from the Library of Anglo-Catholic Theology, Sermons of Mark Frank, volume I
The Third Sermon on the Epiphany
S. Matthew II.11
And when they were come into the house they saw the young Child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Our last year's business from the text was to see what the wise men saw: Philip's counsel to Nathanael, to "come and see." This year's shall be to do what the wise men did, what all wise men will do still; holy David's invitation to "fall down and worship." For having found this blessed "Child," the end of all our journeys, the crown of all our labours, the sum of all our desires and wishes--this Infant-God, this young king of heaven and earth--what can we less than do our obeisance and pay our homage? All wise men will do so--adore the rising Sun, make sure of somewhat; or, in the Psalmist's phrase, "rejoice with reverence, and kiss this Son, lest he be angry, and so we perish;" fall down before him, and even kiss his feet in an humble adoration, that he may lift us up and advance us in his kingdom,--at least remember us when he comes into it.
To "come into the house" else, where Jesus is, and there to see him,--to stand and look upon him only, and no more,--is a journey and a sight to little purpose. The ox and the ass "saw" him; and many, no doubt, to as little purpose, upon the shepherds' report, and the rumour of these wise men coming from the East, came to see and gaze upon him. It is this worship that sanctifies, prospers all our journeys; we begin them but untowardly, and finish them but unluckily, without it. If we fall not down upon our knees before we go out, and bow not ourselves and worship not in thankfulness when we come in, we cannot assure ourselves of any great good, either of our goings out or of our comings in, how successful soever they seem at first--even to have obtained their ends, even found Jesus too. This same worshipping is both the end and blessing of all our journeys, if they be blest; nor see we, or understand we, anything thoroughly or comfortably where that is wanting, where the worship and service of God and our Saviour is not both the aim an endeavour of all our motions.
Wise men "they" were here, that now for these twelve days have made it theirs; and the Ethiopian eunuch, a great counsellor, made it the only business of his journey "to Jerusalem, to worship" only, and so return. And in the devouter times of Christianity, the devout Christians, when their haste was such they could not stay out a prayer or collect, would yet never pass out a church but they would in and bow themselves and worship and be gone. Tanti est adorare; so weighty a business it is to worship, though but in transitu, to prosper anything we are about.
It was so thought then: it would be so now, did we not more study to make enquiries about Christ than to serve him, to dispute about Christianity than to practise it. Christianity here begins with it. These first Christians, I may call them, thus professed their service to their Saviour, thus addict themselves to the faith and obedience of Christ: and were there no other reason in the world to persuade it, it were certainly enough, that the first faith in Christ was after this fashion, thus acknowledged and performed.
Three acts there are of it in the text:-- pesontes, prosekunesan, prosenegkan, falling down, worshipping and offering. The first, the worship of the body; the second, of the soul; the third, of our goods: with these three, our bodies, our souls, our goods, we are to worship him: with all these his worship is to be performed: without them all it is but a lame and maimed sacrifice, neither fit for wise men to give, nor Christ to receive.
Two points of the text we are gone through: the wise men's journey and success, their coming and their seeing, their labour and their reward. Three now we have to go through-- procidentes, adorarunt, et obtolerunt; the three acts, or parts, or points of worship we are to perform to Christ-- each in its order as it lies. And first, of procidentes, their prostration.
Here it is we first hear of any worship done to Christ; and this falling down, this prostration, the first worship; as if no other, no lesser adoration could serve turn after so great a blessing as the sight of a Saviour: as if his taking on a body challenged our whole bodies now; his coming down from heaven, our falling down upon the earth; his so great humiliation, our greatest expression of our humility.
Many sorts of adoration have been observed, greater and lesser,--bowing the head, bowing the body, bending the knee, worshipping upon the knee. God thus worshipped by them all. And falling down before him is no news to hear of, neither in Scripture nor antiquity, whatsoever niceness, or laziness, or profaneness, of late have either said or practised against it.
They were wise men here that did it; yet it is well that the Scripture calls them so. I know who have been counted fools, superstitious fools, for as little a matter, for the same; though I cannot but wonder to see as much done in a compliment to a thing worse than a reasonable man, whilst God himself is denied it. Indeed, it may be, if we compare the person, we shall quickly see the reason. These in the text were wise men, or credit and reputation; men of some quality; men that understood themselves, and know the language of heaven, and can turn the stars to their proper uses; that think not much of much pains to find a Redeemer; that know how to use a King, and serve a God; that run readily at the first call of Heaven to pay this worship. Yourselves can inform you what they are that deny it: I shall not tell you.
Poor ignorant shepherds may, perhaps, through ignorance or astonishment, omit the ceremony and be pardoned, so they go away praising and rejoicing; but great learned clerks cannot be excused if hey pretermit it; but neither the one nor the other, if they deny it. Ignorance will be no sufficient plea for the one, nor a distinction or a pretence of scandal for the other, in a point so plain, as perpetual custom from the beginning of the world, and plain words of Scripture, make it.
Abraham falls "upon his face" in a thankful acceptance of God's promise. His servant Eleazar "bows down and worships." Old Jacob did as much as he could towards it on his bed. And the people of Israel, and this before the law was given--and Moses, before the law was written--"fell down before the Lord," as he tells the people. So it was no Jewish law or custom then, but even a point of the law of nature, though practised also by the Jew--by David, by Solomon, by Ezekiel, by Daniel, by all the prophets, by all the people; all the children of Israel together "bowed themselves with their faces to the ground upon the pavement, and worshipped and praised the Lord." Christ himself allows the people to do as much to him; takes it, and takes it kindly from them. Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, "falls at his feet." Mary does as much. Others often do the same, and none forbidden it; nay, he himself does it to his Father, "fell down and prayed;" and do we then think much to do it? The very saints in heaven, where there is nor shadow, certainly, nor ceremony, fall down before him, even before the Lamb: and are we too good to do it? Is the practice of all ages-- of heaven, of earth, and Christ too--not strong enough to bow our stubborn necks? Is there Judaism and superstition in heaven, in Christ too? Oh, then let me be superstitious! I am content to be so, to be called so by any generation upon earth.
But to make it yet more evident, if it can be--nature itself, in the midst of its corruptions, keeps yet this impression undefaced, and more plainly professes this reverence due to the Deity, than even the Deity itself. Never did any, the most blind and foolish heathen, yet acknowledge a God, but presently they worshipped him with their bodies. Nay, never did any ever pretend either honour or respect to man, but he expressed it some way by his body, by some gesture or other of it. And must God that made it, and Christ that redeemed it, only go without it? Must man be reverenced with the body, and the devil served with it; and God be put off with the worship of the soul, which yet neither can express itself, nor think, nor do anything without the body, whilst it is in it? It was thought a good argument by S. Paul, to "Glorify God in our body as well as in our spirits,: (and in old manuscripts, I must tell you, en pneumati is not found; en to somati, the body only is,) because they are God's. He hath "bought them with a price," 1 Cor. vi.20: good reason, then that he should have them. "The body is for the Lord," (ver. 13 of that chapter.) Who then should have it but he? It is for nobody else: he only can claim it; other do but borrow it, or usurp it: let him therefore have it; it is his own, and it cannot be bestowed better; he knows best to use it, how we keep it, fear we not. Indeed, it is so unreasonable to deny it him, so unprofitable to the very body to keep it from him, that I know not why we should expect to have it either safe or well when we deny it him. Who can keep it better? Who can easier lift it up when it is down, raise it up when it is fallen, preserve it in health and strength, than he? And are we such fond fools, then; not to present it always to his protection, and lay it at his feet, who if he tread on it does yet do it good?
Though we were heretics of the highest impudence, and denied his Godhead, yet confessing his humanity we can do no less than give the worship of our bodies to him; we can give him nothing less. I may, without breach of charity, I fear, suspect that this generation, that are so violent against the worship of the body, will ere long neither confess his Godhead nor his manhood; turn Arian and Manichee both together, and prove a kind of mixed heretics unheard of hitherto, beyond all the wickedness and folly of all their former predecessors; come so far at last to think all done in a fancy or a dream, make all the work of our redemption come to nothing; for certainly, did they either seriously think him true God or true man, we should see it by their bodies, especially seeing we cannot see any thing by their spirits to the contrary. Even men used to be thus worshipped, and prophets. So that, did they confess him any thing, they would certainly fall down and worship him, not deny it, to be sure, whether do it or no.
For all falling down is not adoration: it is the mind that makes that; the intention of the soul that turns this outward expression of the body into adoration; that makes it either latreia or douleia, either a religious or a civil worship, as it pleases.
This is the reason, together with the authority of the Fathers, S Augustine, S Leo, S Bernard and other, that I make adorarunt here, this word "worship," to relate to the soul, as procidentes, falling down, to the body. Though I am not ignorant that both in the school and grammar sense it is seldom or never found without the interest and posture of the body, yet must it of necessity most refer to the soul; that being only able to specify the worship, and give it both its nature and its name, by either intending it religiously as to God, or civilly only as to a creature, where it gives it; the outward posture of being oft the same indifferently to God and man.
That these "wise men" intended it as an act of devotion and religion--as to an incarnate God, not a mere carnal man, is the general opinion of the Church, and not without good ground. For, (1) first, "wise men," who ever propound some end to all their motions, would not have undertaken so long and tedious and troublesome a journey to have seen a child in a cradle or in the mother's lap; no, not a royal babe. They were kings themselves; so the ancients delivered them to us, and the seventy-second Psalm foretells them by that name; and they had often seen such sights in as much pomp and glory as they could expect it in Judea. At least cui bono? what good should they get by it?--that is a thing wise men consider--by any king of Judea? What was such an one, or his child, to them, who had nor dependence nor commerce with him? or if they had, needed not make such a needless journey themselves, to no more purpose than in a compliment to visit him.
But (2) they tell us they had "seen his star." Now, we and they knew well enough that the kinds of the earth, though they have the spangles of the earth, have not the spangles of the heaven at their command; though they have courts and courtiers beset with sparks of diamonds and rubies, they have not yet one spark of heaven in their attendance: no king of stars, but the King of heaven; none under whose command or dominion they move or shine, none that can call them his, but God that made them. To worship one, then, who not only can alone "call all the stars by their names," but by his own too, is certainly, in any wise man's language, worship to God. Our very star-gazers, who confess no king, and for aught we can see worship no God, will yet confess that in Latin they have regit Astra Deus, that the stars are only God's; and though a wise man may by his wisdom divert their influence, he can in no wise either command or direct their motion.
(3.) They tell us, too, they came to "worship; " their whole business was nothing else: and we would think they had little indeed, if they came so far only to give a compliment to a child that could neither answer them nor understand them. We must certainly take them, not for wise men, but very fools, to do so; and if worship be the end of their coming, we may quickly understand by the phrase of Scripture that it is divine worship that is meant. Of "worship," indeed, and "adoration," we may read in other senses there; but it is never made a business, so to be any one's aim or purpose, but when it is referred to God and to his house. The eunuch is said to "come to Jerusalem and worship;" David invites us to "fall down and worship;" S Paul "comes to Jerusalem to worship," and certain Greeks are said to "come up to worship;" but all this while it is to worship God; never made a work to worship man. To fall down before, or bow or reverence to any man, how great soever, is but an occasional piece of business, on set purpose never: when we come before kinds and princes we do it, but never come before them to this end only, for to do it.
(4.) Had they conceived no other of his than as man, or a child of man, that poor contemptible condition and unworshipful pickle they found him in--the rags of poverty--the place they saw him in, would have made then have forborne their worship quite; they would have been so far from procidentes adorarunt, that would have been dedignantes abierunt; instead of falling down and worshipping, they would have gone their ways disdaining at him. But so powerful was his "star," and so had the day-star risen in their hearts, so had the eternal light shined to them, that they could see what others could not; in carne Deum, God in the child: He that led them without, taught them within--both whom they worshipped, and how to worship.
And, indeed, he that knows and considers whom he worships, will worship both in spirit and in truth, with his soul and with his body; in truth, else he does not worship. Adorare, adoration, consists of both; nay, cannot be well conceived if you take away either the one or the other. The word itself, in its primitive signification, is manum ad os admovere; concerns the body, and is no more than to kiss the hand; and proskunein (of kuo) is just the same. So was the fashion of the Greeks to worship; and it seems ancient through the East, for it is an expression of holy Job: "If I have beheld the sun when it shined," &c. "or my mouth hath kissed my hand," that is, if he had worshipped any other god. But it falls out with this as with other words, they enlarge their signification by time and custom; and so adoration is come to be applied to all worship of the body--bowing the head, bending the knee, falling on the face, kneeling at the feet, according as each particular country perform their reverence. Time yet hath enlarged it further; and our Saviour--that Eternal Word, and therefore the best expositor of any word--hath applied it also to the soul, prokunesousi en pneumati, nay more calls them the truest worshippers that worship in spirit.
And, indeed, the spirit's, the soul's part is the chiefest: the worship of the body is but the body of worship; the soul, that is it that enlivens it, the spirit and soul of it that completes it; the inward intention, direction, submission and reverence is that which makes all to be accepted. To fall down in humility with the body, and lift up the soul with pride--to give an outward respect to him, and inwardly neglect him--to do the worship cursorily or in a compliment, without attention or good meaning--is to use Christ as the soldiers did, worship him in a mockery; cry "Hail, king!" and smite him; to give a crown of thorns and a sceptre of a reed; to make a puppet or a May-game of him; or with Herod pretend to worship, and mean nothing less; seem devout, forsooth, in all haste, but nourish profane and murderous--that is, sinful, careless, or atheistical thoughts against him.
They do best joined: God hath joined them, and one word hath joined them; and when joined we best understand them; and soul and body being so nearly joined, why should we go about to separate them? The prophecies foretel them both, as to be solemnly performed to him: "All kings shall fall down before him, and all nations shall do him service." "Prayer shall be made ever unto him, and daily shall he be praised." The Gospel, that assures it was done; and the Apostle tells us that God had so ordained it should be; given him a "name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, things in earth, and things under the earth." If all things in heaven and earth do do it, then spirits and bodies too; for bodies are things, and spirits are things: and in heaven and under the earth there be no bodies; in earth there is both, so there sure to be done by both. And this name had not been long given before these "wise men" come to do it reverence: before it was given, they came not; presently after, they come: not before, that they might know how to call him they were to worship; yet presently after, that we might know it was "in his name only that the Gentiles were to trust," at which to "bow," and "worship." To worship him, to worship his name, or at his name, is but the same in Scripture, or little difference. Yet if we owe him worship, we owe also a respect unto his name; we are not to take it vainly, or count it light, but pay a reverence to it as to his, for therein also we worship him. As we worship his humanity as it is united to his divinity, so his name too we may well worship; that is, reverently esteem and speak of it, and so express it; spiritually rejoice, too, at the hearing of it, without fear of superstition or idolatry. We else but poorly and lamely worship him, God knows, if we give no respect at all to his name, or any thing that belongs to him. We may as well be afraid to worship him at all, now since he hath taken on a body, lest we should commit idolatry to it, being a creature,--as to fear superstition in worshipping at his name "before his footstool," as the Scripture sometimes speaks, when the adoration on both hands is only directed to and terminated in his Godhead.
If any, then--as, alas! too many be-- so little Christians as to give to Jesus, or his holy name, or his holy altars and sacraments, no more reverence than does a Turk or Pagan, let not us, for Christ's sake, bear them company: we have better examples here before us; nay, we have angels, too, before us at the work. "When he brought his first-begotten into the world, he said, And let all the angels of God worship him:" and certainly they do it; they fulfil his command and do his pleasure. And are we, then, too holy to do it? Is it a command upon them, whom the benefit does no way so much concern; and is it left at our pleasure, who have the most reason in the world to do it, to whom chiefly this Christ was born and given? May we choose whether we will worship him or no, and yet be the greatest gainers by it, and the more holy by not doing it?
Faith is the business, they tell us; no matter for any thing besides: only believe, and all is done. Well, but is faith the business; and is it not a strong belief indeed, this, that can bring men out of their own country, and that a far one too, through Arabian deserts, in the depth of winter, only to worship? And is it not as high a piece of faith, notwithstanding that poor, outward, contemptible appearance of Christ, yet to fall down and worship him, and believe him to be their God and Saviour, and to trust the guidance of the star, or the word of an obscure prophecy, or an inward motion from heaven, before their own eyes, and all sense and reason? To leave his country, and to believe against hope and reason, was counted to Abraham for faith; was so to these "wise men" of the text; will be to all that follow their example. Our worship is but the expression of a faith: fides facta or fides faciens; faith done. We worship, therefore we believe; or, we believe, and therefore worship.
And therefore, thirdly, offer too; open our treasures, the treasures of our faith, and present our gifts: "And when they had opened their treasures," &c.
The ancient Fathers here observed both letter and mystery: and I am no wiser; I shall do so too. The letter is plain enough to tell us that God looks to be worshipped with our goods as well as with our bodies and our souls; and that those whom he leads by his "star" or Spirit, any that will come to Christ-- must no more come empty-handed than those that come to God. For God he is, and God he gave us them; God, therefore--every person in the Godhead--to be served with them: the first-fruits it should be, in all reason, and in justice all it might be; but some part of offering out of them, howsoever. I shall open the "wise men's" treasures, and show you them: the outside of them, the letter, first.
"Treasures" they are called before they are "opened," (1), that we may learn God is not only to be served with mean things and ordinary ware. Nothing can be too good for him; the treasures of our hearts and the treasures of our cabinets and coffers are never better opened than for him. David would not offer what cost him nought; and Araunah, when he does but understand God's business toward, gives like a king. The Israelites--hard-hearted Israelites--are yet so tender of God's service that they pluck off their jewels and golden earrings for the service of the tabernacle. The first Christian emperors gave their stately halls to make churches; and nothing is thought too costly by pious souls for God's worship. Are the treasures and precious things of the earth for men only, and not for God? That were strange indeed, and a bondage and usurpation the creature indeed might well groan under.
"Gifts" they are styled when they are "presented," (2), to tell us that God expects gifts as well as dues. Falling down and worshipping are due upon command: the Second Commandment, that forbids it to an idol, must necessarily thence infer it due to God; and if we do no more than pay our dues, what thank have we? God loves a free-will offering, and expects it too, unless we can suppose the Jew more bound to him than we are. Ourselves know how we value a voluntary service above any: and think we that God less accepts it? He accepts of the will when there is nothing else, so much he esteems it; and will he not accept it when he sees it pour out itself with fulness upon him?
(3.) "Gold, frankincense, and myrrh," they prove when they are opened; such best presents as the country affords, and the best of them: that we may know there is no country so barren, no man so poor, but may afford something to God's service. Nor the rocks of the one Arabia, nor the sands of the other so dry and fruitless, but that they yield some fruit for Christ. They have but little indeed, that have not to offer a "turtle," or a "pigeon;" if they have no "gold," they may have "frankincense and myrrh" no such great cost. Even the poor widow hath a mite or two, something at least to bestow on God, to present him with, that none may plead excuse.
Yet, (4,) as they are such as the country yields, proportionable to that, so they are, as it falls out, very proportionable for them that offer them. Gold and perfumes, fit presents for kings and princes, and persons of estate and honour, to present, or to be presented with; they are things either costly or delicate: and such is fittest for them to present to Christ; to offer up their golden crowns, and part with all their sweetness and delicacies, for his honour and service. Great men must not give mean presents; it is unworthy of them.
Not mean ones, said I? (5.) Not few either: here is three together for one present at a clap; and three is all: it is the perfectest number, and intimates all. Of everything we are to give to God somewhat; it is as it were a grace to sanctify the rest. Nor can we, methinks, promise ourselves a blessing upon anything we enjoy, till we have first offered it, or of it, to God. Certainly it is, I dare assure him, he loses nothing of anything, that gives any of it to God, but increaseth best by that diminishing.
(6.) Yet proportionable only to our condition are we required to offer: every one cannot offer "gold." These wise men, therefore--the type of all Gentiles that were to come in to offer--not only offer like kinds, but like persons of meaner condition also; "frankincense and myrrh," things of a lower value, that we may know God accepts all, anything, so we offer it willingly--turtles and pigeons, as well as lambs and bulls; mites as well as talents; "frankincense and myrrh" as well as "gold;" the poor man's present as well as the greatest kings' and princes'.
(7.) God, as he loves men should keep proportion to their abilities, not that they should be burdened, yet he loves also that they should keep some proportion to himself. We must have regard to God's honour, as well as our own low estate; not offer lame, or maimed, or refused things. To Christ here "gold" comes very fitly to relieve his necessity, his poor mother's poverty; frankincense does well to perfume the stable; and "myrrh" comes seasonable to strengthen and confirm his infant limbs. He gives twice, that gives in season. No gift so welcome as that which comes in the time of necessity, when we have most need. Cast we about hence ever to proportion our presents to God's convenience and the Church's; to supply it, in want, with our gold and silver; in contempt, and under the ill scent of scorn and ill report, to defend it with the sweet incense of good works; in weakness and declining, to uphold it with the myrrh of our patience and courage.
(8.) Do we it lastly, largely--with open hearts and hands and purses; open all our treasures, spread them all before him; bid him please himself, take what he will, all if he will; reserve nothing, detain nothing, no part nor portion, from him, as did Ananias and Sapphira, who paid dearly indeed for being so close handed; but open we all our treasures to him, keep we nothing from him: knowing this, that "he that soweth plentifully, shall reap plentifully," and he that gives most, shall yet never lack. And where he takes it not himself, let us ourselves pick the choicest out of all, and with these wise and happy souls present them to him;--somewhat out of our "gold,"--our abundance, and superfluities; somewhat out of our "frankincense,"--our competencies and conveniences; somewhat out of our "myrrh,"--our necessaries that are to uphold nature, and, as myrrh does the dead body, keep it from stinking;--somewhat out of all, I say; the more the better, but some at least, some of all three. Our "goods," indeed, as says the Psalmist, "are nothing unto thee, O God," nothing unto thee, in comparison of thee, the chiefest good; our riches nothing to thine; thou needest them not neither: yet for all that, give him then we must; for he needs not our prayers neither, our souls neither--nothing of ours, indeed, at all: yet does he lay his claim to all, and require some of all. You will understand better what he requires, if we open the treasures a little further, go on to the mystery; what antiquity hath conceived infolded in the treasury of the text; what is the mystery of this threefold present, "gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
For why these rather than any other? of why so specified, being no such rarities in Judaea? Somewhat certainly there is in it; a double mystery, say the Fathers: an allegory and a moral, an allegorical and a moral sense. The allegory is to teach us what to think and believe of Christ. In offering "gold" (i.) they acknowledged him for a King, and so paid him tribute. In offering "frankincense," or incense, (ii.) they confessed him to be a God: it is to the gods only that even the heathen offer incense. Yet (iii.) in offering "myrrh," they yet profess he should die like men; myrrh hath little other use than in sepultures and embalmings. So the sum of the wise men's faith, or the Magi's creed, is thus professed, that this child they thus adored was the King, Messiah, God and man, who should die for them.
I shall take leave to expatiate and enlarge their creed out of the same oblations yet a little further, seeing the Fathers have led the way, and point them out, how they this doing seem to believe all that is to be believed of Christ. First (i.) his two natures: his Godhead by the incense, his manhood by the myrrh. (ii.) His offices: his kingly office by the "gold," the very matter of the crown that makes him King; his priestly office by incense, the priest's office being to offer incense; his prophetical office by the myrrh, representing the bitter and mortified life of a prophet. (iii.) Here is his birth, his life, his death, and resurrection, all acknowledged. His birth fitly resembled unto "gold," the purest metal; his birth the purest, without any sin at all, of a virgin pure as the most refined "gold." His life well represented by the incense, being nothing but a continual service of God, and a perpetual doing of his Father's business. His death, he very manner of it evidently pointed at by the myrrh, which in his passion was given him in wine to drink; the usual draught of those that died upon the cross. And his resurrection, easily enough understood by the same myrrh, whose chief use is to preserve the dead body from corruption, out of an hope of a resurrection; and was even literally done unto him by Nicodemus, who "brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes" to embalm him.
So now we see what it is to present "gold, frankincense, and myrrh," to Christ; even no less than to believe him to be God and man; our King, and Priest, and Prophet; born of a Virgin; without stain of sin; living in all holiness without blame; and dying for us; yet not seeing corruption, but rising again to incorruption. This is the faith we are to offer up, this triple faith. Fear we not any adversaries or calamities, he is our King to protect us; "King of kings, and Lord of lords." Despair we not though we be grievous sinners; he is our Priest, our High Priest, to offer for us, and reconcile us. Let not even death affright us: by his death, death hath lost its sting; the myrrh of his embalming will preserve us; and by his resurrection he will revive and raise us up. Let us thus think of Christ, and trust upon him, and we still offer this same offering of "gold, frankincense, and myrrh."
This is the allegory: the moral is behind. And in the moral sense we offer "gold, frankincense, and myrrh," who present God with those virtues that resemble them.
1. First, (i.) he offers "gold," who patiently and constantly suffers for his faith, which is "far more precious, says S. Peter, "than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with the fire." The martyrs' flames are brighter than "gold," and the constant faith will endure the fire better than the "gold" itself.
He (ii.) offers "gold" who sets himself to keep God's commandments, which, in the Psalmist's account, are "more desirable than gold, yea, than the finest gold."
He (iii.) offers "gold," who disperses it abroad and gives it to the poor; he that gives alms properly offers "gold;" to the poor indeed he gives it, but to God it is he offers it: an offering of a sweet savour to him.
2. He offers "frankincense," (i.) who offers prayer; whose prayer ascends like incense: it is hold David's expression, "prayers set forth as incense;" no incense so sweet, so acceptable to God, as the devout prayers of his servants.
He (ii.) presents incense, whose hope is only in the "Lord his God," whose desires and hopes are always ascending upward.
He (iii.) presents incense, who presents humility and obedience. The nature of "frankincense" is binding and restringent--well imitated by obedience and humility, the best binders and restrainers of our wills and passions.
3. And lastly, he (i.) offers "myrrh," who "mortifies his affections which are upon the earth." Myrrh is a mortifier. One quality of myrrh is to kill worms: he that kills these worms of our inordinate desires, that come crawling on us--those wriggling notions of any lusts that are ever tickling, disturbing us--he offers "myrrh."
He (ii.) presents "myrrh," that presents his body chaste and pure. Judith, that chaste matron, is said to wash her body and anoint it with myrrh, as it were a preservative against lust; and the Spouse in the Canticles, so fair, so pure, so undefiled, is much delighted in with "bundles of myrrh;" her very hands "drop sweet smelling myrrh;" it is so great an antidote against all impurity and corruption.
He (iii.) presents "myrrh," who, though he that not perhaps altogether kept his body pure, or his affections in order, yet begins now at last to take his wine a little mingled with myrrh; that takes of the bitter potion of repentance, who in the bitterness of his soul repents him of his sins.
You know now how you may still offer "gold, frankincense, and myrrh," a constant faith, a regular life. Charity and alms is as good as "gold;" devout prayer, a lively hope, an humble obedience will pass for incense; a chaste body, mortified affections, and true repentance, will be accepted instead of "myrrh." See we to it, then, that we have them always ready to present to Christ.
Yet there is one mystery more to be observed. "When they had opened their treasures," says the text; and it says it that we may know we are to open our treasures as well as offer them. Now to open them before him, is, as it were, to say, Take what he will, we are content. A voluntary resignation of ourselves and all that is ours to his choice, order, and disposing; to deny and renounce ourselves and all that is ours--our own desires, our goods, our good deeds, our merits--or to leave all to follow him, if he so will have it, is the most perfect of all our offerings, and the perfection of them all. It is both the beginning and the end of Christianity: so we begin our Christianity with the same resignedness, we must continue it to the end.
And we may yet observe how to offer, here, as well as what to offer. Open we our treasures, (1.) first, to do it freely that we do;--all our treasures. (2.) Do it plentifully and largely, Dorcas-like, "full of good works and alms-deeds:" let our good works and graces glitter like the refined "gold." (3.) Do them pure and sincerely. (4.) That they may ascend like incense, do them religiously and devoutly. (5.) Let them be wrapped up in myrrh, to keep them from corruption. (6.) Let them all be like sweet-smelling myrrh, of good odour and report. (7.) Let them also be embittered with myrrh--with the bitter tears of repentance, that we have presented God so little good-- and the tears of sorrow, that we can present no better. (8.) Let them be done in order: our incense in the middle; our prayers winged on the one hand with the golden wing of faith, on the other with purity, white as is, says Pliny, the purest myrrh; a faithful heart and pure hands, encompassed on the other side with alms, on the other with mortification and fasting. First believe; then pray; then practise. First believe Christ's word and promises; then pray for his assistance; then practise his obedience. And, lastly, all our doings, all our offerings, must be presented by falling down with humility and prayer. So we began the sermon, and so we end it.
So will He who accepted the wise men and their gifts, accept us and ours; and for our gifts give us better; for our earthly, heavenly treasures; for our "gold," the crown of glory; for the incense of our prayers that we offer here, the honour to offer there the holy odours of eternal praises; for our bitter "myrrh" we suffer here, the full sweetness of all pleasure there; and for our falling down, shall one day raise us up again to everlasting glory, to worship Him that sits upon the throne, and the Lamb for evermore. Amen.
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