Sed ad volavit ad me unus ex istis Seraphim habens in manu sua prunam; quam forcibis sumpserat ab altari. Admovitque ori meo dicens, &c.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from off the altar.
In the Liturgy of the ancient Church, these words are found applyed to the blessed Sacrament of Christ's body and blood; for it is recorded by Basill, That at the celebration thereof, after the Sacrament was ministred to the people, the Preist stood up and said as the Seraphin doth here, Behold this hath touched your lips, your iniquity shall bee taken away, and your sinne purged. The whole fruit of Religion is, The taking away of sinne, Isaiah the twenty seventh Chapter and the ninth verse, and the speciall wayes to take it away, is the Religious use of this Sacrament; which as Christ saith is nothing else, but a seale and signe of his blood that was shed for many for the remission of sinnes, Matthew the twenty sixth Chapter and the twenty eighth verse; for the Angell tells the prophet, that his sinnes are not only taken away, but that it is done sacramentally, by the touching of a Cole, even as Christ assureth us, that we obtain remission of sinnes by the receiving of the Cup: Now as in the Sacrament, we consider the Element and the word; so we are to divide this Scripture. For first, in that the Seraphin touched his mouth with a burning Cole taken from the Altar, therein we have the element, and the word of comfort which the Prophet received, was, that the Angell said to him, Behold this Cole hath touched thy lips, and now thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sinnes purged: And there is such an Analogie and proportion, between the Altar and the Lords Table, between the burning Cole and Bread and Wine, offered and received in the Lords Supper. As we cannot but justifie the wisdome of the ancient Church, in applying this Scripture to the holy Eucharist: For as, St. John sheweth, this vision shewed to the Prophet Isaiah, is to be understood of our Saviour Christ, John the twelfth and the forty first verse, for saith the Evangelist, These things said Esay, when [515/516] he saw his glory, and spake of him; and therefore by this burning Cole taken from the Altar, is meant Christ Jesus, who by the Sacrifice of his death which hee offered up to God, his Father, hath taken away our iniquities, and purged our sinnes, as it is in the sixth chapter to the Hebrewes, and therefore for the confirmation of our Faith wee are here taught, That our sinnes are no lesse taken away by the element of bread and wine, in the Sacrament, then the Prophets sinne was by being touched with a Cole.
The occasion of this touching is set down in the former verses of this Chapter, which doe stand upon a vision and a confession. The vision shewed to the Prophet was, That hee saw the Lord sitting upon an high Throne, as Judge ready to give Sentence, before whom the very Angells were forced to cover their faces. The confession that hee made was, Woe is mee for I am unclean, I am a man of polluted lips, mine eyes have seene the King and Lord of Hosts: From whence we learne, that howsoever by the consideration of his former life, and the sinnes that have escaped from him, a man may bee brought to some remorse of Conscience, yet then especially hee is humbled when hee seeth the vision of God's glory, and therefore nothing is more forcible to bring us to repentance, than to consider that at the last generall day, Wee shall see Christ Jesus the Sonne of God come in glory, and sit downe in his Throne of glory, and give Sentence of condemnation upon the wicked. The Prophet who otherwise was no grievous sinner, but only guilty of omission, for that he had been silent, and did not glorifie God with his tongue as he should have done, not withstanding in the sight of God's glory is touched with remorse and cryeth out, Woe is me; Whereby again wee learne that we sinne not only when wee speake of these things which wee should not, but when we are silent, when we should apply our tongues to Gods glory; so that though the excellency of our upright and honest conversation bee never so great in the world, yet the Majesty of God is such as shall shew, That even those duties that we have omitted, shall be sufficient to confound us before his glorious presence, unlesse it please him to be mercifull to us; therefore when wee appear before his judgement-seate, it shall bee in vain for us to allege what wee have done, for as much as the least duty that wee have left undone is enough to condemn us. It shall bee our duty therefore, notwithstanding all our righteousnesse, to judge ourselves worthy to bee destroyed for our iniquities and sinnes of omission, Ezechkiel the thirty sixt[h] chapter, and the one and thirtieth verse, and to say with this Prophet, Woe is mee, for I am a man of polluted lips: We must acknowledge that nothing belongs to us but Woe, and that God may in justice confound us for the least duty we have omitted. Upon this confession made by the Prophet there came an Angell flying from God, which by touching his lips with a hot Coale assured him that his sinne was taken away; wherefore, as by the former wee learne that wee should repent us of our sinnes when wee consider the great Majesty of God, so by this wee are taught what to hope for, that is, that if wee bee penitent God will not bee wanting unto us, but will send [516/517] a Seraphin unto us with words of comfort, to assure us that all our iniquities are purged. The outward element appointed by God to confirme his faith, was the flying of a Seraphin unto him to touch [h]is mouth with the Cole, the word or invisible grace signifyed by the element was, that by that touching his sinne was taken away. In the outward action wee are first to consider the element itself that was, the burning Cole on the Altar; next the application performed by a Seraphin, who tooke the Cole from the Altar, and touched the Prophets lips. First therefore considering that none can take away sinne but God only, wee must needs confesse that there was in this Cole a divine force and virtue issuing from Christ, who is the only reconciliation for our sins without which it had not beene possible that it could have taken away sinne. But what is here said of this Cole, is to bee understood of Christ, of whom Esay speaketh in this place, When hee saw the glory of Christ, John 12.41 for hee is the Cole by which our sinnes are taken away; There are two natures in a Cole, that is, the Cole it selfe, which is a dead thing, and the burning nature and heate that it hath; which setteth our first Christs human nature, which is dead in it selfe; And then his divine nature, containing the burning force of that is represented in this burning Cole: So the element of bread and wine is a dead thing in it selfe, but through the grace of Gods spirit infused into it hath a power to heate our Soules: for the elements in the Supper have an earthly and a heavenly part. Secondly, that Christ is to be understood by this burning Cole wee may safely gather, because his love to his Church is presented with fire, Cantic. the eighth chapter and the sixth verse. It is said of Christs love, the Coles thereof are fiery Coles, and a vehement flame, such as cannot be quenched with any water, nor the floods drown it, even so all the calamities and miseries that Christ suffered and endured for our sakes, which were poured upon him as water, could not quench the love that he bare us. Thirdly, quia non solum ardet ipse, sed alios ascendit so saith John the Baptist of him, There cometh one after me that shall Baptize with the holy Ghost and with fire, as it is in the third chapter of Luke the sixteenth verse, therefore the graces of the holy Ghost are also represented by fire, Acts 3, the union whereof hath a double representation. First, it is signified by water in Baptisme; for sinne that is derived unto us from another, being as a spot may be washed away with water, and therefore the Prophet saith, there is a fountaine opened to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sinne and uncleannesse, Zach. the thirteenth chapter and the first verse, therefore Ananias said to Saul, bee Baptized and wash away thy sinnes, Acts the twenty second Chapter and the sixteenth verse, that is meant of originall sinne and the corruption of our nature, by which wee are guilty of the wrath of God; but because through the whole course of our life sinne, by custome groweth more to be strong, and to stick fast in our nature, so as no water can take it away; therefore the Grace of God is set out by fire, as having a power and force to burn up sinne; for by custome sinne is bred and setled in our nature, and is tanquam furni drosse [517/518] that must be tryed and purged by fire, so the holy Ghost speaketh of actuall sinnes, the first of Isaiah, and the twenty fift[h], and the sixt[h] of Jeremiah and the thirtieth verse, Ezech. the twenty second chapter and the eighteenth verse; The house of Israel is to mee as drosse, that is by custome of sinne; and to regard of this kinde of sinne there needs not only water to wash away the corruption of our nature and the qualitie thereof, but fire to purge the actualll sins that proceed from the same.
The sinnes of Commission came by reason of the force of concupiscence, and from the lusts that boyle out of our corrupt nature, and the grace that takes them away is the grace of water in Baptisme; but the sinnes of omission proceede of the coldnesse and neligence of our nature to doe good, such as was in the church of Laodicea, Rev. the third chapter and fifteenth verse, and therefore such sinnes must be taken away with the fiery Grace of God. Secondly, for the quality of the Cole; it is not only a burning Cole, but taketh from the Altar; to each of us that our zeale must bee sanctified and come from the spirit of God. The fires that are appointed by earthly Judges to terrifie malefactors from offending, may draw a skinne over the spirituall wounds of their Soules, so as (for feare) they will escheu and forbeare to sinne, but it is the fire of the Altar, and the inward Graces of Gods spirit that taketh away the corruption and healeth the wound; therefore as in the Law God tooke order there should ever bee fire on the altar, Leviticus, the sixt[h] chapter and the ninth verse, so for the sinner that is contrite and sorry for his sinne, there is alwaies fire in the Church to burn up the Sacrifice of his contrition and repentance, even that fire of Christs sacrifice. The love which hee shewed unto us in dying for our sinnes is set out unto us most lively in this Sacrament of his Body and Blood, unto which wee must come often, that from the one wee may fetch the purging of our sinnes, as the Apostle speaks, and from the other qualifying power si in luce John the first chapter & the seventh verse; wherefore as by the mercy of God we have a fountain of water alwaies flowing, to take away originall sin, so there is in the Church fire alwaies burning to cleanse our actuall transgressions; for if the Cole taken from the Altar, had a power to take away the Prophets sinne, much more the body and blood of Christ, which is offered in the Sacrament; If the hem of Christs garment can heal, the ninth chapter of Matthew and the twentieth verse, much more the touching of Christ himselfe shall procure health to our soules; here we have not something that hath touched the Sacrifice, but the Sacrifice itself to take away our sins.
The application of this Cole is by a Seraphin, for it is an office more fit for Angells than men, to concurre with God for taking away sinnes, but for that it pleaseth God to use the service of men in this behalfe, they are in Scripture called Angells, Job the thirty fifth chapter and the twenty third verse. Malachi the second and the seventh verse, The priests lips preserve knowledge, for hee is the Angell of the Lord of Hosts, and the Pastors of the seven Churches in Asia are called [518/519] Angells, Apoc. the first chapter and the first verse; for the same office that is here executed by an Angell is committed to the sonnes of men, to whom, as the Apostle speaks, Hee hath committed the ministry of reconciliation, 2 Cor. the fift[h] chapter and the eighteenth verse, to whom hee hath given his power, that whose sinnes soever they remit on earth shall bee remitted in heaven, the twentieth chapter of Saint John and the twenty fifth verse. So when Nathan, who was but a man, had said to David, etiam Jehova transtulfit peccatum tuum, the second book of Samuel the twelfth chapter and the thirteenth verse; it was as available as if an Angell had spoken to him; And when Peter tells the Jews that if they amend their lives and turn, their sinnes shall be done away, their sinne was taken away no lesse than the Prophets was when the Angell touched his lips, Acts the third chapter and the ninteenth verse, for not hee that holds the Cole, but it is the Cole it selfe that takes away sinne; and so long as the thing is the same wherewith wee are touched, it skills not who doth hold it; but wee have not only the Cole that touched the Altar, but the Altar it selfe, even the Sacrifice of Christs death represented in the Supper, by partaking whereof our sins are taken away.
The word of comfort, whereby the inward Grace is preached unto us is, that the Angell said to the Prophet; Loe this hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity shall be taken away and thy sinnes purged: concerning which we finde that the Leper was cured of his Leprosie, not only by the word, but by the touching of Christ; but the Centurion said only but speake the word and thy servant shall bee whole, Mat. the eighth chapter and the eighth verse; so hee can doe what he will with his only word. It pleased God to take away the Prophets sinnes by touching his lips. And albeit he can take away our sins, without touching of bread or wine, if he will; yet in the councell of his will, he commendeth unto us the sacramental partaking of his body and blood. It is his will, that our sins shall be taken away by the outward act of the sacrament: The reason is, not only in regard of ourselves, which consist of body and soul, and therefore have need both of bodily and Ghostly meanes, to assure us of our Salvation; but in regard of Christ himself, who is the burning Cole. For ever since God ordained, that Christ should take our nature, and aptare sibi corpus, in the tenth chapter to the Hebrewe, and the fifth verse; that so he might worke our Reconciliation. As Christ became himself a man, having a bodily substance; so his actions were bodily. As in the Hypostatsis of the Sun, there is both the Humane and Divine nature; so the Sacrament is of an Heavenly and Earthly nature. As he hath taken our body to himself, so he honoureth bodlily things, that by them we should have our sinnes taken away from us, By one bodily sacrament he taketh away the affection unto sin, that is naturally planted in us. By another bodily Sacrament he taketh away the habituall sins and the actuall trangressions which proceed from the corruption of our nature. And here we have matter offered us of faith; that as he used the touching of a cole, to assure the Prophet that his sins were taken away; [519/520] so in the Sacrament he doth so elevate a peice of bread, and a little wine, and make them of such power; that they are able to take away our sinnes: And this maketh for Gods glory, not only to beleeve that God can work out Salvation, without any outward means, by the inward Grace of his Spirit; but also, that he can so elevate the meanest of his creatures; not only the hemme of a garment, but even a strawe, (if he see it good ) shall be powerfull enough, to save us from our sinnes. As Christ himself is spirituall and bodily; so he taketh away our sinnes, by means not only spirituall but bodily; as in the Sacrament. For if there be a cleansing power in the Word, as Christ speaketh in the fifteenth chapter of John and the third verse: If in prayer, as Peter sheweth to Simon Magus, Pray to God, that (if it be possible) the thought of thy heart may be forgiven thee, in the eighth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, and the twenty second verse: If in shewing mercy, and giving almes, sinnes shall be forgiven, as Salomon saith in the sixteenth chapter of the Proverbs, and the sixth verse, Per misericor diam purgantur peccata; much more in the Sacrament, wherein both the word and prayer and the works of mercy doe concurre, to the cleansing of sinners from their sinnes: Whereas the Seraphim, did not take the coale in his mouth, but with tongues; and applied it not to the Prophet's eare, but to his tongue. We learn, that it is not the hearing of a sermon that can cleanse us from sinne; but we must taste of the bodily element, appointed to represent the invisible grace of God. It is true, that meditation privately had, will kindle a fire in the hearts of many, in the thirty ninth Psalm and the third verse: And the word as it is a fire, Jeremie the twenty third chapter, and the twenty ninth verse, will also kindle a man, and heat him inwardly: But because in the Sacrament all those doe meete together, therefore nothing is so availeable to take away sinne, as the touching of bread and wine, with our lips.
The effect of this touching followeth, wherein we are to consider, First, the efficacy of this action. Secondly, the certainty; that as sure as this coale hath touched thy lips; so surely are thy sinnes taken away. Thirdly, the speede, that so soon as the coale touched, presently sinne was taken away and purged. The efficacie standeth, of the removing, or taking away of sinne, and of the purging away of sinne. The taking away, and purging of sinnes, have two uses: Some have their sinnes taken away, but not purged; for something remaineth behinde: Some have Adams figge leaves to hide sinne that it shall not appeare for a time; but have not Hezekiah his plaister to heal it, in the thirty eighth chapter of Isaiah and the one and twentieth verse. But by the touching of this Coal, that is, of the body and blood of Christ, we are assured that our sinnes are not only covered, but quite taken away as with a plaister; as the Lord speaks, I have put away thy trangressions like a cloud, and thy sins as a mist, Isaiah the fourty fourth and the twenty second verse, whereby the Lord sheweth that our sinnes are scattered, and come to nothing, when it pleaseth him to take them away. The other sense gathered from the word purging is, that God doth [520/521] not forgive our sinnes, as an earthly Judge forgiveth a malefactor, so that he goeth away with his pardon, without any farther favour shewed him; but that likewise becometh favourable unto us, and willing to doe us all the good he can: If malefactors can obtain their pardon at the hands of temporall Judges, it is all they can looke for; but they never come to any preferment: But God doth not only give us ventiam but gratiam; as he doth pardon our sinnes, so also he becomes loving and kinde to us: Christ doth not only take us away from God, that he should not proceed to punish us for our sinnes, but offers us up to God, as an acceptable sacrifice, as Peter witnesseth, Christ once suffered for sinnes, the just for the unjust, that he might offer us up to God, in the first of Peter the third chapter and the eighteenth verse; for as the wiseman saith, Take the drosse from the silver, and there shall proceed a vessel for the refiner, Proverbs the twenty fift[h] and the fourth verse: So after sinne is taken away from us, our nature is most acceptable to God, because there remaineth nothing but his own nature. Secondly, for the certainty; As thou hast a perfect sense of the touching of this coal, so certainly are thy sinnes taken away; which assurance we are likewise to gather to our selves, in this sacrament; that as surely as we corporally doe taste of the bread and the wine, so sure it is, that we spiritually feed on the body and blood of Christ, which is communicated unto us by these elements, as the Apostle sheweth, in the first to the Corinthians, the tenth chapter, and the fifteenth verse, that the bread broken in the communion of the body of Christ, that the cup blessed is the communion of his blood; that by partaking of this spirituall food we may be fed to eternall life. Thirdly, this act was performed with speed, the Seraphin came flying with wings, and being come, he hath a present effectuall power to take away his sinne; for a little before that he cried out, that he was in woefull case, verse the fift[h], Væ & mihi; by and by being touched and revived with comfort of forgiveness, saith, Ecce ego, mitte me in the eighth verse: whereby we learn, that the touching with the coal thus taken from the Altar, and the participating of the body and blood of Christ, hath a power not only to purge, and heal the sore of our nature; but that it giveth a willingness to serve God more cheerfully and carefully than we did before, it maketh us serventes spiritu, fervent in spirit Rom. the twelfth and the eleventh verse[s]; so that we care for nothing nor count our lives precious, that we may finish our course with joy, Acts the twentieth and the twenty fourth verse.
The summe of all is, that seeing it is a fearful thing to appear in the presence of Gods Majesty, and knowing that one day we must all appear before his tribunal seat and throne of glory, we do confesse with the Prophet, that albeit we have lived never so upright a life, yet if have been silent, when we should have spoken to his glory if we have omitted never so little a duty, which we ought to have performed, for all that, our case is miserable, until it please God by the burning coale of his Altar and, by the sacrifice of Christs body, offered up for us upon the crosse, to take away our sinnes: and that if we truly humble [521/522] our selves before God, and acknowledge our sinnes, then our sinnes shall be purged by the death of Christ, and by partaking of the sacrament of his bodie and blood; the rather, because in the sacrament we doe touch the sacrifice it self, whereas the Prophets sinne was taken away with that which did but touch the sacrifice.
Then, after the receiving of this sacrament, we must take a view of ourselves, whether we can say, Nonne cor nostram ardebat in nobis? Did not our heart burn within us? Luke the twenty fourth chapter and the thirty second verse, because in this Sacrament we find a fire of Christs love towards us; And whether we finde in our selves that willingnesse to serve God aright, which was in the Prophet, in the eighth verse, Behold, send me; Ecce, mitte me. As in regard of our misery we made the confession of sinfull men; so having experience of Gods mercie in taking away our sinnes, we must make the confession of Angels, crying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.
Lastly, We must not only shew forth the heat of our love to our needy and poor Brethren, by doing the works of mercy; but even to our enemies, as both Salomon and the Apostle teach, If thine enemie hunger, feed him, if he thirst give him drink; for so thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, Proverbs the twenty fift[h] chapter and the twenty first verse; and Romans the twelfth chapter and the nineteenth verse; For so as thou art a burning coale in thy self; so thou shalt kindle in him the coals of devotion to God, and of love to thy self.