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comniand us to call down fire from heaven, we know thy word shall enable us to do what thou requirest; if the words be ours, the power shall be thine; this had been but holy, modest, faithful; but if they supposed there needed nothing save a leave only, and that, might they be but let loose, they could go alone, they presumed, they offended.
Yet had they thus overshot themselves in some pious and charitable motion, the fault had been the less. Now the act had in it both cruelty, and private revenge. Their zeal was not worthy of more praise, than their fury of censure. That fire should fall down from heaven upon men, is a fearful thing to think of, and that which hath not been often done. It was done in the case of Sodom, when these five unclean cities burned with the unnatural fire of hellish lust: it was done two several times, at the suit of Elijah; it was done, in an height of trial, to that great pattern of patience. I find it no more, and tremble at these I find.
But besides the dreadfulness of the judgment itself, who can but quake at the thought of the suddenness of this destruction, which sweeps away both body and soul, in a state of unpreparation, of unrepentance ; so as this fire should begin a worse, this heavenly flame should but kindle that of hell?
Thus unconceivably heavy was the revenge; but what was the offence? We have learned not to think any indignity light, that is offered to the Son of God; but we know these spiritual affronts are capable of degrees. Had these Samaritans reviled Christ and his train, had they violently assaulted him, had they followed him with stones in their hands, and blasphemies in their mouths, it had been a just provocation of so horrible a vengeance : now the wrong was only negative; “They received him not:” and that, not out of any particular quarrel or dislike of his person, but of his nation only; the men had been welcome, had not their country distasted. All the charge that I hear our Saviour give to his disciples, in case of their rejection, is, “ If they receive you not, shake off the dust of
yet this was amongst their own, and when they went on that sacred errand of publishing the gospel of peace. These were strangers from the commonwealth of Israel: this measure was not to preachers, but to travellers, only a mere inhospitality to misliked guests; yet no less revenge will serve them than fire from heaven.
I dare say for you, ye holy sons of Zebedee, it was not your
spleen, but your zeal, that was guilty of so bloody a suggestion. Your indignation could not but be stirred to see the great Prophet and Saviour of the world so unkindly repelled : yet all this will not excuse you from a rash cruelty, from an inordinate rage.
Even the best heart may easily be miscarried with a wellmeant zeal ; no affection is either more necessary or better accepted. Love to any object cannot be severed from batred of the contrary : whence it is, that all creatures, which have the concupiscible part, have also the irascible adjoined unto it. Anger and displeasure is not so much an enemy, as a guardian and champion of love; whoever, therefore, is rightly affected to bis Saviour, cannot but find much regret at his wrongs. O gracious and divine zeal, the kindly warmth and vital temper of piety, whither hast thou withdrawn thyself from the cold hearts of men? or is this according to the just constitution of the old and decrepid age of the world into which we are fallen? How many are there that think there is no wisdom but in a dull indifferency, and choose rather to freeze than burn! How quick and apprehensive are men in cases of their own indignities! how insensible of their Saviour's!
But there is nothing so ill as the corruption of the best. Rectified zeal is not more commendable and useful, than inordinate and misguided is hateful and dangerous. Fire is a necessary and beneficial element, but if it be once misplaced, and have caught upon the beams of our houses, or stacks of our corn, nothing can be more direful.
Thus sometimes zeal turns murder; “They that kill you shall think they do God service;” sometimes phrensy, sometimes rude indiscretion. Wholesome and blessed is that zeal that is well grounded, and well governed; grounded upon the word of truth, not upon unstable fancies ; governed by wisdom and charity ; wisdom to avoid rashness and excess; charity, to avoid just offence.
No motion can want a pretence: Elias did so, why not we? He was an holy prophet: the occasion, the place abludes not much ; there wrong was offered to a servant, here to his Master : there to a man, here to a God and man.
If Elias then did it, why not we? There is nothing more perilous than to draw all the actions of holy men into examples ; for, as the best men have their weaknesses, so they are not privileged from letting fall unjustifiable actions. Besides that, they may
have had, perhaps, peculiar warrants signed from heaven, whether by instinct or special command, which we shall expect in vain. There must be much caution used in our imitation of the best patterns, whether in respect of persons or things, else we shall make ourselves apes, and our acts sinful absurdities.
It is a rare thing for our Saviour to find fault with the errors of zeal, even where have appeared sensible weaknesses, If Moses, in a sacred rage and indignation, broke the tables written with God's own hand, I find him not checked. Here our meek Saviour turns back and frowns upon his furious suitors, and takes them up roundly; “ Ye know not of what spirit ye are.” The faults of uncharitableness cannot be swallowed up in zeal. If there were any colour to hide the blemishes of this misdisposition, it should be this crimson dye. But he, that needs not our lie, will let us know he needs not our injury, and hates to have a good cause supported by the violation of our charity. We have no reason to disclaim our passions; even the Son of God chides sometimes, yea, where he loves. It offends not, that our affections are moved, but that they are inordinate.
It was a sharp word, “Ye know not of what spirit ye are ;" another man would not perhaps have felt it, a disciple doth. Tender hearts are galled with that which the carnal mind slighteth. The spirit of Elias was that which they meant to assume and imitate ; they shall now know their mark was mistaken. How would they have hated to think, that any other but God's spirit had stirred them up to this passionate motion ! now they shall know it was wrought by that ill spirit whom they professed to hate.
It is far from the good spirit of God to stir up any man to private revenge, or thirst of blood. Not an eagle, but a dove, was the shape wherein he chose to appear. Neither wouldst thou, O God, be in the whirlwind, or in the fire, but in the soft voice. O Saviour, what, do we seek for any precedent but thine, whose name we challenge? Thou camest to thine own, thine own received thee not. Didst thou call for fire from heaven upon them? didst thou not rather send down water from thy compassionate eyes, and weep for them by whom thou must bleed? Better had it been for us never to have had any spirit, than any but thiue. We can be no other than wicked, if our mercies be cruelty.
But is it the name of Elias, O ye zealots, which ye pretend for a colour of your impotent desire? Ye do not consider the difference betwixt his spirit and yours. His was extraordinary and heroical, besides the instinct or secret coinmand of God for this act of his ; far otherways is it with you, who, by a carnal distemper, are moved to this furious suggestion. Those that would imitate God's saints in singular actions, must see they go upon the same grounds. Without the same spirit, and the same warrant, it is either a mockery or a sin to make them our copies. Elias is no fit pattern for disciples, but their Master. “The Son of man came not to destroy men's lives, but to save them."
Then are our actions and intentions warrantable and praiseworthy, when they accord with his. O Saviour, when we look into those sacred acts and monuments of thine, we find many a life which thou preservedst from perishing, some that had perished by thee recalled; never any by thee destroyed : only one poor fig-tree, as the real emblem of thy severity to the unfruitful, was blasted and withered by thy curse.
But to man, how ever favourable and indulgent wert thou? So repelled as thou wert, so reviled, so persecuted, laid for, sold, betrayed, apprehended, arraigned, condemned, crucified; yet what one man didst thou strike dead for these heinous indignities ? Yea, when one of thine enemies lost but an earin that ill quarrel, thou gavest that ear to him who came to take life from thee. I find some whom thou didst scourge and correct, as the sacrilegious nioney-changers; none whom thou killedst. Not that thou either lovest not, or requirest not the duly severe execution of justice. Whose sword is it that princes bear but thine? Offenders must smart and bleed. This is a just sequel, but not the intention of thy coming; thy will, not
Good princes make wholesoine laws for the well-ordering of their people: there is no authority without due coercion, The violation of these good laws is followed with death, whase end was preservation, life, order; and this not so much for revenge of an offence past, as for prevention of future mischief.
How can we then enough love and praise thy mercy, thou Preserver of men! How should we imitate thy saving and beneficent disposition towards mankind! as knowing, the more we can help to save, the nearer we come to thee that
camest to save all; and the more destructive we are, the more we resemble him who is Abaddon, a murderer from the beginning.
The Ten Lepers. The Samaritans were tainted, not with schism, but heresy, yea, paganism; our Saviour yet baulks them not, but makes use of the way as it lies, and bestows upon them the courtesy of some miracles : some kind of coinierce is lawful, even with those without; terins of entireness, and leagues of inward amity are here unfit, unwarrantable, dangerous; but civil respects, and wise uses of them for our convenience or necessity, need not, must not be forborne.
Ten lepers are here met; those that are excluded from all other society, seek the company of each other; fellowship is that we all naturally affect, though even in leprosy; even lepers will flock to their fellows; where shall we find one spiritual leper alone? Drunkards, profane persons, heretics, will be sure to consort with their matches: why should not God's saints delight in an holy communion ? why is it not our chief joy to assemble in good ?
Jews and Samaritans could not abide one another, yet here in leprosy they accord; here was one Samaritan leper with the Jewish; community of passion hath made them friends, whom even religion disjoined: what virtue there is in misery, that can unite even the most estranged hearts !
I seek not mystery in the number; these ten are met together, and all meet Christ, not casually, but upon due deliberation : they purposely waited for this opportunity ; no marvel if they thought no attendance long, to be delivered from so loathsome and miserable a disease. Great Naaman could be glad to come from Syria to Judea, in hope of leaving that hateful guest behind him; we are all sensible enough of our bodily infirmities. O that we could be equally weary of the sicknesses and deformities of our better part: surely, our spiritual maladies are no less than mortal, if they be not healed; neither can they heal alone ; these men had died lepers, if they had not met with Christ.
O Saviour, give us grace to seek thee, and patience to wait for thee, and then we know thou wilt find us, and we remedy.