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LIFE OF CHRIST.
CLEANSING THE LEPER, AND HEALING THE CENTURION'S SERVANT.
MATTHEW viii. 1-13.
Our Lord having concluded his sermon, descended from the mount, and on his way to Capernaum was met by a leper, by curing whom he confirmed his doctrine, and displayed his divine power. Of this disgusting and dangerous disorder, which is carefully to be distinguished from the common leprosy, we have an account in the thirteenth chapter of Leviticus, and in the works of the ancient physicians, particularly of Celsus. From time immemorial it has dreadfully prevailed, and still prevails in the greater part of the oriental countries. During the eleventh and twelfth, and following centuries, it so raged in Europe, whither it had been brought from Asia, by the crusaders, that Matthew Paris, who lived at this period, informs us there were then nineteen thousand hospitals entirely occupied by lepers. The most inveterate species of it has always been considered beyond the power of medicine; and neither in the Old nor New Testament do we find a single example of one, who was infected with it, who
was healed, except by miracle. Those afflicted by it were banished from the society of men, and obligo ed to wear the exterior marks of mourning. “The
66 leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, unclean, unclean. He shall dwell alone. Without the camp shall his habitation be.” (Lev. xiii. 45, 46.) Even kings, when attacked by it, were obliged to leave their palace, to abdicate their government, and to abandon society. Of this we have an example, in Azariah, king of Judah. (2 Kings xv. 5.) One of these unhappy persons beheld Jesus approaching to him, and with humility, with faith, and with earnestness, cried out, “ Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” From the many miraculous cures of which he had heard, he was fully persuaded of our Lord's ability to heal him; but he knew not the extent of the Saviour's compassion. He therefore trembled lest he should not be willing to bestow so great a blessing upon him; but he implored it with earnestness, and resigned himself to the will of Jesus. Did the miserable ever apply to Christ in vain? Did he ever refuse to listen to the supplications of those who were afflicted in body and in mind; who felt their need of him, and supplicated his compassion? Did he ever fail to reward the exercise of even a feeble and imperfect faith, if it were sincere? He immediately touched the leper, and his disorder vanished. forth his hand, and touched him, and said, I will, be thou clean.” “I am ever as ready to bestow as thy faith is to request. What thou askest is granted unto thee.' The Saviour having thus, in an instant, healed him, bade him go and show himself to the priest, who, by the law of Moses, was to judge of the cleansing of
66 Jesus put
Tepers ; and upon the priest's pronouncing him to be clean, to offer the sacrifices which in such cases were required. This was to be done w for a testimony unto them ;" that is, as a legal proof to the Jews of the truth of the miracle, of the divine power of Him who had wrought it, and of his regard to the law of Moses; and that it might be a witness against them, if after this they rejected him. At the same time Jesus charged him not to divulge the cure till he had complied with the injunctions of the law. “See thou tell no man.” He ever wished to avoid ostentation ; and he knew that the priests, from their enmity against him, would probably deny the cure, if they previously knew the manner in which it had been effected, and thus deprive the man of the liberty which he now enjoyed, and the privilege of returning again to his friends, and to society. How difficult must it have been to him to comply with this injunction! When he felt in his body a consciousness of perfect health, and in his soul an ardent gratitude to his merciful Benefactor, how difficult must it have been to him, to have refrained from publishing the praises of Jesus, and every where declaring his thankfulness!
I have shown you, on a former occasion, the analogy between the cures wrought by our Lord on the bodies, and those which he works on the souls of men. It would perhaps be too much to say that these beneficent miracles were types of the spiritual blessings which the Saviour conveys; but we may confidently affirm, that what he did for the diseased body, is naturally calculated to show us what he will do for the sin-sick soul. Having then considered the literal meaning of this passage, let us now consider it as shadowing forth our state and our duty.
The corruption of the human heart is frequently represented in scripture under the figure of sickness, and especially of leprosy. And nothing can more
' strikingly shadow forth the dreadful state of every child of Adam, who has not applied to the physician
of souls, than the unhappy condition of this per before he approached to Jesus. What were the
effects which his disorder produced in his body? . pain, weakness, pollution, and a rapid advance to death, Precisely the same effects, impenitent men, are produced upon your souls, by that guilt and corruption, from which Jesus only can deliver you.
1. The pains resulting from the leprosy, especially in an advanced state, are represented as most acute and terrible. But they are joy, they are ecstacy, compared to those sorrows which spring from spiritual sickness, and wring the souls of the ungodly. Should you become real penitents, the anguish of your hearts, the inquietude of your spirits, the quakings of your souls, at the view of your guilt and danger, the shame, the confusion, the humiliation, the self-loathing you will feel for your vileness and ingratitude, will far outweigh all worldly griefs, all corporeal pains. Or if you should continue and die impenitent, you will be still more awfully convinced, that the Almighty God hath inseparably linked together sorrow and sin. In this world you will probably experience, in a greater or less degree, that fear of wrath, that lashing of conscience, that expectation of judgment and fiery indignation, which convulsed the souls of Cain, of Ahab, of Felix, and of so many others. And when you enter upon the eternal world, you will sink down under the wrath of God, under the indignation of the terrible and almighty Jehovah.
Ah! what is the pain of the leper, to the pain of the accursed soul ! “Less than nothing, and vanity.”
2. The leprosy produced extreme weakness, and indisposedness to the actions and employments of civil life. And this is another trait of those souls that have not been healed by the heavenly Physician. To be sinners, and to be without strength, are used by the Apostle as expressions of the same import. Does not the conscience, and the experience of those of you
who are yet in your natural state, attest this truth? If at any time you are excited by the reproaches of conscience, alarmed by the fears of futurity, awakened by some loud call of Providence, or touched by an affecting discourse. If from these or similar circumstances, you attempt to perform any holy work, or engage in any sacred duty; you attempt to pray, to repent, to believe, do you find that you have much strength for these employments, and much delight in these occupations? Do you not soon grow weary and fatigued? Yes, my brethren, a corrupted soul is weaker far than the body of the most infirm leper.
3. The loathsomeness and pollution of the body infected by the leprosy, is far inferior to that of the corrupted soul. Could you, careless men, who have never felt the cleansing efficacy of the blood and Spirit of Jesus, behold your soul as it is regarded by God and all holy intelligences, how speedily, with the leper, would you lay your mouth in the dust, and cry, “ Unclean, unclean!"
, When the leper was dismissed, Jesus advanced to Capernaum. As he entered the town, a centurion met him, and besought him to cure one of his serrants, who was dangerously ill. The Roman legions
. were divided into companies of a hundred men. The commanders of these companies were termed