Lev_13:45-46. And the leper, in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon 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.
AMONG the various disorders with which the Jews were afflicted, the leprosy was marked as the most odious and disgraceful; and the rules for distinguishing it from all similar disorders were laid down by God himself with very extraordinary accuracy and precision. As existing in garments and in houses, it seems to have been peculiar to the Jews; and to have entirely vanished with their dispensation. But there doubtless was some important end for which God visited them with this disorder: and what that was, may be gathered from the various ordinances relating to it. In all the differences which God commanded to be put between things clean and unclean, he designed to teach us the evil and bitterness of sin: but from the leprosy more particularly may these things be learned. We may learn, I say,
The evil of sin—
Whatever resemblance the leprosy might bear to some other disorders, it differed materially from all others. It was,
[This disorder was not, as some have thought, acquired by contagion; for it was not at all infectious: but it proceeded immediately from the hand of God; and was always considered as a punishment for sin. Miriam was smitten with it for her rebellion against Moses [Note: Num_12:10-15.]: and Gehazi, for his covetous and dishonest conduct towards Naaman the Syrian [Note: 2Ki_5:27.].
In this light also should sin be viewed. True, it first entered through the device of Satan: but from that time has it been, more or less, judicially inflicted by God, on those who have disregarded the divine commands. Frequently is God said to “blind the eyes,” and “harden the hearts” of men. We must not indeed suppose, that he ever does this by a positive infusion of sin into the soul: this would not consist with his own glorious perfections: but he abandons men to the evil of their own hearts, and withholds from them that grace whereby alone they can overcome their corruptions. Multitudes are “given up by him to a reprobate mind, because they like not to retain him in their knowledge [Note: Rom_1:28.].” And he tells us plainly, that this punishment shall be inflicted on us, if we do not guard against sin in its first beginnings: “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways; he shall eat of the fruit of his own ways, and be filled with his own devices [Note: Pro_1:30-31; Pro_14:14].” Who indeed has not found the truth of these declarations? Who does not see, that, if we harbour pride, covetousness, impurity, sloth, or any other evil principle in our hearts, it will gain such an ascendant over us, as at once to chastise us for our folly, and to augment our guilt? The truth is, that the very heaviest judgment which God can inflict upon us in this world, is, to give us over to the evil of our own hearts, and to say, “He is joined to idols; let him alone [Note: Hos_4:17.].”]
[If there were but the smallest appearance of the leprosy on any one, he must instantly have it examined with all possible care. He must not trust to his own judgment, but must apply to those whom God had authorized to determine the point, according to the rules prescribed for them. If the disorder existed, though in ever so low a degree, the person was instantly visited with all its painful consequences: and if only a doubt of its existence was entertained, he must be shut up, and re-examined, week after week, till the point could be determined. Surely nothing could more strongly declare its odiousness in the sight of God.
In this respect it most emphatically marks the hatefulness of sin. “Sin is that abominable thing which God hateth [Note: Jer_44:4.].” He charges us to abhor it [Note: Rom_12:9.], and to abstain from all appearance of it [Note: 1 These. 5:22.]. He solemnly assures us, that, if we harbour it in our hearts, it shall not go unpunished [Note: Exo_34:7 and Pro_11:21.]. He requires us to “search and try our ways;” and to bring every thing to the touchstone of his word [Note: Isa_8:20.]: nor would he have us satisfied with our own judgment, lest our self-love should deceive us: we must come to our great High-Priest, “whose eyes are a flame of fire;” and beg of him to “search and try us, and to see if there be any wicked way in us [Note: Psa_139:23-24.].” However clear we may be in our own eyes, we must say with St. Paul, “I judge not mine own self: for I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord [Note: 1Co_4:3-4.].”]
[There was nothing prescribed, nor indeed any thing to be attempted, for the cure of this disorder. Nothing but the hand that inflicted it, could remove it. Hence the removal of it is most generally expressed by the term cleansing; and those who were relieved from it are said to have been cleansed [Note: Luk_17:14; Luk_17:17.].
And certain it is that none but God can deliver us from sin. No superstitious devices have ever been able to root it out, no human efforts to subdue it. The blood of Christ alone can wash away its guilt; and the grace of Christ alone can suppress its operation.]
Clearly as the evil of sin is seen in this disorder, we behold yet more strongly marked,
The bitterness of it—
The person afflicted with the leprosy was put out of the camp or city in which he had dwelt, and was forced to live alone, being cut off from all intercourse with his dearest relatives [Note: 2Ki_7:3; 2Ki_15:5.]. How inexpressibly painful must this have been! — — —
Here then we see shadowed forth the miserable state of men by reason of sin. When it shews itself only in unallowed infirmities, it will consist with the divine favour; just as the leprosy, when it was turned to a kind of scurf that covered the whole body from head to foot, was considered as no longer rendering the person ceremonially unclean [Note: 2, 13.]: but, as long as it continues “deeper than the skin,” with “quick raw flesh rising,” and “white or yellow hair;” in other words, while it reigns within, and produces its accustomed fruits, it incapacitates us for,
Fellowship with God’s Church on earth—
[Social intercourse indeed with the Lord’s people is not prohibited: but that fellowship which the saints enjoy with each other in spiritual exercises is altogether beyond the reach of those who live in wilful sin. The Apostle justly asks, “What communion hath light with darkness, or righteousness with unrighteousness, or he that believeth with an unbeliever [Note: 2Co_6:14-15.] ?” The views, desires, and pursuits of the ungodly are altogether different from those which characterize the children of God; and they make for themselves that separation, which under the law was the subject of an express command. Strictly speaking perhaps, the separation begins on the side of the Lord’s people, because they are commanded to “come out from the world, and be separate, and not to touch the unclean thing [Note: 2Co_6:17.]:” but the effect is the same: in the one case, the unclean were but few, and therefore were separated from the mass: but in the other case, the mass are the unclean; and the clean are separated from them.]
Admission into his Church in heaven—
[St. Paul appeals to us respecting this as a thing plain, obvious, and undeniable [Note: 1Co_6:9.]: and our blessed Lord repeatedly affirms it with the strongest asseverations that it was possible for him to utter [Note: Joh_3:3; Joh_3:5.]. When king Uzziah was smitten with the leprosy in the temple, all the priests with one accord rose upon him, and thrust him out of the temple; yea, and he himself also hasted to go out [Note: 2Ch_26:20.]. And thus it would be in heaven, if by any means an unrenewed sinner were admitted there: he would be thrust out [Note: Luk_13:28.], as unworthy of a place among that blessed society; and he would haste to flee out, from a consciousness that nothing but redoubled misery could await him there [Note: Psa_1:5.] — — —]
Let us entertain a godly jealousy over ourselves—
[Men are very apt to “think themselves something, when they are nothing.” But we should diligently “prove our own work, that we may have rejoicing in ourselves alone, and not in another [Note: Gal_6:3-5.].” As in the leprosy, so in the dispositions of the heart, it is often difficult to distinguish with certainty: the lines of distinction between unbelief and fear, presumption and faith, worldliness and prudence, and between a variety of other principles existing in the mind, are more easily defined on paper, than discerned in the heart: truth and error often so nearly resemble each other, that none but our great High-Priest can enable us to discern them apart. Yet if an evil principle be admitted into the mind, it will produce a thousand evils in the life. Hence a peculiar stigma was put upon the leprosy, when detected in the head: then the person was declared “utterly unclean [Note: 4. This expression does not occur anywhere else.].” Be on your guard therefore, beloved Brethren; and beg of God, that you may never be permitted to deceive your own souls. When doubts arose about the leprosy, the person was shut up for seven days; and this was repeated, till the point could be ascertained. And if you would occasionally retire from the world, and spend a day in fasting and self-examination, you would detect many evils of which at present you have very little conception, and acquire a perfection of character not to be attained in any other way.]
Let us humble ourselves for our remaining imperfections—
[However we may have been cleansed from our leprosy, there is, as was before observed, the leprous scurf still over us from head to foot [Note: 2, 13.]. We still therefore have occasion to cry with the prophet, “Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips [Note: Isa_6:5.].” “Our very righteousnesses are, in fact, but filthy rags [Note: Isa_64:6.]:” so that we still have reason, like holy Job, to “lothe and abhor ourselves in dust and ashes [Note: Job_42:6.].” The external signs of sorrow which were prescribed to the leper, we should commute for those which indicate true contrition: “Rend your heart,” says the prophet, “and not your garments [Note: Joe_2:13.].” We should “walk humbly with God,” and so much the more when we find that “he is pacified towards us [Note: Eze_16:63.].” And, as they who had only been suspected of the leprosy were required to wash their garments [Note: 4.], so let us, who yet retain such awful memorials of it, “wash ourselves from day to day in the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness” — — —]