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complain of the way, whilst thy Saviour was with thee. His presence alone was able to make the stable a temple, Egypt a paradise, the way more pleasing than rest. But whither, then, oh! whither dost thou carry that blessed burthen, by which thyself and the world are upholden? To Egypt, the slaughter-house of God's people, the furnace of Israel's ancient affliction, the sink of the world. “Out of Egypt have I called my Son,” saith the Lord. That thou callest thy Son out of Egypt, () God, is no marvel. It is a marvel that thou calledst him into Egypt, but that we know all earths are thine, and all places and men are, like figures upon a table, such as thy disposition makes them. What a change is here! Israel, the first-born of God, Aies out of Egypt into the promised land of Judea ; Christ, the first-born of all creatures, Aies from Judea into Egypt. Egypt is become the sanctuary, Judea the inquisition-house of the Son of God. He, that is every where the same, makes all places alike to his : he makes the fiery furnace a gallery of pleasure, the lion's den an house of defence, the whale's belly a lodging chamber. Egypt an harbour.
He flies, that was able to preserve himself from danger; to teach us how lawfully we may fly from those dangers we cannot avoid otherwise. It is a thankless fortitude to offer our throat unto the knife. He that came to die for us, fled for his own preservation, and hath bid us follow him: “When they persecute you in one city, fly into another.” We have but the use of our lives, and we are bound to husband them to the best advantage of God and his church. God bath made us, not as butts, to be perpetually shot at, but, as the marks of rovers, moveable, as the wind and the sun may best serve.
It was warrant enough for Joseph and Mary, that God commands them to flee : yet so familiar is God grown with his approved servants, that he gives them the reason of his commanded flight; “For Herod will seek the young child, to destroy bim.” What wicked men will do, what they would do, is known unto God before-hand. He, that is so infinitely wise to know the designs of his enemies before they are, could as easily prevent them, that they might not be: but he lets them run ou in their own courses, that he may fetch glory to himself out of their wickedness.
Good Joseph, having this charge in the night, stays not till [BOOK 1: the morning. No sooner bad God said, Arise, than he starts up and sets forward. It was not diffidence, but obedience, that did so hasten his departure. The charge was direct, the . business important.. He dares not linger for the light, but breaks his rest for the journey, and, taking advantage of the dark, departs toward Egypt. How knew he this occasion would abide any delay? We cannot be too speedy in the execution of God's commands; we may be too late. Here was no treasure to hide, no hangings to take down, no lands to secure : the poor carpenter needs do no more but lock the doors, and away. He goes lightly that wants a load. If there be more pleasure in abundance, there is more security in a mean estate. The bustard, or the ostrich, when he is pursued, can hardly get upon his wings ; whereas the lark inounts with ease. The rich hath not so much advantage of the poor in enjoying, as the poor bath of the rich in leaving.
Now is Joseph come down into Egypt. Egypt was beholden to the name, as that whereto it did owe no less than their universal preservation. Well might it repay this act of hospitality to that name and blood. The going down into Egypt had not so much difficulty, as the staying there : their absence from their country was little better than a banishment. But what was this other, than to serve an apprenticeship in the house of bondage ? To be any where, save at home, was irksome ; but to be in Egypt so many years, amongst idolatrous Pagans, must needs be painful to religious hearts. The command of their God, and the presence of Christ, makes amends for all. How long should they have thought it to see the temple of God, if they had not had the God of the temple with them ! how long to present their sacrifices at the altar of God, if they had not had hiin with them which made all sacrifices accepted, and which did accept the sacrifice of their hearts !
Herod was subtile in mocking the wise men, while he promised to worship him whom he meant to kill: now God makes the wise men to mock him, in disappointing bis expectation. It is just with God to punish those which would beguile others with illusion. Great spirts are so much more impatient for disgrace. How did Herod now rage and fret, and vainly wish to have met with those false spies, and tells with what torments he would revenge their treachery, and curses himself for trusting strangers in so important a business!
The tyrant's suspicion would not let him rest long. Ere many days he sends to inquire of them whom he sent to inquire of Christ. The notice of their secret departure increaseth his jealousy; and now his anger runs mad, and his fear proves desperate. All the infants of Bethlehem shall bleed for this one; and, that he may make sure work, he cuts out to himself large measures both of time and place. It was but very lately that the star appeared, that the wise men reappeared not. They asked for him that was born, they did not name when he was born. Herod, for more security, over-reaches their tiine, and fetches into the slaughter all the children of two years of age. The priests and scribes had told him, the town of Bethlehem must be the place of the Messiah's nativity. He fetches in all the children of the coasts adjoining; yea, his own shall for the time be a Bethlehemite. A tyrannous guiltiness never thinks itself safe, but ever seeks to assure itself in the excess of cruelty. Doubtless, he, which so privily inquired for Christ, did as secretly brew this massacre.
The mothers were set with their children on their laps, feeding them with the breast, or talking to them in the familiar language of their love; when suddenly the executioner rushes in, and snatches them from their arms, and, at once pulling forth his commission and his knife, without regard to shrieks or tears, murders the innocent babe, and leaves the passionate mother in a mean between madness and death. What cursing of Herod! what wringing of hands! what condoling! what exclaiming was now in the streets of Bethlehem !
O bloody Herod, that could sacrifice so many harmless lives to thine ambition! What could those infants have done? If it were thy person whereof thou wert afraid, what likelihood was it thou couldst live till those sucklings might endanger thee? This news might affect thy successors; it could not concern thee, if the beat of an impotent and furious envy had not made thee thirsty of blood. It is not long that thou shalt enjoy this cruelty: after a few hateful years, thy soul shall feel the weight of so many innocents, of so many just curses.
He, for whose sake thou killedst so many, shall strike thee with death; and then what wouldst thou have given to have been as one of those infants whom thou inurderest? In the mean-time, when thine executioners returned and told thee of their impartial dispatch, thou smildest to think how thou hadst defeated thy rival, and beguiled the star, and deluded the prophecies; while God in heaven, and his Son on earth, laugh thee to scorn, and make thy rage an occasion of further glory to him whom thou meanedst to suppress.
He, that could take away the lives of others, cannot protract his own. Herod is now sent home. The coast is clear for the return of that holy family: now God calls them from their exile. Christ and his mother had not staid so long out of the confines of the reputed visible church, but to teach us continuance under the cross. Sometimes God sees it good for us not to sip of the cup of affliction, but to make a diet-drink of it, for constant and common use.
If he allow us no other liquor for many years, we must take it off cheerfully, and know that it is but the measure of our betters.
Joseph and Mary stir not without a command; their departure, stay, removal, is ordered by the voice of God. If Egypt had been more tedious unto them, they durst not move their foot till they were bidden. It is good, in our own business, to follow reason or custom ; but in God's business, if we have any other guide but himself, we presume, and cannot expect a blessing.
O the wonderful dispensation of God, in concealing of himself from men! Christ was now some five years old; he bears himself as an infant, and, knowing all things, neither takes nor gives notice of ought concerning his removal and disposing, but appoints that to be done by his angel, which the angel could not have done but by him. Since he would take our nature, he would be a perfect child, suppressing the manifestation and exercise of that Godhead whereto that infant nature was conjoined. Even so, O Saviour, the humility of thine infancy was answerable to that of thy birth. The more thou hidest and abasest thyself for us, the more should we magnify thee, the more should we deject ourselves for thee. Unto thee, with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory now and for ever. Amen.
Even the spring shews us what we may hope for of the tree in summer. In his nonage therefore would our Saviour give us a taste of his future proof; lest, if his perfection should have shewed itself without warning to the world, it should have been entertained with more wonder than belief. Now this act of his childhood shall prepare the faith of men by fore-expectation. Notwithstanding all this early demonstration of his divine graces, the incredulous Jews could afterwards say,
" Whence hath this man his wisdom and great works?” What would they have said, if he had suddenly leapt forth into the clear light of the world! The sun would dazzle all eyes, if he should break forth at his first rising into his full strength: now he hath both the day-star to go before him, and to bid men look for that glorious body, and the lively colours of the day to publish his approach : the eye is comforted, not hurt by his appearance.
The parents of Christ went up yearly to Jerusalem, at the feast of the passover : the law was only for the males. I do not find the blessed Virgin bound to this voyage; the weaker sex received indulgence from God. Yet she, knowing the spiritual profit of that journey, takes pains voluntarily to measure that long way every year. Piety regards not any distinction of sexes or degrees, neither yet doth God's acceptation; rather doth it please the mercy of the Highest, more to reward that service which though he like in all, yet out of favour he will not impose upon all. It could not be, but that she, whom the Holy Ghost overshadowed, should be zealous of God's service. Those that will go no further than they are dragged in their religious exercises, are no whit of kin to her whom all generations shall call blessed.
The child Jesus, in the minority of his age, went up with his
parents to the holy solemnity, not this year only, but, in all likelihood, others also : he, in the power of whose Godhead,