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nothing, what wonder is it, if we, thy sinful servants, be branded on all sides with evil tongues?
Yea, which is yet more, how plain is it, that these men forced their tongue to speak this slander against their own heart! else this blasphemy had been only against the Son of man, not against the Holy Ghost: but now that the searcher of hearts finds it to be no less than against the blessed Spirit of God, the spite must needs be obstinate, their inalice doth wilfully cross their conscience. Envy never regards how true, but how mischievous: so it may gall or kill, it cares little whether with truth or falsehood. For us, "blessed are we when men revile us, and say all manner of evil of us, for the name of Christ;" for them, "what reward shall be given to thee, thou false tongue? even sharp arrows with hot burning coals," yea, those very coals of hell from which thou wert unkindled.
There was yet a third sort that went a mid-way betwixt wonder and censure. These were not so malicious as to impute the miracle to a satanical operation; they confess it good, but not enough, and therefore urge Christ to a further proof: Though thou hast cast out this dumb devil, yet this is no sufficient argument of thy divine power. We have yet seen nothing from thee like those ancient miracles of the times of our forefathers. Joshua caused the sun to stand still; Elias brought fire down from heaven; Samuel astonished the people with thunder and rain in the midst of harvest if thou wouldst command our belief, do somewhat like to these. The casting out of a devil shews thee to have some power over hell; shew us now that thou hast no less power over heaven. There is a kind of unreasonableness of desire, and insatiableness in infidelity: it never knows when it hath evidence enough. This, which the Jews overlooked, was a more irrefragable demonstration of divinity than that which they desired. A devil was more than a meteor, or a parcel of an element; to cast out a devil by command, more than to command fire from heaven. Infidelity ever loves to be her
No son can be more like a father than these Jews to their progenitors in the desart: that there might be no fear of degenerating into good, they also of old tempted God in the wilderness. First, they are weary of the Egyptian bondage, and are ready to fall out with God and Moscs for their stay in
those furnaces. By ten miraculous plagues they are freed; and, going out of those confines, the Egyptians follow them, the sea is before them; now they are more afflicted with their liberty than their servitude: the sea yields way, the Egyptians are drowned; and now that they are safe on the other shore, they tempt the Providence of God for water; the rock yields it them; then, no less for bread and meat.. God sends them manna and quails; they cry out of the food of angels. Their present enemies in the way are vanished; they whine at the men of measures in the heart of Canaan.. Nothing from God but mercy, nothing from them but temptations.
Their true brood, both in nature and in sin, had abundant proofs of the Messiah; if curing the blind, lame, diseased, deaf, dumb, ejecting devils, overruling the elements, raising the dead, could have been sufficient, yet still they must have a sign from heaven, and shut up in the style of the tempter, "If thou be the Christ." The gracious heart is credulous; even where it sees not, it believes, and where it sees but a little, it believes a great deal. Neither doth it presume to prescribe unto God, what and how he shall work; but takes what it finds, and unmoveably rests in what it takes. Any miracle, no miracle serves enough for their assent, who have built their faith upon the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
THE number of the apostles was not yet full; one room is left void for a future occupant. Who can but expect, that it is reserved for some eminent person? and, behold, Matthew the publican is the man. O the strange election of Christ! Those other disciples, whose calling is recorded, were from the fisher-boat; this from the tolbooth: they were unlettered, this infamous. The condition was not itself sinful: but, as the taxes which the Romans imposed on God's free people were odious, so the collectors, the farmers of them, abominable. Besides, that it was hard to hold that seat without oppression, without exaction. One, that best knew it, branded it with polling and sycophancy. And now behold a gripping publican called to the family, to the apostleship, to the secretaryship of God. Who can despair in the conscience of his unworthiness, when he sees this pattern of the free bounty of him that
calleth us? Merits do not carry it in the gracious election of God, but his mere favour. There sat Matthew the publican, busy in his counting-house, reckoning up the sums of his rentals, taking up his arrearages, and wrangling for denied duties, and did so little think of a Saviour, that he did not so much as look at his passage; but "Jesus, as he passed by, saw a man sitting at the receipt of custom, named Matthew." As if this prospect had been sudden and casual, Jesus saw him in passing by. O Saviour, before the world was, thou sawest that man sitting there, thou sawest thine own passage, thou sawest his call in thy passage; and now thou goest purposely that way, that thou mightst see and call. Nothing can be hid from that piercing eye, one glance whereof hath discerned a disciple in the clothes of a publican. That habit, that shop of extortion cannot conceal from thee a vessel of election. In all forms thou knowest thine own; and, in thine own time, shall fetch them out of the disguises of their foul sins or unfit conditions. What sawest thou, O Saviour, in that publican, that might either allure thine eye, or not offend it? what but an hateful trade, an evil eye, a gripple hand, bloody tables, heaps of spoil? yet now thou saidst, "Follow me." Thou that saidst once to Jerusalem, "Thy birth and nativity is of the land of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, thy mother an Hittite; thy navel was not cut, neither wert thou washed in water to supple thee; thou wast not salted at all, thou wast not swaddled at all: no eye pitied thee, but thou wast cast out in the open fields, to the loathing of thy person, in the day that thou wast born; and when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee, Live; yea, I said unto thee, when thou wast in thy blood, Live." Now also, when thou passedst by, and sawest Matthew sitting at the receipt of custom, saidst to him, "Follow me." The life of this publican was so much worse than the birth of that forlorn Amorite, as Follow me was more than Live. What canst thou see in us, O God, but ugly deformities, horrible. sins, despicable miseries? yet doth it please thy mercy to say unto us both Live, and Follow me!
The just man is the first accuser of himself: whom do we hear to blazon the shame of Matthew but his own mouth? Matthew the Evangelist tells us of Matthew the publican: his fellows call him Levi, as willing to lay their finger upon the spot of his unpleasing profession; himself will not smother nor
blanch it a whit, but publishes it to all the world, in a thankful recognition of the mercy that called him, as liking well that his baseness should serve for a fit foil to set off the glorious lustre of his grace by whom he was elected. What matters it how vile we are, O God, so thy glory may arise in our abasement? That word was enough, "Follow me;" spoken by the same tongue that said to the corpse at Nain, "Young man, I say to thee, arise." He that said at first, "Let there be light, says now, "Follow me." That power sweetly inclines which could forcibly command: the force is not more unresistible than the inclination. When the sun shines upon the icicles, can they choose but melt and fall? when it looks into a dungeon, can the place choose but be enlightened? Do we see the jet drawing up straws to it, the loadstone iron, and do we inarvel if the omnipotent Saviour, by the influence of his grace, attract the heart of a publican? "He arose and followed him." We are all naturally averse from thee, O God; do thou but bid us follow thee, draw us by thy powerful word, and we shall run after thee. Alas, thou speakest and we sit still; thou speakest by thine outward word to our ear, and we stir not. Speak thou by the secret and effectual word of thy Spirit to our heart, (the world cannot hold us down, Satan cannot stop our way) we shall arise and follow thee.
It was not a more busy than gainful trade that Matthew abandoned, to follow Christ into poverty; and now he cast away his counters, and struck his tallies, and crossed his books, and contemned his heaps of cash, in comparison of that better treasure which he foresaw lie open in that happy attendance. If any commodity be valued of us too dear to be parted with for Christ, we are more fit to be publicans than disciples. Our Saviour invites Matthew to a discipleship, Matthew invites him to a feast; the joy of his call makes him begin his abdication of the world in a banquet.
Here was not a more cheerful thankfulness in the inviter, than a gracious humility in the guest: the new servant bids his Master, the publican his Saviour, and is honoured with so blessed a presence. I do not find where Jesus was ever bidden to any table, and refused. If a Pharisee, if a publican invited him, he made not dainty to go. Not for the pleasure of the dishes; what was that to him who began his work in a whole Lent of days? but (as it was his meat and drink to do the will of his Father) for the benefit of so winning a conver
sation. If he sat with sinners, he converted them; if with converts, he confirmed and instructed them; if with the poor, he fed them; if with the rich in substance, he made them richer in grace. At whose board did he ever sit, and left not his host a gainer? The poor bridegroom entertains him, and hath his water-pots filled with wine. Simon the Pharisee entertains him, and hath his table honoured with the public remission of a penitent sinner, with the heavenly doctrine of remission. Zaccheus entertains him, salvation came that day to his house, with the author of it. That presence made the publican a son of Abraham. Matthew is recompensed for his feast with an apostleship. Martha and Mary entertain him, and, besides divine instruction, receive their brother from the dead. O Saviour, whether thou feast us or we feast thee, in both of them is blessedness!
Where a publican is the feast-master, it is no marvel if the guest be publicans and sinners. Whether they came alone out of the hope of that mercy which they saw their fellow had found, or whether Matthew invited them to be partners of that plentiful grace whereof he had tasted, I inquire not. Publicans and sinners will flock together, the one hateful for their trade, the other for their vicious life. Common contempt hath wrought them to an unanimity, and sends them to seek mutual comfort in that society, which all others held loathsome and contagious. Moderate correction humbleth and shameth the offender, whereas a cruel severity makes men desperate, and drives them to those courses whereby they are more dangerously infected. How many have gone into the prison faulty, and returned flagitious! If publicans were not sinners, they were no wit beholden to their neighbours.
What a table-full was here! the Son of God beset with publicans and sinners. O happy publicans and sinners, that had found out their Saviour! O merciful Saviour, that disdained not publicans and sinners!
What sinner can fear to kneel before thee, when he sees publicans and sinners sit with thee? who can fear to be despised of thy meekness and mercy, which did not abhor to converse with the outcasts of men? Thou didst not despise the thief confessing upon the cross, nor the sinner weeping upon thy feet, nor the Canaanite crying to thee in the way, nor the blushing adulteress, nor the odious publican, nor the forswearing disciple, nor the persecutor of disciples, nor thine own