Verses 5–13

We have here an account of Christ’s curing the centurion’s servant of a palsy. This was done at Capernaum, where Christ now dwelt, Matt. 4:13. Christ went about doing good, and came home to do good too; every place he came to was the better for him.

The persons Christ had now to do with were,

1. A centurion; he was a supplicant, a Gentile, a Roman, an officer of the army; probably commander-in-chief of that part of the Roman army which was quartered at Capernaum, and kept garrison there. (1.) Though he was a soldier (and a little piety commonly goes a great way with men of that profession), yet he was a godly man; he was eminently so. Note, God has his remnant among all sorts of people. No man’s calling or place in the world will be an excuse for his unbelief and impiety; none shall say in the great day, I had been religious, if I had not been a soldier; for such there are among the ransomed of the Lord. And sometimes where grace conquers the unlikely, it is more than a conqueror; this soldier that was good, was very good. (2.) Though he was a Roman soldier, and his very dwelling among the Jews was a badge of their subjection to the Roman yoke, yet Christ, who was King of the Jews, favoured him; and therein has taught us to do good to our enemies, and not needlessly to interest ourselves in national enmities. (3.) Though he was a Gentile, yet Christ countenanced him. It is true, he went not to any of the Gentile towns (it was the land of Canaan that was Immanuel’s land, Isa. 8:8), yet he received addresses from Gentiles; now good old Simeon’s word began to be fulfilled, that he should be a light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as the glory of his people Israel. Matthew, in annexing this cure to that of the leper, who was a Jew, intimates this; the leprous Jews Christ touched and cured, for he preached personally to them; but the paralytic Gentiles he cured at a distance; for to them he did not go in person, but sent his word and healed them; yet in them he was more magnified.

2. The centurion’s servant; he was the patient. In this also it appears, that there is no respect of persons with God; for in Christ Jesus, as there is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, so there is neither bond nor free. He is as ready to heal the poorest servant, as the richest master; for himself took upon him the form of a servant, to show his regard to the meanest.

Now in the story of the cure of this servant, we may observe an intercourse or interchanging of graces, very remarkable between Christ and the centurion. See here,

I. The grace of the centurion working towards Christ. Can any good thing come out of a Roman soldier? any thing tolerable, much less any thing laudable? Come and see, and you will find abundance of good coming out of this centurion that was eminent and exemplary. Observe, 1. His affectionate address to Jesus Christ, which speaks,

(1.) A pious regard to our great Master, as one able and willing to succour and relieve poor petitioners. He came to him beseeching him, not as Naaman the Syrian (a centurion too) came to Elisha, demanding a cure, taking state, and standing upon points of honour; but with cap in hand as a humble suitor. By this it seems that he saw more in Christ than appeared at first view; saw that which commanded respect, though to those who looked no further, his visage was marred more than any man’s. The officers of the army, being comptrollers of the town, no doubt made a great figure, yet he lays by the thoughts of his post of honour, when he addresses himself to Christ, and comes beseeching him. Note, the greatest of men must turn beggars, when they have to do with Christ. He owns Christ’s sovereignty, in calling him Lord, and referring the case to him, and to his will, and wisdom, by a modest remonstrance, without any formal and express petition. He knew he had to do with a wise and gracious Physician, to whom the opening of the malady was equivalent to the most earnest request. A humble confession of our spiritual wants and diseases shall not fail of an answer of peace. Pour out thy complaint, and mercy shall be poured out.

(2.) A charitable regard to his poor servant. We read of many that came to Christ for their children, but this is the only instance of one that came to him for a servant: Lord, my servant lieth at home sick. Note, it is the duty of masters to concern themselves for their servants, when they are in affliction. The palsy disabled the servant for his work, and made him as troublesome and tedious as any distemper could, yet he did not turn him away when he was sick (as that Amalekite did his servants, 1 Sam. 30:13), did not send him to his friends, not let him lie by neglected, but sought out the best relief he could for him; the servant could not have done more for the master, than the master did here for the servant. The centurion’s servants were very dutiful to him (Matt. 8:9), and here we see what made them so; he was very kind to them, and that made them the more cheerfully obedient to him. As we must not despise the cause of our servants, when they contend with us (Job 31:13, 15), so we must not despise their case when God contends with them; for we are made in the same mould, by the same hand, and stand upon the same level with them before God, and must not set them with the dogs of our flock. The centurion applies not to witches or wizards for his servant, but to Christ. The palsy is a disease in which the physician’s skill commonly fails; it was therefore a great evidence of his faith in the power of Christ, to come to him for a cure, which was above the power of natural means to effect. Observe, How pathetically he represents his servant’s case as very sad; he is sick of the palsy, a disease which commonly makes the patient senseless of pain, but this person was grievously tormented; being young, nature was strong to struggle with the stroke, which made it painful. (It was not paralysis simplex, but scorbutica). We should thus concern ourselves for the souls of our children, and servants, that are spiritually sick of the palsy, the dead-palsy, the dumb palsy; senseless of spiritual evils, inactive in that which is spiritually good, and bring them to the means of healing and health.

2. Observe his great humility and self-abasement. After Christ had intimated his readiness to come and heal his servants (Matt. 8:7), he expressed himself with the more humbleness of mind. Note, Humble souls are made more humble, by Christ’s gracious condescensions to them. Observe what was the language of his humility; Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof (Matt. 8:8), which speaks mean thought of himself, and high thoughts of our Lord Jesus. He does not say, “My servant is not worthy that thou shouldest come into his chamber, because it is in the garret;” But I am not worthy that thou shouldest come into my house. The centurion was a great man, yet he owned his unworthiness before God. Note, Humility very well becomes persons of quality. Christ now made but a mean figure in the world, yet the centurion, looking upon him as a prophet, yea, more than a prophet, paid him this respect. Note, We should have a value and veneration for what we see of God, even in those who, in outward condition, are every way our inferiors. The centurion came to Christ with a petition, and therefore expressed himself thus humbly. Note, In all our approaches to Christ, and to God through Christ, it becomes us to abase ourselves, and to lie low in the sense of our own unworthiness, as mean creatures and as vile sinners, to do any thing for God, to receive any good from him, or to have any thing to do with him.

3. Observe his great faith. The more humility the more faith; the more diffident we are of ourselves, the stronger will be our confidence in Jesus Christ. He had an assurance of faith not only that Christ could cure his servant, but,

(1.) That he could cure him at a distance. There needed not any physical contact, as in natural operations, nor any application to the part affected; but the cure, he believed, might be wrought, without bringing the physician and patient together. We read afterwards of those, who brought the man sick of the palsy to Christ, through much difficulty, and set him before him; and Christ commended their faith for a working faith. This centurion did not bring his man sick of the palsy, and Christ commended his faith for a trusting faith: true faith is accepted of Christ, though variously appearing: Christ puts the best construction upon the different methods of religion that people take, and thereby has taught us to do so too. This centurion believed, and it is undoubtedly true, that the power of Christ knows no limits, and therefore nearness and distance are alike to him. Distance of place cannot obstruct either the knowing or working of him that fills all places. Amos I a God at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Jer. 23:23.

(2.) That he could cure him with a word, not send him a medicine, much less a charm; but speak the word only, and I do not question but my servant shall be healed. Herein he owns him to have a divine power, an authority to command all the creatures and powers of nature, which enables him to do whatsoever he pleases in the kingdom of nature; as at first he raised that kingdom by an almighty word, when he said, Let there be light. With men, saying and doing are two things; but not so with Christ, who is therefore the Arm of the Lord, because he is the eternal Word. His saying, Be ye warmed and filled (Jas. 2:16), and healed, warms, and fills and heals.

The centurion’s faith in the power of Christ he here illustrates by the dominion he had, as a centurion, over his soldiers, as a master over his servants; he says to one, Go, and he goes, etc. They were all at his beck and command, so as that he could by them execute things at a distance; his word was a law to them—dictum factum; well-disciplined soldiers know that the commands of their officers are not to be disputed, but obeyed. Thus could Christ speak, and it is done; such a power had he over all bodily diseases. The centurion had this command over his soldiers, though he was himself a man under authority; not a commander-in-chief, but a subaltern officer; much more had Christ this power, who is the supreme and sovereign Lord of all. The centurion’s servants were very obsequious, would go and come at every the least intimation of their master’s mind. Now, [1.] Such servants we all should be to God: we must go and come at his bidding, according to the directions of his word, and the disposals of his providence; run where he sends us, return when he remands us, and do what he appoints. What saith my Lord unto his servant? When his will crosses our own, his must take place, and our own be set aside. [2.] Such servants bodily diseases are to Christ. They seize us when he sends them; they leave us when he calls them back; they have that effect upon us, upon our bodies, upon our souls, that he orders. It is a matter of comfort to all that belong to Christ, for whose good his power is exerted and engaged, that every disease has his commission, executes his command, is under his control, and is made to serve the intentions of his grace. They need not fear sickness, nor what it can do, who see it in the hand of so good a Friend.

II. Here is the grace of Christ appearing towards this centurion; for to the gracious he will show himself gracious.

1. He complies with his address at the first word. He did but tell him his servant’s case, and was going on to beg a cure, when Christ prevented him, with this good word, and comfortable word, I will come and heal him (Matt. 8:7); not I will come and see him—that had evinced him a kind Saviour; but, I will come and heal him—that shows him a mighty, an almighty Saviour; it was a great word, but no more than he could make good; for he has healing under his wings; his coming is healing. They who wrought miracles by a derived power, did not speak thus positively, as Christ did, who wrought them by his own power, as one that had authority. When a minister is sent for to a sick friend, he can but say, I will come and pray for him; but Christ says, I will come and heal him: it is well that Christ can do more for us than our ministers can. The centurion desired he would heal his servant; he says, I will come and heal him; thus expressing more favour than he did either ask or think of. Note, Christ often outdoes the expectations of poor supplicants. See an instance of Christ’s humility, that he would make a visit to a poor soldier. He would not go down to see a nobleman’s sick child, who insisted upon his coming down (John 4:47-49), but he proffers to go down to see a sick servant; thus does he regard the low estate of his people, and give more abundant honour to that part which lacked. Christ’s humility, in being willing to come, gave an example to him, and occasioned his humility, in owning himself unworthy to have him come. Note, Christ’s gracious condescensions to us, should make us the more humble and self-abasing before him.

2. He commends his faith, and takes occasion from it to speak a kind word of the poor Gentiles, Matt. 8:10-12. See what great things a strong but self-denying faith can obtain from Jesus Christ, even of general and public concern.

(1.) As to the centurion himself; he not only approved him and accepted him (that honour have all true believers), but he admired him and applauded him: that honour great believers have, as Job; there is none like unto him in the earth.

[1.] Christ admired him, not for his greatness, but for his graces. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled; not as if it were to him new and surprising, he knew the centurion’s faith, for he wrought it; but it was great and excellent, rare and uncommon, and Christ spoke of it as wonderful, to teach us what to admire; not worldly pomp and decorations, but the beauty of holiness, and the ornaments which are in the sight of God of great price. Note, The wonders of grace should affect us more than the wonders of nature or providence, and spiritual attainments more than any achievements in this world. Of those that are rich in faith, not of those that are rich in gold and silver, we should say that they have gotten all this glory, Gen. 30:1. But whatever there is admirable in the faith of any, it must redound to the glory of Christ, who will shortly be himself admired in all them that believe, as having done in and for them marvellous things.

[2.] He applauded him in what he said to them that followed. All believers shall be, in the other world, but some believers are, in this world, confessed and acknowledged by Christ before men, in his eminent appearances for them and with them. Verily, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. Now this speaks, First, Honour to the centurion; who, though not a son of Abraham’s loins, was an heir of Abraham’s faith, and Christ found it so. Note, The thing that Christ seeks is faith, and wherever it is, he finds it, though but as a grain of mustard-seed. He had not found so great faith, all things considered, and in proportion to the means; as the poor widow is said to cast in more than they all, Luke 21:3. Though the centurion was a Gentile, yet he was thus commended. Note, We must be so far from grudging, that we must be forward, to give those their due praise, that are not within our denomination or pale. Secondly, It speaks shame to Israel, to whom pertained the adoption, the glory, the covenants, and all the assistances and encouragements of faith. Note, When the Son of man comes, he finds little faith, and, therefore, he finds so little fruit. Note, the attainments of some, who have had but little helps for their souls, will aggravate the sin and ruin of many, that have had great plenty of the means of grace, and have not made a good improvement of them. Christ said this to those that followed him, if by any means he might provoke them to a holy emulation, as Paul speaks, Rom. 11:14. They were Abraham’s seed; in jealousy for that honour, let them not suffer themselves to be outstripped by a Gentile, especially in that grace for which Abraham was eminent.

(2.) As to others. Christ takes occasion from hence to make a comparison between Jews and Gentiles, and tells them two things, which could not but be very surprising to them who had been taught that salvation was of the Jews.

[1.] That a great many of the Gentiles should be saved, Matt. 8:11. The faith of the centurion was but a specimen of the conversion of the Gentiles, and a preface to their adoption into the church. This was a topic our Lord Jesus touched often upon; he speaks it with assurance; I say unto you, “I that know all men;” and he could not say any thing more pleasing to himself, or more displeasing to the Jews; an intimation of this kind enraged the Nazarenes against him, Luke 4:27. Christ gives us here an idea, First, of the persons that shall be saved; many from the east and the west: he had said (Matt. 7:14), Few there be that find the way of life; and yet here many shall come. Few at one time, and in one place; yet, when they come altogether, they will be a great many. We now see but here and there one brought to grace; but we shall shortly see the Captain of our salvation bringing many sons to glory, Heb. 2:10. He will come with ten thousands of his saints (Jude 1:14), with such a company as no man can number (Rev. 7:9); with nations of them that are saved, Rev. 21:24. They shall come from the east and from the west; places far distant from each other; and yet they shall all meet at the right hand of Christ, the Centre of their unity. Note, God has his remnant in all places; from the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, Mal. 1:11. The elect will be gathered from the four winds, Matt. 24:31. They are sown in the earth, some scattered in every corner of the field. The Gentile world lay from east to west, and they are especially meant here; though they were strangers to the covenant of promise now, and had been long, yet who knows what hidden ones God had among them then? As in Elijah’s time in Israel (1 Kgs. 19:14), soon after which they flocked into the church in great multitudes, Isa. 60:3, 4. Note, When we come to heaven, as we shall miss a great many there, that we thought had been going thither, so we shall meet a great many there, that we did not expect. Secondly, Christ gives us an idea of the salvation itself. They shall come, shall come together, shall come together to Christ, 2 Thess. 2:1. 1. They shall be admitted into the kingdom of grace on earth, into the covenant of grace made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; they shall be blessed with faithful Abraham, whose blessing comes upon the Gentiles, Gal. 3:14. This makes Zaccheus a son of Abraham, Luke 19:9. 2. They shall be admitted into the kingdom of glory in heaven. They shall come cheerfully, flying as doves to their windows; they shall sit down to rest from their labours, as having done their day’s work; sitting denotes continuance: while we stand, we are going; where we sit, we mean to stay; heaven is a remaining rest, it is a continuing city; they shall sit down, as upon a throne (Rev. 3:21); as at a table; that is the metaphor here; they shall sit down to be feasted; which denotes both fulness of communication, and freedom and familiarity of communion, Luke 22:30. They shall sit down with Abraham. They who in this world were ever so far distant from each other in time, place, or outward condition, shall all meet together in heaven; ancients and moderns, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor. The rich man in hell sees Abraham, but Lazarus sits down with him, leaning on his breast. Note, Holy society is a part of the felicity of heaven; and they on whom the ends of the world are come, and who are most obscure, shall share in glory with the renowned patriarchs.

[2.] That a great many of the Jews should perish, Matt. 8:12. Observe,

First, A strange sentence passed; The children of the kingdom shall be cast out; the Jews that persist in unbelief, though they were by birth children of the kingdom, yet shall be cut off from being members of the visible church: the kingdom of God, of which they boasted that they were the children, shall be taken from them, and they shall become not a people, not obtaining mercy, Rom. 11:20; Rom. 9:31. In the great day it will not avail men to have been children of the kingdom, either as Jews or as Christians; for men will then be judged, not by what they were called, but by what they were. If children indeed, then heirs; but many are children in profession, in the family, but not of it, that will come short of the inheritance. Being born of professing parents denominates us children of the kingdom; but if we rest in that, and have nothing else to show for heaven but that, we shall be cast out.

Secondly, A strange punishment for the workers of iniquity described; They shall be cast into outer darkness, the darkness of those that are without, of the Gentiles that were out of the church; into that the Jews were cast, and into worse; they were blinded, and hardened, and filled with terrors, as the apostle shows, Rom. 11:8-10. A people so unchurched and given up to spiritual judgments, are in utter darkness already: but it looks further, to the state of damned sinners in hell, to which the other is a dismal preface. They shall be cast out from God, and all true comfort, and cast into darkness. In hell there is fire, but no light; it is utter darkness; darkness in extremity; the highest degree of darkness, without any remainder, or mixture, or hope, of light; not the least gleam or glimpse of it; it is darkness that results from their being shut out of heaven, the land of light; they who are without, are in the regions of darkness; yet that is not the worst of it, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 1. In hell there will be great grief, floods of tears shed to no purpose; anguish of spirit preying eternally upon the vitals, in the sense of the wrath of God, is the torment of the damned. 2. Great indignation: damned sinners will gnash their teeth for spite and vexation, full of the fury of the Lord; seeing with envy the happiness of others, and reflecting with horror upon the former possibility of their own being happy, which is now past.

3. He cures his servant. He not only commends his application to him, but grants him that for which he applied, which was a real answer, Matt. 8:13. Observe,

(1.) What Christ said to him: he said that which made the cure as great a favour to him as it was to his servant, and much greater; As thou hast believed, so be it done to thee. The servant got a cure of his disease, but the master got the confirmation and approbation of his faith. Note, Christ often gives encouraging answers to his praying people, when they are interceding for others. It is kindness to us, to be heard for others. God turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends, Job 42:10. It was a great honour which Christ put upon this centurion, when he gave him a blank, as it were; Be it done as thou believest. What could he have more? Yet what was said to him is said to us all, Believe, and ye shall receive; only believe. See here the power of Christ, and the power of faith. As Christ can do what he will, so an active believer may have what he will from Christ; the oil of grace multiplies, and stays not till the vessels of faith fail.

(2.) What was the effect of this saying: the prayer of faith was a prevailing prayer, it ever was so, and ever will be so; it appears, by the suddenness of the cure, that it was miraculous: and by its coincidence with Christ’s saying, that the miracle was his; he spake, and it was done; and this was a proof of his omnipotence, that he has a long arm. It is the observation of a learned physician, that the diseases Christ cured were chiefly such as were the most difficult to be cured by any natural means, and particularly the palsy. Omnis paralysis, praesertim vetusta, aut incurabilis est, aut difficilis curatu, etiam pueris: atque soleo ego dicere, morbos omnes qui Christo curandi fuerunt propositi, difficillimos sua matura curatu esse—Every kind of palsy, especially of long continuance, is either incurable, or is found to yield with the utmost difficulty to medical skill, even in young subjects; so that I have frequently remarked, that all the diseases which were referred to Christ for cure appear to have been of the most obstinate and hopeless kind. Mercurialis Deut. Morbis Puerorum, lib. 2. cap. 5.