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himself be the priest, and his heart the sacrifice, and every foot of glebe, he treads on, be the altar; and this no tyrant can prevent. If, then, there can be persecution in the offices of religion, it is the prohibition of public profession and communions; and therefore he, that denies to himself the opportunities of public rites and conventions, is his own persecutor.
3. But when Jesus was “twelve years old,” and his parents had finished their offices, and returned filled with the pleasures of religion, they missed the Child, and “sought him amongst their kindred,” but there “ they found him not;" for whosoever seeks Jesus, must seek him in the offices of religion, in the temple, not amongst the engagements and pursuit of worldly interests : " I forgat also mine own Father's house,” said David, the father of this holy Child ; and so must we, when we run in an inquiry after the Son of David. But our relinquishing must not be a dereliction of duty, but of engagement; our affections toward kindred must always be with charity, and according to the endearments of our relation, but without immersion, and such adherences, as either contradict, or lessen, our duty towards God.
4. It was a sad effect of their pious journey, to lose the joy of their family, and the hopes of all the world : but it often happens, that, after spiritual employments, God seems to absent himself, and withdraw the sensible effects of his presence, that we may seek him with the same diligence, and care, and holy fears, with which the holy Virgin-mother sought the blessed Jesus. And it is a design of great mercy in God, to take off the light from the eyes of a holy person, that he may not be abused with complacencies, and too confident opinions and reflections, upon his fair performances. For we usually judge of the well or ill of our devotions and services, by what we feel; and we think God rewards every thing in the present, and by proportion to our own expectations; and if we feel a present rejoicing of spirit, all is well with us; the smoke of the sacrifice ascended right in a holy cloud: but if we feel nothing of comfort, then we count it a prodigy and ominous, and we suspect ourselves; and most commonly we have reason. Such irradiations of cheerfulness are always welcome; but it is not always anger, that takes them away: the cloud removed from before the camp of
Israel, and stood before the host of Pharaoh; but this was a design of ruin to the Egyptians, and of security to Israel : and, if those bright angels, that go with us to direct our journeys, remove out of our sight, and stand behind us, it is not always an argument, that the anger of the Lord is gone out against us; but such decays of sense and clouds of spirit are excellent conservators of humility, and restrain those intemperances and vainer thoughts, which we are prompted to, in the gaiety of our spirits.
5. But we often give God cause to remove, and, for a while, to absent himself; and his doing of it sometimes, upon the just provocations of our demerits, makes us, at other times, with good reason, to suspect ourselves, even in our best actions. But sometimes we are vain, or remiss; or pride invades us in the darkness and incuriousness of our spirits; and we have a secret sin, which God would have us to inquire after; and, when we suspect every thing, and condemn ourselves with strictest and most angry sentence, then, it may be, God will, with a ray of light, break through the cloud ; if not, it is nothing the worse for us : for, although the visible remonstrance and face of things, in all the absences and withdrawings of Jesus, be the same, yet, if a sin be the cause of it, the withdrawing is a taking away his favour and his love; but, if God does it to secure thy piety, and to inflame thy desires, or to prevent a crime, then he withdraws a gift only, nothing of his love, and yet the darkness of the spirit and sadness seem equal. It is hard, in these cases, to discover the cause, as it is nice to judge the condition, of the effect; and therefore it is prudent to ascertain our condition, by improving our care and our religion; and, in all accidents, to make no judgment concerning God's favour by what we feel, but by what we do.
6. When the holy Virgin, with much religion and sadness, had sought her joy, at last she“ found him, disputing among the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions ;” and besides, that he now first opened a fontinel, and there sprang out an excellent rivulet from his abyss of wisdom, he consigned this truth to his disciples : That they, who mean to be doctors and teach others, must, in their first accesses and degrees of discipline, learn of those, whom God and public order hath set over us, in the mysteries of religion.
Blessed and most holy Jesus, fountain of grace and comfort,
treasure of wisdom and spiritual emanations, be pleased to abide with me for ever, by the inhabitation of thy interior assistances and refreshments; and give me a corresponding love, acceptable and unstained purity, care and watchfulness over my ways, that I may never, by provoking thee to anger, cause thee to remove thy dwelling, or draw a cloud before thy holy face : but if thou art pleased, upon a design of charity or trial, to cover my eyes, that I may not behold the bright rays of thy favour, nor be refreshed with spiritual comforts; let thy love support my spirit by ways insensible; and, in all my needs, give me such a portion, as may be instrumental and incentive to performance of my duty; and, in all accidents, let me continue to seek thee by prayers, and humiliation, and frequent desires, and the strictness of a holy life; that I may follow thy example, pursue thy footsteps, be supported by thy strength, guided by thy hand, enlightened by thy favour, and may, at last, after a persevering holiness and an unwearied industry, dwell with thee in the regions of light and eternal glory, where there shall be no fears of parting from the habitations of felicity, and the union and fruition of thy presence, O blessed and most holy Jesus. Amen.
Of the Preaching of John the Baptist, preparative to the
Manifestation of Jesus.
When Herod had drunk so great a draught of blood at Bethlehem, and sought for more from the hill country, Elizabeth carried her son into the wilderness, there, in the desert places and recesses, to hide him from the fury of that beast, where she attended him with as much care and tenderness, as the affections and fears of a mother could express, in the permission of those fruitless solitudes.
The child was
about eighteen months old, when he first fled to sanctuary”; but, after forty days, his mother died; and his father Zacharias, at the time of his ministration, which happened about this time, was killed in the court of the temple ; so that the child was exposed to all the dangers and infelicities of an orphan, in a place of solitariness and discomfort, in a time, when a bloody king endeavoured his destruction. But, “when his father and mother were taken from him, the Lord took him up.” For, according to the tradition of the Greeks, God deputed an angel to be his nourisher and guardian, as he had formerly done to Ishmael', who dwelt in the wilderness; and to Eliasd, when he fled from the rage of Ahab; so to this child, who came in the spirit of Elias, to make demonstration, that there can be no want, where God undertakes the care and provision.
2. The entertainment, that St. John's proveditore, the angel, gave him, was such, as the wilderness did afford, and such as might dispose him to a life of austerity ; for there he continued spending his time in meditations, contemplation, prayer, affections and colloquies with God, eating flies and wild honey, not clothed in soft, but a hairy garment, and a leathern girdle, till he was thirty years of age. And then, “ being the fifteenth year of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, the word of God came unto John in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching” and baptizing.
3. This John, according to the prophecies of him, and designation of his person by the Holy Ghost, was the forerunner of Christ, sent to dispose the people for his entertainment, and “prepare his ways;" and therefore it was necessary, his person should be so extraordinary and full of sanctity, and so clarified by great concurrences and wonder in the circumstances of his life, as might gain credit and reputation to the testimony he was to give concerning his Lord, the Saviour of the world. And so it happened.
• Niceph. lib. i. c. 14. b S. Chrys. Hom. de Nativ. S. Jo. Baptistæ. e Gen. xxi. 17.
d 1 Kings, xix. 5.
Contra luxuriem molles duraret ut artus,
4. For as the Baptist, while he was in the wilderness, became the pattern of solitary and contemplative life, a school of virtue, and example of sanctity and singular austerity; so, at his emigration from the places of his retirement, he seemed, what indeed he was, a rare and excellent personage : and the wonders, which were great at his birth, the prediction of his conception by an angel, which never had before happened but in the persons of Isaac and Sampson, the contempt of the world, which he bore about bim, his mortified countenance and deportment, his austere and eremitical life, his vehement spirit and excellent zeal in preaching, created so great opinions of him among the people, that all held him for a prophet in his office, for a heavenly person in his own particular, and a rare example of sanctity and holy life to all others : and all this being made solemn and ceremonious by his baptism, he prevailed so, that he made excellent and apt preparations for the Lord's appearing; for “there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the regions round about Jordan, and were baptized of him, confessing their sins."
5. The Baptist having, by so heavenly means, won upon the affections of all men, his sermons and his testimony concerning Christ were the more likely to be prevalent and accepted; and the sum of them was “repentance and dereliction of sins,” and “ bringing forth the fruits of good life;" in the promoting of which doctrine, he was a severe reprehender of the Pharisees and Sadducees; he exhorted the people to works of mercy; the publicans to do justice and to decline oppression; the soldiers to abstain from plundering, and doing violence or rapine : and publishing, that “ he was not the Christ; that he only baptized with water, but the Messias should baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire;" he finally denounced judgment and great severities to all the world of impenitents, even abscission and fire unquenchable. And from this time forward, viz. “ From the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” For now the Gospel began to dawn, and John was like the morning star, or the blushings springing from the windows of the East, foretelling the approach of the Sun of Righteousness : and as St. John Baptist laid the first rough, hard, and unhewn stone of this