Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.…
(hospital sermon): —
I. THE LAME MAN.
1. Many become lame through accident or sickness; but this man was born a cripple. Luke, who was a physician, gives us to understand that his lameness was owing to a weakness in, and perhaps malformation of, the ankle-bones. But that hardly suffices to describe his helpless condition. Many lame men are able to move about with the help of artificial supports. But this man was so utterly helpless that he was obliged to be carried. Not that there was any weakness in his body, all the weakness was in his ankles. Raphael seems to have seized this feature. He has drawn at a little distance from him another deformed man, who, however, is able to hobble along by the help of a crutch. But I think Raphael was mistaken in drawing his legs in a stiff, rigid form; it was not rigidity in the ankles he was suffering from, but extreme weakness. "Immediately his feet and ankles became firm."
2. And not only was he lame, he was a cripple and a beggar too. It is difficult to conceive a more pitiable condition.
3. There were several reasons why the gate of the temple had been selected as a propitious place for begging. Crowds of people were coming and going through it at least three times a day. Besides, the people who were coming in and going out were the best men and women in Jerusalem. It is the cream of society that frequent places of worship. Moreover, men in going to and coming from church are in a better mood for considering the poor and supplying their wants than in the tumultuous whirl of business. And it is a fact that almost all the alms of the world are administered at the gates of the temple, that charitable institutions are dependent for their support and success on them that go up to the temple at the hour of prayer. I never was honoured with a letter from the Lord Mayor of London till he thought money was required to carry out his humane object. Maybe that every man of science and of business also received a letter from him, which I doubt; but I am sure every minister did. Do I find fault? No; I look upon it as a great compliment to Christianity. Some time ago a daily paper warmly advocated private contributions towards the relief of the famine in India. So far, good. These papers which are going to supersede the pulpit, and do away with preaching, ought to do that. But the money did not come. As a last resort, the paper with its "largest circulation in the world" proposed to have a collection in the churches, forsooth. But where were the readers of the paper? Where the "largest circulation in the world"? Could not the "almighty press" squeeze a little money out of its numerous readers? Do I find fault? Oh, no; it is a high compliment to Christianity and to the ministers who teach their hearers what the papers fail to teach their readers. But Christianity is dying fast, the world can do without the churches? No, my friends, not as long as there are lame to help and hungry to feed. The beggars sometimes sit at the gates of Trade, but they are sternly told to "move on"; and at the gates of Pleasure and of Fashion, but none save the dogs deign to take notice of them. The beggars know that the temple is the great almshouse of the world.
4. There were about ten gates to the temple, all of them very costly and superb. The Jews did not as a rule grudge the most lavish expenditure upon the adornments of the temple. But there was one gate far surpassing all others in material and design. God's house should always be the most beautiful house in the neighbourhood, and God's people ought to contribute towards its adornment. If our congregations increase in wealth, God expects a part Of it to flow to the sanctuary. Trade must do homage to religion, and "offer unto it gifts — gold, frankincense, and myrrh." When the Church was in a state of comparative poverty, a mound of earth served for an altar and was acceptable in the sight of God. But when the Church increased in numbers and refinement, the altar of earth was justly superseded by an altar of shittim wood overlaid with brass; instead of the rude mound, there was to be a little artistic work. Finally, when the Church had increased in numbers and possessions, God required an altar overlaid with fine gold. Do Christians increase in wealth? Let a portion of it flow to the sanctuary of the Highest; let there be built a gate called the Beautiful. And at the gate let there stand a sister of mercy to administer alms to the helpless and forlorn. However beautiful was the gate of the temple, more beautiful in the sight of God were the hands which gave alms to the cripple. Beauty of stone and of metal is not to be compared with beauty of disposition and of character.
II. THE CURE OF THE LAME MAN.
1. Peter and John went up to the temple. The apostles did not abruptly sever themselves from the old dispensation; sudden ruptures never take place in the kingdom of God. First, there is a division in the Church, then a division from the Church. That was the ease at the establishment of Christianity; first, a division in Judaism, next a division from Judaism. That was the case at the time of the Protestant Reformation. That was the case in the history of the Establishment in our own country. The heathen who adopted Christianity were called upon to break off at once their connection with idols; but the Jews who adopted Christianity were only gradually weaned from Judaism. One could not be an idolater and a Christian; but one could be a Jew and a Christian.
2. As they were about to enter, their attention was called to the. impotent man who asked an alms. He had long ago ceased hoping for anything else. Forty years of helplessness and beggary will kill ambition in the most sanguine heart. We have known people who had been lying on a bed of suffering for years. If you spoke to them at the close of the first year, you would discover a shade of discontent — they had a strong desire to get up and walk. But at the end of ten years the most fiery spirit is quite tamed.
3. They fastened their eyes on him. A characteristic feature of Christianity is that it fastens its eyes on the destitute and the sick. Science fastens its eyes on inanimate matter; art on the "gate called Beautiful"; but Christianity on the poor cripple. Science seeks out the secrets of the world; art its beauties; but Christianity its ills. There is a great deal in a look. The sympathising eyes of Peter caught the wondering eyes of the beggar, and the latter felt a strange sensation, like a stream of electricity, thrilling his entire system.
4. The man sought alms; but the apostles gave him what was better — health. Health without money is infinitely better than money without health. Moreover, by endowing him with health they were conferring on him the ability to earn money: In this the miracle was a "sign." The gospel does not directly aim at improving men's circumstances; it aims at improving men themselves. But no sooner does it that than a noticeable improvement is seen in their surroundings. The gospel converts the man; the man converts the house. The gospel does not directly aim at increasing the material riches of a nation; it aims at increasing its funds of spiritual health; but no sooner does the nation feel new blood palpitating in every limb and member than it shakes off the lethargy of centuries, and marches fearlessly forward in the upward path of discovery and enterprise, and, as a natural consequence, riches flow in plentifully to its exchequer. The gospel came to a crippled world. It said unto it, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk," and forthwith it began a career upward and forward, and Christianity has indirectly added enormously to its material riches. Which are the most flourishing nations in our day? England, America, and Germany, the countries that have received most abundantly of the life and health that are lodged in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Utilitarianism says, Give men better houses, higher wages, purer air, more wholesome water, and by improving their circumstances you will improve their constitutions. But what says Christianity? I will strive to improve men, for I know that no sooner will men feel beating within them new and potent energies than they will set about to improve their external condition. Men need better houses, and purer air, and more wholesome water; but the great want of men is life — more life; and I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. Utilitarianism does men good, Christianity makes them good.
5. The Apostolic Church had no silver and gold, it had only health to impart. But it is in the power of the modern Church to give both money and health. There are in this huge city over eighty hospitals, and you will find on inquiry that every hospital is well-nigh full of people who have not the means to pay for professional attendance at home; and it is a duty incumbent on the churches to maintain these institutions: in a state of high efficiency. Hospitals in a special sense are the earliest and mellowest fruit of our holy religion. Where was the first hospital founded? In Ephesus, the home of John, the beloved disciple who taught that "God is love." And by what name were hospitals first known? Lazarettoes; the very name bears on its forefront the stamp of the gospel, from the touching story of Lazarus sitting at the rich man's gate. And who founded and endowed the great hospitals of this metropolis? Christians. Saint Bartholomew's, Saint Luke's, Saint George's, with a few exceptions the hospitals are all saints I They are the precious legacies of the Christianity of the past; they have a strong claim on the Christianity of the present.
6. But I also trust that in acquiring money we have not lost what is of incomparably greater value, the faith and the courage to say to poor humanity, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." Hundreds who go into hospitals founded by Christian philanthropy and supported by Christian charity come out "able to stand and to walk." But I trust that in a still deeper sense it is true. Have we not witnessed the power of the gospel in our own midst, giving strength to the weak and life to the dead? Men dead in trespasses and sins have risen in newness of life; men crippled in the spiritual nature have received strength; men weak in their feet and ankle-bones have received fresh power — they now enter the temple, they run in the way of the Divine commandments, they leap for joy like harts on the mountains of spices. The Church is fast increasing in riches; let us pray that it may also increase in the power to impart health to men "lame from their mother's womb."
(J. Cynddylan Jones, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.