Jesus, Both Able and Willing to Forgive
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, "Lord, if you are willing — you can make me clean."
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him.
There were many sufferers then, as there are now — and this leprosy seems to have been almost worse than any of the diseases which we have. It did not generally prevent people from going about; but it was very painful to the sick man, and very disagreeable to others — and there was no cure for it. No cure, that is, by common means. Jesus Christ could cure all sickness, and this poor leper came to Him. Happy for him that he did!
It seems to have been a bad case, for the man is not called a leper merely, but "a man covered with leprosy." Whether lesser cases could be cured by medicine or not — certainly this one could not. A man would not continue a leper, if medicine could cure him. But this man was "covered with leprosy" still. Doubtless he had tried all the means in his power, but all in vain.
Yet, as bad as his case was, he believed that Jesus could make him well. We do not know what led him to believe this. Perhaps he had seen some who had been healed by Jesus. Perhaps he had even been present (though keeping at a distance, as lepers were obliged to do) when Jesus cured some sick person by a word. We do not know what led him to believe — we are only told that he did believe. He came to Jesus with these words: "Lord, if You will, You can make me clean."
It was much for the poor leper to say. It was faith. Feeling, as he did, that dreadful disease upon him and finding that nothing that he did made him any better, it was a great thing that he should come and fall down on his face before Jesus, and say, "Lord, if you are willing — you can make me clean."
But why any IF? Why did he not believe that Jesus was as willing as He was able? Whatever it was that made him believe that Jesus could heal him, might just as well have taught him that He would. Jesus had healed some, and he knew it. But this could not have been if Jesus had not been willing, as well as able. He had been both, and therefore the sick had been made well. This poor leper had no more reason for thinking that He was able, than for thinking that He was willing. He had full reason for believing that He was both.
Still, though he came with an IF — he must have had some faith, or he would not have come at all. He "fell with his face to the ground and begged him." His words were a prayer. There was hope, there was faith, in them. They showed what was the feeling in his heart: "I know He has healed others, and I believe He can heal me — perhaps He will."
And Jesus did. Without a word of rebuke for the weakness of his faith, "Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing. Be clean!' And immediately the leprosy left him."
Blessed hand, that touched so many, and never without healing in the touch! Blessed lips, that spoke so often to the afflicted, and never without bringing comfort! Blessed, these few and simple words of Jesus, "I am willing. Be clean!" Here was the answer to the IF.
"Lord, if You will," said the man.
"I will," was the Savior's reply.
Sometimes it pleases God that we should wait for our blessings. But this man had not to wait. "Immediately the leprosy left him." Probably he had borne it for a long time. He would now bear it no longer. He was cured in a moment — he went away quite well.
The Lord Jesus can do just the same now, as He did then. All diseases are still subject to Him. If He were to put forth His power, He could make the sick quite well in a moment. But He does not always do so. It pleases Him to act differently now, from what He used to do when He was on earth. Then He used to go about healing the sick everywhere — and we do not read of one brought to Him whom He did not heal. Such was His will then.
But now He often lets people be sick still — though they pray to Him. He could heal them — but He does not. He always does what is right, perfectly right — but He does not always answer prayer in the same way.
This makes the case of the sick now, rather different from that of the sick then. The leper who saw or heard of Jesus going about everywhere healing all who came to Him, need not have said, "IF You will," for He showed plainly that it was His will to heal the sick. But those words of his seem just suited to a sick person now; "Lord, IF You will, You can make me whole." We may be quite sure that He can — but we are not quite sure that He will.
But if He will not — then why is it? Not because He is not as kind as He used to be; not because He is not as full of love and pity as ever. No! He never changes — His compassion never fails. He feels for those who suffer, just as He did in His days on earth. But He knows more than we know. He both knows what is best — and does what is best. If it pleases Him not to cure the sick who call upon Him — then that is best.
Therefore, I say again, this prayer (for it is a prayer) seems just the prayer for a sick person who desires to lay his sickness before God. "Lord, if You will — You can make me whole. Take away my sickness — if such is Your will. But if not — then Your will be done. I leave myself in Your hands. I know that You have all power, all wisdom, and all love. Do with me what seems good in Your sight."
But there should be no IF — when we come to Jesus with contrite hearts for the healing of the leprosy of our souls. This leprosy is sin! And Jesus came to take away sin. And all are invited to seek forgiveness through Him — and forgiveness is promised to all who do so. The pardon of sin, therefore, is not like the healing of the body. We do not know that it is the will of God to make the physically sick well; but we do know that it is His will to forgive all who come to Him by Christ. There should be no if here. There is a sure and free forgiveness for all who seek it through the blood of Jesus.
When He was upon earth, Jesus claimed the power of forgiving sins. In this very chapter, we read of their bringing a paralyzed man to Him — and His first words to the sick man were, "Man, your sins are forgiven!" And when the scribes and Pharisees objected to His pretending to the power of forgiving sins, He proved His power by curing the man of his paralysis. He who could do the one — could do the other also. "Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins — I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He had both the power and the will. He could forgive — and He did forgive.
He has both the power and the will still. He is as willing as He is able. We need not approach Jesus with an if. We may go to Him, pleading that He loved us and gave Himself for us. We may say, "Lord, You can forgive my sin — You can take away my guilt by Your precious blood, for You died for sinners; and You have invited me to come to You and have promised not to cast me out when I come. I do come to You — I come to You with all my heart. I wish for Your forgiveness above all things — pardon me, cleanse me, save me for Your mercies' sake!" Thus we may pray, and pray in faith.
For when the leper came, though with an if — yet because he came, Jesus cured him at once. When the sinner comes with a true and humble faith — though it may be a trembling faith; and owns his sin and casts himself upon the merits of his Savior — he will surely receive healing for his soul. His sins will be forgiven; his guilt will be blotted out; he will be accepted in Christ Jesus.
It was much that the leper was made clean. It is more that the sinner is forgiven — a greater cure, a more wonderful work of mercy. It is the same gracious Savior in both cases — He who both can and will. "I will — be clean!" He said. Let faith hear those words. Let the penitent sinner who comes to Jesus for pardon, receive them as the answer to his cry, "I will — be clean!" Sweet words, when brought home to the heart by the Holy Spirit — words that can soothe soul pain and relieve anxiety and make even a restless night a time of peace; the words of Him who has both the power and the will to forgive: "I will — be clean!"