But thou, Bethlehem, Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall come forth unto me That is to be ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
The prophet Esay had the honour to be the first that is vouched, and whose words are enrolled in the New Testament. The prophet Micah hath the honour to be the second. That of Esay, Ecco virgo, &c in the end of the first chapter; this of Micah. Et tu Bethlehem, &c in the beginning of the second of the first of all the Evangelists, St. Matthew.
They follow one the other; and they follow well, one on the other. That of Esay, His birth, this of Micah, the place of His birth. 'Behold a Virgin shall bear,' saith Esay, and Bethlehem will be the place where she will do it, saith Micah. His name, saith Isaiah, 'shall be God with us;' with us, saith Micah, 'to be our Guide' and conduct us. He with us in Bethlehem in the beginning of the verse, that we with Him in eternity in the end of it.
We have first a most sure word and warrant of the Evangelist, that 'the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of this prophecy;' that 'this day this Scripture was fulfilled,' when [153/154] 'He was born at Bethlehem.' In St. Matthew's steps we tread when we so apply it, and so treading always sure we are we tread safely. No."dv pilÚsei, 'private interpretation' of our own head; but Micah by Matthew, the Prophet by the Evangelist--ever the best.
To say truth, there is no applying it to any but to Christ, none to give it away to from Him.
1.From David to the Son of David, that is to Him, we read not of any other 'born at Bethlehem.' No record to be shewed but of them two.
2. But whatever become of that, this sure; none had ever 'His out-goings from everlasting' but He. None, of whom those words can be verified but of Him only, as Who only is the Son of the ever-living God.
3. These might serve; but it is yet more clear, this. For howsoever about Esay's Ecce virgo the Jews and we are not of one mind, yet for this here of Micah the coast is clear--the Jews will not quarrel us, touching it; there is on all sides between them and us good agreement.
For upon the coming of the wise men from the East, there was a synod of the High-Priests and Scribes called at Jerusalem--the very first that we read of in the New Testament--and called by the king, to resolve the point about the place of Christ's birth. And then and there it was resolved Conciliariter, that at Bethlehem; and resolved from this very place, for that these words were a known prophecy of the birth of Christ.
Upon which so famous an occasion, this resolution grew so notorious as it did manare in vulgus; the very people could tell this. They argue in the seventh of John against our Saviour by it, that He could not be the Christ; for Christ was to come out of Bethlehem, (that was taken as granted,) and He came out of Galilee, as they in error thought, but that was plain ignoratio elenchi. For though He were there brought up, He might be born at Bethlehem; and so He was. But so, Priest and people both knew Bethlehem was Christ's natale solum, and that this prophecy was the evidence for it.
4. Though these be enough, yet have we a greater witness than all these from Heaven--even the star. For whether this Scripture doth send us thither, the star doth lead us to Bethlehem straight. [154/155] Never stood still till it came thither, and there it stood directly over the place, as much to say as, 'Lo, there He is born.' And in this will we rest, since Micah and Matthew, Prophet and Apostle, Priest and people, Christian and Jews, Heaven and earth are all with us; all testify this text pertains to Christ's birth, and so to this day properly.
It is of a place; and place and time are held weighty circumstances, specially in matter of fact or story--Ubi et Quando, material questions. The Apostles asked them both; Ubi Domine? 'Where Lord?' Quando, et quod erit signum? 'When and what shall be the sign?'
Of the time when, some other time may give occasion, if it so please God. Now, of Ubi Domine? the place where. There we are to-day; whereto this is a direct answer, Bethlehem is the place. That first.
But then secondly, this circumstance leads us farther, to matter of substance. The place of the birth to the birth itself, and the birth to the Party born, Who is here set forth as a person. He comes forth once and again; He leads, He feeds; all acts of a person entire.
Thirdly, this Person is here said to have two comings forth. 1. Egreditur ex te, one 2. Egressus Ejus ab æterno, the other. In which two are expressly set down His two natures. 1. Ex te, from Bethlehem, on earth; thence He came according to His manhood. 2. A diebus æternitatis, 'from everlasting or from eternity;' thence He came according to His Godhead.
And last, to make it a full and complete Christmas in text, besides His place, Person, and natures in these two comings forth, here is His office also to 'HgoÚmenoj Óstij poimaneÐ, (so doth St. Matthew turn lvwzk the Prophet's word; I follow no other, for sure I am I cannot follow a better translator:) Dux, qui passet. One to lead us and to 2. feed us, and so to conduct us from Bethlehem where this day we come first acquainted with Him, to the state of eternity whence He came out to bring us in; there to live and reign with Him for ever.
So, I. of the Place; II. Person; III. Natures; and IV. Office of Christ. 1. The place of His borth, Bethlehem; with her [155/156] two epithets or twins as it were. 1. Parvula, 'little;' and 2. Ephratah, 'fruitful.' II. Then, of His Person That did come forth. III. After, of both His natures; 1. As man from Bethlehem; 2. As God from everlasting. IV. Last, of His office. 1. To be our guide, to lead us, saith Micah; 2. Dux, qui pacet; lead us and feed us, saith Matthew, both. And so leading and feeding us, to conduct and bring us to the joys and joyful days of eternity, whither without Him we can never come; and whither till we come, we shall never be as we would be, that is, truly happy indeed. This is His office. And as His office to lad and to feed us, so our duty to be led and to be fed by Him. That follows of itself.
Et tu Bethlehem. A word of the character or manner of the speech. For this verse hath no dependance at all on that went before. The Prophet breaks off the discourse he was in, and breaks into this of Bethlehem here, all of a sudden. This we call an Apostrophe, and it is one of the figures that be stirrers of attention.
For this we find, that while one goes on still with a tale in a continued tenour of speech, attention grows dull, and no readier way to awake it, as the masters of that art tell us, than suddenly to break off the point we were in hand with, and turn us to quite another matter, which with the strangeness will effect the hearer, and make him listen afresh, whether he will or no.
1. The Prophet doth so in this. He was but the verse before mustering garrisons and laying siege to Jerusalem, and in the midst of his tale falls from that, and presently is at Bethlehem; tells us of a new matter about a Child to be born there. This must needs move attention. Any Apostrophe will do it more or less.
2. But of all, none to that which is framed in the second person as this is. For it is not a speech of or concerning Bethlehem in the third person, (as that of Esay, 'Behold, a Virgin;' so here, 'Behold, out of Bethlehem shall come:') not enuntiative. But it is a speech to Bethlehem in the second person; et tu, 'and thou Bethlehem, out of thee shall there come'- annuntiative, which hath more vigour in it. If Esay had said, 'And thou Virgin shalt conceive,' it had been more effectual than 'Behold a Virgin shall conceive;' more a great deal.
156/157 3. But more specially yet, if in the second person we turn our speech ad inanimata, to things that can neither hear nor understand. Not, that we hold them capable of that which is spoken; but that if in any degree they were so, it is such as surely would move them. Such is the Prophet's here; turns him to the town-walls of Bethlehem, makes a set speech to them, tells them of all this matter; 'And thou Bethlehem,' to thee be it spoken, 'out of thee shall there come.' And this is very forcible, and full of life; for it intends that if the very walls and stones in them could hear or could rejoice, there is good cause they should do both; in that there should come out of them One, for Whom Jerusalem and all the cities of Judah, nay, all the world should be the better. Weigh it well, and you shall find there is more in this et tu, than is or can be in any ecce of them all. And this for et tu, the manner of the speech.
For the matter, it is an answer to the question, ubi natus est, of the wise men, 'Where is He that is born?' Born He was, that they knew; where born, that they knew not. The star told them one, the Prophet the other. Et claritas claritatem clarificat, and a clear star is made more clear by a prophecy as clear, or clearer than it. For very clear it is, the prophecy, without all circuity noting, naming, and in a manner pointing to it; 'And thou Bethlehem.'
And because there were two Bethlehems, one in the tribe of Zebulon, another in the tribe of Judah; he saith it was 'Bethlehem Ephratah' which is that in the tribe of Judah, as St. Matthew rather giving the sense than standing on the words cites it. There can be no error, Rachael's sepulchre was there by, 'Rachel was buried by Ephratah--Ephratah, the same is Bethlehem,' Moses tells us more than a thousand years before. As plain this as plain may be. No oracle of Delphos;--without any equivocation at all.
We have the place. Now what manner place is it? Et tu Bethlehem, parvula. Parvula, this 'little' doth a little trouble us. Why, it is a sorry, poor village, scarce worth an Apostrophe; specially to turn from Jerusalem to turn to it. And as little likelihood, that so great a State as the Guide of the whole world should come creeping out such a corner--Locus, et locatum ever are equal. That birth is sure too big 157/158 for this place. The Prophet dissembles it not, saw what flesh and blood would except straight; as ever they carry a conceit against some places and persons. And can any great matter come from them? What, from Bethlehem? What, out of Galilee? Nay, if so great a State, He would come from another manner place than that. Et tu Jeruslaem, from Jerusalem, Damascus, Cæsarea; from some stately city, much better beseeming Him. These are dictata carnis.
First, He denies not 'little' it was; and not Ñlgoj but Ñlgiotoj, not parva, but parvula; 'diminutively little.' So little, saith the Prophet, that it was not to be reckoned una de milibus, not 'one of a thousand,' for the meanness of it. And the Evangelist makes it rather worse than better; for the Prophet's word parvula he turns lacsth, that is minima, even the 'very least of all.'
This he confesses; but then joins this issue, that though the tu be little the ex te may be great. Ex te parvâ egredfietur non Parvus. As little as it is, no little Person shall come out of it. Though it be not una de milibus for the meanness, as saith Micah; notwithstanding. He That is to come out of it may be and is, electus Unus de millibus, 'One of a thousand' for His choice, for His excellency. Though it not worthy to be 'one of the thousands of Judah,' it should send forth One That should rule the thousands of Judah, and the ten thousands of Israel. And not of Israel only after the flesh but a handful in comparison of them He should lead, but 'the Israel of God,' His faithful chosen people all the world over. Indeed, He had answered the objection before He made it, in Ephratah; that 'little' it was but 'fruitful' and not a little fruitful.
Which two counterpoints make in shew a conflict or contradiction between the Prophet and the Evangelist. The Prophet saith, 'Thou are the least;' the Evangelist citing Him saith the clean contrary, 'Thou are not the least.' Bethlehem, minima, et non minima; 'least' and 'not least'--how may both be? Well enough, both; so both be not said, regard had to one and the same thing.
'Least' saith Micah, and saith true; for the compass of the territory, 'least;' for the small number of the inhabitants, 'least;' for the thinness and meanness of the buildings, as was seen as Christ's Birth, not able to give lodging to any [158/159] number; so 'least.' But then again, 'not least' saith St. Matthew, and saith truly too. Not, in regard of any of the three now mentioned, but of another, able of itself alone to weigh them all down; in that it should yield Alumnum tam grandem, 'so great a birth' as the great Messias of the world. One, Whose only coming forth of it was able to make it not the least, nay the greatest and most famous of all the dwellings of Jacob, of the whole land, no, of the whole world then. And thus, not 'the least.' Though minima for the tu, nonnn minima for the ex te; non minima if it were but for Him, and for nothing else.
What shall we make of this? Nothing but what cometh from it of itself without straining. That with God it is no new thing, (nay very familiar as even the heathen have observed, so familiar as God seems to take delight in it,) to bring maxima de minimis, Christ out of Bethlehem. Which is plain even in nature. How huge an oak from how small an acorn! But that asks great time. From how little a grain of mustard-seed, the very Bethlehem minima, 'the least of all seeds,' how large a plant! of how fair a spread! and that in a little time, a month or two at most.
But we are not in nature now; in this very point here of guides and rulers, therein too it hath been no unusual thing with Him out of small beginnings to raise mighty states. Their first guide, Moses, whence came he? out of a basket of bulrushes, forlorn and floating among the flags, taken up even by chance. The great beginner of their monarchy, and not of theirs alone but the two beginners of the two mighty monarchies of the Persians and Romans, Cyrus and Romulus--from the shepherd's scrip, from the sheepcot, all three; those great magnalia from parva mapalia. And as the kingdoms of the earth from a sheepcot, so His own of the Church from a fisherboat. We may well turn to them with this Apostrophe: And thou sheepcoat, out of thee come mighty monarchs. And thou fisherboat, out of thee four of the chief and principal Apostles.
'Even so Lord,' saith our Saviour, 'for so is Thy pleasure.' And since it is His pleasure so to deal, it is farther pleasure, and it is our lesson out of this Bethlehem minima, even this, ne minima minimi, 'that we set not little by that which [159/160] is little,' unless we will so set by Bethlehem, and by Christ and all. He will not have little places vilified. 'Little Zoar' will save the body, 'little Bethlehem' the soul. Not have, saith Zachary, dies parvos, 'little times' despised; unless we will despise this day, the feast of humility. Nor have 'one of these little ones' offended. Why? for Ephratah may make amends for parvula, ex te for tu.
This is on God's behalf. On Christ's yet farther, to stay a little upon this 'little.' For though there want not divers other good congruencies why Christ should come from Bethlehem, rather than from another place. 1. For that it was the town of David, and He was the Son of David; and so a place not unmeet for Him to come from even in that respect, being seds avita Out of thee cam David, and well therefore out of thee shall come David's Son; David's Son and David's Lord, both.
2. The surname of Ephratah puts me in mind of another; 'Lo, we heard of it at Ephratah,' saith the Psalm--there, the first news of the Temple. And, 'Lo, we heard of Him at Ephratah' to-day by the Angel,--there the first word of the Lord of the Temple. The Temple was the type of the Church, and that was heard of at Ephratah first; and no ways incongruent that where the Church, there the Head of the Church;--Christ, and Christ's Church both at one place.
3. There is a third in the very name of Bethlehem, that is, 'the house of bread.' For He that was born there was 'Bread.' But that will be more proper anon at Qui pascet.
But these, though they agree well, yet none of them so well as this, that it was minima--the very miniminess as I may say of it. For in so being, it was a place well suiting with His estate now atHis egreditur ex te, which was the state of humility, eminent in His, if ever in any birth. Bethlehem was not so 'little,' but He as 'little' as it. Look, what Apostrophe Micah made to the town may we make to Him, and with better reason; And Thou Bethlehemite, Thou wert as little among the sons of men, as ever was Bethlehem among the villages of Judah. So, novissimum oppidorum, as Micah calls it, suits well with novissimus virorum,as Esay calls Him.
And it was not the place alone, but all were little then. The time, in solstitio brumali, 'the deep of winter,' when the [160/161] days are at the shortest and least. And the people He came of 'little.' Amos saith, 'Who shall raise up Jacob, for he is small? Small ever; but never so small, never so low brought, as at His coming forth. Then at the lowest and the very least, as being then brought under the bondage of a stranger; and he, one of 'the children of Edom' that cried, 'Down with them, down to the ground.' One that made Rachel mourn in her grave (her grave was there hard by) for the slaughter of the poor innocents, within a while after. So place and time, and people and all, 'little; and He Himself less than all.
For even in the place, Micah hath not said all; for He is less yet. If 'little Bethlehem' offended, what could have been said if he had gone farther, and yet no farther than St. Luke? And thou, the stable, ex te egredietur, 'out of thee shall He come.' These are beyond Bethlehem parva, less yet; yet thence did He come too at His entrance into the world. And all these, nothing to His going out; another manner of diminuition there than all these. Such was His humility on this feast of humility.
And O thou little Bethlehem, and O thou little Bethlemite, how do you both, both place and person, confound the haughtiness of many that yet would be called Christians, and even near Christ Himself. There is in both of you, if it were well taken to heart, enough to prick the swelling, and let out the apostumed matter of pride from a many of us, whose look, gesture, gait and swelling words of vanity are too big for Bethlehem--whose whole carriage and course is, as if they were to be saved by one that came out of the great city Niniveh or Grand Cayre, rather than out of the little hamlet of Bethlehem.
But all this was done to bring that virtue in credit. I find no reason rendered of it but this; that by what manner of place He made choice of to be born at, He would teach us what manner of spirits He doth affect, to take up His residence and to rest in. 'The High and Excellent' saith Esay, 'That inhabits eternity, He also will rest with the lowly,'--with those that be no higher than Bethlehem in their own eyes. 'To them He looks,' 'gives grace to them;' 'to them He reveals [161/162] what He keeps from the great ones of this world.' And when He shall sit in all His glory He shall say, Quod minimis his, et Mihi. Say it forward affirmative, and say it backard negative; Quod non minimis his, nec Mihi; 'What to these minimus to Me;' 'what not to them, not to Me neither.'
To end this point then. For little Bethlehem's sake to love the virtue that is like it, and for the virtue's sake to honour it. Honour it--there is a star over it, there is a Saviour in it. Honour it for That which comes out of it, for the fruit it yields. More good comes forth out of that poor town, (mihi, saith the Prophet, 'to me;' nobis, may we say, 'to us all.') than from all the great and glorious cities in the world. What good, Nanzianzen tells us; Bethlehem honora parvam, quæ te inducit in Paradisum, 'it gives us our introduction to Paradise--Bethlehem;' it gives us a Guide to-day, if we will follow Him, will bring us thither to our original happiness; nay, farther than so, to the days of eternity. And Him we must follow, and it we must honour--even this virtue, if ever we mean to come there.
II. This for the place. Now for the Person who comes from this place. For being in speech of a place, he continues in local terms fit for a place, egredietur ex te. Egredi is 'to come forth,' and that is properly from out of a place. And the rather he doth it, because withall it is a term that fitteth His birth well. So the Scripture saith, 'Naked came I forth,' that is, was I born. 'The child that first comes forth,' that is, the first is born. This word is twice repeated. 1. Once, 'out of Bethlehem,' ex te. 2. Another, 'from everlasting,' ab æterno. These two set out to us His two comings forth, that is, His two Nativities;--nativity is nothing but a coming forth. Those two, His two natures; since nativitas est adnaturam via, 'Nativity is but the way that leads to nature.'1. Egredietur ex te as the Son of man, as David's Son; 2. Egressus Ejus ab æterno as the Son of God, as David's Lord.
Egredietur ex te. Egredietur is the tense of the time to come. To come, when Micah wrote this, and in the future; but come, when St. Matthew cited it, and in the præter--'When Jesus was born in Bethlehem.' But future and præter both are in time, so this His birth in time.
But the other hath neither future nor præter, neither mood [162/163] nor tense; nay, no verb at all. It is expressed by a substantive, to shew His subsistence before all time, from all eternity.
2. Ex is a place. Out of it He came, so in it He was. And this birth local, as before temporal. So was not His order. That hath no ex; that is ab, ab æterno. For as eternal, no place contains Him, He is every where;--fills both heaven and earth.
3. Te; that place is Bethlehem, a place upon earth. According to which it is said, 'There shall come a root out of Jesse,' (Esay's term, chap.11. ver. 1.) and out of it 'a branch,' 'blossom,' (Zachary's, chap. 6. ver.12.) and from it this fruit of Ephratah, the fruit of the virgin's womb. 'Root,' 'branch,' 'blossom,' and 'fruit'--all of the earth, earthly. But there came forth at the same time a star too, to shew He had another more high and heavenly being.
For this of Bethlehem was not His first flight as we say; the other, though it stand behind on the verse, was before that by far. Ex utero ante luciferum: ante luciferum, 'before the star of His birth--nay, before any morning star came forth,' He was come forth. A principio, the two first words of Genesis. But, to leave no place to doubt of his meaning, he glosseth his a principio with ab æterno, that is 'from everlasting.' By which very words, 'from eternity,' Arius' error of erat quando non erat falls to the ground. For nunquam erat quando non erat æternitas, 'never was there, call it what you will, when eternity was not.' For as 'everlasting' forwards is to quando tempus non erit amplius, 'there shall be no more time,' so 'everlasting' backwards is to quando tempus non erat adhuc, 'when there was yet no time at all.'
Now, let it not trouble you, that this His eternal is the plural number--'outgoings'--as if they were more than one. It is but the Hebrew phrase. They use to express the superlative ever by the substantive of the plural number; to call that man yrva blessings, whom they mean to be most blessed. So that 'outgoings' which is but one, but so high, after such a manner, so past our reach as Esay asks, Generationem Ejus quis enarrabit, 'Who shall declare His generation?' [163/164] no one, no singular will reach it; and so it is expressed plurally.
2. So use they also to note out continuance. And so, it sets out to us, the continual emanation or proceeding of Him from His Father èj ¢paÚgasma, the Apostle's word, as a 'beam of brightness' streaming from Him incessantly. Never past 'His generation'--but, as the schoolmen call it, actus commensuratus æternitati. For hodie genui Te is true of every day; yet, because it hath coexistence with many revolutions of time, though it be indeed in itself but one drawn out along, yet according to the many ages it lasteth, it seemeth to multiply itself into many; and so is expressed plurally.
3. Though, the principal sense always saved, we may refer this plural to both His 'outgoings;' both as Son of God before all times, and as Son of man 'in the fulness of time.' For the latter, though executed in time, had his outgoing (that is, the decree for it went forth), ab æterno. Even that 'out of Bethlehem' He should come; be 'the Son of man,' 'the Saviour of mankind,' and their 'Guide' to eternity. Even that way also in a sense it may be said, as man He came forth a principio, a diebus æternitatis; a principio for the efficacy, ab æterno for the decree. From the beginning there went virtue forth of Him, which wrought even then when He was but forth coming as we say, and not yet come forth. His life, His death, ab origine mundi. So, for the efficacy, a principio. As for the decree, that was gone forth from before the foundations of the world, from all eternity.
So now have we this Party, twice come forth, compound of Bethlehem and eternity. And now we have Him, what shall we do to Him? But first, what shall He do to us? With God, Officum fundatur in beneficio; 'He first doth for us, before He require ought of us.' This He shall do for us; He shall be to us,--lvwm is the word of the text, St. Matthew turns it \HgoÚmenoj. 1. Which in the first and native sense is a Guide for the way, Dux viæ to lead us: 2. In a second, is a Captain, Dux militæ, to guard us. 3. And to these two by of paraphrase St. Matthew adds, "Ostij poimaneÐ, Qui pascet, 'a Guide That shall feed us.' 1. To lead us in the way. 2. To guard us in the way. 3. To feed us in the way. In these three, His office. From a place [164/165] He came to be our Guide to a place. Still he holds on with his local terms he began with. For a guide serves properly to bring one to a place. There is in that word both the office He to perform to us, and the benefit we to receive by Him guiding. And it implieth also our duty to Him again. For if He to lead, we to be led by Him; 'He is become the Author of eternal salvation,' saith the Apostle, 'to them as will obey Him and be guided by Him,' and to none other.
Will ye see first, the necessity of both those 'His comings forth' for this office, to be our Guide? Egredietur ex te, first. He was to be one of us, being to guide us; for being of us, He would the better understand our wants, and have the more compassion on them. Therefore if a Prophet, 'A Prophet shall the Lord raise up unto you, from among your brethren;'--Moses' egredietur ex te. If a Prince, 'your noble Ruler shall be of yourselves, even from the midst of you;'--Jeremy. So he, egredietur ex te. If a Priest, then 'to be taken from men, and be ordained for men, in things pertaining unto God;' the Apostle's egredietur ex te. To every one of these; and these three be the great guides of mankind.
And again; as meet He should come forth 'from eternity,' if thither He to bring us. None can bring to a place so well as He that hath been there. There He had been, had 'inhabited eternity' saith Esay. Thence He came, and coming thence best knows the way thither again. So neither of His 'outgoings' more than needs.
Now to our 'Guide.' Where the terms of way and of walking and leading meet us so thick, are so frequent all along the Scripture, as plain it is our very life is held as a journey; and we, as the schoolmen terms us, viatores, 'in state of way-faring men or travellers' all, from our coming into the world to the going out of it again, still going on in the way or out of the way to look to; 1. our quo, and 2. our qua. 1. quo, our end 'whither;' 2. qua, our way 'by which.' St. Thomas said well, 'Lord, we know not whither Thou goest; and how then can we know the way?' Right; for ignoranti quem portum petat nullus secundas est ventus, 'no wind is good for him that knows not what port he is bound.' He that knows not whither he goes, wanders, [165/166] and is never in his way; is never in it, for he hath none to be in.
First then, quo, 'whither' Now the end of the verse is our journey's end, 'eternity.' Where if we may arrive, happy we; that is agreed on presently. So is not the way thither.
But yet, this I take is agreed; that if it be a ready way, we care the less for a guide; but if hard to it, then dux nobis opus, 'we need one.'
And sure, the way is not ready to hit; not so easy a fool may find it. It is but a foolish imagination so to ween of it.
By-ways there be divers, many cross paths and turnings in and out; and we like enough to miss it, if we venture on it without a guide. If there be not one to call to us ever and anon, as Esay 30.21. Hæc est via, ambulate in eâ, 'This the right way, keep it;'--if not, you go you know not whither.
The first point then is to find our own want, to think we are in case to need a guide. For if we need none, this text is superfluous; and thou Bethlehem, and Thou Christ, ye may both well be spared. If we be able to go the way without a guide, to be guides to ourselves, nay to be guides to our guides, then:--the world is come to that now.
Well, he was a wise man and a great counsellor that said when time was, 'How can I without a guide?' and the wise men at this feast were not so well persuaded of their own skill, but they sought and took directions. Let us follow them.
To get us one them. And not any one, but one that is skilful in the way: no one thing need we so to be advised of as this. For strange it is, but true it is; even they that be blind themselves will take upon them to be guides to others. You know who said, Si cæcus cæcum. That si was no vain si, no idle supposition; usque hodie, it is done daily. But the end there is in in foveam, a place we would not come to; and God keep us from it!
One then that is skilful. And where shall we have any so skilful as This, This of ours? He cannot but be so. It is sure, there were no better guide than the way itself, if the way could speak to us, and tell us when we were right or wrong in it. Now He, 'He is the Way;' the Way and the End both. As God, He is the End;--the fruition of the Godhead, the end of our journey. As man, He is the Way; both Way and [166/167] Guide too. His doctrine, our guide; His example, in the whole tract of His life, the very way thither.
Nothing remains but that we now set forward in this way. For as we daily sing in the Benedictus, He came, not to whet our wits or to file our tongues, but to 'to guide our feet into the way.' And into what way? Not of questions and controversies whereof there is no end, about which we languish all our life long, but 'into the way of peace,' even of those duties about which there is no disagreement. Look but to this feast, it is St. Augustine's note, didicerunt Magi, et abierunt; docuerunt Scribæ et remanserunt, 'The wise men they learnt the way and they went; the Scribes they taught the way, but they tarried still behind.' O do as did the wise men, dimmittunt Scribas inaniter lectitare, ipsi pergunt fideliter adorare, 'Let the Scribes sit still, and scan and read lectures of the way; on went the wise men on their way, and performed their worship, the end of their journey'--and so let us. This for dux viæ.
And this would serve for the way, if there were nothing but the way, if that were all. But if there be enemies beset the way to stop our passage, then will not dux, 'a guide,' serve our turn; we must have dux, 'a captain' then, (the second sense of the word _goÚmenoj,) one to guard us and to make way for us. For we are not only to be led surely without error, but safely without danger also. Such a guide we behove to have, as will see us safe at the place we would be at. And Bethlehem breeds such. Out of little Bethlehem came he that fetched down great Golias. And again, out of it this day He That 'shall tread down Satan under our feet.' Dux Messias, Captain Messias, as the Angel in Dan. 9.25. calls Him.
And for Qui pascet, we may not miss that neither. For say we be guarded from enemies; yet shall we go our journey but evil, if we faint by the way for hunger or thirst, and have not to relieve us. He is not a good guide that in that case cannot lead us where we may be purveyed of necessary food for our relief. It is all one to perish out of the way by error, and to perish in the way by want of needful refreshing. St. Matthew therefore, to make Him a complete Guide by way of supply, adds Qui pascet; such an One as shall lead more pastorito, 'as a shepherd doth his flock;' not lead them the way only, but [167/168] lead them also to 'good green pasture, besides the waters of comfort;' see they want nothing. Dux Qui pascet, or Pastor Qui ducet: choose you whether, for He is both.
Of the three, the name of the place He was born in seems to favour this most; to be ominous toward Qui pascet. Beth is a house, lehem bread, and Ephratah is plenty; 'bread,' 'plenty.' And there was in Bethlehem a well of such water as King David, we read, longed for it--the best in all the country. Bethlehem then sure a fit place for Qui pascet to be born in, and Qui pascet as a fit Person to be born in Bethlehem. He is not meet to be ruler, saith Esay, that saith in domo mea non est panis. He can never say that Bethlehem is his house, and that is donus panis, and in domo panis semper est panis. Never take Him without bread, His house is the house of bread, inasmuch as He Himself is Bread; that in the house or out of it- wheresoever He is, there is Bethlehem. There can no bread want.
These three abilities then are in Christ our Leader. 1. Skill to be a Guide; 2. valour to be a Captain; 3. and Qui pascet, Bethlehem, the house of bread, is His house. Of which, 1. skill serves for direction; 2. strength for defence; 3. food for refreshing.
1. Luce sacerdotalis scientiæ, 'by the light of His priestly knowledge;'--so He guides us, 'For the priests' lips are to preserve knowledge.'
2. And brachio regalis potentiæ, 'by the arm of His royal power;'--so He guards us, for power pertains to the prince principally.
3. And for Qui pascet, He is Melchizedek, King and Priest; ready to bring forth as he did bread and wine. But in another manner far than he did. The bread and wine Melchizedek brought forth were not his body and blood; Christ's are. Both Qui pascet and Quo pascet. As befor eDux et Via, 'the Guide and the Way;' so now here Pastor et Pabulum, 'the Feeder and the Food,' both.
You may see all this represented in the shadows of the Old Testament. There is a book there called Exodus, of Israel's egredietur out of Egypt. Therein they had Moses for their guide; and he led them to the borders of the Holy Land, and there he left them; to shew 'the law brought nothing to perfection.' [168/169] Then came Joshua, whom the Epistle to the Hebrews calls Jesus, the figure of ours here, and by his conduct they were lead and put in possession of the land of promise.
All this but in type of another Testament 'after to be made,' saith Jeremy; and 'upon better promises,' saith the Apostle; namely, our spiritual leading through this vale of vanity to the true land of promise, 'the Heavenly Jerusalem that is from above;' whither This our Jesus undertakes to bring all those that will be guides by Him.
Observe but the correspondence between the types and the truth. Moses, when he came to lead the people, found them how? 'scattered over all the land of Egypt, to seek stubble for brick,' to build him a city that sought the ruin of them all. Our case right the very pattern of it; when our Guide finds us wandering in vanity, picking up straws, things that will not profit us; 'seeking death in the error of our life,' till we be so happy as to light into His guiding.
Secondly, Moses was to them not alone dux viæ, 'a guide for the way;' but when enemies came forth against them, 'a captain for the war.' Christ was so too, and far beyond Moses. For He made us way with the laying down of His life. So did neither Moses nor Joshua. Would die for it, but He would open us a passage to the place He undertook to bring us to. Was Dux, a Guide, in his life; Dux, a Captain, in His death.
Thirdly, Moses when they fainted by the way obtained in their hunger manna 'from Heaven,' and in their thirst 'water out of the rock for them.' Christ is Himself the true Manna; Christ, the spiritual Rock. Whom He leads He feeds; carries Bethlehem about Him.
Plain, by the ordaining of His last sacrament, as the means to re-establish 'our hearts with grace,' and to repair the decays of our spiritual strength; 'even His own flesh, the Bread of life,' and 'His own blood,' 'the Cup of salvation.' Bread made of Himself, the true Granum frumenti, 'Wheat corn.' Wine made of Himself, 'the true Vine.' Went under the sickle, flail, millstone, and oven, even to be made this Bread; 'trod, or was trodden, in the wine-press alone,' to prepare this Cup for us.
[169/170] And in this respect it may well be said, Bethlehem was never Bethlehem right, had never the name truly till this day this birth, this Bread was born and brought forth there. Before it was the house of bread, but of the bread that perisheth; but then of the 'Bread that endureth to everlasting life.' That is might seem inter alia, to have been one of the ends of His being born there to make it Bethlehem veri nominis, 'Bethlehem truly so called.'
And this is His office. Now all the doubt will be how He can perform this office, go before us and be our Guide, seeing He is now in Heaven at His journey's end, and we in earth by the way still. No matter for that. He hath left us first the way traced by the steps of His blessed life, which we keeping us to, sure we are we cannot go amiss. And then, as before He came in the flesh 'He led them by the hand of Moses and Aaron'--guides chosen and sent by Him--so doth He us now by the hands of those whom the Apostle three several times in one chapter calleth by this very name, `Hgoum_uonj, 'guides,' by whom He leads us if He lead us at all. And other leading we are not to look for any; only to pray they may lead us right, and then all is well.
And they cannot but lead us right, so long as they but teach us to 'follow the Lamb whither He goeth.' For their office is but to lay forth before us the way traced by the steps that He went. Those steps, when all is done, are ever our best directions. And I mean to do but so now. As here, not to go a step out of the text, there are four or five of these steps, as many as we shall well carry away at once. And these they be.
The main point is; it is a place, and so to be gone to. We take this from the shepherds directed thither by the Angel, to resolve of transeamus usque Bethlehem, 'that we get us to Bethlehem.' There is the rendezvous to-day, there He will be first seen and saluted, there He began with us, then we to begin with Him; where He set forth, there our setting forth to be also. Indeed, there is no finding Him but there, this feast. There the shepherds found Him this day the first; there the wise men on twelfth day, the last. But thither they came both; both the shepherds directed by the Angel, and the wise men guided by the stars. The shepherds--in [170/171] them, the Jews; the wise men--in them the Gentiles. The shepherds--in them unlettered persons. The wise men--in them the profoundest clerks. The shepherds--in them mean men. The wise men--in them great states. Be what we will be at Bethlehem to begin, all. Thither to go to Him, thence to set out after Him. Transeamus usque Bethlehem.
How shall we do that? What, shall we go in pilgrimage to the place? We learn a shorter course of the Apostle, 'The righteousness of faith,' saith he, 'speaketh on this wise; say not thou in thy heart, Who shall go ever the sea for me? that were to bring Christ again into earth. But what saith it? The word is near thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart.' And this it is. Bethlehem hath here two twins--an epithet, a virtue or two. Get but them, get but your souls possessed of them, it will save you a journey. You shall never stir hence, but be at Bethlehem standing where you do.
Parvula is the first; you know, Bethlehem is 'little.' And look, what little and low is in quantity, that is little in our own eyes and lowly in quality. Get that first, humility, it is the Bethlehem of virtues where He in great humility was found this day. If we begin not there, we lose our way at the first setting out. For this is sure; where eternity is the terminus ad quem, there humility is the terminus a quo. Humility in the first comma of the sentence, where eternity is the period, as in this verse it is. And even here now at the first is Christ like to lose a great part of His train. The Pharisees are gone, all too big for Bethlehem they and with them all are ti m_ga, 'some great matter,' in their own sight. Touching whom we may use the Apostrophe; 'And thou Bethlehem' art too 'little' for these great conceits. None of them will come out of thee, or come at thee by their will--every one of them is a cunning guide himself; and no guide they, but sequuntur spiritum suum, 'their own bold spirit,' bid Bethlehem farewell; at it they come not. Well, parvula is the first.
The next station is to the next virtue, and that is Ephratah, 'fruitfulness;'- so it signifies: little it is, but fruitful. Fruitful, first, that it brought forth Him; for He hath brought, seen come of Himself saith Esay, longæum semen, 'a lasting seed;' the fruit whereof to this day 'shaketh like [171/172] Libanus, and as the green grass covereth all the earth.' I mean the Christians that were, are, or ever shall be. How great an Ephratah of how little a beginning! It is not only little, but Ephratah too; and by that know it. For indeed, good heed would be taken that we not to the wrong Bethlehem; not to Bethlehem Zebulon, that is Bethlehem on the sands, (so lay Zebulon by the sea,) 'Bethlehem the barren;' but to 'Bethlehem Judah,' 'Bethlehem Ephratah,' that is 'Bethlehem the fruitful.' That is, to humility to add fruitfulness, I mean plenteousness in all good works. Else it is not Ephratah, not right. Not right repentance unless it be Ephratah, 'bring forth fruits of repentance;' nor faith, 'without the work of faith;' nor love, 'without the labour of love;' nor any other virtue without her Ephratah. Ephratah is not the surname of humility only, but even of the rest too--repentance Ephratah, and faith Ephratah; et sic de cæteris, if they be true. Else be they but vites frondosæ, 'leaves and nothing else.' simulachra virtutum, and not virtues indeed; of Zebulon, not of Judah; and so, not the right.
Fruitful then, and of what fruit? That is in the very name itself of Bethlehem. Not the fruit of the lips, a few good words but 'the precious fruit of the earth, as St. James calleth it--lehem, 'good bread,' that fruit. Such fruit as St. Paul carried to the poor saints at Jerusalem, 'alms and offerings.' That is the right fruit; cum signavero fructum hunch, 'it hath the seal on it' for right. Such as the Philippians sent him for supply of his want, whereby he knew they were alive again at the root; in that they thus fructified, yields this fruit of a 'sweet of our and wherewith God was highly pleased,' as there He tells them.
It was not sure without mystery, that the Temple was first heard of at Ephratah, at this 'fruitful' place. No more was it, that which the Fathers observe of the trees, that were used about it. Not a post of the Temple, not a spar, nay not so much as a pin, but was made of the wood of a fruit-bearing tree; no barren wood at all in it. No more was it, that the Altar of the Temple was founded on a threshing-floor (Araunah's) where good corn was threshed. All to shew, it would be plenteous in feeding and clothing, and such other pertaining to this of Ephratah. Which, however they be with 172/173 us, will be the first and principal point of inquiry at the day of doom; even about feeding and clothing, and other works of mercy.
Now if we could bring these together, make a conjunction of them in Gemini, it were worth all. For I know not how but if there be in us ought of Ephratah, if we happen to be any thing fruitful but in any degree, away goes parvula straight. Straight we cease to be little; we begin to talk of merit and worth, and I wot not what. Indeed, if we be all barren and bare, it may be then and scarce then neither, but peradventure then we grow not high-minded. But so we fall still upon one extreme or other. If fertile, then proud; if humble, then barren. We cannot get to be humble yet not fruitless, or to be fruitful yet keep our humility still. Not Ephratah and parvula together. But that is the true Bethlehem, and 'there was He born.' And thus far I hope we have been led right, and are in our way.
But leading is not all. Here is Qui pascet too, and we may not pass it. For to that He leads us also, Dux Qui pascet. We followed a false guide at first that led us to the forbidden fruit, the end whereof was morte moriemini. This now will lead us to a food of the nature of the Tree of Life, even the Bread of Life, by eating whereof we shall have life in ourselves, even life immortal. That is His food He leads us to. And if we would forget this, both the Person and the place--the Person, Qui pascet, 'That shall feed;' and the place, Bethlehem, 'the house of bread,' would serve to put us in remembrance of it. Even of the breaking bread, which the Church as this day ever hath, and still useth as the Child-house feast.
We speak of the transeamus usque Bethlehem, 'going thither.' That may we even locally do and never go out of this room, inasmuch as here is to be had the 'true Bread of life that came down from Heaven.' Which is His 'flesh' this day born, which 'He gave for the life of the world,' called by Him so, the true Bread, the Bread of heaven, the Bread of life--and where that Bread is, there is Bethlehem for ever. Even stricte loquendo, it may be said and said truly, the Church in this sense is very Bethlehem no less than the town itself. For that town itself never had the name rightly all the while there was but bread made there, bread (panis hominum) 'the [173/174] bread of men.' Not till this Bread was born there, which is Panis Angelorum, as the Psalm calleth it, 'and man did eat Angel's Food.' Then, and never till then was it Bethlehem; and that is in the Church, as truly as ever in it. There shall ever be this day a Bethlehem to go to--a house wherein there is bread, and this bread. And will there be Bethlehem, and so near us, and shall we not go to it? Or, shall we go to it, to the House of Bread, this Bread, and come away without it? Shall we forsake our Guide leading us to a place so much for our benefit?
Ubi Domine, was the Apostle's question; and his answer Ubi corpus, ibi aquilæ, 'where the body is, there the eagles will be.' Let it appear we are so, for here is the 'body.'
Else do we our duty to Him but by halves. For as our duty to Dux is to be led, so our duty to Qui pascet is to be fed by Him. To end. And thus ducendo pascit, and pascendo ducit, 'Leading He feeds us, and feeding He leads us' till He bring us whither? Even to a principio, back again to where we were at the beginning; and at the beginning we were in Paradise. That our beginning shall be our end. Thither He will bring us--nay, to a better estate than so; to that whereunto, even from paradise, we should have been translated, to the state of eternity, to the joys and joyful days there; even to glory, joy and bliss eternal. To which He brings us, even our blessed Guide, That this day was in Bethlehem born to that end, 'Jesus Christ the righteous!'