THE PLAGUE OF LEPROSY
Henry Law, 1855
And the leper in whom the plague is, his clothes shall be torn, and his head bare. Then, as they go from place to place, they must cover their mouth and call out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' Leviticus 13:45
The mercy of mercies is a Savior given. But a Savior given is a Savior scorned, until deep need is felt. Hence mercy super-adds a gracious work. It paints a man's malady in hideous tints. It drags the lurking monster to clear light. The conscious sufferer thus sees his plague, and hastens to the healing fount. The Leprosy subserved this end.
They err, then, who see nothing but judgment in this foul disease. Keen was its woe. No cup of misery held more bitter drops. But still its voice allured to peace. It showed, in a long train of emblem, the complex loathsomeness of sin, that hence the evil might be more abhorred. Thus when the time was come for Israel's sons to gain new insight of redemption's scheme, this malady appeared, as admonition of soul-sense. Thus, also, when the great Healer trod our earth, the frequent Leper received aid. The outward misery taught a deeper plague, while ready cure cast light on saving grace.
This malady crept on with stealthy step. It was not easily discerned. Here human skill was blind. The art most conversant in signs of sickness, traced not these symptoms. Wisdom from on high was needed. The sanctuary must be sought. The anointed Priest must search. His mind alone could ascertain. His lips alone could manifest the case.
Reader, turn now to that deep evil—sin. Its poison lurks within the veins. Its deadly venom spreads throughout the frame. Its deathful work is running on. But nature feels it not. The world has no detecting eye. Poor reason views it with no shuddering glance. The self-pleased soul boasts of fancied health. Death is begun, when all seems life. The plague devours, but ignorance sees not.
The dream must last, until a power beyond man's shall rouse the sleeper. This is the Spirit's sole prerogative. He only can convince of sin. He only can reveal the inborn and defiling sore. He works this knowledge mainly by the Word. In sanctuary hours, or in the stillness of retired thought, he sets the soul before the mirror of God's law. He tears away the blinding scales. He opens sightless eyes. What follows? The sinner startles. A frightful spectacle appears. It is the hideousness of polluted SELF. Soundness is fled. Health and fresh beauty lie, as a withered leaf. He stands revealed one noisome mass of wide-spread misery. The light from heaven shows Leprosy throughout. The unsuspected filth is no more hidden. Thus when God's voice is heard within, the conscience answers, 'I am vile.'
Was it not so with Job? He plumed himself on moral rectitude, and upright walk. By outward hearing he had some surface-notions of his God, and therefore only surface-notions of himself. But when his opened eye beheld heaven's truth, he quickly saw the loathsomeness of self. His Leprosy was clear. His piteous cry confessed, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes." Job 42:6. Isaiah's case bears further witness. In soul he was a Leper but he knew it not, until revelations met him from above. The brightness of the Lord shone forth. The blackness of poor man was the dark contrast. Hear the contrition of his humbled spirit, "Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts." Is. 6:5.
Through many years Paul boasted of his blameless life. He felt no conscience pains. He seemed some lovely tree, whose branches bowed with golden fruit. He thus portrays himself, "I was alive without the law once." I knew not my Leprous state. But the Priest searched me with a penetrating eye. "The commandment came." It probed me to the soul. Then "sin revived." The malady, which slept, started to giant life, "and I died." He felt the Leprosy's entwining grasp. In agony he sighs, "O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death." Rom. 7:24.
Reader, it may be, that self-ignorance locks you in its dark cell. Listen, I beg you, to this warning voice. Oh! perish not self-murdered. Reject the opiate of 'imagined' soundness. Sleep not to death on poppied pillows of false health. Think of the multitudes, who knew not, that the plague had seized them, until they awoke in dungeons, where cure never comes. Bring heart, and thoughts, and ways, and life, to the true standard of the Word. Sit down beneath its all-revealing beams. Consult not the world's counsel. Take not its faulty measure. Call in the faithful witness, which neither errs nor leads astray. View self in Scripture-mirror. What, though the sight shall humble you to dust? Go on. Shrink not. Self-knowledge is a step towards Christ. The malady perceived leads to the malady relieved. Sin, when thus felt, extorts the cry, "Heal me, and I shall be healed."
The sufferer hears the Priest's condemning voice. He is pronounced Unclean. He goes forth. He tastes no more the joy of social scenes. Shunning and shunned, he hides himself in gloom. His face, his whole demeanor, proclaim the misery of his downcast heart. Earth cannot find a picture of more woeful woe. His clothes are torn. His head is bare. A covering hides his upper lip. And when the hollow voice must speak, it sounds the plaintive knell, "Unclean, unclean."
These marks write fearfully the wretchedness of sin. The clothes are torn. This meaning is distinct. It is the signal of the bitterest grief. The Scripture-page gives many proofs. Jacob beholds the blood-stained coat of Joseph. His son, his much-beloved son, is surely slain. Did ever heart so bleed? All comfort fails. In token of his live-long woe, he tears his clothes.
It was a mournful day, when David and his subjects followed Abner's casket. The public sorrow must be publicly displayed. The king's command was, "Tear your clothes." 2 Sam. 3:31.
Message on message followed fast to Job, and each was burdened with a heavier note. His goods are a wild wreck—his sons all slain. Deep waters overflow his soul, and a torn mantle proves a heart forlorn. Job. 1:20. Thus where sorrow's wounds were deep, the tattered robe proclaimed the inward state.
Reader, should not he grieve, who feels the burden of his guilt? What sorrow is like his? The loss of righteousness is more than loss of property and friends. There is no ruin like the frown of God. Shall not his eyes then weep, who hates himself—who dares not look to God—who has no resting-place on earth—no resting-place beyond? There is no Leprosy like sin. There is no Leper like the sinner. Shall the Leprosy be clad in tattered garments—and shall not sin sit mourning in the dust?
The head must bend uncovered. This was the attitude of lowly shame. Job felt abasement and bewailed, "He has stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from my head." Job. 19:9. The bereaved Aaron may show no sign of degradation. Therefore the command is, "Uncover not your heads." Lev. 10:6.
In the poor Leper thus despoiled, we see how sin inflicts an ignominious brand. Should not shame's home be on the sinner's brow? Hear Ezra's piteous wail, "O my God, I am ashamed, and blush to lift up myself to You, my God." But why this shame? "Our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens." Ezra 9:6.
Is there disgrace in folly—in rebellion—in ingratitude—in disobedience to a tender Father's rule? These lines all center in the sinner's heart. His life is one mistake. Is not that folly? His rebel hands are raised against the King of kings. His hardness hates a blessing God. His impious feet tread down a loving Father's will. Thus sin and shame are linked. Our guilty parents hasten to hide themselves; and Paul's bold challenge is, "What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed?" Rom. 6:21.
A covering hides his upper lip. The muffled mouth is sign, that silence is enjoined. The sorrowing and the shame-stricken find their utterance choked. This marked the prophets, from whom God withdrew. "Then shall the seers be ashamed, and the diviners confounded; yes, they shall all cover their lips, for there is no answer of God." Mic. 3:7. Sin should be mute. While faithful lips abound in prayer, and send forth songs of praise, and tell in gladsome strains the wonders of redeeming grace; what are the sinner's sounds? His throat is an open sepulcher. Let, then, that sepulcher be closed. His words sow seeds of evil. Let, then, those words be checked.
But if some passing steps draw near, a piteous warning must be heard. A doleful mutter sounds the repelling note, "Unclean, unclean." Approach not. There is pollution here, "Unclean, unclean."
Reader, close not your eyes to sin's intense malignity. It is unutterable filth. See the priest Joshua before iniquity passed from him. He stood filth-soiled before the Angel. Zech. 3:3. A true word paints our nature state, "We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags." Is. 64:6. The heart is every foul bird's cage—the spring of every impure desire. The waters, which flow forth, are filthy pollution. The hands touch but to soil, The feet leave impress of defilement. The sinner speaks, and noxious blight flies round. His words, his looks, his ways, his life, bear one black stamp, "Unclean, unclean."
The Leper is cast out from social life. No home may welcome him. No friendly hearth may cheer. His dwelling is far off from men. In solitary loneliness he pines. No station gains exemption. A Miriam must be shut out. Num. 12:14. Kingly Uzziah must dwell alone. 2 Kings 15:5. Ah! sin, what have you done? Let sinning angels, driven from heaven's light, reply. Let multitudes, who know not the ecstacy of close communion with their God—who walk not in sweet company with Zion's sons—whose hearts ascend not on the wing of social praise—who share not the holy fellowship of common prayer—who kneel not delighted at the consecrated table; let these sad exiles from the heaven-bound flock, tell the lone miseries of their desert-life.
But is this all? Death is at hand. Eternity is near; a gulf will then forever part the filthy sinner from salvation's blessed throng. God is afar off; He cannot be reached. Jesus is high above. There is no longer access to His arms. Heaven's gates are barred. The saved are all within—within forever. The lost are all outside—outside forever. Thus the Leper stands an emblem of sin's deathful plague.
Reader, why are these frightful colors laid? Why is the sight thus brought before your eyes? Is it, that hopeless horror may affright? Is it, to sink you in despair's abyss? Far otherwise. Mercy here scares you; but it is to mercy's arms. The great High Priest is near. He comes to earth with "healing on His wings." He cries to every weary, heavy-laden soul, "Come unto Me, and I will give you rest." You need not be an outcast from His flock. He bids you nestle in His wounded side. He gives His blood to purify each taint. His remedy is ready and is sure. Take it. Oh! take it, and be whole. Turn not from His outstretched hand. Harken to His cry, 'I will make you clean.' Rest not, until adoring lips reply, 'Great Lord, Your touch has touched me, and my plague is stopped.'