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These lepers are wiser; they obeyed, and went. What was the issue ? "As they went, they were healed.” Lo! had they stood still
, they had been lepers ; now they went, they are whole. What haste the blessing makes to overtake their obedience! This walk was required by the very law, if they should have found themselves healed : what was it to prevent the time a little, and to do that sooner upon hopes, which upon sense they must do after ? The horror of the disease adds to the grace of the cure; and that is so much more gracious as the task is easier: it shall cost them but a walk. It is the bounty of that God whom we serve to reward our worthless endeavours with infinite requitals. He would not have any proportion betwixt our acts and his remunerations.
Yet besides this recompense of obedience, O Saviour, thou wouldest herein have respect to thine own just glory. Had not these lepers been cured in the way, but in the end of their walk, upon their showing to the priests, the miracle had lost much light: perhaps the priests would have challenged it to themselves, and have attributed it to their prayers; perhaps the lepers might have thought it was thy purpose to honour the priests as the instruments of that marvellous cure. Now there can be no colour of any other's participation, since the leprosy vanishes in the way. As thy power, so thy praise admits of no partners.
And now, methinks, I see what an amazed joy there was amongst these lepers, when they saw themselves thus suddenly cured : each tells other what a change he feels in himself; each comforts other with the assurance of his outward clearness ; each congratulates other's happiness, and thinks, and says, How joyful this news will be to their friends and families. Their society now serves them well to applaud and heighten their new felicity.
The miracle, indifferently wrought upon all, is dif
ferently taken. All went forward, according to the appointment, towards the priests, all were obedient, one only was thankful : all were cured ; all themselves cured: their sense was alike, their hearts were not alike. What could make the difference but grace! and who could make the difference of grace but he that gave it? He, that wrought the cure in all, wrought the grace not in all, but in one. The same act, the same motives, are not equally powerful to all: where the ox finds grass, the viper poison. We all pray, all hear; one goes away better, another cavils. Will makes the difference, but who makes the difference of wills, but he that made them ? He, that creates the new heart, leaves a stone in one bosom, puts flesh into another. “It is not in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but in God that hath mercy.” O God, if we look not up to thee, we may come, and not be healed; we may be healed, and not be thankful.
This one man breaks away from his fellows to seek Christ. While he was a leper, he consorted with lepers ; now that he is healed, he will be free. He saith not, I came with these men, with them I will go; if they will return, I will accompany them ; if not, what should I go alone ? as I am not wiser than they, so I have no more reason to be more thankful. There are cases wherein singularity is not lawful only, but laudable. “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil.” “I and my house will serve the Lord.” It is a base and unworthy thing for a man so to subject himself to others' examples, as not sometimes to resolve to be an example to others. When either evil is to be done or good neglected, how much better is it to go the right way alone, than to err with company!
Oh noble pattern of thankfulness ! what speed of retribution is here ! no sooner doth he see his cure, than he hastens to acknowledge it: the benefit shall not die, nor sleep in his hand. Late professions of
our obligations savour of dulness and ingratitude. What a laborious and diligent officiousness is here ! he stands not still, but puts himself to the pains of a return. What a hearty recognition of a blessing ! his voice was not more loud in his suit than in his thanks. What an humble reverence of his benefactor! he falls down at his feet: as acknowledging at once beneficence and unworthiness. It were happy for all Israel, if they could but learn of this Samaritan.
This man is sent with the rest to the priests. He well knew this duty a branch of the law of ceremonies, which he meant not to neglect : but his heart told him there was a moral duty of professing thankfulness to his benefactor, which called for his first attend
First therefore he turns back, ere he will stir forward. Reason taught this Samaritan, and us in him, that ceremony must yield to substance, and that main points of obedience must take place of all ritual compliments.
It is not for nothing that note is made of the country of this thankful leper; "He was a Samaritan," the place is known and branded with the infamy of a paganish misreligion. Outward disadvantage of place or parentage cannot block up the way of God's grace and free election ; as, contrarily, the privileges of birth and nature avail us nothing in spiritual occasions.
How sensible wert thou, O Saviour, of thine own beneficence! Were there not ten cleansed ? but where are the nine ?". The trooping of these lepers together did not hinder thy reckoning. It is both justice and wisdom in thee to keep a strict account of thy favours. There is a wholesome and useful art of forgetfulness in us men, both of benefits done, and of wrongs offered. It is not so with God: our injuries indeed he soon puts over, making it no small part of his style, that he "forgives iniquities ;” but for his mercies, there is no reason he should forget them ; they are worthy of more than our memory. His
favours are universal over all his works ; there is no creature that tastes not of his bounty, his sun and rain are for others besides his friends; but none of his good turns escapes either his knowledge or record. Why should not we, O God, keep a book of our receipts from thee, which, agreeing with thine, may declare thee bounteous, and us thankful ?
Our Saviour doth not ask this by way of doubt, but of exprobration; full well did he count the steps of those absent lepers; he knew where they were, he upbraids their ingratitude, that they were not where they should have been. It was thy just quarrel, O Saviour, that while one Samaritan returned, nine Israelites were healed and returned not. Had they been all Samaritans, this had been faulty; but now they were Israelites, their ingratitude was more foul than their leprosy. The more we are bound to God, the more shameful is our unthankfulness. There is scarce one in ten that is careful to give God his own: this neglect is not more general than displeasing. Christ had never missed their presence, if their absence had not been hateful and injurious.
THE POOL OF BETHESDA.
A Sermon preached at the Court before King James. OTHERWHERE ye may look long, and see no miracle, but here behold two miracles in one view: the former, of the angel curing diseases; the latter, of the God of angels, Christ Jesus, preventing the angel in his cure. Even the first, Christ wrought by the angel ; the second, immediately by himself. The first is incomparable ; for, as Montanus truly observes, there is no one miraculum perpetuum but this one, in the whole book of God. Be content to spend this hour with me in the porches of Bethesda, and consider with me the topography, the aitiology, the chrono
graphy of this miracle: these three limit our speech and your patient attention. The chronography, which is first in place and time, offers us two heads: 1. A feast of the Jews; 2. Christ going up to the feast. l. The Jews were full of holidays, both of God's institution and the church's. Of God's; both weekly, monthly, anniversary. Weekly, that one of seven, which I would to God we had learned of them to keep better. In this regard it was that Seneca says, the Jews did septimam ætatis partem perdere, “ lose the seventh part of their life."--Monthly;
the new moons, Numb. xviii.---Anniversary; Easter, Pentecost, and the September feasts. The church's ;both the Purim by Mardocheus, and the Encænia by Judas Maccabæus, which yet Christ honoured by his solemnization, John x. Surely God did this for the cheerfulness of his people in his service; hence the church hath laudably imitated this example. To have no feasts is sullen, to have too many is paganish and superstitious. Neither would God have cast the Christian Easter on the just time of the Jewish Pasch, and their Whitsuntide on the Jewish Pentecost, if he would not have had these feasts continued. And why should the Christian church have less power than the Jewish synagogue
? Here was not a mere feriation, but a feasting ; they must appear before God cum muneribus, “ with gifts.” The tenth part of their increase must be spent on the three solemn feasts, besides their former tithes to Levi, Deut. xiv. 23. There was no holiday wherein they feasted above six hours; and in some of them tradition urged them to their quantities of drink; and David when he would keep holiday to the ark, allows every Israelite a cake of bread, a piece of flesh, a bottle of wine ; not a dry dinner, prandium caninum, not a mere drinking of wine without meat, but to make up a perfect feast, bread, flesh, wine, 2 Sam. vi. 19. The true Purims of this island, are those two feasts of August and November. He is no true Israelite that keeps them