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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)

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