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young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed ; their young ones shall lie down together : and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain : for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”
Certain professions, it has been alleged, have in their very nature a corruptive quality. That of the military man is supposed to be of this number. The vulgar associate with it the ideas of insolence, ferocity, licentiousness, and of other hateful qualities. Like every other general censure, this too must be taken with many grains of allowance, and candour must admit that there are excellent men of every profession; and, in the case of illustrious exceptions from the generality of the stigmatized orders, higher praise is updoubtedly due to those who have the courage to resist, and strength to overcome the temptations to which their manner of life, and the very means of earning their subsistence expose them, than to persons who had no such difficulties to encounter. Of this description are the nobleman, and the Roman centurion of Capernaum. The history of the former, as far as connected with that of our blessed Lord, was the subject of the last Lecture, that of the latter is now to be the ground of our meditation. The two personages present a striking resemblance to each other, in their personal character, in their condition of life, in the circumstances which brought them acquainted with the Saviour of the world. They dwelt in the same city, perhaps in habits of intimacy, for the good nata rally attract and associate with the good; the one a courtier, the other an officer of very considerable rank ; both, men of humanity, of gentle manners, of amiable, of noble deportment; the one a suppliant in behalf of a darling child, labouring under an attack of the fever, The other in behalf of a favourite servant, attacked by a violent paralytic affection ; both successful in their application, and both deeply impressed with the character of their great Benefactor. With so many marks of resemblance the two little histories display a lovely, affecting and instructive variety, tending to unfold the various shades of the human mind, in the changing scenes of human life, and equally tending to illustrate the grace and power of Christ, ever ready to meet every case, adapted alike to the relief of ihe bodies and of the souls of men.
The person who applied to Jesus Christ on this occasion was a centurion, that is, as the word imports, an officer in the Roman army who had a hundred men under his command. It corresponded nearly to the rank of captain in our military establishment. Judea was at this time a conquered province, in subjection to the authority of a Roman governor, and kept in awe by Ra man soldiery. The Jews vainly boasted that they were " Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man;" whereas it was notorious to the whole world that from the days of Egyptian bondage, down to the despotism of Tiberius Cæsar, their intervals of liberty had been few, transient and interrupted ; and at that very moment they were murmuring under the pressure of a galling yoke, imposed on their neck, and kept there by the strong hand of power; and Jesus Christ convicts them of being in subjection to a yoke still more galling and disgraceful : " whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." But such are the elf-delusions which men practise. Every Roman soldier who was seen, every Roman coin that circulated through the land demonstrated that they were not a free people. Indeed they were not worthy to be so, for they never enjoyed liberty without abusing it. Happy was it for the district of Capernaum to be under a government so mild and moderate as that of this good centurion.
The two Evangelists who have recorded this fact, differ in some circum
stances of their narration. In reading St. Matthew's account we are led to suppose that the centurion made personal application to Christ, for the cure of his servant, whereas in the more circumstantial account of the transaction, transmitted to us by St. Luke, we find that the application was made in the first instance, through the medium of “the elders of the Jews.” But there is no real difference between the two historians. It was a maxim among the Jews, a man's
proxy is the man himself,” and it is still a rule among civilians, “What we do by another we are adjudged to have done ourselves.” In a process of law, a party is said to come into court, and to have made such a representation, though he appeared only by his counsel or solicitor. Thus Jethro came to Moses first by a messenger, with these words in his mouth: “ I, thy father-in-law, Jethro, am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two children.” On receiving this message, Moses went out to enjoy a personal interview with his family. Thus Solomon sent ambassadors to Hiram, who were to address him not in the plural number, but in the first person singular, as if Solomon himself had spoken the words face to face: "behold, I purpose to build an house unto the name of the Lord my God ;” and Hiram fairly considers himself as “ hearing the words of Solomon.” Thus the two sons of Zebedee came to Christ, with a petition, through the medium of their mother; and thus John Baptist, now shut up in a prison, addressed himself to Je sus by two of his disciples, saying, “ Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another." Mutthew, in conformity to this mode of speech and thought, represents the centurion as coming in person to Christ, though at first, through modesty and humility, he thought proper to employ the intercession of others.
We have here a singularly pleasant opening into a good mind. This man was accustomed to command, not to supplicate : to dictate, not to bend. But such is bis veneration for the person and character of Christ, that he is awed at the thought of appearing in his presence; instead of resorting to the exercise of authority, he has recourse to entreaty, and hopes from the interposition of men beiter than himself what he dared not to ask on his own account. Does this bring his courage under suspicion? Is it likely that such a man would turn his back in the day of battle? No, surely. It is the coward that struts, and boasts, and threatens; the truly brare are modest, gentle and unassuming; they speak by their actions, not by high swelling words of vanity: And yet this centurion had more than one plea of merit to advance. He had borne his faculties most meekly in his great office. He had not oppressed, he had not been guilty of extortion; and even this pegative virtue merits some degree of commendation. On the contrary he cherished, encouraged, protected the people whom he was sent to rule. Iostead of restricting their religious liberty, or permitting their worship to be disturbed, he liberally contributed toward the maintenance of public worship, and most probably assisted at it. Io a word, he was a public blessing. Men generally set the full value on the good actions which they perform, and are frequently at pains to make an ostentatious display of them. He puts in no claim, exacts no acknowledgement, expects no return. The elders of the Jews feel themselves so much the more called upon to celebrate his good qualities, and to enumerate his benefits. “ They came to Jesus, and besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this ; for he loveth our nation, and he hath built as a synagogue." If indeed he had become a proselyte to the Jewish religion, that is, a worshipper of the one living and true God, as, from the whole history taken together, there is little reason to doubt, a still higher degree of respectability attaches to his character. What obstacles had he not to surmount, what prejudices to overcome ! The prejudice of education in the religion of polytheism, or a plurality of Gods; the prejudice of pro
fession, which sometimes makes it a point of honour to be of no religion, sometimes to adhere to the first adopted; political prejudice, which would have tied him down to the religion of the imperial court, the source of all civil and military preferment: and more than all these, he had to encounter the formidable laugh of the world, the raillery of his fellow-officers the sheer of witlings. The courage that could meet and overcome such discouragements is indeed the courage of a hero.
It is now time to inquire into the object of this circuitous expostulation. What point is to be carried ? what interest is at stake to warrant such earnestness and importunity ? a servant sick of the palsy and ready to die. The word translated servant, through the whole of St. Matthew's narration, signifies boy, a term of ambiguous meaning, being employed to denote either child or servant, and it determines the age only, not the quality of the patient. But the Greek word used by St. Luke, except in one clause, is of unequivo cal import, and indeed reduces the young man's condition lower than that of servant, for it means slave, and expresses the lowest condition of human wretchedness. This young person might have been either a prisoner of war, or purchased with money, and slaves of both descriptions were frequently endowed with rare accomplishments. As Providence permitted the boy to sink into this degraded state, it was some compensation, that he fell into the hands of a kind and affectionate master, a man of principle, a man of humanity. Where is now the ferociousness, the insensibiliy, the indifference of the soldier? All melts into sympathy with distress, and into a sense of mutual obligation. Thus it is that the God who made us, who “ knoweth our frame, and who remembereth that we are dust," balances evil with good, and either finds a way to escape, or administers strength to support the calamity. Thus necessary to each other are the members in both the social and the natural body. “If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body ? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body ?" “And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you."
The case of the little slave was dangerous if not desperate. The palsy is a partial death of the limbs affected. Here it was a privation of motion, while acute sensibility remained, he was grievously tormented;" and this combination of pain and interrupted circulation threatened approaching dissolution. But the maxim is excellent both in medicine and in morals. While there is life there is hope," and religion advances a step farther, and says, “Even in death there is hope.” Many a promising case has been lost through impatience and despair. Till Providence has decided, man is bound to persevere in the use of means. It is evident that the centurion expected every thing from the sovereign power, and not from the personal presence of Christ; and herein his faith soared much higher than that of the nobleman, who had no idea of a cure effected at a distance from the object. But how shall we account for the cold, repulsive reception given to the personal solicitation of the nobleman; except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe :” and for the frank and cheerful compliance with the centurion's message, “ I will come and heal him ?” Jesus will have his sovereignty felt and acknowledged in all things. Humility and self-abasement are the most powerful claims of a suppliant, and the sublimer faith has the superiour power with God and prevails.
Instead of being transported with joy at the thought of this proffered visit, the centurion shrinks from the approach of Christ. A sense of guilt and unworthiness stares him in the face. The presence of a personage so pure, so exalted, he feels himself unable to support, and deputes other friends tv
meet Jesus, to rencw his suit, but to deprecate the degradation of his dignitied character, by conversing with one so mean as himself, and by coming under a roof so unworthy to receive such a guest. Finding however that Jesus drew nigher and nigher, he at length assumes resolution, and goes
forth himself to meet him, with a heart overwhelmed, overflowing, and a mouth filled with arguments. Never did imagination conceive, never did heart feel, never did tongue express a strain of reasoning more forcible, more affecting, more sublime. “The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me, and I say to this man, go, and he goeth, and to another, come, and he cometh ; and to my servant, do this, and he doeth it.” The knowledge which he had of his own profession is the foundation of his argument. In a military establishment, all must be cheerful subordination and prompt obedience. He himself was at once under authority, and in authority. He had not the idea of disputing the commands of his superiour, and he knew that his word, that his nod was a law to his inferiours. Under this notion of military discipline he contemplates the supreme authority of Christ as extending to all persons, elements and events. Ilis own orders were obeyed, though his person were at a distance and unseen. What then should retard the execution of a will which all the powers of nature are unable to resist ? "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.”
“When Jesus heard it, he marvelled,” not as an ordinary man wonders at something new, striking and uncommon. He knew what was in man.
The marvellous faith which he graciously pleased to approve and to reward was the operation of his own spirit; but he holds it up as a matter of wonder to all who were present, and as a subject of reproof to those of the house of Israel, who, with all their superiour advantages, possessing as they did, "the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises ; and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came :" nevertheless received their promised, their expected Messiah coldly, doubtingly, reluctantly; and at length utterly rejected him, and put him to death. This leads our blessed Lord to unfold the approaching admission of the Gentile nations into the church of God, by believing and embracing his gospel, and the rejection of the posterity of Abraham after the flesh, because of their unbelief: “ And I say unto you, that many shall come from the cast, and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven : But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Jesus delivers this all-important doctrine under the solemnity of an “I say unto you ;" “mark me well; my words are true and faithful, they are serious and interesting, they concern every one among you, they shall all have their accomplishment." The assembly to whom this was addressed, consisted of a great variety of persons. It was composed of the elders of the Jews, who had come to intercede in behalf of their benefactor, and who were waiting the issue ; of the centurion himself, originally a Gentile and an idolator; of the friends whom he had dispatched to meet Jesus, who were likewise, in all probability, Roman soldiers, and of course heathens and idolators; and of a mixed multitude who followed Christ wherever he went. The highest privilege which proselyted Gentiles could obtain from Jewish bigotry was permission to worship the true God in the outer court of the temple, which was appropriated to them, and called by their name. To them how grateful must have been the intimation of being made partakers of all the privileges of the sons of God! of rising to their full and equal rank in the great family of the common Father of all, of being admitted into the society, and of enjoying the
felicity of the venerable founders of the Jewish church, a branch only of “the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven!” The like precious faith which exalted the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and J:cob to a place in the kingdom of God, was to be diffused in every direction, and to raise men of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” to the “ inheritance of a kingdom prepared,” for all the faithful, “ from the foundation of the world.” The Jews, on the other hand, valued themselves on their exclusive privileges. They scorned to have any dealings with even their neighbours and brethren the Samaritans. They held ibemselves contaminated by coming into contact with the impure heathen; they appropriated to themselves a right to the favour of God. To persons labouring under such prejudices, which had been instilled into them with their mother's milk, what an awful denunciation was it, that not only should the Gentile nations be received within the pale of the church, but received to their own exclusion ? Behold,” exclaims the apostle, in contemplating this very object, “Behold the goodness and severity of God."--"Of a truth we perceive that God is no respecter of persons : but in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him." But the singular imagery, and the very language by which this view of the Redeemer's kingdom is conveyed, deserve a particular consideration. May they be deeply impressed upon our hearts and minds.
* Many shall come,” says Christ, as he surveyed the gradual progress, and the unlimited extent of his empire. The narrow spirit of Judaism is not peculiar to that people. It seems to be a general character of human nature. Abraham and Lot were under the necessity of separating, because “the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together.” How often has a well of water kindled a flaine among brethren! Whence come pride and envy? whence come fraud and cunning ? whence come wars and fightings? whence come monopolies and exclusions, but from the selfishness of an individual, or of a few, to appropriate to themselves what belongs to many! Were the operation of this spirit confined to the things of time, it might be accounted for. The desires of the human mind are unbounded, and the objects of pursuits are few and small. What another acquires seems to be so much taken away from me. Though in truth there is provision sufficiently ample for all; bread enough and to spare, room enough and to spare, were the real wants and the reasonable wishes of nature to settle the distribution. But that the kingdom of heaven should be subjected to a monopoly; that its keys should be seized by the bold hand of an usurping individnal or of an arrogant party, would exceed belief, did not the history even of the Christian Church establish the fact. The disciples of Christ themselves brought into his school all the contractedness of their Jewish education. Even the mild and affectionate John was tainted with it. “ Master,” said he, we saw one casting out devils in thy name: and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us." They are for calling down fire from heaven to consume a whole village of Samaritans, in resentment of a mere piece of incivility. They must have the highest places when their Master should come to the throne. The kingdon must be restored to Israel, whatever might become of the rest of the world. This spirit, though frequently and severely reprobated by their benevolent Master, has unhappily been transmitted, and mutual anathemas and excommunications have been thundered by furious sectaries, who have one after another desolated the earth, to secure to themselves the undivided possession of a heaven which they are incapable of enjoying. If the Saviour of men says,
shall come,” who dares to limit the holy One of Israel, and to say, “ few shall be saved ?"
" Many shall come from the east and west." The other two cardinal points