Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, Behold, there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem, Saying, Where is He That is born King of the Jews? for we have seen His star in the East, and are come to worship Him.
I CHOSE my text for the time, the celebration of this day, that we may keep Solomon's rule, verbum diei in die suo; and therefore before I come to the text I will say a little of the day, this Epiphany, this manifestation of our Lord and Saviour.
We are still at the feast of Christmas, and this is the last and great day of the feast, as St. John said of another. A feast of joy it has been all this while, but this day was given us that our joy might be full. They were tidings of joy that the Angels brought, a while since, to the shepherds, Jews, hard at hand; but when the glad tidings of the Gospel came abroad once to all the people, as this day they came so, then were they no more tidings of ordinary, but of great joy. 'Behold, I bring you tidings,' saith the Angel, but not to you alone; though to you, yet to others as well as you, 'which shall be to all people: Hitherto, then, it was Evangelizo vobis, vobis Judæis, but to-day it was omni populo; that now a Saviour was born unto us all, Which was Christ the Lord. And indeed this is our Christmas-day, that were [1/2] Gentiles; for though Christ was born twelve days since in Jury, yet he came not abroad the world while now, and to us He seemed as yet unborn being but like a rich treasure in man's field, at this time not known to be so,) till He was this day manifested unto us in the persons of these Wise Men, the first fruits of the Gentiles.
There were many Epiphanies before this, for it was made manifest many times before. To the Blessed Virgin first, for she knew it nine months before, and then to John Bap-tist, before he was born himself, for he could seem in the womb to point at him, when his mother came, Ecce Agnus Dei, Qui tollit peccata mundi. And after He was born, the shepherds had tidings of the Lamb of God too. But all these were the Epiphanies of some few persons only, and the new Morning Star was seen but a little way, as far as Mary's family, or a field hard by, and no further. Now to-day His lightnings gave shine unto the world, and at his Epiphany not a few persons at home, or near at hand, but the nations broad, even at the ends of the earth, had news brought to them of it from heaven; and now this day not Jury only, (that was too straight for Him who must have the heathen given Him for his inheritance, but the whole world was tine better for Christ's nativity. A true Christmas-day this, and Christmas rejoicing right, when all fare the better for it. Before, the heathen were, about the hedges, shut quite out of doors; but to-day the gates were set open for them, as well as for the Jews. Which community was well figured, as the common note is, in the place that Christ would have his nativity happen in, even in a common inn, where every one might come, the Gentile as welcome as the Jew; and because perhaps they would not be together in one chamber, (for we read that the Jews meddle not with the Samaritans, nor keep their company,) therefore Christ would be born in the stable, where there is no distinction made, but all put together it one room. Or if an inn be not large enough, there is another figure will bold all the world, and that is the time of taxing [2/3] the whole earth, as St. Luke says, just at this time, wherein. Christ would be born, to tell us that He came to be the Saviour of the whole earth. For though it was but in a little town, saith St. Leo, yet the great world fared the better for His nativity; nay, it is but a small thing, saith God himself, in Isaiah, to raise the tribes of Jacob, or to restore the decays of Israel, I will give Thee a light to the Gentiles, and a salvation unto the end of the world. There He promised it, and this day He was as good as His word, for now, even this day, our eyes have seen his salvation, which He hath prepared, not for Jacob or Israel only, but before the face of all people, and to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as to be the glory of His people Israel. And we have heard with our ears, O God, and our fathers have told us of old, how Thou hast not driven out the heathen, as David their speaks, but planted them in, fetched them home that were gone astray before, fetch[ed] them to Thy blessed flock, that we might be all one fold under that great Shepherd, That would give his life for his flock.
This then is the day wherein the Lord hath made, made it and made us with it too; indeed He had made us before, but we had marred his workmanship; now to-day we came to be made again, and our second making made us for ever, we were now become his workmanship in Christ Jesus, as calls it. This is the day that the Lord hath made for us, and therefore this should be the day that we should make for Him too; rejoice and be glad in it, as it follows there in the Psalm, and as it follows here it the Gospel too; for St. Matthew says, a little after the text, that when they saw the star they rejoiced exceedingly, and so they proved the Angel's words true, tidings of great joy. And now I know there is no question but that most of us will rejoice too; nay, the world shall know that we do not mean to pass this day away without that. But such joy we commonly use as, God knows, will end with weeping and gnashing of teeth; our mouth shall be filled with laughter, if ye will, and we will be like them that dream, as the Prophet speaks, but not for the turning of our captivity this day from bondage, a worse [3/4] than that in Babylon, from the bondage of sin and hell itself. 'Sing we merrily unto God our strength,' saith the Psalm. No, 'Sing merrily,' an ye will, so far we go; but if we come to 'God our strength,' their our voice is quite gone, we have no skill in such songs, and yet this must our rejoicing, or else all our Christmas sport is but spoiled. It is true these are all days of joy indeed, of great joy; joy as much as ye will, even as they joy in harvest, saith Isaiah; but be sure ye take that along to make your joy sweet which the Holy Virgin taught us at the very first news of all, of any Christmas rewards, at the Annunciation, "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."
And his day became God the Saviour of the Gentiles, when we might see the star tell us, as Christ afterward told the publican, this day was salvation come unto us; even this last day of all the solemnity it came, to make it greater than the rest, the greatest of all the twelve, as the Catholic Church hath ever accounted it, the great and proper feast of the Gentiles, such as we were before it, and the last day was always the greatest day of the feast, as you may see in the Gospel. So I did not amiss to call this day at first, the great and last day of our Christmas solemnity. Last, I'll warrant you every tradesman will tell you (specially it he has got a twang in his head) that all these observations of times are but popish customs, they will not celebrate ye a day longer; nay, not so long neither, but for the law; the day of the Gentiles' calling, what is that to them? They have a tribe and a calling by themselves, that was marked out for heaven sure long before either Jews or Gentiles were stirring. And 'great' too, for the great and wide world was blessed this day with the day-star from on high, with the glad tidings of the Gospel, the tidings of the great Shepherd and the great King, the great King above all gods. Or because we will be sure to make it a great and high day, higher than the rest; if this Epiphany alone will not do it, we have two or three more actions, of that dignity that they would make high days of themselves, to add to it; for this day, saith St. Gregory Nazianzen, was Christ also baptized in Jordan, and [4/5] therefore he calls his oration, De baptismo Christi-Epiphania Domini. Before, He was born to us upon this day, and now He is baptized for us upon the same day too. And because it should want no honour we read that a year after his bap-tism He wrought His first miracle at a marriage upon this day too, saith Maximus; or, an ye will not believe him, the Second Lesson [appointed by our own Church will tell you as much. They are three only things which the Church hath ever observed for to preserve the honour of the day: and if you will have a fourth to make more exceeding this day than any other we read of, this was the day saith Origen, and St. Augustitne after him, wherein He fed four thousand in the wilderness with a few loaves and two fishes. Ecce quam magna et mirabilia fecit. Behold now, 'how many and how wonderful things He hath done for us to-day,' made us, baptized us, married us, ed us, all in this one day. And therefore among the ancients (as St. Hierome for one in whom I have read it, but Maximus saith he hath seen it in many more) it is not dies Epiphaniæ, in the singular number, but Epiphaniarum,a day of many manifestations.
And well may it be called thus, a day of many Epiphanies, were it but for the Gentiles' coming only; for if ever many things were opened at once that were laid before, shadows of things to come, it was surely this day. For though there was no such matter thought on before, yet now it is made manifest what; was figured by these same Exploratores, the spies that went out beforehand to see the Land of Promise. And now ye may perceive plainly what it was that Solomon's Temple must have the wood from Lebanon amongst the [5/6] Gentiles, as well as stones at home among the Jews; and that Hiram king of Tryus must help to build God's louse as well as himself, king of Jerusalem, and afterwards have twenty cities given him in for the Jews and Gentiles to dwell together in. And now it is plain what is meant that not Gideon's fleece alone, but the whole earth must be spread over with the morning dew; and that Moses had married a woman of Ethiopia; and that Samson must leave the daughters of his brethren, and first marry an uncircumcised Philistine, then fall in love with the harlot Dalilah: which manifests likewise what we were, for before this day we went a winging after our own inventions. And therefore it was well figured again in that, that God would have Hosea go and take unto him a wife of fornications; and that a woman in captivity must be married to Assuerus the king; and that Moses the servant of God must be adopted the son of Pharaoh's daughter; and that Isaac must have the inheritance, though Ismael were the eldest; and Jacob have the birth-right, though Esau were the first-born (which is St. Paul's application to the very honour of this day); and so that Ephraim must be put at the right hand of Jacob, though Manasses were the elder son, howsoever it displeased Joseph; and that Joseph himself must be sold for a bond-slave into Egypt, as we were before, and afterwards exalted to the golden chain and the best chariot that Pharaoh had, to the height of his kingdom, as we are now, for thus were we this day exalted; and lastly, that his father Jacob must have children by Leah that was blear-eyed, as well as by Rachel, that was beautiful and fair.
I hope by this time, it is clear why this day should be called the Epiphany; there were so many things made known in it, that lay under a cloud before; for these were all shadows yet. But now when this star arose, it enlight-ened them all, made them manifest what they all figured, even this day's calling of the Gentiles. Take but any of them; the blear-eyed Leah will tell us how blind we were before, as blind as men that grope in the dark, in time dark-ness of ignorance, darkness as black as that of Egypt; and that therefore this star, this day-spring from on high, did appear to-day to give light to them that sit in and [6/7] in time shadow of death, and to guide our feet into time way of peace; of peace right, for before we were at mighty variance with heaven. Before, we could hear of nothing but, to exe-cute vengeance upon the heathen, and to bind their kings in chains; but to-day the heathen are come into God's inheritance, and without complaint too; no more indignation now to be poured upon them, as it follows there in the Psalm, but God now reigneth over the heathen, and the princes of the people are gathered unto the people of the God of Abraham; and though the Gentiles did rage before, and the kings of the earth did band themselves against the Lord's Anointed, yet to-day they grew wise and took David's counsel, 'Be wise now therefore, O ye kings;' they came and joined themselves together for a better purpose, to worship the Lord's Anointed, Christ the Lord. Before this time God was known in Jury only, and His name was great in Israel alone, but now there is neither speech nor language but His voice hath been heard among them; and since the heavens have declared His glory, as this day they did, His sound is gone even unto the ends of the world, as far as the Magi of the East. Yea, though we were dogs before, and must not have the children's bread given us, as Christ bespake the woman, yet now He hath given us power to he the sons of God, as St. John speaks.
It was David's prayer that God would think upon His inheritance, and whensoever He thought upon it, to-day we are; sure he did, and it was time to think and have mercy upon her, yea O Lord, the time was come, for it pitied Thee to see us in the dust. And therefore as soon as Christ did but ask of him, as the Psalmist speaks, he gave Him the heathen for His inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for His possession.
And though we were never so far remote, men of the East and at the ends of the earth, as I tell you, yet God heard our cry to bring us out of bondage, and to turn our captivity like the rivers in the South. A cruel captivity, as I told you before, worse by far than that in Babylon or the land of Goshen; yet from this captivity, from this house of bond-age, hath God this day delivered us. And now we are at deliverance, will ye mark how like our deliverance to-day [7/8] was to theirs out of Egypt in every point. When Israel came out of Egypt, the sea fled so fast that David was fain to ask what it ailed: and might not we this day stand wondering, not at the sea, but at that which governs the sea, the heavens and the stars, for going backward? for this star that led these Wise Men went quite cross to all the other. 'Then as Pharaoh, he and all his host were troubled to hear the news of their de-livery, and raged so much that a man might ask them what ailed them too, so Herod here (ye may see it in the very next words to my text) he no sooner heard of our news, the news of Gentiles coming to Christ, but presently he and all Je-rusalem were troubled at it; and how he raged, the voice of weeping and howling that was heard in Rama, and Rachel that mourned for her children and would not be comforted, or the men of war, that knew what belonged to raging best, shall tell us, who went and slew all the poor young children in Bethlehem, where Herod thought to have put out the light that this day gave shine unto the world; but he was deceived, it was too high for his reach. And last of all, as Pharaoh, for all his raging, was overwhelmed and drowned in the Red Sea, so Herod here, howsoever he lived a while longer, yet he drowned himself he lived in the Red Sea too, even the sea of blood.
So then, for a conclusion, as God hath made this our day's deliverance like theirs, as we see in all points, what have we to do but to make the day, as they made it too, a day of joy and thanksgiving, a day of a solemn and set service. Moses with a song and Miriam with a timbrel in her hands that day. Woe to us if we had been still constrained to dwell in Mesech, or to have had our habitation among the tents of Kedar; then we might indeed have sat like unto them that mourn and have hanged our harps upon the willows. But since we are brought out of darkness, and now sit no more in the shadow of death, but have our feet guided by the light of his star, our hearts made glad with the tidings of the Gospel, now bring hither the tabret and harp, and blow up the trumpet of praise, for this is our solemn feast day.
And so I have done with the feast, and from the day I come to opus diei, from the time to the text, though I have not been far from it all this while.
[8/9] 'Now where Jesus was born in Bethlem.' And now when I begin to read my text, methinks it is not opus diei, it doth not agree with the time, for Christ was not born in Bethlem to-day, and indeed unless we go on it will not be verbum in die suo, Solomon's rule. And therefore to make it so, it follows, 'Behold Wise Men came from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is He That is born King of the Jews, for we have seen,' &c.
The text would do well to have no division to-day, because it is a day of union, wherein they that were divided before were made one under Christ; and therefore I might only call it the Epiphany, one general lead, find so away. But because we have been long enough about that, and for order's sake too, you may observe these parts.
1. A peregrination, 'Behold there came from the East to Jerusalem;' the first point.
2. 'There came'--not poor pilgrims or beggars that had nothing else to do, but the great ones, the sages of the land, Ecce, Magi venerunt; and that is the second point, the persons that came.
3. And they came, not like men that had no comfort or company in their journey, that they know not; but a gladsome director they had to go along with them, a star in the firmament; and that is the third.
4 Then for the fourth have you the end of their journey; the kings of the East came just as the queen of the South did, to see the king of the Jews, and therefore they ask, Where is the King of the Jews? Yet here they differed; for she came to hear and see and they came to worship, and we are come to worship Him.
5. And the last point of all is, the present occasion of their coming; which was Christ's being then newly born at Bethlem--'When Jesus' &c.--And here the kings' coming differed from the queen's again, for she came to see Solomon in his full strength, and these to worship Christ in the be-ginning of His age; she to behold him in all his royalty, in his royal throne, in his kingly city; these to behold Christ in all his poverty, his robes being but the poor swaddling-clouts that His Mother's mantle could make Him, His attendants not lords of the chamber but beast of the fields, and His [9/10] throne not of six fair steps, or a great ivory covered over with gold, but a rude manger covered perhaps with dust, or at the best His Mother's arms. This was the magnificence that they came to see, and this the King That they took all this pains to search and come from the East this day to worship.
1. I will handle the occasion first, because that lays first in the text, and so I will deal with all the rest. When Jesus was (1) born at (2) Bethlem, in the (3) days of (1) Herod the king; that is the occasion; and I will not handle it neither, I will but even touch it and so away; because, as I said before, it is not proper to the day. But somewhat we will make of it though, and because it stands in our way to the star, we will make a ladder of it, to bring us up thither, and we will go up apace too, for the time is short, and we have much to do when we come there.
There be but fourh steps in it, and the first step hits right; for it is fit to be the lowest of all, it is Christ's humility. Cum natus esset Jesus, when He was born, that Jesus Who was the Son of the living God, as St. Mark begins his Gospel, should come to be the son of Joseph, as St. Matthew begins his; that the immortal God himself should come to be a mortal man, the Lord of Life come and subject himself to the state of dying men,--this is beyond all degrees of lowliness. It had been humility enough, sure, had it been only Cum Jesus esset in Bethlem, and natus left out, to have been there at all, for the Son of God to have visited the sons of men in what majesty best befitted Him; but to he born, Cum natus esset, that was too much for him, man that is born of a woman, saith David, is a thing of nought. Nay, factus then had been far less, for so He might have lead a perfect body framed Him, and 'made,' in the vigour of His age, as Adam was, and so have escaped the diseases of childhood: but now, not to be 'made,' but to he 'born,' that is to endure many more miseries, misery within the womb and misery without it, the age next the birth is full of them. Yet for all this, Jesus natus est, He did not abhor the Virgin's womb (a thing we may see by that to be abhorred,) but was even content to be 'born' for us, as all miserable men are. This is first step.
[10/11] 2. But the second step is more lowliness yet, it comes a degree higher; a strange virtue this humility hath, that the lower it goes the higher it riseth.
Not 'born' only, but 'born in Bethlem;' the place where Jesus was born, in Bethlem. Why, if Jesus, the Son of God, must needs be born, a man would think he would have had a place fit for His birth; the glorious heaven would not have been amiss for this purpose, and therefore if Mary had been assumed into it beforehand, as they say she was afterwards', there to have brought him forth, it had been somewhat like Himself. Or if not there, because He must have come down upon the earth howsoever, yet the city of the great King, the city of David, would have done well; for we use to say that the place doth not a little dignify the birth; and therefore St. Paul knew how well it would do to say that he was born at Tarsus, a famous and a noble city in Cilicia. But now in little Bethlem, one of the out and despised cities, was Christ content to be born in; and there, not in a palace, or any house of his own, or his Mother's either, but in an inn among the common people. In an inn? No, I was mistaken, there was no room for him there, it was in the stable among the common beasts, and no soft couch spread for Him there neither. It was even in a cold hard cratch, in a very corner of the stable too. A man was he? a very worm, and no man; the scorn and the outcast of the people. Look ye, here is a ladder alone. Not in the glorious city of heaven, nor in any glorious city of earth neither, nor in any glorious house of any city; but in a mean city, and in a mean house too, and not by any right of his own in a mean house, but in a common inn, where every body had to do as well as He; and not in any chamber there, as the meanest comer would take up, that, but in the stable; and not in any large or se-questered room neither, but in a corner of the cratch. So far as He could go, no further, nor I neither; but this was strange; Him whom the heaven of heavens could not con-tain before, to be thus pent up: this was humility, lowliness to the height.
And now we are come to the top of the ladder. For besides [11/12] His immortality and immensity, which ye see these two, 'born,' and 'born at Bethlem,' have humbled well enough, He had other attributes to be brought low too; his eternity first, and then His power.
3. So we make the third step to be 'in the days;' when Jesus was born at Bethlem in the days. That He That was without beginning or ending, Which made the evening and the morning to be the first day for us, Which was the ancient of days Himself, that He should be born in diebus, 'in the days' this must needs be one degree more. It was enough, one might suppose, that place must measure Him before, the stable, in Bethlem; but to have time measure Him too, to be made a man of thirty-three years of age, that is to be more vile yet, as David said. And because we are at the time, we will see what time He was born too; for though it was in the days of Herod, yet it was in the night time, and in the winter time besides. For the winter, our yearly observation of the feast will tell us it was so; and for the night, St. Luke saith, it was when the shepherds were keeping their flocks by night, as you may read in his Gospel. Now the day time might have afforded some comfort, or the summer time at least might have helped the nakedness of His tender body; but in a cold, winter night to be born, there His charity was hot, that was fervent love indeed.
4. But it is not in diebus only, but in diebus Herodis, in the days of Herod the king, and that is a degree further, the fourth step; to have His power made subject to a tyrant. He That was the bead of all, it was strange to have Him live under any power, or if under any, yet not under a wicked and a cruel tyrant. If He must needs have a king over Him, it would have been good to have lead such a one as Pharaoh was to Joseph, or Assuerus to Esther, or Darius to Daniel; but to have another Pharaoh arise, that knew Him not, and in his time to be born, and to have a Herod that would make a howling over all Rama but he would kill Him, and then to come, this was more strange than all the rest. And yet, now I think of it, in diebus Herodis was a very fit time for Him, it was time He should come, for the sceptre was gone from Judah and Christ must come to the Jews. As long as it tarried there, God's prophets were enough to be [12/13] sent; but when it carne under strangers once, and under Herod, a cruel and wicked king, when the law of God was held in unrighteousness, then it was a just time for the Just One, the Son of God, to come; none could recover the kingdom but He, and He went a strange way about it; if He had not told us that his kingdom was not of this world, we might have wondered at it, and so we do still, to go no further than the text; for who would have been born in Jury at such a time as He must presently run into Egypt before he could go alone. This was to add misery upon misery, one degree upon another, till He came to the highest pitch of humility. Count we; immortality itself made a mortal man, natus, the first step; immortality confined within a cratch, natus in Bethlem, the second; eternity measured by time, in diebus, the third; power made subject to tyranny, in diebus Herodis regis, the fourth. By this time we are come to the very top of the ladder.
Where we may stand and see, not the Angels descending, as Jacob did, but the Son of God Himself descending from the bosom of his Father to the womb of his Mother, from heaven to earth, and this was the ladder He made for us to go up to heaven by; for unless He had come down, we should never have gone up. Whether He came with all His lowliness but to lead us again, and to tell us that here was nothing to be looked for, here below; for if there had, the Wise Men to-day lost their labour in seeking Him a out for a king. And therefore He lifts up their eyes to heaven, to the bright star there; which, for all His lowliness here, gave them to understand that He had a kingdom in a better world. And thus we see how this ladder hath brought us from earth to heaven. But yet before we meddle with the star, because Ecce Magi stands first in the text, we will come to them first, and that shall be my order in the rest, howsoever the division went; and now we are at opus diei, the proper text of the day. I have made a preparation, you see, to it, as St. Matthew did, that we might all account it the more solemn.
And first of all, we cannot but take notice of this same Ecce, Behold. It is a word set up for the nonce, a mark set up in our journey to Jerusalem, and it hath two faces, [13/14] two uses in the text, ore to make us look backwards, and another to make us look forwards; backwards to a word, if ye mark it, that we have left out all this while, Cum, 'When,' Christ was born; and forwards to all the rest, 'Behold, when He was born there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem.' Then, and not before, that is the first; and again, though not before, yet then, that is the second. So it hath two fingers, we see, to point backwards, first, cum natus, 'when He was born,' 'they came,' venerunt, and not before; for as long as there was nothing to he heard of but wrath and indignation upon the heathen, there was no coming to God, but like children that had heavily offended their father, were naturally fearful to come near so long; nay, as long as Peter considers himself a sinful man, Christ; must not come near him neither; and Adam must hide him-self in the bushes. Men with all their sins about them cannot endure to come near God; and therefore while He sent his Son to be born, That should save men from their sins, there was no encouragement to come. But now, cum natus, once, the second thing, then, Ecce Magi, Behold, the Wise Men came presently. Now, saith your new translation, instantly upon his birth they came, and go we and celebrate the day so. And so the publicans in the Gospel; they knew not, poor men, what they should think of themselves as long as the Pharisees were accounted the ipses of the age, and they but iste publicanus and hæc mulier. But when they saw Christ keep company with them, and send into the hedges and contemned places for the halt and the heathen, then they began to take heart; then, saith St. Luke, drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners. So, though we were afraid before, yet when we hear God say once, 'As I live, I will not the death of a sinner,' and Christ, that there is room yet at supper for them which sat at the lamb's end in corners and hedges, that breeds some comfort. And so when God spoke to us by the Law, the thunder and lightning was so big as we durst not come near the, mountain; but since in last days He hath spoken to us by His Son, since the lightning was turned into a bright star that told us a Saviour was born to-day, Cum natus esset Jesus, then we come front the east, from the world's end to seek him. And so much [14/15] or the first use of this Ecce, which sent us two ways back-wards by the relation it had with the word 'when.'
But, the chief use of it is to make us look forwards, for there we have most to behold. 'Behold, Wise Men came from the East to Jerusalem.' Ecce, as if He should tell us that it was no ordinary matter, but a thing well worth our marking, more than we commonly take it for. When He comes to his Ecce once, it is sure a matter of weight, of some great importance. So the Annunciation came with an Ecce, Ecce concipies, and John the Baptist with an Ecce too, Ecce Agnus Dei, and the Angel with an Ecce too, Ecce evanelizo vobis; all matters of much consequence, and there-fore sure some great thing it is, and no small matter that St. Matthew is about here to tell its; Ecce Magi. Indeed no small matter, that the Magi of the East, the Gentiles, should come to Christ, and that the star should enlighten them that sit in darkness. For what hath light to do with darkness? saith the Apostle, aut quæ participatio est justitæ cum iniquitate? What, should holy things be cast unto dogs? or what should soothsayers do amongst the prophets, and pro-fane diviners with the holy divinity of Christ? Sure this is a strange mystery, worth the attending and listening to, worth the going out to see, Ecce Magi, Behold the magicians of the East. It was nothing such a wonder that the Angels came down from heaven to worship Him; they were always used to it before; and though it was a strange thing that the rude, ignorant shepherds should come and acknowledge God come in the flesh, yet much more marvellous was it that such men as these Magi, sacrilegi et maliferi, as St. Austin calls them, and tutored by the devil, as St. Hierome speaks, cultores idotorum et divini nominis hostes, as St. Basil, [15/16] St. Ambrose, and some other of the Fathers make them; for them to come and acknowledge the Son of God, as poorly as He lay, this was beyond an ordinary miracle. Or whether these Magi were such kind of men or no, or but only so called for their admirable wisdom and learning, or their account above other people, as the philosophi were among the Grecians, and the sapientes and doctores among the Latins, which is St. Chrysostom's, and Anselm's, and Bede's opinion, besides many other, both of ancient and modern writers, and which is the fairest sense for us to follow, seeing our own Church hath gone before us in it, and translated it so, "Behold, Wise Men," I say if they were but thus, yet Gentiles they were, remote from God's covenant, even as far as the ends of the earth were from Jerusalem, the cast from the west; and therefore St. Matthew might well set an Ecce upon it, and bid us wonder how they should come thither. Ecce venerunt magi.
I will not now trouble myself and you both, as many do, to tell you how many of these Magi there were, three, or more; or to tell you a tale out of Petrus de Palude how, being kings at first, they left that office for St. Thomas to make them all archbishops in their country, and how after two of them were dead, and laid close together in their graves, they started one from another to make room for the third; and how Helen, Constantine's mother, begged their bodies, of the patriarch there, and carried them to Constantinople, and front thence how they came to Millaine, in St. Ambrose days, and then to Colein at last, which makes them now to be called the Three Kings of Colein; and what their names were besides all this. These kind of speculations will do us little stead, which way soever they go. Yet for their number as I would not be too curious to search, so I would not be too boisterous to condemn and think every thing popery that we read not in the text. It hath been a very ancient tradition, (Leo hath it in his Sermons) and perhaps [16/17] at the first they had better reason for it than we know of now. And for their dignity, whether they were kings or no, I cannot tell; yet Tertullian says (and Tully likewise before him) they would have no other kings there but Magi, such as these were; and it hath been an old custom of the Church (howsoever our new masters deride it) to apply that saying in the Psalms, 'The kings of Tharsis and of the isles shall bring gifts, and that in Isaiah, 'Gentiles shall walk in Thy light, and kings at the brightness of thy rising up,'--to these Wise Men. Kings! why doth not St. Matthew call then so then? There may be reason for that. It more concerns us and God too, to have Christ acknowledged by the wise, than by any king whatsoever; and perhaps he would teach us by it that the greatest honour we can have is to be wise men (it is a good use for us to make of it, at least).
Regem non faciunt operi;
* * * *
Rex est qui posuit metus
Et dixi mala pectoris
Herod indeed, he might afford him the name of a king well enough, it was the only thing he had to stand upon: but for them that had wisdom to commend them, and came to worship him that had no kingdom of this world, it was no great matter to tell of their kingdoms. Herod, we know, made so much of his crown that rather than it should off he would murder all the coasts about him; whereas they contemned theirs so much (if they had any) that they took them off themselves and threw them at Christ's feet. So that they might be kings, for all St. Matthew calls them not so; or if not kings, as the tradition and sound authority goes, yet all stories will make them the nobles and great ones of their country, men of no small account, as likely to be kings, such as they had in these parts, as any else.
And here now we may set up the Ecce again. Ecce Magi. Not men of mean condition, the outcasts of the people, or [17/18] poor pilgrims that had little else to do but men of authority and rule where they were, men famous besides for their knowledge, whose books to look on were as large as the heavens. Reguli at least, if not reges, came from the East to Jerusalem, great men, the unlikeliest of any to take so much pains for devotion; more ready, a man would think, as these times go, to take their pleasure at home than to go upon pilgrimage abroad; to attend the world than to go and worship Him that had nothing of it. And yet, great ones as they were, they came for all that, to tell us, first, Who should come after, how the only way to be great is to be little, lowly before God the only way to be accounted kings, to be servants, to come and worship God; which we acknowledge every day in our Church service, Cui service regnare est, as the old collect goes, 'Whose service is perfect freedom,' that is a kingdom right. And then to watch besides, that godliness and greatness would do well together, the king's house and God's house joined close to one another, for the more honour of both. The great ones of our age take journeys too, but it is for another purpose, not for religion's sake. Yes, saith St. John, I saw him riding upon a brave horse, but Death and Hell were his companions. Be we then what we will be, rich, or wise, or great, we had need take care where we go, for fear of such companions by the way. The best way will be to follow those Magi, even in their way to Christ; and then we shall not have darkness and death, but God's Spirit and a star in heaven go along with us.
But before we can go any further in the pilgrimage, there is a stop by the way, and that is one that asks us why these Gentiles come so late? Whey not they, learned an quick men, as soon as the ignorant and dull shepherds? We might say that the East was further off' a great deal than the next field; but howsoever, sure I am that the Jews were nearer to God than the Gentiles, we were all strangers to the covenant; et ergo (says one) qui remotiores errant a foedere tardius accesserunt, and the Gospel ought first to come to you, saith St. Paul to the Jews. Therefore came the Magi last. And [18/19] then (because there are more questions) Christ was not manifested to the learned, but the ignorant Jews; nor to the religious and just men of the time, but to the sinful Gentiles; nec doctis, nee justis (saith St. Austin,) quippe Qui venerat Stulta eligere ut confunderet sapientes, and not to call the righteousnesss but sinners to repentance. Therefore came the Magi, sinful men. And lastly: He was made known to the Jews in the persons of shepherds, and to the Gentiles in the persons of great men, that we might know how the chief pastors and ministers of Christ's Church should come from the Jews, as St. Peter and the rest of the Apostles; but the chief defenders of it, kings and princes, they should come out of the Gentiles, as indeed they did. Therefore came the Magi, great men.
And now the way is clear, I go on. Ecce Magi venerunt. 'Came.' So the persons we have done with all, and now we are at their full pilgrimage, 'Came from the East.' And here we will go apace, for we have a great way yet to Christ, the end of their journey and of my text. I am afraid it will grow late before I shall get half way.
And first therefore, it will not be best to trouble you with knowing what country they came from, whether from Persia, as St. Chrysostom and St. Basil; or Arabia, as Justin Martyr and Cyprian; or from Chaldea, as Maximus and Chrysologus; or from the furthest part of Ethiopia, as Hilarius Arelatensis thinks; or with counting how much time they spent in com-ing so far,---this would stay us too long on our way; and therefore we will haste or without enquiring after them.
'From the East.' Not from the next door, or a town hard by, but à longe, even from far, even as the Ethiopian in the Acts (whom some think they sent afterwards) came from the ends of the earth to worship at Jerusalem. A hard journey sure they had, saith St. Chrysostom, for besides the long way old, there were huge mountains and horrid deserts, great floods and rivers to pass, wild beasts and (what is more) beastly and wild men to pass by. And yet by all these difficulties they came, even from the East to Jerusalem.
[19/20] Now what a shame was it for the Jews which were round about Him, that the Gentiles from the East should come to seek Christ and they sit secure and idle at home, never enquiring after him. Or rather what a far worse shame is it for us, which be Christians now, when the heathen that dwelt at the world's end, and had so hard a journey, would come to solve and worship Christ; and we, that dwell even at the next door, will scarce take the pains to do it, nay if our chambers look into God's house, as we read the king's entry was turned into the temple, yet we stir but at our leisure; the least business, if it be but a little more desire of sleep, will hinder us; and if we be seated but a little way off once, why then Jeroboam's counsel is very good, it is too much to go up to Jerusalem. These Wise Men here shall not have our company by the mountains and deserts, we are more tenderly brought up; by them? No! not through a shower of rain (nay if it rains we will not go to church;) our ordinary sleep, or the beams of the sun will keep some of us in, so dainty we are that we cannot endure it truly; and if no body else will go, Christ may comfort Himself with His Mother's arms, for we have neither worship, nor gold, nor frankincense, nothing for Him. A greater offence, sure then, we use to make of it. These men of the East shall rise up in judgment, nay many more shall come from the East, and from the West, and sit with Christ one day, to tell us as much.
But as we go along, there is another yet that meets us, to ask, why from the East? there were Gentiles in the north and south too, why not from them as well, but from the East alone? Marry best of all from hence, it suits well to make even with Eve in Paradise, that as from the East; came the first news of sin so from thence should come the first news of saving us from site; and to make even with Balaam too, that as he came a montibus Orientis, to curse God's people, so these Magi (that some say were his scholars far removed) should come ab Oriente too, to bless all the generations of the [20/21] Gentiles after them. And ineed, from whence should they come but from the East? Omnes qui veniunt ad Christum, saith Remigius, must come ab Ipso from Him first; now He is the true day-spring,--Oriens nomen Ejus &c.--as Zecharias speaks.
Then this was the beginning of our bliss, the very morning of our happiness; and therefore, as the morning and day begin, so began that, ab Oriente, from the last both; and then because the sun follows the day in the East too, it was most fit that such as brought us news of the Son of Righteousness, the light that lightens every man which cometh into the world, should come from thence too. And if ye mark it, it was the most glorious Sun that arose here of the two; -the sun in the firmament being but a created body, this, He that made that so, that to lighten the body, and this to illuminate the mind. And now since we have begun to com-pare Him with the sun, we will make it good every way; for as He rose here in the East among the Gentiles, so He set in the West among the Jews. [And Jerusalem may well be called occidens, (says one,) the Sun of Righteousness went down there; or occident, either, an ye will, for besides that, it killed the Prophets, and stoned them that were sent unto her: at last it killed the great Prophet--even the Son of God himself.] And by this time we are come to Jerusalem.
"Behold there came Wise Men from the East to Jerusalem;" so their corning was like the sun's too, from east to west, and west was Jerusalem right, for it was fall of darkness, they had almost lost their light, it was even a-going out, and ergo time for a Sun to rise out of the East, which might give light to them that were sitting in the dark west, the shadow of death.
But to let pass the allegory, (which indeed should never be strained too far,) they came to Jerusalem; but why thither? [21/22 Christ was at Bethlehem. Oh, but this was the great city, 'the city of the great King,' and most like they should find the King they sought for there. Yet there He was not, and I told you the reason before; then why came they? Marry, for many reasons; there was first the Law and the Prophets, and God will have them looked in, even in the very search of His Son;--to let us know the true way to Him, and to eternal life, (as Christ himself speaks,) was by the Scriptures. Thou there was the chief seat of the land, whither God would have the news of the Messias brought, rather than to any other place, that from thence all the regions round about might take notice of it; for if they had come to Joppa or Jericho only, there might have been some excuses made, that we on this side Jordan had not heard of him, but from Jerusalem every body must needs take knowledge of it. And then again here were the Ipses of the time, the Scribes and Pha-risees, and masters of the Law, that would have scorned to have been told of their new-born King by a company of silly shepherds, or to have searched the Prophets for them. And therefore it was fit the princes and great men of the East, since they were now a-coming, should go by the way to Jerusalem to bring these master-Jews the news of their King; for how contemptible soever the shepherds' relation would have been, yet when such men came as the world admired for their wisdom and greatness, and came from far too, from the East, not likely to come in vain, it was like they would receive their testimony. But whatsoever a man would think, yet we see that they believed nothing, not one of them would go to Bethlehem to worship with the Magi; that their coming now to Jerusalem was to condemn and shame the Jews, oven the best of them, when these should take such pains, come; from the ends of the earth to the King of the Jews, and the Jews themselves take no heed of Him, when these heathen men should, with the light of one star see Christ was come in the flesh, and they, who lead a continual light among them, the Law and the Prophets, should be so blind as not to see Him; nay, and when they did see him there and showed Him to these men, as we see a little after my text, yet could not go along with them to acknowledge Him. But yet, as ill as they were, God would [22/23] have the Magi to come that way, for to teach us one lesson more, and that is that, omnia non manifestantur omnibus, and therefore they must come this way to ask what they knew not, where Christ was born. In the search of holy things we stand in need of great help, and since we cannot know all of ourselves, we must learn one of another, the Jews of the Magi, that there was a King born, and they of the Jews where He should be born. And last of all, to show that this was the time when the Jew and Gentile should come together, and be no longer parted; but since the King of Peace was come, that they should enter into peace too, teach one another the way to Christ. And therefore this was the right way they took, the way of peace, the way that Christ would have them, Who is the Way himself; so they came from the East to Jerusalem, the 'city of peace' too, and this was right to guide their feet in the way of peace.
And now we have followed them thus far, and are come along with them to Jerusalem, fain would we see what they do there, and so go along with them to Bethlehem too. But it is even fallen out as I told you I feared before, it is grown late before we can go any further, and therefore best staying here, for if we should go on, there be so many steps to be taken in the way, that the night would overtake us ere we should get to the text's end. But all the day must not be spent in preaching; and therefore since we are at Jerusalem, the city of peace, crying 'Glory be to God on high, and peace on earth,' let us take the peace of God along with us and so depart for this time.
Now the peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, That was this day made known unto us, and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost, be among us, and remain with us always. Amen.