O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.
To speak of repentance at the time of fasting, or of fasting at the time of repentance, is no way out of season; as tree and fruit they stand. Of these fruits, fasting is one. And this we now begin, a worthy fruit, even from year to year religiously brought forth in the Church of Christ. That we go not from one when we fall upon the other. The time of repentance will fall out to be a cum jejunatis
Repentance is here brought in, and presented to us as a tree with fruit upon it. The tree of God's planting, the fruit medicinable, of the nature of a counter-poison against our bane taken by the fruit of another tree. The fruit of the forbidden tree had envenomed our nature, the fruit of this tree to expel it, to recover and cure us of it.
Now this metaphor of trees and fruit puts us in mind that the manner of fruit-trees is, once a year they bear fruit. All do so, once at least; and if all, this tree likewise within the same compass, to bring forth hers.
And though at no time repentance comes amiss--good all year long, it may be taken every day, for repentance would be as familiar to us as sin itself, and as the one so the 417/418 other daily; yes at some time more than other, and at this time most proper, for then we have special use of it. That the body and the soul may keep time; and when we take physic for the body, we may do it likewise for the other. If all were well known, of the twain the soul hath more need.
This medicine is to be taken fasting, as the rules of physic are, and as medicines use to be. Men come neither eating nor drinking to take physic; when we will take that, we take nothing else. Thus fasting is a friend to physic both of soul and body. When we repent, no man will advise us to do it upon a full stomach, but cum jejunatis.
Of this tree and fruit God knowing the great need we have, has a special care we be not without it; that it be planted and growing still in our gardens, and that it bear us fruit whereof we have so continual use. As that paradise was termed the forbidden fruit, so may this as truly the fruit bidden, it is so enjoined, so called for of us.
And that first called for and before all other, as the first-fruits of the spirit returning to God. There was a first commandment in the Law; this, I may justly say, was the first commandment of the Gospel.
Go no farther but even where we are, where the book opens; St. John is at it at first. It is his very first word, 'repent,' sermo in apertione oris, 'the opening of his mouth.' So begins he, and so begins Christ; takes it up after him, word for word the same; 'Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand;' neither more or less. It is the 'the first-fruit of their lips,' both. And as our Saviour Christ began with it Himself, so gives He it in charge to His Apostles, they with it to begin likewise. Both when He sent them to preach to the Jews first, and again at His Ascension, He renewed and enlarged their commission and sent them 'to all nations.' That repentance first, first that, and then 'remission of sins after,' should be preached in His Name.
Which was accordingly by them pursued. Ever they stood on it as the ground-work, the fundamental point of all the rest. So it is expressly termed, 'the foundation of repentance from dead works.' On which foundation, would God more cost were bestowed! that while we are busy aloft on the scaffolds in our high points, the groundsills of religion decay 418/419 not for want of looking to. To lay them surely; which St. John doeth here, and we may all learn of him.
For having began above at the second verse with his poenitentiam agite, when he saw in the throng of auditory divers Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, he knew where they would be straight; --we should have an agite, a repentance with a penitential face and all acted. Repent? Yes in any wise that they would, and could do it full well and never trouble themselves with any such matter as fruit. This made Him lay it anew, to his agite to put a facite, to agite poenitentiam, a facile fructus. Else he disclaims fruitless repentance. It is none of his; it will do them no good, it will never quit them of the 'wrath to come.'
Where we see the good of repentance, what it is; to free us from ira ventura propter peccata præterita, which theirs will never do, which none will ever do, unless beside poenitentiam agite, that is the act, there be also fructum facite, matter of fact besides, some real fruits. And St. John asks, Who did it? and marvels much that nay should do it; teach them any other way how to escape 'wrath to come.' Tell them directly there is no other way, but that they do but beguile themselves, while they vainly imagine to slip through God's wrath with their fruitless, formal, slight kind of repentance.
If they will go to it indeed and do it, and so do it as it may be available to rid them of 'wrath to come,' then must it not be barren, but 'bring forth,' and that 'fruit,' and that not such slight and slender fruit as they commonly post it over with, but 'worthy fruits,' and such as may well beseem 'repentance' indeed.
The points we are to take into our consideration are; 1. that there is the 'wrath to come.' 2. but it is yet but 'to come.' That it will come. There is no falling into it when it comes, nor no abiding it till it comes. Fly from it we must, and fly from it we may. It may be fled from is in the text, we may be shewn a way how. Who shall shew it us? That will St. John here, who well can; he was sent to prepare it. But it seems we may be shewed a wrong way too, the Pharisees' way; but St. John's is the right. He that takes any other, the 'wrath of God' will come on him, which is to come upon all impenitent sinners.
[419/420] All which may be reduced to these two heads, which St. John would have imprinted in them and us. 1.There is no flying God's wrath but by a true repentance. There is no true repentance without fruits, and those worthy and well becoming it. 'Bring forth fruits,' therefore.
Of which words there is not any one waste or to spare. Everyone of them is verbum vigilans, as St. Augustine speaks, 'awake all;' never an one asleep among them. Each hath his weight. Nor never an one out of his place, but, as Solomon speaks, 'upon his right wheel,' standing just where it should. We will take them as they lie. I. `Bring forth.' II. `Bring forth fruit.' III. 'Bring forth fruit therefore;' Wherefore? That you may 'fly the wrath to come.' There will that fall in. It is the only true way; let no man teach you any other way to fly it. IV. Then, 'fruits of repentance.' And if repentance bears fruits then it is a tree. 1. Of the tree then first that bears them. 2. Then of the fruits it bears; repentance's fruits. V. And last that they be 'worthy fruits of repentance.' 'Bring forth fruits therefore, &c.' So fall they in order of themselves. To order them otherwise were but to disarray them and do them wrong.
'Bring forth.' At which at the very first, we shall have some sticking, as the world goes. All in carrying in, little in bringing forth. For to take our age at the best, and our ordinary professors in the prime of their profession, and this is our virtue, we carry well in, we are still carrying in; but nothing or as good as nothing comes from us, bring we forth. So this word comes very opposite to our times. All our time is spent in hearing, in carrying in repentance seeds, and other good seeds many. All in hearing in a manner, none in doing what we hear; none in bringing forth repentance, or any other good fruit.
At Athens they said to St. Paul; nova quædam infers auribus nostris. It is our case right--infers auribus, but it is an infers without a profers, any proffers at all. In at our ears there goes I know not how many sermons, and every day more and more if we might have our wills. Infers auribus, into the ears they go, the ear and all filled and even farced with them, but there the ear is all.
It puts me in mind of the great absurdity, as St. Paul 420/ 421 reckons it. What, 'is all hearing?' saith he. All hearing? Yes; all is hearing with us. But that all should be hearing is as much as if all one's body should be nothing but an ear; and that were a strange body! But that absurdity are we fallen into. The corps, the whole body of some men's profession, all godliness with some, what is it but hearing a sermon? The ear is all, the ear is all that is done, and but by our ear-mark no man should know us to be Christians. They were wont to talk much of Auricular Confession; I cannot tell, but now all is turned to an auricular profession. And, to keep us to proferte, our profession is an in-ing profession. In it goes but brings nothing out, nothing comes from it again.
But proferte, 'bring forth,' saith St. John, be not always loading in. And there is reason for it. As there is a time for exiit qui seminant seminare semen suum, in the Parable wherein the sower goes forth and carries with him good seed and casts it in, so there is a time too, saith the Psalm, for rediit messor ferens manipulos secum, that the 'reaper comes back and brings his sheaves with him,' the sheaves which the seed he carried in 'brought forth.' But with us it is otherwise. For a wonderful thing it is, how many sermons, and sermons upon sermons, as it were so many measures of seed, are thrown in daily, and what becomes of them no man can tell. Turn they all wind? or run they all through? for fruit there comes none. Omnia te adversum, all in; nulla retorsum, none out. It went hard, saith Aggai, when 'for twenty measures of seed there came but ten of grain.'--but half in half; why we would think ourselves happy if that were our case. Nay it was worse with Esay, an homer of seed yielded but an epah of corn, that was but one in ten. It were well with us might one but say that, for that were somewhat yet. To be wished we might see more, but till more come, see but even that.
Now that ground, saith the Apostle, that receives such a quantity of seed and returns no more for it, is near a curse. And those ears that I know not how many sermons and lectures, and all in a manner sine fructu, without any fruit that can be seen, are not far from it, from a curse.
[421/422] Which I would not have drawn to be spoken any way against hearing, but against our evil-proportioned hearing; not to slake our devotion in receiving good seed, but to make a conscience in some degree to proportion our fruit to our seed; to reduce out inferte and our proferte to some analogy. For if there be an analogy of faith, so is there of hearing also; sure if the body thrive not with it, and yet be always hungry, it is no good sign. It is a disease which they call boulima or canina appetentia, and would be looked to.
Well, there has been old carrying in, and little else; let us have some bringing forth another while. Be not always lading in, 'Bring forth' somewhat; else we stumble at the very threshold of the text and are not come to the first word of it, proferto, 'Bring forth.'
'Bring forth fruit.' With much ado at last somewhat there comes. Forth they bring, but what is it? It is well known trees bring forth somewhat else before fruit. And somewhat brought forth there is, but it is but leaves. Fruit it should be, leaves it is; there is all our product. So that here we shall be stayed again. Leaves come of the kernel as well as the fruit; so doth chaff of the seed, as well as good grain. What of that? We plant not for leaves, nor we sow not for chaff. We count that no bringing forth. Quid paleæ ad triticum? saith the Prophet;and quid foliis ad fructum, may we say? It is not chaff or leaves, fruit it is we are willed to 'bring forth.'
Vitis frondosa Israel we find in Osee, and ficus frondosa we have in the Gospel. A vine and a fig-tree that brought forth both, and so passessssssd the first, but stumble at this second, for fruit it was not; but as for leaves, well taken both, store of them. And so to many a tree shall Christ come among us, and find leaves possibly, but that will not serve. It is 'bring forth fruit.' What became of Osee's vine, we may there read, what of the fig-tree we all know.
Will you know what these leaves be? St. Augustine tells us, no man can do it better; It is to hear a sermon, and to praise the preacher: there comes somewhat, some leaves. His words are: Audustis, laudâtis; Deo gratias! semn accepistis, verba reddidistis. Laudes vestræ gravant nos potius, et in periculum mittunt. Toleramus illas, et treminus inter illas. Tamen fratres mei, laudes vertræ folia sunt; modo fructus quæritur. [422/423] 'You hear, and you commend,' saith Augustine; 'well, thanks be to God! good seed you receive, good words you give back. These good words profit us not, peradventure do us hurt otherwhile. Bear with we must, tremble at them we should. Yet when all is done, good brethren, good words are but leaves, and it is fruit, fruit is it we preach for.' Not the fruits of your lips, they be but leaves; but fructus operis, that fruit.
Now if you mark what it is our best sermons bring forth, we shall easily observe the most is a few good words of some point or other in the sermon, handles peradventure not amiss; and, hear you, well if that; but if that, looks for no more, there is all. And this leaf it lasts not long neither, fades quickly, as did the leaves of Jonah's gourd; one day green, the next dry.
And is this the fruit of our labours? Is not this the Pharisees' accepistis mercedem vestram? If the fruit of our labours be but the fruit of men's lips, we are like to make but a cold reckoning of it, 'to inherit the wind.' As if we came hither to bring forth a leaf of praise, to preach art and not spirit; art to draw from men a vain applause, and not spirit to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, fructifing to newness of life by fructus facite, fruit that may abound to your account and ours, yours that did, ours that preached to have them done.
The only true praise of a sermon is, some evil left, or some good done upon the hearing of it. One such fruit so brought forth were a more ample commendation that many mouths full of good words spent and copies taken and printing, and I wot not what. And sure it is, on whom a sermon works aright, it leaves him not leisure to say much, to use many words, but makes him rather full of thoughts. And when all comes to all, fructus factus, 'the deed done' is it. And it is no good sign in a tree when all the sap goes up into leaves, is spent that way; nor in an auditor, when all is verbal that comes and nothing else--no reality at all.
St. John himself in the next words following tells us, the fruit he means, it is not dicentes; and 'begin not,' saith he, 'to say,' for it is no matter of saying, either to yourselves or to others. [423/424] This is but a green leaf, and with the fruit doth not amiss, without it is little worth. It is not repentance in the leaves but with the fruit he calleth for.
I will shut up this point with St. Augustine's prayer before one of his sermons, that God would vouchsafe quod utiliter meditatum est cor meum, 'what my heart hath profitably thought on' to bring it thence into my tongue, and from thence into your ears, and from thence into your hearts, and from thence into your deeds; that so all may end in proferte fructus, 'bring forth fruits.'
Proferte fructus igitur. Igitur every where you find, slip it you must not; the whole weight of the sentence lieth upon it. There is in it the ground and reason wherefore, and so is indeed the root all these fruits must grown from. And the Prophet's rule is, to look to the 'root downward' before to the 'fruit upward.' First then, to find a wherefore for this therefore. 'Therefore' is the known not of a conclusion: then must there be a syllogism, and here it is, quicunque vult, 'whosoever of you will fly from the wrath to come, he is to bring forth fruit worthy of repentance;' but you are all of this mind, that you would 'fly from the wrath to come; bring forth fruit therefore.'
We must then cast our eye back to this 'flying from the wrath to come,' which is the medius terminus or cardo, whereupon all the argument runs, and the very life of the whole inducement. there is 'wrath to come;' that must you 'fly from;' fly from it you cannot but by this igitur; proferte fructus igitur.
Many are the therefores why we should repent, and of diverse natures. 'The goodness of God,' saith the Apostle, 'doth even lead us to repentance;' and well is him that will be led. But these here would not be led. St. John had used that before. Do it, 'repent,' and the 'kingdom of Heaven is at hand'--hard by you. One would think this would have done it, have even led them to it. It stirred them not; he is fain to lay Heaven by, and the life, joy, glory to come, and to take him to hell, to the anguish tribulation, torments there, for all these are in the 'wrath to come.' So to drive them, if it may be to it, since leading will not serve.
Strange, but such is our indoles; 'the kingdom of [424/425] Heaven,' works not with us as doth 'wrath to come,' so doth sin bewitch us. For the loss of Heaven, if that we all, we would never abstain from it; if no ira ventura, never care for the loss of Heaven. Repent or you lose Heaven, will not; repent or you must to hell, the place of 'wrath to come'--that bites soon, that makes an igitur, that will move us; and fly from it to make us fly to repentance.
St. John takes the course to show us somewhat to come; he chooses ventura, for the things present carry us and keep us from repentance. Present good cheer, present sport and mirth, present good company, present twenty things else, they make us no firm soil for these fruits to grow in. But then, as God would have it, besides these present things, there are ventura, some other to come that would be thought on. For in all our jolity, before we venture too far it will not be amiss to look to those ventura, and what will come of it. there is an ira ventura for peccata præterita.
Knowing the virtue of this piece of perspective, Moses doth wish but this, O si, O that men would but look mtyrjal look but that way, to the hindmost days, to the latter end! There is somewhat there worth our sight. The Prophets do the like: Populus Meus dliexit talia--it is Jeremy; 'My people, this sin they like, and that sin they love.' Sed quid fiet in novissimo, 'but what will be the end of this?' What will become of it at the last? Yea, our blessed Saviour Himself, and He should move us, most earnestly with tears in His eyes, 'O that you had known in this your day!' and could not speak out the rest for weeping. His meaning was, the ventura, what was to come upon them. So much does it import us some time to open a window that way. The clapping it too, and the putting them from us out of our sight makes us we care not, never look after the tree or the fruit. Ventura would much help forward this proferte fructus igitur.
These ventura, three of them, follow here close in the tenth and twelfth verses: 1.'the axe,' 2. 'the fan,' 3. and 'the fire:' I will only touch them. The axe first; for sure our days be numbered; there is a line stretched upon every one of our lives, and it no long line neither; quia velox est depositio tabernaculi hujus, 'the taking down of this tabernacle is not far hence;' death will come with his axe and down we go. [425/426] For it is not, saith St. John, 'laid to the branches but to the root,' and then we are past fruit-bearing for ever. Proferte fructus igitur.
After the axe comes the fan, to shew whether our bringing forth be corn or chaff, which is our doom after death. So long ago told of by old Enoch in his Maranatha, that 'the Lord will come,' come to 'judgment;' et omnes stabimus, 'and we shall stand' before His judgment-seat and the fan go over us; and there by these fruits here, and by these fruits only all will go, for none is in heaven but by it. Sinners both they in Heaven and they in hell; only this difference, they in heaven had these fruits, they in hell had them not. And then seeing they will be all kin all, Proferte fructus igitur.
These two ventura, come they will to all and to alike; we hear not of wrath yet. But her it comes. I go farther and ask, ventura, 'to come;' 'to come,' what? Ira ventura, 'wrath to come.' Whose wrath? His Who 'when He hath killed the body can cast both body and soul into hell fire.'
For after the fan comes the fire. The fan divides the corn and the chaff, sends each to his own place, the corn to the garner, the chaff to the fire, and 'every tree that brings not forth good fruit,' thither too. Proferte fructus igitur; else how will you 'escape the damnation of hell,' saith Christ? and mean the same thing. That of Christ is but a commentary of this of St. John. Ire and fire are but one thing.
Now the noise of fire will startle any of use even at midnight out of his dead sleep. Of any fire, but much more of this; Non est iste ignis qui ardet in foco tuo, saith Augustine. 'This fire is another manner fire than that on our hearths.' Why? ours may be quenched; that is, saith the twelfth verse, 'unquenchable fire.' 'A worm ever gnawing and never dying;' so doth our Saviour describe it; 'a flame ever burning and never going out.'
Now will I but ask the Prophet Esay's question, 'Who of us can dwell in consuming fire?' That is our fire which, as it consumes, so will it be consumed itself; but then he comes over again, but 'who is able to abide in everlasting burnings?' That can none do? Proferte fructus igitur. This, lo, is the wrath the very dregs of the wrath to come. But [426/427] 'who regards the power of this wrath? They I fear me least that will feel it most.
I have purposely stood upon this a little; for that as upon this day they were wont, by ceremony of giving ashes, to put men in mind of this fire. For ashes were not given to put men in mind of their mortality; dust had been more proper to have done that. Our mortality is grounded upon Pulvis es et in ulverem. But ashes, they come not without fire; where they are, fire must have been first. And so they most meet to represent fire and make us think of it. The ashes, they be blown away, but the memory of them, I hope. Whatsoever becomes of the ceremony, the substance would not be blown away after it. Sure these ashes laid well to the root of the tree, it hath been thought will make it bear the sooner. The present fear of future wrath for sins past will put some force into this igitur; if this will not, nothing will; this or nothing make the sap to ascend; this or nothing bring them forth.
Scientes igitur terrorem hunc: you have seen the terror; shall I open you a 'door of hope in the valley of Achor?' All is not terror in ventura; there is some comfort, that it is but 'to come'--this wrath it is yet 'to come.' So while it is yet to come, there is time given us to take order for it before it comes; that the fruit may come before the wrath, and not the wrath before the fruit; for then we are gone for ever.
There is another comfort, that though the axe and the fan shall come upon all, and none fly from either of them, so shall not wrath. That shall not come upon all, but all may, and some shall fly from it. Fly from it, I say, for there is no meeting it, no abiding of it when it comes; no standing it out, but fly from it we must, says the text; and fly from it we may. There is a right way, if we may be shewed it, and there is no right way but one; and who will shew us that? That will St. John teach us. He prepares it, and he is best able, and he knows no way but by proferte igitur.
But if there be a flight there is no flying it, not with the wings of an eagle, not with the six wings of a seraph; only the wings of repentance will fly from it. [427/428] But there is no flight intended. Proferte igitur will serve, only stand and 'bear this fruit,' and it shall be a supersedeas to all 'wrath to come.' You need not fly, you need not stir no more than a tree, but keep your standing, and bear your fruit, and it will not come near you but fly over you, as did the destroying Angel their houses in Egypt. 'To come' it is, this wrath; fly from it we may, this way to do it.
Yea, this one ay; but is there no way but this? It seems there was somebody shewing some other way besides that; St. John was a little stirred and asked, 'Who hath shewed you it, who?' Whosoever he was, he had shewed them a wrong way. So that even then, even in Christ's time and St. John 's, some there were that took a fancy they had found a nearer way to cut between to fly this wrath, and yet let 'tree and fruit' alone, and care for neither. And as it follows by a dicentes intra se, 'said within themselves'--somewhat strange things men will say there; 'fruits' are for them that have not 'Abraham for their father;' and so took themselves privileged from fruit-bearing by that. Christ shews them their folly; have you so, have you 'Abraham to your father? then do the works of Abraham:' that is, 'bring forth the fruits' that he did, For Abraham himself brought forth these fruits, went no other way but this, by proferte igitur.
The same may be said to another dicentes intra se of some of us. We have 'Abraham to our father;' so they: we have Christ to our Savour, so we; and make a short cut and step to Christ straight, and lay hold on Him by faith, without any more ado; thrust by St. John Baptist, him and his repentance both. Indeed so some go, but with more haste than good speed that vainly imagine to come to remission of sins, per saltum, over repentance head. But it will not be; Esay's qui crediderit ne festinet, is good counsel in this sense, not to cast away all, with making too much haste, but take St. John in their way. To him it is said, 'Thou shalt go before His face to prepare His way.' And but by that way he prepares Christ will not be come to. If he prepare one way and you go another, you will never come at Christ. Therefore he wonders Quis ostendit? 'who had shewed them any other way.' St. John knew it not, Christ [428/429] knew it not; and I cannot tell what to say, but they that go it I pray God it deceive them not.
But for this, 'of no other way,' Christ Himself is more peremptory. than St. John. See you any, hear you of any that perish? Nisi ,&c. 'Unless you repent' and escape that way, so shall you too, that is flat. There is no iron, no adamant binds so hard, as Christ's nisi. If any but Christ had said it, we might have sought some evasion. Now when it is He who tells us, there are but two ways, repent, or perish, choose you whether; repent here for a time, or perish there under God's wrath for ever; not to repent and not to perish, is not possible.
Which dilemma of Christ's no way to be avoided makes of the twain to choose this fruit of repentance, rather than to fall into 'the wrath to come;' to fly to the one, to fly from the other, which otherwise we are of ourselves but coldly affected to. For though it be somewhat bitter, this fruit, yet sure we are if it were ten times more, the bitter pains of ira ventura are far beyond it. Now the physic of the body and soul stand upon one maxim both, melior est modica amaritude in faucibus quam æternum tormentum in visceribus; 'better the bitter electurary than a burning ague; better a short distaste in the mouth, than a perpetual torment in the bowels.' Better repent for forty days than no Nineveh at forty days' end.
Shall we conclude then with the Psalmist, 'What man is he that would deliver his soul from the wrath to come?' And they all began at once to say, That would I; yes even they who shall not escape it will yet say, That would I; Why, by the bringing or not bringing forth of this fruit all goes, depends the coming, or not coming of this wrath;--coming if you do not, not coming if you do bring them forth. Proferte fructus igitur.
And now we have been at the root downward, to come upward to 1. the tree, 2. the fruits, 3. the worth of the fruits, three points yet behind, which will ask more time than is left, nay more than hath been already spent, and so the work of some other time. A word or two of proferte, and I have done.
First, take it not, this proferte, by way of advice, or as the [429/430] wish of a well-willing friend. No; St. John delivers it quasi authoritatem habens, as a precept or injunction; the word will warrant it. To say, Do this, belongs to authority--the Centurion will tell you so--and requireth obedience; 'Do this, and he doeth it.'
Then beside authority to enjoin us, there is a reason to conclude us. It is not made a proposition barely, 'Do,' it is beside a binding conclusion, 'Bring forth therefore,' whereto we in reason to conform ourselves, and conclude we will so bring them.
Last, besides these it binds the harder by the penalty annexed to it, as you will avoid the 'wrath to come,' and falling into it you fall from the fruition of Heaven to the damnation of hell. Which is poena poenarum, the penalty of all penalties most penal. This is the three-fold cord that binds it about; let some, or all of them prevail with us, to bring them forth.
But often it falls out, when we are agreed of the thing, we are not so for the time. Shall we at all bring them forth? If we shall, we shall take some time to do it in. Some time; yes that we all agree to. At what time then? It is not proponite, or promittite, purpose or promise to do it, hereafter to bring them forth, but proferte. What tense is proferte? the present; do it then in the present. It requires an act instantly to be done, bring them forth out of hand. This is a small note; but it is no small matter to get this small note born well away, to get our repentance into the present tense.
Nay then it sits nearer; for to tell you the truth as it is, the word is not 'bring forth' at this time, 'now,' then it should be poieÐte, in the present; but it is not, it is poi»sate, in the aorist, a tense the Latin hath not, nor our tongue neither. It signifies rather 'having done bringing forth,' rather then 'bring forth presently.' And I would to God we had even done so, had done bringing them forth, for then all fear were past! Ventura is 'to come,' but come it will, and when we know not. Both are yet to come for aught I see, wrath and our fruit. If the fruit come before the wrath come, it is well; but if the wrath come before the fruit come, where are we then? We are past recovery.
But what speaks he to us of having done? We have scarce [430/431] yet begun, scarce set the root that should bear this fruit. Well yet, this shews us it is the time we were about it, seeing St. John saith it is more than time we had done bringing them forth.
But well, to take no advantage of that tense, we will be content with the present, if we may obtain that. And so would he have it now; for 'now,' saith he, 'is the axe laid to the root;' now then or not at all. Nay not now; this is not a time, we have appointed other business which we cannot put off. Well one question more will make an end--if not at this time, at what time? If not now, when? But then this must be set down now it be as near now as may be, for fear ventura come not too soon, and take tree and all. This is sure, the sooner the better because the more likely; the latter the worse, because the less certain.
But when we speak of the present, we shut it not up in ipso nunc, in a day or two or three. Fruit requires a time to bring them forth; who ever heard of fruit brought forth on a sudden? Saw ever any man such a thing?--it is Esay, 'Shall the tree bring, or the fruit be brought forth at once' A gourd or a mushroom may shoot up in a night, so cannot fruit; it asks time. I take it to be an error and that of dangerous consequence, teaching repentance, to think it a matter of no more moment than to be dispatched in a moment, commonly our repentance is too soon done.
God knew it well, and therefore He allows a time for it; Ecce dedi ei tempus, saith He to the Church of Thyatira, He gave 'a time to repent, to bring forth these fruits.' What time might that be? He never gave certain time but to Nineveh, and that was 'forty days.' You know where we are now, and what that means.
We are not against allowance of time, so it be not to slip the collar, to be still uncertain. But I like not his saying Ôtan eÙkair»sw, yea, 'when I find a convenient time,' then. He that said it never found it; had it then, never found it after.
But if we mean as we say, would do it at 'a convenient time,' we cannot find so convenience a time as this. Take it first as the time of the fast, that time may seem to claim a [431/432] property in it. They go always together; in the Law their solemn repentance was ever at the time of their general fast. In the prophets, Joel tells, the 'best turning to God,' that is repentance, is cum jejunio. They that had not the law as Nineveh, nature itself taught them to do it fasting, when they took this fruit to taste nothing. In the Gospel John Baptist, the preacher, 'came neither eating nor drinking.' And our Saviour, though He did both, yet this fast He kept, though not for any need He had of it Himself, but as in other for exemplum dedi vobis 'to give us an example' and to point us who had need what time to do it in. Which has ever since from year to year been religiously observed, both as a time of public penance, and as a time of general abstinence in the Church of Christ, convenient for the time of fast.
And convenient for the time of the year. For if it will be the tree in the first Psalm, to 'bring forth fruit in due season,' this way it fits our turn, that season is at this season. It is now tempus proferendi; when can we better say proferte fructus igitur?. You can never 'bring forth' at a better time. The season is now come, and bringing forth will shortly be in season, of which the poet saith, Nunc omins ager, nunc omnis partuit arbos, when the trees will fall in travail, and they and the earth both make proffer toward, and give pledges in their buds and blossom of fruit that is coming, and will follow in due time.
We are made these offers, choose which we will; if we will keep time with the Heavens, now the Heavens return to their first degree; it is turning time in heaven. If with the fowls of heaven, and them Christ bids us look to, they know their times just, and just at this time make their return, the poor swallows and all; and so let us that the Prophet Jeremy upbraid us not with them. So whether we shall go by Heaven and the fowls of Heaven, or by earth and the fruits of the earth, they all invite us to the dispensation of this season. Yea, if we will give our souls leave to keep time with our bodies, the time we take physic for one, may be if we will allowed in like sort for the other; the opening of the year for both. Equal need is of both; if any odds, on the soul's side.
Nay, it has so fallen out, that repentance, fasting and the [432/433] every season of the year for the most part hit together. That of Nineveh the most famous; by the springing up of Jonah's gourd we may guess what time it was, we know what time it is when gourds spring. And for our Saviour Christ's, if we will take up His time, it is supposed He laid His also much about this time. For when the people were baptized, then was Christ also with them, as St. Luke saith; and immediately after His Baptism He was 'carried away into the wilderness,' and there began His forty days' fast. Exemplum dedi vobis, a pattern for us, both for our fast and for our time of it.
It is true, the solemn fast in the Law was in Tisri, which answers our September; but then take this withal, when it was so in Tisri, Tisri was with them their first month. So they also began their repentance with the beginning of the year.
And take this beside, that in that first month, the trumpet's first blast of all was to assemble them to their Kipher, their great repentance -day, that was their first work of all.
Now I shall tell you how it was. Between the fast and the Sabbath it is well known there was near alliance, insomuch as the fast is called a Sabbath, and both are said to be sanctified. 'Sanctify a fast,' as well as 'sanctify the Sabbath.' Their Sabbath was the seventh day, their fast was the seventh day, their fast was the seventh month. And it may well be thought, by whom and when the Sabbath was removed from the seventh day to the first, by the same persons and at the same time was the fast removed from the seventh month to the first, from Tisri to Nisan, the first month of all. Now Nisan is also called Abib of the first bringing forth of fruits in it.
Now in Nissan was the time when their Paschal Lamb was slain and eaten. The same is also the time of the killing of ours, of St. John Baptist's Lamb, 'the Lamb of God,' when 'Christ our Passover' was offered, offered for us in sacrifice, offered to us in Sacrament, to whom St. John Baptist will point us to take special notice of Him and of His time both.
And we now at this time to set those sour herbs and see them come up wherewith the passover is to be eaten, which are nothing else but these 'fruits of repentance.' Now to set them, that then we may gather them to serve us for sauce [433/434] to the Paschal Lamb. Thus every way we may say with the Apostle, 'Behold this is the due season,' Behold now is the convenient time. Now then, 'Bring them forth.'
And now all that hath been spoken would God it might bring forth but this, that seeing the time serveth so well we can no way except to it, we would not slip it! If we did but truly apprehend the words ira ventura, our eyes would not sleep, nor our eyelids slumber, nor the temples of our heads take any rest, till we had taken straight order with ourselves, For the 'when,' when it should be, at what time we should not fail but to do it, and nothing should let us but perform it once to purpose, and seal to ourselves this fruit; that yet once we may assure ourselves we are in good earnest, and that done it is, and such and such were the fruits we had of it.
A time, whensoever it will happen, which will be to us no less memorable than the day of our birth, or the day of our coming to any place or dignity. And as much joy and comfort shall we take in the remembrance of it as of any of them. The rest and repose our spirits will find upon the accomplishment of it, will be worth our pains and abundantly recompense our going through with it.
And when you come back again to St. John Baptist, and to bring him word you have 'brought forth this fruit,' he will then show you Agnus Dei; and then is indeed the shewing of Him in kind, and the right time of seeing Him. And that sight will be worth all; we will think we never saw Him before.
We shall be sure to fly the 'wrath to come.' Nay it shall fly from us, by us, or over us, but from us sure wrath shall fly; and instead of it the 'kingdom of heaven' will come near to us and we to it. For 'repent' and 'it is at hand,' say St. John and Christ both. It is our daily prayer it may come, and this is the way to make it come. What shall I say? We shall sanctify thereby this time of fast, and as it has ever been counted, make it a holy time; and we in it shall have 'our fruit in holiness, and the end everlasting life.'