The first verse refers to the close of the foregoing sermon: the people that heard him were astonished at his doctrine; and the effect was, that when he came down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him; though he was so strict a Lawgiver, and so faithful a Reprover, they diligently attended him, and were loth to disperse, and go from him. Note, They to whom Christ has manifested himself, cannot but desire to be better acquainted with him. They who know much of Christ should covet to know more; and then shall we know, if we thus follow on to know the Lord. It is pleasing to see people so well affected to Christ, as to think they can never hear enough of him; so well affected to the best things, as thus to flock after good preaching, and to follow the Lamb withersoever he goes. Now was Jacob’s prophecy concerning the Messiah fulfilled, that unto him shall the gathering of the people be; yet they who gathered to him did not cleave to him. They who followed him closely and constantly were but few, compared with the multitudes that were but followers at large.
In Matt. 8:1-4 we have an account of Christ’s cleansing a leper. It should seem, by comparing Mark 1:40; Luke 5:12; that this passage, though placed, by St. Matthew, after the sermon on the mount, because he would give account of his doctrine first, and then of his miracles, happened some time before; but that is not at all material. This is fitly recorded with the first of Christ’s miracles, 1. Because the leprosy was looked upon, among the Jews, as a particular mark of God’s displeasure: hence we find Miriam, Gehazi, and Uzziah, smitten with leprosy for some one particular sin; and therefore Christ, to show that he came to turn away the wrath of God, by taking away sin, began with the cure of a leper. 2. Because this disease, as it was supposed to come immediately from the hand of God, so also it was supposed to be removed immediately by his hand, and therefore it was not attempted to be cured by physicians, but was put under the inspection of the priests, the Lord’s ministers, who waited to see what God would do. And its being in a garment, or in the walls of a house, was altogether supernatural: and it should seem to be a disease of a quite different nature from what we now call the leprosy. The king of Israel said, Amos I God, that I am sent to, to recover a man of a leprosy? 2 Kgs. 5:7. Christ proved himself God, by recovering many from the leprosy, and authorizing his disciples, in his name, to do so too (Matt. 10:8), and it is put among the proofs of his being the Messiah, Matt. 11:5. He also showed himself to be the Saviour of his people from their sins; for though every disease is both the fruit of sin, and a figure of it, as the disorder of the soul, yet the leprosy was in a special manner so; for it contracted such a pollution, and obliged to such a separation from holy things, as no other disease did; and therefore in the laws concerning it (Lev. 13:1-14:57), it is treated, not as a sickness, but as an uncleanness; the priest was to pronounce the party clean or unclean, according to the indications: but the honour of making the lepers clean was reserved for Christ, who was to do it as the High Priest of our profession; he comes to do that which the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, Rom. 8:3. The law discovered sin (for by the law is the knowledge of sin), and pronounced sinners unclean; it shut them up (Gal. 3:23), as the priest did the leper, but could go no further; it could not make the comers thereunto perfect. But Christ takes away sin; cleanses us from it, and so perfecteth for ever them that are sanctified. Now here we have,
I. The leper’s address to Christ. If this happened, as it is here placed, after the sermon on the mount, we may suppose that the leper, though shut out by his disease from the cities of Israel, yet got within hearing of Christ’s sermon, and was encouraged by it to make his application to him; for he that taught as one having authority, could heal so; and therefore he came and worshipped him, as one clothed with a divine power. His address is, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. The cleaning of him may be considered,
1. As a temporal mercy; a mercy to the body, delivering it from a disease, which, though it did not threaten life, embittered it. And so it directs us, not only to apply ourselves to Christ, who has power over bodily diseases, for the cure of them, but it also teaches us in what manner to apply ourselves to him; with an assurance of his power, believing that he is as able to cure diseases now, as he was when on earth, but with a submission to his will; Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst. As to temporal mercies, we cannot be so sure of God’s will to bestow them, as we may of his power, for his power in them is unlimited by a regard to his glory and our good: when we cannot be sure of his will, we may be sure of his wisdom and mercy, to which we may cheerfully refer ourselves; Thy will be done: and this makes the expectation easy, and the event, when it comes, comfortable.
2. As a typical mercy. Sin is the leprosy of the soul; it shuts us out from communion with God, to which that we maybe restored, it is necessary that we be cleansed from this leprosy, and this ought to be our great concern. Now observe, It is our comfort when we apply ourselves to Christ, as the great Physician, that if he will, he can make us clean; and we should, with an humble, believing boldness, go to him and tell him so. That is, (1.) We must rest ourselves upon his power; we must be confident of this, that Christ can make us clean. No guilt is so great but that there is a sufficiency in his righteousness to atone for it; no corruption so strong, but there is a sufficiency in his grace to subdue it. God would not appoint a physician to his hospital that is not par negotio—every way qualified for the undertaking. (2.) We must recommend ourselves to his pity; we cannot demand it as a debt, but we must humbly request it as a favour; “Lord, if thou wilt. I throw myself at thy feet, and if I perish, I will perish there.”
II. Christ’s answer to this address, which was very kind, Matt. 8:3.
1. He put forth his hand and touched him. The leprosy was a noisome, loathsome disease, yet Christ touched him; for he did not disdain to converse with publicans and sinners, to do them good. There was a ceremonial pollution contracted by the touch of a leper; but Christ would show, that when he conversed with sinners, he was in no danger of being infected by them, for the prince of this world had nothing in him. If we touch pitch, we are defiled; but Christ was separate from sinners, even when he lived among them.
2. He said, I will, be thou clean. He did not say, as Elisha to Naaman, Go, wash in Jordan; did not put him upon a tedious, troublesome, chargeable course of a physic, but spake the word and healed him. (1.) Here is a word of kindness, I will; I am as willing to help thee, as thou art to be helped. Note, They who by faith apply themselves to Christ for mercy and grace, may be sure that he is willing, freely willing, to give them the mercy and grace they come to him for. Christ is a Physician, that does not need to be sought for, he is always in the way; does not need to be urged, while we are yet speaking, he hears; does not need to be feed, he heals freely, not for price nor reward. He has given all possible demonstration, that he is as willing as he is able to save sinners. (2.) A word of power, Be thou clean. Both a power of authority, and a power of energy, are exerted in this word. Christ heals by a word of command to us; Be thou clean; “Be willing to be clean, and use the means; cleanse thyself from all filthiness;” but there goes along with this a word of command concerning us, a word that does the work; I will that thou be clean. Such a word as this is necessary to the cure, and effectual for it; and the Almighty grace which speaks it, shall not be wanting to those who truly desire it.
III. The happy change hereby wrought: Immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Nature works gradually, but the God of nature works immediately; he speaks it, it is done; and yet he works effectually; he commands, and it stands fast. One of the first miracles Moses wrought, was curing himself of a leprosy (Exod. 4:7), for the priests under the law offered sacrifices first for their own sin; but one of Christ’s first miracles was curing another of leprosy, for he had no sin of his own to atone for.
IV. The after-directions Christ gave him. It is fit that they who are cured by Christ should ever after be ruled by him.
1. See thou tell no man; “Tell no man till thou has shown thyself to the priest, and he has pronounced thee clean; and so thou hast a legal proof, both that thou wast before a leper, and art now thoroughly cleansed.” Christ would have his miracles to appear in their full light and evidence, and not to be published till they could appear so. Note, They that preach the truths of Christ should be able to prove them; to defend what they preach, and convince gainsayers. “Tell no man, till thou hast showed thyself to the priest, lest if he hear who cured thee, he should out of spite deny to give thee a certificate of the cure, and so keep thee under confinement.” Such were the priests in Christ’s time, that they who had any thing to do with them had need to have been as wise as serpents.
2. Go show thyself to the priest, according to the law, Lev. 14:2. Christ took care to have the law observed, lest he should give offence, and to show that he will have order kept up, and good discipline and respect paid to those that are in office. It may be of use to those that are cleansed of their spiritual leprosy, to have recourse to Christ’s ministers, and to open their case to them, that they may assist them in their enquiries into their spiritual state, and advise, and comfort, and pray for them.
3. Offer the gift that Moses commanded, in token of thankfulness to God, and recompence to the priest for his pains; and this for a testimony unto them; either, (1.) Which Moses commanded for a testimony: the ceremonial laws were testimonies of God’s authority over them, care of them, and of that grace which should afterwards be revealed. Or, (2.) “Do thou offer it for a testimony, and let the priest know who cleansed thee, and how; and it shall be a testimony, that there is one among them who does that which the high priest cannot do. Let it remain upon record as a witness of my power, and a testimony for me to them, if they will use it and improve it; but against them, if they will not:” for so Christ’s word and works are testimonies.