Thou Canst Make Me Clean by Hugh Latimer (1485-1555)
"When he was come down from the mountain, great
multitudes followed him. And behold, there came a leper and worshipped him,
saying, Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean. And Jesus put forth his
hand and touched him, saying, I will, be thou clean. And immediately his
leprosy was cleansed." Matthew 8:1-3
This is a notable miracle, and a most comfortable history, which though it were done upon a leper only, yet the doctrine of the same pertaineth to us and to all men, and so shall it do unto the end of the world. For Paul saith, "Whatsoever is written, is written for our instruction"; therefore if we will consider and ponder this story well, we shall find much matter in it to our great comfort and edifying. "When he was come down." He had been upon the mountain preaching a sermon, which is contained in the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of this evangelist. That sermon is very notable, and containeth the sum of a Christian man's life. The people were greatly astonished, and marvelled much at this sermon, whereby you may note the strength and efficacy of the Word of God, bringing a marvelling, as it happened unto this people which had received the Word. You may note also the inconstancy of the people, who now greatly esteemed and regarded our Saviour and His Word, and shortly after consented to His death, by persuasion of the church leaders, which was a great and heinous wickedness in the sight of God. Therefore let us not follow their example, neither let us be persuaded by any man living to forsake God and His Word, but rather let us suffer death for it. Howbeit, I fear that if there should come a persecution, there would be a great number of those which now speak fair of the gospel who would be like this people, for I fear they would soon be persuaded by the papistical priests, to do and speak against Christ, to forsake His Word, and deny the gospel as these people did, clean forgetting, and setting aside all that which they had heard of our Saviour upon the mountain. Let us therefore beware, and let us acknowledge the great love of God our heavenly Father, shown unto us so plainly in these latter days, that all except the willful and obstinate may understand that love, which is as great a benefit as may be. Happy are we if we consider the great goodness of God, and shew ourselves thankful unto Him by godly living and honest conversation, according to His commandment.
In this gospel is especially to be noted, the great love and kindness of our Saviour toward mankind, who first preached unto the people, teaching them the way unto everlasting life, and then came down and healed the diseased man; that is, He first succoured our souls, and afterward comforted our bodies. There cometh a leper unto him, saying, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst help me." This leper took Christ to be a Saviour, and therefore he cometh unto Him for help. So let us come unto Him, for He is the Saviour of mankind, and He is the only Helper that succoureth both our bodies and souls. He saveth our souls by His Word, if when we hear the same we believe it. The salvation of our bodies shall appear at the last day, when soul and body shall come together. So that if the soul be saved, the body is saved, for soul and body shall go together; so he saveth both our bodies and souls. Note here also the behaviour of this leper, for by his example the best doctor of divinity need not to be ashamed to learn, for in him appeareth a marvellous strong faith and confidence that he had in Christ. He doubted not but that Christ was able to help him; neither mistrusted he His goodness and mercy. Therefore faith hath moved him to come to Christ, and to desire help of Him. Note here also the love and great charity of our Saviour Christ, which first He showed to the whole multitude, in teaching them earnestly and diligently the way to everlasting life. And then He extended His great compassion and mercy upon this leper, whom all men abhorred because of his uncleanness. But Christ abhorred him not; yea, He is content not only to hear his request, and to talk with him, but also laid His hands upon his filthy body. Oh how great a kindness was this! Oh what a wonderful thing is this, that the King of all kings talketh here most familiarly with a poor wretched leper! Oh what profound and incomprehensible love beareth He unto us! It is esteemed a great thing when a king vouchsafes to talk with a poor man, being one of his subjects. What a great thing then is it, that the King of all kings, yea, the Ruler of heaven and earth, talketh with a poor man, heareth his request, and mercifully granteth it?
This evangelist saith, "Behold, there came a leper, and worshipped him," but another evangelist saith, "he fell upon his knees before him." These are gestures and actions which signify a reverence done unto Him, or submission to Him. For although our Saviour appeared like a poor man, yet this leper had conceived such a faith and trust in Him, that he had no respect of His outward appearance, but followed his faith, which faith told him, that this was the Saviour. Therefore he set aside all outward show, and came with great reverence unto Him, desiring His help. And here you may learn good manners; for it is good and very commendable, it is also the commandment of God, that we should give honour to those to whom honour belongeth. Especially preachers ought to be reverenced, and that for their office sake, for they are the officers of God, and God's treasurers. Such as are proud persons may be shamed by this leper, for this is certain and true, that a proud heart prayeth never well, and therefore is hated before God. Wherefore among other vices, beware of pride and stoutness, for what was the cause that Lucifer, being the fairest angel in heaven, was made the most horrible devil, and cast down from heaven into hell? Pride only was the cause of it. Therefore Augustine hath an apt saying, "Whensoever thou seest a proud man, doubt not but he is the son of the devil." Let us learn therefore by this leper to seek a humble and meek spirit.
Moreover, this man was a leper and a miserable man, one despised of all men, and an outcast, for it was commanded in the law of God, that no man should keep company with a leper. Therefore it appeareth that he was in great misery, but what does he do? Where does he run for help and succour? Even to Christ, to Him only he runneth, not to witches or sorcerers as ungodly men do, but he seeketh for comfort of our Saviour. Now when you are in distress, in misery, in sickness, in poverty, or any other calamity, follow the example of this leper run to Christ, seek help and comfort only at His hands, and then thou shalt be delivered and made safe, like he was delivered after he came to Christ. But what brought he with him? Only his faith: he believed that Christ was able to help him, and therefore according to his faith it happened unto him. Then it shall be necessary for thee to bring faith with thee, for without faith thou canst get nothing at His hands. Strive to bring therefore, I say, faith with thee. Believe that He is able to help thee, that He is merciful and will help thee. And when thou comest furnished with such a faith, surely thou shalt be heard. Thou shalt find Him to be a loving Father, a faithful Friend, and thy Redeemer out of all tribulation. For faith is like a hand wherewith we receive the benefits of God, and except we receive His benefits with the hand of faith, we shall never have them. Here in this gospel you may learn the right use of Scripture, for when you shall hear and read such stories as this, you must not think that such stories and acts done by our Saviour are only temporal, but you must consider that they are done for our sake, for our instruction and teaching. Therefore when you hear such stories, you must consider the eternal things which are set before your eyes by such stories, and so we must apply them to ourselves.
For example, here is a leper who called upon Christ with a good faith, and was healed. You will say, "What is that unto us?" Even as he was a leper in his body, so are we lepers in our souls. He was unclean in his body, and we are unclean in our souls. He was healed by believing in Christ, so we must be healed by Him, or else perish eternally. Therefore if thou wilt not perish, then call upon Him as this leper did, and thou shalt be helped and cleansed of thy leprosy; that is, from all thy sin. So, I say, we must apply the Scriptures unto us, and receive something to strengthen our faith withal, and to edify ourselves with, from God's Word. Another example we read in the Scripture, that God destroyed with fire, Sodom and Gomorrah. Wherefore? Even for sin's sake. What manner of sin? Whoredom, sodomy, and other uncleanness; also for despising and abusing poor men and strangers. What is this to us now? We learn in this story, how that God will not suffer sin nor willful sinners, but He will punish the same either here, or else in the world to come, or in both. He will not let them go unpunished. Therefore when we hear this story, we may learn to avoid all sin and wickedness, to live uprightly and godly. This we learn by that story, which is an example of God's wrath and anger against sin.
Take another example of faith: we read in the Scripture that Abraham believed God, and his faith justified him. Now when I hear this, I must apply it to myself in this manner. Abraham believed in God, and his faith justified him. If I then believe in God and follow His word, shall I not also be justified? For Paul saith that this same believing of Abraham is not written for Abraham's sake, but for our sakes, to teach us that God will justify us if we believe in Him, and punish us when we are unfaithful. Now note here how this man came. See how humbly and meekly he cometh, and what a good and strong faith he had in Christ, which faith appeared by his coming. If he had been without faith, he would not have come unto Him, because our Saviour kept but a humble estate, not a king's court; He was poor, and therefore the more despised of unbelievers. But this man believed, and therefore he came unto Him. Learn therefore by this example, to go to Christ in what affliction soever we be. Let us run to Him, and pray unto God for His sake, alledge Him, put Him before thee and beware that thou call not upon any creature or saint.
This is a great wickedness before God, in praying to saints, for with the saints we have nothing to do, but to keep them in our memory and follow their godly life and righteous living. But our prayer must be made unto Christ only, as this man doth here in this gospel. But peradventure you will say, "He was upon the earth when this man called upon Him, and therefore he was so soon heard." I answer, "He promised to His disciples, after His resurrection, that He would be with us to the end of the whole world." His words are true, for He cannot be made a liar; therefore we must believe Him, and no doubt but He will be present with us whensoever we call upon Him. Call upon Him therefore, and not upon saints; for if we call upon saints, we make them gods. If I call upon Paul here, and another man that is a thousand miles off, calleth upon him also, then we make him like unto God to be everywhere, to hear and see all things. This is against all Scripture, for God only is omnipotent, that is, He only is almighty, and He is everywhere, and seeth all things, as doth no creature. Therefore those which attribute such things as appertain to God only, that is our Creator, to any creature, they do naughtily and wickedly, and shall be punished for it in hell-fire, except they repent and amend and be sorry for their faults.
But what was this man's prayer? Did he pray upon his beads, and say our "Lady's Psalter"? No, no; he was never brought up in any such popish schools. What said he? "If thou wilt, 0 Lord, thou canst make me clean, and put away my disease." This is but a short prayer, but it containeth much. First it teacheth how we should pray unto God, namely, conditionally for our outward and bodily things, that is to say, when it pleaseth Him; and so did our Saviour Himself pray to His heavenly Father, saying, "If thou wilt, Father, let this cup pass from me." So we should do, when we are in any kind of tribulation or sickness, that is, pray unto God conditionally, saying, "0 Lord God, if it please Thee, and if it may agree with Thy honor and glory, and the salvation of my soul, help and deliver me." We must put the matter to Him, for He knoweth best what is good for us. Peradventure He seeth, that if we should be without affliction, we would be wanton, wicked, and proud, and so sin against Him, and damn our souls; and then it were better for us to be in sickness than in health. Therefore we must desire health, if it please Him; that is to say, when it appertaineth to our salvation, or else it were a thousand times better to be still sick than to be out of sickness, and fall from God and all goodness. He knoweth best what is good for us. Trust in Him, be content to be ruled by Him; He shall and will order the matter so, that thou shalt find Him a loving Father unto thee, like this man did here.
Secondly, this prayer expresseth the faith that this poor man had in Christ, for he saith, "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst help me." "If thou wilt," saith he, declaring Him to be omnipotent and almighty. In these words he expresseth the divinity of Christ our Saviour, "If thou wilt." He believeth Him to be able to help him; may we also do so in our prayers. We must believe that He may and will help us, as it appeareth by this man, who was made whole straightway. It appeareth partly by the confession and faith of this man, and partly by the end of the matter, that he was made perfectly whole. So we shall be healed when we come unto Him with such a faith as this man did, and especially if we call so earnestly upon Him. Oh Lord, what slothfulness is in our hearts? How slender a faith have we! How imperfect and cold is our prayer! It is no marvel that it is not heard of God. Let us always consider that God is able to save us, and believe undoubtedly that He will save us. When I am sick, as was said before, I may doubt whether God will deliver me from my sickness or not. But there is no doubt of everlasting life. Therefore if I be sick, I must pray as this man, "Lord, if thou wilt" conditionally. For it may be, when I come out of my sickness, I shall become more wicked and ungodly, which God knowing, keepeth me still in sickness. And so it is better for me to be still in sickness, than whole. So we may learn here to call upon God conditionally. But for our general salvation which is the salvation of our souls, we must not doubt in that, nor call for it conditionally, but apprehend God by His promise, saying "Lord, Thou hast promised that all that believe in Thee shall be saved: Lord, for Thy mercy and promise sake, for Thy death and passion sake, take away my sin, wash me with the blood which Thou hast shed upon the cross, and hast promised that all that believe shall be saved through Thee. Now Lord, for Thy promise-sake, help me; I believe, 0 Lord, help my infirmity and increase my faith." As touching thy bodily health, put it to His good-will, and offer thyself unto Him, saying, "Lord, I am Thy creature, Thou hast given unto me soul and body. My body is sick now, when it pleaseth Thee, help me; if not, give me grace to bear patiently this Thy visitation. In like manner didst Thou visit Thy holy martyrs which suffered great calamity. They desired to be delivered, but Thou deliveredst them not bodily, but yet Thou savedst them in and after their death. So I trust thou wilt do with me."
Now, how came it to pass that this leper had such a great faith and confidence in our Saviour? Truly by hearing the Word of God, for he had heard our Saviour say, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." This he heard and believed, therefore he came boldly unto Him, desiring help of Him; and so here is verified the saying of Paul, "Faith cometh by hearing." The ordinary way to get faith is through hearing the Word of God, for the Word of God is of such a power that it entereth and pierceth the heart of the man that heareth it earnestly, as it doth well appear in this leper. We read in the Acts of the Apostles, that when Paul had preached a long sermon at Antioch, there believed, saith the evangelist, "as many as were ordained to everlasting life." With this saying a great number of people have been offended, and have said, "We perceive that only those shall come to believe, and so to everlasting life, who are chosen of God unto it; therefore it is no matter whatsoever we do, for if we be chosen to everlasting life we shall have it." So they have opened a door unto themselves for all wickedness and carnal liberty, against the true meaning of the Scripture. For if the most part be damned, the fault is not in God, but in themselves. They themselves procure their own damnation, and despise the passion of Christ by their own wicked and inordinate living.
Here we may learn to keep ourselves from all curious and dangerous questions, when we hear that some be chosen and some be damned. Let us seek a good hope that we shall be amongst the chosen, and live after this hope, that is, uprightly and godly, that thou shalt not be deceived. Think that God hath chosen those that believe in Christ, and that Christ is the book of Life. If thou believest in Him, thou art surely written in the book of Life, and shalt be saved. Let us rather seek to know that we may be in Christ; for when we are in Him, then are we well.
But you will say, how shall I know that I am in the book of Life? How shall I examine myself if I am elected of God to everlasting life? I will tell you how you may know if you are in the book. There are three special marks whereby you may know this. The first mark is, if you know your sin, and feel your own wretchedness and filthiness, which is a great matter. The most part of people are so drowned in sin, that they no more feel their sin, for sin grieveth them no more. According to the saying of Solomon, "It is sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom" (Prov. 10:23; 14:9). But as I said the first mark is, when you know your sins, and feel them, then are they heavy unto you and grieve you. Then follows the second point, which is faith in Christ; that is, when you believe steadfastly that God, our heavenly Father, through His Son will deliver you from your sins. When you hope and believe, I say, that the blood of our Saviour was shed for you, for the cleansing and putting away of your sins; and believing this steadfastly with an unfeigned heart, then you have the second point. The third point is when you have an earnest desire to amendment and hatred against sin, study to live after God's will and commandments, as much as is possible for you to do, then you have the third point. When you find these three points to be in you; namely, first, when you know your sin and are sorry for it, and afterward hope and believe to be saved through the passion of Jesus Christ; and thirdly, have an earnest desire to leave sin, and to flee from it. When you find these three things in your hearts, then you may be sure your names are written in the book. And you may be sure also, that you are elected and predestinated to everlasting life.
On the other hand, when you see not your wickedness, and sin grieveth you not, neither have you faith or hope in our Saviour, and therefore are careless of repentance and study not for amendment of life - then you are in a heavy case, then you have cause to be sorry, and to lament your wretchedness. Truly, the devil hath power over you as long as you are in such a state. Here you see now how you shall examine yourselves. "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean." I learn here that a few words spoken with faith, is better than long "babbling." For right prayer standeth not in many words, or long babbling. Right prayer requireth the whole heart, for there is no greater thing in the world than right prayer. For prayer joined with faith, is the instrument wherewith we receive the benefits of God. Now when faith and prayer are joined together, it is impossible for God not to hear it; they must needs go together, for else it availeth nothing, except faith be joined with prayer, as Christ said unto the centurion, 'According to thy faith be it unto thee." Here I might take occasion to call you to prayer, if time would allow.
But to be short, three things may move us to pray. First, the commandment of God, which biddeth us to call upon Him in the day of trouble. That command hath no less authority than "Thou shalt not kill." The self-same God that saith, "Thou shalt not kill," saith, "Thou shalt pray"; that is, thou shalt call upon Me, whereby it appeareth, that we are in great danger when we neglect prayer. The second cause that should move us is the promise of God; for He promiseth us everywhere in the Scripture, that He will hear us when we call upon Him. This promise is not to be despised, for He saith, 'Ask, and it shall be given you"; that is, "Whatsoever you shall desire of my Father in my name, it shall be given unto you." Such promises ought to allure us to pray without intermission. The third cause is the example of all the prophets and saints of God that move us to pray. When Moses led the people out of Egypt and came to the Red Sea, Pharaoh with his power followed at his back and on both sides there were great hills and before him the great sea - then Moses, being in such danger, cried unto God, not speaking many words, but lifting up his heart unto God. Then God said unto him, "Why criest thou?" Here you see that Moses fighteth only with his prayer against his enemies, so should we fight against our enemies - the world, the flesh, and the devil -with earnest and fervent prayer. Likewise Joshua was in great distress because his people had lost the victory, and his enemies had gotten the upper hand of him. What doth he? He crieth unto God. So doth David the king, as it appeareth throughout all the Psalms. How fervent is he in prayer, giving us an example to follow him. Thus much I thought good to speak of prayer, to move you to it; for I fear there are many of you that have little regard for prayer. All such may learn here to be more diligent in prayer than they have been, especially considering that it is the commandment of God that we shall be heard. Also the example of good and godly men may move us to pray, for if they found ease with their prayers, we shall also.
But now to return to the text, "Christ touched him." Here appeareth the friendliness and kindness of our Saviour Christ. He is not so proud as the common sort of lords be, that none may speak with them. No, no; He is more friendly The poor man came to speak with Him, and He forthwith came to him and spake with him. Wherefore all lords and men in authority need not be ashamed to learn here of our Saviour Christ, to be gentle and meek of spirit to poor people. It is also to be considered what our Saviour did against the law outwardly, for there was a law that no man should touch a leprous man, yet Christ touched this man. Here you must consider that civil laws and statutes must be ordered by charity; for this act of Christ was against the words of the law, but not against the law itself. This law was made to that end that no man should be hurt or defiled by a leper; but Christ touched this man, and was not hurt Himself, but cleansed him that was hurt already. Here we may learn rather to follow the mind of the law than the rigor of the words; and to bring charity with us, which is an interpreter of the law for else we may miss by extremity. Farther, what did it mean that Christ touched him with His hand? And why did His word and hand go together? Because He would show and declare unto us, the profitableness of His flesh, how it was a flesh by the which all of us should be saved; so that no salvation may be looked for, except by Him, and except He be eaten and drunken by faith. Again, sometimes He healed by His word and divine power only, as it appeareth by the servant of the centurion, to signify unto us, that it were not necessary for us to have Him here bodily always. To assure us of His help without His bodily presence, He said, "It is good for you that I go from you." Also to signify His power, He used the authority of His word, both in His presence and absence. Therefore we may be certain and sure that He can and will help us with His divine power when we call upon Him, whether He is physically absent or present; for He is everywhere, and will be with us unto the end of the world. He promised His apostles after His resurrection, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world," which is a great comfort to a Christian heart, for it is a stay to all trouble. We read further that He sent him to the priest, and commanded him that he should tell no man. What did He mean by this? He would not have him to be his own judge. There was a law that the leprosy should be examined by the priest, and that the priest should give the sentence whether the leper were clean or unclean.
Now Christ would not have this man to be his own judge, and to pronounce himself clean; but biddeth him to go to the priest. And this He did for two considerations: The first was to convince the Jews with their own wickedness, in that they would not believe in Him, but despised Him. Therefore He sent this man unto them, which had been infected with leprosy, so that, when they pronounced him clean, they might see the wickedness and obstinacy of their denial of Him. The second cause was for the observation of the law, and that He would give no occasion to promote carnal liberty. He would have every man in his order, as well the magistrates as the subjects; from this we may learn to follow His example, to keep all good laws and orders, and that because Christ Himself kept them. Here our papists make much of their auricular confession, proving it by this place. For they say Christ sent this man unto the priest to fetch there his absolution and therefore we must go also to the priest, and after confession, receive of him absolution of all our sins. But yet we must take heed, say they, that we forget nothing, for all those sins that are forgotten, may not be forgiven. And so they bind the consciences of men, persuading them that when all their sins were all numbered and confessed, it was well. Hereby they take away completely the merit and passion of Christ, for they make this numbering of sins to be a merit; and so they come to all the secrets that are in men's hearts. No emperor or king could say or do, nor think any thing in his heart, but they knew it, and so applied all the purposes and intents of princes to their own advantage. This was the fruit of their auricular confession. But to speak of right and true confession, I would to God it were kept in England, for it is a good thing. That those which find themselves grieved in conscience might go to a gracious and learned man, and there fetch of him comfort of the Word of God, so coming to a quiet conscience. That is better and more to be regarded than all the riches of the world. Truly, it grieveth me much that such confessions are not kept in England. Now to make an end, you have heard in this gospel of divers things which I will not rehearse. But I would have you keep in remembrance the great faith that this man had in our Savior, which faith restored him to his health again, and learn by him to believe as he did, that our Saviour will restore unto us the health of soul and body. Also note here, the great love that our Saviour bare unto this man, steadfastly believing that He will also be loving unto thee when thou callest upon Him with earnest prayer. Prayer with faith goeth through the clouds. It is a great matter to pray, it is ars artium, that is, an art above all arts. Let us therefore give ourselves to prayer and godly living, so that His name may be glorified in us both now and forever.
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