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O that I could come thus to my Saviour, and make such moan to him for myself, Lord, iny soul is sick of unbelief, sick of self-love, sick of inordinate desires; I should not need to say more. Thy mercy, O Saviour, would not then stay by for my suit, but would prevent me, as here, with a gracious engagement, "I will come and heal thee." I did. not hear the centurion say either Come, or, Heal him: the one he meant, though he said not; the other he neither said nor meant. Christ over-gives both his words and intentions. It is the manner of that divine munificence, where he meets with a faithful suitor, to give more than is requested; to give when he is not requested. The very insinuations of our necessities are no less violent than successful. We think the measure of human bounty runs over, when we obtain but what we ask with importunity: that infinite goodness keeps within bounds, when it overflows the desires of our hearts.
As he said, so he did. The word of Christ either is his act, or concurs with it. He did not stand still when he said, "I will come," but he went as he spake. When the ruler entreated him for his son, "Come down ere he die," our Saviour stirred not a foot: the centurion did but complain of the sickness of his servant, and Christ, unasked, says, "I will come and heal him." That he might be far from so much as seeming to honour wealth and despise meanness, he, that came in the shape of a servant, would go down to the sick servant's pallet, would not go to the bed of the rich ruler's son. It is the basest motive of respect, that ariseth merely from outward greatness. Either more grace or more need may justly challenge our favourable regards, no less than private obligations.
Even so, O Saviour, that which thou offeredst to do for the centurion's servant, hast thou done for us. We were sick unto death; so far had the dead palsy of sin overtaken us, that there was no life of grace left in us: when thou wert not content to sit still in heaven, and say, "I will cure them;" but addest also, "I will come and cure them." Thyself came down accordingly to this miserable world, and hast personally healed us; so as now we shall not die, but live, and declare thy works, O Lord. And O that we could enough praise that love and mercy, which hath so graciously abased thee, and could be but so low dejected before thee, as
thou hast stooped low unto us! that we could be but as lowly subjects of thy goodness, as we are unworthy!
O admirable return of humility! Christ will go down to visit the sick servant. The master of that servant says, "Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof:" the Jewish elders, that went before to mediate for him, could say, He is worthy that thou shouldst do this for him; but the centurion, when he comes to speak for himself, "I am not worthy." They said, he was worthy of Christ's miracle; he says, he is unworthy of Christ's presence. There is great difference betwixt others' valuations and our own. Sometimes the world under-rates him that finds reason to set an high price upon himself. Sometimes again, it over-values a man that knows just cause of his own humiliation. If others mistake us, this can be no warrant of our error. We cannot be wise, unless we receive the knowledge of ourselves by direct beams, not by reflection; unless we have learned to contemn unjust applauses, and, scorning the flattery of the world, to frown upon our own vileness: "Lord, I am not worthy."
Many a one, if he had been in the centurion's coat, would have thought well of it; a captain, a man of good ability and command, a founder of a synagogue, a patron of religion: yet he overlooks all these, and when he casts his eye upon the divine worth of Christ and his own weakness, he says, "I am not worthy." Alas, Lord, I am a Gentile, an alien, a man of blood; thou art holy, thou art omnipotent. True humility will teach us to find out the best of another, and the worst piece of ourselves: pride, contrarily, shews us nothing but matter of admiration in ourselves, in others of contempt. While he confest himself unworthy of any favour, he approved himself worthy of all. Had not Christ been before in his heart, he could not have thought himself unworthy to entertain that guest within his house. Under the low roof of an humble breast doth God ever delight to dwell: the state of his palace may not be measured by the height, but by the depth. Brags and bold faces do ofttimes carry it away with men; nothing prevails with God but our voluntary dejec
It is fit the foundations should be laid deep, where 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 shew 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. O that I could be but such a servant to mine 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 says, Come to me, 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.
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 this 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 my heart, thou hast wounded my 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 grace in 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 than 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 unjustly is that unanswerable ground near to a curse?
Our Saviour did not mutter this censorious testimony to himself, not 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 out-stripped 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 out-run 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 prevailed 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.