John v. 6.
"Wilt Thou be Made Whole?"
by John Dickie
THE gravitation of love is in its own sphere of action quite as constant and as powerful as the gravitation of matter. The stone does not more uniformly seek the earth, than the heart gravitates towards the object of its supreme affection and is restless till it finds it. Leave the mother at freedom, and she will be sure to seek at once her beloved little one. The urgent need of the helpless child for its mother's care is not half so imperious as the need which constrains the mother to seek her child that she may care for it. And Mercy, sweet and gentle Mercy, is constrained to seek her object too; for she can find no rest till she reach the side of Misery, where she is happier far in her ministry of love than the wretched one in receiving her tender care. And when we search through the wonderful life of Him who was Love incarnate, we are at no loss to discover the great ruling principles of His whole life. Towards His Father, He ever kept the place of devoted obedience; towards man, He ever maintained the attitude of unwearied grace. He went about doing good—nothing but good; doing it on the most stupendous scale—doing it to all who would only receive it, and doing it when it cost Him ease, sleep, food, nay, even life.
In the beginning of this chapter, we see Him come up to Jerusalem—a city so full of interest to a stranger from the provinces. As in London now, so in Jerusalem then, there were a thousand objects to attract the attention of a visitor from the country. But we do not read of His caring for any one of these. The very first we hear of Him is, that He is among the poor sufferers at Bethesda; and selecting the worst of all the cases, then He proceeds to heal him. For where should the physician be, but with the sickest of the sick? And throughout His whole life, He filled up to its utmost stretch of meaning, the prophetic Word, "I, even I, will both search my sheep, and seek them out" (Ezek. xxxiv. 11). Now it is very instructive for us to contemplate all this, realizing, as we travel through the history, that He is still "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever" (Heb. xiii. 8). His heart is still as tender, His hand is still as able, and He seeks as carefully as ever, objects for His compassionate help. O let us appropriate all the comfort and strength which this assurance ought to give us; and let us be encouraged to deal with Him about our own spiritual troubles, assured that He is now saying to us, as He said to that poor sufferer at the pool, "Wilt thou be made whole?"
Without entering on the story at large, let us simply glance at this question; and let us each one, as we read, hear His blessed lips address it individually to ourselves.
Yes, my reader, wilt thou be made whole? Forget your neighbour for the present; Jesus does not ask you about his case, but He asks you about your own, and He asks, "Wilt thou be made whole?" 'Wilt thou, O sinner? Perhaps some unforgiven sinner is reading these lines, and if so, Jesus, in all the love and pity and grace with which He bent over that poor afflicted man, bends now over you far more pitiable and far more wretched, and He asks if you want to be made whole. For you are sick, nay, worse than sick, you are dead (Eph. ii. 1). You are not in danger merely; you are far beyond it—you are lost—already utterly lost. In a little while, if not made whole by Jesus, you will be cast out as a dead soul into the everlasting receptacle of the dead. But just now, this is your day of mercy; and the only One in all the universe who can give you any help, is bending over you and asking you, "Wilt thou be made whole?" Oh, have you any feeling of your mournful condition, or are you so utterly dead that you do not even know it? If you have any sense of your state, speak to Jesus; for He, the Resurrection and the Life, stands beside you, ready to make you whole.
And wilt thou, O believer, be made whole? Have you no ailment that needs this great Physician? None? What! think again. Are you so rich and increased in goods, that you have need of nothing? Then, alas for you! Does unbelief never distress you, nor a cold hard heart that so feebly loves when its most fervent love would be but too feeble? Is there no lust that troubles you; no root of bitterness mown down to-day, but growing up again to-morrow, that brings you groaning to your knees? Are you never overtaken by a burst of unseemly temper, or a word of unlovely censoriousness, or an act of worldliness, or a thought of pride, or do you never detect in yourself, with weeping, grief, and shame, the spirit of abominable hypocrisy? Or is it not altogether the other way? Are you not rather saying, "Unclean! unclean!" with an ever-deepening sense of its meaning? Is not your growing enjoyment of God's light opening up daily to your humbled soul such discoveries of your own utterly evil heart as keep you mourning sore like a dove? Take courage. The strongest hand and the gentlest heart in all the universe is beside you just now, and in the full understanding of your case, He is asking you, "Wilt thou be made whole?” Let faith reply, "Yea, Lord, be it unto me according to thy Word,” and it shall be done.
And His question is, "Wilt thou be made whole?" Not "Dost thou wish it?" but "Dost thou will it?" A lost life is often full enough of good wishes but wishes are worth nothing in the face of an evil will. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, often quite as much so as the road to Heaven. So, the present question is not, "What dost thou desire?" but, "What dost thou choose?" for it is the choice that settles all. "The desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour" (Prov. xxi. 25). But wilt thou be made whole? Wilt thou, sinner? Often, perhaps, have you felt as Balaam did when he cried, "Let me die the death of the righteous;" but the languid longing, like a barren blossom, never ripened into fruit. All these "idle wishings and wouldings,'' as Edwards calls them, only deceive the heart, for they hide from it the mournful fact that it is unwilling to submit to God and to accept of Jesus. Do not protest that you are willing but that you cannot. There is barely so much truth in what you say as to permit you to deceive yourself about your case. You may indeed, have often wished to be on the Lord's side, but you have also still more strongly wished for something inconsistent with it; and so, while you again and again consciously cherished the desire to have Christ for your portion, you on the whole willed that you would keep the world. But let the sinful past go. Jesus is here again, and He asks you not about your languid wishings, but whether you choose to have Him. If you are only willing, then He is ready to do all the rest; and when He worketh, who can let Him? (Isa. xliii. 13).
And wilt thou too, O believer? Your weakness is your sorrow, but it is no less your sin. Jesus has made full provision for your strength; but you do not avail yourself of it, and therefore you are weak and unhappy. And why do you not? Ah! it is that, like the sinner, your heart is under the influence of irreconcilable desires. The wholehearted decision which would at once bring in Christ's power to manifest itself in your weakness, involves the giving up of something which you feel unwilling to surrender. And so, like a door on its hinges, you move backwards and you move forwards, but with all your moving, you never leave the spot. For however strongly the soul of the sluggard may desire, he hath nothing; it is only the soul of the diligent that shall be made fat (Prov. xiii. 4). Oh, are you yet weary of this mournful lukewarmness, which is neither hot nor yet cold, neither wholly for self nor wholly for Jesus, but seeks what is impossible, to combine them both? If so, accept the blessed help which Jesus brings you; for here He is saying to you, "Wilt thou be made whole?" If you only will it with His help, what has hitherto been impossible to you, shall at once become easy.
"How far from hence to Heaven? Not very far, my friend:
A single hearty step will all the journey end."
And "wilt thou be made whole?" Not make thyself but be made whole. Much lies in this—indeed all lies in this. The question was simple enough, but the poor man had his mind so filled with his own thoughts about his case and its cure, that he did not understand a word of it. And so, instead of answering yes or no, he speaks about his helplessness, his friendlessness, and the difficulties in the way of his being healed by the pool. But to be made whole, and that just as he was and where he was lying, by one word from the lips of the great Healer who spoke to him—of this he never dreamed. And it is still the same. However plainly the good news may be stated, the anxious soul looks at them through the mist of its own legal thoughts, and utterly perverts them. It is all occupied with what it ought to do, or to feel, or to believe, and sorely bewails its impotency that it cannot do either. But to be made whole, and that on the instant, by the mere power and grace of Jesus, just where he is and just as he is, without any doing or feeling of his own—of this he has not the faintest glimmering. And yet nothing short of this, O sinner, is Christ's object in coming down beside you and asking you, "Wilt thou be made whole?" He will heal you if you be willing to be healed. Do not be thinking about ordinances and obedience, about what you are to do, or about how you are to feel; Jesus is not speaking to you just now about these. He is asking you but one question—answer him—"Wilt thou be made whole?" Oh, has your past experience yet brought you to this, that you will be glad to be made whole? How often have you tried to live as a godly man ought to live! but this brought you no healing, for it was unspeakably above your strength, and sorely wearied of it, you were soon compelled to give it up. Ah! you never will be healed after this fashion. No sick man is cured by trying to do the work which a healthy man finds pleasure in doing. No, he must first be made whole, and then he will be able to enjoy the work of a healthy man. And here is thy Healer beside thee, to ask thee this day, "Wilt thou be made whole?" Tell Him if thou wilt.
And thou, too, groaning believer, wilt thou be made whole? Have you yet found out how impossible it is to begin in the Spirit, and then be made perfect by the flesh? (Gal. iii. 3); and in blank despair of being able to heal yourself, are you now willing to made whole? Sanctification is the special work of the Holy Spirit, as much so as atonement is the work of the Lord Jesus; and we can no more attain to the one by our own efforts than we could have effected the other. Your felt corruptions may have caused you great grief, and with vigorous resolution, you have set yourself to keep them down. But wearied eyes would close in spite of you, and in an unwatchful moment, the strong Enemy was on you, and you lay weeping in the dust. It is well. Better far better this, than victory through our own strength. It would only feed pride, to God's dishonour and to our utter ruin; therefore it cannot be. The Lord remembers that we are dust (Ps. ciii. 14); alas that we forget it! He expects from us only what He expects from "dust and ashes," while we count on ourselves as if we had all strength and goodness of our own; He will give us all. He will graciously work all our work in us as well as for us; but then He will make us feel how completely we are dependent on Him and know that all our strength as well as righteousness is in Him (Isa. xlv. 24). Therefore, when we snatch at blessing, and grapple at evil in our own strength, there can be but one issue—shameful and weeping failure. Brother, sister, what know ye of all this? Has your experience of it yet brought you to hail the joyous offer which Jesus makes you, "Wilt thou be made whole?” Are you prepared to welcome the good news of sanctification through faith, as years ago, perhaps, you were brought to welcome the good news of justification through faith? Sorely wearied of your own idle efforts to attain to holy living, do you now as willingly give yourself up to Jesus, to work in you, by the grace of His Holy Spirit, what you are well assured you cannot work in yourself, as you were once willing to give yourself up to Him, that He might wash you in His blood and clothe you with His righteousness, after you had vainly sought to establish a righteousness of your own? If so, then He is ready, for He is here asking, ''Wilt thou be made whole?”
And notice, too, that his question is, "Wilt thou be made whole?" He never does His work by halves. He will not only help you; He will heal you. Wilt thou then, O anxious sinner, be made whole? Wilt thou be made a forgiven child of God, an heir of glory, a citizen of Heaven, enjoying all the privileges of the Father's house and all the love of the Father’s heart? And will you have all this, not when you die—not years hence—not to-morrow even but now? Jesus is here to do all this for you, to do it now, and to do it without any doing of yours. He will not merely make you a little better, He will make you whole. Yes, whole, with sin all forgiven (1 John ii. 12), for ever forgiven, as fully forgiven as were the sins of Abraham, of David, or of Paul. He will give you complete adoption (1 John iii. 2), as complete as that of John or Peter, or any of the myriads who have been taught of the Spirit to raise their hearty cry of Abba, Father (Gal. iv. 6). For salvation is all of grace. It is not in part Christ's doing and in part our own. It is all Christ's work, and He waits only your consent to lead you into the blessedness of its full enjoyment. Wilt thou, then, O sinner, be made whole?
And wilt thou, too, troubled believer, be made whole? Your ailments are different from those of the unforgiven soul, and they must not be confounded. You are already forgiven and have the joy of it. You are already a son and have the witness of the Spirit to the reality of your adoption, so that in the sense in which we have been speaking of sin to the unforgiven sinner, you are already healed. But you have other maladies of your own which make you need the great Physician's help quite as much as does your neighbour. You may not groan from fear of wrath, but you do groan from grief for sin. You sigh and cry for complete deliverance from its intolerable yoke. Unbelief, self-will, slothfulness, and pride distress you daily, and wring from you many a confession and many a cry. It is well. God means us for happy freedom. This is the will of God, even our sanctification. He would not have any child of His, a blinded captive grinding in the prison-house of his cruel foe. He means us to enjoy all the great things which His love bas provided for us. But then, to enjoy them, we need to be made whole. It is not enough that we be living; we must have a measure of health, for violent disease may necessitate a stringent regimen. And do you not often feel that with your present diseased tendencies to pride, to self-reliance, to prayerlessness, every one of your troubles is indispensable? Even with them, you can scarcely be kept in your place in the dust, and how would you exalt the horn without them! Even with them, you can scarcely be kept in a measure of watchfulness and prayer; and what would come of you if you had no troubles to keep you awake, and to send you with strong cryings and tears to the throne of grace! Confess, that if it were not for these very troubles, your feeble life would soon die outright. Joab would not come to Absalom till he ordered his standing corn to be set on fire, and then he came (2 Sam. xiv. 30). And how surely, with your present strength of corruption, would you become a stranger at the throne of grace, if it were not for the conscious and most painful workings of these corruptions, which compel you for very life to seek your Father's presence.
True, there is something far better than all this, and that is to be made whole. It is not meant by this that any of us is to expect a state of soul in this life, in which we shall be satisfied with ourselves. Oh no! anything but that. But we ought to desire and to expect an unspeakable increase of the energy of Divine grace in our hearts. We should seek to be constrained to dwell constantly in our heavenly Father's presence, by the necessities of a love that cannot bear to leave it. We should seek to have the frightful idol self, which is the root of all our sin and misery, so completely broken as that we shall be in no danger of offering up to it the gifts which God gives us to glorify His own grace. Oh, are you willing to be thus made whole—to have the beloved idol demolished now and for ever? And if, in order to its complete destruction, it be found necessary to not only make you abhor yourself (that indeed, is a matter of course), but to make men abhor you too, even in this case are you willing? Does your heart cry, "anything, everything, Lord, only let Thy name be glorified, and let me be healed?" "Our pride," as Rutherford says, "needs winter weather to rot it;" and if that rotting process were well done, what a blessed summer sunshine might we not look for from His love, who actually became man in order that He might open up to us all the hidden treasures of that love? But with many of us our diseased state restrains His present giving. Like little children, we are not able to feed on the strong food which He has prepared for strong men but are compelled to keep sipping at the milk that befits the weakness of infancy (1 Cor. iii. 2; Heb. v. 12). Oh, let us seek to be whole; that is, to enjoy the measure of spiritual vigour that God designs for us. And to encourage us to this seeking, let us remember that we have to do with One who takes the very name, "I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exod. xv. 26). And then, being healed, He shall be able to lavish on us more fully His gifts of love; for we shall know that it is He who hath given us our corn, and wine, and oil, and hath multiplied our silver and our gold. And we shall no longer take His gifts to make a Baal of them (Hos. ii. 8, margin).
Brother, sister, "Wilt thou be made whole?'' and wilt thou that it be this day?
“The British Messenger” July 1865