands of the seashore, and to whom the heavens above seem brass, Come! Ye who dare not look up, from conscious shame, who are outcasts from among men, and in whose desponding bosoms the cry of despair is wailing up to heaven, Come! Ye who have heard the secret whisper from within, of “no hope,” and who are rushing forward under its impulse, in a reckless career of guilt, under the goadings of a guilty conscience, Come! Jesus is at your side. Redeeming love stands before you with inviting arms, and will never turn away. Shut out you may be from earth, from heaven, from society, from friends, from hope, from God, from everything and every one—yet not from Jesus. Oh, no; He stands at your side, and speaks to the one left behind of all, “Wilt thou be made whole?”
Your case is fully known to Him. He sees you where you lie in wretchedness and guilt, in misery and despair. He knows that you “have now been a long time in that case.” This is why He is at your side. This is the reason the sweet notes of mercy are sounding in your ears. It is because you are so bad, that He has sought you. It is because you are so bad, that he is willing and waiting to save you. There is not a phase in your history but He knows it. There is not a crime in your dark life but He has marked it. He followed you in all your guilty paths, when you knew it not. He knows much more of you than you know yourself. Let conscience charge, accuse, and condemn; let the world frown, and society shrink from your touch; let the picture be drawn darker and darker. Be it so. Jesus seeks you; Jesus calls you. Mercy waits, and will wait, at your very side, and whispers in heaven's own accents, “Wilt thou be made whole?”
But to proceed with the narrative. The impotent man has no idea of salvation being so near. Grace meets him with an open hand, stands at his very side, but he discerns it not. His thoughts are full of the pool, the angel, the troubled waters, and his own infirmity. An Almighty Deliverer at hand, meeting him in his state of helplessness and hopelessness, with a present deliverance, never enters his mind. The sight of the pool, and his own long sustained burden, filled every place in his thoughts. Like the woman of Samaria, the well before her had so filled her thoughts that she knew not who was speaking to her, nor what it was He had to offer. The well, the natural water, the thirst of the body, the place where her fathers had worshiped; all these had so completely filled the mind, that, like the inn of Bethlehem, there was no room for Christ. So with this poor impotent. The season, the angel, the troubled waters, his own inability to step down, these had so filled his thoughts, that there was no room for present deliverance and a present Saviour.
Oh, how truly these two characters, in their several aspects, correspond with two great classes at the present day! One so filled with thoughts of the world and the things of the world, the other so filled with thoughts of its own wretchedness and misery, as to have the eye closed to Jesus and His complete salvation. Yet this is the great aim of Satan. If he can fill the mind of the sinner so as to keep out Jesus, he cares not with what it is occupied. A well, a waterpot, will do; a pool, an angel, or anything else; high or low, lofty or lowly, heavenly or earthly—anything, so that it is not Christ. It will serve his turn just as well if the mind be filled with sentimental thoughts of heaven and its songs of joy or its streets of azure gold, if Christ be only left out. This will do as well as a water pot or a pool, as well as the things of this world, the cares of life, or the concentration of the mind on its own miseries. And is it not so with many of those who are truly awakened also? Like the impotent man at the pool of Bethesda, they are so filled with thoughts of their own sin and misery; cast down and in the dust, their only comfort a vague hope of pardon—that a present Saviour, a present pardon, a present peace, a full salvation secured for them in the finished work of Jesus, is never thought of. Something of self, in one form or another, and under the false garb of humility, so shuts out Jesus from the soul, that there is no room for a gleam of light to enter.
O, Satan, serpent, deceiver, destroyer of the soul, hinderer of God's peace in His child, disturber of his conscience, how art thou working in the heart of man on all sides! At the gates of Eden, at the well of Samaria, at the pool of Bethesda, and up to the present hour, we trace thy serpent trail. Spirit of the living God dispel the darkness, and cause thy voice of power and love to enter our impotent hearts and understandings, so filled with everything but Jesus and His glorious work! Speak but thy word and the impotence of the soul shall vanish, and it shall rise up in thine own strength, and bear testimony to thy mighty work and glorious name.
Well, though the impotent knew not the grace of God nor who it was that spake to him, there was one thing to rejoice in—he was in the presence of Jesus. This was enough. No soul ever yet came to Him and went away empty; no heart ever came with its needs to Him and left without a stream from His ocean fullness. There, on the one hand, lay a wretched, ignorant, needy creature, on the other all grace, and love, and boundless fullness. Fit and blessed company for Him! “He filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” This was the hour for manifesting His glory. This was the hour when the heart of Jesus rejoiced. Grace uttered its blessed sound in the words of Jesus, “Wilt thou be made whole?” and brought from the heart of the poor cripple an unconscious expression of his deep poverty and helplessness. This was all that Jesus required; God asks nothing else. No amount of faith in Him, no right thoughts about Him, no right way of coming before the blessing can be given, no improvement in the moral character. Oh no, never! This would be destructive of every thought of grace. All the fitness He requireth Is to feel thy need, of Him.
Dost thou, sinner, feel thy poverty, thy wretchedness, thy need of Jesus? Then Christ is thine, and, with Christ, a full salvation, free forgiveness, a perfect righteousness. Christ is thine, thine now, thine just as thou art, and, with Christ, everything else. “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” It is thy Saviour Himself bids thee. Go in peace, and rejoice in the glorious truth that He has set thy spirit free.
We have said that one blessed feature in the case of the poor impotent was that he was in the presence of Jesus. He was blind, ignorant, miserable, and in despair; but he was in the presence of Jesus. This was enough. Oh, that we could bring the spiritual cripples of this Bethesda world of ours into that blessed presence! Then should we see more strength in the Church of God; more Divine power; more frequent testimony to the preciousness of Christ. Then would there be heard less of self, less of Churches, less of everything, and more of Him. Why should our empty vessels be so long unfilled? Why should we let them down to every earthly stream and current, and turn our backs on the well of living waters at our very side? No wonder there is so much thirst, so little refreshment. No wonder there is so much of the world about us, so little of heaven. No wonder there is so much of Churches and rituals of creeds and doctrines, and so little of Christ. No wonder the light from the earthen vessel reflects the cold rays of the moon, rather than the warmth and life and vigor of the Sun of righteousness. When shall we learn that the secret of all our strength and power is the presence of God? When shall we learn that it is the only atmosphere we can breathe in safety, and that the soul feeds on husks, and will famish and starve, if it has not its dwelling place there? Every other place, no matter how holy, how excellent, how beautiful, is but Delilah's lap to the spiritual Samson. Everywhere else “the strong will become as tow, and the maker of them as a spark.”
Reader, be familiar with the presence of God. Go not with thy burden of sin and sorrow to men; not even to Christian men. Go with it to the presence of Jesus. What, though thou art spiritually and naturally mirrored in this cripple of Bethesda: ignorant, blind, miserable, bowed down under a long borne burden? Go to Jesus with it all. Oh, lay it at His feet! He loves to hear thy broken utterances. He feels thy every sorrow, thy every need, thy every care. Tell it not to man. “Cease ye from man, for wherein is he to be accounted of?” Stay not from thy best friend, Jesus. He delights in filling the emptiest souls, in bearing the heaviest burdens, in satisfying the deepest needs. Oh, go there, and learn, in a way that none can teach you, the preciousness of Jesus! Go there, and learn what a Saviour He is. Go there, if you want the sweetest foretaste of heaven that can be known on earth. Go to Him, who will make sorrows sweet, burdens light, trials precious, and your soul joyful in the midst of the deepest affliction. Go to Him, and learn to say with an emphasis none can teach you, 'Precious, precious Jesus!'
“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” Blessed, blessed words! The world had kept him waiting thirty and eight years. One word from Jesus is more than it all. Oh, how soon He can restore the soul! How soon He can bid the dry bones live! Yet who could utter them but Jesus? Angels could say, “Woman, why weepest thou?” but they could go no further. They could not stanch the bleeding heart wounds, nor dry the weeping eyes, nor restore peace and joy to the soul. None but Jesus can do that. One word, “Mary,” falling like sweet music on the ears of the Magdalene, lights up the desolate heart with joy. So with this poor impotent. Angels might descend from their dwellingplaces of glory and stir up Bethesda's pool, but they could go no further. They could not speak the gracious word that would once more send the flowing life blood through the withered channels of the cripple's frame, and make it start up in strength, and joy, and gladness. None but Jesus could do that. The world, the flesh, and the devil could draw the poor helpless apostle from the feet of Christ, to follow “afar off,” but one look of Jesus brought him home again in sorrow, faith, and love, to the fold. Oh, one word of Jesus, one look from Him, and what will it not do! It is more powerful than the mightiest of angelic agencies, and more efficacious than the toils of a lifetime. Thirty and eight years sink into insignificance by its side.
Sinner, place these two things side by side; the thirty and eight years, and angelic agency and power, by the side of one word from Jesus; one look, it may be, and you have the difference between Christ and all else. Toil in thine own way or the world's, and at the end of that time it will leave thee miserable and in despair. Go to Jesus, and one word from Him will be more to thee than the combined power of heaven and earth, though both had been engaged on thy behalf. Try this precious Saviour. Leave all thy broken cisterns, thy poisoned streams, thy withered gourds, and come to this over-flowing Fountain. Come, taste and see the preciousness of Christ!
“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” Not only life flows from His words, but strength also. “Take up thy bed, and walk.” It had long detained him a captive. Now the captive was free, and was carrying that whereon he had laid, in triumph. It was an outward manifestation of complete restoration and triumph. 'Captivity is captive led,' through Jesus, who had done all. So is it ever. Jesus gives us life; Jesus gives us spiritual health, Jesus gives us strength; Jesus gives us victory, Jesus gives us all. Without Him we have nothing, we are nothing. Like the impotent here, but for Him we should have lain in the porches of sin and misery forever; but for His sovereign grace, we should have been left to die in our sins. We may well speak of Him. “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” should be the language of every lip, the deep feeling of every heart, the expression of every life, and the motto for all time.
Reader, trust that precious Saviour. Take Him as your all. Lean on Him in every scene and circumstance of life. Though all may fail, He will abide faithful. The more you lean, and trust, and wait, and pray, the more precious will He become to you. No soul that ever passed through this vale of tears trusted Him yet that had not reason to praise and bless Him. The saint's deepest sorrows have ever issued in songs of joy, while leaning on the bosom of Jesus. So, reader, shall it be with you. Oh, trust Him, trust Him! He is worthy of it all. He is your best, your truest Friend; and will be true to the last. With Christ in your vessel, you will ride out every storm in safety. With Christ as your pilot, the haven is secure, whatever breakers may be in the way. With Christ as yours, life is yours, death is yours, heaven is yours, “all things are yours.”
The chief feature in this narrative is the utter impotence of everything to meet the soul's deepest needs but Jesus. Reader, have you learned that lesson yet? If not, you have learned nothing. With all your learning, with all that with which nature and education have endowed you, calculated to elicit the applause or admiration of the world, you are a poor, ignorant, needy creature; you know nothing as yet. The world may call you rich, but you are poor. The world may admire, but angels look down in pity. The world may call you happy, but God's verdict on you is, 'poor, miserable, blind, and naked.' Till you come to know, to love, to follow, to live upon Christ, you cannot know what true happiness is. That thing you call happiness, and beyond which you have no idea of anything higher, is a miserable counterfeit. He who would taste of true happiness must know Christ; and he who knows not Christ must be a stranger to it forever. This is the joy of heaven; and he into whose heart this joy has never entered can never hereafter enter into joy. Reader, what is Christ to you?