PREACHED UPON THE PENITENTIAL PSALMS.
Psalm Li. 7.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter
In the records of the growth, and propagation of the Christian church, the ecclesiastical story, we have a relation of one Pambo, an unlearned, but devout, and humble hermit, who being informed of another man, more learned than himself, that professed the understanding, and teaching of the Book of Psalms, sought him out, and applied himself to him, to be his disciple. And taking his first lesson casually, at the first verse of tho thirtyninth Psalm, / will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue, he went away with that lesson, with a promise to return again when he was perfect in that. And when he discontinued so long, that his master, sometimes occasionally lighting upon him, accused him of this slackness, for almost twenty years together he made several excuses, but at last professed, that at Vol. VI, a
the end of those twenty years, he was not yet perfect in his first lesson, in that one verse, / will take heed to my ways, that I gin not with my tongue. Now, that which made this lesson hard unto him, was, that it employed all his diligence, and his watchfulness upon future things; to examine and debate all his actions, and all his words; for, else ho did not take heed to his ways; at least, not so, as that he would not sin with his tongue. But if he had begun with this lesson, with this Psalm, which is but a calling to our memory that which is past, the sinful employment of that time, which is gone, and shall not return, the sinful heats of our youth, which, since we wanted remorseful tears to quench them, even the sin itself, and the excess thereof hath overcome, and allayed in us, sinful omissions, sinful actions, and habits, and all those .transitory passages, in which the apostle shows us, our prodigality, our unthriftiness, our ill bargain, when he asks us that question of confusion, What fruit had you then in those things, whereof ye are now ashamed1? If he had begun his first lesson at this, with the presenting of all his passed sins, in the sight of the Father, and in the mediation and merit of the Son, he would have been sooner perfect in that lesson, and would have found himself, even by laying open his disease, so purged with hyssop as that he should have been clean, and so washed, as that he should have been whiter than snow. For, repentance of sins past is nothing but an audit, a casting up of our accounts, a consideration, a survey, how it stands between God and our soul. And yet, as many men run out of plentiful estates, only because they are loath to see a list of their debts, to take knowledge how much they are behind hand, or to contract their expenses: so we run out of a whole and rich inheritance, the kingdom of heaven, we profuse and pour out even our own soul, rather than we will cast our eye upon that which is past, rather than we will present a list of our spiritual debts to God, or discover our disease to that physician, who only can purge us with hyssop, that we may be clean, and wash us, that we way be whiter than snow.
In the words we shall consider the person, and the action, who petitions, and what he asks. Both are twofold; for, the persons are two, the physician nr.d the patient, God and David, do thou
1 Rom. vi. 21.
purge me, do thou wash me; and the action is twofold, purgabis, do thou purge me, and lavabis, do thou wash me. In which last part, and in the first branch thereof, we shall see first, the action itself, purgabis, thou shalt purge me, and what that imports; and then the means, purgabis hyssopo, thou shalt purge me with hyssop, what that implies; and then the effect, mundabor, I shall be made clean, and what that comprehends. And in the other branch of that second part, lavabis, thou shalt wash me, we shall also look upon the action on God's part, lavabis, thou shalt wash me, and the effect on our part, dealbabor, I shall be white, and the degree, the extent, the exhaltation of that emundation, that dealbation, that cleansing, supra nivem, I shall be whiter than snow. And then we shall conclude all with that consideration, that though in the first part, we find two persons in action; for God works, but man prays that God would work, yet in the other part, the work itself; though the work be divers, a purging, and then a washing of the soul, the whole work is God's alone: David doth not say, no man can say, Do thou purge me, and then, I will wash myself; nor do thou make the medicine, and I will bring the hyssop; nor do thou but wash me, begin the work, and I will go forward with it, and perfect it, and make myself whiter than snow; but the entire work is his, who only can infuse the desire, and only accomplish that desire, who only gives the will, and the ability to second, and execute that will, he, he purges me, or I am still a vessel of peccant humours; his, his is the hyssop, or there is mors in olla, death in the cup; he, he washes me, or I am still in my blood; he, he exalts that cleanness, which is, his washing hath indued, or I return again to that red earth, which I brought out of Adam's bowels; therefore do thou purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; do thou wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
First then, for our first part, we consider the persons. Of these God is the first; Esay spoke boldly, saith the apostle, when he said, God is found by them that seek him not*; but still we continue in that humble boldness, to say, God is best found, when we seek him, and observe him in his operation upon us. God gives audiences, and admits accesses in his solemn and public
* Rom. x. 20.
and out-rooms, in his ordinances; in his cabinet, in his bedchamber, in his unrevealed purposes, we must not press upon him. It was ill taken in the Roman state, when men inquired in arcana imperii, the secrets of state, by what ways and means, public businesses were carried: private men were to rest in the general effects, peace, and protection, and justice, and the like, and to inquire no more; but to inquire in arcana domus, what was done in the bed-chamber, was criminal, capital, inexcusable. We must abstain from inquiring de modo, how such or such things are done in many points, in which it is necessary to us to know that such things are done: as the manner of Christ's presence in the sacrament, and the manner of Christ's descent into hell, for these are arcana imperii, secrets of state, for the manner is secret, though the thing be evident in the Scriptures. But tho entering into God's unrevealed, and bosom purposes, are arcana domus, a man is as far from a possibility of attaining the knowledge, as from an excuse for offering at it. That curiosity will bring a man to that blasphemy of Alfonsus king of Castile, the great astronomer, who said, that if he had been of God's counsel iu the creation of the world, he could have directed him to have done many things better than he did. They that look too far into God's unrevealed purposes, are seldom content with that that they think God hath done; but stray either into an uncharitable condemning of other men, or into a jealous, a suspicious, a desperate condemning of themselves. Here, in this first branch of this first part, we seek God, and because we seek him, where he hath promised to be, we are sure to find him; because we join with David, in an humble confession of our sins, the Lord joins us with David, in a fruition of himself. And more of that first person, God himself, we say not, but pass to the other, to the petitioner, to the penitent, to the patient, to David himself.
His example is so comprehensive, so general, that as a wellmade, and well-placed picture in a gallery looks upon all that stand in several places of the gallery, in several lines in several angles, so doth David's history concern and embrace all. For his person includes all states, between a shepherd and a king, and his sin includes all sin, between first omissions, and complications of habits of sin upon sin: so that as St. Basil said, he needed no other book, for all spiritual uses, but the Psalms, so we need no other example to discover to us the slippery ways into sin, or the penitential ways out of sin, than the author of that book, David. From his example then, we first deduce this, that in the warfare of this life, there are no emeriti milites; none of that discipline, that after certain years spent in the wars, a man should return to ease, and honour, and security, at home. A man is not delivered from the temptation of ambition, by having overcome the heats and concupiscencies of his youth; nor from the temptation of covetousness in his age, by having escaped ambition, and contented himself with a mean station in his middle years. David, whom neither a sudden growth into such degrees of greatness, as could not have fallen into his thought, or wish before, nor the persecution of Saul, which might have enraged him to a personal revenge, considering how many advantages, and occasions he might have made shift to think that God had put into his hands, to execute that revenge; David, whom neither the concourse and application of the people, who took knowledge of him, as of a rising sun, nor the interest and nearness in the love and heart of Jonathan the king's son, which falls seldom upon a new, and a popular man; David, whom not that highest place, to which God had brought him, in making him king, nor that addition even to that highest place, that he made him successor to a king of whom the state was weary; (for, as the panegyric says, Onerosum est succedere bono principi, It is a heavy thing, and binds a prince to a great diligence, to como immediately after one, whom his subjects loved, so had David an ease, in coming after one, with whom the kingdom was discontented) David, whom this sudden preferment, and persecutions, and popularity, did not so shake, but that we may say of him, as it is said of Job, That in all this height, David did not sin, nor in all these afflictions, He did not charge God foolishly; though he had many victories, he came not to a triumph; but him, whom an army, and an armed giant, Goliah, near hand, could not hurt, a weaker person, and naked, and far off, overthrows and ruins.
It is therefore but an imperfect comfort for any man to say, I have overcome temptations to great sins, and my sins have been but of infirmity, not of malice. For herein, more than in any other contemplation appears the greatness, both of thy danger, and of thy transgression. For, consider what a dangerous, and slippery station thou art in, if after a victory over giants, thou mayest be overcome by pigmies; if after thy soul hath been cannon-proof against strong temptations, she be slain at last by a pistol; and after she hath swam over a tempestuous sea, she drown at last, in a shallow and standing ditch. And as it shows the greatness of thy danger, so it aggravates the greatness of thy fault; that after thou hast had the experience, that by a good husbanding of those degrees of grace, which God hath afforded thee, thou hast been able to standout the great batteries of strong temptations, and seest by that, that thou art much more able to withstand temptations to lesser sins, if thou wilt, yet by disarming thyself, by divesting thy garrisons, by discontinuing thy watches, merely by inconsideratiou, thou sellest thy soul for nothing, for little pleasure, little profit, thou frustratest thy Saviour of that purchase, which he bought with his precious blood, and thou enrichest the devil's treasure as much, with thy single money, thy frequent small sins, as another hath done with his talent; for, as God was well pleased with the widow's two farthings, so is the devil well pleased, with the negligent man's lesser sins. O who can be confident in his footing, or in his hold, when David, that held out so long, fell, and if we consider but himself, irrecoverably, where the tempter was weak, and afar off.
De longe vidit Mam in qua captus est3. Bathsheba was far off. Mulier longe, libido prope, but David's disposition was in his own bosom. Yet David came not up into the terrace, with any purpose or inclination to that sin. Here was no such plotting as in his son Hamon's case, to get his sister Tamar, by dissembling himself to be sick, to his lodging. That man postdates his sin, and begins his reckoning too late, that dates his sin at that hour, when he commits that sin. You must not reckon in sin, from the nativity, but the conception; when you conceived that sin in your purpose, then you sinned that sin, and in every letter, in every discourse, in every present, in every wish, in every dream,
that conduces to that sin, or rises from that sin, you sin it over, and over again, before you come to the committing of it, and so your sin is an old, an inveterate sin, before it be born, and that which you call the first, is not the hundredth time, that you have sinned that sin.
It is not much that David contributed to this sin on his part: he is only noted in the text, to have been negligent in the publio business, and to have given himself too much ease in this particular, that he lay in bed all day; When it was evening, David arose out of his bed, and walked upon the terrace4. And it is true, that the justice of God is subtile, as searching, as unsearchable; and oftentimes punishes sins of omission, with other sins, actual sins, and makes their laziness, who are slack in doing that they should, an occasion of doing that they should not.
It was not much that Bathsheba contributed to this temptation, on her part. The Vulgate edition of the Roman church, hath made her case somewhat the worse, by a mistranslation, Ex adverso super solarium suum, as though she had been washing herself, upon her own terrace, and in the eye of the court; whereas indeed, it is no more, but that David saw her, he upon his terrace, not her upon hers. For her washing, it may well be collected out of the fourth verse, that it was a legal washing, to which she was bound by the Levitical law, being a purification after her natural infirmity, and which it had been a sin in her, to have omitted. But had it been a washing of refreshing, or of delicacy, even that was never imputed to Susanna for a fault, that she washed in a garden, and in the day, and employed not only soap, but other ingredients and materials, of more delicacy, in that washing.
Certainly the limits of adorning and beautifying the body are not so narrow, so strict, as by some sour men they are sometimes conceived to be. Differences of ranks, of ages, of nations, of customs, make great differences in the enlarging, or contracting of these limits, in adorning the body; and that may come near sin at some time, and in some places, which is not so always, nor everywhere. Amongst the women there, the Jewish women, it was so general a thing to help themselves with aromatical oils,
4 2 Sam. xi. 2.
and limments, as that that which is said by the prophet's poor widow, to the prophet Elisha, That she had nothing in the house but a pot of oil3, is very properly by some collected from the original word, that it was not oil for meat, but oil for unction, aromatical oil, oil to make her look better; she was but poor, but a widow, but a prophet's widow, (and likely to be the poorer for that) yet she left not that. We see that even those women, whom the kings were to take for their wives, and not for mistresses, (which is but a later name for concubines) had a certain, and a long time assigned to be prepared by these aromatical unctions, and liniments for beauty. Neither do those that consider, that when Abraham was afraid to lose his wife Sarah in Egypt, and that every man that saw her, would fall in love with her, Sarah was then above threescore; and when the king Abimelech did fall in love with her, and take her from Abraham, she was fourscore and ten, they do not assign this preservation of her complexion, and habitude to any other thing, than the use of those unctions, and liniments, which were ordinary to that nation. But yet though the extent and limit of this adorning the body, may be larger than some austere persons will allow, yet it is not so large, as that it should be limited only, by the intention and purpose of them that do it; so that if they that beautify themselves, mean no harm in it, therefore there should be no harm in it; for, except they could as well provide, that others should take no harm, as that they should mean no harm, they may participate of the fault. And since we find such an impossibility in rectifying and governing our own senses, (we cannot take our own eye, nor stop our own ear, when we would) it is an unnecessary, and insupportable burden, to put upon our score, all the lascivious glances, and the licentious wishes of other persons, occasioned by us, in over-adorning ourselves.
And this may well have been Bathsheba's fault, that though she did not bathe with a purpose to be seen, yet she did not enough to provide against the infirmity of others. It had therefore been well if David had risen earlier, to attend the affairs of the state; and it had been well, if Bathsheba had bathed within doors, and with more caution; but yet these errors alone, we
5 2 Kings iv. 2.
should not be apt to condemn in such persons, except by God's permitting greater sins to follow- upon these, we were taught, that even such things, as seem to us in their nature to be indifferent, have degrees of natural and essential ill in them, which must be avoided, even in the probability, nay even in the possibility that they may produce sin.
And as from this example, we draw that conclusion, that sins, which are but the children of indifferent actions, become the parents of great sins; which is the industry of sin, to exalt itself, and (as it were) ennoble itself, above the stock, from which it was derived. The next sin will needs bo a better sin than the last: so have we also from David this conclusion, that this generation of sin is infinite; infinite in number, infinite in duration; so infinite both ways, as that Luther (who seldom checks himself ^ in any vehement expression) could not forbear to say, Si Nathan non venisset, If Nathan had not come to David, David had proceeded to the sin against the Holy Ghost. O how impossible a thing is it then, for us to condition and capitulate with God, or with our own nature, and say to him, or to ourselves, We will sin thus long and no longer, thus far, and no farther, this sin, and no more; when not only the frailty of man, but even the justice of God provokes us (though not as author, or cause of sin) to commit more and more sins, after we have entangled and enwrapped ourselves in former! Who can doubt, but that in this years space, in which David continued in his sin, but that he did ordinarily all the external acts of the religious worship of God? Who can doubt but that he performed all the legal sacrifices, and all the ceremonial rites? Yea, we see, that when Nathan put David's case in another name, of a rich man that had taken away a poor man's only sheep, David was not only just, but he was vehement in the execution of justice; He was, says the text, exceeding wroth, and said, As the Lord liveth, that man shall die; but yet, for all this external religion, for all this civil justice in matter of government, no mention of any repentance in all this time. How little a thing then is it, nay how great a thing, that is, how great an aggravating of thy sin, if thou think to bribe God with a Sabbath, or with an alms; and, as a criminal person would fain come to sanctuary, not because it is a consecrated
place, but because it rescues him from the magistrate, so thou comest to church, not because God is here, but that thy being here may redeem thee from the imputation of profaneness. At last Nathan came; David did not send for him, but God sent him; but yet David laid hold upon God's purpose in him. And he confesses to God, he confesses to the prophet, he confesses to the whole church; for, before he pleads for mercy in the body of the Psalm, in the title of the Psalm, which is as canonical Scrip, J ture, as the Psalm itself, he confesses himself plainly, A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
Audiunt male viventes, et quatrunt sibipatrocinia peccandi3; wo hear of David's sin, and we justify our sins by him; Si David, cur non et ego? If David went in to a Bathsheba, why may not I? That father tells you why, Qui facit, quia David fecit, id facit, quod David non fecit, He that does that, because David did it, does not do that which David did; Quia nullum exemplum proposuit, For David did not justify his sin, by any precedent example; so that he that sins as David did, yet sins worse than David did; and he that continues as unsensible of his sin, as David was, is more unsensible than David was; Quia ad te mittitur ipse David1, For God sends Nathan to thee, with David in his hand; he sends you the receipt, his invitations to repentance, in his Scriptures, and he sends you uprobatum est, a personal testimony how this physic hath wrought upon another, upon David.
And so having in this first part, which is the consideration of the persons in our text, God and David, brought them by Nathan's mediation, together, consider we also, for a conclusion of this part, the personal applications, that David scatters himself upon none but God, tu me, and he repeats it, do thou purge me, do thou wash me.
Damascene hath a sermon of the assumption of the blessed Virgin, which whole sermon is but a dialogue, in which Eve acts the first part, and the blessed Virgin another; it is but a dialogue, yet it is a sermon. If I should insist upon this dialogue, between God and David, tu me, tu me, do thou work upon me,
it would not be the less a profitable part of a sermon for that. For first, when we hear David in an anhelation and panting after the mercy of God, cry out, Domine tu, Lord do thou that that is to be done, do thou purge, do thou wash, and may have heard God, (thereby to excite us to the use of his means) say, Purget natura, purget lex, I have infused into thee a light and a law of nature, and exalted that light and that law, by a more particular law and a clearer light than that, by which thou knowest what is sin, and knowest that in a sinful state thou canst not be acceptable to me, Purget natura, purget lex, Let the light of' nature, or of the law purge thee, and rectify thyself by that; do but as much for thyself, as some natural men, some Socrates, some Plato hath done, we may hear David reply, Domine tu, Lord put me not over to the catechising of nature, nor to the pedagogy of the law, but take me into thine own hands, do thou, thou, that is to be done upon me. When we hear God say, Purget ecelesia, I have established a church, settled constant ordinances, for the purging and washing of souls there; Purget ecelesia, Let the church purge thee, we may hear David reply, Domine tu, Alas Lord, how many come to that bath, and go foul out of it? How many hear sermons, and receive sacraments, and when they return, return to their vomit? Domine tu, Lord, except the power of thy Spirit make thine ordinance effectual upon me, even this thy Jordan will leave me in my leprosy, and exalt my leprosy, even this sermon, this sacrament will aggravate my sin. If we hear God say, Shall I purge thee? Dost thou know what thou askest, what my method in purging is, that if I purge, I shall purge thee with fire, with seven fires, with tribulations, nay, with temptations, with temporal, nay, with spiritual calamities, with wounds in thy fortune, wounds in thine honour, wounds in thy conscience, yet we may hear David reply, tu Domine; as the people said to Joshua, God forbid we should forsake the Lord, we will serve the Lord3; and when Joshua said, You cannot serve the Lord,for he is a jealous God; and if ye turn from him, he will turn and do you hurt, and consume you after he hath done yon good; the people replied, Nay, but we will serve the Lord; so whatsoever God threatens David of afflictions and
tribulations, and purgings in fire, we may hear David reply, Nay but Lord, do thou do it, do it how thou wilt, but do thou do it: thy corrosives are better than other's fomentations; thy bitternesses sweeter than other's honey; thy fires are but lukewarm fires, nay, they have nothing of fire in them, but light to direct me in my way; and thy very frowns are but as trenches cut out, as lanes that lead me to thy grave, or rivers or channels, that lead me to the sea of thy blood. Let me go upon crutches, so I go to heaven; lay what weight thou wilt even upon my soul, that that be heavy, and heavy unto death, so I may have a cheerful transmigration then. Domine tu, Lord do thou do it, and I shall not wish it mended.
And then when we hear David say, Domine me, Lord purge me, wash me, and return four times in this short text, to that personal appropriation of God's work upon himself, purge me, that I may be clean, wash me, that I may be whiter than snow, if we hear God say (as the language of his mercy is, for the most part, general) as the sea is above the earth, so is the blood of my Son above all sin; congregations of three thousand, and of five thousand were purged and washed, converted and baptized at particular sermons of St. Peter, whole legions of soldiers, that consisted of thousands, were purged in their own blood, and became martyrs in one day. There is enough done to work upon all; examples enow given to guide all; we may hear David reply, Domine me, Nay but Lord, I do not hear Peter preach, I live not in a time, or in a place, where crowns of martyrdom are distributed, nor am I sure my constancy would make me capable of it if I did, Lord I know, that a thousand of these worlds were not worth one drop of thy blood, and yet I know, that if there had been but one soul distressed, and that soul distressed but with one sin, thou wouldst have spent the last drop of that blood for that soul; blessed be thy name, for having wrapped me up in thy general covenants, and made mo partaker of thy general ordinances, but yet Lord, look more particularly upon me, and appropriate thyself to me, to me, not only as thy creature, as a man, as a Christian, but as I am I, as I am this sinner that confesses now, and as I am this penitent that begs thy mercy now. And now, beloved, we have said so much towards enough of the persons, God and David; the access of David to God, and the appropriation of God to David, as that we may well pass to our other general part, the petitions which David in his own and our behalf makes to God, Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean, wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
In this, the first is a great work, that which we translate, purge me. And yet how soon David is come to it? It is his first period. The passage of a spirit is very quick, but it is not immediate; not from extreme to extreme, but by passing the way between. The evil spirit passes not so; no good soul was ever made very ill in an instant, no, nor so soon as some ill have been made good: no man can give me examples of men so soon perverted, as I can of men converted. It is not in the power of the devil to do so much harm, as God can do good; nay, we may be bold to say, it is not in the will, not in the desire of the devil to do so much harm, as God would do good; for illness is not in the nature of the devil; the devil was naturally good, made, created good. His first illness was but a defection from that goodness; and his present illness is but a punishment for that defection; but God is good, goodness in his nature, essentially, eternally good; and therefore the good motions of the Spirit of God work otherwise upon us, than the temptations of the evil spirit do. How soon, and to what a height camo David here? He makes his petition, his first petition with that confidence, as that it hath scarce the nature of a petition: for it is in the original, Thou wilt purge me, thou wilt wash me, thou hadst a gracious will, and purpose to do it, before thou didst infuse the will and the desire in me to petition it. Nay, this word may well be translated not only thou wilt, but by the other denotation of the future, Thou shalt, thou shalt purge me, thou shalt wash me, Lord I do but remember thee of thy debt, of that which thy gracious promise hath made thy debt, to show mercy to every penitent sinner. And then, as the word implies confidence, and acceleration, infallibility, and expedition too, that as soon as I can ask, I am sure to be heard; so does it imply a totality, an entireness, a fulness in the work; for the root of the word is peccare, to sin, for purging is a purging of peccant humours; but in this conjugation in that language, it hath a privative siguification, and literally signifies expectabis; and if in our language, that were a word in use, it might be translated, thou shalt un-sin me; that is, look upon me as a man that had never sinned, as a man invested in the innocency of thy Son, who knew no sin. David gives no man rule nor example of other assurance in God, than in the remission of sins: not that any pre-contract or election makes our sins no sins, or makes our sins no hinderances in our way to salvation, or that we are in God's favour at that time when we sin, nor returned to his favour before we repent our sin; it is only this expectation, this unsmning, this taking away of sins formerly committed, that restores me; and that is not done with nothing; David assigns, proposes a means, by which he looks for it, hyssop, Thou shalt purge me with hyssop.
The fathers taking the words as they found them, and fastening with a spiritual delight, as their devout custom was, their meditations upon the figurative and metaphorical phrase of purging by hyssop, have found purgative virtues in that plant, and made useful and spiritual applications thereof, for the purging of our souls from sin. In this do St. Ambrose, and Augustine, and Hierome agree, that hyssop hath virtue in it proper for the lungs, in which part, as it is the furnace of breath, they place the seat of pride and opposition against the truth, making their use of that which is said of Saul, That he breathed out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord3. And by this interpretation, David's disease that he must be purged of, should be 'pride. But except, as the schoolmen, when they have tired themselves in seeking out the name of the sin of the angels, are content at last for their ease to call it pride, both because they thought they need go no farther, for, where pride is, other sins will certainly accompany it; and because they extended the name of pride to all refusals and resistances of the will of God, and so pride, in effect, includes all sin; except, I say, the fathers take pride in so large a sense as that they would not prescribe hyssop to purge David's lungs, for his disease lay not properly there; they must have purged his liver, the seat of blood, the seat of concupiscence; they must have purged his whole substance, for the distemper was gone over all. And to this
* Acts ix. l.
rectifying of his blood, by the application of better blood, had David relation in this place.
All the sacrifices of expiation of sin, in the old law, were done by blood, and that blood was sprinkled upon the people, by an instrument made of a certain plant, which because the word in Hebrew is ezob, for the nearness of the sound, and for the indifferency of the matter, (for it imports us nothing to know, of what plant that aspergillum, that blood-sprinkler was made) the interpreters have ever used in all languages to call this word hyssop. And though wo know no proper word for hyssop in Hebrew, (for when they find not a word in the Bible, the Hebrew rabbins will acknowledge no Hebrew word for anything) yet the other languages deduced from the Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic, have clearly another word for hyssop, zuf'; and the Hebrew rabbins think this word of our text, ezob, to signify any of three or four plants, rather than our hyssop. But bo the plant what it will, the form and the use of that blood-sprinkler is manifest. In the institution of the passover, Take a bunch of hy$sop, and dip it in blood13. In the cleansing of the lopcr, there was to be the blood of a sparrow, and then cedar-wood, and scarlet lace11: and about that cedar-stick, they bound this hyssop with this lace, and so made this instrument to sprinkle blood. And so the name of the hyssop, because it did the principal office, was after given to the whole instrument; all the sprinkler was called an hyssop; as we see when they reached up a sponge of vinegar to Christ upon the Cross, They put it, says the text, upon hyssop", that is, upon an hyssop; not upon an hyssop-stalk, (as the old translation had it) for no hyssop hath such a stalk, but they called such sticks of cedar, as ordinarily served for the sprinkling of blood, hyssops. And whether this were such a cedar-stick, or some other such thing, fit to reach up that sponge to Christ, we cannot say. For St. Matthew calls that, that St. John calls an hyssop, a reed13.
This then was David's petition here; first, that he might have the blood of Christ Jesus applied and sprinkled upon him; David thought of no election, he looked for no sanctification, but in the
blood of Christ Jesus. And then he desired this blood to be applied to him, by that hyssop, by that blood-sprinkler, which M as ordained by God, for the use of the church. Home infusions, and inward inspirations of grace, are powerful seals of God's love; but all this is but the privy seal, David desired to bring it to the great seal, the public ordinance of the church. In a case of necessity God gave his children manna and quails; in cases of necessity God allows sermons, and sacraments at home; but as soon as ever they came to the land of promise, the same day both manna and quails ceased14: God hath given us a free and public passage of his word, and sacraments, the diet and the ordinary food of our souls, and he purges us with that hyssop, with the application of his promises, with the absolution of our sins, with a redintegration into his mystical body, by the seals of reconciliation. And this reconciliation to God, by the blood of Christ, applied in the ordinances of the church, is that which David begs for his cleansing, and is the last circumstance of this branch, Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean.
This cleansing then implies that, which we commonly call the enwrapping in the covenant, the breeding in the visible church, when God takes a nation out of the common, and incloses it, empales it for his more peculiar use, when God withdraws us from the impossibility under which the Gentiles starve, who hear not Christ preached, to live within the sound of his voice, and within the reach of our spiritual food, the word and sacraments. It is that state, which the Holy Ghost so elegantly expresses and enlarges, that God found Jerusalem, Her father an Amorite, and her mother an Hittite", none of the seed of the faithful in her; that he found her in Canaan, not so much as in a place of true profession; that he found her in her blood, and her navel uncut, still incorporated in her former stock; and, The time was a time of love, says God, and I covered thy nakedness, and sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, and thou becamest mine. Will you say, this could not be the subject of David's petition, this could not be the cleansing that he begged at God"s hand, to be brought into that covenant, to be a member of that church? for he was iu possession of that before. Beloved, how
"Josh v. 12. i3 Ezek. xvi45.
many are born in this covenant, and baptized, and catechised in it, and yet fall away? How many have taught, and wrought, and thought in their own conscience that they did well, in defence of the covenant, and yet fell away? And from how many places, which gave light to others, hath God removed the candlestick, and left themselves in darkness? Though David say, A day in thy courts is better than a thousand", (than a thousand anywhere else) yet he expresses his desire, That he might continue in that happiness all the days of his life; it is as fearful a thing to be removed from the means of salvation, as never to have had them.
This then is cleansing, to be continued in the distance, and working of the means of cleansing, that he may always grow under the dew, and breathe in the air of God's grace exhibited in this ordinance. Amongst the Jews there were many uncleannesses, which did not amount to sin: they reckon in the ceremonial law, at least fifty kinds of uncleannesses, from which it they neglected to cleanse themselves, by those ceremonies which were appropriated to them, then those uncleannesses became sins, and they were put to their sacrifices, before they could be discharged of them. Many levities, many omissions, many acts of infirmity might be prevented by consideration before, or cleansed by consideration now, if we did truly value the present grace, that is always offered us in these the ordinances of God. What sin can I be guilty of, that is without example of mercy, in that Gospel which is preached to me here? But if you will not accept it, when God offers it, you can never have it so good cheap, because hereafter you shall have this present sin, of refusing that offer of grace, added to your burden. Because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged, thou shalt not be purged any more, till I have caused my fury to light upon thee11. But shall we be purged then? Then, when his fury in any calamity hath lighted upon us? Is not this donee, this until, such a donee, as donee faciam, till I make thine enemies thy footstool: such a donee as the donee peperit, she was a virgin, till she brought forth her first son? Is it not an everlasting donee? That we shall not be purged till God's judgments fall upon us, nor then neither: physic may
1* Psalm Lxxxiv. 10. "Ezek. xxiv. 13.
VOL. III. H
be ministered too late to work, and judgments may fall too late, to supple or entender the soul: for as we may die with that physic in our stomach, so may we be carried to the last judgment, with that former judgment upon our shoulders. And therefore our later translation hath expressed it more fully, not that that fury shall light, but shall rest upon us.
This cleansing therefore, is that disposition, which God by his grace, infuses into us, that we stand in the congregation, and communion of saints, capable of those mercies, which God hath by his ordinance, annexed to these meetings; that we may so feel at all times when we come hither, such a working of his hyssop, such a benefit of his ordinance, as that we believe all our former sins to be so forgiven, as that if God should translate us now, this minute, to another life, this dosis of this purging hyssop, received now, had so wrought, as that we should be assuredly translated into the kingdom of heaven. This cleansing applies to us those words of our Saviour, My son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee; but yet there is a farther degree of cleanness expressed in Christ's following words, Go, and sin no more; and that grace against relapses, the gift of sanctification, and perseverance, is that that David asks in his other petition, Lava me, Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Here we proposed first the action, Lava, Wash me. This is more than a sprinkling, a total, and entire washing; more than being an ordinary partaker of the outward means, the word, and sacraments; more than a temporary feeling of the benefit thereof in a present sense; for it is a building up of habits of religious actions, visible to others, and it is a holy and firm confidence created in us by the Spirit of God, that we shall keep that building in reparation, and go forward with it to our lives' end. It is a washing like Naaman's in Jordan, to be iterated seven times, seventy-seven times, daily, hourly, all our life; a washing, begun in baptism, pursued in sweat, in the industry of a lawful calling, continued in tears, for our deficiencies in the works of our calling, and perchance to be consummated in blood, at our deaths. Not such a washing, as the washes have, which are those sands that are overflowed with the sea at every tide, and then lie drv, but such a washing as the bottom of the sea hath, that is always equally wet. It is not a stillicidium, a spout, a shower, a bucket poured out upon us, when we come to church, a Sabbath sanctification, and no more, but a water that enters into every office of our house, and washes every action proceeding from every faculty of the soul. And this is the washing, a continual succession of grace, working effectually to present habits of religious acts, and constituting a holy purpose of persevering in them that induces the whiteness, the candour, the dealbation that David begs here, Lava et dealbabor.
The purging with hyssop, which wc spoke of before, which is the benefit which we have by being bred in a true church, delivers us from that redness, which is in the earth of which we are made, from that guiltiness, which is by our natural derivation from our parents imprinted in us; baptism doth much upon that; but that that is not red, is not therefore white. But this is our ease: our first colour was whito; God mado man righteous. Our redness is from Adam, and the more that redness is washed off", the more we return to our first whiteness; and this which is petitioned here, is a washing of such perfection, as cleanses us ab omni inquinamento, from all filthiness of flesh and spirit. Those inquinamtnta, which are ordinary, are first in the flosh, concupiscence and carnality, and those other, of which the apostle says, The works of the flesh are manifest",- and in the spirit, they are murmuring, diffidence in God, and such others. But besides these, as an over-diligent cleansing of the body, and additional beauty of the body, is inquinamentum carnis, one of St. Paul's lilthinesses upon the flosh, so an over-purifying of the spirit, in an uncharitable undervaluing of other men, and in a schismatical departing from the unity of the church, is inquinamentum spiritus: false beauties are a foulness of tho body, false purity is a foulness of the spirit. But the washing, that we seek, cleanses us ab omni inquinamento, from all foulness of flesh and spirit. All waters will not cleanse us, nor all fires dry us, so as we may be clean, smoky fires will not do that. / will pour clean water upon you, and you shall be clean*3. The sun produces sweat upon us, and it dries us too: zeal cleanses us; but it must
"2 Cor. vii. 1. "GaL v. 19. 80 Ezek. xxxvi. 25.
be zeal impermixt as the sun, not mingled with our smoky, sooty, factious affections. Some grammarians have noted the word washing here, to be derived from a word, that signifies a lamb; we must be washed in the blood of the Lamb, and we must be brought to the whiteness, the candour, the simplicity of the lamb; no man is pure, that thinks no man pure but himself. And this whiteness, which is sanctification in ourselves, and charitable interpretation of other men, is exalted here to that superlative, Super nivem, Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow". Esay was an evangelical prophet, a prophetical evangelist, and speaks still of the state of the Christian church. There, by the ordinary means exhibited there, our scarlet sins are made as white as snow; and the whiteness of snow, is a whiteness that no art of man can reach to; so Christ's garments in his Transfiguration are expressed to have been as white as snow", so, as no fuller on earth can white them. Nothing in this world can send me home in such a whiteness, no moral counsel, no moral comfort, no moral constancy; as God's absolution by his minister, as the profitable hearing of a sermon, the worthy receiving of the sacrament do. This is to be as white as snow; in a good state for the present. But David begs a whiteness above snow; for snow melts, and then it is not white; our present sanctification I withers, and we lose that cheerful verdure, the testimony of an upright conscience; and snow melted, snow-water, is the coldest water of all; devout men departed from their former fervour are the coldest and the most irreducible to true zeal, true holiness. Therefore David who was metal tried seven times in the fire, and desired to be such gold as might be laid up in God's treasury, might consider, that in transmutation of metals, it is not enough to como to a calcination, or a liquefaction of the metal, (that must be done) nor to an ablution, to sever dross from pure, nor to a transmutation, to make it a better metal, but there must be a fixion, a settling thereof, so that it shall not evaporate into nothing, nor return to his former nature. Therefore he saw that he needed not only a liquefaction, a melting into tears, nor only an ablution, and a transmutation, those he had by this purging
"Isaiah i. 18. - Mark ix. 3.
and this washing, this station in the church of God, and this present sanctification there, but he needed fixionem, an establishment, which the comparison of snow afforded not; that as he had purged him with hyssop, and so cleansed him, that is, enwrapped him in the covenant, and made him a member of the true church; and there washed him so, as that he was restored to a whiteness, that is, made his ordinances so effectual upon him, as that then he durst deliver his soul into his hands at that time: so he would exalt that whiteness, above the whiteness of snow, so as nothing might melt it, nothing discolour it, but that under the seal of his blessed Spirit, he might ever dwell in that calm, in that assurance, in that acquiescence, that as he is in a good state this minute, he shall be in no worse, whensoever God shall be pleased to translate him.
We end all the Psalms in our service, those of praise, and those of prayer too, with a Gloria Patri, Glory be to the Father, fee. For our conclusion of this prayer in this Psalm, we have reserved a Gloria Patri too, this consideration for the glory of God, that though in the first part, the persons, the persons were varied, God, and man, yet in our second part, where we consider the work, the whole work is put into God's hand, and received from God's hand. Let God be true, and every man a liar; let God be strong, and every man infirm; let God give, and man but receive. What man that hath no propriety therein, can take a penny out of another mans house, or a root out of his garden, but the law will take hold of him? Hath any man a propriety in grace I What had he to give for it? nature? Is nature equivalent to grace? No man does refine, and exalt nature to the height it would bear, but if natural faculties were exalted to their highest, is nature a fit exchange for grace? and if it were, is nature our own? Why should we be loath to acknowledge to have all our ability of doing good freely from God, and immediately by his grace, when as, even those faculties of nature, by which we pretend to do the offices of grace, we have from God himself too? For that question of the apostle involves all, What hast thou that thou hast not received? Thy natural faculties are no more thine own, than the grace of God is thine own; I would not be beholden to God for grace, and I must be as much beholden to him for nature, if nature do supply grace; bocause he hath made thee to be a man, he hath given thee natural faculties; because he hath vouchsafed thee to be a Christian, he hath given thee means of grace. But, as thy body, conceived in thy mother's womb, could not claim a soul at God's hand, nor wish a soul, no nor know that there was a soul to be had: so neither by being a man endued with natural faculties canst thou claim grace, or wish grace; nay thoso natural faculties, if they be not pretincted with some infusion of grace before, cannot make thee know what grace is, or that grace is. To a child rightly disposed in the womb, God does give a soul; to a natural man rightly disposed in his natural faculties, God does give grace; but that soul was not due to that child, nor that grace to that man.
Therefore, (as we said at first) David does not bring the hyssop, and pray God to make the potion, but, do thou purge me with hyssop, all is thine own; there was no pre-existent matter in the world, when God made the world; there is no pre-existent merit in man, when God makes him his. David does not say, do thou wash me, and I will perfect thy work; give me my portion of grace, and I will trouble thee for no more, but deal upon that stock; but Qui sanctificatur, sanctificetur adhuc, Let him that is holy be more holy, but accept his sanctification from him, of whom he had his justification; and except he can think to glorify himself because he is sanctified, let him not think to sanctify himself because he is justified; God does all. Yet thus argues St. Augustine upon David's words, Turn sum Domine, Lord I am thine, and therefore safer than they, that think themselves their own. Every man can and must say, I was thine, thine by creation; but few can say, I am thine, few that have not changed their master. But how was David his so especially? says St. Augustine: Quia quatsivi justificationes tuas, as it follows there; Because I sought thy righteousness, thy justification. But where did he seek it? He sought it, and he found it in himself. In himself, as himself, there was no good thing to be found, how far soever he had sought: but yet he found a justification, though of God's whole making, yet in himself.
So then, this is our act of recognition, we acknowledge God, and God only to do all; but we do not so make him sovereign
alone, as that we leave his presence naked, and empty; nor so make him king alone, as that we depopulate his country, and leave him without subjects; nor so leave all to grace, as that the natural faculties of man do not become the servants, and instruments of that grace. Let all, that we all seek, be, who may glorify God most; and we shall agree in this, that as the Pelagian wounds the glory of God deeply, in making natural faculties joint-commissioners with grace, so do they diminish the glory of God too, if any deny natural faculties to be the subordinate servants and instruments of grace; for as grace could not work upon man to salvation, if man had not a faculty of will to work upon, because without that will man were not man; so is this salvation wrought in the will, by conforming this will of man to the will of God, not by extinguishing the will itself, by any force or constraint that God imprints in it by his grace: God saves no j man without, or against his will. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, and goodwill towards men; and to this God of glory, the Father, and this God of peace and reconciliation, the Son, and this God of good will and love amongst men, the Holy Ghost, be ascribed all praise, &c.