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Bible Commentaries

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation

Leviticus 13

Verses 1-46

Leviticus 13:1-46

Twelfth Lecture.
Birth-Sin and Its Developments

Leviticus 12:1-8; Leviticus 13:1-46

Cavils on the doctrine of native Depravity—The doctrine explained—Sin a disease—Symbolized by Leprosy—The analogy traced.

A popular and eloquent living preacher has remarked of the first of these chapters, that "its chief value lies in the light it casts upon the Virgin Mary at the birth of our blessed Redeemer." To this observation I am not prepared to assent. This chapter is interesting to Christians as containing the law for the purifying of mothers, which the mother of Jesus so meekly obeyed when she brought the two doves as an offering in her poverty for a sacrifice unto the Lord; but "its chief value lies" in quite another direction. Its particular descriptions are not such as to allow much freedom of public comment, but they fill an important place in the typical system to which they belong.

The theme of the chapter is the same as that of the one preceding and the one following. The subject is sin, portrayed by symbols. In the division of the animals into clean and unclean, we had the nature of sin in its general character and outward manifestations. It is a brutalization of humanity. It has its type in all sorts of savage, noxious, vile, annoying creatures. But this chapter presents another and still more affecting phase of man’s corruption.

Surveying those masses of sin and vileness which hang about our world, touching the path and defiling the doings of every human being, as we saw in our last discourse, the question arises, Whence comes it? How are we to account for it? That some particular periods, nations, families, or individuals should be depraved and vicious, might perhaps be explained in peculiar outward circumstances. Bad education, bad government, bad religion, bad associations, begetting bad habits, might, in a measure account for it. But the records of inspiration and experience assure us that "all have sinned and come short," and that "if any man say he hath no sin, he deceiveth himself, and the truth is not in him." There is not a corner of the earth, nor a member of the race, which the great contamination has not touched. The soil of sin is upon every conscience, and its uncleanness is more or less in every heart. To what source or cause are we to refer this melancholy fact? It is useless to attribute it to errors in the structure of society; for society itself is the mere aggregate of human life, feelings, opinions, intercourse, agreement and doings. It is man that corrupts society, and not society that corrupts man. The one may react very powerfully upon the other, as we shall see hereafter; but the errors and corruptions in both must have a common seat and source. What is that seat? Where are we to find this prolific fountain? Penetrating to the moral signification of the twelfth chapter of Leviticus, we have the true answer.

Sin is not only a beastliness and grovelling brutality assumed or taken upon a man from without. It is a manifestation which comes from within. It is a corruption which cleaves to the nature, mingles with the very transmissions of life, and taints the vital forces as they descend from parent to child, from generation to generation. We are unclean, not only practically and by contact with a bad world, but we are innately impure. Man is a creature of wrong impulses, not only by education and association, for he would be the same if he were born in heaven. Uncleanness is upon the very seat of life, and attaches to every one of us from our very coming into the world. We were conceived in sin. We were shapen in iniquity. And it is just this that forms the real subject of this chapter. It is the type of the source and seat of human vileness.

The uncleanness here spoken of, is no more a real uncleanness, than that attributed to certain animals, in the preceding chapter. The whole regulation is ceremonial, and not at all binding upon us, (though a relic of it is still found in some of the churches, known by the name of "The Churching of Women"). It is an arbitrary law, made only for the time then present, as a figure of spiritual truths. Its great significance lies in its typical nature. And a more vivid and impressive picture can hardly be conceived. I am checked from entering particularly into it; but solemn and sacred allusions are suggested by it. It imposes a special legal disability upon woman, and so connects with the fact, that "the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 Timothy 2:14.) It is a vivid remembrancer of the occurrences in Eden. It tells us that we all have come of sinful mothers. It exhibits our very birth as involving uncleanness. It portrays defilement as the state in which we receive our being. For "who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one." (Job 14:4.)

I therefore lay down this doctrine, "that all men who are naturally engendered, are conceived and born in sin; that is, they are all, from their mother’s womb, full of evil desires and propensities;" and that this "is the fountain-head of all other or actual sins, such as evil thoughts, words, or deeds."

I am acquainted with the cavils which exist with reference to this doctrine. And the way some state it, I would not undertake to defend it. Some call it "natural depravity," and say that man is a sinner "by nature." To say the least of this, it is a misapplication of terms. Nature is God’s work; and God never made sin. No being ever came from his hands with a corrupt or wicked nature. He never made a devil or a sinner. And concupiscence and guilt, so far from being natural to man, are monstrous perversions and spoliations of nature. It is not natural; but, of all things, the most unnatural. God made man upright and good. And if people now have upon them a predisposition to sin, it must be traced to some other source than that of natural constitution. I will join with all heartiness in the expressions of abhorrence at the idea that a holy, just, and benevolent God should have created any being with a nature the inherent tendency of which is to sin. How, then, are we to solve the difficulty? If the Creator never constitutes any being with an evil nature, how is it that all men are born in corruption, and inclined to sin from their very birth? Some have tried to explain it by supposing a previous state of probation. But this solution is so far-fetched, and implies a punishment so wholly divorced from all consciousness of the sin that produced it, that it never has commanded serious belief. How, then, are we to get out of the difficulty? A very few words will clear up the matter to all right philosophy.

What is an individual human being as he now comes into existence? Is he a new creation, separate and distinct in himself? I say he is not. A modern man is not an original product of creative power. He is not now first created. He is only an outgrowth of one primal humanity which was created nearly six thousand years ago. He is an evolution from principles of life which were constituted in the garden of Eden. Humanity is a stream flowing from one original fountain. God never directly made more than one man and one woman; and all other men and women are but effluxes of that original creation. Nobody now is created, in any true sense of that word, but begotten and born of a creation made thousands of years ago. Any conception of humanity which differs from this, is physiologically and scripturally false. The creation of the first pair was a self-perpetuating creation; and therefore the only creation, as respects human existence. There is therefore a very important sense in which we were made in Adam. We are but repetitions of the first pair, according to laws which were located in them. We take our whole being, body and soul, from and through Adam. And there is no mere humanity but what has grown out of him. The whole race was once included in him. It is easy, therefore, to see, that whatever damage may have befallen human nature when yet in its parent root or fountain, must needs show itself more or less in all the branches and streams issuing from it. "Like begetteth like." As is the seed, so is the tree; and as is the tree, so is the fruit. "A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit."

You may plant a good seed, and surround it with all the conditions necessary to a goodly plant; but it may put forth so eccentrically, or meet with some mishap in the incipient stages of its development, in consequence of which all its subsequent growth will be marred, and all its fruits give evidence of the adversities that befell it in the beginning. You may open a pure fountain, giving forth nothing but pure good water; yet, the issuing stream may touch upon poison, and take up turbid commixtures at its first departure from its source, and so carry and show pollution whithersoever it goes. And so it has been with humanity. It was created pure and good; but by that power of free choice, which necessarily belongs to a moral being, some of its first movements were eccentric and detrimental to its original qualities. It absorbed vileness at its very beginning. It was hurt when it was yet all in its germ. And hence all its subsequent developments have upon them the taint of that first mishap and contagion. It is worse in some lines than in others. The operations of Divine grace in the parent doubtless help to enfeeble it in the child. And if all men could be at once reclaimed to complete holiness, it would no doubt disappear altogether in the course of generations. But, as things are, it to some extent taints every one that is engendered and born of human kind.

Now it is just to this universal taint of human nature, derived from the defection of Adam, that the whole outgrowth of this word’s iniquity is to be traced. By virtue of our relation to an infected parentage, we come into the world with more or less affinity for evil. There is an innate inclination to wrong. The presentation of the objects to which this proclivity leans, awakens those biases into activity. This awakening of the power of lust is what we call temptation. And when the force of temptation has once set the heart upon an object of base desire, and gained the consent of the will to it, the man moves toward evil, and actual sin is born. There is an innate taint or bias, the presentation to which of the objects of evil desire involuntarily excites lust; and from this has flown out the flood of evil which has deluged all the earth.

It would be easy to amplify these views by passages of Scripture, and to trace them in the impressive picture contained in the chapter before us; but I will detain you to make but one other remark in reference to the general subject. And that is, that this native taint that is upon humanity is not a mere venial defect, of no serious account in the eye of the divine law, but a thing so evil as to demand purgation by blood. It unfits for heaven just as much as actual sin. No being upon whom it is could ever be saved, except by the mediation of Jesus. It is that "sin of the world" which requires the Lamb of God to take away. The Jewish mother’s uncleanness could only be removed by a lamb, or a pair of doves, offered as a burnt-offering; and even then, it continued for seven days—an entire period of time. And so this original inborn deformity and contamination of our nature, shall not be perfectly rooted out until the period of our appointed time has been completed—until our stay in this world has closed.

We pass now to the thirteenth chapter, in which we have something of a medical treatise, on the subject of leprosy. It is the oldest description extant of any disease. But it is not introduced into this ritual for medical purposes. There were other diseases in the Eastern world more painful, more fatal, more contagious, and equally afflictive; but nothing is said about them. This is specially singled out from all the ills of earth, and made the subject of particular regulations. You will observe that it was to be treated by the priest, not by the physician. It had peculiar disabilities connected with it. Its entire surroundings show that something more than ordinary attaches to it. It is dealt with in a way which cannot be accounted for in the nature of the disease itself. It is therefore to be viewed, like all the other provisions of this law, as a type. It is another parable of sin. It stands here as the illustration of the workings, developments, and effects of inborn depravity.

Sin is a corrupting and disorganizing disease, as well as a brutal degradation and hereditary uncleanness. It is a loathsome putrescence of the whole nature. It is a sickness of the whole head, and a faintness of the whole heart. Deliverance from it is called a cure and a healing, as well as a pardon. He who relieves us of it is called a Physician. It is a disturbance, corrosion, disorder, and cancerous fretting in all the composition of the man. And to signify and picture all this, is the real object of this chapter, and of all the laws respecting leprosy. The Jews called this disease "the finger of God"—"the stroke." In it, and the regulations concerning it, God has pointed out the most vivid and impressive exhibition of the nature and consequences of sin that has ever come under the contemplation of mortals. Under this view, then, let us study and apply it.

Notice its beginnings. Leprosy was, for the most part, hereditary. After doing its work in the parent it was very apt to break out in the child. Sin began in Adam, and having wrought nine hundred years in him, he died; but the taint of it was left in all who sprang from him. But leprosy was not always hereditary. Hence the necessity of a special symbol on the subject of innate depravity, such as we have just considered in the preceding chapter. The germ of all human sin is derived from our connection with a fallen parentage.

But leprosy, whether hereditary, or contracted by contagion or otherwise, began far within. Its seat is in the deepest interior of the body. It is often in the system as many as three or a dozen years before it shows itself. How exactly this describes sin! Nero and Caligula were once tender infants, apparently the very personifications of innocence. Who that saw their sweet slumbers upon the bosoms of their mothers, would ever have suspected, that in those gentle forms were latent seeds which finally developed into bloody butchery, and tyranny, and vice, at which the world for ages has stood amazed! Who that beheld Judas Iscariot in the duties of his evangelic mission among the citizens of Judea, would ever have suspected the treachery which lurked in his soul unknown even to himself! Who would have thought, that in the bold and daring Peter, when he volunteered to die for his master, there existed the root of those oaths and lies which broke from his lips in the porch of the high-priest’s palace! And little do we know of those depths of deceit which we carry in ourselves, or to what enormities of crime we are liable any day to be driven. "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall." The taint of leprosy is within, and nothing but watchfulness and grace can keep it from breaking out in all its corrosive and wasting power.

The first visible signs of leprosy are often very minute, and inconsiderable, and not easily detected. A small pustule or rising of the flesh—a little bright red spot like that made by a puncture from a pin—a very trifling eruption, indentation, or scaliness of the skin—or some other very slight symptom, is usually the first sign which it gives of its presence. And from these small beginnings the whole living death of the leper is developed. How vivid the picture of the fact, that the worst and darkest iniquities may grow out of the smallest beginnings! A look of the eye, a desire of the heart, a thought of the imagination, a touch of the hand, a single word of compliance, is often the door of inlet to Satan and all hell’s troops. All the guilt that ever stained the earth may be traced to a look—the admiring look of Eve upon the forbidden fruit. No man can tell to what an issue the smallest sins may lead. Take but a brick from your pavement, and you have opened the way for the loosening of them all. Bore but an auger hole through the breast of a dam, or the bank of a canal, and you have arranged for a breach that may extend to the foundations, and carry the work of years to ruin in a day. Start but a little stone upon the precipice of the mountain, and other and greater ones will follow it, until the hill smokes and the valley trembles with the thunder of rolling rocks. Touch but a spark to the fuse, and it will multiply itself, until the very earth rends before it. Open but one small artery in your arm, and you have done enough to let in speedy death. Utter but one sinful word, and it may bring after it a train of consequences which will give your name to the court, and link your fame with infamy. Just start an ardent youth upon peccadilloes, and it is like starting a loose wagon on an inclined plane; there is no calculating where he will stop, or how awful is the ruin which awaits him. "Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"

Leprosy is also gradual in its development. It does not break out in its full violence at once. It works for a while unseen. Its first manifestations are so trifling, that one who did not understand it would consider it nothing at all. It is only by degrees, running through the course of years, that it transmutes its victim into a living embodiment of putrefaction and death. How exact the correspondence between type and antitype! No man is an outbreaking and confirmed villain at once. The devil did not become a devil in a day. Character, whether good or bad, is a growth. It will grow faster in some circumstances and in some persons than in others; but there always is gradation and progress from the less to the greater. If we were to trace the histories of delinquency and crime through which our brazen sinners have reached their eminence in guilt, we should be surprised to find in what a small way they began—how very slight were their first divergencies from rectitude—how very timid and restrained were their first experiments in wrong. Sin wrought in them long before it showed itself at all, and its first manifestations were of comparatively small account. But, having started in the way of evil, one easy transgression made it easier for the next; and so, by an ever increasing momentum, never once checked by repentance, they came to be the impersonations of vileness. An affection apparently lawful, excited by an unintentional curiosity, by little and little turns the mind upon some object of sensual desire; and this is the beginning of voluptuousness. Inquietude follows. Vague wishes form in the soul. Base adventures and familiarities ensue. And before the man is aware of it, a restless and fatal passion takes dominion of him, and he hurries on to the deepest infamy and the blackest hell. No man ever started out with the deliberate resolve, or even the remotest suspicion of becoming a drunkard. There is not a victim of rum in all our gangs of debauchees who at first ever dreamed of becoming the degraded object he now is. A little cheery indulgence because it was the fashion, or contributed to convivial enjoyment, or a little tippling for medicinal purposes, or no quicken the wits and raise the spirits on special occasions, is what laid the foundation of his ruin. And from these small beginnings, harmless in themselves, but serving to beget appetite and fixing into habit, there came that insatiable passion, which has made him a blear-eyed, foul-mouthed and disgusting wretch, a disgrace to his name, a pest to his neighborhood, a mill-stone on the neck of his family, and a blot upon the earth.

People are shocked, and hold up their hands in horror, at great and scandalous crimes; but they forget that these are only the necessary and easy sequences of little indulgences and sins of which they take no account. They forget that the bright spot and the little livid pustule are just as much the signs of leprosy as all the languor and putrescence which follow after. They need to be told, that these little scales and tumors are the things of which comes all the abominable corruption at which they show so much feeling of abhorrence. They need to be told, that there is a close interior brotherhood and cohesion between sins, and that he who takes one to his favor is at once beset with all the rest. David, looking where he should not have looked, was already far on the way to his adultery; and out of that, by a sort of necessary consequence, proceeded his murder of Uriah. Pharaoh the king, easily becomes Pharaoh the tyrant; and out of this, by natural consequence, proceeds one more step, and he is Pharaoh the defiant blasphemer. Judas becomes the money-lover, and thence by easy transition becomes his Lord’s perfidious betrayer. The Cæsar who mingles in the strifes of petty warfare, will soon find no refuge left, but must also cross the Rubicon. The boy who disobeys his mother, is already far on his way to be the man who tramples his country’s laws under his feet The young man who loves the theatre, and the ballroom, and the conversations of the lewd and profane more than his books and his home, is already started with vigorous headway upon the track of prostitution, crime, and infamy. And the professed member of the Church who visits the beer-house and the gamingtable, and begins to feel religious duty irksome, is even now far down the rapids which make for the cataract of ruin. Any one sin, however small it may seem, is a seed and root for another. And by the same easy steps by which a man commits his first little sins, he may go on to the most gigantic iniquities. Sin is progressive; and if we give ourselves to it at all, there is no telling to what deeds of wickedness we may come.

Again, leprosy is in itself an exceedingly loathsome and offensive disorder—a kind of perpetual smallpox, only more deeply seated, and attended with more inward corruption. Every vein in every limb of a developed leper, runs down with putrid blood. His head is heavy, sick, and painful. His whole countenance is sallow, death-like, and disgusting. His hair hangs dry, lank and sapless on his blistered brow. The very nails on his bony fingers are discolored and tainted. His gait is slow, tottering and feeble. He is an object of abhorrence to every eye. He is a living parable of death! Nor is it otherwise with sin. It is a filthiness of the flesh and of the spirit—a tainted clog to all the currents of life—a degrading deformity and corruption of the whole man. A developed sinner is a being covered and pervaded with putrid uncleanness. As Isaiah describes the case, "From the sole of the foot even unto the head, there is no soundness in it; but wounds and bruises, and putrefying sores, they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither molified with ointment." Every vital impulse is enfeebled, every sinew of the soul shrunk and corrupted, every spiritual activity palsied. The soul itself has become a fountain bursting out with corruption. The eye is sickly and vacant, reflecting no more the light of smiling heaven. The heart pulsates only with offensive humors. The hue of death is upon the entire nature. There is a sort of life; but it is clothed with all the uncleanness and putrescence of the grave. From such a soul God turns away his face, and cannot allow himself to look upon it. Words cannot tell how offensive it is to his pure eyes.

Some may think all this extravagance; but I have not gone one hair’s-breadth beyond the plain statements of God’s own word. Sin is a foulness which cannot be told. All the cancers, and leprosies, and consumptions, and scrofulas, and horrible diseases, and ugly deaths, and graveyard putrefactions, in the world, are but the outward effects and shadows of sin—the visible manifestations of the moral corruption that is in man. What then must it be in its principle and interior essence! Could the sinner but have his eyes opened to see, and feel, and know it, as it is known in heaven, he would abhor himself, and cry out in Bartimean earnestness, "Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Again, leprosy, under this law, carried with it a most melancholy condemnation. A Jewish leper was not only horribly diseased, but also fearfully cursed in consequence of his disease. He was pronounced unclean by the law and by the priest. That alone cut him off from all the holy services, and from free communication with the congregation of his brethren. But it is the intensest of all uncleanness that is upon him, and he is doomed to a special affliction. The law says, "The leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering on his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean. All the days wherein the plague shall be in him he shall be defiled; he is unclean: he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be." Had he a home? He must leave it. Had he friends? He must be wholly separated from them. Had he wife and children? they were henceforward to think of him as dead. Had he hopes and prospects of distinction and greatness on earth? all are suddenly and forever cut off. His joys all turn to mourning. His covering of honor is stripped off to give place to desolation. His lips are covered as shut to all friendly intercourse. He was like one cut off from the assembly of living men, lingering about the gates of death, and hanging about its door-posts, impatient for entrance there. Nobody thought of him any more with any love or favor. He had to dwell alone. He might come up and at a distance view the camp, but he could not approach, and not one would ever come near to him. With all the horribleness of his disease, it excited no sympathy, and loaded him with additional woes, themselves almost unbearable. Such is the type, and it is the same with the antitype. Every sinner is condemned as well as diseased; and condemned for the very reason that he is diseased. There is a sentence of uncleanness and exclusion upon him. He has no fellowship with the saints, and no share in the holy services of God’s people. He is as one dead to all sacred joy, and all spiritual good. He may distantly gaze upon happy Israel, and their peaceful tents; but he cannot enter them, or partake of the blessings within. He is a spiritual outcast—a moral leper—unclean, and ready for the realms of everlasting banishment and death. And yet, the picture is not quite complete. It remains to be said, that there was no earthly cure for leprosy. The prophet of God, by his miraculous power, could remove it; but no human power or skill could. It was beyond the reach of physician or priest. And so is it with sin. It is a consumption which cannot be cured—a cancer which cannot be extracted—a leprosy which cannot be cleansed—except by the direct power of divine grace. All the waters of Damascus—all the balm in Gilead—all the penance and suffering in the world, cannot remove it. Once in the system, God must purge it out, or it will remain there to fester and rot into the soul for ever and for ever. And without this cleansing from God, all the corruptions and woes of the present, are but preludes and shadows of a decay that never ceases, and an exile which knows no end.

Much has been said about the condition of the lost. Some tell us with great assurance that there is no future hell—no lake of fire—no outpoured wrath of God on the souls of men in another life. Be it so. The text opens up a picture on this subject more awful than that of an ocean of flame, or any tempest of fire. It is the simple incurableness of the finally impenitent. They are corrupt and sick; and they shall continue corrupt and sick. Their souls are just so many fountains gushing out streams of corrosive and disgusting corruption, which shall never be stayed or dried up. They are without heavenly communion, and they shall never have heavenly communion. They are without friends and tender sympathy, and they shall continue without them. They are as good as dead, unclean, condemned, cut off from the camp of God, and without hope of being ever any better. They are gloomy and putrid wanderers about the regions of death; and they shall wander there for ever. They are miserable lepers on their way to the lazar-house of eternal decay.

Yes, and I have some of these very infected people listening to me to-day. Though much stupefied to sacred things, they have caught up the words that I have been uttering. They are sitting with their Mends in the pews; but spiritually they are as unclean and disordered outcasts, lingering around the outskirts of the camp, and now and then casting in a sad glance. I have a word for them. Ho, ye leprous ones! The great prophet and priest of God is passing through your country. He is healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, and binding up the brokenhearted. The tread of his footsteps is near you now. Come out from your lonely haunts, and ask that his healing hand be laid upon you. He is not afraid of your uncleanness. His invitation is to all, "Come." He sees you sadly looking in through gates which you feel you dare not enter. He has come down through this land, just to save and heal such afflicted ones as you. And he can do it. His simple touch is healing. His mere look is life. But call to him, and he will hear you. Only bring your case before him, and he will undertake it at once. Now is your time. This is the period of your gracious visitation. Look to Jesus now while he is at hand, and he will relieve you. Call upon him while he is near, and he will save you. Delay not in unbelief, for his stay is limited. Your time is short. Your opportunities will soon pass away. The possibility of cure will soon be for ever gone. The shades of evening are gathering around us. The day is rapidly fading away. The night of death is near. Time is growing short. To-morrow may begin eternity. We know not how soon the final words may drop from heaven—"It is done!" Haste you then to Jesus, Fall down upon your knees before him. Let the deep fountains of your spirit be poured out in this one prayer: "Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean!" And where that prayer exists in real soul-earnest, there is also the effective response, "I will; be thou clean."

Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift!

Verses 47-59

Thirteenth Lecture.
The Leprosy of Garments

Leviticus 13:47-59

Corruption in our surroundings—Government—Domestic relations—Business—Education and literature—The Church—How such infections are to be treated—Christian Reform.

We have not yet quite done with the thirteenth chapter of this remarkable book. We have considered leprosy as respects persons; but it also attached to garments, and even to houses.

What relates to clothes-leprosy, is contained in the latter part of the thirteenth chapter, beginning with the Leviticus 13:47.

Now, I do not suppose that this leprosy of garments and skins was just the same disease of that name which attacked the human system. It may have been; and one may have sometimes taken it from the other; but we are not required to take this view. It is enough to understand it to be some affection of woven fabrics bearing a general resemblance to a leprous affection of the living body. A cancer is an affection of a living body, and yet we sometimes hear of cancers in trees. Rot is a decomposition of dead substances, and yet we speak of the rot in living sheep. The affections are not the same, although they are known by the same name. They refer to subjects very diverse in their nature. It is by this sort of accommodation, I take it, that God here speaks of leprosy of garments. As the life and comeliness of the leper are fretted away by his disease, so clothes and skins are affected by dampness, mould, or the settling in them of animalculæ, fretting away their strength and substance.

Michaelis, who very thoroughly investigated this whole subject, speaks of dead-wool, that is, the wool of sheep which have died by disease, as particularly liable to damage of this sort. His explanation is, that it loses its points and breeds impurity; and that when made into cloth and warmed by the natural heat of the wearer, it soon becomes bare and falls in holes, as if eaten by some invisible vermin. The unsoundness and unhealthiness of fabrics made of such materials were thought so serious by this learned investigator that he strongly urges the interference of legal enactments to prohibit the use of such wool in the manufacture of cloths. It is evidently to some such affections that God refers in these laws concerning the leprosy of garments; not because they were so particularly noxious or dangerous, but for typical purposes. The proper vindication of all these ceremonial regulations is, their lively signification of moral and religious ideas. Apart from this, many of them appear trifling and inexplicable; but this gives them weight and dignity which fully entitles them to the high place which they occupy in the book of revelation.

We have seen that leprosy in the living body represents sin as it lives and works in man. Leprosy in clothing must therefore refer to disorder and contagion around man. There is disease breeding in everything about us, as well as in us. Jude speaks of "the garment unspotted by the flesh." Christ commends a few names in Sardis because they had "not defiled their garments." The reference in these and tike passages plainly is to the matter of external contact with the world, and to the liability of Christians to be tainted by their earthly surroundings. The phraseology, however, is borrowed from these ancient laws. It contemplates the associations of a man as his clothing. Morally speaking, the state of things in which we live, is our garment. It is that which is put upon us when we come into life, which we continually wear while in the world, and which we put off when we die. It includes all the circumstances in which we are placed, the business in which we engage, the social systems under which we act, our comforts and associations in the world, and all the outward every-day occurrences which enter into and shape our external existence.

You will notice that these laws do not prohibit, but rather enjoin, the use of clothing. Christianity is not an exemption of a man from the common duties and associations of life. It does not encourage that moral divesture of one’s self which some religionists have so unnaturally practised, by retiring from society and its cares to live in solitudes and secluded retirement. Asceticism, monkery, nunnery, celibacy, withdrawal from the ordinary associations of life, has not the sanction of God. It is a sort of nakedness, which strips life of its comforts and its real design, and goes far to thwart the object for which we have been placed in this world. All natural associations, and all honest pursuits and employments, are for our moral good. All the cares, anxieties, toils and sorrows of this world, are designed to be steps and rounds by which we may ascend to higher excellence and moral greatness. He that cuts himself off from them, cuts himself off from God’s natural sacraments of spiritual blessing. They are our proper clothing. They warm us, and protect us, and beautify us, and may be made to us the means of everlasting praise and honor. They are not necessarily degrading. They are all meant to ennoble us, to elevate us, to bless us. They all have a spiritual aim. And they are all regulated by a wise and beneficent hand as means to our highest happiness. Toil is good; and family relations are good; and society in all its complex and varied affairs is good. We cannot sever ourselves from anything which it imposes without interference with God and detriment to ourselves.

But whilst all these natural surroundings are good, they are liable to disease, and may become the sources of infection and evil. They may become tainted, and so help to render us unclean. Society is as capable of corruption as the individual; and with this augmentation of mischief, that it reacts upon the individual, and may contaminate and deprave him still more than he would otherwise be. The fact is, that our social factors have introduced a great deal of dead wool into the fabrics which men in this world are compelled to wear. The signs of leprosy and contaminating uncleanness may be traced at many points.

Take the subject of government. Civil rule is ordained of God. It is meant for good. And when framed upon principles of righteousness, earth knows no higher blessing. It is a defence for the weak, a restraint upon outbreaking passion, a handmaid to social dignity, the bulwark of freedom, the grand regulator of the outward world. And yet, how leprous has government often become! What curses Lag it inflicted upon man! How has humanity been debased and degraded by the diseases which have fretted their way into it! Though meant to defend the feeble against the strong, to exalt right above might, it has been made, in every age, the prolific source of many of earth’s worst wrongs and miseries. Its tyrannies have filled the world with wailing. Its powers, corroded by human passion, have weighed like a millstone on the neck of humanity ever since history began. The corruptions to which it has given birth are legion. So sore and evil a thing has it often been, that the names of emperor and king have become an abhorrence unto men. It has been breeding leprosy and plague for six thousand years.

And not the least among its dreadful contaminations has been its deleterious effects upon the virtue of mankind. An arbitrary and tyrannical government cripples and stunts morality in its very germ, by divesting goodness of its proper reward, and making justice yield to the bribes of power and gain. It makes outward authority or sordid passion, instead of inward conviction and moral principle, the rule of conduct. It depresses the conscience, blunts the moral sense, and transmutes the masses into machines, sycophants and rogues, and the few into incarnations of the demon lust for power. How is it in Italy, in Spain, in Mexico, in the Ottoman dominions? Though occupying the garden-spots of earth, the lands are cursed with the basest of all populations by reason of the governments under which they have been reared. The garment has become leprous, and all who wear it are more or less defiled. Even in our own government, boastful and proud as we are of our political institutions, the cloth in many places is growing prematurely bare, weak ad rotten; and the taint of unholy influences is beginning to be felt upon the cause of righteousness and the moral purity of thousands.

Take the domestic relations. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone. Male and female hath he created us. He has set mankind in families. He has ordained the home, and made it the seat and centre of the mightiest influences that work in society. It is a blessed arrangement. As it is the oldest, it is the holiest, external sanctuary upon earth. It is the nursery of sentiment, the sacred enclosure of balmy affections, the primary school of every virtue. It is our innermost garment of fine linen, which, of all outward things, lies the closest upon, and unites most vitally with the springs of character. Its purity is the guarantee of a peaceful state and a happy world. It was made to be the temple of love, and hence of all that is right in feeling and just in principle.

The dearest spot on earth to me,

Is Home—sweet Home.

It is a fountain flowing with good. It is the foundation on which the best blessings of society chiefly repose. There is no fathoming of its influences. There is no way of computing its silent mightiness. It is not too much to say, that those who rock the cradle rule the world. In the secresy of home, the pale maternal hand moulds the springs which fashion the ages. Earth’s greatest powers, have ever taken their bent from the gentle tones of the mother’s voice. And when all effects come to be assigned to their true causes, the nursery chair will after all appear the mightiest throne.

It is exceedingly important, therefore, that the home should remain pure. Transmute the domestic ties into bonds of iniquity, and the race is to that extent bound down to death. Taint these potent surroundings, and it is just so much poison cast into the fountains of life. Yet, how often may we find the leprous plague fretting into the warp and woof of the domestic fabric, and forming a moral atmosphere about the plastic souls of infancy and childhood, more awful than upas shades, and more desolating than Lybian siroccos! I tremble when I think of the responsibility of parents. They tread on ground where every footfall echoes through eternity. And I mourn when I consider how often it is an echo of everlasting accusation.

Take business. It is necessary to engage in it. God himself commands it. Virtue, and religion, and even earthly comfort, require it. But how liable to become corrupt, and a mere instrument of death. "The care of the world and the deceitfulness of riches" are notorious for choking the springing germs of spiritual good. The commercial world is a very trying world upon the health of honor and honesty. It has a climate which is very apt to prove injurious to justice and integrity. The code of moral principles which mostly govern there, are usually set down at a heavy discount. I cannot speak from personal knowledge; but it is easy to see how numerous and powerful are the temptations which beset a man in mercantile life. An old book, which some consider inspired of God, has this remarkable sentence: "As a nail sticketh fast between the joinings of stones, so doth sin stick close between buying and selling." Leprosy is exceedingly prone to settle there with all its contaminations.

Take education and literature. We must have schools and books. They are an indispensable part of the great machinery of human progress. But they are apt to become leprous, and to impart contagion. Learning is a blessed thing; its tendency is to elevate and improve. But sometimes it becomes the instrument of demons, and the great plague of men. How is it with the hundred thousand infidel and impure books that are at work in society? How is it with the two millions of volumes of novels and tales which are annually issued from the American press alone? How is it with our systems of collegiate instruction, where the student is directed to feed his pride of learning by joining with the drunken poets of the olden time in their celebrations of the sensualities of the gods? How is it where the power of superior knowledge is not kept in balance by virtuous principles and a benevolent heart? How is it with some of our most elaborate systems of philosophy, which, in their hidden falsehood, are bending thousands from the truth? Oh, what a power of mischief has gone out upon the world from schools and books! How has genius descended from the altars of Heaven, to light her torch at the flames below! Dead wool is in much of the cloth she wears.

Take even the Church—the very pillar and ground of the truth—the ark of salvation itself. By it redemption is conveyed to men; and outside of it man has no Savior and no hope. And yet it is one of those garments around us which is liable to leprous taint. Instead of serving as a house of prayer, it has sometimes been a mere den of thieves. Instead of a nursery of faith, hope, and charity, it has often "been a nest for pestilential superstition, narrow self-righteousness, and intolerant bigotry. Though meant to he a school of preparation for heaven, men have often made it a feeder to hell.

But I need not enter further into specifications of this sort. You can see plainly that nothing around us in this world is so holy or so good, but that it may he perverted to base uses, and rendered the instrument of contamination and exclusion from the camp of God’s saints. Civil, domestic, economical, educational, and even religious associations, have at times exerted amazing power in the work of human degradation. Though intended and capacitated to be engines of good, they have often tended to develop, mature, and confirm depravity, in all the walks of life. We are clothed on all sides with what is liable to disease and contaminating disorder. It is in the country and in the city—at home and abroad. It is in our schools and colleges; in the stores of our merchants; in the shops of our artisans; on the farms of our agriculturalists; and even on the ships that float in the silent sea. And whilst we continue upon the earth, not one of us shall ever be able to escape liability to become leprous from the social influences which hang upon and beset us continually.

Having thus looked at the disorder, let us now direct our attention to the prescriptions concerning it.

1. The first thing I notice here, is, that God set every Israelite on the look out for it. This must necessarily have been the direct effect of the announcement of these laws. Every article of clothing was at once thrown under suspicion. Whether made of hairs or skins of animals, or of the fibres of vegetables; whether woollen, or linen; whether firs, or naked skins, or skins softened into leather; every sort of cloth or manufacture, intended for purposes of clothing, was declared liable at any time to be seized with the plague, and to become unclean and contaminating. Every serious Hebrew would therefore be impelled to keep the strictest watch for any symptoms of disorder, and to look with great suspicion upon whatever bore the least resemblance to it. Now there is a kind of suspiciousness—a quality or state of mind, keeping back from confidence—which I would not for anything encourage. There is an affection arising from a bad conscience or a bad hearts—a feeling closely akin to ugly jealousy, which mistrusts everything and everybody. It is just the contrary of that charity which "believeth all things, hopeth all things." It springs from no generous impulse. It is not based upon any dignified admiration for virtue. It proceeds upon no just zeal for the glory of God, or the good of man. It is a sort of surly selfishness and misanthropy, which is base in itself, and always mischievous in its effects. And the farther any one can keep himself from it the better for his own comfort, and for the good of those around him. But there is a suspiciousness which is virtuous and good. It mingles with the deepest piety and goes along with the greatest usefulness. But it is a suspicion of self, rather than a suspicion of others. It is a jealousy for one’s own purity—a holy fear of doing wrong or of being led into evil. It springs from the very heart of charity, and contemplates nothing but good. It is a diligent watchfulness over self—a careful guarding against the contaminations of evil. It is a suspiciousness based upon the clear evidence that everything is liable to corruption, and that there is continual danger of falling into condemnation. It is a sacred dread of sin—the desire of a pure heart to "keep unspotted from the world." It sets a man upon the look out for dangers in all his earthly surroundings. It does not lead him to repudiate government, but to be on his guard that he may not be betrayed by it into disloyally to his God. It does not prompt him to abjure domestic ties and cares, but to watch them lest they should wean his affections from heaven. It does not render business mean in his eyes, but causes him to be cautious lest it should crowd out a proper care for his soul. It begets in him no disregard for learning, but impels him above all things towards that which maketh wise unto salvation. It does not lessen his affection for the Church, but moves him to watch his heart against exclusiveness and bigotry. It does not in the least alienate him from the proper associations and pursuits of life, but encourages him to use this world, yet with jealous concern that he may not abuse it.

It is easy to see how essential all this is to moral purity in our relation to earthly surroundings. Let him that heareth, therefore, be wise, and learn to keep his garments.

2. A second particular in this law, to which I will call your attention, is, that whenever any symptoms appeared which might perhaps be leprous, the case was always to be immediately submitted to the judgment of the priest. The record says, "It shall be showed unto the priest; and the priest shall look upon the plague;" that is, with a view to decide whether it is leprosy or not, and to give his directions concerning it. The priest typified Christ; and his office, the office of Christ. And a great Christian lesson here comes to our view.

Human judgment is weak. The wisest of men has said, "He that trusteth to his own heart is a fool." We need light from heaven. Conscience itself is not unerring except it be illuminated by revealed truth. A man may sincerely think he is in the right, when he is in most dangerous error. He may suppose himself pursuing a virtuous course, when he is becoming more and more contaminated every hour. The way of common justice he may easily understand. Reason decides readily against flagrant breaches of morality. But no mere human penetration can find out all the secret lurkings of sin. Jesus is the only reliable arbiter. There are many instances in which nothing can guide us safely but his own decisive word. And this law pointed forward to the fact, that Christ is our teacher and judge—that he is to be our authoritative instructor—and that by his decision we are to know what is not pure. "I am the light of the world," says he; "if I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin." His word is the great "discerner." "This is my beloved Son," saith the Almighty; "hear ye him." True, Jesus is now in heaven, and we cannot hear his personal voice. But his word remains with us. We have only to come to his holy oracles, and we may know the truth

"The Law of the Lord is perfect.

The testimony of the Lord is sure.

The statutes of the Lord are right.

The commandment of the Lord is pure.

The fear of the Lord is clean.

The judgments of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether."

Heathen philosophy is a foggy marsh, through which the soul never can find its way to saving truth. Tradition is a wilderness of conflicting records, confounding the inquirer at every step. But the word of the Lord is pure sunshine from the open heavens, making the way of life so clear, that a wayfaring man, though a fool, need not err therein. And if at any time we have occasion to suspect disease and danger to our souls, our duty is to come at once to consult these oracles of Jesus, and have the matter settled by his own infallible authority.

3. A third particular in these laws relates to the treatment which a garment declared to be leprous was to receive. This varied somewhat with the nature of the symptoms. If the affection was active and rapid in its progress, the article was at once to be burned, "whether warp or woof, in woollen or in linen, or anything of skin." It mattered not how valuable the article was, or how great the inconvenience of its loss, it was to be destroyed by fire. We are bound, as Christians, at once to cut loose for ever from everything infected. Though our renunciation of sin should be to us like cutting off the right hand, or plucking out the right eye, or giving ourselves to complete nakedness, we must give it over to the burning. It is a grand mistake for any one to suppose that sin is in any way essential to him. People plead for leniency in our judgment of the tricks of trade, the corruptions of politics, and the questionable customs of society. They want to know how they are to get along without them. They tell us that these are common things, and have become necessary to success, etiquette, and respectability, and must be yielded to. But what if they are? What if a man cannot prosper in business without equivocation and deceit? What if a man cannot get into office but by meanness? What if we cannot stand fair with the world without introducing into our homes practices at which conscience rebels. That does not alter right and duty. If the High-priest has said it is leprous, it is our business to burn the last robe we have. Better live beggars all our days—better be accounted the very offscourings of the earth—better die in garrets, and be buried in potter’s field, and carried with Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom—than to flourish a few years in sin, and then go down with Dives to unquenchable flames. If we cannot drink of Esek and Sitnah without strife; we are to relinquish them forever. If we cannot keep out of Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace without bowing down to his image on the plains of Dura, we must promptly bid farewell to earth, and welcome the hottest, whitest flames. If we cannot enjoy Egypt’s honors without being tainted with Egypt’s idolatry, we must abdicate for ever, and choose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season. Though it cost us the fiercest martyrdom, we must not deny our Lord. "For what shall it profit a man, though he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"

If the affection, however, was not active and fretting, remedial measures were to be adopted, if possible, to cleanse and save the garment. "If the priest shall look, and the plague (after seven days) be not spread in the garment, either in the warp, or in the woof, or in anything of skin; then the priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is," The natural remedy for defilement was to be applied. And here comes in the whole subject of reform. This is the natural remedy for all manageable social disorders. I say all manageable ones; for as some garments were so badly affected as to be doomed at once to burning, so there are some infections in the surroundings of man in this world which never can be healed. They are beyond remedy, and we must make up our minds to abandon them to their fate, and to have no connection any more with them. Take, for instance, some of our popular amusements. That they are leprous none will deny. What hope is there of reforming them? Theirs is "a fret inward," and there is no help for them. No washing can get them clean. And the only alternative for Christians is, to separate themselves from them entirely. They do not form a subject for their endeavors at reform. They are doomed to come to an end.

Take that church apostasy known in Scripture as "The Man of Sin." What use is there to try to reform such an establishment as that? No passible process could separate between it and the leprous plague that is in it. God himself has abandoned all hope of its recovery. Strong delusion is there, because there is no love of the truth; and that delusion is sent of God to seal its damnation. Here and there a sound thread may be pulled out and saved; but the garment is profoundly leprous. The great High-priest has said it shall be burned with fire.

And the same is true of many governments, especially those now occupying the territory of the old Roman Empire. They are leprous to the deepest interior. It is useless to think of reforming them. They are past hope. They cannot be reclaimed. Prophecy sustains this declaration concerning them. God hath said they are unclean. As Christians we must surrender them to their doom. They shall be utterly consumed.

These, and such like infected articles, are past cleansing. But there are others in which the taint is less malignant and less defiling. The leprosy in them is not so deep but that careful washing may perhaps remove it. These are the legitimate subjects of Christian reform. There are many abuses in society which may be corrected. There are many sources of mischief which may be dried up. There are many affections of Church and State which may be cleansed off. To this end, therefore, are our energies to be directed. Every Christian is a reformer—not an empty vociferous demagogue, crying down everything, with nothing to put in the place—not a Jacobin revolutionist, who would unhinge society, and overturn, overturn, without restraint, limit, compunction, or fear of God or man—but a genuine reformer, whose heart and hand and influence are fully set against what is wrong and corrupting; who would not destroy society, but build it up and establish it upon those strong foundations which God himself has laid for it; and who, in place of putting the child against the parent, the subject against the ruler, and man against his God, bends all his influence to have each one happy in his place by a true harmony with heaven.

But there is one very important peculiarity to be observed in all Christian reforms. The washing of the infected garment was to be done by direction of the priest. "The priest shall command that they wash the thing wherein the plague is." Christ’s word is to be our guide for getting rid of social disorders, as well as for the detection of them. He is our Priest, and we must conduct our cleansing efforts upon the basis of his Gospel. The world is full of pretended reformers. Society is sick, and the doctors swarm around the patient, and every one has a prescription to offer. The conflict of opinion abroad over the earth, is like the winds that strove together upon the dark bosom of original chaos. The human mind is becoming completely bewildered and confounded. God is cutting the world loose from its old and false connections, and everywhere we hear the shrieks and behold the struggles which result therefrom. There is accordingly a casting about on all sides, such as never has been witnessed in the earth before. And the great danger is of basing our reformative efforts upon vague notions of philosophy, mistaken impulses, or wild schemes of human perfectibility, which can only delude and disappoint. Our eyes must therefore be ever turned to our Priest, who understands the whole case, and move only as his word directs. The Gospel is the chart by which to direct our way on the heaving ocean. Christ has been ordained to be the centre of the world. Around him everything must be made to revolve. From him all goodness radiates. And without coming under the laws of pulsation and attraction, which proceed from his great heart, even the best meaning men shall become mere wandering stars, whirling headlong through eternal emptiness, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever. The Gospel alone is the great regenerator of the world.

Finally, along with the washing of a leprous garment, it was to be shut up seven days, after which the priest was to examine it again; and if the bad symptoms had disappeared, it was to be washed again, and it was clean; but if the symptoms had not disappeared, it was then to be finally torn or burned. A vivid picture, this, of God’s plans with the social fabrics of this world. Some, in which the disorder was great, have already been quite destroyed. Others, in which the affection is less malignant, are undergoing the efforts of purification. They are shut up now until time shall complete its period. The great High-priest and Judge shall then come forth to give them the last inspection. And as things then are, so shall their eternal portion be. The tyrannies and corruptions then found upon the earth shall be adjudged to immediate destruction. And every plant which the heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted out.

May God give us grace against that day!

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Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Leviticus 13". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation.