making contact

Here’s something I read recently – from a sermon by a minister called Alexander W Brown, who pastored in Free St Bernard’s, in Edinburgh, sometime in the nineteenth century.

The text was Luke 6, and included v19, which mentions the crowds which surrounded Jesus, consisting of many people with various diseases, who wanted to touch him in order to be cured, miraculously, of whatever their trouble was.

While accepting the scriptural accounts of the healing miracles which Jesus performed as being literal historical records, the preacher also makes use of the historical events to draw parallels with spiritual events. “Observe, my friends,” he says, “that, just as the diseased multitudes were healed by touching him, there must be contact, if we may so speak, between him and the soul, before the soul can be saved – there must be union to him by faith.” He continues:

“It is not being within the reach of Christ’s call merely – it is not seeing him through the medium of the ordinances – it is not a temporary devotional frame of spirit – it is not a mingling with his people – it is not a zeal, however ardent, for the prosperity of his cause. These things of themselves will not do. They may all exist in the man who is yet out of Christ, who has not yet been brought into spiritual contact with him, and in regard to whom no virtue has gone out of Christ for his healing.

“We believe that many pass from the world whose religion is without the one thing needful – who find, when they enter the next world, that the vital connexion between Christ and them has not been formed – that, while they were attentive in cultivating the outward marks of that connexion, they neglected the only thing that was worth the caring for, and that all their pains are unprofitable, that all their labour is lost.

“This certainly should serve to arouse one and all to reflection. There may be some present who have entered the sanctuary, labouring under the disease of sin, just as those who were gathered together in the plain before our Lord were afflicted with bodily distempers, and who are longing for deliverance just as that diseased multitude sought to touch Christ.

“Now, what have we to say to you but just this, that while you should labour to have right and impressive views of your condition and danger, and of the suitableness and all-sufficiency of Christ, you should beware of stopping short and of resting satisfied with these. Any distance between you and Christ, however narrow and imperceptible, is ruinous, fatal. You must not only come near to him, you must touch him, for where there is no contact, there can be no forthgoing of virtue; where there is no faith, there can be no salvation. We say no faith, for this is the bond of union, this is the hand that touches Christ. And however feeble that faith may be, though it be but as a grain of mustard seed, though it reach only to the hem of his garment, virtue will be felt, the cure will be effected, sin will be forgiven, the heart will be changed.”

There are actually a couple more excerpts from this sermon which are worth quoting, but for length’s sake not all in the same post. I can’t say I’d ever heard of Alexander Brown or even St Bernard’s in Edinburgh, but this is the first sermon in volume 3 of the Free Church Pulpit, alongside samples from George Smeaton, Horatius Bonar, Hugh Martin, and Andrew Bonar, and its themes and style and contents are still very familiar, presumably in the contemporary Free Church for all I know, and certainly in the preaching that I’m most used to. More to follow.

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