Page images
PDF
EPUB

to heaven? Some hills are as high as they could hope to be, and yet are no whit the better; no place alters the condition of nature. An angel is glorious, though he be upon earth; and man is but earth though he be above the clouds. The nearer they had been to heaven, the more subject should they have been to the violences of heaven, to thunders, lightnings, and those other higher inflammations; what had this been, but to thrust themselves into the hands of the revenger of all wicked insolencies! God loves that heaven should be looked at, and affected with all humble desires, with the holy ambitions of faith, not with the proud imaginations of our own achievements.

But wherefore was all this? not that they loved so much to be neighbours to heaven, as to be famous upon earth. It was not commodity that was here sought, not safety, but glory. Whither doth not thirst of fame carry men, whether in good or evil? It makes them seek to climb to heaven, it makes them not fear to run down headlong to hell. Even in the best things, desire of praise stands in competition with conscience, and brags to have the more clients. One builds a temple to Diana, in hope of glory, intending it for one of the great wonders of the world; another in hope of fame, burns it. He is a rare man that hath not some Babel of his own, whereon he bestows pains and cost, only to be talked of. If they had done better things in a vain-glorious purpose, their act had been accursed: if they had built houses to God, if they had sacrificed, prayed, lived well; the intent poisons the action: But now both the act and the purpose are equally vain, and the issue is as vain as either.

God hath a special indignation at pride above all sins, and will cross our endeavours, not for that they are evil, (what hurt could be in laying one brick upon another?) but for that they are proudly undertaken. He could have hindered the laying of the first stone; and might as easily have made a trench for the foundation, the grave of the builders; but he loves to see what wicked men would do; and to let fools run themselves out of breath. What monument should they have had of their own madness, and his powerful interruption, if the walls had risen to no height? To stop them then in the midst of their course, he meddles not with either their hands or their feet, but their tongues; not by pulling them out, not by loosing their strings, not by making them say nothing, but by

teaching them to say too much. Here is nothing varied but the sound of letters; even this frustrates the work, and befools the workmen. How easy is it for God ten thousand ways to correct and forestall the greatest projects of men! He that taught Adam the first words, taught them words that never were. One calls for brick, the other looks him in the face, and wonders what he commands, and how and why he speaks such words as were never heard; and instead thereof brings him mortar, returning him an answer as little understood; each chides with other, expressing his choler, so as he only can understand himself. From heat they fall to quiet entreaties, but still with the same success. At first every man thinks his fellow mocks him; but now perceiving this serious confusion, their only answer was silence, and ceasing; they could not come together, for no man could call them to be understood; and if they had assembled, nothing could be determined, because one could never attain to the other's purpose; no, they could not have the honour of a general dismission, but each man leaves his trowel and station, more like a fool than he undertook it: so commonly actions begun in glory shut up in shame. All external actions depend upon the tongue. No man can know another's mind, if this be not the interpreter. Hence, as there were many tongues given to stay the building of Babel, so there were as many given to build the new Jerusalem, the evangelical church. How dear hath Babel cost all the world! At the first, when there was but one language, men did spend their time in arts; (so was it requisite at the first settling of the world, and so came early to perfection) but now we stay so long (of necessity) upon the shell of tongues, that we can hardly have time to chew the sweet kernel of knowledge. Surely men would have grown too proud, if there had been no Babel. It falls out ofttimes that one sin is a remedy of a greater. Division of tongues must needs slacken any work. Multiplicity of language had not been given by the Holy Ghost, for a blessing to the church, if the world had not been before possessed with multiplicity of languages for a punishment. Hence it is, that the building of our Sion rises no faster, because our tongues are divided. Happy were the church of God, if we all spake but one language: while we differ, we can build nothing but Babel; difference of tongues caused their Babel to cease, but it builds ours.

CONTEMPLATION III.

Of Abraham.

Of

It was fit that he which should be the father and pattern of the faithful, should be thoroughly tried; for in a set copy. every fault is important, and may prove a rule of error. ten trials which Abraham passed, the last was the sorest. No son of Abraham can hope to escape temptations, while he sees that bosom in which he desires to rest, so assaulted with difficulties. Abraham must leave his country and kindred, and live amongst strangers. The calling of God never leaves men where it finds them. The earth is the Lord's, and all places are alike to the wise and faithful. If Chaldea had not been grossly idolatrous, Abraham had not left it; no bond must tie us to the danger of infection.

But whither must he go? To a place he knew not, to men that knew not him. It is enough comfort to a good man, wheresoever he is, that he is acquainted with God: we are never out of our way, while we follow the calling of God. Never any man lost by his obedience to the Highest. Because Abraham yielded, God gives him the possession of Canaan. I wonder inore at his faith in taking this possession, than in leaving his own. Behold Abraham takes possession for that seed which he had not; which in nature he was not like to have of that land whereof he should not have one foot, wherein his seed should not be settled of almost five hundred years after. The power of faith can prevent time, and make future things present. If we be the true sons of Abraham, we have already (while we sojourn here on earth) the possession of our land of promise; while we seek our country, we have it.

Yet even Canaan doth not afford him bread, which yet he must believe shall flow with milk and honey to his seed. Sense must yield to faith. Woe were us, if we must judge of our future estate by the present. Egypt gives relief to Abraham, when Canaan cannot. In outward things, God's enemies may fare better than his friends. Thrice had Egypt preserved the church of God, in Abraham, in Jacob, in Christ. God ofttimes makes use of the world for the behoof of his, though without their thanks; as contrarily he

uses the wicked for scourges to his own inheritance, and burns them; because in his good they intended evil.

But what a change is this! Hitherto hath Sarah been Abraham's wife, now Egypt hath made her his sister; fear hath turned him from an husband to a brother: no strength of faith can exclude some doubtings. God hath said, I will make thee a great nation: Abraham saith, the Egyptians will kill me. He that lived by his faith, yet shrinketh and sinneth. How vainly shall we hope to believe without all fear, and to live without infirmities! Some little aspersions of unbelief cannot hinder the praise and power of faith. Abraham believed, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. He that through inconsiderateness doubted twice of his own life, doubted not of the life of his seed, even from the dead and dry womb of Sarah; yet was it more difficult that his posterity should live in Sarah, than that Sarah's husband should live in Egypt; this was above nature, yet he believes it. Sometimes the believer sticks at easy trials, and yet breaks through the greatest temptations without fear. Abraham was old, ere

this promise and hope of a son, and still the older, the more uncapable; yet God makes him wait twenty-five years for performance. No time is long to faith, which hath learned to defer hopes without fainting and irksomeness.

Abraham heard this news from the angel, and laughed: Sarah heard it, and laughed: they did not more agree in their desire, than differ in their affection. Abraham laughed for joy; Sarah for distrust. Abraham laughed, because he believed it would be so; Sarah, because she believed it could not be. The same act varies in the manner of doing, and the intention of the doer. Yet Sarah laughed but within herself, and his bewrayed. How God can find us out in secret sins! How easily did she now think, that he, which could know of her inward laughter, could know of her conception! and now she that laughed, and believed not, believeth and feareth.

What a lively pattern do I see in Abraham, and Sarah, of a strong faith, and weak; of strong in Abraham, and weak in Sarah! She, to make God good of his word to Abraham, knowing her own barrenness, substitutes an Hagar; and, in an ambition of seed, persuades to poligamy. Abraham had never looked to obtain the promise by any other than a barren womb, if his own wife had not importuned him to take

another. When our own apparent means fail, weak faith is put to their shifts, and projects strange devices of her own, to attain her end. She will rather conceive by another womb, than be childless. When she hears of an impossibility to nature, she doubteth, and yet hides her diffidence; and, when she must believe, feareth, because she did distrust. Abraham hears and believes, and expects and rejoices; he saith not, I am old and weak; Sarah is old and barren; where are the many nations that shall come from these withered loins? It is enough to him that God hath said it: he sees not the means, he sees the promise. He knew that God would rather raise him up seed from the very stones that he trode upon, than himself should want a large and happy issue.

There is no faith where there is either means or hopes. Difficulties and impossibilities are the true objects of belief. Hereupon God adds to his name, that which he would fetch from his loins, and made his name as ample as his posterity. Never any man was a loser by believing: faith is ever recompensed with glory.

Neither is Abraham content only to wait for God, but to smart for him. God bids him cut his own flesh; he willingly sacrifices this parcel of his skin and blood to him that was the owner of all. How glad he is to carry this painful mark of the love of his Creator! How forward to seal this covenant with blood, betwixt God and him! not regarding the soreness of his body, in comparison of the confirmation of his soul. The wound was not so grievous as a signification was comfortable. For herein he saw, that from his loins should come that blessed seed, which should purge his soul from all corruption. Well is that part of us lost which may give assurance of the salvation of the whole. Our faith is not yet sound, if it have not taught us to neglect pain for God, and more to love his sacraments than our own flesh.

CONTEMPLATION IV.
Of Isaac sacrificed.

BUT all these are but easy tasks of faith: all ages have stood amazed at the next; not knowing whether they should more wonder at God's command, or Abraham's obedience. Many years had that good patriarch waited for his Isaac;

« PreviousContinue »