Faith Touching Christ's Garment
William Bacon Stevens
"For she said within herself: If I may but touch his garment — I shall be whole!" Matthew 9:21
In many minds, the subject of religion is invested with peculiar and multiplied difficulties. These arise from various causes, such as . . .
doctrinal teaching, and
the natural workings of the unrenewed mind.
The difficulties take the complexion of their originating causes, and are therefore, to a greater or less extent, influential in keeping away the sinner from the sinner's only Savior.
From God's revealed character, we should not suppose that he would institute a religion for all men, that would be so difficult to obtain or practice as to make it almost impossible for them to embrace it. On the contrary, his character as a God of infinite wisdom, goodness, and truth — leads us to believe that he would give a religion so comprehensive as that all men could enjoy it, so simple as that all could understand it, so easily found and embraced as that all could lay hold upon its hope and secure its salvation. What we would thus naturally expect — actually exists.
God has instituted one religion for the whole world. It is so simple in its scheme, that "the wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein." It is so readily understood, that the ignorant savage, the unlettered slave, can comprehend it. It is so easily embraced, that the opening reason of childhood, and the sluggish mind of ignorance, can believe and be saved.
To show the nature of the supposed difficulties of religion, and the real simplicity of the plan of redemption as it relates to sinners, I have selected these words, as one of the most conclusive illustrations of the simple nature of saving grace.
While Jesus was on his way to the house of Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, to raise his little daughter from the dead — a woman having an issue of blood, which had afflicted her for twelve years, and who, in the language of Luke, "had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any — came behind him and touched the border of his garment;" "for she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole." No sooner had she touched Jesus, than "the woman was healed from that moment."
The first point in this narrative which arrests attention, is the great faith this woman had in Christ's power and willingness to heal her. During many long and comfortless years, had she suffered from her disease. Medical skill had in vain sought to stanch the problem. Physician after physician had been called in, until she had spent all her living; yet had she been made "nothing better — but rather grew worse!" Relief from merely human agents she despaired of; her wasted body and exhausted means, cut off all hope from man. Yet in the midst of her distress, she had heard of Jesus, of his words and his works, and as a last hope, she turned to him who had so often healed the sick and comforted the afflicted.
This, however, was perhaps a natural feeling, engendered by the manifold reports she had heard of his wondrous miracles, or provoked by that urgency of suffering which had brought her to the brink of despair. The point to be noticed, then, is not so much the fact of going to Jesus to be healed — as the way in which it was done. All that she had heard of Jesus, warranted the belief that, if she went to him as others did, with open and distinct requests for mercy — the Savior would hear and heal her; but no instance had she known of such an approach to him as she purposed, and nothing warranted the course she was about to pursue. She said within herself, not, If I ask him, he will heal me — not, If he lays his hand upon me, I shall be cured — not, If he sees me, wan and feeble as I am, he will have compassion upon me. But, strange language and strong faith: "If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole!" Her faith invested him with power to heal, even though he spoke not a word, nor stretched forth his hand, nor even saw the person whom he cured. And not only was her faith thus strong — but it had such confidence in him, that it invested his clothes with miraculous power; and in her estimation, even "the hem" of his outward garment, that fringe of blue, with which all the Jews were required by the Levitical code to border their robes, and which was most distant from his person — had a power beyond the skill of all physicians, and beyond the power of all remedials of earth.
This it was, which showed the strength and grasp of her faith — a faith that saw in him not only a healer — but that saw in the secret touch of the border of his garment, power to heal and a virtue to save. No previous instance of such a faith had ever occurred; it stands alone.
This illustrates just what the unrenewed man must do now. He is morally diseased; he is sick; there is no health in him. Sin has vitiated all his appetites, deranged his powers, attacked the functions of life — and left him a diseased and sickly wreck of humanity, beyond the restoring power of nature, beyond the skill of all earth's physicians; even though, like the woman in the text, he spends upon them all his living. Cure himself, he cannot; be cured by his fellow-men, he cannot. There is life-giving, health-restoring power only in one — and, unless he seeks him, his case is hopeless.
So felt the woman, so must he feel; and, feeling thus, he must, like her, having heard that Jesus can and will heal — go to him for healing; and go with precisely that simple faith, that implicit confidence — which believes him to be all that he is represented as being — which looks with confidence to his doing all that he professes to do — and which clings to him for a health and life that can be found in him alone, and found, too, even in the very hem of his garment!
For, as the high priest Aaron, when set apart to his holy office, was so plentifully anointed with the consecrating oil of the sanctuary, that, when poured upon his head, "it ran down even to the skirts of his garment" — so our High Priest, Jesus Christ, has been so anointed "with the oil of gladness above his fellows" — that grace pervades all his robes, and virtue goes out even from the very hem of his garment!
Another point to be noticed in the case of this woman, is the fact that she had to overcome many difficulties in getting to Jesus. Her womanly diffidence; her reluctance to make known her case; her lonely condition; the very restriction which the Levitical law threw in the way of such a person's mingling in society, accounting all in her condition as ceremonially unclean; her frequent failure to get help from others; and, perhaps, the counsel of some doubting friends, who told her that, as no such case as hers had ever been healed — so it would be useless to apply for help; with various other things, conspired, doubtless, to keep her back from Jesus.
But, then, the thought of her disease; her past years of pain and sorrow; her wasting, ebbing life; her helpless and now penniless state: the dark prospect before her of a lingering, noisome, miserable life, with the grave opening to view in the not far-off horizon. These things gave desperation to her faint resolve, nerved with iron sinews her faltering heart; while the possibility of cure, the dim hope of success, and the thought that she might yet cast off her loathsome disease, and go forth again clean and in health — confirmed her resolve to go to the blessed Jesus.
She rises from her bed of sickness; she summons her half-flagging courage; her spirits flash up within her, as the embers of expiring life are fanned by hope, and flush her cheeks with the fever of special effort. She goes; she sees the Savior; a great crowd is around him, and her heart even now half fails. Shall she go back? No! Her resolve is made, her hope brightens, the sight of his kind face strengthens her faith. She mingles in the multitude; with persisting power, she presses toward the center of that group; she edges in through this and that opening in the throng; unheeding the rebuffs, she urges on her way. At last, the wished-for object is gained; she has overcome all difficulties; she has crowded her way to her Savior.
His back is turned to her, yet faith says, "It does not matter — just touch his garment!" It is a moment of extreme interest. Shall she touch? Will a touch avail? Will that dreadful issue of blood be dried up? In the confidence of that faith that had brought her thus far, she says to herself, "If I may but touch his garment — I shall be whole!" And then, stretching forth her weakened fingers, she touches that garment — its hem, only — when, lo! as quickly as she touched, she is conscious of returning health! Her faith has not been disappointed; "she is made immediately whole!"
In like manner the impenitent sinner has many difficulties in the way of getting to Jesus. There is the natural repugnance of the unrenewed heart, which "hates the light, neither comes to the light, lest its deeds should be made manifest that they are not of God." There are old sinful habits to be broken up, evil company to be renounced, heart sins to be plucked out, and new courses of action to be adopted. There are opposing friends and sneering companions, and the fear of ridicule and mockery. There is perhaps . . .
a sinful business to be given up,
some unhallowed lust to be sacrificed,
some besetting sin to be cut off,
some dreaded cross to be borne.
There are . . .
the evil suggestions of a wicked heart,
the cavils of unbelief, and
the whispered blasphemies of Satan.
These are some of the difficulties in the way of the soul, when, having felt its deathly sickness and its need of healing — it begins to resolve to go to Jesus, and yet finds its path clogged and blocked up by these manifold obstacles.
Satan pleads for delay; he says, "Do not go now — you are not as sick as you suppose — you can soon heal yourself without such an effort."
The flesh pleads for delay, and says, "Do not go to Jesus yet. God has given you these appetites and passions — why should you crucify them, and thus cut off the prime enjoyment of this mortal life?"
The world pleads for delay, and hangs out all its Vanity Fair flags, and sets before you its painted follies and its false pleasures, and begs you to taste its joys before you cast them all away for "the wormwood and the gall" of that repentance which the inexorable Jesus demands.
Friends cluster about you, and plead for delay: "Do not go now to Jesus — wait until a dying bed or old age. Do not clothe your soul in sackcloth, and do not disfigure your face with ashes — now in the morning of life, or in the noon-tide of your days."
But, though thus beset and besought — though thus hemmed in with difficulties — your case, like that of the woman of the text, is fatal, unless healed by Jesus. And if you would be saved — if you would not take up your abode in everlasting burnings — if you would not be an eternal enemy of God and your own soul — if you would not "drink of the cup of God's fury" forever — you must, like the woman, come to some solemn resolves. You must go to Jesus — or go down to everlasting damnation! This is your only alternative:
Christ — or Satan;
Heaven — or Hell;
eternal life — or eternal death!
And when such dreadful issues are before you, can you hesitate? No! Brave all the opposition — oppose the united forces of earth and Hell — rather than lose your soul, when Jesus stands ready to heal it with his salvation. There are no difficulties, on Christ's part, in obtaining salvation; all the difficulties are in yourselves; remove these and you shall find a willing Savior — so willing, that salvation flows from the very "hem of his garment" — and you have but to touch it, and live forever.
Another point of deepest interest, in the case of this woman, is, that she was immediately healed. From the narrative in Luke — we learn that she was healed as soon as she touched the hem of Christ's garment, and before the Lord spoke to her. For when Jesus said, "Who touched me? When they all denied it, Peter said, "Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you." But Jesus said, "Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me." Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed!" The Savior knew who it was who touched him — but took this method to cause her reveal herself, and to make known the miracle.
In like manner, is the soul healed of its horrible issues of sin and lust — as soon as by faith it touches the hem of Christ's garment. It is not, as in physical disease — a long healing process, first from active to baffled disease; then from the subsiding of the malady to convalescence; and then from convalescence to perfect health. But as soon as the faith of the penitent reaches forth its hand to Jesus, and touches him, that moment it not merely begins to recover — but "is made immediately whole." The touch and the healing are the work of the same moment. The pardon follows immediately upon the application, and in no instance will it fail that virtue will go out from Jesus to all who touch him with a living faith. For not only in the instance recorded in the text — but subsequently, when our Savior was in the land of Gennesaret, and when the "men of that place sent out into all that country round about, and brought unto him all that were diseased, and besought him that they might only touch the hem of his garment," the sacred record states that "as many as touched were made perfectly whole."
This pardon of sin, which, in every instance, immediately follows the touching of Christ by faith — must not be confounded with the work of sanctification, which, beginning then, goes on in strength until it is perfected in glory. We are justified before God, as soon as faith procures us pardon through the blood of Christ. We are sanctified by a lifetime process through the power of the Holy Spirit; and this results in an evidence that we are justified by faith in Jesus Christ.
From this narrative, we learn the simplicity of the plan of salvation. I said, a short time ago, that there were no difficulties in the way of obtaining salvation from Jesus Christ; that all the difficulties are in ourselves. Whatever was to be done on the part of God toward making plain and easy a way of access to him, has been done. He has given his Son to die for us, that we, through him, might have eternal life; the Holy Spirit has striven with us, to convince us of sin, and to lead us to Jesus; and Jesus himself has come down to our world, taken the sinner's place, paid the penalty due by us, satisfied the demands of justice, made it possible for God to be just to himself, "and yet the justifier of all who believe in him," and therefore offers us salvation through simple faith in, and acceptance of, his infinite merits and atoning death.
In what few and easily understood words, are the offers of salvation made! "Look unto me and be you saved;" "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ;" "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." There is here no complicated system to be understood — there are no depths of philosophy to be sounded — there are no great stores of learning to be acquired — there is no vast reach and compass of mind to be obtained — before we can become united to Jesus by a living faith. How little of either of these had the thief on the cross, and yet Christ said to him, "This day you shall be with me in Paradise!"
Where were the vast attainments of the Philippian jailor? Yet he believed and was baptized! What superior knowledge or wisdom had the gathered throng on the day of Pentecost? Yet three thousand became converted to God that day! Indeed it is one of the very excellencies, as it is one of the distinguishing features of the religion of Jesus, that "to the poor the Gospel is preached;" "That not many great, not many wise, not many noble are called — but that God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and the foolish things to confound the wise;" perfecting his praise "even out of the mouth of babes and sucklings."
Look then at the simplicity of the means of grace, as manifested on the part of God; and look at the difficulties which your own impenitent soul throws in the way, and then decide the question, Shall I overcome these difficulties, or succumb? Shall I struggle to free myself, or rest ensnared? Shall I press towards the mark, or sit down in my sins? Shall I, conscious that there is a death disease in my moral frame, that is draining my life, and will soon lay me in the chambers of eternal death — go to Jesus, and, like the woman, touch the hem of his garment and be healed? Or, shall I be deterred by the self-imposed obstacles in the way, and let the malady that now infects my soul work out within me the pangs and the horrors of that "second death from which there is no resurrection?"
May the resolve and language of your heart be —
"I'll go to Jesus, though my sin
Has like a mountain rose;
I know his courts, I'll enter in,
Whatever may oppose.
"Prostrate I'll lie before his throne,
And there my guilt confess;
I'll tell him I'm a wretch undone,
Without his sovereign grace.
"I can but perish if I go,
I am resolved to try;
For if I stay away, I know
I must forever die!"