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OUR BLESSED LORD AND SAVIOUR
BEGINNING AT THE ANNUNCIATION TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, UNTIL HIS BAPTISM AND TEMPTATION INCLUSIVELY.
The History of the Conception of Jesus.
1. WHEN the fulness of time was come, after the frequent repetition of promises, the expectation of the Jewish nation, the longings and tedious waitings of all holy persons, the departure of the "sceptre from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his feet;" when the number of Daniel's years was accomplished, and the Egyptian and Syrian kingdoms had their period; God, having great compassion towards mankind, remembering his promises, and our great necessities, sent his Son into the world, to take upon him our nature, and all that guilt of sin, which stuck close to our nature, and all that punishment, which was consequent to our sin which came to pass after this manner.
2. In the days of Herod the king, the angel Gabriel wa sent from God to a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a holy maid, called Mary, espoused to Joseph, and found her in a capacity and excellent disposition to receive the greatest honour, that ever was done to the daughters of men. employment was holy and pious, her person young, her years florid and springing, her body chaste, her mind humble, and a rare repository of divine graces. She was full of grace and excellencies; and God poured upon her a full measure of honour, in making her the mother of the Messias : for the "angel came to her, and said, Hail, thou that art
highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women."
3. We cannot but imagine the great mixture of innocent disturbances and holy passions, that, in the first address of the angel, did rather discompose her settledness, and interrupt the silence of her spirits, than dispossess her dominion, which she ever kept over those subjects, which never had been taught to rebel beyond the mere possibilities of natural imperfection. But if the angel appeared in the shape of a man, it was an unusual arrest to the blessed Virgin, who was accustomed to retirements and solitariness, and had not known an experience of admitting a comely person, but a stranger, to her closet and privacies. But if the heavenly messenger did retain a diviner form, more symbolical to angelical nature, and more proportionable to his glorious message, although her daily employment was a conversation with angels, who, in their daily ministering to the saints, did behold her chaste conversation, coupled with fear, yet they used not any affrighting glories in the offices of their daily attendances, but were seen only by spiritual discernings. However, so it happened, that "when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind, what manner of salutation this should be."
4. But the angel, who came with designs of honour and comfort to her, not willing that the inequality and glory of the messenger should, like too glorious a light to a weaker eye, rather confound the faculty than enlighten the organ, did, before her thoughts could find a tongue, invite her to a more familiar confidence than possibly a tender virgin (though of the greatest serenity and composure) could have put on, in the presence of such a beauty and such a holiness. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus."
5. The holy Virgin knew herself a person very unlikely to be a mother: for, although the desires of becoming a mother to the Messias were great in every of the daughters of Jacob, and about that time the expectation of his revelation was high and pregnant, and therefore she was espoused to an honest and a just person of her kindred and family,
and so might not despair to become a mother; yet she was a person of a rare sanctity, and so mortified a spirit, that for all this desponsation of her, according to the desire of her parents, and the custom of the nation, she had not set one step toward the consummation of her marriage, so much as in thought; and possibly had set herself back from it by a vow of chastity and holy celibate: for "Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?"
6. But the angel, who was a person of that nature, which knows no conjunctions but those of love and duty, knew that the piety of her soul, and the religion of her chaste purposes, was a great imitator of angelical purity, and therefore perceived where the philosophy of her question did consist; and, being taught of God, declared that the manner should be as miraculous, as the message itself was glorious. For the angel told her, that this should not be done by any way, which our sin and the shame of Adam had unhallowed, by turning nature into a blush, and forcing her to a retirement from a public attesting the means of her own preservation; but the whole matter was from God, and so should the manner be: for "the angel said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing, which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God."
7. When the blessed Virgin was so ascertained, that she should be a mother and a maid, and that two glories, like the two luminaries of Heaven, should meet in her, that she might in such a way become the mother of her Lord, that she might with better advantages be his servant; then all her hopes and all her desires received such satisfaction, and filled all the corners of her heart so much, as indeed it was fain to make room for its reception. But she to whom the greatest things of religion, and the transportations of devotion, were made familiar, by the assiduity and piety of her daily practices, however she was full of joy, yet she was carried like a full vessel, without the violent tossings of
quæ ventre beato
a tempestuous passion, or the wrecks of a stormy imagination and, as the power of the Holy Ghost did descend upon her like rain into a fleece of wool, without any obstreperous noises or violences to nature, but only the extraordinariness of an exaltation; so her spirit received it with the gentleness and tranquillity fitted for the entertainment of the spirit of love, and a quietness symbolical to the holy guest of her spotless womb, the Lamb of God; for she meekly replied, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according unto thy word. And the angel departed from her," having done his message. And at the same time the Holy Spirit of God did make her to conceive in her womb the immaculate Son of God, the Saviour of the world.
Ad SECTION I.
Considerations upon the Annunciation of the Blessed Mary, and the Conception of the Holy Jesus.
1. THAT which shines brightest, presents itself first to the eye; and the devout soul, in the chain of excellent and precious things, which are represented in the counsel, design, and first beginnings of the work of our redemption, hath not leisure to attend the twinkling of the lesser stars, till it hath stood and admired the glory and eminencies of the Divine love, manifested in the incarnation of the Word eternal. God had no necessity, in order to the conservation or the heightening his own felicity, but out of mere and perfect charity, and the bowels of compassion, sent into the world. his only Son, for remedy to human miseries, to ennoble our nature by an union with Divinity, to sanctify it with his justice, to enrich it with his grace, to instruct it with his doctrine, to fortify it with his example, to rescue it from servitude, to assert it into the liberty of the sons of God, and at last to make it partaker of a beatifical resurrection.
2. God, who, in the infinite treasures of his wisdom and
■ Cùm inter nos et Deum discordiam peccando fecimus, tamen ad nos Deus legatum suum prior misit, ut nos ipsi, qui peccavimus, ad pacem Dei rogati veniamus. - St. Greg.
providence, could have found out many other ways for our redemption, than the incarnation of his eternal Son, was pleased to choose this, not only that the remedy by man might have proportion to the causes of our ruin, whose introduction and intromission was by the prevarication of man; but also, that we might with freer dispensation receive the influences of a Saviour, with whom we communicate in nature. Although Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, were of greater name and current, yet they were not so salutary as the waters of Jordan, to cure Naaman's leprosy. And if God had made the remedy of human nature to have come all the way clothed in prodigy, and every instant of its execution had been as terrible, affrighting, and as full of majesty, as the apparitions upon Mount Sinai; yet it had not been so useful and complying to human necessities, as was the descent of God to the susception of human nature, whereby (as in all medicaments) the cure is best wrought by those instruments, which have the fewest dissonances to our temper, and are the nearest to our constitution. For thus the Saviour of the world became human, alluring, full of invitation and the sweetnesses of love, exemplary, humble, and medicinal.
3. And, if we consider the reasonableness of the thing, what can be given more excellent for the redemption of man, than the blood of the Son of God? And what can more ennoble our nature, than that by the means of his holy humanity it was taken up into the cabinet of the mysterious Trinity? What better advocate could we have for us, than he that is appointed to be our Judge? And what greater hopes of reconciliation can be imagined, than that God, in whose power it is to give an absolute pardon, hath taken a new nature, entertained an office, and undergone a life of poverty, with a purpose to procure our pardon? For now, though, as the righteous Judge, he will judge the nations righteously; yet, by the susception of our nature, and its appendant crimes, he is become a party; and, having obliged himself as man, as he is God he will satisfy, by putting the val of an infinite merit to the actions and sufferings of his
b Quod sperare nullus audebat: quod si fortè in mentem alicujus incidisset, poterat æstimare se in blasphemiam incurrisse.—St. Primasius.