To the Reader.
CHristian Reader : This Sermon ensuing, being by command of publike Authority preached at a Visitation, or public meeting of Ministers, gave such content and comfort generally to all the Auditory, both for the soundness of the matter, and fitness of the argument, and specially because it is a point so seldom so fully handled : that many of us fellow-labourers in the Ministry, have been earnest suiters to the Author ( and have prevailed ) to commit it to Press, both to renew the memory of many good things then we heard, and through our weakeness lost them again ; but chiefly that others might be made partakers of the same spiritual good things with our selves.
Wherein we have done much like those good natur’d Lepers, 2. Kings 7. 9. who having once tasted, and plentiously refreshed themselves with good things in the Aramites Tents, were presently desirous to communicate the same with others also. We do not well, said they, this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace : if we tarry til day-light, some mischief will meet us. Now therefore, come, let us go, and tell it to others. Knewest thou but the sufficiency of the man of God that penned and spake it, his sound knowledge in the Truth, his good order of teaching, his honest life & conversation, his good report with all men, his wise, peaceable, & discreet carriage of himself amidst our infinite distracting controversies : surely all these could not but sweetly allure thee, or rather violently draw thee on to the perusing of this short Treatise.
The Author of it stands up as a worthy Minister of God, in the midst of four other Brethren, all the Sons of one Father, all learned, religious, godly Preachers, a happy Off-spring of Blessed Parents, a lively mirrour of God’s blessing upon such as consecrate their posterity to the holy Ministry. They are right Samuels, first, by their Parents given to God, & again, given of God to the service of the Tabernacle. Let us rejoyce in the good of Sion, and bless God for the abundant
χαρὶσματα of his Spirit in our days, if ever, plenteously poured forth upon our olde men, and upon our young men, the Prophets and sons of the Prophets, for the work of the Ministry, for the gathering together of the Saints, for the building up of the body of Christ.
Thine in the Lord Jesus, The Ministers of Okeham Lecture in Rutland. . . Z. I.
Ecclesiastical Benediction. A Sermon of the power and prerogative belonging to the publike Ministers to bless the people : Preached by S. G. at a Visitation at Oundle, Ap. 14. 1619.
Then the Priests the Levites arose, and blessed the people, and their voyce was heard, and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even unto heaven.The Text.
Here is the happy ending of a good meeting. The meeting was, to celebrate the Passeover the Sacrament of the Law : the motion hereunto was made by good Hezechiah : upon the motion, a very great congregation of well-disposed people came together to Jerusalem to keep the feast ; and as that vertuous and religious King ordered the matter in his great zeal for the glory of God, it was performed with that solemnity, as the like was never done before since Salomon’s days :
A diviso regno non fuit celebrata tanta festivitas iunctis cum Iehuda Israelitis : Never since the division of the Tribes, was there such a festival time so solemnely kept by Judah and Israel together.
Now, to see the zeal and forwardness of the Princes and people in so good an action, it was no small comfort to the Priests and Levites : they therefore, when they saw all things done to their own hearts desire, and to the glory of God, according to their office, in the end they gave the assembly their Priestly benediction, and obtained a blessing from the Lord upon them, and so dismist the Congregation.
The words may be divided into two parts : The first is concerning the Priests blessing upon earth : the second touching the blessing of this blessing, from heaven. . The first, in these words, Then the Priests the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voyce was heard. . The second, in the words following ; and their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even to heaven.The division. The subdivision.
I. Then the Priests the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voyce was heard.
In the first part, every word hath his weight, and there are six particulars observable therein. First, the time when this was done. Secondly, the agents by whom it was done. Thirdly, the preparation thereunto. Fourthly, the action it selfe. Fifthly, the object of the action. Sixthly and lastly, the manner of it.
First, for the time, Then : that is,
Finito sacro, All the solemnity of the sacrifice being finished,
Ἐυκαίρως, seasonably and opportunely. In conclusion of that divine service, when the people were to depart, they were dismist with a blessing.
Secondly, for the agents or persons blessing, they were consecrate persons which had a calling to do it : The Priests the Levites blest.
The Priests were men immediatly called out of Aaron’s posterity, and anointed in the sight of the people, among whom some that were Heads of their families, were called chief Priests, and the Princes of the Sanctuary, amongst whom there was one super-eminent person above all the rest, called the High Priest, who had most glorious attire, and might alone enter into the Sanctum Sanctorum once a year, and was in his function a figure of Christ.What the Priests were.
The Levites were inferiour Ministers, and had offices appointed unto them under the Priests, as assistants unto them in the service of the Tabernacle, Numb. 8. 7. And this is the difference between the Priests and the Levites : but here it is not said, the Priests and Levites, but Haccohanim haleuiijm, as it is in the Hebrew text, Sacerdotes Levitici, as Junius translateth, the Levitical Priests. For Aaron and all the Priests were of the Tribe of Levi, and to them it pertained by the Law to bless in the name of God, Numb. 6. 22.What the Levites. Numb. 8.7.19.
What it is to bless.
Fourthly, for the action, it is said, They blest. To bless, hath divers significations in the Scripture. First, man is said to bless God : then it signifieth to praise and give thanks. Secondly, God is said to bless man, and then it signifieth actually to confer some good or other. Thirdly, man is said to bless man, and then it signifieth to wish well unto, which is usually done with invocation of the name of God, the fountain of all good that cometh to man, or to any creature in heaven or earth. Now thus a man blesseth either himself or others. To let passe the former, the blessing of others pertaineth either to all sorts in general, or to some more specially. To all sorts it belongeth, partly by the law of natural affection : secondly, partly by the law of courtesy : thirdly, partly by the law of equity : fourthly, partly by the law of charity.What it is to bless. Psal. 103. 1. Gen. 12. 2. Gen. 24. 12. Blessing ordinary, by all sorts.
First, by the law of natural affection it pertaineth to all sorts to bless their friends and kindred : as the friends of Rebecca did, when she was to depart from them, Thou art our sister, grow into thousand thousands, and let thy seed possess the gates of their enemies, Genes. 24. 60. Thus children and all those that are not
ἄσοργοι, without natural affection, will upon occasion often pray, God bless their parents, and their brethren and sisters, and those which are near unto them in nature.
Secondly, by the law of courtesy it pertaineth to all sorts to bless those which they meet, or pass by. Which courtesy we find to have been reciprocal between Boaz and the Reapers, Ruth. 2. 4. The Lord be with you, said Boaz : The Lord bless thee, said the Reapers. And Psal. 129. 8. the words of the Prophet show, this was the ordinary practice of the people. Whereupon S. Augustine on that place saith,
Nostis, fratres, &c. Ye know ( brethren ) when men pass by those which are at work, it is the custome to say to them, Benedictio Domini super vos : The blessing of the Lord be upon you. And this was more in use amongst the Jews :
Nemo transibat, saith he : None passed by and saw any at work in the field, or vineyard, or the like, but they did so. Nay,
Non licebat transire sine benedictione : It was not lawful for any to passe by, without this blessing salutation. It was against the law of courtesy to omit it.
Thirdly, by the law of equity it pertaineth to all sorts, in thankfulness to their benefactors, and such as have been instruments of their good, to bless them : as Boaz, for the kindness showed to Ruth, is blessed, in these words ; Blessed be he of the Lord, Ruth. 2. 20. Thus every good subject will pray God bless the King, under whom we live in peace ; every good hearer will pray God bless that Preacher, by whom his soul is comforted ; and every thankful poore man will pray God bless his good master, and save his life, by whom he is relieved. This is the recompence which the rich have returned unto them from the poore for their good works and alms, namely, their blessing and prayers to God for them, the forerunner of a greater and better recompence from the Lord ; for with such sacrifices God is pleased, Heb. 13. 16.3. By the law of equity. 1. Sam. 25. 33. Ruth. 2. 20.
Fourthly, by the law of charity it pertaineth to all sorts to bless, even their enemies, I mean their private enemies. For to convicted enemies of the Truth it is forbid, Joh. 2. Epist. 10. Bid not an Antichristian heretike and convicted false teacher, God speed ; but if they be only our personal enemies, Bless them which curse you, saith our Saviour, Mat. 5. 44.4. By the law of charity. Mat. 5. 44.
Bless, and curse not, saith Saint Paul, Rom. 12. 14. And this is not
praeceptum : not an Evangelicall counsell, but a moral precept binding all Christians.
Thus by a four-fold law it belongeth to all sorts to bless : by the law of natural affection, by the law of courtesy, by the law of equity, and by the law of Christian charity. More specially it pertaineth to superiours, to bless those under their charge. These superiours are either the chief in every family, or more publike persons. The blessing that pertaineth to the chief in private families, is either domestical or paternal. Domestical is that, which is done in the behalf of the whole household : as it is said, that David returned to bless his house, 1. Chronicles, 16. 43. Paternal benediction is that which is done by the father to his children or children’s children. This the Patriarchs did after a singular manner, having the spirit of prophecy, whereby they spake of things to come, as they were moved by the holy Ghost. But other godly parents have a special prerogative also in blessing their children : according to that of
Siracides, Benedictio patris firmat domos filiorum : The blessing of the father establisheth the houses of children, but the curse of the mother rooteth out foundations. There are feareful stories recorded by good writers, of the woeful consequence of the parents curse upon the children. Therefore it is said by the aforesaid Author, Honour thy father and mother both in word and deede, that a blessing may come upon thee from them.
Of Ecclesiastical blessing.Sacerdotal.
And these are the circumstances observable in the first part of the Text.
II. And their prayer came up to his holy dwelling place, even to heaven.
In the second : first, another name is given to this blessing : secondly, local motion is ascribed unto it : thirdly, the
terminus ad quem, or place whither it passed, is set down. For the first, the name now given unto it, is prayer, which showeth how the Priests blessed the people, not vainly and superstitiously, by casting of holy water upon them, or by crossing with their fingers, but by prayer and invocation of the name of God for his blessing upon them. For the second, it is said,
tauo, it went ; which is spoken of prayer metaphorically. Alluding, as it seemeth, to a messenger, to which prayer may be aptly compared : for
Veluti officio internuncii fungitur oratio pro nobis apud Deum : prayer doth the office of a messenger for us unto God. For the third, the place whither it went, hath two names given unto it. First, his holy dwelling place, or as it is in the Hebrew, the habitation of his Holiness ; secondly, it is called Heaven. For the first, it importeth not that God had, or hath need of any habitation, as a man hath, of a house to dwell in, or that any created place whatsoever can contain the transcendent Majesty of the Creator.
It is confest by Salomon, that the heavens, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him, 1. King. 8. 27. But it hath pleased him of his abundant grace to condescend so far, as to have his cohabitations, where he hath decreed to dwell, and to converse more familiarly with his creatures, and to communicate his goodness unto them.1. Kings. 8. 27.
Our Saviour speaketh of his Father’s house, wherein there are many mansions, that is, his habitation, or rather cohabitation above, where he doth cohabit and familiarly converse with the Angels of light ; and on earth he always had his dwelling places ; before the coming of Christ, he had a material Temple, called his house, where it pleased him to manifest his presence continually ; and in every good heart he dwelleth by his holy Spirit.John 14. 2.
Now according to the adjunct or appellation of holiness, the Lord his dwelling place is holy, what ever habitation he hath had, or hath, it was, and is holy. The Temple erected for him by Salomon, was holy : and he never dwelleth in any heart but that which is sanctifyed : But to which habitation of his holiness did this prayer ascend, the other name putteth this out of doubt : for the place whither it went, is also called heaven.
Now heaven is a common name to divers places and spaces. First, according to the Scriptures there is
coelum elementare, the sublunary or elementary heaven, where the winds blow, and the birds fly, and the clouds hang, and Comets and Meteors appear ; that is not the heaven here spoken of ; their prayer went up higher then so. Secondly, there is
coelum stellatum, the heavens above, where the Sun, Moon and stars run their courses continually : neither is this the heaven here meant ; their prayer went higher then the stars. Thirdly, there is
coelum supremum, the highest heavens, sometimes called the third heavens, sometimes
coelum coelorum, the heaven of Heavens,
sedes beatorum, the place where the blessed Angels live with their Creator in all happiness. Thither went this happy messenger, the prayer of the Priests. All this tendeth to set forth the singular acceptance which this sacerdotal benediction had with God : it penetrated the clouds, and had speedy passage through all places, and present access unto the King of glory. It had as happy success as Esther had, when she went to Assuerus : And he held out his golden Scepter unto her, Esther 5. 2. And so it was both
oratio benedicens, and oratio benedicta : a blessing prayer, and a blessed prayer ; for it drew a blessing from the Lord upon his people.
But why is heaven called his holy habitation, and not rather his glorious habitation, it being so glorious a place as it is ?
I answer, it may as well, and aptly, and upon as good reason be called his holy habitation, as his glorious habitation. First, because of all other his habitations, it is the most holy, the true
Sanctum sanctorum, as holy as glorious. There is the holy Trinity resident ; there are the holy Angels, and Saints ; there is no impure person, nor impure action, but all perfect purity and sanctity. Secondly, how ever carnal men love impurity, and hate holiness, Almighty God would have us to know that he is holy, and that it is his glory that he is so, and maketh all places so where he dwelleth, and all persons whom he admitteth to dwell with him. And thirdly, he would teach us all, not to please our selves as the most do, with speaking or thinking of the glory of heaven only ( which they that are unholy in heart and life, shall never be the better for ) but specially to take notice of the absolute and perfect sanctity of that happy place : Knowing, that as many Mansions as there are prepared there, yet there is no place for any that is a despiser of holiness, or of a defiled heart and conscience.
III. For Ministers to bless people.
The main Theological position grounded from the Text is this, that it belongeth to the publike Ministers of the Word, by a peculiar prerogative, to bless the people in the name of the Lord ; and there is special power and vertue in the prayers and benedictions which proceed out of their mouths. Here the people were blest. By whom ? By the Priests. The Priests the Levites blest the people. Not any of the Laity, not any of the Princes, not King Hezekiah, though present : but the Levitical Priests, Church-men, Ecclesiastical persons, Masters of the assembly, that had the managing of divine affairs at such times.It belongeth to Ministers to bless the people.
But were the people ever the better for their blessing ?
Yes, their prayer went up to heaven ; this was intended in their consecration and separation. The Lord separated the Tribe of Levi, to minister unto him, and to bless in his name, Deut. 10. 8. and Numb. 6. 22. there is the ordinance of God touching the same : the Priests the sons of Aaron are called of God to this office, and appointed to the constant execution thereof ; and a prescript form is given unto them for the purpose : Speak unto Aaron, saith the Lord, and to his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee, &c. Where first there is a general benediction, in these words, The Lord bless thee : and then five great blessings are specified.The end of their consecration and separation. Deut. 10. 8. The ordinance of God for it. Numb. 6. 22. Five blessings to be desired for the people.
First, of custody and protection, in these words, The Lord keep thee, tending to this, that the Lord would ever be the Keeper of Israel, and preserve his Church and people from all evil.First, custody or protection.
The second blessing mentioned, is the sense of God’s love, in the next words, The Lord make his face to shine upon thee. Alluding to the Sun, which when it shineth, is sensible unto us.Secondly, the sense of God’s love.
The third blessing, is mercy to their sins, in these words, The Lord be merciful or gracious unto thee ; tending to this, that the Lord would in mercy passe by their offences, and see no iniquity in Jacob, nor transgression in Israel.Thirdly, mercy to their sins.
The fourth blessing, is a plentiful manifestation of the love of God towards them, The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee.Fourthly, a plentiful manifestatition of God’s love. Fifthly, peace. The Priests blessing more than a prayer. Clav. Scrip.
Priests blessing be different from others.
In this place of Numbers, we may observe three material differences between the Priests blessing, and all others, making much for the dignity and authority thereof.A three-fold difference between the Priests blessing & others.
First, they are expressly required to bless the Lord’s people, they have such a commission and charge given unto them touching the same, as the like is not given to any other throughout the whole Scripture ; Speak unto Aaron, and to his sons, &c.First, they had a special charge.
Secondly, to them is given a prescript form, and only to them, and to no other. We read of Salomon, and other religious Kings, who have blessed the people publicly, but not
conceptis verbis, in any prescript form, as did the Priests.
Thirdly, to their benediction a promise of the Lord’s blessing is annexed in such sort, as the like is not made to any other.Thirdly, a special promise.
This three-fold difference there is between the Priestly benediction and others. The Priests, the publike Ministers of the Lord, had a special charge, a special form, and a special promise. First, a special charge to do it. Secondly, a special form how to do it. Thirdly, a special promise, if they do it : they should not bless in vain, but the Lord, whose name they thrice invocated in the blessing, as if it were with secret reference to the three persons now better knowne, the Father, the Son, and the holy Ghost, promised to confirm and ratify their act, to the benefit of the people. The Priests pronouncing the blessing as they were appointed, he engaged himself to do according to their prayer, and to bless them actually and really.
Now this part of the Priest’s office was not ceremonial, but moral, and of perpetual use : and therefore we find, that it was put in practice both before the law, and since the coming of Christ the like hath been done by the chief Ministers of the new Testament. Before the law, we read that Abraham and his company was blest, Gen. 14. 18. By whom ? By a Priest, namely, by Melchizedech, called the Priest of the most high God : and the Patriarch paid Tithes to him that blest him. And when our high Priest came, who is a Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedech, they brought their children to him to be blest, And he laid his hands on them and blessed them, Mark. 10. 16. and Luk. 24. 50. Before he departed from his Disciples, Priestlike he lifted up his hands and blessed them. And the Apostles usually blessed the Churches of Christ which they taught, and from them we have received that form of Evangelicall benediction, used in all Churches by the publike Ministers : The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the holy Ghost be with you all, Amen. Which differeth from the former in words more than in substance. For it comprehendeth as much as that, but is so much the sweeter, because in this the sweet and blessed name of Jesus Christ is mentioned, and all the three persons distinctly : therefore we use this rather than the other.Gen. 14. 18. Mark. 10. 16. Luk. 24. 50. The Evangelicall blessing. 2. Cor. 13. 14.
But it may be said, Is there any commandement given to the Ministers of the Gospel to bless ? I answer, when Christ sent Preachers abroad into the Cities whither he would come, he appointed them to bless the places where they came, and showed them how to do it : Luk. 10. 5. Into whatsoever house ( saith he ) ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house. There’s a brief form of blessing appointed unto them to use. And if ( saith he ) the son of peace be there, that is, any worthy of peace which will receive you, then your peace shall rest upon it ; that is, that blessing which you prayed for, shall be upon that house : but, if not, it shall turn to you againe : you shall be the better for it, but it shall take no effect for their good. Whereby we see, that as it pertained to the Priests under the Law to bless the people, so it likewise belongeth to the Ministers of the Gospel : and as the Priestly benediction of old was not merely verbal, but effectual ; so to the blessing pronounced by the Ministers of Christ, a promise of like efficacy is annexed. And this may serve for confirmation of the point propounded, and for information of the judgement. I come now to the special inferences hence, tending to the reformation of practice, not answerable hereunto.Luk. 10. 5.
Ministers prayers above others.
Now the use concerneth either all hearers in general, or Ministers themselves in special. First, all hearers, of what rank or sort soever, are taught hence to make more account of the prayers of Ministers, and the better to respect their persons. First, their prayers are to be preferred before the prayers of others, especially publike prayer performed by them, and of publike prayers, their blessing prayer particularly : for it is said in the Text, their prayer came up to heaven, that is, the prayer of the Priests, and the prayer spoken of was publike prayer ; and it is meant of the prayer wherewith the Priests blessed the people. For the first, it is true that the prayer of the righteous is acceptable, as it is Prov. 15. 8. even of any righteous man : but if a righteous Prophet or publike Minister may be had, it is so much the better. When Abimelech was punisht for taking Sarah, it was Abraham’s prayer that must do him good, because he was a Prophet, Gen. 20. 7. And S. James for this cause would not have the sick man to content himself with his own prayers only, but to desire the Minister’s help, Jam. 5. 14. He saith indeed, Is any man afflicted ? Let him pray. Every one is to pray for himself, but that is not all that he is to do. Is any sick among you ? Let him call for the Elders of the Church, and let them pray for him. Is any sick, be he what he will be, if he be never so good, let him not trust to his own prayers, if he may have further help. Why but will it not serve the turn as well, if he send for some good Christian in the town, to pray for him ? No, let him call for the Elders of the Church, and let them pray for him, and it is promised that there shall be special fruit of their prayers. The sick shall be raised up, and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.Ministers prayers to be preferred before others. Prov. 15. 8. Gen. 20. 7. Then let him send for ministers to pray for them. James 5. 14.
But it may be objected : We do not always see this fruit of Ministers prayers : many times the sick that have their prayers, are little the better for them.
I answer, it may well be so : because there is a great difference of Churchmen, and a great difference of those which have their prayers. First, all Churchmen are not alike, some are righteous, and some unrighteous : some pray in faith, others have not that grace. And the Apostle there speaketh of the prayers of the righteous, and instanceth in a righteous Prophet, Elias. And it is the prayer of faith which he commendeth for efficacy. Secondly, all afflicted and sick persons are not alike. First, against some, almighty God is grown to such displeasure, that he will hear no man for them : As he said, Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be towards this people : cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth, Jere. 15. 1. And elsewhere, Though these three men were in it, Noah, Daniel and Job, as I live, saith the Lord God, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, Ezech. 14. 14, 16, 18, 20.A difference of Ministers, and of their praying. A difference among those that are prayed for. Jere. 15. 1. Ezech. 14. 14. Luk. 10. 5.
Publike prayers above private.
But as their private prayers are specially to be desired, so publike prayer performed by them, is to be preferred before private. Such was the prayer spoken of in the Text, and it went up to heaven. The distance of heaven and earth, the clouds and celestial bodies between them, the infirmities of them that prayed could not hinder, but it pierced through all, and had speedy access unto God, and gracious acceptance with him. When many join together with one accord, it is pleasing to God, and most available with him, when there is a consort of hearts and voices, and a harmony of affections, and many have one and the same suite and supplication unto the God of heaven, it prevaileth mightily with him, provided that the Minister be the speaker. So it is appointed, Joel. 2. 16. Gather the people.Publike prayer to be prefer’d before private. Joel. 2. 16. Chrysost. de Dei natura, Hom. 3. Chrysost. on Thess. 2. Hom. 4.
Set forms of prayer.
Yea, will the Separatist say, Publike prayers ( no doubt ) are of great power, if they be conceived prayers.
I answer, Indeed to conceive prayer is an excellent gift, and by no means to be despised, if it be not rashly undertaken by those which have no grace to perform it in due sort ; but I make no question but that a man may pray also as acceptably unto God in a set form, and so may publike prayers as well as private be made also, as the Church hath ever practised : and it is a vain thing to think that God is so delighted with varying of words and phrases, that when we have the same suits and requests to make unto him daily, yet we must alter the words and manner of asking.Prayer in a set form defended.
Not to press the example of our Saviour Christ himself, who had a better gift in prayer than all the Separatists in the world, and could have varied better then them all ; yet when he had the same suit unto God, used the same words divers times, Father, if it be possible, let this cup passe from me. Nor to urge that of the Apostles, who could pray before after their manner, and yet desired to be taught a prayer by Christ himself, who upon their request gave them a form : as also John’s Disciples were taught by their master. From the Text in hand it may be maintained against all adversaries, that publike prayer in a set form, is well pleasing to God, if other things be answerable : for here the Priests blessed the people according to the set form given unto them : No judicious Writer maketh doubt of this : and it was a prayer which they used when they blest them : so it is called in the Text : and it was as publike as any prayer ; and yet of this publike prayer used by the Priest in a set form, it is said, It went up to his holy dwelling place, even to heaven ; to show the singular acceptance it had with God.Mat. 26. 44. Luk. 11. 1. Proved from the Text. Our Church alloweth Ministers to use conceived prayer.
But whilest I speak thus in commendation of publike prayer, I am far from falling into the other extreme, as some have done, who are all for common prayer, and care little for preaching. For as the dignity of preaching is excellent, that sufficiency being required to that part of God’s service specially, which the vulgar cannot attain to : so the necessity thereof is exceeding great, both to the
esse of a Christian and the
bene esse. Necessary it is to the begetting of souls to God, to call sinners to repentance, to bring home the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
And this hath ever been the ordinary means of converting souls : and therefore of necessary use at all times, and so in these times wherein iniquity aboundeth ; though there be an external profession of the true Christian faith, necessary it is for those that are already the people of God. Prophecying, saith the Apostle, is for them that believe. And of old the Priest’s office was not only to pray, but to teach : and it is said of the Levitical Priests, Deut. 33. 10. They shall teach Jacob thy judgments, and Israel thy law. Presupposing that the Israelites themselves would alwayes need teaching.
Non minor est virtus, quam quaerere partatueri. Preaching is necessary to the preservation of those which are brought to the knowledge of the Truth, and to make them grow in grace. Therefore saith the Apostle Peter unto the Christians of his time, As newborne babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that same
ἄδολονγαλὰ that fraudless milk, that ye may grow thereby, 1. Pet. 2. 2. The Word read, I confesse, is of good use and profitable, but preaching is necessary to make it so : for when that noble Eunuch of Ethiopia read the Scripture, though he was a man of better parts and capacity than hundreds of our people, yet he confessed his own disability, and said, How can I understand, without a guide ?
Necessary it is also to the due performance of other parts of God’s service ; as, to the more worthy receiving of the holy Sacrament. Without the help of a Preacher, or Catechizer, the common sort go to the Lord’s Table without preparation, not discerning the Lord’s body, nor knowing the end and right use of the sacred mysteries, but by a good Preacher’s labour, Communicants are better taught, and come better prepared to that holy Service, and do it more understandingly & comfortably. What should I say more ? To good praying, good preaching is necessary. As poor people cannot understand the Scripture without a guide, nor understand the mystery of the Sacrament without a guide : so they are as ignorant in prayer also : the Lord’s Prayer they say often, but understand not ; and ignorantly they use other prayers, not knowing what they say : sometimes they pray for that they hate ; as those that pray that the rest of their life may be pure and holy, when as in heart they desire no such change in themselves, but hate purity and holiness, and despise all that follow it : and those that are no prayers, they use for prayers, thinking them to be so : not only children, but olde men think they pray, and pray well, when they say the Creed and ten Commandements.To worthy receiving. 1. Cor. 11. To good praying.
There being therefore such necessity of preaching, I can but wonder, that upon the best Day of the week, many Country people are afraid to do nothing, but to go forth to hear a Sermon. They dare ride abroad about their worldly businesses, as often as they list ; they dare go to all the profane Wakes in the Country one Sunday after another, but dare not go to a Sermon so much as half a Sabbath day’s journey, though they have none at home, as they would make men believe for fear of Apparitors and Churchwardens.
I do the more wonder at it, because I persuade my self, that our religious Fore-fathers, which had a hand in setting forth the Common prayer book, now established by authority, held, and would have the people taught the necessity of hearing the Word of God : for they have appointed prayers to be used, that the Lord would give Ministers grace to preach diligently, & it is given in charge to the sureties at Baptism, that when the baptized come to years, they call upon them to hear Sermons, not thinking it sufficient for them to hear Service only. And none have written more effectually of the excellency of preaching, than those learned and worthy Doctors and Divines, which took pains lately in the translation of the Bible * ; See what they have written of this in their Epistle to his Majesty : Amongst all our joys, say they, there was no one that more filled our hearts, than the blessed continuance of the preaching of God’s sacred Word amongst us, which is that inestimable treasure, which excelleth all the riches of the earth, because the fruit thereof extendeth itself, not only to the time spent in this transitory world, but directeth and disposeth men unto that eternal happiness, which is above in heaven, &c.Those of years to be called upon to hear sermons by the ordinance of the Church. * The Authorized Version.
Thus honourably have they written of the preaching of the Word : and these I am sure were no Puritans ; for they have written against Puritans, and therefore there can be no such exception taken.
Certainely the doctrine of our Church is, and ever hath been, for the necessity and utility of preaching and hearing of the Word of God, and herein it is consonant unto the Scriptures, and to the doctrine of all Orthodox Churches : and the contrary tendeth to the dishonour of the most famous Divines, Pastors and Prelates of our own Church, and of other Churches of Christ, which now rest from their labours : nay, to the doctrine and practice of the best of the Fathers Greek and Latin, who in their times were instant this way in season and out of season ; nay, of the holy Apostles ; nay, of Christ Jesus the great Shepherd of our souls, who tooke incessant pains in preaching and teaching both in the Temple and elsewhere, accounting the Temple not only a house of prayer, but a house of preaching also : for he saith, I sat daily teaching in the Temple. Therefore let comparisons between praying and preaching be forborne : they are both the holy ordinances of God, of necessary use for all the Lord’s people. Pray continually, as the Apostle saith ( meaning it of secret eiaculations of the heart, not of publike prayer. ) Pray also in your families. It is a pious and religious practice well beseeming Christians. Pray also with the Congregation ; despise not the publike prayers of the Church, nor neglect them, but diligently attend them, and make use of them reverently, lest while ye come to worship God, ye take his name in vain ; but withal remember the other admonition of the Apostle, Despise not prophecying. Let not a pretended zeal for more praying, jostle out preaching : for this is also the ordinance of God as well as prayer ; of as great necessity for the people ; without which, prayer and all parts of God’s service and worship will be the worse performed. I say no more ; but to magnify preaching with contempt of prayer, is intolerable ; and to extol praying with contempt of preaching, is abominable.Esay 2. 3. 2. Tim. 4. 2. 1. Pet. 2. 2. The Temple a house of preaching, as well as of prayer. Matth. 26. 55. 1. Thess. 5. 17.
Special regard for benediction.Great regard to be had to the blessing pronounced by the Minister. Levit. 9. 22.
Of God’s Ministers.
And hitherto of the account to be made of Minister’s prayers, and specially of the publike prayers and blessings performed by them. All sorts are also hence taught, to have due regard unto their persons and Calling for this respect : for their office is honourable and reverend : to them it belongeth to bless, and by them God will bless those whom he will bless. And what saith the Apostle ? The less is blessed of the greater, Heb. 7. 7.
Pendebat ex benedictionibus magna ex parte Sacerdotii dignitas,&c. Gualt. in Mal. 2. Heb. 7. 7.
And what other office is appointed unto them that is base ? They are called to be Teachers in Israel, to be Guides unto the people, and to show unto them the way of life : to them it pertaineth to administer the holy Sacraments, that of Baptism, and the other, of the Lord’s Supper, which the Fathers of the Nicene Council call
Necessarium vitae viaticum : The necessary provision for the soul in her journey to another world. To them it pertaineth to pray for the people, and to make atonement for them, that they may be reconciled unto God. To them is given the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and power to bind and loose, and to remit sins,
ὅργανικῶς & declarative. Which of all these is base and unseemely for men of worth to do ? Which of them is not high and holy ?
Why then is the Calling so contemptible, as it is with many, above all others ? Why is the name of Priest used in contempt ? Of all contempt, this is the most unreasonable : for God hath highly honoured those of this function, and they are separated to great and noble services. Behold, God hath made them Fathers unto the people. So Micah called the young Levite, Judg. 17. 10. Dwell with me, and be a Father and a Priest unto me. And so the Danites call him after. And worthily is the name given to them ; and with the name, the honour should be given also : for they are instruments of Regeneration, as parents be of Generation ; and as Chrysostom reasoneth, Parents beget their children unto this life, but the Ministers of Christ beget them to life eternal : and parents cannot do that for them, which Ministers may do. Parents may wash their bodily parts, but Ministers are instruments to wash their souls, when they baptize them. Parents feed them with meat that perisheth : but Ministers, their spiritual Fathers, feed them with that meat which endureth to everlasting life, namely, with the Word of the Lord, & with the Body of the Lord.Judg. 17. 10. and 18. 19. Chrysost. de Sacerd.
Baptism, which they administer, of old was called and accounted
Janua salutis : the gate of heaven ; In the old Saxon doctrine *, the Wellspring of life : In the best times, The Laver of Regeneration. And it is written, Except a man be borne again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God, Joh. 3. 5. And elsewhere, Whosoever eateth not the flesh of the Lord, and doth not drink his blood, he shall die eternally, Joh. 6. 53.
And these things, saith an ancient Father, cannot be received of the people, but
per sacrosanctas manus sacerdotum : By the sacred hands of the Priests of the new Testament ; to others it pertaineth not to meddle with the dispensation of these holy and venerable mysteries : it were presumption
in a Prince to administer either Sacrament : to the Minister it pertaineth to bless the bread, and cup of blessing, and from their hands the Lord’s people are to receive the bread of life, and cup of salvation. But to which of the Angels, saith that holy Father, said he at any time, as he hath said unto his Ministers, Whatsoever ye bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven. Whosoever’s sins ye remit, they shall be remitted ? These things surpass all the rest. Hence worthy Pastors of the Church, men of courage, upon weighty occasion, have been bold to excommunicate Emperours, as Ambrose excommunicated Theodosius ; and Fabian excommunicated Philip.
And it is memorable, that Paulinus writeth, that when Ambrose denounced excommunication against a dissolute person, in the very instant, whilest he used the words, the man was suddenly taken and rent by the devil. Let these things be considered of advisedly by such as have hitherto been carried with the stream, and have rashly by words, or deeds, or both, showed contempt of the Ministry ; and seeing what high and honourable offices and priviledges the most high God hath appropriated unto his servants whom he hath called to that function, let them reform their former erroneous judgement of them, and their carriage towards them : and that the vulgar sort may be the better taught their duty in this, let those in authority put a difference between those whom God hath so highly honoured, and others which have no such priviledges given unto them of the Lord. It is notable that is written of Salomon, 1. Kings 2. when Abiathar the Priest had committed a crime worthy of death, yet he would not put him to death, but said unto him, Get thee to Anathoth, unto thine owne fields, &c. because thou barest the Ark of the Lord God, &c. He put Joab to death, a great Counsellor of State, but spared the life of Abiathar, in reverence of his Priesthood. A worthy example.Paulinus in vita Ambrosii. 1. Kings 2. 26.
Thanks be to God, we live now under a religious King, who being learned in the Scriptures, is like-minded to Salomon this way, and like another Constantine, is exceedingly well-affected to the Church. Long since he gave instruction to his eldest son, to cherish none more than a godly Pastor, and to count it one of the fairest of his Titles, to be a loving nursing Father of the Church. He hath since published his pleasure, to have his Clergy well used ; and knowing the power given unto them of Christ, He hath advised men to have recourse unto a discreet Church-man, well reputed for good life, and to reveal his spiritual estate to him, &c. and he hath taken special notice of this ministerial prerogative of blessing, which others little mind ; and therefore he required a religious and zealous Divine, of great note and place in our Church, to preach the Tuesday after the marriage of his only Daughter, and solemnly to bless the new married couple ; who performed it so worthily, and with his zeal so inflamed the zeal of the hearers, that it was no other like but his prayer went up to heaven, and the fruitfulness of that Princely Lady hath since evidenced as much.
Βασιλικον Δωρον. The King upon the Lord’s Prayer. Doctor King, Bishop of London. Vitis Palatina.
Of Ecclesiastical Courts.
Now, in Ecclesiastical Courts, we have reason to expect better regard than in the Temporal : for to that end those Courts and Consistories were granted at the first by Princes, as it is confessed by one that is not only
in legibus doctus & peritus, but
legum Doctor, because the Clergy were like to have more indifferency before a Judge of their own learning, than before a Judge of another profession ; it being held, that
Laici oppido semper infesti sunt Clericis : Lay-men are seldom Clergy men’s friends. And another reason of this, he saith, was, that Clerks suites & quarrels should not be divulged among the Lay people, to the discredit of their profession. Otherwise the said Author also showeth, how much anciently the credit of the Clergy was tendered ; and he wisheth the like regard towards Ecclesiastical men were still retained, both because it was reverent, and worthy the dignity of the Ministry, whose office he acknowledgeth to be most honourable. Thus he, himself a Judge in the Ecclesiastical Courts, of great place. That authority therefore is not rightly used, nor agreeable to the institution thereof, if in Ecclesiastical Courts the Clergy have not only no injuries and indignities offered unto them ; but if they have not, in stead thereof, protection, and countenance, and encouragement in all good.
All not blest with the like affection.
I leave the prosecuting of this further, and advise all that would have benefit by Ecclesiastical benediction, to deserve the love of those to whom that office belongeth
jure divino : for though we are to bless all, yet we cannot bless all with the like effect, or with the like affection. Not with like effect ; for all are not the sons of peace : and those that are not, are uncapable of this blessing. Not with the like affection : for in some we have more, in some less comfort. We cannot bless all with the like affection as we can bless our friends, and such as are comfortable unto us, and instruments of our good. When Isaac had a desire to bless his son Esau, he bids him first provide him savoury meat that would give him content ; and having such brought unto him by Jacob, when he had eaten of the venison, and drunk wine, then he called, Now come near me, and kiss me, my son : God give thee of the dew of heaven, &c. A thing very remarkable, that before the holy Patriarch undertook to bless his son, he first would have savoury meat provided by him whom he meant to bless ; and first he ate thereof, and drank wine, to cheer up his spirits, that so he might bless him the more heartily and effectually : for heaviness, and grief, and sorrow, and discontentment maketh a good man unfit for the right performance of such duties. Therefore when Elisha was moved against King Jehoram, before he fell to prophesy, he called for a Musician to allay his anger.
Exhortation to brethren in Ministry.
I should also use a word of Exhortation to my brethren of the Ministry : the more holy and reverent our Calling is, the more it concerneth us to look that we walk worthy thereof, and to beware lest we dishonour it by our words or deeds. My brethren, it is not for us to be despisers of those which follow holiness ; for our doctrine teacheth us, and all others, to be holy ; it is not for us to be childish : for God hath called even the youngest of us, to be Fathers in his Church, and made us ( as it were ) Patriarchs, to bless the Israel of God. It is not for us to be youthful with the children of this world : for we are called Elders ; and therefore gravity becometh us. That which is vanity in others, is double iniquity in us. The excellency of our Ministerial function aggravateth our sins before God and men, according to that of S. Jerome ;
Malus sacerdos de sacerdotio suo crimen acquirit, non dignitatem : If a Minister be bad, this aggravateth his offence, because he is a Minister : and his Ministry is no such grace to him, as he is a disgrace to his Ministry. And observe what cometh of it : Those that are scrupulous, care not for the judgement of such as be scandalous about any point in controversy.
Nugae, nugae sunt, in ore sacerdotis blasphemiae,Ber.
Brownists think they have just cause to separate from our Church, where such guides are in place of better men. The Jesuit and Seminary-Priest taketh advantage thereby to deprave our Religion, and to breed in the simpler sort an ill opinion thereof : they name, Such are known to be of evil conversation, and bid, Mark their lives. An unhappy meaning He had, though he spake it pleasantly, who said of a vicious Priest, that he would not for any thing hear him say the Creed, lest it should make him call the Articles of his faith into question. Certainly those of this sacred function, which are of ungodly conversation, are an occasion of much mischief.Sir Thomas More.
Many have no mind to have their children baptized by such ; and it goeth against their stomaches to receive the venerable Sacrament of Christ his Body & Blood from their foul hands : and their blessings and prayers they regard little, because they see they regard wickedness in their hearts : and therefore they think the Lord will not hear them. Many also care not for their doctrine, because they say, and do not. I justify not all this in them, but rather think they are transported too far in a preposterous zeal. For good food being brought unto Elias, he received it not only from an Angel, but also from a Raven. And Christ bid the people not only to hear him and his Apostles, but the Pharisees also, when they taught them that which was good, though they followed it not themselves. Good water which passeth into a Garden through a channel of stone, doth the Garden good, though it do the channel none : and so may the Word, and Water of Life conveyed by a bad instrument of a stony heart ; it may do good to the Church of God, though it work not upon himself. And good seed sown in good ground with foul hands, will fructify : and so may the good Seed of God’s Word sown by a Minister of impure conversation. One may be a bad man, and yet a good Seeds-man both in the field and in the Church : yet woe be to them by whom the offence cometh ; woe to them which make the people to abhor the offering of the Lord through their misdemeanour. Eli his sons smoked for this. And to many which have prophecied in his name, Christ will say in his just displeasure, Away from me, ye workers of iniquity.Psal. 66. 18. 1. Kings 17. 6. Matth. 23. 3. 1. Sam. 4. 11. Matth. 7. 23.
Therefore to conclude, the Lord give us all grace so to demean our selves in our places, that his Name may be glorified by us, his Church edified, and our reverend Calling adorned, that our prayers may be accepted of the Lord, and our blessing of the people may, with this Priestly benediction, go up unto his holy dwelling Place, even unto heaven, which he grant for his infinite mercy sake in Christ, to whom, with the Father and the holy Ghost, be ascribed all praise and glory now and for ever. Amen.