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The Pool of Bethesda - John 5:2 PDF Print E-mail
Written by W.M. Mitchell   
THE GOSPEL MESSENGER—June 1882

 

"Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep-market a pool which is called in the Hebrew tongue, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel went down at a certain season into the pool and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man who there which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long tune in that case he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent in answered Sir, I have no man when the water is troubled to put me into the pool." - John 5:2-9

 

 

Brother J. B. Keen, of Conyers, Ga., having repeatedly requested our views of the above text, we feel inclined to give such as we have. Many of our preachers, as well as those of other denominations, are in the habit of calling this the “Gospel Pool,” as though it clearly represented the gospel system of salvation by grace alone. Something of this kind is also presented in the 161st Hymn, of “Lloyd’s Primitive Hymns”—

 

“Beside the Gospel Pool,
Appointed for the poor,
From time to time my helpless soul,
Has waited for a cure.”

 

If this wonderful pool and its troubled waters is intended to represent God’s method of salvation, then we freely confess that we are totally in the dark about it and cannot harmonize that application with the general principles of the gospel nor with the connection of the text itself. 

In the five porches which were attached to the pool lay a great multitude of impotent folk, waiting for the moving of the water, which was troubled only at a certain season by an angel. “Whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.” 

We discover here that the persons waiting for a cure are said to be “impotent.” That is, they were without power, helpless, having no strength or ability to do any thing as a condition of securing relief. But yet, to have the cure effected by these troubled waters, they must perform the impossible condition of not only stepping into the pool, but to be the very first to do so after the water was troubled. Now we know that one who is really and truly impotent and entirely without strength or power, cannot step at all, much less be so sprightly as to push all others out of his way, that he might be the first. 

That these impotent persons do represent proper gospel subjects, is freely admitted. But that they can ever obtain relief by requiring them to perform an impossible condition; we do not believe. Like the convicted and guilty sinner, they are poor and helpless, and, like him, they are looking for relief by the performance of some condition which they eventually find to be impossible for them ever to do, because they are impotent. 

If the troubled water of the pool was really beneficial to any, it could only be to the most vigorous and healthy ones among them and not to the helpless. However much the impotent and helpless might have desired relief, he could not obtain it upon the impossible condition of stepping first into the pool. He could not claim that he had a right to be healed because he had not complied with the only condition required to obtain it. 

But if, as our poet sings, that there is sovereign virtue in “no other pool,” then the impotent and helpless have no remedy whatever provided for them that is adapted to their wretched and miserable condition. The 6th verse of the Hymn reads—

 

“But whither can I go?
There is no other pool,
Where stream of sovereign virtue flow,
To make a sinner whole.”

 

If there is not “sovereign virtue” somewhere else to make a poor sinner whole than in that which is represented by this pool, then it is a hopeless case for the salvation of any such sinners. The experience of every truly convicted sinner is that he is impotent in point of merit or power to procure his deliverance from the reigning power of guilt and sin. Nor is there a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth but what does know by his own heart-felt experience that the Lord has “saved him and called him not according to his works.” He does know that salvation is of the Lord, and “not by works of righteousness which he himself hath done.” He assuredly knows that he has felt to be a guilty sinner before the Lord, justly condemned by his righteous and holy law. He does know that the tried, like the impotent man at the pool, what he thought to be the last and the only expedient for relief, but no relief came to him in that way nor from that source. The condition was such as no impotent man could perform, but yet it was to him the last hope, and the last expedient on which he depended for salvation. 

Do not all who are born of the Spirit have to come to that point in their experience where they pray as they think their last prayer? Do they not get to where they lose all confidence upon every thing in which they have trusted as a condition to procure their deliverance? And when they “pass from death to life” and experience the joys of being “translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son,” does it come to them just at a time and in a way they are looking for it? Does it come to them as a reward for some condition they have performed to obtain it? Or, was it not rather in an unexpected time and in an unlooked for manner? 

So it was with the poor “impotent man” at the pool. He had been “thirty and eight years” with a feeling sense of his “infirmity,” but he had now learned that it was not only a slight infirmity with which he was afflicted, but that he was totally helpless and impotent with regard to doing any thing for his own relief.

ow, right here, we think we might safely consider this pool and the circumstances of the impotent man as very fitly illustrating that point in Christian experience where all hope of salvation is cut off by a conditional system. He is brought to feel and know that salvation is by the sovereign grace of God, freely bestowed upon an unworthy and helpless sinner for Jesus’ sake.

ow striking the analogy between the impotent man at the pool and one who is in his last and death struggles as a helpless sinner! How dreadfully hopeless is his condition while looking for relief from that source to which he has been taught to look as his only hope? But now what do we see? Just when all is being given up, and just as the impotent man is beginning to despair, the blessed Son of God appears and speaks to him, though the poor, despondent man does not know that it is Jesus the Saviour, asking, “Wilt thou be made whole?” What a searching question! Doubtless, the poor, helpless man thought he was about to be chided for his indifference about his condition, or rebuke for his indolence or want of energy to “lie in the use of the means” provided in the pool for a cure. In a most pathetic and piteous manner he makes a true and candid statement of his deplorably helpless condition, confessing his inability to perform the condition required for healing in the troubled waters of’ the pool. In answer to the emphatic question “Wilt thou be made whole?” he says, “Sir; I have no man when the water is troubled to put me into the pool; but while I am coming another steppeth down before me.” The blessed Saviour Jesus had been watching carefully the progress of the case all the while, just as he does all who passing from death to life. “He knew he had now been a long time in that case.” Thirty-eight years is a long time to be under a Conscious weight of guilt and condemnation for sin, but yet the Lord is watching carefully the progress of the case. Whenever a sinner gets fully lost, and fully hopeless of ever being able to come up to the just requirements of the law of God, then Christ is to him the end of the law for righteousness. 

Now we notice that Christ neither approves nor condemns the waters of the pool to this poor, desponding man. He does not tell lain to make another effort to get into the pool, nor that he will help him to get there, but he proceeds at once to completely cut him loose from it and draw his mind from ever again trusting in it as a means of relief either for himself or for any others who might be in a similar condition. 

He draws his mind and heart away from the troubled waters of the pool by giving him immediate cure without them. He speaks the 1ife-giving word, “Rise; take up thy bed and walk, and immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed and walked.” 

Could any thing more strikingly set forth the work of conversion to God? How suddenly the work is done and how unexpectedly! And how suddenly is a sinner delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son! What joy and comfort of soul follows! The dead is alive, the lost is found. Immediately they are made whole by the healing virtue that is in the Lord Jesus Christ. There is “no other pool” than this; no other Fountain opened to the house of David, nor to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and uncleanness, but this all-sufficient Fountain of Living Waters found in Jesus Christ.

Having as briefly as possible presented the foregoing in reply to the request of our dear Brother Keen, we submit it to him and to the scrutiny of our readers generally, to be tested by the Scriptures.—M

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 22 October 2008 )
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