“For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me; and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” – Matthew 8:9
The story of the centurion, of his humility, his sense of unworthiness, and his trust in the Lord, is a striking picture of our true relation to the Lord. We are our own masters. Our faculties are our servants which do our bidding. The centurion’s servant was sick with the palsy, a type of paralysis which prevents the full use of the body. Such a state spiritually is described by Paul when he says, “To will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” There are many passages in the Scriptures which teach this same lesson. The Apostles were acutely conscious of their dependence upon the Lord as the source of their power. We remember that when at one time they were unable to cast out evil spirits, He told them that this could not be done but by prayer and fasting.
The Lord’s life is our example. In the flesh He passed through life as we do, meeting its temptations, difficulties, and discouragements. Often He resorted to prayer to gain the strength to meet life as it was presented to Him. He knew His mission and His goal. The people had tried to make Him king, but in the wilderness He had overcome in Himself all desire for the kingdoms of the world, and so became able to help others. The lesson here is that we must have self-control before we can control our circumstances, before we can have an adequate and wholesome influence over others. And we must get that self-control from the Lord, for self-control is the rule of the higher over the lower.
It was after a night of prayer on the mountain that the Lord came down and calmed the sea. He first calmed Himself, then the sea, and then the fearful hearts of His disciples felt His influence so that Peter came walking to Him on those same threatening waters. We cannot control our circumstances, our ambitions, our business, our children unless we have first learned to control ourselves.
Xenophon in his Anabasis tells of a general who could not control his soldiers and keep them from plundering and dissipation because he could not keep from doing these things himself. Control of oneself gives the power to help someone else in the same direction. We cannot teach another to swim until we ourselves have overcome the waters; we cannot teach others to control their tempers until we have mastered ours. We cannot help others in their temptations until we have ourselves overcome. One cannot control others by mere advice; he must do it by experience and example.
What we are mentally and spiritually is what we really are. The body is but a servant and tool of the soul – that inner being which loves and hates, is merciful or cruel – and the hands, feet, and tongue are simply servants. When one allows his hands, feet, or tongue, or his bodily appetites to guide him, it is like a horse running away with his driver. The body runs away with the soul and becomes the soul’s guide and tyrant. Anger, hate, jealousy, worldly ambition given control carry the man on a reckless journey.
We feel the calming presence of some people as the sea felt the presence of the Lord. A spirit that has first mastered itself can influence us and command our respect. We calm the storms of family life by first calming ourselves. The parent who has not gained control of himself has not the slightest power to change his child. He may say to his child, Go, and the child may obey, but it will be only the child’s body that obeys. The child has not been reached.
We must ourselves be what we would help others to be. There is no real outward success without a previous inward success: “as in heaven, so upon the earth.”
But there is a lesson interior to this. The centurion knew that he had no power of himself. We cannot overcome by our own unaided efforts. When we try alone, we fail. That is why many become discouraged with themselves. Every power that we have is directly or indirectly from the Lord. Elijah, when under the juniper tree he prayed that he might die, was feeling his own insufficiency.
And so the thought is that before we can go forth to do our tasks we must have – at least in some form, consciously or unconsciously – waited upon the Lord, and looked to Him.
The centurion had brought his faculties under control as far as it was possible for him. He could say “to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.” But he recognized that there were some things that he could not do. This is a lesson very clearly stated and very important, yet sometimes very difficult to learn. Men and women are apt to be proud of their strength and ability, just as proud as if they were the sources and producers of it. But we have no power of ourselves. Nothing that we have or do has its source in ourselves.
It is so with all our physical abilities. We cannot make an eye that will see or an ear that will hear. All that we have, all that constitutes our personality we may develop and use wisely or foolishly, but we do not produce it.
And we are no more originators of mental material than of physical. We do not make facts. We may learn them, select and modify them, receive or reject them, but we cannot produce them. We do not make our mental faculties any more than we do our physical ones. They are gifts to us, and all the materials upon which they operate are gifts. By looking to the Lord and doing His will one opens himself to good; by looking to self he falls into evil and opens himself to evil loves.
The ends which men form for themselves are necessarily temporary ends, developed out of a little knowledge and a superficial experience of good; while the end the Lord has in view is an infinite heaven living from Himself and an image of Himself.
When we recognize our limitations and see how foolish it is to guide ourselves and to make our own ideals, and instead seek the Lord as the one good and all other things as His gifts to be used in His service according to His laws, all things that the Lord has made become good. In this way we are led along from day to day, continually growing wiser in regard to the Divine ways and purposes, and ever seeing life here as more beautiful and full of the Lord’s Divine love and wisdom.
From the thought that we of ourselves are strong and wise come self-importance, constant thought of self, and the estimation of all things in their relation to self. Thence come resentment and envy, untruthful thoughts end dishonest dealings.
The Lord said to the centurion, “‘Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” Men are men because they have the faculties of rationality and freedom of choice. These words express the sympathy which exists between the spiritual truth of the Lord and the rational truth in a mind which acknowledges and is desirous to receive the higher light. The highest accomplishment of our reasoning faculty is attained when it leads us to the Lord.
The Lord, contrasting the centurion and the Jews, said, “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” These words apply to everyone. The east and west signify states of goodness. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob signify the degrees of perfection. The children of the kingdom represented the Jewish Church which was rejecting its Messiah. The weeping and gnashing of teeth are the dissatisfaction which comes when men look to themselves instead of to the Lord and the irrational reasonings by which they confirm themselves in their evil loves.
“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou best believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.”