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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.
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
Euseb. Hist. lib. vi. c. 3. Theod. lib. iv. c. 23, 24. Nibil est illi principi Deo, qui omnem hunc mnodum regit, quod quidem in terris fiat acceptius, quàm concilia cætusque honinum jure sociati, quæ civitates appellantur. - Cicer, Sorn. 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! : 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 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.
1 ο Ιωάννης φιλίρημος, ο Ιησούς ήμερος και τιθασσός και αγέλαιος.
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
me in the straight paths of sanctity, without deflections to either hand, and without the interruption of deadly sin; that I may, with facility, zeal, assiduity, and a persevering diligence, walk in the ways of the Lord. Be pleased, that the axe may be laid to the root of sin, that the whole body of it may be cut down in me; that no fruit of Sodom may grow up to thy displeasure. Thoroughly purge the floor and granary of my heart with thy fan, with the breath of thy Diviner Spirit, that it may be a holy repository of graces, and full of benediction and sanctity; that when our Lord shall come, I may at all times be prepared for the entertainment of so divine a guest, apt to lodge him and to feast him, that he may for ever delight to dwell with me.
And make me also to dwell with him, sometimes retiring into his recesses and private rooms, by contemplation, and admiring of his beauties, and beholding the secrets of his kingdom; and, at all other times, walking in the courts of the Lord's house, by the diligences and labours of repentance and an holy life, till thou shalt please to call me to a nearer communication of thy excellences : which then grant, when, by thy gracious assistances, I shall have done thy works, and glorified thy holy name, by the strict and never-failing purposes and proportionable endeavours of religion and holiness, through the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Of Mortification and Corporal Austerities.
1. “ FROM the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force,” said our blessed Saviour. For now that the new covenant was to be made with man, repentance, which is so great a part of it, being, in very many actions, a punitive duty, afflictive and vindicative, “ from the days of the Baptist” (who first, by office and solemnity of design, published this doctrine,) violence was done to the inclinations and dispositions of man, and by such violences we were to be possessed
of the kingdom. And his example was the best commentary upon his text; he did violence to himself; he lived a life, in which the rudenesses of camel's hair, and the lowest nutriment of Aies and honey of the desert, his life of singularity, his retirement from the sweetnesses of society, his resisting the greatest of temptations, and despising to assume false honours, were instances of that violence, and explications of the doctrine of self-denial and mortification, which are the pedestal of the cross, and the supporters of Christianity, as it distinguishes from all laws, religions, and institutions of the world.
2. Mortification is the one half of Christianity; it is a dying to the world ; it is a denying of the will and all its natural desires : “ An abstinence from pleasure and sensual complacencies, that the flesh being subdued to the Spirit, both may join in the service of God, and in the offices of holy religion.” It consists in actions of severity and renunciation; it refuses to give entertainment to any vanity, nor uses a freer license in things lawful, lest it be tempted to things unlawful; it kills the lusts of the flesh by taking away its fuel and incentives, and by using to contradict its appetite, does inure it, with more facility, to obey the superior faculties: and, in effect, it is nothing but a great care we sin not, and a prudent and severe using such remedies and instruments, which in nature and grace are made apt for the production of our purposes. And it consists in interior and exterior offices; these being but instruments of the interior, as the body is organical or instrumental to the soul, and no part of the duty itself, but as they are advantages to the end, the mortification of the spirit; which by whatsoever means we have once acquired and do continue, we are disobliged from all other exterior severities, unless by accident they come to be obligatory, and from some other cause.
3. Mortification of the will or the spirit of man, that is the duty; that the will of man may humbly obey God, and absolutely rule its inferior faculties ; that the inordinations of our natural desires, begun by Adam's sin, and continued and increased by our continuing evil customs, may be again
* Την επί καθαιρέσει του φρονήματος σαρκός προς τον της ευσεβείας σκοπόν επιτηδευομένην αποχήν τών ηδέων. - S. Basil.