S. Matt. viii 3.
"And Jesus put forth His hand, and touched him,
saying, I will, be thou clean, and immediately his
leprosy was cleansed.
Still it is Epiphany, my brethren, and again the Church tells us of a special
manifestation of the Lord Jesus, God made Man to redeem and save us.
Last Sunday you heard how He changes all good things for the better:
the Law for the Gospel, earth for Heaven. Now you have heard, how
He changes the worst of evils for the greatest good. To change water
into wine, our earthly good things into heavenly, the law into the Gospel,
that indeed was an astonishing miracle: but to change and renew man's nature,
utterly poisoned and corrupted by sin, back again into the Image of God;
that, as you perceive at once, was a still greater wonder, a work of more
amazing mercy; and of this work, my brethren, our Lord gave a token, as
often as He cleansed any of the lepers who then abounded among the Jews.
And the first instance, related in the Gospels, of His cleansing of any
leper is that which is related in the Gospel for today.
Our Lord was in one of the cities of Galilee, in His first progress
through that country, the first year of His ministry; "and behold there
came a leper." It was a very bad case, "a man full of lepresy." [Lk
5:12] He was in the very greatest of distress, he besought our Lord, and
kneeled down to Him, and fell upon his face; and this was his prayer; though
in words it was not a prayer - "Lord, if Thou wilt, Thou canst make me
clean." In sound, as you perceive, it was no prayer; it was merely
a confession of faith, faith in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ to cleanse
him. But here a man may ask two questions. If the leper so
earnestly longed for cleansing, as he plainly did by the whole of his behaviour,
why did he not at once ask for it in so many words? Why did he not
distinctly say, "Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed;" "cleanse me and
I shall be clean?" [Jer 42:14] It was no want of faith in Christ's
power, for his word is "If Thou wilt, Thou canst." It must have been,
because his heart told him, it was but too likely that our Lord might not
have the Will to cleanse him. Here then comes in the other
question, Why should he doubt our Saviour's Will? For he knew by
what he heard, perhaps by what he saw, how good Jesus of Nazareth was,
how He went about doing good, and "healing all manner of sickness and all
manner of disease among the people." [Mt 4:23] Why should He
not heal this leper, as well as Peter's wife's mother, or the nobleman's
son, or the man possessed with a devil in the synagogue of Capernaum, or
any others whom the leper might likely enough have heard of? Well,
the reason perhaps might be this. It does not appear, as if our Lord
had as yet healed any leper; this poor man is the first mentioned, as coming
to Him under that particular distemper.
Now there is no doubt, that the children of Israel considered leprosy
as an especial punishment of sin, more than they did most other diseases:
and it would seem from the Old Testament, from the case of Miriam the sister
of Moses, and of king Uzziah, that there was enough to lead their thoughts
that way. We may well believe therefore that this poor man regarded
his leprosy as a just judgement for the sins, of which his conscience was
afraid; and went about so humbled and ashamed, that he hardly dared pray
for deliverance; the rather if, as is very likely, he had heard something
of the high and heavenly commandments, which Christ had been uttering on
the Mount, with all authority. The very echo of that Voice might
have brought him down prostrate on the knees of his heart, as it has thousands
of sinners since; thinking, "If the law is so holy, whatever shall I do,
who am nothing but sin all over?" Moreover he might think to himself
(for so the Jews commonly thought, and perhaps this also was true in their
days), that there was no healing of leprosy except by a miracle; by the
immediate act of God Almighty Himself; and this again would make his request
seem bolder; and altogether, not in unbelief but in humility, he might
naturally not feel sure, whether He Who can cure all, would see fit to
make him clean; and so, instead of praying, he merely casts himself down,
and says, "If Thou wilt, Thou canst." Not another word does he add.
And what says the Blessed Jesus to this? O my brethren, may the
words sink deep into every one of our hearts, yours and mine, and every
sinner on earth; and He cause us to hear them again and again, as often
as our poor souls need it! But then we must come to Him as the leper
did, "trusting not in our own worthiness, but in His manifold and great
mercies." The words, as you know, are, "I will; be thou clean."
"I will," because the poor man had said, "If Thou wilt":
"Be thou clean;" because he had said, "Thou canst make me clean."
O Divine, Almighty words! Who could have ventured to utter such,
but He Who spake the like words, and the world was created, "Let there
be light, and there was light?" Did not the Angels standing by know
the Voice, and wonder and adore? And shall not we do the like, when,
in a moment, we see the miserable disease cured, and the most foul cleansed,
and he who, a few moments before, lay on the ground, in his own eyes and
the eyes of his friends, a miserable and most impure outcast, when we see
him lifted up in a moment by the touch and voice of the Great Physician,
cured wonderfully, cured for ever, free to worship among God's people,
and to return thanks in His House, his whole heart full of Christ, full
of Him Who has wrought such a wonder on him, so that he cannot be
silent, he must in some way tell every one, that it is Jesus that
hath made him whole? O my brethren, will you not praise God for this?
Yes indeed, you must; you cannot but praise Him unless you are altogether
false, vain, hypocritical Christians, unless all your hope of Eternal life
in our Lord Jesus Christ is come to be a mere dream. For, my brethren,
it is your own case, it is your own cure, that you have been hearing of.
You are, each one of you, this leper: and well it is for those who felt
it in their very hearts, when the Church began speaking of him in the day's
Gospel. God grant that you may have said to yourselves, "That leper
is I: his cure is God's mercy to me:" and that so you may have joined as
earnestly as ever you could in the good words of joy and thanksgiving,
with which, according to old custom, we acknowledge God's mercy in giving
us His saving message by His own Son, and not by another; "Thanks be to
God for His Gospel."
But in this particular Gospel of the leper, there is one thing which
I have not mentioned, of the greatest consequence to be known and remembered,
since without it you will never rightly understand or value, either your
own duty or God's mercy. What is this sacred and most important thing?
It is this: that our Lord did not only speak to the leper, but touched
him. "Jesus put forth His hand and touched him, saying, I will: be
thou clean." Our Almighty Saviour can heal afar off, as well as near;
as He Himself reminds us in the Prophet; "Am I a God at hand, saith the
Lord, and not a God afar off?" [Jer 23:23] and in the very next wonder,
which S. Matthew relates, He healed the Centurion's servant at a distance.
But it pleased Him to heal this leper, as indeed He seems to have wrought
the more part of His miracles, by actual touch of His Blessed Body.
In the case of this leper, there might be this special reason for doing
so, that lepers were unclean by the Law of Moses, and our Lord's Will was
to do away with all such uncleanness. And, again, it would be the
deepest comfort to the poor man, coming to Christ, as he did, so very
weary and heavy-laden, not only to hear His gracious Voice, but to feel
His loving and powerful Hand laid upon him; which, in one moment, more
than made up for all the sad and painful separation, which from time to
time must have gone to his heart, ever since he had his leprosy.
But besides, we are not to doubt, that there is a very deep Gospel meaning
and mystery hid under those few words which to us sound so very plain.
"Jesus put forth His Hand and touched him." His touching that leper,
my brethren, was a sure token and example, that not without the spiritual
Touch of His Blessed Body can the leprosy of sin be cured.
For sin is a leprosy; a terrible leprosy, a leprosy, incurable by earthly
physicians. There is no question at all of it. If you doubt
it, my brethren, if any of you fancy himself, as he is in himself, not
so very hideous and hateful in God's sight, let him think of the worst
thing, he has every heard of any body's doing; the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah
in the Old Testament; the sins of those wretched persons, whom we have
lately, alas! heard so much of in India; nay, and I will add too the sin
of Judas Iscariot himself. You do not surely doubt, that these sins
left a leprous mark upon the souls of the doers of them. Now our
Lord has expressly told you, that the sin of Sodom was not so bad as your's,
if you turn a deaf ear to Him. "If the mighty works which were done
in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."
[Mt 11:23] Is not this Christ's word? You know it is: you cannot
deny it. Well then, my poor brother or sister, whoever you are that
for any reason set yourself against the good things of Christ, I must tell
you plainly, you are at this moment a wretched leper in God's sight; your
soul defiled with the same kind of miserable leprosy, as you yourself perceive
in the wretched people of Sodom, or (still worse) in Judas Iscariot.
And as for those who have a little faith, and are trying to please
Christ and save their souls, I need not tell them, for they know it too
well already, that there is something in them, something very strong, which
sets itself against salvation: and what is that, but the remainder of their
original leprosy, the foul disease of the heart, which we have contracted
one and all, from our father Adam?
Let me put it to you in this way, my brethren. We do not now how
far Angels may be permitted to read the hearts of men: but I suppose there
is no doubt that if an Angel were standing in this place, he would be able
to discern much more truly and clearly than any man, to which of these
two classes, each one of you belongs at this moment. Every congregation
may be divided in a way into the two sorts of people whom I have just described.
You are either careless about our Lord Jesus Christ, or you think at least,
that you have in some measure turned to Him. Now would he not say
to both sorts, Remember your leprosy, be it entire or only partial: if
you forget or neglect it, it will spread and corrupt, and become wholly
incurable. There is but one thing to be done with it; bring it to
your Saviour, yes, bring it to our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherever you
are, you can do that. For He, by His Church, by His Word,
and His Spirit, still goeth about doing good. In whatever city or
village or open place you are, He is there also: His Power is present to
cleanse you: but not, if you proudly pass by Him, or scornfully turn your
back upon, or falsely apply to Him, with no real desire to be cleansed.
No, brethren, such as these must be content to be, where Naaman the Syrian
would have been, if he had not "done according to the saying of the man
of God." But you, my brethren, will not be such: you will not ungratefully
reject your loving Physician, Who is even now putting forth His Hand to
touch you in all the filth of your sins, on Whose lips even now the blessed
words are preparing to be spoken to you, "I will, be thou clean."
You will not come here, praising yourself in your heart. What a thing
it would have been, if the leper, lying on his face before our Lord, and
saying those humble words with his mouth, had been considering in his secret
soul, how much better he was doing than such another one, who perhaps might,
in our Lord's sight, be just as fit to be healed by himself.
Finally, the true penitent leper, he whom Christ is really about to
heal, will do every thing according to the order of Christ. He will
remember that our Lord's cure of sin is wrought by Touch as well as by
Word. He does not merely say, "be though clean," but He puts forth
His Hand and touches the sinner. How does He touch him? First
by Holy Baptism, and this touch of Christ you all know and believe: you
all learn it the very first thing in your catechism, By Baptism we are
made "members of Christ," "members of His Body, of His Flesh, and of His
Bones." [Eph 5:30] And this touch of Christ you all acknowledge and
believe. You would think it a shocking and fearful thing, to die
unbaptized yourself, or to suffer one of your little ones to die unbaptized.
And you are very right. For Baptism is the first touch of Christ,
and without it, in a regular way, there is no healing our spiritual leprosy,
sin. But why do you not go on with the same good thought, both for
yourselves and for your children? How is it that you do not perceive,
that the continual Touch, the inward Touch of our Lord's Body in the Holy
Eucharist, is as necessary as Spiritual Birth? O consider this, ye
that shrink from Holy Communion or encourage your children to do so.
You know not what harm you are doing to yourselves, and to those whom you
love best. Jesus Christ, God made Flesh, He is at hand to touch your
very soul with the inward and spiritual Touch of His own Body and Blood.
In this one way He means to be All in all to you. You are lying as
helpless lepers before Him. He offers to touch you and to say, "I will,
be thou clean." God forbid that any of you should answer "I have
no will, I do not care to be clean." And yet this is really your
answer, if you go on excusing yourselves, and trifling with His gracious