Obrázky stránek





Most Gracious and Dread Sovereign,- More than twenty years are slipped away, since I entered upon this task of sacred Contemplations; presuming so long ago, to prefix your Royal Nama to some of the first pieces of this long work, which I rather wished, than hoped I might live to finish. The God of Heaven hath been pleased to stretch out my days so far, as to see it brought, at last, after many necessary intermissions, to a happy end. Now, not with more contentment than boldness, I bring to your sacred hands, besides variety of other discourses *, that work complete, whereof some few parcels saw the light before, under subordinate Dedications. The whole is your Majesty's due, no less than the unworthy Author ; whose age pleaseth and prideth itself in nothing more, than in the title of one of your Majesty's most ancient Attendants, in my station, now living.


* This Dedication is prefixed to the second volume of the works, in folio, which commences with the present portion of the Contemplations.-H.






Right Worshipful,— It is not out of any satiety, that I change from the Old Testament to the New. These two, as they are the Breasts of the Church, so they yield milk equally wholesome, equally pleasant, unto able nurselings. Herein I thought good to have respect unto my reader, in whose strength there may be difference. That other breast perhaps doth not let down this nourishing liquor so freely, so easily. Even so small a variety refresheth a weak infant. Neither will there perhaps want some palates, which will find a more quick and pleasing relish in this fresher substance. These I thought good to please with a taste, ere they come to sate themselves with a full meal of this divine nourishment; in emulation of the good scribe, that brings forth both old and new. If it please God to enable my life and opportunities, I hope, at last, to present this Church, with the last service of the history of either page ; wherein my joy and my crown shall be the edification of many. In the mean time, I dedicate this part unto your name, whom I have so much cause to observe and honour. The blessing of that God, whose Church you have ever made your chief client, be still upon your head, and that honourable society, which rejoices in so worthy a leader. "To it and yourself, I shall be ever, as I

Humbly and unfeignedly devoted,


have cause,



When things are at worst, then God begins a change. The state of the Jewish church was extremely corrupted, immediately before the news of the Gospel; yet, as bad as it was, not only the priesthood, but the courses of attendance continued, even from David's time till Christ's. It is a desperately depraved condition of a church, where no good orders are left.

Judea passed many troubles, many alterations; yet this orderly combination endured about an eleven hundred years. A settled good will not easily be defeated; but, in the change of persons, will remain unchanged; and, if it be forced to give way, leaves memorable footsteps behind it. If David foresaw the perpetuation of this holy ordinance, how much did he rejoice

in the knowledge of it! Who would not be glad to do good, on condition that it may so long outlive him?

The successive turns of the legal ministration held on, in a line never interrupted. Even in a forlorn and miserable church, there may be a personal succession. How little were the Jews better for this, when they had lost the Urim and Thummim, sincerity of Doctrine and Manners! This stayed with them, even while they and their sons crucified Christ. What is more ordinary, than wicked sons of holy parents? It is the succession of truth and holiness, that makes or justifies a church, whatever become of the persons.

Never times were so barren, as not to yield some good. The greatest dearth affords some few good ears to the gleaners. Christ would not have come into the world, but he would have some faithful to entertain him. He, that had the disposing of all times and men, would cast some holy ones into his own times. There had been no equality, that all should either overrun or follow him, and none attend him.

Zachary and Elizabeth are just, both of Aaron's blood, and John Baptist of theirs. Whence should a holy seed spring, if not of the loins of Levi ? It is not in the power of parents, to traduce holiness to their children: it is the blessing of God, that feoffs them in the virtues of their parents, as they feoff them in their sins. There is no certainty, but there is like lihood, of a holy generation, when the parents are such.

Elizabeth was just, as well as Zachary; that the forerunner of a Saviour might be holy on both sides. If the stock and the graft be not both good, there is much danger of the fruit. It is a happy match, when the husband and the wife are one; not only in themselves, but in God; not more in flesh, than in the spirit. Grace makes no difference of sexes : rather, the weaker carries away the more honour, because it hath had less helps.

It is easy to observe, that the New Testament affordeth more store of good women, than the Old. Elizabeth led the ring of this mercy; whose barrenness ended in a miraculous fruit, both of her body and of her time.

This religious pair made no less progress in virtue, than in age; and yet their virtue could not make their best


fruitful : Elizabeth was barren. A just soul and a barren womb may

well agree together. Amongst the Jews, barrenness was not a defect only, but a reproach : yet, while this good woman was fruitful of holy obedience, she was barren of children. As John, which was miraculously conceived by man, was a fit forerunner of him, that was conceived by the Holy Ghost ; so a barren matron was meet to make way for a virgin.

None but a son of Aaron might offer incense to God in the temple; and not every son of Aaron ; and not any one at all seasons. God is a God of Order; and hates confusion, no less than irreligion. Albeit he hath not so straitened himself under the Gospel, as to tie his service to persons or places, yet his choice is now no less curious, because it is more large. He allows none, but the authorised; he authoriseth none, but the worthy.

The incense doth ever smell of the hand that offers it. I doubt not, but that perfume was sweeter, which ascended up from the hand of a just Zachary. The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination to God.

There were courses of ministration in the legal services. God never purposed to burthen any of his creatures with devotion. How vain is the ambition of any soul, that would load itself with the universal charge of all men ! How thankless is their labour, that do wilfully overspend themselves, in their ordinary vocations !

As Zachary had a course in God's house, so he carefully observed it. The favour of these respites doubled his diligence The more high and sacred our calling is, the more dangerous is neglect. It is our honour, that we may be allowed to wait upon the God of Heaven, in these immediate services. Woe be to us, if we slacken those duties, wherein God honours us more than we can honour him !

Many sons of Aaron, yea, of the same family, served at once in the temple, according to the variety of employments. To avoid all difference, they agreed by lot to assign themselves, to the several offices of each day. The lot of this day called Zachary, to offer incense in the outer temple. I do not find any prescription they had from God, of this particular manner of designment. Matters of good order in holy affairs may be ruled by the wise institution of men, according to reason and expediency.

It fell out well, that Zachary was chosen by lot, to this ministration ; that God's immediate hand might be seen, in all the passages that concerned his great prophet; that, as the person, so the occasion might be of God's own choosing: In lots, and their seeming casual disposition, God can give a reason, though we can give none.

Morning and evening, twice a day, their Law called them to offer incense to God; that both parts of the day might be consecrated to the Maker of time. The outer Temple was the figure of the whole Church upon earth ; like as the Holy of Holies represented Heaven. Nothing can better resemble our faithful prayers, than sweet perfume. These God looks that we should (all his Church over) send up unto him, morning and evening. The elevations of our hearts should be perpetual ; but if, twice in the day, we do not present God with our solemn invocations, we make the Gospel less officious than the Law.

That the resemblance of prayers and incense might be apparent, while the priest sends up his incense within the temple, the people must send up their prayers without. Their breath and that incense, though remote in the first rising, met ere they went up to heaven.

The people might no more go into the Holy Place, to offer up the incense of prayers unto God, than Zachary might go into the Holy of Holies. While the partition wall stood betwixt Jews and Gentiles, there were also partitions betwixt the Jews and themselves. Now, every man is a priest unto God; i every man, since the veil was rent, prays within the temple. What are we the better, for our greater freedom of access to God under the Gospel, if we do not make use of our privilege?

While they were praying to God, he sees an angel of God. As Gideon's angel went up in the smoke of the sacrifice, so did Zachary's angel, as it were, come down in the fragrant smoke of his incense.

It was ever great news, to see an angel of God; but now more, because God had long withdrawn from them all the means of his supernatural revelations. As this wicked people were strangers to their God in their conversation, so was God grown a stranger to them in his apparitions; yet, now that the season of the Gospel approached, he visited them with his angels, before he visited them by his Son. He sends his angel to men in the form of man, before he sends his Son to take human form.

The presence of angels is no novelty, but their apparition. They are always with us, but rarely seen ; that we may awfully respect their messages, when they are seen. In the mean time, our faith

may see them, though our senses do not. sumed shapes do not make them more present, but visible.

There is an order in that heavenly hierarchy, though we know it not. This angel, that appeared to Zachary, was not with him in the ordinary course of his attendances, but was purposely sent from God with this message.

Why was an angel sent ? and why this angel? It had been easy for him, to have raised up the prophetical spirit of some Simeon, to this prediction. The same Holy Ghost, which revealed to that just man, that he should not see death ere he had seen the Messiah, might have as easily revealed unto him the birth of the forerunner of Christ, and by him to Zachary; but God would have this voice, which should go before his Son, come with a noise. He would have it appear to the world, that the harbinger of the Messiah should be conceived by the marvellous power of that God, whose coming he proclaimed. It was fit the first Herald of the Gospel should begin in wonder.

The same angel, that came to the Blessed Virgin with the news of Christ's conception, came to Zachary with the news of John's; for the honour of him that was the greatest of them which were born of women, and for his better resemblance to

Their as

« PředchozíPokračovat »