This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
'This is a faithful saying.' And this is till day that made it so, faithful and true, wherein it could first be truly said that 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;' for which both text and day are well worthy of acceptation.
Turn the whole Scripture over, You will find no saying there more faithful, that speaks God more faithful, more to have kept his promise, than this that tells us 'that Christ Jesus is come into the world;' He in whom all his promises are fulfilled. And run through the year, you will find no day more faithful than this, that presents us the ground of all our faiths, 'Christ Jesus comes to save sinners.'
'Worthy of all expectation,' too, they must needs be both text and day, that bring salvation: above all, to 'sinners,' of which ye are a part, and the preacher 'chief.' 1 cannot but with gladness preach it, nor you but with joy and attention hear it, especially to-clay, the day he came in; 'in a time accepted, in the day of salvation,' when text and time so happily meet. The day makes the text seasonable. The business of the text makes the day acceptable. The necessities of poor sinners make both comfortable. God make the sermon profitable, too ! and we have all we call desire to-day.
[108/109] The text, to be sure, promises fair; and S. Paul himself finds so much comfort in it by his own experience of the truth and sweetness of it in the former verses, 12, 13, that he here commends it to us as a saying worthy all the respect that we can give it; worthy to be preached, worthy to be believed, worthy to he laid hold on, worthy to be laid up faithfully and remembered, 'That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.' After which saying, nor he nor we have any more to say than that we are the chief of them, so particularly to apply it. And that I hope we will to-day.
For the whole end, both of the saying itself, and S. Paul's saying it, is but to dispose and move its worthily to accept Christ, now he is come, for whose; coming the Church and we have been this month preparing. And the sum of it to put us in comfort, first, that how sadly soever things looked with us before his coming now, by his coming now we may be saved, for 'Christ Jesus came to save sinners;' and to put us, secondly, in the way how we may; by believing, 1, this faithful saying for a truth; by accepting it, 2, for as word worthy all acceptance; by confessing, 3, lastly, ourselves the most unworthy of it, yet the chief that need it.
Thus you have the full sense of the text, and both the doctrine and use of Christmas in it.
The doctrine, 'that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners'--the doctrine of Christmas.
The use of it, to take it every one of us to himself; to take himself to be the quorum primus, the chief of the quorum concerned in it--the chief of sinners; and therefore chiefly interested in Christ's coming.
This the use both of the doctrine and the day; to apply them both, and cry out every one of us with S. Paul, It is I, and I, and I for whom he came.
In the doctrine, I. there are three particulars--
i. That 'Christ Jesus cause; into the world.'
ii. That he came 'to save sinners.'
iii. That he came to save 'the chiefest of them,' the very quorum of them. What is it else to S. Paul or us? or why does he bring himself in upon no better title?
iv. That all these are 'faithful sayings, and worthy of [109/110] acceptation;' all single, such; but all together make up a saying 'worthy all acceptation;' the very _ l_goj, the saying above all sayings, the whole Word and Gospel itself; the word after which no word can be said: nothing beyond it
Of which, therefore, surely the use, II. Must needs be great if we thoroughly apply it: and four ways there are to do it in the text, for uses we are to make of it.
i. If a saying, a 'faithful saying' it be, we then faithfully to believe it.
ii. If 'worthy acceptation,' we then worthily to accept it.
iii. If it reach the 'chief sinners' too, our chief business then, with S. Paul, humbly to apply it to our own particular; not think much any of us to say, quorum ego primus; not to stick to confess ourselves the chiefest among them that are sinners, so we may be found chief, or second, or any one among them that are saved.
iv. 'O l_goj it is; a special saying this is, not to be wrapped up in silence then, nor huddled up within private walls, but to be spoken, and spoken out, cried and proclaimed to all the world.
iv. And all this, lastly, I add, to be done to-day. That, indeed, is not in the text, but it is in the time, and never better to be done than now to-day. That is the right use of this holy time that to which the Church designs Christmas to proclaim 'Christ's coming into the world to save sinners,' and to call them in all to come to him.
I. To carry on the design, I go on now with the text, and begin with the first branch of the doctrine there, that 'Christ Jesus came into the world.'
i.That he did so this great day is witness; worthy, therefore, to be kept for ever for a witness of it; and they that keep it not, to be suspected that they do not think he did, nor believe that there was any such matter.
Yet, that such a one there was, one Jesus that 'went about doing good,' the Jews, his rankest enemies, will not deny it.
That that Jesus was the Christ, though the Jews will not, the Samaritans will confess it. Christ and Jesus too, the Christ, the Saviour of the world; nay, the Christ indeed, [110/111] and the Saviour indeed, and they know it, they say there. Nay, of the Jews too, many believed it believed and justified it.
Nor did they it without good ground; the many miracles that he did in the confirmation of it; the performing what was prophesied of the Messiah; the opening the eyes of the blind; the making the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak; the cleansing the lepers, the raising the dead, the preaching to the poor the gospel of peace, those pure, and holy, and comfortable doctrines that he taught,--were a sufficient resolution to S. John Baptist's question; that it was 'He that should come,' and we should 'look for no other,' no other than he.
Indeed we need not: for this Jesus is a Jesus of another sort, of another manner of spelling, it is observed, than all former Jesus's than Jesus the son of Nun, or Jesus the son of Josedec, or Jesus the son of Syrach; this Jehoscuah Jesus, or a Jehoscuah, (for it is so in the Hebrew,) is with the points of Jehovah in it, a Jehovah Jesus, a Saviour that is the Lord, as the Angel tells us. A Jesus, never the like before; a Jesus above every Jesus, a name now above every name, a name to which heaven and earth and hell must bow: never did they to any Jesus else.
And as this name now 'above every name,' so this coming of his above every coming. We sometimes call our own births, I confess, a coming into the world; but properly, none ever came into the world but he. For, (1.) he only truly can be said to come, who is before he comes: so were not we; only he so. (2.) He only strictly comes who comes willingly; our crying and struggling at our entrance into the world shows how unwillingly we come into it. He alone it is that sings out, 'Lo, I come.' He only properly comes, who comes from some place or other. Alas! we had none to come from but the womb of nothing. He only had a place to be in before he came. Now, such a Jesus as this as has God in his name, and must be conceived to be also so by the way of his coming may well be the Messiah 'that should come into the world,' Jesus the Christ. We need seek no further, especially if it be the Jesus that comes to 'save sinners.' And he it is, says our next particular.
[111/112] ii. Nay, the Angel said so before he was born. He had the name given him for the purpose: 'Thou shalt call his name Jesus:' for why? 'For he shall save his people from their sins.' Himself professes he came for the purpose, 'to call sinners to repentance,' and that is to save them; yea, so for them, that there is a non veni to others; he came for no other. To speak truth, there were no others to come for: omnes aberraverunt, we were all sinners: so if he came for the best of us, he yet came for sinners, for them or nobody. But so for such, as not for them that were not such; so altogether for sinners, as not all for the righteous, 'I came not to call the righteous,' not them, 'but sinners' as it were in opposition to them. Indeed, opus non habent, 'they had no need' of his coming. 'The whole need not the physician, but they that are sick;' and they are sinners. In a word, not only so for sinners, as before the righteous, and as it were against the righteous, but so for sinners too, as for the worst first, for the greatest of them above the least: the quorum primi to be the primi, the chiefest sinners he chiefly came for. That is the third point of this great doctrine for the text.
iii. Look the company he keeps, you will say so. 'Publicans and sinners,' the most emphatical of the name, there you find him so often, that he is accused for it by the righteous the Scribe and Pharisee. So for the most enormous sinners, it seems, that the righteous cannot bear it, they are scandalised at it. One would think they were so still, that are so much against Christ's saving any body but themselves, that they will allow him neither to save, nor come to save, anybody but 'the elect.' True, indeed, he saves none but the elect; that is, he saves none even them too that shall not be saved. 'Not for our sins only,' says S. John expressly, 'but for the sins of the whole world.' The whole world, be it as large as it will, and the sins of it, be they as great as they can, and all the sins of the world indefinitely, be they whose they will in it; for wicked Manasses' as well as good Hezakiah's; for Noah's drunkenness, Lot's incest, David's adultery, Solomon's idolatry, S. Peter's apostasy, S. Paul's persecuting and blaspheming, for all sorts of sins and sinners.
[112/113] 'So they be saints,' say they; 'though they be of the world,' says he. 'He is a propitiation' for them all; 'would have all men saved,' says S. Paul; even them that deny him. When he has 'bought them,' says S. Peter. It is neither a true nor faithful saying, nor much worth the accepting, that binds up his coming only to the elect. For if not for all, they may be out, for all their brags; may be too righteous to be in, among the sinners; among the righteous, that he says himself he came not for. This saying that we are for, 'that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, is a faithful saying, worthy all acceptation,' even the chiefest the world affords,--to be received by all, whilst itself rejects none. And that it is so, we are now to show you in all particulars: that it is a 'faithful saying.' First, that word has many senses; and this saying is faithful in them all, in all those senses, in all its parts.
iv. PistÕj is certus et indubitatus; and 'a faithful saying' is, (1) a certain and undoubted truth. Christ's coming is no less. 'We know it,' says S. John; 'know that the Son of God is come, even his Son Jesus Christ:' 'come,' and 'come in the flesh,' that is, sure enough, into the world; and none but 'the spirit of Antichrist,' says he, none but heretics, will deny it. An angel this day proclaimed it; a whole choir came this day down to celebrate it; the wise men a while after came from the ends of the earth to see it. Nothing but what 'we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled,' do we declare in it, says S. John. The whole land of Judæa daily saw it, millions have died for the truth of it, and the whole world is witness of it.
And it is certain he came for sinners, 'to seek and save' them; keep them from being lost; came and went for them; came into the world, and went out of it; died to save them. 'Whilst we were yet sinners' he did so; gave commission besides, that when he was gone, remission should be preached to sinners all the world over in his name.
This takes in the chiefest, makes that certain too, that he excludes none; for 'to save' the world 'he came,' says he that lay in his bosom, and knew his heart; to save 'and [113/114] not to judge it.' That comes but ex eventu, when men will not to be saved. To judge or condemn them was not his business, unless they were such as would not be saved; and are there any so great sinners as would not?
(2.) And all this is not only true and faithful, or certain in itself, but makes (2) all God's former sayings to be so too. It fulfils the promises, it perfects the sacrifices, it answers the types, it completes all the prophecies that went before: all was shadow till this substance came; all their good and happiness was but coming till Jesus came; all was but say and say, mere words, till this Eternal Word leapt down from heaven. This coming of Christ gave faith and credit to them all. Now God is fully proved to be 'faithful,' and all his promises and prophecies full and true. Now Jacob's 'Shiloh,' Isaiah's "Immanuel,' Jeremiah's "Branch,' Daniel's 'Messiah, Zachariah's 'Day-spring,' Haggai's 'Desire of all Nations,' is come into the world; and all the sacrifices of bulls, and rams, and lambs, and goats, recapitulated in this holy Lamb; and all the types from the beginning of the world completed in this great Antitype to-day beginning to appear, in the 'end of the world,' as the Apostle speaks, 'to put away sin.'
Ay, that is the business that makes this 'saying' yet more 'faithful' in the way we are now speaking of; this putting away sin, or saving sinners. This, 'Lo, I come,' puts an end and period to all burnt-offerings and sacrifices for sin. No more of them to be heard of when this true sacrifice is once brought into the world. All the old prophecies end here too. For to 'bear our iniquities,' to 'make his soul an offering for sin,' to 'make intercession for the transgressors,' comes this 'righteous Servant,' as the prophet Isaiah styles him. And, 'to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity,' comes Daniel's Messiah. And now he is come, they all are at an end, their words made good; and all is true, all faithful and true. And if iniquity, transgressions, and sins be enough to take in all sorts of sinners, (as no doubt it is,) his coming to save the chiefest of them does the more fulfil the truth of all.
(3.) But the words are 'faithful' in another sense; not [114/115] the fulfilling only of our forefathers' faith, but the full of ours. For to believe 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,' is to believe all we are obliged to believe, either of God, or Christ, or of ourselves.
In the word 'Christ' is the whole Trinity, his own person and offices comprised; in 'Jesus' and his 'coming,' both his natures; in 'sinners' is our own. And in his coming into the world 'to save' them is the whole work and business of our redemption. Will you see them how they arise?
Why, to be Christ, is to be 'anointed;' and to be 'anointed' supposes as well him that does anoint, which S. Peter says was God the Father, the first person and that with, which he is anointed, which the same Apostle tells us was the Holy Ghost, the third person as well as him that is anointed, whom the second Psalm makes God, the second person. And this anointing, too, implies all his offices of King, Priest, and Prophet: they anointed all of them, and he anointed to be them all. Here are all the persons in the Trinity; and therein his own, with all his offices besides.
(2.) 'Jesus' is his name; that signifies a Saviour, and that speaks him God. Ego sum, et præter me non est. None can be truly so but he. But his coming into the world, that showed us he was man. There is both his natures. And
(3.) In the title of 'sinners,' there is our own, that tells us what we poor things are: poor wretched sinners that want a Saviour.
Lastly, his 'coming into the world' is but a short expression of all he did and suffered in it; and 'to save sinners' is to take thence a Church unto himself, to purify and cleanse them from their sins, to raise them first from the death of sin here to the life of righteousness, to the communion of saints, and to raise them at last from death of the grave unto the life of glory, yea, the communion of saints hereafter. This is the sum of the Christian faith, and it is all summed up here: all the Articles of the Creed, nay the whole Gospel itself, in this one single period, 'Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners:' a saying which is not only PiotÕj, but Pstij now not only 'faithful,' but the full faith itself.
[115/116] 'Faithful' it is (4) in another acceptation. Fidelis est qui nunquam fallet; not like those aquæ infidels that the prophet Jeremiah complains of, those faithless streams, those shallow brooks, that fail and dry away when we most need them. When all other waters fail us, this fountain that was set open for Judah and Jerusalem, will run still. When all other comforts are dried up and gone, this of Christ Jesus' coming will be coming still. When all other sayings put together will not heal our wounds, nor refresh our weariness, nor cool our heat, nor quench our drought, this will do all. When all things else desert and leave us, and nor friends, nor fortunes, nor wit, nor eloquence, nor strength, nor policy will help us, this will be faithful to us, this Christ Jesus will stand to us. No such well-spring of life in the world as he; and nothing can come so bad to us in the world, but his coming makes good, a world of good of.
Nay, this very saying, that he 'came into the world to save sinners,' and the chiefest not excepted, well laid to, will stick close to us in all distresses, disperse the terrors of our sins, defeat the devices of the devil to disturb and fright us: this will support us in our weaknesses, sustain us in our faintings, raise us out of our despairs, relieve us in our sicknesses, ease us in our pains, refresh us in our agonies, comfort us on our death-beds, revive us when we are even dead, go with us out of the world, and never leave us till it has brought and laid us at His feet who came to save us, and is 'not willing that any should perish,' no, not the greatest sinner, not any, first nor last.
(5.) well may this saying, 5, pass for crhstoj now, as S. Ambrose and S. Augustine seem to have read it, as well as PiotÕj, be styled humanus or jucundus sermo, a sweet and pleasant saying, as well as faithful. Pleasing and joyful news it is to hear, that such a person as this speaks of is come amongst us: for all the while we were without this Christ, we were, says S. Paul, 'without God,' too, 'in the world.' From his coming only it is that we can say with [116/117] S. Peter, Bonum ist esse hic, that it is good being here, that the world is worth the staying in. It were not without him; no company worth being with till he came; no pleasure in it till he brought it with him. For this it is that crhstoj makes no mistake; the saying may be said pleasant without an error.
Indeed, what more pleasant, if to save sinners be his coming? Liberty, and health, and life, and salvation, are pleasing news; liberty to the captives, health to the sick, life to the dying, salvation to the lost, and perishing; and to save sinners is to give all of them to them all. Such a saying to them must needs please them all.
And upon this we must needs allow it lastly to be 'faithful' in another sense: crhstoj is fide dignus, a saying worthy of our faith, worth our believing. All true, and certain, and profitable, nay, and pleasing sayings, are not so: no matter whether some of them believed or no. this is a truth of so great concernment, and so truly all, that S. Paul himself, that great doctor of the world, is content, nay 'determined, to know nothing' else nothing 'but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.' 'Him crucified' is 'him come into the world to save sinners;' for by his cross he saved them, and upon his cradle the foot of it was reared; and from his coming into a cross and peevish world, he began to be crucified and bear it. All other knowledges are not worth the knowing, all other truths not worth the believing: the Law of Moses is but an A B C learning to this knowledge. All the Jewish Jabala, all the wise sentences of the wisest Rabbies, all the wisdom of the heathen world, of all the world all that is without Christ Jesus in it, but mere fables, endless genealogies; to no end or purpose all of them but to fill the head with empty notion, and the ehart with vexation, and the tongue with strife; all mere skÚbala, 'very dross and dung,' in respect of the knowledge of 'Christ Jesus coming into the world to save sinners.'
Yet after all this, were there not ïn psîtoj, to them all were either not the 'chiefest' sinners in, or might not the chiefest of them make a particular application of it to himself were Christ's coming only to a few, and all the rest excluded by some inevitable decree- there would be but a [117/118] starved kind of comfort in it at the best; nor could it well command our faith, seeing it might so command us to believe a lie, and cheat ourselves. To make the saying either worth the saying or the believing, it must be applicable to the chiefest sinners; and so it is here, and the greatest sinner among us may lay hold upon it.
And now, it being a saying so 'faithful' and true in itself, faithful both to our fathers and to us, the fulfilling of their faith and the ground of ours, and the sum of it too; a saying that will never fail us in any exigence and distress, but bear up our spirits at every turn, and stick firm to us upon all occasions: a saying so pleasing, so worthy of our faith, and so close to every one of us,--it is 'worthy,' sure, lastly, 'of all acceptation,' all the best entertainment we can give it.
It is worthy of it (1) for the Person it brings to us: one that is 'fairer than the children of men,' worth entertaining.
Worthy (2) for the way it brings him to us, in an humble and familiar way (such was his coming); he comes into the world like other men, that we may the easier approach him, and so the more readily entertain him.
Worthy (3) for the good things it tells us he brings with him, for the salvation he comes with to us--a thing worth accepting.
Worthy (4) for the persons it brings all this good to, or for the extent and fullness of that goodness, that it is the sinners, sinners indefinitely and at large, sinners of all sizes, all degrees and latitudes; this certainly worthy all acceptation, by all to be accepted, for all interested in it.
And (5) to be accepted, too, with all acceptance, all the best ways we can imagine; with soul and body, with hand and heart, with all the expressions of love, and reverence, and joy, and thankfulness; love of his beauty, reverence to his humility, joy in his salvation, and thankfulness for the freeness and fullness of it. If a friend come but a long journey to us, we give him all the welcome we can make, and think nothing enough. This Friend came to us as far as heaven is from us, farther than all the corners of the earth. If a great person come to visit us, we meet him with all the [118/119] respect and reverence we can contrive; none too much. This is the greatest person can come to us. If there come one to save, too, when we are now ready to perish, how do our heart leap, and our spirits dance for joy! How glad are we! Nothing can be more. Here is one comes to do it, and to do it to the utmost, that none or nothing of us may be lost: What can we now do to him again, who is and does all this for us? All we can do is all too little, all expressions too low to receive him with; and this saying that thus assures him to us, worthy to be written in tables of gold, with pens of diamonds; to be written however on all our hearts, never to be rased out, nor ever to be brought forth but with devotion and reverence, with exultation and joy.
II. And now I am fallen upon my second general, the use we are to make of this faithful saying: and a fourfold use it will be; To believe, to accept, to apply, to proclaim it; I add, To make this the day to begin it in.
i. 'This is a faithful saying;' we, first, therefore to believe it: such it is 'to them that believe,' to others not. S. Paul, I confess, says only to them 'especially.' But that 'especially' is only too; for Christ is effectually the Saviour of none else. The Saviour, truly of all, come down for all, set up for all; yet not any saved by him but believers, for all that. Nor all they neither, only such as are 'careful to maintain good works.' This saying not faithful but to believers, nor nay believers 'faithful,' but such as show it by good works. Thus S. Paul limits the words, 'This is a faithful saying,' in those two last cited places, that we may not cheat ourselves out of the text, or the good things in it.
Indeed, if we believe not, yet 'He abideth faithful' in himself, he and all his sayings too; that is 'a faithful saying' too. But, nor He nor any of his sayings faithful to us, whatever in themselves, if we be not faithful and believing, if we distrust either the beginning or end of his coming to us, or by our sins, or foolish scruples, or despair, thrust ourselves out of our interests in any of them. For the second use we are to make of this saying is, not only to believe it, but to accept it.
Use ii. Now, to accept it, is very highly to prize and value [119/120] it; and well we may,--it is worthy of it. Prize it, then, as we do jewels, as that merchant in the Gospel did the pearl,--sell all to buy it: there is none to it. Lay it up safe, as we do treasures, that neither moth corrupt, nor thief steal it from us, nor sin nor Satan rob us of it; there is no treasure like it. Keep it as we do the record and tenures of our estates, part with it upon no score. Our state in heaven depends upon it: it is our title to it. Lord, where were we without this assurance to save sinners? Where all our hopes, if this were lost? Whereto all our treasures, if this were gone? We had need prize and value it, and keep it sure; and this is to accept it.
And yet to give it all acceptation is somewhat more: To accept it, as Tertullus tells Felix they did his noble deeds, p£ntote ka pantacoà ka met_ p£shj eÙcarist"aj, always, and everywhere, and with all thankfulness.
Do we it, then, (1) not now and then, not to-day only, or one day or two, but every day, every day we rise, every opportunity that presents itself, on every occasion that appears; that is p£ntote.
Do it (3) met_ p£shj eÙcarist"aj, 'with all thankfulness.' And how is that? By some good deeds, sure, as well as words. Present we him ever and anon with some good thing or other: now a basket of good fruits, (so S. Paul sometimes styles good works;) now a bottle of good wine, the wine of devout and piuous tears; now with a present of gold and silver, to adorn his house or his attendants; now with a garment, to clothe his naked members; now with a dish, to feed his poor and hungry children; now with this gift, now with another. This is the way of thankfulness among men, that they call good acceptance among themselves. These and all the ways we can; p£ntV te, (for so some Greek copies read for p£ntote,) will take all in. but above all, 'our souls and bodies a living sacrifice,' will be the [120/121] most acceptable present we can make him, and indeed the fittest for him that came to save them.
This will do well; yet, (iii.) S. Paul's quorum ego primus; the apostle's applying the only bad word in the text with an emphasis to himself his reckoning himself the chief of sinners, shows us the best way to apply this faithful saying to ourselves, the confessing ourselves no ordinary sinners. The third use of the doctrine of the text.
But thou, O blessed Apostle, the chief of sinners! What then, O Lord, are we? Primo primi, the chief of chiefs, is a style too little. And yet, can either he or we now say it, and say truth? If not, the lie may redound peradventure to God's glory, but it will work to our own damnation. Best look to that.
It is an hyperbole, most think; yet it is no handsome hyperbolizing with God, me thinks. We may find out a way, I doubt not, so to say it, as yet to say nothing but our own bosom thoughts.
Three things observed, we may both say and think we are any of us the chief of sinners. (1.) Look we upon our own sins with the severest eye, with all the aggravations of them we can imagine. Look we (2) upon other men's with the most favourable one, with all the extenuations we can invent. And then (3) compare we them so together, and the work is done: we may really suppose ourselves of all men the greatest sinners.
To begin with our sins, and to aggravate them in purpose, consider we them ever in their foulest colours: how base and wretched in themselves, how dishonourable to god, how prejudicial to our brother, how scandalous to our religion, and how destructive to ourselves. Consider we next, upon what poor grounds they were committed, upon what slight temptations, to what silly ends, with what perfect knowledge, with what full deliberation, with what impudent presumption, how willfully against all good motions, how resolutely against all assistances and persuasions to the contrary, how desperately against all dangers threatened from them, and how ungratefully to God and Christ. In a word, what a long train of mischiefs they probably draw after them; how many we involve, commonly, either in the [121/122] guilt, or in the punishments, or in the example; and thereby lay as it were a seed of wickedness for ever, and so sin even in our worms and dust. Thus we are to look upon our own transgressions.
But (2) when we look upon other men's, we must do that but cursorily, and glancing, thinking they are never so bad as they are represented, not so foul by much as they appear at first; that their intentions perhaps were good, or that it falls out far otherwise than they intended; that what was done was upon mistake or error; that it was but a slip, or weakness, or surreption; that they have not the light, the strength, the grace, the power, that God gives us; that they had not the means or opportunity to shun those sins; that they were overpowered by strong temptations, or were merely overtaken, or plainly forced to it and could not help it, or had not the opportunity to do better; that they did it ignorantly, meant no hurt at all, and possibly none may come of it; that whatever it be, they are heartily sorry for it; that, however, they have a thousand virtues and good things in them to overpoise the evils they have done. These are the ways we are to consider the sins of other men.
And then, (3) if after this we compare our sins and theirs together ours under all circumstances of aggravation, with theirs under all extenuating considerations; our greatest sins, with their little ones; our presumptions, with their infirmities; our vices, with their virtues; our bad or sinister intentions, with their good and fair professions; our corrupt natures, with their dispositions; ourselves, as we are by nature and depressed by sin, with them as exalted by any grace and virtue;--it will be no marvel, no way strange, if we think ourselves the greatest sinners.
And, indeed, we have no reason to do other. We know only our hearts, those who are sure are wicked; but we cannot say so of other men's, can at the best but suppose theirs; of which in charity we ought always to think the best, ever at least better than our own, especially when even little and ordinary sins in others, according to the difference of light and grace, and the variety of circumstances that may [123/124] attend them. All which considered, if we profess ourselves the worst, we shall now need no hyperbole to make it good; nor fear it will be any whit worse for us, though it be true. S. Paul, it seems, held it the surest course, thus by the greatest and humblest confession of his own unworthiness, to plead his interest in this 'faithful saying,' in 'Christ Jesus coming into the world to save sinners.'
And now sure, (iv.) we may proclaim it,--must do so too. It is not a saying to be kept secret, no mysterious cabal not to be revealed, or committed only to a few. 'This thing,' says S. Paul, 'was not done in a corner.' Into the world He came, that came to save us. And to the world, and through the world, let it therefore be proclaimed for ever. 'It is good,' says the Angel to olf Tobit, 'to keep close the secret of a king, but it is honourable to reveal the works of God.'
And to-day is a good day to do it in. A day wherein the lepers said among themselves, 'If we hold our peace, some mischief will come upon us.' I am sure there was enough upon us, when men upon this day held their peace. Well, tell we now our news as they did theirs, to the court, to the city, to the country, to the world. The Church bids us do so to-day. Let the preacher [reach it, let the people tell it, let the singers begin it and go before, and the minstrels and music follow and answer it to-day, that 'Christ Jesus is come into the world to save sinners.'
Yet to-day we must do more than tell it. we are to believe, to accept, to apply it too. We have to-day the best opportunity to do all; to exercise our faith, and to advance it, to give a proof of our acceptance of Christ's saving mercies, and the sense of our sins and miseries.
Yonder, under the blessed elements, we shall meet our Saviour coming to us. Shall I tell you how to accept that favour, how receive and entertain him? why, when great personages are coming to us, we make clean the house, we trick up the rooms, we set everything in order, we set forth our choicest furniture, put on our best apparel; we look out ever and anon to see if they be coming; and when they are, we go out to meet them, we make our addresses with all humble and lowly reverence, we welcome them with the [123/124] best words we have, we present them with some lovely present, and take care that nothing unseemly be done before them whilst they stay.
Let us do so to Him that came into the world to-day. Cleanse we our hearts, and purify our hands; dress up all the rooms, all the powers and faculties of our souls and bodies, with graces and virtues; set our affections and passions all in rule and order; put on the garments of righteousness and true holiness; let us long and thirst and hunger after him, let us go out to meet him, accost him with reverence, welcome him with prayers and praises, present him with holy vows and resolutions, and so every way demean ourselves with that humility and devotion, that care and diligence over all our ways and steps, that nothing appear in us distasteful or offensive to him now he is come; and say we to him, in the words of Elizabeth to his mother, 'Whence is this to me, that my Lord himself is come unto me?' to me a sinner, to me the chief of sinners!
Thus if we will entertain him when he comes, thus if we will receive him now he is coming towards us, he will not only come unto us, but tarry with us, till he take us with him to himself; make us his world to be in, till he remove us into a better; where the soul that humbly here confesses itself the chief of sinners, shall be saved and set among the chiefest saints when he shall come again in glory.