PREACHED AT ST. PAUL'S, 13th OCTOBER, 1622.
John i. 8.
He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
This is the third time that I have entertained you (in a business of this nature, intended for God's service, and your edification, I niust not say, troubled you) with this text. I begun it at Christmas, and in that dark time of the year told you who, and what was this light which John Baptist is denied to be. I pursued it at Midsummer, and upon his own day, insisted upon the person of John Baptist, who, though he were not this light, was sent to bear witness of this light. And the third consideration, which (as I told you then) was not tied nor affected to any particular festival, you shall (by God's grace) have now, the office of John Baptist's testimony; and in that, these two parts; first, a problematical part, why so evident a thing as light, and such a light, that light, required testimony of man: and then a dogmatical part, what testimony this man gives of this light. And in the first of these we shall make these two steps, first, why any testimony at all, then why, after so many others, this of John.
First then God made light first, ut innotescerent omnia1, that man might glorify God in seeing the creature, and him in it; for, frustra fecisset, (says the same father) it had been to no purpose to have a world, and no light. But though light discover and manifest everything else to us, and itself too, if all be well disposed, yet, in the fifth verse of this chapter, there is reason enough given, why this light in our text, requires testimony; that is, the light shines in darkness, and the darkness comprehends it not; and therefore, Propter non intelligentes, propter incredulos, propter infirmos, sol lucernas quwrit3; For their sakes that are weak in their understanding, and not enlightened in that faculty, the Gentiles; for their sakes who are weak in their faith,
that come, and hear, and receive light, but believe not; for their sakes that are perverse in their manners, and course of life, that hear, and believe, but practise not, sol lucernas quwrit, this light requires testimony. There may be light then and we not know it, because we are asleep; and asleep so, as Jairus's daughter was, of whom Christ says, The maid is not dead but asleep*. The maid was absolutely dead; but because he meant forthwith to raise her, he calls it a sleep. The Gentiles, in their ignorance, are dead; we, in our corrupt nature, dead, as dead as they, we cannot hear the voice, we cannot see the light; without God's subsequent grace, the Christian can no more proceed, than the Gentile can begin without his preventing grace. But, because amongst us, he hath established the Gospel, and in the ministry and dispensation thereof, ordinary means for the conveyance of his farther grace, we now are but asleep and may wake. A sudden light brought into a room doth awaken some men; but yet a noise does it better, and a shaking, and a pinching. The exalting of natural faculties, and good moral life, inward inspirations, and private meditations, conferences, reading, and the life do awaken some; but the testimony of the messenger of God, the preacher, crying according to God's ordinance, shaking the soul, troubling the conscience, and pinching the bowels, by denouncing of God's judgments, these bear witness of the light, when otherwise men would sleep it out; and so propter non intelligentes, for those that lie in the suds of nature, and cannot, or of negligence, and will not come to hear, sol lucernas, this light requires testimony.
These testimonies, God's ordinances, may have wakened a man, yet he may wink, and covet darkness, and grow weary of instruction, and angry at increpation; and, as the eye of the adulterer waiteth for the twilight*, so the ear of this fastidious and impatient man, longeth for the end of the sermon, or the end of that point in the sermon, which is a thorn to his conscience; but as if a man wink in a clear day, he shall for all that discern light through his eyelids, but not light enough to keep him from stumbling: so the most perverse man that is, either in faith or manners, that winks against the light of nature, or light of the
law, or light of grace exhibited in the Christian church, the most determined atheist that is, discerns through all his stubbornness, though not light enough to rectify him, to save him, yet enough to condemn him, though not enough to enable him, to read his own name in the book of life, yet so much, as makes him afraid to read his own story by, and to make up his own audit and account with God. And doth not this light to this man need testimony, that as he does see, it is a light, so he might see, that there is warmth and nourishment in this light, and so, as well see the way to God by that light, as to see by it, that there is a God; and, this he may, if he do not sleep nor wink; that is, not forbear coming hither, nor resist the grace of God, always offered here, when he is here. Propter incredulos, for their sakes, who though they do hear, hear not to believe, sol lucemas, this light requires testimony; and it does so too, propter infirmos, for their sakes, who though they do hear, and believe, yet do not practise.
If he neither sleep nor wink, neither forbear, nor resist, yet how often may you surprise and deprehend a man, whom you think directly to look upon such an object, yet if you ask him the quality or colour of it, he will tell you, he saw it not! That man sees as little with staring, as the other with winking. His eye hath seen, but it hath returned nothing to the common sense. We may pore upon books, stare upon preachers, yet if we reflect nothing, nothing upon our conversation, we shall still remain under the increpation and malediction of St. Paul5, out of Esay, Seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive; seeing and hearing shall but aggravate our condemnation, and it shall be easier at the day of judgment, for the deaf and the blind that never saw sacrament, never heard sermon, than for us, who have frequented both, propter infirmos, for their sakes, whose strength though it serve to bring them hither, and to believe here, doth not serve them to proceed to practice, sol lucemas, this light requires testimony.
Yet, if we be neither dead, nor asleep, nor wink, nor look negligently, but do come to some degrees of holiness in practice for a time, yet if at any time, we put ourselves in such a position and distance from this light, as that we suffer dark thick bodies
4 Acts xxviii. 26.
nothing. And therefore exalt every valley, consider the dignity of man in his nature, and then, in the Son of God his assuming that nature, which gave it a new dignity, and this will beget in thee a pride that God loves, a valuing of thyself above all the temptations of this world.
But yet exalt this valley temperately, consider and esteem this dignity modestly, for our commission goes farther, not only to the exalting of every valley, but, Omnis mons humiliabitur, Every mountain must be made low: which is not to bring our mountainous, and swelling affections, and passions, to that flatness, as that we become stupid, and insensible. Mortification is not to kill nature, but to kill sin. Bring therefore your ambition to that bent, to covet a place in the kingdom of heaven, bring your anger, to flow into zeal, bring your love to enamour you of that face, which is fairer than the children of men, that face, on which the angels desire to look, Christ Jesus, and you have brought your mountains to that lowness, which is intended, and required here.
Now, this commission, John Baptist was, and we are, to publish in deserto, in the desert, in the wilderness; that is, as St. Hierome notes, not in Jerusalem, in a tumultuary place, a place of distraction, but in the desert, a place of solitude, and retiredness. And yet this does not imply an abandoning of society, and mutual offices, and callings in the world, but only informs us, that every man is to have a desert in himself, a retiring into himself, sometimes of emptying himself of worldly businesses, and that he spend some hours in such solitudes, and lay aside, (as one would lay aside a garment) the lawyer, the physician, the merchant, or whatsoever his profession be, and say, Domine hie sum. Lord, I am here, I, he whom thou madest, and such as thou madest him, not such as the world hath made me, Hie sum, I am here, not where the affairs of the world scatter me, but here, in this retiredness, Lord, I am here, command what thou wilt; in this retiredness, in this solitude, (but is not a court, is not an army, is not a fair a solitude, in respect of this association, when God and a good soul are met?) but in this home solitude, in this home desert, are we commanded to publish this commission, as the fittest time to make impressions of all the
Vol. v. I
parts thereof, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths, exalt your vallies, and bring down your mountains. And this was John Baptist's commission, what to do; and then he had instructions with his commission, how to do it; which is another consideration.
His commission was long before in Esay, so he was legatus natus, born an ambassador; his instructions were delivered to him by God immediately, when The word of God came unto John, in the wilderness30. Princes oftentimes vary their instructions from their commissions, and to perplex their ambassadors. God proceeded with John Baptist, and doth with us, directly. Our commission is to conform you to him, our instructions are to do that, that way, by preaching the baptism of repentance, for the remission of sins. It is, in a word, by the word and sacraments. First, he sends us not as spies, to lie, and learn, nor to learn and lie; but to deal apertly, manifestly, to publish, to preach; which as it forbids forcible and violent pressing the conscience by secular or ecclesiastical authority, so it forbids clandestine and whispering conventicles; it is a preaching, a working by instructing and informing the understanding; it is a preaching, a public avowing of God's ordinance, in a right calling. He gives us not our instructions to offer peace and reconciliation to all, and yet he not mean it to all; he bids us preach unto all; he bids all hearers repent, and he allows us to set to his seals of reconcilation, to all that come as penitents. He knows who will, and who will not repent, we do not; but both he knows, and so do we, that all may, so far as that, if they do not, they find enough in themselves to condemn themselves, and to discharge God and us. Our instructions are to preach, that is our way, and to preach repentance; there begin you in your own bosoms: he that seeks upwards to a river, is sure to find the head; but he that upon every bubbling spring, will think to find a river, by that may err many wrays. If thou repent truly, thou art sure to come up to God's decree for thy salvation; but if thou begin above at the decree, and say, I am saved, therefore I shall repent, thou mayest miss beth. Repent, and you shall have the seals; the seals are the sacraments;
Luke iii. 2.
Jdin's was baptism; but to what? He baptized to the amendment of life. This then is the chain; we preach, you repent; then we give you the seals, the sacraments, and you plead them, that is, declare them in a holy life; for, till that (sanctification) come, preaching, and repentance, and seals, are ineffectual. A good life inanimates all. And so, having done with his commission, what he was to do, and his instructions, how he was to do it, we pass to our last branch, in this last part, the execution of his commission, and instructions, what, and how he did it, what testimony ho gave of this light.
First, he testified, se non esse, that he was not this light, this Christ, this Mcssias. And secondly, Christum esse, that this light, this Christ, this Messias was come into the world, there was no longer expectation: and lastly, hunc esse, that this particular person whom he designed and specified in the ecce agnus, behold the Lamb of God, was this light, this Christ, this Messias. He was not, one was, Christ was; in these three consists his testimony. First, he testified that himself was not the Messias, he confessed and denied not, and said plainly, / am not the Christ3'. Therefore, lest John Baptist might be over-valued, and their devotions fixed and determined in him, St. Augustine enlarges this consideration, Erat mons illustratus, non ipse sol; John Baptist was a hill, and a hill gloriously illustrated by the sun, but he was not that sun; Mirare, mirare, sed tanquam montem; John Baptist deserves a respect, and a regard; but regard him, and respect him but as a hill, which though high, is but the same earth; and Mons in tenebris est, nisi luce vestiatur, A hill hath no more light in itself, than the valley, till the light invest it; Si montem esse lucem putas, in monte naufrar/ium facies; If you take the hill, because it shines, to be the light itself, you shipwreck upon the top of a hill. If we rest in the person, or in the gifts of any man, to what height soever this hill be raised in opinion, or in the church, still we mistake; John Baptist, men of the greatest endowments, and goodness too, are but instruments, they are not the workman himself. And therefore as they are most inexcusable, that put an infallibility in the breast of one man (our adversaries of Rome), so do they transgress too far that way, that
31 John i. 20.
run, and pant, and thirst after strange preachers, and leave their own church deserted, and their own pastor discouraged; for some one family, by the greatness thereof, or by the estimation thereof, may induce both those inconveniences. Truly, though it may seem boldly said, it may be said safely, that we were better hear some weaknesses from our own pastor, than some excellencies from another; go farther, some mistakings from our own, than some truths from another; for all truths are not necessary; nor all mistakings pernicious; but obedience to order is necessary, and all disorder pernicious. Now what a way had John Baptist open to him, if he had been popularly disposed. Amongst a people, that at that time expected their Messias (for, all the prophecies preceding his coming were then fulfilled), and such a Messias as should be a temporal king, and had invested an opinion, that he, John Baptist, was that Christ, what rebellions, what earthquakes, what inundations of people might he have drawn after him, if he would have countenanced and cherished their error to his advantage? They would have lacked no Scriptures, to authorize their actions. They would have found particular places of the prophets, to have justified any act of theirs, in advancing their Messias, then expected. Therein he is our pattern; not to preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus; not to preach for admiration, but for edification; not to preach to advance civil ends, without spiritual ends; to promote all the way the peace of all Christian kingdoms, but to refer all principally to the kingdom of peace, and the king of peace, the Grod of heaven. He confessed, and denied not, and said plainly, / am not the Christ; that was his testimony; we confess, and deny not, and say plainly, That our own parts, our own passions, the purpose of great persons, the purpose of any state, is not Christ; we preach Christ Jesus, and him crucified; and whosoever preaches any other Gospel, or any other thing for Gospel, let him be accursed.
I am not the man, says John Baptist, for, that man is God too; but yet that man, that God, that Messias consisting of both, is come, though I be not he. There is one amongst you, whom you know not, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to loose3*. In which,
38 John i. 26.
he says all this; There is one among you; you need seek no farther; all the promises, and prophecies (the semen mulieris, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpents head; the appropriation to Abraham, In semine tuo, In thy seed shall all nations be blessed: the fixation upon David, Donee Shiloh, till Shiloh come; Esay's Virgo concipiet, Behold a virgin shall conceive; Micah's et tu Bethlem, that Bethlem should be the place, Daniel's seventy hebdomades, that that should be the time), all promises, all prophecies, all computations are at an end, the Messias is come.
Is he come, and amongst you, and do you not know him I "What will make you know him? You believe you need a Messias; you cannot restore yourself. You believe this Messias must come at a certain time, specified by certain marks; were all these marks upon any other I Or lacks there any of these in him? Do you thus magnify me, and neglect a person, whose shoe-latchet I am not worthy to loose? John Baptist was a prophet, more than a prophet, the greatest of the sons of women: Who could be so much greater than he, and not the Messias? We must necessarily enwrap all these three in one another, and into one another they do easily and naturally fall: he testifies that he was not the man (he preaches not himself), he testifies that that man is come (future expectations are frivolous); and he testifies, that the characters and marks of the expected Messias, can fall upon none but this man, and therefore he delivers him over to them with that confidence, Ecce agnus Dei, Behold the Lamb of God, there you may see him; and this is his testimony.
These three, we, we to whom John Baptist's commission is continued, testify too. First, we tell you, what is not Christ; austerity of life, and outward sanctity is not he; John Baptist had them abundantly, but yet permitted not, that they should have that opinion of him. But yet, much less is chambering and wantonness, and persevering in sin, that Christ, or the way to him. We tell you, stetit in medio, he hath been amongst you, you have heard him preached in your ears; yea, ye have heard him knock at your hearts, and for all that, we tell you that you have not known him. Which, though it be the discomfortablest thing in the world, (not to have known Christ in those approaches) yet we tell it you somewhat to your comfort, and to your excuse, for, had you known it, you would not have crucified the Lord of gloryTM, as we do all, by our daily sins. And though God have winked at these times of ignorance34, (pretermitted your former inconsiderations) now, he commandeth all men everywhere to repent. And therefore, that thou mayest know, even thou, (as Christ iterates it) at least in this thy day35, the things which belong to thy peace, we tell you who ho is, and where he is; Ecce agnus Dei, Behold the Lamb of God, Here, here in this his ordinance he supplicates you, when the minister, how mean Soever, prays you, in his stead, be ye reconciled to GodTM. Here he proclaims, and cries to you, Venite omnes, Come all that are weary and heavy laden. Here he bleeds in the Sacrament, here he takes away the sins of the world, in deriving a jurisdiction upon us, to bind and loose upon earth, that which he will bind and loose in heaven. This we testify to you; do you but receive this testimony. Till you hear that voice of consummation in heaven, Venite benedicti, come ye blessed, you shall never hear a more comfortable Gospel than this, which was preached by Christ himself, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, to preach the Gospel to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and the acceptable year of the Lord31: for this was not a deliverance from their brickmaking in Egypt, not from their scorns and contempts in Babylon, but a deliverance from that unexpressible, that unconceivable bondage of sin, and death, not by the hand of a Moses, but a Messias. Optat dare qui prweipit petereTM, he that commands us to ask, would fain give: Cupit largiri, qui desiderat postulari, he that desires us to pray to him, hath that ready, and a readiness to give that, that he bids us pray for. If the king give a general pardon, will any man be so suspiciously treacherous in his own behalf, as to say, for all this large extent of his mercy, he meant not mo, and therefore I will sue out no pardon? If the king cast a donative, at his coronation. will any man lie still and say, he meant none of that money to me? When the master of the feast sent his servants for guests,
83 1 Cor. ii. 8. 34 Acts xvii. 30. 35 Luke xix. 42.
36 2 Cor. v. 20. Luke iv. 16. & Isaiah Lxi. 1. 38 Augustine.
had it become those poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind, to have stood and disputed with the steward, and said, Surely, sir, you mistook your master, your master did not mean us? Why should any man think that God means not him? When ho offers grace, and salvation to all, why not to him? Should God exclude him as a man \ Why, God made him good, and, as a mail and his creature, he is good still. But, non Deus Esau hominem odit, sed odit Esau peccatoremTM? God did not hate Esau, as he was a man, but as he was a sinner. Should he exclude him as a sinner? Why then he should receive none, for we are all so; and he came for none but such, but sinners40. Perfectiorum est nihil in peccatsre odiisse prwter peccata", To hate nothing in a sinner, but his sin, is a great degree of perfection; God is that perfection; he hates nothing in thee but thy sin; and that sin he hath taken upon himself, and sees it not in thee. Should he exclude thee because thou art impenitent, because thou hast not repented? Do it now. Peccasti, pwnitere", Hast thou sinned? repent. Millies peccasti? millies posnitere? Hast thou multiplied thy sins by thousands? multiply thy penitent tears so too. Should he exclude thee, because thou art impenitible, thou canst not repent; howknowest thou thou canst not repent? Dost thou try, dost thou endeavour, dost thou strive? why, this, this holy contention of thine is repentance. Discredit not God's evidence; he offers thee testimonium ab homine, the testimony of man, of the man of God, the minister, that the promises of the Gospel belong to thee. Judge not against that evidence; confess that there is no other name given under heaven, to be saved, but the name of Jesus", and that that is. And then, when thou hast thus admitted his witnesses to thee, that his preaching hath wrought upon thee, be thou his witness to others, by thy exemplary life, and holy conversation. In this chapter, in the calling of the apostles some such thing is intimated, when of those two disciples, which, upon John's testimony, followed Christ, one is named, (Andrew") and the other is not named. No doubt, but the other is also written in the book of life, and long since enjoys the blessed fruit of that his forward
39 Augustine. 40 Mar. ii. 17.' 41 Augustine.
48 Chrysostom. 43 Acts iv. 12. 44 John i. 40.
ness. But in the testimony of the Gospel, written for posterity, only Andrew is named, who sought out his brother Simon, and drew him in, and so propagated the church, and spread the glory of God. They who testify their faith by works, give us the better comfort, and posterity the better example. It will be but Christ's first question at the last day, What hast thou done for me? If we can answer that, he will ask, What hast thou suffered for me? and if we can answer that, he will ask at last, Whom hast thou won to me, what sold hast thou, added to my kingdom? Our thoughts, our words, our doings, our sufferings, if they bring but ourselves to heaven, they are not witnesses; our example brings others; and that is the purpose, and the end of all we have said, John Baptist was a witness to us, we are so to you, be you so to one another.