Spiritual Lameness
Acts 3:1-11
Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.…

I turn to the story because it brings before us very vividly the whole problem that lies before you and me; the whole problem that lies before the Church; the whole problem that lies before our Master. When you see that lame man carried daily and laid in all his helplessness at the gate of the temple, you get a very vivid picture of the whole problem. Do not let us gather round this impotent man in a questioning, philosophical way, and ask, "How did he become so?" Let us not start vain, seemingly wise, but at bottom foolish questions. The real problem is not, How did we come here? Why are we (the grace of God apart) such wretched creatures? Why is there in London and everywhere else such moral and spiritual impotence? Why is there in the East End, and not less in the West End — only it is better dressed and covered up — that which is so powerfully represented by this helpless man, that squirming misery, that loathsomeness, that wretchedness, that godlessness which no power of art or aesthetics can in the least alleviate? With all our culture, with all our philosophy, with all our fine speeches, and all our fine talking, to this hour there is the situation of things: human nature weary, abject, dejected, sick of itself, utterly loathsome, useless, and helpless; and the problem is not as I have said, "How did he come there?" but "How is that man to be got up?" not "How did you fall into the sea?" but "How are we going to get you out?" Let us turn to this story, then, to see how the great problem that baffles man's wisdom and love even at its best, how the great problem is solved by Jesus Christ and by His humble servants in His name, working in immediate contact with an absent and uncrowned Lord. Man or woman here who objects to this description of human nature, disprove what I am saying; rise in the might of your own goodness, rise in the might of your own morality, rise in the strength and dignity of human nature, which you think I am talking against, and display it in this fashion: Walk in your own strength into God's presence. Come, you cannot. The more you try it the more you prove you are an impotent man. This man saw Peter and John about to go into the temple, and he asked help. "And Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, Look on us." I would we preachers could learn more thoroughly to do after them, for we do not find that the impotent first of all looked at them, but it certainly is strikingly curious that Peter and John fastened their eyes upon him. He saw them. They might have gone past. He looked at them for ordinary help just as he looked at any others, but the point is that Peter and John did not go past that man. They challenged him. Let us challenge the world's need. We are blamed — it is the deepest part of the charge against us in newspaper and magazine articles, and there is too much truth in it, and the sting of it lies in its truth — that we are walking past the problem. Peter and John might have been so busily engaged in talking — talking, it may be, about Jesus Christ and the resurrection — that they would have swept past this man. He was not a very attractive sight to look upon, and it would have been very convenient, would it not, for them to have gathered up their garments and swept into the temple past him to engage in the worship of God, and to engage in high and holy converse on the mighty things which were, of course, within their ken? Is there not a good deal of church-going which is just that to-day? Let me ask you point blank, face to face, what is your church-going very often but just that walking past, and turning your blind eye to the squirming wretchedness all around you? When did you put out your hand to alleviate it? When did you utter Christ's almighty name over it? Aye, this is far too true, that the worship of God with many of us is a denial of God; it is a useless, blind, formalistic, stupid, heartless thing. It has no power towards God or towards man. It is in ourselves and belonging to ourselves — a mere thing of dress, and of Sunday parading to the temple and home again. And the misery of the East End, and of the fat, well-fed, but still wretched West End, is utterly untouched by our Christianity. Not so with Peter and John. Do we believe after all at bottom the conclusion of the whole matter is this: sin is here not to defeat us, but to be defeated by us, to be changed into life and holiness by the power of Him who sits enthroned above the stars of God, even Jesus Christ. It is time that we did, whether we do or not — more than time. Peter and John fastened their eyes upon him and looked at him. They did not go past him. What a lesson for preachers! There are teachers abroad, let me tell you, who do not want to see you; you are a hard nut for them to crack. Why, when you were better off they could speak to you, and you go to them, but since these hard days have come upon you you have dropped going there. When comfort was needed they were too cold. Now, you are right for the gospel. Christ Jesus is here for the sake of this impotent man, and He has lifted up you and me, if we are lifted up, that we may go and fetch the others who have not been brought yet. This is really the whole scope and purpose of the mighty work which God has done upon you, and I rather fear that you are forgetting it. Think of Peter and John stepping forward there. Try to catch the light in their faces as their eyes burned like twin lamps, when, not only they, but Christ, the loving Saviour, in them and through them, bent down and stretched out a hand and looked into the very despairing soul of that helpless creature. And then let me understand, and let you, O Christian worker, understand how much is needed to be, indeed, in this wretched world a servant of Jesus Christ. Oh, if we are able to bring ourselves and our Christ into naked, palpitating contact, let us do so. Let us stand over the perishing as though we meant to take a two-handed grasp of them, and by our own power to lift them right off the sodden bed on which sin has stretched them. Ah, we need an eye in our head, and a tongue in our mouths, and a hand at the end of our arm which has in it some tingle of everlasting love, and we need a heart working behind all three which has been kindled from the heart of Jesus Christ, who for us men and for our salvation took flesh and died upon the Cross. "And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them." That is something. The man gave heed. I do not like a man to hide behind his fingers and peep at me. I have not much hope of that. When the audience looks broadly and frankly up into the preacher's face things are looking hopeful. "He gave heed to them." What followed? "Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none." What an inconsequential, disappointing word! What an anti-climax to all that had gone before! "Silver and gold have I none." Can you imagine the poor man's eyes? All the delight going out of them, and his long face getting still longer and blacker, and perhaps his tongue uttering indignant words, as he might have said, "Sirs, if you have neither silver nor gold do not add insult to my wretchedness. You might have passed on, and left me unnoticed and unchallenged." Ay, there are men who just say that to us. I read a book not long ago with a very fine title by a very learned man. I do not question his learning. He just broadly said this — that we preachers can do nothing for this helplessness that is represented here, that we are only talking. They level against us the objection that was levelled against Jesus Christ, when another helpless man was laid at His feet, and instead of curing his physical wretchedness He went first to what was first in importance — his spiritual wretchedness, and said, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." It is virtually the same thing still. It is a great blessing for that poor man himself that he was not impressed by it when Peter and John said, "Silver and gold have I none." I do not know that we are keeping as faithful to our own wares as Peter and John did. I am not sure that we are not getting to be too much impressed by the thought that what the East End needs is coals and blankets, and boots and shoes, and stockings for itself and its wife and its bairns. But suppose we fed the wretchedness of the East End, and suppose we clothed them; after all, what have we done? At the most and best we have only soothed their passage to the grave. Silver and gold can do much, and far more of the silver and gold that belongs to these who call themselves Christians ought to be spent in this blessed way. But there is an end to the power of silver and gold, and the Church was never better in possession of her true wealth than when she was represented by a couple of penniless fishermen, from the crevices of "whose hands I am not quite sure that the fish-scales had yet been dried. You who have got silver and gold, who have come to Jesus Christ, come as humbly as you can. Forget your silver and gold. "Silver and gold have I none." As I have said, on the surface how disappointing that was! Yet it was well said, and it was better done. "Such as I have give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk." Now here that poor fellow in a moment, but very truly and also very suddenly, was himself put to solve a very trying problem. Those of us who have been at college know the weary days we spent on what is called summum bonum — "What is the highest good?" It is not a mere vague question of philosophic schools. It is a very practical question, and that poor man lying there that day had to solve for himself very speedily. Virtually this question was put to him: "What is the highest good? Is it silver and gold?" And quicker than my tongue can tell it he came to the swift conclusion: "There is something here that can come to me which is better than anything that silver and gold can do." Have we got that length? Young fellow, you are toiling, you are trying to reach the summum bonum. Put it philosophically or non-philosophically, that is what we are all trying to do. Now, what is your highest good? Does it not lie in the direction of silver and gold, in the direction of all that is covered by these gilded, these very comprehensive terms, both in their notation and in their denotation? Through the grace and working of God's Word and God's Spirit — aye, and through the hardships of life — are not some of us beginning to get an .insight of what flashed upon that poor man: "Here is the greatest blessing that I could have, a blessing that I feel I am capable of receiving, a blessing that I feel I greatly need. I have been looking for it in a wrong direction, the world cannot give it." Those of you who have plenty have said to yourselves, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years. Thou hast got the summum bonum; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." And you cannot. Silver and gold are utterly failing. They are cheating; God grant that you may find out the cheat in time. Now listen. It is for men and women when they come to that pass that the preacher of the gospel is here. It is not because we are poor preachers; it is because you are poor stuff to preach to. When we get into contact with those who are ripe for spiritual blessing, when they are brought to that condition by the stress and disappointment of life, then the gospel preacher becomes wonderfully eloquent, simply because your ears are getting bored and your heart is getting adapted to the message that is spoken. "Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee. Having thus spoken, he took him by the right hand." There must be immediate contact between Christ and you, and, more than that, between the preacher and you. That is one reason why I object to this historical pulpit — just simply because in here a great deal of that magnetism that was present with Peter and John is lost. How Peter stooped down and uttered that mighty name! Never go without uttering that mighty name of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter stooped down to grasp that man by the hand, and I see him yielding to the power of omnipotence. Up he came. Hallelujah! Christ is the power that Peter expected Him to be. Heaven has won, hell is baffled. The tide has begun to turn. From this One learn all. There is One who has power over every form of the enemy's malignant triumph as it extends in all its vastness. Do you not see that it needs all that supernatural work to be wrought upon your impotent soul before you can enter into the temple to appear before God in any profitable way to yourself or in any way that will bring praise and glory to His name? Now what do you know about worship? This is the road to the church, this is the way to the temple. This gospel cannot be preached, and no signs following. Peter and John did not stand over that man for half a day, saying, until it became a dull, stale, flat, unprofitable, weary word. "In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk! Rise up and walk! Rise up and walk" while he lay and lay as helpless and as supine as ever. They risked everything, and they were justified in it. And the times are ripe for us to do the same thing still. Sinner, backslider, in the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up!

(J. McNeil.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.

WEB: Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

Spiritual Co-Operation
Top of Page
Top of Page