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It is said in one place concerning the apostles' preaching, that the Lord confirmed their word with signs following. (Mark xvi. 20.) Here we have a very remarkable example of his doing the same in the case of his own. For, according to the arrangement of the events of the Lord's life which I follow, and according to the connection of the events as it appears in St. Matthew, it is after that most memorable discourse of his upon the Mount, that this and other of his most notable miracles find place. It is as though he would set his seal to all that he has taught;-would approve himself to be this prophet having right to hold the language which there he has held, to teach as one having authority.” He had scarcely ended, ere the opportunity for this occurred. As he was descending from the mountain, “there came a leper and worshipped him,” one, in the language of St. Luke, “full of leprosy,” so that it was not a spot here and there, but the disease had spread over his whole body: he was leprous from head to foot. He had ventured, it may be, to linger about the outskirts of the listening crowd, and now was not deterred by the severity of the closing sentences of Christ's discourse, from coming to claim the blessings which at its opening were proclaimed for the suffering and the mourning. Here, however, before proceeding to treat more particularly of this cure, it may be good, once for all, since the cleansing of lepers comes so frequently forward in the Gospel history, to say a few words concerning that dreadful disorder, and the meaning of the uncleanness which was attached to it.
* Jerome (in loc.): Rectè post praedicationem atque doctrinam signorum offertur occasio, ut per virtutum miracula praeteritus apud audientes sermo firmetur.
And first, a few words may be needful in regard of a misapprehension, which we find in such writers as Michaelis, and in all indeed who can see in the Levitical ordinances little more for the most part than regulations of police or of a board of health, or at the best, rules for the well ordering of an earthly society; who will not recognize in these ordinances the training of man into a sense of the cleaving taint which is his from his birth, into a sense of impurity and separation from God, and thus into a longing after purity and re-union with him. I allude to the common misapprehension that leprosy was catching from one person to another; and that they who were suffering under it were so carefully secluded from their fellow-men, lest they might communicate the poison of the disease to them; as in like manner that the torn garment, the covered lip, the cry, “Unclean, unclean,” (Lev. xiii. 45) were warnings to others that they should keep aloof, lest unawares touching the lepers, or drawing into too great a nearness, they should become partakers of their disease. A miserable emptying this, as we shall see, of the meaning of these ordinances.* All those who have examined into the matter the closest are nearly of one consent, that the sickness was incommunicable by ordinary contact from one person to another. A leper might transmit it to his children, or the mother of a leper's children might take it from him; but it was by no ordinary contact transferable from one person to another.
All the notices in the Old Testament, as well as in other Jewish books, confirm this view, that it was in no respect a mere sanitary regulation. Thus, where the law of Moses was not observed, no such exclusion necessarily found place; Naaman the leper commanded the armies of Syria, (2 Kin. v. 1,) Gehazi, with his leprosy that never should be cleansed, talked familiarly with the king of apostate Israel. (2 Kin.viii. 5.) And even where the law of Moses was in force, the stranger and the sojourner were expressly exempted from the ordinances in relation to leprosy; which could not have been, had the disease been contagious, and the motives of the leper's exclusion been not religious but civil, since the
* Even Michaelis, greatly as he loves to find a trivial explanation for each ordinance of the Mosaic law, yet allows (Mos. Recht, v.4, p. 255,) that this cannot have been the object of these; but explains them as warnings to all other men lest they should unawares come on so disgusting a spectacle as the leper would present. But Scripture neither flatters nor knows anything of such hard-hearted sentimentalities as these. Rather the poet expresses the true feeling which it would bring about in us, when he exclaims,
“But welcome fortitude and patient cheer,
# See Robinson's Biblical Researches, v.1, p. 859.
danger of the spreading of the disease would have been equal in their case and in that of native Israelites.” How, moreover, should the Levitical priests, had the disease been this creeping infection, have themselves escaped the disease, obliged as they were by their very office to submit the leper to such actual handling and closest examination? Lightfoot can only explain this by supposing in their case a perpetual miracle. But no; the ordinances concerning leprosy had quite a different and a far deeper significance, into which it will be needful a little to enter. It is clear that the same principle which made all that had to do with death, as mourning, a grave, a corpse, the occasions of a ceremonial uncleanness, inasmuch as all these were signs and consequences of sin, might in like manner, and with a perfect consistency, have made every sickness an occasion of uncleanness, each of these being also death beginning, partial death—echoes in the body of that terrible reality, sin in the soul. But instead of this, in a gracious sparing of man, and not pushing the principle to the uttermost, God took but one sickness, one of these visible outcomings of a tainted nature, in which to testify that evil was not from him, that evil could not dwell with him ; he took but one, with which to link this teaching, and that it might serve in this region ofman's life as the substratum for the training of his people into the recognition of a clinging impurity, which needed a Pure and a Purifier to overcome and expel, and which no method short of his taking of our flesh could drive out. And leprosy, which was indeed the sickness of sicknesses, was through these Levitical ordinances selected of God from the whole host of maladies and diseases which had broken in upon man's body; to the end that, bearing his testimony against it, he might bear his testimony against that out of which it and all other sicknesses grew, against sin, as not from him, as grievous in his sight; and the sickness itself also as grievous, not for itself, but because it was a visible manifestation, a direct consequence, of the inner disharmony of man's spirit, a commencement of the death, which through disobedience to God's perfect will, had found entrance into a nature made by God for immortality. And terrible indeed, as might be expected, was that disease, round which this solemn teaching revolved. Leprosy was indeed nothing short of a living death, a poisoning of the springs, a corrupting of all the humors, of life; a dissolution little by little of the whole body, so that one limb after another actually decayed and fell away. Aaron exactly describes the appearance which the leper presented to the eyes of the beholders, when, pleading for Miriam, he says, “Let her not be as one dead, of whom the flesh is half consumed when he cometh out of his mother's womb.” (Num. xii. 12.) The disease, moreover, was incurable by the art and skill of man;” not that the leper might not return to health; for, however rare, such cases are yet contemplated in the Levitical law. But then the leprosy left the man, not in obedience to any outward means of healing which had been applied by men, but purely and merely through the good will and mercy of God. This helplessness of man in the matter, is recognized in the speech of the king of Israel, who, when Naaman is sent to him that he may heal him, exclaims, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy %" (2 Kin. v. 7.) The leper, thus fearfully bearing about in the body the outward and visible tokens of sin in the soul, was handled throughout as a sinner, as one in whom sin had reached its highest manifestation, that is, as one dead in trespasses and sins. He was himself a dreadful parable of death. It is evident that Moses intended that he should be so contemplated by all the ordinances which he gave concerning him. The leper was to bear about the emblems of death, (Lev. xiii. 45,) the rent garments, that is, mourning garments, he mourning for himself as for one dead; the head bare, as they were wont to have it who were in communion with the dead, (Num. vi. 9; Ezek. xxiv. 17;) and the lip covered. (Ezek. xxiv. 17.)} In the restoration, too, of a leper, exactly the same instruments of cleansing were in use, the cedar wood, the hyssop, and the scarlet, as were used for the cleansing of one defiled through a dead body, or aught pertaining to death, and which were never in use upon any other occasion. (Compare Num. xix. 6, 13, 18, with Lev. xiv. 4–7.) No doubt
* See all this abundantly proved in pp. 1086–1089 of the learned dissertation by Rhenferd, De Leprá. Cutis Hebræorum, which is to be found in MEUschen's Nov. Test. ex Talm. illust, p. 1057. He concludes his disquisition on this part of the subject with these words: Ex quibus, nisinos omnia fallunt, certè concludimus, præcipuis Judaeorum magistris, traditionumque auctoribus nunquam in mentem incidisse ullam de leprae contagio suspicionem, omnemoue hanc de contagiosa leprá sententiam, plurimis antiquissimisque scriptoribus aequè ac Mosi planè fuisse incognitam. Compare the extract from Balsamon, in SUICER's Thes, s. v. Aempóc, where speaking of the customs of the Eastern Church, he says, “They frequent our churches and eat with us, in nothing hindered by the disease.” In like manner there was a place for them, though a place apart, in the synagogue.
* Cyril of Alexandria calls it tróðor obk láquov.
# Spencer calls him well, sepulcrum ambulans; and Calvin : Pro mortuis habiti sunt, quos lepra à sacro captu abdicabat. And when through the Crusades leprosy had been introduced into Western Europe, it was usual to clothe the leper in a shroud, and to say for him the masses for the dead.
when David exclaims, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean,” (Ps. li. 7,) he in this allusion, looking through the outward to the inward, even to the true blood of sprinkling, contemplates himself as a spiritual leper, as one whose sin had been, while he lived in it, a sin unto death, as one needing therefore absolute and entire restoration from the very furthest degree of separation from God. And being this sign and token of sin, and of sin reaching unto and culminating in death, it naturally brought about with it a total exclusion from the camp or city of God. God is not a God of the dead; he has no fellowship with death, for death is a correlative of sin; but only of the living. But the leper was as one dead, and as such was to be putout of the camp,” (Lev. xiii.46; Num. v. 2–4; 2 Kin. vii. 3) or afterwards out of the city; and we find this law to have been so strictly enforced, that even the sister of Moses might not be exempted from it; (Num. xii. 14, 15;) and kings, Uzziah, (2 Chron. xxvi. 21,) and Azariah, (2 Kin. xv. 5,) themselves must submit to it; men being by this exclusion taught that what here took place in a figure, should take place in the reality with every one who was found in the death of sin: he should be shut out of the true city of God. Thus, taking up and glorifying this and like ordinances of exclusion, St. John exclaims of the New Jerusalem, “There shall in nowise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie.” (Rev. xxi. 27.) It need hardly be observed, that in all this it was not in the least implied that he who bore this plague was of necessity a guiltier man than his fellows; though being, as it was, this symbol of sin, it was most often the theocratic punishment, the penalty for sins committed against the theocracy, as in the cases of Miriam, of Gehazi, of Uzziah;f and we may compare Deut. xxiv. 8, where the warning, “Take heed of the plague of leprosy,” is not that they diligently observe the laws about leprosy, but that they beware lest this plague of leprosy come upon them, lest by their disobedience they incur the theocratic penalty. The Jews themselves termed it “The finger of God,” and emphatically, “The stroke.” They said that it attacked first a man's house, and if he did not turn, his clothing; and then, if he persisted in sin, himself::$ a
* Herodotus (l. 1, c. 138) mentions the same law of exclusion as existing among the Persians, who accounted in like manner that leprosy was an especial visitation on account of especial sins.
+ No doubt the strange apocryphal tradition of Judas Iscariot perishing by the long misery of a leprosy, in its most horrible form of elephantiasis, had the same origin. (See GFRöRER, Die Heilige Sage, v.1, p. 179)
# See Rhenferd's dissertation, De Lepré Cutis, in MEUsches's N. T. ex: Talm. illustr., p. 1082.
§ See MoLIToR's Philosophie der Grohl, v. 3, p. 191.