SERMONS OF THE NATIVITY.
PREACHED UPON CHRISTMAS-DAY, 1606 before King James, at Whitehall.
For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His Shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
The words are out of Isaiah; and, if we had not heard him names, might well have been thought out of one of the Evangelists, as more like a story than a prophecy. “Is born,” “is given,” sound as if they had been written at, or since the birth of Christ; yet were they written more than six hundred years before.
There is no one thing so great to our faith, as that we find the things we believe so plainly foretold so many years before. “Is born,” “is given” nay “shall be;” speak like a Prophet: nay is; loquens de futoro per modumi, “speaking of things to come as if they were already past.” This cannot be of God, “Who calleth things that are not as if they were,” and challengeth any other to do the like. It is true, miracles move much; but even in Scripture we read of “lying miracles,” and the possibility of false dealing leaveth place of doubt, even in those that be true. But for One, six hundred years before He is born, to cause prophecies, plain direct prophecies to be written of Him, that passes all conceit; cannot be imagined, how possibly it may be, but by God alone. Therefore Mahomet and all false prophets came at least boasted to come in signs. But challenge them at this; not a word, no mention of them in the world, till they were born. True therefore that St. John saith, “The testimony, that is, the great principal testimony, of Jesus, is the spirit of prophecy.” It made St. Peter, when he had recounted what he himself had heard in the Mount, (yet as if there might be even in that, deceptio sensus,) to add, Habemus etiam firmiorem sermonem propheti, “We have a word of prophecy besides;” and that firmiorem, the “surer” of the twain.
This prophecy is of a certain Child. And if we ask of this place, as the Eunuch did of another in this prophet, “Of whom speaks the Prophet this?” we must make the answer that there Philip doth, “of Christ;” and “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of this prophecy.” The ancient Jews make the same. It is but a fond shift to draw it, as the latter Jews do, to Ezekias (Hezekiah); it will not cleave. It was spoken to Ahaz, Ezekias' father, now King; and that after the great overthrow he had by the kings of Syria and Israel, in the fourth of his reign. But it is deduced by plain supputation out of the eighteenth of the second of Kings, Ezekias was nine years old before Ahaz his father came to the crown. It was by that time too late to tell it for tidings then that he was born, he then being thirteen years of age.
Beside, how senseless is it to apply Ezekias that in the next verse; that “of his government and peace there should be none end,” that “His throne should be established from thenceforth for ever;” whereas his peace and government both had an end within few years.
To us it is sufficient that the fore-part of the chapter is by St. Matthew expressly applied to our Saviour; and that this verse doth inseparably depend on that, and is alleged as the reason of it; “For, unto us.” Of Him therefore we take it, and to Him apply it that cannot be taken of any, or applied to any other but Him.
But how came Isaiah to speak of Christ to Ahaz? Thus: Ahaz was then in very great distress; he had lost in one day eighty thousand of his people, and two hundred thousand of them more, carried away captives. And now the two Kings were raising new power against him, the times grew very much overcast. And this you shall observe. The chiefest prophecies of Christ came ever in such times, that St. Peter did well to resemble the word of prophecy to a candle in loco caliginoso, “a dark room.” Jacob's of Shiloh, in Egypt, a dark place; Daniel's of Messias, in Babylon, a place as dark as Egypt; this of Isaiah, when the ten tribes were on the point of carrying away, under Hoshea. That of Jeremy (Jeremiah), “a woman shall enclose a man,” when Judah in the same case, under Jechonias. Ever in dark times, who therefore needed most the light of comfort.
But what is this to Ahaz's case? He looked for another message from him, how to escape his enemies. A cold comfort might he think it to be preached to of Immanuel. Indeed, he so thought it; and therefore he gave over Isaiah, and betook him to Shebna, who wished him to seek to the King of Ashur for help, and let Emmanuel go. Yet for all that, even then to speak of Christ, being looked into, it is neither imperative, nor out of season. With all the prophets it is usual, in the calamities of this people, to have recourse still to the fundamental promise of the Messiah. For that, till He were come, they might be sure they could not be rooted out; but must be preserved, if it were but for this Child's sake, till He was born. And yet, if they could believe on Him, otherwise it is no match: Nisi credideritis. Then thus the prophets argued; He will not deny you this favour, for He will grant a far greater than this, even His own Son, and by Him a far greater deliverance; and if He can deliver you from the devouring fire of hell, much more from them; and if give you peace with God, much more with them. So teaching those who will learn, the only right way to compass their own safety is by making sure work of Immanuel, “God with us.” To the true regard of Whom God has annexed the “promises as well of this, as of the other life.” All are as lines drawn from this centre, all in Him “yea and Amen.” Which all serve to raise Ahaz up, and his people, to receive this Child, and “to rejoice in His day,” as their “father Abraham” did.
Thus the occasion you have heard. The parts, ad oculum, “evidently” are two: 1. a Child-birth, and II. a Baptism. 1. The Child-birth in these, “For unto you,” etc. II. The Baptism in these, “His Name,” etc.
In the former: I First of the main points, the Natures, Person, and Office: 1. Natures in these, “Child” and “Son.” 2. Person in these, “His shoulders,” “his name.” 3. Office in these, “His government.” II Then of the deriving of an interest to us in these, “to us,” two times. And that is of two sorts: 1. By being “born;” a right by His birth. 2. By being “given;” a right by a deed of gift.
In the latter, of His Baptism, is set down His style, consisting of five pieces, containing five uses, for which He was thus given; each to be considered in his order.
I. It is ever our first care to begin with, and to settle the main point of the mystery: 1. Nature, 2. Person, and 3. Office; and after, to look to our own benefit by them. To begin with the natures, of God and Man, they be super hanc petram; upon them lieth the weight of all the rest, they are the two shoulders whereon this government doth rest.
We have two words, “Child,” and “Son;” neither waste, neither waste. But if no more in the second than in the first, the first had been enough; if the first enough, the second superfluous. But in this Book nothing is superfluous. So then two diverse things they import.
Weigh the words: “Child” is not said but in humanis, “among men.” “Son” may be in divinis, “from heaven;” God spake it, “This is My Son;” may, and must be, here.
Weigh the other two; 1. “born,” and 2. “given.” That which is born beginneth then first to have his being. That which is given presupposeth a former being; for it must that it may be given.
Again, when we say “born,” of whom? of the Virgin His mother; when we say “given,” by whom? by God His Father.
Isaiah promised the sign we should have, should be from the “deep” here “beneath,” and should be from the “height above;” both “a Child” from “beneath,” and “a Son” from “above.” To conclude; it is an exposition decreed by the Fathers assembles in the Council of Seville, who upon these grounds expound this very place so; the Child, to import His human; the Son, His divine nature.
All along His life you will see these two. At His birth, a cratch for the Child, a star for the Son; a company of shepherds viewing the Child, a choir of angels celebrating the Son. In His life, hungry Himself, to shew the nature of the Child; yet feeding five thousand to shew the power of the Son. At His death, dying on the cross as the Son of Adam; at the same time disposing of Paradise, as the “Son of God.”
If you ask, why both these? For that in vain had been the one without the other. Somewhat there must be borne, by this mention of shoulders; meet it is every one should bear his own burden. The nature that sinned bear his own sin; not Ziba make the fault, and Mephibosheth bear the punishment. Our nature had sinned, that therefore ought to suffer; the reason, why a Child. But that which our nature should, our nature could not bear; not the weight of God's wrath due to our sin: but the Son could; the reason why a Son. The one ought but could not, the other could but ought not. Therefore, either alone would not serve; they must be joined, Child and Son. But that He was a Child, He could not have suffered. But that he was a Son, He had sunk in His suffering, and not gone through with it. God had no shoulders; man had, but too weak to sustain such a weight. Therefore, that He might be liable, He was a Child, that He might be able He was the Son; that He might be both, He was both.
This, why God. But why this Person, the Son? Behold, “Adam would” have “become one of us”: the fault; behold, one of Us will become Adam, is the satisfaction. Which of Us would he have become? Sicut Dii scientes, “the Person of knowledge.” He therefore shall become Adam; a Son shall be given. Desire of knowledge, our attainder; He in “Whom all the treasures of knowledge,” our restoring. Flesh would have been the Word, as wise as the Word; the cause of our ruin; meet then the “Word become flesh,” that so our ruin repaired. There is a touch given in the name “Counsellor,” to note out unto us which Person, as well as the “Son.”
One more: if these joined, why is not the “Son” first, and then the “Child;” but the “Child” is first, and then the “Son.” The Son is far the worthier, and therefore to have the place. And thus too it was in His other name Immanuel. It is not Elimanu; not Deus nobiscum, but nobiscum Deus. We in his Name stand before God. It is so in the Gospel; the “Son of David” first, the “Son of God” after. It is but this still, zelus Domim exercitum fecit hoc; but to shew His zeal, how dear He holdeth us, that He preferreth and setteth us before Himself, and in His very name giveth us the precedence.
The person briefly. The “Child” and the “Son;” these two make but one Person clearly; for both these have but one name, “His Name shall be called,” and both these have but one pair of shoulders. “Upon His shoulders.” Therefore, though two natures, yet but one Person in both. A meet person to make a Mediator of God and man (I Timothy 2:5), as symbolizing with either, God and man. A meet person to cease hostility, as having taken pledges of both Heaven and earth, the chief nature in Heaven, and the chief on earth; to set forward commerce between Heaven and earth by Jacob's ladder, “one end touching earth, the other reaching to heaven;” to incorporate either to other, Himself by His birth being become the “Son of Man,” by our new birth giving us a capacity to become the “sons of God.”
His office; “The kingdom on His shoulders.” For He saw when the Child was born, it should so poorly be born, as, lest we should conceive of Him too meanly, He tells us He cometh cum principatu, “with a principality,” is born a Prince; and beautifieth Him with such names as make amends for the manger. That He is not only Puer, “a Child,” and Filius, “a Son,” but Princeps, “a Prince.”
Truth is, other offices we find besides. But this you shall observe, that the Prophets speaking of Christ, in good congruity ever apply themselves to the state of them they speak to, and use that office which best agreeth to the matter in hand. Here, that which was sought by Ahaz, was protection; that we know is for a King; as a King therefore he speaketh of Him. Elsewhere He is brought forth by David as a Priest; and again elsewhere by Moses as a Prophet. If it be a matter of sin for which sacrifice to be offered, He is “a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.” If the will of God, if His great counsel to be revealed, “a Prophet will the Lord raise, &c. hear Him.” But here is matter of delivery only in hand; here therefore he represented Him cum principatu, “with a principality.”
A principality, not of this world.O Herod need not fear it, nor envy it. If it had, his officers, as they would have seen Him better defended at His death, so would they have seen Him better lodged at His birth, than in a stable with beasts; for if the inn were full, the stable we may be sure was not empty. Of what world then? of that He is Father, futuri. Of that He is Father, and He is a Prince of the government That guideth us thither.
Yet a Prince He is, and so He styled; “born” and “given” to establish a “government.” that none imagine they shall live like libertines under Him, every man believe and live as he list. It is Christ, not Belial, that is born to-day, He bringeth a government with Him, they who be His must live in subjection under a government; else neither in Child nor Son, in birth nor gift, have they any interest.
And this “government” is by name a principality, wherein neither the popular confusion of many, nor the factious ambition of a few, bear all the sway, but where One is sovereign. Such is the government of heaven, such is Christ's government.
With a principality, or government, and that upon His shoulders; somewhat a strange situation. It is wisdom that governs; that is in the head, and there is the crown worn; what have the shoulders to do with it? Certainly somewhat by this description. The shoulder as we know is the bearing member, and unless it be for heavy things, we use it not. Ordinary things we carry in our hands, or lift at the arms' end; it must be very heavy if we must put shoulders and all to it. Belike, governments have their weight be heavy; and so they be; they need not only a good head, but good shoulders, that sustain them. But that not so much while they be in good tune and temper, then they need no great carriage; but when they grow unwieldly, be it weakness or waywardness of the governed, in that case they need; and in that case, there is no governor but, at one time or other, he bears his government upon his shoulders. It is a moral they give of Aaron's apparel; he carved the twelve tribes in his breast-plate next his heart, to shew that in care he was to bear them; but he had them also engraven in two onyx-stones, and those set upon his very shoulders, to shew, he must otherwhile beat them in patience too. And it is not Aaron's case alone; it was so with Moses too. He bare his Government as a “nurse doth her child,” as he saith; that is, full tenderly. But when they fell a murmuring, as they did often, he bare them upon them upon his shoulders, in great patience and long-suffering. Yea he complained, Non possum portate, “I am not able to bear all this people,” &c. It were sure to be wished that they that are in place might never be put to it. Bear their people only in their arms by love, and in their breasts by care. Yet if need be, they must follow Christ's example and patience here, and even that way bear them; not only bear with them, but eve bear them also.
Yet is not this Christ's bearing, though this He did too; there is yet a farther thing, He hath a patience paramount, beyond all the rest. Two differences I find between Him and others. 1. The faults and errors of their government, others do bear, and suffer; indeed suffer them; but suffer not for them. He did both; endured them, and endured for them heavy things; a strange superhumeral, the print whereof for them heavy things; a strange superhumeral, the print whereof was to be seen on His shoulders. The Chaldee Paraphrast translateth it thus, “The Law was upon His shoulders;” and so it was too. A burden, saith St. Peter, neither he, nor the Apostles, nor their “fathers, were able to bear.” This He did, and bare it so evenly as He brake, nay bruised not a commandment. But there is another sense, when the Law is taken for the punishment due by the Law. It is that which our Prophet meaneth when he saith, Posuit super humeros, “He hath laid upon His shoulders the iniquities of us all.” And not against His will; “Come,” saith He, “you that are heavy laden, and I will refresh you,” by loading Myself; take it from your necks, and lay it on Mine own. Which His suffering, though it grew so heavy as it wrung from Him plenty of tears, a strong cry, a sweat of blood, such was the weight of it; yet would He not cast it off, but there held it still, till it made Him “bow down His head and give up the ghost.” If He had discharged it, it must have light upon us; it was the yoke of our burden, as in the fourth verse He termeth it: if it had light upon us, it had pressed us down to hell, so insupportable was it. Rather then so, He held it still and bare it; and did that which never Prince did-died for His government. It was not for nothing, we see, that of the Child born no part but the shoulders is mentioned; for that, we see, that of the Child born no part but the shoulders is mentioned; for that, we seem in this Child, is a part of special employment.
2. The other point of difference between Him and other governors. When we say, “On His shoulders,” this we say; on no other shoulders but His. For others, by Moses' example upon Jethro's advice and God's own allowance, may, and do lay off and translate their burden, if it be too heavy, upon others, and so ease it in part. Not so He. It could not be so in His. He, and He alone; He, and none but He: upon His own shoulders, and none but His own, bare He all. He “trod the wine-press,” and bare the burdsen solus, “alone;” et vir de gentibus, “and of all the nations, there was not a man with Him.” Upon His only shoulders did the burden only rest.
3. Now from these two doth the Prophet argue to a third, to the point here of principal intendment. That if, for His government sake, He will bear so great things; bear their weaknesses as the lost sheep, bear their sins as the scape-goat; He will over the government itself, as in Deut. 32. He maketh the simile, stretch forth His wings, “as the eagle over her young ones,” and take them, and bear them between His pinions-bear them, and bear them through. They need take no thought, “No man shall take them out of His hands,O no man reach them, and through He would still carry them; at least-wise, till this Child Immanuel were born. Till then He would; and not wax weary, nor cast them off. And, like the scape-goat, bear their sins; and like the eagle, bear up their estate, “till the fulness of time came,O and He in it, with the fulness of all grace and blessing. And this point I hold so material as Puer natus, nothing, and Filius datus, as much, without Princeps oneratus; for that is all in all, and of the three the chief.
And now, what is all this to us? Yes-“to us” it is; and that, twice over, for failing. We come now to look another while into our interest to it, and our benefit by it. Nobis is acquisitive positus; we get by it: we are gainers by all this.
“To us;” not to Himself. For a far more noble Nativity had He before all worlds, and needed no more birth. Not to be born at all; specially, not thus basely to be born. Not to Him therefore, but to us and our behoof (benefit).
“To us,” as in bar of Himself, so likewise of His Angels. Nusquam Angelos, not to the Angels was He “born,” or “given;” but “to us” He was both. Not an Angel in Heaven can say nobis. Vobis they can, the Angels said it twice. Nobis natus or datus they cannot, but we can, both.
Nobis exclusive, and nobis inclusive. Isaiah speaks not of himself only, but taketh in Ahaz. Both are in nobis; Isaiah, an holy Prophet, and Ahaz, a worse than whom you shall hardly read of. Isaiah includeth himself as having need though a saint, and excludeth not Ahaz from having part though a sinner. Not only Simeon the just, but Paul the sinner, of the quorum, and the first of the quorum.
Inclusive, not only of Isaiah, and his countrymen the Jews, it is of a larger extent. The angel so interpreteth it this day to the shepherds, “joy that shall be to all people.” Not the people of the Jews, or the people of the Gentiles, but simply “to all people.” His name is Jesus Christ, half Hebrew; half Greek; Jesus, Hebrew; Christ, Greek; so sorted of purpose to show Jews and Greeks have equal interest in Him. And now, so is His Father's name too, “Abba, Father;” to shew the benefit equally intended by Him to them that call Him Abba, that is, the Jews; to us that call Him Father, that is, the Gentiles.
But yet, it is inclusive of none but those that include themselves, “that believe,” and therefore say “to us He is born, to us He is given.” Which exclude all those that include not themselves. St. Ambrose saith well, Facit multorum infidelitas ut non ominbus nascertur qui omnibus natus est; “Want of faith makes that He, That is born to all, is not born to all though.” The Turks and Jews can sayhm Puer natus est; the devil can say, Filus natus est, too; but neither say nobis, but Quid nobis et Tibi? They have not to do with Him; and for lack of it, of this, neither Child nor Son, Birth nor Gift, doth avail them: we must make much of this word, and hold it fast, for thereby out tenure and interest groweth. Which interest groweth by a double right, and therefore is nobis twice repeated. 1. The one, of His birth, natus; 2. the other, by a deed of giftg, datus. Of which the one, His birth, referreth to Himself; the other, the gift, to His Father; to shew the joint consent and concurrence in both, for our good. “So Christ loved us, that He was given;” “so God loved us, that He gave His Son.”
By His very birth there groweth to us an interest in Him, thereby partaker of our nature, our flesh and our blood. That which is de nobis, He took of us, is ours; flesh and blood is our own, and to that is our own we have good right.
His humanity is clearly ours; good right to that. But no right to His Deity. Therefore His Father, Who had best right to dispose of Him, hath passed over that by a deed of gift. So that, what by participation of our nature, what by good conveyance, both are ours. Whether a Child, He is ours, or whether a Son, He is ours. We gave Him the one; His Father gave us the other. So both ours; and He ours, so far as both these can make Him. Thus, “God, willing more abundantly to shew to the heirs of promise the stableness of His counsel,” took both courses; that, by two strong titles, which is impossible should be defeated, we might have strong consolation, and ride as it were a double anchor.
I want time to tell of the benefit which the Prophet calleth the “harvest” or booty of His Nativity. That it is in a word: if the tree be ours, the fruit is; if He be ours, His birth is ours; His life is ours, His death is ours; His satisfaction, His merit, all He did, all He suffered, is ours. Farther, All that the Father has is His, He is Heir of all; then, all that is ours too.
St. Paul hath cast up our account, Having given Him, there is nothing but He will give us with Him; so that by this deed we have title to all that His Father or He is worth.
And now, shall we bring forth nothing for Him That was thus born? No, Quid retribua- no giving back-for Him That gave Him us? Yes, thanks to the Father for His great bounty in giving.” Sure, so good a giving, so perfect a gift, there never came down “from the Father of lights.” And to the Son, for being willing so to be born, and so to be burdened as He was. For Him to condescend to be born, as children are born, to become a child: great humility; great ut Verbum infans, ut tonans vagiens, ut immensus parvulus; “that the Word not be able to speak a word, He That thundereth in Heaven cry in a cradle, He That is so great and so high should become so little a child,” and so low as a manger. Not to “abhor the Virgin's womb,” not to abhor the beasts' manger, not to disdain to be fed with “butter and honey;” all great humility. All great, and very great; but that is greater is behind. Puer natus, much; Princeps oneratus, much more; that which He bare for us more than that He was born for; for greater is mors crucis than nativitas praesepis; worse to drink vinegar and gall, than to eat butter and honey; worse to endure an infamous death, than to be content with an inglorious birth.
Let us therefore sing to the Father, with Zacharias' Benedictus, and to the Son, with the Blessed Virgin's Magnificat, and with the angels, Gloria in excelsis to the Prince with His “government on His shoulders.”
Nothing but thanks? Yes, by way of duty too, to render unto the Child, confidence; Puer est, ne metuas: to the Son reverence; Filius est, ne spernas: to the Prince obedience; Princeps est, ne offendas. And again, to natus; Is he born? then cherish Him. I speak of His spiritual birth wherein we, by hearing and doing His Word, are, as Himself saith, His mothers. To datus; Is he given? then keep Him. To oneratus; Is He burdened? favour Him, lay no more on than needs you must.
This is good moral counsel. But St. Bernard gives us politic advice; to look to our interest, to think of making our best benefit by Him. De nobis nato et dato faciamus id ad quod natus est et datu; utamur nostro in utilitatem nostram, de Servatore nostro salutem operemur; “with this born and given Child, let us then do that for which He was born and given us; seeing He is ours, let us use that that is ours to our best behoof, and even work out our salvation out of this our Saviour.” His counsel is to make our use of Him; but that is not to do with Him what we list, but to employ Him to those ends for which He was bestowed. Those are four:
1. He is given us, saith St. Peter, “for an example” to follow. In all; but-that which is proper to this day-to do it in humility. It is that which the Angel set up for a sign and sample, upon this very day. It is the virtue appropriate to His birth. As faith to His conception, beata qu credibit; so humility to His birth, et Hoc erit signum. Fieri voluit in vit�ñ primum. quod exhibuit in ortu vit, (it is Cyprian;) that “He would have us first to express in our life, that He first shewed us in the very entry of His life.” And to commend us this virtue the more, Placuit Deo majora pro nobis operari, “It hath pleased Him to do greater things for us in this estate” than ever He did in the high degree of His majesty; as we know the work of redemption passes that of creation by much.
He is given us in pretium “for a price.O A price either of ransom, to bring us out de loco caliginoso; or a price of purchase of that, where without it we have no interest-the kingdom of heaven. For both He is given; offer we Him for both. We speak of quid retribum? we can never retribute the like thing. He was given us to that end we might give Him back. We wanted, we had nothing valuable; that we might have, this He gave us as a thing of greatest price to offer for what needs a great price, our sins, so many in number, and so foul in quality. We had nothing worthy God; this He gave us that is worthy Him, which cannot be but accepted, offer we it never so often. Let us then offer Him, and in the act of offering ask of Him what is meet; for we shall find Him no less bounteous than Herod, to grant what is duly asked upon His birth-day.
He is given us, as Himself saith, as “the living bread from heaven,” which Bread is His “flesh” born this day, and after “given for the life of the world.” For look how we do give back that He gave us, even so does He give back to us that which we gave Him, that which He had of us. This He gave for us in Sacrifice, and this He gives us in the Sacrament that the Sacrifice may by the Sacrament be truly applied to us. And let me commend this to you; He never bade, accipite, plainly “take” but in this only; and that, because the effect of this day's union is no ways more lively represented, no way more effectually wrought, than by this use.
And lastly, He is given us in; not now to be seen, only in hope, but hereafter by His blessed fruition to be our final reward when “where He is we shall be,” and what He is we shall be; in the same place, and in the same state of glory, joy, and bliss, to endure for evermore.
At His first coming, you see what He had “on His shoulders.” At His second coming He shall not come empty, Ecce venio,&c, “Lo, I come, and My reward with Me;” that is a “kingdom on His shoulders.” And it is no light matter; but, as St. Paul calleth it, “an everlasting weight of glory.” Glory, not like ours here feather-glory, but true; that hath weight and substance in it, and that not transistory and soon gone, but everlasting, to continue to all eternity, never to have an end. This is our state in expectancy. St. Augustine put all four together, so will I, and conclude; Sequamur 1. exemplum; offeramus 2. pretium; sumamus 3. viaticum; expectemus 4. “Let us follow Him for our pattern, offer Him for our price, receive Him for our sacramental food, and wait for Him as our endless and exceeding great reward,” &c.