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“If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole.”
THIS miracle sets before us many of the deepest realities of the life of faith. It shews us, as in a parable, the source and the manner of our spiritual healing.
This poor woman had been afflicted with a long infirmity. For twelve years she had tried all human skill; she “had spent,” St. Luke says, “all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any.”164164 St. Luke viii. 43. Or, as St. Mark says, she “had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse.”165165 St. Mark v. 26. When she heard of Jesus, she thought that He had power to heal; that even “His garment,” “the border of His garment,” if she could but touch it, would make 261her whole. She came “in the press,” as if fearing her own unworthiness, and touched Him, “and was healed of that plague.” And when Jesus knew that virtue had gone out of Him, she, finding that she could not be hid, came, “fearing and trembling,” falling down at His feet, and “told Him all the truth.”
Now we have here a remarkable example of faith bringing conscious unworthiness into the presence of our Lord. Even after she was healed, she was full of trembling fear. Before, she dared not to meet His eye, or to ask His pity; she ventured only to come “in the press behind,” and to touch “the border of His garment.” We may see in this a temper not uncommon among devout and lowly minds, a mixture of longing and shrinking, of desire and fear. They dare not think that they may meet the presence of our Lord, and yet they fully believe that He alone can heal them. This applies to every act of faith and devotion; but, above all, to the Sacrament of His body and blood. What is more common than the desire to communicate, mixed with the fear of communicating unworthily? How many would fain come “in the press,” and yet tremble and fear. How often do such Christians ask, with anxious hearts, What is the fitness required for the holy Sacrament? and how do I know that I am not coming unworthily? 262 By what tests can I try and judge myself, that I be not “judged of the Lord” at that day? Let us see, then, what this miracle will teach us.
We have here, as in a parable, this whole spiritual mystery, and the dispositions necessary to worthy communion.
1. For in the holy Sacrament our blessed Lord is as truly and personally present as He was in the midst of that great throng. As God He is present always; therefore as man He can be never absent: for in His divine person the Godhead and manhood are so united as never more to be divided. The Eternal Word is with us in the person of Jesus Christ. It is not a partial and divided, but a whole and undivided presence. The manner and the manifestation is no longer visible and local, but invisible and transcendent. As in a place, and in the proper dimensions of His personal form, He is visibly manifest in heaven; but after a divine and invisible manner the Incarnate Word is present in the new creation of God. This is true of the whole Church; but it is true, in a way peculiar to itself, of the holy Sacrament. We are too apt to conceive low and earthly notions of this divine mystery, and to suppose the presence of His body and blood to be something partial and apart from the fulness of His perfect and living presence. His body and blood can no more be 263separated from His presence than His Godhead from His manhood. But in that holy Sacrament the object of our faith is the presence of Christ, God and man, in all the reality and substance of His Godhead and His manhood. He is personally with us, under the veils of the consecrated elements, as truly, though in another manner, as He was present in the garment, the hem of which wrought miracles of healing. The holy Sacrament is not the sign of an absent person, nor a mere figure or symbol, suggesting, picturing, commemorating. In the order of nature it is sign and shadow; but in the order of grace, which is supernatural, it is substance and life.
2. And this shews us further, that when we come to the holy Sacrament, we verily and indeed touch Him. It is the form in which He offers Himself to us, thereby prolonging His presence and healing on earth. The mystery of His sacramental presence is the time appointed by Himself for our approach: it is the occasion when He suffers us to draw near, as He invited Thomas: “Reach hither thy finger.” And let us not think that, for our salvation, there is any real difference whether we touch Him by the sensible touch of the hand or not. It was not the hand which drew forth the healing virtue that went out of Him, but faith, of which the hand was but the instrument. 264 And we touch still by faith. Neither was it the garment which had power to work miracles, but He who bare it. Faith touched Him by the hand through the hem of His garment, as now faith touches Him under the veils of the holy Sacrament.
Let us realise this great gift of Christ, by divine faith in the order of grace; let us truly conceive the dignity of this holy mystery, its heavenly truth and power.
Is it not because we do not believe this divine work that we come so languidly and coldly to the holy Sacrament? I am not now speaking of those who come sinfully and in sacrilege; nor of those who are indeed unworthy to come; but of those who, though fearing, are yet worthy according to the measures of our sinful hearts. It may be said that they are least worthy to come who think themselves the most so; and that they are most unworthy who least feel their own unworthiness: such, for instance, as come not “in the press” and with fear, but with boldness and a confident approach, never doubting their own fitness: or such, again, as are high-minded, self-esteeming, fearless, slothful, easy, shallow, undisturbed in their self-persuading assurance. These communicants come to the altar with little or no perception of the divine reality they are approaching; their lives are lives 265of sense, and they judge of the holy Sacrament by sense and in the order of sense. They, indeed, ask no questions, having no fears; but awakened and humble hearts mistrust their own fitness, and desire some rule by which to judge themselves. If, then, to approach His sacramental presence now is all one with approaching His visible presence then; if to touch the hem of His garment was a prophetic type of the touch whereby we receive the virtue which goes out from Him in the mystery of holy communion; must we not believe that the dispositions of heart with which we should have ventured to approach Him then, are the same as those with which we should approach Him now?
Let us therefore see what they are.
1. The first disposition is a sense of our own infirmities. As a weary and lingering sickness drew this poor woman to Him on earth, so a sense of our life-long sinfulness draws us to Him now that He is in His heavenly kingdom. The first reason, therefore, why we must needs come is the reason some plead for staying away. They ask, How can I dare to come, who am so sinful? Ought they not rather to ask, How dare I, who am so sinful, stay away? what hope for me but in coming? When I say, a sense of sinfulness, I mean, not a consciousness of indulged or unrepented sins, but a consciousness of sins for which we continually 266 sorrow. Be they what they may, heavy and numberless: though it be an indwelling sinfulness, which spreads through the whole spiritual life, in thoughts, tempers, imaginations; making us prone to fall, and weak to arise again; though at times we seem darkened, harassed, swayed, and almost turned aside from God; yet if we be truly grieved and humbled, even these are no bar to worthy communion. Nay, a fear and a danger of falling even into mortal sin, a sense of the strength of temptation, the treachery of our own hearts, the weakness of our will, need not keep us away. The consciousness of shallow repentance, imperfect sorrow, want of love, languid affections, cold devotion, wandering prayers, sluggishness in the spiritual life, restless activity of the animal and worldly nature,—all this burden of conscious un worthiness might well make us shrink from Him, if it were not the very reason why we must needs draw near. It is but a little trial of faith to believe that Christ loves us, until we have come truly to know our own sinfulness. So long as we do not feel this inward burden, it costs little to say we believe His love. We may believe it as an intellectual truth; but we do not trust in it by the faith of the heart. When a conscious unworthiness of being loved rises up and condemns us, when our inward soul seems to contradict the possibility of 267His love to us, then to believe that He loves us still is faith. And we often find that people who have been in the habit of coming without fear to the altar while their inward convictions of sin were slight and shallow, as soon as deeper thoughts begin to stir within them, and sharper convictions to pierce their conscience—that is, when indeed they are becoming more fit to communicate than before—begin from that very time to fear and to shrink back from the holy Sacrament. Now it is just at this very point that their faith is put on trial. The grace of the holy Sacrament and the nearness of the presence of Christ has revealed to them a fuller knowledge of themselves. If His light were not in them, they would not see themselves; they would be unconscious as before. It is by shewing them what they are, that He tries their trust in His love. The more they feel their lost and sinful state, the more they need to hold fast by Him; and He reveals it for this purpose, that they may draw closer and closer to His presence. Therefore, the first condition to worthy communion is a sense of un worthiness—a trembling, self-accusing consciousness of sin, which, while it makes us fear to draw near, makes us still more afraid to stay away. It is our sin which makes us unworthy, ‘ and yet our sin is the necessity which forces us to His feet.268
2. Another disposition is a conscience clear from sin. When I say, that our sinfulness ought to bring us to the altar, I do not mean wilful sin, even of the lightest kind. Indulged or unrepented sin, howsoever small, is a direct contradiction to the spirit of our Lord. We have been speaking of the indwelling sinfulness which was in our nature at the time when He first took us, by baptism, into His mystical body. He opened between Himself and us a living relation, a channel through which His sinlessness might sanctify our sinful hearts; arid, such as we are, He still holds us fast, maintaining, on His part, that relation of love unbroken. We know that as sinners we were all separated from God, and yet that by grace we have been united to Him again. We know also that some Christians by their sins separate themselves again from Him, for all sins tend to separation. “There is no man that liveth and sinneth not;” nevertheless there are some who still abide in union with God. Yet they too sin, but their sins do not separate them from Him; they are not free from sin, but their fellowship with Him still endures. And how is this to be understood? “All unrighteousness is sin,” but “there is a sin not unto death.” Some sins do, and some sins do not, separate the soul from God. All have the sinfulness of sin, but all are not alike. 269There was sin in Judas: St. James and St. John were not sinless; yet these were in perpetual communion with their Lord; while the traitor, even at the last supper, was already cut off from His fellowship. This shews us the distinction between venial and mortal sins; that is, between those sins which do, and those which do not, separate the soul from God. Such sins need deep repentance, yet they do not separate true but failing hearts from their Redeemer’s grace and love.
When I say, then, a conscience clear from sin, I mean, clear from the memory of sins unrepented, and from the presence of sins still indulged. An example, perhaps, may make this plainer. Suppose two friends, one gentle and forgiving, the other smouldering with anger. They may live together and converse, they may exchange outward tokens of affection, but they have no communion. There is in the one a spirit which suspends all fellowship of soul. Light and darkness, harmonies and discords, can as little blend as their sympathies and tempers. Or, to take an example in our own minds. We know how any irritation or evil thought clouds and casts out all holy love, aspiration, and desire. So long as it lasts, it possesses the whole soul, and all higher affections are banished. They are mutually destructive: they cannot co-exist. We are at variance with ourselves; 270 between our better and our worse self there is a direct contradiction. So it is in the communion of Christ with us. A mind that is proud, selfish, or angry, directly repels the mind of our Lord. Would this trembling woman have dared to draw near and touch even the hem of His garment, harbouring in her heart a consciousness of wilful sin? Her very faith, which taught her that there was in Him a power mighty to heal, would have taught her that there was in Him also a power mighty to punish. Her faith was not more strong than pure. So when we draw near and touch Him in that holy Sacrament, we must take heed that there be not in us any thing at variance with His character and spirit; that His love, purity, gentleness, humility, truthfulness, may find in us no contradictions, no provocations, no antagonists; that is, no wilful cherishing of a spirit at variance with His own. There will be, alas, in all of us the remainders and the inclinations out of which these provocations spring; but if they are not indulged, if they are striven against and lamented, they are our sicknesses and our afflictions; our wounds which moved His pity to die for us, to unite us to His own life-giving body, and still to dwell among us by a perpetual presence, that we may touch Him and be healed.
3, We will take one more disposition of worthy 271communion, and that is, a sincere desire of perpetual union with Him. If we may venture to use an earthly example, we may consider how the presence of any wise and holy friend subdues the worse and sustains the better part of our character. We know how variously we are tempted by various persons: how with some we have no restraint, with others we are ever on our guard; how some provoke our faults, and others seem to lay a spell upon them; their society raises us above ourselves, awakens better desires, higher aspirations, worthier motives; their tone of voice, their look, their bearing, allure and win us from ourselves. So long as we are with them, we seem better men, nearer to God’s kingdom, freer from temptation, stronger to control ourselves. And this may in some faint way express the power of Christ’s presence upon our hearts. So long as we hold by Him and He by us, our inward sinfulness dies down and disappears. Earthly desires, inclinations, and thoughts seem cast out as a possession. So long as the eye of our consciousness is fixed upon Him, His light pours in upon us. The whole of our mind seems to be cleared of every shadow, and to be filled with the brightness of His presence, with light, love, and a holy will. We feel that if He were ever with us, if we could be ever with Him, ever touching Him, we should draw into our souls 272 perpetual virtues of sanctity and strength. It seems to us as if we could never sin again, never see sin in any other light than the light of His presence, never again care for the world, or hanker after life, or faint in loving Him. It seems at the time as if we were in very deed “bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh,” spirit of His spirit, mind of His mind, heart of His heart, will of His will; as if He held us in our whole nature to Himself, uniting us to His divine person, “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood,” that, by an ineffable union and intermingling of His very self with ours, “we dwell in Him, and He in us.”273
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