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 Issues | Doctrine | Homily 22 part 2

The Elizabethan Homilies

Information for those who take offence at certain places in Holy Scripture

(Of the reverend estimation of God’s Word)

<<PART1

PART 2

You have heard (good people) in the Homily last read unto you, the great commodity of holy Scriptures, you have heard how ignorant men, void of godly understanding, seek quarrels to discredit them: Some of their reasons have you heard answered. Now we will proceed and speak of such politically wise men which be offended, for that Christ' precepts should seem to destroy all order in governance, as they doe allege for example, such as these be. If any man strike you on the right cheek, turn the other unto him also. If any man will contend to take thy coat from you, let him have cloak and all (Matthew 5.39-40). Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth. If your eye, your hand, or thy foot offend you, pull out your eye, cut off your hand, thy foot, and cast it from you (Matthew 18.8-9). If your enemy (says Saint Paul) is hungry, give him meat, if he is thirsty, give him drink: so doing, you shall heap hot burning coals upon his head (Romans 12.20). These sentences (good people) to a natural man seem mere absurdities, contrary to all reason. For a natural man (as Saint Paul says) understands not the things that belong to GOD (1 Corinthians 2.14), neither can he, so long as old Adam dwells in him. Christ therefore means, that he would have his faith full servants so far from vengeance and resisting wrong, that he would rather have him ready to suffer another wrong, then by resisting to break charity, and to be out of patience. He would have our good deeds so far from all carnal respects, that he would not have our nearest friends know of our well doing, to win vain glory. And though our friends and kinsfolk be as dear as our right eyes and our right hands: yet if they would pluck us from GOD, we ought to renounce them, and forsake them.

Thus if you will be profitable hearers and readers of the holy Scriptures, you must first deny your selves, and keep under your carnal senses, taken by the outward words, and search the inward meaning: reason must give place to GODS holy spirit, you must submit your worldly wisdom and judgment, unto his divine wisdom and judgment. Consider that the Scripture, in what strange form howsoever it is pronounced, is the word of the living GOD. Let that always come to your remembrance, which is so oft repeated of the Prophet Isaiah: The mouth of the Lord (says he) hath spoken it, and Almighty and everlasting GOD, who with his only word created heaven and earth, hath decreed it, the Lord of hosts, whose ways are in the Seas, whose paths are in the deep waters, that Lord and GOD by whose word all things in heaven and in earth are created, governed, and preserved, hath so provided it. The GOD of gods, and Lord of all lords, yea, GOD that is GOD alone, incomprehensible, almighty, and everlasting, he hath spoken it, it is his word. It cannot therefore be but truth, which proceeds from the GOD of all truth: it cannot be but wisely and prudently commanded, what Almighty GOD hath devised, however vainly, through want of grace, we miserable wretches do imagine and judge of his most holy word.

The Prophet David, describing an happy man, says: Blessed is the man that hath not walked after the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful (Psalms 1.1). There are three sorts of people, whose company the Prophet would have him to flee and avoid, which shall be an happy man, and partaker of GODS blessing. First, he may not walk after the counsel of the ungodly. Secondly, he may not stand in the way of sinners. Thirdly, he must not sit in the seat of the scornful. By these three sorts of people, ungodly men, sinners, and scorners, all impiety is signified, and fully expressed. By the ungodly, he understands those which have no regard of almighty GOD, being void of all faith, whose hearts and minds are so set upon the world, that they study only how to accomplish their worldly practices, their carnal imaginations, their filthy lust and desire, without any fear of GOD. The second sort he calls sinners, not such as do fall through ignorance, or of frailness, for then who should be found free? What man ever lived upon earth (Christ only excepted) but he hath sinned? The just man falls seven times, and rises again (Proverbs 24.16). Though the godly do fall, yet they walk not on purposely in sin, they stand not still to continue and tarry in sin, they sit not down like careless men, without all fear of GODS just punishment for sin: but defying sin, through GODS great grace and infinite mercy, they rise again, and fight against sin. The Prophet then calls them sinners, whose hearts are turned from GOD, and whose whole conversation of life is nothing but sin, they delight so much in the same, that they choose continually to abide and dwell in sin. The third sort he calls scorners, that is, a sort of men whose hearts are so stuffed with malice, that they are not contented to dwell in sin, and to lead their lives in all kind of wickedness: but also they do contemn and scorn in other all godliness, true religion, all honesty and virtue. Of the two first sorts of men, I will not say but they may take repentance, and be converted unto GOD. Of the third sort, I think I may without danger of GODS judgment pronounce, that never any yet converted unto GOD by repentance, but continued still in their abominable wickedness, heaping up to themselves damnation, against the day of GODS inevitable judgment.

Examples of such scorners, we read in the second book of Chronicles: When the good king Ezechias, in the beginning of his reign, had destroyed Idolatry, purged the Temple, and reformed Religion in his Realm, he sent messengers into every City, to gather the people unto Jerusalem, to solemnize the feast of Easter, in such sort as GOD had appointed . The posts went from city to city, through the land of Ephraim and Manassas, even unto Zabulon (2 Chronicles 30.1-6). And what did the people, think you? Did they laude and praise the Name of the Lord which had given them so good a King, so zealous a Prince to abolish idolatry, and to restore again GODS true religion? No, no. The Scripture says, The people laughed them to scorn, and mocked the King's messengers. And in the last Chapter of the same book it is written, that Almighty GOD, having compassion upon his people, sent his messengers the Prophets unto them, to call them from their abominable idolatry and wicked kind of living. But they mocked his messengers, they despised his words, and misused his Prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, and till there was no remedy: For he gave them up into the hands of their enemies, even unto Nebuchadnezer King of Babylon, who spoiled them of their goods, burnt their city, and led them, their wives, and their children, captives unto Babylon.

The wicked people that were in the days of Noah, made but a mock at the word of GOD, when Noah told them that GOD would take vengeance upon them for their sins. The flood therefore came suddenly upon them, and drowned them with the whole world. Lot preached to the Sodomites, that except they repented, both they and their City should be destroyed. They thought his sayings impossible to be true, they scorned and mocked his admonition, and reputed him as an old doting fool. But when GOD by his holy Angels had taken Lot, his wife, and two daughters from among them, he rained down fire and brimstone from heaven, and burnt vp those scorners and mockers of his holy word.

And what estimation had Christ's doctrine among the Scribes and Pharisees? What reward had he among them? The Gospel reported thus: The Pharisees which were covetous, did scorn him in his doctrine. O then you see that worldly rich men scorn the doctrine of their salvation. The worldly wise men scorn the doctrine of Christ, as foolishness to their understanding. These scorners have ever been, and ever shall be to the world's end. For Saint Peter prophesied, that such scorners should be in the world before the latter day (2 Peter 3.3)

Take heed therefore (my brethren) take heed, be you not scorners of GODS most holy word, provoke him not to pour out his wrath now upon you, as he did then upon those gibers and mockers. Be not willful murderers of your own souls. Turn unto GOD while there is yet time of mercy, you shall else repent it in the world to come, when it shall be too late, for there shall be judgment without mercy. This might suffice to admonish us, and cause us henceforth to reverence GODS holy Scriptures, but all men have not faith. This therefore shall not satisfy & content all men's minds: but as some are carnal, so they will still continue, and abuse the Scriptures carnally, to their greater damnation. The unlearned and unstable (says St. Peter) pervert the holy Scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3.16). Jesus Christ (as St. Paul said) is to the Jews an offence, to the Gentiles foolishness: But to Gods children, as well of the Jews as of the Gentiles he is the power & wisdom of GOD (1 Corinthians 1.23-24). The holy man Simeon said, that he is set forth for the fall and rising again of many in Israel (Luke 2.34). As Christ Jesus is a fall to the reprobate, which yet perish through their own default: so is his word, yea the whole book of GOD, a cause of damnation unto them, through their incredulity. And as he is a rising vp to none other then those which are GODS children by adoption: so is his word, yea the whole Scripture, the power of GOD to salvation to them only that doe believe it. Christ himself, the Prophets before him, the Apostles after him, all the true Ministers of GODS holy word, yea every word in GODS Book, is unto the reprobate, the savour of death unto death.

Christ Jesus, the Prophets, the Apostles, and all the true Ministers of his word, yea every jot and tittle in the holy Scripture, have been, is, and shall be for evermore, the savour of life unto eternal life, unto all those whose hearts GOD hath purified by true faith. Let us earnestly take heed, that we make no jesting stock of the books of holy Scriptures. The more obscure and dark the sayings be to our understanding, the further let us think our selves to be from GOD, and his holy spirit, who was the author of them. Let us with more reverence endeavour our selves to search out the wisdom hidden in the outward bark of the Scripture. If we can not understand the sense and the reason of the saying, yet let us not be scorners, jesters, and deriders, for that is the uttermost token and show of a reprobate, of a plain enemy to GOD and his wisdom. They are not idle fables to jest at, which GOD doeth seriously pronounce, and for serious matters let us esteem them. And though in sundry places of the Scriptures, be set out divers Rites and Ceremonies, oblations and sacrifices: let us not think strange of them, but refer them to the times and people for whom they served, although yet to learned men they be not unprofitable to be considered, but to be expounded as figures and shadows of things and persons, afterward openly revealed in the new Testament. Though the rehearsal of the genealogies and pedigrees of the Fathers are not to much edification of the plain ignorant people: yet is there nothing so impertinently uttered in all the whole Book of the Bible, but may serve to spiritual purpose in some respect, to all such as will bestow their labours to search out the meanings. These may not be condemned, because they serve not to our understanding, nor make to our edification. But let us turn our labour to understand, and to carry away such sentences and stories as be more fit for our capacity and instruction.

And whereas we read in divers Psalms, how David did wish to the adversaries of GOD sometimes shame, rebuke, and confusion, sometime the decay of their offspring and issue, sometime that they might perish and come suddenly to destruction, as he did wish to the Captains of the Philistines. Cast forth (says he) thy lightning, and tear them, shoot out your arrows and consume them (Psalms 144.6), with such other manner of imprecations: Yet ought we not to be offended at such prayers of David, being a Prophet as he was, singularly beloved of GOD, and rapt in spirit, with an ardent zeal to GODS glory. He spoke not of a private hatred and in a stomach against their persons: but wished spiritually the destruction of such corrupt errors and vices, which reigned in all devilish persons, set against GOD. He was of like mind as S. Paul was when he did deliver Himeneus and Alexander, with the notorious fornicator, to Satan, to their temporal confusion, that their spirit might be saved against the day of the Lord. And when David did profess in some places that he hated the wicked: yet in other places of his Psalms he professed, that he hated them with a perfect hate, not with a malicious hate, to the hurt of the soul. Which perfection of spirit, because it cannot be performed in us, so corrupted in affections as we be, we ought not to use in our private causes the like words in form, for that we cannot fulfill the like words in sense.

Let us not therefore be offended, but search out the reason of such words before we be offended, that we may the more reverently judge of such sayings, though strange to our carnal understandings, yet to them that be spiritually minded, judged to be zealously and godly pronounced. GOD therefore for his mercies sake, vouchsafe to purify our minds through faith in his son Jesus Christ, and to instill the heavenly drops of his grace into our hard stony hearts, to supple the same, that we be not contemnors and deriders of his infallible word: but that with all humbleness of mind and Christian reverence we may endeavour our selves to hear and to read his sacred Scriptures, and inwardly so to digest them, as shall be to the comfort of our souls, sanctification of his holy Name, to whom with the Sonne and the holy Ghost, three persons and one living GOD, be all laud, honour, and praise for ever and ever, Amen.

 

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