When Jesus passed by the pool of Bethesda, He saw a crowd of miserable objects lying about, waiting for the moving of the waters. His compassionate eyes were especially drawn towards one poor creature who had been a helpless cripple for thirty-eight years; and whose quiet but intelligent face expressed no eagerness of expectation, but had settled into the sober patience of hope deferred. Still he had no idea of regarding a cure as possible from any other source than from these waters; and when, therefore, our pitying Lord, knowing his melancholy case, asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” naturally misconceiving the question, he simply began to relate, that being from his helpless condition unable to reach the water, and no one being willing, in the excitement and struggle of the moment, to put him in when the waters were troubled, he had never been able to secure the benefit for which he had waited so long. The reply of Jesus was conveyed in the most welcome words that ever fell upon the ear of man—“Rise, take up thy bed, and walk!” What a command was that to a man who had for nearly forty years—perhaps all, or almost all, his life—lain in that forlorn condition, during which his poor limbs had forgotten what walking meant, if they ever knew! Yet at that word, the man, radiant with gladness, arose, and bore off with firm step and healthy tread, the bed which had so long been the companion of his sad days and weary nights.
This was the Sabbath-day; and the restored cripple had not gone far before he encountered those who told him, with horror on their faces, that it was unlawful to carry a burden on the Sabbath-day. His answer was, “He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed and walk.” His meaning evidently was, that the order of the person who had healed him, was quite sufficient to account for and justify his proceeding. Then they asked, “What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed and walk?” One would think that, in astonishment at such a miracle, their question would have been, “What man is He who healed thee?” and that they would have lost in that all thought of the man’s bed. But it was the miracle they overlooked and thrust aside, regardful only of the alleged infraction of the Sabbath-day.
The man had no previous acquaintance with the person of Jesus, and had soon lost sight of Him in the crowd. He could not, therefore, furnish the information they demanded; but meeting his Benefactor a few days after, he learned who He was, and hastened to inform the questioners that “it was Jesus who had made him whole,”—in which we observe his mind dwelling exclusively on that part of the case which they had put out of sight. He thought only of the healing: they only of the bed being carried on the Sabbath-day. This seems to us to show, that the man, in his simplicity of heart, conceived that these persons only wanted to know his Healer, in order to render Him honor for the great work He had done. But it was far otherwise; for the Jews were so exasperated that they began to persecute Jesus, and sought to bring Him to his death as a Sabbath-breaker. This gave our Lord occasion to deliver an impressive discourse. As it is not our object to expound our Lord’s discourses, we need only state, that the general purport or collective meaning of this one was to declare, that there existed a perfect unity of mind, and will, and operation, between the Father and the Son. The works of the Son were really Divine works; so that neither could He be justly accused of Sabbath-violation for working on the Sabbath-day, nor of blasphemy in making himself equal with God. Note: See Dr. John Brown’s Expositions of the Sayings and Discourses of our Lord, i. 86.
Of this, some very plain declarations made by Him in this discourse had led them to accuse Him; He admitted the interpretation put upon his words, but denied that the claim imputed was any blasphemy in Him, and proved that it was not.
In the course of this address, after urging them to “search the Scriptures” for the ancient testimonies concerning Him, and which would establish all that He claimed, and prove all that He asserted, He broke forth into the piteous exclamation, “Ye will not come to Me, that ye may have life.” It was to his enemies who panted for his life that He spoke; yet, seeing the perilous state in which they stood, He declares his longings for their salvation, and laments that they will not come to Him to receive it. Life can be found nowhere else but in Him; and He stands ready with both hands open to bestow it:
He is able, He is willing,
Doubt no more.”
Why, then, is it that sinners hang back from Him, and do not rather hasten with glad feet to claim the blessings He has to bestow? He exacts no hard conditions—He requires only that we come to Him—come as lost sinners, who know that, if they are saved, they must owe their salvation to Him alone; and are willing to receive that salvation as a gift from his hands, purchased for them by a price no less costly than his blood.
The only reason why sinners remain unsaved is, that they will not go to Him, or will not go to Him in the only way by which access to Him can be gained. Some will not go at all—some will go any way but by that strait and narrow way that alone leadeth unto life. These things must be mysteries to angels, who have not known sin. If a man were to stand at Charing Cross, crying out that he would give half a crown to all that came for it—what rushing and striving there would be, and what eager crowds of people would presently pour down from Pall Mall and Martin’s Lane, and rush up from the Strand and from Whitehall. But here, when One greater than all kings stands forth to offer gifts more precious than crowns and scepters—the gifts of salvation, of eternal life—sinners feel no strong attraction towards him—no really earnest desire for his blessings. Many pass heedlessly by—some do turn aside, but seek to get near by any of the thousand ways that lead not to Him, and soon find themselves “in wandering mazes lost.” Others move so slowly on, with reverted glances to the world they profess to have forsaken, that life’s short journey ends before they have reached the Christ towards whom they have been travelling so wearily and long.
How can these things be?
Alas, it is sin—sin, and nothing else, that creates all this coldness of the soul towards Christ. Not between them; for He has no coldness towards souls. He still invites. He still cries—“Come.” He still stretches forth his gift-laden hands all day to a disobedient and gainsaying people; and still He knows no grief but that they will not come to Him that then may have life.