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wisdom, to avoid rashness and excess; charity, to avoid just offence.
No motion can want a pretence. “Elias did so ; why not we? He was a holy prophet. The occasion, the place abludes not much. There, wrong was offered to a servant ; here to his master : there, to a man ; here, to a God and man. If Elias then did it, why not we?” There is nothing more perilous than to draw all the actions of holy men into examples : for, as the best men have their weaknesses, so they are not privileged from letting fall unjustifiable actions. Besides that, they may have had perhaps peculiar warrants signed from heaven, whether by instinct or special command, which we shall expect in vain. There must be much caution used, in our imitation of the best patterns, whether in respect of the persons or things; else we shall make ourselves apes, and our acts sinful absurdities.
It is a rare thing, for our Saviour to find fault with the errors of zeal, even where have appeared sensible weaknesses. If Moses, in a sacred rage and indignation, brake the tables written with God's own hand, I find him not checked. Here, our meek Saviour turns back, and frowns upon his furious suitors, and takes them up roundly; Ye know not of what spirit ye are. The faults of uncharitableness cannot be swallowed up in zeal. If there were any colour to hide the blemishes of this misdisposition, it should be this crimeon dye. But he, that needs not our lie, will let us know, he needs not our injury; and hates to have a good cause supported by a violation of our charity. We have no reason to disclaim our passions. Even the Son of God chides sometimes; yea, where he loves. It offends not, that our affections are moved ; but that they are inordinate.
It was a sharp word, Ye know not of what spirit ye are. Another man would not perhaps have felt it ; a disciple doth. Tender hearts are galled with that which the carnal mind slighteth. The spirit of Elias was that, which they meant to assume and imitate : they shall now know their mark was mistaken. How would they have hated to think, that any other but God's Spirit had stirred them up to this passionate motion! now they shall know it was wrought by that Ill Spirit, whom they professed to hate.
It is far from the good Spirit of God, to stir up any man to private revenge, or thirst of blood. Not an eagle, but a dove, was the shape wherein he chose to appear. Neither wouldst thou, O God, be in the whirlwind, or in the fire, but in the soft voice. O Saviour, what do we seek for any precedent but thine, whose name we challenge? Thou camest to thine own; thine own received thee not.
Didst thou call for fire from heaven upon them? Didst thou not rather send down water from thy compassionate eyes; and weep for them, by whom thou must bleed! Better had it been for us, never to have had any spirit, than any
but thine. We can be no other than wicked if our mercies be cruelty.
But is it the name of Elias, 0 ye zealots, which ye pretend for a colour of your impotent desire ? Ye do not consider the difference betwixt his spirit and yours. His was extraordinary and heroical; besides the instinct or secret command of God for this act of his : far otherwise is it with you, who by a carnal distemper are moved to this furious suggestion. Those that would imitate God's saints in singular actions, must see they go upon the same grounds. Without the same spirit and the same warrant, it is either a mockery or a sin to make them our copies.
Elias is no fit pattern for disciples, but their Master : The Son of Man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them. Then are our actions and intentions warrantable and praise-worthy, when they accord with his. O Saviour, when we look into those sacred Acts and Monuments of thine, we find many a life which thou preservedst from perishing ; some, that had perished, by thee recalled ; never any by thee destroyed. Only one poor fig-tree, as the real emblem of thy severity to the unfruitful, was blasted and withered by thy curse. But to man, how, ever, favourable and indulgent wert thou! So repelled us thou wert, so reviled, so persecuted, laid for, sold, betrayed, apprehended, arraigned, condemned, crucified ; yet what one man didst thou strike dead for these heinous indignities? Yea, when one of thine enemies lost but an ear in that ill quarrel, thou gavest that ear to him, who came to take life from thee. I find some, whom thou didst scourge and correct, as the sacrilegious money-changers ; none, whom thou killedet. Not that thou either lovest not, or requirest not the duly severe execution of justice. Whose sword is it, that princes bear, but thine? Offenders must smart and bleed. This is a just sequel, but not the intention of thy coming; thy will, not thy drift.
Good princes make wholesome laws, for the well-ordering of their people. There is no authority without due coercion. The violation of these good laws is followed with death ; whose end was preservation, life, order: and this, not so much for revenge of an offence past, as for prevention of future mischief.
How can we then enough love and praise thy mercy, 0 thou Preserver of Men? How should we imitate thy saving and beneficent disposition towards mankind ! as knowing, the more we can help to save, the nearer we come to thee, that camest to save all; and the more destructive we are, the more we resemble him who is Abaddon, a murderer from the beginning.
CONTEMPLATION X-THE TEN LEPERS.
The Samaritans were tainted, not with schism, but heresy, but paganism; our Saviour yet balks them not, but makes use of the way as it lies, and bestows upon them the courtesy of some miracles. Some kind of commerce is lawful, even with those without Terms of entireness and leagues of inward amity are here unfit, unwarrantable, dangerous ; but civil respects, and wise uses of them for our convenience or necessity, need not, must not, be forborne.
Ten Lepers are here met. Those, that are excluded from all other society, seek the company of each other. Fellowship is that, we all naturally affect, though in leprosy. Ever, lepers will flock to their fellows: where shall we find one spiritual leper alone? Drunkards, profane persons, heretics will be sure to consort with their matches. Why should not God's saints delight in a holy communion? Why is it not our chief joy, to assemble in good ?
Jews and Samaritans could not abide one another; yet here, in leprosy they accord: here was one Samaritan leper with the Jewish : community of passion hath made them friends, whom even religion disjoined. What virtue there is in misery, that can unite even the most estranged hearts !
I seek not mystery in the number. These ten are met together, and all meet Christ : not casually, but upon due deliberation; they purposely waited for this opportunity. No marvel, if they thought no attendance long, to be delivered from so loathsome and miserable a disease. Great Namaan could be glad to come from Syria to Judea, in hope of leaving that hateful guest behind him. We are all sensible enough of our bodily infirmities. Oh that we could be equally weary of the sicknesses and deformities of our better part. Surely, our spiritual maladies are no less than mortal, if they be not healed ; neither can they heal alone. These men had died lepers, if they had not met with Christ. O Saviour, give us grace to seek thee, and patience to wait for thee; and then we know thou wilt find us, and we remedy.
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 them, 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, 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, I 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 us well, in the conscience of our shame and vileness, to stand afar off. We cannot be too aweful of thee, too much ashamed of ourselves.
Yet these men, though they be afar 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 afar off from thee, thou art near unto us.
Never dost thou come so close to us, as when, in a holy bashfulness, we stand furthest 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 show 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 be needs 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: Jesih, 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? Jesi, 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 presupposes 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 cure. 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 had 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. 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