1 Timothy iii.16.
Magnum est pietatis mysterium, Deus manifestatus in carne.
Great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh.
Here is mysterium and magnum, a mystery, and a great one; and it is not the least nor the easiest part of our office in preaching, to explain and unfold a mystery, so that every one may apprehend and understand what we say it is. A great mystery it is that we are now to speak of; in which respect the time and the text are so far both alike; for this is a time wherein we keep a great festival its the Church, and this is a text whereupon we found a great article in our Creed, the feast and the article of God's nativity and mysterious incarnation; than which there is not a greater that belongs to our religion. But the greatness is not all. There is, besides the greatness of the day and the greatness of the mystery, somewhat else required, both to make up the text and to make up our duty that we owe too: for it is not only magnum mysterium, but magna, pietatis mysterium; a great mystery, and a great deal of piety and godliness that goes along with it; wherein, if the greatness of our duty may be answerable also to the greatness of the feast, and be made like to the [306/307] mystery of this text; that is to say, if God's being made manifest in the flesh may teach us to deny and abandon all the ungodly and manifest lusts of the flesh; which is the great and time proper lesson of this day, the lesson that we shall hear anon at night,--then, and then only, do we keep a good Christmas: for this feast is ever so to begin and so to be concluded, that it may leave the better impression in us, and learn us how to begin to-day with Christ, to live well all time year after. To this end is this feast to be ordered; for to no other ends do we observe any times or feasts in the Church whatsoever; that, the lesson and the doctrine, and this, time use of them all.
The doctrine, to confirm us in the faith of Christ; and the use, to conform us to the life of Christ: that our godliness may be as manifest to Him, as his mystery was made manifest here to us.
But to set forth the heads which we intend upon this text, there are in it four several terms, whereof each term will make us a part.
I. Mysterium is the first. That there are certain secrets and mysteries in our Christian religion, whereof here is one.
II. Secondly, Quid sibi vult hoc mysterium, what this mys-tery here is; and it is Deus manifestatus in carne, God mani-fest in the flesh.
III. To which there belongs, in the third place, a quantum, how great a mystery it is.
IV. And in the fourth, a quale, of what nature and quality it is.
Magnum pietatis mysterium. It is a great mystery of piety; was so to-day with Christ, and would be no less with us; for He looks to have such use made of it. This mystery of piety to be opposed to all time mysteries of iniquity; and God's coming in time flesh to be set against time ungodly and sinful lusts of the flesh; for otherwise we shall make no more than a history only of this mystery, and be never the better.
[The first words of this verse are, that this mystery was [307/308] without controversy; that is, was so in the Apostle's days, all the Church over; and but for a few unquiet and unruly spirits of contradiction, that have risen up since, would have continued so still; we should have heard of no more controversy about it in our days than St. Paul did in his: but we meddle with no controversies here. Be it where it will, of this sure I am, that the true Churches of Christ make none about it at all. And I presume there are none in this place, for we are all come out to keep the feast; I cannot answer for them that be away and keep it not; but none of as that are otherwise minded. Therefore did I at first leave these first words out, and took it for granted, that without contro-versy this text will pass upon St. Paul's terms of ____________; that is, for an article of our common confession, and a received truth among us all.
Concerning which truth, though there be among our inter-preters some difference in the readings, and some in the sense, yet neither of them is material; and I shall pray you to I think I make choice both of that reading and that sense, which I judge to be most sound and agreeable to this festival.]
Of which that we may speak, &e.
Pater noster ,&c.
1. Great is the mystery. We will first discourse of it a little in the general, that there are some mysteries in religion. For as all other arts and sciences have their own proper and peculiar mysteries belonging specially to themselves, which are not so well known or comprehended by every ordinary and vulgar capacity, as they are by those that be professed that way, and have had their wits and their senses long exercised in them,--so is it in divinity; wherein, besides the known and universal principles which it hath common with other sciences, there be certain secret and mystical points to be delivered, which it hath peculiar to itself; there be some deep and high points of religion: whereof the mystery of God incarnate here in our flesh is but one, The things of Christ are secrets, all. His whole history is a mystery, and the project [308/309] of it no less, which tends all to mystical and high matters; the preaching whereof, because otherwhiles they go cross to the common conceit of carnal and worldly men, seem to be nothing else but so many paradoxes and unreasonable strange things; as the philosophers said to St. Paul at Athens, when they heard him preach the things of Christ there, peregrina quædam infers auribus nostris; the masters of those schools were not acquainted with them. Even moral divinity is harsh to flesh and blood; for we preach against sensual pleasures, and they love nothing better; we preach obedience, and every man loves to be at liberty; we would keep the will and the affections of men in order, and no man loves to be confined. How will they do for renouncing the world, and setting their spirits to be at a continual enmity and warfare against their flesh! There are no matters so strange and mystical to men as those two be; end yet if it were not for the common mysteries of iniquity, which most men court and follow, these mysteries of moral divinity and duties of religion would be plain and easy enough to them.
But the mysteries and matters of faith, that common sense and reason do not so usually employ themselves to understand, they are mysteries indeed. I speak concerning Christ and His Church, saith St. Paul, in which respect this Sacrament is a mystery, this and the other are great mysteries both. The making of a man a new creature is a mystery, that is, another manner of person than he was before; the resurrection and the life eternal are mysteries. No carnal man conceives what any of these things are; they are either hid from his eyes, or else there is such a beam in his eye that he cannot see them. But among all these, there is none that finds a slower and harder belief than this mystery in the text, nor none that ever met with a stronger opposition.
For it is a mystery in divinity that is no where else to be learned, no where to be found or heard of but in the schools of the Prophets and Apostles; and therefore the masters of natural reason, that had served their apprenticeship only in the philosophic schools, and walked no further for their sanctuary than to Aristotle's gallery, can never be brought; to apprehend it.
[309/310] It is a high point this, and men, natural men, are short-sighted; they see but little, and they believe no mere than they see; which makes them incapable not only of this mystery, but of all other the secrets of Christ's gospel, and the mysteries of his salvation, that are diffused through the whole book of God besides.
For indeed the whole project of the Bible is a science full of mysteries; and this mystery in the text is the treasury and storehouse of them all.
And now let not this our Bible-religion fare the worse for that, that there are so many mysteries in it; for there be as many lights in it besides; whereof if good use be made, those mysteries will become the more behoveful for us, so the more clear to us; being hid to none, but them that perish in their own wilful or affected darkness. For in this they perish, that the light of these mysteries is come into the world, and they, because their thoughts and their deeds are evil, are then best at case when that light is farthest from them; which is the true difference between all the mysteries of iniquity and this great mystery of godliness.
2. Again, we ask no more in divinity than otherwhiles they ask in nature; where the mysteries be oftentimes so abstruse and hidden in themselves, that no man's reason is able to reach them, nor the light of nature clear enough to find out the secrets of nature itself. In which regard it is but reason we ask; that as much be allowed us in our religion as we allow them in theirs, and that Christ may have His mysteries as well as any naturalist or philosopher of them all.
In the meanwhile we preach no mysteries against reason when we say they go beyond it, for in this case religion and reason are not opposite, but subordinate; and where they be otherwise, (as in many mysteries of the new divinity among some of our neighbours they be,) there we must have leave to suspect them, and avoid them, and oppose them too; but where we bring the word and authority of God for them, them is no more to be said, for then have we all the reason of the world to receive them.
And let none of the exceptions trouble us that Julian and his disciples made once against us. He, and Porphyry, and [310/311] Lucian, were three apostates from this mystery of godliness; and all they had to say against it was, that it wanted reason; for they measured their reason by their lusts, and their under-standing by their own corrupt affections; whatsoever suited not to their carnal principles and time depravations of flesh and blood, had with them no reason in it at all. And their disciples are like them, who take exceptions to these mysteries of religion for nothing more than that there is somewhat in them which will no way consist with their mysteries of iniquity.
For as to their other exception, that we speak mysteries here in the Church which no man understands, as when we preach this mystery of Christ's incarnation for one, God manifest in the flesh, the bare and simple belief whereof and of other such mysteries, is, as they say, all we have to trust to, for want of other reason,--this is so far from truth and reason both, that we can justly say there is never an Apostle, nor ever an ancient Father of the Church, (who were all as great masters of reason as any that take their liberty to find fault with them for want of reason,) none of them all but will be ready to join with these men upon that title, and maintain our mysteries of faith upon better reason; that is, reason founded upon surer principles, than any be in the world besides.
For we teach not men here to believe they know not what, nor any mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, they know not why; we believe, saith St. Peter, and we are ready to give an account and to render a reason of what we believe. Nor let any man think that God hath given him so much ease in this life, as to let him sit still there and make no use of his reason for the mysteries of the other life. We call it not faith, that is not grounded upon reason; and we ground our strongest reason upon the word of God himself, That never spake other.
To us it is given to know the mysteries of his kingdom, and when we know them rightly, to believe them firmly; for faith sets knowledge first before it, and then goes beyond it. Which is the mystery and profession of a man regenerate and made a new creature, whereby he hath a new faculty of [311/312] reason given him and becomes a better man than he was; for in every one of us there be, as the Apostle speaks, two several men, two different persons in two several respects, the outward and the inward man. By the outward we be-lieve natural and moral things; by the inward we believe the mystery of the kingdom of heaven, and have our rational apprehensions exalted to a higher level than they we before; this by grace, and that by nature; but both by the grace and will of God, That hath ordered them both to the knowledge and belief of his mysteries.
In all which we do not compare the master and the servant, nor make our reason equal to our faith; and yet we, thank that servant that brings us to his master. We make a great difference between the treasure in the chest and the key that helps to open it, and yet we are glad to have that key ready in our hands. The faculties of nature are far from being enough; but as a candle may kindle a torch, so into those faculties of nature, well employed, doth God infuse the light of faith to let me in to His mysteries of religion.
And thus much we thought fit to be spoken of these mys-teries in general. Come we now to the mysteries of this day, for which we are chiefly come hither, in particular.
II. That Christ was made manifest and born to-day in the flesh, we have it upon record and by way of history, set forth both in secular and sacred authors. Of this there was no doubt at all, for it had the greatest attestation to it that could be required in a story; heaven and earth rang of it. The shepherds went out from the fields; and the heralds of heaven, the Angels, came down from their celestial mansions to publish it and the princes of the earth went forth from the mountains of the east to wait upon it; from the shepherd to the king they enquired after it, and all the streets of Jeru-salem were filled with the noise and report about it. The records were likewise fetched, and they found out there both the person, and the place, and the time, and missed not a circumstance that belonged to it. All the scribes were con-sulted, and all the prophecies produced that had been written of it many hundred years before; kings, and priests, and people all together, every one made it their business to attend to it for the time; and from thenceforth all the world was [312/313] taken up with the thoughts of it. This, as it presumes it a great birth, so it makes it a great history; and if it were no more than so, it deserves all the outward honour and solemnities that we can give it, which is to proclaim the manifesta-tion of this birth still, and to keep up the memory of this day alive, that it may never die in our [hearts,] as it is like to do in theirs who of late have scraped it out of their calendar. I go no further in the history; and yet, as I said, if it were no more but a history, it is one of the greatest certainty, and the greatest dignity, and the greatest concernment, that ever the world heard of besides.
Indeed the common sort of the world, they look no further after it and make no more of it than a great; holy-day history at the best; as it is from year to year remembered here in the Church, and recorded in the Evangelists.
But the Apostle in this text stays not there, he goes further than the Evangelists, and looks into the secrets of their story; he finds out a mystery in this history. Between which two there are great odds; for men may sit down and hear a story, and rise up again to go their way without putting themselves to any further trouble about it. But with a mystery there is somewhat else to do; it will busy all their thoughts, and set the best faculties that they have to work upon it. So I may read a history, and never wipe mine eyes for it; but to see into a mystery, I had need of clean eyes, and a clean heart, and all; for the one is but the letter, and the other is the spirit.
I ask: then, what spirit is there in this letter? what mystery is there in this history of the birth of Christ? And the Apostle says there is a great mystery of piety in it.
For the better understanding whereof, we are specially to take notice of these two words that follow, Deus is one, and incarnates is another; that is, the reconciling and the joining of God's nature and ours both together in Christ, which were, so far fallen out and severed asunder before, that if it had not been for this mystery of piety, Deus would have been the death of incarnatus; that is, God would have destroyed men, [313/314] one and other all the world over, and no flesh had escaped the power and darkness of hell; for thus stood the case betwixt him and us. All flesh had corrupted their ways, and Deus and caro, God's nature and ours, were two. We and He had fallen foully asunder; but the fault was ours,
and, He was so highly offended with it, that Wrath went out from his presence and called for Justice to proceed against us. And when Justice came forth, she came in the shape and habit of that Angel that stood with a flaming sword in his hand, ready to strike and execute vengeance upon us all. Nor had there been any way but that one with us, had not his mercy been as near and as dear to him as his justice ever was, which brought One to stand before him That offered to give Justice all the satisfaction which she could any way demand, and so procure our peace for us. For if one might be got to do that, what could Justice require more? But all the mystery was in the person, Who was able, and Who was willing to do it; and That was Christ, in the mystery of his incarnation, which was this day made manifest to the world.
For otherwise it might never have been done; no way to satisfy Justice, but this alone.
Indeed somewhat it was that Mercy had to say for us, and this she said; What, had God made all men for nought? would He first make them all, and then destroy them all? or would He be angry with them for ever? What if they had offended Him; yet was there any offence that He might not pardon? And thereupon she appealed from the throne of his justice to the throne of This grace; for these two thrones are one above another.
Sedens in solio justitiæ; when God sits in his tribunal -seat of strict justice, it is well known which way the sentence is like to go; but sedens in throno gratia, if He might be got to remove awhile and to sit upon his throne of grace, there the style of the court might alter, and the terms of proceed-ing in it be far more favourable. And thither did this mystery of His piety and mercy carry him.
Yet even thither did Justice go along with him, and pleaded her own case still; that God must be true and just of his word, which word was now past, and past recalling. The soul that sinneth, that soul must die, die here and die [314/315] eternally; Adam, and all his posterity after him; that if the judge of all the earth would (lo right, it might not be otherwise; all flesh was corrupted and the nature of man universally disobedient, which must therefore answer for itself. And without this, there was no reconciliation to be made, nor no satisfaction to be given to justice; which being one of God's nearest favourites, and an attribute every way as essential to him as This mercy was, must at no hand be disregarded or suffer any wrong.
And thus stood the pleading betwixt them. In the mean-while we stand before the judge still, and we know not what shall become of us.
But there is in one of the Psalms that we said over to-day, a final agreement made about all this process between Justice and Mercy. And the terms are such there, that Justice itself could hold out no longer nor take any further exception against them.
For thus it was agreed, that first, truth should be made to flourish again out of the earth; that is, out of the nature and first beginning of man there should another man be made, that could do as much for all mankind to save it, as the first man of all had done to destroy it.
This is venues orietur de terra, and that is nothing else but that Christ should be born upon the earth, to renew the face of it and to set all in order again.
Which no other man could do, who had all undone themselves, and put every thing that belonged to their peace and happiness hereafter clean out of all order, and out of their own power besides.
Butt Christ as first, the Son of God, and being of the same nature and power with him, was able to make peace with Him for the sons of men; and for that purpose would become one of them himself; which gave Justice half a satisfaction already; for sin and corruption had fouled our nature, and He would undertake to come and appear in it, that in His person it might he made pure and clean again. One for all, in the sight of God's own eyes.
So He That was one with, God became one with us, that way might be made to bring God and man both together; [315/316] as at an unity in his person, so at an union between themselves; for to bring these two together, was all this done, and so far is the mystery made manifest to us. Yet was not this all neither, for Justice proceeded on still, and required a fur-ther matter to be done before her balance could be made even.
She therefore asked if He, That would be born for us, would He likewise content to die for us too; for without blood and sacrifice for sin there was no remission of sin to be granted in any of God's courts whatsoever. But if He would undertake that and all, she would ask no more; nor could she say otherwise but that this would satisfy her to the full.
For as He was the Son of God from all eternity, so He would be able to do it; and as He was now made the Son of man, so He would become liable and subject to it. Deus incarne natus, and Chistus in morte datus, both these together will tie up the hands of Justice, and let this mystery of piety and mercy so proceed upon us, that if it be not our own fault it will be sure to open the way of salvation for us all; that our sins may not prove our destruction, which otherwise they will certainly do and leave us in the hands of Justice, whilst Mercy stands looking on, knowing no other way in the world to help us but this alone.
For herein was both the justice and mercy of God made manifest, and both preserved in their own full integrity, extending to all that either of them could ask. When first, in that nature wherein flesh had sinned, the same flesh was to be renewed, for else the proceeding had not been just; and so came Christ the Son of man to be born. And again, in that nature which was able to do it was a full satisfaction to be given, or else it would never have been given; and so came Deus, the Son of God, to be born, Deus incarnatus; put both these together, and so have you both the mystery that is in this text, and the reason that was in this mystery; you know both what it is, and why it was, that God was this day made manifest in the flesh.
Which doth not only exalt this religion that we now profess and have for Christ, above all others that neither knows His mystery, nor shall ever have any part in Him; but it confirms and settles every man's faith and conscience [316/317] in it besides; that there never was, nor never ought to be, arty other way of salvation propounded to us; which, because it is the most proper and the most natural theme for this day, therefore have we chosen it and stood upon it the longer.
They that think this day not worth the keeping, have no great opinion of a Saviour; and they that keep it, but make so little use of this mystery of piety in it as they do, will never meet with Him.
But for those holder wits, the masters and disciples of an old forlorn heresy, though they take it to be their own new-found divinity, who say that Christ came not to satisfy God for us, but only to teach us what to do ourselves, as if any other were as able to do it as He; I put than into the mystery of iniquity, as being men of another trade, and a moral worldly religion, that this Christian piety will never own.
For when all the subtleties and inventions of men are done, there is none able to satisfy and quiet a man's conscience but the manifesting of this mystery in Christ; nor in this mystery any other point of it more than what I now preach to-day, that God hath of His mercy and piety tied up the sword of His justice and put it into Christ's hands, Who laid it to-day by Him in His cradle, and afterwards took it along with Him, and nailed it to His cross.
And it is well for us that we find it there. Meet it any where else, and we had as good meet a lion by the way.
Let every one take heed of meeting God's justice out of Christ's hands, or of meeting his own sins out of God's mysteries; even those sins that every man was born with will undo him, but those wherein he is bred and brought up, much more; unless this magnum pietatis mysterium may come in to help him; which is all the hope and comfort that we eau give him.
And thus much for the mystery itself. The greatness of it is to follow.
I11. The measure of which greatness we take from the three words here, as they stand in order, Deus manifestatus, and Deus manifestatus in carne. These three.
1. First God is in it, and He makes any thing great, [317/318] makes the person great That was thus made manifest, above all other greatness whatsoever. And it is as clear a text this, for the greatness which we believe of Christ's person and deity, as any we have in all the Scriptures besides. So clear, that the Arians, of all other places, were posed at this; and their later, their Photinian disciples, that the new wits court, not knowing what to say against it, have made bold with St. Paul's own word, and blotted Deus here, out of their Bibles. Verbum caro, they care not if they give us that, for those words they can gloss at their own pleasure; but Deus caro was too strong and bright a character of Christ for their eyes to look on. The truth is, they have all envious eye and are of a malignant nature against Christ, and will not suffer him to enjoy his own greatness, nor to be what He is.
In the meanwhile I will not vouchsafe them so much honour as to dispute the case with them. It is enough that this text is evident against them; and if we had no more but this, it is as much as we need to prove Christ's deity alone. And they had best let him alone with it; for Christ, above all other things, will least part with his greatness, nor give any man leave either to lessen his title or to account meanly of his person.
And let not the scandal of his cratch to-day, or of his cross another day, offend us; there was a mystery and a majesty in them both. There was a star and a choir of Angels over the one, and there was a paradise of his own disposing over the other; which paradise is at no man's disposing, we may be sure, but at God's alone. So God He is, and God He was, the Lord of heaven and earth both, when He was at his lowest. And this makes both his person and His mystery to be great.
2. But then manifestatus in carne. How came these two words to make it great? for Him That was God to be mani-fest in the flesh, and to put on so mean a clothing over His divine and eternal nature, as our human and created nature is; what greatness was there in that? Yes, the greater condescension, the greater piety; and the greater piety, the greater mystery. For this is all mysterium pietatis; the goodness of the person augments the mystery, and makes it [318/319] still grow greater than it was. That He Who had his dwelling on high, should so much regard the lost and miserable condition of men here below, as to make their case His own, and to take that nature upon him which He would not do for the Angels; whose condition in them that fell was as bad as ours, and their nature far better; that He would in no wise look that way upon the nobler creature, but turn his face and offer all his favours to us, the lower extraction of the two; that when both needed it, and both stood before him, men and Angels, Spirits and flesh, yet upon our nature He bestowed a dignity which upon theirs He did not, that is, did more for us than He did for the Angels of heaven; what greater piety could He express towards us? Besides, how great an honour our flesh itself, which, as low and mean as He found it, He made then, and will make it hereafter, far greater and more glorious than all the greatness and glory of the world can yield it; for though He took it in a low estate to-day, yet within a few days after, He had kings and princes to fall down before it; and after them He had Moses and Elias to wait upon it, when He made it shine like the sun in His brightness; and when He had done with it here on earth He carried it up with Him into His high kingdom of heaven, never left it till He had gotten it above the Angels, higher than the cherubins and the seraphins themselves; which, as it is an earnest how much He will do for ours also hereafter, so it ought to be a special motive and attractive to us all, that this mystery of his great goodness may work upon us and prove in us the mystery of our great godliness; which is the point that we reserved to be the last of all.
IV. And this point is as needful for us as any of the rest, for without this, all the former points of speculation, which I set forth before in their order, will do us no good. We use indeed to hear such points the more willingly, because they take nothing from us; they were all matter of benefit, and good tidings coming together with this day to us. But our matter of duty for all this, that we may b the better for Christ's birth, as He was God here manifest in the flesh, we have not yet.
Points of speculation and benefit are otherwhiles good and [319/320] useful for us in their season, as I hope these have been now; but points of duty and practice are more behoveful for us all and I pray God this last may find that effect among us. We have seen yesterday what Christ hath done for us; let us see now another while, what we will do for him For our part belongs to the mystery of godliness.
To which, if this mystery of Christ, Christ's coming to us in the flesh, works not in us, the fruit of all His is work is lost towards ourselves, and we keep no such feast for Him as both He and His Church truly intended it.
There is, as I began to say, in the world a great mystery of iniquity and a trade of ungodliness, which is at work all the year long; a mystery of ungodly and worldly lusts in the flesh, that are never at rest; and Christ's coming into the world was to put down that trade and set up another. For this cause, saith St. John, did Christ appear in the flesh, that He might destroy the works of the flesh; He gives them a worse name, and calls them the works of the devil, which is the great trade and mystery of all iniquity.
But the mystery of Christ is quite another profession; teaching us so to live in the flesh that we may live to him and bring forth the fruits of the Spirit, to live so in it that we may die to it; which their we do when we destroy and kill the unlawful deeds of it, when we live to God and die to sin. This is the mystery of godliness, and the whole scope of Christ's coming into the world.
For I demand, when He took upon Him to deliver man, as we say every day in our Te Deum, from what was it? and to what end was it that we were delivered? Were we delivered from the hands of justice, that we might return back to our old sins and bands of iniquity? but that were to throw us and deliver us over into the hands of justice again, where we should meet with seven evil spirits worse than the former, and render our latter estate more miserable than it was at first. This was not it. Then to what end were we delivered? Was it that we might bless ourselves for so fair an escape, and cry out against those that had brought us into our former thraldom? Or was it that we might bless the sight of the Son of God for it in His Mother's arms, and [320/321] keep a feast of joy and honour to Him upon the day of His nativity? Surely all this, if well ordered, may well be done by us, and all upon good ground, we have reason to do it but all this is not the end for which He came into the world to deliver us. The end was, that besides the saying of a Benedictus to Him, or keeping a festival for Him, we should for this deliverance serve Him all the days of our life. And how serve Him? in sanctitate et justitia; that is, in holiness to God, and righteousness to one another.
This is our trade and our mystery of godliness; we are bound apprentices to it all the years of our life, from one Christmas to another from the font to the funeral, from our nativity to our dissolution; for the indentures are drawn, no sooner delivered but bound again presently; no sooner Christ born, but at the very same time there goes out a commandment from him, as well as Augustus Caesar, that all the earth should be taxed to pay Him this service.
Look into your Benedictus, which is a hymn that we are appointed to say daily at our devotions, in recognition and honour of this day's nativity; there are a sort of mysteries in it, of 'visiting,' and 'redeeming,' and 'raising,' and 'saving,' and 'delivering His people;' but there is never a full stop in it till ye come to this mystery of serving Him in a godly and righteous manner of living; till we come there, all is suspended. It is the mystery of, godliness that makes the conclusion.
So you see how this mystery works all the way.
It is the property of a mystery, that what it works upon it makes, or intends to make, like itself. So do the sacra-ments; for they are mysteries, a part of this mystery of godliness; mysteries, if they work upon them that come to receive them; and if they work not, they are but mere ceremonies; something they signify, but the power and effect of them is lost. So is it in Christ's nativity; so in this mystery of piety. Great mysteries in themselves, but like to prove none to us, if they breed not the same quality in us that they carry in their own nature. If it be but a _________ as St. Paul calls it, and an outward show of godliness, the mystery and the substance of it that should do us any good is clean vanished, and retires back again to itself.
[321/322] God will have that manifest and real in us which was manifest and true in Him. That whether we celebrate the feast of his taking our flesh, or the feast of our taking his, they may both tend to the manifest and powerful operation of this piety in the text upon us; to lead a life that may be somewhat like to his, Whose name we bear, in all godliness and honesty.
For when all is done, the greatest honour that we can do to this flesh of ours, which He hath now taken to himself and made all one with his own flesh, is to keep it in such cleanness and purity as may best beseem the flesh of the Son of God; so free from soil, so washed and purged from all unhallowed employments, that at least those manifesta opera carnis, the vices of the flesh which are manifest and will be quickly seen with His eyes, may never appear in it before Him. There are many of them in the Apostle's catalogue, that no man may imagine he reflected upon one alone. For the proud and envious many the uncharitable and malicious man, the unreligious and profane person, and a dozen of them more, are as fleshly there in his account, as either the intemperate or the incontinent persons be; they are all alike, the one as manifest lusters after the sins and vices of the flesh as the other, all unworthy of any Christian; specially to be so manifestly seen, so often practised, so seldom reproved, so indifferently passed by and unregarded as they are; but all alike enemies to the mystery of godliness, which we are set in this flesh of ours (for His sake Who was to-day born in that flesh) to advance, to encourage, and to magnify before them all.
And in so doing we shall be advanced ourselves, flesh and all, from this great mystery of godliness, where the text begins, to the great mystery of glory, where time verse ends.
To which He bring us, That in our flesh is gone up thither before us, Jesus Christ the righteous; to Whom with His blessed Father, and the holy Ghost, three Persons, and one eternal Deity, be all honour, and power, and praise, now and for ever. Amen.