Project Canterbury
Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology

John Cosin, Works, Sermons, Volume One
pp. 71­83



Transcribed by Dr. Marianne Dorman
AD 2003

Matthew iv.6

If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down headlong, for it is written, He shall give His Angels charge over Thee, and with their hands they shall hold Thee up, lest at any time Thou dash Thy foot against a stone.

We began this text before, and in our meditations we saw what wreaths and windings the old serpent had, to turn himself round, or at length, to pull in, or let out, as he listed; that first he would have Christ not to trust God at all, but to shift for himself, and make the stones His bread; and then to do nothing else but trust Him, do nothing Himself but go down headlong into mischief, and rely upon God's mercy for it that He should never take any hurt by the matter; for lest any man should tell Him that presumption in such a case is no good divinity, he will prove it out of the written Word of God, You must not deny it, for it is written, He shill give His Angels charge over Thee, &e.

St. Paul tells us that the devil's temptations are fiery darts, and this was one of them. The fire that prepared it went before, and it was still wrought upon that anvil, si sis Filius Dei, 'if Thou be the Son of God;' he would try Him here. And the dart being so wrought, we have seen also how it was cast; it was cast when he bade Christ cast himself down headlong, 'If Thou be the Son of God, cast Thyself down headlong;' so far we went already. Now arc we to come to the third point, which is the very point of the dart, the sharpening it, and the cost bestowed upon it, to make it [71/72] enter the better; that is, the place of Scripture which here the devil does allege to persuade Christ, and every one else that is the son of God, that they may safely presume upon His mercy for any thing; for it is written, 'He shall give his Angels charge,' &c.

Which words we must not now handle as if we had David's Psalter in our hand, and the ninety-first Psalm for our text; for then perhaps we should work a little higher; but we are to consider them as they are in the devil's mouth, and here in this place alleged and perverted for his own purpose, as far as they do, or do not, concern that which he would have had them; whether it be so good trusting to God or no, as that if we be his sons we may leap over the battlements and bounds that He hath set us, and throw ourselves headlong into what sin and danger we please.

I will proceed in this order, to let you first see the devil's cunning in alleging any Scripture at all, 'it is written;'

And secondly, his master-cunning in alleging such a choice and master-piece of Scripture, so full of comfort and promises as this is, 'He shall give,' &c.

And thirdly, his falsehood in leaving out that which made against him, for the charge and the promises were that the Angels should keep him in all his ways; the devil he leaves out that, and says, they shall keep him howsoever, whether He keep his ways or not;

And lastly, his fraud and malice in perverting the whole sense of the text, as if it served to make presumption lawful, and to rely upon God's providence for any thing; good reli-gion, whereas in such cases as these, it was mere devil-divinity. These four to be our heads that we take; front which divers other branches will spring, which we mind to reach at as we go along. Of these then, that we may speak to the honour of Almighty God, and to the edification of our own souls, I shall desire you to join with me in humble and hearty prayer, &c.

Pater Noster

1. 'For it is written,' That is the first thing I propounded, the devil's cunning to allege Scripture for what he said. [72/73] To make his temptation take the better, he comes in with his authority, and his scriptum est; he will shew you a place of Scripture for it, a text out of David's Psalms, that you may see he counsels you to nothing but what the word of God would bear you out in. When St. Paul would commend a thing, says he, 'Do I say so? doth not the law say the same?' so says the devil here, Do I persuade you to this? and doth not the Book of Psalms commend the same? He speaks not after the manner of men, he, but he has the Scripture at his fingers' end, so it is no more he that speaketh, but the Spirit of God That is within him.

In his first temptation he came like a murmuring malcontent, without any Scripture in his mouth at all; that would not do; Christ quotes him a place of Scripture and he was gone. But then he studies on the matter which way to come again. Scriptum est? says the devil, It is written ? said Christ so? And He was acquainted with the Scripture too? Well, then, since Scripture was so gracious with Him, he could bring in Scripture as well as Christ; and so bethinking himself presently he throws away his stones, and gets him a Psalm-book in his hand, puts off his foul shape of a devil and a murmurer, and gets him into the weeds of a holy professor, and so with a demure look, and set countenance, he comes back again this second time to Christ, tells Him that he had heard Him erewhiles talk of Scripture, and that therefore he had brought Scripture for him, as liking very well of that godly course of quoting Scripture for what was said in any thing; that He was deceived in him if he thought him to be an unlettered man, or one of those that cared not for the Scriptures, for he had here brought them along with him, and could turn him to the place, and quote Him chapter and verse too for what he said, 'For it is written, He shall give His Angels charge over Thee,' &c.

And all these, good words and godly; but when they come out of a hypocrite's mouth, or a devil's mouth, let them be what words they will, they are but wind.

It is not this bragging age, nor this vainglorious generation, that they can quote Scripture so fast, which will carry it away, for we see the devil reads the Scriptures as well as we, and he can allege ye Samuel's own words, insomuch that [73/74] they shall not know him from Samuel; and as for David's Psalms and ye ask him for them, why he can sing them all by heart, or else he has them ready with him in his hands; and Christ he knows, and Paul he knows, he tells them so in the Acts; he was well acquainted with them, that is to say, that there was neither Christ in his Gospel, nor St. Paul in his Epistles, but he knew them very well and could tell what they had preached, and what they had written too; and yet for all this knowledge in the Scripture he was no better than a hypocrite and a devil still.

Not that we would patronise any ignorance in this kind, or discourage them that are studious to know the Scriptures; but that we would not have them rest there, to think if they had got that, they had got all, or to use them for a colour to make the world think they are such goodly professors, when there is no such matter, to play the hypocrites with them, or bring them forth to hold argument against Christ, or against his Church, as you know there are, that so use them; for this is the devil's way; we see lie can quote Scripture after this manner. And be this said for the first point, 'It is written.'

II. Second, Now what is written? 'He shall give his Angels charge over Thee,' &c. A place of the greatest comfort, and the fittest to make a man presume, that he could have picked out; and this is the second thing.

It is his subtilty not to choose every Psalm, but one that should have most comfort, and most grace in it of any other; the ninety-first Psalm, than which there is not one fuller of fair promises, whether we regard things for this life, or for the life; to come. And of this Psalm he takes not every verse, but takes that which is of as much mercy and grace as any one thing can be, that of the protection of Angels.

For mark you, what mercies and what promises there are, and ever have been, in this protection. There shall be Angels ascending and descending to take care of us as we lay, as in Jacob's ladder. The Angel of the Lord shall go before us, as he did before the Israelites; they shall kill up our enemies, round about us, as they did the Egyptians and other nations; they shall stretch their wings over us to preserve us, they shall pitch their tents about our dwellings to defend us, and [74/75] their protection shall not reach to our heads only, but our very feet shall be safe, and in their hands they shall bear them up, that they shall not trip against a stone; they will not warn us only, that there is a stone in the way, but they will (as Christ said they should) remove and gather them out of the way for us; and last of all, that they shall not do all this out of courtesy, or because they are lovers of mankind, nor shall not at their pleasure leave off when they list, but by special mandate and charge they are and shall be bound to do it, they have a precept for it.

All these goodly and gracious promises are comprehended in this charge and protection of the Angels; and all these doth the devil here abuse, as we shall see anon.

In the mean while, this is not the only place of mercy that the devil has got by heart. He came to Christ here, with a Psalm of mercy, how comes he to us? Marry, with a Psalm of mercy too, and he will make it out of the New Testament the rather, because we live not under the Old Law. He will turn Gospeller too; any thing to bring his ends to pass. His Psalm shall begin Quicumque crediderit, salvabitur, out of St. Mark, Whosoever will be saved he must believe rightly, and that is enough. The next verse shall be out of St. Matthew, Cast your care upon God, for He careth for you, and then you may cast yourselves where you list. Another verse out of St. Paul, You are justified by faith, and Christ hath set you free from the law, come no more under bondage. And it is not I that make up this Psalm, or pick out these places for him; look abroad into the world and see whether lie hath taught a great company of silly men to sing it, whether their mouths be not readier for these sayings than for any else. Aye, aye, ye may talk of works, that is it popish argument, but let a man believe faithfully, and he shall be justified well enough; we are the free-born sons of God, toil therefore ye shall put no yoke upon us, for they whom Christ hath set free are free indeed. Free from what? from good works and obedience to Christ's law? No; but from sin and the slavery of Satan. So the words in themselves are indeed the most comfortable sayings that a Christian can hear, amt most excellent use there is that may be made of them; but when the devil and a hypocrite get [75/76] them into their mouths there is no listening after them, they are temptations and snares unto men; and what should have been unto them for their advantage, may quickly become unto them an occasion of falling, that is, as it is here in the text, of falling down headlong into sill. And he this said for the second point; that of all other Scriptures, these which should have the best use made of them, he and his disciples, they that learn it of him, (for they can learn it of nobody else,) make the worst.

Now out of these two we have this use to make, that to be cunning in Scriptures is no such mark of the child of God as some men would bear us in hand withal; and that, though the devil hath indeed a grace with them that are profane, with some vain youths of the court, ungodly men, to set them a-scoffing at the Scriptures, and to believe nothing, yet with others that have the Scriptures in more high reverence, he goes another way to work, making it unto them (without great heed and care taken) not as it is, in itself, the savour of life unto life, but the savour of death unto death; which God in his mercy keep from us all. So I come to the third point.

III. Third, And the third is the fraud and the falsehood that here the devil uses in his quotation: to leave out the chief matter of all, the matter that made against him, and the matter, indeed, whereon all the Angels' charge is grounded. The Psalm runs, 'He shall give his Angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways;' and the devil makes it run, He shall give his Angels charge over Thee, whether Thou keep Thy ways or no; leaves that quite out, that keeping of the ways, for the truth is, it would have spoiled ins whole temptation. That if any one should take offence and scandal now by this, that he hears the devil quote Scripture as well as Christ, and therefore that nobody knows well what to make of them, and in his blasphemy say they are divided, and that one Scripture is on Christ's side, and another on the devil's side, and makes one of Paul, and another of Apollos, and another of Cephas, and another of any thing; if any man, I say, shall thus be scandalized by the devil's bringing in of Scripture for himself, here is his answer for him, that it is not Scripture and Scripture, but Scripture and perverted Scripture, that it seems to he divided.

[76/77] By any means let not such a thought enter into us, that were a worse mischief than the other; for as it is a snare to see the devil so ready with Scripture, so it is a worse snare to think that Christ is any way divided,, and to set the Scriptures together by the ears. We must know that here the tempter played the devil right, in leaving out that which would have made all even, that they might keep Him in all His ways; and had he but quoted that, the Scriptures have agreed well enough, all had been for Christ, and no offence need to have been taken at them.

But so it is, the devil leaves it out; and so true it is withal, that as he has a rack for some places of Scripture to stretch them out upon the tenters, till they crack again, as it is said of St. Paul's Epistles; so here he has his wrest for other places, to pull them in, a device that the musician has to make the string sound high or low at his pleasure. He can add as he sees cause, and he can take away from the word of God contrary to God's own and express command.

Now let us see us see what cause he had to leave those words out. Marry, great cause, to bring his own ends about, for by this great means he would persuade us that the Angels here had an absolute charge over us, without any limitation at all, and that they must take care of us, take we what we may please, cast ourselves down headlong, or an way; no matter for keeping those ways that God has set us in, to walk uprightly in them; but keep them, or not keep them, the Angels shall keep us however. And this was the height of his temptation and the true reason why he left out those words.

For had he cited them, 'to keep Thee in all thy ways,' a man would have thought there had been some ways to keep and not to take a strange headlong way, and throw himself from the pinnacle. Certain it is that God has made a way down, and if we keep us not to that, the Angels are discharged of their office from keeping us, and they will look no more after us. The way from the pinnacle was to go down the ordinary way by the stairs, that God had appointed to be made for that purpose; and not to leap over the battlements at once, and dash a man's head against the stones, in hope that the Angels will hold him up. Shew me where God ever appointed any such way. This is all in a parable [77/78] yet; the meaning is, that God has appointed ordinary means for us to stand and preserve ourselves in the ways of his commandments; and He will not have His providence tempted by our wilful falling into sin and danger; if we will keep us in His ways, so it is; if not, He is not bound to keep us in ours. We light upon a fit time for one thing; the time of God's heavy hand upon tins kingdom by plague and pestilence, and well it is for them that are troubled with it, to cast themselves upon God, and to put their whole trust in His mercy, using notwithstanding those means which He has appointed, and to be as resolute in a godly courage as Job was in the like case, that though God would kill him, yet he would trust in him. But for them now that are not in this danger, not cast into it by God, to cast themselves into it, to run, as the humour is among some, upon the naked point of so devouring a sword, and to use no means to avoid it, but to set up their rest upon a wild conceit of predestination, that God will work His work, and that men do not well to be so scrupulous, but if they be appointed to it they shall have it, and if they have a strong faith (as they say) perhaps they shall never have it, this is a mere madness, a tempting of God, and a presuming upon His providence, without any warrant but that which the devil signs.

And so in other things throughout a whole Christian man's life, it is the like case, God will not be grated upon and overleaped with presumption; He will have us use those means and ways that He has set us, or else He will not be troubled with us, to acknowledge us and keep us for His own.

In Genesis there is a ladder set from earth to heaven, and here are degrees and stunts made from the pinnacle to the ground; there the Angels were ascending and descending with us, as here they are to take charge over us, but yet upon this condition, that we will keep God's way with them, go up and down by the degrees of the ladder, and use those means that God has appointed for us, or else they are gone.

Now here are we gone too, for we would be kept, but we would be kept in our own ways, nay we would be kept in the way to heaven too, but then we would willingly have it [78/79] somewhat broader than it is, that we and our sins might go along together. God's way is somewhat tedious and troublesome with us, and since it is but one leap from the pinnacle to the ground, we had rather venture for that than to be put to go about by so many degrees and stairs; and if any man tells us that this is a preposterous way and a wrong cause, and labours to turn us out of it into a right, we are ready to draw upon him, and threaten fire and sword; for we will have our own path, and we will not be kept out of it.

It is an old way I confess, as old as Adam in Paradise, but a great while it lay hid, and at last a little divinity found it out again, and (by the devil's device) laid it open for men's easier passage. St. Paul tells us that of old there were many degrees in Christianity, preaching, hearing, believing, invocating, all in order, and so foreknowing, predestinating, calling, justifying, sanctifying, and at last glorifying, all in order too. Now our new masters would teach us a shorter cut and make but one degree in all Christianity, as if there were but one step from the ground to the pinnacle. They teach a man to take his raise from predestination, and to give a jump into glorification without any more ado; no matter for mortification, or justification, or sanctification; they be no degrees with them; they must not be put to go up and down the stairs, like other men, for they have a by-way of solitary faith by themselves, that has but one stride in it, and you are presently in heaven, or where you would be. And as the devil brought Scripture here for his way, so do they for theirs; for they have the Scriptures at will, they say they have it from St. Paul, that he who is once predestinated is sure enough for ever; let him go and throw himself which way he will, he cannot fall, or if he does, the stones shall never hurt him; if he be the Son of God once, the Angels must have absolute charge to keep him, for God's children are such darlings, and He doth so dote upon them, that though they commit never so many downfall mortal sins, yet they shall be in grace and favour, in the state of grace still; He will not suffer them in any wise to take the least hurt that may be. And now let all the world judge whether this new, be not the devil's divinity.

They tell us of a ladder of faith that has but one step in [79/80] it, and they say it is St. Paul's, but an they remember, there is a ladder of practice too, that has a great many more in it, and we say it is St. Peter's, beginning where St. Paul's left, join to your faith virtue, and to your virtue knowledge, and to your knowledge temperance, and to temperance patience, and to patience piety, and to piety brotherly love, &c. There is a way for you now, from the ground to the pinnacle, and from earth to heaven, the way that the Angels will keep us in; and if we keep not in this way, we must keep ourselves, and God knows that will be but a sorry keeping; for the Angels have no charge over us, save only to keep us in all His ways. And be this much said for the third point.

IV. Now the perverting of all (which is the fourth and last thing) and the turning of the sense of David another way, is plain already and evident by that which hath been said before; we will say a little more on it yet. In his first temptation, he would have had stones turned into bread, but he himself here turns bread into stones, the bread of life, which is the word of God, to be our bane and utter undoing.

For it is not therefore said, He shall give His Angels charge over us, that in confidence of their protection we should grate upon God's providence, and put both Him and his Angels to base offices, to take us up as oft as we list to fall down. The devil would make us believe, by his sense, that if we be the sons of God, run into what needless danger we will, He will never forsake us: the sense of the Psalm only is, that using the means which He has appointed, we shall run into no such danger but he will deliver us from it; from such dangers as cannot be prevented by man's care and industry, the Angels shall protect us, but otherwise not.

And therefore when Daniel is bound hand and foot and thrown into the lions' den, a danger that he was not guilty of, then indeed it is a time for an Angel to take charge over him, and to see that no hurt should betide him. When Hagar and Ishmael are ready to die for drink, then the Angel's time is come to help them. So when there is no way to pass, then will God divide, the Red sea; and when no head is to be bread is to be had for love nor money, then they shall have Angels' food from heaven. And so if there had been no ladder nor no stairs down the pinnacle, thou we confess it [80/81] had been a fit time to have been carried down upon Angels' wings.

But this is at a dead lift, as we say, and when there is no other means, nor help left but this; for otherwise let the stairs and the ordinary way be used, a God's name, what should we do to cast ourselves? We read in the twentieth chapter of Numbers, that in a place where no water was to be had, there God would bring it out of a rock; but in the twenty-first chapter, there where there was water, there every one was to go to his digging, the princes of the people and all. And in the Gospel, when the multitudes were ready to perish for hunger, and in a place where no meat was to be had, that then it was time for Christ to work a miracle; but afterwards when there was a town nigh that He took the ordinary way, and sent thither to buy bread; that we may see when God appoints a means, we must use it; and when there is no means left, and our own endeavours will not help us, Deus providebit de monte, His providence shall be over us.

Now this is other manner of divinity fetched out of this Psalm than the devil would have fetched out of it; for by a trick of concealment, he would have all this passed over, and the words taken as he delivers them; as if we were to look for a miraculous providence to keep us, go we which way we would. A rule to make us take heed of quoting the bare words of Scripture, unless we have the true sense of it withal.

And be this much said also for the fourth point; we have pounded so many at first, and this was the last.

There are other things in the text too, that would have somewhat said to there; as, what is meant by the Angels' hands, and what by Christ's foot, and what by the stones, and whether every man hath his Angel-keeper or no, to look to him and protect him. But these things belong not so properly to this place as to David's Psalms, where the Prophet's whole intent is to tell us what safety and sure protection is provided for him that lives a godly life; but here the devil's intent is to tell us, or to make us believe at least, what protection and safety is provided for him that lives an [81/82] ungodly life; and he regards not the circumstance so much in particular, as the whole scope of the Psalm in general, to pervert that; and therefore we are to keep us to this, and not to deal with them here in this place.

So we have seen at large the cost which the devil bestowed here upon this temptation of our Saviour. And what is this to us now? for he shall never have us up to a pinnacle, by the grace of God we will keep ourselves upon the ground, and never venture so high for a downfal. Literally we will do so; but spiritually, there we are on the top with him every day; and as he tempted Christ, so he talks with us out of a Psalm of mercy still, making us believe (for if he did this to a green tree, what will he not do to a dry?) that if we be exalted in our minds, and have a will to leap into a sin, we need make no more ado about it, for God is merciful, and all will be well enough in the end; that to take God's troublesome way is too long and tedious; that a jump, or a cast over all is a nearer and a pleasanter way by half; and if we fear any hurt, why God is our loving Father, and He hath given his Angels charge over us, that if it be a sin we fall into, they will take us out again time enough.

I say no more, than what you see every day done yourselves, when men of all sorts are persuaded to follow the devil up one step of sin, and then another step, and yet another, and still more till insensibly they come at the top; and when they are there they must not go down the stairs again, according to God's appointment, fair and softly, with fear and trembling, to work out their salvation as St. Paul speaks; but walk on still, in the high ways of wickedness, and, in hope of God's long-suffering, defer all till their dying hour comes, and then, that it shall be enough to commend their souls to the Angels and throw themselves upon God's mercy, and all will be well. So says the devil; Do so, tarry there still, and never repent you for the matter; when you begin to fall, ye shall but whistle for an Angel and he will come at first, and carry you fair and softly upon his wings; or else he will bring a fiery chariot with him, and carry you up to heaven in a whirlwind, as he did Elias; and he will carry you up with a Psalm too, ye shall have music as ye go all the way up ye shall have a Psalm of mercy [82/83] sung, and what charge God hath given his Angels over you.

Now if ever the devil came in this likeness, he comes so here, like an hypocritical pure devil, to tell us of the abundance of mercy, for no other end but to plunge us into the depth of misery. For to conclude all, (and it is a strange thing I shall conclude withal,) the Psalms of mercy are deadly Psalms, not so in themselves, but made so by the devil's gloss; and therefore there is no meddling with them, as precious as they be otherwise, when we have no other interpreter by but him and his disciples. True it is that God's mercy is over all his works, and that his mercy endureth for ever; and that He will deal with us according to the multitude of his mercies. But these sayings must not go alone, there are other sayings to be put into our Psalter, as well as they; and therefore we say in our prayers, that in all our troubles and adversities we may put our whole trust and confidence in His mercy (not leaving there, but going on), and truly serving Him in holiness and pureness of living, to the honour and glory of His name, And therefore there is mercy with Thee, saith the Prophet; for what? that Thou mayest he abused and grated on? no, but that Thou mayest be feared; and blessed are they that fear Thee, and put their trust in Thy mercy. When they go both together, God's mercy and our endeavours, they go right; for David's Psalms will sing of mercy amid judgment, and we must look that not mercy alone, but mercy and truth must meet together in us; that if our Psalm-book sounds of nothing but mercy, and of the charge of Angels, we may know who put it into our hands. But if the truth be in us, we shall have mercy shewed upon us; and if we keep God's way in righteousness and holiness, we shall have God's Angels to keep us, to keep us in all His ways, till righteousness and peace kiss each other, which will be in his eternal kingdom of peace. To which kingdom He bring us, &c.

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