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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 further 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 meet 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. Oh the dangerous extremity of our wisdom! Our hoodwinked progenitors would have no eyes, but in the heads of their ghostly fathers : we think ourselves so quicksighted, 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 Consummatum 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 meantest speedily to abrogate, should have more honour than that, which thou meantest 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 patients’; 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 come 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 pre-required 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 is a vain pretence for disobedience. These Lepers are wiser; they obeyed, and went.
What was the issue? As they went, they were healed. Lo, had they stood still, they had been lepers: now they went, they are whole. What haste the blessing makes to overtake their obedience! This walk was required by the very Law, if they should have found themselves healed : what was it to prevent the time a little, and to do that sooner upon hopes, which upon sense they must do after? The horror of the disease adds to the grace of the cure; and that is so much more gracious, as the task is easier : it shall cost them but a walk. It is the bounty of that God, whom we serve, to reward our worthless endeavours with infinite requitals. He would not have any proportion, betwixt our acts and his remunerations.
Yet, besides this recompence of obedience, O Saviour, thou wouldest herein have respect to thine own just glory. Had not these Lepers been cured in the way, but in the end of their walk, upon their shewing to the priests, the miracle had lost much light: perhaps, the priests would have challenged it to themselves, and have attributed it to their prayers ; perhaps, the Lepers might have thought it was thy purpose to honour the priests, as the instruments of that marvellous cure : now, there can be no colour of any other's participation, since the leprosy vanishes in the way. As thy power, so thy praise admits of no partners.
And now, methinks, I see what an amazed joy there was amongst these Lepers, when they saw themselves thus suddenly cured : each tells other, what a change he feels in himself ; each comforts other, with the assurance of his outward clearness ; each congratulates other's happiness, and thinks and says how joyful this news will be to their friends and families. Their society now serves them well to applaud and heighten their new felicity.
The miracle, indifferently wrought upon all, is differently taken. All went forward, according to the appointment, toward the priests; all were obedient; one only was thankful. All were cured ; all saw themselves cured; their sense was alike; their hearts were not alike. What could make the difference, but grace ? and who could make the difference of grace, but he that gave it? He, that wrought the cure in all, wrought the grace not in all, but in one. The same act, the same motives, are not equally powerful to all: where the ox finds grass, the viper poison. "We all pray, all hear; one goes away bettered, another cavils. Will makes the difference ; but who makes the difference of wills, but he that made them? He, that creates the new heart, leaves a stone in one bosom, puts flesh into another : It is not in him, that willeth ; nor in him, that runneth ; but in God, that hath mercy. O God, if we look not up to thee, we may como, and not be healed ; we may be healed, and not be thankful.
This one man breaks away from his fellows, to seek Christ. While he was a leper, he consorted with lepers ; now that he is healed, he will be free. He saith not, “ I came with these men, with them will I go; if they will return, I will accompany them; if not, what should I go alone? As I am not wiser than they, so I have no more reason to be more thankful.” There are cases, wherein singularity is not lawful only, but laudable : Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil ; I and my house will serve the Lord. It is a base and unworthy thing, for a man so to subject himself to others' examples, as not sometimes to resolve to be an example to others. When either evil is to be done or good neglected, how much better is it, to go the right way alone, than to err with company !
O noble pattern of thankfulness! What speed of retribution is here! No sooner doth he see his cure, than he hastes to acknowledge it: the benefit shall not die, not sleep in his hand. Late professions of our obligations savour of dulness and ingratitude. What a laborious and diligent officiousness is here! He stands not still, but puts himself to the pains of a return. What a hearty recognition of the blessing ! His voice was not more loud in his suit, than in his thanks. What an humble reverence of his benefactor! He falls down at his feet ; as acknowledging, at once, beneficence and unworthiness. It were happy for all Israel, if they could but learn of this Samaritan.
This man is sent with the rest to the priests. He well knew this duty a branch of the law of ceremonies, which he meant not to neglect; but his heart told him, there was a moral duty of professing thankfulness to his benefactor, which called for his first attendance. First, therefore, he turns back, ere he will stir forward. Reason taught this Samaritan, and us in him, that ceremony must yield to substance; and that main points of obedience must take place of all ritual compliments.
It is not for nothing, that note is made of the country of this thankful Leper; He was a Samaritan. The place is known and branded, with the infamy of a Paganish misreligion. Outward disadvantage of place or parentage, cannot block up the way of God's grace and free eleetion ; as, contrarily, the privileges of birth and nature, avail us nothing in spiritual occasions.
How sensible wert thou, O Saviour, of thine own beneficence! Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? The trooping of these Lepers together did not hinder thy reckoning. It is both justice and wisdom in thee, to keep a strict account of thy favours. There is a wholesome and useful art of forgetfulness in us men, both of benefits done, and of wrongs offered. It is not so with God. Our injuries, indeed, he soon puts over ; making it no small part of his style, that he forgives iniquities : but for his mercies, there is no reason he should forget them ; they are worthy of more than our memory.
His favours are
universal over all his works; there is no creature that tastes not of his bounty ; his sun and rain are for others, besides his friends: but none of his good turns escapes either his knowledge or record. Why should not we, O God, keep a book of our receipts from thee; which, agreeing with thine, may declare thee bounteous, and us thankful ?
Our Saviour doth not ask this by way of doubt, but of exprobration. Full well did he count the steps of those absent Lepers. He knew where they were. He upbraids their ingratitude, that they were not where they should have been. It was thy just quarrel, O Saviour, that, while one Samaritan returned, nine İsraelites were healed and returned not. Had they been all Samaritans, this had been faulty ; but now they were Israelites, their ingratitude was more foul than their leprosy. The more we are bound to God, the more shameful is our unthankfulness. There is scarce one in ten, that is careful to give God his own : this neglect is not more general, than displeasing. Christ had never missed their presence, if their absence had not been hateful and injurious.
CONTEMPLATION XI.—THE POOL OF BETHESDA.
MEDITATED ON IN A SERMON, PREACHED AT THE COURT, BEFORE KING
JAMES, OF BLESSED MEMORY.
TO THE READER. The Reader may be pleased to understand, that my manner hath still been, first to pass through all these Divine Histories by way of Sermons ; and then after, to gather the quintessence of those larger discourses into these forms of Meditations, which he sees: only, I have thought good, upon these two following heads, for some good reasons, to publish the Sermons in their own shape, as they were delivered without alteration. It seemed not amiss, that some of those metals should be shown in the ore, whereof so great a quantity was presented in the wedge.
THE POOL OF BETHESDA. OTHERWHERE, ye may look long, and see no miracle ; but here, behold two miracles in one view : the former, of the angel curing diseases ; the latter, of the God of angels, Christ Jesus, preventing the angel in his cure. Even the first, Christ wrought by the angel ; the second, immediately by himself. The first is incomparable ; for, as Montanus truly observes, there is no one miraculum perpetuum, but this one, in the whole Book of God.