By Frederick W. Robertson
Preached February 10, 1850
"And when Jesus came into the ruler's house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, he said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose." -Matt. ix. 23-25.
This is one of a pair of miracles, the full instruction from neither of which can be gained, unless taken in connection with the other.
On His way to heal the daughter of Jairus, the Son of Man was accosted by another sufferer, afflicted twelve years with an issue of blood. Humanly speaking, there were many causes which might have led to the rejection of her request. The case of Jairus's daughter was urgent; a matter of life and death; delay might be fatal; a few minutes might make all the difference between living and dying. Yet Jesus not only performed the miracle, but refused to perform it in a hurried way; paused to converse-to inquire who had touched Him-to perfect the lesson of the whole. On his way to perform one act of love, He turned aside to give His attention to another.
The practical lesson is this: There are many who are so occupied by one set of duties as to have no time for others: some whose life-business is the suppression of the slave-trade-the amelioration of the state of prisons-the reformation of public abuses. Right, except so far as they are monopolized by these, and feel themselves discharged from other obligations. The minister's work is spiritual; the physician's temporal. But if the former neglect physical needs, or the latter shrink from spiritual opportunities on the plea that the cure of bodies, not of souls, is his work, so far they refuse to imitate their Master.
He had an ear open for every tone of wail, a heart ready to respond to every species of need. Specially the Redeemer of the soul, He was yet as emphatically the "Saviour of the body." He "taught the people," but he did not neglect to multiply the loaves and fishes. The peculiar need of the woman, the father's cry of anguish, the infant's cry of helplessness, the wail of oppression, and the shriek of pain, all were heard by Him, and none were heard in vain.
Therein lies the difference between Christian love and the impulse of mere inclination. We hear of men being "interested " in a cause. It has some peculiar charm for them individually: the wants of the heathen, or the destitution of the soldier and sailor, or the conversion of the Jews-according to men's associations, or fancies, or peculiar bias-may engage their attention and monopolize their sympathy. I am far from saying these are wrong: I only say that so far as they only interest, and monopolize interest, the source from which they spring is only human, and not the highest. The difference between such beneficence and that which is the result of Christian love, is marked by partiality in one case, universality in the other. Love is universal. It is interested in all that is human: not merely in the concerns of its own family, nation, sect, or circle of associations. Humanity is the sphere of its activity.
Here, too, we find the Son of Man the pattern of our humanity. His bosom was to mankind what the ocean is to the world. The ocean has its own mighty tide; but it receives and responds to, in exact proportion, the tidal influences of every estuary, and river, and small creek which ours into its bosom. So it was in Christ; His bosom heaved with the tides of our humanity; but every separate sorrow, pain, and joy gave its pulsation, and received back influence from the sea of His being.
Looking at this matter somewhat more closely, it will be plain that the delay was only apparent-seemingly there was delay, and fatal delay: while He yet spake there came news of the child's death. But just so far as the resurrection of the dead is a mightier miracle than the healing of the sick, just so far did the delay enhance and illustrate, instead of dimming the glory of His mission.
But more definitely still. The miracles of Jesus were not merely arbitrary acts: they were subject to the laws of the spiritual world. It was, we may humbly say, impossible to convey a spiritual blessing to one who was not spiritually susceptible. A certain inward character, a certain relation (rapport) to the Redeemer, was required to make the mercy efficacious. Hence in one place we read, "He could not do many miracles there because of their unbelief." And His perpetual question was, "Believest thou that I am able to do this?"
Now Jairus beheld this miracle. He saw the woman's modest touch approaching the hem of the Saviour's garment. He saw the abashed look with which she shrunk from public gaze and exposure. He heard the language of Omniscience, "Somebody hath touched Me." He beard the great principle enunciated, that the only touch which reaches God is that of faith. The multitude may throng and press; but heart to heart, soul to soul, mind to mind, only so do we come in actual contact with God. And remembering this, it is a matter not of probability but of certainty, that the soul of Jairus was actually made more capable of a blessing than before-that he must have walked with a more hopeful step-that be must have heard the announcement, "Thy daughter is dead," with less dismay-that the words, "Fear not, only believe," must have come to him with deeper meaning, and been received with more implicit trust than if Jesus had not paused to heal the woman, but hurried on.
And this is the principle of the spiritual kingdom. In matters worldly, the more occupations, duties, a man has, the more certain is he of doing all imperfectly. In the things of God this is reversed. The more duties you perform, the more you are fitted for doing others: what you lose in time, you gain in strength. You do not love God the less, but the more, for loving man. You do not weaken your affection for your family by cultivating attachments beyond its pale, but deepen and intensify it. Respect for the alien, tenderness for the heretic, do not interfere with, but rather strengthen, attachment to your own country and your own church. He who is most liberal in the case of a foreign famine or a distant mission, will be found to have only learned more liberal love towards the poor and the unspiritualized of his own laud: so false is the querulous complaint that money is drained away by such calls, to the disadvantage of more near and juster claims.
You do not injure one cause of mercy by turning aside to listen to the call of another.
I. The uses of adversity.
II. The principles of a miracle.
1. The simplest and most obvious use of sorrow is to remind of God. Jairus and the woman, like many others, came to Christ from a sense of want. It would seem that a certain shock is needed to bring us in contact with reality. We are not conscious of our breathing till obstruction makes it felt. We are not aware of the possession of a heart till some disease, some sudden joy or sorrow, rouses it into extraordinary action. And we are not conscious of the mighty cravings of our half Divine humanity; we are not aware of the God within us, till some chasm yawns which must be filled, or till the rending asunder of our affections forces us to become fearfully conscious of a need.
And this, too, is the reply to a rebellious question which our hearts are putting perpetually : Why am I treated so? Why is my health or my child taken from me? What have I done to deserve this? So Job passionately complained that God had set him up as a mark to empty His quiver on.
The reply is, that gifts are granted to elicit our affections; they are resumed to elicit them still more; for we never know the value of a blessing till it is gone. Health, children -we must lose them before we know the love which they contain.
However, we are not prepared to say that a charge might not with some plausibility be brought against the love of God, were no intimation ever given that God means to resume His blessings. That man may fairly complain of his adopted father who has been educated as his own son, and after contracting habits of extravagance, looking forward to a certain line of life, cultivating certain tastes, is informed that he is only adopted: that he must part with these temporary advantages,and sink into a lower sphere. It would be a poor excuse to say that all he had before was so much gain, and unmerited. It is enough to reply that false hopes were raised, and knowingly.
Nay, the laws of countries sanction this. After a certain period, a title to property can not be interfered with: if a right of way or road has existed, in the venerable language of the law, after a custom "whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary," no private right, however dignified, can overthrow the public claim. I do not say that a bitter feeling might not have some show of justice if such were the case with God's blessings.
But the truth is this: God confers His gifts with distinct reminders that they are His. He gives us, for a season, spirits taken out of His universe; brings them into temporary contact with us; and we call them father, mother, sister, child, friend. But just as in some places, on one day in the year the way or path is closed in order to remind the public that they pass by sufferance and not by right, in order that no lapse of time may establish "adverse possession," so does God give warning to us. Every ache and pain-every wrinkle you see stamping itself on a parent's brow-every accident which reveals the uncertain tenure of life and possessions-every funeral-bell that tolls, are only God's reminders that we are tenants at will and not by right: pensioners on the bounty of an hour. He is closing up the right of way, warning fairly that what we have is lent, not given: His, not ours. His mercies are so much gain. The resumption of them is no injustice. Job learned that, too, by heart, "The Lord gave, and the Lord bath taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord."
Again-observe the misuse of sorrow. When Jesus came to the house, He found the minstrels and people making a noise. In the East, not content with natural grief, they use artificial means to deepen and prolong it. Men and women make it a separate profession to act as mourners, to exhibit for hire the customary symbols and wail of grief partly to soothe and partly to rivet sorrow deeply, by the expression of it.
The South and North differ greatly from each other in this respect. The nations of the North restrain their grief-affect the tearless eyes and the stem look. The expressive South, and all the nations whose origin is from thence, are demonstrative in grief They beat their breasts, tear their hair, throw dust upon their heads. It would be unwise were either to blame or ridicule the other so long as each is true to Nature. Unwise for the nations of the South to deny the reality of the grief which is repressed and silent; unjust in the denizen of the North were he to scorn the violence of Southern grief or call its uncontrollable demonstrations unmanly. Much must be allowed for temperament.
These two opposite tendencies, however, indicate the two extremes into which men may fall in this matter of sorrow. There are two ways in which we may defeat the purposes of God in grief-by forgetting it, or by over-indulging it.
The world's way is to forget. It prescribes gayety as the remedy for woe; banishes a11 objects which recall the past; makes it the etiquette of feeling, even amongst near relations, to abstain from the mention of the Dames of the lost; gets rid of the mourning weeds as soon as possible--the worst of all remedies for grief. Sorrow, the discipline of the Cross, is the school for all that is highest in us. Self-knowledge, true power, all that dignifies humanity, are precluded the moment you try to merely banish grief It is a touching truth that the Saviour refused the anodyne on the cross that would have deadened pain. He would not steep his senses in oblivion. He would not suffer one drop to trickle down the side of His Father's cup of anguish untasted.
The other way is to nurse sorrow: nay, even our best affections may tempt us to this. It seems treason to those we have loved to be happy now. We sit beneath the cypress; we school ourselves to gloom. Romance magnifies the fidelity of the broken heart: we refuse to be comforted.
Now, generally speaking, all this must be done by effort. For God has so constituted both our hearts and the world, that it is hard to prolong grief beyond a time. Say what we will, the heart has in it a surprising, nay, a startling elasticity. It can not sustain unalterable melancholy; and beside our very pathway plants grow, healing and full of balm. It is a sullen heart that can withstand the slow but sure influences of the morning sun, the summer sky, the trees and flowers, and the soothing power of human sympathy.
We are meant to sorrow, "but not as those without hope." The rule seems to consist in being simply natural. The great thing which Christ did was to call men back to simplicity and nature-not to perverted, but original nature. He counted it no derogation of His manhood to be seen to weep; he thought it no shame to mingle with merry crowds; He opened His heart wide to all the genial and all the mournful impressions of this manifold life of ours. And this is what we have to do; be natural. Let God, that is, let the influences of God, freely play unthwarted upon the soul. Let there be no unnatural repression, no control of feeling by mere effort. Let there be no artificial and prolonged grief, no " minstrels making a noise." Let great Nature have her way; or, rather, feel that you are in a Father's world, and live in it with Him, frankly, in a free, fearless, childlike, and natural spirit. Then grief will do its work healthily. The heart will bleed, and stanch when it has bled enough. Do not stop the bleeding; but, also, do not open the wound afresh.
II. We come to the principles on which a miracle rests.
1. I observe that the perception of it was confined to a few. Peter, James, John, and the parents of the child were the only persons present. The rest were excluded. To behold wonders, certain inward qualifications, a certain state of heart, a certain susceptibility are required. Those who were shut out were rendered incapable by disqualifications. Absence of spiritual susceptibility in the case of those who "laughed Him to scorn"-unbelief in those who came with courteous skepticism, saying "Trouble not the Master;" in other words, He is not master of impossibilities-unreality in the professional mourners-the most helpless of all disqualifications. Their whole life was acting: they had caught the tone of condolence and sympathy as a trick. Before minds such as these the wonders of creation may be spread in vain. Grief and joy alike are powerless to break through the crust of artificial semblance which envelops them. Such beings see no miracles. They gaze on all with dead, dim eyes-wrapped in conventionalisms, their life a drama in which they are but actors, modulating their tones and simulating feelings according to a received standard. How can such be ever witnesses of the supernatural, or enter into the presence of the wonderful?
Two classes alone were admitted.They who, like Peter, James, and John, lived the life of courage, moral purity, and love, and they who, like the parents, had had the film removed from their eyes by grief. For there is a way which God has of forcing the spiritual upon men's attention. When you shut down the lid upon the coffin of a child, or one as dearly loved, there is an awful want, a horrible sense of insecurity, which sweeps away the glittering mist of time from the edge of the abyss, and you gaze on the phantom wonders of the unseen. Yes, real anguish qualifies for an entrance into the solemn chamber where all is miracle.
In another way, and for another reason, the numbers of those who witness a miracle must be limited. Jairus had his daughter restored to life: the woman was miraculously healed. But if every anxious parent and every sick sufferer could have the wonder repeated in his or her case, the wonder itself would cease. This is the preposterousness of the skeptic's demand-Let me see a miracle, on an appointed day and hour, and I will believe. Let us examine this.
A miracle is commonly defined to be a contravention of the laws of nature. More properly speaking, it is only a higher operation of those same laws in a form hitherto unseen. A miracle is perhaps no more a suspension or contradiction of the laws of nature than a hurricane or a thunderstorm. They who first travelled to tropical latitudes came back with anecdotes of supernatural convulsions of the elements. In truth, it was only that they had never personally witnessed such effects; but the hurricane which swept the waves flat, and the lightning which illuminated all the heaven, or played upon the bayonets or masts in lambent flames, were but effects of the very same laws of electricity and meteorology which were in operation at home.
A miracle is perhaps no more in contravention of the laws of the universe, than the direct interposition of a whole nation in cases of emergency to upheld what is right in opposition to what is established, is an opposition to the laws of the realm. For instance, the whole people of Israel reversed the unjust decree of Saul which had sentenced Jonathan to death. But law is the expression only of a people's will. Ordinarily we see that expression mediately made through judges, office-bearers, kings: and so long as we see it in this mediate form, we are by habit satisfied that all is legal. There are cases, however, in which, not an indirect, but a direct expression of a nation's will is demanded. Extraordinary cases: and because extraordinary, they who can only see what is legal in what is customary, conventional, and in the routine of written precedents, get bewildered, and reckon the anomalous act illegal or rebellious. In reality, it is only the source of earthly law, the nation, pronouncing the law without the intervention of the subordinate agents.
This will help us to understand the nature of a miracle. What we call laws are simply the subordinate expressions of a will. There must be a will before there can be a law. Certain antecedents are followed by certain consequents. When we see this succession, we are satisfied, and call it natural. But there are emergencies in which it may be necessary for the will to assert itself, and become not the mediate, but the immediate antecedent to the consequent. No subordinate agent interposes; simply the first cause comes in contact with a result. The audible expression of will is followed immediately by something which is generally preceded by some lower antecedent which we call a cause. In this case, you will observe, there has been no contravention of the laws of nature, there has only been an immediate connection between the first cause and the last result. A miracle is the manifestation to man of the voluntariness of power.
Now, bearing this in mind, let it be supposed that every one had a right to demand a miracle-that the occurrence of miracles was unlimited-that as often as you had an ache, or trembled for the loss of a relation, you had but to pray, and receive your wish.
Clearly in this case, first of all, the constitution of the universe would be reversed. The will of man would be substituted for the will of God. Caprice and chance would regulate all: God would be dethroned; God would be degraded to the rank of one of those beings of supernatural power with whom Eastern romance abounds, who are subordinated by a spell to the will of a mortal, who is armed with their powers and uses them as vassals; God would be merely the genius who would be chained by the spell of prayer to obey the behests of man. Man would arm himself with the powers of Deity, and God would be his slave.
Further still: This unlimited extension of miracles would annihilate miracles themselves. For suppose that miracles were universal-that prayer was directly followed by a reply-that we could all heal the sick and raise the dead-this then would become the common order of things. It would be what we now call nature. It would cease to be extraordinary, and the infidel would be as unsatisfied as ever. He would see only the antecedent, prayer, and the invariable consequent, a reply to prayer; exactly what be sees now in the process of causation. And then, just as now, he would say, What more do you want? These are the laws of the universe: Why interpose the complex and cumbrous machinery of a God, the awkward hypothesis of a will, to account for laws ?
Miracles, then, are necessarily limited. The non-limitation of miracles would annihilate the miraculous.
Lastly; it is the intention of a miracle to manifest the Divine in the common and ordinary.
For instance, in a boat on the Sea of Tiberias the Redeemer rose and rebuked the storm. Was that miracle merely a proof of His divine mission? Are we merely to gather from it that then and there on a certain day, in a certain obscure corner of the world, Divine power was at work? It is conceivable that a man might credit that miracle-that he might be exceedingly indignant with the rationalist who resolves it into a natural phenomenon-and it is conceivable that that very man might tremble in a storm. To what purpose is that miracle announced to him? He believes in God existing in the past, but not in the present; be believes in a Divine presence in the supernatural, but discredits it in the natural; he recognizes God in the marvellous, but does not feel Him in the wonderful of every day: but unless it has taught him that the waves and winds now are in the hollow of the hand of God, the miracle has lost its meaning.
Here again, as in many other cases, Christ healed sickness and raised the dead to life. Are we merely to insert this among the "Evidences of Christianity," and then, with lawyer-like sagacity, having laid down the rules of evidence, say to the infidel, " Behold our credentials; we call upon you to believe our Christianity?" This were a poor reason to account for the putting forth of Almighty Power. More truly and more deeply, these miracles were vivid manifestations to the senses that Christ is the Saviour of the body-that now, as then, the issues of life and death are in His hands-that our daily existence is a perpetual miracle. The extraordinary was simply a manifestation of God's power in the ordinary. Nay, the ordinary marvels are greater than the extraordinary, for these are subordinate to them; merely indications and handmaids guiding us to perceive and recognize a constant Presence, and reminding us that in everyday existence the miraculous and the Godlike rule us.