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over, did, by way of confirmation, and fixing the confidence of her assent, give an instance of his omnipotency in the very particular of an extraordinary conception. For the angel said, “ Behold thy cousin Elizabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren: for with God nothing shall be impossible.” A less argument would have satisfied the necessity of a faith, which had no scruple ; and a greater would not have done it in the incredulity of an ungentle and pertinacious spirit. But the holy maid had complacency enough in the message, and holy desires about her, to carry her understanding as far as her affections, even to the fruition of the angel's message; which is such a sublimity of faith, that it is its utmost consummation, and shall be its crown, when our faith is turned into vision, our hopes into actual possessions, and our grace into glory.
2. And she, who was now full of God, bearing God in her virgin womb, and the Holy Spirit in her heart, who had also overshadowed her, enabling her to a supernatural and miraculous conception, arose with haste and gladness, to communicate that joy, which was designed for all the world ; and she found no breast to pour forth the first emanations of her overjoyed heart so fit as her cousin Elizabeth's, who had received testimony from God to have been “ righteous, walking in all the commandments of the Lord blameless,” who also had a special portion in this great honour : for she was designed to be the mother of the Baptist, who was sent as a forerunner, " to prepare the ways of the Lord, and to make his paths straight. And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah."
3. Her haste was in proportion to her joy and desires, but yet went no greater pace than her religion : for as in her journey she came near to Jerusalem, she turned in, that she might visit his temple, whose temple she herself was now; and there, not only to remember the pleasures of religion, which she had felt in continual descents and showers falling on her pious heart, for the space of eleven years' attendance there in her childhood, but also to pay the first fruits of her thanks and joy, and to lay all her glory at his feet, whose humble handmaid she was, in the greatest honour of being
his blessed mother. Having worshipped, she went on her journey, “ and entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elizabeth.”
4. It is not easy to imagine, what a collision of joys was at this blessed meeting : two mothers of two great princes, the one the greatest that was born of woman, and the other was his Lord, and these made mothers by two miracles, met together with joy and mysteriousness; where the mother of our Lord went to visit the mother of his servant, and the Holy Ghost made the meeting festival, and descended upon Elizabeth, and she prophesied. Never, but in Heaven, was there more joy and ecstacy. The persons, who were women whose fancies and affections were not only hallowed, but made pregnant and big with religion, meeting together to compare and unite their joys, and their eucharist, and then made prophetical and inspired, must needs have discoursed like seraphims and the most ecstasied order of intelligences; for all the faculties of nature were turned into grace, and expressed in their way the excellent solemnity. “For it came to pass when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost.”
5. After they had both prophesied, and sung their hymns, and resaluted each other with the religion of saints and the joys of angels, “ Mary abode with her cousin Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her own house." Where when she appeared with her holy burden to her husband Joseph, and that he perceived her to be with child, and knew that he had never unsealed that holy fountain of virginal purity, he was troubled. For although her deportment had been pious and chaste to a miracle, her carriage reserved, and so grave, that she drave away temptations, and impure visits, and all unclean purposes from the neighbourhood of her holy person; yet when he saw she was with child, and had not yet been taught a lesson higher than the principles of nature," he was minded to put her away,” for he knew she was with child; but yet “privily,” because he was a good man, and knew her piety to have been such, that it had almost done violence to his sense, and made him disbelieve what was visible and notorious, and therefore he would do it privately. “ But while he thought on these things, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife.”
Ad SECTION II.
Considerations concerning the Circunstances of the Interval
between the Conception and Nativity.
1, When the blessed Virgin was ascertained of the manner of her becoming a mother, and that her tremblings were over, upon the security she should preserve her virgin purity as a clean oblation to the honour of God, then she expressed her consent to the angelical message, and instantly she conceived the holy Jesus in her womb, by the supernatural and Divine influence of the Holy Ghost. For she was highly zealous to reconcile her being mother to the Messias, with those purities and holy celibate, which she had designed to keep as advantages to the interests of religion, and his honour, who chose her from all the daughters of Adam, to be instrumental of the restitution of grace and innocence to all her father's family. And we shall receive benefit from so excellent example, if we be not so desirous of a privilege as of a virtue, of honour as of piety: and as we submit to the weight and pressure of sadnesses and infelicities, that God's will may be accomplished ; so we must be also ready to renounce an exterior grace or favour, rather than it should not be consistent with exemplar and rare piety.
2. When the Son of God was incarnate in the womb of his Virgin mother, the holy maid arose ; and though she was super-exalted by an honour greater than the world yet ever saw, she still dwelt upon the foundation of humility; and to make that virtue more signal and eminent, she arose and went hastily to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who also had conceived a son in her old age: for so we all should be curious and watchful against vanities and transportations, when we are advanced to the gaieties of prosperous accidents, and in the greatest privileges descend to the lowest, to exercise a greater measure of virtue against the danger of those temptations, which are planted against our heart, to ruin our hopes and glories.
3. But the joys that the Virgin mother had, were such as concerned all the world, and that part of them, which was her peculiar, she would not conceal from persons apt to their entertainment, but go to publish God's mercy toward her to another holy person, that they might join in the praises of God; as knowing, that though it may be convenient to represent our personal necessities in private, yet God's gracious returns, and the blessings he makes to descend on us, are more fit, when there is no personal danger collaterally appendant, to be published in the communion of saints; that the hopes of others may receive increase, that their faith may have confirmation, that their charity and eucharist may grow up to become excellent and great, and the praises of God may be sung aloud, till the sound strike at Heaven, and join with the hallelujahs, which the morning stars in their orbs pay to their great Creator.
4. When the holy Virgin had begun her journey, she made haste over the mountains, that she might not only satisfy the desires of her joy by a speedy gratulation, but lest she should be too long abroad under the dispersion and discomposing of her retirements, and therefore she hastens to an enclosure, to her cousin's house, as knowing that all virtuous women, like tortoises, carry their house on their heads, and their chapel in their heart, and their danger in their eye, and their souls in their hands, and God in all their actions. And indeed her very little burden, which she bare, hindered her not but she might make haste enough; and as her spirit was full of cheerfulness and alacrity, so even her body was made airy and vegete: for there was no sin in her burden, to fill it with natural inconveniences; and there is this excellency in all spiritual things, that they do no disadvantage to our persons, nor retard our just temporal interests. And the religion, by which we carry Christ within us, is neither so peevish as to disturb our health, nor so sad as to discompose our just and modest cheerfulness, nor so prodigal as to force us to needs and ignoble trades; but recreates our body by the medicine of holy fastings and temperance, fills us full of serenities and complacencies, by the sweetnesses of a holy conscience and joys spiritual, promotes our temporal interests, by the gains and increases of the rewards of charity, and by securing God's providence over us, while we are in the pursuit of the heavenly kingdom. And as in these dispositions she climbed the mountains with much facility, so there is nothing in our whole life of difficulty so great, but it may be managed by those assistances we receive from the holiest Jesus, when we carry him about us; as the vallies are exalted, so the mountains are made plain before us.
5. When her cousin Elizabeth saw the mother of her Lord come to visit her, as the Lord himself descended to visit all the world in great humility, she was pleased and transported to the height of wonder and prophecy, and “the babe sprang in her womb," and was sanctified, first doing his homage and adoration to his Lord that was in presence. And we also, although we can do nothing unless the Lord first prevent us with his gracious visitation, yet if he first come unto us, and we accept and entertain him with the expresses and correspondencies of our duty, we shall receive the grace and honour of sanctification. But if St. Elizabeth, who received testimony from God that she “ walked in all the commandments of the Lord blameless," was carried into ecstacy, wondering at the dignation and favour done to her by the mother of her Lord; with what preparations and holy solemnities ought we to entertain his addresses to us by his holy sacrament, by the immissions of his Spirit, by the assistances of his graces, and all other his vouchsafings and descents into our hearts?
6. The blessed Virgin hearing her cousin full of spirit and prophecy, calling her blessed, and praising her faith, and confirming her joy, instantly sang her hymn to God, returning those praises, which she received, to him to whom they did appertain. For so we should worship God with all our praises, being willing upon no other condition to extend one hand to receive our own honour, but that with the other we might transmit it to God; that as God is honoured in all his creatures, so he may be honoured in us too; looking upon the graces, which God hath given us, but as greater instruments and abilities to serve him, being none of ours, but talents which are intrusted into our banks to be improved.