From “The Anointing of the Spirit to Preach Freedom,” Village Sermons (1857)
What were these good news ? They are partly unfolded in the words that follow: “Deliverance to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, relief to the bruised,” — these were some of the good things which were promised to men.
They all refer to outward distresses and outward benefits. And why should they not ? Surely God, who made man to dwell upon the earth, must care for the earthly troubles of men, must delight to relieve men from their earthly troubles; surely to tell men of this graciousness of their heavenly Father must be a part of any true good news brought from heaven to earth, a part of the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. At all events, we who receive the four gospels as the record of his acts on earth are bound to that belief.
Consider for a moment what these gospels would lose if Christ’s feedings of the hungry, his healings of diseases, his raisings from the dead were cut out of it as unworthy of a spiritual religion. No, blessed be God, so long as we hold fast the Book of Life, we cannot be cheated by the cruelty and heartlessness of man’s gospels since we have God’s gospel to fall back upon, and we know from that that nothing is too low for his care and love, without whom not a sparrow falls to the ground.
Every attempt to raise men out of a condition of depression and suffering is a carrying out of God’s gospel, and part of the work which he is ever accomplishing…Just as a great part of Christ’s gospel work when on earth was the healing of diseases, so a great part of his work now is the removal of more partial and unequal hardships.
But, though the deliverance promised by Christ at Nazareth included deliverance from outward ills, it could not stop there; all the words that he used point still more strongly to those deeper and more inward ills, which we may overlook, it may be, for days and weeks and months, but which, in sickness or other seasons of quietness, are suddenly seen in our hearts with most unwelcome clearness. Bondage, blindness, bruises — is there any one here who has not at some time felt that his very inmost self was subject to one or other of those evils, that he was unable to do what his conscience commanded him to do, unable to see and know what he needed to see and know, crushed and bruised by the attacks of inward enemies and the weight of his own past misdeeds?
Then here too Christ is the messenger of good tidings. From these strange evils, which seem so slippery, so desperately hard to get at, so deep down beyond the reach or help of our fellowmen — from these God is able and willing to deliver us, if we will only trust him wholly.
But his blessed purpose is hindered in two ways: first, we do but half believe that these inward evils really are there. The outward evils we cannot help seeing and feeling with our bodily senses, but it is otherwise with the inward evils. We can shut our eyes to them for a long while, if we choose, and persuade ourselves they are not there, while all the while they are destroying unawares the divine life within, and making us more and more fit to dwell only with beasts and devils.
Secondly, we will not submit to the remedies which God provides for these diseases of our spirits. His medicines are too bitter and nauseous, and we had rather die than take them. And this explains what I said just now, that outward evils are not only relieved by God, but sent by God. As long as we endure distress, we may be sure that some sin is enslaving us, from which by this means he is striving to set us free. Yet it is still good news that he will set us free, if only we will allow him, however distasteful to our lower nature the way may be.
Do not think that he has only told us of that way. No, his words were but a small part of his gospel. His acts are a much mightier part. He has gone him- self that way before us. He has drained our cup of bitterness to the dregs. The full meaning of the good tidings could not be known till he had died and risen again for us. The atonement for sin made once for all by the blood of his cross is at once the pledge of our deliverance from these deadliest and inmost enemies, and the only means by which it could be effected.
Fenton J.A. Hort (1828-1892) was an Anglican priest and teacher, among the most influential New Testament scholars of the nineteenth century. He produced, with his close friend and colleague B.F. Westcott, an important critical edition of the Greek New Testament, and was Hulsean and Lady Margaret Professor at Cambridge. His Village Sermons collects homilies delivered to the congregation of St Ippolyts Church, Hertfordshire during his early ministry.