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The Syro-phcenician Woman.

The Syro-phcenician Woman.

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Mat. xv. 28.

Mat. xv. 28.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jul 20, 2013
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Mat. xv. 28. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, woman, great is thy faith : be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. Jesus came to break down the separating wall between Jew and Gentile ; to offer an atonement sufficient for the sins of the world ; and to announce a system of religion suited to every people and to every land. Though his personal ministry was devoted to the Jews, to whom he had been promised, in whose prophetical writings his character, his office, the time of his advent, had been foretold ; who, as they had been the depositary of that great truth, the unity of the Godhead, amidst the general idolatry of the nations, had also been pointed out as the source whence the fuller and more attractive revelations of God by the Messiah should be diffused through the world. Yet, like the ancient prophets, he had often foretold the vocation of the Gentiles ; had declared that " many should come from the east and the west,

302 SERMO Lir, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the Kingdom of God." As his ministry upon earth was hastening to a conclusion, he gave an emblem, a prelude of this calling of the Gentiles, in the blessings which he bestowed upon the Canaanitish woman. He consecrated her as part of the first fruits of this vocation. He taught his disciples, by his mercy to

her, the blessings that his salvation would communicate to the perishing. On this account, as well as from the more direct instructions which it conveys, her history deserves our serious attention. The blessed Redeemer had departed, for a short time, from Galilee, and came to the northern borders of Palestine, in the vicinity of Tyre and Sidon. It was a tract of country inhabited partly by Jews, and partly by the descendants of those Canaanites who were not entirely expelled when the Israelites took possession of the land. The female in our text was one of these last, one of that nation lying under the curse, and not enjoying the privileges of the covenant. She is called by Mark a Syro- Phoenician, a name given to the Canaanites who resided in Syria, to distinguish them from those who dwelt in Africa, and. were termed Lybo-Phcenicians, or Carthaginians. But there were some of this nation, odious for its crimes, who repented, were converted, and became worshippers of the true God, such as Rahab and others. This, however, was not the case with the woman whose history we are considering. She was, says the Evangelist, " a Greek," a word which, in the ew Testament, is often used as synonymous with idolater. The reason is well assigned by Bishop Horsley ; " Because idolatry, in its worst form, the worship of the images of dead men prevailed more among the Greeks than the nations of the east; such

LIFE OF CHRIST. 303 idolaters, of whatever country they might be, were, by the Jews of the apostolic age, called Greeks; just as among us, any one who lives in the communion of the Roman Church, though he be a Frenchman, or a Spaniard, is called a Roman Catholic."

Such was the character of this woman. She was probably a widow, and had an only daughter, to whom she w r as tenderly attached, and who was "grievously vexed by a devil." This deplorable state, against which all human resources were impotent, was announced according to the frequent representations of the scriptures, by extraordinary symptoms, and by frightful convulsions. Those whom these spirits tormented, afflicted in body and in mind, were a prey to violent assaults of rage and phrenzy. Sometimes they wandered in deserts, or retired to remote sepulchres. Sometimes, in order to restrain their fury, it was necessary to bind them in chains. 1 have remarked to you, in the course of these lectures, that it was consistent with the wisdom of God to permit Satan, during the residence of the Saviour upon earth, to exercise a greater dominion over the bodies of men than he has since been allowed to exercise ; that by his forcible expulsion the superior authority of the Son of God might be manifested. This proud and malignant enemy to human happiness and holiness, knowing that the time of his defeat, by the sacrifice of Jesus, was rapidly advancing, redoubles his rage, and makes his most furious assaults. As at the end of the world, he shall, by divine permission, come from his prison in great wrath, and with all his power, that the last act of God's justice upon him, may be the more striking, because the malice and fury of Satan had been unrestrained ; so when Jesus " came to destroy the work*

401 SERMO LIT. of the devil," this apostate spirit was permitted to put forth all his strength, that his impotence and weakness, when opposed to the Redeemer, might more clearly be displayed.

Doubtless this inconsolable mother, whose daughter was thus afflicted, had heard of Jesus. Doubtless the report of his august power, of his tender charity, of his miracles and benefits, had made her think highly of this divine Saviour. She hastens to this physician of the body and the soul, and as soon as she perceives him, she cries to him, " Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David : my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Oh! how often do afflictions, not merely those which are immediately personal, but those also which affect our relatives and friends, lead us to the Redeemer ! How many are now rejoicing in glory, who never properly cried to the Saviour, till the sufferings and tears of their children or connexions drove them to the mercy-seat ! Are any of your offspring, or of those whom you love, in distress ? Imitate this female in her prayer, and in the characteristics of her prayer. 1. In it we perceive a lively faith and confidence. " O Lord, thou Son of David.'''' In these few and plain words she acknowledges him to be possessed of boundless power ; to be that great deliverer, after whom the Jews had so long sighed. " Have mercy on me." It is as though she had said, ' O thou that calmest the winds and the waves, thou who loosest the tongue of the dumb, who healest the lame, who givest sight to the blind ; thou especially who castest out devils, hear my prayer ! Thou canst, if thou please, dry up my tears ; thou canst restore joy to an unhappy mother, who implore? thy succour. Yes, 1

LIFE OF CHRIST. 305 know it, I firmly believe it, one word, one single word of thy sacred mouth is enough to restore to my

daughter, health, reason, the use of all her faculties. Ah ! in mercy pronounce this saving word, speak it, and my daughter shall be healed !' 2. We perceive also in this prayer the profoundcsl humility. She cries, and the Lord does not answer. The apostles, astonished at this unusual conduct of their Master, who never before had hesitated to listen to the petitions of the wretched, entreat him to grant her request and dismiss her. Jesus replies, " I am sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." * I must consecrate my ministry to extirpate the errors, to heal the maladies of this privileged nation.* Was not this to teach the Syro-Phoenician that the Gentiles, in the number of whom she was, plunged in ignorance, and encompassed by the shadow of death, had no title to aspire to his favours ? Immediately afterwards he declared to her, in terms more plain, and more humiliating, " It is not meet to take the children's bread, and cast it unto dogs." He uses language that was customary among the Jews, who spoke of themselves as children, and all other nations as dogs. Jesus employs it in order more fully to display her humility, and thus to reprove the Jews ; and from the exhibition of her excellence, to show the impropriety of such expressions. He speaks thus to prove, not to insult her. A soul, I do not say vain and haughty, but a soul that was not profoundly humble, would have been offended. But what was the conduct of the Canaanitish woman ? She cast herself at the feet of Him who apparently rejects her, she worships him, she redoubles her entreaties, she cries, " Lord, help me !" When obliged to answer him, she only acknowledges vol. ii. 39

306 SERMO LIV. her unworthiness. "And she said, Truth, Lord.' 4 1 feel too deeply my misery, the abyss of guilt and wretchedness in which I have fallen, to be impatient or offended. 1 therefore expect nothing from my own merit. It is only on thy beneficent charity, thy power, thy pure grace, that I found all my hopes. Ah ! deign only to remember, that " the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table :" this is all I ask. Display before the eyes of thy favoured children all the splendour of thy glory ; manifest in the midst of them, in all its plenitude, the majestv which adorns thee ; shower down upon them all thine ineffable mercies ! Alas ! the least ray of this glory, the least emanation of this majesty, the slightest act of this mercy, a single crumb of that bread of life, which thou bestowest on them in so much abundance, is a thousand times more than I deserve — is all that I ask !' 3. To the faith and humility of this tender mother, add hev fervour, her zeal, and perseverance. She utters only rapid, energetic expressions, which display all the vehemence of her feelings. She does not merely speak ; she cries to Jesus. It is not a momentary emotion. She again and again entreats. In vain the charitable Redeemer, in order to prove her, and for ever to instruct his disciples, at first preserves silence, and replies not to her. In vain does he appear to reject her at the time when, prostrate before him, she seems to have used without success every means of securing his aid. othing discourages her; obstacles only augment her ardour. She presses, she solicits, she importunes with more earnestness; and the resistance that she experiences only produces perseverance. Like Jacob, in that mysterious wrestling with the angel of the Lord at

LIFE OP CHRIST. 307 the brook Jabbok, she cries, " I will not lot thee go, except thou bless me !" Like the happy patriarch, she obtains a blessing. 4. And in what did this blessing consist ? In praises upon herself and in the healing of her daughter. She is honoured with the approbation of the Lord. There are no more humiliating comparisons, no more apparent contempt, no more trials. The end of this tender mother is accomplished. The merciful Shepherd, who came to seek the lost sheep : the gracious Redeemer, who came to call sinners to repentance — he will not reject the prayer of the humble heart. " O woman, great is thy faith H What exalted praise, when proceeding from the " searcher of hearts," who knoweth what is in man ! " Be it unto thee, even as thou wilt" ' Since I approve this tender affection, these inquietudes, this hunger, this thirst which made thee come to the fountain of living waters; since I accept the prayer that thou hast addressed to me, go now, and rejoice in the perfect restoration of that daughter who is so dear to thee : go, indulge thyself in all the transports of maternal love ; go, teach her to know the author of her deliverance, and to shout with thee the song of praise ; and let all future generations learn from thy example to seek the mercies of the Lord by faith, by humility, by perseverance in prayer.' " And her daughter" says the Evangelist, " ivas made whole from that very hour." St. Mark adds, that this affectionate mother, on re-entering into her house, found her delivered from the evil spirit, and tranquilly lying upon the bed. The beautiful history that we have thus rapidly considered, affords us many instructions. Let us present a few of them.

<*08 SERMO L1V. 1. And first let us learn from this Mother to pray ; to regard this exercise as one of our most indispensable duties. It is constantly enjoined upon us in the word of God, and without it, we in vain hope for holiness, for comfort, for eternal glory. Without it, the Canaanitish woman would have continued wretched ; without it, Christian, how miserable should we be ! But how cheering is it when considering our constantly recurring wants, our frailty, the lusts of our flesh, the artifices of Satan, the snares and temptations of the world, the multiplied duties we have to perform upon earth, and the solemnities of eternity that await us ! How cheering to remember that we may always lift up our suppliant eyes to heaven ; that we may always pour out our cares in the bosom of the tenderest and most indulgent of parents; that we may commit our interests, our dearest interests, into the hands of the Most Wise and Most Powerful! And on the contrary, without constant prayer we shall not long be faithful to our duties ; we shall soon be vanquished by our enemies. It was only while the arms of Moses were lifted up to heaven that Israel triumphed : when they fell, Amalek prevailed. 2. This mother teaches us again that we may lawfully ask of God temporal blessings and enjoyments. It is true that some commentators suppose, that besides the corporeal, she asked also for the spiritual health of her daughter. Even if this were the case, she still asked for the bodily restoration of her child, and obtained it. He who has ordered us to " seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness," does not forbid us to ask for " those earthly things that are convenient for us." By his order, in our

daily requests we say to him, " Give us this day our

LIFE OF CHRIST. 309 daily bread." The advancement of his kingdom, both of grace and glory, the sanctification of his name, the accomplishment of his will, the pardon of our sins, our conversion, our eternal salvation, the " meat which remaineth to eternal life" — these ought to be, without doubt, the first objects of our desires. Add to these also, " the meat which perisheth," temporal advantages, but always with submission, in subordination, and provided they do no not interfere with the " one thing needful." The worldling says, ' Lord, give me riches, give me honour, glory, reputation, prosperity ;' and he asks nothing more. But the believer says, 4 Our Father who art in heaven, sanctify me ; render me humble, patient, merciful, just, believing; fit me for the inheritance of the saints in light. An,d, after that, grant me, according to thy good pleasure, some portion of temporal enjoyments; but, O my God ! if the interest of my soul demands it, let me be poor, afflicted, tempted ; let me drink the cup of sorrow to the dregs : not my will, but thine be done.' Such is the extent of the objects which our prayers should embrace, and such the order we should observe in our petitions. 3. The manner in which we should pray, is the third lesson which is taught by this history. We must exercise faith. " If any of you lack wisdom," says St. James, " let him ask it of God, but let him ask in faith, nothing wavering ; for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord." Thus the Saviour often asked of those who came to him for aid, " Be-

lievest thou that I can do this ?" And to this grace his blessings were attributed, " Thy faith hath saved

310 SERMO LIV. thee : go in peace." But it is not a barren, a historic, a dead faith, that is required : with this our prayers may only increase our guilt. Like this mother, we must be humble. What is a mortal who prays ? A sinner bent down under the weight of his transgressions, and who, without the infinite mercy of God, could not appear before him; a poor man who solicits alms ; a sick man who asks for health ; often a dead man, a corrupted corpse that implores resurrection and life. And shall such beings fail to be humble ? Go, proud pharisees, present elsewhere your boasted virtues ! there is no grace, no justification for you in the treasures of the divine mercies. They are open only for the humble publican who confesses his sins, who smites upon his breast, and dares scarcely look up to heaven. These are opened for that prodigal who groans over his vileness, his degradation, his guilt, and who esteems himself happy to be placed among the hired servants of his father. These are opened only for those who say with the Canaanitish woman, "Give me but one crumb of the bread which falleth from thy table ;" or with Jacob, " I am less than the least of all thy mercies." We must he fervent and persevering. The soul of him who prays should thirst for God ; should desire his mercies with that lively ardour with which the traveller longs for the cooling stream in the dry and barren land. If God delays, we should wait for him. Is it for us to assign to him the times and seasons ? When for reasons infinitely wise and good, he defers answering our requests, shall we cease to elevate

our hearts to him ? His delays are intended to make us feel more sensibly his supreme power, or our unworthiness, or to save us from presumption,

LIFE OF (JURIST. .'J J I or to make us more value the blessing that is delayed ; or to try us, and invigorate our graees. See the examples of the saints in all ages. See this Cauaanifish woman: she perseveres, notwithstanding apparent repulses, and secures the blessing. 4. The efficacy of prayer is another lesson that she teaches us. I have not time to show you how the perfections, the promises, the engagements of God, assure us of its benefit ; nor to present the examples of its efficacy from the beginning of the world to the Canaanitish woman, and from her to us. Wo to those who cannot add their own experience as a proof that the blessings of God are bestowed upon those who humbly worship him in spirit and in truth ! Prayer averts from us the evils which threaten us, breaks our fetters, subdues our corruptions, renders us victorious over temptations through Jesus Christ. Prayer impresses on us a filial fear, a holy love to the best of fathers ; renders us watchful and circumspect ; weakens, destroys our vicious habits ; weans us from this world, and causes our soul to lake its flight towards heaven; procures for us the richest blessings; secures the protection of God for ourselves, our children, our friends ; makes us happy in life, and triumphant in death. Who then will not bless God, who has connected such favours with the most consolatory and honourable of duties? 5. It is also the most easy of duties when the heart is hi a proper frame, and when suitable dispositions are excited. This is the last instruction given us by this

history. We may say of this duty as Moses does of (he law: " It is not far from thee, nor high above thee, but nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and thy heart, that thou mayest do it." When the apostles said to the Redeemer, " Lord, teach us to pray," he pre-

312 SERMO L1V. scribed to them neither sublime knowledge nor laboured expressions, nor words full of pomp, nor periods arranged with art. o ; but he replied to them, " When you pray, say, Our Father who art in heaven ;" that is, think of God, speak to him in prayer as to a father, spread before him your wants, and expect his favours. See then in this Canaanitish woman the art ol prayer. It is simply the emotion, the cry, the groan, the desire of the heart : it is an elevation of the soul to God. To direct our heart to God, to feel our necessities, the weight of our guilt; to desire deliverance from Christ ; to cry, " Lord, have mercy upon me — help me !" This is all that is necessary to form a prayer. And does not every thing around us at once assist and urge to this duty? In looking up to the heavens, is it difficult to say in our heart, " There dwell my Creator, my Redeemer ; there is the country of the believer ; let my conversation be in heaven." In considering the earth, so mutable and unsatisfying, is it difficult to cry, " Lord, detach my heart from all that is perishable ; turn away my eyes from beholding vanity ?" In reflecting upon the sacred bonds which unite us to mankind, is it difficult to cry, " Heavenly Father, console the afflicted, enlighten the blind, shed down thy blessings upon thy children ?" In entering into the temple, is it difficult to cry, " Lord, create in me a clean heart, and renew a right within me. Let my prayers and

praises mingle with those of the church universal ; with those of angels and glorified saints ?" In lying down in the evening, is it difficult to adore Him who may make us find in sleep the image of death, death itself; to say to him, " I commit my soul into thy hands ; in thy paternal bosom I would slumber ?"

LIFE OF CHRIST. 313 Fn rising in the morning, is it difficult to render our first homages to Him, to whom we are indebted for every thing; to thank him for the life he yet continues, to devote ourselves anew to him, and to consecrate to his glory and your salvation the day that you owe to his love ? In seating yourselves at the table, is it difficult to recall for an instant Him who supplies our returning wants, and opens our hearts to J he sweet sentiments of gratitude ? In beginning, continuing, terminating our labours, is it difficult to say, " O God, without whom all efforts are unavailing, bless my studies, my commerce, my occupations ?" In the midst of the distractions of the world, would it interrupt our pleasures or diminish their vivacity, to purify, to sanctify, to ennoble them, by the tender remembrance of our Benefactor, by some effusions of love, by the flight of the heart to him ? Thus every thing can animate us, worms of the dust !" God permits, God orders us to speak to him. The access to the throne of mercy is open ; he continually calls us ; he requires only the voice of the heart. Oh ! there is no difficulty in prayer, except that which results from the coldness and ingratitude and unbelief of our hearts. Did we feel like the Canaanitish woman, we should easily find words to express our sorrows, or to utter our joys. And now, my brethren, in what manner ought we to conclude this discourse ? Shall we cry, " O peo-

ple, great is your faith !" or shall we weep at our neglect of our duties? Judge yourselves which is the most proper termination. Are there none of you who never pray ? Are there none of you who pray but seldom ? Covered with guilt, you seek not for deliverance. Encompassed by the mercies of God, you live without thinking of him. And of vol. ii. 40

314 SERMO LIV. those who regularly offer up their petitions to God, what is the subject of their prayers ? Is it to be delivered from the demon of pride, of avarice, oi voluptuousness ? Is it to obtain those graces, without which you are lost for ever ? Is it to become more like the Redeemer ? And with what dispositions are these prayers made ? Where is the humility of the soul ? Where the firm faith, the enlightened and persevering zeal, which distinguished this Canaanitish woman in her approach to the Lord ? It is not then surprising that our prayers are not more effectual; that too often, like adab and Abihu, we draw down the anger of God by burning incense with strange fire ; by presenting our prayers with unhallowed dispositions. My brethren, let us learn at last to pray as Christians, as creatures redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, and destined to immortality. Fathers and mothers, such are the supplications that you ought to offer for yourselves, for your children from their tenderest youth. Through your prayers and cares, let the first employment of their tongues when they are unloosed, be to glorify their Creator. Chris-

tians, form such prayers for yourselves, your brethren, your pastors, the church, the careless who are perishing around you. Cry earnestly, " Lord, help us !" Though for a time Jesus may defer an answer, yet persevere, and he will at last say to you, " Be it unto you as you will."

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