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Mutual Intercessions.

by Isaac Williams

from Sermons on the Epistles and Gospels for the Sundays and Holy Days

throughout the Year, Vol. II. Trinity Sunday to All Saints' Day 

Rivingtons, London, 1875.

Second part of Sermon LXXI. for the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity.
 Col. i. 3-11.    St. Matthew ix. 18-26.
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you.COL. i. 9.
(for the first part, on the Epistle.
...We have this day a remarkable instance of our Lord’s readiness to answer the intercessions of love, so as to raise even from the dead; and also, at the same time, of the exceeding virtue going from Him on the touch of faith to cleanse and to heal.

While Jesus spake these things unto John’s disciples. It was on that memorable occasion in the house of St. Matthew, after his summons to be a disciple, when he made “a great feast,” and had called together his friends of every kind to witness the presence of Christ. Pharisees and publicans, disciples of John and of Christ, were all there, a great and mixed company. In the midst of the conversation, it is said, Behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped Him, one named Jairus, who, when he saw Him, says St. Mark, fell at His feet, and greatly besought Him, saying, My daughter is even now dead; but come and lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall Jive. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did His disciples.

Now is not this manifestation of God in the flesh, even taken alone and by itself, sufficient for all things, for every intercession, marking the requisites and the acceptableness of it? Here is prayer, humble, earnest, importunate; he fell at His feet worshipping earnestly beseeching Him. And the answer is so marked that God at once is seen co-operating with the father, and meeting his prayer. In the midst of the feast, and of these divine discourses, He instantly rises up at the voice of prayer; and as if to show His earnest readiness to aid and second his wishes He leaves the assembled company at St. Matthew’s house and goes with him. Although He might have done all by His word spoken, yet He would show us, by thus condescending, and not shrinking from the trouble of the task enjoined Him, how willing He is to meet us in our prayers, when we ask for each other. That this father, the ruler of the synagogue, represents any father who prays to God for his child, that he may be rescued from spiritual death, is obvious, a child would so understand it. To consider it so is in no way adding to the Scriptural account, but only applying it to ourselves; and without such application to ourselves all Scripture is dead and unprofitable. And the name father does in this case contain every other relationship,—natural and spiritual. If of fathers in the flesh, so likewise of spiritual fathers does it speak, who intercede like St. Paul for their flocks, that they may be saved from death, or that they might grow -unto all perfection. And of course wherever there is fatherly or brotherly love, that is anxious for the good of others and their everlasting welfare, this incident supplies all the encouragements and the confirmation that can be needed. The lesson is so easy, so forcible, so impressive, that if we knew nothing more than this single circumstance, it might, on reflection, quite startle and amaze us to think how remiss we are in prayers for each other. The father besought Him and He immediately arose and went with him; how much does this contain ? Why do you not thus pray for others, which are or should be dear to you? Is it that you are less anxious for them than this father was for his daughter or is it that your faith is less than his was ? or do you think that God has changed,—that He is now afar off, but that then He was near ? Have you any doubt at all but that a like prayer now, faithful, importunate, and lowly, will have the same effect at any time? You cannot, you do not doubt it, but you are not sufficiently in earnest.

But it is the custom of God in Scripture to combine the love and care which we are to have for others, and for their spiritual profit, with that which we are to have for ourselves, and our own condition in the sight of God. For indeed the fountain itself of the heart must be cleansed for any prayers that issue from thence to be accepted. But they are naturally so combined together that the acceptance of our own prayers for pardon and cleansing dispose us to seek for the same for others, and enlarge the heart into active charities of intercession. Thus David, in the 51st Psalm, after such importunate supplication for mercy and the cleansing of his own heart, passes on to a prayer for the Church. After expressing hope for himself, saying, “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise,” immediately he adds, “O be favourable and gracious unto Sion, build Thou the walls of Jerusalem.” No sooner has he tasted one drop of divine consolation than he thinks of the Church of God, and intercedes for it. Ere his own tears for himself are yet dry, there falls upon them a gleam of light from above, and that light is divine love.

As our Lord was now going to the house of Jairus, ‘with a great crowd following Him, Behold, it is said, a woman, which was diseased, with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind Him, and touched the hem of His garment; for she said within herself, if I may but touch His garment I shall be whole. Suffering under legal uncleanness, she was afraid openly to appear before Him, and in this may well represent the sinner who would fain hide his sin and himself from the presence of God, and yet knows that he has no help but in coming unto Him. Yet great was her faith under the keeping of humility, and faith will render even the meanest things full of healing and life, while it looks upon them as belonging to God. We know how human love will invest everything that belongs to one beloved with itself, any trifle, anything associated with it, even the edge of a garment, will become filled with the object of its love. Faith will do the same in things divine. And nothing can show the nobleness and excellence of faith more than this, that it was so availing even where there was so little knowledge. She had faith to be healed, but she had not at the same time knowledge to consider that she could not be hid from the All-seeing Eye. Her faith went before her knowledge, and was the first to receive the blessing.

How wonderfully does the Divine goodness and power overflow; it sets bounds to itself and appointed channels; yet again, as if impatient of all limitation, it so passes over them as if knowing no bounds, wherever there is human distress to need, and faith to receive the blessing. Thus is it in our own day; the Church of God is often likened to the garment of Christ, without seam, and many are astonished to see such effects of Divine grace beyond the visible fold; but why should we marvel when such virtue went forth from the hem of His garment, and humility with faith received the abundant overflow of good? But we may add, if the hem of His garment had such power to heal and cleanse when touched without, what shall be His Body and Blood received within? Surely this is a subject on which the penitent soul may dwell in adoring faith and wonder, at the greatness of the gift. 

But Jesus turned Him about, and when He saw her, He said, Daughter, be of good comfort, thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. While the ruler of the synagogue still waited, she who was shut out from Israel by the law came as it were behind, and by her faith anticipated miraculous deliverance, and received with all mildness, was comforted as the “daughter” and the child of God; and by her faith led the way and strengthened the chief of the Jewish synagogue in his weak and trembling faith.

Her example may do the same for us, in sustaining and raising our faith towards this great duty of intercessions, of which we have been speaking. The incident, moreover, is, it may be observed, peculiarly applicable to us, and full of consolation on this Sunday; for as we now draw to the close of our sacred year, in the Collect for this week we pray God to absolve us of His bountiful goodness, and deliver us “from the bands of those sins which by our frailty we have committed.” And as if in confirmation of this hope, the Gospel gives us every reason for confidence that He will do so, if nothing on our part be wanting, while the Epistle which our Church has transferred to this Sunday, speaking of the inheritance of the saints, ever increasing in spiritual strength and knowledge, and bound up in mutual intercessions, may serve to carry on the same into aspirations and prayers for both ourselves and others. And now another incident follows. For if we believe, He will show us greater things than these.

And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, those customary attendants who had come to bewail the dead, He said unto them, Give place; for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. Holy Scripture is wont to speak of death as sleep; thus our Lord says, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth,” meaning that he was dead; and St. Paul speaks of the dead as “them that sleep,” “them that sleep in Jesus.” What our Blessed Lord here means is, Death is but a short sleep; and I will now show you in this instance of death that it is so. 

And they, it is added, laughed Him to scorn, so little were they impressed with the awful and mild majesty of God in Christ; like those mockers at Athens, when St. Paul spoke of the resurrection of the dead. But when the people were put forth He went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land. He took her by the hand, the living hand was laid on the dead; the hand of Him Who was God and Man was laid on that of a sinful child of Eve; it was life overcoming death. Thus is it when the power and grace of God comes on the dead and slumbering will of man, it arises, and in Christ can do all things.  O marvellous Divine efficacy! As the body of Elijah stretched on the dead child of the widow, and that of Elisha on that child of the Shunammite woman, when his staff, the sign of the Cross, had gone before; what were these things but the setting forth of this great truth—that our dead bodies are made alive by His Body, and in Him our dead souls are quickened? How is His presence full and surrounded with the power of all cleansing, of healing, and of life?

And now let us reflect a little on this incident. What is the dread heavy weight that ever lies upon us all? It is the consideration of death. How does it close up the view, so that we cannot look forward? How does it seem to reproach every enjoyment, however innocent? How does its unavoidable approach seem to scatter to the winds every earthly prospect of gain, of reputation, of the well-being of children? How does it seem to lie under all things, as if to suggest how hollow they are? How does it seem to cover all as with a cloud, and to surround us on this side and on that, and in the way that we should go?—I was going to say with its awful shadow, but it is not a shadow, no, far otherwise, that is the point of consideration, it is not a shadow, it is truthfulness itself. It Strikes off all disguises, it scatters all shadows; it makes everything else to be shadows in comparison with it, showing us that nothing else hath anything substantial, any reality except death,—death the great certainty, death the great reality, death the great test and proof of all truth, death the universal rule which hath no exception, death the only thing unavoidable, unalienable. The inseparable adjunct of life, in all time and in all place, always near, and often most near when least known to be so. Its approach the most certain of all things, the nearness of that approach of all things the most uncertain.

Now it is from this that we are relieved by this most gracious incident of mercy. It is this that exists not in Christ’s presence; He will not know of such a thing as death when He is near; He will not allow the name. It is not death, He says, as if suggesting, death is quite another matter—it is only sleep. Death is terrible, because it is man meeting his God; but it is no longer terrible to a sincere Christian, because it is man meeting his God in Christ.

Another point to be observed on these occasions is the apparent accident that brings Christ. Most persons in looking back on the history of their own lives, will observe that the most important points on which it has turned have depended on what are by men esteemed accidents. By this remarkable circumstance God would draw attention to the fact, that whatever it is, He is the doer of it; that while our conduct depends on ourselves, He is the Disposer of all events. The same may be shown on the occasion of these incidents in the Gospel narrative. Had not our Lord just crossed the lake, come to Capernaum, and been present at that feast; and when He was there, had not Jairus come when he did, his daughter would not have been restored. It was the father’s faith that met the opportunity. And again, if the ruler had not come and induced our Lord to go with him, the woman with the issue of blood would not have had her opportunity also of obtaining that miraculous recovery.

We know not any day what great opportunities may be waiting for us, what this or that may give rise to, what accident, as we say, may be even now waiting at the door, and have in it the occasion of life or death.

Therefore faith and prayer should never cease, lest they be wanting when the occasion would meet them. No opportunity is to be lost in which we can intercede for the life of others. We know not what is going on in places unseen; what conversations of God and His good angels, and intentions of good, may at any time be dependent on the opportunities which we have. The prayers of a father at no moment can be unavailing; at all seasons they have access to Christ, and they, we see and doubt not, can turn death into life.

Most men are too busy to pray either for themselves or others, and therefore the opportunities of life pass them by unheeded; they feel they have no time for prayer, but they wish they had, yet all the while they have time for everything else. What they mean is, that they have no leisure of mind for it. Yet it may seem strange to say that if they were to pray ten times as much as they do, it would probably leave them quite as much time and as much leisure for other things as they now have. But even if it did not, the matters they think of more consequence are in fact but trifles, whereas this is most important. All that they need is to make prayer and intercession go before everything else, to be the one great thing at heart, then everything else falls into its place and is sanctified.

It is said of our Blessed Lord, as He went about, that virtue went out of Him and heated them all, and as many as touched Him were made immediately whole. We, as Christians, are brought into this presence of Christ full of healing virtue, and all our life is full of opportunities; opportunities of Sacraments, opportunities of prayer, of promoting the salvation of ourselves and others; opportunities of some active charity, whereby we may touch Christ. Our time is replete with these, and Christ is going about and meeting us, now in one way, now in another. One year of such probation is now fast coming to a close; “lift up your eyes,” the fields are “already white unto the harvest,” nay, the sheaves are already standing in the fields, and the harvest is commencing; the summer of another sacred year is just gone, another year of golden opportunities.