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The Withered Hand Restored

Matt 12:9-14.

And when He was departed thence, He went into their synagogue; and behold, there was a man which had his hand withered, etc.

Q.   WHAT do you conceive to be meant here by a withered hand?

A. According to the literal or natural idea, by a withered hand is to be understood the member of the body so called, deprived of its life and consequent use, for want of a free circulation of vital powers; but according to the spiritual idea, by a withered hand is to be understood a faculty or power of the human mind, deprived also of its life and energy for want of a free circulation of vital principles. For the hand of the body, as being created to execute the purposes of the soul, is a figure of power, or strength; and since all spiritual power and strength is of two kinds, namely. intellectual and voluntary; the one originating in the understanding, and the other in the will, or the one originating in truth, and the other in good; therefore every man has two hands, in like manner as he has two eyes, and two ears, the one being intended to express the power of truth in the intellect, whilst the other is intended to express the power derived from good in the will. By the withered hand therefore, recorded in the above history, is spiritually figured the state of the Jewish church at that period, in that it was deprived of one of the above spiritual powers, so that its members were principled either in truth without good, or in good without truth; thus either in understanding without will, or in will without understanding; and this by reason of the want of circulation of the divine principles of heavenly love and wisdom in their minds and lives. Accordingly, in the original tongue, the term rendered withered is expressive of the idea of dryness, and therefore the withered hand might properly have been rendered a dry hand, to denote that the power of truth or of good was dried up, through a defect of the circulation of heavenly life in the interiors of the mind. It is remarkable also that Jesus Christ in speaking of the hand which offended, and was to be cut off and cast away, (Matt. 5:30), confines his observation to the right hand, because the right hand, like the right eye, has respect to the will of man, as the left has respect to the understanding; and therefore Jesus Christ, by his injunction to cut off and cast away the offending right hand, meant to inculcate this edifying lesson, that man ought to pay more attention to the evil desires in his will, than to the erroneous persuasions in his understanding, because all real offence comes from the former, and not at all from the latter, only so far as they are connected with and derived from the former.

Q. But it is written in the history, that the people present proposed this question to the blessed Jesus, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath-day? that they might accuse Him: to which He replied, What man shall there be among you that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath-day, will he not lay hold of it, and lift it out? How much then is a man better than a sheep?  — what instruction do you learn from the above question, and the answer which was given to it?

A. The above question is grounded in a mistaken idea of that rest which is figured by the sabbath, and is involved in it, as if it implied an absolute cessation from all work or operation of the body; whereas it only implies a cessation, from the work or labour of the mind, all which work or labour originates in man's evils, and their connection with the powers of darkness, according as it is written, There is no peace [or rest,] says the lord, for the wicked, (Isaiah 48:22). Jesus Christ accordingly, in his reply to the above question, confirms the above idea of the sabbath, as involving in it, not the mere rest of the body only, but the rest of the soul; in other words, a cessation from sin, which is the only true cause of what can properly be called labour, since the work of the body is not properly labour, only so far as it is done unwillingly, and thus not in the spirit of that freedom, which heavenly love and heavenly wisdom never fail to inspire. For such is the force of His divine argument, if regarded only according to the letter, thus as implying that it is lawful on the sabbath-day to save the life of a sheep, which has fallen into a pit. But how much greater is the force of this argument when spiritually understood, or when interpreted according to its spiritual and internal meaning! For according to that meaning, by a sheep is here to be understood, the affection of good in man; and by this sheep falling into a pit is to be further understood, the affection of good immersed in false principles and persuasions; for by a pit, and especially an infernal pit, whenever the expression occurs in the sacred scriptures, such persuasions and principles are always signified. The argument of the blessed Jesus therefore, when considered in its full force, is this, that, as He afterwards expresses it, Itis lawful to do well on the sabbath-day; mother words, it is lawful to save the life of a sheep, whether considered in a natural or a spiritual sense, thus it is lawful to do any thing by which the benefit either of animal or of mental life may be promoted; this being the very ground and intention of the sabbath to promote the best interests of man, and therefore especially to lift the sheep out of the pit; in other words, to elevate the affection of good out of false persuasions, to seek conjunction with the eternal truth, and thus with the god of that truth, which is the true sabbath.

Q. And what further instruction do you learn from the question which Jesus Christ proposes on this occasion, when He asks, How much then is a man better than a sheep?

A. I am led by the question to examine the distinct natures and qualities of a man and of a sheep; and from such examination I am conducted to the important discovery, that a man and a sheep are distinguished from each other principally by this mark and character  , that, man, as being figurative of heavenly wisdom or intelligence, has thus the faculty from god of elevating his thought to an eternal end; and not only so, but also of acknowledging in humility and thankfulness, that his life, with all its powers and enjoyments, are from a divine source, and capable of being conjoined with that source; whereas a sheep, as being figurative only of a natural affection, possesses no such quality, being not only incapable of elevating his thought to an eternal object, but also of conjoining himself by affection with any other but temporal objects.

Q. But it is lastly added, Then says He to the man, Stretch forth your hand: and he stretched it forth, and it was restored whole, like as the other — what do you here understand by the injunction of Jesus Christ, stretch forth your hand; and by the man's compliance, as expressed in these words, and he stretched it forth?

A. According to the literal sense of the history, both the lord's injunction and the man's compliance, have relation only to the stretching forth the hand of the body which had before been withered; but according to the spiritual sense of the miracle here recorded, by the lord's injunction to stretch out his hand, is to be understood the divine will and pleasure, that man should exercise freely, and as of himself, the powers both of love and of wisdom, or of goodness and truth, imparted to him continually by his merciful creator; yet that he should do so under the constant grateful acknowledgment that those powers are not his own, but perpetual gifts from a divine bounty; and by the man's compliance with this injunction is further to be understood, his free exertion of the spiritual powers with which he was invested, whilst he humbly acknowledged that those powers were from god, and yet exercised them as if they were his own, absolutely independent of their divine source.

Q. And what do you conceive to be the force and meaning of the concluding words, And it was restored whole, like as the other?

A. According to the sense of the letter, these words again have reference only to the hands of the body, teaching that one was made sound and whole as the other; but according to the spiritual sense, they have a deeper meaning and signification, as having relation to the mental powers above spoken of, namely. to the power of the human will, and the power of the human understanding; in other words, to the power of goodness, and to the power of truth, or, as it may be otherwise expressed, to the power of love, and to the power of wisdom. Agreeable, therefore, to this application of the words, they were intended to teach the important and edifying lesson, that when either of the above powers has been in a state of disorder and infirmity, and is afterwards restored by divine aid to order and strength, its restoration is such, in measure and degree, as to render it exactly suited to the other, so that each power shall be equally balanced and proportioned to the other. Thus, as in the formation of the human body, a Wonderful providence, we find, is continually in exercise, to preserve a due proportion of the limbs, so that the right arm, and the right leg, for instance, may be exactly fitted to the left, both in size and shape; in like manner the same providence is continually operative to preserve the same fitness and meetness in the powers of the mind, and this in such a sort, that the power of the will shall always keep pace with the power of the understanding; or what is the same thing, the power of goodness with the power of truth, and vice versa. Accordingly, it is ordained of the divine wisdom and mercy, that no man shall possess more of goodness than he possesses of truth, or more of love than he possesses of wisdom, or more of will than he possesses of understanding, and vice versa ; and this, with the divine view, that the spiritual form of man, like the bodily, may be in exact harmony and proportion, which would not be the case, unless the relative powers were fitted to each other in the manner above described.

Q. What then is the general instruction which you learn from this miracle?

A. Under the figure of a withered hand, I learn to discern, not only a bodily imperfection and weakness, but also a mental one, consisting in a defect of the operation either of love or of wisdom, or, what amounts to the same, either of goodness or of truth, in the church in general, and in its members in particular. But whilst I am taught thus to see and to lament human defect and imperfection, I am taught, at the same time, to discover and to rejoice in a divine mercy and omnipotence, brought near in the incarnate god, for the removal of disorder, and the restoration of order in the diseased constitution of man. I am resolved, therefore, under all my spiritual infirmities, to apply to that god for relief, and especially when I find that my hand is withered, whether it arise from a defect of heavenly love and goodness in my will, or of heavenly wisdom and truth in my understanding. I am resolved also to cherish in my mind and life the just and proper idea of the sabbath-day, which is inculcated in the history of this miracle, by believing it to be a day sanctified to welldoing, or to the performance of all those good works which lead to the enjoyment of an eternal sabbath, consisting in deliverance from the powers of evil, and in consequent restoration to a blessed conjunction of life with the father of mercies, whose high and holy name is Jesus Christ. Thus may I humbly hope under every defect and infirmity, whether of will or of understanding, to hear from my saviour god the blessed injunction, Stretch forth thy hand: and thus, too, shall I further rejoice in complying willingly with that injunction, until each faculty of my mind be restored to harmony and due proportion with the other, so that in me may be fulfilled the concluding words of the above memorable history, It was restored whole, like as the other. amen.

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