Great Texts of the Bible
They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.—Matthew 9:12.
1. One of the best known scenes in the gospel story is here placed before our eyes, and the same picture, in all essentials, meets us more than once in the Gospels. On the one side stands Jesus, who sat at meat with publicans and sinners as their friend; and on the other side the Pharisees, who murmured and found fault with our Lord for so doing. On another day Jesus replied to the murmuring of the Pharisees by the three parables of the Lost Piece of Silver, the Lost Sheep, and the Lost Son. The same opposition was manifested when He sat at meat as the guest of Simon the Pharisee, and, to the astonishment of those who were eating with Him, allowed a woman that was a sinner to wash His feet with her tears, and to wipe them with her hair. To all sorts of people Jesus cried, “Follow Me.” There were the honest fishermen by the Lake of Gennesaret; there was the faithful son who wanted first to go and bury his father; and to-day it is a publican who is sitting at the receipt of custom at Capernaum. He is named Matthew, and he is the Apostle whose name stands at the head of the Gospel from which the text is taken. The publican must not be missing from the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, from those whom He invited to give up their former calling and become His fellow-workers. He was not only tolerated but even drawn by Jesus to Himself, and brought forward by Him that all might know why Jesus came into the world.
If we ask in amazement how it was that a publican could immediately respond to such a call, and give up the whole course of his life, a satisfactory answer will occur to each of us. The publican Matthew, like many more of his order, must have heard Jesus preaching more than once, and possibly he may even have listened secretly to the preaching of John the Baptist. This powerful preaching had opened a new world to him, the very opposite of the world in which he had hitherto lived; a world of righteousness, of grace, and of peace. Hence sprang his implicit trust in the Man who offered Himself to him as a guide to a new life and a new life-work. He celebrated with a feast the hour in which Jesus made him a sharer in His own work. On the same day he invited many of his own class to a meal in his house. And as they felt drawn to Jesus, so Jesus also seems to have felt at ease in their company. But what a company that was! Even those who know but little of the conditions of the Holy Land at that time, of the fearful pressure of taxation under which the Jewish people had long groaned, of the habitual embezzlements and extortions of those who farmed out the taxes and of the officials under them, can understand that publicans and sinners were almost interchangeable words. Jesus Himself did not speak of them in any other way. The publicans were branded as sinners; for they were solemnly excommunicated from the synagogue as traitors and renegades, and most of them were, according to Jewish law, beaten with forty stripes save one, before they were cast out, by order of the rulers of the synagogue. Thus branded as traitors and sinners, they were shut out from all decent society, and were compelled to herd together, corrupt and corrupting. Despised, they became despicable, extortionate, base. We cannot wonder that the Pharisees sneered and shook their heads when they asked the disciples of Jesus, “Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?”
There was nothing in Roman tax-gathering which made vice in that calling a necessary thing. In point of fact, the vice came from the outside. The master-publicans were men of rank and credit; but they put their work into the hands of subordinates who were often taken from the slums. The vices these exhibited in their profession were brought with them into their profession; they came from the previous corruptions of human nature, and no trade is chargeable with them. We cannot morally label Matthew by calling him “Matthew the Publican.” The truth is, the obloquy with which Matthew was regarded by his countrymen did not proceed from the fear that he was a bad man, but from the certainty that he was a bad Jew. The most galling fact to the Israel of later days was the fact that she paid tribute to another land. Ideally she claimed to be the mistress of the world—the nation into whose treasury all tribute should flow. That such a nation should pay taxes to a foreign people, a Gentile people, was an awful thought. It was a pain worse than laceration, more cruel than a blow. But there was the possibility of a pain more poignant still. It was bad enough that the tribute of homage from Israel should be collected by a Roman. But what if the man who gathered it should be a son of Israel herself! What if the man who taunted her with her misfortunes should be one born within her pale, bred within her precincts, sheltered within her privileges—one from whom was due the veneration for her sanctuary and the reverence for her God! Now, this often happened; and it happened in the case of Matthew. Here was a Jew who had lost the last shred of patriotism. He had forgotten the traditions of his ancestors! He had not only accepted without a blush the domination by the stranger; he had taken part with the stranger in his domination! He had attached himself to the enemies of his country—had become a collector of their tribute from his own conquered land! The man who acted thus was bound to be execrated by his race. He was execrated on that ground alone. No amount of personal vices would in the eyes of his countrymen have added to the enormity of his sin, and no amount of personal virtues would in the slightest degree have minimized that sin. His deed was itself to them the acme of all iniquity, from which nothing could detract and which nothing could intensify. The blackness of Matthew’s character in the eyes of the Jew was the fact of his apostasy.1 [Note: G. Matheson, The Representative Men of the New Testament, 188.]
2. It seems as though the disciples of those times were embarrassed by the question. Jesus Himself was obliged to give the answer in their stead. He replied with the proverb: “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” He sheltered His work as a healer of men’s souls behind the example of those who healed men’s bodies. “Physicians go where they are needed” (so ran His argument). “They do not haunt the houses of the healthy. They go where the disease is, and you honour them for their devotion to duty. Even so I also go where I am needed. And if there be any cases specially serious, specially hopeless, specially friendless, there, above all, must I go. There My work calls Me, and there My heart leads Me.” It was a great argument, simple as the common speech of men, yet deep as the Everlasting Love.
In 1842, when Dr. Hutchison Stirling was a young man and uncertain whether to follow medicine or literature as a profession, he wrote to Carlyle, who, in course of his reply, said: “Practically, my advice were very decidedly that you kept by medicine; that you resolved faithfully to learn it, on all sides of it, and make yourself in actual fact an Ἰατρὸς, a man that could heal disease. I am very serious in this. A steady course of professional industry has ever been held the usefullest support for mind as well as body: I heartily agree with that. And often I have said, What profession is there equal in true nobleness to medicine? He that can abolish pain, relieve his fellow-mortal from sickness, he is the indisputably usefullest of all men. Him savage and civilized will honour. He is in the right, be in the wrong who may. As a Lord Chancellor, under one’s horse-hair wig, there might be misgivings; still more perhaps as a Lord Primate, under one’s cauliflower; but if I could heal disease, I should say to all men and angels without fear, ‘En ecce!’ ”1 [Note: James Hutchison Stirling: His Life and Work, 57.]
3. The proverb Christ employed was in common use both by the Hebrew Rabbis and by the heathen historians and poets. We find it in the Talmud, and in Greek and Roman authors. It was one of that kind of sayings—the gnomic—which the Rabbis spent their lives in making, learning, repeating. And on our Lord’s lips, as they would instantly feel, it took a tone of rebuke. They professed to be healers in Israel. They professed to have a vast store of medicinal words with which they could minister to the mind diseased, and give saving health to the distempered soul. But what kind of healers were those who administered their remedies only to the hale and robust, who shrank from the sick lest they should expose themselves to infection? Yet this was precisely what these professed “healers” were doing. They had wisdom for the wise, but none for the foolish. They would explain the secrets of righteousness to the devout, but not to the sinful. They taught the spiritually healthy how health might be preserved, but left the sick multitude, the people altogether born in sin, to languish and perish in their iniquities.
That was not Christ’s conception of the Healer’s art and duty. The true Healer was he who dreaded no infection, who went fearlessly among the diseased, and sought to make them whole; who gave eyes to the blind, ears to the deaf, feet to the lame, vigour to the decrepit, life to the dying. The Healer’s duty lay, not with the few strong and hale, but with the great multitude lying sick unto death, no man caring for their souls.
In this proverb, therefore, Jesus virtually announced Himself as the true Healer, the Good Physician, as caring for the weak more than for the strong, for the sick more than for the whole. And, if in that announcement there was rebuke for the Rabbis and doctors of the law as untrue to their vocation, unfaithful to their professed art of healing, there was plainly comfort and hope for the weak and sick who reclined at Matthew’s table.
Natural Religion is based upon the sense of sin; it recognizes the disease, but it cannot find, it does not look out for the remedy. That remedy, both for guilt and for moral impotence, is found in the central doctrine of Revelation, the Mediation of Christ. Thus it is that Christianity has been able from the first to occupy the world and gain a hold on every class of human society to which its preachers reached; this is why the Roman power and the multitude of religions which it embraced could not stand against it; this is the secret of its sustained energy, and its never-flagging martyrdoms; this is how at present it is so mysteriously potent, in spite of the new and fearful adversaries which beset its path. It has with it that gift of staunching and healing the one deep wound of human nature, which avails more for its success than a full encyclopedia of scientific knowledge and a whole library of controversy, and therefore it must last while human nature lasts.1 [Note: J. H. Newman, The Grammar of Assent, 480.]
Christ the Healer of the Body
“They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick.” This saying serves two purposes—an immediate apologetic purpose, and a permanent didactic one. Viewing it first in the former aspect, we remark that the point of the saying lies not in what is stated, but in what is implied—in the suggestion that Christ was a Physician. That understood, all becomes plain. For no one is surprised that a physician visits the sick rather than the healthy, and visits most frequently those that are most grievously afflicted with disease. Nor does any one dream of making it an occasion of reproach to a physician that he shrinks not from visiting those whose maladies are of a loathsome or dangerous nature, offensive to his senses, involving peril to his life. That he so acts is regarded simply as the display of a praiseworthy enthusiasm in his profession, the want of which would be reckoned a true ground of reproach. Regard Christ as a physician, and He at once gets the benefit of these universally prevalent sentiments as to what is becoming in one who practises the healing art.
1. Jesus Christ is the Good Physician as well as the Good Shepherd. His public ministry proves that He recognized two deadly enemies of mankind. The arch-enemy is sin—the dread evil that afflicts man’s soul, against which He directed the whole forces of the spiritual world. But there was another enemy against whom also He waged a hearty and persistent warfare—disease, which afflicts man’s body. He thus proved His love for man’s nature as a whole, and laid down the redemption of the race on that double basis, without recognizing which the world can never be fully saved. For man’s life is a unity with two essential sides; he is a compound of matter and spirit, clay and divinity, perishable body and immortal soul. Salvation means restored health; and the old proverb, Mens sana in corpore sano, is thus the condition of that perfect well-being which it is the will of God that we should all normally enjoy. In our actual experience we seldom attain to this happy condition; but that we were meant for it, and that we should strive hard for it, is shown beautifully and convincingly in the attitude which Jesus took towards sin and disease throughout His public ministry. He treated them as enemies, and He recognized their close connexion; He did what He could in forgiving men’s sins to heal their sicknesses; and in healing their sicknesses He never failed to emphasize the darker evil of which disease is fundamentally one of the most persistent symbols. “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, and take up thy bed, and go unto thy house.”
Memory and imagination linger lovingly over the external ministry of healing which filled the land with the name of Jesus. He was not the only healer: in these words there is an evident reference to physicians in general, men who embodied such skill and knowledge as were then possible. Luke is called “the beloved physician,” and no doubt there were many beloved for their own sakes and honoured for their work’s sake. But of exact science there was, of course, little or none, and every chance for quackery, for empiricism, for superstition. That is a terribly suggestive phrase in the story of the woman who touched the hem of Christ’s garment: she “had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.” So is the proverb quoted by our Lord: “Physician, heal thyself.” So also is another ancient Jewish proverb: “Even the best of doctors deserves Gehenna.” And all who have seen anything of native medicine among primitive tribes know how often the cure is truly worse than the disease. It was into all that chaos and crudity that the Son of Man came with Divine power flowing from Him. Surely there never was a more beautiful story more exquisitely told! The main incidents are written on all our hearts. Yet perhaps we do not estimate largely enough the amount of His work in this direction, nor the physical and nervous strain it caused Himself as virtue went forth from Him in His manifold acts of healing. “Whithersoever he entered, into villages, or city, or country, they laid the sick in the streets, and besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment: and as many as touched him were made whole.”1 [Note: J. M. E. Ross, The Self-Portraiture of Jesus, 8.]
Christ’s healing of the sick can in no way be termed against nature, seeing that the sickness which was healed was against the nature of man, that it is sickness which is abnormal, and not health. The healing is the restoration of the primitive order. We should see in the miracle not the infraction of a law, but the neutralizing of a lower law, the suspension of it for a time by a higher. Of this abundant analogous examples are evermore going forward before our eyes. Continually we behold in the world around us lower laws held in restraint by higher, mechanic by dynamic, chemical by vital, physical by moral; yet we do not say, when the lower thus gives place in favour of the higher, that there was any violation of law, or that anything contrary to nature came to pass; rather we acknowledge the law of a greater freedom swallowing up the law of a lesser.2 [Note: Archbishop Trench, Notes on the Miracles, 16.]
2. Now, this ministry of physical healing was in itself a revelation. De Quincey says that Jesus adopted this line of action “chiefly as the best means of advertising His approach far and wide, and thus convoking the people to His instructions.” But there was more in it than that, a whole world more, then and now! It is the Divine justification of all attempts to alleviate the external and physical conditions of human life. It is the Divine justification of medical missions, which have the unique glory of being not only Christ’s own work, but His own work done in His own way. It is a rebuke to the unreal and affected way in which we sometimes speak of physical pain as though it were nothing at all. Had pain and sickness not been great realities, Christ would not have spent so much time and strength in fighting against them. He stands for ever now in the sight of men as the goal towards which humanity is travelling. And His ministry of physical healing is a proof that pain and sickness are temporary and abnormal things: in God’s good time there shall be no more pain because “the former things are passed away.”
Within the lifetime of some of us a strange and wonderful thing happened on the earth—something of which no prophet foretold, of which no seer dreamt, nor is it among the beatitudes of Christ Himself; only St. John seems to have had an inkling of it in that splendid chapter in which he describes the new heaven and the new earth, when the former things should pass away, when all tears should be wiped away, and there should be no more crying nor sorrow. On October 16, 1846, in the amphitheatre of the Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, a new Prometheus gave a gift [sulphuric ether as an anæsthetic] as rich as that of fire, the greatest single gift ever made to suffering humanity. The prophecy was fulfilled—neither shall there be any more pain; a mystery of the ages had been solved by a daring experiment by man on man in the introduction of anæsthesia. As Weir Mitchell sings in his poem, The Death of Pain—
Whatever triumphs still shall hold the mind,
Whatever gifts shall yet enrich mankind,
Ah! here, no hour shall strike through all the years,
No hour so sweet as when hope, doubt and fears,
’Mid deepening silence watched one eager brain
With Godlike will decree the Death of Pain.
At a stroke the curse of Eve was removed, that multiplied sorrow of sorrows, representing in all ages the very apotheosis of pain. The knife has been robbed of its terrors, and the hospitals are no longer the scenes of those appalling tragedies that made the stoutest quail. To-day we take for granted the silence of the operating-room, but to reach this Elysium we had to travel the slow road of laborious research, which gave us first the chemical agents, and then brave hearts had to risk reputation, and even life itself, in experiments, the issue of which was for long doubtful. More widespread in its benediction, as embracing all races and all classes of society, is the relief of suffering, and the prevention of disease through the growth of modern sanitary science in which has been fought out the greatest victory in history.… It is not simply that the prospect of recovery is enormously enhanced, but Listerian surgery has diminished suffering to an extraordinary degree.… Man’s redemption of man is nowhere so well known as in the abolition and prevention of the group of diseases which we speak of as the fevers, or the acute infections. This is the glory of the science of medicine, and nowhere in the world have its lessons been so thoroughly carried out as in this country.… If, in the memorable phrase of the Greek philosopher Prodicus, “That which benefits human life is God,” we may see in this new gospel a link betwixt us and the crowning race of those who eye to eye shall look on knowledge, and in whose hand nature shall be an open book.1 [Note: Sir W. Osler, Man’s Redemption of Man, 81.]
Christ the Healer of the Soul
But, after all, our Lord’s supreme purpose was to be a healer of souls. Had the critics of Jesus but accredited Him with the character of a Healer of spiritual maladies, they would not have been scandalized by His habit of associating with the morally and socially degraded. But that Jesus was a physician was just the thing that never occurred to their minds. And why? Because their own thoughts and ways went in a wholly different direction, and they judged Him by themselves. The Rabbis and their disciples were students of the law, and their feeling towards such as knew not the law was one of simple aversion and contempt. They expected Jesus to share this feeling. Men are ever apt to make themselves the standard of moral judgment. The Rabbi expects all who assume the function of a teacher to share his contempt for the multitude ignorant of legal technicalities and niceties; the “philosophe,” confining his sympathies to the cultivated few, regards with mild disdain the interest taken by philanthropists in popular movements; the “mystagogue” who invites select persons to initiation into religious mysteries adopts for himself, and expects all others belonging to the spiritual aristocracy of mankind to adopt along with him, the sentiment of the Roman poet: “I hate and abhor the profane rabble.” The mass of mankind have eternal reason for thankfulness that Jesus Christ came not as a Rabbi, or as a “philosophe,” or as a “hierophant,” with the proud, narrow contempt characteristic of men bearing these titles, but as a healer of souls, with the broad, warm sympathies and the enthusiasm of humanity congenial to such a vocation. The fact exposed Him to the censure of contemporaries, but by way of compensation it has earned for Him the gratitude of all after ages.
Thou speakest of thy sin and miseries, which do indeed make a barrier between God and us: but, if I know Jesus ever so little, I think, when I read or hear such complaints, of practised physicians, when they are confronted with a common disease: they are not unprovided, they have medicines for it that never fail. So say I now: Jesus knows plenty of means of healing, show Him all thy wounds with a weeping heart, ask in humility and confidence for His mighty healing, and that He may heal thee thoroughly; but this may not happen unless He, for a while, increases thy wounds by a deep sense of thy sin, misery, and darkness, which indeed is means in love that thou hereafter, yea, for ever, mayest feel no further need.1 [Note: Gerhardt Tersteegen.]
1. That Christ came into the world as a healer of souls is a fact full of didactic meaning. It means, first, that Christianity is before all things a religion of redemption. Its proper vocation is to find the lost, to lift the low, to teach the ignorant, to set free those in bonds, to wash the unclean, to heal the sick; and it must go where it can discover the proper subjects of its art, remembering that the whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
(1) There is in the natural heart of man an indifferent selfishness and a careless cruelty which make men always let the weak go to the wall, and very often trample savagely on the fallen. They are akin in this to the creatures of the field; to the hounds that bite their wounded brother in the kennel; to the sea-gulls that swoop down on the wounded bird as the wave is already beginning to be crimsoned with its blood. Among savage tribes the sick and the injured were killed or left to die. In polished Greece and Imperial Rome children were exposed and slaves were mercilessly tortured. Christ taught the world that this apathy of heart is earthly, sensual, devilish. He taught us once and for ever the sacredness, not of fine gifts and fair and brilliant intellects, but of man as man. It was not for the sake of the rich, the strong, the mighty, the noble, that He took our nature upon Him, but for poor men, for slaves, for carpenters, for tax-gatherers, for fishermen, for daily labourers, for peasant women, nay, even more, for the sake of the sinful, the outcast, the fallen, for all at whom men, who are in most respects the causes of their ruin, point the finger of cruel scorn. He saw the soul of beauty in things ugly, and the potentiality of goodness in things evil.
There is an Eastern legend about Christ so profound of meaning, so full of instruction, that we are half tempted to think that it must be true in fact as it is in feeling. On the high road, under the blistering sunlight, lay a poor, miserable dog that had died of starvation. Clouds of flies had begun to settle on the carcase, and the lazy, aimless wayfarers gathered round to look at it, scaring away for a moment the obscene vultures that hovered near; and all of them, one after another, expressed their idle disgust and their pitiless loathing of it. But at last they fell silent, for the Master approached, and for a moment He stood and cast His eye on that horrible object, on that dead creature which God had made, and there was silence, and at last He said, “Its teeth are as white as pearls,” and so He passed on. He who cared for the lilies and for the lions cared also for the little sparrows, and had His word of pity even for that dead dog. I think that he who could have invented such a legend must have seen very deeply into the heart of Christ.1 [Note: Dean Farrar.]
The late General Gordon, in one of his published letters, describes the remorse he long felt for a trivial act of cruelty into which he inadvertently fell. A lizard was climbing up the side of his house in the sunshine and he thoughtlessly flicked it with his cane and so cut short its life. He had often shed blood upon the battlefield without the slightest hesitation, and felt never a qualm of conscience afterwards. But this act troubled him more than the carnage in which he had taken his part as a soldier. He was haunted by the feeling that he had destroyed a life that was more meagre in capacity than his own, and much shorter in its span. In the regret to which he confessed there was a genuine ethical discernment, for every virtuous nature feels itself under special obligation to the weak. God thinks mercifully of us because, in comparison with His own rich, manifold, exhaustless and immortal blessedness, our lives are chequered, circumscribed, crippled, and poverty-stricken. We are mortal, blooms trembling to their fall, fading dreams, fabrics of exposed nerve, phantasms of alternating smiles and tears. We do not expiate our sins by that which we suffer, and God has no indulgent laxity for wilful, unwept, reiterated transgression; but our frailties woo the marvellous compassions of His Fatherhood. Perhaps if He had not made us out of the dust we could not have stood so near the sacred centre of His pitying love.1 [Note: T. G. Selby, The God of the Frail, 5.]
(2) The whole need not a physician. Are there any men, then, who are whole? Jesus did not directly deny it. The publicans and sinners were sick people—sick in soul, sick in honour, sick in conscience. The Pharisees were whole in comparison with them. They had remained true to their nationality, they lived correctly according to the law of their fathers, they were held in honour by their nation as the guardians and teachers of the law. If they were of different minds amongst themselves on religious and moral questions, still they had and knew the law, and were well versed in expounding it. They had had great teachers, whose decisions were accounted by them as a gospel. They would also gladly have recognized a new Master, who in their own way, only more clearly and more intelligently than their former masters, would comment on the Word of God and teach the true wisdom of life. But they had no need of a Teacher who said, “I am a Physician,” because they did not feel ill.
In the great company of those who have been baptized in the name of Christ, we find many people like the Pharisees, who are unable to accept Jesus and to desire a closer relationship to Him, just because Jesus is a Physician and they feel well. The Gospel is a medicine: to one it tastes bitter, to another nauseously sweet. Who cares to take medicine when he feels perfectly well? A draught of fresh water from a natural or an artificial well, or a glass of wine at a joyful feast, tastes better and does more good to a man who is whole.
How are we to reply to this? Are we to prove to such people that they are sick, and that our whole nation is sick, from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot? Are we to force ourselves upon them, and show that their imaginary health does not exist, and that they are sadly in need of the Physician? That would not be like unto the Master. Jesus did not say to the Pharisees, “Come unto Me,” He said, “Go your way.” Neither did He say, “Come and learn to know Me better,” but, “Go and learn what is written in your Bible: ‘I will have mercy and not sacrifice.’ ” If ye were compassionate, ye would not look down so contemptuously on degraded and inferior people, and so askance at those who take an interest in them; ye would not find the distance so great between them and yourselves, but would acknowledge them as your equals in all the essentials which make up the misery and the dignity of man. Go and learn better what ye yourselves acknowledge as the chief command of your God, the law of love. Then prove yourselves, and thus learn to know yourselves. Perhaps the day will come when ye will find yourselves destitute of love, and therefore destitute of all true life, when ye will feel sick in the innermost centre of your being. Remember then that there is a Physician who heals all diseases. Jesus still speaks thus to those who are whole, and who turn their backs upon Him; and He can scarcely speak in any other way to many of those who confess Him.1 [Note: T. Zahn, Bread, and Salt from the Word of God, 235.]
A minister, when he had done preaching in a country village, said to a farm-labourer who had been listening to him, “Do you think Jesus Christ died to save good people, or bad people?” “Well, sir,” said the man, “I should say He died to save good people.” “But did He die to save bad people?” “No, sir; no, certainly not, sir.” “Well, then, what will become of you and me?” “Well, sir, I do not know. I dare say you be pretty good, sir; and I try to be as good as I can.” That is just the common doctrine; and after all, though we think it has died out among us, that is the religion of ninety-nine English people out of every hundred who know nothing of Divine grace: we are to be as good as we can; we are to go to church or to chapel, and do all that we can, and then Jesus Christ died for us, and we shall be saved. Whereas the gospel is that He did not do anything at all for people who can rely on themselves, but gave Himself for lost and ruined ones. He did not come into the world to save self-righteous people; on their own showing, they do not want to be saved. He comes because we need Him, and therefore He comes only to those who need Him; and if we do not need Him, and are such good, respectable people, we must find our own way to heaven. Need, need alone, is that which quickens the physician’s footsteps.1 [Note: C. H. Spurgeon.]
2. That Christ’s supreme purpose in coming was to heal men’s souls means, further, that Christianity must be the universal religion. A religion which aims at the healing of spiritual disease, and which has confidence in its power to effect the cure, is entitled to supersede all other religions and to become the faith of all mankind; and it will be well for the world when it has become such in fact. The world everywhere needs this religion, for sin is universal.
It is not unlikely that the Pharisees had an instinctive perception that the new love for the sinful exhibited in the conduct of Jesus meant a religious revolution, the setting aside of Jewish exclusiveness, and the introduction of a new humanity, in which Jew and Gentile should be one. They might very easily arrive at this conclusion. They had but to reflect on the terms they employed to describe the objects of Christ’s special care. Publicans were to them as heathens, and “sinners” was in their dialect a synonym for Gentiles. It might, therefore, readily occur to them that the man who took such a warm interest in the publicans and sinners of Judæa could have no objection, on principle, to fellowship with Gentiles, and that when His religion had time to develop its peculiar tendencies, it was likely to become the religion, not of the Jews alone, but of mankind.
Whether the men who found fault with the sinner’s Friend had so much penetration or not, it is certain at least that Jesus Himself was fully aware whither His line of action tended. He revealed the secret in the words, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” In describing His mission in these terms, He intimated in effect that in its ultimate scope that mission looked far beyond the bounds of Palestine, and was likely to have even more intimate relations with the outside world than with the chosen race. He knew too well how righteous his countrymen accounted themselves to cherish the hope of making a wide and deep impression upon them. He deemed it indeed a duty to try, and He did try faithfully and persistently, but always as one who knew that the result would be that described in the sad words of the fourth evangelist, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” And as He had an infinite longing to save, and was not content to waste His life, He turned His attention to more likely subjects; to such as were not puffed up with the conceit of righteousness, and would not take it as an offence to be called sinners. Such He found among the degraded classes of Jewish society; but there was no reason why they should be sought there alone. The world was full of sinners; why, then, limit the mission to the sinful in Judæa? Shall we say because the Jews were lesser sinners than the Gentiles? But that would be to make the mission after all a mission to the righteous. If it is to be a mission to the sinful, let it be that out and out. Let Him who is intrusted with it say, “The greater the sinner the greater his need of Me.” That was just what Christ did say in effect when He uttered with significant emphasis the words, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is, therefore, a word on which all men everywhere can build their hopes, a word by which the Good Physician says to every son of Adam, “Look unto me, and be saved.”
Christ’s way with sinners was to love them, to believe in their recoverability. He tackled the outcasts as an object-lesson in the possibilities of a loved humanity. To preach His Gospel to men is to announce your faith in a Divine something in them which will respond to the Divine something you bring to them. It is this spirit which makes Christianity the most daring of optimisms; which puts it into magnificent contrast with the fatalism of the East and the fatalism of the West. While Schopenhauer declares you can no more change the character of a bad man than the character of a tiger; while Nietzsche sneers at the weak and exalts force and repression, the Gospel goes on hoping and goes on saving.1 [Note: J. Brierley, Religion and To-Day, 37.]
Black (J.), The Pilgrim Ship, 199.
Bruce (A. B.), The Galilean Gospel, 73.
Campbell (W. M.), Foot-Prints of Christ, 92.
Cox (S.), A Day with Christ, 91.
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