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By George MacDonald
Used with the permission of Johannesen Printing & Publishing.

In the one remaining case there is a slight confusion in the records. St Luke says that it was performed as Jesus entered into Jericho; St Mark says it was as he went out of Jericho, and gives the name and parentage of the blind beggar; indeed his account is considerably more minute than that of the others. St Matthew agrees with St Mark as to the occasion, but says there were two blind men. We shall follow the account of St Mark. 
Bartimæus, having learned the cause of the tumultuous passing of feet, calls, like those former two blind men, upon the Son of David to have mercy on him.3 The multitude finds fault with his crying and calling. I presume he was noisy in his eagerness after his vanished vision, and the multitude considered it indecorous. Or perhaps the rebuke arose from that common resentment of a crowd against any one who makes himself what they consider unreasonably conspicuous, claiming a share in the attention of the potentate to which they cannot themselves pretend. But the Lord stops, and tells them to call the man; and some of them, either being his friends, or changing their tone when the great man takes notice of him, begin to congratulate and comfort him. He, casting away his garment in his eagerness, rises, and is led through the yielding crowd to the presence of the Lord. To enter in some degree into the personal knowledge of the man before curing him, and to consolidate his faith, Jesus, the tones of whose voice, full of the life of God, the cultivated hearing of a blind man would be best able to interpret, began to talk a little with him. 
"What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?" 
"Lord, that I might receive my sight." 
"Go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole." 
Immediately he saw; and the first use he made of his sight was to follow him who had given it. 
Neither St Mark nor St Luke, whose accounts are almost exactly the same, says that he touched the man's eyes. St Matthew says he touched the eyes of the two blind men whom his account places in otherwise identical circumstances. With a surrounding crowd who knew them, I think the touching was less necessary than in private; but there is no need to inquire which is the more correct account. The former two may have omitted a fact, or St Matthew may have combined the story with that of the two blind men already noticed, of which he is the sole narrator. But in any case there are, I think, but two recorded instances of the blind praying for cure. Most likely there were more, perhaps there were many such. 
I have now to consider, as suggested by the idea of this group, the question of prayer generally; for Jesus did the works of him who sent him: as Jesus did so God does. 
I have not seen an argument against what is called the efficacy of prayer which appears to me to have any force but what is derived from some narrow conception of the divine nature. If there be a God at all, it is absurd to suppose that his ways of working should be such as to destroy his side of the highest relation that can exist between him and those whom he has cared to make-to destroy, I mean, the relation of the will of the creator to the individual will of his creature. That God should bind himself in an iron net of his own laws-that his laws should bind him in any way, seeing they are just his nature in action-is sufficiently absurd; but that such laws should interfere with his deepest relation to his creatures, should be inconsistent with the highest consequences of that creation which alone gives occasion for those laws-that, in fact, the will of God should be at strife with the foregoing action of God, not to say with the very nature of God-that he should, with an unchangeable order of material causes and effects, cage in for ever the winged aspirations of the human will which he has made in the image of his own will, towards its natural air of freedom in His will, would be pronounced inconceivable, were it not that it has been conceived and uttered-conceived and uttered, however, only by minds to which the fact of this relation was, if at all present, then only in the vaguest and most incomplete form. That he should not leave himself any willing room towards those to whom he gave need, room to go wrong, will to turn and look up and pray and hope, is to me grotesquely absurd. It is far easier to believe that as both-the laws of nature, namely, and the human will-proceed from the same eternally harmonious thought, they too are so in harmony, that for the perfect operation of either no infringement upon the other is needful; and that what seems to be such infringement would show itself to a deeper knowledge of both as a perfectly harmonious co-operation. Nor would it matter that we know so little, were it not that with each fresh discovery we are so ready to fancy anew that now, at last, we know all about it. We have neither humility enough to be faithful, nor faith enough to be humble. Unfit to grasp any whole, yet with an inborn idea of wholeness which ought to be our safety in urging us ever on towards the Unity, we are constantly calling each new part the whole, saying we have found the idea, and casting ourselves on the couch of self-glorification. Thus the very need of unity is by our pride perverted to our ruin. We say we have found it, when we have it not. Hence, also, it becomes easy to refuse certain considerations, yea, certain facts, a place in our system-for the system will cease to be a system at all the moment they are acknowledged. They may have in them the very germ of life and truth; but what is that, if they destroy this Babylon that we have built? Are not its forms stately and fair? Yea, can there be statelier and fairer? 
The main point is simply this, that what it would not be well for God to give before a man had asked for it, it may be not only well, but best, to give when he has asked.4 I believe that the first half of our training is up to the asking point; after that the treatment has a grand new element in it. For God can give when a man is in the fit condition to receive it, what he cannot give before because the man cannot receive it. How give instruction in the harmony of colours or tones to a man who cannot yet distinguish between shade and shade or tone and tone, upon which distinction all harmony depends? A man cannot receive except another will give; no more can a man give if another will not receive; he can only offer. Doubtless, God works on every man, else he could have no divine tendency at all; there would be no thither for him to turn his face towards; there could be at best but a sense of want. But the moment the man has given in to God-to use a homely phrase-the spirit for which he prays can work in him all with him, not now (as it appeared then) against him. Every parent at all worthy of the relation must know that occasions occur in which the asking of the child makes the giving of the parent the natural correlative. In a way infinitely higher, yet the same at the root, for all is of God, He can give when the man asks what he could not give without, because in the latter case the man would take only the husk of the gift, and cast the kernel away-a husk poisonous without the kernel, although wholesome and comforting with it. 
But some will say, "We may ask, but it is certain we shall not have everything we ask for." 
No, thank God, certainly not; we shall have nothing which we ourselves, when capable of judging and choosing with open eyes to its true relation to ourselves, would not wish and choose to have. If God should give otherwise, it must be as a healing punishment of inordinate and hurtful desire. The parable of the father dividing his living at the prayer of the younger son, must be true of God's individual sons, else it could not have been true of the Jews on the one hand and the Gentiles on the other. He will grant some such prayers because he knows that the swine and their husks will send back his son with quite another prayer on his lips. If my supposed interlocutor answers, "What then is the good of praying, if it is not to go by what I want?" I can only answer, "You have to learn, and it may be by a hard road." In the kinds of things which men desire, there are essential differences. In physical well-being, there is a divine good. In sufficient food and raiment, there is a divine fitness. In wealth, as such, there is none. A man may pray for money to pay his debts, for healing of the sickness which incapacitates him for labour or good work, for just judgment in the eyes of his fellow-men, with an altogether different confidence from that with which he could pray for wealth, or for bodily might to surpass his fellows, or for vengeance upon those whose judgment of his merits differed from his own; although even then the divine soul will with his Saviour say, "If it be possible: Not my will but thine." For he will know that God gives only the best. 
"But God does not even cure every one who asks him. And so with the other things you say are good to pray for." 
Jesus did not cure all the ills in Judæa. But those he did cure were at least real ills and real needs. There was a fitness in the condition of some, a fitness favoured by his own bodily presence amongst them, which met the virtue ready to go out from him. But God is ever present, and I have yet to learn that any man prayed for money to be honest with and to meet the necessities of his family, and did the work of him who had called him from the market-place of the nation, who did not receive his penny a-day. If to any one it seems otherwise, I believe the apparent contradiction will one day be cleared up to his satisfaction. God has not to satisfy the judgment of men as they are, but as they will be and must be, having learned the high and perfectly honest and grand way of things which is his will. For God to give men just what they want would often be the same as for a man to give gin to the night-wanderer whom he had it in his power to take home and set to work for wages. But I must believe that many of the ills of which men complain would be speedily cured if they would work in the strength of prayer. If the man had not taken up his bed when Christ bade him, he would have been a great authority with the scribes and chief priests against the divine mission of Jesus. The power to work is a diviner gift than a great legacy. But these are individual affairs to be settled individually between God and his child. They cannot be pronounced upon generally because of individual differences. But here as there, now as then, the lack is faith. A man may say, "How can I have faith?" I answer, "How can you indeed, who do the thing you know you ought not to do, and have not begun to do the thing you know you ought to do? How should you have faith? It is not well that you should be cured yet. It would have hurt these men to cure them if they would not ask. And you do not pray." The man who has prayed most is, I suspect, the least doubtful whether God hears prayer now as Jesus heard it then. That we doubt is well, for we are not yet in the empyrean of simple faith. But I think the man who believes and prays now, has answers to his prayers even better than those which came to the sick in Judæa; for although the bodily presence of Jesus made a difference in their favour, I do believe that the Spirit of God, after widening its channels for nearly nineteen hundred years, can flow in greater plenty and richness now. Hence the answers to prayer must not only not be of quite the same character as then, but they must be better, coming yet closer to the heart of the need, whether known as such by him who prays, or not. But the change lies in man's power of reception, for God is always the same to his children. Only, being infinite, he must speak to them and act for them in the endless diversity which their growth and change render necessary. Thus only they can receive of his fulness who is all in all and unchangeable. 
In our imperfect condition both of faith and of understanding, the whole question of asking and receiving must necessarily be surrounded with mist and the possibility of mistake. It can be successfully encountered only by the man who for himself asks and hopes. It lies in too lofty regions and involves too many unknown conditions to be reduced to formulas of ours; for God must do only the best, and man is greater and more needy than himself can know. 
Yet he who asks shall receive-of the very best. One promise without reserve, and only one, because it includes all, remains: the promise of the Holy Spirit to them who ask it. He who has the Spirit of God, God himself, in him, has the Life in him, possesses the final cure of all ill, has in himself the answer to all possible prayer. 


3 In these two cases, the cry is upon the Son of David: I wonder if this had come to be considered by the blind the correct formula of address to the new prophet. But the cases are almost too few to justify even a passing conjecture at generalization. 

4 Well and Best must be the same thing with God when he acts.