Sermon of John Wycliffe.
“And behold there came a leper and worshipped him, saying, etc.
And there came unto him a centurion beseeching him, etc.”
This gospel tells of two miracles that Jesus did and contains much instruction about these two miracles. The history tells how Jesus came down off the hill, when He had given His law to His disciples. Much people followed Him, for the devotion that they had to His law and His words. And, lo, there came a leper man and bowed to him, and said, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou mayest heal me.” And Christ said He would, and bade him to be whole.
It is commonly supposed that this leprous man knew that Christ was both God and man, and so that Christ might heal him, but in his own worthiness he trusted nothing. And therefore he said that if Christ would, He might heal him of his leprosy. Thus Christ was God; and God willed that proud men and heretics would well confess the faith, and then should be whole. So Christ stretched out His hand and touched him, and said, “I will make thee whole, and enable thee thereto.” And thus does God to whom He gives His grace. And straightway the leprosy of this man was cleansed. And this speedy healing betokens this miracle.
And that Christ touched this leprous man teaches us now that the manhood of Christ was servant to His Godhead, for to do miracles that He willed were done. And [it teaches] that the touching of leprous men that would help them was lawful to men. But Christ must not be blemished with touching of this leprous man. And so Christ taught His everlasting good will, and taught us to perform the good will that we have.
Afterwards Christ bade him, “See that thou tell no man, but go and show thyself to the priest, and offer that gift, which Moses bade, in witness of such health.” Men say this word may be understood in three ways. First, that this man should tell no man before he had offered what Christ bade him. Second, and better, that Christ bade this to teach us to flee boasting and thanks of men to whom we do good; and thus we should not tell others, to obtain men’s thanks. Third, that Christ bade this to flee slandering God’s law among men, and to flee boasting of Himself, and the conceiving evil of God. And as the old law was then ceased, Christ bade fulfill this law as the author thereof. And thus, when a man shows by his holy, active life (as by two doves), or contemplative life (that is, by a pair of turtles), by these signs he shows that his sins are forgiven … and that, unto priests who well understand this (Leviticus 14). And thus sinful men should counsel with priests, and take from them medicine to flee more sin.
The second miracle teaches how Christ healed a heathen man, out of love for the centurion [knight] that kept Capernaum, the head town of Galilee. This centurion told Christ that his child [servant] lay in his house, sick of the palsy, and was evil tormented. But Luke tells how this centurion conveyed this by old Jews who much praised this centurion as their friend who had built them a synagogue. Christ came with them nigh to this knight’s house; and this knight said to Christ, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou enter under my roof; say only a word and my servant shall be whole. For I am a man put in this place by power of the emperor, having other knights under me to do my office. And I say to one, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and I say to my servant, Do this, and he does it.” And by this the knight would mean that Christ had not need to enter into his house to heal his sick man, since Christ is God almighty, under no authority. And Jesus, hearing these words, wondered, although He knew and ordained before that this knight should be thus true. And therefore Christ said to the folk that followed him, “Truly I say unto you, I found not so much faith in all the folk of Israel, neither priests nor commons….” And Jesus said to this knight, “Go, thy servant shall be whole; for as thou believedst, by my grace, be it done unto thee.” And the child was made whole in the same hour that Christ spoke thus.
We shall know that faith is a gift of God; and so God gives it not to man unless He gives it graciously. And thus all good things that men have are gifts of God. And thus, when God rewards a good work of man, He crowns His own gift. And this is of grace, for all things are of grace that men have from the will of God. And God’s goodness is the first cause which gives men these good things. And so it may not be that God do good to men unless He do these good things freely by His grace. And with this we shall grant that men deserved of God, for in grace they make them worthy to have this good of God.* But we shall not understand that each grace of God may not be by itself, but grace is a manner in man, by which he is gracious to God. And other grace on God’s side is good will of God; and for which grace in God men receive grace in them. And the chiding of idiots, such as was Pelagius and others, who conceive not that a thing may be unless it may be by itself, as substances are, is to be scorned, and to be left to fools.
But we leave this, and learn of this knight to be meek in heart, in word, and deed; for he granted first that he was under man’s power; and yet by power of man he might do many things. Much more should we know that we are under God’s power, and that we may do nothing but with power of God. And if we disuse this power, woe shall be to us therefore. So this root of meekness shall get other virtues to us, and grace of God to deserve reward of heaven and good things of glory, as it was in this gentle knight.
* From this sentence to the end, Wycliffe is difficult to understand. However, it appears that in spite of his emphasis on the power of God’s grace, Wycliffe was not entirely free from the errors commonly held by the theologians of the late Middle Ages. They taught that, since the grace of God works in a man to make the man himself gracious, man can, by that graciousness, earn further blessings from God. The idea of merit was not completely rooted out until the Reformation.