Obrazy na stronie


Considerations upon the Death of the Innocents, and the Flight

of the Holy Jesus into Egypt.

1. Herod, having called the wise men, and received information of their design, and the circumstances of the child, pretended religion too, and desired them to bring him word, when they had found the babe, “ that he might come and worship him ;” meaning to make a sacrifice of him, to whom he should pay his adoration; and, instead of investing the young Prince with a royal purple, he would have stained his swaddling-bands with his blood. It is ever dangerous, when a wicked prince pretends religion; his design is then foulest, by how much it needs to put on a fairer outside ; but it was an early policy in the world, and it concerned men's interests to seem religious, when they thought, that to be so was an abatement of great designs. When Jezebel designed the robbing and destroying Naboth, she sent to the elders to proclaim a fast; for the external and visible remonstrances of religion leave in the spirits of men a great reputation of the seeming person, and therefore they will not rush into a furious sentence against his actions, at least not judge them with prejudice against the man, towards whom they are so fairly prepared, but do some violence to their own understanding, and either disbelieve their own reason, or excuse the fact, or think it but an error, or a less crime, or the incidences of humanity; or, however, are so long in decreeing against him, whom they think to be religious, that the rumour is abated, or the stream of indignation is diverted by other laborious arts, intervening before our zeal is kindled ; and so the person is unjudged, or, at least, the design secured.

2. But in this, human policy was exceedingly infatuated : and though Herod had trusted his design to no keeper but himself, and had pretended fair, having religion for the word, and “ called the wise men privately," and intrusted them with no employment but a civil request, an account of the success of their journey, which they had no reason, or desire, to conceal; yet his heart was opened to the eye of Heaven, and the sun was not more visible, than his dark purpose was to God; and it succeeded accordingly: the Child was sent away, the wise men warned not to return, Herod was mocked and enraged; and so his craft became foolish and vain: and so are all counsels intended against God, or any thing, of which he himself hath undertaken the protection. For, although we understand not the reasons of security, because we see not that admirable concentring of infinite things in the Divine Providence, whereby God brings his purposes to act by ways unlooked for, and sometimes contradictory; yet. the public and perpetual experience of the world hath given continual demonstrations, that all evil counsels have come to nought; that the succeeding of an impious design is no argument, that the man is prosperous; that the curse is then surest, when his fortune spreads the largest ; that the contradiction and impossibilities of deliverance to pious persons are but an opportunity and engagement for God to do wonders, and to glorify his power, and to exalt his mercy, by the instances of miraculous or extraordinary events. And as the afflictions, happening to good men, are alleviated by the support of God's good Spirit; and enduring them here, are but consignations to an honourable amends hereafter : so the succeeding prosperities of fortunate impiety, when they meet with punishment in the next, or in the third age, or in the deletion of a people five ages after, are the greatest arguments of God's providence, who keeps wrath in store, and forgets not to “ do judgment for all them, that are oppressed with wrong.” It was laid up with God, and was perpetually in his eye, being the matter of a lasting, durable, and unre

mitted anger.

3. But God had care of the holy Child ; he sent his angel to warn Joseph, with the Babe and his mother, to fly into Egypt. Joseph and Mary instantly arise; and without inquiry, how they shall live there, or when they shall return; or how be secured, or what accommodations they shall have in their journey, at the same hour of the night, begin the pilgrimage with the cheerfulness of obedience, and the securities of faith, and the confidence of hope, and the joys of love, knowing themselves to be recompensed for all the trouble they could endure; that they were instruments of the safety of the holy Jesus; that they then were serving God; that they were encircled with the securities of the Divine Providence : and, in these dispositions, all places were alike; for every region was a paradise, where they were in company with Jesus. And, indeed, that man wants many degrees of faith and prudence, who is solicitous for the support of his necessities, when he is doing the commandment of God If he commands thée to offer a sacrifice, himself will provide a lamb, or enable thee to find one; and he would remove thee into a state of separation, where thy body needs no supplies of provision, if he meant thou shouldest serve him without provisions. He will certainly take away thy need, or satisfy it b; he will feed thee himself, as he did the Israelites; or take away thy hunger, as he did to Moses; or send ravens to feed thee, as he did to Elias; or make charitable people minister to thee, as the widow to Elisha; or give thee his own portion, as he maintained the Levites; or make thine enemies to pity thee, as the Assyrians did the captive Jews. For whatsoever the world hath, and whatsoever can be conveyed by wonder or by providence, all that is thy security for provisions, so long as thou doest the work of God. And remember, that the assurance of blessing, and health, and salvation, is not made by doing what we list, or being where we desire, but by doing God's will, and being in the place of his appointment. We may be safe in Egypt, if we be there in obedience to God; and we may perish among the babes of Bethlehem, if we be there by our own election.

4. Joseph and Mary did not argue against the angel's message, because they had a confidence of their charge, who, with the breath of his mouth, could have destroyed Herod, though he had been abetted with all the legions, marching under the Roman eagles; but they, like the two cherubims about the propitiatory, took the child between them, and fled, giving way to the fury of persecution, which possibly, when the materials are withdrawn, might expire, and die like fire, which else would rage for ever. Jesus fled, undertook a sad journey, in which the roughness of the ways, his own tenderness, the youth of his mother, the old age of his supposed father, the smallness of their viaticum and accommodation for their voyage, the no-kindred they were to go to,

τους θεούς έχων τις αν φίλους, άλστην μαντικήν έχοι δόμοις.

Eurip. Helenâ, 766. b Hebxiii. 5, 6.

hopeless of comforts and exterior supplies, were so many circumstances of poverty, and lesser strokes of the persecution; things, that himself did choose to demonstrate the verity of his nature, the infirmity of his person, the humility of his spirit, the austerity of his undertaking, the burden of his charge; and by which he did teach us the same virtues, he then expressed, and also consigned this permission to all his disciples, in future ages, that they also may fly from their persecutors, when the case is so, that their work is not done; that is, they may glorify God with their lives, more than with their death. And of this they are ascertained by the arguments of prudent account: for sometimes we are called to glorify God by dying, and the interest of the church and the faith of many may be concerned in it; then we must abide by it. In other cases it is true, that Demosthenes said, in apology for his own escaping from a lost field, “ A man that runs away, may fight again.” And St. Paul made use of a guard of soldiers, to rescue him from the treachery of the Jewish rulers; and of a basket, to escape from the inquisition of the governor of Damascus; and the primitive Christians, of grots and subterraneous retirements; and St. Athanasius, of a fair lady's house ; and others, of deserts and graves; as knowing it was no shame to fly, when their Master himself had fled, that his time and his work might be fulfilled ; and, when it was, he then laid his life down.

5. It is hard to set down particular rules, that may indefinitely guide all persons, in the stating of their own case ; because all things, that depend upon circumstances, are alterable unto infinite. But as God's glory and the good of the church are the great considerations to be carried before us all the way, and in proportions to them we are to determine and judge our questions; so also qur infirmities are allowable in the scrutiny : for I doubt not, but God intended it a mercy, and a compliance with human weakness, when he gave us this permission, as well as it was a design to secure the opportunities of his service, and the consummation of his own work by us. And since our fears, and the incommodities of flight, and the sadness of exile, and the insecurities and inconveniences of a strange and new abode, are part of

'Aνής φεύγων και πάλιν μαχήσεται,

the persecution; provided that God's glory be not certainly and apparently neglected, nor the church evidently scandalized by our flight; all interpretations of the question in favour of ourselves, and the declension of that part, which may tempt us to apostacy, or hazard our confidence, and the choosing the lesser part of the persecution, is not against the rule of faith, and always hath in it less glory, but oftentimes more security.

6. But thus far Herod's ambition transported him, even to resolutions of murder of the highest person, the most glorious and the most innocent upon earth; and it represents that passion to be the most troublesome and vexatious thing, that can afflict the sons of men. Virtue hath not half so much trouble in it; it sleeps quietly, without startings and affrighting fancies; it looks cheerfully; smiles with much serenity; and, though it laughs not often, yet it is ever delightful in the apprehensions of some faculty; it fears no nian, nor no thing, nor is it discomposed; and hath no concernments in the great alterations of the world, and entertains death like a friend, and reckons the issues of it as the greatest of its hopes : but ambition is full of distractions; it teems with stratagems, as Rebecca with struggling twins ; and is swelled with expectation, as with a tympany; and sleeps sometimes, as the wind in a storm, still and quiet for a minute, that it may burst out into an impetuous blast, till the cordage of his heart-strings crack; fears, when none is nigh; and prevents things, which never had intention ; and falls under the inevitability of such accidents, which either could not be foreseen, or not prevented. It is an infinite labour to make a man's self miserable; and the utmost acquist is so goodly a purchase, that he makes his days full of sorrow, to enjoy the troubles of a three years' reign; for Herod lived but three years, or five at the most, after the flight of Jesus into Egypt. And therefore there is no greater unreasonableness in the world, than in the designs of ambition: for it makes the present certainly miserable, unsatisfied, troublesome, and discontent, for the uncertain acquist of an honour, which nothing can secure; and, besides a thousand possibilities of miscarrying, it relies upon no greater certainty than our life; and, when we are dead, all the world sees, who was the fool. But it is a strange caitiveness

« PoprzedniaDalej »