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A LENT SERMON PREAched befoRE THE KING, AT WHITEHALL, FEBRUARY 16, 1620.
1 TIMOTHY iii. 16.
And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
THIS is no text for an hour-glass if God would afford me Hezekiah's sign, Ut revertatur umbra', that the shadow might go backward upon the dial; or Joshua's sign, Ut sistat sol, that the sun might stand still all the day, this were text enough to employ all the day, and all the days of our life. The Lent, which we begin now, is a full tithe of the year; but the hour which we begin now, is not a full tithe of this day, and therefore we should not grudge all that: but payment of tithes is grown matter of controversy; and we, by our text, are directed only upon matter without controversy: And without controversy, &c.
Here is the compass, that the essential Word of God, the Son of God Christ Jesus, went: he was God, humbled in the flesh; he was Man, received into glory. Here is the compass that the written Word of God, went, the Bible; that begun in Moses, in darkness, in the chaos; and it ends in St. John, in clearness, in a revelation. Here is the compass of all time, as time was distributed in the creation, Vespere et mane; Darkness, and then light the evening and morning made the day; mystery and manifestation made the text.
The doctrine of the present season, is mortification, humiliation; and the experience of the present place, where we stand now in court, is, that the glory of the persons, in whose presence we stand, occasions humility in us; the more glorious they are, the humbler we are; and therefore to consider Christ, as he is received into glory, is as much the way of our humiliation and mortification, as to consider him in his passion, in his exinanition; at least, how small account should we make of those things
1 2 Kings xx. 9.
2 Josh. x. 11.
which we suffer for Christ in this world, when we see in this text, that in the describing the history of Christ from his incarnation to his ascension, the Holy Ghost pretermits, never mentions, never seems to consider the passion of Christ; as though all that he had suffered for man, were nothing in respect of that he would suffer, if the justice of God had required any heavier satisfaction. The text then is a sufficient instruction to Timothy, to whom this epistle is sent, and to us, to whom it is sent too, that thereby we might know how to behave ourselves in the house of God, which is the church of God, the pillar and ground of truth; as is said in the verse immediately before the text, to which the text hath relation: we know how to behave ourselves in the church, if we know in the text that such a mystery of godliness there is, and know what it is. Our parts, therefore, are but two; mystery and manifestation. In the first, the apostle proceeds thus: first, he recommends to us such doctrine as is without controversy: and truly there is enough of that to save any soul, that hath not a mind to wrangle itself into hell. And then he says, that this godliness, though it be without controversy, yet it is a mystery, a secret; not present, not obvious, not discernible with every eye: it is a mystery, and a great mystery; not the greatest, but yet great, that is, great enough; he that knows that, needs no more. And then, for the second part, which is the manifestation of the mystery, we shall look upon that by all those beams, which shine out in this text, ab ortu ad meridiem, from Christ's east to his noon, from his first manifesting in the flesh, to his receiving into glory.
First then, he proposes doctrine without controversy: for, Quod simpliciter predicatur, credendum; quod subtilitur dispu tatur, intelligendum est. That which Christ hath plainly delivered, is the exercise of my faith; that which other men have curiously disputed, is the exercise of my understanding: if I understand not their curious disputations, perchance I shall not be esteemed in this world; but if I believe not Christ's plain doctrine, I am sure I shall not be saved in the next. It is true, that Christ reprehends them often, Quia non intellexerunt, but what? Scripturas, legem: because they understood not the
Scriptures, which they were bound to believe. It is some negligence not to read a proclamation from the king; it is a contempt, to transgress it; but to deny the power from which it is derived, is treason. Not to labour to understand the Scriptures, is to slight God; but not to believe them, is to give God the lie: he makes God a liar, if he believe not the record that God gave of his Son*. When I come to heaven, I shall not need to ask of St. John's angel, nor of his elders, Ubi prophetæ, ubi apostoli, ubi evangelista? Where are the prophets, where are the evangelists, where are the apostles? for, I am sure I shall see them there: but perchance I may be put to ask St. Paul's question, Ubi scriba? ubi sapientes"? Where are the scribes, where are the wise men, where are the disputers of the world? perchance I may miss a great many of them there. It is the text that saves us; the interlineary glosses, and the marginal notes, and the variæ lectiones, controversies and perplexities, undo us: the will, the testament of God, enriches us; the schedules, the codicils of men, beggar us: because the serpent was subtiler than any, he would dispute and comment upon God's law, and so deceived by his subtilty. The word of God is biblia, it is not bibliotheca; a a book, a bible, not a library. And all that book is not written in Balthazar's character, in a mene, tekel, upharsin, that we must call in astrologers, and Chaldeans, and soothsayers, to interpret it. That which was written so, as that it could not be understood, was written, says the text there, with the fingers of man's hand; it is the hand of man that induces obscurities; the hand of God hath written so, as man may run, and read; walk in the duties of his calling here, and attend the salvation of his soul too. He that believes Christ, and Mahomet, indifferently, hath not proposed the right end: he that believes the word of God, and traditions, indifferently, hath not proposed the right way. In any conveyance, if anything be interlined, the interlining must be as well testified, and have the same witnesses upon the endorsment, as the conveyance itself had. When there are traditions in the church (as declaratory traditions there are) they must have the same witnesses, they must be grounded upon the word of
41 John v. 10.
1 Cor. i. 20. 7 2 Cor. ii. 3.
God for there only is truth without controversy. Pilate asked Christ, Quid veritas? What was truth? and he might have known, if he would have stayed; but, Exirit, says the text there, He went out, out to the Jews; and there he could not find it, there he never thought of it more. Ask of Christ speaking in his word, there you shall know; produce the record, the Scripture, and there is communis salus; I wrote unto you of the common salvation: What is that? Semel tradita fides, says that apostle there: The faith which was once delivered to the saints: where semel is not aliquando; once, is not once upon a time, I cannot tell when; but semel is simul, once is at once: the Gospel was delivered altogether, and not by postscripts. Thus it is, if we go to the record, to the Scripture and thus it is, if we ask a judge (I do not say, the judge, but a judge) for, the fathers are a judge; a judge is a judge, though there lie an appeal from him. And will not the fathers say so too? Quod ubique, quod semper; that is common salvation, which hath bound the communion of saints; that which all churches always have thought and taught to be necessary to salvation. Ask the record, ask that judge, and it will be so; and it will be so, if you ask the counsel on the other side. Ask the council of Trent itself, and the idolaters of that council will not say, that our church affirms any error; neither can they say, that we leave any truth unaffirmed, which the primitive church affirmed to be necessary to salvation. For those things which the School hath drawn into disputation since, as their form is, in the beginning of every question, to say, Videtur quod non, one would think it were otherwise; if when they have said all, I return to the beginning again, Videtur quod non, I think it is otherwise still. Must I be damned? The evidence for my salvation is my credo, not their probo; and if I must get heaven by a syllogism, my major is Credo in Deum Patrem, I believe in God the Father; for Pater major, the Father is greater than all1o: and my minor shall be, Credo in Deum Filium, I believe in God the Son, Qui exivit de patre, He came from God; and my conclusion, which must proceed from major et minor, shall be Credo in Spiritum Sanctum, I believe in
9 John xviii. 38.
9 Jude 3.
10 John x. 29.
the Holy Ghost, who proceeds from Father and Son and this syllogism brought me into the Militant church in my baptism, and this will carry me into the Triumphant, in my transmigration; for doctrine of salvation is matter without controversy.
But yet, as clear as it is, it is a mystery, a secret; not that I cannot see it, but that I cannot see it with any eyes that I can bring: not with the eye of nature: Flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, says Christ to Peter": not with the eye of learning; Thou hast hid these things from the wise, says Christ to his Father: not with the eye of state, that wheresoever I see a good government, I should presume a good religion; for, we do not admit the church of Rome, and yet we do admire the court of Rome; nor with the eye of a private sense; for no prophecy of Scripture; for, quod non nisi instinctu Dei scitur, prophetia est; that which I cannot understand by reason, but by especial assistance from God, all that is prophecy. No Scripture is of private interpretation. I see not this mystery by the eye of nature, of learning, of state, of mine own private sense; but I see it by the eye of the church, by the light of faith, that is true; but yet organically, instrumentally, by the eye of the church. And this church is that which proposes to me all that is necessary to my salvation, in the Word, and seals all to me in the sacraments. If another man see, or think he sees more than I; if by the help of his optic-glasses, or perchance but by his imagination, he sees a star or two more in any constellation than I do; yet that star becomes none of the constellation; it adds no limb, no member to the constellation, that was perfect before: so, if other men see that some additional and traditional things may add to the dignity of the church, let them say it conduces to the well-being, not to the very being; to the existence, not to the essence of the church; for that is only things necessary to salvation. And this mystery is, faith in a pure conscience': for that is the same thing that is called godliness in this text: and it is to profess the Gospel of Christ Jesus sincerely, and entirely; to have a conscience testifying to himself, that he hath contributed nothing to the diminution of it, that he labours to live by it, that he hopes to die
11 Matt. xvi. 16.
2 Pet. i. 20.
13 1 Tim. iii. 9.