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It is good reason, that he should challenge the right of prescribing to us, who are every way his own: it is presumption in us to stint him unto our forms. An expert workman cannot abide to be taught by a novice; how much less shall the all-wise God endure to be directed by his creature! This is more than if the patient should take upon him to give a recipe to the physician. That God would give us grace is a beseeming suit: but to say, Give it me by prosperity, is a saucy motive.
As there is faithfulness in desiring the end, so modesty and patience in referring the means to the author. In spiritual things God hath acquainted us with the means whereby he will work, even his own sacred ordinances; upon these, because they have his own promise, we may call absolutely for a blessing; in all others there is no reason that beggars should be choosers. He who doth whatsoever he will, must do it how he will ; it is for us to receive, not to appoint.
He, who came to complain of his son's sickness, hears of his own; “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” This nobleman was, as is like, of Capernaum ; there had Christ often preached, there was one of his chief residences. Either this man had heard our Saviour oft, or might have done: yet because Christ's miracles came to him only by hearsay, (for as yet we find none at all wrought where he preached most,) therefore the man believes not enough, but so speaks to Christ as to some ordinary physician, “Come down and heal.” It was the common disease of the Jews, incredulity, which no receipt could heal but wonders. “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks signs.” Had they not been wilfully graceless, there was already proof enough of the Messiah: the miraculous conception and life of the forerunner, Zachary's dumbness, the attestation of angels, the apparition of the star, the journey of the sages, the vision of the shepherds, the testimonies of Anna and Simeon, the prophecies fulfilled, the voice from heaven
at his baptism, the divine words that he spake, and yet they must have all made up with miracles; which though he be not unwilling to give at his own times, yet he thinks much to be tied unto at theirs. Not to. believe without signs, was a sign of stubborn hearts.
It was a foul fault and a dangerous one. “Ye will not believe." What is it that shall condemn the world but unbelief? what can condemn us without it? No sin can condemn the repentant. Repentance is a fruit of faith: where true faith‘is, then, there can be no condemnation; as there can be nothing but condemnation without it. How much more foul in a noble Capernait, that had heard the sermons of so divine a teacher! The greater light we have, the more shame it is for us to stumble.
Oh what shall become of us that reel and fall in the clearest sunshine that ever looked forth upon any church! Be merciful to our sins, O God, and say any thing of us rather than “Ye will not believe."
Our Saviour tells him of his unbelief. He feels not himself sick of that disease: all his mind is on his dying son. As easily do we complain of bodily griefs, as we are hardly affected with spiritual. Oh the meekness and mercy of this Lamb of God! When we would have looked, that he should have punished this suitor for not believing, he condescends to him that he may believe: “Go thy way, thy son liveth.” If we should measure our hopes by our own worthiness, there were no expectation of blessings : but if we shall measure them by his bounty and compassion, there can be no doubt of prevailing: As some tender mother, that gives the breast to her unquiet child instead of the rod, so deals he with our perversenesses.
How God differences men, according to no other conditions than of their faith ! The Centurion's servant was sick, the ruler's son. The Centurion doth not sue unto Christ to come: only says, “My servant is sick of a palsy,” Christ answers him, “I will come and heal him.” The ruler sues unto Christ that he would come and heal his son: Christ will not go; only says, “Go thy way, thy son lives.” Outward things carry no respect with God. The image of that Divine Majesty shining inwardly in the graces of the soul is that which wins love from him in the meanest estate. The Centurion's faith therefore could do more than the ruler's greatness; and that faithful man's servant hath more regard than this great man's son.
The ruler's request was, “Come and heal:" Christ's answer was, “Go thy way, thy son lives.” Our merciful Saviour meets those in the end whom he crosses in the way. How sweetly doth he correct our prayers, and while he doth not give us what we ask, gives us better than we asked !
Justly doth he forbear to go down with this ruler, lest he should confirm him in an opinion of measuring his power by conceits of locality and distance : but he doth that in absence for which his presence was required with a repulse, “Thy son liveth :" giving a greater demonstration of his omnipotency than was craved. How oft doth he not hear to our will that he may hear us to our advantage! The chosen vessel would be rid of temptations, he hears of a supply of grace: the sick man asks release, receives patience : life, and receives glory. Let us ask what we think best ; let him give what he knows best.
With one word doth Christ heal two patients, the son and the father ; the son's fever, the father's unbelief. That operative word of our Saviour was not without the intention of a trial. Had not the ruler gone home satisfied with that intimation of his son's life and recovery, neither of them had been blessed with success. Now the news of performance meets him one half of the way: and he that believed somewhat ere he came, and more when he went, grew to more faith in the way; and, when he came home, enlarged his faith to all the skirts of his family. A
weak faith may be true, but a true faith is growing : he that boasts of a full stature in the first moment of his assent, may presume, but doth not believe.
Great men cannot want clients; their example sways some, their authority more: they cannot go to either of the other worlds alone. In vain do they pretend power over others, who labour not to draw their families unto God.
THE DUMB DEVIL EJECTED.
That the Prince of our peace might approve his victories perfect, wheresoever he met with the prince of darkness he foiled him, he ejected him. He found him in heaven, thence did he throw him headlong, and verified his prophet, “I have cast thee out of mine holy mountain. And if the devils left their first habitation, it was because, being devils, they could not keep it. Their estate indeed they might have kept, and did not ; their habitation they would have kept, and might not. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer !” He found him in the heart of man; for in that closet of God did the evil spirit, after his exile from heaven, shroud himself: sin gave him possession, which he kept with a willing violence; thence he casts him by his word and Spirit. He found him tyrannizing in the bodies of some possessed men, and, with power, commands the unclean spirits to depart.
This act is for no hand but his. When a strong man keeps possession, none but a stronger can remove him. In voluntary things the strongest may yield to the weakest, Samson to a Delilah ; but in violent, ever the mightiest carries it. A spiritual nature must needs be in rank above a bodily ; neither can any power be above a spirit, but the God of spirits.
No otherwise is it in the mental possession; wherever sin is, there Satan is: as, on the contrary,“whosoever is born of God, the seed of God remains in him.” That evil one not only is, but rules in the sons of disobedience; in vain shall we try to eject him, but by the divine power of the Redeemer. « For this cause the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” Do we find ourselves haunted with the familiar devils of pride, self-love, sensual desires, unbelief? none but thou, O Son of the ever-living God, can free our bosoms of these hellish guests. “Oh cleanse thou me from my secret sins, and keep me, that presumptuous sins prevail not over me. O Saviour, it is no paradox to say, that thou castest out more devils now, than thou didst while thou wert upon earth. It was thy word, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.' Satan weighs down at the feet : thou pullest at the head, yea at the heart. In every conversion which thou workest, there is a dispossession. Convert me, O Lord, and I shall be converted. I know thy means are now no other than ordinary. If we expect to be dispossessed by miracle, it would be a miracle if ever we were dispossessed. Oh let thy Gospel have the perfect work in me; so only shall I be delivered from the
powers of darkness. Nothing can be said to be dumb, but what naturally speaks: nothing can speak naturally, but what hath the instruments of speech; which because spirits want, they can no otherwise speak vocally, than as they take voices to themselves, in taking bodies. This devil was not therefore dumb in his nature, but in his effect. The man was dumb by the operation of that devil which possessed him: and now the action is attributed to the spirit which was subjectively in
“It is not you that speak,” saith our Saviour,“ but the spirit of your Father that speaketh in you."
As it is in bodily diseases, that they do not infect us alike: some seize upon the humours, others