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The Nativity, Repentance & Fasting
John Henry Parker.
This edition © 2018 CrossReach Publications, Kerry, Ireland
Hope. Inspiration. Trust.
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Sermons of the Nativity Preached upon Christmas-Day
Sermons Preached upon Ash-Wednesday
About CrossReach Publications
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A few words only will suffice to put the reader in possession of all that it is important for him to know with respect to the present volume.
The text has been carefully reprinted from the second edition published in 1631, and it has throughout been collated with the editions of 1641 and 1661; but with the exception of a few verbal inaccuracies and obvious misprints, which have been corrected, it has not been deemed advisable, or indeed found necessary, to make the slightest alteration either in the style or in the arrangement of the author.
Much labour has been bestowed upon the marginal references to Scripture, many of which were found on examination to be exceedingly erroneous, and it soon became apparent that unless they were revised throughout, the reader would experience no ordinary difficulty in discovering the passages to which he was directed. They have accordingly been submitted to a rigid scrutiny, and the result has been such, that the editor is led to hope but few inaccuracies have escaped his observation. It must however be borne in mind, that in many cases the reference to Scripture is very slight, and almost imperceptible without the aid of the Vulgate, where a word or a phrase appears to have attracted the Bishop’s attention, and to have been marked by him more from its allusion, than from its actual relation, to the passage in question. Indeed, one or two instances might be named, where the allusion is so slight as to be scarcely traceable, but even here it has not been thought advisable to remove the reference; it is suffered to remain as it is found without alteration. But besides these, there are other instances, and those not a few, where quotations from Scripture occur without any reference whatever. Here however, in all cases of the least importance, the reader is referred to the sacred author quoted, and whenever this has been done, the reference itself is inclosed in brackets, to shew that for it the present editor is himself responsible.
The editor regrets that he has not been equally successful with all the quotations which are given from the Fathers, and other writers. Wherever any reference whatever is given to any part of their works, it has invariably been sought out and verified, but sometimes, where a Father of the Church is merely cited by name, and no particular Treatise is mentioned, it has been found impossible to discover the passage, especially where the quotation is made from such voluminous writers as Augustine and Chrysostom, and the sentiment is such as might have been expressed by a Christian writer of almost any age and country. In all cases however of importance, where the citation is not used merely by way of illustration, but in support of some primitive doctrine or usage, the greatest pains have been taken to find the passage, and in scarcely any instance of this nature has the result been otherwise than successful. It may be added, that when the exact passage quoted cannot with certainty be ascertained, the reader is occasionally referred to a parallel sentiment from the same author, which may perhaps after all have been the passage intended.
With respect to the quotations generally, and particularly those from Scripture, it will be found that they are scarcely ever given in the exact words of the author referred to, but that the sense or substance of a passage is for the most part rather quoted from memory, than given with that exactness which is usual in the present day This remark will be found to apply not merely to English, but to Latin and Greek quotations, and it would perhaps be difficult to point out many instances to the contrary.
The quotations from Scripture, whenever they appear to amount to more than a passing allusion, are distinguished by double commas, while translations from the Latin, with the exception of those from the Vulgate, are marked as semi-quotations, and are invariably distinguished by single ones.
As to the texts which head the separate Sermons, they are for the most part taken from the Genevan. Bible, the variations from which will be found in a note below1a. Beneath, at the beginning of every Sermon, is given the English authorised translation by way of marking the difference, if any, between the two Versions, and as the Vulgate was sometimes but not always added, though constantly referred to, it is now given in every instance, marked, as is usual with all extraneous matter, with brackets, wherever it was not cited by the Bishop himself.
The present mode of punctuation and orthography has for the most part been adopted throughout. Some few proper names however, such as Esay, Jeremy, Zachary, Osee, Aggai, Zachee, and a few others, have been retained, as it was thought that, if altered, too great a change would have been made in their pronunciation, and that consequently they would not harmonize so well with the general style of the author.
With respect to the Sermons themselves, one or two observations may not perhaps be deemed irrelevant.
They are for the most part exegetical and practical, almost exactly answering to the description of a Sermon given by Bishop Cosin2b. They explain and they enforce a portion of Holy Writ, and they do it with such clearness and strength of reasoning, and with so powerful an appeal to the conscience, that they could hardly fail to have impressed the most careless and irreverent of those who heard them. As to the charge3c that they abound in puns and quibbles, and that as they had a tendency to debase the English language, so they were calculated rather to excite a smile than to strike conviction, it is sufficient to reply that the Sermons themselves have only to be read to refute the accusation. It is true, indeed, that a play upon words may occasionally be detected in the course of the present volume, but almost always, where this occurs, it would seem intended to fix the attention, and to impress a forcible passage so strongly upon the memory that it cannot easily be forgotten.
The Sermons on the Nativity are seventeen in number, and were preached at intervals during a space of about twenty years before King James the First, at Whitehall. They will be found to embrace some of the very highest and most important doctrines of the Incarnation. The Eternal Generation of the Son of God—His Glory with the Father before the world was—His Coeternity, Coequality, and Consubstantiality with Him—His Miraculous Conception—His supernatural Birth in the fulness of time—The union of the two Natures in One Person—The great objects of His mission, and man’s consequent obligations;—all these points, and other topics of a kindred nature, are treated in a manner the most forcible and satisfactory that can well be imagined, and it will be seen that there is a Catholic spirit which pervades the whole, and vividly recals to the imagination the productions of the first and purest ages of the faith.
The Sermons on Fasting are eight in number, and were preached on various occasions between the years 1598 and 1624, before Queen Elizabeth and King James the First, on Ash-Wednesday, at Whitehall and Richmond, with the exception of the last, which was merely prepared for preaching but was never actually delivered. This series will be read with interest in the present day, and the genuine sons of the Church will be pleased to find that the great duty of abstinence is distinctly asserted, and proved to have been enjoined not merely under the Law, but under the Gospel dispensation, and that from Apostolic times. These then are particularly well adapted to the present self-indulgent age, and it is hoped that their perusal may have the effect of opening the eyes of some to the real views of the Church Catholic, and so, we would hope, of our own branch of it, upon this important subject.
But while we admire the strength and eloquence by which the following Discourses are so peculiarly marked, we must not forget how much they unquestionably owed to the manner in which they were delivered. It is universally allowed by all his contemporaries, that the Bishop’s mode of delivery was the happiest that could well be conceived, and not only happy, but absolutely inimitable; and therefore our opinion of their merits, however high it may be raised, will still fall short of the deliberate judgment of those who heard from the pulpit what we must be content to read in our closets; and while we esteem the writings, and revere the memory of one who was every way so distinguished as Bishop Andrewes, we may perhaps be permitted to say in conclusion to the reader what the Athenian orator was so anxious to impress upon his audience, Quanto magis admiraremini, si audîssetis ipsum.
J. P. W.
The Feast of the Circumcision,
Most gracious and dread Sovereign,
We here present to your most sacred Majesty a book of Sermons. We need not tell whose they are, the Sermons are able to speak their author. When the author died, your Majesty thought it not fit his Sermons should die with him. And though they could not live with all that elegancy which they had upon his tongue, yet you were graciously pleased to think a paper-life better than none. Upon this your Majesty gave us a strict charge, that we should overlook the papers, as well Sermons as other Tractates, of that reverend and worthy Prelate, and print all that we found perfect. There came to our hands a world of Sermon-notes, but these came perfect. Had they not come perfect, we should not have ventured to add any limb unto them, lest mixing a pen far inferior we should have disfigured such complete bodies.
Your Majesty’s first care was for the press, that the work might be public. Your second was for the work itself, that it might come forth worthy the author; which could not be, if it came not forth as he left it. In pursuance of these two, we have brought the work to light, and we have done it with care and fidelity; for as the Sermons were preached, so are they published. When he preached them, they had the general approbation of the Court, and they made him famous for making them. Now they are printed, we hope they will have as general liking of the Church, and enlarge and endear his name, to them that knew not him.
We know there is a great prejudice attends the after-printing of dead men’s works. For the living may make the dead speak as they will, and as the dead would not speak did they live. And many worthy authors in all professions have had such unsuitable pieces stitched to their former works as make them speak contrary to themselves, and to their known judgment while they lived. As if they had seen some vision after death, to cross or recall their judgment in their life. We would be loath to suffer under the suspicion of this. And therefore in a full obedience to your Majesty’s command, as we have printed all that we could find perfect and worthy his name; so have we not added or detracted in the least, to alter or divert his sense. That so the work may not only be his, but as himself made it; and the honour your Majesty’s that so carefully commanded it; and the faithfulness ours in our obedience to your Majesty, and our love to his memory.
And now will your Majesty graciously be pleased to give us leave to commend this work to your protection, which would have needed none, had not your Majesty commanded it to be public. For public view is as great a search as many eyes can make. And many eyes can see what two cannot, be they never so good. And among many eyes, some will ever look asquint upon worth, and malign that which they cannot equal. And if ever any man’s patience and temper could prevent this evil eye, we hope his may; and yet, even whilst we hope the best, we humbly beg your Majesty’s protection against the worst,4* “because the days are evil.”
We have but two things to present to your Majesty. They are the person to your memory, and this his work to your eye. For the person, we can add nothing to him. To name him, is enough to all that knew him; and to read him, will be enough to them that knew him not. And though virtue have but its due when it is commended, yet we conceive not how praise may make virtue better than it is, especially when the person in whom it was, is dead to all encouragement or comfort by it.5* And yet though virtue cannot thus be bettered, it may be righted thus. For, Vivorum ut magna admiratio, ita censura difficilis; ‘It is easy to admire the living, and we do it, but it is hard to censure them any way.’ Both because there will be no preferring one before another without offence; and because, as we know not what may come upon them before death, so the censure may be so good as they will never deserve, or so bad as though they do deserve they will not bear. It was Bibulus’ case.6* ‘The admiration of men had carried him up to Heaven,’ no lower place would serve him. Yet when it came to a wise man’s censure, he professed, ‘he knew no ground for that admiration, and less worth in him for such a height.’ But when men have paid all their rights of nature to death, and are gone into their silence, then where admiration ceaseth, censure begins. Now if the censure be heavy (as it is too oft upon the best) yet then it should be sparing for humanity’s sake. For that humanity which forbids the rifling of a grave, bids forbear him that is shut up in it, and cannot answer. But if the censure be good, you may be bold with the grave; and you cannot praise any so safely as the dead, for you cannot humour them into danger, nor melt away yourself into flattery.
The person therefore whose works these are, was from his youth a man of extraordinary worth and note. A man, as if he had been made up of learning and virtue. Both of them so eminent in him, as it is hard to judge, which had precedency and greater interest. His virtue, which we must still judge the more worthy in any man, was comparable to that which was wont to be found in the primitive Bishops of the Church. And had he lived among those ancient Fathers, his virtue would have shined even amongst those virtuous men. And for his learning, that was as well, if not better known abroad, than respected at home. And take him in his latitude, we which knew him well knew not any kind of learning to which he was a stranger, but in his profession admirable. None stronger than he, where he wrestled with an adversary. And that Bellarmine felt, who was as well able to shift for himself, as any that stood for the Roman party. None more exact, more judicious than he, where he was to instruct and inform others. And that, as they knew which often heard him preach, so they may learn which will read this which he hath left behind him. And yet this fulness of his material learning, left room enough in the temper of his brain, for almost all languages, learned and modem, to seat themselves. So that his learning had all the helps language could afford; and his languages learning enough for the best of them to express. His judgment in the mean time, so commanding over both, as that neither of them was suffered idly or curiously to start from, or fall short of, their intended scope. So that we may better say of him, than it was sometimes said of Claudius Drusus;7* ‘He was of as many and as great virtues as mortal nature could receive, or industry make perfect.’ And since we are both taught, and see it by experience,8* that “wise men also die, and perish together as well as the ignorant and foolish,” and though they leave their riches, yet cannot dispose their wisdom to others; it is fit we should be conversant in the writings of wise and religious men, that we may in part learn that in their works, which the dying authors had not power to bequeath unto us.
These works then coming from so grave, learned, and religious an author, have but two things to do in their publishing to the world. The one is, to teach the world what a treasure they have of them; and the other to tell this Church, what a jewel she lost when she lost their author. The work is a body of Sermons. To them he had been most bred, and in them he most excelled. And he was not a greater preacher in his age, than he was both great and frequent in his younger and stronger time. As for the body of the work itself, were it not that we like not to disparage any man’s endeavours by comparing, we would say the Christian world hath not many such bodies of Sermons, as we here present, under your Majesty’s favour, to the view and use of this Church. And if another nation had them they would as highly value them.
And here we humbly beg leave to tell your Majesty, that these Sermons are in this, like their author, mixed of religion and wisdom. It is an excellent thing for a man to speak wisely and eloquently both at once; but where these perfections meet not,9* there, saith St. Augustine, Dicat sapienter quod non potest eloquenter; ‘let the preacher, of all men, speak that wisely which he cannot utter eloquently.’ And if St. Augustine in his time found that fit, out of all doubt it is necessary now that men of our profession set themselves to preach with more wisdom than eloquence. With Christian and religious wisdom; which alone knows how to preserve truth and peace together. For as all other Churches in the world are most happy when these meet, so is this too. But too many among the people choose rather to have their humour fed than their souls edified, and carry partial ears even to the house of that God Who is “no accepter of persons.”10* To settle therefore the peace of the one, and to abate the humour of the other, nothing certainly under God would be of greater efficacy than conciones sapientes, ‘wise and discreet Sermons,’ which yet may be as zealous and devout as any other. For he that is zealous according to knowledge, is not less zealous for his knowledge’ sake. And true wisdom, which is not true if it be not Christian, carries no water about it to quench zeal, but only to sprinkle it, that it may burn within compass, and not fire that house which it intended but to warm.
We have neither purpose nor commission to step aside here and complain of the times. All times have somewhat amiss in them, else preachers should have the less work. And if these times have more than many others which our forefathers have seen, we must needs be sorry there is so much work for preachers; and more, if they which live by the Gospel of peace, should make any. For after the building up of the “faith of Christ,” their chief work should be to beat down those strongholds which any sins have built up in the hearts of men to pollute or defame Christianity. And true preachers indeed are,11* as St. Jerome speaks, maxillæ Ecclesiæ, ‘the jawbones of the Church,’ which by preaching beat down the carnal life of man. Now all hatred, contention, variance, all sedition and disobedience to lawful authority, is, as it is reckoned by the Apostle,12* “among the works of the flesh.” And therefore since all preachers are the jaws of the Church, and the sins of the people are, as it were, to be ground inter maxillas, ‘between these jaws,’ before the people themselves can be made fit to nourish the Church, or the Church them; how can this be done, especially done as it ought, if the jaws be weak or fallen, and cannot do their office?
But our hope is that God will so bless your Majesty in your government, your people in their loyalty, the preachers in their wisdom added to zeal and diligence, that the hearts and hands of all sorts of men shall be joined together to preserve God’s worship in truth, your Majesty’s throne in honour, the Church in religious devotion, and all your people in obedience and union; the only means to make both your Majesty and your people happy in this life, and blessed in that which is to come. And we humbly desire men of all sorts to think seriously of this; that if the public suffer either in Church or State, no man’s private pleasure or profit can stand firm unto him. No man’s. And Cicero had reason enough to laugh at the folly of those men,13* qui amissâ Republicâ piscinas suas fore salvas sperare videntur, ‘which in his time seemed to conceive such a windy hope, that their fish-ponds and places of pleasure should be safe, when the Commonwealth was lost.’
These Sermons, when they were preached, gave great contentment to the religious and judicious ears of your royal father, of ever-blessed memory, the most able prince that ever this kingdom had to judge of Church work. And therefore we hope that the printing of them shall be as acceptable to your Majesty, as the preaching of them was both to yourself and him. We conceive, if your liking had not continued to them, your Majesty would not have commanded us the printing of them. And we assure ourselves, since the lines are the same, the press which hath made them legible hath made no blot upon your gracious favours. We have been only servants, as we are many ways bound to be, to your Majesty’s command, in making them ready for the press, but authors of nothing in them. And we heartily pray that the publishing of them may be honour to your Majesty, good to the Church, and means of comfort and salvation to them which read them. And in these, and all other prayers for your Majesty’s long life and happy government, we humbly beseech you to conceive of us, as we are, and ever shall be,
Your Majesty’s most loyal and humbly devoted subjects and servants,
MORÆ PRETIUM ERIT
non nescire te, qui vir hic situs sit;
ejusdem tecum catholicæ ecclesiæ membrum,
sub eadem felicis resurrectionis spe,
eamdem d. jesu præstolans epiphaniam,
SACRATISSIMUS ANTISTES LANCELOTUS ANDREWES,
londini oriundus, educatus cantabrigiæ,
aulæ pembroch: alumnor: socior: præfector:
unus, et nemini secundus:
LINGUARUM, ARTIUM, SCIENTIARUM,
humanorum, divinorum omnium
infinitus thesaurus, stupendum oraculum:
ORTHODOXÆ CHRISTI ECCLESIÆ,
dictis, scriptis, precibus, exemplo
REGINÆ ELIZABETHÆ A SACRIS,
d. pauli london. residentiarius,
d. petri westmonast. decanus:
EPISCOPUS CICESTRENSIS, ELIENSIS, WINTONIENSIS;
regique jacobo tum ab eleemosynis,
tum ab utriusque regni consiliis,
decanus denique sacelli regii:
INDEFESSA OPERA IN STUDIIS,
summa sapientia in rebus,
assidua pietate in deum,
profusa largitate in egenos,
rara amœnitate in suos,
spectata probitate in omnes,
ANNORUM PARITER ET PUBLICÆ FAMÆ SATUR,
sed bonorum passim omnium cum luctu denatus,
cœlebs hinc migravit ad aureolam cœlestem,
REGIS CAROLI II°. ÆTATIS S. LXXI°.
tantum est, lector, quod te mœrentes posteri
nunc volebant, atque ut ex voto tuo valeas, dicto
SIT DEO GLORIA.
preached before the
KING’S MAJESTY, AT WHITEHALL,
on tuesday, the twenty-fifth of december, a.d. mdcv. being christmas-day
For He in no wise took the Angels; but the seed of Abraham He took.
And even because this day He took not the Angels’ nature upon Him, but took our nature in “the seed of Abraham,” therefore hold we this day as a high feast; therefore meet we thus every year in a holy assembly, even for a solemn memorial that He hath as this day bestowed upon us a dignity which upon the Angels He bestowed not. That He, as in the chapter before the Apostle setteth Him forth,15* That is “the brightness of His Father’s glory, the very character of His substance, the Heir of all things, by Whom He made the world;” He, when both needed it—His taking upon Him their nature—and both stood before Him, men and Angels, “the Angels He took not,” but men “He took;” was made Man, was not made an Angel; that is, did more for them than He did for the Angels of Heaven.
Elsewhere the Apostle doth deliver this very point positively,16* and that, not without some vehemency; “Without all question great is the mystery of godliness: God is manifested in the flesh.” Which is in effect the same that is here said, but that here it is delivered by way of comparison; for this speech is evidently a comparison. If he had thus set it down, ‘Our nature He took,’ that had been positive; but setting it down thus, ‘Ours He took, the Angels’ He took not,’ it is certainly comparative.
1. Now the masters of speech tell us that there is power in the positive if it be given forth with an earnest asseveration, but nothing to that that is in the comparative. It is nothing so full to say, ‘I will never forget you,’ as thus to say it;17* “Can a mother forget the child of her own womb? well, if she can, yet will not I forget you.” Nothing so forcible to say thus, ‘I will hold my word with you,’ as thus,18* “Heaver and earth shall pass, but My word shall not pass.” The comparative expressing is without all question more significant; and this here is such. Theirs, the Angels’, nusquam, ‘at no hand’ He took, but ours He did.
2. Now the comparison is, as is the thing in nature whereunto it is made; if the thing be ordinary, the comparison is according; but then is it full of force, when it is with no mean or base thing, but with the chief and choice of all the creatures as here it is, even with the Angels themselves; for then it is at the highest.19* 1. That of Elihu in Job, that God “teacheth us more than the beasts, and giveth us more understanding than the fowls of the air;” that is, that God hath been more gracious to us than to them, being made of the same mould that we are; that yet He hath given us a privilege above them—this is much.20* 2. That of the Psalmist, “He hath not dealt so with every nation,” nay, not with any other nation, in giving us the knowledge of His Heavenly truth and laws; even, that we have a prerogative, if we be compared with the rest of mankind;—more than the beasts, much; more than all men besides, much more. 3. But this here, nusquam Angelos, &c., that He hath given us a preeminence above the Angels themselves, granted us that that He hath not granted the Angels—that is a comparison at the very highest, and farther we cannot go.
3. One degree yet more; and that is this. As in comparisons making it skilleth much the excellency of the thing wherewithal it is compared, so doth it too the manner how the comparison is made, the pitch that is taken in it. It is one thing to make it in tanto, another, in toto. One thing when it is in degrees—that more, this less; this not so much as that, yet that somewhat though—another, when one is, the other is not at all. So is it here; Assumpsit; non assumpsit; ‘us He did take; the Angels, οὐδήπου, not in any wise;’ not in a less, or a lower degree than us, but them ‘not at all.’ So it is with the highest, and at the highest. So much is said here, and more cannot be said.
The only exception that may be made to these comparisons is, that most-what they be odious; it breedeth a kind of disdain in the higher to be matched with the lower, especially to be overmatched with him. We need not fear it here. The blessed Spirits, the Angels, will take no offence at it; they will not remove Jacob’s ladder for all this,21* or descend to us, or ascend for us, ever a whit the slower, because He is become “the Son of Man.”22* There is not in them that envious mind that was in the elder brother in the Gospel,23* when the younger was received to grace after his riotous course.
When the Apostle tells us of the “great mystery,”24* that “God was manifested in the flesh,” immediately after he tells that He was “seen of the Angels;” and lest we might think they saw it, as we do many things here which we would not see, St. Peter tells us,25* that desiderant prospicere, that with ‘desire and delight’ they saw it, and cannot be satisfied with the sight of it, it pleaseth them so well. And even this day, the day that it was done, an Angel was the first that came to bring news of it to the shepherds;26* and he no sooner had delivered his message,27* but “presently there was with him a whole choir of Angels,” singing, and joying, and making melody, for this εὐδοκίαἐνἀνθρώποις, this “good-will of God towards men.”28* So that, without dread of any disdain or exception on the Angels’ parts, we may proceed in our text.
I. Wherein first, of the parties compared; Angels, and Men.
II. Then, 1. of that, wherein they are compared, ‘assumption,’ or ‘apprehension;’ in the word ‘taking:’ 2. And not every ‘taking,’ but apprehensio seminis, ‘taking on Him the seed.’
III. Lastly, of this term, “Abraham’s seed;” the choice of that word, or term, to express mankind by, thus taken on by Him. That He saith not, ‘but men He took;’ or, ‘but the seed of Adam,’ or ‘the seed of the woman He took;’ “but the seed of Abraham He took.”
I. Of the parties compared, Angels and Men. These two we must first compare, that we may the more clearly see the greatness of the grace and benefit this day vouchsafed us. No long process will need to lay before you, how far inferior our nature is to that of the Angels; it is a comparison without comparison. It is too apparent; if we be laid together, or weighed together, we shall be found minus habentes, ‘far too light.’ They are in express terms said, both in the Old and in the New Testament,29* “to excel us in power;” and as in power,30* so in all the rest. This one thing may suffice to shew the odds; that our nature, that we, when we are at our very highest perfection—it is even thus expressed—that we come near, or are therein like to, or as an Angel. Perfect beauty in St. Stephen;31* “they saw his face as the face of an Angel.”32* Perfect wisdom in David; “my Lord the King is wise, as an Angel of God.” Perfect eloquence in St. Paul; “though I spake with the tongues of men,33* nay of Angels.” All our excellency, our highest and most perfect estate, is but to be as they; therefore, they above us far.
But to come nearer; What are Angels? Surely, they are Spirits;34*—Glorious Spirits;—Heavenly Spirits;—Immortal Spirits.35* For their nature or substance,36* Spirits; for their quality or property,37* glorious; for their place or abode, Heavenly; for their durance or continuance, immortal.
And what is “the seed of Abraham” but as Abraham himself is? And what is Abraham? Let him answer himself;38* “I am dust and ashes.” What is “the seed of Abraham?” Let one answer in the persons of all the rest; dicens putredini,39* &c. “saying to rottenness, Thou art my mother; and to the worms, Ye are my brethren.” 1. They are Spirits; now, what are we—what is “the seed of Abraham?” Flesh.40* And what is the very harvest of this seed of flesh? what, but corruption, and rottenness, and worms? There is the substance of our bodies.
2. They, glorious Spirits; we, vile bodies—bear with it, it is the Holy Ghost’s own term;41* “Who shall change our vile bodies”—and not only base and vile, but filthy and unclean; ex immundo conceptum semine,42* ‘conceived of unclean seed.’ There is the metal. And the mould is no better; the womb wherein we were conceived,43* vile, base, filthy, and unclean. There is our quality.
3. They, Heavenly Spirits, Angels of Heaven; that is, their place of abode is in Heaven above. Ours is here below in the dust, inter pulices, et culices, tineas, araneas, et vermes; Our place is here ‘among fleas and flies, moths and spiders, and crawling worms.’ There is our place of dwelling.
4. They, immortal Spirits; that is their durance. Our time is proclaimed in the Prophet: flesh;44* “all flesh is grass, and the glory of it as the flower of the field;”—from April to June.45* The scythe cometh, nay the “wind but bloweth and we are gone,” withering sooner than the grass which is short, nay “fading” sooner than the “flower of the grass” which is much shorter;46* nay, saith Job, “rubbed in pieces more easily than any moth.”
This we are to them, if you lay us together. And if you weigh us upon the “balance,” we are “altogether lighter than vanity itself;”47* there is our weight. And if you value us, “Man is but a thing of nought;”48* there is our worth. Hoc est omnis homo, this is Abraham, and this is “Abraham’s seed;” and who would stand to compare these with Angels? Verily, there is no comparison; they are, incomparably, far better than the best of us.
Now then, this is the rule of reason, the guide of all choice; evermore to take the better and leave the worse. Thus would man do; Hæc est lex hominis. Here then cometh the matter of admiration: notwithstanding these things stand thus, between the Angels and “Abraham’s seed;”—they, Spirits, glorious, Heavenly, immortal;—yet “took He not” them, yet “in no wise took He them, but the seed of Abraham.” “The seed of Abraham” with their bodies, “vile bodies,” earthly bodies of clay, bodies of mortality, corruption, and death;—these He took, these He took for all that. Angels, and not men; so in reason it should be. Men, and not Angels; so it is: and, that granted to us, that denied to them. Granted to us, so base, that denied them, so glorious. Denied, and strongly denied; οὐδήπου, “not, not in any wise, not at any hand,” to them. They, every way, in every thing else, above and before us; in this, beneath and behind us. And we, unworthy, wretched men that we are, above and before the Angels, the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and all the Principalities, and Thrones, in this dignity. This being beyond the rules and reach of all reason is surely matter of astonishment; Τοῦτο, &c. saith St. Chrysostom, ‘this it casteth me into an ecstacy, and maketh me to imagine of our nature some great matter, I cannot well express what.’ Thus it is; “It is the Lord,49* let Him do what seemeth good in His own eyes.”
And with this, I pass over to the second point. This little is enough, to shew what odds between the parties here matched. It will much better appear, this, when we shall weigh the word ἐπιλαμβάνεται, that wherein they are matched. Wherein two degrees we observed; 1. Apprehendit, and 2. Apprehendit semen.
1. Of apprehendit, first. Many words were more obvious, and offered themselves to the Apostle, no doubt; suscepit, or assumpsit, or other such like. ‘This word was sought for, certainly, and made choice of,’ saith the Greek Scholiast; and he can best tell us it is no common word, and tell us also what it weigheth; Δηλοῖδὲ, saith he, ὅτιἡμεῖςἐφεύγομεν, ὁδὲἐδίωκε, καὶδιώκωνἔφθασε, καὶφθάσαςἐπελάβετο, ‘this word supposeth a flight of the one party, and a pursuit of the other—a pursuit eager, and so long till he overtake;’ and when he hath overtaken, ἐπιλαμβανόμενος, apprehendens, ‘laying fast hold, and seizing surely on him.’ So two things it supposeth; 1. a flight of the one, and 2. a hot pursuit of the other.
It may well suppose a flight. For of the Angels there were that fled,50* that kept not their original, but forsook and fell away from their first estate.51* And man fell, and fled too, and “hid himself in the thick trees” from the presence of God. And this is the first issue. Upon the Angels’ flight He stirred not, sat still, never vouchsafed to follow them; let them go whither they would, as if they had not been worth the while. Nay, He never assumed aught by way of promise for them; no promise in the Old, to be born and to suffer; no Gospel in the New Testament, neither was born nor suffered for them.
But when man fell He did all; made after him presently with Ubi es? sought to reclaim him,52* ‘What have you done?53* Why have you done so?’ Protested enmity to him that had drawn him thus away, made His assumpsit of “the woman’s seed.”
And, which is more, when that would not serve, sent after him still by the hand of His Prophets, to solicit his return.
And, which is yet more, when that would not serve neither, went after him Himself in person;54* left His “ninety-and-nine in the fold,” and got Him after the “lost sheep;” never left till He “found him, laid him on His own shoulders, and brought him home again.”
It was much even but to look after us, to respect us so far who were not worth the cast of His eye; much to call us back, or vouchsafe us an Ubi es?
But more, when we came not for all that, to send after us. For if He had but only been content to give us leave to come to Him again, but given us leave to “lay hold” on Him, to “touch but the hem of His garment”—Himself sitting still,55* and never calling to us, nor sending after us—it had been favour enough, far above that we were worth. But not only to send by others, but to come Himself after us; to say, Corpus apta Mihi,56* Ecce venio; “Get Me a body, I will Myself after Him;”—this was exceeding much, that we fled, and He followed us flying.
But yet this is not all, this is but to follow. He not only followed, but did it so with such eagerness, with such earnestness, as that is worthy a second consideration. To follow is somewhat, yet that may be done faintly, and afar off; but to follow through thick and thin, to follow hard and not to give over, never to give over till He overtake—that is it.
And He gave not over His pursuit, though it were long and laborious, and He full weary; though it cast Him into a “sweat,” a “sweat of blood.” Angelis suis non pepercit,57* saith St. Peter, “The Angels offending,58* He spared not them:” man offending, He spared him, and to spare him, saith St. Paul,59* “He spared not His own Son.” Nor His own Son spared not Himself, but followed His pursuit through danger, distress, yea, through death itself. Followed, and so followed, as nothing made Him leave following till He overtook.
And when He had overtaken, for those two are but presupposed, the more kindly to bring in the word ἐπελάβετο, when, I say, He had overtaken them, cometh in fitly and properly ἐπιλαμβάνεται. Which is not every ‘taking,’ not suscipere or assumere, but manum injicere, arripere, apprehendere; ‘to seize upon it with great vehemency, to lay hold on it with both hands as upon a thing we are glad we have got, and will be loath to let go again.’ We know assumpsit and apprehendit both ‘take;’ but apprehendit with far more fervour and zeal than the other. Assumpsit, any common ordinary thing; apprehendit, a thing of price which we hold dear, and much esteem of.
Now, to the former comparison, of what they, and what we, but specially what we, add this threefold consideration; 1. That He denied it the Angels, οὐ: denied it “peremptorily,” οὐδήπου, neither looked, nor called, nor sent, nor went after them; neither took hold of them, nor suffered them to take hold of Him, or any promise from Him; denied it them, and denied it them thus. 2. But granted it us, and granted it how? That he followed us first, and that, with pain; and seized on us after, and that, with great desire: we flying and not worth the following, and lying and not worth the taking up. 1. That He gave not leave for us to come to Him; or sat still, and suffered us to return, and take hold: yet this He did. 2. That He did not look after us, nor call after us, nor send after us only: yet all this He did too. 3. But Himself rose out of His place, and came after us, and with hand and foot made after us—followed us with His feet; and seized on us with His hands; and that, per viam, non assumptionis, sed apprehensionis, the manner more than the thing itself. All these if we lay together, and when we have done weigh them well, it is able to work with us. Surely it must needs demonstrate to us the care, the love, the affection, He had to us, we know no cause why;60* being but, as Abraham was, “dust;” and as Abraham’s seed Jacob saith, “less,” and not worthy of any one of these; no, not of the “meanest of His mercies.”61* Especially, when the same thing so graciously granted us was denied to no less persons than the Angels, far more worthy than we. Sure He would not have done it for us, and not for them, if He had not esteemed of us, made more account of us than of them.
And yet, behold a far greater than all these; which is, apprehendit semen. He took not the person, but “He took the seed,” that is, the nature of man. Many there be that can be content to take upon them the persons, and to represent them, whose natures nothing could hire them once to take upon them.62* But the seed is the nature; yea, as the philosopher saith, naturæ intimum, ‘the very internal essence of nature is the seed.’ The Apostle sheweth what his meaning is of this ‘taking the seed,’ when the verse next afore save one he saith, that “Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also would take part with them by taking the same.”63* To take the flesh and blood, He must needs take the seed, for from the seed the flesh and blood doth proceed; which is nothing else but the blessed ‘apprehension’ of our nature by this day’s nativity. Whereby He and we become not only “one flesh,” as man and wife do by conjugal union,64* but even one blood too, as brethren by natural union; per omnia similis, saith the Apostle, in the next verse after again, sin only set aside; “Alike and suitable to us in all things,”65* flesh and blood, and nature and all. So taking “the seed of Abraham,” as that He became Himself “the seed of Abraham;” so was, and so is truly termed in the Scriptures. Which is it that doth consummate, and knit up all this point, and is the head of all. For in all other ‘apprehensions’ we may let go, and lay down when we will; but this—this ‘taking on the seed,’ the nature of man—can never be put off. It is an ‘assumption’ without a deposition. One we are, He and we, and so we must be; one, as this day, so for ever.
And emergent or issuing from this, are all those other ‘apprehendings,’ or seizures of the persons of men—by which God layeth hold on them, and bringeth them back from error to truth, and from sin to grace—that have been from the beginning, or shall be to the end of the world. That of Abraham himself, whom God laid hold of, and brought from out of Ur of the Chaldeans,66* and the idols he there worshipped. That of our Apostle St. Paul,67* that was ‘apprehended’ in the way to Damascus.68* That of St. Peter, that in the very act of sin was ‘seized on’ with bitter remorse for it. All those, and all these, whereby men daily are laid hold of in spirit, and taken from the bye-paths of sin and error, and reduced into the right way; and so their persons recovered to God, and seized to His use. All these ‘apprehensions of the branches’ come from this ‘apprehension of the seed,’ they all have their beginning and their being from this day’s ‘taking,’ even semen apprehendit; our receiving His Spirit, for ‘His taking our flesh.’ This seed wherewith Abraham is made the son of God, from the seed wherewith Christ is made the Son of Abraham.
And the end why He thus took upon Him “the seed of Abraham” was, because He took upon Him to deliver “the seed of Abraham.” Deliver them He could not except He destroyed “death,69* and the lord of death, the devil.” Them He could not destroy unless He died; die He could not except He were mortal; mortal He could not be except He took our nature on Him, that is, “the seed of Abraham.” But taking it He became mortal, died, destroyed death, delivered us; was Hinself ‘apprehended,’ that we might be let go.
One thing more then out of this word apprehendit. The former toucheth His love, whereby He so laid hold of us, as of a thing very precious to Him. This now toucheth our danger, whereby He so caught us, as if He had not it had been a great venture but we had sunk and perished. One and the same word, apprehendit, sorteth well to express both His affection whereby He did it, and our great peril whereby we needed it. We had been before laid hold of and ‘apprehended’ by one, mentioned in the fourteenth verse, he that hath “power of death, even the devil;” we were in danger to be swallowed up by him, we needed one to lay hold on us fast, and to pluck us out of his jaws. So He did. And I would have you to mark, it is the same word that is used to St. Peter in like danger, when, being ready to sink, ἐπελάβετο, Christ “caught him by the hand,”70* and saved him. The same here in the Greek,71* that in the Hebrew is used to Lot and his daughters in the like danger, when “the Angels caught him, and by strong hand plucked him out of Sodom.” One delivered from the water, the other from the fire.
And it may truly be said, inasmuch as all God’s promises, as well touching temporal as eternal deliverances,72* and as well corporal as spiritual, be “in Christ yea, and Amen”—yea, in the giving forth, Amen in the performing—that even our temporal delivery from the dangers that daily compass us about, even from this last73a so great and so fearful as the like was never imagined before; all have their ground from this great ‘apprehension,’ are fruits of this Seed here, this blessed Seed, for Whose sake and for Whose truth’s sake that we (though unworthily) profess, we were by Him caught hold of, and so plucked out of it; and but for which Seed, facti essemus sicut Sodoma,74* “We had been even as Sodom,” and perished in the fire, and the powder there laid had even blown us up all.
And may not I add to this apprehendit ut liberaret, the other in the eighth chapter following,75* apprehendit ut manu duceret; to this of ‘taking us by the hand to deliver us,’ that ‘of taking us, by the hand to guide us;’ and so out of one word present Him to you, not only as our Deliverer, but as our Guide too? Our Deliverer to rid us from him that hath “power of death,” our Guide to Him that hath ‘power of life.’ To lead us even by the way of truth to the path of life, by the stations of well-doing to “the mansions in His Father’s House.”76* Seeing He hath signified it is His pleasure not to let go our hands, but to hold us still till He hath brought us,77* “that where He is, we may also be.” This also is incident to apprehendit, but because it is out of the compass of the text I touch it only, and pass it.
And can we now pass by this, but we must ask the question that St. John Baptist’s mother sometime asked on the like occasion? Unde mihi hoc? saith she; Unde nobis hoc? may we say.78* Not, quod mater Domini, but quod Dominus Ipse venit ad nos; ‘Whence cometh this unto us, that the Lord Himself thus came unto us and took us, letting the Angels go?’ Angels are better than the best of us, and reason would ever the better should be taken; how then were we taken that were not the better?
Sure, not without good ground, say the Fathers, who have adventured to search out the theology of this point; such reasons as might serve for inducements to Him that is pronus ad miserendum, ‘naturally inclined to pity;’ why upon us He would rather have compassion. And divers such I find; I will touch only one or two of them.
First, Man’s case was more to be pitied than theirs, because man was tempted by another—had a tempter. The Angels had none—none tempted them; none but themselves. Et levius est alienâ mente peccâsse quam propriâ, saith Augustine; ‘the offence is the less if it grow from another, than if it breed in ourselves;’ and the less the offence, the more pardonable.
Again, Of the Angels, when some fell, other some stood, and so they all did not perish.79* But in the first man all men fell, and so every mother’s child had died, and no flesh been saved, for all were in Adam; and so, in and with Adam, all had come to nought. Then cometh the Psalmist’s question, Nunquid in vanum, &c.? “What hast Thou made all men for nought?” That cannot be, so great wisdom cannot do so great a work in vain.80* But in vain it had been if God had not shewed mercy, and therefore was man’s case rather of the twain matter of commiseration. (This is Leo.)
And thus have they travailed, and these have they found, why he did ‘apprehend’ us rather than them. It may be not amiss. But we will content ourselves for our unde nobis hoc? ‘whence cometh this to us?’ with the answer of the Scriptures. Whence,81* but from “the tender mercies of our God, whereby this day hath visited us?”82* Zelus Domini, saith Esay, “the zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall bring it to pass.”83* Propter nimiam charitatem,84* saith the Apostle; Sic Deus dilexit, saith He—He Himself;85* and we taught by Him say, “Even so, Lord, for so it was Thy good pleasure thus to do.”
All this while are we about “taking the seed,”—the seed in general. But now, why “Abraham’s seed?” Since it is Angels in the first part, why not men in the second but seed? Or, if “seed” to express our nature, why not “the seed of the woman,” but “the seed of Abraham?” It may be thought, because he wrote to the Hebrews, he rather used this term of “Abraham’s seed,” because so they were, and so loved to be styled, and he would please them. But I find the ancient Fathers go farther, and out of it raise matter both of comfort and of direction, and that, for us too.
1. Of comfort, first, with reference to our Saviour, Who taking on Him “Abraham’s seed,” must withal take on Him the signature of Abraham’s seed, and be, as he was, circumcised. There is a great matter dependeth even on that. For being circumcised,86* He “became a debtor to keep the whole Law of God;” which bond we had broken, and forfeited, and incurred the curse annexed, and were ready to be apprehended and committed for it. That so, He keeping the Law might recover back the chirographum contra nos,87* “the handwriting that was against us,” and so set us free of the debt. This bond did not relate to “the seed of the woman,” it pertained properly to “the seed of Abraham;” therefore that term fitted us better. Without fail, two distinct benefits they are: 1. Factus homo, and 2. Factus sub lege; and so doth St. Paul recount them.88* “Made man,” that is, “the seed of the woman;” and “made under the Law,” that is, “the seed of Abraham.” To little purpose He should have taken the one, if He had not also undertaken the other, and as “the seed of Abraham” entered bond for us, and taken our death upon Him. This first.
2. And besides this, there is yet another; referring it to the nation, or people, whom He took upon Him. It is sure they were of all other people the most “untoward;” both of the “hardest hearts,”89* and of the “stiffest necks;” and as the heathen man noteth them,90* of the worst natures. God Himself telleth them so; it was for no virtue of theirs, or for any pure naturals in them, that He took them to Him, for they were that way the worst of the whole earth. And so then the taking of “Abraham’s seed” amounteth to as much as that of St. Paul,91* no less true than “worthy of all men to be received,” that He “came into the world to save sinners,” and that chief sinners, as it is certain they were; even “the seed of Abraham,” of all the seed of Adam.
But not for comfort only, but for direction too doth He use Abraham’s name here. Even to entail the benefit coming by it to his seed,92* that is, to such as he was. For, “for his sake were all nations blessed.” And Christ, though He took “the seed of the woman,” yet doth not benefit any but “the seed of Abraham,” even those that follow the steps of his faith. For by faith Abraham took hold of Him by Whom he was in mercy taken hold of: Et tu mitte fidem et tenuisti,93* saith St. Augustine.94* That faith of his to him was “accounted for righteousness.” To him was, and to us shall be, saith the Apostle, if we be in like sort ‘apprehensive’ of Him. Either as Abraham, or as the true “seed of Abraham” Jacob was, that took such hold on Him as he said plainly,95* Non dimittam Te, nisi benedixeris mihi; “without a blessing he would not let Him go.”96* Surely, not the Hebrews alone; nay, not the Hebrews at all, for all their carnal propagation. They only are “Abraham’s seed” that lay hold of the word of promise. And the Galatians so doing,97* though they were mere heathen men as we be, yet he telleth them they are “Abraham’s seed,” and shall be blessed together with him.
But that is not all; there goeth more to the making us “Abraham’s seed,” as Christ Himself, the true Seed, teacheth both them and us.98* Saith He, “If ye be Abraham’s sons, then must you do the works of Abraham,” which the Apostle well calleth “the steps” or impressions of “Abraham’s faith;”99* or we may call them the fruits of this seed here. So reasoneth our Saviour: Hoc non fecit Abraham;100* “This did not he;” if ye do it, ye are not “his seed.” ‘This did he;—do ye the like, and his seed ye are.’ So here is a double ‘apprehension;’ 1. one of St. Paul, 2. the other of St. James—work for both hands to apprehend.101* Both 1. charitas quæ ex fide; and 2. fides quæ per charitatem operatur.102* By which we shall be able,103* saith St. Paul, “to lay hold of eternal life;” and so be “Abraham’s seed” here at the first, and come to “Abraham’s bosom” there at the last. So have we a brief of semen Abrahæ.
Now what is to be commended to us out of this text for us to lay hold of? Verily first, to take us to our meditation, the meditation which the Psalmist hath, and which the Apostle in this chapter voucheth out of him at the sixth verse. “When I consider,”104