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And it came to pass, as He Went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath-day, that they watched Him. And behold, there was a certain man before Him which had the dropsy, etc.
Q. YOU have already told me, in the explanation of a former miracle, what is figured and represented by the sabbath-day, and why, on account of that representation, the blessed Jesus worked so many of His miracles on that day, Can you now tell me what is here to be understood by a certain man which had the dropsy?
A. According to the letter of the history, by a certain man who had a dropsy, is meant one who was afflicted with a bodily distemper called by that name, and consisting in a super-abundance of water formed in different parts of the body; but according to the spiritual sense contained in this, as in the other miracles which the lord worked, by a certain man who had a dropsy, is figured the state of the Jewish church at that period, in its perversion of all heavenly good and truth, and particularly in this perversion, that natural knowledge had gained the ascendancy over spiritual, and that thus all spiritual life of love and charity was in danger of being destroyed by the superabundance of mere natural speculation and thought. For such is the correspondence between the natural distemper called the dropsy, and the spiritual perversion of heavenly good and truth here referred to, all the difference between them consisting in this, that the natural distemper is occasioned by a superfluity of natural water, whereas the perversion has its rise in a superfluity of what is signified and represented by water, namely. natural truth; in other words, truth apprehended naturally, and not spiritually. It is said of the above man who had the dropsy, that he was before him (Jesus), denoting, according to the spiritual idea, that the above perversion of all heavenly good and truth in the Jewish church at that period was under divine inspection, being both seen and noted by the divine wisdom.
Q. But it is written on this occasion, that Jesus answering, spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath-day? — what do you conceive to be the force and meaning of the question here proposed by the blessed Jesus to the lawyers and Pharisees?
A. By this interesting question it would appear to be the lord's intention to call the lawyers and Pharisees, and through them all succeeding generations of mankind, to the very important consideration of the sabbath-day, both as to what it is in itself, as to what it figures and represents, and further as to the duties which it requires, that so it might be discovered, agreeable to what was shown in explaining a former miracle, that the sabbath is in itself most holy, as being representative of the divine and heavenly marriage of good and truth, and that therefore the duties which it requires are all such acts of mercy, of charity, of instruction, and of piety, etc. etc. as have a tendency to rescue man from the dominion of the powers of darkness and the influence of selfish and worldly love, that he may be at liberty to pursue and regain his lost life and happiness in the love and favour of His heavenly father.
Q. Can you see any reason then why the blessed Jesus, without waiting for an answer to His question, immediately took the man, and healed him, and let him go?
A. It was not necessary for the blessed Jesus to be determined by the opinions of men as to the propriety of his own conduct, and therefore, without waiting to know the sentiments of the lawyers and Pharisees on the occasion, He gives the best possible answer Himself to His own question, by manifesting His mercy and omnipotence in the removal of bodily disease, proving thus that it was lawful to heal on the sabbath-day, because that the Son of Man is lord also of the sabbath.
Q. And how do you understand the expressions by which this act of mercy and omnipotence is described — He took him and healed him, and let him go?
A. According to the literal sense of the letter, these expressions are to be understood literally, as relating to the man who had a dropsy; but according to the spiritual sense, they are to be understood spiritually, as relating to the perversion of good and truth in the church, or to the spiritual dropsy occasioned by a super-abundance of natural knowledge, and of proportionable defect of spiritual life; and agreeable to this latter sense, by taking him is to be understood the application of the divine wisdom or truth, according to what was observed concerning this expression in the explication of the miracle of the loaves and fishes; and by healing him, is further to be understood the application of the divine mercy or love, for all spiritual healing is from that source; and lastly, by letting him go, is to be understood the effect produced in the disordered church by the two-fold application as above, in consequence of which the church was at once relieved from the perversion under which it had laboured, and was enabled freely and of itself to walk in the ways of righteousness, by keeping the commandments of god.
Q. But it follows, that when Jesus had thus taken and healed the sick man, and let him go, He then proposed another question, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath-day, — what do you conceive to be the force and meaning of this second question?
A. This subject has been already discussed in treating of a former miracle in the preceding chapter, on which occasion a similar question was proposed in these words, Does not each of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? The only difference, therefore, between the two questions is this, that in the former miracle the inquiry is concerning an ox and an ass to be loosed from the stall and taken to watering, whereas in the present miracle the inquiry is concerning an ass and an ox fallen into a pit. This difference, however, in the letter of the two questions makes no difference as to their spirit and design, since in both cases it is intended to prove the same thing, namely. that it is lawful to do good on the sabbath-day, whether this good be effected in the way of instruction of the natural man, signified by loosing the ox or the ass from the stall, and leading him to the watering, or in the way of rescuing him from the influence of false persuasions, signified by pulling the ass or the ox out of the pit into which he was fallen. It here deserves to be noted, that in proposing the former question, the ox is mentioned before the ass, whereas in proposing the latter question the ass is set before the ox, and though it may not perhaps be easy to assign the true reason for this change of priority, and still less easy to comprehend it if it was assigned, yet we are compelled to acknowledge, that since all the words of the blessed Jesus were the words of an infinite wisdom, there must be a reason, and an important one also, for the above circumstance, however trivial and fortuitous it may appear to those who are not accustomed to reflect that in the word, or speech, of the great and holy god, every expression and mode of expression must of necessity partake of a greatness and holiness similar to that of the divine speaker.
Q. And how do you understand the concluding words in the history of this miracle, where it is written, That they could not answer Him again to these things?
A. From these words I learn, that the wisdom and the works of god carry with them a reasonableness and an authority irresistible, and such as no wit or talent of thoughtless and wicked men can overthrow. Not that thoughtless and wicked men cannot oppose and endeavour to vilify both divine wisdom, and divine works, for every day's experience proves that they can. It is only therefore meant to assert, that both the word and the works of the almighty are alike stable and permanent, and that though the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing, yet the counsel of the lord endures for ever, as experience again testifies, by proving that the book of Revelation, called The bible, notwithstanding all the assaults which it is has endured either from the malice or the ridicule of the scoffer, still exists in the church as a fountain of living waters, and will continue to exist there, in like manner as it endures for ever in heaven, (Psalm 119:8, 9).
Q. What then is the general instruction which you derive from this miracle?
A. From the letter or literal sense of this miracle, I am taught again to adore that divine omnipotence of the incarnate god, which manifested itself so repeatedly in the cure of bodily distempers; and on the present occasion, in the removal of that terrible disease called the Dropsy, I am taught also to reflect that this disease in the human body is an exact figure of a far more dangerous one in the human mind, because it is a figure of a dreadful perversion of the good and truth of god's most holy word, in consequence of admitting it only into the understanding, and not into the will or love, in which case the mind labours under a super-adundance of mere natural speculation, separate from the graces and virtues of heavenly life. I am instructed yet further by the history of this miracle, concerning the sanctity and true design of the sabbath-day, as being representative of the divine and heavenly marriage of love and wisdom in god, and of goodness and truth in heaven and the church. I am resolved, therefore, to profit by all this blessed instruction, and for this purpose to meditate continually on that divine and heavenly marriage, which the sabbath-day was designed to call continually to my re-collection. And since I myself, like all other men, am exposed to the danger of being afflicted by a spiritual dropsy, I am further resolved to keep diligent watch over myself, lest at any time I should be more eager in acquiring knowledge, than in forming my life according to it, or in speculating on the word of god more than in practising its holy precepts. Yet should it come to pass, that through the frailty of my nature I should still contract the distemper which I dread, I will not still despair, but recollecting the blessed words, He took and healed him, and let him go, I will hasten to my god and saviour to make me the happy subject of the same mercy. So may I hope to become, like the dropsical man in the above history, a monument of the loving-kindness and omnipotence of my god, and being restored to spiritual health and strength by a due and equal reception of the principles of spiritual life, I will sing with the holy one of old, Bless the lord, 0 my soul, and forget not all His benefits; who forgives all your iniquities; who heals all your diseases; who redeemeth your life from destruction; who crowneth you with loving-kindness and tender mercies. amen.
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