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This is the short and edifying history of the Roman centurion; and the reason of its being recorded by the sacred writers was, in the first place, to give a most striking evidence of our Saviour's divine power, which enabled him to restore the centurion's servant to health at a distunce, and without so much as seeing him; and in the next place to set before us, in the character of the centurion, an illustrious example of those eminent Christian virtues, humanity and charity, piety and generosity, bumility and faith.
Of the former of these virtues, humanity and charity, he gave a very convincing proof in the solicitude he shewed for the welfare of his servant, and the strong interest he took in the recovery of his health. And this is the more remarkable and the more honourable to the centurion, because in general the treatment which the servants of the Romans experienced from their masters was very different
indeed, from what we see in the present in- stance. These servants were almost all of
them slaves, and were too commonly treated with extreme rigour and cruelty. They were often strained to labour beyond their
strength, strength, were confined to loathsome dungeons, were loaded with chains, were scourged and tortured without reason, were deserted in sickness and old age, and put to death for trivial faults and slight suspicions, and sometimes out of mere wantonness and cruelty, without any reason at all. Such barbarity as this, which was at that time by no means uncommon, which indeed has in a greater or less degree universally prevailed in every country where slavery has been established, and which shews in the strongest light the danger of trusting absolute power of any kind, political or personal, in the hands of such a creature as man; this barbarity, I say, forms a most striking contrast to the kindness and compassion of the centurion, who, though he had so much power over his slaves, and so many instances of its severest exertion before his eyes, yet made use of it as we here see, not for their oppression and destruction, but their happiness, comfort, and preservation.
The next virtues which attract our notice in the centurion's character are his piety and generosity. These were eminently displayed in the affection he manifested towards the
Jewish people, and his building them a place of worship at his own expence; for the elders of the Jews informed Jesus, “ that he loved their nation, and had built them a syna
The Jews, it is well known, were at this time under the dominion of the Romans. Their country was a Roman province, where this centurion had a military command; and they who are acquainted with the Roman history know well with what cruelty, rapacity, and oppression, the governors, and commanding officers in the conquered provinces, too commonly behaved towards the people whom they were sent to keep in awe. So far were they from building them temples or synagogues, that they frequently invaded even those sacred retreats, and laid their sacrilegious hands on every thing that was valuable in them. Of this we have abundant proofs in the history of Verres, when governor of Sicily; and Verres was in many respects a faithful representative of too large a part of the Roman governors. In the midst of this brutality and insolence of power does this gallant soldier . Luke, vii. 5,
stand up to patronize and assist a distressed and an injured people; and it is a testimony as glorious to his memory as it is singular and almost unexampled in his circumstances, that he loved the Jewish nation, and that he gave a very decisive and magnificent proof of it, by building them a synagogue; for there cannot be a stronger indication both of love to mankind and love towards God, than erecting places of worship where they are wanted*. Without buildings to assemble in, there can be no public worship. Without public worship there can be no religion; and what kind of creatures men become without religion; into what excesses of barbarity, ferocity, impiety, and every species of profligacy they quickly plunge, we have too plainly seen; God grant that we may never feel !
* There is a most dreadful want of this nature in the western part of this great metropolis. From St. Martin's-in-the-Fields to Marybone church inclusive, a space containing perhaps 200,000 souls, there are only five. parish churches, St. Martin's, St. Anne's Soho, St. James's, St. George's Hanover Square, and the very small church of Marybone. There are, it is true, a few chapels interspersed in this place; but what they can contain is a mere trifle, compared to the whole number of inhabitants in those parts, and the lowest classes are clo most entirely excluded from them. The only measure that can be of any essential service, is the erection of several spacious parish churches, capable of receiving very large congregations, and affording decent accommodations for the lower and inferior, as well as the higher orders of the people. In the reign of Queen Anne, a considerable sum of money was voted by Parliament for fifty new churches. It is most devoutly to be wished,
The next remarkable feature in the character of the centurion is his humility. How completely this most amiable of human virtues had taken possession of his soul, is evident from the manner in which he solicited our Saviour for the cure of his servant; how cautious, how modest, how diffident, how timid, how fearful of offending, even whilst he was only begging an act of kindness for another! Twice did he send messengers to our Lord,
that the present Parliament would, to a certain extent at least, follow so honourable an example. It is, I am sure, in every point of view, political, moral, and religious, well worthy the attention of the British legislature. A sufficient number of new parish churches, erected both in the capital and in other parts of the kingdom where they are wanted, for the use of the members of the church of England of all conditions, would very essentially conduce to the interests of religion, and the security and welfare of the established Church.