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says, Latro laudabilis et mirabilis; Such a thief as deserved praise, and afforded wonder: but the best is the last, that he was imitabilis; that he hath done nothing, but that we may do so too, if we will apprehend that grace that he did. Assumamus vocem latronis, si non volumus esse latrones: If we will not steal ourselves out of the number, to whom God offers his saving grace. Ut sedeamus a dextris, pendeamus a dextris; Let us be content to suffer, but to suffer in the right. Suffering as malefactors, is somewhat too much on the left hand; though even that suffering do bring many to the right hand too. But suffering for schism in the pretence of zeal, suffering for treason in pretence of religion; this is both to turn out of this world on the left hand, and to remain on that hand for ever after in the world to This thief hung on the right hand, and was suddenly made a confessor for himself, a martyr to witness for Christ, a doctor to preach to his fellow. If the favour of a prince can make a man a doctor, per saltum, much more the mercy of Christ Jesus, which gives the sufficiency as well as the title: as he did in this thief, this new doctor, whose doctrine itself is our next consideration.
This doctrine was the fear of God, which was a pregnant and a plentiful commonplace for him to preach upon. And upon such an occasion, and such abundance of matter, we have here one example of an extemporal sermon; this thief had premeditated nothing. But he is no more a precedent for extemporal preaching, than he is for stealing. He was a thief before, and he was an extemporal preacher at last: but he teaches nobody else to be either. It is true, that if we consider the sermons of the ancient fathers, we shall find some impressions, some examples of sudden and unpremeditated sermons. St. Augustine sometimes" eases himself upon so long texts, as needed no great preparation, no great study; for a mere paraphrase upon this text, was enough for all his hour, when he took both Epistle and Gospel, and Psalm of the day for his text. We may see often in St. Bernard13 (Heri diximus, and Hesterno die fecimus mentionem) that he preached divers days together. In the second of those sermons of St. Basil, which were upon the beginning of Genesis, it seems 13 Ser. de Sancto Latrone, &c.
1 Ser. x. de verbis Hpli.
that Basil preached twice in a day; and in his sermon De Baptismo, it seems that he trusted upon the Holy Ghost, and his present inspiration: Loquemur prout sermo nobis dabitur in apertione oris: I intend to speak so, as the Holy Ghost shall give me utterance for the present. But as St. Augustine says in another case, Da mihi Paulum; so Di mihi Basilios, and Augustinos; bring such preachers as Basil and Augustine were, and let them preach as often as they will; and let every man whose calling it is, preach as often as he can; but let him not think that he can preach as often as he can speak. An inordinate opinion of purity, brought some men to keep two sabbaths a week, and others two Lents every year; and an opinion of a necessity of two sermons every sabbath, and two hours every sermon, may bring them to an opinion, that the sanctifying of the sabbath consists in the patience of hearing.
Here was an extemporal sermon, but a short one: he preaches nothing but the fear of God. It is not de arcanis imperii, matter of state: nor de arcanis Dei, of the unrevealed decrees of God. The thief does not say to Christ, Perage quod decreveris; Thou hast decreed my conversion, and therefore that decree must be executed, that must necessarily be performed, which thou hadst determined in thy kingdom before thou camest from thence; but he says, Memento mei, cum veneris; Take such a care of me, for my salvation, and preservation, and perseverance, as that I may follow thee into that kingdom, into which thou art now going; for our salvation is opened to us in that way, which Christ hath opened by his death: and without him, we understand no assurance of election; without his second going into his kingdom, we know nothing of that which he did, before he came from thence. This is then the fear of God, which those royal doctors of the Old Testament, David and Solomon, both preached", and which this primitive doctor of the Primitive church, this new convertite preached too, that no man may be so secure in his election, as to forbear to work out his salvation with fear and trembling: for God saves no man against his will, nor any man that thinks himself beholden for nothing, after the first decree. There is a name of force, of violence, of necessity 14 Psalm xix. 9. Prov. i. 7.
attributed to a god, which is Mauzzim: but it is the name of an idol, not of a true God. The name of the true God is Dominus tzebaoth, the Lord of hosts; a name of power, but not of force. There is a fear belongs to him; his purposes shall certainly be executed, but regularly and orderly; he will be feared, not because he forces us, imprints a necessity, a coaction upon us; but because, if we be not led by his orderly proceeding, there he hath power to cast body and soul into hell fire; therefore he will be feared, not as a wilful tyrant, but as a just judge; not as Mauzzim, the god of violence, but as Dominus tzebaoth, the Lord of hosts.
This then is his doctrine; and what is his auditory? He is not reserved for courts, nor for populous cities; it is but a poor parish that he hath; and yet he thinks of no change, but means to die there and there he visits the poorest, the sickest, the wretchedest person, the thief. He had seen divers other of divers sorts, revile Christ as deeply as this thief: They that passed by reviled him: Prætereuntes, They that did not so much as consider him, reviled him. They that know not Christ, yet will blaspheme him if we ask them when, and where, and how, and why Christ Jesus was born, and lived, and died, they cannot tell it in their creed; and yet they can tell it in their oaths: they know nothing of his miraculous life, of his humble death, of his bitter passion, of the ransom of his blood, of the sanctuary of his wounds; and yet his life and death, and passion, and blood, and wounds, is oftener in their mouths in execrations, than in the mouth of the most religious man in his prayers. They revile Christ prætereuntes, as they pass along: not only as Origen says here, Non incedentes recte, blasphemant, They did not go perversely, crookedly, wilfully, and so blaspheme: nor as Hierome, Non ambulantes in vero itinere Scripturarum, blasphemant; They did not misinterpret places of Scripture, to maintain their errors, and so blaspheme; but they blasphemed prætereuntes, out of negligent custom and habit; they blaspheme Christ, and never think of it; that they may be damned obiter, by the way, collaterally, occasionately damned.
But it was not only they, prætereuntes, but the people that
stood, and beheld, reviled Christ too: men that do understand Christ, even then when they dishonour him, do dishonour him to accompany some greater persons upon whom they depend, in their errors. The priests, who should have called the passengers, with that, Have ye no regard, all ye that pass by the way 18? the Scribes, who should have applied the ancient prophecies to the present accomplishment of them in the death of Christ: the Pharisees, who should have supplied their imperfect fulfilling of the law, in that full satisfaction, the death of Christ: the elders, the rulers, the soldiers, are all noted to have reviled Christ: they all concur to the performance of that prophecy in the person of Christ; and yet they will not see that the prophecy is performed in him: All they that see me have me in derision: They persecute him whom thou hast smitten, and they add unto the sorrows of him whom thou hast wounded": Our fathers trusted in thee, they trusted in thee, and were delivered"; But I am a worm and no man, a shame to men, and the contempt of the people. Pilate had lost his plot upon the people, to mollify them towards Christ; he brought him out to them, flagellatum et illusum, scourged and scorned 22, thinking that that would have reduced them. But this preacher leaves all the rest, either to their farther obduration, or their fitter time of repentance, if God had ordained any such time for them; and he turns to this one, whose disposition he knew to have been like his own, and therefore hoped his conversion would be so too; for nothing gives the faithful servants of God a greater encouragement that their labours shall prosper upon others, than a consideration of their own case, and an acknowledgment what God hath done for their souls. When the fear of God wrought upon himself, then he comes to his fellow, Nonne tu times? Fearest not thou? First, Nonne tu? We have not that advantage over our auditory, which he had over his, to know that in every particular man, there is some reason why he should be more afraid of God's judgments than another man. But every particular man, who is acquainted with his own history, may be such a preacher to himself, and ask himself, Nonne tu? Hast not thou more reason to stand in fear of God than any other
17 Luke xxiii. 35.
18 Lam. i. 12.
20 Psalm Lxix. 26.
21 Psalm xxii. 4.
19 Psalm xxii. 7. 22 John xix. 1.
man, for anything that thou knowest? Knowest thou any man so deeply indebted to God, so far behind-hand with God, so much in danger of his executions as thou art? Thou knowest not his colluctations before he fell, nor his repentances since: when thou hearest St. Paul say, Quorum maximus, hadst not thou need say, Nonne tu? Dost not thou fear, who knowest more by thyself, than St. Paul's history hath told thee of St. Paul? for in all his history thou never seest anything done by him against his conscience and is thy case as good as that? But to this thief, this thief presses this no farther, but this, What hope soever of future happiness in this life, by the coming of a Messias, those that stay in the world can expect, what is all that to thee, who art going out of the world? Quid mihi, says that man, who looked upon the rainbow when he was ready to drown; Though God have promised not to drown the world, what is that to me, if I must drown? I must be bold to say to thee, Quid tibi? If God by his omnipotent power will uphold his Gospel in the world, he owes thee no thanks, if thou do nothing in thy calling towards the upholding of it. Nonne tu? Dost not thou fear, that though that stand, God's judgment will fall upon thee for having put no hand to the staying of it?
Nonne tu times? It had been unreasonable to have spoken to him of the love of God first now, when those heavy judgments were upon him. The fear of God is always the beginning of wisdom; most of all in calamity, which is properly vehiculum timoris, the chariot to convey, and the seal to imprint this fear in us. Because I thought, surely the fear of God is not in this place; therefore I said Sarah was my sister". Where there is not the fear of God in great persons, other men dare not proceed clearly with them, but with disguises and modifications: they dare not attribute their prosperity, and good success to the goodness of God, but must attribute it to their wisdom: they dare not attribute their crosses and ill success to the justice of God, but must attribute it to the weakness or falsehood of servants and ministers: where there is not this fear of God, there is no directness. Beloved, there is love enough at all hands; it is a loving age everywhere, love enough in every corner, such as it
13 Gen. xx. 11.