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The Jews and heathens attributed the epilepsy and madness, though natural distempers, to the influence of evil spirits, or to the souls of dead men possessing the bodies of those who were thus afflicted. The evangelists, in describing the miraculous cures of these disorders, use the language of the age and country in which they lived; which language was founded upon the supposition of the reality of dæmoniacal possessions.
17. That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses; rather, 6 he took away our infirmities, and removed our sicknesses.
The passage of Isaiah (liii. 4.) which is here referred to, is thus translated in our English version; “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; which has been usually applied to the sufferings which Christ endured for our sins; but we see that Matthew, who no doubt understood the original better than any person at the present day, applies this passage to the case of Christ's removing, by his miraculous power, the infirmities and sicknesses of mankind.
1. In the character of this centurion, there is much to admire and imitate. Although a Roman, and bred up in idolatry, he had acquired juster notions of God, and a firmer faith in him, than Jews, who had enjoyed the benefit of religious instruction from their youth.---Although a soldier, he did not think that his profession exempted him from performing the duties of religion; nor had it extinguished in his breast the senti ments of humanity; he pities the sufferings, and is anxious for the recovery, of a poor servant, most probably a slave; for that was the condition of most of the servants of antiquity.. We may learn from this instance, not to conclude every individual to be cruel and profligate, because others of the same profession have that character. There is often more virtue among them than we imagine.
Let Christian masters learn from this heathen to shew humanity to their servants. Let them not make them serve with rigour, even when they are in health; and, when sickness or any other calamity overtakes them in their service, let them shew towards them the utmost tenderness, by procuring that medical assistance which they are unable to provide for themselves, and by affording them every other convenience which their situation may require. If to these acts of mercy to their bodies, they add their endeavours to remove or alleviate the diseases of the mind, which are far more injurious than any bodily distemper, by reproving their faults, and giving them the advantages of religious instruction, they will confer upon them a more important benefit, and deserve much greater praise.
2. How convincing and illustrious are the evidences of the divine mission of Christ! The most obstinate and dangerous diseases; the leprosy, fever, palsy, insanity, all fly away at his touch, or depart at his word. Such extraordinary effects could be produced by no one but the Almighty himself: whoever appears to exercise such power, has God dwelling in him, and working by him. The great author of nature, who thus alters the established course of things at his desire, bears a public attestation to the character which he assumes, as a divine teacher, and sets his seal to the truths which he delivers. Let us adore the divine condescension and goodness, in favouring us with such satisfactory evidence of the truth of our religion; and let us joyfully receive Christ, as the messenger of God
to mankind. If we can withstand such evidence; if we can reject the Messiah, accompanied with all these decisive credentials; God will not want persons to embrace his gospel, and to enjoy the blessings of his kingdom. The inhabitants of the remotest and most uncivilized parts of the world; the negroes of Africa; the Indian of the east and of the west, shall sit down at table in the kingdom of heaven; while we, the children of the kingdom, are shut out, and condemned to weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
Matthew viii. 18. to the end.
18. Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side.
Christ was at Capernaum, on the borders of the lake of Gennesareth, or the sea of Tiberias. The fame of his miracles had brought about him a great crowd of people: fearing, therefore, that some tumult might arise hence, he chose to withdraw himself from them, by passing over to the south-eastern side of the lake. It is observable that our Lord spent the greatest part of his public ministry in the towns and villages upon the borders of this lake; and it has been conjectured, with some degree of probability, that he did so, because it afforded him a convenient opportunity of withdraw, ing from the people, whenever, by their numbers, they became tronblesome to him, and might excite insurrections, or occasion the fear of them in the rulers of the nation.
19. And a certain Scribe came and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
The Scribes were the expounders of the law and of the traditions of the elders: they were generally of the sect of the Pharisees, and the bitterest enemies of Christ. This is the first instance which we have, of any one of them making any proposal to become the disciple of Jesus; but it was probably with worldly views. He was ambitious of riches and honours, which he hoped to enjoy by attending Christ, whom he had seen work so many miracles, and who, he imagined, would soon possess great power; but Jesus, being aware of his design, mentions his poverty, which would prevent the Scribe from continuing with him any longer.
20. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; rather, "roosts ;” but the son of man hath not where to lay his head.
Man and son of man, with the Hebrews, often denote a man of low condition. Thus the Psalmist (cxliv. 3.) says, “Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him, or the son of man, that thou takest account of him?” where he designs to represent the meanness and wretchedness of the human race, In this view it is applied to several of the prophets, particularly Ezekiel;
Ezekiel; “ and he said unto me, son of man, I. send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious house;" in order to admonish them of their meanness and frailty as men, notwithstanding the distinguished honours which were conferred upon them. When our Lord, therefore, applies it to himself, he means to express the scorn and contempt which were cast upon him, and in which he acquiesced; or, perhaps, it is nothing more than a modest way of speaking of himself: eminent and distinguished persons, who have many occasions to speak of themselves, especially if it be to their advantage, decline the too frequent use of the phrases, I and me, and choose to speak in the third person, as of another distinct from themselves. Our Lord, therefore, not choosing to speak in the first person, calls himself, with great humility, the son of man.
By a place to lay his head, he means a house; and consequently shews this Scribe, that he was so far from being a person of rich fortune, that he had not a house to live in, and therefore dwelt at Capernaum in a hired house, or lodged with one of his disciples.
21. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father.
This was not one of the twelve apostles, but one of those who had attended him for some time, and who is therefore called a disciple. The meaning of the request seems to be; “Suffer me to go home, and continue with my father, till he be dead, and I have buried him; I will then return and follow thee.” He hoped, perhaps, that by that time Christ would be in better circumstances; and then it would be more agreeable to follow him.
22. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.
That is, let worldly minded persons perform worldly things; follow thou me; nothing is to be here preferred to hearing my discourses, but the opportunity ought to be embraced with the greatest cagerness: a matter of infinite moment depends upon it, the loss or possession of eternal life. The word dead has a similar sense in other passages of Scripture: thus the apostle Paul (1 Tim. v. 6.) says of the widow that lives in pleasure, that she is dead while she lives: the prodigal son, who repented and returned to his father, is said to have been dead and to be alive again; and the apostle just quoted, speaking of the former conversation of the Ephesians, says that they were dead in trespasses and sins.