Thursday, December 31, 2009

The year that goes, the year that comes

This past year Continuing Anglicans have been barraged by two big news events. The first was the formation of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) under, as he is now, Archbishop Robert Duncan. The second came late in the year, the Roman initiative called Anglicanorum Coetibus, the "Apostolic Constitution" presented by Rome in response to Anglicans who want some sort of special consideration in the Roman Catholic Church.

In each case, the best response, that I am aware of, came from the Metropolitan of the Anglican Catholic Church, Archbishop Mark Haverland. Lest anyone accuse me of favoritism (since I believe I have made it clear that I both salute the uniform and have deep respect for the man himself- a happy situation for any priest regarding his bishop), I believe I would have recommended his responses even if I had not met him. Read them for yourself, and see if these responses do not speak for you too (clicking here and here).

Both of these events have made it necessary for Continuing Anglicans to reaffirm their basic principles. The ACNA is a sincere effort launched by Christians who want to do what is right; but, they begin with a house divided, and divided over an issue of no small importance, women's "ordination." In addition, they have even more of the modern revised "Anglicanism" in their system than they care to know. But, we pray for them that they will journey until they arrive where they belong.

The Roman Constitution appears to some as a generous offer, but in fact it is what may be called a unilateral contract. The dispute over who had more input, the FiF/UK people or the TAC, is misleading. The constitution is so very unilateral that no Anglican input is at all discernible. It is entirely a Roman Catholic product, a firm "no" to inter-communion, corporate union, uniate status, etc. It is a firm "no" followed by, "but here is what we do offer-take it or leave it." Generous from their perspective (quite sincerely), but empty from ours. Nonetheless, it is being celebrated with much enthusiasm, and with misinformation about its contents, potential and meaning. This has a level of sincerity too, but at some point reality must sink in.

Our response to these events has been simply to persuade as many of our readers as possible to Continue Continuing orthodox Anglican faith and practice. It has also been to post positive stories (such as this one) that remind our readers that we are a worldwide church, that we have a global presence, that we must attend to the mission field of the whole world. I do not mean only the ACC, but all Continuing Anglicans who also believe in world evangelism and the special mission of Anglican Christians to all mankind everywhere; and who may consider our efforts an extension of their own labors and success, if only by prayer.

Our message appears threatened by the apostasy and heresy of the Canterbury Communion, and by the movements that seek to create an attrition level among us. But, I have seen the other side; I have seen our Continuing Church embracing new people, and extending its power and message into the four corners of the earth. At home (in my case, America) I have seen a vibrant and healthy church, with that vitality quite apparent in various congregations that have people of all ages, including a good number of children and youth.

That vibrancy is to be found in Carefree Arizona, where Fr. Steven Dart of the Province of Christ the King continues to build a parish and a school (a school?-something to think about folks). It is to be seen in Alexandria Virginia., where Fr. Nick Athanaelos has to hold three services every Sunday morning to make room for all the families of that parish. It is visible in the home parish of Bishop William McClean in Charlotte Hall, Maryland, and also in Roanoke, Virginia at St Thomas of Canterbury; all of these are parishes where I have been present in recent years. And, here in Chapel Hill North Carolina, St. Benedict's has grown, with twenty-two new members since my arrival in March. Our Christmas Eve Children's pageant had about 14 excited children and "played to a packed house" in the parish hall.

I say these things to inspire your faith, to lift your eyes to see that the fields are white, ready to be harvested. Our adversaries (for that is what they choose to be) tell us that our whole portion of the Church will die off soon, and they tell everyone else that each congregation consists of only a handful of elderly people with no one else except for the over abundance of clergy within the rail. So they say, for so they would have it. Yes, we have a few small congregations that may not be around in a few years (who doesn't?); but we have a growing presence also. We need to believe that if we are faithful to that form of doctrine that has been handed down to us, as people of prayer who depend on the Holy Spirit, that we will inherit the Land, wherever we place the soles of our feet. We carry the message, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, with the full apostolic power and authority of His Church, with gifts of the Holy Spirit.

So, here we will go on teaching and defending the best of Anglicanism, not as desperate people who are afraid of losing something, oh no; but as missionaries wherever we happen to live, spreading the truth to our neighbors, teaching our children, and supporting the foreign missions where our largest effort has begun already to be harvested. The gates of Hell will not prevail against the Church, and to the extent that we are faithful and believe, that means that we are on the offensive, occupying until he comes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Lancelot Andrewes on Holy Communion and Theosis

This Christmas I began a tradition I plan to continue, posting the sermons for that blessed Holy Day that were written by Lancelot Andrewes, a father of Anglicanism. The one I started with was the one he preached before King James in 1605. Near the end, Andrewes wrote:


Farther, we are to understand this, "that to whom much is given, of them will much be required;" and as St. Gregory wells saith,
Cum crescunt dona, crescunt et rationes donorum, "As the gifts grow, so grow the accounts too;" therefore, that by this new dignity befallen us, Necessitas qu dam nobis imposita est, saith St. Augustine, "there is a certain necessity laid upon us" to become in some measure suitable unto it;
in that we are one--one flesh and one blood, with the Son of God. Being thus "in honour," we ought to understand our estate, and not fall into the Psalmist's reproof, that we, "become like the beasts that perish." For if we do indeed think our nature is ennobled by this so high a conjunction, we shall henceforth hold ourselves more dear, and at a higher rate, than to prostitute ourselves to sin, for every base, trifling, and transitory pleasure. For tell me, men that are taken to this degree, shall any of them prove a devil, as Christ said of Judas? or ever, as these with us of late, have to do with any devilish or Judasly fact?

Shall any man, after this "assumption, be as "horse or mule that have no understanding,' and in a Christian profession like a brutish life? Nay then, St. Paul tells us further, that if we henceforth "walk like men," like but even carnal or natural men, it is a fault in us. Somewhat must appear in us more than in ordinary men, who are vouchsafed so extraordinary a favour. Somewhat more than common would come from us, if it but for this day's sake.

To conclude; not only thus to frame meditations and resolutions, but even some practice too, out of this act of "apprehension." It is very agreeable to reason, saith the Apostle, that we endeavour and make a proffer, if we may by any means, to "apprehend" Him in His, by Whom we are thus in our nature "apprehended," or, as He termeth it, "comphrended," even Christ Jesus; and be united to Him this day, as He was to us this day, by a mutual and reciprocal "apprehension." We may so, and we are bound so; vere dignum et justum est. And we do so, so oft as we do with St. James lay hold of, "apprehend," or receive insitum verbum, the "word which is daily grafted into us." For "the Word" He is, and in the word He is received by us. But that is not the proper of this day, unless there be another joined unto it. This day Verbum caro factum est, and so must be "apprehended" in both. But specially in His flesh as this day giveth it, as this day would have us. Now "the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body, of the flesh, of Jesus Christ?" It is surely, and by it and by nothing more are we made partakers of this blessed union. A little before He said, "Because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also would take part with them--may not we say the same? Because He hath so done, taken ours of us, we also ensuing His steps will participate with Him and with His flesh which He hath taken of us. It is most kindly to take part with Him in that which He took part in with us, and that, to no other end, but that He might make the receiving of it by us a means whereby He might "dwell in us, and we in Him." He taking our flesh, and we receiving His Spirit; by His flesh which He took of us receiving His Spirit which He imparteth to us; that, as He by ours became consors humanae naturae, so we by His might become consortes Divinae naturae, "partakers of the Divine nature." Verily, it is the most straight and perfect "taking hold" that is. No union so knitteth as it. Not consanguinity; brethren fall out. Not marriage; man and wife are severed. But that which is nourished, and the nourishment wherewith they never are, never can be severed, but remain one for ever. With this act then of mutual "taking," taking of His flesh as He has taken ours, let us seal our duty to Him this day, for taking not "Angels," but "the seed of Abraham."

Following the lead of those who had come before, most notably Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and later, Richard Hooker, Andrewes placed before his hearers the importance of frequent Communion, and the salvatory effects of faithful reception. In this passage of his sermon, and not without influence from his well-known association with the Greek Orthodox of his day, he spoke of salvation in terms of theosis (Θέωσις), as expressed most simply and directly in the Second Epistle of St. Peter (part of which he has quoted in the above portion):

Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. 1

In quoting this phrase, Andrewes has tied it in with the theology so simply expressed by St. Athanasius: "God became man so that man might become divine." 2

This mystical theology of the sacrament of Holy Communion is rooted firmly in the Incarnation, and in God's eternal purpose of our salvation in Christ with its ultimate end, glorification of the elect ("elect" as a Biblical word, ἐκλεκτός- eklektos ). So writes St. Paul to the Church in Rome:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. 3

To understand what is meant by saying that God makes all things work together for good, we need to consider the Greek word used, which is ἀγαθός (agathos), which indicates a thing that is good, laudable, useful or worthy. The promise is not that those who love God will have all things go their way, and certainly not in the context of a mortal life that must fall to a final illness or injury, or at last simply exhaust and so end. The promise is that those who love God, "called according to his purpose" are transformed into the very people who fulfill that purpose. This takes us back to that Second Epistle of Peter: "brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure." 4 What is that calling? It is a calling to holiness, or, to become saints. God's purpose in his saints, that is, all of us who are in Christ and called to become saints (or holy), requires transformation that comes only by his grace. The end is a share in immortality and glory as creatures whose love for God is perfected, and who cannot die. The elect are called to become holy, and then justified freely by God's grace, and their end is to be glorified (δοξάζω, doxazō).

This end begins with the Incarnation of the Word. The writer to the Hebrews tells us, "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." 5 To say that he was a partaker of flesh and blood, is the same as saying, "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us." 6 The writer to the Hebrews, where we see the word "partakers," uses a word that means "fellowship" (κοινωνέω, koinōneō from κοινωνία, koinōnia). Our flesh and blood nature is not ours alone, but shared with the whole human race; and so, the Word who is eternally one with the Father and Holy Spirit has entered that fellowship, our fellowship.

It is that same fellowship to which each of us are called, and in which we live out our life in the Church. So, St. John wrote:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship (κοινωνία) with us: and truly our fellowship (κοινωνία) is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full. 7

This fellowship between God and man is possible only because Christ has taken fellowship with us. Yes, taken, in keeping with Andrewes' emphasis of being "apprehended" of Christ, in his sermon drawn from the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews. He took fellowship with man, for it was not his by Nature, that is his uncreated eternal nature as the only begotten of the Father, to have fellowship with man. As the Word who is God and equal to the Father, he mediated 8 for us by taking fellowship with us, taking our nature into his Person as the Word (λόγος). He took fellowship with our sins, not by staining himself with sin, but by dying. For, death is the fruit of sin, and so the Righteous and sinless Son of God bore our sins by taking our death, for death has come to man only by sin. 9

In return, the Risen Christ gives us the nature of God's own children.

But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. 10

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God. 11

So, Andrewes has reminded us, "in that we are one--one flesh and one blood, with the Son of God...Because He hath so done, taken ours of us, we also ensuing His steps will participate with Him and with His flesh which He hath taken of us. It is most kindly to take part with Him in that which He took part in with us, and that, to no other end, but that He might make the receiving of it by us a means whereby He might 'dwell in us, and we in Him.'"

When we say that two sacraments are "generally necessary to salvation." we need to understand salvation as both eternal and as current, a state into which we are called even now, in this life, to be the children of God, to have the new identity given us in our baptism paramount in our hearts and minds, and practical as lived in our daily lives. Our calling and election are to be made sure by living in this world as God's own children adopted in the Son. We need to see it as eternal, so that we never lose hope. The end of our salvation is that thing Paul called "glorification," and that Peter has held out to us in the words, "Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." When he says "partakers" he uses also that word (κοινωνός), meaning, therefore, that we have fellowship with the Divine Nature as our blessed hope, the promise set before us of eternal life in Christ. Fellowship with the very nature of God is the grace given to us in Christ, adopted as children. The nature that is planted in us, as we apprehend that for which Christ apprehended us, cannot die. It is inherently immortal; it cannot sin; it is inherently holy. This is the ultimate grace to be experienced in the resurrection of the dead, in the world to come.

When Andrewes says, "It is most kindly to take part with Him in that which He took part in with us, and that, to no other end, but that He might make the receiving of it by us a means whereby He might 'dwell in us, and we in Him,'" it is obvious that he means to draw our attention to the Prayer of Humble Access, and therefore to the Sacrament:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ. 12

What is "communion?" It is fellowship, for St. Paul uses that same word κοινωνία (koinōnia). Andrewes draws our attention to the communion, that is, the fellowship, that saves us, and gives us eternal life as we partake of the food and drink of eternal life, that is, as we have fellowship with Christ physically by eating and drinking, and through this means fellowship with the One who took fellowship with our nature, and through death restored us to fellowship with God when he rose again.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. 13

So we pray before receiving the sacrament of this communion, that is to say, fellowship:

But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. 14

The promise of Jesus speaks of his presence in this life, that is, fellowship (or communion) with him; and of his salvation in the life to come, by fellowship (or communion) with him: "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day...He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him."

We know from the Law of Moses that death itself is unclean, and that leprosy was unclean as well, In the Gospels Jesus touched a leper and made him clean. Normally, by the Law only the reverse would have been true. Whatever comes into contact with uncleanness is made unclean.

Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying, If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No. Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean. 15

But, when Christ touched the leper, the leper was healed of his unclean disease. 16 When Christ took fellowship with our sin through death, and was himself dead for the space of three days, he reversed the uncleanness of our death, and of our sin. Our sinful bodies will be made clean by his resurrected body, cleansed from the unclean state of death on the Last Day; our souls are washed through his most precious blood from all guilt of sin.

By tying all of these things together; the Incarnation, Christ's partaking of our nature, our partaking of his body and blood, our partaking of his divine nature, with "the receiving of [the sacrament of communion with his Body and Blood] by us a means whereby He might 'dwell in us, and we in Him,'" Lancelot Andrewes unlocks the glorious mysteries of God's grace in the sacrament. He unlocks for modern readers, especially those who are not scholars, the deeper meaning of Cranmer and Hooker who were before him, who emphasized "the communion of the blood of Christ...the communion of the body of Christ."

Modern readers, especially those who have been unaware of the original Greek New Testament, have mistaken the word "communion" for something that places the Real Presence of Christ a step away from us, as it were. Instead, this same word that speaks of the fellowship of the Eternal Son with the flesh and blood he took into His own Person, brings us as close as possible; it puts us in Christ and Christ in us. We are joined to His Divine Nature as he joined His uncreated Person to our created nature. It cannot get closer than this. That is Real presence in the sacrament.

Communion, fellowship, with His Body and Blood is all about the glorious hope of our calling and election: He took our created nature, so that we may take his body and blood, and so we partake of his Divine Nature.

1. II Pet. 1:4

2. St. Athansius, On the Incarnation.

3. Romans 8:28-30

4. 1:10

5. Heb. 2:14

6. John 1:14

7. I John 1:1-4

8. I Tim. 2:5

9. Study Romans 5 and Isaiah 53

10. John 1:12-14

11. Romans 8:15,16

12 I Corinthians 10: 16

13. John 6:47-58

14. Prayer of Humble Access, Holy Communion, Book of Common Prayer

15 Haggai 2:11-13

16.Matt. 8:1-3

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Time for Reaffirmation of St. Louis

Confession

It appears that one of my recent essays rubbed people the wrong way, and that because they overlooked or missed the autobiographical nature of my sharpest criticism. Did they not see these words? “...the route to education lies through the Sophomore Pass, and once upon a time I had only just emerged from that spot on the trail. I also thought that ‘Protestant’ was the opposite of ‘Catholic.’ ...years later...I had recovered from the wrong influences.”

In the years of which I wrote, as I was learning ideas new to me, I was not content to be merely an Anglo-Catholic of the nosebleed High variety; I was the “Fr. Spike” character mentioned by Screwtape in his letter. I was downright prejudiced, an Anglo-Catholic bigot of sorts, one who thought all Low churchmen failed to appreciate the Incarnation and sacraments, and as such I was a danger to the completely unschooled. My learning was just enough to make me into a fool, a"wise fool" or sophomore, despite my higher degrees. I trembled at the words of Cardinal Newman, because the ideas he expressed seemed wise and profound. But, the conclusion to my essay was also biographical: “The answer for those who have learned ignorance is to keep learning, but to gather facts from different and better sources. Get through the Sophomore Pass and beyond it.”

As I continued to read and learn, I saw the English Reformers in a far better light. Also, I realized that the revered Cardinal Newman was actually a very confused man, and that his ideas were far from brilliant. Frankly, he was no scholar of Christian doctrine, neither was he advanced theologically or philosophically. His theory of Doctrinal Development began with orthodox ideas about the seed of revealed truth, but in its final form it became dangerous, contradicting the safety of the Vincentian Canon and overthrowing all certainty of a doctrinal standard. And, I saw that many idealistic notions about the See of Rome were simply wrong, unsupported by history, unjustified by theology and the consensus of the Universal Church. The truth of their real condition was shamefully exposed by newsworthy events.

My continued learning gave me new appreciation for the English Reformers, broke the spell of learned ignorance, the profound kind that has to be acquired, and the spell of fascination with Rome. I gained a deep appreciation for words I had read by Fr. Louis Tarsitano (who had been more than patient with my foolishness) in an email exchange: “The reason for being Anglican is to avoid innovations; both the innovations of Protestants and of Rome.” Indeed, though the new breed that calls itself "Evangelical" (and "Reasserter") has thrown away the baby with the bathwater, a new breed that calls itself "Anglo-Catholic" - with as flimsy a claim as the other breed to a name equally undeserved– is drowning the same baby with even more bathwater, and from dubious sources.

Reaffirming St. Louis

In the current confusion and crisis, it is time to understand the majority of people, especially the Laity, who have embraced the Affirmation of St. Louis, especially those who are resisting the sales pressure of Anglo-Papalists. Let me explain why I understand them so well. I am an old Episcopalian, and I never left the Episcopal Church; it left me. The only way to remain faithful was to leave the organization that had to come to control the assets and to acquire the name of my church without my consent. So, I understand the people who are looking for that sane, orthodox, and rich Catholic faith that contains the Evangelical fullness and power, in our Anglican heritage. To many of them I say the following, namely to some currently in the Traditional Anglican Communion and Anglican Church in America (TAC/ACA) -and it is nothing more than what they already know.

You wanted to Continue the faith and practice of the Book of Common Prayer, but some of your clergy seem contemptuous of it. You thought you had gotten away from people who were trying to overthrow that firm foundation, and now find you have some leading clergy, including bishops, just as ready to tear it up as were the leaders of the modern Episcopal Church. You had Affirmed your confidence in the Book of Common Prayer with its Articles of Religion, not as infallible, but as a true and right guide to the Faith of the ancient Church and the Bible. But, too many of your clergymen are, as is evident by their words, wholly ignorant of what those Formularies mean, and some have presumed to delete them.

You are told that your fathers were heretics, that your Articles are merely an “historic document” to be cast away, and that your liturgy is deficient. The men who were supposed to have Affirmed the faith you hold, are now trying to make Roman Catholics of you, and they have no more respect for the Anglican Way of your fathers than do the women “priests” of the modern Episcopal Church. They use your Book of Common Prayer as far as they like, but they do not follow it. So, you have come to see that something is dreadfully wrong.

It is time to stand up and Reaffirm what was Affirmed at St. Louis in 1977. Part of that reads:

IV. PRINCIPLES OF WORSHIP

Prayer Book -- The Standard of Worship

In the continuing Anglican Church, the Book of Common Prayer is (and remains) one work in two editions: The Canadian Book of 1962 and the American Book of 1928. Each is fully and equally authoritative. No other standard for worship exists.

Certain Variances Permitted

For liturgical use, only the Book of Common Prayer and service books conforming to and incorporating it shall be used.


Part of it also says:

Continuation, Not Innovation

In this gathering witness of Anglicans and Episcopalians, we continue to be what we are. We do nothing new. We form no new body, but continue as Anglicans and Episcopalians.


As we have grown beyond the United States and Canada, the principle has expanded, that we retain and Continue authentic Anglican standards as they have been preserved in various countries.

After naming ancient standards recognized by the Universal Church (the Nature of the Church, the essentials of truth and order, Holy Scriptures, the Creeds, Tradition, Sacraments, etc.,) the Affirmation says, “In affirming these principles, we recognize that all Anglican statements of faith and liturgical formulae must be interpreted in accordance with them.” This means that Anglican Formularies are, in fact, in accordance with the Universal Consensus and Antiquity summarized so well in the words, “That which is believed everywhere, always and by all" (Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est).

Those professed Anglicans who attack the Formularies of Anglicanism may think they are standing for something they conceive of as “Catholic.” But, they display no genuine knowledge of the Faith of the ancient Catholic bishops and doctors; instead they are merely standing against Anglicanism itself, and sawing off the branch they sit on. And, just like the modern Episcopalians, they have already left you behind. They go to Rome instead of “Liberalism,” but nonetheless, they embrace innovation. And, while they linger, lacking conviction and identity, they cannot grow their numbers or establish their churches with any viable and lasting strength. They have rejected Anglicanism in substance.

They do not speak for you. What they represent is not what was Affirmed at St. Louis in 1977.

Holy Innocents December 28


Click on the Gustave Dore' Bible Illustration for a sermon.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saint John December 27


I John 1:1-10
John 21:19-25

The beloved Disciple, Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, has set a standard for every genuine Christian theologian. How glorious and sublime his words, how enlightened his understanding, how profound his teaching; and yet his feet are planted in the real world. He opens his First Epistle as he opens his Gospel, speaking of the mysteries of God as they are revealed and made known to His Church through the Apostles and their teaching. He speaks of high and heavenly things, of mysteries beyond human comprehension, of truth so profound we can but scratch the surface, of mysteries hitherto locked away from the dawn of time, and now made known. Yet, in the same Epistle he speaks directly to the most material needs, the necessities of the body in our duty to the poor among us: "But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" (I John 3:17)

And, this is not forced and awkward; it is not a sudden change of subject, or a redirection of thought. It all flows together; it is of one part, combined most naturally by a single thought, the love of God. And, who better than John "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (e.g. John 21:20) to unlock this mystery in his writing? The meaning of this phrase, "the disciple whom Jesus loved," can be reduced, by immature thinking, to some form of favoritism, or simple friendship. But, in light of the great themes of his writing, the Apostle was more likely to have been letting us in on revelation that made him the Theologian. He saw in everything that Jesus taught and did that inexpressible love beyond all human imagination. He saw it as the Lord was going about teaching and healing. He saw it as the Lord washed the feet of the apostles on the night in which He was betrayed. He saw it as he stood and beheld the agonies of Christ dying on the cross, giving his life willingly. He saw it when the Lord appeared after his resurrection to extend grace and mercy. To John it was this love that opened his eyes so wide that he could write, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us."

John saw the love of God in Christ, for he had stood at the foot of the Lord's cross when he died. Writing of this, the revelation of God's love from the cross for all mankind, John takes that love personally by so describing himself: "the disciple whom Jesus loved." He knew that Jesus loved him, for he saw the Lord die for him, in his place, and cancel out forever the debt of his, of John's, sin: "It is finished (τελέω)." (John 19:30) John describes the effect of that death in these words: "If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." (I John 2:1, 2) He writes to open the door to everyone, that all who believe will also know that love, and also know what it means to be the disciple whom Jesus loved. See the Lord lifted up from the earth on his cross, and know that you are also, if you will learn the truth that makes you free, the disciple whom Jesus loved (8:31,32); for he loved you from his cross of death when he canceled out your debt of sin.

And so, he tells each of us that God's love is so great that we can enter the fellowship of those who have heard, who have seen with their eyes, who have looked upon, and whose hands have handled the Word of life. He dwelt among us because of what was made known to this one Apostle, that the Lord loved him. He could write of that love only in the great eternal and universal themes of his Gospel:


The Incarnation and the Trinity. The love of God, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, is revealed in the uncreated eternally begotten Person of the Son among us, sharing our created nature as human beings and speaking of the other Paraclete to come. This double theme of the Trinity and the Incarnation permeates his writings, and those same writings rest on this double theme as a foundation.

The Atonement. As with every presentation of the Gospel, the facts are presented clearly, that Christ died for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day appearing to witnesses who saw Him alive. He writes of John the Baptist identifying the Lord as the true Passover, slain to free us from sin and death: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29) He is the one who suffered and died to take away our sins.

The Resurrection. Indeed, in the opening of his First Epistle he writes in such a way as to give us a completed picture of Christ, that He is God the Word, that He has passed through death, and has risen. For, only after his resurrection are we given specific words in Scripture to touch the body with his scars of death: "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. Then saith he to Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God." (John 20:26-28) As also St. Luke records, about the Risen Lord Jesus appearing to them: "And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:38, 39)

So, it is all of one, one seamless garment of the love of God revealed in Christ. St. John writes of the mystery of God in opening his Gospel, where he writes of the Word (λόγος) who is God, one with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, through whom all things have been made, taking us to that Holy of Holies within the Holy Scriptures: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." (John 1:14) Within the Holy of Holies in the Old Covenant Temple, the glory was hidden to all but the High Priest, once a year and not without blood. In the revelation above every other revelation, the direct revelation of God in the Incarnate Word, in Jesus Christ very God and very man, that glory is seen by all. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father." (14:9) And, this High Priest, the Incarnate God, the Lamb slain, the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, may show the glory to all who will believe, and not without His own blood, which had been shed as the Lamb of God.

The Church is described uniquely in the opening of St. John's First Epistle. It is the very fellowship of all who believe the Apostles who had seen, and who had touched with their hands, the Word of Life. The implications are quite clear, that by believing the word taught by the Apostles, and touching the same Lord in his sacraments, we have fellowship with those Apostles across the barriers of time, fellowship with the Incarnate Christ who is the head of the Body, with God the Father, and with each other.

It is said that when he was elderly, John was carried about on a stretcher, unable to walk anymore. When he would arrive in a city he would go into the church, gather his strength, and say simply: "Love one another." This would have been no mere sentiment, no empty phrase, or idealism. He had lived through many deaths, his colleagues dying one after another as martyrs (beginning with his brother James); and now he survived to be the last of the Apostles. More importantly, he had seen his Lord die on the cross. He knew that same Lord to be alive, and to be present by His Spirit in the Church. For this old man to have said "love one another" was to speak volumes, to speak words filled with their own glorious weight of meaning, filled with the revelation of the Word made flesh.

So, let it be for us, a phrase filled with all the same meaning, a standard for every genuine Christian theologian and teacher, a standard for every beloved disciple.

Fr. Wells' Bulltetin Inserts

ST. JOHN'S DAY


The “third day of Christmas” is marked by the feast of St John, Apostle and Evangelist, called “the beloved disciple” in the the Gospel he wrote and styled “the Divine” or “the Theologian” in the language of the Church. This is a felicitous marriage of feast and season, since John's Gospel excels as the Gospel of the Incarnation. Its magnificent prologue is rightly read as the liturgical Gospel on Christmas Day. After we hear of the angels' appearance to the shepherds on Christmas Eve, on Christmas morning we encounter the sublime truth of this great day: “The Word was God.... the Word was made flesh.”

The brief homily we call “the First Epistle General of John” begins with a passage almost as striking, which echoes and reinforces the monumental prologue to the Gospel. John wrote, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled …. that which we have seen and heard, declare we unto you.”

In this passage, the Apostle was dealing head on with the earliest heresy to invade the Church, a heresy which alleged that the Incarnate God did not really become man but only seemed to be human. We call this falsehood Docetism. This heresy can even be found in our Hymnal at Hymn 165, with the appalling line “Thou seemest human and divine.” We wish Tennyson had written, “Thou art both human and divine,” as our Creed clearly declares.

The reality of Our Lord's human nature continues to shock. It was a scandal to the ancient Jews, a stumbling-block to the ancient Gentiles, and an absurdity to the world today. We sinners do not want God to get too close to us. We foolishly believe He can be managed better at a great distance.

John demolishes this heresy with few words. We have seen God, he affirms, not just in some mystical vision, but “with our eyes.” We have handled God “with our hands.” But when? When we arrested Him in the garden? When we examined His wounds on Easter morning? When we touch and taste the eucharistic Bread?

John is relentless in declaring the reality of Our Lord's human nature, sometimes resorting to almost crude language. Where Paul (not known for under-statement!) speaks of the “body” of Christ, gentle and poetic John speaks of His “flesh.” And this truth, John teaches us, is a matter of eternal importance: “every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist....” (I John 4:2). Likewise, John allows the wretch Pontius Pilate to utter one of the most important affirmations of the Gospel, “Behold, the man.”

In the vulnerable humanity of the Infant in the Manger and the rejected corpse on the Cross, we truly see the humanity of God. LKW

Another Christmas Sermon

Sorry for the late posting.

The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us+

Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Of course, every birth is normally a cause for celebration, and every baby a beautiful gift of life. The feelings naturally engendered in us at the sight of any newborn are part of the joy of Christmas as well. And there is nothing wrong with this. Our faith does not require us to oppose God's grace to that which is good and natural. As theology teaches us, grace elevates rather than destroys nature.

But the Faith does challenge any self-satisfied, sentimental approach to Christmas. How does it challenge and elevate the natural reaction to Christmas and its story today? There are two errors or distortions in particular which I will address. The first is turning of a sacred feast into an excuse for excess. The second is the Gospel of mere “sweetness and light”.

Regarding the first distortion, a key verse of Scripture is this: “[Y]e know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Of course, the poverty spoken of here refers firstly to the smallness, limits and vulnerability of the human state compared to divinity. But it also refers to the down-to-earth fact that Jesus was not born into a rich family. His parents were even refugees for a time. We are fairly well aware of the poverty of the immediate circumstances of his birth. How did he make us rich by his earthly poverty? It is obvious from Jesus' preaching and the teaching of the Apostles in the NT that this does not refer to being materially or financially wealthy. It is spiritual wealth spoken of, the treasure that is eternal because it belongs to the blessing of eternal life. (Matthew 6:19ff, 2 Corinthians 6:10, James 1:9-11.)

The point for us here is that we are meant to imitate Christ in the right kind of generosity to others. God is on the side of the poor, and so must we be. That means that Christmas should not be a time where Christians spend inordinate amounts of money on expensive (and often unutilised) gifts for those already well-provided for, or get themselves into debt, or further encourage unquestioning consumption. Our Christmas generosity need not ignore our friends and family, but it must extend outwards to the poor and the outcasts. In this way we will be doing the work of God and the work of the Church: “The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalm 147:2-3). “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19). [Further to this principle, allow me to quote some excerpts from a recent news article on Christians opposing the commercialisation of Christmas.]

Regarding the second distortion, that there is much sweetness and light as we gaze into the manger is undeniable. But the sweetness is destined to become bittersweet, the light is one that is piercing. As hinted at above, the Holy Family are in a shelter reserved for animals because “there was no room for them in the inn”. So the Blessed Virgin gives birth in the equivalent of a cramped barn, amidst the sounds and smells one would expect there. Within weeks she will be told by Simeon in Jerusalem that her child and herself will be opposed and pierced (Luke 2:34-35). In the not-too-distant future the Magi will arrive with gifts, one of which was used as a burial ointment, myrrh, another of which, frankincense, pertains to priestly activity (Matthew 2:11). And our Lord's priestly offering was of himself. At the same time, the first attempt to take his life will be made by King Herod. This is a child born to die.

This is also the child whom today's Gospel says the world at large did not recognise (“know”) and the child's own people, the Jews, did not receive or accept on the whole. It is the same child who will grow up to say many hard words and warn all of the wrath and judgement of God, while offering an escape from this in following Him. Yes, “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son”. Yes, he wants all to repent of their sins and trust in and receive this Gift. Yes, the Gift that is Jesus is freely offered, and offered to all. But, as the same Gospel-author reminds us: “This is the judgement: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because there deeds were evil” (John 3:19).

It is self-deception to rejoice in the Christmas story and yet treat it as nothing but a “warm-fuzzy”, an easy emotional boost. A mild appreciation of God's “good will toward men” and the charm and tenderness of Mother and Child is a foolish under-reaction. Rather, the right response is one that mingles reverent awe with sweet contemplation. God the Word, Creator of our universe (Hebrews 1:2 from Epistle), has humbled himself to also become a flesh and blood human being, to take on a very vulnerable existence. He has done it for love of us. [Again, remember, for our sakes he forsook riches for poverty.] As an accessory to this great and sufficient Gift of Himself, he also gives us the gift of His Mother as our Mother (John 19:27).

But we must receive, we must unwrap the gift. We do this by repentant faith. We trust in Christ to save us from the sin we reject in repentance, by the power of the Cross, as he died to bear the penalty and absorb and overcome the consequences of our evil. We trust in Christ to give us spiritual freedom, and make us more and more like Him, through his giving us the God the Holy Spirit and reconciling us to God the Father. We trust in Him to give us a share in His Resurrection at the last Day.

Let us pray together. If we can truly say the Amen to this prayer, it is the receiving of the gift. And it is a gift we can receive, in a sense, again and again.

Dear Father, we acknowledge your Son as your Gift to us, and our only ultimate source of Light and Life, and that in ourselves, without Him, we are lost in the darkness caused by sin. We open ourselves up to the light of Jesus, trusting in Him as our Lord, our Master, and as our Saviour, the one who rescues us from sin by the victory of his death and resurrection. Grant that he might dwell in our hearts by this faith and transform us into his likeness, full of grace and truth. We ask this through the same your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

If any have made this prayer of faith their own for the first time, please let me know after the service, so we can talk about how to use the Gift. This one comes with an instruction manual, one might say: the Bible. And it is naturally shared with others, without the individual losing any part or benefit of it, quite the contrary. The Church is in fact part of the Gift. +


Friday, December 25, 2009

Saint Stephen Dec. 26


Click on the Gustave Dore' illustration for an essay about St. Stephen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

TODAY

We have several Christmas offerings here for your edification. Fr. Wells' bulletin insert for the day is direct and profound. Ed has posted a poem about the Incarnation that might well be set to music (I may try that myself). I have posted a Christmas sermon from my own archives (preached in Arizona in 2006, and planned for tonight here in North Carolina). Finally, a very old, indeed olde, sermon by Lancelot Andrewes, preached before King James on Christmas Day 1605. Reading it takes some effort, because of the older English and style; but, the effort will pay off if you take the time. Scrolling down just a little further, I have also written a short "light reading" essay on Christmas and childhood, which I hope will be relevant for all, especially parents raising their own children.

Merry Christmas,
Fr. Hart

Do not be hurt if comments take much longer to get through over this next day, inasmuch as Christmas is only once a year.

Fr. Wells' Bulletin Inerts

CHRISTMAS

At I Kings 8:27, we find a haunting poignant question, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth?” That is from King Solomon's prayer when he dedicated the temple he had built in Jerusalem. He explained his question by stating the obvious, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built.” That is the kind of God which Solomon and the Israelite people believed in. Probably no other ancient people, Canaanite, Assyrian, Egyptian, or whatever, would have asked this. But the people who claimed the Lord God of hosts as their own God were bound to wrestle with this question, “Will God indeed dwell on the earth?”


Theologians have a word for what Solomon and all the Israelite people believed about their peculiar God. The word is transcendence. The Israelites believed that their God created all things in the beginning. Therefore they were quite sure He is before all things, above all things, greater than all things, more powerful than all things. Could a God so great make His home in this mere building, however splendid?


Yet this transcendent God, so utterly different from the gods of other nations, had seen fit to enter into a special covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, the descendants of Abraham to which Solomon and eventually Jesus belonged. That covenant is almost summed up in the Old Testament promise, “I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” Almost! There is a third part of that covenant we tend to forget: “I will dwell with you.”


That seems almost too good to be true. The God who created heaven and earth, who surpasses all things, who sits in judgment on all things—that very God has promised to come and dwell with them. In what we celebrate tonight we have the final answer to Solomon's question. Even if that temple of stone and cedar fell short of God's greatness, we have before us the flesh and blood evidence that God will indeed dwell with His people. “And Mary brought forth her firstborn son and laid him in a manger....And the Word was made flesh” (you know the rest!) “and dwelt among us.”


The God who cannot be enclosed in a huge building, no matter how magnificent, is now made flesh in the tiny infant lying on a bed of straw. What Solomon perhaps somehow foresaw was that this precious infant was his very own descendant, carrying his own DNA. So the answer to Solomon's question is an emphatic “Yes!” God does indeed dwell on earth, in the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.


When that flesh and blood continue to become present before us, in the bread and wine on our Altar here, God indeed dwells in our earthy hearts by faith. And this God, whom the heaven itself cannot contain, has come to earth as a tiny infant and continues to give Himself in a tiny wafer and a sip of wine.

LKW

Broken Veil

December 24, 2009. Christmas Eve. The sweet story of the baby in the manger always touches hearts and raises pleasantly sentimental thoughts. It is a wonderfully human and deeply emotional story, but there is more. There is more


Broken Veil



The veil is pierced and broken,

the gulf no longer is,

there is no heaven far off there,

from the earth that we know here,

for God is born as His own creature,

He that made the time is dwelling in it,

and, still our Lord, is now our brother,

cradled in the human arms of mother,

and He that sits above the heavens,

yet now dwells within the earth beneath,

and we, who cannot look upon His glory,

yet can cuddle Him as helpless infant,

walk with Him as humble man,

and climb with Him up Calvary’s mountain,

there to watch with sorrow and with joy,

as He who is the Life and source of life,

bears our sins and dies our death,

and rises with a beckoning hand

to lead us through the broken veil,

that we may dwell with Him –

at Home.

-------------------------
a blessed Christ-Mass to all!
ed pacht

CHRISTMAS



The generation I belong to was very quick to use the word “peace” and to use symbols of the idea of peace as a greeting, or as a protest, and sometimes even as a reason for hostility and violence. In many ways the people who were young during the Vietnam War were a reflection of an earlier generation that had lived through World War I. Because of its abhorrence of war, that generation came to be typified by the weak image of Neville Chamberlain stepping off the plane after it returned from Munich, waving his paper signed by Hitler, and bragging that their agreement was “peace in our time.” The highest ideals are easily shattered because, by themselves, they are not strong enough to stand against the reality of evil. Chamberlain’s ideals made him weak, and that weakness was the cause of the War that soon enveloped Europe and most of the world, a war that may have been prevented if Churchill had been in charge. As long as mankind lives subject to sin and death, we have no reason to expect the kind of peace that the youth of the 60s, or that Neville Chamberlain, envisioned. For true peace to prevail in the world, we must wait for the Last day when Christ returns in glory and brings His kingdom. And the reason is simple: Mankind is fallen and sinful.


So then, what is the meaning of the song of the angels on that first Christmas? What did they mean by the words “Peace on Earth; Goodwill toward men”? Looking back at World War I, the president of the United States was sure that his League of Nations (which was rejected by his own country) would be the answer to all of the world’s problems of war. He even went as far as to say that he, President Wilson, would succeed where Christ failed- since peace among nations had not been established by the ministry and life of Jesus. That is not only a tragic commentary on the weakness of idealism, but also on the foolishness of bad theology. The answer to President Woodrow Wilson’s statement is two fold: 1) Christ did not come to establish some political worldly peace among nations, and 2) it is a blasphemy to say that Christ failed at anything. He did establish the peace that was his mission; the angels were right. For the real war that afflicts the human race is the war between man and God.

Remember the story of Noah. So often when Noah is depicted emerging from the Ark, including the movie when he was portrayed by John Huston, we see the rainbow and think of God’s promise not to destroy mankind. But, in fact, the symbol of God hanging up His bow (the rainbow) in the heavens to show that he would not aim His arrows at the world, and the promise not to destroy the human race, did not come as soon as Noah and his family left the Ark. In the story, in Genesis, this comes after Noah offers a sacrifice on an altar. After the animal is slain, and the smell of the burnt offering goes up, God makes this promise that mankind will be spared destruction. And, like everything in the Old Testament, it is meant to be an incomplete picture needing fulfillment, a shadow of the true figure, a type pointing to the reality. The baby, in whose birth we rejoice this day, lying in a manger, is the sacrifice. The shadow of the cross on a hill just outside of Jerusalem falls across the stable in Bethlehem.

“Nails, spear shall pierce Him through
A cross be borne for me for you,
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe the Son of Mary.”

Only in light of His coming death years later, could the angels speak that night of “peace on earth, goodwill toward men.” They did not say “goodwill among men.” They said “goodwill toward men.” The picture of Noah’s sacrifice bringing a promise of survival for humanity now takes on the beginning of fulfillment. This peace is with God, an end to the warfare caused by sin and death; the goodwill comes from above undeserved to fallen mankind. On Christmas “the babe, the world’s Redeemer first revealed His sacred face.” We feel joy at seeing this great love whereby God the Son, the creator of all life, one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is revealed in human flesh in great humility as an infant of a poor family, so poor that a manger is his bed. Yet, in the midst of this joy we know that He came to bear the cross. And, by bearing the cross He would be the true sacrifice for the sins of the world, the sacrifice to which Noah’s offering, and the later offerings of the Old Testament priesthood on the altars of the Temple, bore witness as mere types and shadows of the reality. The night in which the angels sang their praise to God and spoke of peace is answered by another night- “the night in which He was betrayed.”

On that night he would establish the Church’s Eucharistic sacrifice that speaks even louder and clearer than the Old Testament types and shadows on blood stained altars; for the Church’s altar, on which nothing is slain, is mystically joined to the cross upon which our Savior died, and therefore joined to “his one oblation of himself once offered, a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”

The Peace of which the angels spoke is best understood with words by Saint Paul, in his Epistle to the Church at Rome: “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:1,2).” The coming of Christ into the world brought this peace- peace with God; his second coming will establish the fullness of a peace that lasts forever, because there will be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, for the former things are passed away. Of His government and peace will be no end on the throne of David. His government as the eternal King will bring peace because sin and death will be no more. For now, however, we are offered the gift of being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Our hope for eternal life is directly bound up in how we respond to this gift, made available to us only by means of His death and resurrection.

So, this simple phrase from the angels’ song speaks volumes- that is, it speaks all of the truth from all of the books of sacred scripture. The mystery of the Incarnation, of the Word made flesh, tells of a love that responds to our greatest need, namely, to have peace with God, to be reconciled with the one who made us and gave us life as the first of His gifts.

The humility of God is a staggering fact that leaps off the pages of the Gospels. For we see the Son, equal with God, deem to be made human for the sake of a race of rebels; to take upon Himself our very nature, to be found in fashion as a man, to take upon Him the form of a servant, to be obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, as spoken of in Saint Paul’s famous passage to the Philippians. This obedience and service would be quite remarkable from someone who is a creature; but the Son is not a creature; He is begotten not made. He is equal with God, eternally one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. What great kindness shown to us, the race of rebels, that we see His sacred face the holy night of His birth. Into the eternity of His Divine Person He took time; into His Godhead eternally begotten not created, He took our created nature; into His omnipotence he took the weakness of a newborn infant; into His omnipresence He took the location of a human body; into His omniscience He took the mind of a man. Into His Divine life as the maker of created life, He took our mortal nature, indeed death itself and so swallowed up mortality in eternal life.

In all of this we see that God does not deal with us as our sins deserve. If we must cast aside our hope in the best idealism that fallen man can muster, it is for a greater hope, a love that exceeds the story of every romance ever written. It is the love of God for the undeserving children of Adam, benevolence extended where wrath is deserved, immortality where death is justly due, the joy of God’s kingdom where Hell was earned. This hope for all who will believe and repent, purchased by our Redeemer’s shed blood, sealed by His resurrection and trampling of death, is peace with God. This is the song of the angels: This is “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.”

Lancelot Andrewes

Christmas Sermon 1605

Preached before King James, at Whitehall


Hebrews 2:16

"For verily He took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham."
Nusquam enim angelos apprehendit; sed semen Abrahae apprehendit.

And even because this day He took not the angels' nature upon Him, but took our nature in "the seed of Abraham," therefore hold we this day as a high feast; therefore meet we thus every year in a holy assembly, upon us a dignity which upon the angels He bestowed not. That He, as in the chapter before the Apostle setteth Him forth, That is, "the brightness of His Father's glory, the very character of His substance, the Heir of all things, by Whom He made the world;" He, when both needed it, His taking upon Him their nature, and both stood before Him, men and Angels, "the Angels He took not," but men "He took;" was made Man, was not made an Angel; that is, did more for them than He did for the Angels of Heaven.

Elsewhere the Apostle doth deliver this very point positively, and that, not without some vehemency; "Without all question great is the mystery of godliness: God is manifested in the flesh." Which is in effect the same that is here said, but that here it is delivered by way of comparison; for this speech is evidently a comparison. If he had thus set it down, "Our nature He took," that had been positive; but setting it down thus, "Ours He took, the Angels' He took not," it is certainly comparative.

1. Now the masters of speech tell us that there is power in the positive if it be given forth with an earnest asseveration, but nothing to that that is in the comparative. It is nothing so full to say, "I will never forget you," as thus to say it; "Can a mother forget the child of her own womb? Well, if she can, yet will not I forget you." Nothing so forcible to say thus, "I will hold my word with you," as thus, "Heaven and earth shall pass, but My word shall not pass." The comparative expressing is without all question more significant; and this here is such. Theirs, the Angels, nusquam, at no hand He took, but ours He did.

2. Now the comparison is, as is the thing in nature whereunto it is made; if the thing be ordinary, the comparison is according; but then is it full of force, when it is with no means or base thing, but with the chief and choice of all the creatures as here it is, even with the Angels themselves; for then it is at the highest.

1. That of Elihu in Job, that God "teacheth us more than the beasts, and giveth us more understanding than the fowls of the air;" that is, that God has been more gracious to us than to them, being made of the same mould that we are; that yet He hath given us a privilege above them, this is much.

2. That of the Psalmist, "He hath not dealt so with every nation," nay, not with any other nation, in giving us the knowledge of His heavenly truth and laws; even, that we have a prerogative, if we be compared with the rest of mankind; more than the beasts, much; more than all men besides, much more.

3. But this here, nusquam Angelos, etc, that He hath given us a preeminence above the Angels; that is a comparison at the very highest, and farther we cannot go.

3. One degree yet more; and that is this. As in comparisons making it skill much the excellency of the thing wherewithal it is compared, the pitch that is taken in it. It is one thing to make it in tanto, another, in toto. One thing when it is in degrees that more, this less; this not so much as that, yet that somewhat though another, when one is, the other is not at all. So is it here; Assumpsit; non assumpsit; "us He did take; the Angels, not in any wise;" not in a less, or a lower degree than us, but them "not at all." So it is with the highest, and at the highest. So much is said here, and more cannot be said.

The only exception that may be made to these comparisons is, that most-what they be odious; it breedeth a kind of disdain in the higher to be matched with the lower, especially to be overmatched with the lower, especially to be overmatched with him. We need not fear it here. The blessed Spirits, the Angels, will take no offence at is; they will not remove Jacob's ladder for all this, or descend to us, or ascend for us, ever a whit the slower, because He is become "the Son of Man." There is not in them that envious mind that was in the elder brother in the Gospel, when the younger was received to grace after his riotous course.

When the Apostle tells us of the "great mystery," that "God was manifested in the flesh," immediately after he tells that He was "seen of the Angels;" and lest we might think they saw it, as we do many things here which we would not see, St. Peter tells us, that desiderant prospicere, that with "desire and delight" they saw it, and cannot be satisfied with the sight of it, pleased them well. And even this day, the day it was done, an Angel was the first that came to bring news of it to the shepherds; and he no sooner had delivered his message, but "presently there was with him a whole choir of angels," singing, and joying and making melody, for this "good-will of God towards men." So that, without dread of any disdain or exception on the Angels' part, we may proceed in our text.

I. Wherein first, of the parties compared; Angels, and Men.

II. Then, 1. of that, wherein they are compared, "assumption," or "apprehension;" in the word "taking:' 2. And not every "taking," but apprehensio seminis, "taking on Him the seed.

III. Lastly, of this term, "Abraham's seed;" the choice of that word, or term, to express mankind by, thus taken on by Him.

That He saith not, "but men He took;" or, "but the seed of Adam," or "the seed of the woman He took;" "but the seed of Abraham He took." Of the parties compared, Angels and Men. These two we must first compare, that we may the more clearly see the greatness of the grace and benefit this day vouchsafed us. No long process will need to lay before you how far inferior our nature is to that of angels; it is a comparison without comparison. It is too apparent; if we be laid together, or weighed together, we shall be found minus habentes, "far too light." They are in express terms said, both in the Old and in the New Testaments, "to excel us in power;" and as in power, so in all the rest. This one thing, may suffice to show the odds; that our nature, that we, when we are at our very highest perfection it is even thus expressed that we come near, or are therein like to, or as an angel. Perfect beauty in St. Stephen; "they saw his face as the face of an Angel." Perfect wisdom in David; "my Lord the King is wise, as an Angel of God." Perfect eloquence in St. Paul; "though I speak with the tongues of men, nay of Angels." All our excellency, our highest and most perfect estate, is but to be as they; therefore, they above us far. But to come nearer; What are the Angels? Surely, they are Spirits; Glorious Spirits; Heavenly Spirits; Immortal Spirits. For their nature or substance, Spirits; for their quality or property, glorious; for their place or abode, Heavenly; for their durance or continuance, immortal. And what is "the seed of Abraham?" but as Abraham himself is? And what is Abraham? Let him answer himself; "I am dust and ashes." What is "the seed of Abraham?" Let one answer in the persons of all the rest; dicens putredini, &c. "saying to rottenness, Thou art my mother; and to the worms, Ye are my brethren."

1. They are Spirits; now, what are we- what is this; the seed of Abraham?" Flesh. And what is the very harvest of this seed of flesh? what, but corruption, and rottenness, and worms? This is the substance of our bodies.

2. They, glorious Spirits; we vile bodies bear with it, it is the Holy Ghost's own terms; "Who shall change our vile bodies" and not only base and vile, but filthy and unclean; ex immundo conceptum semine, "conceived of unclean seed." There is the metal. And the mould is no better; the womb wherein we were conceived, vile, base, filthy, and unclean. This is our quality.

3. They, Heavenly Spirits, Angels of Heaven; that is, their place of abode is in Heaven above. Ours is here below in the dust, inter pulices, et culices, tineas, araneas, et vermes; Our place is here "among fleas and flies, moths and spiders, and crawling worms." There is our place of dwelling.

4. They, immortal Spirits; that is their durance. Our time is proclaimed in the prophet: flesh; "all flesh is grass, and the glory of it as the flower of the field"; from April to June. The scythe comes, nay the "wind but bloweth and we are gone," withering sooner than the grass which is short, nay "fading sooner than the flower of the grass." which is much shorter; nay, saith Job, "rubbed in pieces more easily than any moth.

This we are to them, if you lay us together. And if you weigh us upon the "balance," we are "altogether lighter than vanity itself;" there is our weight. And if you value us, "man is but a thing of nought;" there is our worth. Hoc est omnis homo, this is Abraham, and this is "Abraham's seed;" and who would stand to compare these with Angels? Truly, there is no comparison; they are, incomparably, far better than the best of us.Now then, this is the rule of reason, the guide of all choice; evermore to take the better and leave the worse. Thus would man do; est lex hominis. Here then cometh the matter of admiration: notwithstanding these things stand thus, between the Angels and "Abraham's seed;" they, Spirits, glorious, heavenly, immortal; yet "took He not them, yet "in no wise took He them, but the seed of Abraham." "The seed of Abraham' with their bodies, "vile bodies," earthly bodies of clay, bodies of mortality, corruption and death; these He took, these He took all for that. Men, and not Angels; so it is: and that granted to us that denied to them. Granted to us, so base, that denied them so glorious. Denied, and strongly denied; "not, not in any wise, not at any hand," to them. They, every way, in every thing else, above and before us; in this beneath and behind us. And we, unworthy, wretched men that we are, above and before the Angels, the Cherubim, the Seraphim, and all the Principalities, and Thrones, in this dignity. This being beyond the rules and reach of all reason is surely matter of astonishment. To Oto, saith St. Chrysostom, this it casteth me into an ecstasy, and maketh me to imagine of our nature some great matter, I cannot well express what. Thus it is, "It is the Lord, let him do what seems good in His own eyes."

And with this, I pass over to the second point. This little is enough, to show what odds between the parties here matched. It will much better appear, this, when we shall weigh the word that wherein they are matched. Wherein two degrees we observed; 1. Apprehendit, and 2. Apprehendit semen.1. Of apprehendit, first. Many words were more obvious, and offered themselves to the Apostle, no doubtl suscepit, or assumpsit, or other such like. "This word was sought for, certainly, and made choice of,"saith the Greek Scholiast; and he can best tell us it is no common word, and tell us also what it weigheth. "This word supposeth a flight of the one party, and a pursuit of the other, a pursuit eager, and so long till he overtake;" and when he has overtaken, aprehendens, "laying fast hold, and seizing surely on him." So two things it supposes; 1. a flight of the one, and 2, a hot pursuit of the other.

It may well suppose a flight. For of the Angels there were that fled, that kept not their original, but forsook and fell away from their first estate. And man fell, and fled too, and "hid himself in the thick trees" from the presence of God. And this is the first issue. Upon the Angels' flight He stirred not, sat still, never vouchsafed to follow them; let them go whither they would, as if they had not been worth the while. Nay, He never assumed aught by way of promise for them; no promise in the Old, to be born nor suffer; no Gospel in the New Testament, neither was born nor suffered for them. But when man fell He did all; made after him presently with Ubi es? sought to reclaim him, "What have you done? Why have you done so?" Protested enmity to him that had drawn him thus away, made His assumpsit of "the woman's seed." And, which is yet more, when that would not serve sent after him still by the hand of His Prophets, to solicit his return. And, which is yet more, when that would not serve neither, went after Himself in person; left His "ninety-and-nine in the fold," and got Him after the "lost sheep;" never left till He "found him, laid him on His own shoulders, and brought him home again." It was much even but to look after us, to respect us do far who were not worth the cast of His eye; much to call us back, or vouchsafe us an Ubi es. But more, when we came not for all that, to send after us. For if He had but only been content to give us leave to come to Him again, but given us leave to come to Him again, but given us leave to "lay hold" on Him, to "touch but the hem of His garment" Himself sitting still, and never calling to us, nor sending after us, it had been favour enough, far above that we worth. But not only to send by others, but to come Himself after us; to say, Corpus apta Mihi, Ecce venio; "Get Me a body, I will Myself after Him;" this was exceeding much, that we fled, and He followed us flying. But yet this is not all, this is but to follow. He not only followed, but did it so with such eagerness, with such earnestness, as that is worthy a second consideration. To follow is somewhat, yet that may be done faintly, and afar off; but to follow through thick and thin, to follow hard and not to give over, never to give over till He overtake, that is it.

And He gave not over His pursuit, though it were long and laborious, and He full weary; though it cast Him into a "sweat," a "sweat of blood." Angelis suis non pepercit, saith St. Peter, "The Angels offending, He spared not them;" man offending, He spared him, and to spare him, saith St. Paul, "He spared not His own Son." Nor His own Son spared not Himself, but followed His pursuit through danger, distress, yea, through death itself. Followed, and so followed, as nothing made Him leave following till He overtook. Which is not every "taking," not suscipere or assumere, but manum injicere, arripere, apprehendere; "to seize upon it with great vehemency, to lay hold on it with both hands as upon a thing we are glad we have got, and will be loath to let go again." We know assumpsit and apprehendit both "take;" but apprehendit with far more fervour and zeal than the other. Assumpsit, any common ordinary thing; apprehendit, a thing of price which we hold dear, and much esteem of. Now to the former comparison, of what they, and what we, but specially what we, add this threefold consideration;

1. That He denied it to the Angels: denied it "peremptorily," neither looked, nor called, nor sent, nor went after them; neither took hold of them, nor suffered them to take hold of Him, or any promise from Him; denied it them, and denied it them thus.

2. But granted it us, and granted it how? That He followed us first, and that, with pain; and seized on us after, and that, with great desire: we flying and not worth the following, and lying and not worth the taking up. 1. That He gave not leave for us to come to Him; or sat still, and suffered us to return, and take hold; yet this He did. 2. That He did not look after us, nor call after us, nor send after us only; yet all this He did too. 3. But Himself rose out of His place, and came after us, and with hand and foot made after us, followed us with His feet; and seized on us with His hands, and that, per viam, non assumptionis, sed apprehensionis, the manner more than the thing itself.

All these if we lay together, and when we have done, weigh them well, it is able to work with us. Surely it must demonstrate to us the care, the love, the affection, He had to us, we know no cause why; being but, as Abraham was, dust; and as Abraham's seed Jacob said, less, and not worthy of any one of these; no, not of the meanest of His mercies. Especially, when the same thing so graciously granted us was denied to no less persons than the Angels, far more worthy than we. Sure He would not have done it for us, and not for them, if He had not esteemed of us, made more account of us than of them. And yet, behold a far greater than all these; which is, apprehendit semen. He took not the person, but "He took the seed," that is, the nature of man. Many there be that can be content to take upon them the persons, and to represent them, whose natures nothing could hire them once to take upon them. But the seed is the nature; "the very internal essence of nature is the seed." The Apostle sheweth what his meaning is of this "taking the seed," when the verse next afore save one he saith, that "Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also would take part with them by taking the same." To take the flesh and blood, He must needs take the seed, for from the seed the flesh and blood doth proceed; which is nothing else but the blessed apprehension of our nature by this day's nativity. Whereby He and we become not only one flesh, as man and wife do by conjugal union, but even one blood too, as brethren by natural union; per omnia similis, saith the Apostle, in the next verse after again, sin only set aside; "Alike and suitable to us in all things," flesh and blood and nature and all. So taking "the seed of Abraham;" so was, and so is truly termed in the Scriptures. Which is it that doth consummate, and knit up all this point, and is the head of all. For in all other "apprehensions" we may let go, and lay down when we will; but this, this "taking on the seed," the nature of man, can never be put off. It is an "assumption" without a deposition. One we are, He and we, and so we must be; one, as this day, so for ever.

And emergent or issuing from this, are all those other "apprehendings," or seizures of the persons of men, by which God layeth hold on them, and bringeth them back from error to truth, and from sin to grace, who have been from the beginning, or shall be to the end of the world. That of Abraham himself, whom God laid hold of, and brought from out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and the idols he there worshipped. That of our Apostle St. Paul, that was "apprehended" in the way to Damascus. That of St. Peter, that in the very act of sin was "seized on" with bitter remorse for it. All those, and all these, whereby men daily are laid hold in spirit, and taken from the by-paths of sins and error, and reduced in the right way; and so their persons recovered to God, and seized to His use. All these "apprehensions of the branches" come from this "apprehension of the seed," they their beginning and their being from this day's "taking," even semen apprehendit; our receiving His Spirit, for "taking our flesh." This seed wherewith Abraham is made the son of God, from the seed wherewith Christ is made the Son of Abraham.

And the end why He thus took upon Him "the seed of Abraham" was, because He took upon Him to deliver "the seed of Abraham." Deliver them He could not except He destroyed "death, and the lord of death, the devil." Them He could not destroy unless He died; die He could not except He were mortal; mortal He could not be except He took our nature on him, that is the "seed of Abraham." But taking it He became mortal, died, destroyed death, delivered us; was Himself "apprehended" that we might be let go. One thing more then out of this word apprehendit. The former toucheth His love, whereby He so laid hold of us, as of a thing very precious to Him. This now toucheth our danger, whereby He so caught us, as if He had not it had been a great venture but we had sunk and perished. One and the same word, apprehendit, sorteth well to express both His affection whereby He did it, and our great peril whereby we needed it. We had been before laid hold of and "apprehended" by one, mentioned in the fourteenth verse, he that hath "power of death, even the devil;" we were in danger to be swallowed up by him, we needed one to lay hold on us fast, and to pluck us out of his jaws. So He did. And I would have you mark, it is the same word that is used to St. Peter in like danger, when, being ready to sink, Christ "caught him by the hand" and saved him. The same here in the Greek, that in the Hebrew is used to Lot and his daughters in the like danger, when "the Angels caught him, and by strong hand plucked him out of Sodom." One delivered from the water, the other from the fire. And it may truly be said, inasmuch as all God's promises, as well touching temporal as eternal deliverances, and as well corporal as spiritual, be "in Christ yea, and Amen"- yea, in the giving forth, Amen in the performing, that even our temporal delivery from the dangers that daily compass us about, even from this last so great and so fearful as the like was never imagined before; all have their ground from this great "apprehension," are fruits of this seed Seed here, this blessed Seed, for Whose sake and for Whose truth's sake that we (though unworthily) profess we were by Him caught hold of, and so plucked out of it; and but for which Seed, facti essemus sicut Sodoma, "We had been even as Sodom," and perished in the fire, and the powder there had even blow up all.

And may not I add to this apprehendit ut liberaret, the other in the eighth chapter following, apprehendit ut manu duceret; to this of "taking us by the hand to deliver us," that "of taking us by the hand to guide us;" and so out of one word present Him to you, not only as our Delivered, but as our Guide too? Our Deliverer to rid us from him that hath "power of death," our Guide to Him that hath "power of life," to lead us even by the way of truth to the path of life, by the stations of well-doing to the "mansions in His Father's House." Seeing He hath signified it is His pleasure not to let go our hands, but to hold us still till He has brought us, "that where His, we may also be." This also is incident to apprehendit, but because it is out of the compass of the text I touch it only, and pass it. And can we now pass by this, but we must ask the question that St. John Baptist's mother sometime asked on the like occasion? Unde mihi hoc? saith she; Unde nobis hoc? may we say. Not, quod mater Domini, but quod Dominus Ipse venit ad nos; "Whence cometh thus unto us, that the Lord Himself thus came unto us and took us, letting the Angels go?" Angels are better than the best of us, and reason would ever the better should be taken; how then were we taken that were not the better? Sure, not without good ground, say the Fathers, who have adventured to search out the technology of this point; such reasons as might serve for inducements to Him that is promus ad miserendum, "naturally inclined to pity;" why upon us He would rather have compassion. And two divers such I find; I will touch only one or two of them.

First, Man's case was more to be pitied than theirs, because man was tempted by another; had a tempter. The Angels had none, none tempted them; but themselves. Saith Augustine "the offence is the less if it grow from another, than if it breed in ourselves;" and the less the offence, the more pardonable.

Again, Of the Angels, when some fell, other some stood, and so they all did not perish. But in the first man all men fell, and so every mother's child had died, and no flesh been saved, for all were in Adam; and so, in and with Adam, all had come to nought. Then cometh the Psalmist's question, Nunquid in vanum, ett.? "What hast Thou made all men for nought?" That cannot be, so great wisdom cannot do so great a work in vain. But in vain it had been if God had not shewed mercy, and therefore was man's case rather of the twain matter of commiseration. (This is Leo.)

And thus have they travailed, and these have they found, why he "apprehend" us rather than them. It may be not amiss. But we will content ourselves for us unde nobis hoc? "whence cometh this to us?" with the answer of the Scriptures. Whence, but from "tender mercies of our God, whereby this day hath visited us?" Zelus Domini, saith Esay, "the zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall bring it to pass." Propter nimiam charitatem, saith the Apostle; Sic Deus dilexit, saith He, He Himself; and we taught by Him say, "Even so, Lord, for so it was Thy good pleasure thus to do."

All this while are we about "taking the seed," the seed in general. But now, why not men in the second but seed? Or, if "seed" to express our nature, why not "the seed of the woman," but "the seed of Abraham?" It may be thought because he wrote to the Hebrews, he rather used this term of "Abraham's seed," because so they were, and so loved to be styled, and he would please them. But I find the ancient Fathers go farther, and out of it raise matter both of comfort and of direction, and that, for us too.

1. Of comfort, first, with reference to our Saviour, Who taking on Him "Abraham's seed," must withal take on Him the signature of Abraham's seed, and be, as he was circumcised. There is a great matter dependeth even on that. For being circumcised, He "became a debtor to keep the whole Law of God;" which bond we had broken, and forfeited, and incurred the curse annexed, and were ready to be apprehended and committed for it. That so, He keeping the Law might recover back the chirographum contra nos, "the handwriting what was against us," and so set us free of the debt. This bond did not relate to "the seed of the woman," it pertained properly to "the seed of Abraham;" therefore that term fitted us better. Without fail, two distinct benefits they are: 1. Factus homo, and 2. Factus sub lege; and so doeth St. Paul recount them. "Made man," that is, "the seed of the woman;" and "made under the Law," that is, "the seed of Abraham." To little purpose He should have taken the one, if He had not also undertaken the other, and as "the seed of Abraham" entered bond for us, and taken our death upon Him. This first. And besides this, there is yet another; referring it to the nation, or people, whom He took upon Him. It is sure they were of all other people the most "untoward;" both of the "hardest hearts," and of the "stiffest neck;" and as the heathen man noteth them, of the worst natures. God himself telleth them so; it was for no virtue of theirs, or for any pure naturals in them, that He took them to Him, for they were that way worst of the whole earth. And so then the taking of "Abraham's seed" amounteth to as much as that of St. Paul, no less true than "worthy of all men to be received," that He "came into the world to save sinners," and that chief sinners, as it is certain they were; even "the seed of Abraham," of all the seed of Adam.

But not for comfort only, but for direction too doth He use Abraham's name here. Even to entail the benefit coming by it to his seed, that is, to such as he was. For, "for his sake were all nations blessed." And Christ, though He took "the seed of woman," yet doth not benefit any but "the seed of Abraham," even those who follow the steps of his faith. For by faith Abraham took hold of Him by Whom he was in mercy taken hold of: Et tu mitte fidem et tenuisti, saith St. Augustine. That faith of his to him was "accounted for righteousness." To him was, and to us shall be, saith the Apostle, if we be in like sort "apprehensive" of Him. Jacob was, that took such hold on Him as he said plainly, Non dimittam Te, nisi benedixeris mihi; "without a blessing he would not let Him go." Surely, not the Hebrews alone; nay, not the Hebrews at all, for all their carnal propogation. they only are "Abraham's seed" that lay hold of the word of promise. And the Galatians so doing, though they were mere heathen men as we be, yet he telleth them they are "Abraham's seed," and shall be blessed together with him.

But that is not all; there goeth more to the making us "Abraham's seed," as Christ Himself, the true Seed, teacheth both them and us. Saith He, "If ye be Abraham's sons, then must you do the works of Abraham," which the Apostle well calleth, the "steps" or impressions of "Abraham's faith;" or we may call them the fruits of this seed here. So reasoneth our Saviour: Hoc non fecit Abraham; "This did not he;" if ye do it, ye are not "his seed." "This did he; do ye the like, and his seed ye are." So here is a double "apprehension;" 1. one of St. Paul, 2. the other of St. James, work for both hands to apprehend. Both 1. charitas quæ ex fide; and 2. fides quæ per charitatem operatur. By which we shall be able, saith St. Paul, "to lay hold of eternal life;" and so be "Abraham's seed" here at the first, and come to "Abraham's bosom" there at the last. So have we a brief of semen Abrahæ.

Now what is to be commended to us out of this text for us to lay hold of? Verily first, to take us to our meditation, the meditation which the Psalmist hath, and which the Apostle in this chapter voucheth out of him at the sixth verse. "When I consider," saith he, "the Heavens" -say we, the Angels of Heaven, and see those glorious Spirits passed by, and man taken, even to sigh with him, and say, "Lord, what is man," either Adam or Abraham, "that Thou shouldest be thus mindful of him, or the seed, or sons of either, that Thou shouldest make this do about him!" The case is here far otherwise, far more worth our consideration. There, "Thou hast made him a little lower;" here, "Thou hast made him a great deal higher than the Angels." For they, this day first, and ever since, daily have and do adore our nature in the personal union with the Deity. Look you, saith the Apostle, "when He brought His only-begotten Son into the world, this He proclaimed before Him, Let all the Angels worship Him;" and so they did. And upon this very day's "taking the seed" hath ensued, as the Fathers note, a great alteration. Before in the Old Testament, they suffered David to sit upon his knees before them; since, in the New, they endure not St. John should fall down to them, but acknowledge the cast is altered now, and no more superiority, but all fellow-servants. And even in this one part two things present themselves unto us; 1. His humility, Qui non est confusus, as in the eleventh verse the Apostle speaketh, "Who was not confounded" thus to take our nature. 2. And withal, the honour and happiness of Abraham's seed, ut digni haberentur, that were "counted worthy to be taken so near unto Him."

The next point; that after we have well considered it we be affected with it, and that no otherwise than Abraham was. "Abraham saw it," even this day, and but far off, "and he rejoiced at it;" and so shall we on it, if we be His true seed. It brought forth a Benedictus and a Magnificat, from the true seed of Abraham; if it do not the like from us, certainly it but floats in our brains we but warble about it; but we believe it not, and therefore neither do we rightly understand it. Sure I am, if the Angels had such a feast to keep, if He had done the like for them, they would hold it with all joy and jubilee. They rejoice of our good, but if they had one of their own, they must needs do it after another manner, far more effectually. If we do not as they would do were the case theirs, it is because we are short in conceiving the excellency of the benefit. It would have surely due observation, if it had this due and serious meditation.

Farther, we are to understand this, "that to whom much is given, of them will much be required;" and as St. Gregory wells saith, Cum crescunt dona, crescunt et rationes donorum, "As the gifts grow, so grow the accounts too;" therefore, that by this new dignity befallen us, Necessitas qu dam nobis imposita est, saith St. Augustine, "there is a certain necessity laid upon us" to become in some measure suitable unto it; in that we are one--one flesh and one blood, with the Son of God. Being thus "in honour," we ought to understand our estate, and not fall into the Psalmist's reproof, that we, "become like the beasts that perish." For if we do indeed think our nature is ennobled by this so high a conjunction, we shall henceforth hold ourselves more dear, and at a higher rate, than to prostitute ourselves to sin, for every base, trifling, and transitory pleasure. For tell me, men that are taken to this degree, shall any of them prove a devil, as Christ said of Judas? or ever, as these with us of late, have to do with any devilish or Judasly fact?

Shall any man, after this "assumption, be as "horse or mule that have no understanding,' and in a Christian profession like a brutish life? Nay then, St. Paul tells us further, that if we henceforth "walk like men," like but even carnal or natural men, it is a fault in us. Somewhat must appear in us more than in ordinary men, who are vouchsafed so extraordinary a favour. Somewhat more than common would come from us, if it but for this day's sake.

To conclude; not only thus to frame meditations and resolutions, but even some practice too, out of this act of "apprehension." It is very agreeable to reason, saith the Apostle, that we endeavour and make a proffer, if we may by any means, to "apprehend" Him in His, by Whom we are thus in our nature "apprehended," or, as He termeth it, "comphrended," even Christ Jesus; and be united to Him this day, as He was to us this day, by a mutual and reciprocal "apprehension." We may so, and we are bound so; vere dignum et justum est. And we do so, so oft as we do with St. James lay hold of, "apprehend," or receive insitum verbum, the "word which is daily grafted into us." For "the Word" He is, and in the word He is received by us. But that is not the proper of this day, unless there be another joined unto it. This day Verbum caro factum est, and so must be "apprehended" in both. But specially in His flesh as this day giveth it, as this day would have us. Now "the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body, of the flesh, of Jesus Christ?" It is surely, and by it and by nothing more are we made partakers of this blessed union. A little before He said, "Because the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also would take part with them--may not we say the same? Because He hath so done, taken ours of us, we also ensuing His steps will participate with Him and with His flesh which He hath taken of us. It is most kindly to take part with Him in that which He took part in with us, and that, to no other end, but that He might make the receiving of it by us a means whereby He might "dwell in us, and we in Him." He taking our flesh, and we receiving His Spirit; by His flesh which He took of us receiving His Spirit which He imparteth to us; that, as He by ours became consors humanae naturae, so we by His might become consortes Divinae naturae, "partakers of the Divine nature." Verily, it is the most straight and perfect "taking hold" that is. No union so knitteth as it. Not consanguinity; brethren fall out. Not marriage; man and wife are severed. But that which is nourished, and the nourishment wherewith they never are, never can be severed, but remain one for ever. With this act then of mutual "taking," taking of His flesh as He has taken ours, let us seal our duty to Him this day, for taking not "Angels," but "the seed of Abraham."

Almighty God, grant &c.