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the communications of God's holy spirit to assist our own feeble endeavours here, and a crown of immortal glory to recompense us hereafter.
The morality he taught was the purest, the soundest, the sublimest, the most perfect that had ever before entered into the imagination, or proceeded from the lips of man. And this he delivered in a manner the most striking and impressive; in short, sententious, solemn, important, ponderous rules and maxims, or in familiar, natural, affecting similitudes and parables. He shewed also a most consummate knowledge of the human heart, and dragged to light all its artifices, subtleties, and evasions. He discovered every thought as it arose in the mind; he detected every irregular desire before it ripened into action. He manifested at the same time the most perfect impartiality. He had no respect of persons. He reproved vice in every station wherever he found it, with the same freedom and boldness; and he added to the whole the weight, the irresistable weight of his own example. He and he only of all the sons of men, acted up in every the minutest instance to what he taught; and his life exhibited a perfect portrait of his religion. But what completed the whole was, that he taught, as the evangelist expresses it, with authority, with the authority of a divine teacher. The ancient philosophers could do nothing more than give good advice to their followers; they had no means of enforcing that advice; but our great Lawgiver's precepts are all DIVINE COMMANDS. He spoke in the name of God; he called himself the Son of God. spoke in a tone of superiority and authority, which no one before had the courage or the right to assume: and finally, he enforced every thing he taught by the most solemn and awful sanctions, by a promise of eternal felicity to those who obeyed him, and a denunciation of the most tremenduous punishment to those who rejected him.
These were the circumstances which gave our blessed Lord the authority with which he spake.
wonder then that the people "were astonished at his doctrines; and that they all declared he spake as never man spake."*
* John vii. 46.
THE eighth chapter of St. Matthew, a part of which will be the subject of this Lecture, begins with the miraculous cure of the leper, which is related in the following manner:
"When our Lord was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him, and behold there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his hand and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean : and immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus saith unto him, see thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them."
The leprosy is a disorder of the most malignant and disgusting nature. It was once common in Europe. Those infected with it were called Lazars, who were separated from all human society (the disease being highly contagious) and were confined in hospitals called Lazarettos, of which it is said there were no less than nine thousand at one time in Europe. For the last two hundred years this distemper has almost entirely vanished from this and other countries of Europe, and an instance of it now is but seldom to be met with. In the East it still exists to a certain degree; and there in former ages it had its source and origin, and raged for a great length of time with extraordinary violence. In the law of Moses, there are very particular direc.
tions given concerning the treatment of lepers, and a ceremonial appointed for the examination of them by the priest when they were supposed to be cured. But no natural remedy is prescribed by Moses for the cure of it. It was considered by the Jews as a disease sent by God, and to be cured only by his interposition. There could not, therefore, be a stronger proof of our Saviour's divine power, than his curing this most loathsome disease, of which many instances besides this occur in the Gospels. The manner too in which he performed this cure was equally an evidence that all the fulness of the Godhead dwelt in him ;* it was instantaneous, with a touch, and a few words, and those words the most sublime and dignified that can be imagined: I WILL BE THOU CLEAN and immediately the leprosy departed from him. This was plainly the language as well as the act of a God. I WILL; BE
Yet with all this supernatural power there was no ostentation or parade, no arrogant contempt of ancient ceremonies and institutions (which an enthusiast always tramples under foot;) but on the contrary a perfect submission to the established laws and usages of his country. He said to the man who was healed, "See thou tell no man; but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them." Here he gave at once a striking example both of humility and obedience. He enjoined the man to keep secret the astonishing miracle he had wrought, and he commanded him to comply with the injunctions of Moses; to shew himself to the priest, to undergo the examination, and to offer the sacrifice prescribed by the law;† which at the same time that it shewed his disposition to fulfil all righteousness, established the truth of the miracle beyond all controversy, by making the priest himself the judge of the reality of the cure. This was not the mode which an impostor would have chosen.
After this miracle, the next incident that occurs is † Lev. xiv.
Colloss. ii. 9.
the remarkable and interesting story of the centurion, whose servant was cured of the palsy by our Saviour. The relation of this miracle is as follows; "When Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him and saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.* And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof, but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say unto this man go, and he goeth; and to another come, and he cometh; and to a third do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed him, Verily I say unto unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And Jesus said unto the centurion, go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee and his servant was healed in the self-same hour."'
This is the short and edifying history of the Roman centurion; and the reason of its being recorded by the sacred writers was, in the first place, to give a most striking evidence of our Saviour's divine power, which enabled him to restore the centurion's servant to health at a distance, and without so much as seeing him; and in the next place to set before us, in the character of the centurion, an illustrious example of those eminent Christian virtues, humanity and charity, piety and gen. erosity, humility and faith.
*In the parrallel passage of St. Luke, chap. vii. it is said that the centurion sent messengers to Jesus; but no mention is made of his coming to him in person. This difficulty may be cleared up by observing, that in scripture what any person does by his messengers he is frequently represented as doing by himself. Thus Christ, who preached to the Ephesians by his apostles, is said to have preached to them himself Eph. ii. 17. But it seems to me not at all improbable, that the centurion may both have sent messengers to Jesus, and afterwards gone to him in person. "Not thinking himself worthy," (as he himself expresses it) to go to Christ in the first instance, he sent probably the elders of the Jews, and then some of his friends, to implore our Lord to heal his servant, not meaning to give him the trouble of coming to his house. But when he found that Jesus was actually on his way to him, what was more natural for him than to hasten out of his house to meet him, and to make his acknowledginents to him in person?
Of the former of these virtues, humanity and charity, he gave a very convincing proof in the solicitude he shewed for the welfare of his servant, and the strong interest he took in the recovery of his health. And this is the more remarkable and the more honourable to the centurion, because in general the treatment which the sevants of the Romans experienced from their masters was very different indeed, from what we see in the present instance. These servants were almost all of them slaves, and were too commonly treated with extreme rigour and cruelty. They were often strained to labour beyond their strength, were confined to loathsome dungeons, were loaded with chains, were scourged and tortured without reason, were deserted in sickness and old age, and put to death for trivial faults and slight suspicions, and sometimes out of mere wantonness and cruelty, without any reason at all. Such barbarity as this, which was at that time by no means uncommon, which indeed has in a greater or less degree universally prevailed in every country where slavery has been established, and which shows in the strongest light the danger of trusting absolute power of any kind, political or personal, in the hands of such a creature as man; this barbarity, I say, forms a most striking contrast to the kindness and compassion of the centurion, who, though he had so much power over his slaves, and so many instances of its severest exertion before his eyes, yet made use of it as we here see, not for their oppression and destruction, but their happiness, comfort, and preservation.
The next virtues which attract our notice in the centurion's character are his piety and generosity. These were eminently displayed in the affection he manifested towards the Jewish people, and his building them a place of worship at his own expence; for the elders of the Jews informed Jesus, "that he loved their nation, and had built them a synagogue."*
The Jews, it is well known, were at this time under the dominion of the Romans. Their country was a
* Luke vii. 5.