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2,980 C. H. Spurgeon-As thy days, so shall thy strength be-Deut.
3,012 W. H. Aylen, B.A.–The heavenly Architect, the plan of God's
THE LEPER CLEANSED.
PREACHED ON SUNDAY EVENING, JANUARY 24, 1858,
BY THE LORD BISHOP OF OXFORD.
"And Jesus put forth his hand, and touched him, saying, I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.”—Matt. viii. 8.
My brethren, we read the miracle in which these words occur in the Gospel appointed for to-day, one of the Sundays after Epiphany. These Gospels bring before us, Sunday after Sunday, separate relations of those mighty acts by which our blessed Lord, when he stood amongst us in the flesh, deciared to men the glory that was concealed in his humanity. The important fact that his declaration of his glory was made in this way is a lesson well worthy of every one of us considering with all attention; because, observe what it is, my brethren. It is as if some mighty prince had descended amongst his people unknown, in a temporary disguise, in order to see what were their wants and their sufferings, and then had manifested his true character amongst them in this way—by his liberality being larger, his sympathy more complete, his kindness to every sufferer greater than that which any other man had ever manifested. This was the way in which the Lord, when He veiled I'. glory, manifested it amongst those that met Him upon earth. He was the suffere Friend. He went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness and ' manner of disease among the people. And, my brethren, if there was no other less" than this in this passage of God's word, surely it would be a great lesson for such we are, because every one of us, I suppose, who has passed at all beyond the st ** of the earliest youth, knows in his own experience that the condition of man in this world is, for the most part, a condition of suffering; that it is so with every one of us; that there is hardly a heart of one that has passed his youth which rings altogether sound ; there is a crack somewhere, and harsh dissonance when you try it. We may not make a show of our sufferings; we may not, mendicant like, go about the world claiming sympathy for them ; but we have every one of us got our own pang, some sleeping spasm of sorrow, which we know well enough is ready to be
called up into active exercise by almost any aocident of life. How many of us can remember the time when we have turned away, spirit-saddened men for life, from some vault, from some green grave in some churchyard, to trace the rest of " ir life through this world in comparative loneliness. Or, if it is not so with us, there is the secret sorrow somewhere, some child that is an anxiety or a weariness, some pang in the body, or some shudder in the soul. My brethren, is it not a lesson for men passing, as we are, a broad stream of life such as is gathered into this cathedral to-night-is it not a lesson for such, that the Son of God, when He came down amongst us and stood amongst us as the Virgin-born, manifested forth his glory in this way, that He was the sufferer's Friend, and sympathized in very deed with every one that came to Him in his trouble ?
But then this is not the whole lesson ; this lies upon the surface; if you would enter into the heart of this passage you must dwell upon it, and go far deeper into it. Let me, then, call your attention to some of the details which set before us the full richness of this lesson.
This man, to whom Jesus put forth his hand in order that He might heal him, was a leper, one suffering under, perhaps, the most horrible and most loathsome form of disease to which the human frame was ever incident—a disease which is described by contemporaries as possessing almost every aggravation of horror whieh disease can possibly possess, suffering unknown, loathsomeness to all around, an end of the most miserable character, the limbs dropping off one after another, and altogether incurable by man. Now, this man that met the Lord was full, we read, of this disease.
To enter into the fulness of the lesson, observe, first, my brethren, what disease is. It is a part of the first sentence, the execution of which sin brought upon man: “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die ;" because disease, in every case, is the first invasion, the first step in the body of that of which death is the full accomplishment. But then disease, although it is this, must not be regarded by us as a simple evil. Far from it. Disease, in the first place, is a lengthening out of the preparation of death. How far more horrible would it be, as every one of us can feel, if there was no such thing as disease preparatory to death, if every dying man dropped down in the middle of his strength suddenly a lifeless corpse! How great a kindness and mercy has the Lord mingled with chastisement, in giving disease as a preparation for death! How many a soul has been saved by this merciful appointment of our Lord, that there should be this forerunner of the last blow!
And then again in another way, is disease a merciful appointment, and it is this I want you especially to notice, because it is what appears upon this passage of Scripture. Disease is a shadow cast upon the body of the tree of the inner evil of sin. Now, every one of us who knows himself, or knows his brother, knows that it is hard enough to make people believe the truth of the evil of that sin which is within them; and, my brethren, if there was no such thing as disease, how incomparably harder it would be for us to believe it ! Disease is a manifest imperfection; it is that which we cannot deny; it is that which makes every one of us feel its presence and acknowledge its reality; and so it is a perpetual reminder to us that there has passed upon our nature this transition from perfectness to imperfection; it is an argument none can altogether resist telling him there has passed upon his nature, and upon his spirit, and upon his soul, that of which all that be sees cast outwardly upon the body is in every single man the shadow. Well, now, that which all disease is in this way intended by God to be, that the leprosy was specially; it was selected by God Himself to be, as it were, an acted out parable of this inward evil. The treatment of leprosy " under the law which God gave by Moses marks it as possessing this character. And you must remember that this leper was a Jew, and our blessed Lord when he stood amongst men, was under the Jewish law, and therefore it was He Himself, a son of Abraham, meeting this other Jew, under the conditions and with the knowledge which the law of Moses gave to them. Now, the law of Moses treated leprosy always in this way. Remember what it led to—the separation from the congregation of the uninfected. Not, mind you, because there was anything infectious in leprosy. It seems perfectly plainly established, that it was not communicable from one to another by any of the ordinary modes in which infectious diseases are communicated. Every where, in those countries wbere the law of Moses did not extend, the leper was admitted freely into all societies. We find a leper conversing with the king of Assyria, and we find a leper commanding the armies of the king of Assyria. We find no fear of the disease spreading from one to another. It was not, therefore, as as anitary regulation that this was laid down, and the Jews must have known that it was in order that it might impress upon their minds, that the evil, of wbich this was the external mark, did exclude those whom it possessed from the company of God's pure creation, and so the whole treatment of it was the treatment of death. The leper was not allowed to touch another; he kept his lip covered as in perpetuai mourning for himself, as one already dead. The leper, when through God's mercy he was cleansed, had to go through a course of purification which one who had touched a dead body went through. The same course of purification, with hyssop, and with ashes, and the scarlet wool, was enacted for him as for one that had touched the dead. God taking this one signal form of disease, in order to stamp upon the feelings of that sensual people this great truth, that moral impurity, of which this was the external shadow, did part from the company of the holy the being that it possessed.
Now then you see this man, possessed by this evil, full of it, meets the Lord. Mark what it is that our Lord is doing : He is showing, as in an acted parable, the way i which He deals with the conscious sinner. The man comes to him, and worship: Him, and says to Him “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” It was a great utterance of faith. It was the first leper, as we gather from St. Mark's account, whom our Lord had ever healed. The leprosy was a disease incurable, and how was the man enabled to believe that the Lord, whose power was veiled in the likeness of flesh, was master of this disorder? Doubtless, my brethren, the vehemence
of his desire added strength to the weakness of his faith. Doubtless, it was the suffering of that disorder which drove him from his doubts, and brought him to the feet of Him, that could cure him. He came with a strong faith, although he had but an indefinite apprehension of the character of Him to whom he came; for mark the words, “ Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” He had so small a measure, as yet, of the knowledge of the love of the Son of Man, that though he was able to believe his power he still had, doubts about his readiness to heal. But he cast himself before Him.
And now mark how our Lord treats him. Remember, it was absolutely forbidden for any Jew to touch a leper; it at once conveyed ceremonial uncleanness to him who even accidentally had done it. The man polluted by that touch was shut out from the congregation of the people of the Lord, until he had gone through the appointed purifications. But what does our Lord do? He puts forth his hand-although the prayer was not for the putting forth of the hand, but for the cleansing from the disease—he puts forth his hand, and touches him, saying “I will, be thou clean." And why does He do this ? Remember how careful He was to observe the law in all things; how He paid tribute rather than cause scandal ; how in all things He came to fulfil, and not to destroy the law. Why therefore does He in this way touch this leprous man contrary to the law ? Because, as I have said to you, He was not only healing that one sick man, but He was, as in a parable for all times, for us this night, declaring to men what was the mode in which He healed, and that He was the healer of humanity.
Here, my brethren, are the two lessons we are taught. One, that He was incapable of pollution; that whilst bearing our new flesh, whilst having taken from his Virgin mother our very nature, whilst being incarnate, whilst being man as truly, as really as the very weakest and the most tempted of us is man this night-He was yet incapable of being reached by that pollution which infected all the rest of the race; and so, secondly, that from Him, the fount of purity, from Him, the very man from Him having our nature llimself, having united it in his own person to the eternal and glorious Godhead,--that from Him the new man should be derived, that which we needed and which He could give,-the help, the strength, the deliverance, from pollution, which pollution touched Him not, though He handled the unclean and from Himself conveyed cleansing to it.
Now, my brethren, here is the parable of this miracle ; and I said to you, at first, that the lesson would bave been sufficient for us, if it bad only been, that we Bufferers in this vale of sorrow, had each one of us in him a Friend who would sympathize with us, and never refuse to let us lean upon him our heart of sadness. But I say to you, that here is a greater lesson still; for, my beloved brethren, we are all sufferers--are we not all also sinners? Is not the leprosy upon us? why, that eprosy, by one of those most remarkable laws, was often times transmitted from father to pon. That was the case, you remember with the prophet's greedy sorvant, Gehazi; when he went forth a loper white as snow, he was to hand on the