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There is nothing more perilous than to draw all the actions of holy men into examples; for, as the best men have their weaknesses, so they are not privileged from letting fall unjustifiable actions. Besides that, they may have had, perhaps, peculiar warrants signed from heaven, whether by instinct or special command, which we shall expect in vain. There must be much caution used in our imitation of the best patterns, whether in respect of the persons or things, else we shall make ourselves apes, and our acts sinful absurdities.
It is a rare thing for our Saviour to find fault with the errors of zeal, even where have appeared sensible weaknesses. If Moses, in a sacred rage and indignation, brake the tables written by God's own hand, I find him not checked. Here our meek Saviour turns back, and frowns upon his furious suitors, and takes them up roundly: “Ye know not of what spirit ye are." The faults of uncharitableness cannot be swallowed up in zeal. If there were any colour to hide the blemishes of this misdisposition, it should be this crimson die. But he, that needs not our lie, will let us know he needs not our injury, and hates to have a good cause supported by the violation of our charity. We have no reason to disclaim our passions; even the Son of God chides sometimes, yea, where he loves. It offends not that our affections are moved, but that they are inordinate.
It was a sharp word, “ Ye know not of what spirit ye are:” another man would not perhaps have felt it, a disciple doth. Tender hearts are galled with that which the carnal mind slighteth. The spirit of Elias was that which they meant to assume and imitate; they shall now know their mark was mistaken. How would they have hated to think, that any other but God's Spirit had stirred them up to this passionate motion now they shall know it was wrought by that ill spirit whom they professed to hate.
It is far from the good Spirit of God to stir up any man to private revenge, or thirst of blood. Not an eagle, but a dove, was the shape wherein he chose to appear. Neither wouldest thou, O God, be in the whirlwind, or in the fire, but in the soft voice. O Saviour, what do we seek for any precedent but thine, whose name we challenge! thou camest to thine own, thine own received thee not. Didst thou call for fire from heaven upon them? didst thou not rather send down water from thy compassionate eyes, and weep for them by whom thou must bleed ? Better had it been for us never to have had any spirit, than any but thine. We can be no other than wicked if our mercies be cruelty.
But is it the name of Elias, 0 ye zealots, which ye pretended for a colour of your impotent desire ? Ye do not consider the difference betwixt his spirit and yours. His was extraordinary and heroical, besides the instinct or secret command of God for this act of his; far otherwise is it with you, who by a carnal distemper are moved to this furious suggestion. Those that would imitate God's saints in singular actions, must see they go upon the same grounds. Without the same spirit, and the same warrant, it is either a mockery or a sin to make them our copies. Elias is no fit pattern for disciples, but their Master. “The Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them.”
Then are our actions and intentions warrantable and praiseworthy, when they accord with his. O Saviour, when we look into those sacred acts and monuments of thine, we find many a life which thou preservedst from perishing, some that had perished by thee re-called ; never any by thee destroyed: only one poor fig-tree, as the real emblem of thy severity to the unfruitful, was blasted and withered by thy curse. But to man, how ever favourable and indulgent wert thou! So repelled as thou wert, so reviled, so persecuted, laid for, sold, betrayed, apprehended, arraigned, condemned, crucified; yet what one man
didst thou strike dead for these heinous indignities? Yea, when one of thine enemies lost but an ear in that ill quarrel, thou gavest that ear to him who came to take life from thee. I find some whom thou didst scourge and correct, as the sacrilegious moneychangers; none whom thou killedst. Not that thou either lovest not, or requirest not, the duly severe execution of justice. Whose sword is it that princes bear but thine? Offenders must smart and bleed. This is a just sequel, but not the intention of thy coming ; thy will, not thy drift.
Good princes make wholesome laws for the wellordering of their people; there is no authority without due coercion. The violation of these good laws is followed with death, whose end was preservation, life, order; and this not so much for revenge
an offence past, as for prevention of future mischief.
How can we then enough love and praise thy mercy, 0 thou Preserver of men! How should we imitate thy saving and beneficent disposition towards mankind! as knowing, the more we can help to save, the nearer we come to thee that camest to save all ; and the more destructive we are, the more we resemble him who is Abaddon, a murderer from the beginning
THE TEN LEPERS.
THE Samaritans were tainted, not with schism, but heresy, but paganism : our Saviour yet baulks them not, but makes use of the way as it lies, and bestows upon them the courtesy of some miracles : some kind of commerce is lawful, even with those without; terms of entireness, and leagues of inward amity are here unfit, unwarrantable, dangerous : but civil respects, and wise uses of them for our convenience or necessity, need not, must not, be forborne.
Ten lepers are here met, those that are excluded from all other society seek the company of each other; fellowship is that we all naturally affect, though even in leprosy. Ever lepers will flock to their fellows; where shall we find one spiritual leper alone ? Drunkards, profane persons, heretics, will be sure to consort with their matches: why should not God's saints delight in a holy communion ? why is it not our chief joy to assemble in good ?
Jews and Samaritans could not abide one another, yet here in leprosy they accord, here was one Samaritan leper with the Jewish: community of passion hath made them friends, whom even religion disjoined: what virtue there is in misery, that can unite even the most estranged hearts !
I seek not mystery in the number; these ten are met together, and all meet Christ, not casually, but upon due deliberation : they purposely waited for this opportunity, no marvel if they thought no attendance long, to be delivered from so loathsome and miserable a disease. Great Naaman could be glad to come from Syria to Judea, in hope of leaving that hateful guest behind him: we are all sensible enough of our bodily infirmities. Oh that we could be equally weary of the sicknesses and deformities of our better part ! Surely our spiritual maladies are no less than mortal, if they be not healed, neither can they heal alone; these men had died lepers if they had not met with Christ.
O Saviour, give us grace to seek thee, and patience to wait for thee, and then we know thou wilt find us, and we remedy.
Where do these lepers attend for Christ but in a village; and that not in the street of it, but in the entrance, in the passage to it; the cities, the towns were not for them. The law of God had shut them out from all frequence, from all conversation ; care of safety, and fear of infection, was motive enough to
make their neighbours observant of this piece of the law. It is not the body only that is herein respected by the God of spirits ; those that are spiritually contagious must be still and ever avoided, they must be separated from us, we must be separated from them; they from us by just censures, or, if that be neglected, we from them, by a voluntary declination of their familiar conversation. Besides the benefit of our safety, wickedness would soon be ashamed of itself, if it were not for the encouragement of companions. Solitariness is the fittest antidote for spiritual infection. It were happy for the wicked man if he could be separated from himself.
These lepers that came to seek Christ, yet, finding him, stand afar off, whether for reverence, or for security. God had enacted this distance. their charge, if they were occasioned to pass through the streets, to cry out, “I am unclean.” It was no less than their duty to proclaim their own infectiousness : there was not danger only, but sin in their approach.
How happy were it, if in those wherein there is more peril there were more remoteness, less silence ! O God, we are all lepers to thee, overspread with the loathsome scurf of our own corruptions : it becomes us well, in the conscience of our shame and vileness, to stand afar off. We cannot be too awful of thee, too much ashamed of ourselves.
Yet these men, though they be far off in the distance of place, yet they are near in respect of the acceptance of their prayer.
“ The Lord is near unto all that call upon him in truth.” O Saviour, while we are far off from thee, thou art near unto us. Never dost thou come so close to us, as when in a holy bashfulness we stand farthest off. Justly dost thou expect we should be at once bold and bashful. How boldly should we come to the throne of grace, in respect of the grace of that throne! how fearfully, in respect of the awfulness of the majesty of that throne,