Second part of Sermon LXVI. for the Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity.
Eph. iv. 17-32. St. Matthew ix. 1-8.
That you put off concerning the former conversation of the old
is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts.
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.—EPH.
iv. 22, 23.
THE Gospel for to-day, in which our Lord is described as giving life to
the dead limbs of the paralytic, affords us a very lively emblem of this
change from the old to the new man, which must take place in us by faith
in the operation of His Godhead. But let us first consider this change,
as St. Paul describes it in the Epistle...
(for the first part, on the Epistle.)
...Now I have endeavoured Sunday after Sunday to point out to you how
all that beauty of holiness which St. Paul describes, that heavenly conversation
which he inculcates on us, is found full of life, when we turn to the Gospel
for the day. The Sun of Righteousness there sheds His life-giving beams
upon it all. By looking unto Him that change is wrought in us by His Spirit,
which St. Paul insists on as necessary for us. Nor is there any occasion
wherein this can be shown more strongly than in the Service for to-day.
Indeed all that the Apostle says would have been in vain, had not Christ
been first manifested to mankind as we read of Him in the Gospels, as having
in Himself all the fulness of the Godhead, and most able and willing to
work this change from death unto life. “Forgive one another” says St. Paul,
“as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you ;“ and the Gospel is of “the
Son of Man” having “power on earth to forgive sins.” We are comforted and
supported as we read, and look in faith unto Him in Whom is forgiveness
of sins, and power of resurrection, and of a new life in all those parts
of our conduct which have been dead before. Thus, Sunday after Sunday,
we are brought to be in company with Christ, and to meditate on Him all
the week; and may He of His infinite mercy grant that we may be aided by
Him to look, as it were, at thin time upon His life-giving countenance,
upon His face of holiness and of love, which is the glory of the new covenant.
Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into His own
city; that is, to Capernaum, which He made the usual place of His sojourn
during this His teaching in Galilee. And here we may observe, that His
entering into a ship, passing from shore to shore, and the mention of His
own city,—all these things bring Him near to us. The High and Lofty
One that inhabiteth eternity thus clothes Himself with our little ways
as men, our necessities, our journeyings, and homes, in order that we may
feel the more constrainingly how He has come down to be with us. “If He
had remained in His own power and greatness, He would have had nothing
common with man; and if He had not fulfilled all the ways of the flesh,
the taking upon Himself of our flesh would have been without reality and
superfluous. But the Creator and Lord of all things had thus straitened
and made Himself small, that He might be with us in the flesh, with a human
country, and city, and home, that He might thus draw out our human affection,
and bind us to Himself by all love and sympathy, that He might make us
partakers of His own home and country in Heaven.” (St. Peter Chysol. Brev.—Abp.
of Ravenna, A.D. 433.)
And behold, they brought to Him a man sick of the palsy, lying on
a bed. The circumstance indicated a state utterly helpless, so that
he could not ever have come himself, had he not been thus carried. And
Jesus, seeing their faith, said unto the sick of the palsy, Son, be of
good cheer; thy sine be forgiven thee. Our Lord’s words are often addressed
to the heart and thoughts of those to whom He was speaking; and therefore
to understand this we must consider, that what laid heavily at this poor
man’s heart was not so much his bodily affliction as the sense of his sins.
He had probably, in the bitterness of his heart, felt that his sickness
was well deserved, and only the punishment due to his sins; and his only
desire was for his sin to be removed. And that he thus needed encouragement
we may conclude from our Lord’s tender expression to him, calling him “Son,”
or “child,” and bidding him “be of good cheer,” on the subject of his sins.
He was perhaps unable to speak on account of the palsy, but his heart and
affliction spoke more than words. And as St. Paul tells us that we are
members one of another, and that as such we are knit together in love to
each other and so prevail with God, and obtain more abundantly His love,
so it is especially to be noticed that our Lord takes the sick man’s kind
and good neighbours into part with himself; He makes them also to minister
to their friend, because in love and kindness to him they themselves looked
to God. For we may observe it is said, that “seeing their faith,” i. e.
the faith of those that carried him, He was thus, as it were for their
sakes, gracious to their afflicted neighbour. He saw their faith; He saw
his need and want; and, far more, He knew his sorrow. But this is not all;
the occasion is marked by another circumstance, the presence of the Scribes.
And here we may see how evil works for good, and the enmity of the wicked
turns to the praise of God; for had there been no worldly men here present,
with evil eyes, we should not have had that memorable and Divine lesson
which follows, whereby our Lord has shown us that, in healing diseases,
He was forgiving sin, which is the cause of disease and death; that He
intended these as outward signs of His power and mercy, whereby out of
the old man, dead in trespasses and sins, He would bring forth the new
And behold, certain of the Scribes said within themselves, This man
blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said, Wherefore think
ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier to say, Thy sins be forgiven
thee? or to say, Arise and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of Man
hath power on earth to forgive sins. They accused Him of blasphemy,
for which they afterwards condemned Him to death, because He made Himself
God, for none but God can forgive sins. But it was very evident that none
but God only could heal diseases by a word; and it was as easy for Him
to do one as the other. But there were reasons in this case why He should
express it in this way. First of all, there was the desire of the suffering
man, which was known to the Searcher of hearts, who earnestly longed for
forgiveness beyond all things, and which our Lord thus hastens as it were
first to confer, pouring the healing balm into his soul before He healed
his body, which was of much less consequence, and teaching us that if we
first seek the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, all other things
needful for the body shall he added. There was also another reason why
He should on this occasion thus speak, for the sake of those that were
present, that they might know what He wished them to perceive in all these
miracles, “that the Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” And
here we may observe that the cause why these Pharisees did not believe
was not the state of their understandings, but of their hearts; for it
was clear that Christ had power to forgive sins if He could thus work miracles,
and they knew that none but God could forgive sins. But they must have
been either entirely free from all sin, or else could have had no great
desire to be freed from their sins, for otherwise they would have rejoiced
with trembling and joy unspeakable, to hear of, and to see with their eyes,
the manifestation of Him Who had power on earth to forgive sins.
It may further be noticed that our Lord does not first work the miracle,
and then say that with it He forgave sins; but He first states the forgiveness
of sins, and the power given to the Son of Man to forgive, and then draws
their attention to this work He was about to per-form, and adduces it as
a proof of what He had before stated, as the outward seal and sign as it
were that His words were true. He who works such a miracle must be from
God; and if from God, His words are to be believed when He declares this
removal of disease to be one with forgiveness of sin. Then saith He
to the sick of the palsy, Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.
And he arose, and departed to his house. But when the multitude saw it,
they marvelled, and glorified God, Who had given suck power unto men.
Now this case of the sick of the palsy may, as I said, well represent
the old man dead in trespasses and sins, unable of himself to move or do
anything that is good, as St. Paul represents his state, “to will is present
with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not.” And first of
all must sins be forgiven, before life is restored. It is a very awful
thought, when we consider how Christ was then standing in the midst of
men, with power to forgive sins, and most ready to absolve sinners, yet
that many around Him were rendered no better for this, but rather perhaps
the worse. Thus St. Luke says that these Scribes were collected on this
occasion from every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem, and “the power
of the Lord was present to heal them :“ but surely they were not healed.
They stood in His all-healing presence unforgiven, because unrepenting.
The miracle which He wrought on the paralytic, accompanied by His forgiveness
of sins, was nothing else but that living language by which God speaks;
yet they could not hear this His Divine voice, because they heeded it not.
None needed forgiveness more than they; none desired it less. “After their
impenitent heart they treasured up wrath against the day of wrath,” because
they knew not the day of mercy.
Now all this, my brethren, is in the very strongest manner applicable
to ourselves whenever we come to church. Do we then long to put off the
old mail, all that appertains to our dead evil nature, and to be clothed
with the new, Which is Christ ? One consideration particularly in point
is that of the Absolution. We first turn to God with a very humble confession
of sin; and if the Searcher of hearts knows that we are sincere in thus
lamenting our sins, we are in a state to receive His pardon. And He is
no doubt in the midst of us. After this confession the priest, in the Name
of Christ, turns round to the people and pronounces the forgiveness of
sins. When the priest was ordained, it was said to him by the bishop, “Receive
the Holy Ghost, for the office of a priest,” “Whose sins thou dost forgive,
they are forgiven; and whose sins thou dost retain, they are retained.”
Now we are all, with regard to our souls, so far in the state of the
paralytic, that we need to be renewed and restored. Will it not be good
for us to obtain this forgiveness thus pronounced, shall I not say daily,
or twice a day A good man is always described in Scripture as growing in
grace, as going from strength to strength, as being daily renewed, as being
changed from glory to glory, as increasing in stature to the fulness of
Christ. Now I would seriously put it to every man’s conscience, must not
this Absolution, pronounced daily in the Name of Christ, in that assembly
in which He has Himself promised to be present, have some effect on a penitent
and thoughtful mind ? Is it possible to believe anything, and to doubt
that He Who said to the paralytic, “Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be
forgiven thee,” and Who gave him strength to take up his bed, nay, by His
word, gave him, I may say, obedience also,—that He does not now meet in
the same manner every penitent soul who listens for the Absolution in church,
and on whom it falls as dew from Heaven on the parched ground.
And here observe that when Christ pronounced those words of old, so
full of unspeakable consolation to the penitent, there were very many who
hardened their hearts and believed not. They indeed looked upon Him with
bodily eyes, but they believed not, because His power was then confined
to a small space; we now see Him, not with bodily eyes, but we behold His
power throughout the whole world. In both cases alike it must be by faith;
for the temptation to unbelief is the same now as then.