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the building is high. The Centurion's humility was not more low than his faith was lofty: that reaches up into heaven, and, in the face of human weakness, descries omnipotence: “Only say the word, and my servant shall be whole.”
Had the Centurion's roof been heaven itself, it could not have been worthy to be come under of Him whose word was almighty, and who was the Almighty Word of his Father. Such is Christ confessed by him that says, “Only say the word.” None but a Divine power is unlimited: neither hath faith any other bounds than God himself. There needs no footing to remove mountains or devils, but a word. Do but say the word, O Saviour, my sin shall be remitted, my soul shall be healed, my body shall be raised from dust, both soul and body shall be glorious.
Whereupon then was the steady confidence of the good Centurion ? he saw how powerful his own word was with those that were under his command, (though himself were under the command of another, the force whereof extended even to absent performances ; well therefore might he argue, that a free and unbounded power might give infallible commands, and that the most obstinate disease must therefore needs yield to the beck of the God of nature. Weakness may show us what is in strength; by one drop of water we may see what is in the main ocean. I marvel not if the Centurion were kind to his servants, for they were dutiful to him ; he can but say, Do this, and it is done: these mutual respects draw on each other ; cheerful and diligent service in the one calls for a due and favourable care in the other: they that neglect to please, cannot complain to be neglected. Oh that I could be but such a servant to my heavenly Master! Alas, every of his commands says, Do this, and I do it not: every of his inhibitions says, Do it not, and I do it. He says, Go from the world, I run to it: He
I run from him. Woe is me! this is not service, but enmity. How can I look for favour, while I return rebellion ? It is a gracious Master whom we serve: there can be no duty of ours that he sees not, that he acknowledges not, that he crowns not. We could not but be happy, if we could be officious.
Come to me,
What can be more marvellous than to see Christ marvel ? all marvelling supposes an ignorance going before, and a knowledge following some accident unexpected. Now who wrought this faith in the Centurion, but he that wondered at it ? he knew well what he wrought, because he wrought what he would; yet he wondered at what he both wrought and knew, to teach us, much more to admire that which he at once knows and holds admirable.
He wrought his faith as God, he wondered at it as man: God wrought and man admired: he that was both, did both, to teach us where to bestow our wonder. I never find Christ wondering at gold or silver, at the costly and curious works of human skill or industry: yea, when the disciples wondered at the magnificence of the temple, he rebuked them rather. I find him not wondering at the frame of heaven and earth, nor at the orderly disposition of all creatures and events; the familiarity of these things intercepts the admiration. But, when he sees the grace or acts of faith, he so approves them that he is ravished with wonder. He that rejoiced in the view of his creation, to see that of nothing he had made all things good, rejoices no less in the reformation of his creature, to see that he had made good of evil. “Behold, thou art fair, my love, behold, thou art fair, and there is no spot in thee. My sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded
heart with one of thine eyes.” Our wealth, beauty, wit, learning, honour, may make us accepted of men, but it is our faith only that shall make God in love with us. And why are we of any other save God's diet, to be more affected with the least measure of
any man, than with all the outward glories of the world? There are
great men whom we justly pity; we can admire none but the gracious.
Neither was that plant more worthy of wonder in itself, than that it grew in such a soil, with so little help of rain and sun. The weakness of means adds to the praise and acceptation of our proficiency. To do good upon a little is the commendation of thrift: it is small thank to be full-handed in a large estate ; as, contrarily, the strength of means doubles the revenge
of our neglect. It is not more the shame of Israel, than the glory of the Centurion, that our Saviour says, “I have not found so great faith in Israel.” Had Israel yielded any equal faith, it could not have been unespied of these all-seeing eyes: yet were their helps so much greater as their faith was less ; and God never gives more than he requires. Where we have laid our tillage, and compost, and seed, who would not look for a crop! but if the uncultured fallow yield more, how justly is that unanswerable ground near to a curse !
Our Saviour did not mutter this censorious testimony to himself, nor whisper it to his disciples; but he turned him about to the people, and spake it in their ears, that he might at once work their shame and emulation. In all other things, except spiritual, our self-love makes us impatient of equals; much less can we endure to be outstripped by those who are our professed inferiors. It is well, if any thing can kindle in us holy ambitions. Dull and base are the spirits of that man, that can abide to see another overtake him in the way, and outrun him to heaven.
He that both wrought this faith and wondered at it, doth now reward it; “Go thy ways, and, as thou hast believed, so be it unto thee.” Never was any faith unseen of Christ, never was any seen without allowance, never was any allowed without remuneration. The measure of our receipts in the matter of favour, is the proportion of our belief. The infinite mercy of God, which is ever like itself, follows but
one rule in his gift to us, the faith that he gives us. Give us, O God, to believe, and be it to us as thou wilt, it shall be to us above that we will.
The Centurion sues for his servant, and Christ says,
“So be it unto thee." The servant's health is the benefit of the master, and the master's faith is the health of the servant. And if the prayers of an earthly master prevail so much with the Son of God for the recovery of a servant, how shall the intercession of the Son of God prevail with his Father in heaven, for us that are his impotent children and servants upon earth? What can we want, O Saviour, while thou suest for us? He that hath given thee for us, can deny thee nothing for us, can deny us nothing for thee. In thee we are happy, and shall be glorious. To thee, O thou mighty Redeemer of Israel, with thine eternal Father, together with thy blessed Spirit, one God infinite and incomprehensible, be given all praise, honour, and glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
THE WIDOW's RAISED.
THE favours of our beneficent Saviour were at the least contiguous. No sooner hath he raised the Centurion's servant from his bed, than he raises the widow's son from his bier.
The fruitful clouds are not ordained to fall all in one field. Nain must partake of the bounty of Christ, as well as Cana or Capernaum. And if this sun were fixed in one orb, yet it diffuseth heat and light to all the world. It is not for any place to engross the
messengers of the gospel, whose errand is universal. This immortal seed may not fall all in one furrow.
The little city of Nain stood under the hill of Hermon, near unto Tabor; but now it is watered with better dews from above, the doctrine and miracles of a Saviour.
Not for state, but for the more evidence of the work, is our Saviour attended with a large train, so entering into the gate of that walled city, as if he meant to besiege their faith by his power, and to take it. His Providence hath so contrived his journey, that he meets with the sad pomp of a funeral. A woful widow, attended with her weeping neighbours, is following her only son to the grave. There was nothing in this spectacle that did not command compassion.
A young man in the flower, in the strength of his age, swallowed up by death. Our decrepit age both expects death and solicits it; but vigorous youth looks strangely upon that grim serjeant of God. Those mellow apples that fall alone from the tree, we gather up with contentment; we chide to have the unripe unseasonably beaten down with cudgels.
But more, a young man, the only son, the only child of his mother. No condition can make it other than grievous, for a well-natured mother to part with her own bowels: yet surely store is some mitigation of loss. Amongst many children one may be more easily missed : for still we hope the surviving may supply the comforts of the dead: but when all our hopes and joys must either live or die in one, the loss of that one admits of no consolation.
When God would describe the most passionate expression of sorrow that can fall unto the miserable, he can but say, “O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth, and wallow thyself in the ashes, make lamentation and bitter mourning as for thine only son.” Such was the loss, such was the sorrow, of this disconsolate mother ; neither words nor tears can suffice to discover it.