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had without it; and it is well, if, upon any reasonable grounds, we can be brought to suffer contradictions of nature, for the advantages of grace. But it would be remembered, that the Baptist did more upon a less necessity; and, possibly, the greatness of the example may entice us on a little farther than the customs of the world, or our own indevotions, would engage us.
4. But, after the expiration of a definite time, John came forth from his solitude, and served God in societies. He served God, and the content of his own spirit, by his conversing with angels, and dialogues with God, so long as he was in the wilderness; and it might be some trouble to him to mingle with the impurities of men, amongst whom he was sure to observe such recesses from perfection, such violation of all things sacred, so great despite done to all ministries of religion, that to him, who had no experience or neighbourhood of actions criminal, it must needs be to his sublimed and clarified spirit more punitive and afflictive, than his hairen shirt and his ascetic diet was to his body; but now himself, that tried both, was best able to judge, which state of life was of greatest advantage and perfection.
5. “ In his solitude he did breathe more pure inspiration ; heaven was more open, God was more familiar," and frequent in his visitations. In the wilderness his company was angels, his employment meditations and prayer, his temptations simple and from within, from the impotent and lesser rebellions of a mortified body, his occasions of sin as few as his examples, his condition such, that, if his soul were at all busy, his life could not easily be other than the life of angels; for his work and recreation, and his visits, and his retirements, could be nothing but the variety and differing circumstances of his piety: his inclinations to society made it necessary for him to repeat his addresses to God; for his being a sociable creature, and yet in solitude, made that his conversing with God, and being partaker of Divine communications, should be the satisfaction of his natural desires, and the supply of his singularity and retirement; the discomforts of which made it natural for him to seek out for some refreshment, and, therefore, to go to heaven for it, he
e lo solitudine aër purior, cælum apertius, familiarior Deus. — Orig.
having rejected the solaces of the world already. And all this, besides the innocencies of his silenced, which is very great, and to be judged of in proportion to the infinite extravagancies of our language, there being no greater perfection here to be expected, than “ not to offend in our tongue." “ It was solitude and retirement, in which Jesus kept his vigils ; the desert places heard him pray; in a privacy he was born ; in the wilderness he fed his thousands ; upon a mountain apart he was transfigured ; upon a mountain he died; and from a mountain he ascended to his father :" in which retirements his devotion certainly did receive the advantage of convenient circumstances, and himself in such dispositions twice had the opportunities of glory.
6. And yet, after all these excellences, the Spirit of God called the Baptist forth to a more excellent ministry : for, in solitude, pious persons might go to heaven by the way of prayers and devotion; but, in society, they might go to heaven by the way of mercy, and charity, and dispensations to others. In solitude, there are fewer occasions of vices, but there is also the exercise of fewer virtues ; and the temptations, though they be not from many objects, yet are, in some circumstances, more dangerous, not only because the worst of evils, spiritual pride', does seldom miss to creep upon those goodly oaks, like ivy, and suck their heart out, and a great mortifier without some complacencies in himself, or affectations or opinions, or something of singularity, is almost as unusual as virgin purity and unstained thoughts in the Bordelli, (S. Hierom had tried it, and found it so by experience, and he it was, that said so ;) but also, because whatsoever temptation does invade such retired persons, they have privacies enough to act it in 8, and no eyes upon them but the eye of Heaven, no shame to encounter withal, no fears of being discovered : and we know by experience, that a witness of our conversation is a great restraint to the inordination of our actions. Men seek out darknesses and secrecies to commit a sin; and “the evil, that no man sees, no man reproves; and that makes the temptation bold and confident, and the iniquity easy and ready :” so that, as they have not so many tempters, as they have abroad, so neither have they so many restraints; their vices are not so many, but they are more dangerous in themselves, and to the world safe and opportune. And as they communicate less with the world, so they do less charity, and fewer offices of mercy : no sermons there but when solitude is made popular, and the city removes into the wilderness; no comforts of a public religion, or visible remonstrances of the communion of saints ; and of all the kinds of spiritual mercy, only one can there properly be exercised; and, of the corporal, none at all. And this is true in lives and institutions of less retirement, in proportion to the degree of the solitude : and, therefore, church-story reports of divers very holy persons, who left their wildernesses and sweetnesses of devotion in their retirement, to serve God in public by the ways of charity and exterior offices. Thus St. Antony and Acepsamas came forth to encourage the fainting people to contend to death for the crown of martyrdom "; and the Aphraates, in the time of Valens, the Arian emperor, came abroad to assist the church, in the suppressing the flames, kindled by the Arian faction. And, upon this ground, they, that are the greatest admirers of eremitical life, call the episcopal function “ the state of perfection," and a degree of ministerial and honorary excellence beyond the pieties and contemplations of solitude, because of the advantages of gaining souls, and religious conversation, and going to God by doing good to others.
4 Πολλοίς γαρ ανθρώποισι φάρμακον κακών σιγή, μάλιστα δ' έστι σώφρονος τρόπου captiov. — Curcinus. e James, iii. Petrus Cellensis, lib. iv. ep. 12.
In solitudine citò obrepit superbia. Ep. 4. 8 Non minorem flagitiis occasionem secreta præbnerint.- Quint. Maxima pars peccatorum tollitur, si peccaturis testis assistat.-- Senec.
Malum quod nemo videt, nemo arguit; ubi non timetur reprehensor, securiùs accedit tentator, et liberiùs perpetratur iniquitas. - S. Bern.
7. John the Baptist united both these lives; and our blessed Saviour, who is the great precedent of sanctity and prudence, hath determined this question in his own instance; for he lived a life common, sociable, humane, charitable, and public; and yet, for the opportunities of especial devotion, retired to prayer and contemplation, but came forth speedily; for the devil never set upon him but in the wilderness, and
b Euseb. Hist. lib. vi. c. 3. Theod. lib. iv. c. 23, 24. Nihil est illi principi Deo, qui omnem hunc mundum regit, quod quidem in terris fiat acceptius, quàm concilia cætusque hominum jure sociati, quæ civitates appellantur.
Cicer. Somn. Scipion. c. 4.
by the advantage of retirement. For as God hath many, so the devil hath some, opportunities of doing his work in our solitariness. But Jesus reconciled both; and so did John the Baptist, in several degrees and manners i ; and from both we are taught, that solitude is a good school, and the world is the best theatre; the institution is best there, but the practice here; the wilderness hath the advantage of discipline, and society opportunities of perfection ; privacy is the best for devotion, and the public for charity. In both, God hath many saints and servants; and from both, the devil hath had
8. His sermon was an exhortation to repentance and an holy life: he gave particular schedules of duty to several states of persons ; sharply reproved the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and impiety; it being worse in them, because contrary to their rule, their profession, and institution ; gently guided others into the ways of righteousness, calling them “ the straight ways of the Lord,” that is, the direct and shortest way to the kingdom, for of all lines the straight is the shortest, and as every angle is a turning out of the way, so every sin is an obliquity, and interrupts the journey. By such discourses, and a baptism, he disposed the spirits of men for the entertaining the Messias, and the homilies of the Gospel. For John's doctrine was to the sermons of Jesus, as a preface to a discourse; and his baptism was to the new institution and discipline of the kingdom, as the vigils to a holy day; of the same kind, in a less degree. But the whole economy of it represents to us, that repentance is the first intromission into the sanctities of Christian religion. The Lord treads upon no paths, that are not hallowed and made smooth by the sorrows and cares of contrition, and the impediments of sin cleared by dereliction and the succeeding fruits of emendation. But as it related to the Jews, his baptism did signify, by a cognation to their usual rites and ceremonies of ablution, and washing Gentile proselytes, that the Jews had so far receded from their duty and that holiness, which God required of them by the law, that they were in the state of strangers, no better than heathens; and, therefore, were to be treated, as themselves
και ο Ιωάννης φιλέρημος, ο Ιησούς ήμερος και τιθασσός και αγέλαιος.
received Gentile proselytes, by a baptism and a new state of life, before they could be fit for the reception of the Messias, or be admitted to his kingdom.
9. It was an excellent sweetness of religion, that had entirely possessed the soul of the Baptist, that in so great reputation of sanctity, so mighty concourse of people, such great multitudes of disciples and confidents, and such throngs of admirers, he was humble without mixtures of vanity, and confirmed in his temper and piety against the strength of the most impetuous temptation. And he was tried to some purpose : for when he was tempted to confess himself to be the Christ, he refused it; or to be Elias, or to be accounted “ that prophet,” he refused all such great appellatives, and confessed himself only to be “ a voice,” the lowest of entities, whose being depends upon the speaker, just as himself did upon the pleasure of God, receiving form, and publication, and employment, wholly by the will of his Lord, in order to the manifestation of “ the Word eternal.” It were well, that the spirits of men would not arrogate more than their own, though they did not lessen their own just dues. It may concern some end of piety or prudence, that our reputation be preserved by all just means ; but never, that we assume the dues of others, or grow vain by the spoils of an undeserved dignity. Honours are the rewards of virtue, or engagement upon offices of trouble and public use; but then they must suppose a preceding worth, or a fair employment. But he that is a plagiary of others' titles or offices, and dresses himself with their beauties, hath no more solid worth or reputation, than he should have nutriment, if he ate only with their mouth, and slept their slumbers, himself being open and unbound in all the regions of his senses.
O holy and most glorious God, who, before the publication
of thy eternal Son, the Prince of Peace, didst send thy servant, John Baptist, by the examples of mortification, and the rude austerities of a penitential life, and by the sermons of penance, to remove all the impediments of sin, that the ways of his Lord and ours might be made clear, ready, and expedite ; be pleased to let thy Holy Spirit lead