And as they departed from Jericho, a great multitude followed him. And behold two blind men sitting by the way side, when they heard that Jesus passed by, cried out, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord thou Son of David. And the multitude rebuked them because they should hold their peace; but they cried the more, saying, Have mercy on us, O Lord thou Son of David. And Jesus stood still and called them, and said, What will ye that I shall do unto you? They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened. So Jesus had compassion on them, and touched their eyes, and immediately their eyes received sight, and they followed him.
From comparing the accounts of the different evangelists, it appears that one of these unhappy men was Bartimeus,—that they sat by the road to ask alms,—that hearing the noise of the passing multitude they inquired the cause, and found that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by,—that when they raised their cries of suppliant distress, he sent messengers to call them,—that when their eyes were opened they “followed him, glorifying God,” and that “all the people when they saw it, gave praise unto God.”
The time of this transaction was awfully critical. He who came into the world to open the eyes of the blind, was now on his last journey to Jerusalem, where in a few days, he was to suffer death. He was at Jericho, but twenty miles from the scene of his sufferings. His stay in that city was ended, and he had just set out for the spot from which he was to leave the world. His work on earth was nearly finished. He never was to come that way again.
The bodily cures which Christ performed in the days of his flesh, were designed to announce him to the world as the great Physician of the soul, and to teach sinners how to apply to him for spiritual healing. I am therefore authorized to employ this piece of history for such a purpose.
My first remark is, that it was necessary for these blind men to be by the way side while Jesus was passing by. Had they been any where else, they could not have received their sight. However fixed the event was in the counsels of heaven, their being by the way side was an established link in the chain leading to the happy change. Without that means, the end was never to be accomplished. And it was necessary for them to be there at the very punctum of time when Jesus was passing by. They might have sat there for years at any other time without effect. So it is necessary for ruined men to attend solemnly and earnestly and sincerely on all the means of grace, without which, they are not in the neighborhood of any way by which the Saviour is wont to pass. In the person of his Spirit, he passes, while the Gospel and its institutions are the chariot on which he rides or the way by which he goes. And it is specially important that men should keep by this way in those solemn seasons when the Saviour is passing in the more abundant power of his Spirit.
Being near the road, the blind men caught the first sound of the approaching Saviour, and wondering what it should mean, learnt, to their infinite advantage, that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by. So men who are solemnly attentive to the means of grace, perceive in such a day as this, that the Saviour of sinners is passing by, and are far more likely than others to apply and receive their sight; while those who are buried in their farms and their merchandize, know not that a Saviour is passing, and lose the opportunity to make their application to him.
It was not enough for these blind men to sit idly by the wayside while Jesus was passing, without faith or application to him. They might have sat thus till they died, and no benefit would have ensued. So men may carelessly attend on the means of grace, and for want of an earnest and believing application to the Son of David, may die blind.
These unhappy men, knowing themselves to be wholly unworthy of the Saviour’s notice, made no demands, but only sued for mercy. And sinners, if they would succeed, must be far from thinking themselves justly entitled to salvation, and that they should be injured if refused. They must feel infinitely unworthy of this grace. They must abhor themselves, and repent in dust and ashes. They must get down into the deepest dust. They must look up, like Jonah, from the bottom of the mountains. They must send up their cry as from the bowels of hell,—and never name any thing but mercy,—free, rich, and amazing mercy,—boundless, self-moving mercy. On this they must cast themselves,—cast all their weight,—rest all their hopes,—ground all their confidence. Mercy, mercy, mercy,—this must be their only plea,—this must be their exclusive trust. In the earnestness of these unfortunate men we see an affecting example for us. Hearing that the wondrous man was near who had healed so many, their hearts flutter with joy and great expectations, and go forth in the impassioned cry, “Have mercy on us, O Lord thou Son of David.” You hear not a few faint words between jest and earnest. In all the fervor of heart-felt distress, and with no hope resting on any other, their bursting prayer still is, “Have mercy on us, O Lord thou Son of David.”
Nor could they be silenced by all the frowns of the multitude, who, either considering them too mean for the Saviour’s notice, or disgusted at their earnestness, commanded them to hold their peace. But they cried so much the more, “Have mercy on us, O Lord thou Son of David.” And thus sinners who have discovered their guilt and perishing need of a Saviour, and who see that on him depends their eternal all, will not be silenced by all the frowns and criticisms of the world. Feeling that no other hand in heaven or earth can relieve them,—that the success or failure of their application will make or undo them for eternity, they are not to be kept back by the fastidiousness of the formal or the scoffs of the profane.
We cannot but notice the great difference between those who feel their necessities and those who are whole and know not their needs. How much more precious did Jesus appear in the eyes of Bartimeus than in those of his proud rebukers.
These blind men would not have been so pressing had they not deeply felt three things;—that they were blind and wretched, that Jesus was the Saviour, with full power to open their eyes, and that he was the only helper. Nor will sinners apply to him till they discover that they are utterly lost in themselves, that he is the very one appointed to deliver them and is able to save to the uttermost, that there is no other name given under heaven whereby they can be saved, that all the men on earth and all the angels in heaven cannot relieve them, and that their eternal all depends on the Son of David.
It is affecting to see the difference between the unfeeling multitude and the compassionate Saviour. No sooner did he hear the cry of these unfortunate men than he sent messengers to bring them to him. These messengers, like the preachers of the Gospel, bade them be of good cheer for he called them. The same blessed words do I this day proclaim in your ears. Is there a poor sinner in all those seats who has been raising his anxious cry to the Son of David? Blessed tidings, my friend. Put thine ear to the Gospel and listen. “He calleth thee.”
When they approached him the condescending Saviour said to them, “What will ye that I shall do unto you?” I have it in my power to do whatever you desire. “They say unto him, Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” We come not to ask for riches or honors, but Lord, that we may receive our sight. O that you would approach him with such direct desires for spiritual sight,—for the vision of God and the Lamb. But other things fill your minds. You are thinking more of the stripes you may receive, than of any glory which you wish to behold.
And were these humble suppliants denied? Without reluctance or delay, Jesus touched their eyes and restored their sight. And forever blessed be his name, we do assuredly know that every sinner in this house would, upon due application, be relieved with equal readiness.
While the weary and heavy laden cast a wistful look towards this scene, and perceive how Jesus came by, and how easily the blind men applied and found relief, they are ready to say, O that I had lived in that day, or that it was as easy now to find relief. Unhappy man, form no hasty conclusion against yourself. Jesus of Nazareth is as present now as he was then, and as ready to heal. With open arms he stands ready to receive you. He is very near to you, and you may apply to him without going out of your way. Hark! poor desponding sinner, he calleth thee. Repair to him and hear what he will say. “Unhappy soul, what wilt thou that I should do unto thee? Dost thou want pardon, thou shalt have it; holiness, thou shalt have it; happiness, heaven, thou shalt have it all. What is thy petition, and what is thy request? and it shall be done unto thee, to the half, nay to the whole of my kingdom.” Dost thou not hear him? Why then not let him know thy desire? Why not seize the critical moment and pour the fervid wish into his ear, Lord, that my eyes may be opened?
It was the last time that Jesus ever passed that way before he left the world. Had these unhappy men been a little out of the way at that moment, or having been by the way, had they suffered him to pass without raising their cries of distress, they must inevitably have died blind. The next hour would have been too late. It was their last chance.
This is a solemn reflection as it relates to you, my Christless hearers. The present passage of the Saviour may prove the last chance to many of you. You have very little prospect of being called in in foolish times. In such seasons, if two or three are converted in a year in a congregation, it is as much as is expected: but what is this to the salvation of the great mass of the people? What is this to the number of births in the same congregation in the course of a year? During the present generation, almost all who have been gathered into the American Church, especially in places favored with revivals, have been brought in in seasons of revival. There is very little prospect therefore that you, individually considered, will be brought in in times of general foolishness. And before another revival of religion, many of you, in all probability, will be in eternity, and many of the rest hardened past recovery, or at least past the age of probable conversion. It has been generally calculated that by far the greater part of the elect are called in under the age of twenty, and very few after the middle of life, and next to none in old age.
You are all flattering yourselves that you shall be prepared before you die, or else you would be agitated with great alarm. You are so confident of this that you rest secure perhaps, as though no danger was before you. But take an unawakened youth of twenty, and separate him from any revival of religion, and it is much more likely that he has a miserable eternity before him, than that he will be saved. The question of chances is always to be tried by past experience. By this rule it is tried in all insurance offices, and indeed in all the business and calculations of society. By this rule of experience then try the question respecting the prospects of that careless youth of twenty. Have half of those who have lived without God till twenty, given evidence of being afterward converted? If so, then more than half of the people over twenty are Christians, and have been so from age to age. I say, more than half, for you must add to that half all that were converted under twenty and are now above that age: and the greater part of the elect are supposed to be converted under twenty.
Now go into the most favored town in the United States; go after the greatest revival that ever passed through it; and can you find the greater part of the people above twenty even professing religion? Such a community would be celebrated as a phenomenon throughout the Christian world. No such community was ever known. The inevitable conclusion is, that the greater part of those who live unsanctified till the age of twenty, do, even in our most favored towns, die in their sins. That careless youth then of twenty, is this moment more likely to spend his eternity in fire than on a throne of glory. This proposition is as true as that one half of the American people are not likely to live to the age of a hundred. And both propositions are as true as that two and two make four.
But the case is still more discouraging. Do one in ten who have passed their twentieth year out of Christ ever profess religion? Look for yourselves. Select the most favored town within your knowledge. Compare the handful at the communion table with the swarms that fill the streets. Can you find the town in which one in ten above twenty years of age profess religion? I know not the proportions, but for the present argument say one in ten. Many of these are false professors, and many of the pious were converted under twenty. Say that such has been the proportion from time immemorial, and of course is likely to continue during the present generation. Then that careless youth of twenty stands more than ten chances to one to be eternally miserable.
The great deceiver has told you all that you would be prepared before you die. And so he told the last generation of wretches who went to hell. And so he has told every generation since Adam. But while he is soothing you with this lie, it is still an awful truth that a careless youth of twenty, or even of eighteen, is far more likely to spend his eternity in hell than in heaven. Tremendous thought! enough to overwhelm the soul.
And if this is true of a careless youth of eighteen or twenty, what shall we say of a careless man of thirty? what of a foolish sinner of forty? what, of a wretched unbeliever of fifty? There are probably people in this town against whom lie a hundred chances to one, who yet are as secure as though no danger was before them, and never lift a prayer to God. And yet they are not lunatics. This is one of the most unaccountable mysteries of the moral world. Young people often calculate to put off religion till old age; but alas few in old age are brought home to God.
Such are your dangers now. There is some more hope for you on account of this revival. But should this heavenly call be rejected,—should this revival pass off unimproved,—the chances against you would be greater than they ever were before. This season will not leave you as it found you. You will never again be as you have been. You must be better or worse. Be you ever so foolish, this is a call from heaven to you. These wonders of grace which are spread around you,—these tears and entreaties which assail you,—these many opportunities afforded you to pray and to be instructed, are the voice of the Holy Spirit in your ears. You may array your pride and harden your hearts as you will, but this revival is still the voice of God to you, and you must account for an infinite privilege at the judgment of the great day. You may run from the place and seek to flee from the presence of God as Jonah did, but he will pursue you and hold you answerable for this slighted call. If you reject all this grace of God, your guilt and your danger will be what they never were before.
All this is true of the most foolish of you all, but it is pre-eminently true of the awakened. The louder the call the more certain that this is the crisis of your fate. God has said, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” The most wicked and hazardous business that ever man attempted, was to resist the Holy Ghost. This, when carried to a certain extent and combined with malice, is the sin unto death that can never be forgiven. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,—if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put him to an open shame.” It is likely that in every revival of any considerable extent, some, for their sin against the Holy Ghost, are sealed over to eternal death. It is more than probable that this will be the case with some at this time and place.
Select any one of this congregation who has arrived at years of discretion, and let him remain impenitent after this revival has passed away, and it will be much more likely that he will perish than that he will be saved. Has not this been fairly made out by past experience as attested by the obvious state of society in every place? If so, then there is a high degree of probability that this is the turning point for eternity with that youth of eighteen or twenty; and there is almost a certainty that it is the turning point with that man of fifty or of forty. With both then it is likely to be the last time that Jesus will pass this way in season to open their eyes.
O let the case of the blind men who were never to hear him pass that way again, their impassioned prayer, and their great relief, stand ever before you. Hear their cry which nothing can suppress, “Have mercy on us, O Lord thou son of David.” Go ye and do likewise. Let not Jesus get out of the place before he has opened your eyes. Another revival may come before you die, but it will be likely to spend its chief force on those who are now children or unborn: revivals exhaust their power chiefly on the young. If not in your graves, you may be where an angel’s voice could not break your slumbers. In such a crisis of your fate, how is it possible for any of you to remain foolish? What dreams of madness are employing your sleeping fancy? What fumes from hell have bewildered your rational sense? If you have not deliberately resolved to lie down in eternal burnings, arise and take the kingdom of heaven by violence. Delay not a moment. Urge no excuse. By the worth of your never-dying souls I entreat you,—by the love and sorrows of Calvary I adjure you,—by the authority of the ever-living God I charge you, not to reject this mission of the Holy Ghost. Your everlasting all is at stake. It is likely to be your last chance. And if anything is done you must rise up to an agony.
These saunterings between jest and earnest are only trifling with the Spirit and will provoke him to leave you. Either fixedly resolve to perish, and set yourselves firmly to resist God and his people, or come up to the business with all your heart and soul. Halt no longer between two opinions. Do not stand at too awful a distance from the Saviour. Imitate the blind men and go up to him with confidence. Be of good cheer, “he calleth thee.” By the soft whispers of his Spirit he calleth thee. And if he can call, you may venture to go. Shrink not on account of your poverty and pollution. It is the same Jesus still,—the same heart that pitied the blind men of Jericho. Go to him boldly, and when he would know your request, cry in his ears, Lord, that my eyes may be opened.
Why will you die when such a glorious Deliverer is so near? Why will ye go down to hell; like the dying thief, from the very side of an atoning Saviour? I call heaven and earth to witness that if you perish after this, your blood will be upon your own head. And if you go down from these streets through which the kindest of all Saviours is passing, you will wish ten thousand times that you had gone to hell before this revival,—that you had been in hell on the day that this sermon was preached. O that you were wise, that you understood this, that you would consider your latter end. Turn ye; turn ye, for why will ye die? Why will ye die, O my flesh and blood?
Edward D. Griffin, Sermons by the Late Rev. Edward D. Griffin, D.D., (Albany: Van Benthuysen & Co., 1838), 2:1–14.