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character, for the impurity of their conduct, and for their frequent disregard of all those laws which Almighty wisdom had thought fit to impose on the children of Israel. They were negligent in their attendance on the Temple of Jerusalem; and pleaded, perhaps, as an excuse, their distant situation, and the difficulties which opposed their journey. The same reason, by dividing them from the other Jews, had tempted them to mix with the heathen tribes who surrounded their city; to take the heathen women in marriage; and to comply with many of those foul and idolatrous customs, which the law of God so repeatedly prohibits. The heathen tribes, too, who had been planted there by the armies of Assyria, -though they had paid a formal reverence to the renowned and mighty God of Israel, were tainted still with all their ancient vices, and gave their faith to most of their ancient superstitions. "The way of the sea beyond Jordan, in Galilee of the nations," is described in Isaiah as "a people that walked in darkness':" and in the present history we have an example, in the circumstance of their feeding large herds of swine, we have an example, I say, from this very circumstance, how much they disregarded the law of Moses; and set, as it were, at open defiance the command which God had given to their fathers.
1 Isaiah, ix. 1, 2.
I need not tell you, that, for some wise reason doubtless, this animal was forbidden to the Jewish nation. It is one of those many commands, which ended at the death of Christ, and which concerned the Jewish people only; but still, till Christ was really offered up, till the burden of the law was, by His death, removed,— to feed an animal thus declared unclean was, in Israel, a daring contempt of the revealed will of the Almighty; and was justly punished by our Lord, in the destruction of such unlawful property.
This, as I apprehend, was the principal reason which induced Him to afflict the swine with this strange and unusual disorder; and to suffer the evil spirits, disappointed in their enmity to man, to waste their fury in the destruction of other animals. There was, indeed, another reason. The conversation of our Lord with the devils, their answer and request, the permission granted them, and the immediate transfer of the madness from the human sufferer to the herd, were so many proofs that the disease was really inflicted by evil spirits; and that these powerful and malicious beings were subject to the absolute command of their great enemy and conqueror. It proved too, beyond the smallest possibility of denial, that other causes, besides a weakness of nerves, or strength of fancy, gave efficacy to the words of our Lord; and enabled Him to perform
such wonderful and unexampled cures. Here, as well as in the miracle of the withered fig-tree, no man could pretend, that fancy had the smallest influence; no faith on one side, or art on the other, could forward a miracle, which had brutes, or plants, for its subject; and an event so immediately following the command we never suppose to be produced by the mere coincidence of accident.
The men of Gadara had, then, ample reason to humble themselves, in the presence of so powerful a stranger as Jesus ;-to exult in the arrival of so merciful a physician, by whom all their infirmities both might, and would, be relieved. Instead of thus rejoicing, they assembled round Him, indeed; but it was only to entreat Him to depart. They grudged their swine too much, to rejoice in the recovery of their unfortunate townsman; and had rather continue in their infirmities, than run the risk of losing their unlawful wealth. Many of those, who were thus anxious with our Lord to leave them, were labouring, no doubt, under diseases, which He only could relieve,—misfortunes, which He only could comfort. And to all, He bore the joyful tidings of life and immortality; to all, He was the great power of God to salvation, and the only gate to hope in this life and to happiness in the life to come. All this they knew, or might have known; they were sensible, perhaps, of their
own necessities; and of the arm of God which then was present to heal them: but they would not purchase relief at the expence of their herds of swine. They knew that such herds were forbidden by the law of Moses; they knew that they incurred thereby, sooner or later, the inevitable curse of God; yet would not these considerations, nor the punishment itself which their breach of the law had just received, yet would not all these subdue their obstinate covetousness, or induce them to receive with gratitude or humility the great Physician of their souls.
And thus it too often happens with the hearts and consciences of men. It is not only the people of Gadara by whom Christ's merciful offers are thus declined and slighted. All of us have some favourite vice; all of us have some unlawful habit or possession; which our hearts are tempted to prefer to Christ. We know, for instance, since every page of Scripture bears an ample testimony, that, without repentance, no man can receive the mercies of God, through Jesus Christ. Yet is repentance a work of so much labour; yet there are sins so dear, which we are called on to renounce; that we cannot bear, at so high a rate, to purchase even our eternal salvation.
The more dangerous, indeed, a vicious habit is become,—the more certain the indignation of God, the stronger hold it too often acquires on
our hearts; and the offence becomes, in the strong language of our Lord Himself, as precious as a right eye or a right hand. Then it is that we feel ourselves unhappy in the consideration of any religious subject; we are miserable, when we reflect on the danger of our condition; when we know the necessity of sacrifices, which we are unwilling to make; till, at length, we close our eyes wilfully on our danger; and drive, by every means in our power, all holy thoughts from our minds. Thus, to preserve some foul indulgence, some earthly wealth or privilege, as contemptible in the balance as a herd of swine against the salvation of a city; we slight the offers of mercy; resist the Holy Spirit of the Lord; and, like these besotted Gergesenes, oblige Him to depart from us. To a man of this sort, the mention of religious truths is torment and horror; he feels the thoughts of his Redeemer as the greatest misery which he knows; and exclaims, with the evil spirits, "What have we to do with Thee? art Thou come to torment us, before the time ?"
Such is the wretched state of those whose hearts are hardened in iniquity. If there be any here whose conscience is afflicted with pangs like these, let me beseech him to seize with joy the first movement of repentance, and to burst, by the help of God, the yoke of a slavery so dreadful, a slavery whose wages are death. The covetous