Project Canterbury
Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology

John Cosin, Works, Sermons, Volume One



pp. 276­290

Transcribed by Dr. Marianne Dorman
AD 2003

St. John, I, 9-10. Evangelium Diei
Erat Ille lux illa, et vera lux, &c.

He was that light, or, That light was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, and He was in the world.

The Gospel of St. John contains all divinity; this chapter, all the Gospel; and this text, all the chapter.

It is of a light that shined in darkness; that darkness was the world, and that light was Christ, Whose coming into the world we are now come to remember, at all times to be re-membered, but at this time above others, when this feast is held, the feast of Christ's nativity, which St. Chrysostom calls omnium festorum metropolin, the metropolitan feast of the Christians, whereon they met together in a solemnity every year to celebrate the contents of this Gospel of St. John, which was read to-day in the Church.

Of the vision in one of the prophets, that was presented to him in four several shapes, it hath been usually received amongst Christians to apply the eagle to St. John.

And the nature of the eagle hath two special properties, [276/277] both described and set forth to us in the book of Job. Whereof the first is ipsum lucis fontem aspicere, to tower the highest of any fowl under heaven, and to look upon the light of the sun itself. The other is advolare ad corpora, to fly down suddenly upon the earth, and to be where the body is. Which two, if they be applied to Christ, are lively expressed by St. John; and nowhere more lively than in the Gospel of this day.

For as an eagle in the clouds; first, he mounteth high and casts his eyes upon the brightness of that light by which all the lights and all the things of heaven and earth were first made, the light that was with God from all eternity, that is, was God Himself. Higher he could not go.

And after this, down he flies from this height above to the body that he saw here below, from Verbum Deus to Verbum caro, which is the mystery of Christ's incarnation; and both these, the mystery of this day and the light of this text.

Wherein, because it is too long to go through it all at one tinge, therefore at this time we shall insist only upon such branches as will arise out of these two considerations; a per-sona1 light and a real light. (1.) First, who this light is, and then (2.) what it is; where we must look both upon the light of faith and grace, which is here also intended, and upon the light of nature and reason, which is a lesser beam that flows from it; besides some other lights that we may reflect on in the world, which will admit of an application to the true light of this text. And this light was as this day presented to the world, this day of Christ's blessed nativity.

Whereof that we may speak to the honour of God, and the preserving of Christ's true light and religion among us, we beseech Him for the assistance of his blessed Spirit.

Remembering our duty, and putting you all in mind to pray, both now and always, for the good estate of, &c. Therein for the king's most excellent majesty, in whose presence now we are, our sovereign master.

Rendering likewise praise for all God's mercies and favours to his Church; chiefly, as we glow come to acknowledge it, for the blessed incarnation of our Saviour, and for the light of grace and truth that this day shined [277/278] upon the darkness of error and ignorance; as also for all there that have been children of this light and have cast away the, works of darkness from them, and put on the armour of light, the choice vessels of His grace, and the shining lights of the world, in their several generations before us. Most humbly beseeching him, &c. Concluding, as we shall do now, with

Pater Noster, &c.

Erat Ille lux illa. That light was the true light.

It was to injury common to all the four Evangelists, that all their Gospels were severally refused by one sect of heretics or other, and this we have from Irenæus, who lived in their time, and wrote against them, not long after the time of the Apostles.

But it was a peculiar injury, and proper to St. John alone, to be refused by a sect that admitted all the other three Evangelists, and rejected his Gospel only; and this we have from Epiphanius, who wrote of them in his time, and called them, as the Christians then did, oi yiloskioi, or lucifugi, that is, men that loved their own darkness, and hated this light so much, which St. John here sets forth, as that they could neither abide to see it nor to hear of it. They would none of his Gospel, because there was a light in it that discovered their darkness, the darkness of their deeds, and the darkness of their wits besides.

For they were a limb and a branch of the black rowled Arian; who being unable to look upon the glorious splendour of this light attributed by St. John to Christ, and not com-prehending the great mystery of this day, that He Who was Verbum caro, and came into the world, was Verbum Deus too, before all worlds; they took a round and a short way to con-demn all that they did not by the light of their own wits and reason understand, and therefore they refused the whole Gospel.

[278/279] Indeed his whole Gospel is comprehended in this very beginning of it; and in a few verses here at first, whereof this text is one, he hath contracted all that which is exten-sively spread and dilated through the whole book.

For here is, first, the foundation of all in the divinity of Christ, that light; and secondly, here is the execution of all in the incarnation of Christ, another light; and thirdly, here is the effect of all in the application of Christ, which is a light of grace and truth revealed to all the world; points of belief all, and proper to this day, but no less behoveful for us than points of practice be. For I believe the reason that most melt live no better is, because they believe no better. They think too meanly of Christ, they apprehend not truly what He is, they are offended in Him. For if they did indeed believe either the majesty of his person, or the greatness of His power, or the mystery of His incarnation, or the truth of His word, they would not, they durst not, take that liberty that they do to follow their own ways so much, and to regard His so little, as most an end they are; for this is both their rule and ours; theirs, the less faith men have of Christ the less reverence they will be bound to have for him; and ours, the surer belief; the better life.

Begin then with his divinity, which is his first, Erat Ille lux illa, His eternal light, in Verbum erat in principio; for that Verbum, that Verb, that Word, was Christ, and whoever likes not that word there used for him thinks himself wiser than St. John and him both, and must of necessity get him either a new grammar or a new Scripture. But St. John must not be taught how to speak. Christ was that Word and that Word was this Light, and this Light was from the beginning here, and that beginning was before the beginning of Genesis; for that was but the beginning of the world, all this was before all worlds, this Light before all other lights whatsoever; for all other lights were made by It, and fiat lux was the first word that this Word spake when H made all the world besides.

And though the first book of the Bible, that Genesis, and the last book of it, this Gospel, (for this was the last book that was written of all the Bible,) though they begin both [279/280] with the same words, 'In the beginning,' both this and that, yet if Moses begins only with the creation, which was not yet six thousand years since, and St. John's begin-ning begins with Christ's eternity, which no millions of years can calculate, then was that first beginning of Genesis far and long after the last beginning of this Gospel, and St. John mounted higher than ever Moses did, to look upon a brighter light than he. And this was lux Verbi, that this light was the Word and the Son of God, Who was with God from all eternity, and that this Son of God was God himself, blessed for ever. A point of faith founded upon this place of Scripture, which did so vex and anguish the Arian of old, as it does the newer Arian, the Socinian, at this day, that receiving this Scripture, which they dare not yet deny, and being disfurnished of all other escapes, they are fain to turn light into darkness and to corrupt the place with a false interpunction between Verbum erat and Deus; and thereby make no sense of the words which they are not willing to understand.

But the brightness of this light dazzled them, and his incarnation, which is here the second light, put out their eyes. For through that cloud, the cloud of His flesh, as they called it, they could see no light at all, more than, as they said, every man has besides, as well as He; and so they made the mystery of godliness to be the detriment of the Godhead.

Notwithstanding there is such a perspicuity in this cloud of His incarnation, that by the very light of reason, if we had nothing but that to help us, we might see somewhat else through it; and by the light of grace, and faith in God's word, which may make use of our reason too, much more.

It is a clear and a bright cloud this, like that wherein He was wrapped and encompassed when He was transfigured in His glory. We may see all these lights through it.

(1.) First, because caro would have been verbum, when he that was but flesh and blood would needs have been wiser than the Word of God Itself; and know what was good or ill [280/281] for him better than He, which was our utter undoing therefore that Verbum should become caro was the only way to restore us, and set all right again with him That had been so justly offended against us. For otherwise non potuit im-pleri justitia, God's justice might never have been satisfied; His mercy peradventure might, but his justice never; and His justice was as tender and dear an attribute to him as His mercy is. So that this light is here clear enough in Christ's coning to the world to save us from perpetual ruin and darkness. Si caro verbum, if our taking upon us the person and power of God were our only bane, then Verbum caro, His taking upon Him the nature and condition of man, wherein to reconcile and satisfy that person, was to be our only remedy; for none can satisfy the infinite offended justice of God, but one that was infinite in worth and justice himself, which none of us ever were, or ever will be, take us altogether, all the world over, and in all ages of the world besides. Sed erat Ille lux illa, He only was the light that could come shining out upon this darkness and give it this lustre.

(2.) Then, secondly, Verbum lucerna, which is another light that He brought with him, to manifest himself to be the only person of Whom so many excellent things were spoken, all along this book; and that it was He in Whom all the words of all the former promises and prophecies in this book were fulfilled. So was He the light objective.

Again, for that He came to disclose to us all the whole counsel of God, as the light discovereth any hidden thing whatsoever, and the Apostle tells us of the hidden things of God, and of the mystery that head been kept secret in all ages before; this mystery did this light discover, and left out none of it to be discovered in after ages neither in scrinio pectoris of no mortal man whosoever; for by Him, by Christ only, we know whatsoever we are to know, or shall ever know, of God's mind to us in any age. So was He the light effectivè.

And lastly, for that He came to us not only as a Saviour to redeem us, but as a light to direct us, and to shew us where our way lies, that we might come to him and be made capable of this redemption. That way lies in His word, [281/282] and it is nowhere else to be found. Lucerna pedibus meis Verbum Tuum. And so was He the light præceptivè.

No among all these lights, I miss the light of nature, and some other lights besides, which he either dim aid weak lights, till this illa lux, this clear and divine light, comes to help them; or else they be deceitful and false lights, till this vera lux, this supernatural and true light, comes to discover them.

There is in the verse before somewhat said to this purpose of the dim and weaker lights; non erat ille illa lux, 'He was not that light.' It was said of a saint, and the greatest saint that was then upon the earth; for there was not a greater than John the Baptist.

It is true that Christ Himself called him a light, and a light with large additions, a burning and a shining light; but yet with this restriction made by himself, that his light should diminish and waste as it burnt, so should not Christ's; they are the saint's own words. Nor did ever any man else say of him as they that think they cannot say too much of some other saints, when they pray to them and call them fontes lucis, the very fountain and source of light; which by our book here can be given to none but God.

It is true likewise that all the Apostles are said to be lights, Vos estis lux mundi, but yet with the like limitation, that they were but set up to convey the light of this text to the world.

It is as true that all faithful Christians are said to be light, and to walk in the light; but all this is but to signify that they had been in darkness before. Light they were, but light by reflection and illustration of this essential and super-natural light; which Christ only is. For He was the foun-tain of all their light, fons lucis He, and light so as nobody else was so, with his distinctive article and his peculiar article and both illa and vera.

For non sic dicitur lux sicut lapis, as St. Austin said when he was once preaching upon this text: Christ is not so called Light here, as elsewhere He is called a Rock, or a Door, or a Vine; as His flesh is called Meat, and His blood said to be Drink; for the one He is truly and properly called, and these other are but a metaphor. [282/283] hunc Carmen quem videos, manducaturi estis, sed spiritualiter intelligite 'ye shall not eat this flesh which ye see, but after a spiritual manner, in that sense real.' And so are you to understand it, which in St. Austin's days was the true Catholic doctrine of the Church, and so it is still; for the other new doctrine of a gross and corporal manner is not Catholic.

But light, wheresoever, to my remembrance, it is found in any place of Scripture, and transferred from the natural to a figurative sense, it takes a higher signification than that. Either it signifies the essential Light, which is Christ; or it signifies the supernatural light of faith and grace, which is the working of Christ upon them and their lives that believe in him; and it is the principal scope of the Evangelist in this place. Other lights there be, whereof we may make our use, but they are still to be taken in and applied chiefly to this; without which the more lights there are, the more shadows also will be cast by them all.

Look we now upon our own light, the light of nature and reason. In all philosophy there is not so dark a thing as light. As the sun, which is fons lucis naturalis, the fountain of this natural light, is the most evident thing to be seen and yet the hardest to be looked upon, so is this natural light we now see, to our reason and understanding.

Nothing clearer to sense, for we see through it, and see all things by it; and yet nothing so dark to us when we come to reason and discourse about it, it is enwrapped in so many scruples. Nothing nearer to our sight, for it is round about us; and yet nothing more remote from our knowledge, for we know neither entrance nor limits of it. Nothing more easy to be discerned, for every child can do it; and yet nothing more hard to be comprehended, for no man under-stands it. It is the most apprehensible by sense, and the least comprehensible by reason; if we wink, we cannot choose but see it; if we stare, we know it never the better. For no man is yet got so near to the knowledge of the qualities of light, as to know whether light itself be a quality or a substance.

If then this natural light be so dark to our natural reason, [283/284] how shall we hope to comprehend the supernatural light of this text, if we set our natural reason only to search into it, and pierce further to know it than the Scripture hath made it known and revealed it to us?

Among the ancients they had a precious composition for their lamps, which kept light in their sepulchres as long as they were kept in there, for many hundred years together; and yet as soon as these lights of theirs within the close vaults were at any time discovered and brought forth into this light of ours within the open air, they presently vanished and came to nothing. It proves to be alike with this light of the text, the eternal light of Christ's Deity and His person, and the supernatural light of His faith and religion. If we keep them in their right sphere and hold them in their proper place, as they are contained and revealed to us in the Scriptures, they will enlighten and warm and purify us, as those fires and lights of old did their sepulchres; but when we bring this light out to the common light of natural reason, to our inferences and deductions, to our scruples and exceptions that we usually make there, it may be in danger both to vanish itself, and perchance to extinguish our reason besides. For men may search so far and reason so long of these matters, as that they may not only lose them, but even lose themselves and all, and so believe nothing.

Not, yet, that we are bound to believe any thing against our reason, that is, to believe we know not why. It is but a slack opinion, it is but a rash assent, it is not belief, that is not grounded upon right reason.

He that should come to an infidel, a carnal, a mere natural man, whom we presume to be endowed with the light of reason, and should at first, without any other pre-paration, present that man with this kind of necessity in believing, --'Thou shalt burn in fire and brimstone eternally, except thou believe a Trinity of Persons, without any more ado; and except thou believe the incarnation of the Son of God to be of the second Person in that Trinity, and except thou believe that a Virgin, a blessed Virgin, had a Son, and the same Son that God had, God and man in one Person, [284/285] and that this one Person, being an immortal God, was after-wards put to death upon a cross;' this were somewhat an un-reasonable proceeding with that natural and reasonable man; though it would not be so with us, who are, already baptized, instructed, and believe the Scriptures to be the revealed word of God.

But for him that neither believes nor ever heard of them before, so far would it be from working any spiritual cure upon him, that by such a course as this, the mysteries of Christ would be sooner brought into a contempt than into a belief with him. For that man, if any other should proceed so with him, 'Believe all we say or you burn in hell,' would find an easy way to answer and escape all; that is, first, not to believe hell itself, and then to say that nothing could bind him to believe all the rest.

Therefore with a natural man, if he had but reason, I would begin higher. For we yield it that reason must be satisfied, and for all our divinity we maintain it that reason may be satisfied by taking this way with it which I touched upon the last time.

First, that this world, time greater and the lesser world, frames of so much harmony and so much subordination in the parts o£ then both, must necessarily have had a workman to make, them both; for nothing can make itself, as reason itself will conceive.

Then, that no such workman would deliver over a frame and work of so much majesty to be left to fortune, or carried casually at adventure, without any care or providence to govern it; but that he would still retain the sovereign administration of it in His own hands; for this is reason too.

Next, that if He does so, if He made us and not we our-selves, if He sustains us and not we ourselves, that then cer-tainly there ought some service and worship to be done Him for doing so; and not that men should all serve themselves and do what they list, but that they should follow Hs will and pleasure in all things, Who was their Creator, and is their King; for this is but reason still.

Then, that if there be such a service to be done him accord-ing to His will, that will of his must be manifest and made known, what it is, and what manner of service and religion [285/286] will be acceptable to him, or otherwise we had as good let Him have none at all; for this likewise our reason will sug-gest to us.

And lastly, that this manifestation of His will must be permanent, as all wills and all laws are, is but reasonable; and to make them so permanent and durable that they must be written and put upon record, is but reason neither; which record either this Scripture is, or none is, and then are all the former reasons gone. For let all the world shew such another, of so much evidence and majesty, so much consent and harmony, so many prophecies foretold, so many fulfilled in it; the promise and prophecy of this day above them all, the miracles to assert it, the long continuance to confirm it, and many other such evidences as we can produce for it besides - all which if they make not up such an arithmetical, such a forcible argument as will tie up our reason in a pin-fold, and make it assent whether it will or no, as all demon-strative arguments do, (for which the will shall never be re-warded,) yet such a logical, such a rational and persuasive argument they will make up, as that no reasonable man shall be able, with true reason, to withstand it. And then will the conclusion of all be, that therefore from this light of Scrip-ture, which is the word and will of God, all the rules of our life and all the articles of our belief must of reason be drawn; and that light of reason will bring the natural man to the light of this text, that is, both to believe it, and to know upon what grounds and why he does believe it, and all that has been said of it.

For let no man think that God hath given him so much case here as to enlighten him, or to save him, by believing he knows not what or why. Indeed knowledge will not save us, but yet without knowledge we are never like to be saved. It is the light of faith that chews the right way to be saved; but in that way faith is not on this side knowledge, but beyond it, and we must necessarily come to the light of knowledge and reason first; though when we are come thither we must not stay in it, but make use of it to lead us to a better and a higher light than it.

For a regenerate man (and it is the mystery and the Collect of this day that puts us in mind of a regenerate [286/287] man,) a regenerate man advanceth his reason; and being now made a new creature, hath also a new faculty and a new light of reason given him, whereby he believeth the mysteries of religion out of another reason than as a mere natural man lie believed natural and moral things before. For he believes them now for their own light, the light of faith; though lie took knowledge of them before by another light, the light of common reason, and by those human arguments which work upon other men, if they wilfully put not out their own light. As for instance, divers and sundry men walk by the sea side; and the same beams of the sun giving light to them all, one by the benefit of that light gathers up little light pebbles, and shells that are finely speckled, for their pleasure, for their vanity: and another by the same light seeks after the pre-cious pearl and the amber, for a more noble use. So in the common light of reason, which is a beam that flows from this light of the text too, all men walk amongst us; but one employs this light upon the searching after impertinent vanities; another, by a better use of the same light, finds out the mysteries of religion, and falls in love with them both for their own worth's sake, and for the helps that they give limn towards the leading of a righteous, a noble, and a true Christian life.

So some men by the benefit of the light of nature have found out things profitable and useful for all men. Others have made use of that light to search and find out all the secret corners of pleasure and gain to themselves. They have found wherein the force and weakness of another consisteth, and made their advantage of him by circumventing him in them both. They have found his natural (I had better call it his unnatural,) humour, to neglect, and to contemn, or to forsake religion; and they have fed and fomented that dis-order in him for their own ends. They have found all his inclinations to liberty and pleasure, to wantonness and vanity; and they have kept open that leak to his ruin.

All the ways both of worldly wisdom and of natural craft lay open to this light, but when they have gone all these ways and searched into all these corners, they have got no [287/288] further all this while than to a walk by a tempestuous seaside, and there gathered up a few cockle-shells of vanity, or other pedling pebbles, that are of no greater use than to play withal, or to do mischief with them when they have them.

Or take another similitude. The light and knowledge of these men seem to be great, out of the same reason that a torch in a misty night seems to be greater than in a clear, because it hath kindled and inflamed much thick and gross air round about it. For the light and knowledge of mere natural and carnal men seems great, not because it is so indeed, but because it kindles an admiration in some other airy persons about them, that are not so crafty, nor so busy, nor so knowing, peradventure, as themselves be.

But to make now our best use of this light, the light of nature and reason. If we can take this light of reason that is in us, this poor snuff of light that is almost out in us, that is, our faint and dim knowledge of the things of God, which riseth out of this light of nature; if we can but find out one small coal in those embers, though it be but a little spark of fire left among those cold ashes of our nature, yet if we will take the pains to kneel down and blow that coal with our devout and humble prayers, we shall by this means light our-selves a little candle, and by that light fall to reading that book which we call the history of the Bible, the will and the word of God. Then if with that candle we can go about and search for Christ, where He is to be found, in all the mysteries of his religion, in his humiliation to-day, begin there, (for this day brings that virtue of humility into credit, we shall not find that virtue in all Aristotle's Ethics, nor in all the books of all the natural philosophers in the world, they lead no light to find it by, but begin there;) and if we can find a Saviour there, we will bless God for this beginning, it is the best sight that ever we saw in our lives, and concerns us most.

Then if we can find him flying into Egypt, and find our-selves in a disposition to follow Him and to keep him company in a banishment; from thence to His life and doctrine, to hear Him what He says there; from thence to his cross and passion, to gather up some drops of His blood there; from thence to his resurrection, to find [288/289] the virtue and effect of it in ours here; and from thence to His ascension, that we may know the way after Him thither; all this will bring us to the light of this text and to the love of the Scriptures, and that love to a belief of the truth of them all, and that historical belief to a belief of application, that as all these things were certainly done, so they were as certainly all done for us.

And thins one light directs us to another. And as by the quantity in the light of the moon, we know the position and distance of the sun, how far or how near the sun is to her so by the working of the light of nature and reason in us, we may discern how near to the other greater light, the light of faith in Christ, we stand.

If we find our natural faculties rectified, so as that that understanding and reason, which we have in moral and civil actions, be bent likewise upon the practice and exaltation of Christian and religious actions, we may be sure this other greater light is about us. But if we be cold in them, in actuating, in exalting, in using our natural faculties and light to the end, we shall be in danger to be deprived of all light, we shall tint see the invisible God in visible things, (which St. Paul makes so inexcusable, so unpardonable a sin,) we shall not see the light of God that shined upon us this day, nor the mind of God that was declared to us in this Gospel; we shall not see the hand of God in all our worldly crosses, nor the seal of God in any spiritual blessing or promise whatsoever. But the light of faith bears me witness that I see all this.

To conclude: the light of nature. In the highest exaltation of it, is not the light of faith; but yet if there be that use made of it that there should be, it will make somewhat towards it. Faith and nature are subordinate, and the one rules the other. The light of faith bears me witness that I have Christ with all the benefit of His incarnation; and the light of natural reason exalted to religious uses, bears me witness that I have faith whereby I apprehend Him. Only that man whose conscience testifies to himself and whose actions testify to the world, that he does what he can to follow the true light of this text, and all the rules of religion, and them only, which that Light set forth and revealed in His [289/290] own word, that man only can believe himself, or be believed by others, that he hath the true light of faith and religion in him.

And when he is come once into this light, he shall never envy the lustre and glory of any other blazing lights of the world, that anywhere set up themselves to put out this; but when their light shall turn to darkness, his shall grow up from a fair Hope to a full assurance that it shall never go out, and that neither the works of darkness, nor the prince and power of darkness, shall ever prevail against it; but as the light of reason is exalted to the light of faith here, so the light of faith shall be exalted unto the light of glory here-after. Whereof this blessed Sacrament will be a true and a lively pledge, if it be received with a true and a lively faith, as I trust it has been by many of us already, and shall be now again in the sight of God and the presence of us all by him, upon whom, next under God, we all still depend for the preserving of this true light, and the upholding of Christ's true religion among us.

I should now go on to present you with those many and sundry lights of the world that I proposed at first, either appliable or opposed to the light of this text. But I have set forth that which belongs most properly to this day; and having already filled up the portion of the day which is afforded for this sermon, I shall reserve the rest for another.

To God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost be all honour and glory, now and for evermore.

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