(My complete GMD bio/commentary
After having a bad run of fortune as a
country preacher for a couple of year early on, George
MacDonald turned his attention
to writing full-time. On the occasions when he was asked to
give a sermon here or there, he seldom refused the offer
and never accepted money for the task. His books became his
pulpit. Nearly half of them were novels, yet they all
contained much sermonizing, the likes of which would
probably not be tolerated by today's audiences, but they
were much loved during his own time. And while many of
those novels weren't terribly remarkable as such, it was
actually the abundant measure of moralizing they contained that
has always been memorable for most Christians.
MacDonald did write several outright
theological books also, including three volumes of sermons
referred to as Unspoken Sermons, the first volume of
which John Ruskin cited as the best book of sermons he had
ever read. There is also a book called The Hope of the
Gospel which could probably be rightly referred to as a
book of sermons also. And lastly he wrote a book dedicated
to Ruskin concerning the biblical miracles performed by
Christ called The Miracles of Our Lord. The three
volumes from Unspoken Sermons hardly need any light
shed upon them in the backwash of what C.S. Lewis has already
made plain. He used these volumes more than any other of
MacDonald's works in his George MacDonald: An Anthology.
The Hope of the Gospel mostly deals with the life,
death, and resurrection of Christ as the title would
suggest, but surprisingly at its end there is a long
didactic against vivisection and other cruelties toward
animals through scientific and medical research.
The Miracles of Our Lord is
perhaps a little stranger for many readers as MacDonald
goes into some of science and cosmology in trying to
picture for us a new way of thinking of those miracles. He
doesn't even shy away from the word--magic--in one instance
when speaking of the woman with an issue of blood who
touches the hem of Christ's garment to be healed. Also
contained in this section is MacDonald's argument against
perfect omniscience on behalf of Jesus. Here is that
What follows according to St Matthew's account, occasions me no difficulty. He does not say that the woman was cured by the touch; he says nothing of her cure until Jesus had turned and seen her, and spoken the word to her, whereupon he adds: "And the woman was made whole from that hour." But St Mark and St Luke represent that the woman was cured upon the touch, and that the cure was only confirmed afterwards by the words of our Lord. They likewise represent Jesus as ignorant of what had taken place, except in so far as he knew that, without his volition, some cure had been wrought by contact with his person, of which he was aware by the passing from him of a saving influence. By this, in the heart of a crowd which pressed upon him so that many must have come into bodily contact with him, he knew that some one had touched him with special intent. No perplexity arises from the difference between the accounts, for there is only difference, not incongruity: the two tell more than the one; it is from the nature of the added circumstances that it springs, for those circumstances necessarily involve inquiries of the most difficult nature. Nor can I in the least pretend to have satisfied myself concerning them. In the first place comes the mode of the cure, which seems at first sight (dissociated, observe, from the will of the healer) to partake of the nature of magic-an influence without a sufficient origin. Not for a moment would I therefore yield to an inclination to reject the testimony. I have no right to do so, for it deals with circumstances concerning which my ignorance is all but complete. I cannot rest, however, without seeking to come into some spiritual relation with the narrative, that is, to find some credible supposition upon which, without derogating from the lustre of the object of the whole history, the thing might take place. The difficulty, I repeat, is, that the woman could be cured by the garment of Jesus, without (not against) the will of Jesus. I think that the whole difficulty arises from our ignorance-a helpless ignorance-of the relations of thought and matter. I use the word thought rather than spirit, because in reflecting upon spirit (which is thought), people generally represent to themselves a vague form of matter. All religion is founded on the belief or instinct-call it what we will-that matter is the result of mind, spirit, thought. The relation between them is therefore simply too close, too near for us to understand. Here is what I am able to suggest concerning the account of the miracle as given by St Mark and St Luke.
If even in what we call inanimate things there lies a healing power in various kinds; if, as is not absurd, there may lie in the world absolute cure existing in analysis, that is parted into a thousand kinds and forms, who can tell what cure may lie in a perfect body, informed, yea, caused, by a perfect spirit? If stones and plants can heal by the will of God in them, might there not dwell in the perfect health of a body, in which dwelt the Son of God, a necessarily healing power? It may seem that in the fact of the many crowding about him, concerning whom we have no testimony of influence received, there lies a refutation of his supposition. But who can tell what he may have done even for them without their recognizing it save in conscious well-being? Besides, those who crowded nearest him would mostly be of the strongest who were least in need of a physician, and in whose being consequently there lay not that bare open channel hungering for the precious life-current. And who can tell how the faith of the heart, calming or arousing the whole nature, may have rendered the very person of the woman more fit than the persons of others in the crowd to receive the sacred influence? For although she did not pray, she had the faith as alive though as small as the mustard seed. Why might not health from the fountain of health flow then into the empty channel of the woman's weakness? It may have been so. I shrink from the subject, I confess, because of the vulgar forms such speculations have assumed in our days, especially in the hands of those who savour unspeakably more of the charlatan than the prophet. Still, one must be honest and truthful even in regard to what he has to distinguish, as he can, into probable and impossible. Fact is not the sole legitimate object of human inquiry. If it were, farewell to all that elevates and glorifies human nature-farewell to God, to religion, to hope! It is that which lies at the root of fact, yea, at the root of law, after which the human soul hungers and longs.
In the preceding remarks I have anticipated a chapter to follow-a chapter of speculation, which may God make humble and right. But some remark was needful here. What must be to some a far greater difficulty has yet to be considered. It is the representation of the Lord's ignorance of the cure, save from the reaction upon his own person of the influence which went out from him to fill that vacuum of suffering which the divine nature abhors: he did not know that his body was about to radiate health. But this gives me no concern. Our Lord himself tells us in one case, at least, that he did not know, that only his Father knew. He could discern a necessary result in the future, but not the day or the hour thereof. Omniscience is a consequence, not an essential of the divine nature. God knows because he creates. The Father knows because he orders. The Son knows because he obeys. The knowledge of the Father must be perfect; such knowledge the Son neither needs nor desires. His sole care is to do the will of the Father. Herein lies his essential divinity. Although he knew that one of his apostles should betray him, I doubt much whether, when he chose Judas, he knew that he was that one. We must take his own words as true. Not only does he not claim perfect knowledge, but he disclaims it. He speaks once, at least, to his Father with an if it be possible. Those who believe omniscience essential to divinity, will therefore be driven to say that Christ was not divine. This will be their punishment for placing knowledge on a level with love. No one who does so can worship in spirit and in truth, can lift up his heart in pure adoration. He will suppose he does, but his heaven will be in the clouds, not in the sky.