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ages present a striking resemblance to each other, in their personal character, in their condition of life, in the circumstances which brought them acquainted with the Saviour of the world. They dwelt in the same city, perhaps in habits of intimacy, for the good naturally attract and associate with the good; the one a courtier, the other an officer of very considerable rank; both, men of humanity, of gentle manners, of amiable, of noble deportment; the one a suppliant in behalf of a darling child, labouring under an attack of the fever, the other in behalf of a favourite servant, attacked by a violent paralytic affection ; both successful in their application, and both deeply impressed with the character of their great benefactor. With so many marks of resemblance, the two little histories display a lovely, affecting and instructive variety, tending to unfold the various shades of the human mind, in the changing scenes of human life, and equally tending to illustrate the grace and power of Christ, ever ready to meet every case, adapted alike to the relief of the bodies and of the souls of men. The
person who applied to Jesus Christ on this occasion was a centurion, that is, as the word imports, an officer in the Roman army who had a hundred men under his command. It corresponded nearly to the rank of captain in our military establishment.
Judea was at this time a conquered province, in subjection to the authority of a Roman governor, and kept in awe by Roman soldiery. The Jews vainly boasted that they were “ Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man :” whereas it was notorious to the whole world that from the days of Egyptian bondage, down to the despotism of Tiberius Cæsar, their intervals of liberty had been few, transient and interrupted ? and at that very moment they were murmuring under the pressure of a galling yoke, imposed on their neck, and kept there, by the strong hand of power; and Jesus Christ convicts them of being in subjection to a yoke still
more galling and disgraceful : “ whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.” But such are the self-delusions which men practise. Every Roman soldier who was seen, every Roman coin that circulated through the land demonstrated that they were not a free people. Indeed they were not worthy to be so, for they never enjoyed liberty without abusing it. Happy was it for the district of Capernaum to be under a government so mild and moderate as that of this good centurion.
The two evangelists who have recorded this fact differ in some circumstances of their narration. In reading St. Matthew's account we are led to suppose that the centurion made personal application to Christ, for the cure of his servant, whereas in the more circumstantial account of the transaction, transmitted to us by St. Luke, we find that the application was made in the first instance, through the medium of “the elders of the Jews.” But there is no real difference between the two historians. It was a maxim among the Jews, “a man's proxy is the man himself," and it is still a rule among civilians, “What we do by another we are adjudged to have done ourselves.” In a process of law, a party is said to come into court, and to have made such representation, though he appeared only by his counsel or solicitor. Thus Jethro came to Moses first by a messenger, with these words in his mouth; “ I thy father-in-law Jethro am come unto thee, and thy wife, and her two children." receiving this message, Moses went out to enjoy a personal interview with his family. Thus Solomon sent embassadors to Hiram, who were to address him not in the plural number, but in the first person singu. lar, as if Solomon himself had spoken the words face to face; “ behold, I purpose to build a house unto the name of the Lord my God;” and Hiram fairly considers himself as “ hearing the words of Solomon.” Thus the two sons of Zebedee came to Christ, with
a petition, through the medium of their mother ; and thus John Baptist, now shut up in a prison, addressed himself to Jesus by two of his disciples, saying, “ Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another." Matthew, in conformity to this mode of speech and thought, represents the centurion as coming in person to Christ, though at first, through modesty and humility, he thought proper to employ the intercession of others.
We have here a singularly pleasant opening into a good mind.
This man was accustomed to command, not to supplicate, to dictate not to bend. But such is his veneration for the person and character of Christ, that he is awed at the thought of appearing in his presence ; instead of resorting to the exercise of authority, he has recourse to entreaty, and hopes from the interposition of men better than himself what he dared not to ask on his own account. Does this bring his courage under suspicion ? Is it likely that such a man would turn his back in the day of battle ? No, surely. It is the coward that struts, and boasts, and threatens; the truly brave are modest, gentle and unassuming; they speak by their actions, not by high swelling words of vanity. And yet this centurion had more than one plea of merit to advance. He had borne his faculties most meekly in his great office.
He had not oppressed, he had not been guilty of extortion; and even this negative virtue merits some degree of commendation. On the contrary he cherished, encouraged, protected the people whom he was sent to rule. Instead of restricting their religious liberty, or permitting their worship to be disturbed, he liberally contributed toward the maintenance of public worship, and most probably assisted at it. In a word, he was a public blessing. Men generally set the full value on the good actions which they perform, and are frequently at pains to make an ostentatious display of them. He puts in no claim, exacts no acknowledgment, expects no re
turn. The elders of the Jews feel themselves so much the more called upon to celebrate his good qualities, and to enumerate his benefits. They came to Jesus and besought him instantly, saying, that he was worthy for whom he should do this; for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.
If indeed he had become a proselyte to the Jewish religion, that is, a worshipper of the one living and true God, as, from the whole history taken together, there is little reason to doubt a still higher degree of respectability attaches to his character. What obstacles had he not to surmount, what prejudices to overcome! The prejudice of education in the religion of polytheism, or a plurality of Gods; the prejudice of profession, which sometimes makes it a point of honour to be of no religion, sometimes to adhere to the first adopted; political prejudice, which would have tied him down to the religion of the imperial court, the source of all civil and military preferment; and more than all these, he had to encounter the formidable laugh of the world, the raillery of his fellow officers, the sneer of witlings. The courage that could meet and overcome such discouragements is indeed the courage of a hero.
It is now time to inquire into the object of this circuitous expostulation. What point is to be carried ? what interest is at stake to warrant such earnestness and importunity ? a servant sick of the palsy, and ready to die. The word translated a servant, through the whole of St. Matthew's narration, signifies boy, a term of ambiguous meaning, being employed to denote either child or servant, and it determines the age only, not the quality of the patient. But the Greek word used by St. Luke, except in one clause, is of unequivocal import, and indeed reduces the young man's condition lower than that of servant, for it means slave, and expresses the lowest condition of human wretchedness. This young person might have been
either a prisoner of war, or purchased with money; and slaves of both descriptions were frequently endowed with rare accomplishments.
As Providence permitted the boy to sink into this degraded state, it was some compensation, that he fell into the hands of a kind and affectionate master, a man of principle, a man of humanity. Where is now the ferociousness, the insensibility, the indifference of the soldier ? All melts into sympathy with distress, and into a sense of mutual obligation. Thus it is that the God who made us, who “ knoweth our frame, and who remembereth that we are dust," balances evil with good, and either finds a way to escape, or administers strength to support the calamity. Thus necessary to each other are the members in both the social and the natural body. “ If the foot shall say, because I am not the hand, I am not the body ; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, because I am not the eye,
I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body?” “ And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.”
The case of the little slave was dangerous if not desperate. The palsy is a partial death of the limbs affected. Here it was a privation of motion, while acute sensibility remained, he was "grievously tormented;" and this combination of pain and interrupted circulation threatened approaching dissolution. But the maxim is excellent both in medicine and morals: “ While there is life there is hope,” and religion advances a step farther, and says, “Even in death there is hope.” Many a promising case has been lost through impatience and despair. Till Providence has decided, man is bound to persevere in the use of
It is evident that the centurion expected every thing from the sovereign power, and not from the personal presence of Christ; and herein his faith soared much higher than that of the nobleman, who