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Where do these lepers attend for Christ but in a village ? and that not in the street of it; but in the entrance, in the passage to it; the cities, the towns were not for them. The law of God had shut them out from all frequence, from all conversation ; care of safety, and fear of infection, was motive enough to make their neighbours observant of this piece of the law. It is not the body only that is herein respected by the God of spirits ; those that are spiritually contagious must be still and ever avoided, they must be separated from us, we must be separated from them; they from us, by just censures, or, if that be neglected, we from thein, by a voluntary declination of their familiar conversation. Besides the benefit of our safety, wickedness would soon be ashamed of itself, if it were not for the encouragement of companions. Solitariness is the fittest antidote for spiritual infection. It were happy for the wicked man, if he could be separated from himself.
These lepers that came to seek Christ, yet finding him, they stand afar off, whether for reverence, or for security. God had enacted this distance. It was their charge, if they were occasioned to pass through the streets, to cry out, “Í am unclean.” It was no less than their duty to proclaim their own infectiousness : there was not danger only, but sin in their approach
How happy were it, if in those wherein there is more peril, there were more remoteness, less silence: O God, we are all lepers to thee, overspread with the loathsome scurf of our own corruptions : it becomes lis well, in the conscience of our shame and vileness, to stand afar off. We cannot be too awful of thee, too much ashamed of ourselves.
Yet these men, though they be far off in the distance of place, yet they are near in respect of the acceptance of their prayer.
“The Lord is near unto all that call upon him in truth.” O Saviour, while we are far off from thee, thou art near unto us. Never dost thou come so close to us, as when in an holy bashfulness we stand farthest off. Justly dost thou expect we should be at once bold and bashful. How boldly should we come to the throne of grace, in respect of the grace of that throne! how fearfully, in respect of the awfulness of the majesty of that throne, and that unworthiness which we bring with us into that dreadful presence !
He that stands near may whisper, but he that stands afar off must cry aloud; so did these lepers: yet not so much distance as passion strained their throats. That which can give voice to the dumb, can much more give loudness to the vocal.
All cried together : these ten voices were united in one sound, that their conjoined forces might expugn that gracious ear. Had every man spoken singly for himself, this had made no noise, neither yet any shew of a fervent importunity : now, as they were all affected with one common disease, so they all set out their throats together, and (though Jews and Samaritans) agree in one joint supplication. Even where there are ten tongues, the word is but one, that the condescent may
be universal. When we would obtain common favours, we may not content ourselves with private and solitary devotions, but must join our spiritual forces together, and set upon God by troops. Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. No faithful prayer goes away unrecompensed : but, where many good hearts meet
, the retribution must needs be answerable to the number of the petitioners. O holy and happy violence that is thus offered to heaven ! how can we want blessings, when so many cords draw them down upon our heads ?
It was not the sound, but the matter, that carried it with Christ: if the sound were shrill, the matter was faithful; Jesu, Master, have mercy upon us.”
No word can better become the mouth of the miserable. I see not where we can meet with fitter patterns. Surely they were not verier lepers than we: why do we not imitate them in their actions, who are too like them in our condition? Whither should we seek but to our Jesus? how should we stand aloof in regard of our own wretchedness! How should we lift up our voice in the fervour of our supplications! What should we rather sue for than mercy? “Jesu, Master, have mercy upon us.
O gracious prevention of mercy, both had and given ere it can be asked! Jesus, when he saw them, said, "Go, shew yourselves to the priests.” Their disease is cured ere it can be complained of; their shewing to the priest pre-supposes them whole, whole in his grant, though not in their own apprehension. That single leper that came to Christ before; (Matt
. viii. Luke v.) was first cured in his own sense, and then was bid to go to the priest for approbation of the cures It was not so with these, who are sent to the judges of leprosy,
with an intention they shall in the way find themselves healed. There was a different purpose in both these: in the one, that the perfection of the cure might be convinced, and seconded with a due sacrifice; in the other, that the faith of the patients might be tried in the way; which, if it had not held as strong in the prosecution of their suit as in the beginning, had, I doubt, failed of the effect. How easily might these lepers think, Alas, to what purpose is this ! shew ourselves to the priests? what can their eyes do ? they can judge whether it be cured, which we see yet it is not, they cannot cure it. This is not now to do : we have been seen enough and loathed. What can their eyes see more than our own? We bad well hoped that Jesus would have vouchsafed to call us to him, and to lay his hands upon us, and to have healed us.
These thoughts had kept them lepers still. Now shall their faith and obedience be proved by their submission both to this sudden command, and that divine ordination.
That former leper was charged to shew himself to the chief priest, these to the priests; either would serve: the original command runs, either to Aaron or to one of his sons. But why to them? leprosy was a bodily sickness; what is this to spiritual persons ? wherefore serve physicians, if the priests must meddle with diseases? We never shall find those sacred persons to pass their judgment upon fevers, dropsies, palsies, or any other bodily distemper: neither should they on this, were it not that this affection of the body is joined with a legal uncleanness : not as a sickness, but as an impurity must it come under their cognizance; neither this, without a farther implication. Who but the successors of the legal priesthood are proper to judge of the uncleannesses of the soul? whether an act be sinful, or in what degree it is such; what grounds are sufficient for the comfortable assurance of repentance, of forgiveness ; what courses are fittest to avoid the danger of relapses; who is so like to know, so ineet to judge as our teachers? Would we, in these cases, consult oftener with our spiritual guides, and depend upon their faithful advices and well-grounded absolutions, it were safer, it were happier for us. O the dangerous extremity of our wisdoın! Our hoodwinked progenitors would have no eyes but in the heads of their ghostly fathers : we think ourselves so quick-sighted, that we pity the blindness of our able teachers ; none but ourselves are fit to judge of our own leprosy.
Neither was it only the peculiar judgment of the priest that was here intended, but the thankfulness of the patient : that, by the sacrifice which he should bring with him, he might give God the glory of his sanation. O God, whomsoever thou curest of this spiritual leprosy, it is reason he should present thee with the true evangelical sacrifices, not of his praises only, but of himself, which are reasonable and living. We are still leprous, if we do not first see ourselves foul, and then find ourselves thankfully serviceable.
The lepers did not, would not go of themselves, but are sent by Christ; “Go, and shew yourselves.” And why sent by him? Was it in obedience to the law? was it out of respect to the priesthood? was it for prevention of cavils ? was it for conviction of gainsayers ? or was it for confirmation of the miracle? Christ, that was above the law, would not transgress it; he knew this was his charge by Moses. How justly might he have dispensed with his own? but he will not : though the law doth not bind the Maker, he will voluntarily bind himself. He was within the ken of his consumatum est; yet would not anticipate that approaching end, but holds the law on foot till his last pace. This was but a branch of the ceremonial ; yet would he not slight it, but in his own person gives example of a studious observation.
How carefully should we submit ourselves to the royal laws of our Creator, to the wholesome laws of our superiors, while the Son of God would not but be so punctual in a ceremony !
While I look to the persons of those priests, I see nothing but corruption, nothing but professed hostility to the true Messiah. All this cannot make thee, O Saviour, to remit any point of the observance due to their places. Their function was sacred, whatever their persons were: though they have not the grace to give thee thy due, thou wilt not fail to give them theirs. How justly dost thou expect all due regard to thine evangelical priesthood, who gavest so curious respect to the legal! It were shame the synagogue should be above the church; or that priesthood, which thou meantst speedily to abrogate, should have more honour than that which thou meantst to establish and perpetuate.
Had this duty been neglected, what clamours had been raised by his emulous adversaries? what scandals? though the fault had been the patient's, not the physician's. But
they that watched Christ so narrowly,' and were apt to take so poor exceptions at his Sabbath cures, at the unwashen hands of his disciples, how much more would they have calumniated him, if, by his neglect, the law of leprosy had been palpably transgressed ? Not only evil must be avoided, but offence; and that not on our parts, but on others. That offence is ours, which we might have remedied.
What a noble and irrefragable testimony was this to the power, to the truth of the Messiah ! How can these Jews but either believe, or be made inexcusable in not believing? When they shall see so many lepers coine at once to the temple, all cured by a secret will, without word or touch, how can they choose but say, This work is supernatural; no limited power could do this: How is he not God, if his power be infinite? Their own eyes shall be witnesses and judges of their own conviction.
The cure is done by Christ more exquisitely than by art or nature ; yet it is not publicly assured and acknowledged, till, according to the Mosaical law, certain subsequent rites be performed. There is no admittance into the congregation, but by sprinkling of blood. O Saviour, we can never be ascertained of our cleansing from that spiritual leprosy wherewith our souls are tainted, but by the sprinkling of thy most precious blood: wash us with that, and we shall be whiter than snow. This act of shewing to the priest, was not more required by the law, than prerequired of these lepers by our Saviour, for the trial of their obedience. Had they now stood upon terms with Christ, (and said, We will first see, what cause there will be to shew ourselves to the priests; they need not see our leprosy, we shall be glad they should see our cure; do thou work that which we shall shew, and bid us shew what thou hast wrought; till then excuse us: it is our grief and shame to be seen too much) they had been still lepers.
It hath been ever God's wont, by small precepts to prove men's dispositions. Obedience is as well tried in a trifle as in the most important charge; yea, so much more, as the thing required is less : for ofttimes those, who would be careful in main affairs, think they may neglect the smallest. What command soever we receive from God, or our superiors; we must not scan the weight of the thing, but the authority of the commander: Either difficulty or slightness are vain pretences for disobedience.