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thee; thou wast not salted at all, thou wast not swaddled at all: none eye pitied thee, but thou wast cast out in the open fields, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born; and when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, Live ; yea, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live:” now also when thou passedst by, and sawest Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom, saidst to him, “Follow me.' The life of this publican was so much worse than the birth of that forlorn Amorite, as
“Follow me” was more than “ Live.” What canst thou see in us, O God, but ugly deformities, horrible sins, despicable miseries ? yet doth it please thy mercy to say unto us, both “Live,” and “Follow me!"
The just man is the first accuser of himself: whom do we hear to blazon the shame of Matthew but his own mouth? Matthew the evangelist tells us of Matthew the publican ; his fellows call him Levi, as willing to lay their finger upon the spot of his unpleasing profession ; himself will not smother nor blanch it a whit, but publishes it to all the world in a thankful recognition of the mercy that called him, as liking well that his baseness should serve for a fit foil to set off the glorious lustre of his grace by whom he was elected. What matters it how vile we are, O God, so thy glory may arise in our abasement !
That word was enough, “Follow me;" spoken by the same tongue that said to the corpse at Nain, “Young man, I say to thee, Arise.” He that said at first, “Let there be light,” says now, “Follow me.” That power sweetly inclines which could forcibly command: the force is not more unresistible than the inclination. When the sun shines upon the icicles, can they choose but melt and fall ? when it looks into a dungeon, can the place choose but be enlightened? Do we see the jet drawing up straws to it, the loadstone iron, and do we marvel if the omnipotent Saviour, by the influence of his grace, attract the heart of a publican? “He arose and followed him.” We are all naturally averse from thee, O God! do thou but bid us follow thee, draw us by thy powerful word, and we shall run after thee. Alas, thou speakest, and we sit still ; thou speakest by thine outward word to our ear, and we stir not. Speak thou by the secret and effectual word of thy Spirit to our heart: the world cannot hold us down: Satan cannot stop our way, we shall arise and follow thee.
It was not a more busy than gainful trade that Matthew abandoned to follow Christ into poverty; and now he cast away his counters, and struck his tallies, and crossed his books, and contemned his heaps of cash, in comparison of that better treasure which he foresaw lie open in that happy attendance. If any commodity be valued of us too dear to be parted with for Christ, we are more fit to be publicans than disciples. Our Saviour invites Matthew to a discipleship, Matthew invites him to a feast ; the joy of his call makes him begin his abdication of the world in a banquet.
Here was not a more cheerful thankfulness in the inviter, than a gracious humility in the guest ; the new servant bids his Master, the publican his Saviour, and is honoured with so blessed a presence. I do not find where Jesus was ever bidden to any table and refused. If a Pharisee, if a publican invited him, he made not dainty to go. Not for the pleasure of the dishes: what was that to him who began his work in a whole Lent of days ? but (as it was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father) for the benefit of so winning a conversation. If he sat with sinners, he converted them; if with converts, he confirmed and instructed them ; if with the poor, he fed them ; if with the rich in substance, he made them richer in grace. At whose board did he ever sit, and left not his host a gainer? The poor bridegroom entertains him, and hath his water-pots filled with wine. Simon the Pharisee entertains him, and hath his table honoured with the public remission of a penitent sinner, with the heavenly doctrine of remission. Zaccheus entertains him, salvation came that day to his house, with the Author of it. That presence made the publican a son of Abraham, Matthew is recompensed for his feast with an apostleship. Martha and Mary entertain him, and besides divine instruction, receive their brother from the dead. O Saviour, whether thou feast us, or we feast thee, in both of them is blessedness!
Where a publican is the feast-master, it is no marvel if the guests be publicans and sinners. Whether they came alone out of hope of that mercy which they saw their fellow had found, or whether Matthew invited them to be partners of that plentiful grace whereof he had tasted, I inquire not. Publicans and sinners will flock together, the one hateful for their trade, the other for their vicious life. Common contempt hath wrought them to an unanimity, and sends them to seek mutual comfort in that society, which all others held loathsome and contagious. Moderate correction humbleth and shameth the offender, whereas a cruel severity makes men desperate, and drives them to those courses whereby they are more dangerously infected. How many have gone into the prison faulty and returned flagitious! If publicans were not sinners, they were no whit beholden to their neighbours.
What a table-full was here! the Son of God beset with publicans and sinners. Oh happy publicans and sinners, that had found out their Saviour! Oh merciful Saviour, that disdained not publicans and sinners!
What sinner can fear to kneel before thee, when he sees publicans and sinners sit with thee? who can fear to be despised of thy meekness and mercy, which didst not abhor to converse with the outcasts of men ? Thou didst not despise the thief confessing upon the cross, nor the sinner weeping upon thy feet, nor the Canaanite crying to thee in the way, nor the blushing adulteress, nor the odious publican, nor the forswearing disciple, nor the persecutor of disciples, nor thine own executioners; how can we be unwelcome to thee, if we come with tears in our eyes, faith in our hearts, restitution in our hands ? O Saviour, our breasts are too oft shut upon thee; thy bosom is ever open to us. We are as great sinners as the consorts of these publicans; why should we despair of a room at thy table ?
The squint-eyed Pharisees look across at all the actions of Christ, where they should have admired his mercy, they cavil at his holiness : “They said to his disciples, Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners ?” They durst not say thus to the Master, whose answer, they knew, would soon have convinced them: this wind, they hoped, might shake the weak faith of the disciples. They speak where they may be most likely to hurt. All the crew of satanical instruments have learnt this craft of their old tutor in Paradise. We cannot reverence that man whom we think unholy. Christ had lost the hearts of his followers, if they had entertained the least suspicion of his impurity, which the murmur of these envious Pharisees would fain insinuate: he cannot be worthy to be followed that is unclean: he cannot but be unclean that eateth with publicans and sinners. Proud and foolish Pharisees ! ye fast while Christ eateth: ye fast in your houses, while Christ eateth in other men's; ye fast with your own, while Christ feasts with sinners : but if ye fast in pride, while Christ eats in humility: if ye fast at home for merit or popularity, while Christ feasts with sinners for compassion, for edification, for conversion, your fast is unclean, his feast is holy; ye shall have your portion with hypocrites, when those publicans and sinners shall be glorious.
When these censurers thought the disciples had offended, they speak not to them, but to their Master;
Why do thy disciples that which is not lawful ?"
now, when they thought Christ offended, they speak not to him, but to the disciples. Thus, like true make-bates, they go about to make a breach in the family of Christ, by setting off the one from the other. The quick eye of our Saviour hath soon espied the pack of their fraud, and therefore he takes the words out of the mouths of his disciples into his own. They had spoke of Christ to the disciples, Christ answers for the disciples concerning himself; “ The whole need not the physician, but the sick.”. According to the two qualities of pride, scorn, and over-weening, these insolent Pharisees over-rated their own holiness, contemned the noted unholiness of others, as if themselves were not tainted with secret sins, as if others could not be cleansed by repentance. The Searcher of hearts meets with their arrogance, and finds those justiciaries sinful, those sinners just. The spiritual Physician finds the sickness of those sinners wholesome, the health of those Pharisees desperate : that wholesome, because it calls for the help of the physician; this desperate, because it needs not. Every soul is sick; those most that feel it not; those that feel it complain ; those that complain, have cure: those that feel it not, shall find themselves dying ere they can wish to recover. O blessed Physician, by whose stripes we are healed, by whose death we live : happy are they that are under thy hand, sick, as of sin, so of sorrow for sin. It is as impossible they should die, as it is impossible for thee to want either skill, or power, or mercy. Sin hath made us sick unto death : make thou us but as sick of our sins, we are as safe as thou art gracious.