MATTHEW XXII. [2,3.]
Simile factum est regnum coelorum homini regi qui fecit nuptias filio suo.
The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which married his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that, &c.
This is a gospel that containeth very much matter; and there is another like unto this in the fourteenth of Luke: but they be both one in effect, for they teach both one thing; and therefore I will take them both in hand together, because they tend to one purpose. Matthew saith, |The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which married his son;| Luke saith, |A certain man ordained a great supper:| but there is no difference in the very substance of the matter, for they pertain to one purpose. Here is made mention of a feast-maker: therefore we must consider who was the feast-maker: secondarily, who was his son: thirdly, we must consider to whom he was married: fourthly, who were they that called the guests: fifthly, who were the guests. And then we must know how the guest-callers behaved themselves: and then, how the guests behaved themselves towards them that called them. When all these circumstances be considered, we shall find much good matters covered and hid in this gospel.
Now that I may so handle these matters, that it may turn to the edification of your souls, and to the discharge of my office, I will most instantly desire you to lift up your hearts unto God, and desire his divine Majesty, in the name of his only-begotten Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, that he will give unto us his Holy Ghost: -- unto me, that I may speak the word of God, and teach you to understand the same; unto you, that you may hear it fruitfully, to the edification of your souls; so that you may be edified through it, and your lives reformed and amended; and that his honour and glory may increase daily amongst us. Wherefore I shall desire you to say with me, |Our Father,| &c.
Dearly beloved in the Lord, the gospel that is read this day is a parable, a similitude or comparison. For our Saviour compared the kingdom of God unto a man that made a marriage for his son. And here was a marriage. At a marriage, you know, there is commonly great feastings. Now you must know who was this feast-maker, and who was his son, and to whom he was married; and who were those that should be called, and who were the callers; how they behaved themselves, and how the guests behaved themselves towards them that called them.
Now this marriage-maker, or feast-maker, is Almighty God. Luke the Evangelist calleth him a man, saying, |A certain man ordained a great supper.| He calleth him a man, not that he was incarnate, or hath taken our flesh upon him: no, not so; for you must understand that there be three Persons in the Deity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. And these three Persons decked the Son with manhood; so that neither the Father, neither the Holy Ghost, took flesh upon them, but only the Son; he took our flesh upon him, taking it of the Virgin Mary. But Luke called God the Father a man, not because he took flesh upon him, but only compared him unto a man; not that he will affirm him to be a man. Who was he now that was married? Who was the bridegroom? Marry, that was our Saviour Jesus Christ, the second person in the Deity; the eternal Son of God. Who should be his spouse? To whom was he married? To his church and congregation: for he would have all the world to come unto him, and to be married unto him: but we see by daily experience that the most part refuse his offer. But here is shewed the state of the church of God: for this marriage, this feast, was begun at the beginning of the world, and shall endure to the end of the same: yet for all that, the most part refused it: for at the very beginning of the world, ever the most part refused to come. And so it appeareth at this time, how little a number cometh to this wedding and feast: though we have callers, yet there be but few of those that come. So ye hear that God is the feast-maker; the bridegroom is Christ, his Son, our Saviour; the bride is the congregation.
Now what manner of meat was prepared at this great feast? For ye know it is commonly seen, that at a marriage the finest meat is prepared that can be gotten. What was the chiefest dish at this great banquet? What was the feast-dish? Marry, it was the bridegroom himself: for the Father, the feast-maker, prepared none other manner of meat for the guests, but the body and blood of his own natural Son. And this is the chiefest dish at this banquet; which truly is a marvellous thing, that the Father offereth his Son to be eaten. Verily, I think that no man hath heard the like. And truly there was never such kind of feasting as this is, where the Father will have his Son to be eaten, and his blood to be drunk.
We read in a story, that a certain man had eaten his son; but it was done unawares: he knew not that it was his son, else no doubt he would not have eaten him. The story is this: There was a king named Astyages, which had heard by a prophecy, that one Cyrus should have the rule and dominion over his realm after his departure; which thing troubled the said king very sore, and therefore [he] sought all the ways and means how to get the said Cyrus out of the way; how to kill him, so that he should not be king after him. Now he had a nobleman in his house, named Harpagus, whom he appointed to destroy the said Cyrus: but howsoever the matter went, Cyrus was preserved and kept alive, contrary to the king's mind. Which thing when Astyages heard, what doth he? This he did: Harpagus, that nobleman which was put in trust to kill Cyrus, had a son in the court, whom the king commanded to be taken; his head, hands, and feet to be cut off; and his body to be prepared, roasted, or sodden, of the best manner as could be devised. After that, he biddeth Harpagus to come and eat with him, where there was jolly cheer; one dish coming after another. At length the king asked him, |Sir, how liketh you your fare?| Harpagus thanketh the king, with much praising the king's banquet. Now the king perceiving him to be merrily disposed, commanded one of his servants to bring in the head, hands, and feet of Harpagus's son. When it was done, the king showed him what manner of meat he had eaten, asking him how it liketh him. Harpagus made answer, though with an heavy heart, Quod regi placet, id mihi quoque placet; |Whatsoever pleaseth the king, that also pleaseth me.| And here we have an ensample of a flatterer, or dissembler: for this Harpagus spake against his own heart and conscience. Surely, I fear me, there be a great many of flatterers in our time also, which will not be ashamed to speak against their own heart and consciences, like as this Harpagus did; which had, no doubt, a heavy heart, and in his conscience the act of the king misliked him, yet for all that, with his tongue he praised the same. So I say, we read not in any story, that at any time any father had eaten his son willingly and wittingly; and this Harpagus, of whom I rehearsed the story, did it unawares. But the Almighty God, which prepared this feast for all the world, for all those that will come unto it, he offereth his only Son to be eaten, and his blood to be drunken. Belike he loved his guests well, because he did feed them with so costly a dish.
Again, our Saviour, the bridegroom, offereth himself at his last supper, which he had with his disciples, his body to be eaten, and his blood to be drunk. And to the intent that it should be done to our great comfort; and then again to take away all cruelty, irksomeness, and horribleness, he sheweth unto us how we shall eat him, in what manner and form; namely, spiritually, to our great comfort: so that whosoever eateth the mystical bread, and drinketh the mystical wine worthily, according to the ordinance of Christ, he receiveth surely the very body and blood of Christ spiritually, as it shall be most comfortable unto his soul. He eateth with the mouth of his soul, and digesteth with the stomach of his soul, the body of Christ. And to be short: whosoever believeth in Christ, putteth his hope, trust, and confidence in him, he eateth and drinketh him: for the spiritual eating is the right eating to everlasting life; not the corporal eating, as the Capernaites understood it. For that same corporal eating, on which they set their minds, hath no commodities at all; it is a spiritual meat that feedeth our souls.
But I pray you, how much is this supper of Christ regarded amongst us, where he himself exhibiteth unto us his body and blood? How much, I say, is it regarded? How many receive it with the curate or minister? O Lord, how blind and dull are we to such things, which pertain to our salvation! But I pray you, wherefore was it ordained principally? Answer: it was ordained for our help, to help our memory withal; to put us in mind of the great goodness of God, in redeeming us from everlasting death by the blood of our Saviour Christ; yea, and to signify unto us, that his body and blood is our meat and drink for our souls, to feed them to everlasting life. If we were now so perfect as we ought to be, we should not have need of it: but to help our imperfectness it was ordained of Christ; for we be so forgetful, when we be not pricked forward, we have soon forgotten all his benefits. Therefore to the intent that we might better keep it in memory, and to remedy this our slothfulness, our Saviour hath ordained this his supper for us, whereby we should remember his great goodness, his bitter passion and death, and so strengthen our faith: so that he instituted this supper for our sake, to make us to keep in fresh memory his inestimable benefits. But, as I said before, it is in a manner nothing regarded amongst us: we care not for it; we will not come unto it. How many be there, think ye, which regard this supper of the Lord as much as a testoon? But very few, no doubt of it: and I will prove that they regard it not so much. If there were a proclamation made in this town, that whosoever would come unto the church at such an hour, and there go to the communion with the curate, should have a testoon; when such a proclamation were made, I think, truly, all the town would come and celebrate the communion to get a testoon: but they will not come to receive the body and blood of Christ, the food and nourishment of their souls, to the augmentation and strength of their faith! Do they not more regard now a testoon than Christ? But the cause which letteth us from celebrating of the Lord's Supper, is this: we have no mind nor purpose to leave sin and wickedness, which maketh us not to come to this supper, because we be not ready nor meet to receive it. But I require you in God's behalf; leave your wickedness, that ye may receive it worthily, according to his institution. For this supper is ordained, as I told you before, for our sake, to our profits and commodities: for if we were perfect, we should not need this outward sacrament; but our Saviour, knowing our weakness and forgetfulness, ordained this supper to the augmentation of our faith, and to put us in remembrance of his benefits. But we will not come: there come no more at once, but such as give the holy loaves from house to house; which follow rather the custom than any thing else. Our Saviour Christ saith in the gospel of St. John, Ego sum panis virus, qui de coelo descendi; |I am the living bread which came down from heaven.| Therefore whosoever feedeth of our Saviour Christ, he shall not perish; death shall not prevail against him: his soul shall depart out of his body, yet death shall not get the victory over him; he shall not be damned. He that cometh to that marriage, to that banquet, death shall be unto him but an entrance or a door to everlasting life. Panis quem ego dabo caro mea est; |The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.| As many as will feed upon him, shall attain to everlasting life: they shall never die; they shall prevail against death; death shall not hurt them, because he hath lost his strength. If we would consider this, no doubt we would be more desirous to come to the communion than we be; we would not be so cold; we would be content to leave our naughty living, and come to the Lord's table.
Now ye have heard what shall be the chiefest dish at this marriage, namely, the body and blood of Christ. But now there be other dishes, which be sequels or hangings-on, wherewith the chief dish is powdered: that is, remission of sins; also the Holy Ghost, which ruleth and governeth our hearts; also the merits of Christ, which are made ours. For when we feed upon this dish worthily, then we shall have remission of our sins; we shall receive the Holy Ghost. Moreover, all the merits of Christ are ours; his fulfilling of the law is ours; and so we be justified before God, and finally attain to everlasting life. As many, therefore, as feed worthily of this dish, shall have all these things with it, and in the end everlasting life. St. Paul saith, Qui proprio Filio suo non pepercit, sed pro nobis omnibus tradidit illum, quomodo non etiam cum illo omnia nobis donabit? |He which spared not his own Son, but gave him for us all, how shall he not with him give us all things also?| Therefore they that be in Christ are partakers of all his merits and benefits; of everlasting life, and of all felicity. He that hath Christ hath all things that are Christ's. He is our preservation from damnation; he is our comfort; he is our help, our remedy. When we feed upon him, then we shall have remission of our sins: the same remission of sins is the greatest and most comfortable thing that can be in the world. O what a comfortable thing is this, when Christ saith, Remittuntur tibi peccata, |Thy sins are forgiven unto thee!| And this is a standing sentence; it was not spoken only to the same one man, but it is a general proclamation unto all us: all and every one that believeth in him shall have forgiveness of their sins. And this proclamation is cried out daily by his ministers and preachers; which proclamation is the word of grace, the word of comfort and consolation. For like as sin is the most fearful and the most horriblest thing in heaven and in earth, so the most comfortablest thing is the remedy against sin; which remedy is declared and offered unto us in this word of grace and the power to distribute this remedy against sins he hath given unto his ministers, which be God's treasurers, distributers of the word of God. For now he speaketh by me, he calleth you to this wedding by me, being but a poor man; yet he hath sent me to call you. And though he be the author of the word, yet he will have men to be called through his ministers to that word. Therefore let us give credit unto the minister, when he speaketh God's word: yea, rather let us credit God when he speaketh by his ministers, and offereth us remission of our sins by his word. For there is no sin so great in this world, but it is pardonable as long as we be in this world, and call for mercy: for here is the time of mercy; here we may come to forgiveness of our sins. But if we once die in our sins and wickedness, so that we be damned, let us not look for remission afterwards: for the state after this life is unchangeable. But as long as we be here, we may cry for mercy. Therefore let us not despair: let us amend our lives, and cry unto God for forgiveness of our sins; and then no doubt we shall obtain remission, if we call with a faithful heart upon him, for so he hath promised unto us in his most holy word.
The holy scripture maketh mention of a sin against the Holy Ghost, which sin cannot be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. And this maketh many men unquiet in their hearts and consciences: for some there be which ever be afraid, lest they have committed that same sin against the Holy Ghost, which is irremissible. Therefore some say, |I cannot tell whether I have sinned against the Holy Ghost or not: if I have committed that sin, I know I shall be damned.| But I tell you what ye shall do: despair not of the mercy of God, for it is immeasurable. I cannot deny but that there is a sin against the Holy Ghost, which is irremissible: but we cannot judge of it aforehand, we cannot tell which man hath committed that sin or not, as long as he is alive; but when he is once gone, then I can judge whether he sinned against the Holy Ghost or not. As now I can judge that Nero, Saul, and Judas, and such like, that died in sins and wickedness, did commit this sin against the Holy Ghost: for they were wicked, and continued in their wickedness still to the very end; they made an end in their wickedness. But we cannot judge whether one of us sin this sin against the Holy Ghost, or not; for though a man be wicked at this time, yet he may repent, and leave his wickedness tomorrow, and so not commit that sin against the Holy Ghost. Our Saviour Christ pronounced against the scribes and Pharisees, that they had committed that sin against the Holy Ghost; because he knew their hearts, he knew they would still abide in their wickedness to the very end of their lives. But we cannot pronounce this sentence against any man, for we know not the hearts of men: he that sinneth now, peradventure shall be turned tomorrow, and leave his sins, and so be saved. Further, the promises of our Saviour Christ are general; they pertain to all mankind: he made a general proclamation, saying, Qui credit in me, habet vitam aeternam; |Whosoever believeth in me hath everlasting life.| Likewise St. Paul saith, Gratia exsuperat supra peccatum; |The grace and mercies of God exceedeth far our sins.| Therefore let us ever think and believe that the grace of God, his mercy and goodness, exceedeth our sins. Also consider what Christ saith with his own mouth: Venite ad me, omnes qui laboratis, &c. |Come unto me, all ye that labour and are laden, and I will ease you.| Mark, here he saith, |Come all ye:| wherefore then should any body despair, or shut out himself from these promises of Christ, which be general, and pertain to the whole world? For he saith, |Come all unto me.| And then again he saith, Refocillabo vos, |I will refresh you:| you shall be eased from the burdens of your sins. Therefore, as I said before, he that is blasphemous, and obstinately wicked, and abideth in his wickedness still to the very end, he sinneth against the Holy Ghost; as St. Augustine, and all other godly writers do affirm. But he that leaveth his wickedness and sins, is content to amend his life, and then believing in Christ, seeketh salvation and everlasting life by him, no doubt that man or woman, whosoever he or they be, shall be saved: for they feed upon Christ, upon that meat that God the Father, this feast-maker, hath prepared for all his guests.
You have heard now who is the maker of this feast or banquet: and again, you have heard what meat is prepared for the guests; what a costly dish the house-father hath ordained at the wedding of his son. But now ye know, that where there be great dishes and delicate fare, there be commonly prepared certain sauces, which shall give men a great lust and appetite to their meats; as mustard, vinegar, and such like sauces. So this feast, this costly dish, hath its sauces; but what be they? Marry, the cross, affliction, tribulation, persecution, and all manner of miseries: for, like as sauces make lusty the stomach to receive meat, so affliction stirreth up in us a desire to Christ. For when we be in quietness, we are not hungry, we care not for Christ: but when we be in tribulation, and cast in prison, then we have a desire to him; then we learn to call upon him; then we hunger and thirst after him; then we are desirous to feed upon him. As long as we be in health and prosperity, we care not for him; we be slothful, we have no stomach at all; and therefore these sauces are very necessary for us. We have a common saying amongst us, when we see a fellow sturdy, lofty, and proud, men say, |This is a saucy fellow;| signifying him to be a high-minded fellow, which taketh more upon him than he ought to do, or his estate requireth: which thing, no doubt, is naught and ill; for every one ought to behave himself according unto his calling and estate. But he that will be a christian man, that intendeth to come to heaven, must be a saucy fellow; he must be well powdered with the sauce of affliction, and tribulation; not with proudness and stoutness, but with miseries and calamities: for so it is written, Omnes qui pie volunt vivere in Christo persecutionem patientur; |Whosoever will live godly in Christ, he shall have persecution and miseries:| he shall have sauce enough to his meat. Again, our Saviour saith, Qui vult meus esse discipulus, abneget semetipsum et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me; |He that will be my disciple must deny himself and take his cross upon him, and follow me.| Is there any man that will feed upon me, that will eat my flesh and drink my blood? Let him forsake himself. O this is a great matter; this is a biting thing, the denying of my own will!' As for an ensample: I see a fair woman, and conceive in my heart an ill appetite to commit lechery with her; I desire to fulfil my wanton lust with her. Here is my appetite, my lust, my will: but what must I do? Marry, I must deny myself, and follow Christ. What is that? I must not follow my own desire, but the will and pleasure of Christ. Now what saith he? Non fornicaberis, non adulteraberis; |Thou shalt not be a whoremonger, thou shalt not be a wedlock-breaker.| Here I must deny myself, and my will, and give place unto his will; abhor and hate my own will. Yea, and furthermore I must earnestly call upon him, that he will give me grace to withstand my own lust and appetite, in all manner of things which may be against his will: as when a man doth me wrong, taketh my living from me, or hurteth me in my good name and fame, my will is to avenge myself upon him, to do him a foul turn again; but what saith God? Mihi vindicta, ego retribuam; |Unto me belongeth vengeance, I will recompense the same.| Now here I must give over my own will and pleasure, and obey his will: this I must do, if I will feed upon him, if I will come to heaven. But this is a bitter thing, a sour sauce, a sharp sauce; this sauce maketh a stomach: for when I am injured or wronged, or am in other tribulation, then I have a great desire for him, to feed upon him, to be delivered from trouble, and to attain to quietness and joy.
There is a learned man which hath a saying which is most true: he saith, Plus crux quam tranquillitas invitat ad Christum; |The cross and persecution bring us sooner to Christ than prosperity and wealth.| Therefore St. Peter saith, Humiliamini sub potenti manu Dei; |Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.| Look, what God layeth upon you, bear it willingly and humbly. But you will say, |I pray you, tell me what is my cross?| Answer: This that God layeth upon you, that same is your cross; not that which you of your own wilfulness lay upon yourselves: as there was a certain sect which were called Flagellarii, which scourged themselves with whips till the blood ran from their bodies; this was a cross, but it was not the cross of God. No, no: he laid not that upon them, they did it of their own head. Therefore look, what God layeth upon me, that same is my cross, which I ought to take in good part; as when I fall in poverty, or in miseries, I ought to be content withal; when my neighbour doth me wrong, taketh away my goods, robbeth me of my good name and fame, I shall bear it willingly, considering that it is God's cross, and that nothing can be done against me without his permission. There falleth never a sparrow to the ground without his permission; yea, not a hair falleth from our head without his will. Seeing then that there is nothing done without his will, I ought to bear this cross which he layeth upon me willingly, without any murmuring or grudging.
But I pray you, consider these words of St. Peter well: Humiliamini sub potenti manu Dei; |Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God.| Here St. Peter signifieth unto us that God is a mighty God, which can take away the cross from us when it seemeth him good; yea, and he can send patience in the midst of all trouble and miseries. St. Paul, that elect instrument of God, shewed a reason wherefore God layeth afflictions upon us, saying: Corripimur a Domino, ne cum mundo condemnemur; |We are chastened of the Lord, lest we should be condemned with the world.| For you see by daily experience, that the most part of wicked men are lucky in this world; they bear the swing, all things goeth after their minds; for God letteth them have their pleasures here. And therefore this is a common saying, |The more wicked, the more lucky:| but they that pertain to God, that shall inherit everlasting life, they must go to the pot; they must suffer here, according to that scripture, Judicium a domo Dei incipit; |The judgment of God beginneth at the house of God.| Therefore it cometh of the goodness of God, when we be put to taste the sauce of tribulation: for he doth it to a good end, namely, that we should not be condemned with this wicked world. For these sauces are very good for us; for they make us more hungry and lusty to come to Christ and feed upon him. And truly, when it goeth well with us, we forget Christ, our hearts and minds are not upon him: therefore it is better to have affliction than to be in prosperity. For there is a common saying, Vexatio dat intellectum; |Vexation giveth understanding.| David, that excellent king and prophet, saith, Bonum est mihi quod humiliasti me, Domine: |Lord,| saith he, |it is good for me that thou hast pulled down my stomach, that thou hast humbled me.| But I pray you, what sauce had David, how was he humbled? Truly thus: his own son defiled his daughter. After that, Absalom, one other of his sons, killed his own brother. And this was not enough, but his own son rose up against him, and traitorously cast him out of his kingdom, and defiled his wives in the sight of all the people. Was not he vexed? had he not sauces? Yes, yes: yet for all that he cried not out against God; he murmured not, but saith, Bonum est mihi quod humiliasti me; |Lord, it is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that thou hast brought me low.| Therefore when we be in trouble, let us be of good comfort, knowing that God doth it for the best. But for all that, the devil, that old serpent, the enemy of mankind, doth what he can day and night to bring us this sauce, to cast us into persecution, or other miseries: as it appeareth in the gospel of Matthew, where our Saviour casting him out of a man, seeing that he could do no more harm, he desired Christ to give him leave to go into the swine; and so he cast them all into the sea. Where it appeareth, that the devil studieth and seeketh all manner of ways to hurt us, either in soul, or else in body. But for all that, let us not despair, but rather lift up our hearts unto God, desiring his help and comfort; and no doubt, when we do so, he will help: he will either take away the calamities, or else mitigate them, or at the leastwise send patience into our hearts, that we may bear it willingly.
Now you know, at a great feast, when there is made a delicate dinner, and the guests fare well, at the end of the dinner they have bellaria, certain subtleties, custards, sweet and delicate things: so when we come to this dinner, to this wedding, and feed upon Christ, and take his sauces which he hath prepared for us, at the end cometh the sweetmeat. What is that? Marry, remission of sins, and everlasting life; such joy, that no tongue can express, nor heart can think, which God hath prepared for all them that come to this dinner, and feed upon his Son, and taste of his sauces. And this is the end of this banquet. This banquet, or marriage-dinner, was made at the very beginning of the world. God made this marriage in paradise, and called the whole world unto it, saying, Semen mulieris conteret caput serpentis; |The Seed of the woman shall vanquish the head of the serpent.| This was the first calling; and this calling stood unto the faithful in as good stead as it doth unto us, which have a more manifest calling. Afterward Almighty God called again with these words, speaking to Abraham: Ego ero Deus tuus et seminis tui post te; |I will be thy God, and thy seed's after thee.| Now what is it to be our God? Forsooth to be our defender, our comforter, our deliverer, and helper. Who was Abraham's seed? Even Christ the Son of God, he was Abraham's seed: in him, and through him, all the world shall be blessed; all that believe in him, all that come to this dinner, and feed upon him. After that, all the prophets, their only intent was to call the people to this wedding. Now after the time was expired which God had appointed, he said, Venite, parata sunt omnia; |Come, all things are ready.|
But who are these callers? The first was John Baptist, which not only called with his mouth, but also shewed with his finger that meat which God had prepared for the whole world. He saith, Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi; |Lo, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.| Also Christ himself called, saying, Venite ad me, omnes qui laboratis; |Come to me, all ye that travail and labour, and I will refresh you.| Likewise the apostles cried, and called all the whole world; as it is written, Exivit sonus eorum per universam terram; |Their sound is gone throughout all the world.| But, I pray you, what thanks had they for their calling, for their labour? Verily this: John Baptist was beheaded; Christ was crucified; the apostles were killed: this was their reward for their labours. So all the preachers shall look for none other reward: for no doubt they must be sufferers, they must taste of these sauces: their office is, arguere mundum de peccato, |to rebuke the world of sin;| which no doubt is a thankless occupation. Ut audiant montes judicia Domini, |That the high hills,| that is, great princes and lords, |may hear the judgments of the Lord:| they must spare no body; they must rebuke high and low, when they do amiss; they must strike them with the sword of God's word: which no doubt is a thankless occupation; yet it must be done, for God will have it so.
There be many men, which be not so cruel as to persecute or to kill the preachers of God's word; but when they be called to feed upon Christ, to come to this banquet, to leave their wicked livings, then they begin to make their excuses; as it appeared here in this gospel, where |the first said, I have bought a farm, and I must needs go and see it; I pray thee have me excused. Another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused. The third said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.| And these were their excuses. You must take heed that you mistake not this text: for after the outward letter it seemeth as though no husbandman, no buyer or seller, nor married man shall enter the kingdom of God. Therefore ye must take heed that ye understand it aright. For to be a husbandman, to be a buyer or seller, to be a married man, is a good thing, and allowed of God: but the abuse of such things is reproved. Husbandman, and married man, every one in his calling, may use and do the works of his calling. The husbandman may go to plough; they may buy and sell; also, men may marry; but they may not set their hearts upon it. The husbandman may not so apply his husbandry to set aside the hearing of the word of God; for when he doth so, he sinneth damnably: for he more regardeth his husbandry than God and his word; he hath all lust and pleasure in his husbandry, which pleasure is naught. As there be many husbandmen which will not come to service; they make their excuses that they have other business: but this excusing is naught; for commonly they go about wicked matters, and yet they would excuse themselves, to make themselves faultless; or, at the least way, they will diminish their faults, which thing itself is a great wickedness; to do wickedly, and then to defend that same wickedness, to neglect and despise God's word, and then to excuse such doings, like as these men do here in this gospel. The husbandman saith, |I have bought a farm; therefore have me excused: the other saith, I have bought five yoke of oxen; I pray thee have me excused:| Now when he cometh to the married man, that same fellow saith not, |Have me excused,| as the others say; but he only saith, |I cannot come.| Where it is to be noted, that the affections of carnal lusts and concupiscence are the strongest above all the other: for there be some men which set all their hearts upon voluptuousness; they regard nothing else, neither God nor his word; and therefore this married man saith, |I cannot come;| because his affections are more strong and more vehement than the other men's were.
But what shall be their reward which refuse to come? The house-father saith, |I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper.| With these words Christ our Saviour teacheth us, that all those that love better worldly things than God and his word shall be shut out from his supper; that is to say, from everlasting joy and felicity: for it is a great matter to despise God's word, or the minister of the same; for the office of preaching is the office of salvation; it hath warrants in scripture, it is grounded upon God's word. St. Paul to the Romans maketh a gradation of such-wise: Omnis quicunque invocaverit nomen Domini salvabitur: quomodo ergo invocabunt in quem non crediderunt, aut quomodo credent ei quem non audisrunt? that is to say, |Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved: but how shall they call upon him, in whom they believe not? How shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?| At the length he concludeth, saying, Fides ex auditu; |Faith cometh by hearing.| Where ye may perceive, how necessary a thing it is to hear God's word, and how needful a thing it is to have preachers, which may teach us the word of God: for by hearing we must come to faith; through faith we must be justified. And therefore Christ saith himself, Qui credit in me, habet vitam aeternam; |He that believeth in me hath everlasting life.| When we hear God's word by the preacher, and believe that same, then we shall be saved: for St. Paul saith, Evangelium est potentia Dei ad salutem omni credenti; |The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe; the gospel preached is God's power to salvation of all believers.| This is a great commendation of this office of preaching: therefore we ought not to despise it, or little regard it; for it is God's instrument, whereby he worketh faith in our hearts. Our Saviour saith to Nicodeme, Nisi quis renatus fuerit, |Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God.| But how cometh this regeneration? By hearing and believing of the word of God: for so saith St. Peter, Renati non ex semine mortali corruptibili; |We are born anew, not of mortal seed, but of immortal, by the word of God.| Likewise Paul saith in another place, Visum est Deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes; |It pleased God to save the believers through the foolishness of preaching.| But, peradventure, you will say, |What, shall a preacher teach foolishness?| No, not so: the preacher, when he is a right preacher, he preacheth not foolishness, but he preacheth the word of God; but it is taken for foolishness, the world esteemeth it for a trifle: but howsoever the world esteemeth it, St. Paul saith that God will save his through it.
Here I might take occasion to inveigh against those which little regard the office of preaching; which are wont to say, |'What need we such preachings every day? Have I not five wits? I know as well what is good or ill, as he doth that preacheth.| But I tell thee, my friend, be not too hasty; for when thou hast nothing to follow but thy five wits, thou shalt go to the devil with them. David, that holy prophet, said not so: he trusted not his five wits, but he said, Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, Domine; |Lord, thy word is a lantern unto my feet.| Here we learn not to despise the word of God, but highly to esteem it, and reverently to hear it; for the holy day is ordained and appointed to none other thing, but that we should at that day hear the word of God, and exercise ourselves in all godliness. But there be some which think that this day is ordained only for feasting, drinking, or gaming, or such foolishness; but they be much deceived: this day was appointed of God that we should hear his word, and learn his laws, and so serve him. But I dare say the devil hath no days so much service as upon Sundays or holy days; which Sundays are appointed to preaching, and to hear God's most holy word. Therefore God saith not only in his commandments, that we shall abstain from working; but he saith, Sanctificabis, |Thou shalt hallow:| so that holy day keeping is nothing else but to abstain from good works, and to do better works; that is, to come together, and celebrate the Communion together, and visit the sick bodies. These are holy-day works; and for that end God commanded us to abstain from bodily works, that we might be more meet and apt to do those works which he hath appointed unto us, namely, to feed our souls with his word, to remember his benefits, and to give him thanks, and to call upon him. So that the holy-day may be called a marriage-day, wherein we are married unto God; which day is very needful to be kept. The foolish common people think it to be a belly- cheer day, and so they make it a surfeiting day: there is no wickedness, no rebellion, no lechery, but she hath most commonly her beginning upon the holy-day.
We read a story in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Numbers, that there was a fellow which gathered sticks upon the sabbath-day; he was a despiser of God's ordinances and laws, like as they that now-a-days go about other business, when they should hear the word of God, and come to the Common Prayer: which fellows truly have need of sauce, to be made more lustier to come and feed upon Christ than they be. Now Moses and the people consulted with the Lord, what they should do, how they should punish that fellow which had so transgressed the sabbath-day. |He shall die,| saith God: which thing is an ensample for us to take heed, that we transgress not the law of the sabbath-day. For though God punish us not by and by, as this man was punished; yet he is the very self-same God that he was before, and will punish one day, either here, or else in the other world, where the punishment shall be everlasting.
Likewise in the seventeenth chapter of the prophet Jeremy God threateneth his fearful wrath and anger unto those which do profane his sabbath-day. Again, he promiseth his favour and all prosperity to them that will keep the holy-days; saying, |Princes and kings shall go through thy gates,| that is to say, Thou shalt be in prosperity, in wealth, and great estimation amongst thy neighbours. Again: |If ye will not keep my sabbath-day, I will kindle a fire in your gates;| that is to say, I will destroy you, I will bring you to nought, and burn your cities with fire. These words pertain as well unto us at this time, as they pertained to them at their time: for God hateth the disallowing of the sabbath as well now as then; for he is and remaineth still the old God: he will have us to keep his sabbath, as well now as then: for upon the sabbath-day God's seed-plough goeth; that is to say, the ministry of his word is executed; for the ministering of God's word is God's plough. Now upon the Sundays God sendeth his husbandmen to come and till; he sendeth his callers to come and call to the wedding, to bid the guests; that is, all the world to come to that supper. Therefore, for the reverence of God, consider these things: consider who calleth, namely, God; consider again who be the guests; all ye. Therefore I call you in God's name, come to this supper; hallow the sabbath-day; that is, do your holy-day work, come to this supper; for this day was appointed of God to that end, that his word should be taught and heard. Prefer not your own business therefore before the hearing of the word of God. Remember the story of that man which gathered sticks upon the holy day, and was put to death by the consent of God: where God shewed himself not a cruel God, but he would give warning unto the whole world by that man, that all the world should keep holy his sabbath-day.
The almighty ever-living God give us grace to live so in this miserable world, that we may at the end come to the great sabbath-day, where there shall be everlasting joy and gladness! Amen.