by John Bradford
The life we have at this present is the gift of God, in whom we live, move, and are, and therefore he is called Jehovah. For this life we should be thankful, and we may not in any wise use it after our own fancy, but only to the end for which it is given and lent us; that is, to the setting forth of God's praise and glory, by repentance, conversion, and obedience to his good will and holy laws whereunto his longsuffering, as it were, even draws us if our hearts were not hardened by impenitence. And therefore our life in the scripture is called a walking; for as the body daily draws more and more near its end, that is, the earth, even so our soul draws daily more and more near unto death, that is, to salvation or damnation, to heaven or hell!
Since we are most careless of this, and very fools, (for we, alas! are the same today we were yesterday, and not better or nearer to God, but rather nearer to hell, Satan, and perdition; being covetous, idle, carnal, secure, negligent, proud, &c.) I think my labour cannot be better bestowed, than with the Baptist, Christ Jesus, and his apostles, to harp on this string, which of all other is most necessary, and most especially in these days. What string is that? says one. Truly, brother, it is the string of repentance, which Christ our Saviour used first in his ministry; and as his minister at this present time, I will use it to you all, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matt. iv.
This sentence, thus pronounced and preached by our Saviour Jesus Christ, as it commands us to repent, so to the doing of the same, it shows us a sufficient cause to stir us up thereunto, namely, because the kingdom of heaven, which is a kingdom of all joy, peace, riches, power and pleasure, is at hand, to all such as do repent. So that the meaning hereof is, as though our Saviour should thus speak at present: "Sirs, since I see you all walking the wrong way, even to Satan and unto hell-fire, by following the kingdom of Satan, which now is coloured under the vain pleasures of this life, and foolishness of the flesh most subtle, to your utter undoing and destruction to behold and mark well what I say unto you, The kingdom of heaven, that is, another manner of joy and felicity, honour and riches, power and pleasure, than you now perceive or enjoy, is even at hand, and at your backs; as, if you will turn again, that is, repent you, you shall most truly and pleasantly feel, see, and inherit. Turn again therefore, I say, that is, repent; for this joy I speak of, even the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Here we may note, first, the corruption of our nature since to this commandment, Repent you, he adds a clause, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; for by reason of the corruption and sturdiness of our nature, God unto all his commandments commonly either adds some promise to provoke us to obedience, or else some sufficient cause which cannot but excite as to hearty labouring for doing the same; as here, to the commandment of doing penance, he adds this cause, saying, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Again, since he joins the cause to the commandment, saying, "For the kingdom of heaven is at hand," we may learn, that of the kingdom of heaven, none, to whom the ministry of preaching does appertain, can be a partaker, but such as repent, and do penance. Therefore, dearly beloved, if you regard the kingdom of heaven, as you cannot enter therein, except you repent, I beseech you all; of every estate, as you desire your own weal, to repent and do penance: the which that you may do, I will do my best how to help you by God's grace.
But first, because we cannot well tell what repentance is, through ignorance and for lack of knowledge and false teaching, I will show you what repentance is. Repentance, or penance, is no English word, but we borrow it of the Latinists, to whom penance is 'forethinking' in English; in Greek, it means 'being wise afterwards;' in Hebrew, 'conversion or turning;' which conversion or turnings, cannot be true and hearty, unto God especially, without some good hope or trust of pardon for that which is already done and past. I may well in this sort define it, namely; that penance is a sorrowing or thinking upon our sins past, an earnest purpose to amend, or turning to God, with a trust of pardon.
This definition may be divided into three parts; first, a sorrowing for our sins; secondly, a trust of pardon, which otherwise may be called a persuasion of God's mercy by the merits of Christ, for the forgiveness of our sins; and thirdly, a purpose to amend, or conversion to a new life; which third or last part cannot properly be called a part; for it is but an effect of penance, as towards the end you shall see by God's grace. But lest such as seek for occasion to speak evil should have any occasion, though they tarry not out the end of this sermon, I therefore divide penance into the three aforesaid parts:
I. Of sorrowing for our sins:
II. Of good hope or trust of pardon: and
III. Of a new life. Thus you now see what penance is, a sorrowing for sin, a purpose to amend, with a good hope or trust of pardon.
I. This penance not only differs from that which men commonly have taken to be penance, as saying and doing our enjoined lady psalters, seven psalms, fastings, pilgrimages, alms-deeds, and such like things, but also from that which the more learned have declared to consist of three parts, namely, contrition, confession, and satisfaction.
Contrition they call a just and a full sorrow for their sin. For this word just and full, is one of the differences between contrition and attrition.
Confession they call a numbering of all their sins in the ear of their ghostly father; for as, say they, a judge cannot absolve without knowledge of the cause or matter, so the priest or ghostly father cannot absolve from other sins, than those which he hears.
Satisfaction they call amends-making unto God for their sins, by their undue works, or opera indebita, works more than they need to do, as they term them. This is their penance which they preach, write, and allow. But how true this their plan is, how it agrees with God's word, how it is to be allowed, taught, preached, and written, let us a little consider. Dearly beloved, if a man repent not until he have a just and full sorrowing for his sins, when shall he repent? For inasmuch as hell-fire, and the punishment of the devils, is a just punishment for sin; inasmuch as in all sin there is a contempt of God, who is all goodness, and therefore there is a deserving of all illness (suffering, editor), alas! who can bear or feel this just sorrow, this full sorrow for our sins, this their contrition, which they do so discern (distinguish, editor) from their attrition? Shall not man by this doctrine rather despair than come by repentance? If a man repent not until he has made confession of all his sins in the ear of his ghostly father; if a man cannot have absolution of his sins until his sins are told by tale and number in the priest's ear; since, as David says, none can understand, much less, then, utter all his sins; who can understand his sins? Since David complains of himself elsewhere, how his sins have flowed over his head, and as a heavy burden do depress him, alas! shall not man by this doctrine be utterly driven from repentance? Though they have gone about something to make plaster for their sores, of confession or attrition to assuage their pain, bidding a man to hope well of his contrition, though it be not so full as is required, and of his confession, though he have not numbered all his sins, if so be that he do so much as in him lies. Dearly beloved, since there is none but that herein he is guilty; for who does as much as he may? trow ye (do you suppose, editor), that this plaster is not like salt for sore eyes? Yes, undoubtedly, when they have done all they can for the appeasing of consciences in these points, this is the sum, that we yet should hope well, but yet so hope that we must stand in a mammering (hesitating, editor) and doubting whether our sins are forgiven. For to be certain of forgiveness of sins, as our creed teaches us, they count it a presumption. Oh! abomination, and that not only herein, but in all their penance as they paint it.
As concerning satisfaction by their opera indebita, undue works, that is, by such works as they need not to do, but of their own voluntariness and wilfulness, (wilfulness indeed,) who sees not here monstrous abomination, blasphemy, and even open fighting against God? For if satisfaction can be done by man, then Christ died in vain for him that so satisfies; and so he reigns in vain, so is he a bishop and a priest in vein. God's law require love to God with all our heart, soul, power, might, and strength, (Deut. vi. Matt. xxii. Mark, xii. Luke, x.) so that there is nothing can be done toward God which is not contained in this commandment, nothing can be done over and above this. Again, Christ requires of men, "that we should love one another as he loved us." ( 1 John, iv.) And trow we that we can do any good thing toward our neighbour which is not herein comprised?
Yea, let them tell me when they do anything in the love of God and their neighbour, so that they had not need to cry, "Forgive us our sins?" (Matt. vi.) So far are we off from satisfying, does not Christ say, "When you have done all things that I have commanded you, say that you are but unprofitable servants." (Luke xvii.) "Put nothing to my word," says God. (Dent. iv.) Yes, works of supererogation, (yea, super-abomination,) say they. "Whatsoever things are true, (says the apostle Paul,) whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things pertain to love, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, have you them in your mind, and do them, and the God of peace shall be with you." I mean, this well looked on will pull us from popish satisfactory works, which do deface Christ's treasure and satisfaction.
In heaven and in earth was there none found that could satisfy God's anger for our sins, or get heaven for man, but only the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who by his blood has wrought the work of satisfaction, and alone is worthy all honour, glory, and praise, for he has opened the book with the seven seals.
Dearly beloved, therefore abhor this abomination, even to think that there is any other satisfaction toward God for sin, than Christ's blood only. Blasphemy it is, and that horrible, to think otherwise. "The blood of Christ purifies (says St. John) from all sin," and therefore he is called the Lamb slain frond the beginning of the world, because there never was sin forgiven of God, nor shall be from the beginning unto the end of the world, but only through Christ's death, though the pope and his prelates prate as please them, about their pardons, purgations, placeboes, trentals, dirges, works of supererogation, super-abomination, &c.
"I am he (says the Lord) which puts away thine offences, and that for mine own sake, and will no more remember thine iniquities. Put me in remembrance, (for we will reason together,) and tell me what thou hast for thee, to make thee righteous. Thy first father offended sore, &c." (Isa. xliii.) And thus writes St. John: "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, even Jesus Christ the righteous, and he is the propitiation, or satisfaction, for our sins." As in chapter iv. he says, that God has sent his Son to be a propitiation or mean for the taking away of our sins, according to that which Paul writes, where he calls Christ a merciful and faithful priest, to purge the people's sins, (Heb. ii.;) so that blind buzzards and perverse papists are they, which yet will prate of our merits or works to satisfy for our sins, in part or in whole, before baptism or after. For to omit the testimonies I brought out of John and Paul, which the blind cannot but see, I pray you remember the text out of Isaiah, which even now I rehearsed, being spoken to such as were then the people of God, and had been a long time, but yet were fallen into grievous sins after their adoption into the number of God's children. "It is for mine own sake (says God) that I put away thy sins." Where is your parting of the stake now? If it is for God's own sake, if Christ is the propitiation; then recant, except you will become idolaters, making your works God and Christ. Say as David teaches us, "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to thy name be the glory."
And it is to be noted, that God casts in their teeth, eyed the sin of their first father, lest they should think that perchance for the righteousness and goodness of their good fathers, their sins might be the sooner pardoned, and so God accept their works.
If they had made satisfaction for that which is done to the congregation, publicly, by some notable punishment, in the primitive church was used to open offenders, sparkles whereof and some traces yet remain, when such as have sinned in adultery go about the church in their shirts with a taper. Or if they had made satisfaction for restitution toward man of such goods as wrongfully are gotten, which true penance cannot be without; or if by satisfaction they had meant a new life to make amends to the congregation thereby, as by their evil life they offended the congregation, in which sense the apostle seems to take that which he writes in 2 Cor. vii., where the old interpreter calls apologium, satisfaction, which rather signifies a defence or answering again; if, I say, they had taken satisfaction any of these ways, then they had done well, so that the satisfaction to God had been left alone to Christ.
Again, if they had made confession either that which is to God privately, or that which is to the congregation publicly, either that which is a free consultation with some one learned in God's book, and appointed thereto, as first it was used, and I wish were now used amongst us; or that which is a reconciliation of one to another, it had been something. Yea, if they had made it for faith, because it is a true demonstration of faith, as in Paul we may see, when he calls Christ the captain of our confession, that is, of our faith, so confessors were called in the primitive church to such as manfully did witness their faith with the peril of their lives; if, I say, they had taken it thus, then had they done right well.
And so contrition, if they had left out their subtle distinction between it and attrition, by this word just or full, making it a hearty sorrow for their sins, then we would never have cried out against them therefore. For we say penance has three parts; contrition, if you understand it for a hearty sorrowing for sin; confession, if you understand it for faith of free pardon in God's mercy by Jesus Christ; and satisfaction, if you understand it not to be towards God, (for that must be left alone, only to Christ,) but toward man in restitution of goods wrongfully or fraudulently gotten, of name hindered by our slanders, and in newness of life; although, as I said before, and presently will show more plainly, by God's grace, that this last is no part of penance indeed, but a plain effect or fruit of true penance.
I might here bring in examples of their penance, how perilous it is to be embraced; but let the example of their grandsire Judas serve, in whom we see all the parts of their penance, as they describe it, and yet notwithstanding he was damned. He was sorry enough, as the effect showed; he had their contrition fully, out of the which he confessed his fault, saying, "I have betrayed innocent blood;" and thereunto he made satisfaction, restoring the money he had received. But yet all was but lost, he hanged up himself, his bowels burst out, and he remains a child of perdition for ever. I would wish that this example of Judas, in whom we see the parts of their penance, contrition, confession, and satisfaction, would move them to penance, and to describe it a little better, making hope or trust of God's free mercy a piece thereof, or else with Judas they will mar all.
Perchance these words contrition, confession, and satisfaction, were used at the first as I have expounded them. But as we see so much danger and hurt by using them without expositions, either let us always join to them open expositions, or else let us not use them at all, but say as I write, that penance is a hearty sorrow for our sins, a good hope or trust of pardon through Christ, which is not without an earnest purpose to amend, or a new life. This penance is the thing whereto all the scripture calls us. This penance I now call you all onto; must be continually in us, and not for a Lent season, as we have thought; this must increase daily more and more in us; without this, we cannot be saved.
Search therefore your hearts, all ye swearers, blasphemers, liars, flatterers, filthy or idle talkers, jesters, bribers, covetous persons, drunkards, gluttons, whore-mongers, thieves, murderers, slanderers, idle livers, negligent in their vocation, &c. All such and all other as lament not their sins, as hope not in God's mercy for pardon, as purpose not heartily to amend, to leave their swearing, drunkenness, fornication, covetousness, idleness, &c.; all such, I say, shall not and cannot enter into God's kingdom, but hell-fire is prepared for them, weeping and gnashing of teeth, whereunto, alas! I fear, very man, will needs go, since very many will be as they have been, let us even, to the wearying of our tongue to the stumps, preach and pray ever so much to the contrary; and that even in the bowels of Jesus Christ, as now I beseech you all, and every one, to repent and lament your sins, to trust in God's mercy, and to amend your lives.
Now methinks you are somewhat astonished, whereby I gather that at present you desire this repentance, that is, this sorrow, good hope, and newness of life; to the which that you may the rather attain, and get to your comforts. As I have gone about to be a mean to stir up in you, by God's grace, this desire of repentance, so through the same grace of God will I now go about to show you, how you may have your desire in this behalf.
And first, concerning this part, namely, sorrow for your sins and hearty lamenting of the same; for this if you desire the having of it, you must beware that you think not that of yourselves, or of your own free will, you can by any means get it. You may easily deceive yourselves, and mock yourselves, thinking more of yourselves than is seemly. All good things, and not pieces of good things, but all good things, says St. James, come from God, the Father of light. If therefore penance is good, as it is good, then the parts of it are good: from God therefore do they come, and not of our free will. It is the Lord that mortifies, that brings down, that humbles, says the scripture in sundry places. "After thou had stricken my thigh (says Jeremiah, xxxi.) I was ashamed. Lo!" he says, "After thou had stricken me", and therefore prays he; even in the last words almost he writes, "Turn us, Lord, and we shall be turned," which David uses very often. Wherefore, first of all, if thou wouldst have this part of penance, as the whole is God's gift, so for this part go thou unto God, and make some little prayer, as thou canst, unto his mercy for the same, in this or the like sort:
"Merciful Father of our Saviour Jesus Christ, because I have sinned, and done wickedly, and through thy goodness have received a desire of repentance, whereto this thy long-sufferance does draw my hard heart, I beseech thee, for thy mercy's sake in Christ, to work the same repentance in me, and by thy Spirit, power, and grace, so to humble, mortify, and fear my conscience for my sins, to salvation, that in thy good time thou may comfort and quicken me again, through Jesus Christ, thy dearly beloved Son. Amen."
After this sort, I say, or otherwise, as thou thinks good, if thou wilt have this first part, contrition or sorrow for thy sins, do thou beg it of God through Christ. And when thou hast asked it, as I have laboured to drive thee from trusting in thyself, so now I go about to move thee from flattering of thyself; from sluggishness and negligence, to be diligent to use these means following.
First unto prayer, which I would thou should use as thou can; secondly, get God's law as a glass to look in, for in it and by it comes the true knowledge of sin, without which knowledge there can be no sorrow. For how can a man sorrow for his sins, who knows not his sins? As when a man is sick, the first step to health is to know his sickness; even so to salvation, the first step is to know that thy damnation is due for thy sins.
The law of God therefore must be gotten and well looked in, that is, we must look in it spiritually, and not corporally or carnally, as the outward word or letter declares and utters; and so our Saviour teaches us in Matthew, expounding the sixth and seventh commandment, not only after the outward deed, but also after the heart; making there the anger of the heart a kind of murder, and lusting after another man's wife, a kind of adultery.
And this is one of the differences between God's law and men's law; that of this, man's law I mean, I am not condemnable, so long as I outwardly observe the same. But God's law goes to the root, and to the heart, condemning me for the inward motion, although outwardly I live most holily. As for example: if I kill no man, though in my heart I hate, man's law condemns me not, but God's law does otherwise. And why? for it sees the fountain whence the evil does spring. If hatred were taken out of the heart, then loftiness in looks, detraction in tongue, and murder by hand, could never ensue. If lusting were out of the heart, curiosity in countenance, wantonness in words, indecent boldness in body, would not appear.
Since therefore this outward evil springs out of the inward corruption, seeing God's law also is a law of liberty, as says St. James, (chap. i.) and spiritual, as says St. Paul, (Rom. vii.) it is to be understood perfectly and spiritually, if we will truly come to the knowledge of our sins. For of this inward corruption, reason knows but little or nothing. "I had not known," says Paul, (Rom. vii.) "that lusting," (which to reason, and to them which are guided only by reason, is thought but a trifle), "I had not known," says he, "this lusting to have been sin, if the law had not said, Thou shalt not lust."
To the knowledge therefore of our sins, without which we cannot repent, or be sorry for our sin, let us secondly get us God's law as a glass to look in, and that not only literally, outwardly, or partly, but also spiritually, inwardly, and thoroughly. Let us consider the heart, and so shall we see the foul spots we are stained withal, at least inwardly; whereby we may the rather be moved to hearty sorrow and sighing. For, as St. Austin says, it is a glass which fears (affrights, editor) nobody; but even look, as thou art, so it paints thee out.
In the law we see it is a foul spot, not to love the Lord our God with all, all, I say, our heart, soul, power, might and strength; and that continually.
In the law it is a foul spot, not only to make to ourselves any graven image or similitude, to bow thereto, &c., but also not to frame ourselves wholly after the image (of God, Gen. 1:26, editor) whereto we are made, not to bow to it, to worship it.
In the law we see that it is a foul spot, not only to take God's name in vain, but also not earnestly, heartily, and even continually to call upon his name only; to give thanks unto him, to believe, to publish, and live according to his holy word.
In God's law we see it is a foul spot to our souls, not only to be an open profaner of the Sabbath-day, but also not to rest from our own words and works, that the Lord might both speak and work in us and by us. Also not to hear his holy word, not to communicate his sacraments, not to give occasion to others to holiness by our example in godly works, and reverent esteeming of the ministry of his word.
In God's law we see it is a foul spot to our souls, not only to be an open disobeyer of our parents and magistrates, masters, and such as are in any authority over us, but also not to honour such even in our hearts, not to give thanks to God for them, not to pray for them, to aid, to help, or relieve them, to bear with their infirmities, &c.
In God's law we see it is a foul spot in our souls, not only to be a man-killer in hatred, malice, proud looks, brags, backbiting, railing, or bodily slaughter, but also not to love our neighbours, yea, our enemies, even in our hearts, and to declare the same in all our gestures, words, and works.
In God's law we see it is a foul spot to our souls, not only to be a whoremonger in lusting in our hearts, in wanton looking, in unclean and wanton talking, in actual doing dishonestly with our neighbour's wife, daughter, servant, &c.; but also not to be chaste, sober, temperate in heart, looks, tongue, apparel, deeds, and to help others thereunto accordingly, &c.
In God's law we see it is a foul spot to our souls, not only to covet in heart, to flatter in look or word, lie, colour, &c. in deed, and to take away anything which pertains to another, but also in heart, countenance, word, and deed, not to keep, save, and defend that which pertains to thy neighbour, as thou wouldst thine own.
In God's law we may see it is a foul spot, not only to lie or bear false witness against any man, but also not to have as great care over thy neighbour's name, as over thine own.
Sin in God's law we may see it is, and a foul spot, nor only to consent to evil, lust, or carnal desires, but even the very natural or carnal lusts and desires themselves, (for so I may call them, nature itself being now so corrupted,) are sin; as self-love, and many such. By reason whereof I trow there is none that looks well herein; but though he is blameless to the world, and fair to the show, yet certainly inwardly his face is foul arrayed, and so shameful, proud, diseased, and loathsome, that he cannot but be sorry at the contemplation thereof, and that so much more, by how much he continues to look in this glass accordingly.
And thus much concerning the second mean to the stirring up of sorrow for sin, that next unto prayer we should look in God's law spiritually; the which looking, if we use with prayer, as I said, let us not doubt but at length God's Spirit will work as now, to such as believe; for to the unbelievers all is in vain, their eyes are stark blind, they can see nothing; to such as believe, (I say,) I trust something is done even already. But if neither by prayer, nor by looking in God's law spiritually, as yet thy hard unbelieving heart feels no sorrow nor lamenting for thy sins; thirdly, look upon the penalty attached to God's law: for as to man's law there is a penalty affixed, so is there to God's law a penalty, and that no small one, but such a great one as cannot but make us fear if we believe it, for all is in vain if we are faithless so as not to believe before we feel.
This penalty is God's malediction or curse: "Lo! accursed," says he, "is all," no exception, all, says God, "which continues not in all things, (for he that is guilty of one is guilty of the whole, says St. James,) in all things therefore (says the Holy Ghost) which are written in the book of the law to do them." He says not to hear them, to talk of them, to dispute of them, but to do them.
Who is he now that does these? Rara avis (a rare bird, editor), few such birds, yea none at all. For all are gone out of the way, though not outwardly by word or deed, yet inwardly, at least by default and wanting of that which is required; so that a child of one night's age is not pure, but (by reason of birth-sin) in danger of God's malediction; much more then we, which, alas! have drunken in iniquity, as it were water, as Job says. (Chap. xv.) But yet, alas! we quake not.
Tell me now, good brother, why do you so lightly consider God's curse that for your past sins you are so careless, as though you had made a covenant with death and damnation, as the wicked did in Isaiah's time? What is God's curse? At the pope's curse with hook, belly and candle, oh! how we trembled which heard it, and though the same was not directed unto us, but unto others. For is God's curse, which is incomparably more fell and importable (severe and unbearable, editor) and is directed to us, yea, hanging over us all reason of our sins, alas! how careless are we! Oh! faithless hard hearts! Oh! Jezebel's guests! rocked and laid in a sleep in her bed! (Rev. ii.) Oh! wicked wretches! which being come into the depth of sin, do entomb the same. Oh! sorrowless sinners, and shameless harlots!
Is not the anger of a king death? And is the anger of the King of all kings a matter to be so lightly regarded as we do regard it, who are so reckless for our sins that we slug and sleep it out? As wax melts away at the heat of the fire, (says David,) so do the wicked perish at the face or countenance of the Lord. If, dearly beloved, his face is so terrible and intolerable for sinners and the wicked, what think we his hand is? At the face or appearing of God's anger, the earth trembles, but we, earth, earth, yea, stones, iron, flints, tremble nothing at all. It we will not tremble in hearing, woe unto us, for then we shall be crushed in pieces, in feeling. If a lion roar, the casts quake; but we are worse than beasts, which quake not at the roaring of the lion; I mean the Lord of hosts. And why? because the curse of God, hardness of heart, is already fallen upon us, or else we could not but lament and tremble for our sins, if not for the shame and foulness hereof, yet at least for the malediction and curse of God, which hangs over us for our sins.
Lord, be merciful unto us, for thy Christ's sake, and spare us; in thine anger remember thy mercy towards us. Amen. And thus much for the third thing to the moving of us to sorrow for our sins, that is, for the penalty affixed to God's law, I mean, for the malediction and curse of God. But if our hearts are so hard, that we feel not yet hearty sorrow for our sins, let us, fourthly, set before us examples past and present, old and new, that thereby the Holy Spirit may be effectual to work in his time this work of sorrowing for our sin.
Look upon God's anger for sin in Adam and Eve, for eating a piece of an apple. Were not they, the dearest creatures of God, cast out of paradise? Were not they subject to mortality, travail, labour, &c.? Was not the earth accursed for their sins? Do not we all feel the same, men in labour, women in travailing with child, and all in death, mortality, and misery, even in this life? And was God so angry for their sin, and will he, being the same God, say nothing to us for ours, (alas!) much more horrible than the eating once of one piece of one apple?
In the time of Noah and Lot, God destroyed the whole world with water, and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, Zeboim and Admah, with fire and brimstone from heaven for their sins; namely, for their whoredoms, pride, idleness, unmercifulness to the poor, tyranny, &c. In which wrath of God even the very babes, birds, fowls, fishes, herds, trees, and grass perished; and think we that nothing will be spoken to us, who are much worse and more abominable than they? For all men may see, if they will, that the whoredoms, pride, unmercifulness, tyranny, &c. of England in this age far passes any age that ever was before. Lot's wife looking back was turned into a salt stone; and will our looking back again, yea, our running back again to our wickedness, do us no hurt? If we were not already blind, we should blush. Pharaoh's heart was hardened, so that no miracle could convert him; if ours were any thing soft, we should begin to sob.
Of six hundred thousand men, only two entered into the land of promise, because they had ten times sinned against the Lord, as he himself says, (Numb. xiv.;) and think we that God will not swear in his wrath, that we shall never enter into his rest, which have sinned so many ten times as we have hairs of our heads and beards, (I tear,) and yet we repent not.
The man that swore, and he that gathered sticks on the Sabbath-day, were stoned to death; but we think our swearing is no sin, our bibbing (drinking, editor), rioting, yea, fornication on the sabbath-day, pleases God, or else we would something amend our manners.
Eli's negligence in correcting his sons, brake his neck in two; but ours, which pamper up our children like puppets, will put us to no plunge (difficulty, editor). Eli's sons, for disobeying their father's admonition, brought over them God's vengeance; and will our stubbornness do nothing?
Saul's malice to David, Ahab's displeasure against Naboth, brought their blood to the ground for dogs to eat; yea, their children were hanged up and slain for this; but we continue in malice, envy, and murders as though we were able to wage war with the Lord.
David's adultery with Bathsheba was visited on the child born; on David's daughter, defiled by her brother; and on his children, one slaying another; his wives defiled by his own son; on himself driven out of his realm in his old age, and otherwise also, although he most heartily repented his sin. But we think we are more dear unto God than David, which yet was a man after God's own heart, or else we could not but tremble, and begin to repent.
The rich glutton's gay paunch-filling, what did it? It brought him to hell; and have we a placard (a notice or declaration, editor) that God will do nothing to us?
Achan's subtle theft provoked God's anger against all Israel; and our subtilty, yea, open extortion, is it so fine and politic that God cannot espy it?
Gehazi's covetousness brought the leprosy upon him and on all his seed. Judas also hanged himself. But the covetousness of England is of another cloth and colour. Well, if it were so, the same tailor will cut it accordingly.
Ananias and Sapphira, by lying, linked to themselves sudden death; but ours now prolongs our life, the longer to last in eternal death.
The false witnesses of the two judges against Susanne lighted on their own pates; and so will ours do at length.
But what go I about to avouch ancient examples, where daily experience teaches? The sweating sickness of the other year, the storms the winter following, call upon us to weigh them in the same balances. The hanging and killing of men themselves, which are (alas!) too rife (frequent, editor) in all places, require us to register them in the same rolls. At the least in children, infants, and such like, which cannot yet utter sin by word or deed, we see God's anger against sin in punishing them by sickness, death, mishap, or otherwise, so plainly that we cannot but groan and lament again, in that we have gushed out this more abundantly in word and deed.
And here with me a little look on God's anger yet so fresh, that we cannot but smell it, although we stop our noses never so much; I pray God we smell it not more fresh hereafter; I mean it forsooth, for I know you look for it, in our dear late sovereign lord the king's majesty (King Edward VI, editor). You all know he was but a child in years; defiled he was not with notorious offences. Defiled, quoth I? nay, rather adorned with so many goodly gifts and wonderful qualities, as never prince was from the beginning of the world, should I speak of his wisdom, of his ripeness in judgment, of his learning, of his godly zeal, heroical heart, fatherly care for his commons, nurse-like solicitude for religion, &c. Nay, so many things are to be spoken in commendation of God's exceeding graces in this child, that, as Sallust writes of Carthage, I had rather speak nothing than too little, for too much is too little. This gift God gave unto us Englishmen before all nations under the sun, and that of his exceeding love towards us. But, alas, and well away, for our unthankfulness' sake, for our sin's sake, for our carnality, and profane living, God's anger has touched not only the body, but also the mind of our king by a long sickness, and at length has taken him away by death, death, cruel death, fearful death.
Oh! if God's judgment is begun in him which, as he was the chiefest, so I think he was the holiest and godliest in the realm of England, alas! what will it be on us, whose sins are overgrown to our heads, so that they are climbed up into heaven! I pray you, my good brethren, know that God's anger towards us for our sins cannot but be great; yea, we see it was so great, that our good king could not bear it. What followed to Jewry after the death of Josias? May God save England, and give us repentance! My heart will not suffer me to tarry longer herein. I think this will thrust out some tears of repentance.
If therefore prayer for God's fear, the looking in God's glass, and the penalty thereto, will not burst open thy blackish heart, yet I think the tossing to and fro of these examples, and especially of our late king, and this troublesome time, will tumble some tears out of your heart, if you still pray for God's Spirit accordingly. For who are you, (think always with yourself that God should spare you more than them whose examples thou hast heard? What friends have you? Were not these kings prophets, apostles, learned, and come of holy stocks? I deceive myself (think you with yourself) if I believe that God, being the same God that he was, will spare me, whose wickedness is no less, but much more than some of theirs. He hates sin now as much as ever he did. The longer he spares, the greater vengeance will fall; the deeper he draws his bow, the sorer will the shaft pierce.
But if yet your heart is so hardened that all this will not move you, surely you are in a very evil state, and remedy now know I none. What! said I, none? know I none? Yes; there is one which is sure to serve, if anything will serve. You look to know what this is; it is the passion and death of Jesus Christ. You know that the cause why Christ became man, and suffered as he suffered, was the sins of his people, that he might save them from the same. Consider the greatness of the sore, I mean sin, by the greatness of the Surgeon and of the remedy. Who was the Surgeon? No angel, no saint, no archangel, no power, no creature in heaven or in earth, but only He by whom all things were made, all things are ruled, also even God's own darling and only beloved Son becoming man.
Oh! what a great thing is this that could not be done by the angels, archangels, potentates, powers, or all the creatures of God, without his own Son, who yet must needs be thrust out of heaven, as a man would say, to take our nature, and become man. Here have you the Surgeon; great was the cure that this mighty Lord took in hand.
Now what was the remedy? It was purchased dearly, and of many compositions; I cannot recite all, but rather must leave it to your hearty consideration. Three-and-thirty years was he curing our wounds: he sought it earnestly by fasting, watching, praying, &c. The same night that he was betrayed, I read how busy he was about a remedy in the garden, when he, lying flat on the ground, praying with tears, and that of blood, not a few, but so many as flowed down on the ground, crying in this sort: "Father, if it be possible, let this cup depart from me;" that is, if it be possible that the sin of mankind can be otherwise taken away, grant that it may be so. Thou heard Moses crying, for the idolaters; thou heard Lot for the Zoarites; Samuel, David, and many others, for the Israelites; and, dear Father, I only am thine own Son, as thou hast said, in whom thou art well pleased; wilt thou not hear me? I have by the space of three-and thirty years done always thy will; I have so humbled myself, that I would become an abject among men to obey thee; therefore, dear Father, if it be possible, grant my request, save mankind now without any further labour or remedy." But yet, (says he,) "not as I will, but as thou wilt."
But, sirs, what heard he? Though he sweat blood and water in making his remedy for our sore of sin, yet it framed (sufficed, editor) not. Twice he cried without comfort; yea, though God sent an angel to comfort him, we yet knot that this remedy was not allowed for sufficient, until Christ Jesus was betrayed, forsaken of all his disciples, forsworn of his dearly beloved, bound like a thief, belied, buffeted, whipped, scourged, crowned with thorns, derided, crucified, racked, wailed, hanged up between two thieves, cursed and railed upon, mocked in misery, and had given up the ghost. Then bowed down the head of Christ, that is, God the Father, which is the head of Christ; then he allowed the remedy to be sufficient and good for the healing of our sore, which is sin. Now God would abide us, because the damnation or guiltiness was taken away by this Lamb, thus offered once for all!
So that here, dearly beloved, we as in a glass may see God's great judgment and anger against sin for the bruising of our blackish hard hearts. The Lord of lords, the King of kings, the brightness of God's glory, the Son of God, the darling of his Father, in whom he is well pleased, hangs between two thieves, crying for thee and me, and for us all, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" Oh! hard hearts that we have, which make light of sin. Look on this; look on the very heart of Christ, pierced with a spear, wherein you may see and read God's horrible anger for sin. Woe to thy hard heart that pierced it.
And thus much for the first part of repentance; I mean, for the means of working contrition: first, use prayer; then look on God's law; thirdly, see his curse; fourthly, set examples of his anger before you; and, last of all, set before you the death of Christ. From this and prayer cease not until you feel some hearty sorrow for your sin; which when you feel, then labour for the second part, that is, for faith, on this sort.
II. As first, in contrition, I willed you not to trust to your free will for the attaining of it, so do I will you in this. Faith is so far from the reach of man's free will, that to reason, it is plain foolishness; you must first go to God; whose gift it is; you must, I say, get you to the Father of mercy, whose work it is, that, as he has brought you down by contrition, and humbled you, so he would give you faith, raise you up, and exalt you.
On this manner therefore with the apostles, and the poor man in the gospel, that cried, "Lord, increase our faith; Lord, help my unbelief;" pray you and say, "O merciful God, and dear Father of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, in whom as thou art well pleased, so hast thou commanded us to hear him; forasmuch as he often bids us to ask of thee, and thereto promises that thou wilt hear us, and grant us that which in his name we shall ask of thee: Lo! gracious Father, I am bold to beg of thy mercy, through thy Son Jesus Christ, one sparkle of true faith, and certain persuasion of thy goodness and love towards me in Christ, where through I, being assured of the pardon of all my sins, by the mercies of Christ, thy Son, may be thankful to thee, love thee, and serve thee, in holiness and righteousness all the days of my life."
On this sort I say, or otherwise, as God shall move you, pray first of all, and look for your request at God's hand; and without any doubting, though forthwith you feel not the same; for oftentimes we have things of God given us long before we feel them as are would do. Now unto this prayer, use these means following:
After prayer for faith, which I would should be first; secondly, because the same springs out of the hearing, not of masses, matins, canons, councils, doctors, decrees, but out of the hearing of God's word; get God's word, but not that part which serves especially to contrition, that is the law, but the other part, which serves especially to consolation and certain persuasion of God's love towards thee, that is the gospel or publication of God's mercy in Christ; I mean the free promises.
But here you must know, that there are two kinds of promises; one, which is properly of the law, another, which is properly of the gospel. In the promises of the law we may indeed behold God's mercy, but so that it hangs upon the condition of our worthiness; as, if thou love the Lord with all thy heart, &c., thou shalt find mercy. This kind of promises, though it declare unto us God's dove, which promises where he need not, yet unto him that feels not Christ, which is the end of the law, they are so far from comforting, that with the law they utterly bring man to deep despair, so greatly are we corrupted, for none loves God as he ought to do. From these therefore get thee to the other promises of the gospel, in which we may see such plenty and frank liberality of God's goodness, that we cannot but be much comforted, though we have very deeply sinned.
For these promises of the gospel do not hang on the condition of our worthiness, as the promises of the law do, but they depend and hang on God's truth; that as God is true, so they cannot but be performed to all them which lay hold on them by faith I had almost said, which cast them not away by unbelief.
Mark in them therefore two things, namely, that they are free promises without any condition of our worthiness, as also that they are universal, offered to all; all, I say, who are not so stubborn, as by unbelief, to keep their hands still, whereby they should receive this alms in their bosom. As concerning infants and children, you know I now speak not, but concerning such as are of years of discretion; and now you look that I should give you a taste of these promises, which are both free and universal, excepting none but such as except themselves. Well, you shall have one or two for a say (specimen, editor).
In the third of John, says our Saviour, "So God loved the world, that he would give his darling, his own only Son, that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." Lo! sir, he says not that some might have life; but all, says he. And what all? All that love him with all their hearts, all that have lived a godly life? Nay, all that believe in him; although thou hast lived a most wicked and horrible life, if now thou believe in him, thou shalt be saved. Is not this sweet?
Again, says Christ, "Come unto me all ye that labour and are laden, and I will refresh you." Let us a little look on this letter. "Come unto me." Who should come? Lords, priests, holy men, monks, friars; yea, cobblers, tinkers, harlots, thieves, murderers also, if they lament their sins." Come unto me (says he) all ye that labour and are laden," that is, which are afraid of your sins. And what wilt thou do, Lord? "And I will refresh you," says he. Oh! what a thing is this, "And I will refresh you." Wot (know, editor) you who spake this? He that never told a lie; he is the truth, there was never guile found in his mouth, and now will he be untrue to you, good brother, who are sorry for your grievous sins? No, truly! Heaven and earth shall pass and perish, but his word shall never fail. Saint Paul says, "God would have all men saved." Lo! he exempts none. And to Titus, "The grace of God brings salvation to all men." As from Adam all have received sin to damnation, so by Christ all have grace offered to salvation, if they reject not the same. I speak not now of infants, I say, and I need not enter into the matter of predestination. In preaching of repentance, I would gather where I could with Christ. "As surely as I live, (says God,) I will not the death of a sinner." Art thou a sinner? Yea. Lo! God swears he desires not thy death. How can thou now perish? Consider with yourself what profit you should have to believe this to be true to others, if not to yourself also. Satan does so. Rather consider with Peter, that the promise of salvation pertains not only to them which are nigh, that is, to such as are fallen a little, but also to all whom the Lord has called, be they ever so far off
Lo! now by me the Lord calls thee, thou man, thou woman, that art very far off. The promise therefore pertains to thee: needs must thou be saved, except thou with Satan say God is false; and yet if thou do so, God is faithful, and cannot deny himself; as thou shalt feel by his plagues in hell, for so dishonouring God as to think that he is not true. Will he be found false now? The matter hangs not on your worthiness; but it hangs on God's truth. Take hold on it, and I warrant you Christ is the propitiation for our sins, yea, for the sins of the whole world; believe this, man, I know you believe it; say therefore in your heart, still, Lord, increase my faith; Lord, help my unbelief. Blessed are they which see not this by reason, but yet believe; hope, man, past all hope, as Abraham did.
And thus much for a taste of these promises which are everywhere not only in the New Testament, but also in the Old. Read the latter end of Leviticus, xxvi., the prophet Isaiah, xxx. where he says, God tarries, looking for thee to show thee mercy; also the 40th, and so on to the 60th. Read also Psa. xxxii., Joel, ii. &c.
Howbeit, if this will not serve, if yet thou feel no faith, no certain persuasion of God's love, then unto prayer add diligent considering of the free and universal promises of the gospel. Thirdly set before thee those benefits which God has heretofore given thee, and at present gives thee. Consider how he has made you a man or a woman, who might have made you a toad, a dog. And why did he this? Verily, because he loved you. And do you think, that if he loved thee when you were not, to make thee such a one as he most graciously has made thee, will he not now love thee, being his handiwork? Does he hate anything that he has made? Is there unableness with him? Does he love for a day and so farewell? No, indeed, he loves to the end, his mercy endures for ever. Say therefore with Job, "To the work of thy hands put thy helping hand." Again, has he not made you a Christian man or woman, whereas if he would, he might have made you a Turk or pagan? This you know he did of love. And do you think his love if lessened, if you lament your sin? Is his hand shortened for helping you? Can a women forget the child of her womb? And though she should do it, yet will not I forget thee, says the Lord. He has given you limbs to see, hear, go, &c.; he has given you wit, reason, discretion, &c.; he has long spared you, and borne with you, when you never purposed to repent; and now you repent, will he not give you mercy? Wherefore does he suffer you to live at this present to hear me speak this and suffer me to speak this, but of love to us all? Oh! therefore let us pray him, that he would add to this, that we might believe these love-tokens that he loves us, and indeed he will do it. Lord, open our eyes, in thy gifts to see thy gracious goodness. Amen.
But tarry in this I will not. Let every man consider God's benefits past and present, public and private, spiritual and corporeal, to confirm his faith concerning the promises of the gospel, for the pardon of his sins. I will now endeavour to show you a fourth means to confirm your faith in this, even by examples. Of these there are in the scriptures very many, as also daily experience diversely teaches the same, if we were diligent to observe things accordingly; wherefore I will be more brief herein, having respect to time, which steals fast away.
Adam in paradise transgressed grievously, as the painful punishment, which we all as yet do feel, proves, if nothing else did. Though by reason of his sin he displeased God sorely, and ran away from God, for he would have hid himself, yea, he would have made God the causer of his sin, because he gave him such a mate, so far was he from asking mercy; yet notwithstanding all this, God turned his fierce wrath neither upon him nor Eve who also required not mercy, but upon the serpent, Satan promising unto them a seed, Jesus Christ, by whom they at length should be delivered. In token whereof, though they were cast out of paradise for their nurture (instruction or correction, editor), to serve in sorrow since they would not serve in joy; yet he made them apparel to cover their bodies, a visible sacrament and token of his invisible love and grace concerning their souls. If God was so merciful to Adam, who so brake his commandment, and rather blamed God than asked mercy; thinkest thou, O man, that he will not be merciful to thee, which blamest thyself, and desirest pardon?
To Cain he offered mercy, if he would have asked it. "What hast thou done? (says God:) the voice of thy brother's blood cries unto me out of the earth." O merciful Lord, Cain should have said, I confess it! But, alas! he did not so, and therefore said God, "Now," that is, in that thou desirest not mercy, now, "I say, be thou accursed," &c. Lo, to the reprobate he offered mercy, and will he deny it to thee, which art his child?
Noah, did not he sin, and was dumb? Good Lot also both in Sodom dissembled a little with the angels, prolonging the time, and out of Sodom he fell very foully (Gen. xix.) as did Judah and the patriarchs against Joseph; but yet I ween (doubt not, editor) they found mercy. Moses, Miriam, Aaron, though they stumbled a little, yet they received mercy; yea, the people in the wilderness often sinned and displeased God, so that he was purposed to have destroyed them. Let me alone, says he to Moses, that I may destroy them; but Moses did not let him alone, for he prayed still for them, and therefore God spared them. If the people were spared through Moses' prayer, they not praying with him, but rather worshipping their golden calf, eating, drinking, and making good cheer, why should thou doubt whether God will be merciful to thee, having, as indeed thou hast, One much better than Moses to pray for thee (Numb. xiv.) and with thee, even Jesus Christ, who sits on the right hand of his Father, and prays for us, being no less faithful in his Father's house, the church, than Moses was in the synagogue? David the good king had a foul foil (fall, editor) with Bathsheba. whereunto he added also a mischievous murder, causing her husband, his most faithful soldier, Uriah, to be slain with an honest company of his most valiant men of war, and that with the sword of the uncircumcised.
In this his sin, though he lay asleep a great while, (as many do now-a-days, God give them good waking!) thinking, that by the sacrifices he offered, all was well, and that God was content; yet at length, when the prophet by a parable had opened the poke, and brought him in remembrance of his own sin in such sort, that he gave judgment against himself, then he quaked. Eli's sacrifices had no more taken away his sins, than our sir John's trentals (Romish priest's services, editor) and wagging of his fingers over the heads of such as lie asleep in their sins, out of the which, when they are awaked, they will well see that it is neither mass nor matins, blessing nor crossing, will serve. Then, I say, David cried out, saying, "I have sinned against my Lord and good God, which has done so much for me; indeed I caused Uriah to be killed; I have sinned, I have sinned. What shall I do? I have sinned, and am worthy of eternal damnation." But what says God by his prophet? "The Lord has taken away thy sins; thou shalt not die." "O good God," he said, "but I have sinned," but he said so from his heart and not from the lips only, as Pharaoh and Saul did, and he speedily heard, "thou shalt not die; the Lord has taken away thy sins," or rather, has laid them upon another, yea, translated them upon his Son Jesus Christ, who bare there, and not only them, but thine and mine also, if we will now but cry, from our hearts, "We have sinned, good Lord, we have done wickedly, enter not into judgment with us, but be merciful unto us after thy great mercy, and according to the multitude of thy compassions do away our iniquities, &c." For indeed God is not the God of David only; he is the God of all, so that he or she, whosoever they are, that call upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved. In confirmation whereof this history is written, as are also the others which I have recited, and many more which I might recite. As of Manasses, the wicked king, who slew Isaiah the prophet, and wrought very much wickedness, yet the Lord showed mercy upon him, being in prison, as his prayer does teach us. Nebuchadnezzar, though for a time he bare God's anger, yet at length he found mercy. The city of Nineveh also found favour with God, as did many others, which I omit for time's sake, and will bring forth one or two out of the New Testament, that we may see God is the same God in the New Testament that he was in the Old.
I might tell you of many, if I should speak of the lunatic, such as were possessed with devils, lame, blind, dumb, deaf; lepers, &c., but time will not suffice me; one or two therefore shall serve. Mary Magdalen had seven devils, but yet they were cast out of her; and of all others she was the first that Christ appeared unto after his resurrection. Thomas would not believe Christ's resurrection, though many told him which had seen and felt him, by reason whereof a man might have thought that his sins would have cast him away. "Except I should see and feel, says he, I will not believe." Oh! wilful Thomas, "I will not" said he. But Christ appeared unto him, end he will not loose him, as he will not loose you, good brother, if with Thomas you will keep company with the disciples, as Thomas did. Peter's fall was ugly; he accursed himself if ever he knew Christ, and that for fear of a girl, and this not once, but even three divers times, and that in the hearing of Christ his Master; but yet the third time Christ looked back, and cast on him his eye of grace, so that he went out, and wept bitterly. And after Christ's resurrection, not only did the angels direct the women to tell Peter that Christ was risen, but Christ himself appeared to him alone, such a good Lord is he. The thief hanging on the cross said but this: "Lord, when thou comest into thy kingdom, remember me;" and what answer had he? "This day," said Christ, "shalt thou be with me in paradise." What a comfort is this! since he is now the same Christ to you, and to me, and to us all, if we will run unto him; for he is the same Christ today, and tomorrow, and until he come to judgment. Then indeed he will be inexorable, but now is he more ready to give than you are to ask. If you cry, he hears you, yea, before you cry. (Isaiah.) Cry therefore, be bold, man; he is not partial. "Call," says he, "and I will hear thee. Ask, and thou shalt have; seek, and thou shalt find, though not at the first, yet at the length." (Matt. vii.) If he tarry awhile, it is but to try you; he is coming, and will not be long. (Heb. x.)
Thus have you four means which you must use to the attainment of faith or certain persuasion of God's mercy towards you, which is the second part of penance, namely 1, Prayer. 2, The free and universal promises of Gods grace. 3, The remembrance of the benefits of God, past and present. 4, The examples of God's mercy. Which, although they might suffice, yet will I put one more to them, which alone of itself is fully sufficient: I mean the death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, which, if thou set before the eyes of thy mind, it will confirm thy placard (grant, editor); for it is the great seal of England as they say, yea, of all the world, for the confirmation of all patents and perpetuities of the everlasting life, whereunto we are all called.
If I thought these which I have before recited were not sufficient to confirm your faith of God's love towards such as do repent, I would tarry longer herein; but because both I have been long, and also I trust you have some exercise of conscience in this daily, (or else you are to blame,) I will but touch and go. Consider with yourselves what we are, miserable wretches, and enemies to God. Consider what God is, even he which has all power, majesty, might, glory, riches, &c., perfectly of himself, and needs nothing, but has all things. Consider what Christ is concerning his Godhead, co-equal with his Father, even him by whom all things were made, are ruled and governed concerning his manhood, the only darling of his Father, in whom is all his joy. Now, sirs, what a love is this, that this God, which needs nothing, should give wholly his own self to thee his enemy, wreaking his wrath upon himself in this his Son, as a man may say, to spare you, to save you, to win you, to buy you, to have you, to enjoy you for ever. Because thy sin had separated thee from him, that thou might come speedily into his company again, and therein remain, he himself became, as a man would say, a sinner, or rather sin itself, even a malediction or curse, that we sinners, we accursed by our sin, might, by his oblation or offering for our sins, by his curse be delivered from sin and malediction. For by sin he destroyed sin, killing death, Satan, and sin, by their own weapons, and that for thee and me, (O man!) if we cast it not away by unbelief Oh! wonderful love of God! Who ever heard of such a love, the Father of heaven, for us his enemies, to give his own dear Son Jesus Christ! And that not only to be our brother, to dwell among us, but also to the death of the cross for us! Oh, wonderful love of Christ to us all! He was content and willing to work this feat for us. Was there any dove like to this dove?
God indeed has commended his charity and love to us herein, that when we were very enemies unto him, he would give his own Son for us; that we, being men, might become, as you would say, gods, God would become man; that we, being mortal, might become immortal, the immortal God would become mortal man;-ó that we, earthly wretches, might be citizens of heaven, the Lord of heaven would become, as a man would say, earthly; that we, being accursed, might be blessed, God would be accursed; that we, by our father Adam being brought out of paradise into the puddle of all pain, might be redeemed, and brought into paradise again, God would be our Father and an Adam thereunto; that we, having nothing, might have all things, God having all things, would have nothing; that we, being vassals and slaves to all, even to Satan the fiend, might be lords of all, and of Satan; the Lord of all would become a vassal and a slave to us all, and in danger of Satan. Oh, love incomprehensible! If the gracious good Lord disdained not to give his own Son, his own heart's joy, for us his very enemies, before we thought to beg any such thing at his hands, yea, before we were; who can think otherwise but that with Him he will give us all good things? If when we hated him and fled away from him, he sent his Son to seek us, who can think otherwise than that now, we loving him and lamenting because we love him no more, he will for ever love us? He that gives the greater to his enemies, will not he give the lesser, think you, to his friends? God has given his own Son, than which nothing is greater, to us his enemies, and we now being become his friends, will he deny us faith and pardon of our sins which, though they are great, yet in comparison they are nothing at all? Christ Jesus would give his own self for us when we willed it not, and will he now deny us faith, if we will it? This will is his earnest, that he has given us truly to look indeed for the thing willed. And look thou for it indeed; for as he has given thee to will, so will he give thee to do.
Jesus Christ gave his life for our evils, and by his death delivered us. Oh then, since he lives now, and cannot die, will he forsake us? His heart's blood was not too dear for us when we asked it not; what then can be now too dear for us asking it? Is he a changeling? Is he mutable as man is? Can he repent of his gifts? Did he not foresee our falls? Paid not he the price therefore? Because he saw we should fall sorely, therefore he would suffer sorely, yea, if his suffering had not been enough, he would yet once more come again. I am sure that God the Father, if the death of his Son incarnate would not serve, would himself and the Holy Ghost also become incarnate, and die for us (it is better to avoid such suppositions, editor). This death of Christ, therefore; look on as the very pledge of God's love towards them whosoever thou art, how deeply soever thou hast sinned. See God's hands are nailed, they cannot strike thee; his feet also, he cannot run from thee; his arms are wide open to embrace thee, his head hangs down to kiss thee, his very heart is open, so that therein see, look, spy, behold, and thou shalt see nothing therein but love, love, love to thee; hide thee therefore, lay thy head there with the evangelist.
This is the cleft of the rock where lilies stood. This is the pillow of down for all aching heads. Anoint your head with this oil, let this ointment embalm your head and wash your face. Tarry thou here, and quite sure are you. I warrant thee. Say with Paul, What can separate of from the love of God? Can death, can poverty, sickness, hunger, or any misery persuade you now that God loves thee not? Nay, nothing can separate you from the love wherewith God has loved you in Christ Jesus; whom he loves he loves to the end: so that now where abundance of sin has been in you, the more is the abundance of grace. But to what end? Even that as -sin has reigned to death, as you see, to the killing of God's Son, so now grace must reign to life, to the honouring of God's Son, who is now alive, and cannot die any more.
So that they which by faith feel this, cannot any more die to God, but to sin, whereunto they are dead and buried with Christ. As Christ therefore lives, so do they, and that to God, to righteousness and holiness. The life which they live is in the faith of the Son of God; whereby you see that now I am slipped into that which I made the third part of penance, namely, newness of life, which I could not so have done if it were a part of itself indeed, as it is an effect or fruit of the second part, that is, of faith or trust in God's mercy. For he that believes, that is, he who certainly is persuaded sin is such a thing that it is the cause of all misery, and of itself so greatly angers God, that in heaven or in earth nothing could appease his wrath, save only the death and precious blood-shedding of the Son of God, in whom is all the delight and pleasure of the Father; he, I say, that is persuaded thus of sin, the same cannot but in heart abhor and quake to do or to say, yea, to think anything willingly which God's law teaches him to be sin.
Again: he that believes, that is, he who certainly is persuaded God's love to be so much towards him, that whereas through sin he was lost, and made a firebrand of hell; yet the eternal Father of mercy, who is the all-sufficient God, and needs nothing of us, or of anything that we can do, to deliver us out of hell, and to bring us into heaven, sent even his own most dear Son out of his bosom, out of heaven into hell, as a man would say, to bring us, as I said, from thence into his own bosom and mercy, we being his very enemies. He, I say, that is thus persuaded of God's love towards him, and of the price of his redemption, by the dear blood of the Lamb immaculate, Jesus Christ, the same man cannot but love God again, and of love do that which might please God, and heartily desire to do still better. Think you, that such a one as knows this by faith will willingly welter and wallow in his wilful lusts, pleasures, and fantasies? Will such a one as knows by faith Christ Jesus to have given his blood to wash him from his sins, play the sow, to wallow in his puddle of filthy sin and vice again? Nay, rather than he will be defiled again by wilful sinning, he will wash often the feet of his affections, watching over that vice still sticking in him, which as a spring continually sends out poison enough to drown and defile him, if the sweet water of Christ's passion did not wash it in God's sight, and his blood satisfy the rigour of God's justice due for the same. This blood of Christ, shed for our sins, is so dear in the sight of him that believes, that he will abhor sin in his heart, and stamp it and tread it under his feet. He knows now by his belief that it is too much, that hitherto he has set too little by it and is ashamed thereof; therefore for the residue of his life he purposes to take better heed to himself than he did before: because he sees by his faith the grievousness of God's anger, that foulness of his sin, the greatness of God's mercy, and of Christ's love towards him, he will now be heedy (careful, editor) to pray to God to give him his grace accordingly; that as with his eyes, tongue, hands, feet, &c. he has displeased God, doing his own will, even so now with the same eyes, tongue, ears, hands, feet, &c. he may displease his own self, and do God's will. He will not willingly do that which might renew the death of the Son of God? He knows he has too much sin in him unwillingly, so that thereto he will not add willing offences.
This willing and witting (knowing, editor) offending and sinning, whosoever flatters himself therein, evidently demonstrates and shows that he never yet tasted of Christ truly; he never was truly persuaded or believed how foul a thing sin is, how grievous a thing God's anger is, how joyful and precious a thing God's mercy in Christ is, how exceeding broad, wide, high, and deep Christ's love is. Perchance he can write, prate, talk, and preach of this; but yet he in part by faith never felt this. For if he once felt this indeed, then would he be so far from continuing in sin willingly: and wittingly, that he would wholly and heartily give himself over to that which is contrary; I mean, to a new life, renewing his youth, even as the eagle.
For, as we, being in the servitude of sin, demonstrated our service by giving over our members to the obeying of sin, from iniquity to iniquity; even so we, being made free from sin by faith in Jesus Christ, and endued with God's Spirit, a spirit of liberty, must needs demonstrate this freedom and liberty, by giving over our members to the obedience of the Spirit; by which we are led and guided from virtue to virtue, and all kinds of holiness. As the unbelievers declare their unbelief by the evil spirit working in them outwardly the fruits of the flesh, even so the believers declare their faith by the working of God's good Spirit in them outwardly the fruits of the Spirit. For as the devil is not dead in those which are his, but works still their damnation; so is not God dead in those who are his, but he works still to their salvation; which working is not the cause of the one or the other being in any, but only a demonstration, a sign, a fruit of the same, as the apple is not the cause of the apple-tree, but a fruit of it. (Matt. vii.)
Thus, then, you see briefly that newness of life is not indeed a part of penance, but a fruit of it, a demonstration of justifying faith, a sign of God's good Spirit possessing the heart of the penitent; as the old life is a fruit of impenitence, a demonstration of a lip-faith or unbelief, a sign of Satan's spirit possessing the heart of the impenitent, which all those are that are not penitent. For I know no middle state. He that is not penitent, the same is impenitent; he that is not governed by God's Spirit, the same is governed by Satan's spirit; for all that are Christ's are governed by the Spirit of Christ, which Spirit has his fruits. All others that are not Christ's are the devil's. He that gathers not with Christ, scatters abroad.
Therefore, dearly beloved, I beseech you to consider this, and deceive not yourselves; if you are not Christ's, then you pertain to the devil of which the fruits of the flesh assure you, as whoredom, adultery, uncleanness, wantonness, idolatry, witchcraft, envy, strife, contention, wrath, sedition, murder, drunkenness, gluttony, blasphemy, slothfulness, idleness, licentious talking, slandering, &c. If these apples grow out of the apple-trees of your heart, surely, surely the devil is at inn (abiding, editor) with you; you are his birds, whom, when he has well fed, he will broach (spit, editor) you and eat you, chew you and chump you, world without end, in eternal woe and misery. But I am otherwise persuaded of you all; I trust you are all Christ Jesus' people and children, yea, brethren by faith.
As you see your sins in God's law, and tremble, sigh, sorrow, and sob for the same, even so you see his great mercies in his gospel and free promises, and therefore are glad, merry, and joyful, that you are accepted into God's favour, have your sins pardoned, and are endued with the good Spirit of God, even the seal and sign manual of your election in Christ before the beginning of the world; the which Spirit, for that he is the Spirit of life, is given to you, to work in you, with you, and by you, here in this life, sanctification and holiness, whereunto you are called, that you might be holy, even as your heavenly Father is holy. I beseech you all, by admonishing and warning you, that you would stir up the gift of God given to you, generally and particularly, to the edifying of his church; that is, I pray you that you would not molest the good Spirit of God, by refuelling against it when it excites and calls you to go on forwards, that he which is holy, might yet be more holy, that he which is righteous, might be more righteous; as the evil spirit moves and stirs up the filthy to be yet more filthy, the covetous to be more covetous, the wicked to be more wicked.
Declare now your repentance by works of repentance; bring forth fruits, and worthy fruits; let your sorrowing for your evils demonstrate itself by departing from the evils you have used. Let your certainty of pardon of your sins through Christ, and your joy in him be demonstrated by pursuing the good things which God's word teaches you. You are now God's workmanship in Christ Jesus, to do good works, which God has prepared for you to walk in. For the grace of God, which brings salvation unto all men, has appeared, and teaches us that we should deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and that we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope and glorious appearing of the mighty God, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, to redeem us from all unrighteousness, and to purge us a peculiar people unto himself; fervently given unto good works. Again (Titus iii.,) for we ourselves also were in times past unwise, disobedient, deceived, serving lusts and divers pleasures, living in maliciousness and envy, full of hatred, and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by the deeds of righteousness which we wrought, but of his mercy, He saved us by the fountain of the new birth, and with the renewing of the Holy Ghost, which He shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour, that we being once justified by his grace should be heirs of eternal life through hope. This is a true saying; but I will make an end, for I am too tedious.
Dearly beloved, repent your sins, that is, be sorry for that which is past; believe in God's mercy for pardon, how deeply soever you have sinned, and both purpose and earnestly pursue a new life, bringing forth worthy and true fruits of repentance. As you have given over your members from sin to sin, to serve the devil, your tongues to swear, to lie, to flatter, to scold, to jest, to scoff, to lewd talk, to vain jangling, to boasting, &c., your hands to picking, groping, idleness, fighting, &c., your feet to skipping, going to evil, to dancing, &c.; your ears to hear garbles, lies, vanities, and evil things, &c.; so now give over your members to godliness, your tongues to speak, your ears to hear, your eyes to see, your mouths to taste, your hands to work, your feet to go about such things as may make to God's glory, sobriety of life, and love to your brethren, and that daily more and more diligently; for you cannot stand still, you are either better or worse today than you were yesterday. But better I trust you are, and will be, if you mark well my theme, that is, repent you; which I have humbly besought you to do, and yet once more I do again beseech you, and that for the tender mercies of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, "repent you, repent you, for the kingdom of heaven" (that is, a kingdom full of all riches, pleasures, joy, beauty, sweetness, and eternal felicity! "is at hand." The eye has not seen the like, the ear has not heard the like, the heart of man cannot conceive the treasures and pleasures of his kingdom, which is now at hand, to such as repent, that is, to such as are sorry for their sins, believe God's mercy through Christ, and earnestly purpose to lead a new life. The God of mercy, through Christ his Son, grant us his Holy Spirit, and work in our hearts this sorrow, faith, and new life, which through his grace I have spoken of, both now and for ever. Amen.