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contrary, but certainly neither so pious, nor so reasonable. For to her alone did not the punishment of Eve extend, that “ in sorrow she should bring forth :” for where nothing of sin was an ingredient, there misery cannot cohabit. For though amongst the daughters of men many conceptions are innocent and holy, being sanctified by the word of God and prayer, hallowed by marriage, designed by prudence, seasoned by temperance, conducted by religion towards a just, a hallowed, and a holy end, and yet their productions are in sorrow; yet this of the blessed Virgin might be otherwise, because here sin was no relative, and neither was in the principle nor the derivative, in the act nor in the habit, in the root nor in the branch : there was nothing in this but the sanctification of a virgin's womb, and that could not be the parent of sorrow, especially that gate not having been opened, by which the curse always entered. And as to conceive by the Holy Ghost was glorious, so to bring forth any of “ the fruits of the Spirit” is joyful, and full of felicities. And he that came from his grave fast tied with a stone and signature, and into the college of apostles, “ the doors being shut,” and into the glories of his Father through the solid orbs of all the firmament, came also (as the church piously believes) into the world so, without doing violence to the virginal and pure body of his mother; that he did also leave her virginity entire, to be as a seal, that none might open the gate of that sanctuary, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, “ This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord God of Israel hath entered by it, therefore it shall be shut.”
4. Although all the world were concerned in the birth of this great Prince, yet I find no story of any one that ministered at it, save only angels, who knew their duty to their Lord, and the great interests of that person; whom, as soon as he was born, they presented to his mother, who could not but receive him with a joy next to the rejoicings of glory and beatific vision, seeing him to be born her son, who was the Son of God, of greater beauty than the sun, purer than angels, more loving than the seraphims, as dear
i Ezek. xliv. 2.
as the eye and heart of God, where he was from eternity engraven, his beloved and his only-begotten.
5. When the virgin-mother now felt the first tenderness and yearnings of a mother's bowels, and saw the Saviour of the world born, poor as her fortunes could represent him, naked as the innocence of Adam, she took him, and “wrapt him in swaddling-clothes;" and after she had a while cradled him in her arms, she “ laid him in a manger;" for so was the design of his humility; that as the last scene of his life was represented among thieves, so the first was amongst beasts, the sheep and the oxen; according to that mysterious hymn of the prophet Habakkuk, “ His brightness was as the light; he had horns coming out of his hand, and there was the hiding of his power 8.”
6. But this place, which was one of the great instances of his humility, grew to be as venerable as became an instrumenth; and it was consecrated into a church, the crib into an altar, where first lay that “ Lamb of God," which afterwards was sacrificed for the sins of all the world. And when Adrian, the emperor, who intended a great despite to it, built a temple to Venus and Adonis in that place, where the holy virgin - mother, and her more holy Son, were humbly laid ; even so he could not obtain, but that, even amongst the Gentile inhabitants of the neighbouring countries, it was held in an account far above scandal and contempt. For God can ennoble even the meanest of creatures, especially if it be but a relative and instrumental to religion, higher than the injuries of scoffers and malicious persons. But it was then a temple full of religion, full of glory, when angels were the ministers, the holy Virgin was the worshipper, and Christ the Deity.
Ad SECTION III.
Considerations upon the Birth of our Blessed Saviour Jesus, .
1. ALTHOUGH the blessed Jesus desired, with the ardency of an inflamed love, to be born, and to finish the
8 Hab. iii. 4. In medio animalium cognosceris.-Sic LXX. h Ven. Beda de Locis Sanctis, c. 8. S. Hieron. epist. 48.
work of our redemption; yet he did not prevent the period of nature, nor break the laws of the womb, and antedate his own sanctions, which he had established for ever. He stayed nine months, and then brake forth “ as a giant joyful to run his course.” For premature and hasty actions, and such counsels, as know not how to expect the times appointed in God's decree, are like hasty fruit, or a young person snatched away in his florid age, sad and untimely. He that hastens to enjoy his wish before the time, raises his own expectation, and yet makes it unpleasant by impatience, and loseth the pleasure of the fruition when it comes, because he hath made his desires bigger than the thing can satisfy. He that must eat an hour before his time, gives probation of his intemperance or his weakness; and if we dare not trust God with the circumstance of the event, and stay his leisure, either we disrepute the infinity of his wisdom, or give clear demonstration of our own vanity.
2. When God descended to earth, he chose to be born in the suburbs and retirement of a small town, but he was pleased to die at Jerusalem, the metropolis of Judæa; which chides our shame and pride, who are willing to publish our gaieties in piazzas and the corners of the streets of most populous places; but our defects, and the instruments of our humiliation, we carry into deserts, and cover with the night, and hide them under ground, thinking no secrecy dark enough to hide our shame, nor any theatre large enough to behold our pompous vanities; for so we make provisions for pride, and take great care to exclude humility.
3. When the holy Virgin now perceived, that the expectation of the nations was arrived at the very doors of revelation and entrance into the world, she brought forth the holy Jesus, who, like light through transparent glass, passed through, or a ripe pomegranate from a fruitful tree, fell to the earth, without doing violence to its nurse and parent. She had no ministers to attend but angels, and neither her poverty nor her piety would permit her to provide other nurses; but herself did the offices of a tender and pious parent.
She kissed him, and worshipped him, and thanked him that he would be born of her, and she suckled him, and bound him in her arms and
swaddling-bands; and when she had represented to God her first scene of joy and eucharist, she softly laid him in the manger, till her desires and his own necessities called her to take him, and to rock him softly in her arms : and from this deportment she read a lecture of piety and maternal care, which mothers should perform toward their children when they are born, not to neglect any of that duty, which nature and maternal piety requires.
4. Jesus was pleased to be born of a poor mother, in a poor place, in a cold winter's night, far from home, amongst strangers, with all the circumstances of humility and poverty. And no man will have cause to complain of his coarse robe, if he remembers the swaddling-clothes of this holy Child; nor to be disquieted at his hard bed, when he considers Jesus laid in a manger; nor to be discontented at his thin table, when he calls to mind, the King of heaven and earth was fed with a little breast-milk. But since the eternal wisdom of the Father, who“ knew to choose the good, and refuse the evil,” did choose a life of poverty, it gives us demonstration, that riches and honours, those idols of the world's esteem, are so far from creating true felicities, that they are not of themselves eligible in the number of good things: however, no man is to be ashamed of innocent poverty, of which many wise men make vows, and of which the holy Jesus made election, and his apostles after him made public profession. And if any man will choose and delight in the affluence of temporal good things, suffering himself to be transported with caitive affections in the pleasures of every day, he may well make a question, whether he shall speed as well hereafter'; since God's usual method is, that they only, who follow Christ here, shall be with him for ever.
5. The condition of the person who was born, is here of greatest consideration. For he that cried in the manger, that sucked the paps of a woman, that hath exposed himself to poverty and a world of inconveniences, is “ the Son of the living God,” of the same substance with his father, begotten before all ages, before the morning stars; he is God eternal. He is also, by reason of the personal union of
Οίει συ τους θανόντας, ώ Νικήσατε, τρυφής απάσης μεταλαβόντας εν βία, Πεφυγέναι Tì Pĩa ;-Diphilus.
the Divinity with his human nature, “ the Son of God;" not by adoption, as good men and beatified angels are, but by an extraordinary and miraculous generation. He is “ the heir” of his Father's glories and possessions, not by succession, (for his Father cannot die,) but by an equality of communication. He is “ the express image of his Father's person,” according to both natures; the miracle and excess of his Godhead being, as upon wax, imprinted upon all the capacities of his humanity. And, after all this, he is our Saviour; that to our duties of wonder and adoration we may add the affections of love and union, as himself, besides his being admirable in himself, is become profitable to us. “ Vere Verbum hoc est abbreviatum," saith the prophet; the eternal Word of the Father is shortened to the dimensions of an infant.
6. Here then are concentred the prodigies of greatness and goodness, of wisdom and charity, of meekness and humility, and march all the way in mystery and incomprehensible mixtures; if we consider him in the bosom of his Father, where he is seated by the postures of love and essential felicity; and in the manger, where love also placed him, and an infinite desire to communicate his felicities to us. As he is God, his throne is in the heaven, and he fills all things by his immensity: as he is man, he is circumscribed by an uneasy cradle, and cries in a stable. As he is God, he is seated upon a super-exalted throne; as man, exposed to the lowest estate of uneasiness and need. As God, clothed in a robe of glory, at the same instant when you may behold and wonder at his humanity, wrapped in cheap and unworthy cradle-bands. As God, he is encircled with millions of angels; as man, in the company of beasts. As God, he is the eternal Word of the Father, eternal, sustained by himself, all-sufficient, and without need : and yet he submitted himself to a condition, imperfect, inglorious, indigent, and necessitous. And this consideration is apt and natural to produce great affections of love, duty, and obedience, desires of union and conformity to his sacred person, life, actions, and laws; that we resolve all our thoughts, and finally determine all our reason and our passions and capacities upon that saying of St. Paul,