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

IF we allow that prayer may in any case be heard for the man himself, it almost follows that it must be heard for others. It cannot well be in accordance with the spirit of Christianity, whose essential expression lies in the sacrifice of its founder, that a man should be heard only when he prays for himself. The fact that in cases of the preceding group faith was required on the part of the person healed as essential to his cure, represents no different principle from that which operates in the cases of the present group. True, in these the condition is not faith on the part of the person cured, but faith on the part of him who asks for his cure. But the possession of faith by the patient was not in the least essential, as tar as the power of Jesus was concerned, to his bodily cure, although no doubt favourable thereto; it was necessary only to that spiritual healing, that higher cure, for the sake of which chiefly the Master brought about the lower. In both cases, the requisition of faith is for the sake of those who ask-whether for themselves or for their friends, it matters not. It is a breath to blow the smoking flax into a flame-a word to draw into closer contact with himself. He cured many without such demand, as his Father is ever curing without prayer. Cure itself shall sometimes generate prayer and faith. Well, therefore, might the cure of others be sometimes granted to prayer. 
Beyond this, however, there is a great fitness in the thing. For so are men bound together, that no good can come to one but all must share in it. The children suffer for the father, the father suffers for the children, and they are also blessed together. If a spiritual good descend upon the heart of a leader of the nation, the whole people might rejoice for themselves, for they must be partakers of the unspeakable gift. To increase the faith of the father may be more for the faith of the child, healed in answer to his prayer, than anything done for the child himself. It is an enlarging of one of the many channels in which the divinest gifts flow. For those gifts chiefly, at first, flow to men through the hearts and souls of those of their fellows who are nearer the Father than they, until at length they are thus brought themselves to speak to God face to face. 
Lonely as every man in his highest moments of spiritual vision, yea in his simplest consciousness of duty, turns his face towards the one Father, his own individual maker and necessity of his life; painfully as he may then feel that the best beloved understands not as he understands, feels not as he feels; he is yet, in his most isolated adoration of the Father of his spirit, nearer every one of the beloved than when eye meets eye, heart beats responsive to heart, and the poor dumb hand seeks by varied pressure to tell the emotion within. Often then the soul, with its many organs of utterance, feels itself but a songless bird, whose broken twitter hardens into a cage around it; but even with all those organs of utterance in full play, he is yet farther from his fellow-man than when he is praying to the Father in a desert place apart. The man who prays, in proportion to the purity of his prayer, becomes a spiritual power, a nerve from the divine brain, yea, perhaps a ganglion as we call it, whence power anew goes forth upon his fellows. He is a redistributor, as it were, of the divine blessing; not in the exercise of his own will-that is the cesspool towards which all notions of priestly mediation naturally sink-but as the self-forgetting, God-loving brother of his kind, who would be in the world as Christ was in the world. When a man prays for his fellow-man, for wife or child, mother or father, sister or brother or friend, the connection between the two is so close in God, that the blessing begged may well flow to the end of the prayer. Such a one then is, in his poor, far-off way, an advocate with the Father, like his master, Jesus Christ, The Righteous. He takes his friend into the presence with him, or if not into the presence, he leaves him with but the veil between them, and they touch through the veil. 
The first instance we have in this kind, occurred at Cana, in the centre of Galilee, where the first miracle was wrought. It is the second miracle in St John's record, and is recorded by him only. Doubtless these two had especially attracted his nature-the turning of water into wine, and the restoration of a son to his father. The Fatherhood of God created the fatherhood in man; God's love man's love. And what shall he do to whom a son is given whom yet he cannot keep? The divine love in his heart cleaves to the child, and the child is vanishing! What can this nobleman do but seek the man of whom such wondrous rumours have reached his ears? 
Between Cana and Tiberias, from which came the father with his prayer, was somewhere about twenty miles. 
"He is at the point of death," said the father. 
"Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe," said Jesus. 
"Sir, come down ere my child die." 
"Go thy way, thy son liveth." 
If the nobleman might have understood the remark the Lord made, he was in no mood for principles, and respectfully he expostulates with our Lord for spending time in words when the need was so urgent. The sun of his life was going down into the darkness. He might deserve reproof, but even reproof has its season. "Sir, come down ere my child die." Whatever the Lord meant by the words he urged it no farther. He sends him home with the assurance of the boy's recovery, showing him none of the signs or wonders of which he had spoken. Had the man been of unbelieving kind he would, when he returned and found that all had occurred in the most natural fashion, that neither here had there been sign or wonder, have gradually reverted to his old carelessness as to a higher will and its ordering of things below. But instead of this, when he heard that the boy began to get better the very hour when Jesus spoke the word-a fact quite easy to set down as a remarkable coincidence-he believed, and all his people with him. Probably he was in ideal reality the head of his house, the main source of household influences-if such, then a man of faith, for, where a man does not himself look up to the higher, the lower will hardly look faithfully up to him-surely a fit man to intercede for his son, with all his house ready to believe with him. It may be said they too shared in the evidence-such as it was-not much of a sign or wonder to them. True; but people are not ready to believe the best evidence except they are predisposed in the direction of that evidence. If it be said, "they should have thought for themselves," I answer-To think with their head was no bad sign that they did think for themselves. A great deal of what is called freedom of thought is merely the self-assertion which would persuade itself of a freedom it would possess but cannot without an effort too painful for ignorance and self-indulgence. The man would feel free without being free. To assert one's individuality is not necessarily to be free: it may indeed be but the outcome of absolute slavery. 
But if this nobleman was a faithful man, whence our Lord's word, "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe"? I am not sure. It may have been as a rebuke to those about him. This man-perhaps, as is said, a nobleman of Herod's court-may not have been a pure-bred Jew, and hence our Lord's remark would bear an import such as he uttered more plainly in the two cases following, that of the Greek woman, and that of the Roman centurion: "Except ye see signs and wonders ye will not believe; but this man-." With this meaning I should probably have been content, were it not that the words were plainly addressed to the man. I do not think this would destroy the interpretation, for the Lord may have wished to draw the man out, and make him, a Gentile or doubtful kind of Jew, rebuke the disciples; only the man's love for his son stood in the way: he could think of nothing, speak of nothing save his son; but it makes it unsatisfactory. And indeed I prefer the following interpretation, because we have the other meaning in other places; also because this is of universal application, and to us of these days appears to me of special significance and value, applying to the men of science on the one hand, and the men of superstition on the other. 
My impression is, that our Lord, seeing the great faith of the nobleman, grounded on what he had heard of the Master from others, chiefly of his signs and wonders, did in this remark require of him a higher faith still. It sounds to me an expostulation with him. To express in the best way my feeling concerning it, I would dare to imagine our Lord speaking in this fashion:- 
"Why did you not pray the Father? Why do you want always to see? The door of prayer has been open since ever God made man in his own image: why are signs and wonders necessary to your faith? But I will do just as my Father would have done if you had asked him. Only when I do it, it is a sign and a wonder that you may believe; and I wish you could believe without it. But believe then for the very work's sake, if you cannot believe for the word and the truth's sake. Go thy way, thy son liveth." 
I would not be understood to say that the Lord blamed him, or others in him, for needing signs and wonders: it was rather, I think, that the Lord spoke out of the fulness of his knowledge to awake in them some infant sense of what constituted all his life-the presence of God; just as the fingers of the light go searching in the dark mould for the sleeping seeds, to touch and awake them. The order of creation, the goings on of life, were ceaselessly flowing from the very heart of the Father: why should they seek signs and wonders differing from common things only in being uncommon? In essence there was no difference. Uncommonness is not excellence, even as commonness is not inferiority. The sign, the wonder is, in fact, the lower thing, granted only because of men's hardness of heart and slowness to believe-in itself of inferior nature to God's chosen way. Yet, if signs and wonders could help them, have them they should, for neither were they at variance with the holy laws of life and faithfulness: they were but less usual utterances of the same. "Go thy way: thy son liveth." The man, noble-man certainly in this, obeyed, and found his obedience justify his faith. 
But his son would have to work out his belief upon grounds differing from those his father had. In himself he could but recognize the resumption of the natural sway of life. He would not necessarily know that it was God working in him. For the cause of his cure, he would only hear the story of it from his father-good evidence-but he himself had not seen the face of the Holy One as his father had. In one sense or another, he must seek and find him. Every generation must do its own seeking and its own finding. The fault of the fathers often is that they expect their finding to stand in place of their children's seeking-expect the children to receive that which has satisfied the need of their fathers upon their testimony; whereas rightly, their testimony is not ground for their children's belief, only for their children's search. That search is faith in the bud. No man can be sure till he has found for himself. All that is required of the faithful nature is a willingness to seek. He cannot even know the true nature of the thing he wants until he has found it; he has but a dim notion of it, a faint star to guide him eastward to the sunrise. Hopefully, the belief of the father has the heart in it which will satisfy the need of the child; but the doubt of this in the child, is the father's first ground for hoping that the child with his new needs will find for himself the same well of life-to draw from it with a new bucket, it may be, because the old will hold water no longer: its staves may be good, but its hoops are worn asunder; or, rather, it will be but a new rope it needs, which he has to twist from the hemp growing in his own garden. The son who was healed might have many questions to ask which the father could not answer, had never thought of. He had heard of the miracle of Cana; he had heard of many things done since: he believed that the man could cure his son, and he had cured him. "Yes," the son might say, "but I must know more of him; for, if what I hear now be true, I must cast all at his feet. He cannot be a healer only; he must be the very Lord of Life-it may be of the Universe." His simple human presence had in it something against the supposition-contained in it what must have appeared reason for doubting this conclusion from his deeds, especially to one who had not seen his divine countenance. But to one at length enlightened of the great Spirit, his humanity would contain the highest ground for believing in his divinity, for what it meant would come out ever and ever loftier and grander. The Lord who had made the Universe-how should he show it but as the Healer did? He could not make the universe over again in the eyes of every man. If he did, the heart of the man could not hold the sight. He must reveal himself as the curing God-the God who set things which had gone wrong, right again: that could be done in the eyes of each individual man. This man may be he-the Messiah-Immanuel, God with-us. 
We can imagine such the further thoughts of the son-possibly of the father first-only he had been so full of the answer to his prayer, of the cure of his son, that he could not all at once follow things towards their grand conclusions. 
In this case, as in the two which follow, the Lord heals from a distance. I have not much to remark upon this. There were reasons for it; one perhaps the necessity of an immediate answer to the prayer; another probably lay in its fitness to the faith of the supplicants. For to heal thus, although less of a sign or a wonder to the unbelieving, had in it an element of finer power upon the faith of such as came not for the sign or the wonder, but for the cure of the beloved; for he who loves can believe what he who loves not cannot believe; and he who loves most can believe most. In this respect, these cures were like the healing granted to prayer in all ages-not that God is afar off, for he is closer to every man than his own conscious being is to his unconscious being-but that we receive the aid from the Unseen. Though there be no distance with God, it looks like it to men; and when Jesus cured thus, he cured with the same appearances which attended God's ordinary healing.