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Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep (market or gate) a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches; in these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water, etc.
Q. WHAT do you understand by these words?
A. These words have both a literal and spiritual meaning; and according to their literal meaning they are to be understood as they are literally expressed, though commentators differ about this meaning, some calling it a sheep-market, and others a sheep-gate, whilst others conceive that the adjective sheep ought to be joined to the substantive pool. This difference, however, about the letter, does not affect the spiritual sense and meaning of the words, according to which sense and meaning they have relation, not to a pool of natural water, but to a pool of spiritual water, even to the eternal truth of the word of god, which is called a pool by reason of the knowledges of good and truth which it contains. For the word of god is sometimes called a pool, sometimes a fountain, sometimes a well, and sometimes a river, and all in relation to the several states of its reception in the human mind, being called a pool, when it is received merely in the knowledge of what is good and true; and being called a fountain, when it is received together with the life and love of knowledge; and being called a well, when it is admitted in a state of less purity; and lastly, being called a river, when it is seen in connection with its divine source, or with the fountain of living waters. That a pool denotes the knowledges of what is good and true derived from the word of god, may be confirmed by the following passages, where those knowledges are treated of, The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water, (Isaiah 35:7); again, I will open rivers on high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry lands springs of water, (Isa. 41:18). This pool is therefore called Bethesda in the Hebrew tongue, because by Bethesda is meant the house of mercy, and is thus a name fitly applied to the word of god, as containing in it all the fullness of the divine mercy and loving-kindness: it is also said to have five porches, because by a porch is meant what introduces to a house, and when applied to the house of mercy, as in the present case, it denotes those introductory truths, which conduct to heavenly knowledge and life. Lastly, by the great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, lying in those, (porches), and waiting for the moving of the water, are to be understood all those of the human race, who are mad, sensible of their spiritual disorders, whether arising from the want of truth or of its good, and who apply to the word of god as to the only medicine from which they can expect a cure.
Q. And what do you here understand by the moving of the water?
A. By moving, or, as it is expressed in the next verse, troubling, (or disturbing), is signified to vivify, or to give divine life, which signification is grounded in correspondence, since all motion corresponds to a state of thought, whence progressions, journeyings, and the like, which are acts of motion, in the holy word signify states of life. By moving the water therefore, in the above passages, is signified vivification by acknowledgement and faith, thus also purification by truths; and by healing is represented the restoration of spiritual life. This moving or disturbing of the water is an effect of the divine presence and operation, and accordingly it is written in the next verse, that an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled (or disturbed) the water, to teach the instructive lesson, that the almighty is always in the act of vivifying, or giving life to, His holy word in the mind of man, by filling it with His own blessed spirit of love and charity. This act of the almighty is here called troubling or (disturbing) the water, because it is attended with trouble or disturbance to the natural mind of man, during the process of His purification from unclean loves, but when that process is ended, by virtue of the healing power of the water, then disturbance ceases, and is succeeded by a state of peace and rest.
Q. But it is written, that Whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in, was made whole of whatever disease he had—— what do you conceive to be the force and meaning of these words?
A. By stepping into the water, according to the above spiritual interpretation of this history, is to be understood instruction in the knowledges of what is good and true from the Word of god ; and by first stepping in is denoted, not precedence in point of time, but in regard to affection, implying that the first or supreme affection is engaged in that instruction, according as it is said by Jesus Christ in another place, Seek you first the kingdom of god and His righteousness, where by seeking first the kingdom of god and His righteousness is signified the seeking those eternal blessings above all other blessings, thus with the first or supreme affection of the will or love. It is not therefore to be understood, as the sense of the letter appears to suggest, that the virtue of the water extends only to the single person who first steps into it, but it is to be understood, agreeable to the dictate of the spiritual sense, that whoever receives instruction from the word of god, with all his heart and mind, and soul, under an acknowledgment that it is continually vivified by the divine presence and life, is made whole of whatever spiritual disease he had.
Q. And how do you understand the words which follow, where it is written, And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years?
A. According to the sense of the letter, these words relate to a man who had a bodily infirmity, though it does not appear of what nature it was, and who had been waiting a long time in one of the porches for a cure; but according to the spiritual sense of this history, the infirm man here spoken of is to be regarded as a representative figure of all those in the church, who labour under spiritual infirmity, and especially under that particular one, which prevents their deriving from the word of god that spiritual strength and support which it was designed to convey. The specific character of this spiritual infirmity is marked in a succeeding verse, where the impotent man answers, Sir, I have no man when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool; but while I am coming, another steps down before me, (verse 7); for from the spiritual sense of these words it appears, that the impotent man here spoken of was unable of himself to derive proper instruction from the word of god, in consequence of the intervention of some evil principle of self-love or the love of the world, which prevailed at the time over heavenly love, and thus stepped down before it. For such is the case at this day with many people, who even apply themselves with a serious purpose to the word of god for instruction, but who, from the unstableness of their resolutions, suffer selfish and worldly motives to interfere, and either to reject the proposed instruction, or if it be admitted, to pervert and defile it, by connecting it with evil affections and ends of life.
Q. But it is written, That when Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had now been a long time (in that case), he says to him, Will you be made whole? — how do you understand these words?
A. According to their literal meaning, these words relate to the impotent man above spoken of; but according to their spiritual meaning, they relate to those in the church, who are represented by this impotent man, agreeable to what has been shown above; and in this view, by Jesus seeing him lie, is denoted divine inspection into the state of such; and by His knowing that he had been now a long time (in that case), is denoted divine omniscience respecting every stage of spiritual infirmity and disorder; and by His saying, Will you be made whole? is to be understood divine exploration of the secret purposes and intentions of such persons, and how far it is the real governing desire of their hearts to enter into a process of spiritual purification, by means of instruction from the word of god.
Q And how do you understand the two following verses, where it is written, Jesus says to him, Rise, take up your bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked?
A. From the literal sense of these words, I am taught again to adore the mercy and omnipotence of the incarnate god manifested in the cure of bodily infirmity; and from their spiritual sense I learn another most edifying lesson relating to the cure of mental disease. For according to this latter sense, when the blessed Jesus says to the impotent man, Rise, He announced His divine power to elevate the will and affections of mankind to Himself, as to the divine source of all good and when He says further, Take up your bed, He meant to announce the same power ever near and at hand, to elevate the natural mind with all its persuasions to the same source; and lastly, when He adds, and walk,
He inculcates the weighty duty of living according to such elevation; for by walking, as was observed in treating on a former miracle, is signified to live. Accordingly, the effect of the divine word instantly followed, for it is said, that immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked, where by being made whole is signified purification from evils, through the reception of the cleansing power of the divine truth.
Q. But it is lastly written, that afterward jesus finds him in the temple, and says to him, Behold thou are made whole, sin no more, lest a worse thing come to you — what do you here understand by the divine injunction to sin no more, and by the divine caution, lest a worse thing come to you?
A. By the divine injunction to sin no more, is meant exhortation to live according to the laws of divine order, which laws are all the holy truths contained in the word of god; and by the caution, lest a worse thing come to you, is denoted the danger of profanation, the worst kind of which consists in first acknowledging divine truths and living according to them, and afterward receding from and denying them, in which case, holy things are mixed with profane in such a manner, that they cannot be separated, and yet they must be separated before the spirit can either be in heaven or in hell.
Q. What then is the general instruction which you derive from this miracle?
A. From its literal sense, i am taught further to adore the mercy and omnipotence of my god and Saviour, displayed in the cure of bodily infirmity, whilst from its spiritual sense I am taught the edifying lesson, that the word of god is ever near and present with man, as a pool of heavenly water, intended for his purification from all his natural evils, and for his restoration thus to all the strength and comfort of spiritual life. I learn further that this pool is in connection with the divine mercy, and is therefore properly called Bethesda, or the house of mercy, so that all who wash in the pool are not only purified from their natural evils, but become at the same time the blessed habitations of the divine compassion and tender pity of the blessed Jesus. I am instructed yet further that all, who are made sensible of their infirmities and disorders, lie in the porches of this house; in other words, apply to the Book of Revelation to be instructed in its holy truths, but that some of these, for want of a fixed purpose to profit by instruction, suffer the evils of selfish and worldly love to prevail, so as to prevent their receiving the full effect of the spiritual medicine which they seek, until they receive strength from the divine presence and operation, together with a caution to be more guarded in future against the influences of disorderly love. I am resolved, therefore, to attend well to the above instructive lessons, and whenever I take my place at the pool of Bethesda for the cure of my spiritual disorders, I am resolved further to watch well over my purposes in applying to the blessed water for purification, that so none but a pure and heavenly purpose may be present, and that no defiled affection may step in, and deprive me of the blessing which I looked for in the word of life. Thus may I hope finally to hear from my god and saviour the consolatory and vivifying words, Rise, take up your bed and walk; and thus too, in obedience to divine command, shall I also, like the impotent man of old, elevate my heart with all its best affections and thoughts to my great creator, and continue to live according to the laws of His divine order, and sin no more, lest a worse thing come to me. amen.
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