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Let Him Take Heed Lest He Fall

Let Him Take Heed Lest He Fall

Let Him Take Heed Lest He Fall

Jeremiah 8:4–7

Thus saith the Lord: Shall they fall and not arise? shall he turn away and not turn again?

Wherefore is this people of Jerusalem turned back by a perpetual rebellion? they gave themselves to deceit, and would not return.

I hearkened and heard, but none spake aright: no man repented him of his wickedness, saying, What have I done? Every one turned to their race, as the horse rusheth into the battle.

Even the stork in the air knoweth her appointed times; and the turtle, and the crane, and the swallow, observe the time of their coming; but My people knoweth not the judgment of the Lord.

The Apostle’s counsel is, qui stat videat ne cadat, “he that standeth let him take heed lest he fall.”* And there is, saith Esay, a voice behind us that crieth, Hæc est via, “This is the right way, keep it, turn not from it.”* Good counsels both to those quorum vita via vitæ, ‘whose life is a journey, and a journey to another, a better life,’ to look to their feet, they fall not; to look to their way, they err not. Good counsels indeed, but of which we must say with Christ,* qui potest capere capiat, “follow them that may.”

For true it is that not to fall nor err nor do amiss at all, is an higher perfection than our nature in state it is can attain to. ‘Being men,’ saith St. Chrysostom, ἄνθρωποι ὄντες, and ταύτην τὴν σάρκα φεροῦντες, ‘bearing about us this body of flesh,’ the steps whereof are so unstaid; καὶ τοῦτον κόσμον οἰκοῦντες, ‘and walking in this world,’ the ways whereof are so slippery. It is an Apostle that saith it, in multis omnes, &c. “in many things we offend all;” and it is another that saith,* “that whosoever sayeth otherwise”—not,* he is proud and there is no humbleness, but “he is a liar, and there is no truth in him.”

Our estate then as it is needeth some Scripture that “offereth more grace;” and such there be, saith St. James,* and this is such. That they which have not heard the Apostle and his counsel, qui stat, &c. may yet hear the Prophet here and his qui cecidit, let him up again. That they which have not heard Esay’s voice, ambulate, “you are in the way, turn not from it,” may yet hear Jeremy’s voice, qui aversus est, &c. “he that is out let him get into it again.”

So that this is the sum of that I have read. If we have not been so happy as to stand and keep our way, let us not be so unhappy as not to rise and turn to it again. Best it were before we sin to say to ourselves Quid facio, ‘What am I now about to do?’ If we have not that, yet it will not be amiss after to say, “What have I done?” God will not be displeased to hear us so say. We should not follow those fowls, we should have no wings to fly from God; but if in flying away we have followed them, then that we follow them too in the retrieve or second flight. In a word, yesterday if we have not heard His voice, “to-day if we will hear His voice,* not to harden our hearts,” when He calleth us to repentance.

This is the sum. The manner of the delivery is not common, but somewhat unusual and full of passion. For seeing plain pœnitentiam agite doth but coldly affect us, it pleaseth God, hâc vice, to take unto Him the terms, the style, the accents of passion; thereby to give it an edge, that so it may make the speedier and deeper impression.

And the passion He chooseth is that of sorrow; for all these verses are to be pronounced with a sorrowful key. Sorrow many times worketh us to that, by a melting compassion, which the more rough and violent passions cannot get at our hands.

This sorrow He expresseth by way of complaint; for all the speech is so. Which kind of speech maketh the better nature to relent, as moved that by His means any should have cause to complain and not find redress for it.

That He complains of is not that we fall and err, but that we rise not and return not; that is, still delay,* still put off our repentance. And that, 1. contrary to our own course and custom in other things; we do it every where else, yet here we do it not. 2. Contrary to God’s express pleasure.* For glad and fain He would hear we do it, yet we do it not. 3. Contrary to the very light of nature. For the fowls here fly before us, and shew us the way to do it, yet we do it not for all that.

Which three He uttereth by three sundry ways of treaty; 1. The first by a gentle yet forcible expostulation,* Will you not? Why will ye not? 2. The second by an earnest protestation, how greatly He doth hearken after it. 3. The third by a passionate apostrophe, by turning Him away to the fowls of the air, that do that naturally every year which we cannot be got to all our life long.

Of which passions to say a word; it is certain, the immutable constancy of the Divine nature is not subject to them, howsoever here or elsewhere He presenteth Himself in them. I add, that as it is not proper, so neither it is not fitting for God thus to express Himself. But that He, not respecting what best may become Him, but what may best seem to move us and do us most good, chooseth of purpose that dialect, that character, those terms, which are most meet and most likely to affect us.

And because good moral counsel plainly delivered enters but faintly, and of passionate speeches we have a more quick apprehension, He attireth His speech in the habit, uttereth it in the phrase, figure, and accent of anger, or sorrow, or such like, as may seem most fit and forcible to prevail with us.

1. Tertullian saith the reason this course is used is ad exaggerandum malitiæ vim, ‘to make the heinousness of our contempt appear the more.’* God indeed cannot complain, it falleth not into His nature to do it. But if He could, if it were possible by any means in the world He might, such are our contempts, so many and so mighty, that we would force Him to it.

2. But St. Augustine’s reason is more praised;* Exprimit in Sed ut exprimat de te, ‘In Himself He expresseth them, that from us He may bring them;’ sheweth Himself in passion that He may move us, and even in that passion whereto He would move us. As here now; as in grief He complaineth of us, that we might be grieved and complain of ourselves that ever we gave Him such cause, and so consequently that we might bethink ourselves to give redress to it, that so His complaining might cease.

And from the complaint, it is no hard matter to extract the redress. 1. To yield to but even as much for Him—for Him? nay for ourselves—as every where else we use to do. 2. To speak that which God so gladly would hear. 3. To learn that which the poor fowls know, the season of our return, and to take it as they do. Three ways to give redress to the three former grievances, these three; and the same the three parts of this text orderly to be treated of.

To make His motion the more reasonable and His complaint the more just, He makes them chancellors in their own cause; and from their own practice otherwhere God frameth and putteth a case, and putteth it in question-wise; and therefore question-wise that they may answer it, and answering it condemn themselves by a verdict from their own mouth. “Will they (this people) themselves fall,” &c.? Is there any that if he turn,” &c.? In effect, as if He should say; Go whither you will, far or near, was it ever heard or seen that any man if his foot slipped and he took a fall, that he would lie still like a beast and not up again straight? Or if he lost his way, that he would wittingly go on and not with all speed get into it again?

I proceed then. Men rise, if they fall; and sin is a fall. We have taken up the term ourselves, calling Adam’s sin Adam’s fall. A fall indeed, for it fouls as a fall, for it bruises as a fall, for it bringeth down as a fall; down from the state of Paradise, down to the dust of death, down to the bar of judgment, down to the pit of hell.

Again; men turn when they err, and sin is an error. Nonne errant omnes, &c., saith Solomon;* make you any doubt of it? I do not: No sure, an error it is. What can be greater than to go in the ways of wickedness they should not, and come to the end of misery they would not. It is then a fall and an error.

Upon which He joineth issue and inferreth the fifth verse, Quare ergo? “and why then?” If there be no people so sottish that when they fall will lie still, or when they err go on still, why do this people that which no people else will do? Nay, seeing they themselves, if they be down get up, and if astray turn back; how cometh it to pass it holds not here too? That here they fall and rise not? stray and return not? Fall and stray peccando, and not rise and return pœnitendo? Will every people and not they? Nay, will they every where else, and not here? Every where else will they rise if they fall, and turn again if they turn away, and here, only here, will they fall and not rise, turn away and not turn again? In every fall, in every error of the feet to do it, and to do it of ourselves, and in that fall and that error which toucheth God and our souls, by no means, by no entreaty to be got to do it? What dealing call you this? Yet this is their strange dealing, saith the Lord. Both theirs and ours, which God wonders at and complaineth of; and who can complain of His wondering, or wonder at His complaining?

But what speak we of a fall or an error? There is a word in the fifth verse, the word of “rebellion,” maketh it more grievous. For it is as if He should say, I would it were nothing but a fall or turning away; I would it were not a fall or turning away into “a rebellion.” Nay I would it were but that, but “rebellion,” and not “a perpetual rebellion;” but it is both, and that is it which I complain of.

There is sin, a fall: men fall against their wills, that is sin of infirmity. There is sin, an error: men err from the way of ignorance, that is sin of ignorance. The one for want of power, the other for lack of skill. But rebellion, the third kind, that hateful sin of rebellion, can neither pretend ignorance nor plead infirmity; for wittingly they revolt from their known allegiance, and wilfully set themselves against their lawful Sovereign;—that is the sin of malice.

Take all together. Sin, a fall, an error, a rebellion: we see, “sin aboundeth;” will you see, how “grace over-aboundeth?”* Yet not such a fall but we may be raised, not such a departure but there is place left to return; no, nor such a rebellion, but if it sue for may hope for a pardon. For behold; He, even He, that God from Whom we thus fall, depart, revolt, reacheth His hand to them that fall, turneth not away from them that turn to Him, is ready to receive to grace them, even them that rebelled against Him. It is so: for He speaketh to them, treateth with them, asketh of them, why they will not rise, return, submit themselves.

Which is more yet. If ye mark, He doth not complain and challenge them for any of all those three, for falling, straying, or for rebelling; the point He presseth is not our falling, but our lying still; not our departing, but our not returning; nor our breaking off, but our holding out. It is not; Why fall, or stray, or revolt? But, Why rise ye not? Return ye not? Submit ye not yourselves? Thus might He have framed His interrogatories. Shall they fall and not stand? He doth not, but thus. Shall they fall and not rise? Shall they turn from the right and not keep it? No: But shall they turn from it, and not turn to it? As much to say as, Be it you have fallen, yet lie not still; erred, yet go not on; sinned, yet continue not in sin; and neither your fall, error, nor sin, erunt vobis in scandalum, ‘shall be your destruction or do you hurt.’

Nay, which is farther and that beyond all. It is not these neither; though this be wrong enough, yet upon the point this is not the very matter. Neither our lying still, nor our going on, nor standing out, so they have an end, they all and every of them may have hope. “Perpetual” is the word, and perpetual is the thing. Not why these, any of these, or all of these; but why these perpetual? To do thus, to do it and never leave doing it; to make no end of sin, but our own end; to make a perpetuity of sin; never to rise, return, repent—for repentance is opposite not to sin, but to the continuance of it—that is the point.

In sin are these; 1. The fall, 2. The relapse, 3. The wallow. It is none of these; it is not falling, not though it be recidiva peccati, often ‘relapsing.’ It is not lying still, not though it be volutabrum peccati, ‘the wallow.’ It is none of all these; it is τὸ ἀκατάπαυστον, ‘the never ceasing,’ the perpetuity, the impenitency of sin.* To speak of sin, that is the sin out of measure sinful; that is the offence that not only maketh culpable, but leaveth inexcusable. That fall is not Adam’s but Lucifer’s fall; not to err, but to perish from the right way, not Shimei’s rebellion,* but the very apostasy and “gain-saying of Core.”

This then to add sin to sin, to multiply sin by sin, to make it infinite, to eternize it as much as in us lieth, that is it to which God crieth, O quare? “Why do you so?” Why perpetual?

Why perpetual? Indeed why? For it would pose the best of us to find out the quare? a true cause or reason for so doing?

Before, shew but an example; now here, shew but a reason and carry it. But they can shew no reason why they will not. It were to be wished we would repent, or shew good cause to the contrary.

But as before we violate our own custom, so here we abandon reason, we throw them both to the ground, order and reason, and stamp upon them both when we make perpetuities. Verily, true cause or good reason there is none. Being called to shew cause why? they tell not, we see; they stand mute, they cannot tell why; God Himself is fain to tell them. Why all the cause that is is in the latter part of the verse, apprehenderunt, &c. that is, some non causa pro causâ, some lie or other they lay hold of, or else they would return and not thus continue in it. To flatter itself that it may not repent, Mentita est iniquitas sibi, saith the Psalmist,* Sin doth even cozen itself, telling a fair tale to itself, which is in the eleventh verse, Pax, Pax, “Peace” well enough; and that is a lie, for there is no peace for all that. It is, saith the Apostle, “the deceitfulness of sin that hardeneth” men in it;* that is, if there were not some gross error, strong illusion, notable fascinatio mentis, it could not be that sin should prove to a perpetuity. There is some error sure.

But why is not that error removed? God answereth that too. But the error hath not taken hold of them, for then it might be cured, but they have taken hold of it, fast hold, and will not let it go. That is, it is not in the weakness of their wits, but in the stubbornness of their will. For so is His conclusion. Not non potuerunt, ‘they could not;’ but noluerunt, they “would not return.” So saith David;* “it is a people that do err in their hearts.” Their error is not in their heads but in their hearts, and if it be there, “forty years” teaching will do them no good. If they had a heart to understand, they might soon, but they assot themselves, they will not conceive aright of their estates. If they did, they could not choose but return, but now return they will not, that is resolved; therefore they get them some lewd, irreligious, lying positions, and with them close up their own eyes, even hood-wink themselves. Is it not thus? Yes sure: rather than return, to apprehend a lie. This is a woeful case; but let it be examined, and thus it is. It is a lie they apprehend, that maketh they lie still. Peradventure that error, inter alios,* may be such an illusion as this, that if they should make means it would be to no purpose, God would stop His ears, He would not hear of it. May it not be thus? Despair of pardon hath made many a man desperate. Yes sure. And if that were it, if they would and God would not, they had some shew of reason to abandon themselves to all looseness of life. But it is contrary; they would not return. For I for My part fain would, saith God; it is their “not,” and not Mine. My nolo is nolo ut moriatur; my volo is volo ut convertatur, “I will not their death, I will their conversions:” this is my volo. Nay,* quoties volui? “How often would I?” et noluistis,* “and ye would not.”*

My outward calling by My word, inward movings by My Spirit, My often exhortations in your ears, My no less often inspirations in your hearts, tactus Mei et tractus, ‘My touches and My twitches,’ My benefits not to be dissembled, My gentle chastisements, My deliverances more than ordinary, My patience while I held My peace, such periods as this when I speak,* My putting you to it by quid debui facere? to set down what I should have done and have not, these shew quoties volui, “that many times I would when you would not.” The two verses past, His compassionate complaint in them. And is there no hope? Will you not? O, why will you not? Otherwhere you will and not here, why not here? You have no reason why you will not. Why will you not? If not why fall, or err, or revolt, yet only why “perpetual?” These are evidences enough, He is willing enough therewithal. But, to put it out of all doubt, we see. He breaketh out into a protestation, that if this be the lie we lay hold of, we may let it go when we will. And sure, how earnestly God affecteth the sinner’s conversion, we might be thought to misinform, and to blow abroad our own conceits, if this and such places were not our warrant. I not hear? Why, I stand wishing and waiting, and longing and listening to hear of it. Wishing, “O that My people!” Waiting,* expectat Dominus ut misereatur; “longing,”* even as a woman that is great, “after green fruit;” listening, that I might but hear two good words from them, that might shew that they were but thus forward as to think of this point. It is not all one, it is not neither here nor there with me whether you do it, it is a special thing I hearken after; no merchant for his commodity, no Athenian for his news, more oft or more earnest.*

Then lay not hold on that lie, that I would not hear. Be your error what it will be, let it not be that, let not the charge be mine but yours, if you will needs cast away that I would have saved.

Should not this move us? Now truly, if all other regards failed, and men for them should not return, yet for this and this only we ought to yield to it, that God should be listening so long for it and in the end be deluded.

God hearkeneth and listeneth, and after there is a kind of pause to see what will come of it. And lo, this cometh of it, this unkind unnatural effect; after all this, not so much as locuti sunt recte, a good honest confession. Nay, not so little as this, Quid feci? “What have I done?” He expecteth no great matter, no long process, but two words, but three syllables; and those with no loud voice, to spend their spirit or breath, but even softly said, for He layeth His ear and listeneth for it.

“Thus saith the Lord.” But what say they? None of them, either audibly for I hearkened, or softly for I listened, said no long solemn confession, but not this, Quid feci? God wot this is not repentance: err not, this is far from it.

From whence yet this we gain; what God would hear from us, and what we saying may give Him some kind of contentment. This is but Micah’s fruit we spake of,* which yet He so much desired that He will take it green and unripe as it is. This is but a step unto a proffer, but yet begin with this. Say it, dic, dic, saith St. Augustine, sed intus dic; ‘say it, and say it from within,’ say it as it should be said—not for form or with affectation, but in truth and with affection. Do but this onward and more will follow. Indeed as before we said of the quare, so here we may say of the quid; if either of them, if but this latter were well weighed, rightly thought on, or rightly spoken, there is much more in it than one would think. “What have I done?” 1. What, in respect of itself! what a foul, deformed, base, ignominious act! which we shame to have known, which we chill upon, alone and nobody but ourselves. 2. What, in regard of God, so fearful in power, so glorious in Majesty! 3. What, in regard of the object! for what a trifling profit, for what a transitory pleasure! 4. What, in respect of the consequent! to what prejudice of the state of our souls and bodies, both here and for ever! O what have we done? How did we it? Sure, when we thus sinned, we did we knew not what.

Sure, to say it with the right touch, with the right accent, is worth the while. Say it then; say this at least. Lest, if you will not say quid feci? “What have I done?” when He hearkens, you may come into the case you know not what to do, and say to Him, What shall I do? And if you hear not when He complains, one day when you complain He refuse to bow down His ear and hearken to you at all.

Yet one step farther. Nothing they said: is that all? have we done? Nay; He hears and sees both a worse matter. For instead of this, He sees and hears that forth they run to their careless course of life, tanquam equus ad prœlium. We saw before their slowness in that; now see we their vigour in this. Wherein observe; here they go not, it is no soft pace they run, not as men but as horses, and not every kind of them neither, but as the barbed horse for service, and he not every way considered; but when he is enraged by noise and other accidents of war, שומף rather rusheth, like a violent breach of waters from whence it is taken, than runneth; ὡς ἵππος κάθιδρος, saith the Seventy, “as a horse all of a white foam” into the battle, where a thousand to one he never cometh out again. That is, with as great fury and as little consideration as a war-horse runneth upon his own destruction. And all this, when God hearkeneth and listeneth to hear and receive them, even then and at no other time, then so fling they from Him. All return to sin is brutish; recidiva peccati; that is tanquam canis ad vomitum; volutabrum peccati,* that is tanquam sus ad lutum;* but this fury and fierceness of sin is tanquam equus ad prœlium.* Should there be no more regard in the rider than in the beast he rides on? Shuld such a mind as this be in men?

No verily, we be now gone from men; we be come among beasts. And thither doth God follow us. And even among them, if we will but look to the less brutish sort, He hopes to do it, even among them; to point us to those, that if we will learn, it will teach us as much as this cometh to. This is His apostrophe of the last verse. Where breaking off, occasioned by their abrupt breaking off, he even sets down Himself upon the light of nature, “Well yet, the stork, &c.”

Two kinds of forcible reasons or apostrophes, there are to move us. 1. One, to send the people of God to heathen men, that would shame to deal with their idols, as we do daily with the God of Heaven;* “get you to Chittim and to the isles,” saith Jeremy. See if the like measure be offered by them to their gods. Then the conclusion is, quis audivit talia? God’s people worse than the heathen? This is such a thing as the like was never heard. This was done in the first verse, “if any fall,” &c.

2. Yet more effectual is it when He goeth yet farther, thus far. That not finding among men with whom to sort them, because they keep no rules of men, He is forced to a second apostrophe, to seek among beasts with whom to suit them.

3. But then if it come to this, that the beasts be not only compared with us as in the last, tanquam equus, but preferred before as better advised or disposed than we, as in this—The swallow doth know, My people doth not; that we in the comparison go not even with them, but are cast behind them; that is πρὸς ἐντροπὴν, indeed a foul check to our nature. And to that the Prophet crieth, Audite Cœli, “Hear ye Heavens,* and be astonished at it!” O the damp and mist of our sin! so great that it darkeneth not only the light of religion which God teacheth, but even the light of nature which her instinct teacheth, even the reasonless creature itself. With a very pathetical conclusion doth the Psalmist break off the forty-ninth Psalm;* “Man being in honour,” &c. but “becometh meet to be compared to the beasts that perish.” Which is no small disgrace to our nature so to be matched. Profecto, saith Chrysostom, pejus est comparari jumento, quam nasci jumentum, ‘Now sure it is far worse to be matched with a beast than to be born a beast.’ To be born is no fault, we nor they make ourselves. But to be born a man and to become matchable with beasts, that is our fault, our great fault, and therefore, the worse certainly.

Well, this interrogate jumenta in the Old,* this respicite volatilia in the New,* this apostrophe thus sending us to beasts and fowls to school, setting them before us as patterns, setting them over us as tutors, to learn of them how to carry ourselves, is certainly a bitter apostrophe, a great upbraiding to us, a great aggrieving our sin or our folly, or both.

Especially in them who, as in the next verse he saith,* would hold it great scorn to be reputed of otherwise than as “deep wise men;”—that they should pass their lives with as little consideration, not as heathen men for they be men, but with as little, yea less, than the beasts in the field or the fowls in the air. Thus speaketh God often, and with divers. The slothful body He setteth to school to the ant,* the unthankful person to the ox,* the distrustful man to the young ravens,* the covetous wretch to that beast which reproved the madness of the Prophet who for “the wages of unrighteousness” was ready to make sale of his soul,* that is Balaam’s beast, the ass. And here now in this place the wilful impenitent sinner, one so far gone as He appointeth him not one as to all the former, but no less than four at once. Belike either the number is great that so many ushers need, and so it is; or their capacity very dull and hard to take, that no fewer will serve them, and so it is too; or He sorteth them thus, that every country may be provided for of one to teach in it. For though in some places all are not, yet in all places some of them are to be found.

The lesson with these four, all of them from the stork in the top of the fir tree to the swallow that buildeth under every pent-house, would take us forth, is that which they themselves are so perfect in that they may be professors of it. And it is of four sorts; 1. They have a time to return in. 2. That time is certain and certainly known. 3. They know it. 4. They observe it.

“They have a time.” The place, the climate, which the cold of the weather maketh them to leave, they fail not but find a time to turn back thither again. This they teach us first who in this respect less careful and more senseless than they, find a time and times many, oft and long, to take our flight from God; occasioned by no cold or evil weather, for commonly we do it when times are best and fairest; but we can find no time, not so much as half a time, to make our return in. This must be learned. Sure we must, saith St. Paul, σχολάζειν τῇ νηστείᾳ, “take some time of vacancy and leisure;”* we must, saith St. Peter, χωρῆσαι εἰς μετάνοιαν,* “take some several retiring place,” where and when to do it to purpose, and intend it not as a slight matter, but as one of the chiefest and most important affairs of our life. Sure this ado that God keeps about it, these passions, complaints, protestations, apostrophes, give it for no less.

They have a time certain, when if you wait for them you shall be sure to see them come, and come at their appointed season; they will not miss. It will not be long, but you shall see the swallow here again. This they teach us second; us who have sometime some little persuasions in modico, like Agrippa’s, to do as Christian men should do, but as Felix,* we can never ἐυκαιρῆσαι “find a convenient set time for it.”* Return we will, that we will, but are still to seek for our season; and ever we will do, and never we do it. Verily though no time be amiss,* but “at what time soever we repent,” that is “the acceptable time,” that “the day of salvation;”* yet Esau’s tears when the time was past,* and the five virgins that came too short, and but a little too short;* and that very word of God to Saul, “Now was the time,” “now,”* if thou hadst taken it; these plainly shew, that as for “all things under the sun,” so for this great and weighty business,* there is not only עת but מועד; not only χρόνος but καιρὸς; not only a time, but a set season. Which season is in time, as the joint in a member; if you hit on the joint, you may easily divide; if on this side or beyond, you shall not do it, or not do it so well; therefore to do it when it is.

They have their certain time, and they know it. What time of the year the time of their return is, is commonly known; who knows not when swallows’ time is? And our ignorance in not discerning this point doth God justly upbraid us withal; and bids us, if we know not what time to take, to get us to these fowls, and to take their time, the time they return at; that is, now, even this time, this season of the year; to return with the swallows, and to take our flight back when they do theirs. Rather do thus than waste our lives as we do, and take none at all; neither fair nor foul, neither hot nor cold, neither fall nor spring, to do it in. This is the third they teach us.

The last lesson is, to observe it. Opportunity itself is a great favor, even to have it; but a second grace it is, to discern it when we have it; and a third better than both, when we discern it to observe and take it. And many are the errors of our life, but all the errors of our repentance come from one of these; either our ignorance that,* while we have it, discern it not; or our negligence that, when we discern it, observe it not. The one, our ignorance, Christ with bitter tears lamenteth; the other, our negligence, doth God here complain of. This is the last lesson.

There want not that stretch it farther; that by these four fowls, there is not taught the time, but even the manner also how to perform our repentance.

1. That vox turturis, which is gemebam, a mournful note; 2. that the very name and nature of the stork, הסידה of חסד full of mercy and compassion; 3. that the swallow’s nest,* so near the altar of God; 4. that the painful watching and abstinence of the crane, specially when they take their flight, so credibly recorded in the natural histories; that these, emblem-wise, teach us the 1. mournful bewailing of our life past; 2. “the breaking off our former sins by works of mercy;”* 3. the keeping near this place, the house and altar of God; 4. the abstinence and watching to be performed during this time of our return; that is, that all these are allied to the exercise of our repentance and are meet virtues to accompany and attend the practice of it.

This the turtle-dove mourneth, the swallow chattereth; this all of them sound as well as they can; this, if they serve not, as masters to teach us, they shall serve as a quest1 to condemn us whom neither our own custom, reason, religion, before, nor now the light of nature, can bring to know so much as they: either to learn it ourselves, or to be taught it by others. This we should learn, but this we do not, therefore He taketh up His last complaint, “But My people,” &c.

The word judgment receiveth two constructions; for either by judicium Domini is meant that within us which is answerable to that secret instinct whereby the fowls are inclined to do this, which is the prick and dictamen of our conscience, τὸ ἐνδὸν δικαστήριον, the impression whereof is apparent in the most miscreant on earth; in whom nature itself shrinketh and sigheth when it hath done amiss, and joyeth and lifteth up itself when it hath well done; and by which we are moved inwardly, as they by their instinct, to return, but that the motion with us passeth, and with them not. And then the complaint is, that their parva naturalia carry them farther than our great judicials do us in this point.

Or else by judicium Domini is meant His visitation hanging over our heads, called therefore judgment, because it cometh not casually, but judicially proceedeth from God; that is, when God calleth to judgment by invasion, by scarcity, by gentle, general diseases, and such like; and then the complaint is, that where we should imitate these fowls and return against the sweet spring and fair time of the year, that is, while the days of peace and prosperity last, we are so far behind them, as not against fair, nay not against foul, against neither we can be brought to it; not in the days of adversity—no, not against the winter of our life.

That they regard nature’s inclination, so as every spring sure to come; we have lost our regard so even of judgment and all, as neither vernal nor hibernal repentance we bring forth. Nay, not the everlasting judgment of the Lord do we regard; to which sooner or later we must all come, and there receive the sentence under execution whereof we shall lie eternally.

Πάντα δέχομαι, saith St. Chrysostom, ‘I embrace both senses;’ both be good and profitable to men. Take whether you will, or both if you will, you shall not take amiss; and if both, you shall be sure to take right. Regard judgment, when either it awaketh from within, or when it threateneth from without. And when any of these summons us before the great Judge, know for a certainty that the time of returning is come: the Angel is descended,* the water is moved—let us have grace to go in, even then ad aquæ motum; we know not how long it will be, or whether ever it will be stirred again.

And thus we be come to an anchor at this last word judgment. A word, which if with judgment we would but pause on, and roll it awhile up and down in our thoughts, duly weighing it and the force of it, it would bring us about, and cause this whole Scripture to be fulfilled; make us fly as fast back as any fowl of them all.

For indeed the not judicial apprehending of this one word, the shallow conceiving and slight regard of it is the cause we foreslow 1 the time. The foreslowing the time, the cause we come not to quid feci; the not coming to that, the cause why we run on still tanquam equus, why we rise not, return not, yield not, but stand out in perpetual rebellion. Did we hear this word, hear it and regard it aright, and scire terrorem hunc, ‘know the terror of it,’ that God hath fearful judgments in store; even here to meet with us; or howsoever here we scape He hath there a perpetual judgment behind, and that so straight as “the righteous shall scarce escape it,”* so heavy as the mightiest shall not endure it;—did we regard this one point we should find a withdrawing time for this so serious a work; we would say, and say that God should hear it, “What have I done?” We would rise, return, repent; and so His whole complaint should cease. O Judgment! of the very mention of this word judgment, if a perfect view were taken of it, that only were enough. But without judgment or regard we hear it, and therefore the complaint continueth still.

To conclude: we said at the beginning, God therefore sheweth Himself in passion that He might move us, and in that passion whereto He would move us; thus complaineth God that we might thus infer and say, And doth God thus complain? Why it toucheth not God, it toucheth me; “He needeth not our repentance, and our unrighteousness hurteth Him not.”* It is I that shall win or lose by it, even the best thing I have to lose, my soul; He is in no danger, it is I, the hazard of whose eternal weal or woe lieth upon it. And yet doth God shew Himself sorry for me, and shall not I be sorry for myself? Doth God thus complain of my sin, and shall not I be moved to do as much for mine own sin? From this meditation to proceed to propound the same questions which God here doth, and to ask them of ourselves. What then, shall I continually “fall” and never “rise?” “turn away” and not once “turn again?” Shall my rebellions be “perpetual?” Do I this any where else? can I shew any reason why not to do it here? Shall these swallows fly over me and put me in mind of my “return,” and shall not I heed them? Shall God still in vain hearken for quid feci? and shall I never speak that He so fain would hear? Shall I never once seriously set before me the judgments of the Lord? Ask these: ask them and answer them, and upon them come to a resolution, saying, I will rise and return and submit myself, and from my heart say quid feci. I will consider volatilia Cœli; I will not see them fly but I will think of the season of my returning; but above all I will not be without regard of God’s judgment, than which nothing in this world is more to be regarded.

Because the time, the time is the main matter, and ever more ado about it than the thing itself, to have special care of that; knowing that it was not but upon great cause that our Savior complaining of this point cried, “O if thou hadst but known that this day had been the day of thy visitation!”* and so was fain to break off, the tears coming so fast that He was not able to speak out, but forced to weep out the rest of His sentence. O those tears shew what time is, shew that opportunity itself is a grace, even to have it; that it is a second grace to know it, and a third better than them both to lay hold of it and use it. That the greatest errors in this matter of repentance come from our ignorance in not discerning of the time when we may have it, or our negligence in not using it when we discern it. Therefore rather than fail, or rather that we may not fail, to take the time of the text. And that time is at this time now; now do these fowls return. Who knoweth whether he shall live to see them return any more? It may be the last spring, the last swallow-time, the last Wednesday of this name or nature we shall ever live to hear this point preached. Why do we not covenant then with ourselves not to let this time slip? Surely lest no time should be taken the Prophet pointeth us at this, and ensuing the Prophet’s mind the Church hath fixed her season at it. And nature itself seemeth to favor it, that at the rising of the year we should rise, and return when the zodiac returneth to the first sign.

Let the Prophet, let the Church, let nature, let something prevail with us. Et Dominus Qui sic instat præcepto, præcurrat auxilio, ‘and Almighty God, the upholder of them that stand, the lifter up of those that be down, that God Who is thus instant upon this point by His complaint, prevent us with His gracious help that we may redress it;’ following with His Spirit where His word hath gone before, and making it effectual to our speedy conversion![1]

 

 

* Mic. 7:1.

1 i.e. inquest.

1 i.e. delay, or neglect.

[1] Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 1, pp. 338–355). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)

Deuteronomy 23:9

Deuteronomy 23:9

When Thou Goest

Deuteronomy 23:9

When thou goest out with the host against thine enemies, keep thee then from all wickedness.

To entitle this time to this text, or to shew it pertinent to the present occasion, will ask no long preface. “When thou goest forth,” &c. This “when” is now. There be enemies, and we have an host; it is going forth. Christ’s own application which is the best may be well applied here, “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.”* This our host so going forth, our heart’s desire and prayer unto God is, that they may happily go, and thrice happily come again, with joy and triumph to her sacred Majesty, honor to themselves, and general contentment to the whole land. So shall they go, and so come, if we can procure the Lord of Hosts to go forth with, and to take charge of our hosts. “It is He That giveth victory to kings,”* saith David;* it is He That is Triumphator Israel, saith Samuel. Victory and triumph never fail if He fail not.

Now then that God may not fail them, but go in and out before them and bring them back with victory and triumph, and that we all desire and pray for may so come to pass, Moses doth here out of his own experience bestow an advice upon us. And Moses could skill what belonged to war, as one that forty years together was never out of camp. Which advice is, that among our military points we would reckon the abatement of sin for one; that now this time of our going forth we would go forth against sin too, and keep us from it as we would keep us from our enemy. If we could be but persuaded to reform our former custom of sin, it would certainly do the journey good. That therefore with other courses, some remembrance, some regard be had of this; that at this time sin do not so overflow among us, be not so very fruitful as before time it hath.

And this is an use of Divinity in war. And as this an use of Divinity in war, so have we withal an use of war in Divinity. For Moses telling us, that “when our forces go forth against the enemy,”—that we then, at that time, are in any wise “to keep us from wickedness;” by sorting these thus together doth plainly intimate that when the time of war is, then is a fit time, a very good opportunity, to draw from sin and to return to God. These former years, this time of the fast, and this day, the first day of it, both ministered an occasion to call for an abstinence from sin; this day, and this time, being set out by the Church’s appointment to that end. Now besides that ordinary of other years, God this year hath sent us another, the time of war; and that a very seasonable time too, wherein to repent and retire from sin. As if He should say, If you would forsake sin now you may do it; for “behold, now is an acceptable time,”* and a fit season. This time to concur with that time, and both to cooperate to the amendment of our lives.

And what shall I say? O that one of them, the former or the latter, or both might prevail so much with us, that as the forepart this day is fulfilled in our ears, so the latter part might be fulfilled in our lives; that it might not be singly regarded that is thus doubly commended; that the fast at hand might keep us, or the war at hand might keep us, or both might keep us, that we might be kept from sin. That either Joel’s trump proclaiming a fast, or Amos’ trump proclaiming war, might serve to sound this retreat, might serve to awake us from that now more than sleep, even almost that lethargy of sin which the security of our so long peace hath cast us in.

This is the sum. These the double use, 1. of war in divinity; that our going forth might procure the giving over sin. 2 Of Divinity in war; that our giving over sin might procure good speed to our going forth, even an honorable and happy return.

The parts are two; for the verse parteth itself by “when” and “then.” These two; 1. the going forth of the host; 2. the keeping from sin. To express them in the terms of the present business; 1. the former, the commission authorizing to go. 2. The latter, the instruction directing so to go that we may prosper and prevail. In which latter will come to be considered these three points; 1. The conjunction and coherence of these two. 2. The consequence. 3. The contents of the latter, how to keep us from sin.

“When thou goest forth,” &c. In the first is the commission, which is ever the corner-stone of all proceedings. If we take the verse entire, both parts together, it riseth thus; If they which go to war must keep themselves from sin, then is war no sin but lawful, and without sin to be undertaken. Or, if we take the first part by itself, in saying “when thou goest” he implieth a time will come when they may go forth. For vain were the supposal, and far unworthy the wisdom of God’s Spirit to say “when,” if never any such time would come; if there were no time for war of God’s allowance. We cannot better pattern it than by the Gospel of this day, “when ye fast, be not like hypocrites”*—by all Divines resolved thus. Fast ye may sometimes; and then fasting, look you fall not into hypocrisy. And as in that, so in this: go ye may sometimes; only when ye go see ye “refrain from sin,” and then go and spare not. Out of which match of these two, fast and war, we may rise higher.

It is no less usual with the Prophets to say sanctificate prælium, as Joel 3. than to say, sanctificate jejunium, “sanctify a war,”* as well as “a fast.”* And in another, consecrate manus vestras hodie Domino, “consecrate your hands this day unto the Lord.”* Which sheweth war is not so secular a matter, but that it hath both his lawfulness and his holiness; and that the very hands may be sacred or hallowed by fighting some battles. And therefore,* in the Calendar of Saints we have nominated, not Abel, Enoch, and Noah alone, men of peace and devotion, who spent their time in prayer and service of God; but Gideon, Jephtha, Samson, worthies and men of war “who,”* saith the Apostle, “through faith were valiant in battle, and through faith put to flight the armies of aliens.” War therefore hath his time and commission from God.

Secondly, I add that this kind of war, not only defensive war, but offensive too, hath his “when.” And that, out of this very text; which is, if we mark well, not when they come forth against thee, but “when thou goest forth against them,” παρεμβάλλειν, say the Seventy, “to invade or annoy them.” Both these have their time; the former to maintain our right, the latter to avenge our wrong. By both these ways doth God send His people forth; both have warrant. Before Moses,* Abraham’s war to rescue Lot his ally was defensive and lawful; Jacob’s war, to win from the Amorite “by his sword and bow,”* offensive and lawful too. Under Moses, the war against Amalek who came out against them,* and the war against Midian, against whom they “went forth to wreak themselves for the sin of Peor,”* both lawful. After Moses, King David, in the battle of Ephes-dammim,* keeping the enemy from their gates; in the battle of Gath,* seeking the enemy at his own gates, and giving him battle in his own territory. And this as good law, so Egredere, et compelle eos intrare, “Go forth, and compel them to come in,”* is good Gospel too. So that war, and this kind of war, hath his commission.

Thirdly, and to strengthen the hands of our men of war yet farther. As war, and to go forth to war, against our enemies, any enemies, whether foreign foes or rebellious subjects; so of all enemies against the latter, against them to go forth, hath ever been counted most just and lawful. Many commissions are upon record in the law, of journeys in this kind. Against the tribe of Reuben,* for erecting them an altar beside that of Moses; and that have these of ours done too. Against the tribe of Benjamin, for a barbarous, and brutish outrage committed at Gibeah, and that have these too, and not one,* but many. Against Sheba, for blowing a trumpet and crying, “No part have we in David, no inheritance in the son of Jesse;”* and so far hath their madness proceeded. And the Gospel is not behind neither. Against them that send word, nolumus hunc regnare super nos, producite et occidite,* saith our Saviour Christ Himself. In effect these say as much as nolumus, and as much may be said and done to them. Nay, if once he say “no part in David;”* if he were Absalom, or Adonijah, of the blood royal, he “hath spoken that word against his own life:”* much more if but such a one as Sheba the son of Bichri. And yet even he was nothing so deep as this. For neither had King David vouchsafed him any favor any time before, neither offered him peace, or to receive him to grace after he had lift up his heel against him. But here, here have been divers princely favors vouchsafed, and most unkindly rejected; means of clemency many times most graciously offered, and most ungraciously refused; yea, faith falsified and expectation deluded; contempt upon contempt heaped up, that the measure is full. These then are the enemies “against,” and this the time “when.” When not only we may but must, and that not with God’s leave only, but with His liking and full commission, “go forth” in this cause. So that war is lawful; and this kind, “to go forth;” and against these enemies most just and most lawful. At this time against these enemies it is a war sanctified; they shall “consecrate their hands,” they shall præliari prælia Domini, that fight against them. So much for the commission.

The commission being had, we are not to depart but stay and take our instructions also with us; which is the latter part, of “keeping from wickedness.” Joshua had his commission from God to go up against Ai;* yet for leaving out this latter, and not looking to Achan better, had not so good speed. This therefore must accompany and keep time with the former, as a “then” to that “when.”

1. Wherein first, of the joining these two, 1. that they must go together, 2. and of the reason why they must go together.

2. And after of the manner, how we may and must “keep ourselves from this wickedness.”

The meeting of these two within the compass of one verse, 1. “Going forth with an army,” and 2. “forbearing of sin,” is worth the staying on.

Leading an army pertaineth to military policy, forbearing of sin is flat divinity.

For what hath the leading an army to do with forbearing of sin? Yet God hath thus sorted them as we see. Therefore policy of war whereto the former, and Divinity whereto the latter belongeth, are not such strangers one to the other, as that the one must avoid while the other is in place. But that, as loving neighbors and good friends here they meet together, they stand together, they keep time, consequence, and correspondence, the one with the other. God Himself, in Whose imperial style so oft proclaimed in the Prophets they both meet, “the Lord of Hosts,” “the Holy One of Israel;”*—God, I say, Himself in the great chapter of war, the twentieth of this book, assigneth an employment to the Priests as well as the officers of the camp, even to do that which ere-while was assayed, to animate the companies in the Lord, and the power of His might; letting them see the right of their cause, and how ready God is to receive the right under the banner and power of His protection. And from God Himself no doubt was that happy and blessed combination which in most wars of happy success we find, of a captain and a Prophet sorted together:* Joshua, with Moses a Prophet; Baruk,* with Deborah a Prophetess; Ezekias, with Esay;* Jehoshaphat, with Jahaziel; Joash, with Elisha;* and one of these doing the other no manner of hurt but good.* Joshua lifting up his hand against Amalek, Moses lifting up his hand for Joshua.* The one leading against the enemy and annoying him, the other leading against sin and annoying it; against sin, what some reckon of it it skills not, but certainly the most dangerous enemy both of private persons and of public states.

These two then, 1. “going forth with the host,” and 2. “departing from sin,” being thus linked by God, our suit is, Break not this link; God hath joined them that we should join them. And this is a needful suit. For it is one of the diseases under the sun: in war all our thoughts run upon the host, looking to the host only and nothing but the host, and letting sin run whither it will without any keeper. I know well, I both know and acknowledge that the army’s going forth is mainly to be regarded, it hath the first place in the verse, and it hath it not for nought. Joshua must choose out men first; victuals must be supplied.* And nemo militat stipendiis suis, pay must be thought of.* We must go forth with our host; they be the words of the text;* go—not sit still; and with an host, not a heap of naked or starved men. We must help, and not tempt God. To help God is a strange speech, yet said it may be seeing an Angel hath said it; “Curse ye Meroz,” saith the Angel of the Lord, “curse the inhabitants thereof.” Why? “Because they came not to help the Lord, to help the Lord against the mighty.”* This must first be done. But when this is done all is not done, we are not at a full point, we are but in the midst of the sentence yet. As that part of the host is to be regarded, so this of sin’s restraint is not to be neglected. As that hath the first place, so must this have the second, and second the former, or we shall have but a broken sentence without it. There is not, there cannot be a more prejudicial conceit than to say in our hearts, If the first be well all is well, then sin on and spare not, it skills not greatly for the latter. Si putas in robore exercitus bella consistere, faciet te Dominus cadere coram inimicis tuis, saith the Prophet to Amaziah.* If this be our conceit, so the host be well all is well, God will teach you another lesson, saith he, which I list not english. A proof whereof we have before Gibeah. Where the whole power of Israel, 400,000 strong,* trusting in their going out so strong, fell before a few Benjamites, a small handful in comparison, and shewed plainly to all ages to come that it is but a part, it is not all, to “go forth with an host” though never so well appointed.

Let us then, as advice leadeth us, make up our period with taking a course for restraint of sin. For what sin unrestrained can work the valley of Achor may teach us,* where the inhabitants of the poor town of Ai put to flight Joshua with all his forces, and all because this second point was not well looked to.

Now this second point being within the compass of our profession, and yet having so necessary an use in war as the sentence is not perfect without it, may serve to answer the question, more usually than advisedly oft cast out, What good do these Churchmen? What use is there of them now at such times as this? Yes, there is an use of them, and that in war we see. The camp hath use of this place, and they that serve there of them that serve here. Which God shewed plainly in the first field that ever His people fought; and when He had shewed it, caused it to be recorded ad perpetuam rei memoriam—they be God’s own words—that the same course might be ever after holden in all.* Where it is thus written, and “if we believe not we shall not be established,”* that Joshua’s having the better or going to the worse depended not a little on the steadiness of Moses’ hands, and that Moses staying behind and striking never a stroke did his part toward the attaining of the victory not much less than Joshua that went forth and fought manfully. Prayer then is of use; and though we be, saith St. Paul, armed at all points from hand to foot, yet must we super omnia, “over all,” draw this, and arm even our very armor with “prayer and supplications.”*

But what availeth prayer without keeping from sin? Therefore to that armor of St. Paul’s we must add St. Peter’s too, “to arm ourselves with this mind of ceasing from sin,”* that our prayers may be effectual. Therefore Moses himself joineth not to our going forth his exercise of keeping up our hands at prayer, but this rather “of keeping our feet from sin.”* The King of Moab, Balak, when he observed what prayer had wrought in the battle of Amalek, thought to take the very like course, and sent for Balaam into his camp, to match Prophet with Prophet, and to oppose prayer unto prayer. But when all his altars and rams would do no good, Balaam knowing well there is in sin a power to defeat any prayer, he cometh to the dangerous counsel of “causing Israel to sin with the daughters of Moab,” which was found too true. For it turned to their ruin, and all their prayers would then do no good. Here then is another use. For “the chariots and horses of Elisha,”* the “weapons of our warfare,”* as the Apostle termeth them, though not carnal, if God enable them to cast down such sinful thoughts and wicked desires as exalt themselves daily, and to captivate them to the obedience of Christ, have certainly their use to second the former; and we in our turns serviceable, as by crying unto God by prayer, and drawing Him to the host Who is our chiefest and best friend, so by crying also against sin and chasing it away, which is our chiefest and worst enemy. Since then these two have this mutual use either of other, let this be our petition and withal the conclusion of this part, that we single them not or lean to either alone, but suffer them as they stand together in the verse, so in our care and regard jointly to keep time and go together. So much for them.

And now to enquire into the reason of this coupling. Why now? Why at this time in war, a giving over sin? For that indeed they be not barely joined, but so joined as one is made the antecedent, the other the consequent. One the time, and as it were the reason to infer the other. Truly Moses’ word כי will bear both, either quando or quia; “When thou goest then keep;” or “Because thou goest, therefore keep thyself from sin.” With the same word speaketh the virtuous lady to King David, quia præliaris prælia Domini, ideo non inveniatur in te iniquitas, “because thou fightest the Lord’s battles, therefore let there not any iniquity be found in thee all thy days.”*

Sin certainly at all times is to be forborne. When it is war, and not only when it is war, but when it is peace too. “Take ye heed, lest at any time,” saith Christ, “your hearts be overlaid with surfeiting, with drink,”* &c. Not allowing us any time to be wicked in. But though at all times we be to refrain sin, yet not at all times alike, saith Moses here. For it is as if he should say, Be it at other times, sin may better be borne with, it is less perilous; but “when thou goest forth with an host, then”—then, with an high accent, with an emphasis, that is then especially; then above all other times, then, if ever, it importeth you to have least to do with it. Good Lord, how cross and opposite is man’s conceit to God’s, and how contrary our thoughts unto His! For even ad oppositum to this position of His, we see for the most part that even they that are the goers forth seem to persuade themselves that then they may do what they list; that at that time any sin is lawful, that war is rather a placard than an inhibition to sin. A thing so common that it made the heathen man hold that between militia and malitia there was as little difference in sense as in sound; and the Prophet David to call Saul’s companies in his days, torrentes Belial,* “the land-floods of wickedness.” Which being well considered, we may cease to murmur or to marvel, if our going forth have not been ever with such success as we wished. God Who should give the success commanding then a restraint, and man that should need it then taking most liberty. Verily if we will learn of God, if He shall teach us, sin is never so untimely as in the time of war, never so out of season as then; for that is the time of all times we should have least to do with it. To insist then a little upon this point, because it is the main point, and to shew the vigor of this consequent.

1. From the very nature of war first, which is an act of justice, and of justice corrective, whose office is to punish sin. Now then consider and judge even in reason, what a thing this is, how great, gross, and foul an incongruity it is to pour out ourselves into sin at the very time when we go forth to correct sin; to set forth to punish rebels, when we ourselves are in rebellion against God, His Word, and Spirit. Which, what is it but “to cast out devils by the power of Beelzebub?”* Sure our hearts must needs strike us in the midst of our sin, and tell us we are in a great and grievous prevarication, allowing that in ourselves that we go to condemn and to stone to death in others. Therefore, since to go to war is to go to punish sin, certainly the time of punishing sin is not a time to sin in.

2. Secondly, from war in respect of God I know not what we reckon of war; peace is His blessing we are sure, and a special favor it is from Him as the Prophets account it, for a land to spend more iron in scythes and plough-shares than in sword-blades or spear-heads.* And if peace be a blessing and a chief of His blessings, we may reduce from thence what war is. To make no otherwise of it than it is, “the rod of God’s wrath,” as Esay termeth it; His “iron flail,”* as Amos; “the hammer of the earth,”* as Jeremy, whereby He dasheth two nations together—one of them must in pieces,* both the worse for it. War is no matter of sport. Indeed I see Abner esteem of it as of a sport: “let the young men rise,” saith he to Joab, “and shew us some sport.”* But I see the same Abner before the end of the same chapter weary of his sport, and treating with Joab for an end of it; “How long shall the sword devour,”* saith he, “shall it not be bitterness in the end?” So it may be “sport” in the beginning; it will be “bitterness in the end,” if it hold long. War then being God’s rod, His fearful rod, and that so fearful that King David though a warrior too, when both were in his choice, preferred the plague before it and desired it of the twain; when God’s hand with this rod, this His fearful rod, is over us, to be so far from fear and all due regard as then not to shun sin any whit the more, but to fall to it as fast as ever; it cannot be but a high contempt, yea a kind of defiance and despite then to do it: “Do we provoke the Lord to anger, are we stronger than He?”* Then since war is God’s rod, choose some other time; under the rod sin not, then forbear it. Certainly that time is no time to sin.

3. The rather, for that sin it is and the not keeping from sin, but our keeping to it and with it, that hath made this rod and put it into His hand. For sure it is, that for the transgression of a people, God suffereth these “divisions of Reuben”* within; God stirreth up the spirit of Princes abroad to take peace from the earth, thereby to chasten men by paring the growth of their wealth with this His “hired razor;”* by wasting their strong men, the hand of the enemies eating them up; by making widows and fatherless children, by other like consequents of war. If then our sins common unto us with other nations, and that our unthankfulness peculiar to us alone have brought all this upon us; if this enemy have stirred up these enemies, if war be the sickness and sin the surfeit, should we not at least-wise now while the shivering fit of our sins is upon us, diet ourselves a little and keep some order? But1 “drink iniquity as water,” and distemper ourselves as though we were in perfect state of health?* Shall we make our disease desperate, and hasten our ruin by not containing from sin that hath cast us in it? Know we what time this is? Is this a time of sin? Certainly, we cannot devise a worse. In the time of war it is high time to “keep us from sin.”

4. But above all, which will touch us nearest, and therefore again and again must be told us over, that the safe and speedy coming again of them that now go forth, whose prosperity we are to seek with all our possible endeavors—that their good speed dependeth upon God’s going forth with them; and God’s going or staying dependeth very much upon this point. Most certain it is the event of war is most uncertain. When Benhadad went forth with an army that “the dust of Samaria was not enough to give every one in his camp a handful,” it was told him and he found it true, Ne glorietur accinctus, &c. “He that buckleth on his armor must not boast as he that puts it off.”* They that fight can hardly set down what name the place shall have that they fight in; it may be the valley of Achor, that is “sorrow,”* by reason of a foil, as that of Joshua; it may be the valley of Berachah, that is “blessing,” by means of a victory, as that of Jehoshaphat.* All is as God is, and as He will have it. Once, twice, and thrice, by David, by Solomon, by Jehoshaphat, we are told it that “it is neither sword nor bow,”* “it is neither chariot nor horse,”* “it is neither multitude nor valor of an host will serve;”* “but that the battle is God’s,” and He giveth the upper hand.* We need not be persuaded of this, we all are persuaded I hope, and we say with Moses, “If Thy Presence go not with us, carry us not hence.”* Then if we shall need God’s favor and help in prospering our journey, and to make that sure which is so uncertain, it will stand us in hand to make sure of Him in this, this needful time, and to keep Him sure if it may be. For if He keep with the host, and take their parts, Rebelles tui erunt quasi nihil, saith Esay; and “these smoking tails of firebrands”* shall quickly be quenched.* But if God either go not with them, or retire from them, if there were among them but naked or wounded men—what speak I of men? if but frogs or flies—they shall be sufficient to trouble them.

Now then we are at the point. For if we will have hold of God, make Him sure, be certain of Him, we must break with sin needs. Sin and Satan are His enemies, and no fellowship nor communion, no concord, no agreement, no part,* no portion between them. If we will draw Him into league, we must profess ourselves enemies unto His enemies, that He may do the like to ours. At one and the same time enter as an outward war with wicked rebels, so an inward hostility with our wicked rebellious lusts. For that if we keep ourselves from the one, He will keep us from the other, and these being suppressed those shall not be able to stand. Thus doing, “the sword of the Lord shall be with the sword of Gideon:”* God shall be with us, Ithiel; and we shall prevail, Ucal.* For where Ithiel is, Ucal will not be away. But if we will needs hold on our league with hell, and continue our wonted intercourse with wickedness still, and go forth unto it when it beckons or calls, and be so far from keeping from it that we keep it as the apple of our eye, and cherish it between our breasts; if we retain the mark of it in our very foreheads, and the price of it in the skirts of our garment; for not keeping from it He will keep from us, and withdraw His help from us, and put us clean out of His protection.

Therefore, without keeping from sin there is no keeping God, out of Whose keeping there is no safety.

This advice being so full of behoof, so agreeable to reason and religion both, so every way for their and for our good, it remaineth we set ourselves to think of it and keep it. “Every one returning to his own heart, to know there,” as Solomon saith, “his own plague,”* even the sins wherewith he hath grieved God, and to make a covenant with himself, from henceforth more carefully to stand upon his guard, and not to go forth to sin or entertain it as a friend, but to repute it as an enemy and to keep him from it.

First, for the term of keeping. “When thou goest forth against thy enemy,” go forth against sin. We should indeed go forth against sin, and practice those military impressions that are done in camp against the enemy; give it the assault, annoy it, pursue it, never leave it till we have driven it away. These we should do against it. But the Scripture “offereth more grace;”* and bids us, if we list not go forth against it, only not to go forth to it, but keep ourselves, that is, stand upon our defence, to keep good watch, that it surprise us not, that it “get not dominion over us:” do but this against sin,* and it shall suffice.

But this must extend to all wickedness. Wherein yet we do humanum dicere propter infirmitatem nostram, “speak after the manner of men because of our infirmity;”* retching this all no further than human infirmity, than the frailty of our nature will bear, than this corruptible flesh wherewith we are compassed, and this corrupt world in the midst whereof we live, will suffer and give us leave. In the body, we put a difference between the soil which by insensible evacuations goeth from our bodies, keep we ourselves never so carefully, and that which is drawn forth by chafing or sweat, or otherwise gotten by touching such things wherewith we may be defiled. That cannot be refrained, this falleth within restraint. And even so, there is a soil of sin that of itself vapoureth from our nature, let the best do his best. I say not, we should keep ourselves from this, but from provoking it by suffering our minds to wander in it; by not keeping our ears from such company, and our eyes from such occasions, as will procure it, as the Prophet speaketh, “by putting the stumbling-block of iniquity before our faces.” From that by the help of God we may keep ourselves well enough.* From sins lighting upon our thoughts it is impossible, it cannot be; but from making there a nest or hatching ought, that we are willed to look to, and that by God’s grace we may. And the word that Moses useth here דבר רע is not without a dixit at least in corde; not without a saying within us, This or that I will do. It must be dictum, or condictum, ‘said to,’ and ‘said yea to,’ or else it is not דבר רע. The heart not resolving or saying content, but keeping itself from going forth to any act; though wickedness be not kept from us because of the temptation, yet we are kept from it because of the repulse; and with that will Moses be content at our hands as our estate now is.

But with these provisos. We say generally, They that go forth keep from all; from all such both deeds and words as justly may be censured to be wickedly, either spoken or done. Words, I say, as well as deeds. For the word דבר bears both. And indeed, if in good words as in prayers there be force to help, I make no question but in wicked words, as blasphemies, irreligious sayings, jocis fulmine dignis, there is force also to do mischief. Therefore keep from all; all those especially, as very reason will lead us, which have been the ruin of armies in former times; a view whereof we may take when we will out of Liber bellorum Domini, “the Book of God’s battles.”*

Wicked words first. Presumptuous terms of trust in our own strength; “I will go, I will pursue and overtake, I will divide the spoil”—Pharaoh’s words,* the cause of his perishing and all his host. To keep them from that. Rabshakeh’s blackmouthed blasphemy; “Let not Hezekiah cause you to trust in God over much”*—the eminent cause of the overthrow of the host of Ashur. To keep them from that.

And if from words, from wicked works much rather. Achan’s sin, that is sacrilege; Anathema in medio tui, non poteris stare coram hostibus tuis, God’s own words to Joshua,*—the cause of the army’s miscarrying before Ai. To keep them from that wickedness. Such shameful abuses as was that at Gibeah;*—the expressed cause of the destruction of a whole tribe. To keep them from that. Profaning holy vessels or holy places with unholy usage;*—the ruin of Belshazzar, and with him of the whole Chaldean monarchy. To keep themselves from that. Corrupting our compassion, and “casting off pity quite,” and spilling blood like water;*—the sin of Edom, and the cause he took such a foil as he was never a people since. To keep them from that wickedness. From these and from the rest, you shall have a time to read them, I have not to speak them. Arming themselves with a mind to cease from sin, keeping their vessels holy; having pay wherewith they may be content, and being content with their pay; et neminem concutientes, saith St. John Baptist;* not being torrentes Belial, “land-floods of wickedness.”* Or if this will not be that private conformity will not keep them, at least that public authority do it; that kept they may be one way or other from it. If Achan will so far forget himself as “to sin in the execrable thing;” or Zimri to play the wretch,* and abuse himself in the camp; let Joshua find out Achan, and see him have his due; and Phinehas follow Zimri, and reward him for his desert. That the ravine of the one, and the villany of the other be removed as it is committed, and so kept from polluting and pulling down God’s wrath upon the whole host. For sure it is, “Phinehas’* standing up and executing judgment” hath the force of a prayer no less than Moses’ “standing in the gap” to make intercession,* and both alike forcible to turn away God’s anger and to remove evil from the midst of Israel.

This advice is to take place as in them that go, as before hath been touched, so in us likewise that stay at home; that what the one build the other destroy not. Not by Moses’ exercise of prayer and incessant prayer,* or Jehoshaphat’s exercise of fasting and abstinence; both are out of the compass of the text; but that which is in it, by turning from sin to God, and that with a serious not shallow, and an inward not hollow repentance. Not confessing our sins to-day and committing them to-morrow; but every one saying, Dixi custodiam, “I have said, I will henceforth more narrowly look to my ways,”* at least while the sound of war is in our ears. Thinking with ourselves it is now war, it is now no time to offend God, and separate between Him and us in this needful time of His help and protection, by entering into that good and virtuous consideration of Uriah’s; “The Ark of the Lord and all Israel and Judah dwell in tents,* Joab and the servants of our sovereign abide in the open fields,” and shall we permit ourselves as much as we would in the time of peace, and not conform ourselves in abridging some part of our wonted liberty, and forbearing to enjoy the “pleasures of sin for a season?”* To conclude, if we shall, or when we shall be tempted to any of our former sins, to think upon God’s own counsel, even God’s own counsel from God’s own mouth, memento belli et ne feceris,* ‘to remember the camp and not to do it;’ to think upon them in the fields and their danger, and for their sakes and for their safeties to forbear it.

Thus, if we shall endeavor ourselves and eschew our own wickedness, our hosts shall go forth in the strength of the Lord, and the Lord shall go with them and order their attempts to an happy issue.

He that made our foreign enemies “like a wheel”* to go round about us, and not to come near us, shall make these “as stubble before the wind;” causing fear and faintness of heart to fall upon them as upon Midian; sending “an evil spirit”* of dissension among them,* as upon Abimelech and the men of Shechem; causing their own woods to devour them, as rebellious Absalom;* and their own waters to sweep them away, as it did Sisera; yea, “the stars of Heaven, in their course to fight against them,”* as under Deborah’s conduct He did. Many such things are with Him, many such He hath done and can do again, if to our going forth we join a going from sin.

Even so Lord, so let it be. Those whom thou now carriest forth by Thy mercy, bring them back by Thy might in this place, the place of Thy holy habitation. That Deborah may praise Thee for the avenging of Israel,* and for the people that offer themselves so willingly;” for letting her ear hear,* and her eye see the fall of the wicked that rise up against her; that she may praise Thee, and say, “The Lord liveth,* and blessed be my strong help, and praised be the God of my salvation.”

“Even the God that seeth I be avenged, and subdueth the people unto me. It is He that delivereth me from my cruel enemies, and setteth me up above all my adversaries.”*

Great prosperity giveth He unto His hand-maid, “and sheweth still and continually His loving-kindness to His anointed.”* Praised be the Lord for evermore!

To this God, “glorious in holiness, fearful in power, doing wonders,”* the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, &c.[1]

 

 

1 shall we

* Ps. 106:30.

[1] Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 1, pp. 321–337). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)

 

Mirales of Power

Mirales of Power

Miracles of Power

Matt. 8:27

“What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

This is our third sermon on our Lord’s miracles as illustrating the doctrines of His sacred Person and office. And we have to notice in it another class of those wonderful works, not indeed wholly distinct from those which have already come before us, but distinct in their leading features and character. The two miracles in our Gospel to-day are emphatically instances of His Power. Not that the power shewn in turning water into wine, in cleansing the leper, in healing the centurion’s servant, was one whit less than that exerted in the stilling of the storm, and in the casting out the legion of devils at Gergesa: but that in the former miracles, Love and Mercy seem to stand out as the prominent features, whereas here, above all other things, the sense of almighty Power is carried irresistibly into our minds as we read. And such seems to have been the impression made on the beholders in each case. The men in the ship exclaimed, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” The Grergesenes besought Him to depart out of their coasts;—fearing the presence of one so mighty, and whose might had been shewn in a manner working them worldly loss.

We will then treat these miracles to-day mainly in this light—as proofs of His power: but not only so—we will also take up and turn to account such other incidental lessons from them as occur by the way while we proceed.

Our Lord had been all day speaking that great series of parables, opening with the parable of the Sower, which we find in Matt. 13, five chapters after this in which our narrative occurs. It would appear, that St. Matthew does not relate these events in their order. For we are positively told by St. Mark that this miracle took place on the evening of the day when all those parables were spoken. Our Lord was wearied out with the long day’s teaching, probably in the heat and glare of the beach of the lake. We see from the minute and beautiful touches in St. Mark’s narrative, how the multitudes had been for some days pursuing Him about, eager for His teaching and healing, till that frame which, though it bore the Divinity, was itself limited and liable to exhaustion, was well nigh crushed with toil: till his near relations, seeing His unsparing exertions, came out to lay hold on Him, thinking that He was beside himself, carried away by self-sacrificing enthusiasm. “Let us cross,” He said to his disciples, “to the other side of the lake.” They embarked in the boat, probably Simon Peter’s, which He commonly used, other small boats also accompanying them. St. Mark adds, “they took Him with them in the boat as He was,” without any preparation, perhaps even too weary to take refreshment. They spread for Him in the stern the cushions commonly used on the rowers’ benches, and, exhausted as He was, He laid him down, and slept the sleep of the weary. I have enlarged on this scene, that we may have the whole blessed truth of the matter vividly before us. Behold him in his humanity;—handle him in your thoughts, and see that it is He himself. This is indeed no pretended man; no god in disguise, as the heathens sometimes fabled of in their legends. Nay this is a veritable human frame, worn out with toil: not a form assumed for an apparition of thirty years on earth, but the form, as indissolubly united to the Person of him who bore it, as this of mine, and these of yours, are united to each of us. And observe, that in its union, it is very man: not, except at special times when He pleased, lifted up to superhuman capacity by the indwelling Godhead, not ordinarily able to endure without fatigue, to subsist without food, to renovate itself without sleep: but as was necessary for the Bearer of man’s infirmities, for the Sympathizer with man’s troubles, for the great Consoler of all who need consolation, like his brethren in all things, with one only most necessary and most teaching exception.

And so He sleeps on: and the oars plash regularly in the falling twilight, till at length one quarter of the sky gathers darker than is wont, and suddenly there bursts down on the inland sea from its bordering valleys one of those squalls of wind, well known as the chief perils of all lake navigation. The tempest quickly, in those confined spaces, lashes the water into fury: the little vessel labors among the breakers, which begin dashing over her sides, and she is soon rapidly filling. Still, the weary passenger sleeps. So, and yet not so, did Jonah sleep in the sides of the ship, when he was fleeing from the face of God: for there may be deep sleep of different kinds. One may be calm in danger from apathy or unbelief, and another from blessed faith and reliance. Shall we not say of this Sleeper, that his slumber was deep and undisturbed, because it never had been broken by the start of guilt, or the working thoughts of terror? Shall we not feel that the beautiful words of our Poet are true of Him only,—

“He feared no danger, for He knew no sin?”

Such was the manhood of the Lord in its infirmity and in its perfection: in its weakness, and in its strength.

But meanwhile the disciples are filled with terror. Their boat is beginning to sink: and He, who they knew could save them, is all unconscious of their common danger. They awake him with something of reproach: “Master, Master, carest thou not that we perish?” It is not as it was to Jonah, “Awake, thou sleeper, and call upon thy God:” they know thus much, that He has power to save them: but they wonder that that power should not have been exerted before it came to this. Their call to Him is variously given by the Evangelists; as above,—or as in the gospel for this Sunday, “Lord, save us: we perish;” or as by St. Luke, “Master, master, we perish.” “The sense is the same in all,” says St. Augustine; “in all, they wake the Lord, and beseech Him to save them; nor is it worth our while to enquire, which of these contains the actual words said to Christ rather than the others. For whether they used any one of these three expressions, or some other words which none of the Evangelists has related, but amounting to the same verity of meaning, what has it to do with the matter in hand?” It had been well, if these remarks had always been borne in mind by those who compare the gospels one with another; they would have ensured its being done more in the freedom of the spirit, and not so much in the bondage of the letter.

The Lord is not slow to answer to their cry, though He reproaches them as being of little faith. They who had seen so many of His wonderful works, and who knew the love which He had for them, should have known also that He was not one whose power could be in this manner taken at a disadvantage, or whose care for His own could be thus defeated. But none of us, my brethren, can say that their conduct was not natural. I fear we all are of little faith: for I am sure we should all have done likewise. In the account in St. Matthew’s gospel, this rebuke of His comes before the act of power: in St. Mark and St. Luke, it follows it. Whether it went before or followed, the certainty that it was given, and the lesson in it for us, are the same.

But now let us fix our attention on that which was done: for surely we are reading a narrative which stands alone in the history of our world. This man who, but a moment since, was fast asleep from weariness, rose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still.” We all know the effect of a sudden lull in the raving of the storm: the perfect peace which seems to take the place of the war of the elements: the sense of thankfulness and surprise with which we look abroad into the stillness. What then must this have been, when it was the instantaneous effect of the command of a human voice? “There was a great calm.” No ordinary calm: not as usual after the cessation of a tempest, the waves still tossing with their disquiet, but half-appeased; but the lake became as in the calm of the breathless noon,—it instantaneously put on the glassy surface of the misty morn, or the long level lines of the solemn twilight. As before, in the Lord’s first miracle, nature was silently endowed with powers not her own,—her slow processes anticipated,—her ordinary requirements superseded: so now, at His spoken word, her own powers are suspended, and their exercise forbidden. And as in that case imagination fails to trace the procedure of the creative act, so here of the repressive. We hear the wind, and cannot tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth: but He knows: the necessity that there is for the air to rush hither and thither, filling up its void places,—where this exists, and why, He has it all in his thoughts: and what He commands, He works also. It was not in sober reality, as the wondering shipmen expressed it: the winds and the sea were not animated beings, who heard and obeyed, so that He should have no part in that which was done, but to command it;—far otherwise: it was all His doing. He who spoke was present in the far-off mountain passes whence the winds issued forth: He made the gathering eddies stand still, and stanched the pouring mist. The result was seen, the workmanship was hidden. He worked as God ever works: His ways were in the vast deep, and His path in the trackless air; the great calm, the accomplishment of that which was done, was the least thing that was wrought;—was but the token, that God had passed by, and nature was silent.

And so, my brethren, we have our blessed Lord in His weakness and in His strength: in His weariness as man, and His unwearyingness as God: in His tired sleep, and in His unslumbering watchfulness. “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Turn we now to another aspect of His glorious Person and office. “They came to the other side, into the land of the Gergesenes.” It was a land of limestone cliffs, pierced, as not uncommonly, into hollow caves, which were used in that country for the burying-places of the dead. Dwelling in those tombs, disputing possession with the wild beasts of the wilderness, were two creatures scarcely human, though bearing the forms of men. On one of these wretched ones is our attention specially concentrated. Terrible indeed is the description of him by the Evangelists: “When He was come out of the ship, immediately there met Him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit, who had his dwelling among the tombs, and no man could tame him, no not with chains; because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And he wore no clothes; but always night and day he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.” Was ever description more wild and fearful?

And as it is the most dreadful of its whole class, so let us take it as a type of the whole class, and ask ourselves, what was this which is here spoken of—this possession by evil spirits? And observe, that I am not now going into the general enquiry, which is a very wide one; but am asking the question with a view to our Lord Himself—His truth, His mercy, and His power. I may simply then and in a word say that whoever believes in Him at all, must also believe in the existence and agency of both good and evil spirits. For it is again and again certified to us both by His words and by His actions. There is no getting over this, or explaining it away. If such men as these, and the rest on whom his miracles wore wrought, were not possessed by devils at all, but were only madmen,—and if He, in what He said and did, was only countenancing a popular delusion, why then I say, all trust in Him and in His words, is gone: He was no true Teacher, no pure and sinless Savior: for He must have acted and spoken dangerous and blasphemous falsehoods. I speak thus strongly, to shew you how vain is the attempt to separate these cases from Himself and his teaching. Reject them, if you like: but you reject Him with them. Doubt and disbelieve, if you will, the existence of an unseen spiritual world about us and in us; but in doing so you doubt and disbelieve Him by whose holy Name you are called, and to whom you owe all you have both here and hereafter.

Well then, with this caution, we will speak as we believe, and simply assume the fact as certain, that these men were, or rather this man,—seeing that the second bears no prominent part,—was the wretched victim of possession by devils, the peculiar disease and burden of that age of the world. Evil spirits had entered into and taken possession of him. They used his voice, his thoughts, his limbs, for their unholy purposes. He was not his own master, but their slave. And this miserable state gave rise to a sort of double personality, not altogether unknown, be it observed, to those even now who study the more desperate forms of insanity. In this condition, while the man sometimes besought for deliverance, the demon broke in with his superhuman confessions that Jesus was the Son of God. We have this latter feature in the history before us. The evil spirits know the Son of God: and through the voice of their victim they pray Him not to torment them before the time. They know His lordship over them—they know that a day is coming, when He will adjudge their everlasting doom. Among the doctrines regarding His Person, notice this well. He is Lord of heaven and earth and hell:—of the evil spirits, as well as of His holy angels:—and He is their judge, and will pronounce their sentence in the end.

And now, for I deny it not, we come to matters of detail, strange, and passing our comprehension. The request on the part of the devils that they might not be sent out of the country,—or not into the deep,—but into the swine,—the permission given,—the destruction of the herd,—all this has time out of mind furnished ground of cavil to the unbeliever, and of reverent question to the enquiring Christian. But what wonder if we find ourselves out of our depth, when introduced but for a moment into the spirit world, of which we know absolutely nothing by any research or experience of our own? Rather should we receive such notices as these as each lifting some portion of the veil which hides that world from us, and teaching us by analogy how to think and judge of it. For instance, we are at least informed by this narrative, that certain evil spirits were then suffered to abide, tempting men, in certain portions of the earth; we see that the grosser animal nature, as well as that of men, is able to receive their attacks and incursions:—and we gather that it pleased our Lord, for reasons no doubt understood and sufficient at the time, to permit this to take place, and to destroy the swine in the waters. Among such reasons at once occurs to us this;—that the fact may have furnished more perfect assurance to the restored man himself, and to the neighborhood around, of his complete deliverance: and as it has well been said, what wonder that He who ordains that myriads of animals should daily be slaughtered for the sustenance of men’s bodies, should on this occasion have permitted the destruction of a few, for the better health of their souls?

But let us now turn to another and a very different spectacle, to him that had had the legion, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind. O blessed result! blessed, in the fact itself; blessed, in the lesson which it echoes onwards through the ages of Time. Yes, my brethren, even thus it is that every one of us must fare at His hands, if we would be healed and live. We, thank God, have fallen in other times than those. His blessed Gospel, next to His holy Presence, has won its way on earth. He subdued the enemy for us—He saw him as lightning fall from heaven; and the softening and humanizing influences of his descended Spirit have followed. But there is a Satanic possession of which the world is not rid, and never will be, till He comes to judge it. We were all born in sin, and children of wrath; and though in Christ’s church we have become the children of grace, yet is the old Adam not thoroughly driven out; yet is the law of sin still found active in our members, and furnishing material for our spiritual enemy to work on:—yet are we in that divided state, that the good which we would do, that we cannot: and the evil which we would not, that we do: even yet is the best of us in that condition which forced from the great Apostle that exceeding bitter cry, “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Who, but He that rebuked the winds and the waves, and there was a great calm,—who but He that changed the fierce demoniac into a humble disciple,—He of whom the Apostle spoke, when he replied to his “who shall deliver,” with “I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord?”

O Thou Stiller of the tempest, Thou Conqueror of the enemy for us, hear us, and save! In all time of our tribulation: in all time of our wealth: in the hour of death and in the day of judgment, good Lord, deliver us.[1]

 

 

[1] Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 108–119). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

A Cross and Crooked Generation

A Cross and Crooked Generation

A Cross and Crooked Generation

Psalm 78:34

When He slew them, then they sought Him; and they returned, and enquired early after God.

This Psalm is a calendar or roll of reports, how from Moses to David the Jews carried themselves to God in matter of religion. And this verse a report how in the matter of repentance, expressed here under the terms of seeking and turning to God. Wherein this they did, this was their fashion: while He spared them, they sought Him not; “When He slew them, then they sought Him.” Cum, &c. These words then are a report.

A report; but such an one as when St. Paul heard of the Corinthians, he could not commend it. “What shall I say? Shall I praise you in this? No; I praise you not.”* Neither he them for that, nor I these for this. Rather, as old father Eli said to his sons;* Non est bonus sermo hic quem audio de vobis, “this is no good report I hear,” cum occideret, &c.

Whether good or whether evil it pertaineth to us. For to us of the Gentiles hath St. Paul entailed whatsoever well or ill befell the dissolved Church of the Jews. These, “all these came unto them for examples, and are enrolled to warn us that grow nearer and nearer to the ends of the world.”*

Both pertain unto us, the Scripture hath both; and in it draweth out our duty to us in both, in good and evil reports—as it were in white work and black work. And we to have use of both; yet not of both reports alike, but diversely, as our instructions upon them are diverse. For we are not so much to regard the bare report, as the instruction of it. For which cause Asaph hath entitled this Psalm, not Asaph’s report, but Asaph’s “instruction.”

Now we have here our report. May we find what our instruction is touching it? We may. Asaph expressly hath set it down in the eighth verse before. That this and other errors of theirs are here upon the file, ne fiant sicut patres eorum,* “that we should not be like our forefathers, a cross and crooked generation.” Not like them in other indignities, and among other in this cum occideret, &c. Never to seek God but when He kills us.

In which foul indignity our age is certainly as deep as ever was that, and we need Asaph’s instruction no less than they.

For as if there were no use of religion, but only cum occideret, so spend we all our whole time in the search of other things. Not caring to ask, or seek, or confer about the state of our souls, even till occideret come. And then, peradventure, sending for Asaph, and hearing him speak a few words about it, which we would fain have called seeking of God. I can say little to it, I pray God it prove so; but sure, I fear, it will be found minus habens, “far short of it.”*

Which is so usually received that, take a survey, not one of an hundred ever think of it before. So securely practised, as if we had some supersedeas lying by us, not to do it till then. As if there were no such Scripture as this upon record; “which turned to their destruction,” and must needs lie heavy upon us, when we shall remember it. Cum occideret, &c.

Now sure, this course must needs be prejudicial to our souls, and a number perish in it daily before our eyes. Yet we sit still, and suffer this custom to grow and gather head. Neither delivering their souls, or at least our own, by telling them seriously this is not the time, and then to seek is not the seeking God will allow. That this is a ne fiant, “such a thing as should not be done in Israel.” That it is upon record πρὸς ἐντροπὴν, to their disgrace and destruction. And it cannot be to our comfort or commendation to do the like. Out of which their destruction, Asaph frameth an instruction for us; and as it is well said and fitly to this day, ex cinere Judæorum lixivium Christianorum, ‘of the Jews’ ashes maketh a lye1 for Christians,’ to cleanse us from this foul indignity. Ut videntes cadentes, videant ne cadant, ‘that heeding their fall, we take heed we fall not;’ that is, seek not as they sought, lest we perish by like example of seeking too late.

Therefore, that we set ourselves to seek before this cum come; that is, in a word, seek God, as by repentance and the fruits, so by undelayed repentance, and the timely fruits of it; and be not like the Apostle Jude’s δένδρα φθινοπωρινὰ, our seeking all summer withered and dry,* and beginning to shoot out a little about Michaelmas spring. Of which kind of shooting fruit can never come. This is the sum.

The words consist of two parts. Two parts; but these two evil matched, or as St. Paul “unequally yoked together.”* For where our chief actions, of which I take it our seeking of God is one, should have the chiefest time; here is the first and best of our actions sorted with the last and worst part of our time. Quærebant Eum with cum occideret.

And not only missorted, but misplaced. For cum occideret, “His killing” standeth before “our seeking;” whereas our seeking should be first, and His killing come after. This was never God’s fiant, they must have a ne fiant.

Of these two then. First by way of report jointly that de facto thus it is—thus they, and thus we seek.

Then if we take them in sunder, and as Jeremy saith “separate the precious from the vile,”* quærebant Eum the flower of our actions, from cum occideret, the dross, dregs, and very refuse of our time. Consider them apart, and shew, 1. That this time is not the time; 2. and that this seeking thus sorted and thus placed is no seeking, nor ever shall find. Therefore, with Asaph’s instruction, to settle our seeking upon some other time, and to resolve to begin it before.

Two powers there are in cum; 1. a privative, of all times before; 2. a positive, of that instant time then. No time before we seek, at that instant time then we do. On which two consisteth theatrum vitæ, ‘the very theatre of our life.’ Our case before that time is lively expressed in the words immediately precedent; “They spend their days in vanity, and their years in turmoil in the world.”* Our case then at that time in these words, cum occideret eos. Yea, by implication they are both in this verse; by what they do now is implied what they did before. 1. Now “they sought Him,” so that before they lost Him. 2. Again, then “they turned to;” so that before they turned away, and not once looked toward Him. 3. Now “they rose up early,” so that before they put it off till twilight. 4. Now “they remembered,” so that before they forgat Him clean—no speech, no question, nay no thought about Him.

Thus it was, saith Asaph, under Moses. While His hand was not upon them, they regarded Him not, as not worth the seeking; perdebant Eum, it was their losing time. But “when He slew them,” they fell to seek, and well was he that might find; quærebant Eum, is was their seeking time.

Before, quærebant alia, ‘they found themselves other matters more meet to seek.’ Then quærebant Eum, “they gave over all to seek Him only.”

Before He sought them; and they gave Him good leave so to do. Then all is turned out and in. As He them before, so they Him now.

And is it not thus with us that are now in theatro, ‘upon the stage?’ Yes indeed; and more, if more may be. This is but vetus fabula per novos histriones, ‘the same play again by other actors.’ For in public, when in the days of safety plenty and peace, we are in the sixth of Amos,* and are best at ease when quærebant is farthest from us; but if war, famine, or contagion come, then we run to the second of Joel, “Sanctify a fast,”* and call for the Ark, and grow all godly on a sudden. What is this but cum occideret? And in private, when while youth and strength and health doth last, while the evil day is far off, we are even at cessare fac Sanctum Israel a nobis, “cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from us;”* but when distress, danger, or death come, when Rabshakeh is before the walls, then we cry, “Now is the day of tribulation and anguish; now the children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to be delivered.”* Now send to Esay, “Now lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.” What is this but cum occideret? Surely this is our case; our seeking goeth wholly by our killing—waxeth and waneth, is out and in, as that is near at hand or farther off. I need not tell it, your ears and eyes are daily witnesses that this is a true saying, cum occideret Eos, &c. No killing, no seeking.

“This is a true saying,” but all true sayings are not by all means, nay some not by any means, “to be received.” The report indeed is, thus it was. But the instruction is ne fiant,* “that it should not be.” To the end then we may know what to receive and what to refuse, we will take it in pieces, and melt the dross from the silver metal. Quærebant Eum, by itself is good. Put occideret to it, it is base. Of these then in order.

Of quærebant Eum we shall soon agree, if it be quærebant Eum, that it is a fiat, ‘a thing to be done.’ Which many other ways might be made to appear, but by none better than this here; that at last all come to it. Sooner or later all seek it, all men if not before yet cum occideret, then certainly.

All seek; and among all “they” sought, which word is not without his weight here. For what are these that Asaph here meaneth by “they?” Not saints, not generatio quærentium, “the generation of them that seek God.” But “they”* that in the verse before “wasted all their days in vanity, and their years in turmoiling in the world.” “They,”* idle, riotous persons—“they” sought.

“They” that in a verse after “flattered Him with their lips,” and gave Him all the good words that might be,* and meant no such thing. The hypocrites, “they” sought.

“They” that a little before “grievously provoked the Most High God” with speeches little better than blasphemy; “can God do this? Is there a God amongst us,”* or is there none? And so, instead of quærebant Deum, quærebant an Deus, ‘made a question, whether there were any to seek.’ That is, even the very wicked, and of all wicked the worst, the profane atheists, “they” sought—even at last “they” sought. This is the triumph of religion; the riotous person, the hypocrite, the atheist, all shall seek.

And herein is folly condemned even of her own children, and wisdom justified of her very enemies; that they that greedily seek sin, at last would be glad to be rid of it, and they that merrily scorn religion at last are glad to seek to it.

“They” shall seek; and the time is set down when they shall seek, and when you shall not fail but see them seek that never sought before. In diebus juventutis, not then. Sanus factus est, nor then neither; but cum occideret, then certainly. Cum occideret, mark this cum when it cometh, and you shall see them that stood out all their life long then come in.

The heathen man saw it with his eyes. O, saith the Persian messenger in Æschylus, when the Grecian forces hotly pursued our host, and we must needs venture over the great water Strymon, frozen then but beginning to thaw, when an hundred to one we had all died for it—that is, cum occideret, with mine eyes I saw saith he,* when Θεοὺς δέ τις, &c. Of those gallants whom I had heard before so boldly maintain there was no God to seek; τότʼ ἤυχετο λιταῖσι, ‘then every one of them on their knees, and full devoutly praying the ice might hold till they got over.’ Moses saw it with his eyes. Pharaoh,* who was at high terms, “Who is the Lord you talk of?” and answered himself, “he knew none such,” nor nothing would do for Him:—when cum occideret came, he took notice there was a Lord higher than he; “that that Lord was righteous, and he a wretched sinner”* that sought for grace at His hands. Mark but the shutting up of dixit insipiens, their own Psalm. When,* saith David, they have in heart sought to persuade themselves, non est—seek none, “none there is;”* and thereupon “corrupted themselves,” and became most loathsome in their lives, “eat up their tenants as they would do so many morsels of bread;” made a mock of such holy men as set themselves seriously to seek God: when all is done and occideret come, trepidabunt timore ubi non erat timor, “they shall begin to be afraid, where they held before no fear needed;” and here shall be the last verse of their Psalm; quis dabit e Sion salutem, “to wish for the salvation of Sion,” which they have so oft derided. “They shall seek,” and “then they shall seek.” Till then possibly you shall lose your labour, if you tell them of seeking of God, but and how good it is. They are, saith Jeremy, “like the dromedary of the wilderness,”* a beast of exceeding swiftness, the female specially; “over hill and dale she goeth,” saith the Prophet, “and snuffeth up the air at her pleasure, and who can overtake her? They that seek her will not weary themselves till her month.” And in her month when she is bagged, then they will find her, and deal with her well enough. The case is like. Age, sickness, death, are far off; youth, health, and strength, possess them; there is no coming to them then. The month, cum occideret, is not yet come; but come that once as once it will to all, you shall find quærebant will have his place—fiat. It is therefore God’s own resolution, thus He resolveth: “I will go,” saith He, “and return to My place, till they acknowledge their faults and seek Me.”* And when will that be? He addeth, in novissimo quærent me diligenter, an end will come, and when that cometh “they will seek Me diligently,” even the best of them. And even so we are fain to resolve; for our lot is God’s lot, and when He sought to them, we go to our place, and there stand till their month, expectantes aquæ motum,* waiting till the destroying Angel come and stir the water, and then quærent Eum will be worth the seeking after.

Then, according to St. Paul’s disjunctive,* we that all other times mente excedimus Dco, at that time sobrii sumus vobis. Divinity, which in our ruff1 is sophism and school-points, and at the best a kind of ecstasy about God, is and shall be then, “the words of truth and soberness.”* For God and His seeking will have their time; before if it may be, but if not before, then at the farthest. First or last, all shall confess by seeking God is to be sought. Some before He kill, and happy are they; but “when He killeth,” all;—hypocrites, heathens, atheists, and all.

And I would pray you in a word but to note, in seeking then how many things they confess. For there be I take it four potential confessions in it.

That such an One there is to be sought. A Power above us Whose being and sovereignty all, first or last, shall seek.

That somewhat there is to be found, some good to be done in seeking; as Esay saith, non frustra dixit, “He hath not in vain said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me.”* For were it to no purpose, they would not then do it; but as at other times they did, so let it alone then too.

That whatsoever that good is, hit upon it,* or stumble on it we shall not; it will not be had in parergo, but seek it we must. For without seeking it will not be had. If it would they might sit still, and let it drop into their laps.

That seeking at this time when He slayeth them, they that shew what that good is they seek; even that the Psalmist saith, “Seek the Lord, and your soul shall live;”* that whatsoever become of their body, at least their soul may live; that we may lose not both, that “He kill not both, and cast not both into hell fire.”* And this, even when we come within the hemisphere of the other life, the sense we then have of somewhat that should have been sought before; the misgiving of our hearts, they shall come to a reckoning for not seeking sooner; and this, that not one of us would die suddenly of our good-wills, but have a time to seek God, before we lose ourselves. This, that we desire to die seeking, howsoever we live; all shew certainly it is a fiat, ‘a thing to be done,’ a good thing to seek God, even the enemies of it being judges of it.

So then; quærebant Eum is as it should be. But I add: 1. If it be quærebant, seeking indeed. 2. And if it be quærebant Eum, and not aliud in Eo, seeking, not Him, but somewhat else by Him.

If it be seeking indeed. For they to whom the Prophet Esay said, Si quæritis quærite, “if ye seek, why then do it,” sought so as it seemeth their seeking deserved not the name of seeking. So loosely, so slightly, so slenderly they did it;* as if that they sought were as good lost as found. So sought the party that said, In lectulo quæsivi Quem diligit anima,* that lay in bed and sought. So he that asked our Saviour Quid est veritas? a very good question; and when he had asked it another thing took him in the head and up he rose and went his way before Christ could tell him what it was. Such is our seeking for the most part. Some idle question cast, some table-talk moved, some Quid est veritas,* and go our way—all by the way, in transcursu; and never, as if it were about some matter of special moment, set about it and seek it out indeed.

1. They turned them, saith the text, as if before they sought without so much as turning them about.

2. They rose up, as though before they sat still and sought.

3. They did it early, and did not tarry till cum occideret, the sun were set, and no light to seek by, but their “feet stumbled in the dark mountains.”*

4. They “enquired;” so that before if you had ought to say to them you might, they had nothing to say to you. To seek then is to turn, to rise, to rise early, to enquire after it. O si quæritis, quærite, saith Esay, “the morning cometh, and so doth the night;”* that is, our days spend apace, and we say we will seek; if we will seek, let us once do it indeed.

Secondly, if it be quærebant, and if it be Eum; another point to be rectified. Non vestra sed vos, saith the Apostle, is the right seeking.* Not seek Him for somewhat we would have of Him, but to seek Himself for Himself. It is one thing, say the schools, to seek God for fruition; another to seek Him to make use of Him. One thing, saith Christ,* to seek for the miracle, another for the loaves.* One thing to “seek His face,” another to seek His fingers’ ends. One thing to consult with Him only for conscience, to know and do; another to consult with Him—if it hit our humour to make our advantage of it, if it go against us to set light by it. Such is our seeking for the most part; cum occideret, to have our turn served, to have our health restored, that we may seek Him no longer, but to our former riot again, “and to-morrow may be as yesterday and much more.”*

Seek Him indeed; seek Him for Himself. These two points being agreed of, we shall throughly agree of quærebant Eum. And so much for it, and for our fiat. Now to our ne fiat.

For when we have agreed of our seeking, we have not done. With diligence it would be, and due respect. Our seeking, as all things, the best things under the sun, must have τὴν ὥραν καὶ τὴν χώραν, ‘their due time and place.’* Wherein appeareth the abating power of circumstances,* that they are able to bring down the substances. Namely, of the time; and that mis-timing marreth not only music, but all things else. The thing is right, the cum is wrong, and so all is wrong.

To find out the time, we agree first that as every weighty thing hath, so the seeking of God is to be allowed a time too.

What time is that? Verily, we should do it absolutely, all our life long; quærite faciem Ejus semper. Not when? but when not? without limitation, continually.*

And in this sense we grant cum occideret; then, and at other times too. But not (as Asaph) then, and never till then; so, we deny it.

God indeed is so to be sought, but we cannot so seek Him; other our affairs crave allowance out of our time, and we are well content to yield it largely. Only that God have a set time left when to seek Him. That is but reason; all will yield to it. All grant a cum.

But come to know when that “when” shall be; here we vary first. We cannot be brought to set down any certainty, but love to be left at large. Do it we will, but indeed we cannot shew when; but even Felix his “when,”* ὅταν εὐκαιρήσω, ‘when we have leisure.’ I cannot now stand to seek, saith he; I hope one day to be at leisure to do it, but that day never came.

Urge them, press them “when?” No other resolution but omnis peccator dicit, aliquando Deum sequar sed non modo; ‘sometime still, but not this time.’ Never in the present, but sometime hereafter.

Follow them all along their life, they find not this cum, but put it from one cum to another, till there be none left but only cum occideret, even that very time against which God layeth His exceptions. Every time before we say, nondum tempus, ‘it is not time yet;’ every hour before, nondum venit hora, ‘the hour is not yet come.’

Not to leave God’s seeking thus at random, but to grow to some certainty. I demand, will any time serve? Is God at all times to be found? It is certain not. The very limitation of dum inveniri potest,* sheweth plainly that other times there be wherein seek Him you may, but find Him you shall not.

Then if at all times He is not to be found, we are to make choice of a certain cum, cum inveniri potest, “when He may be found,” and then seek Him.

Many returns there be in the term of our life, many cums; all are reduced to two: 1. cum servaret, and 2. cum occideret. Or if we will needs be wedded to a cum occideret, 1. Cum occideret hostes eorum, 2. not eos; ‘when He scattereth and slayeth our enemies’ and saveth us. One of these two it must needs be.

Cum occideret, it is not. Christ Himself expressly limiteth it before; Dedi ei tempus ad pænitendum, saith He, “I gave her a time to repent.”* What time is that? Lest we might mistake it to be cum occideret, He adds, if we do it not in that time so by Him given, He will “cast us down on our beds,” the beds of affliction and sickness, and there “kill us with death.” So that the time He alloweth us to repent, is before we come thither. For thither we come because we did it not in the time He gave us to do it in. Indeed our bed is not the place: in lectulo quæsivi, “I sought Him in my bed;” quæsivi sed non inveni, “I sought Him but I found Him not.”* The place of slaughter is not the place, nor the time of killing is not the time. We may take that time, but it is not dedi illis, none of “His giving.” The time He giveth us is before we come there.

Then if when He kills us is not it, when He saveth us it is? It is indeed; and a cluster of it, an hour of cum servaret then is better than a vintage, a whole day of cum occideret.

Upon these two the whole Psalm standeth, and the part before sheweth when it should have been. When “He overwhelmed the Egyptians in the sea,”* when “the pillar of the cloud was over,”* when He not only saved them but served them, “raining down manna”* for their need, and giving them quails for their lust;* then was the time with them and then is the time with us.

For sure as we seek God to save us, so He saveth us to seek Him; if when we seek Him we are saved, when we are saved we should seek Him. The time of His saving is the time of our seeking; and one hour then is better than four and twenty.

All that while what seek we? Why, as Jeremy saith,* we do then quærere grandia. Other greater matters we have in hand, matters of more weight than the seeking of God. As if His seeking were some petty business, slightly to be sought, and lightly to be found. Any time good enough for it.

Nay not that, but so evil are we affected to seek Him then, that quærebant is occideret; we indict Him of our death, it is death to do it—as lieve die as seek; it maketh us old, it killeth us before our time. We digest not them that call on us for it, but seek ourselves, as the Apostle speaketh,* Magistros secundum desideria, that may entertain us with speculations of what may be done by miracle at the hour of death; that may give us days and elbow-room enough to seek other things, and to shrink up His seeking into a narrow time at our end, and tell us time enough then. For thus then we reckon; all the time we spend in it we lose the fruit of our life, and the joy of our hearts shall be taken from us. As if the fruit of life were not to find God, or as if any true hearts’ joy God being not found. Call we this our fruit and joy not to seek God? call it not so; lætetur cor quærentium Deum, saith the Holy Ghost, “let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.”* Yea in lachrymis peccatorum, ‘in the very tears of a penitent,’* there is, saith St. Augustine, more sound joy than in risu theatrorum, ‘in all the games the theatre can afford:’ Da Christianum, et scit quid dico. But our taste is turned, and we relish not this seeking. By our flesh-pots we have lived, and by them we will die, and so we do. Lust hath been our life, and we will be buried in the graves of lust; and so we shall, and never know what that joy meaneth, Lætetur cor quærentium Deum.

Cum servaret then will not serve. Nay, cum occideret will scarce serve, it hath much ado; let Him draw His sword and come amongst us. For if, as of His goodness He doth not, He rush not on us at first, but begin with others; if it be cum occideret alios, we seek not. See ye the thirty-first verse: He took away others before their faces, and those not weak or sickly persons, but the goodliest and strongest of all Israel, and least likely to die. Here is occideret. Now did this move? No. See the thirty-second verse: for at this they “sinned yet more,” and went about their seeking never the sooner. It must be cum occideret eos, “themselves,” their own selves, or it will not do it.

Come then to themselves and smite them with the edge, not with the point; with the edge to wound, not with the point to dispatch outright; will that serve? cum cæderet eos, ‘when He wounded them with some mortal sickness the messenger of death, would they seek Him then?’ No: not then, not for all that would they frame to it. For quærebant medicum then, I say, as Asa sought medicos, et non Deum.* Not God and them, but them first; and let God stay till they be gone. And till they give us over, and tell us plainly occideret is now come indeed, no smiting or wounding will send us to seek. So that it is not either 1. cum servaret eos, or 2. cum serviret eis, His saving, or serving us; nay it is not, 3. cum occideret alios, or 4. cum cæderet, ‘His killing others, or wounding us’ with any but our deaths-wound, will do it.

Tandem then, when we are come to the very last cast, our strength is gone, our spirit clean spent, our senses appalled, and the powers of our soul as numb as our senses, when a general prostration of all our powers, and the shadow of death upon our eyes, then something we would say or do which should stand for our seeking; but, I doubt it will not serve. This is the time we allow God to seek Him in.

Is this it? Would we then seek Him when we are not in case to seek any thing else? Would we turn to Him then when we are not able to turn ourselves in our bed? Or, “rise early to seek Him” when we are not able to rise at all? Or “enquire after Him” when our breath faileth us, and we are not able to speak three words together? Neither before, nor with, but even at the end of occideret? No hour but the hour of death?* No time but when He taketh time from us and us from it, et tempus non erit amplius? What shall I say? Shall I commend this seeking, turning, rising, enquiring? No; I cannot commend it either in itself or to any. I commend it not.

That that may be said is this, and it is nothing: true; some one or two of a thousand and ten thousand that have. How then? Shall we not therefore follow our instruction and seek Him before? Nay then,* “some have found and never sought;”—let us not seek Him at all if that will hold. Thus it is: some going a journey have found a purse by the way—it were mad counsel to advise us to leave our money behind upon hope of like hap in ours. No; this is safe and good; though some one or two have found and not sought, yet let us seek for all that. Though some one or two have then sought and found, yet let us seek before. Though some have found a purse in their way, let us not trust to like hap, but carry money with us. This is a privy-door on special favour open to some few. There lieth no way by them. “This is the way,” you have heard, “walk in it and you shall find rest to your souls.”*

To speak then of safe seeking and sure finding, I say, as Asaph saith, it is a ne fiant. This time is not the time Christ giveth us; He assigneth us another. Yea we condemn ourselves in that we would seek to allow it ourselves. If we were put to it to say plainly, “not till He kill me,” it would choke us. We neither have heart nor face, we would not dare to answer so, we dare not avow it. And if it be a ne dicant it is a ne fiant. The time of God’s quærite is primum quærite.* This cum is the last of all our cums; all other before it. First and last are flat ad oppositum. This is not it.

The time of seeking God must be δεκτὸς, such as is meet to be received. This is not: therefore, I hope, we will not offer it God.* If we do, take heed He scorn not this time as He doth their price in Zachary; “A goodly time1 that I have assigned Me.”* Take heed He stand not upon His reputation, as in Malachi, and bid us “offer our service”* at this hour, “to any great man and see, whether he will be content with it,” and not reject both us and our seeking then. This is not, cannot be but a great ne fiant, to offer God that no man is so mean but would take in evil part.

This time is the time when all hypocrites, atheists, tag and rag, come in and seek Him in a sort; and shall not we be confounded to see ourselves in their number? Nay to say that must be said for true it is, It is past the Devil’s time. They be his words, cur ante tempus?* and he seeketh to make them ours, that it is ever too soon to seek God. At the hardest I trust we will not keep time with him.

And to seek Him then is not to seek Him; not quærebant Eum. No; they seek Him not, they “dissemble with Him,” saith Asaph, in the next verse. For when God to try them reprieved them never so little time, they fell to their old bias;* and when as He ceased killing, their seeking was at an end. So are all forced seekings, like to a bow-string brought to his full bent, but remit you never so little it starteth back again.

Nay it is not quærebant, no kindly seeking, but a base ignoble creeping to, without all ingenuity1, when we must either die or do it. Neither χάρις nor κλέος to do it then.

But in very deed it is no “seeking”* at all, as before we defined quærebant to “seek indeed.” There is a diameter between occideret and quærebant, and therefore between it and quærebant Eum. Men cannot then seek; if they must rise up and turn them that must do it, they are not able for their lives to turn or stir themselves to do it. Nay, nor to “enquire.” For what is our “seeking” then? Is it not to lie still on our bed, and suffer a few words to be spoken in our ears? Have a little opiate divinity ministered to our souls, and so sent away? Sure this is rather to be sought than to “seek.” There goeth more to quærebant then thus. We must then “seek” when we are in case to give sentence and to do judgment on ourselves, when we are able to take up our cross before it be laid on us. Quærebant Eum must stand before cum occideret.

Lastly, it would be known what became of this quærebant? What they found that sought thus, and then and not before? “They found not Him,”* the Prophet saith plainly. They go then “with sheep and bullocks,” and all manner of sacrifice, “to seek the Lord; but find Him not, for He hath withdrawn Himself before.”

And justly they find Him not ex lege talionis. God Himself answers them; nay their own hearts answer themselves. Go: whom you have spent your life in seeking, seek to them now. Let them save you at this, whom ye sought at all other times. As for Me, it shall come to pass, as I cried and you would not hear, so you shall cry and seek and shall not find or be heard, saith the Lord.

Yes—they found Him, but with a door shut between Him and them. But what found they? The parable of the ten virgins tells us, which is the Gospel for this Psalm, they found that which we I hope shall never find, a nescio vos.* Where, that we may see that this course is folly and therefore indeed a ne fiant sicut, that which putteth the difference of those that be wise and go in, is that they had sought “and looked to their oil ere the Bridegroom came;”* and those that were foolish and shut out when the Bridegroom was even coming, that is, cum occideret, were to seek their oil then—had not looked to it till then. Nescio vos is their answer, He knoweth them not; they took too short a time to breed acquaintance in. Nescio vos they find that so seek. Profecto ad hoc tonitru, &c. ‘At this clap he that waketh not is not asleep but dead.’

To conclude then with our instruction. If this time and this seeking have so many evil marks, the time so unseasonable, the seeking so many ways to seek; if the success to this seeking be no better but nescio vos, why then ne fiat. If these here were not well advised, if those virgins were foolish, why then ne fiant sicut, “not to be like.”

Secondly, to sever the silver from the dross: the seeking is good, keep it; the time is wrong, change it; either into antequam occideret or into cum servaret. Fiat to the action, ne fiat to the time.

Thirdly, as we confess that there is One to be sought, and that with the turning of a gin1 we cannot have Him when we list, but seek Him we must; that His seeking is worth the while, and that it is not dispatched in a minute, but must have time; so to think His seeking worthy a better, and to allow it a better time than this to do it in.

Fourthly, seeing “yet is the acceptable time,” yet “He may be found,”* yet it is cum servaret, occideret is not yet come—how near it is it is hard to say; our Saviour Christ saith it is quâ horâ nescis,* it may be nearer than we are aware; lest it come upon us before we seek, let us seek before it come upon us. So seeking we shall safely seek; safely seek and surely find God, and with God whatsoever is worth the finding. But, that which we seek, we shall after occideret is past find ourselves in His presence and at His right hand; “in Whose presence is the fulness of joy,”* not as ours here joys half empty; and at “Whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore,” not as ours here for a time and a short time, God knoweth. That which here we seek and cannot find with Him we shall, if we shall here indeed and in due time seek Him by the timely fruits of an undelayed repentance. Almighty God, lighten our minds, kindle our affections, settle our hearts so to seek, &c.[1]

 

 

1 Liter. water impregnated with alkaline salts imbibed from the ashes of wood. Webster.

* Isa. 37:3.

1 i.e. pride. The ruff of their glory. L.’Estrange.

* [ἐκ παρέργου Thucyd. vii. 27.]

* Joh. 18:38.

* Ps. 105:3.

1 [price.]

1 [i.e. ingenuousness.]

* Mat. 25:12.

Psalm 78:34

When He slew them, then they sought Him; and they returned, and enquired early after God.

This Psalm is a calendar or roll of reports, how from Moses to David the Jews carried themselves to God in matter of religion. And this verse a report how in the matter of repentance, expressed here under the terms of seeking and turning to God. Wherein this they did, this was their fashion: while He spared them, they sought Him not; “When He slew them, then they sought Him.” Cum, &c. These words then are a report.

A report; but such an one as when St. Paul heard of the Corinthians, he could not commend it. “What shall I say? Shall I praise you in this? No; I praise you not.”* Neither he them for that, nor I these for this. Rather, as old father Eli said to his sons;* Non est bonus sermo hic quem audio de vobis, “this is no good report I hear,” cum occideret, &c.

Whether good or whether evil it pertaineth to us. For to us of the Gentiles hath St. Paul entailed whatsoever well or ill befell the dissolved Church of the Jews. These, “all these came unto them for examples, and are enrolled to warn us that grow nearer and nearer to the ends of the world.”*

Both pertain unto us, the Scripture hath both; and in it draweth out our duty to us in both, in good and evil reports—as it were in white work and black work. And we to have use of both; yet not of both reports alike, but diversely, as our instructions upon them are diverse. For we are not so much to regard the bare report, as the instruction of it. For which cause Asaph hath entitled this Psalm, not Asaph’s report, but Asaph’s “instruction.”

Now we have here our report. May we find what our instruction is touching it? We may. Asaph expressly hath set it down in the eighth verse before. That this and other errors of theirs are here upon the file, ne fiant sicut patres eorum,* “that we should not be like our forefathers, a cross and crooked generation.” Not like them in other indignities, and among other in this cum occideret, &c. Never to seek God but when He kills us.

In which foul indignity our age is certainly as deep as ever was that, and we need Asaph’s instruction no less than they.

For as if there were no use of religion, but only cum occideret, so spend we all our whole time in the search of other things. Not caring to ask, or seek, or confer about the state of our souls, even till occideret come. And then, peradventure, sending for Asaph, and hearing him speak a few words about it, which we would fain have called seeking of God. I can say little to it, I pray God it prove so; but sure, I fear, it will be found minus habens, “far short of it.”*

Which is so usually received that, take a survey, not one of an hundred ever think of it before. So securely practised, as if we had some supersedeas lying by us, not to do it till then. As if there were no such Scripture as this upon record; “which turned to their destruction,” and must needs lie heavy upon us, when we shall remember it. Cum occideret, &c.

Now sure, this course must needs be prejudicial to our souls, and a number perish in it daily before our eyes. Yet we sit still, and suffer this custom to grow and gather head. Neither delivering their souls, or at least our own, by telling them seriously this is not the time, and then to seek is not the seeking God will allow. That this is a ne fiant, “such a thing as should not be done in Israel.” That it is upon record πρὸς ἐντροπὴν, to their disgrace and destruction. And it cannot be to our comfort or commendation to do the like. Out of which their destruction, Asaph frameth an instruction for us; and as it is well said and fitly to this day, ex cinere Judæorum lixivium Christianorum, ‘of the Jews’ ashes maketh a lye1 for Christians,’ to cleanse us from this foul indignity. Ut videntes cadentes, videant ne cadant, ‘that heeding their fall, we take heed we fall not;’ that is, seek not as they sought, lest we perish by like example of seeking too late.

Therefore, that we set ourselves to seek before this cum come; that is, in a word, seek God, as by repentance and the fruits, so by undelayed repentance, and the timely fruits of it; and be not like the Apostle Jude’s δένδρα φθινοπωρινὰ, our seeking all summer withered and dry,* and beginning to shoot out a little about Michaelmas spring. Of which kind of shooting fruit can never come. This is the sum.

The words consist of two parts. Two parts; but these two evil matched, or as St. Paul “unequally yoked together.”* For where our chief actions, of which I take it our seeking of God is one, should have the chiefest time; here is the first and best of our actions sorted with the last and worst part of our time. Quærebant Eum with cum occideret.

And not only missorted, but misplaced. For cum occideret, “His killing” standeth before “our seeking;” whereas our seeking should be first, and His killing come after. This was never God’s fiant, they must have a ne fiant.

Of these two then. First by way of report jointly that de facto thus it is—thus they, and thus we seek.

Then if we take them in sunder, and as Jeremy saith “separate the precious from the vile,”* quærebant Eum the flower of our actions, from cum occideret, the dross, dregs, and very refuse of our time. Consider them apart, and shew, 1. That this time is not the time; 2. and that this seeking thus sorted and thus placed is no seeking, nor ever shall find. Therefore, with Asaph’s instruction, to settle our seeking upon some other time, and to resolve to begin it before.

Two powers there are in cum; 1. a privative, of all times before; 2. a positive, of that instant time then. No time before we seek, at that instant time then we do. On which two consisteth theatrum vitæ, ‘the very theatre of our life.’ Our case before that time is lively expressed in the words immediately precedent; “They spend their days in vanity, and their years in turmoil in the world.”* Our case then at that time in these words, cum occideret eos. Yea, by implication they are both in this verse; by what they do now is implied what they did before. 1. Now “they sought Him,” so that before they lost Him. 2. Again, then “they turned to;” so that before they turned away, and not once looked toward Him. 3. Now “they rose up early,” so that before they put it off till twilight. 4. Now “they remembered,” so that before they forgat Him clean—no speech, no question, nay no thought about Him.

Thus it was, saith Asaph, under Moses. While His hand was not upon them, they regarded Him not, as not worth the seeking; perdebant Eum, it was their losing time. But “when He slew them,” they fell to seek, and well was he that might find; quærebant Eum, is was their seeking time.

Before, quærebant alia, ‘they found themselves other matters more meet to seek.’ Then quærebant Eum, “they gave over all to seek Him only.”

Before He sought them; and they gave Him good leave so to do. Then all is turned out and in. As He them before, so they Him now.

And is it not thus with us that are now in theatro, ‘upon the stage?’ Yes indeed; and more, if more may be. This is but vetus fabula per novos histriones, ‘the same play again by other actors.’ For in public, when in the days of safety plenty and peace, we are in the sixth of Amos,* and are best at ease when quærebant is farthest from us; but if war, famine, or contagion come, then we run to the second of Joel, “Sanctify a fast,”* and call for the Ark, and grow all godly on a sudden. What is this but cum occideret? And in private, when while youth and strength and health doth last, while the evil day is far off, we are even at cessare fac Sanctum Israel a nobis, “cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from us;”* but when distress, danger, or death come, when Rabshakeh is before the walls, then we cry, “Now is the day of tribulation and anguish; now the children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to be delivered.”* Now send to Esay, “Now lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.” What is this but cum occideret? Surely this is our case; our seeking goeth wholly by our killing—waxeth and waneth, is out and in, as that is near at hand or farther off. I need not tell it, your ears and eyes are daily witnesses that this is a true saying, cum occideret Eos, &c. No killing, no seeking.

“This is a true saying,” but all true sayings are not by all means, nay some not by any means, “to be received.” The report indeed is, thus it was. But the instruction is ne fiant,* “that it should not be.” To the end then we may know what to receive and what to refuse, we will take it in pieces, and melt the dross from the silver metal. Quærebant Eum, by itself is good. Put occideret to it, it is base. Of these then in order.

Of quærebant Eum we shall soon agree, if it be quærebant Eum, that it is a fiat, ‘a thing to be done.’ Which many other ways might be made to appear, but by none better than this here; that at last all come to it. Sooner or later all seek it, all men if not before yet cum occideret, then certainly.

All seek; and among all “they” sought, which word is not without his weight here. For what are these that Asaph here meaneth by “they?” Not saints, not generatio quærentium, “the generation of them that seek God.” But “they”* that in the verse before “wasted all their days in vanity, and their years in turmoiling in the world.” “They,”* idle, riotous persons—“they” sought.

“They” that in a verse after “flattered Him with their lips,” and gave Him all the good words that might be,* and meant no such thing. The hypocrites, “they” sought.

“They” that a little before “grievously provoked the Most High God” with speeches little better than blasphemy; “can God do this? Is there a God amongst us,”* or is there none? And so, instead of quærebant Deum, quærebant an Deus, ‘made a question, whether there were any to seek.’ That is, even the very wicked, and of all wicked the worst, the profane atheists, “they” sought—even at last “they” sought. This is the triumph of religion; the riotous person, the hypocrite, the atheist, all shall seek.

And herein is folly condemned even of her own children, and wisdom justified of her very enemies; that they that greedily seek sin, at last would be glad to be rid of it, and they that merrily scorn religion at last are glad to seek to it.

“They” shall seek; and the time is set down when they shall seek, and when you shall not fail but see them seek that never sought before. In diebus juventutis, not then. Sanus factus est, nor then neither; but cum occideret, then certainly. Cum occideret, mark this cum when it cometh, and you shall see them that stood out all their life long then come in.

The heathen man saw it with his eyes. O, saith the Persian messenger in Æschylus, when the Grecian forces hotly pursued our host, and we must needs venture over the great water Strymon, frozen then but beginning to thaw, when an hundred to one we had all died for it—that is, cum occideret, with mine eyes I saw saith he,* when Θεοὺς δέ τις, &c. Of those gallants whom I had heard before so boldly maintain there was no God to seek; τότʼ ἤυχετο λιταῖσι, ‘then every one of them on their knees, and full devoutly praying the ice might hold till they got over.’ Moses saw it with his eyes. Pharaoh,* who was at high terms, “Who is the Lord you talk of?” and answered himself, “he knew none such,” nor nothing would do for Him:—when cum occideret came, he took notice there was a Lord higher than he; “that that Lord was righteous, and he a wretched sinner”* that sought for grace at His hands. Mark but the shutting up of dixit insipiens, their own Psalm. When,* saith David, they have in heart sought to persuade themselves, non est—seek none, “none there is;”* and thereupon “corrupted themselves,” and became most loathsome in their lives, “eat up their tenants as they would do so many morsels of bread;” made a mock of such holy men as set themselves seriously to seek God: when all is done and occideret come, trepidabunt timore ubi non erat timor, “they shall begin to be afraid, where they held before no fear needed;” and here shall be the last verse of their Psalm; quis dabit e Sion salutem, “to wish for the salvation of Sion,” which they have so oft derided. “They shall seek,” and “then they shall seek.” Till then possibly you shall lose your labour, if you tell them of seeking of God, but and how good it is. They are, saith Jeremy, “like the dromedary of the wilderness,”* a beast of exceeding swiftness, the female specially; “over hill and dale she goeth,” saith the Prophet, “and snuffeth up the air at her pleasure, and who can overtake her? They that seek her will not weary themselves till her month.” And in her month when she is bagged, then they will find her, and deal with her well enough. The case is like. Age, sickness, death, are far off; youth, health, and strength, possess them; there is no coming to them then. The month, cum occideret, is not yet come; but come that once as once it will to all, you shall find quærebant will have his place—fiat. It is therefore God’s own resolution, thus He resolveth: “I will go,” saith He, “and return to My place, till they acknowledge their faults and seek Me.”* And when will that be? He addeth, in novissimo quærent me diligenter, an end will come, and when that cometh “they will seek Me diligently,” even the best of them. And even so we are fain to resolve; for our lot is God’s lot, and when He sought to them, we go to our place, and there stand till their month, expectantes aquæ motum,* waiting till the destroying Angel come and stir the water, and then quærent Eum will be worth the seeking after.

Then, according to St. Paul’s disjunctive,* we that all other times mente excedimus Dco, at that time sobrii sumus vobis. Divinity, which in our ruff1 is sophism and school-points, and at the best a kind of ecstasy about God, is and shall be then, “the words of truth and soberness.”* For God and His seeking will have their time; before if it may be, but if not before, then at the farthest. First or last, all shall confess by seeking God is to be sought. Some before He kill, and happy are they; but “when He killeth,” all;—hypocrites, heathens, atheists, and all.

And I would pray you in a word but to note, in seeking then how many things they confess. For there be I take it four potential confessions in it.

That such an One there is to be sought. A Power above us Whose being and sovereignty all, first or last, shall seek.

That somewhat there is to be found, some good to be done in seeking; as Esay saith, non frustra dixit, “He hath not in vain said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me.”* For were it to no purpose, they would not then do it; but as at other times they did, so let it alone then too.

That whatsoever that good is, hit upon it,* or stumble on it we shall not; it will not be had in parergo, but seek it we must. For without seeking it will not be had. If it would they might sit still, and let it drop into their laps.

That seeking at this time when He slayeth them, they that shew what that good is they seek; even that the Psalmist saith, “Seek the Lord, and your soul shall live;”* that whatsoever become of their body, at least their soul may live; that we may lose not both, that “He kill not both, and cast not both into hell fire.”* And this, even when we come within the hemisphere of the other life, the sense we then have of somewhat that should have been sought before; the misgiving of our hearts, they shall come to a reckoning for not seeking sooner; and this, that not one of us would die suddenly of our good-wills, but have a time to seek God, before we lose ourselves. This, that we desire to die seeking, howsoever we live; all shew certainly it is a fiat, ‘a thing to be done,’ a good thing to seek God, even the enemies of it being judges of it.

So then; quærebant Eum is as it should be. But I add: 1. If it be quærebant, seeking indeed. 2. And if it be quærebant Eum, and not aliud in Eo, seeking, not Him, but somewhat else by Him.

If it be seeking indeed. For they to whom the Prophet Esay said, Si quæritis quærite, “if ye seek, why then do it,” sought so as it seemeth their seeking deserved not the name of seeking. So loosely, so slightly, so slenderly they did it;* as if that they sought were as good lost as found. So sought the party that said, In lectulo quæsivi Quem diligit anima,* that lay in bed and sought. So he that asked our Saviour Quid est veritas? a very good question; and when he had asked it another thing took him in the head and up he rose and went his way before Christ could tell him what it was. Such is our seeking for the most part. Some idle question cast, some table-talk moved, some Quid est veritas,* and go our way—all by the way, in transcursu; and never, as if it were about some matter of special moment, set about it and seek it out indeed.

1. They turned them, saith the text, as if before they sought without so much as turning them about.

2. They rose up, as though before they sat still and sought.

3. They did it early, and did not tarry till cum occideret, the sun were set, and no light to seek by, but their “feet stumbled in the dark mountains.”*

4. They “enquired;” so that before if you had ought to say to them you might, they had nothing to say to you. To seek then is to turn, to rise, to rise early, to enquire after it. O si quæritis, quærite, saith Esay, “the morning cometh, and so doth the night;”* that is, our days spend apace, and we say we will seek; if we will seek, let us once do it indeed.

Secondly, if it be quærebant, and if it be Eum; another point to be rectified. Non vestra sed vos, saith the Apostle, is the right seeking.* Not seek Him for somewhat we would have of Him, but to seek Himself for Himself. It is one thing, say the schools, to seek God for fruition; another to seek Him to make use of Him. One thing, saith Christ,* to seek for the miracle, another for the loaves.* One thing to “seek His face,” another to seek His fingers’ ends. One thing to consult with Him only for conscience, to know and do; another to consult with Him—if it hit our humour to make our advantage of it, if it go against us to set light by it. Such is our seeking for the most part; cum occideret, to have our turn served, to have our health restored, that we may seek Him no longer, but to our former riot again, “and to-morrow may be as yesterday and much more.”*

Seek Him indeed; seek Him for Himself. These two points being agreed of, we shall throughly agree of quærebant Eum. And so much for it, and for our fiat. Now to our ne fiat.

For when we have agreed of our seeking, we have not done. With diligence it would be, and due respect. Our seeking, as all things, the best things under the sun, must have τὴν ὥραν καὶ τὴν χώραν, ‘their due time and place.’* Wherein appeareth the abating power of circumstances,* that they are able to bring down the substances. Namely, of the time; and that mis-timing marreth not only music, but all things else. The thing is right, the cum is wrong, and so all is wrong.

To find out the time, we agree first that as every weighty thing hath, so the seeking of God is to be allowed a time too.

What time is that? Verily, we should do it absolutely, all our life long; quærite faciem Ejus semper. Not when? but when not? without limitation, continually.*

And in this sense we grant cum occideret; then, and at other times too. But not (as Asaph) then, and never till then; so, we deny it.

God indeed is so to be sought, but we cannot so seek Him; other our affairs crave allowance out of our time, and we are well content to yield it largely. Only that God have a set time left when to seek Him. That is but reason; all will yield to it. All grant a cum.

But come to know when that “when” shall be; here we vary first. We cannot be brought to set down any certainty, but love to be left at large. Do it we will, but indeed we cannot shew when; but even Felix his “when,”* ὅταν εὐκαιρήσω, ‘when we have leisure.’ I cannot now stand to seek, saith he; I hope one day to be at leisure to do it, but that day never came.

Urge them, press them “when?” No other resolution but omnis peccator dicit, aliquando Deum sequar sed non modo; ‘sometime still, but not this time.’ Never in the present, but sometime hereafter.

Follow them all along their life, they find not this cum, but put it from one cum to another, till there be none left but only cum occideret, even that very time against which God layeth His exceptions. Every time before we say, nondum tempus, ‘it is not time yet;’ every hour before, nondum venit hora, ‘the hour is not yet come.’

Not to leave God’s seeking thus at random, but to grow to some certainty. I demand, will any time serve? Is God at all times to be found? It is certain not. The very limitation of dum inveniri potest,* sheweth plainly that other times there be wherein seek Him you may, but find Him you shall not.

Then if at all times He is not to be found, we are to make choice of a certain cum, cum inveniri potest, “when He may be found,” and then seek Him.

Many returns there be in the term of our life, many cums; all are reduced to two: 1. cum servaret, and 2. cum occideret. Or if we will needs be wedded to a cum occideret, 1. Cum occideret hostes eorum, 2. not eos; ‘when He scattereth and slayeth our enemies’ and saveth us. One of these two it must needs be.

Cum occideret, it is not. Christ Himself expressly limiteth it before; Dedi ei tempus ad pænitendum, saith He, “I gave her a time to repent.”* What time is that? Lest we might mistake it to be cum occideret, He adds, if we do it not in that time so by Him given, He will “cast us down on our beds,” the beds of affliction and sickness, and there “kill us with death.” So that the time He alloweth us to repent, is before we come thither. For thither we come because we did it not in the time He gave us to do it in. Indeed our bed is not the place: in lectulo quæsivi, “I sought Him in my bed;” quæsivi sed non inveni, “I sought Him but I found Him not.”* The place of slaughter is not the place, nor the time of killing is not the time. We may take that time, but it is not dedi illis, none of “His giving.” The time He giveth us is before we come there.

Then if when He kills us is not it, when He saveth us it is? It is indeed; and a cluster of it, an hour of cum servaret then is better than a vintage, a whole day of cum occideret.

Upon these two the whole Psalm standeth, and the part before sheweth when it should have been. When “He overwhelmed the Egyptians in the sea,”* when “the pillar of the cloud was over,”* when He not only saved them but served them, “raining down manna”* for their need, and giving them quails for their lust;* then was the time with them and then is the time with us.

For sure as we seek God to save us, so He saveth us to seek Him; if when we seek Him we are saved, when we are saved we should seek Him. The time of His saving is the time of our seeking; and one hour then is better than four and twenty.

All that while what seek we? Why, as Jeremy saith,* we do then quærere grandia. Other greater matters we have in hand, matters of more weight than the seeking of God. As if His seeking were some petty business, slightly to be sought, and lightly to be found. Any time good enough for it.

Nay not that, but so evil are we affected to seek Him then, that quærebant is occideret; we indict Him of our death, it is death to do it—as lieve die as seek; it maketh us old, it killeth us before our time. We digest not them that call on us for it, but seek ourselves, as the Apostle speaketh,* Magistros secundum desideria, that may entertain us with speculations of what may be done by miracle at the hour of death; that may give us days and elbow-room enough to seek other things, and to shrink up His seeking into a narrow time at our end, and tell us time enough then. For thus then we reckon; all the time we spend in it we lose the fruit of our life, and the joy of our hearts shall be taken from us. As if the fruit of life were not to find God, or as if any true hearts’ joy God being not found. Call we this our fruit and joy not to seek God? call it not so; lætetur cor quærentium Deum, saith the Holy Ghost, “let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.”* Yea in lachrymis peccatorum, ‘in the very tears of a penitent,’* there is, saith St. Augustine, more sound joy than in risu theatrorum, ‘in all the games the theatre can afford:’ Da Christianum, et scit quid dico. But our taste is turned, and we relish not this seeking. By our flesh-pots we have lived, and by them we will die, and so we do. Lust hath been our life, and we will be buried in the graves of lust; and so we shall, and never know what that joy meaneth, Lætetur cor quærentium Deum.

Cum servaret then will not serve. Nay, cum occideret will scarce serve, it hath much ado; let Him draw His sword and come amongst us. For if, as of His goodness He doth not, He rush not on us at first, but begin with others; if it be cum occideret alios, we seek not. See ye the thirty-first verse: He took away others before their faces, and those not weak or sickly persons, but the goodliest and strongest of all Israel, and least likely to die. Here is occideret. Now did this move? No. See the thirty-second verse: for at this they “sinned yet more,” and went about their seeking never the sooner. It must be cum occideret eos, “themselves,” their own selves, or it will not do it.

Come then to themselves and smite them with the edge, not with the point; with the edge to wound, not with the point to dispatch outright; will that serve? cum cæderet eos, ‘when He wounded them with some mortal sickness the messenger of death, would they seek Him then?’ No: not then, not for all that would they frame to it. For quærebant medicum then, I say, as Asa sought medicos, et non Deum.* Not God and them, but them first; and let God stay till they be gone. And till they give us over, and tell us plainly occideret is now come indeed, no smiting or wounding will send us to seek. So that it is not either 1. cum servaret eos, or 2. cum serviret eis, His saving, or serving us; nay it is not, 3. cum occideret alios, or 4. cum cæderet, ‘His killing others, or wounding us’ with any but our deaths-wound, will do it.

Tandem then, when we are come to the very last cast, our strength is gone, our spirit clean spent, our senses appalled, and the powers of our soul as numb as our senses, when a general prostration of all our powers, and the shadow of death upon our eyes, then something we would say or do which should stand for our seeking; but, I doubt it will not serve. This is the time we allow God to seek Him in.

Is this it? Would we then seek Him when we are not in case to seek any thing else? Would we turn to Him then when we are not able to turn ourselves in our bed? Or, “rise early to seek Him” when we are not able to rise at all? Or “enquire after Him” when our breath faileth us, and we are not able to speak three words together? Neither before, nor with, but even at the end of occideret? No hour but the hour of death?* No time but when He taketh time from us and us from it, et tempus non erit amplius? What shall I say? Shall I commend this seeking, turning, rising, enquiring? No; I cannot commend it either in itself or to any. I commend it not.

That that may be said is this, and it is nothing: true; some one or two of a thousand and ten thousand that have. How then? Shall we not therefore follow our instruction and seek Him before? Nay then,* “some have found and never sought;”—let us not seek Him at all if that will hold. Thus it is: some going a journey have found a purse by the way—it were mad counsel to advise us to leave our money behind upon hope of like hap in ours. No; this is safe and good; though some one or two have found and not sought, yet let us seek for all that. Though some one or two have then sought and found, yet let us seek before. Though some have found a purse in their way, let us not trust to like hap, but carry money with us. This is a privy-door on special favour open to some few. There lieth no way by them. “This is the way,” you have heard, “walk in it and you shall find rest to your souls.”*

To speak then of safe seeking and sure finding, I say, as Asaph saith, it is a ne fiant. This time is not the time Christ giveth us; He assigneth us another. Yea we condemn ourselves in that we would seek to allow it ourselves. If we were put to it to say plainly, “not till He kill me,” it would choke us. We neither have heart nor face, we would not dare to answer so, we dare not avow it. And if it be a ne dicant it is a ne fiant. The time of God’s quærite is primum quærite.* This cum is the last of all our cums; all other before it. First and last are flat ad oppositum. This is not it.

The time of seeking God must be δεκτὸς, such as is meet to be received. This is not: therefore, I hope, we will not offer it God.* If we do, take heed He scorn not this time as He doth their price in Zachary; “A goodly time1 that I have assigned Me.”* Take heed He stand not upon His reputation, as in Malachi, and bid us “offer our service”* at this hour, “to any great man and see, whether he will be content with it,” and not reject both us and our seeking then. This is not, cannot be but a great ne fiant, to offer God that no man is so mean but would take in evil part.

This time is the time when all hypocrites, atheists, tag and rag, come in and seek Him in a sort; and shall not we be confounded to see ourselves in their number? Nay to say that must be said for true it is, It is past the Devil’s time. They be his words, cur ante tempus?* and he seeketh to make them ours, that it is ever too soon to seek God. At the hardest I trust we will not keep time with him.

And to seek Him then is not to seek Him; not quærebant Eum. No; they seek Him not, they “dissemble with Him,” saith Asaph, in the next verse. For when God to try them reprieved them never so little time, they fell to their old bias;* and when as He ceased killing, their seeking was at an end. So are all forced seekings, like to a bow-string brought to his full bent, but remit you never so little it starteth back again.

Nay it is not quærebant, no kindly seeking, but a base ignoble creeping to, without all ingenuity1, when we must either die or do it. Neither χάρις nor κλέος to do it then.

But in very deed it is no “seeking”* at all, as before we defined quærebant to “seek indeed.” There is a diameter between occideret and quærebant, and therefore between it and quærebant Eum. Men cannot then seek; if they must rise up and turn them that must do it, they are not able for their lives to turn or stir themselves to do it. Nay, nor to “enquire.” For what is our “seeking” then? Is it not to lie still on our bed, and suffer a few words to be spoken in our ears? Have a little opiate divinity ministered to our souls, and so sent away? Sure this is rather to be sought than to “seek.” There goeth more to quærebant then thus. We must then “seek” when we are in case to give sentence and to do judgment on ourselves, when we are able to take up our cross before it be laid on us. Quærebant Eum must stand before cum occideret.

Lastly, it would be known what became of this quærebant? What they found that sought thus, and then and not before? “They found not Him,”* the Prophet saith plainly. They go then “with sheep and bullocks,” and all manner of sacrifice, “to seek the Lord; but find Him not, for He hath withdrawn Himself before.”

And justly they find Him not ex lege talionis. God Himself answers them; nay their own hearts answer themselves. Go: whom you have spent your life in seeking, seek to them now. Let them save you at this, whom ye sought at all other times. As for Me, it shall come to pass, as I cried and you would not hear, so you shall cry and seek and shall not find or be heard, saith the Lord.

Yes—they found Him, but with a door shut between Him and them. But what found they? The parable of the ten virgins tells us, which is the Gospel for this Psalm, they found that which we I hope shall never find, a nescio vos.* Where, that we may see that this course is folly and therefore indeed a ne fiant sicut, that which putteth the difference of those that be wise and go in, is that they had sought “and looked to their oil ere the Bridegroom came;”* and those that were foolish and shut out when the Bridegroom was even coming, that is, cum occideret, were to seek their oil then—had not looked to it till then. Nescio vos is their answer, He knoweth them not; they took too short a time to breed acquaintance in. Nescio vos they find that so seek. Profecto ad hoc tonitru, &c. ‘At this clap he that waketh not is not asleep but dead.’

To conclude then with our instruction. If this time and this seeking have so many evil marks, the time so unseasonable, the seeking so many ways to seek; if the success to this seeking be no better but nescio vos, why then ne fiat. If these here were not well advised, if those virgins were foolish, why then ne fiant sicut, “not to be like.”

Secondly, to sever the silver from the dross: the seeking is good, keep it; the time is wrong, change it; either into antequam occideret or into cum servaret. Fiat to the action, ne fiat to the time.

Thirdly, as we confess that there is One to be sought, and that with the turning of a gin1 we cannot have Him when we list, but seek Him we must; that His seeking is worth the while, and that it is not dispatched in a minute, but must have time; so to think His seeking worthy a better, and to allow it a better time than this to do it in.

Fourthly, seeing “yet is the acceptable time,” yet “He may be found,”* yet it is cum servaret, occideret is not yet come—how near it is it is hard to say; our Saviour Christ saith it is quâ horâ nescis,* it may be nearer than we are aware; lest it come upon us before we seek, let us seek before it come upon us. So seeking we shall safely seek; safely seek and surely find God, and with God whatsoever is worth the finding. But, that which we seek, we shall after occideret is past find ourselves in His presence and at His right hand; “in Whose presence is the fulness of joy,”* not as ours here joys half empty; and at “Whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore,” not as ours here for a time and a short time, God knoweth. That which here we seek and cannot find with Him we shall, if we shall here indeed and in due time seek Him by the timely fruits of an undelayed repentance. Almighty God, lighten our minds, kindle our affections, settle our hearts so to seek, &c.[1]

 

 

1 Liter. water impregnated with alkaline salts imbibed from the ashes of wood. Webster.

* Isa. 37:3.

1 i.e. pride. The ruff of their glory. L.’Estrange.

* [ἐκ παρέργου Thucyd. vii. 27.]

* Joh. 18:38.

* Ps. 105:3.

1 [price.]

1 [i.e. ingenuousness.]

* Mat. 25:12.

1 [Here used apparently forengine.]

[1] Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 1, pp. 305–320). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)

1 [Here used apparently forengine.]

[1] Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 1, pp. 305–320). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)

A Cross and Crooked Generation: Psalm 78:34

A Cross and Crooked Generation: Psalm 78:34

A Crooked and Perverse Generation

Psalm 78:34

When He slew them, then they sought Him; and they returned, and enquired early after God.

This Psalm is a calendar or roll of reports, how from Moses to David the Jews carried themselves to God in matter of religion. And this verse a report how in the matter of repentance, expressed here under the terms of seeking and turning to God. Wherein this they did, this was their fashion: while He spared them, they sought Him not; “When He slew them, then they sought Him.” Cum, &c. These words then are a report.

A report; but such an one as when St. Paul heard of the Corinthians, he could not commend it. “What shall I say? Shall I praise you in this? No; I praise you not.”* Neither he them for that, nor I these for this. Rather, as old father Eli said to his sons;* Non est bonus sermo hic quem audio de vobis, “this is no good report I hear,” cum occideret, &c.

Whether good or whether evil it pertaineth to us. For to us of the Gentiles hath St. Paul entailed whatsoever well or ill befell the dissolved Church of the Jews. These, “all these came unto them for examples, and are enrolled to warn us that grow nearer and nearer to the ends of the world.”*

Both pertain unto us, the Scripture hath both; and in it draweth out our duty to us in both, in good and evil reports—as it were in white work and black work. And we to have use of both; yet not of both reports alike, but diversely, as our instructions upon them are diverse. For we are not so much to regard the bare report, as the instruction of it. For which cause Asaph hath entitled this Psalm, not Asaph’s report, but Asaph’s “instruction.”

Now we have here our report. May we find what our instruction is touching it? We may. Asaph expressly hath set it down in the eighth verse before. That this and other errors of theirs are here upon the file, ne fiant sicut patres eorum,* “that we should not be like our forefathers, a cross and crooked generation.” Not like them in other indignities, and among other in this cum occideret, &c. Never to seek God but when He kills us.

In which foul indignity our age is certainly as deep as ever was that, and we need Asaph’s instruction no less than they.

For as if there were no use of religion, but only cum occideret, so spend we all our whole time in the search of other things. Not caring to ask, or seek, or confer about the state of our souls, even till occideret come. And then, peradventure, sending for Asaph, and hearing him speak a few words about it, which we would fain have called seeking of God. I can say little to it, I pray God it prove so; but sure, I fear, it will be found minus habens, “far short of it.”*

Which is so usually received that, take a survey, not one of an hundred ever think of it before. So securely practised, as if we had some supersedeas lying by us, not to do it till then. As if there were no such Scripture as this upon record; “which turned to their destruction,” and must needs lie heavy upon us, when we shall remember it. Cum occideret, &c.

Now sure, this course must needs be prejudicial to our souls, and a number perish in it daily before our eyes. Yet we sit still, and suffer this custom to grow and gather head. Neither delivering their souls, or at least our own, by telling them seriously this is not the time, and then to seek is not the seeking God will allow. That this is a ne fiant, “such a thing as should not be done in Israel.” That it is upon record πρὸς ἐντροπὴν, to their disgrace and destruction. And it cannot be to our comfort or commendation to do the like. Out of which their destruction, Asaph frameth an instruction for us; and as it is well said and fitly to this day, ex cinere Judæorum lixivium Christianorum, ‘of the Jews’ ashes maketh a lye1 for Christians,’ to cleanse us from this foul indignity. Ut videntes cadentes, videant ne cadant, ‘that heeding their fall, we take heed we fall not;’ that is, seek not as they sought, lest we perish by like example of seeking too late.

Therefore, that we set ourselves to seek before this cum come; that is, in a word, seek God, as by repentance and the fruits, so by undelayed repentance, and the timely fruits of it; and be not like the Apostle Jude’s δένδρα φθινοπωρινὰ, our seeking all summer withered and dry,* and beginning to shoot out a little about Michaelmas spring. Of which kind of shooting fruit can never come. This is the sum.

The words consist of two parts. Two parts; but these two evil matched, or as St. Paul “unequally yoked together.”* For where our chief actions, of which I take it our seeking of God is one, should have the chiefest time; here is the first and best of our actions sorted with the last and worst part of our time. Quærebant Eum with cum occideret.

And not only missorted, but misplaced. For cum occideret, “His killing” standeth before “our seeking;” whereas our seeking should be first, and His killing come after. This was never God’s fiant, they must have a ne fiant.

Of these two then. First by way of report jointly that de facto thus it is—thus they, and thus we seek.

Then if we take them in sunder, and as Jeremy saith “separate the precious from the vile,”* quærebant Eum the flower of our actions, from cum occideret, the dross, dregs, and very refuse of our time. Consider them apart, and shew, 1. That this time is not the time; 2. and that this seeking thus sorted and thus placed is no seeking, nor ever shall find. Therefore, with Asaph’s instruction, to settle our seeking upon some other time, and to resolve to begin it before.

Two powers there are in cum; 1. a privative, of all times before; 2. a positive, of that instant time then. No time before we seek, at that instant time then we do. On which two consisteth theatrum vitæ, ‘the very theatre of our life.’ Our case before that time is lively expressed in the words immediately precedent; “They spend their days in vanity, and their years in turmoil in the world.”* Our case then at that time in these words, cum occideret eos. Yea, by implication they are both in this verse; by what they do now is implied what they did before. 1. Now “they sought Him,” so that before they lost Him. 2. Again, then “they turned to;” so that before they turned away, and not once looked toward Him. 3. Now “they rose up early,” so that before they put it off till twilight. 4. Now “they remembered,” so that before they forgat Him clean—no speech, no question, nay no thought about Him.

Thus it was, saith Asaph, under Moses. While His hand was not upon them, they regarded Him not, as not worth the seeking; perdebant Eum, it was their losing time. But “when He slew them,” they fell to seek, and well was he that might find; quærebant Eum, is was their seeking time.

Before, quærebant alia, ‘they found themselves other matters more meet to seek.’ Then quærebant Eum, “they gave over all to seek Him only.”

Before He sought them; and they gave Him good leave so to do. Then all is turned out and in. As He them before, so they Him now.

And is it not thus with us that are now in theatro, ‘upon the stage?’ Yes indeed; and more, if more may be. This is but vetus fabula per novos histriones, ‘the same play again by other actors.’ For in public, when in the days of safety plenty and peace, we are in the sixth of Amos,* and are best at ease when quærebant is farthest from us; but if war, famine, or contagion come, then we run to the second of Joel, “Sanctify a fast,”* and call for the Ark, and grow all godly on a sudden. What is this but cum occideret? And in private, when while youth and strength and health doth last, while the evil day is far off, we are even at cessare fac Sanctum Israel a nobis, “cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from us;”* but when distress, danger, or death come, when Rabshakeh is before the walls, then we cry, “Now is the day of tribulation and anguish; now the children are come to the birth, and there is no strength to be delivered.”* Now send to Esay, “Now lift up thy prayer for the remnant that is left.” What is this but cum occideret? Surely this is our case; our seeking goeth wholly by our killing—waxeth and waneth, is out and in, as that is near at hand or farther off. I need not tell it, your ears and eyes are daily witnesses that this is a true saying, cum occideret Eos, &c. No killing, no seeking.

“This is a true saying,” but all true sayings are not by all means, nay some not by any means, “to be received.” The report indeed is, thus it was. But the instruction is ne fiant,* “that it should not be.” To the end then we may know what to receive and what to refuse, we will take it in pieces, and melt the dross from the silver metal. Quærebant Eum, by itself is good. Put occideret to it, it is base. Of these then in order.

Of quærebant Eum we shall soon agree, if it be quærebant Eum, that it is a fiat, ‘a thing to be done.’ Which many other ways might be made to appear, but by none better than this here; that at last all come to it. Sooner or later all seek it, all men if not before yet cum occideret, then certainly.

All seek; and among all “they” sought, which word is not without his weight here. For what are these that Asaph here meaneth by “they?” Not saints, not generatio quærentium, “the generation of them that seek God.” But “they”* that in the verse before “wasted all their days in vanity, and their years in turmoiling in the world.” “They,”* idle, riotous persons—“they” sought.

“They” that in a verse after “flattered Him with their lips,” and gave Him all the good words that might be,* and meant no such thing. The hypocrites, “they” sought.

“They” that a little before “grievously provoked the Most High God” with speeches little better than blasphemy; “can God do this? Is there a God amongst us,”* or is there none? And so, instead of quærebant Deum, quærebant an Deus, ‘made a question, whether there were any to seek.’ That is, even the very wicked, and of all wicked the worst, the profane atheists, “they” sought—even at last “they” sought. This is the triumph of religion; the riotous person, the hypocrite, the atheist, all shall seek.

And herein is folly condemned even of her own children, and wisdom justified of her very enemies; that they that greedily seek sin, at last would be glad to be rid of it, and they that merrily scorn religion at last are glad to seek to it.

“They” shall seek; and the time is set down when they shall seek, and when you shall not fail but see them seek that never sought before. In diebus juventutis, not then. Sanus factus est, nor then neither; but cum occideret, then certainly. Cum occideret, mark this cum when it cometh, and you shall see them that stood out all their life long then come in.

The heathen man saw it with his eyes. O, saith the Persian messenger in Æschylus, when the Grecian forces hotly pursued our host, and we must needs venture over the great water Strymon, frozen then but beginning to thaw, when an hundred to one we had all died for it—that is, cum occideret, with mine eyes I saw saith he,* when Θεοὺς δέ τις, &c. Of those gallants whom I had heard before so boldly maintain there was no God to seek; τότʼ ἤυχετο λιταῖσι, ‘then every one of them on their knees, and full devoutly praying the ice might hold till they got over.’ Moses saw it with his eyes. Pharaoh,* who was at high terms, “Who is the Lord you talk of?” and answered himself, “he knew none such,” nor nothing would do for Him:—when cum occideret came, he took notice there was a Lord higher than he; “that that Lord was righteous, and he a wretched sinner”* that sought for grace at His hands. Mark but the shutting up of dixit insipiens, their own Psalm. When,* saith David, they have in heart sought to persuade themselves, non est—seek none, “none there is;”* and thereupon “corrupted themselves,” and became most loathsome in their lives, “eat up their tenants as they would do so many morsels of bread;” made a mock of such holy men as set themselves seriously to seek God: when all is done and occideret come, trepidabunt timore ubi non erat timor, “they shall begin to be afraid, where they held before no fear needed;” and here shall be the last verse of their Psalm; quis dabit e Sion salutem, “to wish for the salvation of Sion,” which they have so oft derided. “They shall seek,” and “then they shall seek.” Till then possibly you shall lose your labour, if you tell them of seeking of God, but and how good it is. They are, saith Jeremy, “like the dromedary of the wilderness,”* a beast of exceeding swiftness, the female specially; “over hill and dale she goeth,” saith the Prophet, “and snuffeth up the air at her pleasure, and who can overtake her? They that seek her will not weary themselves till her month.” And in her month when she is bagged, then they will find her, and deal with her well enough. The case is like. Age, sickness, death, are far off; youth, health, and strength, possess them; there is no coming to them then. The month, cum occideret, is not yet come; but come that once as once it will to all, you shall find quærebant will have his place—fiat. It is therefore God’s own resolution, thus He resolveth: “I will go,” saith He, “and return to My place, till they acknowledge their faults and seek Me.”* And when will that be? He addeth, in novissimo quærent me diligenter, an end will come, and when that cometh “they will seek Me diligently,” even the best of them. And even so we are fain to resolve; for our lot is God’s lot, and when He sought to them, we go to our place, and there stand till their month, expectantes aquæ motum,* waiting till the destroying Angel come and stir the water, and then quærent Eum will be worth the seeking after.

Then, according to St. Paul’s disjunctive,* we that all other times mente excedimus Dco, at that time sobrii sumus vobis. Divinity, which in our ruff1 is sophism and school-points, and at the best a kind of ecstasy about God, is and shall be then, “the words of truth and soberness.”* For God and His seeking will have their time; before if it may be, but if not before, then at the farthest. First or last, all shall confess by seeking God is to be sought. Some before He kill, and happy are they; but “when He killeth,” all;—hypocrites, heathens, atheists, and all.

And I would pray you in a word but to note, in seeking then how many things they confess. For there be I take it four potential confessions in it.

That such an One there is to be sought. A Power above us Whose being and sovereignty all, first or last, shall seek.

That somewhat there is to be found, some good to be done in seeking; as Esay saith, non frustra dixit, “He hath not in vain said to the seed of Jacob, Seek ye Me.”* For were it to no purpose, they would not then do it; but as at other times they did, so let it alone then too.

That whatsoever that good is, hit upon it,* or stumble on it we shall not; it will not be had in parergo, but seek it we must. For without seeking it will not be had. If it would they might sit still, and let it drop into their laps.

That seeking at this time when He slayeth them, they that shew what that good is they seek; even that the Psalmist saith, “Seek the Lord, and your soul shall live;”* that whatsoever become of their body, at least their soul may live; that we may lose not both, that “He kill not both, and cast not both into hell fire.”* And this, even when we come within the hemisphere of the other life, the sense we then have of somewhat that should have been sought before; the misgiving of our hearts, they shall come to a reckoning for not seeking sooner; and this, that not one of us would die suddenly of our good-wills, but have a time to seek God, before we lose ourselves. This, that we desire to die seeking, howsoever we live; all shew certainly it is a fiat, ‘a thing to be done,’ a good thing to seek God, even the enemies of it being judges of it.

So then; quærebant Eum is as it should be. But I add: 1. If it be quærebant, seeking indeed. 2. And if it be quærebant Eum, and not aliud in Eo, seeking, not Him, but somewhat else by Him.

If it be seeking indeed. For they to whom the Prophet Esay said, Si quæritis quærite, “if ye seek, why then do it,” sought so as it seemeth their seeking deserved not the name of seeking. So loosely, so slightly, so slenderly they did it;* as if that they sought were as good lost as found. So sought the party that said, In lectulo quæsivi Quem diligit anima,* that lay in bed and sought. So he that asked our Saviour Quid est veritas? a very good question; and when he had asked it another thing took him in the head and up he rose and went his way before Christ could tell him what it was. Such is our seeking for the most part. Some idle question cast, some table-talk moved, some Quid est veritas,* and go our way—all by the way, in transcursu; and never, as if it were about some matter of special moment, set about it and seek it out indeed.

1. They turned them, saith the text, as if before they sought without so much as turning them about.

2. They rose up, as though before they sat still and sought.

3. They did it early, and did not tarry till cum occideret, the sun were set, and no light to seek by, but their “feet stumbled in the dark mountains.”*

4. They “enquired;” so that before if you had ought to say to them you might, they had nothing to say to you. To seek then is to turn, to rise, to rise early, to enquire after it. O si quæritis, quærite, saith Esay, “the morning cometh, and so doth the night;”* that is, our days spend apace, and we say we will seek; if we will seek, let us once do it indeed.

Secondly, if it be quærebant, and if it be Eum; another point to be rectified. Non vestra sed vos, saith the Apostle, is the right seeking.* Not seek Him for somewhat we would have of Him, but to seek Himself for Himself. It is one thing, say the schools, to seek God for fruition; another to seek Him to make use of Him. One thing, saith Christ,* to seek for the miracle, another for the loaves.* One thing to “seek His face,” another to seek His fingers’ ends. One thing to consult with Him only for conscience, to know and do; another to consult with Him—if it hit our humour to make our advantage of it, if it go against us to set light by it. Such is our seeking for the most part; cum occideret, to have our turn served, to have our health restored, that we may seek Him no longer, but to our former riot again, “and to-morrow may be as yesterday and much more.”*

Seek Him indeed; seek Him for Himself. These two points being agreed of, we shall throughly agree of quærebant Eum. And so much for it, and for our fiat. Now to our ne fiat.

For when we have agreed of our seeking, we have not done. With diligence it would be, and due respect. Our seeking, as all things, the best things under the sun, must have τὴν ὥραν καὶ τὴν χώραν, ‘their due time and place.’* Wherein appeareth the abating power of circumstances,* that they are able to bring down the substances. Namely, of the time; and that mis-timing marreth not only music, but all things else. The thing is right, the cum is wrong, and so all is wrong.

To find out the time, we agree first that as every weighty thing hath, so the seeking of God is to be allowed a time too.

What time is that? Verily, we should do it absolutely, all our life long; quærite faciem Ejus semper. Not when? but when not? without limitation, continually.*

And in this sense we grant cum occideret; then, and at other times too. But not (as Asaph) then, and never till then; so, we deny it.

God indeed is so to be sought, but we cannot so seek Him; other our affairs crave allowance out of our time, and we are well content to yield it largely. Only that God have a set time left when to seek Him. That is but reason; all will yield to it. All grant a cum.

But come to know when that “when” shall be; here we vary first. We cannot be brought to set down any certainty, but love to be left at large. Do it we will, but indeed we cannot shew when; but even Felix his “when,”* ὅταν εὐκαιρήσω, ‘when we have leisure.’ I cannot now stand to seek, saith he; I hope one day to be at leisure to do it, but that day never came.

Urge them, press them “when?” No other resolution but omnis peccator dicit, aliquando Deum sequar sed non modo; ‘sometime still, but not this time.’ Never in the present, but sometime hereafter.

Follow them all along their life, they find not this cum, but put it from one cum to another, till there be none left but only cum occideret, even that very time against which God layeth His exceptions. Every time before we say, nondum tempus, ‘it is not time yet;’ every hour before, nondum venit hora, ‘the hour is not yet come.’

Not to leave God’s seeking thus at random, but to grow to some certainty. I demand, will any time serve? Is God at all times to be found? It is certain not. The very limitation of dum inveniri potest,* sheweth plainly that other times there be wherein seek Him you may, but find Him you shall not.

Then if at all times He is not to be found, we are to make choice of a certain cum, cum inveniri potest, “when He may be found,” and then seek Him.

Many returns there be in the term of our life, many cums; all are reduced to two: 1. cum servaret, and 2. cum occideret. Or if we will needs be wedded to a cum occideret, 1. Cum occideret hostes eorum, 2. not eos; ‘when He scattereth and slayeth our enemies’ and saveth us. One of these two it must needs be.

Cum occideret, it is not. Christ Himself expressly limiteth it before; Dedi ei tempus ad pænitendum, saith He, “I gave her a time to repent.”* What time is that? Lest we might mistake it to be cum occideret, He adds, if we do it not in that time so by Him given, He will “cast us down on our beds,” the beds of affliction and sickness, and there “kill us with death.” So that the time He alloweth us to repent, is before we come thither. For thither we come because we did it not in the time He gave us to do it in. Indeed our bed is not the place: in lectulo quæsivi, “I sought Him in my bed;” quæsivi sed non inveni, “I sought Him but I found Him not.”* The place of slaughter is not the place, nor the time of killing is not the time. We may take that time, but it is not dedi illis, none of “His giving.” The time He giveth us is before we come there.

Then if when He kills us is not it, when He saveth us it is? It is indeed; and a cluster of it, an hour of cum servaret then is better than a vintage, a whole day of cum occideret.

Upon these two the whole Psalm standeth, and the part before sheweth when it should have been. When “He overwhelmed the Egyptians in the sea,”* when “the pillar of the cloud was over,”* when He not only saved them but served them, “raining down manna”* for their need, and giving them quails for their lust;* then was the time with them and then is the time with us.

For sure as we seek God to save us, so He saveth us to seek Him; if when we seek Him we are saved, when we are saved we should seek Him. The time of His saving is the time of our seeking; and one hour then is better than four and twenty.

All that while what seek we? Why, as Jeremy saith,* we do then quærere grandia. Other greater matters we have in hand, matters of more weight than the seeking of God. As if His seeking were some petty business, slightly to be sought, and lightly to be found. Any time good enough for it.

Nay not that, but so evil are we affected to seek Him then, that quærebant is occideret; we indict Him of our death, it is death to do it—as lieve die as seek; it maketh us old, it killeth us before our time. We digest not them that call on us for it, but seek ourselves, as the Apostle speaketh,* Magistros secundum desideria, that may entertain us with speculations of what may be done by miracle at the hour of death; that may give us days and elbow-room enough to seek other things, and to shrink up His seeking into a narrow time at our end, and tell us time enough then. For thus then we reckon; all the time we spend in it we lose the fruit of our life, and the joy of our hearts shall be taken from us. As if the fruit of life were not to find God, or as if any true hearts’ joy God being not found. Call we this our fruit and joy not to seek God? call it not so; lætetur cor quærentium Deum, saith the Holy Ghost, “let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord.”* Yea in lachrymis peccatorum, ‘in the very tears of a penitent,’* there is, saith St. Augustine, more sound joy than in risu theatrorum, ‘in all the games the theatre can afford:’ Da Christianum, et scit quid dico. But our taste is turned, and we relish not this seeking. By our flesh-pots we have lived, and by them we will die, and so we do. Lust hath been our life, and we will be buried in the graves of lust; and so we shall, and never know what that joy meaneth, Lætetur cor quærentium Deum.

Cum servaret then will not serve. Nay, cum occideret will scarce serve, it hath much ado; let Him draw His sword and come amongst us. For if, as of His goodness He doth not, He rush not on us at first, but begin with others; if it be cum occideret alios, we seek not. See ye the thirty-first verse: He took away others before their faces, and those not weak or sickly persons, but the goodliest and strongest of all Israel, and least likely to die. Here is occideret. Now did this move? No. See the thirty-second verse: for at this they “sinned yet more,” and went about their seeking never the sooner. It must be cum occideret eos, “themselves,” their own selves, or it will not do it.

Come then to themselves and smite them with the edge, not with the point; with the edge to wound, not with the point to dispatch outright; will that serve? cum cæderet eos, ‘when He wounded them with some mortal sickness the messenger of death, would they seek Him then?’ No: not then, not for all that would they frame to it. For quærebant medicum then, I say, as Asa sought medicos, et non Deum.* Not God and them, but them first; and let God stay till they be gone. And till they give us over, and tell us plainly occideret is now come indeed, no smiting or wounding will send us to seek. So that it is not either 1. cum servaret eos, or 2. cum serviret eis, His saving, or serving us; nay it is not, 3. cum occideret alios, or 4. cum cæderet, ‘His killing others, or wounding us’ with any but our deaths-wound, will do it.

Tandem then, when we are come to the very last cast, our strength is gone, our spirit clean spent, our senses appalled, and the powers of our soul as numb as our senses, when a general prostration of all our powers, and the shadow of death upon our eyes, then something we would say or do which should stand for our seeking; but, I doubt it will not serve. This is the time we allow God to seek Him in.

Is this it? Would we then seek Him when we are not in case to seek any thing else? Would we turn to Him then when we are not able to turn ourselves in our bed? Or, “rise early to seek Him” when we are not able to rise at all? Or “enquire after Him” when our breath faileth us, and we are not able to speak three words together? Neither before, nor with, but even at the end of occideret? No hour but the hour of death?* No time but when He taketh time from us and us from it, et tempus non erit amplius? What shall I say? Shall I commend this seeking, turning, rising, enquiring? No; I cannot commend it either in itself or to any. I commend it not.

That that may be said is this, and it is nothing: true; some one or two of a thousand and ten thousand that have. How then? Shall we not therefore follow our instruction and seek Him before? Nay then,* “some have found and never sought;”—let us not seek Him at all if that will hold. Thus it is: some going a journey have found a purse by the way—it were mad counsel to advise us to leave our money behind upon hope of like hap in ours. No; this is safe and good; though some one or two have found and not sought, yet let us seek for all that. Though some one or two have then sought and found, yet let us seek before. Though some have found a purse in their way, let us not trust to like hap, but carry money with us. This is a privy-door on special favour open to some few. There lieth no way by them. “This is the way,” you have heard, “walk in it and you shall find rest to your souls.”*

To speak then of safe seeking and sure finding, I say, as Asaph saith, it is a ne fiant. This time is not the time Christ giveth us; He assigneth us another. Yea we condemn ourselves in that we would seek to allow it ourselves. If we were put to it to say plainly, “not till He kill me,” it would choke us. We neither have heart nor face, we would not dare to answer so, we dare not avow it. And if it be a ne dicant it is a ne fiant. The time of God’s quærite is primum quærite.* This cum is the last of all our cums; all other before it. First and last are flat ad oppositum. This is not it.

The time of seeking God must be δεκτὸς, such as is meet to be received. This is not: therefore, I hope, we will not offer it God.* If we do, take heed He scorn not this time as He doth their price in Zachary; “A goodly time1 that I have assigned Me.”* Take heed He stand not upon His reputation, as in Malachi, and bid us “offer our service”* at this hour, “to any great man and see, whether he will be content with it,” and not reject both us and our seeking then. This is not, cannot be but a great ne fiant, to offer God that no man is so mean but would take in evil part.

This time is the time when all hypocrites, atheists, tag and rag, come in and seek Him in a sort; and shall not we be confounded to see ourselves in their number? Nay to say that must be said for true it is, It is past the Devil’s time. They be his words, cur ante tempus?* and he seeketh to make them ours, that it is ever too soon to seek God. At the hardest I trust we will not keep time with him.

And to seek Him then is not to seek Him; not quærebant Eum. No; they seek Him not, they “dissemble with Him,” saith Asaph, in the next verse. For when God to try them reprieved them never so little time, they fell to their old bias;* and when as He ceased killing, their seeking was at an end. So are all forced seekings, like to a bow-string brought to his full bent, but remit you never so little it starteth back again.

Nay it is not quærebant, no kindly seeking, but a base ignoble creeping to, without all ingenuity1, when we must either die or do it. Neither χάρις nor κλέος to do it then.

But in very deed it is no “seeking”* at all, as before we defined quærebant to “seek indeed.” There is a diameter between occideret and quærebant, and therefore between it and quærebant Eum. Men cannot then seek; if they must rise up and turn them that must do it, they are not able for their lives to turn or stir themselves to do it. Nay, nor to “enquire.” For what is our “seeking” then? Is it not to lie still on our bed, and suffer a few words to be spoken in our ears? Have a little opiate divinity ministered to our souls, and so sent away? Sure this is rather to be sought than to “seek.” There goeth more to quærebant then thus. We must then “seek” when we are in case to give sentence and to do judgment on ourselves, when we are able to take up our cross before it be laid on us. Quærebant Eum must stand before cum occideret.

Lastly, it would be known what became of this quærebant? What they found that sought thus, and then and not before? “They found not Him,”* the Prophet saith plainly. They go then “with sheep and bullocks,” and all manner of sacrifice, “to seek the Lord; but find Him not, for He hath withdrawn Himself before.”

And justly they find Him not ex lege talionis. God Himself answers them; nay their own hearts answer themselves. Go: whom you have spent your life in seeking, seek to them now. Let them save you at this, whom ye sought at all other times. As for Me, it shall come to pass, as I cried and you would not hear, so you shall cry and seek and shall not find or be heard, saith the Lord.

Yes—they found Him, but with a door shut between Him and them. But what found they? The parable of the ten virgins tells us, which is the Gospel for this Psalm, they found that which we I hope shall never find, a nescio vos.* Where, that we may see that this course is folly and therefore indeed a ne fiant sicut, that which putteth the difference of those that be wise and go in, is that they had sought “and looked to their oil ere the Bridegroom came;”* and those that were foolish and shut out when the Bridegroom was even coming, that is, cum occideret, were to seek their oil then—had not looked to it till then. Nescio vos is their answer, He knoweth them not; they took too short a time to breed acquaintance in. Nescio vos they find that so seek. Profecto ad hoc tonitru, &c. ‘At this clap he that waketh not is not asleep but dead.’

To conclude then with our instruction. If this time and this seeking have so many evil marks, the time so unseasonable, the seeking so many ways to seek; if the success to this seeking be no better but nescio vos, why then ne fiat. If these here were not well advised, if those virgins were foolish, why then ne fiant sicut, “not to be like.”

Secondly, to sever the silver from the dross: the seeking is good, keep it; the time is wrong, change it; either into antequam occideret or into cum servaret. Fiat to the action, ne fiat to the time.

Thirdly, as we confess that there is One to be sought, and that with the turning of a gin1 we cannot have Him when we list, but seek Him we must; that His seeking is worth the while, and that it is not dispatched in a minute, but must have time; so to think His seeking worthy a better, and to allow it a better time than this to do it in.

Fourthly, seeing “yet is the acceptable time,” yet “He may be found,”* yet it is cum servaret, occideret is not yet come—how near it is it is hard to say; our Saviour Christ saith it is quâ horâ nescis,* it may be nearer than we are aware; lest it come upon us before we seek, let us seek before it come upon us. So seeking we shall safely seek; safely seek and surely find God, and with God whatsoever is worth the finding. But, that which we seek, we shall after occideret is past find ourselves in His presence and at His right hand; “in Whose presence is the fulness of joy,”* not as ours here joys half empty; and at “Whose right hand there are pleasures for evermore,” not as ours here for a time and a short time, God knoweth. That which here we seek and cannot find with Him we shall, if we shall here indeed and in due time seek Him by the timely fruits of an undelayed repentance. Almighty God, lighten our minds, kindle our affections, settle our hearts so to seek, &c.[1]

 

 

1 Liter. water impregnated with alkaline salts imbibed from the ashes of wood. Webster.

* Isa. 37:3.

1 i.e. pride. The ruff of their glory. L.’Estrange.

* [ἐκ παρέργου Thucyd. vii. 27.]

* Joh. 18:38.

* Ps. 105:3.

1 [price.]

1 [i.e. ingenuousness.]

* Mat. 25:12.

1 [Here used apparently forengine.]

[1] Andrewes, L. (1841). Ninety-Six Sermons (Vol. 1, pp. 305–320). Oxford: John Henry Parker. (Public Domain)

Miracles of Healing

Miracles of Healing

Miracle of Healing

Matt. 8:13

“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.”

From the consideration of the nature and use of our Blessed Lord’s miracles in general, and the example of that first great miracle of turning water into wine, we now come to speak of those which have a more particular character. And the Gospel to-day brings before us two of these, the cleansing of the leper and the recovering of the centurion’s servant, both belonging to the same class: that of the healing of disease.

In order to understand the bearing of these on Christian doctrine, let us first enquire, what disease is: what place it holds with reference to the office and work of the Redeemer. That it does hold some important place, is evident, from the great number of His wonderful works which had respect to the healing and removing of it. Disease, then, is simply the beginning of death. It is, in its various forms, that part of the dark procession of miseries consequent on sin, which ushers in the dread executioner of the primitive sentence, “Thou shalt surely die.” So that He who came to abolish death, and to bring life and immortality to light through the Gospel, might well be expected, among his wonderful works performed in confirmation of this his mission, to heal diseases. For He would thus be shewing the great restoration which He came to effect in our whole nature: the health, and life, and vigor, which accompany His presence, and His touch, and His word. And He was not content with healing every sickness and disease among the people: He even exerted his power over the king of terrors himself, and His voice was heard by the spirit of man in the realms of the departed, and He was obeyed.

All these miracles form one great class, and that by far the largest, of those which our Lord wrought on earth. And the lessons taught by them are manifold.

There is first the plain fact, that the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. How familiar this is on our tongues, but how little do we really think of it in our secret hearts! Many are the works related of him: why should by far the greater number of them be miracles of healing? Was there nothing more important to do in the world? One of the bitterest enemies of Christianity in ancient times, Julian the apostate, denied that our Lord ever did any really wonderful works: “He only cured a few sick people in villages like Bethsaida and Bethany.” Why, if our Lord had been pleased, He could have done works which would have struck with terror every caviler at His Gospel. But He mainly confined himself to these, wrought on obscure persons, and in obscure places, because He wanted, not to be glorified of men, but to teach and bless and console His people to the end of time. And when we see Him thus laying out the precious days of his ministry, and inspiring his Evangelists to write these accounts of his works of healing, and providentially preserving the books in which they are related down to these latter days, we ought to feel thankfully convinced that He came, and wrought his works, and had his Gospels written, to help us, to heal us, to make us sound and happy, and to prolong and cheer our lives, not to bring misery and fear and weakness of purpose and terror of death among us, as some would have us believe. What a comfort, my brethren, this might be to us, if we would but think ever of Him thus; as of one waiting to heal and to bless! How would pain be lightened and sickness patiently borne and death lose its terrors, if we always saw His hand stretched forth to heal us, His form standing by the sick bed, or walking on the waves of affliction, and saying to us “It is I, be not afraid!”

It may however be said, But He does not do this now: we are left to bear our pains and troubles without Him. Not indeed without Him, for He is ever thinking of every one of us: but in part, the remark is most true. He did not come into our world to work miracles, to heal diseases, or to raise the dead. There were thousands of sick in Judæa and Galilee during His ministry, who never saw His face nor partook of His healing power: of all that died in those three years, He raised but three, that we are told of. He came into the world to do that far greater work of which these were but the signs and tokens;—to put out and abolish forever the great disease of our nature;—to take away the sin of the world. And this He has done once for all, and is ever applying the blessed fruits of His work to the members of His Church. It was to shew you His gracious mind in doing this, not to lead you to expect bodily healing or raising from the dead, or to murmur, because such blessings are now withdrawn, that I dwelt on the consolation which these His miracles may afford us.

Another lesson which His wonderful works teach us, and which we deeply need, is, the importance of these our bodies, in the great process of Redemption. It is a very common mistake to imagine that the saving of the soul is to be the great object of religion. Nay, religion itself is called the interest of the soul: and by many Christians the body is as little regarded as having any share in it, as if it were to be left behind in the grave, and a blessed eternity would be passed without it. Yet nothing can be more contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture, than such a way of viewing the subject. In Scripture Christ is called the Savior, not of the soul, but of the body: that for which St. Paul tells us the whole Church of God is waiting, is, the redemption of the body: when the same Apostle has finished the great argument concerning salvation by grace through faith in the Epistle to the Romans, he beseeches us by the mercies of God to yield, not our souls, but our bodies, a living sacrifice to God: when he warns the Corinthians against sins of uncleanness, he says, “Know ye not that,” not your souls, but “your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost?” And the one distinctive doctrine of Christianity, by which it was different from every other religion in the world, was, not the future life of the soul: this was known to Jew and to heathen long before: but it was, the resurrection of the body: that all men should come out of their graves with their bodies; and that the entire man, body, soul, and spirit, should live for ever in bliss, or endure for ever in woe, without separation or diminution.

Our modern religion is become far too spiritual—far too much a matter of thought, and opinion, and inward feelings and experiences, and this has led men to unite it so little with their common lives, and make it a matter of such convenient secrecy and mystery, that they may do and say just what they please in the body, without their religious profession being affected by it. And another result of this so-called spiritual view of religion is, that in treating of the heathen abroad, or the far worse heathen at home, those who hold it will almost forbid, or at any rate depreciate, the attempt to better their bodily state by civilization, by sanitary improvements, by elevating arts and kindlier habits; and tell us we must care for their souls first, if not only. To all such views I conceive our blessed Lord’s own practice is our best as it is our most decisive answer. He preached the Gospel of the kingdom: but while He did it, He went about doing good:—healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, restoring the withered limb, and the uprightness of the bowed-down frame. These were the ways in which He prepared men for His Gospel, and in which He has taught us to prepare them: not by putting it in contrast to all our blessings, but by making it the crown and topstone to all our blessings: not by giving out that health, and spirits, and the use of our senses, and the information of our minds, and the decencies and courtesies of life, are all bad, and religion only is good; but by ourselves feeling, and telling others, that all these are good, very good,—rich gifts of our merciful Father,—but that faith in Christ, obedience to Christ, is better than all of them, best of all of them;—and Christ Himself the gift of gifts,—God’s unspeakable gift.

The next remark which I have to make on this class of our Lord’s works will of necessity introduce us to the particular character and features of the former of those related in our Gospel to-day. The remark is, on the typical import of these healing miracles, as pointing to the Lord’s power over the diseases of our souls and spirits: and the miracle which best illustrates this is the cleansing of the leper, with which our gospel begins. It can be no new thing to you to hear, that this disease of leprosy was chosen for notice in the ancient law, and a special set of enactments made concerning it, not for any sanitary reasons, but purely because it was taken as a type of man’s great disease of sin. Although one of the most loathsome and terrible of bodily plagues, it was not contagious:—there was no fear of its spreading from man to man. This would be plain, by merely observing that in cases when it could not be helped, the leper was employed in high offices: in cases which were perfectly hopeless, he was, even by the law, relieved from many of the restrictions laid on his fellow-sufferers, and was allowed to mingle in the haunts of men. The whole treatment of the leper, his separation, the multitude of precautions taken concerning his examination and his cleansing, appear to have been imposed by the law to set forth the impurity and loathsomeness in God’s sight, and the difficulty of removal, of the deeper and more fatal spiritual disease of man. It was fitting then that the Lord should exercise His power of healing prominently on the leper, and should leave us an express record of his grace and power in dealing with this disease. It was just as He had ended that great discourse known to us as the Sermon on the Mount,—that discourse in which He describes himself as come not to destroy the law but to fulfil it. Having exhibited this character in his teaching, He descended from the mountain, great multitudes following him. As He was entering a certain city a man met him full of leprosy. With a wonderful simplicity combined with strength of faith, falling down before him he cried, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” We may observe that long before this Jesus had made circuits in Galilee, teaching and healing. So that it was no new thing that the leper was announcing;—no new thing that the Lord did. But this Evangelist, who loves to set forth the kingly office and majesty of Christ, was directed to put this miracle in the very forefront of those recorded by him, doubtless because it was so direct an appeal to our Lord’s will and power, and because that appeal was so plainly and undoubtingly answered by Him. For He does not say, “Go pray to God who alone can heal thee:” He does not reply, as Joseph did, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace:” nor as Peter did to Cornelius, “Stand up, for I also am a man:” but He at once claimed and proved what the leper asserted him to possess, by the open and immediate exercise of it. He put forth his hand, and touched him: thus Himself by imputation partaking of our uncleannesses,—for whosoever touched a leper became himself unclean. Moreover He said “I will: be thou clean.”

My brethren, what an assertion of power, what an exertion of it is here! He will: of His own authority and of His own good pleasure He doeth that which is done. And the same mighty will which in our miracle last Sunday had silently and without expression changed the element of water into the juice of the grape, and had superseded the slow work of human manufacture and the ripening processes of time, now by a spoken word purified the tainted juices of the body, annihilated the loathsome traces of disease and decay, and recreated that frame which His power had originally made. “Immediately his leprosy departed from him.”

And, if we come to consider the miracle in its deeper import, O what is leprosy of the body, loathsome and fatal as it was, to the ruin and decay of man’s soul by sin? We hear indeed, that the wretched persons who were thus afflicted carried about with them a living death; that the body under its influence lost its sensation part by part, and dropped into decay and dissolution: but does not all this happen more dreadfully and more hopelessly to the victim of sin? When the heart hardens, the pure affections become polluted, the will enfeebled, the judgment impaired, personal freedom of action lost owing to the bondage of long prevalent evil habit, what is it but a leprosy of the soul,—the sign and the precursor of eternal death? Yet if out of this depth of misery the sinner turn to Him who healed the leper, not doubting, but receiving with simple faith His power and will to cleanse him, then has the Lord taught us by this miracle, that He can and will heal and cleanse: not indeed now by a touch, nor in a moment: this kind cometh not out thus: but as surely, as graciously, as completely: by the gradual means of grace, by His word and His ordinances, and the purifying influences of His blessed Spirit, renovating him as the flesh of a little child in the new life unto God.

Let us now turn to the lesson prominently taught us by the latter of these miracles, in our gospel of this day. I say nothing at present of the secondary instruction to be derived from the remarkable faith of the centurion, who was a Roman and a heathen: I am in these sermons more concerned with that which has respect to our Lord Himself, as testimony to us of the doctrines regarding His Sacred Person. Looking then at this only, our lesson is, the absolute command which He has over all diseases as His servants, going and coming at his bidding. The faithful centurion compares Him to the captain of a great army, having soldiers under him and at his beck. He himself knew something of this, being one whose position required him both to obey and to command. That obedience which he yielded to his tribune or his general, that obedience which his subordinates yielded to him, the same obedience the painful disease of his favorite servant, the same obedience all diseases, would yield to Christ. And this again is not treated as a fond and superstitious view of the matter: our Lord does not take him up and explain to him how the fact really stands by depreciating His own power or limiting it. But he turns and says to those around him, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.” And then to the centurion, “Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” “And his servant was made whole,” we read, “in the selfsame hour.”

Now doubtless this narrative does not relate to us the same fact as that occurring at the end of John 4, and there stated to be our Lord’s second miracle after He was come from Judæa into Galilee: any one may become convinced of this by carefully reading and comparing the two. But it is remarkable, that the two, the healing of the nobleman’s son and this of the centurion’s servant, have one particular in common, lying at the very root of the character of the miracles. In both, the healing is wrought without any contact, without our Lord even being on the spot: in one, in the same town, but far from the centurion’s house: in the other, at the distance of Cana in Galilee from Capernaum, about twenty-five of our miles. In the cleansing of the leper, as in so many of His works of healing, He establishes a communication between Himself and the person healed,—“He put forth his hand, and touched him:” there is a lesson for us in that:—the life and health which come from union with Him. In this miracle, He speaks at a distance and the effect follows: and we may learn from that too: He is absolutely master of all:—near or far, present or apparently absent, on earth or in heaven, by his word or by his look or by his will, or entirely as He pleases, He can and He will cleanse and purify and save. It is that we may rest on Him, wait for Him, lie content in His hands, that these miracles, these signs of His power and love, are given us: that we may imitate the faith which He praised, and the earnestness of supplication to which He was pleased to yield: that we may bring all our diseases to Him, all our troubles, all our cares. “If thou wilt,” is no longer needed now: the manger at Bethlehem, the subjection at Nazareth, the temptation in the wilderness, the agony in Gethsemane, the cross on Calvary, the ascension from Bethany, all these declare “I will.” He triumphs to help us: He reigns, that we may reign with Him: He intercedes, that our faith may not fail. What more can invite us? What more can assure us?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 97–107). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

Matt. 8:13

“And Jesus said unto the centurion, Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour.”

From the consideration of the nature and use of our Blessed Lord’s miracles in general, and the example of that first great miracle of turning water into wine, we now come to speak of those which have a more particular character. And the Gospel to-day brings before us two of these, the cleansing of the leper and the recovering of the centurion’s servant, both belonging to the same class: that of the healing of disease.

In order to understand the bearing of these on Christian doctrine, let us first enquire, what disease is: what place it holds with reference to the office and work of the Redeemer. That it does hold some important place, is evident, from the great number of His wonderful works which had respect to the healing and removing of it. Disease, then, is simply the beginning of death. It is, in its various forms, that part of the dark procession of miseries consequent on sin, which ushers in the dread executioner of the primitive sentence, “Thou shalt surely die.” So that He who came to abolish death, and to bring life and immortality to light through the Gospel, might well be expected, among his wonderful works performed in confirmation of this his mission, to heal diseases. For He would thus be shewing the great restoration which He came to effect in our whole nature: the health, and life, and vigor, which accompany His presence, and His touch, and His word. And He was not content with healing every sickness and disease among the people: He even exerted his power over the king of terrors himself, and His voice was heard by the spirit of man in the realms of the departed, and He was obeyed.

All these miracles form one great class, and that by far the largest, of those which our Lord wrought on earth. And the lessons taught by them are manifold.

There is first the plain fact, that the Son of man came not to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. How familiar this is on our tongues, but how little do we really think of it in our secret hearts! Many are the works related of him: why should by far the greater number of them be miracles of healing? Was there nothing more important to do in the world? One of the bitterest enemies of Christianity in ancient times, Julian the apostate, denied that our Lord ever did any really wonderful works: “He only cured a few sick people in villages like Bethsaida and Bethany.” Why, if our Lord had been pleased, He could have done works which would have struck with terror every caviler at His Gospel. But He mainly confined himself to these, wrought on obscure persons, and in obscure places, because He wanted, not to be glorified of men, but to teach and bless and console His people to the end of time. And when we see Him thus laying out the precious days of his ministry, and inspiring his Evangelists to write these accounts of his works of healing, and providentially preserving the books in which they are related down to these latter days, we ought to feel thankfully convinced that He came, and wrought his works, and had his Gospels written, to help us, to heal us, to make us sound and happy, and to prolong and cheer our lives, not to bring misery and fear and weakness of purpose and terror of death among us, as some would have us believe. What a comfort, my brethren, this might be to us, if we would but think ever of Him thus; as of one waiting to heal and to bless! How would pain be lightened and sickness patiently borne and death lose its terrors, if we always saw His hand stretched forth to heal us, His form standing by the sick bed, or walking on the waves of affliction, and saying to us “It is I, be not afraid!”

It may however be said, But He does not do this now: we are left to bear our pains and troubles without Him. Not indeed without Him, for He is ever thinking of every one of us: but in part, the remark is most true. He did not come into our world to work miracles, to heal diseases, or to raise the dead. There were thousands of sick in Judæa and Galilee during His ministry, who never saw His face nor partook of His healing power: of all that died in those three years, He raised but three, that we are told of. He came into the world to do that far greater work of which these were but the signs and tokens;—to put out and abolish forever the great disease of our nature;—to take away the sin of the world. And this He has done once for all, and is ever applying the blessed fruits of His work to the members of His Church. It was to shew you His gracious mind in doing this, not to lead you to expect bodily healing or raising from the dead, or to murmur, because such blessings are now withdrawn, that I dwelt on the consolation which these His miracles may afford us.

Another lesson which His wonderful works teach us, and which we deeply need, is, the importance of these our bodies, in the great process of Redemption. It is a very common mistake to imagine that the saving of the soul is to be the great object of religion. Nay, religion itself is called the interest of the soul: and by many Christians the body is as little regarded as having any share in it, as if it were to be left behind in the grave, and a blessed eternity would be passed without it. Yet nothing can be more contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture, than such a way of viewing the subject. In Scripture Christ is called the Savior, not of the soul, but of the body: that for which St. Paul tells us the whole Church of God is waiting, is, the redemption of the body: when the same Apostle has finished the great argument concerning salvation by grace through faith in the Epistle to the Romans, he beseeches us by the mercies of God to yield, not our souls, but our bodies, a living sacrifice to God: when he warns the Corinthians against sins of uncleanness, he says, “Know ye not that,” not your souls, but “your bodies are temples of the Holy Ghost?” And the one distinctive doctrine of Christianity, by which it was different from every other religion in the world, was, not the future life of the soul: this was known to Jew and to heathen long before: but it was, the resurrection of the body: that all men should come out of their graves with their bodies; and that the entire man, body, soul, and spirit, should live for ever in bliss, or endure for ever in woe, without separation or diminution.

Our modern religion is become far too spiritual—far too much a matter of thought, and opinion, and inward feelings and experiences, and this has led men to unite it so little with their common lives, and make it a matter of such convenient secrecy and mystery, that they may do and say just what they please in the body, without their religious profession being affected by it. And another result of this so-called spiritual view of religion is, that in treating of the heathen abroad, or the far worse heathen at home, those who hold it will almost forbid, or at any rate depreciate, the attempt to better their bodily state by civilization, by sanitary improvements, by elevating arts and kindlier habits; and tell us we must care for their souls first, if not only. To all such views I conceive our blessed Lord’s own practice is our best as it is our most decisive answer. He preached the Gospel of the kingdom: but while He did it, He went about doing good:—healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, restoring the withered limb, and the uprightness of the bowed-down frame. These were the ways in which He prepared men for His Gospel, and in which He has taught us to prepare them: not by putting it in contrast to all our blessings, but by making it the crown and topstone to all our blessings: not by giving out that health, and spirits, and the use of our senses, and the information of our minds, and the decencies and courtesies of life, are all bad, and religion only is good; but by ourselves feeling, and telling others, that all these are good, very good,—rich gifts of our merciful Father,—but that faith in Christ, obedience to Christ, is better than all of them, best of all of them;—and Christ Himself the gift of gifts,—God’s unspeakable gift.

The next remark which I have to make on this class of our Lord’s works will of necessity introduce us to the particular character and features of the former of those related in our Gospel to-day. The remark is, on the typical import of these healing miracles, as pointing to the Lord’s power over the diseases of our souls and spirits: and the miracle which best illustrates this is the cleansing of the leper, with which our gospel begins. It can be no new thing to you to hear, that this disease of leprosy was chosen for notice in the ancient law, and a special set of enactments made concerning it, not for any sanitary reasons, but purely because it was taken as a type of man’s great disease of sin. Although one of the most loathsome and terrible of bodily plagues, it was not contagious:—there was no fear of its spreading from man to man. This would be plain, by merely observing that in cases when it could not be helped, the leper was employed in high offices: in cases which were perfectly hopeless, he was, even by the law, relieved from many of the restrictions laid on his fellow-sufferers, and was allowed to mingle in the haunts of men. The whole treatment of the leper, his separation, the multitude of precautions taken concerning his examination and his cleansing, appear to have been imposed by the law to set forth the impurity and loathsomeness in God’s sight, and the difficulty of removal, of the deeper and more fatal spiritual disease of man. It was fitting then that the Lord should exercise His power of healing prominently on the leper, and should leave us an express record of his grace and power in dealing with this disease. It was just as He had ended that great discourse known to us as the Sermon on the Mount,—that discourse in which He describes himself as come not to destroy the law but to fulfil it. Having exhibited this character in his teaching, He descended from the mountain, great multitudes following him. As He was entering a certain city a man met him full of leprosy. With a wonderful simplicity combined with strength of faith, falling down before him he cried, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” We may observe that long before this Jesus had made circuits in Galilee, teaching and healing. So that it was no new thing that the leper was announcing;—no new thing that the Lord did. But this Evangelist, who loves to set forth the kingly office and majesty of Christ, was directed to put this miracle in the very forefront of those recorded by him, doubtless because it was so direct an appeal to our Lord’s will and power, and because that appeal was so plainly and undoubtingly answered by Him. For He does not say, “Go pray to God who alone can heal thee:” He does not reply, as Joseph did, “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace:” nor as Peter did to Cornelius, “Stand up, for I also am a man:” but He at once claimed and proved what the leper asserted him to possess, by the open and immediate exercise of it. He put forth his hand, and touched him: thus Himself by imputation partaking of our uncleannesses,—for whosoever touched a leper became himself unclean. Moreover He said “I will: be thou clean.”

My brethren, what an assertion of power, what an exertion of it is here! He will: of His own authority and of His own good pleasure He doeth that which is done. And the same mighty will which in our miracle last Sunday had silently and without expression changed the element of water into the juice of the grape, and had superseded the slow work of human manufacture and the ripening processes of time, now by a spoken word purified the tainted juices of the body, annihilated the loathsome traces of disease and decay, and recreated that frame which His power had originally made. “Immediately his leprosy departed from him.”

And, if we come to consider the miracle in its deeper import, O what is leprosy of the body, loathsome and fatal as it was, to the ruin and decay of man’s soul by sin? We hear indeed, that the wretched persons who were thus afflicted carried about with them a living death; that the body under its influence lost its sensation part by part, and dropped into decay and dissolution: but does not all this happen more dreadfully and more hopelessly to the victim of sin? When the heart hardens, the pure affections become polluted, the will enfeebled, the judgment impaired, personal freedom of action lost owing to the bondage of long prevalent evil habit, what is it but a leprosy of the soul,—the sign and the precursor of eternal death? Yet if out of this depth of misery the sinner turn to Him who healed the leper, not doubting, but receiving with simple faith His power and will to cleanse him, then has the Lord taught us by this miracle, that He can and will heal and cleanse: not indeed now by a touch, nor in a moment: this kind cometh not out thus: but as surely, as graciously, as completely: by the gradual means of grace, by His word and His ordinances, and the purifying influences of His blessed Spirit, renovating him as the flesh of a little child in the new life unto God.

Let us now turn to the lesson prominently taught us by the latter of these miracles, in our gospel of this day. I say nothing at present of the secondary instruction to be derived from the remarkable faith of the centurion, who was a Roman and a heathen: I am in these sermons more concerned with that which has respect to our Lord Himself, as testimony to us of the doctrines regarding His Sacred Person. Looking then at this only, our lesson is, the absolute command which He has over all diseases as His servants, going and coming at his bidding. The faithful centurion compares Him to the captain of a great army, having soldiers under him and at his beck. He himself knew something of this, being one whose position required him both to obey and to command. That obedience which he yielded to his tribune or his general, that obedience which his subordinates yielded to him, the same obedience the painful disease of his favorite servant, the same obedience all diseases, would yield to Christ. And this again is not treated as a fond and superstitious view of the matter: our Lord does not take him up and explain to him how the fact really stands by depreciating His own power or limiting it. But he turns and says to those around him, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel.” And then to the centurion, “Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.” “And his servant was made whole,” we read, “in the selfsame hour.”

Now doubtless this narrative does not relate to us the same fact as that occurring at the end of John 4, and there stated to be our Lord’s second miracle after He was come from Judæa into Galilee: any one may become convinced of this by carefully reading and comparing the two. But it is remarkable, that the two, the healing of the nobleman’s son and this of the centurion’s servant, have one particular in common, lying at the very root of the character of the miracles. In both, the healing is wrought without any contact, without our Lord even being on the spot: in one, in the same town, but far from the centurion’s house: in the other, at the distance of Cana in Galilee from Capernaum, about twenty-five of our miles. In the cleansing of the leper, as in so many of His works of healing, He establishes a communication between Himself and the person healed,—“He put forth his hand, and touched him:” there is a lesson for us in that:—the life and health which come from union with Him. In this miracle, He speaks at a distance and the effect follows: and we may learn from that too: He is absolutely master of all:—near or far, present or apparently absent, on earth or in heaven, by his word or by his look or by his will, or entirely as He pleases, He can and He will cleanse and purify and save. It is that we may rest on Him, wait for Him, lie content in His hands, that these miracles, these signs of His power and love, are given us: that we may imitate the faith which He praised, and the earnestness of supplication to which He was pleased to yield: that we may bring all our diseases to Him, all our troubles, all our cares. “If thou wilt,” is no longer needed now: the manger at Bethlehem, the subjection at Nazareth, the temptation in the wilderness, the agony in Gethsemane, the cross on Calvary, the ascension from Bethany, all these declare “I will.” He triumphs to help us: He reigns, that we may reign with Him: He intercedes, that our faith may not fail. What more can invite us? What more can assure us?

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 97–107). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

 

The Strait Gate

The Strait Gate

The Strait Gate

OR

Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven

Plainly proving, by the Scriptures, that not only the rude and profane, but many great professors, will come short of that kingdom.

‘Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.’—Matthew 7:13, 14

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If any uninspired writer has been entitled to the name of Boanerges, or a son of thunder, it is the author of the following treatise. Here we have a most searching and faithful display of the straitness or exact dimensions of that all-important gate, which will not suffer many professors to pass into the kingdom of heaven, encumbered as they are with fatal errors. Still ‘it is no little pinching wicket, but wide enough for all the truly gracious and sincere lovers of Jesus Christ; while it is so strait, that no others can by any means enter in.’ This is a subject calculated to rouse and stimulate all genuine professors to solemn inquiry; and it was peculiarly intended to dart at, and fix convictions upon, the multitudes of hypocritical professors who abounded in Bunyan’s time, especially under the reigns of the later Stuarts.

During the Protectorate, wickedness was discountenanced, and skulked in the holes and corners of Mansoul; but when a debauched monarch, who had taken refuge in the most licentious court in Europe, was called to occupy the throne of his fathers, the most abandoned profligacy and profaneness were let loose upon the nation. Vice was openly patronized, while virtue and religion were as openly treated with mockery and contempt. Bunyan justly says, ‘The text calls for sharpness, so do the times.’ ‘With those whose religion lieth in some circumstantials, the kingdom swarms at this day.’ When they stand at the gate, they will ‘shake like a quagmire—their feigned faith, pretended love, shows of gravity, and holiday words, will stand them in little stead; some professors do with religion just as people do with their best apparel—hang it on the wall all the week, and put it on on Sundays; they save it till they go to a meeting, or meet with a godly chapman.’ This state of society called for peculiar sharpness, and Bunyan preached and published, in 1676, this awful alarm to professors. No subject could be more peculiarly applicable than ‘The Gate of heaven,’ and ‘the difficulties of entering in thereat’; a subject of the deepest interest to all mankind—to stimulate the careless to find, and to enter the gate of this the only city of refuge from eternal misery—to fill the heart of God’s children with love and joy in their prospects of a blessed immortality—and to sting the hypocrites with the awful thought of finding the gate shut against them for ever. Their cries and tears will be too late; they will stand without and vehemently cry, ‘Lord, Lord, open unto us’; in vain will be their outcry, ‘the devils are coming; Lord, Lord, the pit opens her mouth upon us; Lord, Lord, there is nothing but hell and damnation left us, if thou hast not mercy upon us.’ These were professors who pretended to have found the gate and way to heaven; who passed for pilgrims who were seeking a better, even a heavenly country; such deluded victims must be, of all men, the most miserable.

Faithfulness becomes the ministers of Christ in dealing with the souls of men; and pre-eminently faithful is John Bunyan in this treatise. Reader, he will be clear of thy blood. Enter upon the solemn inquiry, Have I sought the gate? Shall I be admitted into, or shut out from, that blessed kingdom? The openly profane can have no hope. Are you a professor?—there is danger sill. In vain will it be to urge, ‘We have prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils.’ To the secretly profane, whatever may be their profession, there can be no well-grounded hope of entrance in at this gate. Those only will be admitted whom the Lord knows to be his—the sheep of his pasture, who have heard his voice, and obeyed it. Against all others the door will be shut, and the awful words, ‘I know you not—depart, ye cursed,’ will hurry them to eternal darkness. The question, ‘Are there few that be saved?’ will suggest itself to our minds; may the answer fix upon our conscience, ‘STRIVE to enter in.’ It is very probable that it was in preaching upon this text, Bunyan was assailed with a want of charity. The anecdote is thus narrated by Mr. Doe in The Struggler:—‘As Mr. Bunyan was preaching in a barn, and showing the fewness of those that should be saved, there stood one of the learned to take advantage of his words; and having done preaching, the schoolman said to him, You are a deceiver, a person of no charity, and therefore not fit to preach; for he that [in effect] condemneth the greatest part of his hearers hath no charity, and therefore is not fit to preach. Then Mr. Bunyan answered, The Lord Jesus Christ preached in a ship to his hearers on the shore (Mat 13), and showed that they were as four sorts of ground, the highway, the stony, the thorny, and the good ground, but those represented by the good ground were the only persons to be saved. And your position is, That he that in effect condemneth the greatest part of his hearers, hath no charity, and therefore is not fit to preach the gospel. But here the Lord Jesus Christ did so, then your conclusion is, The Lord Jesus Christ wanted charity, and therefore was not fit to preach the gospel. Horrid blasphemy; away with your hellish logic, and speak Scripture.’ Of one thing we are certain, that while hollow-hearted hypocritical professors will ever complain of faithful dealing with their soul’s eternal interests; the sincere and humble Christina will be most thankful for searching inquiries, that, if wrong, he may be set right before his final destiny is irrevocably fixed. May our souls submit to a scriptural measurement of this gate, and the terms upon which alone it can be opened unto us.

The difficulties that prevent ‘the many’ from entering in are, 1. Forgetfulness that we can only enter heaven by the permission of the law—every jot and tittle must be fulfilled. Now, if we could live from our conversion to our death in the holiest obedience to all its precepts, yet, having previously violated them, the stain must not only be washed away in the blood of atonement, but we, as part of the body of Christ, must, in him, render perfect obedience. 2. In addition to the disinclination of our hearts to submit to this perfect righteousness, we have outward storms of temptation and persecution. ‘The world will seek to keep thee out of heaven with mocks, flouts, taunts, threats, jails, gibbets, halters, burnings, and a thousand deaths; therefore strive! Again, if it cannot overcome thee with these, it will flatter, promise, allure, entice, entreat, and use a thousand tricks on this hand to destroy thee; and many that have been stout against the threats of the world have yet been overcome with the bewitching flatteries of the same. O that we may by grace escape all these enemies, and so strive as to enter into the joy of our Lord.’

GEO. OFFOR.

To the Reader:

COURTEOUS READER,

God, I hope, hath put it into my heart to write unto thee another time, and that about matters of greatest moment—for now we discourse not about things controverted among the godly, but directly about the saving or damning of the soul; yea, moreover, this discourse is about the fewness of them that shall be saved, and it proves that many a high professor will come short of eternal life; wherefore the matter must needs be sharp, and so disliked by some, but let it not be rejected by thee. The text calls for sharpness, so do the times, yea, the faithful discharge of my duty towards thee hath put me upon it.

I do not now pipe, but mourn; and it will be well for thee if thou canst graciously lament. (Matt 11:17) Some, say they, make the gate of heaven too wide, and some make it too narrow; for my part, I have here presented thee with as true a measure of it as by the Word of God I can. Read me, therefore, yea, read me, and compare me with the Bible; and if thou findest my doctrine and that book of God concur, embrace it, as thou wilt answer the contrary in the day of judgment. This awakening work—if God will make it so—was prepared for thee: if there be need, and it wounds, get healing by blood: if it disquiets, get peace by blood: if it takes away all thou hast, because it was naught (for this book is not prepared to take away true grace from any), then buy of Christ ‘gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich, and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear, and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see.’ (Rev 3:18) Self-flatteries, self-deceivings, are easy and pleasant, but damnable. The Lord give thee a heart to judge right of thyself, right of this book, and so to prepare for eternity, that thou mayest not only expect entrance, but be received into the kingdom of Christ and of God. Amen.

So prays thy Friend,

JOHN BUNYAN

The Strait Gate

‘STRIVE TO ENTER IN AT THE STRAIT GATE; FOR MANY, I SAY UNTO YOU, WILL SEEK TO ENTER IN, AND SHALL NOT BE ABLE.’—LUKE 13:24

These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are, therefore, in especial manner to be heeded; besides, the subject matter of the words is the most weighty, to wit, how we should attain salvation, and therefore also to be heeded.

The occasion of the words was a question which one that was at this time in the company of the disciples put to Jesus Christ; the question was this, ‘Lord, are there few that be saved?’ (verse 23) A serious question, not such as tended to the subversion of the hearers, as too many now-a-days do; but such as in its own nature tended to the awakening of the company to good, and that called for such an answer that might profit the people also. This question also well pleased Jesus Christ, and he prepareth and giveth such an answer as was without the least retort, or show of distaste; such an answer, I say, as carried in it the most full resolve to the question itself, and help to the persons questioning. ‘And he said unto them, Strive to enter in,’ &c. The words are an answer, and an instruction also. First. An answer, and that in the affirmative; the gate is strait—many that seek will not be able, therefore but few shall be saved. Second. The answer is an instruction also; ‘strive to enter in,’ &c., good counsel and instruction; pray God help me, and my reader, and all that love their own salvation, to take it.

My manner of handling the words will be—FIRST, By way of explication; and then SECOND, By way of observation.

The Universality of the Gospel

The Universality of the Gospel

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

 

WE have advanced thus far in our statements of Christian doctrine. Our race is universally tainted with the disease of sin, and guilty in God’s sight. But it has pleased Him, of His infinite mercy, to provide a remedy as wide and universal as the disease. The eternal Son of God has taken our nature upon him, and in it wrought out on our behalf a perfect obedience, even up to the point of suffering the penalty of the sin of mankind. On this His work, anticipated as complete in the divine counsels, we asserted that the very existence of this our world depended, and that He does at the present moment, and ever, uphold all things in the sight of the Father by virtue of the eternal redemption which He has wrought for man.
Now our subject to-day, naturally suggested by the Epiphany, or Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles, is a very simple, but a very instructive and edifying one: the fact that, in the offer made to us of the acceptance for ourselves of this redemption and all its manifold blessings, there is absolutely no difference between one man and another, but all have a right to it alike, all are alike invited to share it, all have common capacity for receiving it.

Who, you may say to me, does not know this? Why preach us a sermon about so plain and acknowledged a fact? I answer, because it was one of the most wonderful revelations of God to man when it was first made, however plain it may seem now: and also, because, however plain it may seem now, thousands of those who think it so plain, do not understand it, do not feel it, do not act upon it.

First, it was a most wonderful thing, when God revealed it to mankind. All the ages which had passed since the Creation had been putting wider and wider difference between man and man,—between nation and nation, between men’s bodies, and between men’s souls. One nation was God’s people, worshipping they knew what, in communion with the Father of Spirits, walking in the light of conscience and of revelation: another was building altars to the unknown God, bowing down to images graven by art and man’s device, but at the same time acute and trained and instructed to the highest power of the human intellect: a third had almost cast off all religion, but had taken for its acts the governing of the world and the humbling the haughty, and ruled far and wide with its laws and its arms. Then again, one man was much more different from another than we know any thing of under the more equalizing influences of modern times; the conqueror and the vanquished, the master and the slave, the learned and the unlearned,—there was a far wider gap between these than there ever can be under the power of enlightened Christian public opinion, by which all have rights, all have instruction,—and injustice, and cruelty, and grossness, can hardly abound among us. But that a remedy for the evil of the world should be proposed which would suit equally all and each of these,—which could be taken alike, and taken in the same form, by the despot and his bondsman, by the master and his slave, by the learned and ignorant, by the Jew and Gentile,—this was the wonderful thing which had never been revealed to man before; and much trouble and time it cost, before man could receive it.

First came the difficulty about Jew and Gentile. The conflict about it raged long even in the apostolic church itself. It required a heart as fervid, and a spiritual sight as keen and single as that of St. Paul, to see the truth at once, and unflinchingly to maintain it, even against Apostles, when they wavered and dissimulated. How difficult must it have been for one born and bred a Jew, ever to take in the truth that he was to have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, with a man that was born and bred and remained a Gentile! How almost impossible to make such an one ever to bring himself to allow, that the Gentile, without fulfilling any one requirement of the law, was yet to be an heir of God’s covenant promises in their highest sense, just as much and as completely as he himself, a circumcised Jew, an Hebrew by descent inheriting from Abraham! We can little imagine the widening of the view, and enlarging of the heart, and breaking down of prejudices, necessary before such a truth could be taught to a man. We cannot even devise an example in modern times which should teach us this. Every thing about us tends to widen our view, to open our hearts, to diminish our prejudices: but every thing around them tended to shut up their hearts, to narrow their view, and to fortify them in every adverse feeling. One week, they saw the Gentile taking part in his abominable idol rites; the next they might be called on to pass to him the kiss of peace as a Christian brother. It was the first great trouble in the infant church: a trouble which divided even holy Apostles asunder, and which some think was ultimately the cause of the persecution to death even of St. Paul himself.

And the difficulty, though it began here, did not by any means end here. It is natural to us to build up barriers of division between bodies of men and between individuals. The selfish heart is ever insulating itself, and its set, from other persons and other societies. If there were no more proof than this that Christianity came from God, the very fact of such an announcement being made as that in my text, would shew that some influence was at work in it which was not from man alone; some Spirit which was wider than man’s thoughts, deeper than man’s sympathies; which over-leapt all distinctions raised by time and place and descent and circumstance, and referred men’s practice for its rule to the primal truth, that God had made of one blood all nations on the earth.

And let me notice before I come to, and in coming to, the treatment of this great truth for our own times, what a fundamental and all-important principle it has ever furnished for the working and influence of the Church of Christ in all ages. What has been the one thing which has ever made the Christian Church the benefactor of mankind,—the advocate of justice and of mercy,—the enemy of the oppressor, the friend of light and the upholder of freedom? Why is it, that wherever she has not been this, she has decayed and corrupted;—wherever she has taken up the part and done its work, she has energized and prospered? Is it not simply for this reason, that the sacred doctrine, that all mankind are one in Christ Jesus, lies at the very corner of the foundation of her fabric wherever she is built up? that without it her message of mercy falls powerless, her proclamation of truth is a delusion, the God whom she preaches is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Her errand can only prosper in the broad sunshine:—she requires for her healthy breathing the whole wide atmosphere of the world:—limit her, and she becomes paralyzed: set bounds to her, and her voice sinks to a whisper: confine her to a privileged set, to a national form, to the habits of one or another age of men, and she ceases to be the Spouse of Him who is the Head and Husband of our entire humanity: put Roman before Catholic, put Eastern before Catholic, put Anglican before Catholic, and you contradict your own words as you speak, and nullify your own deeds as you act. The Church of Christ is catholic, is universal: over all, in all, belonging to all, fitted for all: all things to all men, as was he who wrote of her in our text: taking into herself, hallowing by her influence, transforming for good, all men’s temperaments, all men’s sympathies, all men’s energies: not too narrow for the mightiest of human powers to work in, not too vast and stately for the meanest to find place and honor: limiting none, despising none, degrading none, excluding none. Round her course, through the ages, have sprung up all the blessings of civilization: her path has ever been marked by the soft verdure of the kindnesses of home, the fresh shade of the courtesies of society, the fair trophies of science, the bright blossoms of art. When she has awoke to the purity and holiness of her mission, with her have awoke the exploring eye of discovery, the searching effort of invention: when she has made an onward step, with her have advanced the powers of mind over matter, and love over hatred, of peace over contention: it was she who knit up at first, it is she who has healed when threatened with severance, the bonds of intercourse among nations; and all because of this, that she is the fulness of Him that filleth all:—because she is founded on Him in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: but all are one in Christ Jesus, the Head and Savior of all.

But though all this is so, and though we thank God for it, and many of us live in the strength and hope of it, how little it has been understood in ages past—how little is it understood even now! What a record of the forgetfulness of this great principle has ever been the history of Christ’s Church! How its blessed effects have broken forth and spread, not because of, but in spite of, that which men purposed and intended!

Let man set up a principle, and work according to a rule of his own making, and the great tide of God’s providence rolls on, and the barriers which are thought so strong are swept down and carried away before it: but let God set up a principle of His, and let men counter-work it as they will, it shall prevail; working under the surface, till the surface heaves with it, and it comes uppermost, and asserts itself in spite of us all.

And so it has ever been in the history of Christ’s Church. Men have attempted to change its character—to profess conformity to it without acknowledging its principles—to get gain out of it while it should lie dormant and be merely a decent outside; to crush down the truths they daily confessed in their creeds, and hinder the efforts which they prayed for in their prayers; but blessed be God, notwithstanding their efforts, and by the very means of their efforts, the holy cause went on and the Truth prevailed: the sowers sowed evil seed, but God transformed it to good; and while they thought they were doing their work of effective repression, He was doing His work of surer and safer advance.

And how stand we now, my brethren, with regard to this foundation principle of the Gospel and Church of Christ? Have we thoroughly made it our own? Is it one of those things which we take most completely for granted in our thoughts of ourselves and others—of our Christian state and work in the world? Are we satisfied, after all these centuries, and all these conflicts, and all these proofs which God has given, that there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female: but that all are one in Christ Jesus?
Alas, would that we were! Let us try the matter by some of its plainest consequences, and judge of ourselves accordingly.

First, if the Gospel is wide enough for all humanity, and embraces it all indiscriminately, then does it not at once seem to follow, that it should take up into itself, and hallow, the whole, and not a mere part of the being of each of us? Now in connection with such a result as this, what think we of Christ and His salvation? Is it not notorious, that most of us, that Christians in general, regard their religious life and their ordinary life as two distinct things—say in fact in an impossible sense the saying, “Give to the world the things that are the world’s, and (not therefore but separately) to God the things that are God’s”—as if all things were not God’s—as if our whole lives, our whole being, body, soul, and spirit, were not bought with the blood of Christ, and His of right by that purchase? The error runs through the thoughts and actions of modern Christians to an extent which we hardly suspect. Our lives are divided into two inconsistent and incompatible portions: we try to be two persons—religious on our Sundays, at our times of devotion, on our sick beds,—and worldly all the rest of the week, and of the day, and of our ordinary time. Many and many a man, who would be offended not to be thought a good Christian, never dreams of acting, in his common resolves and determinations, from simply Christian motives,—because Christ has commanded, or has forbidden, this or that.

Now He who came to fill our whole nature with Himself and His grace, will not submit to be thus limited to a small share of it. He must have it all or none. “Whether ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” It is as much a sin against the universal spirit and power of the Gospel, to limit it to one part of our own lives, and exclude the remainder, as it is to limit it to one part of mankind and shut out the rest. We know nothing of its transforming power, or of its efficacy to supply all the wants of humanity, until our own lives with their energies and interests are carried on in that power, and draw, according to their daily need, out of that efficacy.

But again: all are one in Christ Jesus. The most ignorant, the most degraded, the most remote from the abodes of that grace which the Gospel gives, are just as capable of receiving and growing by it, as we who have been born and brought up under its outpouring. Where then is the hindrance to their doing so? Why have they not long ago heard of this universal Savior and been informed of their privilege and claim to be His? Who is in fault? Not God’s Providence, which has cast our lot on days of such wonderful discovery and facility of intercourse with distant nations, that a messenger may go to the ends of the earth now in less time and with less risk than we once could visit the distant parts of our native land: not God’s loving-kindness, which so wonderfully preserves to us the blessings of peace, that His work may not be hindered; which from year to year showers His bounties on us, filling our hearts with food and gladness. No, neither of these,—but our own worldliness, and want of zeal and self-denial; our fear of the scorn of the idle and foolish world about us, which laughs at Missionary enterprise, and questions Missionary success, and so tries to keep the Gospel of Christ from asserting and carrying out its universal kingdom among men. If we really believed this universality, this oneness in Christ, as we profess to do, we should not be content, as we now are, with a list of religious Societies for home and foreign missions, every one of them struggling for existence from year to year; the poorer among us would not be content to let the wealthier do all the work of the Church, but would cheerfully claim their share of it: the wealthy would not let a few do the work of the whole body, but would eagerly vie with one another in hastening on the glad result. We do not, my brethren, present to God or to the world the aspect of a nation which believes in this universality of Christ’s church and kingdom. Compare any one of our great public commercial enterprises with the whole of our puny efforts for Christian missions, and we painfully gather what I much fear is the truth in general, that this people is thoroughly convinced of the nature of the things of this world, but has no such conviction of the reality of its faith. On the one side we see enthusiastic eagerness, active competition, thousands and millions poured along almost any proposed channel, with or without prospect of large remuneration: on the other all is dead as winter, silent as the grave; interest barely kept up by meetings too often without any life in them, leaving for the most part on the heart a painful sense of unreality and hypocrisy: parades of names in subscription-lists, all cramped with the dreary uniformity of the conventional pound or guinea; in too many cases names of persons without heart for the enterprise, without interest, without love, without expectation of result. We serve the world by stirring personal energy, by unbounded hope, by endless contrivance: we excuse ourselves from serving Christ’s Kingdom by delegating our blessed part in it to a lifeless mechanism, from which our persons and our sympathies are alike absent. O beloved, these things would not be so, did we know each for himself, did we know, as a church and nation, the fulness of the power of that Salvation which the Savior of all men brought into the world for all men.

But one more lesson springs from the truth in my text—and that is a lesson of kindliness, of charitable feeling, of allowance for one another. If Christ’s Gospel is this wide and universal remedy for our sins and miseries, it is so not by crushing all men’s characters into one prescribed form, but by adapting itself to, and taking into itself, every variety of human character, with its defects, its weaknesses, its points which are unwelcome to society, and contemptible in the sight of man. It has been said, and not untruly, that the most accomplished man of the world is he who has best learned to hate and to despise. Directly opposite to this is the character of the accomplished disciple of Christ. He is the man who has best unlearned how to hate and despise his fellow-man. And I know of no consideration so effectual to this end, as those which spring from this great doctrine of the universal sufficiency of Christ’s Gospel. Only let it present itself in this light to us. The weakness which you see in your neighbor’s character, which makes you estimate him so cheaply, and regard him as so worthless in the world, is perhaps the very holding-ground for the anchor of a faith which keeps him firm in the truth, and which you yourself do not possess. And again, the very eagerness to seize on faults and to take the unpleasant view of things, which makes your neighbor so disagreeable to you, may be but the rough outer shell of a precious center and heart of a character which loves righteousness and hates iniquity. The surface may be ruffled and irregular, but it may be only a broken and imperfect representation of the great ground-swell of truth and holiness, stirring the depths of the character. O who that knows himself, will not rather rejoice that others are not as he is? It is, my brethren, because we do not know how wide and large and all-embracing Christ’s Spirit is, that we are always tying it down to rules and frameworks, and one or another form of human character, when we ought to be thankful for its manifold operations, glad that it lays hold of and fills and sanctifies every anxiety, every want, every special tendency of our common humanity. We need a large infusion of this Spirit of Christ which wrought in His holy Apostle, before we can properly teach, properly hear, properly feel, on such a subject as this of our text to-day. We need it in our Church life, we need it in our social life, we need it in our individual life: for unless a man be penetrated through and through by it, he has it not worthily at all.

Finally—if this Gospel be thus adapted for all, offered to all, sufficient for all, then is that person inexcusable who, when it is offered, has not accepted it in its power. My brother—my sister—you are sinful, guilty, perishing. You have that in you and about you which will ruin you for this life and for eternity: you have not that in you, or within your grasp, which will rescue you from this ruin. But here is a remedy. Here is a divine and all-sufficing Savior;—yours, thank God, by right of your humanity which He took upon him, and in which He has satisfied God for you;—nay more, yours by the profession of your baptism, and your membership of His Church. If you will not believe in Him with heart and practice;—if you will not have Him to reign over you;—if you will not come to Him that you may have life, O where can the blame lie but with yourselves? God has done His part: the Father sent the Son; the Son obeyed, and died, and pleads in heaven for you; the Holy Spirit is ever striving with you in your consciences, and in the ordinances of the Church, and by my voice here: the Church has done her part; she brought you near to Christ, and washed you in the font of the new birth; she taught you all that a Christian ought to believe and know for his soul’s health; she offers you the rich Feast of her Lord’s Body and Blood, and holy ordinances without number. All has been done, all is ever being done, except your own part.
O delay no longer: but accept in the depths of your heart, and in the fountains of your life, this universal and all-sufficing Savior: take up and fulfil the holy challenge of the Apostle in our Epistle this day, chosen by the Church as a fit conclusion from the rich blessings of the Christmas season—from God’s loving-kindness in having spared us yet another year:—
“I conjure you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”

Alford, H. (1862). Sermons on Christian Doctrine (pp. 68–81). London: Rivingtons. (Public Domain)

The Best of All Good Resolutions

The Best of All Good Resolutions


“I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned”—Luke 15:18

I DO not know what day of what month of what year the prodigal said that, but I do know that for him it was the real New Year—the real beginning of life. The children of Israel sacrificed the Passover in Egypt on the fourteenth day of the month of Abib, but they were made to revise their whole chronology because of that event.

“This month shall be unto you the beginning of months:”—Exodus 12:2

No man who is wrong with God is really living. In the deepest of all senses, he is like the corpse in the death ceremony of an ancient people, who dressed in costliest attire the body of a dead friend and carried it about to their houses, seating it at their tables before the finest feasts.  The cheeks were painted to represent life and the most flattering compliments were paid to what, after all, was a mere dead body.

Let us consider together this good resolution of the boy in the old parable.  It was for him the best of good resolutions, because it began with the most important fact in his life—the fact of his father.  And the most important fact in the whole universe to each one of us is the fact of God.  We are in God’s universe and we cannot get out of it.  God made it, God sustains it, God rules it.  It is all His.  Every acre of ground, every blade of grass, every one of the cattle upon earth’s thousand hills, every spring of water, every bird, every fish, every molecule of air—all are His.  He has never parted with His title to one of these things.  We are all tenants by sufferance.  We till God’s earth, breathe God’s air, sustain life upon His bounty.  We are absolute paupers, from king to peasant. T he next moment, the next breath are not ours.

Furthermore we all want to go to God’s heaven when we die.  There is no other heaven. Money can neither buy nor make heaven. The world, for whose opinion we care so much, has no heaven. Satan has no heaven.  The heavenly things which are available here and now—unselfishness, helpfulness, purity, high and noble thinking, clean living, love—these are all God’s.  Think then of the folly of living on wrong terms with God.  Think of the unspeakable unreason of supposing that anything in life can be really right, till we are right with God.

But who and what is God?  Creation is an answer to that question.  God is the Being who made this fair universe.  He it is, who made this wonderful earth for man, and man for this wonderful earth.  He it is who adorned the heavens and sprinkled them with stars.  He it is who painted the flowers.  And it is He who made us capable of love and all the blessed relationships of life.  That is one answer.

The Bible is another.  God is the God of the Scriptures.  The Bible is the most human book in the world, because it reveals God at work in human lives, and at last reveals Him in the terms of a human life.  What is God like?  He is like Jesus.

“He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;”—John 14:9

And in all the Book of God there is no more alluring portrait of God than that painted by the Son of God in the parable of the prodigal son.

What is God like?  Like this:

“But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”—Luke 15:20

“But the father said, to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”—Luke 15:22–24

We are all prodigal sons. The son in the parable committed his worst sin when he wished to be independent of his father. When he said:

“Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me,”—Luke 15:12

his heart was already in the far country.  The riotous living and the wasting of his substance were but details and mere incidental consequences.  The Bible says that sin is anomia—lawlessness. When Isaiah says that

“We have turned every one to his own way;”—Isaiah 53:6

it does not seem like a very serious charge.  But it is the sum of all iniquities.  Self-will is the Pandora’s box out of which come all the evils of earth.  We have treated God evilly.  The meanness of sin is that it robs a loving God of the love and fellowship which are his due.

When David said of his greatest sin,

“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned,”—Psalms 51:4

we do not at once see the truth of his bitter words.  First of all, we think that his sins were against the husband whom he had wronged and the wife whom he had degraded.  But whose creatures were these?  They were God’s; and every sin against a fellow man is tenfold more a sin against God.

This prodigal about whom we are thinking, doubtless did many a kindly act in the far country.  It is the way of prodigals to be generous and to wish all men well.  You and I have done that.  We have had kindly thoughts and good intentions.  We have wished other prodigals happy new years with all sincerity, and because of this, have thought well of ourselves.

On one of Mr. Moody’s western campaigns, he was followed from city to city by an aged and broken man of venerable appearance who, in each place, asked the privilege of saying a word to the great congregations.  He would stand up and in a quavering voice say:  “Is my son George in this place?  George, are you here?  O, George, if you are here, come to me.  Your old father loves you, George, and can’t die content without seeing you again.”  Then the old man would sit down.  One night a young man came to Mr. Moody’s hotel and asked to see him.  It was George.  When the great evangelist asked him how he could find it in his heart to treat a loving father with such cruel neglect, the young man said:  “I never thought of him; but Mr. Moody, I have tried to do all the good I could.”  That is a good picture of a self-righteous prodigal in the far country.  He was generous with his money and with his words—yet every moment of his infamous life he was trampling on the heart of a loving father.

The other day, I met a foul old sot whom I knew as a beautiful boy and later as a handsome and high-spirited young man.  But he was no more in the far country when I met him in his degradation than he was when I parted with him in the pride of his youth. The far country is anywhere away from God.

Did you ever think of the parable of the Prodigal Son as an unfinished story?  Why have we no account of the boy after he came back to his father’s house?  Perhaps you have all felt what some forgotten poet has expressed so well:

“You have told me, preacher, the story sweet,
How the prodigal son, bereft of pride,
Left the far country with wayworn feet
And came back to his father’s house to bide.

You have told of the father, unfailing, fond,
You have told of the ring, of the robe, of the feast;
Of the long night’s revel all care beyond,
Till the Syrian stars grew pale in the East.

But, O, could I more of the tale invoke,
I would pray you tell me, thou man of God,
How it fared with the boy when the morning broke,
And his feet the old pathway of duty trod?

Did he never forget that he ate with swine
And suffered sore ’neath far-off skies,
Remembering only the nights of wine,
And the light in the dancing woman’s eyes?

Did he never go frantic with equal days,
And long to the wide world prisoner-wise,
Till a host rose up from the banished ways
To beckon, and beckon, with gleaming eyes?

If thus he fared, as we fare today,
O speak, that the world may sing with joy,
And tell how the father could banish away
The beckoning hands from before his boy.”

Ah, that is why the story seems unfinished.  When we have really come back from the far country when through faith in Jesus Christ we have come to God and have found Him, through the new birth our Father,—a new story begins, and it takes a eternity to tell it.

There is a way from the far country to the Father arms.  The actual journey of the prodigal may have been across forbidding mountains and along caravan trails over blinding deserts.  No such obstacles intervene between the returning sinner and God.  The blessed Christ from whose lips fell the tender story about which we have been thinking, also said:

“I am the way,”—John 14:6

When we come to Christ we find the Father, for Christ and the Father are one. And the way to come to Christ is to believe on Him; to put our whole life into His care and ordering, knowing that He has put away our sin by the sacrifice of Himself, and that all who come unto the Father by Him can never more lose the way.  Let us say:

“I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned”—Luke 15:18

“but know Thou hast saved me through Jesus Christ.”

Scofield, C. I. (1922). In Many Pulpits with Dr. C. I. Scofield (p. 9). New York; London; Toronto; Melbourne; Bombay: Oxford University Press. (Public Domain)

That They Might Have My Joy

That They Might Have My Joy

“That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”—John 17:13.

We have here two simple ideas—Jesus Christ filled with joy; ourselves privileged to partake of that joy until we also are filled.

Pleasure, Happiness, Joyousness

It is not uncharitable to say that many people in this world are content if they may be merry; they seek nothing higher from life than pleasure. If they may put far from them the burden and sorrow and care of this world, and forget its grief in a passing jest, they are content. There is a place in life for pleasure, but pleasure is never the object of lives which are noble.

Better than this and the pursuit, I would fain believe, of a far great number, is happiness. Happiness is an infinitely higher thing than pleasure, and the desire of God that His children should be happy is abundantly revealed in the Bible. The Beatitudes are instructions in the art of happiness.

But our text speaks of something which is better even than happiness, and that is joyousness. Joyousness, in the scriptural sense of the word, might be defined as happiness overflowing. Happiness too full to be used up in mere personal satisfaction; happiness all alive and aglow. If happiness might be compared to a tranquil lake, embosomed in protecting hills, joyousness would be like the outflowing of a brimming river.

It may, then, help us just at the beginning, to fix in our minds these three things which stand over against sorrow or pain; pleasure, which exists for and ends upon self; happiness, a deeper, nobler thing, and joyousness, which is the overflow of happiness.

The Joy of Jesus Christ

First of all, Jesus speaks of His own joy. Now, we do not habitually think of Jesus Christ as joyful. Long before His manifestation, the Prophet Isaiah had said of Him that He would be a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” And so it was. But observe: A man of sorrows, not a man of melancholy. We can not think of Jesus Christ as moping through life; we can not think of Him as turning fretfully toward His burden, as thinking of His wrongs—His throne denied Him, His people rejected Him, His poverty and humiliation in a world which He had made. Just once, in Gethsemane, He speaks of His sorrows: “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death.” But habitually He speaks of His joyfulness. That, then, is the paradox of His life. “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”; but bearing these sorrows, as it were, upon the deep floodtide of a mighty joy. And the joy was more than the sorrow.

Let us try to understand this paradox—an exultant and joyful man of sorrows.

Have you ever observed that the nearer Jesus came to the cross, the more He spoke of His joy? You do not find that He testified of His joyfulness much in the earlier part of His ministry, and I believe not once in that which is called “the year of public favor,” when the multitudes thronged Him, and it seemed as if the nation would really receive Him as the long-expected Messiah. But as He went on, drawing ever nearer to Calvary, and as the burden of the shame and sorrow and sin of the world began to gather in awful darkness over Him, He speaks ever more and more of His joyfulness, and in His closing admonitions and instruction there is a constant reference to the deep joy which filled His being. Just when the tide of sorrow is rising highest, the joyfulness seems to rise above it and triumph over it.

The Paradox Solved

If we ponder that, and connect it with the prophet’s explanation of the sorrows of Jesus Christ, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows,” I think we shall be on the very verge of solving the paradox. In other words (and is it not very simple?), Jesus found His Supreme joy in bearing the sorrows of others. He was not joyful in spite of having to bear the sorrow and burden of the world; He was joyful because He could bear it. It was the fountain head, the very source, of His joy.

I think we can conceive of that, if we are willing to separate ourselves for a moment from that shrinking which we all feel at the thought of pain and sorrow, and get upon the nobler side of our own souls. We can understand that such a being as Jesus would rejoice, with joy unspeakable, that He could do that thing. We can understand how, when looking down upon this world, with its sin and misery and want and woe, and mountainous iniquity, there would be ever in His heart the exultant joy at knowing that it was He who, in due time, should come down here and get underneath all that unspeakable guilt and bear it away from man through the cross.

Just as Jean Valjean, in Victor Hugo’s great story, was happy under the cart; it hurt him cruelly, but he lifted it away from the old man who was being crushed by it. So there was a joy in the very pain which it cost to do it—the joy of vicarious suffering; the joy of getting underneath all that was bearing down the heart of humanity, and lifting it forever away—this was the joy of the Lord.

You know how easily, after all, poor as this world is in nobleness, this truth finds illustration. Surely, Winkelreid must have felt something of that joy when he gathered the spears of the enemy into his own bosom so that his comrades might break the hostile line and make way for liberty. There must have been in him an ineffable joy as he felt those spears crushing into his heart and his life going out. There was suffering, but it was a joyful thing so to die.

I think that pilot, who kept his burning boat against the shore until every passenger was safe, though his own hands burnt to a crisp as he held the wheel, must have had a joy greater than the pain. This is a very high kind of joy, but we may realize it after all, may we not?

I think that captain who stood upon the deck of the sinking ship and gave his place in the last boat to a poor stowaway, who had no kind of claim upon him, and saw him pass on into safety while he went down with the ship, drank deeply of this joy of vicarious suffering.

Sources of the Savior’s Joy

Then there was another source of the joy of the Lord. He rejoiced in the will of God. Will you consider that for a moment? What a joyful thing it is that we are not left alone in this world! What a joyful thing to know that one is not the sport of circumstance and of accident; not orphaned amid all these destructive forces that move in upon us, as children of God here in the world; to know, in short, that over it all there is the resistless will of God. Things are not happening to the children of God. We are moving upon an appointed course, and the joys and sorrows of our life are all appointed and portioned out, molding and shaping us for better things. The joy of doing and enduring the will of God, and of suffering that others might not suffer—here are the abiding sources of our Lord’s joy.

In the Hebrews we are told of another source of joy which sustained our Lord in the supreme agony of the cross—“the joy that was set before him.” The joy of the final consummation; the joy of anticipation when He should see the eternal results of His suffering; all this was present with Him helpfully in the hour of agony. That is what we need to see. Beyond question we do not live enough in the inspiration of the compensations and balancings of heaven.

The Lord’s Joy, Our Joy

Turn now for a moment to the other thought—the human side of it.

“That my joy might be fulfilled in them.”

But how shall we have the joy of the Lord? Evidently there is here a call to the unselfish heights? If we are to share the joy of the Lord we must be willing to share that out of which His joy sprang. We must rejoice if we can bear away some sorrow from another heart, some burden from another life, even if it means sorrow and burden to us.

We must learn to rejoice as we never yet have learned to rejoice, in the salvation of the lost. We read that there is “joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”

We must stop regretting that “only ten were converted,” and, like the angels, rejoice over one sinner that repenteth.

Then we must turn our thoughts more toward the future, toward the heavenly rest, the heavenly activities and the eternal joys which are there. I repeat, it is a trumpet call. It costs something to have the joy of the Lord. Salvation, with its joy, is a free gift, but the joy of the Lord is to be had only by entering into fellowship with the Lord in His life plan; to be, in the measure of our capacity, Christ’s in the world; to get with Him into the joy of suffering; into the joy of the great sweet will of God; into the expectation of the things to come.

It was a great thing for humanity when that strange being, Peter the Hermit, went through Europe preaching the Crusades. It was a call to those barons and knights to cease petty neighborhood wars; to come away from their pompous and empty way of life; from tilting in the castle yard, and feasting in the castle hall, to go forth to do an unselfish thing.

Is not the sorrow and pain of human life a call to a perpetual crusade, a call up out of the petty things in which our lives are frittered away, into sympathy and helpfulness? And is not the sin of the world a call to go out upon Christ’s own great enterprise of salvation into the uttermost parts of the earth? It seems to me there is something in this that ought to lay hold of the noble side of us, that ought to redeem us from the meanness of self-pleasing and to lift us up into a glad participation in our Lord’s sufferings and also in His unspeakable joy.


Christian Military Fellowship

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