THE SERMON THAT THE REVEREND FATHER IN CHRIST, M. HUGH LATIMER, BISHOP OF WORCESTER, MADE TO THE CONVOCATION OF THE CLERGY, BEFORE THE PARLIAMENT BEGAN, THE 9 DAY OF JUNE, THE 28 YEAR OF THE REIGN OF OUR LATE KING HENRY THE 8. TRANSLATED OUT OF LATIN INTO ENGLISH, TO THE INTENT THAT THINGS WELL SAID TO A FEW MAY BE UNDERSTOOD OF MANY, AND DO GOOD TO ALL THEM THAT DESIRE TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH. Filii hujus seculi
, &c. -- Luc. xvi.
Brethren, ye be come together this day, as far as I perceive, to hear of great and weighty matters. Ye be come together to entreat of things that most appertain to the commonwealth. This being thus, ye look, I am assured, to hear of me, which am commanded to make as a preface this exhortation, (albeit I am unlearned and far unworthy,) such things as shall be much meet for this your assembly. I therefore, not only very desirous to obey the commandment of our Primate, but also right greatly coveting to serve and satisfy all your expectation; lo, briefly, and as plainly as I can, will speak of matters both worthy to be heard in your congregation, and also of such as best shall become mine office in this place. That I may do this the more commodiously, I have taken that notable sentence in which our Lord was not afraid to pronounce |the children of this world to be much more prudent and politic than the children of light in their generation.| Neither will I be afraid, trusting that he will aid and guide me to use this sentence, as a good ground and foundation of all such things, as hereafter I shall speak of.
Now, I suppose that you see right well, being men of such learning, for what purpose the Lord said this, and that ye have no need to be holpen with any part of my labour in this thing. But yet, if ye will pardon me, I will wade somewhat deeper in this matter, and as nigh as I can, fetch it from the first original beginning. For undoubtedly, ye may much marvel at this saying, if ye well ponder both what is said, and who saith it. Define me first these three things: what prudence is; what the world; what light; and who be the children of the world; who of the light: see what they signify in scripture. I marvel if by and by ye all agree, that the children of the world should be wiser than the children of the light. To come somewhat nigher the matter, thus the Lord beginneth:
There was a certain rich man that had a steward, which was accused unto him that he had dissipated and wasted his goods. This rich man called his steward to him and said, What is this that I hear of thee? Come, make me an account of thy stewardship; thou mayest no longer bear this office.
Brethren, because these words are so spoken in a parable, and are so wrapped in wrinkles, that yet they seem to have a face and a similitude of a thing done indeed, and like an history, I think it much profitable to tarry somewhat in them. And though we may perchance find in our hearts to believe all that is there spoken to be true; yet I doubt whether we may abide it, that these words of Christ do pertain unto us, and admonish us of our duty, which do and live after such sort, as though Christ, when he spake any thing, had, as the time served him, served his turn, and not regarded the time that came after him, neither provided for us, or any matters of ours; as some of the philosophers thought, which said, that God walked up and down in heaven, and thinketh never a deal of our affairs. But, my good brethren, err not you so; stick not you to such your imaginations. For if ye inwardly behold these words, if ye diligently roll them in your minds, and after explicate and open them, ye shall see our time much touched in these mysteries. Ye shall perceive that God by this example shaketh us by the noses and pulleth us by the ears. Ye shall perceive very plain, that God setteth before our eyes in this similitude what we ought most to flee, and what we ought soonest to follow. For Luke saith, |The Lord spake these words to his disciples.| Wherefore let it be out of all doubt that he spake them to us, which even as we will be counted the successors and vicars of Christ's disciples, so we be, if we be good dispensers and do our duty. He said these things partly to us, which spake them partly of himself. For he is that rich man, which not only had, but hath, and shall have evermore, I say not one, but many stewards, even to the end of the world.
He is man, seeing that he is God and man. He is rich, not only in mercy but in all kind of riches; for it is he that giveth to us all things abundantly. It is he of whose hand we received both our lives, and other things necessary for the conservation of the same. What man hath any thing, I pray you, but he hath received it of his plentifulness? To be short, it is he that |openeth his hand, and filleth all beasts with his blessing,| and giveth unto us in most ample wise his benediction. Neither his treasure can be spent, how much soever he lash out; how much soever we take of him, his treasure tarrieth still, ever taken, never spent.
He is also the good man of the house: the church is his household which ought with all diligence to be fed with his word and his sacraments. These be his goods most precious, the dispensation and administration whereof he would bishops and curates should have. Which thing St. Paul affirmeth, saying, |Let men esteem us as the ministers of Christ, and dispensers of God's mysteries.| But, I pray you, what is to be looked for in a dispenser? This surely, |That he be found faithful,| and that he truly dispense, and lay out the goods of the Lord; that he give meat in time; give it, I say, and not sell it; meat, I say, and not poison. For the one doth intoxicate and slay the eater, the other feedeth and nourisheth him. Finally, let him not slack and defer the doing of his office, but let him do his duty when time is, and need requireth it. This is also to be looked for, that he be one whom God hath called and put in office, and not one that cometh uncalled, unsent for; not one that of himself presumeth to take honour upon him. And surely, if all this that I say be required in a good minister, it is much lighter to require them all in every one, than to find one any where that hath them all. Who is a true and faithful steward? He is true, he is faithful, that cometh no new money, but taketh it ready coined of the good man of the house; and neither changeth it, nor clippeth it, after it is taken to him to spend, but spendeth even the self-same that he had of his Lord, and spendeth it as his Lord's commandment is; neither to his own vantage uttering it, nor as the lewd servant did, hiding it in the ground. Brethren, if a faithful steward ought to do as I have said, I pray you, ponder and examine this well, whether our bishops and abbots, prelates and curates, have been hitherto faithful stewards or no? Ponder, whether yet many of them be as they should be or no? Go ye to, tell me now as your conscience leadeth you (I will let pass to speak of many other), was there not some, that despising the money of the Lord, as copper and not current, either coined new themselves, or else uttered abroad newly coined of other; sometime either adulterating the word of God or else mingling it (as taverners do, which brew and utter the evil and good both in one pot), sometime in the stead of God's word blowing out the dreams of men? while they thus preached to the people the redemption that cometh by Christ's death to serve only them that died before his coming, that were in the time of the old testament; and that now since redemption and forgiveness of sins purchased by money, and devised by men is of efficacy, and not redemption purchased by Christ (they have a wonderful pretty example to persuade this thing, of a certain married woman, which, when her husband was in purgatory, in that fiery furnace that hath burned away so many of our pence, paid her husband's ransom, and so of duty claimed him to be set at liberty): while they thus preached to the people, that dead images (which at the first, as I think, were set up, only to represent things absent) not only ought to be covered with gold, but also ought of all faithful and christian people (yea, in this scarceness and penury of all things), to be clad with silk garments, and those also laden with precious gems and jewels; and that beside all this, they are to be lighted with wax candles, both within the church and without the church, yea, and at noon days; as who should say, here no cost can be too great; whereas in the mean time we see Christ's faithful and lively images, bought with no less price than with his most precious blood (alas, alas!) to be an hungred, a-thirst, a-cold, and to lie in darkness, wrapped in all wretchedness, yea, to lie there till death take away their miseries: while they preached these will-works, that come but of our own devotion, although they be not so necessary as the works of mercy, and the precepts of God, yet they said, and in the pulpit, that will-works were more principal, more excellent, and (plainly to utter what they mean) more acceptable to God than works of mercy; as though now man's inventions and fancies could please God better than God's precepts, or strange things better than his own: while they thus preached that more fruit, more devotion cometh of the beholding of an image, though it be but a Pater-noster while, than is gotten by reading and contemplation in scripture, though ye read and contemplate therein seven years' space: finally, while they preached thus, souls tormented in purgatory to have most need of our help, and that they can have no aid, but of us in this world: of the which two, if the one be not false, yet at the least it is ambiguous, uncertain, doubtful, and therefore rashly and arrogantly with such boldness affirmed in the audience of the people; the other, by all men's opinions, is manifestly false: I let pass to speak of much other such like counterfeit doctrine, which hath been blasted and blown out by some for the space of three hours together. Be these the Christian and divine mysteries, and not rather the dreams of men? Be these the faithful dispensers of God's mysteries, and not rather false dissipators of them? whom God never put in office, but rather the devil set them over a miserable family, over an house miserably ordered and entreated. Happy were the people if such preached seldom.
And yet it is a wonder to see these, in their generation, to be much more prudent and politic than the faithful ministers are in their generation; while they go about more prudently to stablish men's dreams, than these do to hold up God's commandments.
Thus it cometh to pass that works lucrative, will-works, men's fancies reign; but christian works, necessary works, fruitful works, be trodden under the foot. Thus the evil is much better set out by evil men, than the good by good men; because the evil be more wise than be the good in their generation. These be the false stewards, whom all good and faithful men every day accuse unto the rich master of the household, not without great heaviness, that they waste his goods; whom he also one day will call to him, and say to them as he did to his steward, when he said, |What is this that I hear of thee?| Here God partly wondereth at our ingratitude and perfidy, partly chideth us for them; and being both full of wonder and ready to chide, asketh us, |What is this that I hear of you?| As though he should say unto us, |All good men in all places complain of you, accuse your avarice, your exactions, your tyranny. They have required in you a long season, and yet require, diligence and sincerity. I commanded you, that with all industry and labour ye should feed my sheep: ye earnestly feed yourselves from day to day, wallowing in delights and idleness. I commanded you to teach my commandments, and not your fancies; and that ye should seek my glory and my vantage: you teach your own traditions, and seek your own glory and profit. You preach very seldom; and when ye do preach, do nothing but cumber them that preach truly, as much as lieth in you: that it were much better such were not to preach at all, than so perniciously to preach. Oh, what hear I of you? You, that ought to be my preachers, what other thing do you, than apply all your study hither, to bring all my preachers to envy, shame, contempt? Yea, more than this, ye pull them into perils, into prisons, and, as much as in you lieth, to cruel deaths. To be short, I would that christian people should hear my doctrine, and at their convenient leisure read it also, as many as would: your care is not that all men may hear it, but all your care is, that no lay man do read it: surely, being afraid lest they by the reading should understand it, and understanding, learn to rebuke our slothfulness. This is your generation, this is your dispensation, this is your wisdom. In this generation, in this dispensation, you be most politic, most witty. These be the things that I hear of your demeanour. I wished to hear better report of you. Have ye thus deceived me? or have ye rather deceived yourselves? Where I had but one house, that is to say, the church, and this so dearly beloved of me, that for the love of her I put myself forth to be slain, and to shed my blood; this church at my departure I committed unto your charge, to be fed, to be nourished, and to be made much of. My pleasure was ye should occupy my place; my desire was ye should have borne like love to this church, like fatherly affection, as I did: I made you my vicars, yea, in matters of most importance.
|For thus I taught openly: 'He that should hear you, should hear me; he that should despise you, should despise me.' I gave you also keys, not earthly keys, but heavenly. I left my goods that I have evermore most highly esteemed, that is, my word and sacraments, to be dispensed of you. These benefits I gave you, and do you give me these thanks? Can you find in your hearts thus to abuse my goodness, my benignity, my gentleness? Have you thus deceived me? No, no, ye have not deceived me, but yourselves. My gifts and benefits towards you shall be to your greater damnation. Because you have contemned the lenity and clemency of the master of the house, ye have right well deserved to abide the rigour and severity of the judge. Come forth then, let us see an account of your stewardship. An horrible and fearful sentence: Ye may have no longer my goods in your hands. A voice to weep at, and to make men tremble!|
You see, brethren, you see, what evil the evil stewards must come to. Your labour is paid for, if ye can so take heed, that no such sentence be spoken to you; nay, we must all take heed lest these threatenings one day take place in us. But lest the length of my sermon offend you too sore, I will leave the rest of the parable and take me to the handling of the end of it; that is, I will declare unto you how the children of this world be more witty, crafty, and subtle, than are the children of the light in their generation. Which sentence would God it lay in my poor tongue to explicate with such light of words, that I might seem rather to have painted it before your eyes, than to have spoken it; and that you might rather seem to see the thing, than to hear it! But I confess plainly this thing to be far above my power. Therefore this being only left to me, I wish for that I have not, and am sorry that that is not in me which I would so gladly have, that is, power so to handle the thing that I have in hand, that all that I say may turn to the glory of God, your souls' health, and the edifying of Christ's body. Wherefore I pray you all to pray with me unto God, and that in your petition you desire, that these two things he vouchsafe to grant us, first, a mouth for me to speak rightly; next, ears for you, that in hearing me ye may take profit at my hand: and that this may come to effect, you shall desire him, unto whom our master Christ bad we should pray, saying even the same prayer that he himself did institute. Wherein ye shall pray for our most gracious sovereign lord the king, chief and supreme head of the church of England under Christ, and for the most excellent, gracious, and virtuous lady queen Jane, his most lawful wife, and for all his, whether they be of the clergy or laity, whether they be of the nobility, or else other his grace's subjects, not forgetting those that being departed out of this transitory life, and now sleep in the sleep of peace, and rest from their labours in quietness and peaceable sleep, faithfully, lovingly, and patiently looking for that that they clearly shall see when God shall be so pleased. For all these, and for grace necessary, ye shall say unto God God's prayer, Pater-noster.