Written by, Caroline Wilson, the author of ‘Christ our example‘.
“Who touched my clothes?”
—Mark 5: 30.
Nothing is perceptible to human sense, except by contact.
We were used to talk of seeing at a distance—hearing afar off—smelling the rich perfume prisoned in the flower. In the days of ignorance perhaps, we thought so; but we now know otherwise. The distant sound, be it the whispered word or the loud pealing thunder, must be borne on the air, till it comes into actual contact with the ear. The rose and violet can only disclose their sweetness, by actual remission of their fragrant exhalations.
We all know this; but do we know the close analogy it bears to something else? The close analogy that all things bear, in Jehovah’s work, that the things unseen may be known, understood, illustrated by the things seen, and things spiritual be made apprehensible, by means of things sensible to the children of time and sense? Under the Old Testament dispensation, the types and figures of the law made contact to the typical benefits of the covenant. The penitent transgressor must lay his hand on the head of the sacrificial victim, or the priest must lay one hand on the transgressor, the other on the sacrifice; in either case, to signify the conveying away of the iniquity of the sinner, to the head of the sin-offering. In the onerous and rigid code of ceremonial cleanness and uncleanness, the regulations were very curious, and very inexplicable to our moral sense: in the reading of them, we need to bear in mind that they pertain to a figurative dispensation, and were obligations looking beyond itself for their use and signification. In this view, they are worthy of our close attention as figures now; whereas, before, they were of strict observance, as tests of faith and obedience.
Under the law there were things no more than reputedly unclean themselves: of which nevertheless, even the accidental, or unconscious contact, conveyed the guilt of uncleanness to the innocent person. “If a soul touch any unclean thing, whether it be the carcass of an unclean beast, or a carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and it be hid from him; he also shall be unclean and guilty.” Lev. v. There were other things reputed holy, the mere touch of which conveyed a putative holiness. “Whatsoever shall touch the flesh thereof shall be holy.” “Whatsoever touches the altar shall be holy.” And there were things again too holy for contact with the unsanctified. “Whosoever touches the mount shall surely be put to death: there shall not a hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, it shall not live.” The sons of Kohath that bare the ark might not touch it, lest they died: we know the painful punishment of one who subsequently laid his hand upon the too holy thing.
These enactments, arduous and arbitrary as they seem, had doubtless all a meaning. Perhaps they had at the time some moral or religious sanction specifically understood: while to us they simply convey spiritual instruction. A remarkable passage in the prophet Haggai, will assist us to draw some important lessons from them. If we remark where it occurs, it is manifestly intended to apply the figurative distinctions of the law, to the substantial realities of the gospel, and draw the parallel between the shadow and the substance. “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts; ask now the priest concerning the law, saying, if one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priest answered and said, “No.” Then said Haggai, “If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priest answered and said, It shall be unclean.” Haggai 2: 11. This prophetic application, as examining the chapter we shall perceive it is, of the ceremonial “Touch,” contains two truths of great importance.
First, the absolutely communicable nature of sin: its capability of involuntary, even unconscious contraction: with the impossibility of avoiding it in a world pronounced unclean, accursed, and unholy. The touch of one unsanctified, made even the pottage, the wine and oil unclean that chanced to come into contact with it. Oh! Did it not so, when the very ground, with all its useful and exquisite productions, was cursed for Adam’s sake? Did it not so, when the prophetic curse was uttered from mount Ebal. Cursed in the city,—cursed in the field,—cursed thy basket and thy store, —cursed the fruit of thy body, and the fruit of thy land, and the increase of thy cattle, and the flocks of thy sheep “because of the wickedness of thy doings whereby thou hast forsaken me?” Does it not so now, when man works for himself misery and sin, and prepares himself for everlasting woe, by the sinful using and godless enjoying of God’s natural bounties? Or when he turns into condemnation the blessings of the gospel, makes a savor of death of the life-giving word; or with impenitent, unbelieving heart, eats and drinks his own condemnation, in the very elements that exhibit the body and blood of Christ? It is for this reason that everything a sinner does, before he is converted and consecrated to God by the regenerating Spirit, and thence reputed holy, has in the sight of God the character of sin. He is himself unclean; a leper;—and the touch, the leprous touch, makes everything unclean, with which he comes in contact.
Secondly, this legal figure teaches us, the incommunicable nature of holiness, except under certain prescribed circumstances: without which, the sinner is debarred approach to the Most Holy, whence only it could be derived. The man who carried the reputedly holy items of food in his lap, was clean himself; but could not convey that cleanness to another. No benefit was derived from touching the apron that contained the Holy Thing: the hem of the garment could do nothing in that case. It never will do anything, if it be not Christ himself. We talk of holy water—of consecrated elements and things, and places: be the hands that hallow them as holy as they may, they are but the skirt of the man’s garment who carried the items of food: no touch of theirs brings the sinner in contact with his Savior, or conveys the unction of his sanctifying Spirit to the soul; we must “touch” Himself. And so we may, all sinful as we are. Remark in this the difference between the gospel and the law. “We are not come,” says the Apostle, “to the mount that might be touched,”—corporeally touched, but of which, nevertheless, the touch was forbidden, under penalty of instant death: because it was the emblem of Him who, without a mediator, is a consuming fire, whom no sinner may approach unto and live.
We are not to come to the prohibited holy of holies, wherein none might enter,—the ark whereon none might lay a hand,—the meats most holy, of which the unsanctified might in nowise partake,—emblems all of prohibition, exclusion, separation: by which were exhibited the sinner’s separation from God, and exclusion from his presence by the law, even in his utmost efforts to fulfil it. The law could not save, because it could not bring the sinner near enough to God;—there was a veil in the temple, there was a covering to the ark, there was a line round the mount, a sword at the gate of paradise. Sin had separated between God and man; a great gulf was fixed between Deity and humanity, which all the deeds of the law could not fill up; which must be filled up, before the life and love of God could flow out to us again.
The priest, the altar, the sacrificial victim, were all but emblems of the something that was wanting; the link that must be found, before the disunited could be joined again, and receive new life by the life-giving touch. In Christ this link is found, this chasm has been filled, and man is again in contact with his Maker. How close a contact! Christ is both God and man. Then mark again the altered language of the New Testament. And again, let us study the invisible in the visible: God’s inward worship by his outward actings, in that closer, simpler, more intelligible exhibition of things spiritual, vouchsafed to us in the miracles of our gracious Lord on earth.
With few exceptions, Jesus always touched the persons he designed to heal; without any exception, all whom he so touched were made whole of whatsoever disease they had. This effect was so commonly observable, that we find it to be the main object of the multitude. “They besought him to touch the blind man:” “They brought little children to him that he might touch them:” —”Come and lay thy hand upon her that she may live:” —”They besought him that they might touch if it were but the border of his garment.” Nevertheless, there were contingencies in the efficacy of this most holy touch; the multitude pressed him on every side, while yet no virtue went out of him.
In all cases but one, permission seems to have been required: in most cases, it seems to have been obtained by solicitation—by prayer. In that one case,—most blessed be the hand that left it for our encouragement;—there was apparently no permission asked, and certainly none given, that the woman should touch the Savior’s garment, and be healed. “If I may but touch;” she had faith in the efficacy, and stole the blessing,—without prayer—without promise—she touched and was made whole from that very hour. Most gracious exception to the ever-gracious process, by which sinners are ordinarily appointed to come to Jesus and be saved,—be made whole and holy, by one single touch. To all who will, permission to come is given.—” Whosoever will, let him come and take of the waters of life freely:” to all who pray, success is promised:—” Ask and ye shall receive.” But lest there should be some, and because there always will be some who cannot, or think they cannot pray, or may not pray aright; who cannot adapt the promises to their own supposed condition, or find themselves in the general terms of invitation: so that they are not sure if their approach be warranted; while from their hearts they believe that nothing more is necessary than the touch of Jesus; He who so well knew the secrets of every heart, has left on record the example of this woman. She said no prayer— she heard no promise—she touched, believing, and was saved. If there be one of us as sick of sin as she was of disease, who cannot ask, who cannot hear the blessing and promises of the gospel, as their own; believing still that in Jesus there is life ;—let them try—let them press—let them touch, and succeed as she did.
Here was no prohibition of hands impure— of touch unclean. There was no need, for that Most Holy Thing could not be soiled by contact with iniquity, any more than iniquity could subsist in contact with his holiness. The Jews, probably, had the danger of an impure contact in mind, when they thought Jesus did not know what manner of woman it was that touched him. Here is no imagery of intervention—interruption. “We are come unto mount Zion, the city of the living God;” companies of angels—assemblies of the firstborn—branches of one root—limbs of one body —stones of one building—emblems all of union and conjunction, “One with the Father and the Son:” without which the body cannot live— the branches cannot bear—the building cannot stand; “Except ye abide in me:” “Except my life be in you:” “Built up in me.” As surely as the sole of the foot of every living body has immediate communication with the head, the brain, where the slightest pain, the slightest touch is felt, on which it acts, from which it receives its action: and may have its connection broken, but cannot have it promoted by the intervention of extraneous matter: so surely has the lowliest believer in Jesus, communication with himself in heaven, and can but mar the blessed contact, by the intervention of any human thing.
But we have yet one image more of this life-giving, life-preserving Touch; designed to instruct us in its deepest characters, and most mysterious truth. When our blessed Master was about to leave the earth, and could permit the corporeal touch no longer; when the tropes and figures of the Mosaic law were to pass away with the dispensation they were so well fitted to represent; another rite was instituted—another sensible figure devised, to exhibit the altered manner of communion between the soul of the believer, and the risen Savior, through the spiritual touch of the invisible Comforter. The material wine is to wet the lip, the material bread to be broken between the teeth, and become incorporate in the material frame; significant of that actual reception of Deity into the soul of man— “Christ formed in us,”—the Spirit dwelling in us—denominated in scripture—” feeding on him,”—eating his flesh and drinking his blood, meat indeed and drink indeed—living waters, which they who drink may never thirst— fountains springing up—rivers flowing out; all emblems of that union and intercourse of spirit with spirit, which can only by figures be expressed, and only by analogies be explained and primarily apprehended.
I say primarily, because when experience has revealed the secret, when the soul has once realized this union, experimentally fed, experimentally touched, there needs no figure to tell us what it means…
…we only use such then to keep the bliss in mind,—to wake our holy appetite afresh, and warn us of distance, or of intervening things; we need no further explanation of them. The believer looks upon the bread to bring the body to mind; partakes of the wine to remind him of the blood, and stir the sluggish spirit to desire; this purpose served, as soon as the soul’s appetite moves towards its heavenly feast, begins to realize its real communion, to take, to eat, “to touch” in verity; the material elements are at once forgotten, the communicant does not know, does not care whether the lip touches them or not: they cannot come in contact with the soul—mere emblems of the vital union that goes on within.
This is the substance of all the shadows, the antitype of all the types, the momentous lesson to be read in all the beautiful analogies of surrounding nature. We must be united to Christ before we can derive anything from him—”lay hold of him,” as it is written, be grafted into him—abide in him—become bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh—one body; a variety of expression intended to elucidate the nearness, the contact, the actual “touch,” through which the divine life, and all that pertains to it, and follows from it, can alone be imparted to the excised and separated sons of men.