THE HEALIG OF THE IMPOTET MA

BY REV. GERARD LUDLOW HALLETT, B.C.L.
AD A CERTAI MA WAS THERE, WHICH HAD A
IFIRMITY THIRTY AD EIGHT YEARS. WHE JESUS SAW
HIM LIE, AD KEW THAT HE HAD BEE OW A LOG TIME
I THAT CASE, HE SAITH UTO HIM, WILT THOU BE MADE
WHOLE ? S, John V. 5, 6.
• A QUESTIO admitting of only orw answer.
^*^ Tea ! of course I will be made whole if any one will
give me the chance, if any one will heal me !
On the face of it you might think that any sick man
would hurst forth with some such reply to a question like
that of our Lord. Perhaps, however, the subject admits
of a doubt. It is not quite so certain that all confirmed
inyaUds woxQd wish to be otherwise. It is difficult to
imagine some people as leading a happier life in health
than they do in sickness. What woxQd some people do
without their ailments? On what would they converse
with such fluency and comparative satisfaction? Take
away their bodily infirmities and the occupation of their
lives would be gone ! Ask such the question, Wilt thou
THE HEALIG OF THE IMPOTET MA 25
be made whole ? and if, forgetting themselves for a moment,
they should speak the simple truth, they would say in
eflTect if not in words, "Be made whole? o! What
should I do with health, to whom disease has become a
second nature ! Would people wait upon and bear with
me if I were well as now I am ill ? Would they allow me,
as now, to say any unpleasant and fretful thing which
occurs to me? Would they let me be as peevish, as
indifferent to the comfort of others, and as selfishly scru-
pulous about my own ? Would they bear with my morbid
fieuicies and humour all my caprices? Should I have
anything like the care and attention bestowed upon me ?
Am I prepared to resign the privileges of sickness for the
amenities of health, to take the second place when I have
so long reigned supreme by virtue of my infirmity ? Will
I be made whole ? o ! certainly not ! "
Jesus Christ, my dear friends, did not ask this question
as one to which but one answer could be given. He did
not put it as a matter of form. Why did He propose it ?
We can only imagine His reason, but our surmise will be
probably correct. What do you suppose would be likely
to be the state of mind of a man who had been ill for
thirty-eight years, who had forgotten, if he had ever known,
what it was to be well and strong ? Would he not pro-
bably be sunk in a state of lethargy and despondency ?
With us, with all our appliances of medical skill which
have snatched so many diseases from the incurable, and
26 THE HEALIG OF THE IMPOTET MA
placed them among iiie number of the cnrable, or at least
remediable, with ns snch a state would make the sufferer
almost, if not quite, hopeless of any cure. But j&ncy what
it must have been in a country where so great was the
ignorance of medical science that the doctors were, as a
rule, worse than none at all. Where little of anything
was known of the human &ame, where anatomy was
unknown, or if known by name considered, as it is stiU by
the Hindus, as a black art, indefensible to practise. The
man lying by the pool at the gate of mercy (for such is
the interpretation of Bethesda) had come to look on all
medical skill, as indeed it was and still is in Eastern coun-
tries, as a system of guess work, which could do him no
good, but perhaps harm; he had dragged his weak limbs
down to the pool as a desperate, a last resource. How
many years he had come is not certain, but year afiier year
for perhaps many years he had come to seek this forlorn
hope. Only one coxQd be healed at a time, it was the first
who stepped in who got the blessing; and this poor
sufferer was nefoer first. His own words in answer to the
Saviour are pathetic in their simplicity: '^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." The question, we say,
had its purpose. The poor man had waited so long, and
so long waited in vain, that hope deferred had made his
heart as sick as his body ; hope was well nigh dead within.
AT THE POOL OF BBTHESDA. 27
His heart, may be, had mthered through his long suffer-
ings and the neglect of his fellow-men, some of whom we
may picture standing by, enjoying and perhaps laughing
at the ineffectual efforts of himself and his companions in
suffering to plunge first into the troubled pool. It was to
awaken in him anew a yearning after the benefit, which
the Saviour, pitying his hopeless case, was about to im-
part: it was to stir up the smouldering embers of hope
and faith within him, to awaken his soul and his whole
nature ; to rjuse him from the sleep of despondency and
apathy into which no doubt he had sunk, to prepare his
moral and intellectual being for the new life which was to
strengthen his Umbs and to change the whole course of his
nature. Standing beside the lame man it was as though He
said, *' I the great Physician stand by thee, I the Lord in
righteousness mighty to save, able to save to the uttermost
in body and soul all who trust in Me ; I the Besurrection
and the Life ask of thee a question full of meaning, and a
presage of health and strength of body and soul to all who
haye feiith to answer it aright. Dost thou wish with all
thy mind to be healed? Does thy mind, thy soul, thy
strength meet and reach forth and respond to My gracious
intention ? Wilt thou return from death to life ? Wilt
thou be made whole ?"
I need scarcely point out to you the feict, that there are
many things connected with this very interesting miracle
which require explanation, and which will well reward care-
28 THE HEALIG OF THE IMPOTET MA
fal study. It is not, however, my intention at the present
time to discuss it critically^ or even to suggest the nature
of its difficulties. It will be sufficient for our purpose to
glance at one or two thoughts which it seems to suggest.
It was on the day of a Jewish feast that Christ wrought
this miracle. What feast it was is not certain ; perhaps
that of Pentecost. What is more important is to mark
how Christ "k&j^i it He blessed it by a work of mercy ; by
healing a man who was to all appearances a hopeless in-
vaUd. What different views many among ourselves have
of observing solemn seasons, Christian festivals. To eat,
drink, and be merry ourselves ; to put out of sight all un-
pleasant objects, to forget all painful subjects, to keep away
from the Bethesdas where He the many sick and suffering
whose sorrows we might alleviate by our money or kindly
help in word or deed ; this is the way in which many of us
keep our feasts ; a selfish observance, wholly xmlike that to
which the example of Christ gives sanction. Another
thought. Think of the lovingkindness and mercy of the
Saviour as displayed in this miracle! how He chooses ont
the most hopelessly sick and needy as the objects of Hjs
healing virtue ! As naturally in the case of the impotent
man, so spiribually in the case of sinners who pine after
health to which, unaided, they cannot attain. To such He
graciously extends a helping hand. To such, to draw out
their faith. He puts the question : ^' Sinner, long withered
in soul and estranged from my fold, doubting, stumbling.
AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA. 29
powerless for good, falling day by day into sins and pitfalls
of evil which thou wonldst fain avoid, pushed aside by the
world, hustled by the throng of sufferers stronger than
thyself, I, the good Physician, stand beside thee ; wilt thou
trust in Jfo, wilt thou come unto Jfe, and look to Me only
for health and strength ? wilt thou thus be made wholeV^
It is worthy of remark that the sufferer did not reply to
Christ otherwise than by a touching confession of utter
helplessness. He could not help himself, and no one else
coxdd or would help him. " 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." Is it not thus with the
spiritually halt and maimed ? Is it not when they confess
their utter helplessness to work out their own salvation
that Christ speaks to them the healmg words? The
Christian's sense of weakness constitutes his real strength,
"When I am weak," wrote the Apostle, "then am I
strong." " I can do all things," he says again, in no spirit
of boasting, " through Christ which strengtheneth me."
One more parting thought. What has become of the
Bethesda, the scene of this miracle ? It has passed away,
the pool has become lost, and travellers dispute as to its
site. But God here, as so often, takes away one blessing
that He may replace it by another and far greater ! The
Bethesda where only one sufferer could be healed, and that
at certain seasons^ this puny and exclusive Bethesda has
passed away ; and now in every Christian land Bethesdas
30 THE HEALIG OF THE IMPOTET MA
haye sprang np, whereyer Christ is known and the precepts
of His Gospel carried ont in sincerity and tratL Whereas
in the pool, when the angel descended and troubled its
waters, (me sick man was healed, in onr hospitals and insti-
tutions for the sick and infirm hundreds are healed or haye
their sufferings aUeyiated, for the one who was thus blessed
under the Jewish dispensation. And be it well remembered
that these houses of mercy are due to the influence of
Christ and His Gospel. He, the Sun of Bighteousness,
came with healing on His wings; with Him the mercy
and truth of medical skill and knowledge came into the
world. He it was who taught men to look on one another
as neighbours, brethren, and to regard the healing art as
one of the noblest and best worthy of cultiyation; and
whereas when He came upon earOi it was practised among
the Bomans only by Greek slaves or freedmen, as un-
worthy of cultivation by conquerors like themselves, from
the time of Christ the physician has grown in honour and
public estimation, till now none but fools or feeble wits
despise his art, or make merry, when in health, of these,
naturally speaking, the greatest and most unselfish among
the benefactors of the human race. And as naturally, so
spiritually, the exclusive Bethesda of Judaism, from the
benefits of which all but one nation were excluded, has
passed away, and been merged through Christ in that
great and grand House of Mercy to which all are welcome,
and where cSl may be healed of their spiritual diseases
AT THE POOL OF BETHESDA, 31
and infirmities. In the noble words of Chrysostom in his
Easter sermon, "Among the Jews there was of old a pool of
water ; yet learn whereunto it availed, that thou mayest ac-
curately measure the Jewish poverty and our riches. There
went down, it is said, an angel and moved the waters, and
who first descended into them after the moving obtained a
cure. The Lord of Angels went down into the stream of
Jordan, and sanctifying the nature of water healed the
whole world. So that there indeed he who descended after
the first was not healed, for to the Jews, infirm and carnal,
this grace was given ; but here, after the first a second
descends, after the second a third and a fourth ; and were it
a thousand, didst thou cast the whole world into these
spiritual fountains, the grace would not be worn out, the
gift expended, the fountains defiled, the liberality ex-
hausted." And here, dear Mends, I point these words with
the invitation of Christ Himself. Here, in this House of
Mercy, He stands extending to us the mercy which now
He freely offers to all mankind: "Ho, every one that
thirsteth, (M)me ye to the waters ; " and " Whosoever drink-
eth of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst ;
but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well
of water springing up into everlasting life."
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