Click here to learn more!
The plague of leprosy.
The cleansing of the leper
I. The loathsome and ghastly spectacle of a leper.
1. A leper was extremely loathsome in his person. But let me remind you that this, fearful as it seems to be, is a very poor portrait of the loathsomeness of sin. If we could bear to hear what God could tell us of the exceeding wickedness and uncleanness of sin, I am sure we should die. God hides from all eyes but His own the blackness of sin.
2. The leper was not only loathsome in his person, but was defiled in all his acts. If he drank out of a vessel, the vessel was defiled. If he lay upon a bed, the bed became unclean, and whosoever sat upon the bed afterwards became unclean too. All that he did was full of the same loathsomeness as was himself. Now this may seem to be a very humiliating truth, but faithfulness requires us to say it, all the actions of the natural man are tainted with sin. Whether he eats, or drinks, or whatsoever he does, he continues to sin against his God.
3. Being thus the medium of contagion and defilement wherever he went, the Lord demanded that he should be shut out from the society of Israel. Living apart from their dearest friends, shut out from all the pleasures of society, they were required never to drink of a running stream of water of which others might drink; nor might they sit down on any stone by the roadside upon which it was probable any other person might rest. They were, to all intents and purposes, dead to all the enjoyments of life, dead to all the endearments and society of their friends. Ay, and such is the case with the sinner with regard to the people of God.
4. Once more, the leper was wholly unable to come up to the house of God. Other men might offer sacrifices, but not the leper; others had a share in the high priest’s great sacrifice, and when he went within the veil he appeared for all others; but the leper had neither part nor lot in this matter. He was shut out from God, as well as shut out from man. He was no partaker of the sacred things of Israel, and all the ordinances of the Tabernacle were as nothing to him. Think of that, sinner! As a sinner full of guilt thou art shut out from all communion with God. True, He gives thee the mercies of this life as the leper had his bread and water, but thou hast none of the spiritual joys which God affords to His people.
II. I shall now bring the leper up to the high priest. Here he stands; the priest has come out to meet him. Mark, whenever a leper was cleansed under the Jewish law--the leper did nothing--the priest did all. My text asserts that if there was found any sound place in him, he was unclean. But when the leprosy had covered him, wheresoever the priest looked, then the man became by sacrificial rights a clean leper. Now, let me bring up the sinner before the great High Priest this morning. How many there are, who, as they come up hither, are ready to confess that they have done many things which are wrong, but they say, “Though we have done much which we cannot justify, yet there have been many good actions which might almost counterbalance the sin. Have we not been charitable to the poor, have we not sought to instruct the ignorant, to help those that are out of the way? We have some sins we do confess; but there is much at the bottom which is still right and good, and we therefore hope that we shall be delivered.” I put you aside in God’s name as unclean lepers. For you there is no hope, and no promise of salvation whatever. Here comes a second. “Sir, a month or two ago I would have claimed a righteousness with the very best of them. I, too, could have boasted of what I have done; but now I see my righteousness to be as filthy rags, and all my goodness is as an unclean thing. As for the future, I can make no promise; I have often promised, and so often lied. Lord, if ever I am made whole, Thy grace must make me so.”
III. Having thus brought the man before the priest, we shall now briefly turn our attention to the ceremonies which the priest used in the cleansing of the leper.
1. You will perceive, first, that the priest went to the leper, not the leper to the priest. We go not up to heaven, first, till Christ comes down from His Father’s glory to the place where we as lepers are shut out from God. Thou dost take upon Thyself the form of man. Thou dost not disdain the Virgin’s womb; Thou comest to sinners; Thou eatest and drinkest with them!
2. But the coming of the priest was not enough, there must be a sacrifice, and on this occasion, in order to set out the two ways by which a sinner is saved, there was sacrifice mingled with resurrection. First, there was sacrifice. One of the birds was taken, and its blood was shed in a vessel which was full, as the Hebrew hath it, of “living water”--of water which had not been stagnant, but which was clean. Just as when Jesus Christ was put to death, blood and water flowed from His side to be “of sin a double cure,” so in the earthen vessel there was received, first, the “living water” and then the blood of the bird which had just been slain. If sin is put away it must be by blood. There is no way of patting sin from before the presence of God except by the streams which flow from the open veins of Christ. The leper was made clean by sacrifice and by resurrection, but he was not clean till the blood was sprinkled on him. Christians, the Cross does not save us till Christ’s blood is sprinkled on our conscience. Yet the virtual salvation was accomplished for all the elect when Christ died for them upon the tree.
IV. That after the leper was cleansed, there were certain things which he had. To do. Yet, until he is cleansed, he is to do nothing. Tim sinner can do nothing towards his own salvation. His place is the place of death. Christ must be his life. The sinner is so lost that Christ must begin, and carry on, and finish all; but, when the sinner is saved then he begins to work in right good earnest. When once he is no more a leper, but a leper cleansed, then, for the love he bears his Master’s name, there is no trial too arduous, no service too hard; but he spends his whole strength in magnifying and glorifying his Lord. I will not detain you further than to notice that this man, before he might further enjoy the privileges of his healed estate, was to bring an offering, and the priest was to take him to the very door of the Tabernacle. He never dare come there before, but he may come now. So the pardoned man may come right up to God’s mercy-seat, and may bring the offering of holiness and good works. He is a pardoned man now. You ask me how? Not by anything he did, but by what the priest did, and that alone. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Leprosy, a special type of sin
I. In the first place, leprosy is undoubtedly selected to be a special type of sin, on account of its extreme loathsomeness. Beginning, indeed, as an insignificant spot, “a bright place,” a mere scale on the skin, it goes on progressing ever from worse to worse, till at last limb drops from limb, and only the hideous mutilated remnant of what was once a man is left.
II. But it will be rejoined by some: surely it were gross exaggeration to apply this horrible symbolism to the case of many who, although indeed sinners, unbelievers also in Christ, yet certainly exhibit truly lovely and attractive characters (see Mark 10:21). But this fact only makes leprosy the more fitting symbol of sin. For another characteristic is its insignificant and often imperceptible beginning. We are told that in the case of those who inherit the taint, it frequently remains quite dormant in early life, only gradually appearing in later years. How perfectly the type, in this respect, then, symbolises sin! No comfort can be rightly had from any complacent comparison of our own characters with those of many, perhaps professing more, who are much worse than we. No one who knew that from his parents he had inherited the leprous taint, or in whom the leprosy as yet appeared as only an insignificant bright spot, would comfort himself greatly by the observation that other lepers were much worse; and that he was, as yet, fair and goodly to look upon. Though the leprosy were in him but just begun, that would be enough to fill him with dismay and consternation. So should it be with regard to sin.
III. And it would so affect such a man the more surely, when he knew that the disease, however slight in its beginnings, was certainly progressive. This is one of the unfailing marks of the disease. And so with sin. No man can morally stand still. Sin may not develop in all with equal rapidity, but it does progress in every natural man, outwardly or inwardly, with equal certainty.
IV. It is another mark of leprosy, that sooner or later it affects the whole man; and in this, again, appears the sad fitness of the disease to stand as a symbol of sin. For sin is not a partial disorder, affecting only one class of faculties, or one part of our nature. It disorders the judgment; it obscures the moral perceptions; it either perverts the affections or unduly stimulates them in one direction while it deadens them in another; it hardens and quickens the will for evil, while it paralyses its power for the volition of that which is holy. And not only Scripture, but observation itself, teaches us that sin, in many cases, also affects the body of man, weakening its powers, and bringing in, by an inexorable law, pain, disease, death.
V. It is another remarkable feature of the disease that, as it progresses from bad to worse, the victim becomes more and more insensible. A recent writer says: “Though a mass of bodily corruption, at last unable to leave his bed, the leper seems happy and contented with his sad condition.” Is anything more characteristic than this of the malady of sin? The sin which, when first committed, costs a keen pang, afterward, when frequently repeated, hurts not the conscience at all. Judgments and mercies, which in earlier life affected one with profound emotion, in later life leave the impenitent sinner as unmoved as they found him.
VI. Another element of the solemn fitness of the type is found in the persistently hereditary nature of leprosy. It may indeed sometimes arise of itself, even as did sin in the case of certain of the holy angels, and with our first parents; but when once it is introduced, in the case of any person, the terrible infection descends with unfailing certainty to all his descendants; and while, by suitable hygiene, it is possible to alleviate its violence, and retard its development, it is not possible to escape the terrible inheritance. Is anything more uniformly characteristic of sin? The most cultivated and the most barbarous alike, come into the world so constituted that, quite antecedent to any act of free choice on their part, we know that it is not more certain that they will eat than that, when they begin to exercise freedom they will, each and every one, use their moral freedom wrongly--in a word will sin.
VII. And again, we find yet another analogy in the fact that, among the ancient Hebrews, the disease was regarded as incurable by human means; and, notwithstanding occasional announcements in our day that a remedy has been discovered for the plague, this seems to be the verdict of the best authorities in medical science still. That in this respect leprosy perfectly represents the sorer malady of the soul, every one is witness. No possible effort of will or fixedness of determination has ever availed to free a man from sin. Neither is culture, whether intellectual or religious, of any more avail.
VIII. Last of all, this law teaches the supreme lesson, that as with the symbolic disease of the body, so with that of the soul--sin shuts out from god and from the fellowship of the holy (see Revelation 21:27; Revelation 22:15). (S. H. Kellogg, D. D.)
Discipline in the Church
1. Of the necessity and moderation of discipline in the Church.
2. That the discipline of the Church be advisedly exercised, not rashly precipitated.
3. Of the wholesome power left to the Church, of binding and loosing, and of obedience to be given thereunto.
4. The law declares men’s sins, but does not heal them.
5. Of the diversity of censures in the Church. (A. Willet, D. D.)
Sin as a disease
1. Sin the cause of diseases.
2. To take heed of the least sins.
3. Ministers to rebuke sin.
4. Not to go forward in sin.
5. Not to sin against the conscience.
6. Not to be swift to judge others.
7. To shun the company of the wicked.
8. Against pride in apparel. (A. Willet, D. D.)
Sin is a corrupting and disorganising 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. 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 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 l 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! 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. 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.
1. 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 bell’s troops.
2. Leprosy is also gradual in its development. It does not break out in its full violence at once. Its first manifestations are so trifling that one who did not understand it would consider it nothing at all. No man is an outbreaking and confirmed villain at once. People are shocked, and hold up their hands in horror at scandalous crimes; but they forget that these are only the easy sequences of little indulgences and sins of which they take no account. They need to be told that there is a close interior brotherhood and cohesion between sins, and that he who takes one to his favour is at once beset with all the rest.
3. Again, leprosy is in itself an exceedingly loathsome and offensive disorder--a kind of perpetual small-pox, only more deeply seated and attended with more inward corruption.
4. Again, leprosy under this law carried with it a most melancholy condemnation of 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 priests. 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 a spiritual outcast--a moral leper--unclean, and ready for the realms of everlasting banishment and death.
5. 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 it is 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. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The gospel of the leprosy
1. It is a work both difficult and weighty for people to discern and judge aright of their own spiritual condition. This appears by all these rules and directions.
2. It is the priest’s office to judge of the leprosy. Goal has given His ministers power to retain and remit sins (John 20:23).
3. Note the rules of trial, whereby the priest is to judge of the leprosy.
(1) If it be but skindeep, it is not the leprosy, he is clean; but if deeper, he is unclean (Leviticus 13:3-3.13.4; Leviticus 13:20; Leviticus 13:25; Leviticus 13:30). A child of God may have spots in his skin, frailties in his life; but his heart is sound. There are other sins rooted deep in the heart, that affect the vitals.
(2) Does it stand at a stay, or does it spread further and further (Leviticus 13:5-3.13.8; Leviticus 13:23; Leviticus 13:27-3.13.28; Leviticus 13:34; Leviticus 13:36-3.13.37)? Evil men grow worse and worse: their corruptions gain ground upon them. But it is a sign there is some beginning of healing if it stand at a stay. If the Lord be healing a sinner, mortifying his lusts, he is clean.
(3) If there be proud raw flesh in the rising, he is not to be shut up in suspense; the thing is evident (Leviticus 13:9-3.13.11; Leviticus 13:14-3.13.15). Pride, presumption, and impatience of reproof, are bad signs.
(4) If all be turned white, a man is clean (Leviticus 13:12; Leviticus 13:17; Leviticus 13:34).
(a) The natural reason. It is a sign of some inward strength of nature, that it expels the disease, and sends it forth to the outward parts.
(b) The spiritual reason. A humble acknowledgment of the overspreading corruption of our nature, and flying to Christ for help under a thorough conviction and sense of our total uncleanness and pollutedness; this is a sign the plague is healed, and the leper made clean.
(5) In ease the leprosy be in the head, he is doubly unclean (Leviticus 13:44). Where sin has prevailed so far as to blind the very mind and understanding, men are more incapable of conversion than others, because so far from conviction.
4. Note the duties imposed upon the leper (Leviticus 13:45-3.13.47).
(1) Rend clothes. Sign of sorrow and lamentation.
(2) Bare head.
(3) Cover lips to express shame.
(4) Give warning to others to shun him. A scandalous sinner must not charge others with his failings, but load his own conscience, and take his guiltiness home to himself.
(5) Dwell alone. Excommunication. (S. Mather.)
Avoidance of false suspicion
When you read in the fourth verse of shutting up the parties for seven days, and then to look on it again, you may note with yourself, how greatly God hateth hasty, rash, and uncharitable judgment. A thing which many men and women, otherwise honest and good, are carried away withal, to their own great hurt, not only in soul, but in worldly reputation also, and to the bitter and biting discomfort of those whom they ought to love and judge well of. Nay, you may reason further with yourself thus: That if in a matter thus subject to the eye, as these sores were, yet God would have no haste, but a stay for seven days, and longer as occasion served, before any judgment should be given that the party was unclean. Oh, how much more doth He abhor haste and love leisure, in pronouncing of the hearts and thoughts of our friends and neighbours which are not seen, nor subject to an easy censure? (Bp. Babington.)
Sin may be invisible to human eyes
A lady, whose portrait had often been successfully taken before, paid a visit one day to the photographer’s for the purpose of having a new one taken. After she had sat for it in the usual way, the photographer retired with the plate to examine the picture which the sun’s light had drawn there, but as the lines gradually developed in the chemical bath a strange sight was revealed. In the portrait the lady’s face appeared covered with a number of dark spots; but yet no one looking at her that day was able to detect the slightest trace of them in her face I But the next day the explanation came. The spots had then become distinctly visible. The lady was ill of small-pox, of which she died. The faint yellow of the spots, some time before human eyes could discern it, had been marked by the pure light of the sun, and traced in darkened spots in that inexorably true picture drawn on the photographic plate, revealing the horrible disease that already, though as yet invisible to human eyes, was seated there. (Biblical Treasury.)
The importance of attending to the disease of sin
Sin is an awful disease. I hear people say, with a toss of the head, and with a trivial manner: “Oh, yes, I’m a sinner.” Sin is an awful disease. It is leprosy. It is dropsy. It is consumption. It is all moral disorders in one. Now, you know there is a crisis in a disease. Perhaps you have had some illustration of it in your own family. Sometimes the physician has called, and he has looked at the patient and said: “That case was simple enough; but the crisis has passed. If you had called me yesterday, or this morning, I could have cured the patient. It is too late now; the crisis has passed.” Just so it is in the spiritual treatment of the soul--there is a crisis. Before that, life. After that, death. Oh, as you love your soul, do not let the crisis pass unattended to. There are some here who can remember instances in life when, if they had bought a certain property, they would have become very rich. A few acres that would have cost them almost nothing were offered them. They refused them. Afterwards a large village or city sprang up on those acres of ground, and they see what a mistake they made in not buying the property. There was an opportunity of getting it. It never came again. And so it is in regard to a man’s spiritual and eternal fortune. There is a chance; if you let that go, perhaps it never comes back. Certainly that one never comes back. (H. W. Beecher.)
Leprosy and six hereditary
Never shall I forget a visit which I paid to the leper hospital outside the East Gate of Damascus, which tradition says occupies the site of Naaman’s house. A woman was crossing the courtyard, whose loathsome features seemed all but eaten away by disease. In her hands--the fingers of which were almost consumed by leprosy--she held a sweet-looking infant, as fair and pretty a child as one could desire to see. The contrast was most painful. Life and health and innocence seemed to sleep in the arms of sin, disease, and death. I said to the missionary who accompanied me, “Surely the woman is not the mother Of the child?” He said, “Yes, she is”; the child does not show the leprosy now, but it is in the blood, and before long it will probably appear; and if the infant live long enough she will be as bad as the mother.” Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? (J. W. Bardsley.)
Ministers must seek to produce conviction of sin
A devoted minister relates the following: “A friend of mine was visiting a dying carter, and said to him, ‘My friend, do you feel yourself a sinner?’ ‘I do not know that I am,’ was the reply; ‘I suppose I am like other people; I do not feel very bad.’ ‘We must get that point settled,’ said my friend. ‘Let me ask you a few questions. Have you ever taken too much to drink?’ ‘Well, fellows like me, you know, are likely to do that now and then, out as we are in all weathers.’ ‘I am not asking you about the weathers, my question is, Have you done this?’ ‘Yes, I have.’ ‘Have you ever sworn?’ ‘Well, we carters are a rough lot, and a man’s temper sometimes--’ ‘Stop! you admit that you have sworn, that you have cursed, and taken God’s name in vain. Did you ever break the Lord’s day?’ ‘Well, it would be difficult for us carters, busy as we are with our horses, to keep the Lord’s day.’ ‘Stop! here are three things--drunkenness, profane swearing, and Sabbath-breaking-that you admit yourself guilty of. How can you say that you are not a sinner? You must take your place as a sinner, my friend; and the sooner you do it, the better.’ He did so, and found mercy and pardon through the atoning blood of Christ.” It is of no use for men to deny, or try to explain away, the fact of their sinfulness; they will never take their true place until they do so as sinners in the sight of God.
The difficulty of knowing aright one’s true spiritual state
A young lady, who was under concern of soul, said to Dr. Nettleton: “I certainly do desire to be a Christian. I desire to be holy. I would give all the world for an interest in Christ.” “What you say will not bear examination,” said Dr. Nettleton. “If you really desire religion for what it is, there is nothing to hinder you from possessing it. I can make a representation which will show you your heart, if you are willing to see it.” “I am,” she replied. “It will look very bad,” said Dr. N., “but if you are willing to see it, I will make the representation. Suppose you were a young lady of fortune; and suppose a certain young man should desire to possess your fortune, and should, for that reason, conclude to pay his addresses to you. But he does not happen to be pleased with your person. He does not love you, but hates you. And suppose he should come to you, and say, ‘I really wish I could love you, but I do not. I would give all the world if I could love you; but I cannot.’ What would you think of that young man?” We may readily guess the confusion and silence to which she was brought, by this faithful exposure of the deception which she had practised upon herself. (Sword and Trowel.)
Sinners ought to be willing to know their true state
A man once said this to Dr. Nettleton, “I sincerely desire to be a Christian. I have often gone to the house of God, hoping that something which should be said might be sent home to my mind by the Spirit of God, and be blessed to my salvation.” “You are willing, then, are you not,” said Dr. N., “that I should converse with you, hoping that my conversation may be the means of your conversion?” “I am,” was his reply. “If you are willing to be a Christian,” added Dr. Nettleton, “you are willing to perform the duties of religion; for this is what is implied in being a Christian. Are you willing to perform these duties?” “I do not know but that I am,” was the rather doubtful reply. “Well, then, you are the head of a family. One of the duties of religion is family prayer. Are you willing to pray in your family?” “I should be,” he replied, “if I were a Christian; but it cannot be the duty of such a man as I am to pray. The prayers of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord.” “And is it not,” said Dr. Nettleton, “an abomination unto the Lord to live without prayer? But just let me show you how you deceive yourself. You think you really desire to be converted. But you are not willing to be convicted. Just as soon as I mention a duty which you are neglecting, you begin to excuse and justify yourself, on purpose to keep your sin out of sight. You are not willing to see that it is an heinous sin to live in the neglect of family prayer. How can you expect to be brought to repentance until you are willing to see your sinfulness; and how can you flatter yourself that you really desire to be a Christian while you thus close your eyes against the truth?” (Sword and Trowel.)
A diseased nature
It is not necessary to split hairs over the doctrine of “original sin,” nor to trip against stumblingblocks labelled “transmitted iniquity,” in order to arrive at the conclusion that man as he is in this world needs moral helps. It was forcibly said, by way of illustration, that a wolf cub has probably never killed a sheep, but it undoubtedly will if it lives and has a chance--because it has the wolf nature. Man does not need to look outside of his own heart, if he be honest, to know that he has in his nature a tendency to sin-that he needs constraints around him and a new spirit within him to keep him true to the higher life. Sin progressive:--Amongst many other diseases that the body is incident unto, there is one that is called by the name of gangrena, which doth altogether affect the joints, against which there is no remedy but to cut off that joint where it settled, otherwise it will pass from joint to joint, till the whole body is endangered. Such is the nature of sin, which unless it be cut off in the first motion, it proceedeth unto action, from action to delectation, from delight unto custom, and from that unto habit, which being as it were, a second nature, is never, or very hardly removed without much prayer and fasting. (J. Spencer.)
The power of one sin
While I was walking in the garden one bright morning, a breeze came through and set all the flowers and leaves a-fluttering. Now, that is the way flowers talk, so I pricked up my ears and listened. Presently an old eldertree said: “Flowers, shake off your caterpillars.” “Why?” said a dozen altogether, for they were like some children who always say, “Why?” when they are told to do anything. Bad children, those! The elder said: “If you don’t, they’ll gobble you up.” So the flowers set themselves a-shaking, till the caterpillars were shaken off. In one of the middle beds there was a beautiful rose, which shook off all but one, and she said to herself: “Oh, that’s a beauty! I’ll keep that one.” The elder overheard her, and called out: “One caterpillar is enough to spoil you.” “But,” said the rose, “look at his brown and crimson fur and his beautiful black eyes, and scores of little feet. I want to keep him. Surely one won’t hurt me.” A few mornings after I passed the rose again. There was not a whole leaf on her; her beauty was gone, she was all but killed, and had only life enough to weep over her folly, while the tear stood like dewdrops on her tattered leaves. “Alas! I didn’t think one caterpillar would ruin me!”
“If the plague be turned into white, then the priest shall pronounce him clean”
At first sight it seems strange to ordain that the man should be reckoned clean if the leprosy were out upon him and covered him wholly. The reason, however, may be--
If natural, then it is either because the leprosy is not so infectious when it has thus come all out on the body, the hard, dry scurf not being likely to spread infection, whereas the ichor of raw flesh would (see Bagster); or, because it really is not a proper leprosy if it so come out--it is a salt humour cast out by the strength of the man’s constitution, and is not deep-seated. It is rather a relief to the constitution; as when measles or small-pox come out to the surface of the body, recovery is hopeful. If it was for a moral reason, then it seems meant to teach that the Lord has a deep abhorrence of a corrupt nature--deeper far than merely of corrupt actions. We are ever ready to take home the guilt of evil deeds, but to palliate the evil of a depraved heart. But the Lord reverses the case. His severest judgment is reserved for inward depravity. And yet more. Is it not when a soul is fully sensible of entire corruption (as Isaiah 1:5) that salvation is nearest? A complete Saviour for a complete sinner? If there appeared any “raw flesh,” then the man is unclean. For this indicates inward disease--not on the surface only. It is working into the flesh. But if the “raw flesh,” turn and be “changed into white,” then it is plain that the disease is not gone inwards; it is playing on the skin only. Let him stand, therefore, as clean. Perhaps the case of a pardoned man may be referred to again in this type. His iniquity comes all out to view, when it is thrown into the fountain opened; and the inner source of it is checked. The seat of corruption has been removed, But if, after the appearance of pardon, the man turn aside to folly (if “raw flesh” appear), he is to be counted unclean. If, however, this turning aside to folly be checked, if this backsliding be healed, then it is like the “raw flesh,” turning “into white”--it evidences that his nature is sound--it has not returned to its state of thorough depravity. (A. A. Bonar.)
The leper diseased
Leper, canst thou not read thy case here? Afflicted, exercised, tempted, downcast child of God, dost thou not see thy character here described by an inspired pen?
1. “The leper in whom the plague is.” Is sin your plague? Take all your worldly anxieties, tie them up in one bundle, and put them into the scale; now place in the other scale the plague of sin. Which scale goes down? If you are a spiritual leper, you will say, “Oh, it is sin, sin, that I sometimes fear will be a millstone to drown my soul in hell.” And canst thou find this mark, “the leper in whom the plague is”? Is not this a very striking expression, “In whom “? I think Paul has hit the matter to a nicety; and well he might, for he wrote as a man who knew what he was writing about; he says, “The sin that dwelleth in me.” Sin is not like a martin that builds its nest under the eaves, which sticks to the house, but is not in the house. Neither is sin a lodger to whom you can give a week’s or a month’s notice to quit; nor is it a servant whom you may call up, pay him his month’s wages, and send him about his business. No, no. Sin is one of the family who dwells in the house, and will not be turned out of the house--haunts every room, nestles in every corner, and like the poor ejected Irish of whom we read, will never leave the tenement while stick or stone hangs together. Is not this the case with you? Does not sin dwell in you, work in you, lust in you, go to bed with you, get up with you, and all the day long, more or less, crave, design, or imagine some evil thing? Do you feel sin to be a plague and a pest, as it must be to every living soul? Then are you not something of a leper if the plague dwell in you?
2. But the leper’s clothes were to be rent.
(1) This was a sign of mourning. Grief, sorrow, is their continual portion on account of the leprosy that is in them.
(2) Rending the clothes was also a sign of abhorrence. Thus “the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy,” when the Lord Jesus, in answer to his question, affirmed that He was the Son of God.
(3) The rent clothes, therefore, of the leper show his self-abhorrence and self-loathing. Seeing the holiness and purity of God it is with him as with Job. “I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth Thee. “Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
(4) The rent clothes was also a figure of a rent and contrite heart. “Rend your hearts,” says the prophet, “and not your garments”; implying that though the rent garment was a figure of a rent heart, yet the outward mark was nothing without the inward feeling.
3. But the leper was also to have his head bare. No covering from God’s wrath was allowed him; bareheaded he stood exposed to the winds and storms of heaven, bare before the lightning’s flash. And does not this represent the poor sinner without a covering before God; sensible that he is amenable to God’s justice and eternal indignation?
4. But he was also to have a covering on his upper lip. And this for the same reason that we cover the mouth of the grave--to present the infection of his breath. If he covered but the lower lip, the breath might come forth. Have you ever thought and felt that there was sin enough in your heart to infect a world? that if every man and woman in the world were perfectly holy, and you were left freely to give vent to every thought and imagination of your carnal mind, there was sin enough there to taint every individual? It is so, felt or not; for sin is of that infectious nature that there is enough in one man’s heart to fill all London with horror. Oh, when a man knows this he is glad to have a covering for his upper lip! He cannot boast then of what a good heart he has, nor what good resolutions he has made, or what great performances he means to accomplish. He has at times a very Vesuvius in him, and wants no one to come within the mouth of the crater. If a man has a covering upon the upper lip he will not boast of his goodness.
5. But the leper was to have a cry in his mouth. That cry was “Unclean, unclean.” It was a warning cry. He was to shout to the passengers, if any were drawing near, “Unclean, unclean; come not near me; I am a leper; I shall pollute you; beware of my breath, it carries infection with it; touch me not; if you touch me you will be tainted with the same malady; beware of me; keep your distance; standoff!” Yes, but you say, “Come; I am not so bad as that; I am religious, and holy, and consistent. I am sure I need not cover my upper lip and cry, Unclean, unclean.” Oh, no; certainly not. You are not a leper. You have had years ago a rising, or a boil, and at the priest’s direction you have washed your clothes and are clean. But if you do not feel to be a leper, there are those who do; and such do cry, and ever must cry, “Unclean, unclean.” And if they do not uncover all their sores to men, they can do so to God.
6. But all the (lays wherein the plague was in the leper he was to be defiled; he was unclean. Such is a spiritual leper; defiled by sin; polluted from head to foot, as long as the leprosy remains.
7. But what was the necessary consequence of this? “He shall dwell alone.” A solitary religion is generally a good religion. God’s tried people have not many companions. The exercised cannot walk with the unexercised; the polluted with the unpolluted; the sick with the well; tile leper with the clean; for “how can two walk together except they be agreed?” (J. C. Philpot.)
Disease and sin
This great fact that a disease in the body was typical of a malady in the soul reminds us at once that there was perfect harmony between the body and the soul, between things spiritual and things temporal, between things heavenly and things earthly. There is enough of the harmony still surviving to show what and how rich it once was. The historical statement in this chapter is, that the leprosy overspread the whole body, till it became, in language used by one of the prophets, “white as snow”; the whole physical economy was infected with its deadly poison. And, in that respect, it was the type, and is indeed referred to in the New Testament as the type, of that sin which has infected the whole soul and body of mankind. Take any one faculty that is within us, and we shall find on it the great leprosy, or taint, or moral influence of sin. Man’s intellect has in it still remaining energies that give token of what it once was; but it has in it also defects, and tremulousness, and weakness, and paralysis, that indicate that it is the subject of some great derangement. I need not attempt to prove that the heart also is defiled. Our blessed Lord gives the heart its faithful character when He says, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adultery, and such like; and these are the things that defile a man.” Truly, therefore, and justly did the Psalmist pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God: renew a right spirit within me.” But not only are the heart and intellect affected, as I have shown you, but the conscience also has suffered, and is poisoned by the universal disease. It is sometimes overflowed by guilty passions, it is sometimes silent when it ought to rebuke them; sometimes quiescent when it ought to assert its original authority, and sometimes the democracy of the passions rises in fierce array, dethrones the monarch that ought to govern them, and prompts man to pursue the infatuated course that leads to his ruin. And in the worst of cases this power of conscience is often perverted to the wrong side, sanctioning the sins which it ought to abhor. When the intellect that discerns, the heart that loves or hates, and the conscience that testifies what is right or wrong, are thus infected, truly may we say with Isaiah, “The whole head is sick, the whole heart is faint,” &c. Were the tokens and the evidences of the assertion I have made not so obvious and so numerous as they actually are, you find other proofs in the miser fixing his heart upon gold, in spite of the decisions of intellect, the better impulses of the heart, and the rebukes of conscience. You find the drunkard still indulging in his cups, notwithstanding a thousand testimonies within and without, that he is ruining soul and body. You find the Pharisee robbing widows’ houses, and making long prayers for a pretence. You find the very religion of love and truth corrupted into the religion of superstition, of hate, and a lie. So depraved and fallen is man that it looks that, if he had the power, he would turn redemption itself into a nullity, or into a curse. There is, then, on all sides the evidence of some great derangement. We never can suppose we were made so. Disease seems to us natural, but it is most unnatural; error, sin, hate, all seem to us normal and ordinary, but they are really altogether the reverse. We find, on tracing the similitude between the disease which is here mentioned, that the leper had to be insulated from the rest of the world, and left by himself to get rid of the disease that thus separated him. So the sinner, in God’s moral government, must be for ever separated from the communion and company of the holy, if he continue the subject of this great moral malady--sin. The leper’s disease was so bad that it was incurable by human means. It is so with sin. Like the leprosy, in the next place, sin is contagious. The characteristic disease of the Israelite spread from person to person, from house to house, and throughout the whole land. And who needs to be taught that “evil communications corrupt good manners”? Who needs to learn that there is in an evil word, in a crooked course, a contagious influence that is distilled upon susceptible and sensitive and living hearts? In the ancient economy, the party to whom the leper presented himself, was not the physician, as in other diseases, but the priest. And this shows that it was a disease in some shape intimately associated with man’s guilt, or with sin. A Jew of old, like a Gentile now, if taken ill, applied to the physician; but when infected with this great typical disease, he did not go to the physician, but to the priest. But, more than this, even the priest could not heal him; the priest had no prescription that could heal him, no balm that could remove it. All that he could do was to say, “You are healed,” or “You are not healed,” or, “You are advancing towards convalescence,” or the reverse. The priest was to pronounce him clean, or to pronounce him unclean. But how much better is the economy under which we live! Our High Priest can not only pronounce us clean, but make us clean; He can not only say that we are justified, but He can justify us by His perfect righteousness, forgive us by His atoning blood, by His sanctifying Spirit, through His inspired Word. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The separating influences of sin
Any one who has visited Jerusalem may have seen the lepers standing day by day near the Jaffa Gate soliciting alms from those passing the threshold of the city which they themselves were not allowed to enter. Most travellers who have either witnessed this painful sight or visited the houses of the lepers at the Zion Gate must have recalled the words, “Without the camp shall his habitation be.” No type so strikingly brings out the separating influences of sin as that of leprosy; telling the sinner, in no uncertain tones, that unless his sin be pardoned, his leprosy cleansed, he shall never enter the gates of the heavenly city. Howels, in one of his sermons, finely says that when Adam sinned, God, having locked the gate of Paradise to prevent the entrance of men, cast the key into the very depths of hell. There it lay, and man must for ever have been excluded--“without the camp,” the place of God’s dwelling, whether typified by garden, camp, or city, must his habitation have been--had not the Son of God, with His Father’s will and pleasure, wrought our deliverance. As He stood on the edge of the fiery abyss--the wrath of God due to man’s sin--He drew back. Again He looked into the terrible gulf. Then, with a love incomprehensible were it not Divine, He plunged into its depths, found the key, ascended upon high, led captivity captive, opened the gate of Paradise; and now the kingdom of heaven is open to all believers. (J. W. Bardsley, M. A.)
Leprous outcasts in England
A gentleman visiting the venerable church of St. Mary’s in the village of Minster, near Ramsgate, said to the guide, “What means this hole through the wall?” “That,” replied the guide, “recalls a fact which is full of interest and pathos. In the twelfth century there were a number of lepers in the neighbourhood. You will understand, of course, that they were obliged to live by themselves, and were supported by charity. Over at the old Abbey you may still see the place where bread and other food was passed out to them. Being unclean, and afflicted with a horrible and incurable disease which was contagious, they were not allowed in church, or to come in contact with healthy persons, so they had no way of taking any direct part in the worship of God. Both as to soul and body they were driven out from all intercourse with the rest of mankind. Yet many of them longed for some sound or sight that might comfort them in their sad, loathsome, and hopeless condition. Taking pity on the poor creatures, the monks made this hole in the wall, so that, one at a time, they could see the priests ministering at the altar, hear the music, and perhaps a few words of the Mass. Then they would go back to their huts and caves, trusting that in heaven, if not on earth, they might be free from the dreadful curse under which they suffered. That is why this hole is called the Leper’s Squint. Poor outcasts! my heart aches to think of them, though they are all dead and gone these seven hundred years.”
Leprosy in a garment.
The leprosy of garments
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. 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 animalculae, 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. 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 spotted by the flesh.” Christ commends a few names in Sardis because they had “not defiled their garments.” The reference in these and like 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. 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. 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 has it inflicted upon man! 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. Take the domestic relations. God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone. 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. 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! 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 commercial world is a very trying world upon the health of honour and honesty. 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. 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. By it redemption is conveyed to men; and outside of it man has no Saviour and no hope. And yet it is one of those garments around us which are 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. 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 be perverted to base uses, and rendered the instrument of contamination and exclusion from the camp of God’s saints. 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 lookout 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. Now there is a kind of suspiciousness which I would not encourage. There is an affection arising from a bad conscience or a bad heart--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.” 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 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 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 lookout for dangers in all his earthly surroundings.
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 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. 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.
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. If the affection, however, was not active and fretting, remedial measures were to be adopted, if possible, to cleanse and save the garment. 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. 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. These, and such like infected articles, are past cleansing. But there are others in which the taint is less malignant and less defiling. These are the legitimate subjects of Christian reform. There are many abuses in society which may be corrected. To this end, therefore, are our energies to be directed. 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. Finally, along with the washing of a leprous garment, it was to be shut up seven days, after which the priest was to example 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. (J. A. Seiss, D. D.)
The diffusiveness of sin
We are told that one grain of iodine will give colour to seven thousand times its own weight of water, and one grain of poisoned literature will give a colouring to all the threescore and ten years of a man’s life, and to his character and power, we know not to what extent. Lord Shaftesbury speaks of it as poison. He reminds me of an incident that occurred in a town in which I lived and laboured. In the manufacture of some lozenges, arsenic, instead of some comparatively harmless compound, had been mixed up, and they were sold in the market. It was ascertained, in the course of a day or two after, what had been done, and all who had purchased them were warned. Many had bought them and died at the time, and a panic of grief spread through the town. But there were some who did not die; it did not kill them; but they never lived--that is, there was no real life about them; the very fountain of their life-blood was poisoned, and you could tell by the pallid cheek, and the lack-lustre eye, and the feeble brain, and the sluggish existence that it was not life. They were young as to years, some of them, but half-palsied, and feeble and old--they were poisoned. Oh, there are men and women living in this London to-day whom the poison of literature has not killed altogether, and still they are not living; the very fountain of their life is poisoned, and they carry it about with them, and bear its curse within them; and still wherever you go you see it. (J. P. Chown.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Leviticus 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany