St. Matthew, xv. 28. O woman, great is thy faith : be it unto thee even as thou wilt.

In reading or hearing the history, from whence these words are taken, and which the Church has chosen for this morning's Gospel, it is probable, and indeed only natural, that many of you should be surprised, not only at the deep faith and interesting humility of this poor Canaanitish woman ; but, also, at the unusual and remarkable sternness assumed on this occasion by our Lord ! His outward indifference to her distress and cries ; and, above all, the sharp and scornful answers, which He returned to her humble entreaties. These difficulties I will now endeavour to explain.

First, then, we may be sure that Christ was, from the first, desirous to relieve her ; we know, for we know how much He loved mankind, that He could not be indifferent to the tears of any

one of those millions, whom He was born to heal


and instruct; and whom he died in torture to redeem. We may be sure, that this seeming coldness was intended to produce some advantage to His petitioner herself, or to His hearers : and that He, who was Wisdom and Love, had none of His actions insignificant or uninstructive. More particularly, we may be convinced, that those parts of His history, which the Holy Spirit has thought fit to reveal in Scripture, contain in themselves some meaning of consequence, some valuable lesson, which may confirm or improve the faith and practice of every Christian.

And we may find, in the answer of our Lord Himself, some guide to this hidden meaning ; when He says, " I am not sent, save to the lost sheep of the House of Israel." That the Jews might have not even the smallest shadow of

occasion of murmuring against Providence, or of envy against the Gentiles, the offer of the Gospel was first made to them. The seventy disciples were commanded to preach to their own countrymen only ; and, except in the casual instance of the woman of Samaria, our Lord confined His doctrine, and in a great measure His miracles, to the Jews only. Not, however, that the benefits of the Gospel were to stop with them ; — not that the day-spring from on high was to shine on Jerusalem only ; but that , the ministers of the circumcision, the holy nation, whom God had chosen to put His name among


them, were to be the teachers of this new faith to all the world, and the countrymen, and the earthly friends, of the long expected Saviour.

It was, therefore, for the sake of all the world, that the Jews were first to be grounded in the

faith ; and that they, to whose care the ancient prophecies were given, should first bear witness to their fulfilment. Accordingly, though the chief men of the nation rejected Christ ; yet the apostles and first teachers of Christianity were all chosen from among the Jews ; and were sent out as most properly qualified to teach to every nation the whole system of that religion, of the course of which, from the beginning of the world, their forefathers had preserved the testimony ; and the complete fulfilment of which they themselves had seen, and heard, and handled, in the birth, the preaching, the death, and resurrection of the Messiah.

The Jews, however, — even those who believed in Christ as the apostles did, — were very slow in receiving, or understanding, this sort of privilege ; and were too apt, for many years, even after Christ's death, and after St. Paul's preaching, to consider all nations, but their own, as unclean and unholy. We know with what unwillingness they were weaned from the law of Moses ; that even St. Peter required a particular

revelation of the Divine will, to induce him to baptize the Roman Cornelius j and that this


same great apostle was afterwards led to dissemble, and withdraw himself, for a time, from the communion of the Gentile Christians ; and it was, I apprehend, in consideration of this weakness of His Jewish disciples, that our Lord conceals, at first, His gracious intentions in favour of the Canaanitish woman. He lends Himself, we find, to their prejudices ; He draws out, by neglect and harsh answers, her tears and her sufferings ; till the disciples themselves were moved ; and He allows even a disciple to plead for her in vain ; till the display of this poor heathen's humility was complete and triumphant ; and till every Jew around was forced to confess that, heathen as she was, her faith might shame that of many an Israelite.


These Canaanites, it must be observed, were descendants of that wicked nation, which God had, some thousand years before, given up to destruction ; with whom the tribes of Israel were to have no league, no peace, no communication or connexion in marriage or friendship ; who were to be rooted out before their face, or were to remain, — such of them as did remain, — as thorns in the side, and snares in the path, of the chosen people, to prove by temptation their faith in the promises of God, and their steadiness in the true religion. Of this remnant of idolaters, this accursed nation as they were generally called, was the woman who now addressed


our Lord. And though, by her addressing him as " Lord, thou Son of David," it should seem, that she had better notions of religion, than most of the Gentiles; yet, if Jesus had at once consented to work a miracle, in behalf of one, whose

nation was held accursed in the law of Moses, it is probable, that, both the Jewish nation, and His own disciples, would have accused Him of inconsistent conduct, and of a disregard to the privileges and blessings bestowed by the Almighty on the house of Jacob. He, therefore, knowing the heart, replies in the language which they themselves would have used ; "I am not sent, but to the lost sheep of the House of Israel."

It is probable, that, in this distinction paid to their nation, all His hearers agreed ; and praised, in their own proud heart, the wisdom, which divided the chosen people from those who were common and unclean. Even when the hard hearts of the Israelites were a little softened by the woman's persevering entreaties, how cold, how haughty is their intercession in her favour ! — It is not, " Lord, thou seest her sorrows ; shut not Thine ears to her prayer :" but it is for their own sake, not for hers, they ask a miracle ; it is not to comfort the mourner they are anxious ; but to relieve themselves from her troublesome importunity : — " Send her away ; for she crieth after

us." — But our Saviour would not yet send her away. He designed to instruct His disciples,


as well as to relieve His petitioner ; and perceiving, from their manner of asking His mercy, that their hearts were still full of prejudice ; He lends Himself yet a little to their way of thinking, and replies with a seeming unkindness, even beyond their own : — " It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to give it to the dogs." Alas ! is this the promised Saviour, this the wisest and most merciful of all beings ? Can He behold, without compassion, a miserable woman, broken-hearted with the sufferings of a beloved child, embracing His knees, and imploring, with strong crying and tears, the help of Him who only was able to save ; and is her prayer to be not only denied, but insulted ? — Such, we may be sure, were the thoughts of the Israelites who stood by ; and such too were the thoughts which

our Saviour, by this seeming cruelty to the miserable object before them, intended to excite in their minds. For the pain, which they felt from witnessing her sufferings, must have made them confess and feel, what our Saviour had often taught them ; that, whatever the difference of language, or laws, or religion, whoever wanted their help was their neighbour. But when they heard her wise, her humble, her heroic answer, when, not caring for the scorn cast on her nation, she still pursues the recovery of her daughter's reason ; still bends before Him, who chastened her ; and in whom she yet trusted, that He



would deliver her ; and when she stoops so low as to beg for crumbs from the table of infinite mercy, there is no doubt, that every one was led to feel, that she had well earned a miracle ; and

to cry out with our Lord, " O woman, great is thy faith ! be it unto thee, even as thou wilt !"

The first lesson, then, which our Lord thus practically taught to His disciples, was the same as that contained in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lesson of universal good-will. And, secondly, it taught them, that if they themselves had pitied this woman's sufferings, if they themselves had interceded with their master in behalf of a Canaanite afflicted with a devil, then with how ill a grace could they oppose the preaching of the Gospel to the Heathen, and thus discovering to whole nations, suffering under Satan's power, those divine truths, which would give them strength to shake off his intolerable burthen ; to break his bonds asunder ; and cast away his cords from them. And, in the present instance, the triumphant faith of a heathen was a full and certain proof that among those condemned and ignorant nations, there were some who were not unworthy vessels to receive the grace of God ; some, who from the north and the south, and countries the most savage and

the most remote, should come at the last day, and sit down, in the kingdom of God, with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.


Another instruction to be drawn from this affecting history, and which concerned, not only the apostles, and their countrymen, in that day, but us, and all the world, is what is best expressed in the words of Scripture, " that men ought always to pray, and not to faint." ? We must not grow slack in our prayers, because we are not immediately heard ; nor imagine, that God has abandoned us, because, for some wise reason, He bear long with our entreaties. We see in this history, as well as in the parable of the door, the sleeping friend, and the unjust judge, — we see, how those, whom He had determined to deliver, He still allows to ask ; and to ask, for some time, in vain : He still repels their entreaties with outward coldness ; and

seems, at times, to hide His face even from those whom he loves most tenderly. But, we also find, that these trials of their faith and patience are not mere idle or capricious experiments, — how far that patience, and that faith, will extend. This He knows already ; and need not be informed of further : for He knows the hearts of men ; and it is not, my friends, be very well persuaded, it is not out of curiosity He tries them ; but out of kindness. If this Canaanite had received, at first, a gracious answer, an aweful lesson would have been lost to the disciples ->

1 St Luke, xviii. L


and the woman herself would have wanted that reward, which her patience, thus exercised, might claim ; that renown, which has spread her story through every nation, where this Gospel is preached ; and that praise, which her faith re12

ceived from the lips of her Almighty Redeemer.

And so it is, and for such reasons, that God afflicts and tries the faith of Christians ; for not only are faith and goodness strengthened and improved by frequent combats with sin, or with difficulty; not only are we all made more perfect by such exercises ; even as the soldier, experienced in war, is superior to an unpractised recruit ; but our faith and virtue, thus displayed, are an example and instruction to other men ; and the trials by which we are strengthened, are patterns of improvement to our neighbours.

Whatever blessings, then, you implore from the Throne of mercy, or from whatever evils you desire to be delivered, remember to pray, as earnestly, and as patiently, and as humbly, as this poor Canaanite. Though God should seem to hide his face, yet, be not daunted ; yet faint not under sorrow \ but as Christ himself did, — in your agony, pray more earnestly. Though He suffer you long to entreat in vain, remember still, that he is faithful, who hath promised — that

" he, that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved." l And, above all, remember, i St. Matt. xxiv. 13.



that, if you stop, you are undone ! Your prayers are not yet granted ; but, if you cease to pray, they never will be granted. If the Canaanitish woman had gone away in despair at the first or second refusal, what would have become of her daughter ? And are the favours, for which a Christian ought to ask, so light and trifling, as not to be worth a little perseverance, a little patient abiding in prayer ? Is not Heaven worth, at least, our repeated entreaty ? or shall we not ask, as long, and as patiently, as this poor heathen did, — to be freed ourselves, our children, and families, from the power and punishment of devils ? Oh, by all your hopes and fears, be not

so soon weary of the means of Salvation afforded you ! Abandon not rashly that everlasting chain of prayer, which joins the soul to its Maker ; that meditation of Divine things, by which, as by Jacob's visionary ladder, our spirits even now climb up to God ; and by which, ere long, we may, by the grace of Jesus Christ, enter into the presence of our Lord -> and hear from the lips of wisdom, that praise, to which all earthly fame is folly, — " Great is thy faith ! be it unto thee, even as thou wilt ! "




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