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many are dumb, and need not. Negligence, fear, partiality stop the mouths of many, which shall once say, "Woe to me, because I held my peace!"
His hand speaks that, which he cannot with his tongue; and he makes them by signs to understand that, which they might read in his face. Those powers we have, we must use. But though he have ceased to speak, yet he ceased not to minister. He takes not this dumbness for a dismission, but stays out the eight days of his course; as one that knew the eyes and hands and heart would be accepted of that God, which had bereaved him of his tongue, We may not take slight occasions of withdrawing ourselves from the public services of our God; much less under the Gospel. The Law, which stood much upon bodily perfection, dispensed with age for attendance. The Gospel, which is all for the soul, regards those inward powers, which, while they are vigorous, exclude all excuses of our ministration.
THE ANNUNCIATION OF CHRIST. THE Spirit of God was never so accurate in any description as that, which concerns the Incarnation of God. It was fit no circumstance should be omitted in that story, whereon the faith, and salvation, of all the world dependeth. We cannot so much as doubt of this truth, and be saved. No, not the number of the month, not the name of the angel, is concealed. Every particle imports not more certainty, than excellence.
The time is, the sixth month after John's conception, the prime of the spring. Christ was conceived in the spring; born, in the solstice. He, in whom the world received a new life, receives life in the same season, wherein the world received his first life from him; and he, which stretches out the days of his Church and lengthens them to eternity, appears after all the short and dim light of the law, and enlightens the world with his glory.
The Messenger is, an angel. A man was too mean, to carry the news of the conception of God. Never any business was conceived in heaven, that did so much concern the earth, as the Conception of the God of Heaven in Womb of Earth. No less than an archangel was worthy to bear this tidings; and never any angel received a greater honour, than of this embassage.
It was fit our reparation should answer our fall. An evil angel was the first motioner of the one to Eve, a virgin, then espoused to Adam, in the garden of Eden; a good angel is the first reporter of the other to Mary, a virgin, espoused to Joseph, in that place, which, as the garden of Galilee, had a name from flourishing.
No good angel could be the author of our restoration, as that evil angel was of our ruin. But that, which those glorious spirits could not do themselves, they are glad to report as done by the God of Spirits. Good news rejoices the bearer. With what joy did this holy angel bring the news of that Saviour, in whom we are redeemed to life, himself established in life and glory!
The first preacher of the Gospel was an angel. That office must needs be glorious, that derives itself from such a predecessor. God appointed his angel to be the first preacher; and hath since called his preachers, angels.
The Message is well suited. An angel comes to a virgin; Gabriel, to Mary; he, that was by signification the Strength of God, to her that was by signification Exalted by God to the conceiving of him that was the God of Strength: to a maid, but espoused; a maid, for the honour of virginity; espoused, for the honour of marriage. The marriage was in a sort made, not consummate; through the instinct of him, that meant to make her, not an example, but a miracle of women.
In this whole work, God would have nothing ordinary. It was fit, that she should be a married virgin, which should be a virginmother. He, that meant to take man's nature without man's corruption, would be the Son of Man without man's seed; would be and amongst all the Seed of the Woman without man; women, of a pure virgin; but amongst virgins, of one espoused, that there might be at once a witness and a guardian of her fruitful virginity. If the same God had not been the author of virginity and marriage, he had never countenanced virginity by marriage.
Whither doth this glorious angel come, to find the mother of him that was God, but to obscure Galilee? a part, which even the Jews themselves despised, as forsaken of their privileges; Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet. Behold, an angel comes to that Galilee, out of which no prophet comes; and the God of Prophets and Angels descends to be conceived in that Galilee, out of which no prophet ariseth. He, that filleth all places, makes no difference of places. It is the person, which gives honour and privilege to the place, not the place to the person: as the presence of God makes the heaven; the heaven doth not make the honour glorious. No blind corner of Nazareth can hide the Blessed Virgin from the angel. The favours of God will find out his children, whithersoever they are withdrawn.
It is the fashion of God, to seek out the most despised, on whom to bestow his honours. We cannot run away, as from the judgments, so not from the mercies, of our God. The cottages of Galilee are preferred by God, to the famous palaces of Jerusalem. Why should He cares not how homely he converse with his own. we be transported with the outward glory of places, while our God regards it not? We are not of the angel's diet, if we would not rather be with the Blessed Virgin at Nazareth, than with the proud dames in the court of Jerusalem. It is a great vanity, to respect any thing above goodness, and to disesteem goodness for any want.
The angel salutes the Virgin; he prays not to her. He salutes her, as a saint; he prays not to her, as a goddess. For us to salute her as he did, were gross presumption; for neither are we as he was, neither is she as she was. If he, that was a spirit, saluted her, that was flesh and blood here on earth, it is not for us, that are
flesh and blood, to salute her, which is a glorious spirit in heaven. For us to pray to her in the angel's salutation, were to abuse the Virgin, the angel, the salutation.
But, how gladly do we second the angel in the praise of her, which was more ours than his! How justly do we bless her, whom the angel pronounceth blessed! How worthily is she honoured of men, whom the angel proclaimeth beloved of God! O blessed Mary, he cannot bless thee, he cannot honour thee, too much, that deifies thee not. That, which the angel said of thee, thou hast prophesied of thyself: we believe the angel, and thee. All generations shall call thee blessed, by the fruit of whose womb ali generations are blessed.
If Zachary were amazed with the sight of this angel, much more the Virgin. That very sex had more disadvantage of fear. If it had been but a man, that had come to her in that secresy and suddenness, she could not but have been troubled; how much more, when the shining glory of the person doubled the astonishment!
The troubles of holy minds end ever in comfort. Joy was the errand of the angel, and not terror. Fear (as all passions) disquiets the heart; and makes it, for the time, unfit to receive the messages of God. Soon hath the angel cleared these troublesome mists of passions, and sent out the beams of heavenly consolation, in the remotest corner of her soul, by the glad news of her Saviour. How can joy but enter into her heart, out of whose womb shall come salvation? What room can fear find in that breast, that is assured of favour? "Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. Let those fear, who know they are in displeasure, or know not they are gracious. Thy happy estate calls for confidence, and that confidence for joy. What should, what can they fear, who are favoured of him, at whom the devils tremble?"
Not the presence of the good angels, but the temptations of the evil, strike many terrors into our weakness. We could not be dismayed with them, if we did not forget our condition. We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. If that Spirit, O God, witness with our spirits, that we are thine, how can we fear any of those spiritual wickednesses? Give us assurance of thy favour, and let the powers of hell do their worst.
It was no ordinary favour, that the Virgin found in heaven. No mortal creature was ever thus graced, that He, should take part of her nature, that was the God of Nature; that he, which made all things, should make his human body of hers; that her womb should yield that flesh, which was personally united to the Godhead; that she should bear him, that upholds the world: Lo, thou shalt conceive and bear a Son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
It is a question, whether there be more wonder in the conception, or in the fruit; the conception of the Virgin, or Jesus conceived. Both are marvellous; but the former doth not more exceed all other wonders, than the latter exceedeth it: for the child of a
virgin, is the reimprovement of that power which created the world; but that God should be incarnate of a virgin, was an abasement of his majesty, and an exaltation of the creature, beyond all example.
Well was that child worthy to make the mother blessed. Here was a double conception; one in the womb of her body, the other of the soul. If that were more miraculous, this was more beneficial; that was her privilege, this was her happiness: if that were singular to her, this is common to all his chosen. There is no renewed heart, wherein thou, O Saviour, art not formed again. Blessed be thou, that hast herein made us blessed. For what womb can conceive thee, and not partake of thee? Who can partake of thee, and not be happy?
Doubtless, the Virgin understood the angel, as he meant, of a present conception; which made her so much more inquisitive, into the manner and means of this event: How shall this be, since I know not a man? That she should conceive a son, by the knowledge of man, after her marriage consummate, could have been no wonder: but how then should that son of hers be the Son of God? This demand was higher. How her present virginity should be instantly fruitful might be well worthy of admiration, of inquiry. Here was desire of information; not doubts of infidelity yea rather, this question argues faith: it takes for granted that, which an unbelieving heart would have stuck at. She says not, "Who, and whence, art thou? What kingdom is this? Where, and when, shall it be erected?" But, smoothly supposing all those strange things would be done, she insists only on that, which did necessarily require a further intimation; and doth not distrust, but demand. Neither doth she say, "This cannot be ;" nor, "How can this be?" but, How shall this be? So doth the angel answer, as one that knew he needed not to satisfy curiosity, but to inform judgment and uphold faith. He doth not therefore tell her of the manner, but of the Author, of this act; The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. It is enough to know, who is the undertaker, and what he will do.
O God, what do we seek a clear light, where thou wilt have a shadow? No mother knows the manner of her natural conception: what presumption shall it be for flesh and blood, to search how the Son of God took flesh and blood of his creature! It is for none, but the Almighty, to know those works, which he doth immediately concerning himself; those, that concern us, he hath revealed: secrets to God; things revealed to us.
The answer was not so full, but that a thousand difficulties might arise, out of the particularities of so strange a message; yet, after the angel's solution, we hear of no more objections, no more interrogations. The faithful heart, when it once understands the good pleasure of God, argues no more; but sweetly rests itself in a quiet expectation: Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. There is not a more noble proof of our
faith, than to captivate all the powers of our understanding and will to our Creator; and, without all sciscitations, to go blindfold whither he will lead us. All disputations with God, after his will known, arise from infidelity. Great is the mystery of godliness; and, if we will give nature leave to cavil, we cannot be Christians. O God, thou art faithful, thou art powerful. It is enough, that thou hast said it. In the humility of our obedience, we resign ourselves over to thee. Behold the servants of the Lord; be it unto us according to thy word.
How fit was her womb to conceive the flesh of the Son of God by the power of the Spirit of God, whose breast had so soon by the power of the same Spirit conceived an assent to the will of God! And now, of a handmaid of God, she is advanced to the Mother of God. No sooner hath she said, Be it done, than it is done; the Holy Ghost overshadows her, and forms her Saviour in her own body.
This very angel, that talks with the Blessed Virgin, could scarce have been able to express the joy of her heart, in the sense of this Divine burden. Never any mortal creature had so much cause of exultation. How could she, that was full of God, be other than full of joy in that God?
Grief grows greater by concealing; joy, by expression. The Holy Virgin had understood by the angel, how her cousin Elizabeth was no less of kin to her in condition; the fruitfulness of whose age did somewhat suit the fruitfulness of her virginity. Happiness communicated doubles itself. Here is no straining of courtesy. The Blessed Maid, whom vigour of age had more fitted for the way, hastens her journey into the hill country, to visit that gracious matron, whom God had made a sign of her miraculous conception. Only the meeting of saints in Heaven can parallel the meeting of these two cousins: the two wonders of the world are met under one roof, and congratulate their mutual happiness. When we have Christ spiritually conceived in us, we cannot be quiet, till we have imparted our joy.
Elizabeth, that holy matron, did no sooner welcome her blessed cousin, than her babe welcomes his Saviour. Both, in the retired closets of their mother's womb, are sensible of each other's presence; the one by his omniscience, the other by instinct. He did not more forerun Christ, than overrun nature. How should our hearts leap within us, when the Son of God vouchsafes to come into the secret of our souls; not to visit us, but to dwell with us, to dwell in us! Luke i.
THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
As all the actions of men, so especially the public actions of public men, are ordered by God to other ends than their own. This edict went not so much out from Augustus, as from the court of heaven. What, did Cæsar know Joseph and Mary? His charge