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And when they were come to the multitude, there came to Him a man, kneeling down to Him, and saying, lord, have mercy on my son; for he is lunatic, and sore vexed: for oft-times he falls into the fire, and oft into the water, etc.
Q. WHAT do you here understand by the man kneeling down to Jesus, and saying, lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic? etc.
A. According to the literal sense of this history, by the man here spoken of is meant one, who supplicates the blessed Jesus in favour of his lunatic son; but according to the spiritual or internal sense, by the man here spoken of is represented and signified the church as to the understanding of truth; and by his kneeling down to Jesus is to be understood profound humiliation; and by his saying, lord, have mercy on my son, for he is lunatic and sore vexed, is further denoted devout acknowledgement of the divinity of the great saviour, attended with fervent supplication to be delivered from the infestation occasioned by false principles in their connection with the powers of darkness. For by son, according to the spiritual idea, is to be understood truth in the understanding; and by this son being lunatic and sore vexed, is further denoted the infestation of that truth by false principles. For the term lunatic literally means one who is affected by the changes of the moon, and since the moon, according to its spiritual signification in a good sense, has respect to the principles of faith, and is representative of those principles, as the sun has respect to the principle of love, and is representative of that principle, therefore by lunatic, as the word is here applied in a bad sense, is to be understood the persuasion of truth infested by false principles, on which account it is said to be sore vexed.
Q. But it is added, that oft-times he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water – what do you understand by these words?
A. According to their literal sense, they are to be understood literally, as having relation to elementary fire and water, and to the man falling alternately into these elements; but according to the spiritual idea, by fire and water are here to be understood the distinct spiritual principles, in which the above infestation of truth originated, fire denoting in this case the concupiscencies of evil, and water the false persuasions derived from those concupiscencies. For such is the nature of all spiritual infestation of heavenly truth, whenever that truth is first made manifest in the human understanding, since on this occasion the natural hereditary evils, which as yet have not been discovered and subdued, begin to assault, with endeavour to destroy, this first dawning of the eternal light, by claiming that light as their own, and not allowing it to bow down and acknowledge its divine parent. In the mean time the truth labours to defend itself under this assault, because the truth always points upward towards heaven, and seeks conjunction with the god of heaven. Moreover, the truth is ever intent on connecting itself with charity, and bringing forth the fruits of a pure and holy life, whereas hereditary evils are always eager to connect the truth with self-love and the love of the world, and to do works apparently good, but which have no real goodness in them, because not done to the glory of god, Hence then arises the infestation, which is here described by being lunatic and sore vexed, and by oft-times falling into the fire, and oft into the water.
Q. And what do you conceive to be the meaning of the words which immediately follow, I brought him to your disciples, and they could not cure him?
A. These words imply, according to their literal sense, that the disciples were not able to cure the lunatic, who was sore vexed, but according to their spiritual sense they imply, that the disciples were not yet sufficiently instructed in truths to combat and cast out the evil spirit, by which the understanding of truth in the church was infested. For from the history of this miracle, especially as it is recorded by Mark, it appears that this evil spirit was under the influence of false principles, for he is there described as foaming and gnashing with his teeth, (Mark. 9:18), which expressions are constantly applied in the sacred Scriptures to denote the collision of erroneous persuasions in their combat against truth. In answer therefore to the question proposed afterwards by the disciples, Why could not we cast him out? the blessed Jesus replies, Because of your unbelief, which is the same thing as if He had said, Because ye are not yet principled in truths; for all faith is formed from truths, and therefore the want of truths is the real source of all unbelief.
Q. But it is written, that Jesus answered and said, O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him here to me. And Jesus rebuked the devil, and he departed out of him; and the child was cured from that very hour — what instruction do you receive from these words?
A. From these words I am instructed first in the awful and fallen state of the Jewish church at that time, which drew from the great saviour the severe rebuke of being a faithless and perverse generation, for by being faithless is implied that they were destitute of all heavenly truth; and by being perverse, that they were alike destitute of all heavenly good. I learn secondly from the affectionate expostulation, How long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? that the compassionate love of the blessed Jesus is not to be exhausted by any degree of faithlessness and perverseness on the part of man. This compassionate love therefore still addresses itself to its infested, children, labouring in the combat of truth against error, and of error against truth, and says of every suffering child, Bring him here to me. It also still rebukes the infesting and infernal power, until he departs out of the infested subject, so that again is fulfilled what is here written, that the child was cured from that very hour. Thus does every infestation, arising from, the powers of darkness, tend still, if it be resisted, to make more manifest both the mercy and omnipotence of the incarnate god.
Q. And what do you conceive to be the force and meaning of the following words of the blessed Jesus on this occasion, where He says, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you?
A. By faith is here to be understood a faith in the incarnate god, which is compared to a grain of mustard-seed, because in its commencement it is small, inasmuch as at that period man is led to believe that it is from himself and not from god. Nevertheless the blessed Jesus, declares even of this faith, that it is capable of removing mountains, by which mountains are to be understood spiritually the evils of self-love and the love of the world, since as a mountain, in a good sense, is representative and significative of heavenly love, so in the opposite sense it is representative and significative of infernal love, according to which latter sense a caution is given in the prophet against the feet stumbling upon the dark mountains, (Jer. 13:16); and again, I am against you O destroying mountain, (Jer. 21:25); and again, Every mountain shall be brought low, (Isaiah 11:4); not to mention many other passages from the sacred Scriptures to the same purpose. It is added, on this occasion, in the gospel according to Luke, that this same faith is capable of removing a sycamore-tree, for thus it is written, If you had faith as a grain of mustard-seed, you might say to this sycamine-tree, Be you plucked up by the root, and be you planted in the sea; and it should obey you, (Luke 17:6), where by a sycamine-tree is to be understood the persuasion of what is false originating in evil. Jesus Christ would therefore here teach us the power of a divine faith, by virtue of which a true Christian is enabled to remove from himself all infestations, whether arising from evil or from error, and to cast them into the infernal pit from whence they proceed. It is therefore lastly added, Nothing shall be impossible to you, because under the influence of the above faith, the true Christian connects his will with the divine will, his wisdom with the divine wisdom, and his ability with the divine ability, in such a sort, that he can no longer will, desire, or endeavour to obtain any thing but what is in agreement with the will, the desire, and the operation of His heavenly father, and thus all things are possible to Him, because all His Inclinations and purposes are submitted to the inclinations and purposes of the most high.
Q. But it is added lastly, Howbeit, this kind goes not out but by prayer and fasting — what instruction do you learn from these words?
A. By these words Jesus Christ would teach the importance and necessity of two other Christian duties, in addition to the grace of a divine faith, one of which He calls prayer, and the other fasting;, and He would further instruct us, that there are certain assaults from the powers of darkness, which cannot be successfully opposed, but by the combined force of those two duties.
Q. And what do you conceive to be the proper nature and meaning of those duties?
A. By prayer, as the term is usually applied in the sacred Scriptures, I am to understand an opening of the interiors of the human mind towards heaven and its god, by virtue of a devout desire implanted by the almighty to become partaker of His life, and to enter into the blessedness of an eternal conjunction with Him in love: and by fasting, I am further to understand a closing of the exteriors of the mind against the deceitful and insinuating delights of the senses, by denying the concupiscencies of the world and the flesh, which would intrude themselves under the semblance of real and substantial goods. Fasting indeed is often limited to a more confined meaning, as implying only an occasional abstinence from particular kinds of bodily food, and in some cases from all food; but according to the most general acceptance of the term, it denotes not only abstinence from bodily food, but from mental also, which latter abstinence consists in denying to the mind its favourite external gratifications, whenever they interfere with the internal superior and spiritual joys of the immortal soul. Prayer and fasting are accordingly joined together by the blessed Jesus as Christian duties, because whilst the former opens the mind towards heaven, and renders it admissive of heavenly influence, the latter shuts the door against the powers of darkness, and thus prevents those powers from intruding upon and disturbing the life, the peace, and the order of heaven, which enter in at the other door.
Q. What then is the general instruction which you derive from this miracle?
A. By the literal sense of the miracle I learn an additional testimony in favour of the omnipotence of the great redeemer, and am thus led to a more profound adoration of Him as the only god of heaven and earth. At the same time, from the spiritual sense of the miracle, I am instructed in several interesting particulars respecting that order of spiritual or regenerate life, which is prescribed to all Christians; as first, that when the knowledge of the truth is first admitted into the human understanding, it is frequently infested by false persuasions originating with the powers of darkness; secondly, that this infestation can only be successfully combated by faith in the incarnate god, or in the divine humanity of Jesus Christ; thirdly, that this faith is all-powerful, insomuch that there is no mountain of evil, of difficulty, and of danger, which it cannot remove, nor any noxious plant of erroneous persuasion, which it cannot cast into the sea; fourthly, that besides this grace of faith; the sincere Christian is gifted also with the two graces of prayer and fasting, by the united aid of which he is enabled to control the powers of darkness, and gain victories over himself and them, which could not otherwise be effected. I am resolved, therefore, to cherish now on in my mind and life, above all other things, these three Christian graces of faith, of prayer, and of fasting, under a full confidence that through their aid I shall be enabled, not only to overcome all spiritual infestation in my understanding, but also to remove from my heart and life every opposing evil, and to surmount every difficulty and perplexity which would thwart me in my good purpose to become a regenerate Christian. Thus may I humbly hope to find realized in myself what is written in the above history, where it is said, the child was cured from that very hour, together with those other blessed words of my saviour god, nothing shall be impossible to you. amen.
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