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Ad SECTION VII.
Considerations upon the Disputation of Jesus with the Doctors
in the Temple.
1. Joseph and Mary, being returned into Nazareth, were sedulous to enjoy the privileges of their country, the opportunities of religion, the public address to God, in the rites of festivals and solemnities of the temple : they had been long grieved with the impurities and idol rites, which they, with sorrow, had observed to be done in Egypt; and, being deprived of the blessings of those holy societies and employments they used to enjoy in Palestine, at their return came to the offices of their religion with appetites of fire, and keen as the evening wolf; and all the joys, which they should have received in respersion and distinct einanations, if they had kept their anniversaries at Jerusalen, all that united they received in the duplication of their joys at their return, and in the fulfilling themselves with the refection and holy viand of religion. For so God uses to satisfy the longings of holy people, when a persecution has shut up the beautiful gates of the temple, or denied to them opportunities of access : although God hears the prayers they make with their windows towards Jerusalem, with their hearts opened with desires of the public communions, and sends them a prophet with a private meal, as Habakkuk came to Daniel ; yet he fills their hearts, when the year of jubilee returns, and the people sing « In convertendo," the song of joy for their redemption. For as, of all sorrows, the deprivations and eclipses of religion are the saddest, and of the worst and most inconvenient consequence; so, in proportion, are the joys of spiritual plenty and religious returns; the communion of saints being like the primitive corban, a repository to feed all the needs of the church, or like a taper joined to a torch, itself is kindled, and increases the other's flames.
2. They failed not to go to Jerusalem : for all those holy prayers and ravishments of love, those excellent meditations and intercourses with God, their private readings and discourses, were but entertainments and satisfaction of their necessities, they lived with them during their retirements; but it was a feast, when they went to Jerusalem, and the freer and more indulgent refection of the spirit; for, in public solemnities, God opens his treasures, and pours out his grace, more abundantly. Private devotions, and secret offices of religion, are like refreshing of a garden with the distilling and petty drops of a water-pot; but addresses to the temple, and serving God in the public communion of saints, is like rain from heaven, where the offices are described by a public spirit, heightened by the greater portions of assistance, and receive advantages by the adunations and symbols of charity, and increment by their distinct title to promises appropriate even to their assembling, and mutual support, by the piety of example, by the communication of counsels, by the awfulness of public observation, and the engagements of holy customs a. For religion is a public virtue ; it is the ligature of souls, and the great instrument of the conservation of bodies politic; and is united in a common object, the God of all the world, and is managed by public ministries, by sacrifice, adoration, and prayer, in which, with variety of circumstances indeed, but with infinite consent and union of design, all the sons of Adam are taught to worship God; and it is a publication of God's honour, its very purpose being to declare to all the world, how great things God hath done for us, whether in public donatives or private missives; so that the very design, temper, and constitution of religion, is to be a public address to God : and, although God is present in closets, and there also distils his blessings, in small rain ; yet to the societies of religion and publication of worship as we are invited by the great blessings and advantages of communion, so also we are, in some proportions, more straitly limited by the analogy and exigence of the duty b. It is a persecution, when we are forced from public worshippings; no man can hinder our private addresses to God; every man can build a chapel in his breast, and
a Habet semper privilegium sunm, ut sacratius fiat quod publicâ lege celebratur, quàm quod privatâ institutione dependitur. - Leo de Jejun. 7. Mensis. Publica præferenda sunt privatis, et tunc est efficacior sanctiorque devotio, quando in operibus pietatis totius ecclesiæ unus est animus et unus sensus. — Idem, Serm. 4.
b Heb. x. 25. VOL. I.
himself be the priest, and his heart the sacrifice, and every foot of glebe, he treads on, be the altar ; and this no tyrant can prevent. If, then, there can be persecution in the offices of religion, it is the prohibition of public profession and communions; and therefore he, that denies to himself the opportunities of public rites and conventions, is his own persecutor.
3. But when Jesus was “twelve years old,” and his parents had finished their offices, and returned filled with the pleasures of religion, they missed the Child, and “sought him amongst their kindred,” but there “they found him not;" for whosoever seeks Jesus, must seek him in the offices of religion, in the temple, not amongst the engagements and pursuit of worldly interests : " I forgat also mine own Father's house,” said David, the father of this holy Child; and so must we, when we run in an inquiry after the Son of David. But our relinquishing must not be a dereliction of duty, but of engagement; our affections toward kindred must always be with charity, and according to the endearments of our relation, but without immersion, and such adherences, as either contradict, or lessen, our duty towards God.
4. It was a sad effect of their pious journey, to lose the joy of their family, and the hopes of all the world : but it often happens, that, after spiritual employments, God seems to absent himself, and withdraw the sensible effects of his presence, that we may seek him with the same diligence, and care, and holy fears, with which the holy Virgin-mother sought the blessed Jesus. And it is a design of great mercy in God, to take off the light from the eyes of a holy person, that he may not be abused with complacencies, and too confident opinions and reflections, upon his fair performances. For we usually judge of the well or ill of our devotions and services, by what we feel; and we think God rewards every thing in the present, and by proportion to our own expectations; and if we feel a present rejoicing of spirit, all is well with us; the smoke of the sacrifice ascended right in a holy cloud: but if we feel nothing of comfort, then we count it a prodigy and ominous, and we suspect ourselves ; and most commonly we have reason. Such irradiations of cheerfulness are always welcome ; but it is not always anger, that takes them away: the cloud removed from before the camp of
Israel, and stood before the host of Pharaoh; but this was a design of ruin to the Egyptians, and of security to Israel : and, if those bright angels, that go with us to direct our journeys, remove out of our sight, and stand behind us, it is not always an argument, that the anger of the Lord is gone out against us ; but such decays of sense and clouds of spirit are excellent conservators of humility, and restrain those intemperances and vainer thoughts, which we are prompted to, in the gaiety of our spirits.
5. But we often give God cause to remove, and, for a while, to absent himself; and his doing of it sometimes, upon the just provocations of our demerits, makes us, at other times, with good reason, to suspect ourselves, even in our best actions. But sometimes we are vain, or remiss; or pride invades us in the darkness and incuriousness of our spirits; and we have a secret sin, which God would have us to inquire after; and, when we suspect every thing, and condemn ourselves with strictest and most angry sentence, then, it may be, God will, with a ray of light, break through the cloud ; if not, it is nothing the worse for us : for, although the visible remonstrance and face of things, in all the absences and withdrawings of Jesus, be the same, yet, if a sin be the cause of it, the withdrawing is a taking away his favour and his love; but, if God does it to secure thy piety, and to inflame thy desires, or to prevent a crime, then he withdraws a gift only, nothing of his love, and yet the darkness of the spirit and sadness seem equal. It is hard, in these cases, to discover the cause, as it is nice to judge the condition, of the effect; and therefore it is prudent to ascertain our condition, by improving our care and our religion; and, in all accidents, to make no judgment concerning God's favour by what we feel, but by what we do.
6. When the holy Virgin, with much religion and sadness, had sought her joy, at last she“ found him, disputing among the doctors, hearing them, and asking them questions ;” and besides, that he now first opened a fontinel, and there sprang out an excellent rivulet from his abyss of wisdom, he consigned this truth to his disciples : That they, who mean to be doctors and teach others, must, in their first accesses and degrees of discipline, learn of those, whom God and public order hath set over us, in the mysteries of religion.
Blessed and most holy Jesus, fountain of grace and comfort,
treasure of wisdom and spiritual emanations, be pleased to abide with me for ever, by the inhabitation of thy interior assistances and refreshments; and give me a corresponding love, acceptable and unstained purity, care and watchfulness over my ways, that I may never, by provoking thee to anger, cause thee to remove thy dwelling, or draw a cloud before thy holy face; but if thou art pleased, upon a design of charity or trial, to cover my eyes, that I may not behold the bright rays of thy favour, nor be refreshed with spiritual comforts; let thy love support my spirit by ways insensible; and, in all my needs, give me such a portion, as may be instrumental and incentive to performance of my duty; and, in all accidents, let me continue to seek thee by prayers, and humiliation, and frequent desires, and the strictness of a holy life; that I may follow thy example, pursue thy footsteps, be supported by thy strength, guided by thy hand, enlightened by thy favour, and may, at last, after a persevering holiness and an unwearied industry, dwell with thee in the regions of light and eternal glory, where there shall be no fears of parting from the habitations of felicity, and the union and fruition of thy presence, O blessed and most holy Jesus. Amen.
Of the Preaching of John the Baptist, preparative to the
Manifestation of Jesus.
When Herod had drunk so great a draught of blood at Bethlehem, and sought for more from the hill country, Elizabeth carried her son into the wilderness, there, in the desert places and recesses, to hide him from the fury of that beast, where she attended him with as much care and tenderness, as the affections and fears of a mother could express, in the permission of those fruitless solitudes.' The child was