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29. For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the Scribes.
The multitude were surprised at the language of Jesus, because he taught them as one that claimed a right to teach, that is, to give laws, using the stile, “it was said to them of old," and so on, “but I say unto you,” and calling his maxims “his commandments;" whereas the Scribes only pretended to interpret the laws of Moses.
1. Christ has given us an excellent rule for judging of other men and of ourselves, when he tells us that the tree is known by its fruits. Those who are led to think differently from the rest of mankind upon the subject of religion, are often supposed to entertain opinions destructive of all piety and morality; their persons as well as their opinions are held in detestation; and they are often treated with the utmost contempt and cruelty by the world: but we learn hence that it is not right to judge of men from the supposed tendency of their principles: if their conduct in life be upright; if their temper be uniformly amiable and benevolent; we ought to think favourably of their characters; for a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. This is a conclusion which we are obliged to make, not merely upon the principles of candour and humanity, but upon those of reason and justice. To draw the contrary inference, to believe their characters to be bad while their actions are good, is to violate the rules of common sense and the established maxims of life.
We are inclined to be as much too favourable in judging of ourselves, as we are severe in judging of
count upon those e principles of obliged to
other men. We find men guilty of fraud, envy, slander, lewdness, injustice, oppression, yet flattering themselves with the idea that their hearts are pure and uncorrupt; as if wicked actions might proceed from something besides a corrupt heart. Let us never forget that if the fruit be bad, the tree must be corrupt; if there be any irregularity of life, there must be some disorder in the mind: wherever we observe the one, let us labour to discover and correct the other. Let no one imagine that because his faith is pure and scrip- . tural; because his religious affections are warm; and he is strict in the observance of religious institutions; he is acceptable in the sight of God: for unless these advantages be accompanied by an unblameable life, they are but the form of godliness without the power.
ny avails and extration of
2. In the passage which we have been explaining, we have had a striking illustration of the uselessness of outward professions and external privileges: for if they were of any avail in recommending us to divine favour, and in procuring admission into future happiness, who could have greater reason to expect this benefit from them than those who abounded in expressions of respect to Christ, who instructed others in his religion, and were enabled to work miracles, to prove its divine origin? Yet we see those who enjoyed these advantages, disowned by Christ at the last day, and rejected with disdain as workers of iniquity. Let us beware then how we satisfy ourselves with believing in Christ, or with the mere profession of his religion: rather let us endeavour to convert a speculative faith into a practical one; opinions into actions. Let us labour to cultivate those virtues of piety and morality which are the will of God and the great end of the Christian dispensation. We shall then erect a building upon the rock, which will sustain all the storms of this lite, and bear the trial of the next.
3. From the low estimation in which Christ holds the profession of the Christian religion, we may derive an argument to prove its divine origin. To bc a believer in Mahomet, and in other founders of differ
ent systems of religion, has always been regarded by these leaders as an act of no inconsiderable merit: but Christ has attributed no merit, has annexed no reward, to faith in himself: on the contrary, he has declared that Christians, if they have nothing to recommend them but their faith in him, shall be treated like the other workers of iniquity: so superior has he shewn himself to the motives by which impostors are usually influenced; proving hereby that his object was to make men good, and not proselytes to a party.
Lastly, I observe, that from this discourse of Christ, we may learn in what Christianity consists, and how it is to be taught. We have followed him through the admirable sermon which he delivered upon the mount; and we find that he recommends not the strict observance of difficult and expensive ceremonies; nor inculcates dark and intricate questions of faith; nor denounces destruction against those who are not inclined to receive them; but enforces upon his hearers the unfeigned practice of the great duties of piety and morality; teaching men how they may most acceptably worship God, and observe the rules of equity and charity towards each other. These are the topics which were the subjects of Christ's preaching; and the motives by which his precepts were enforced, are those which have most influence over the heart----the favour of God and the reward of eternal life. Those who are ambitious of doing the same good which he did, by their preaching, and of sharing with him in his honours, cannot do better than endeavour to imitate him.
Matthew viii. 1----17.
1. When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him;
2. And behold there came a leper, and worshipped him, i. e. “ did obeisance,” by falling down before him, saying, Lord, or, Master," if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.
. This leprous man seems to have conceived a very high opinion of Christ: for he considered his power of healing as unlimited, and pays him the greatest respect: but it may be much doubted whether he believed him to be the promised Messiah: for Jesus had not yet openly professed himself such; nor had a rumour of this kind yet prevailed among the multitude. The appellation of Master was given by the Jews to any person, although unknown to them. We may observe the modesty of the man; he ventures to ask nothing expressly, but only declares what he believes that Christ is able to do; “If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.”
The leprosy was a virulent disease of the skin, which likewise corrupted the whole humours of the body; it was very common in Judæa, and in other hot climates of the east. Some centuries ago it was very prevalent in Europe; although at present it be but little known. Those who were afflicted with this dread. ful disease, which, in the worst stages of the disorder, is infectious and incurable, were excluded by the law of Moses from cities, and from the converse of men, and therefore obliged to live in the country or in desert places. Their state was on this account most wretched. It was an unhappy man in this situation, who now applied to Christ to be cleansed from the disease.
3. And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will, be thou clean; and immediately his leprosy was cleansed.
Touching the leper was of great use in this case, as hence it would appear that the healing did not take
place accidentally, and that the virtue did not proceed from any one but Christ: it would tend also to confirin the faith of the leper in the expectation of a cure; for if Christ had not intended to heal him in a miraculous manner, he would not have ventured to touch one who was esteemed so unclean, · Longinus, a celebrated rhetorician of antiquity, praises Moses for the sublime manner in which he describes the creation of things by God, in the book of Genesis; "and God said let there be light, and there was light*.” The same sublime language is here adopted by Christ; “I will, be thou clean;" and the effect immediately followed his volition. Christ taught as one having authority; and he here confirms the idea entertained of him, by performing a miraculous cure.
4. And Jesus said unto him, see thou tell no man, but go thy way, shew thyself to the priest, and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a testimony unto them.
Christ directs the man to present himself before the priest, accompanied with the offering which the law required in such cases, which was two birds;, because he would have him comply with the law of Moses, which ordained that one of the priests, whoever happened to be best qualified for the office by a knowSelge of the disease, should determine whether a leper was cured, and was to be admitted into society again. The reason why he tells him to do this immediately was because Jerusalem, where the priest resided, was at some distance, and, if the report of the cure should reach the cars of the priest before he arrived, he might be induced to deny the reality of the fact through envy, and prevent the leper from enjoying the benefit of what had been performed for him: but if the priest accepted of the offering, it would be a satisfactory proof to all men that he had been cured, and that a miracle liad been wrought. Christ enjoins upon him to tell no man of the cure, lest it should bring too
* De Sublim. $. ir.