« PreviousContinue »
cared more for her peace than her privilege, and more desired to be free from offence than from labour and charge, she dutifully fulfils the law of that God, whom she carried in her womb and in her arms; like the Mother of Him, who, though he knew the children of the kingdom free, yet would pay tribute unto Cæsar; like the Mother of Him, whom it behoved to fulfil all righteousness. And if she were so officious in ceremonies, as not to admit of any excuse in the very circumstance of her obedience, how much more strict was she in the main duties of morality! That soul is fit for the spiritual conception of Christ, that is conscionably scrupulous, in observing all God's commandments; whereas, he hates all alliance to a negligent or froward heart.
The law of purification proclaims our uncleanness. The mother is not allowed, after her childbirth, to come unto the sanctuary, or to touch any hallowed thing, till her set time be expired. What are we, whose very birth infects the mother that bears us?
At last, she comes to the temple ; but with sacrifices, either a lamb and a pigeon, or turtle, or, in the meaner estate, two turtledoves, or young pigeons: whereof, one is for a burntoffering, the other for a sinoffering; the one for thanksgiving, the other for expiation: for expiation of a double sin; of the mother that conceived, of the child that was conceived.
We are all born sinners; and it is a just question, whether we do more infect the world, or the world us. They are gross flatterers of nature, that tell her she is clean. If our lives had no sin, we bring enough with us. The very infant, that lives not to sin as Adam, yet he sinned in Adam, and is sinful in himself.
But, oh the unspeakable mercy of our God! we provide the sin; he provides the remedy. Behold an expiation, well near as early as our sin ; the blood of a young lamb or dove, yea rather, the blood of Him, whose innocence was represented by both, cleanseth us presently from our filthiness.
First, went circumcision; then, came the sacrifice; that by two holy acts, that, which was naturally unholy, might be hallowed unto God. Under the Gospel, our baptism hath the force of both: it does away our corruption, by the water of the Spirit; it applies to us the sacrifice of Christ's blood, whereby we are cleansed. Oh, that we could magnify this goodness of our God, which hath not left our very infancy without redress; but hath provided helps, whereby we may be delivered from the danger of our hereditary evils.
Such is the favourable respect of our wise God, that he would not have us undo ourselves with devotion. The service he requires of us is ruled by our abilities. Every poor mother was not able to bring a lamb for her offering: there was no one so poor, but might procure a pair of turtles or pigeons. These doth God both prescribe and accept from poorer hands, no less than the beasts of a thousand mountains. He looks for somewhat of every one, not of every one alike. Since it is he, that makes differences of abilities, to whom it were as easy to make all richi, bis mercy will makc nó
difference in the acceptation. The truth, and heartiness, of obedience is that, which he will crown in his meanest servants. A mite from the poor widow is more worth to him, than the talents of the wealthy
After all the presents of those eastern worshippers, who intended rather homage than ditation, the Blessed Virgin comes in the form of poverty, with her two doves unto God, She could not without some charge lię all this while at Bethlehem ; she could not without charge travel from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Her offering confesseth her penury. The best are not ever the wealthiest. Who can despise any one for want, when the mother of Christ was not rich enough, to bring a lamb for her purification? We may be as happy in russet, as in tissue.
While the Blessed Virgin brought her Son into the temple with that pair of doves, here were more doves than a pair. They, for whose sake that offering was brought, were more doves, than the doves, that were brought for that offering. Her Son, for whom she brought that dove to be sacrificed, was that sacrifice, which the dove represented. There was nothing in him, but perfection of innocence; and the oblation of him is that, whereby all mothers and sons are fully purified. Since in ourselves we cannot be innocent, happy are we, if we can have the Spotless Dove sacrificed for us, to make us innocent in him,
The Blessed Virgin had more business in the temple than her own : she came, as to purify herself, so to present her Son. Every male, that first opened the womb, was holy unto the Lord. He, that was the Son of God by eternal generation before time, and by miraculous conception in time, was also by common course of nature consecrate unto God. It is fit the Holy Mother should present God with his own. Her firstborn was the firstborn of all creatures. It was he, whose temple it was that he was presented in, to whom all the firstborn of all creatures were consecrated, by whom they were accepted; and now is he brought, in his mother's arms, to his own house; and, as man, is presented to himself, as God. If Moses had never written law of God's special propriety in the firstborn, this Son of God's Essence and Love had taken possession of the temple. His right had been a perfect law to himself. Now, his obedience to that law which himself had given doth no less call him thither, than the challenge of his peculiar interest.
He, that was the Lord of all Creatures, ever since he struck the firstborn of the Egyptians requires the first male of all creatures, both man and beast, to be dedicated to him: wherein God caused a miraculous event to second nature, which seems to challenge the first and best for the Maker. By this rule, God should have had his service done only by the heirs of Israel. But since God, for the honour and remuneration of Levi, had chosen out that tribe to minister unto him, now the firstborn of all Israel must be presented to God as his due, but by allowance redeemed to their parents. As for beasts, the first male of the clean beasts must be sacrificed ; of unclean, exchanged for a price. So much morality is there in this constitution of God, that the best of all kinds is fit to be consecrated to the Lord of All. Every thing we have is too good for us, if we think any thing we have too good for him.
How glorious did the temple now seem, that the Owner was within the walls of it! Now was the hour, and guest, come, in regard whereof the Second Temple should surpass the First. This was his house built for him, dedicated to him: there had he dwelt long in his spiritual presence, in his typical. There was nothing either placed or done within those walls, whereby he was not resembled ; and now the body of those shadows is come, and presents himself where he had been ever represented, Jerusalem is now every where. There is no Church, no Christian hcart, which is not a temple of the living God. There is no temple of God, wherein Christ is not presented to his Father. Look upon Him, O God, in whom thou art well pleased ; and, in him and for him, be well pleased with us.
Under the Gospel, we are all firstborn, all heirs ; every soul is to be holy unto the Lord; we are a royal generation, a holy priesthood. Our baptism, as it is our circumcision and our sacrifice of purification, so is it also our presentation unto God. Nothing can become us, but holiness. O God, to whom we are devoted, serve thyself of us, glorify thyself by us, till we shall by thee be glorified with thee,
HEROD AND THE INFANTS. Well might these Wise Men have suspected Herod's secresy. If he had meant well, what needed that whispering? That, which they published in the streets, he asks in his privy chamber: yet they, not misdoubting his intention, purpose to fulfil his charge. It could not, in their apprehension, but be much honour to them, to make their success known; that now both king and people might see, it was not fancy that led them, but an assured revelation,
That God, which brought them thither, diverted them; and caused their eyes to shut, to guide them the best way home.
These Sages made a happy voyage ; for now they grew into further acquaintance with God. They are honoured with a second inessenger from heaven. They saw the Star in the way; the angel in their bed: the Star guided their journey unto Christ; the angel directed their return. They saw the Star by day; a vision by night: God spake to their eyes by the Star; he speaks to their heart by a dream.
No doubt, they had left much noise of Christ behind them. They, that did so publish his birth by their inquiry at Jerusalem, could not be silent when they found him at Bethlehem.
If they had returned by Herod, I fear they had come short home. He, that meant death to the Babe for the name of a King, could mean no other to those, that honoured and proclaimed a new King, and erected a throne besides his. They had done what they came for; and now, that God, whose business they came about, takes order, at once, for his Son's safety and for theirs. God, which is perfection itself, never begins any business, but he makes an end, and ends happily. When our ways are his, there is no danger of miscarriage.
Well did these Wise Men know the difference, as of stars, so of dreams: they had learned to distinguish between the natural and divine; and once apprehending God in their sleep, they follow him waking, and return another way.
They were no subjects to Herod; his command pressed them so much the less: or, if the being within his dominions had been no less bond than native subjection, yet where God did countermand Herod, there could be no question whom to obey. They say not, “ We are in a strange country; Herod may meet with us; it can be no less than death, to mock him in his own territories ;" but cheerfully put themselves upon the way, and trust God with the success. Where men command with God, we must obey men for God, and God in men ; when against him, the best obedience is to deny obedience; and to turn our backs upon Herod.
The Wise Men are safely arrived in the East; and fill the world full of expectation, as themselves are full of wonder.
Joseph and Mary are returned with the Babe to that Jerusalem, where the Wise Men had inquired for his birth. The city was, doubtless, still full of that rumour; and little thinks, that he, whom they talk of, was so near them,
From thence they are, at least in their way to Nazareth, where they purpose their abode. God prevents them by his angel; and sends them for safety into Egypt.
Joseph was not wont to be so full of visions. It was not long, since the angel appeared unto him, to justify the innocency of the Mother, and the deity of the Son: now he appears, for the preservation of both, and a preservation by flight,
Could Joseph now chuse but think, “ Is this the King, that must save Israel, that needs to be saved by me? If he be the Son of God, how is he subject to the violence of men? How is he Almighty, that must save himself by flight? or how must he fiy, to save himself out of that land, which he comes to save ?" But faithful Joseph, having been once tutored by the angel, and having heard what the Wise Men said of the star, what Simeon and Anna said in the temple, labours not so much to reconcile his thoughts, as to subject them; and, as one that knew it safer to suppress doubts than to assoil them, can believe what he understands not, and can wonder where he cannot comprehend,
Oh strange condition of the King of all the World! He could not be born in a baser estate ; yet even this he cannot enjoy with safety. There was no room for him in Bethlehem; there will be no room for him in Judea. He is no sooner come to his own, than he must fly from them: that he may save them, he must avoid them,
Had it not been easy for thee, O Saviour, to have acquit thyself from Herod a thousand ways? What could an arm of flesh have done against the God of Spirits? What had it been for thee to have sent Herod five years sooner unto his place? what, to have commanded fire from heaven on those, that should have come to apprehend thee? or to bave bidden the earth to receive them alive, whom she meant to swallow dead? We suffer misery, because we must; thou, because thou wouldst. The same will, that brought thee from heaven into earth, sends thee from Jewry to Egypt. As thou wouldst be born mean and miserable, so thou wouldst live subject to human vexations; that thou, which hast taught us how good it is to bear the yoke even in our youth, mightst sanctify to us early afflictions,
Or whether, O Father, since it was the purpose of thy wisdom to manifest thy Son by degrees unto the world, was it thy will, thus to hide him for a time under our infirmity? And what other is our condition? We are no sooner born thine, than we are persecuted. If the Church travail and bring forth a male, she is in danger of the Dragon's streams. What do the members complain of the same measure, which was offered to the head ? Both our births are accompanied with tears.
Even of those, whose mature age is full of trouble, yet the infancy is commonly quiet; but here, life and toil began together.
O Blessed Virgin! even already did the sword begin to pierce thy soul. Thou, which wert forced to bear thy Son in thy womb from Nazareth to Bethlehem, must now bear him in thy arms from Jewry into Egypt: yet couldst thou not complain of the way, whilst thy Saviour was with thee. His presence alone was able to make the stable a temple; Egypt, a paradise; the way, more pleasing than rest.
But whither then? oh whither dost thou carry that blessed burthen, by which thyself and the world are upholden? To Egypt, the slaughter-house of God's people, the furnace of Israel's ancient affliction, the sink of the world. Out of Egypt have I called my Son, saith God. That thou calledst thy Son out of Egypt, O God, is no marvel : it is a marvel, that thou calledst him into Egypt; but that we know all earths are thine, and all places and men are like figures upon a table, such as thy disposition makes them.
What a change is here? Israel, the firstborn of God, flies out of Egypt into the promised land of Judea ; Christ, the firstborn of all creatures, Aies from Judea into Egypt. Egypt is become the sanctuary, Judea the inquisition-house, of the Son of God. He, that is every where the same, makes all places alike to his : he makes the fiery furnace a gallery of pleasure; the lion's den, a house of defence; the whale's belly, a lodging chamber; Egypt, a harbour.
He flees, that was able to preserve himself from danger; to teach us, how lawfully we may flee from those dangers, we cannot avoid otherwise. It is a thankless fortitude, to offer our throat ụnto the knife. He, that came to die for us, fled for bis own pre