A SERMON TOUCHING PRAYER and MERCY.
And he said, Cornelius, thy Prayer is heard, and thy Alms are in remembrance before God.
WE have in this Chapter two great doubts resolved: the one a Souldiers, the other a Preachers; both consult God, and he resolves both. The Souldier was one Cor∣nelius, and his scruple was about our blessed Saviour, not touching his offices or his nature, (he knew that there was no other name under heaven where by he could be saved) but the doubt was touching his person, whe∣ther this pariscular man, which the Apostles cryed up, and the Pharisees cryed downe, whether he were that Christ, that Saviour, yea or no: This was the doubt, and this doubt sends him unto God in a way of prayer, and God sends him unto Peter the Apostle for information: Peter (the second person) is not without his scruple also; his doubt was, with what war∣rant he might go to the Gentiles (such Cornelius was) & preach Page 2Christ unto them; he also receives satisfaction from the same gracious hand; & now these parties met together, for their fur∣ther confirmation peruse and read their Commission. First, Cornelius begins (at Peters motion) and shewes upon what wa∣rant he sent for Peter, & gives a very good account of himself, and does very punctually relate the businesse, not by way of oftentation, to boast of himselfe, but by way of satisfaction to give content unto Peter; he gives him to know how that he had certaine intelligence from heaven about this whole busi∣nesse of sending for him: for 1. he did use none but Gods meanes to be directed, that is, Fasting and Prayer; and then next, he received a direct answer from God, and there could not possibly be any place for mistake in the same; he well re∣members how long agoe it was that he received his instructi∣on, (four dayes since) sayes he, no longer. 2. Then he remem∣bers where he was (in his house.) 3. he remembers what he was then doing, he was then (praying.) 4. he remembers what time of the day it was (the ninth houre of the day.) 5. he remembers the Messenger that was sent, he came in the shape of a man, though he were an Angel, and (in bright shining apparell) 6. he remembers the message what it was, and what the direction: 1. he calls him by name, and next he wishes him to go to such a place (Joppa) there to enquire for one cal∣led (Simon) this Simon lay at another (Simon's house) that Si∣mon was (a Tanner) he lived by the (Sea-side;) all these circum∣stances were delivered to Cornelius, so that as certainly as Pe∣ter was Peter, and he Cornelius, so sure it is that there could be no collusion or mistake in this businesse, and there∣upon he concludes, that Peter had a warrant to come, and he a warrant to send, and therefore now nothing hindred, but that they might fall on to their work; this is Cornelius his account of himselfe; we will stay at this time in this account of his, and in this verse which we have propounded to you, where we have these particulars observable.
First, a double Act reported, he prayed, he gave Almes.
And then secondly, this double Act is set forth from a dou∣ble Argument.
- 1. From the cause of this, Cornelius. Page 3
- 2. From the consequence of these, his Prayer was heard, his Almes were observed, both were accepted and (recorded) by God: these be the parts of the Text.
As for the simple tearmes, we shall not trouble you with many words, they are plaine enough, we will not stand here to discourse of the severall acceptations of the first word, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, it is taken sometimes for the service, and some∣times for the place where the service was performed;* especi∣ally in Ecclesiasticall Authors, and in after times: we under∣stand what is meant by Prayer in this place; this Prayer, it is called Cornelius his Prayer, (thy prayer) sayes the Text. It is true, that all good things, and especially prayer is causally Gods, and it is objectively Gods; it begins from him, it ends in him, but it is subjectively and interpretatively Cornelius'es too; it is true, it is God that gives us the grace of prayer, as the grace of faith, of repentance, of every good thing; but then the acting and the exercising of this, that by interpretation and accep∣tation is ours, whiles we doe act the same; so that God is not said to beleeve, or to repent, or to pray, but man by Gods assistance, as Austen well:* This is all we will say for the first word, the rest we will speak of in order as we shall come to them, if need shall so require: in the meane time we addresse our selves to some instructions which the words offer to us; we will not trouble you with the wild conceits of some men, who talk of certaine preparations to grace before grace it selfe(a) instancing Cornelius: nor yet of others, who doe speak of heathens and infidels, their acceptance with God, and their salvation by God, though they have no knowledge at all(b) of Christ: it is sufficient for us to know, that Cor∣nelius was acquainted with Christ, and that Cornelius did expect salvation onely by Christ; the onely doubt that he sticks at was this; whether this individuall person, this man now in question, that was lately crucified, now was raised up, whether this were that Christ, that Messias that he had beleeved in before: These things thus premised, we will now proceed. And here it is not my meaning to enter into those vast common places of Prayer, and of Almes-deeds; we have had occasion even in this City to speak, divers yeers since, in Page 4another place to these heads; we are now to speak another way, and to consider these things as they lye here in the Re∣lation made by Cornelius, and as they carry with them Gods answer to the one, Gods respect to the other.
1. We will begin with his Prayer, next we will speak of his Almes, rather of the successe of both; and then in the third place, we will say somewhat of his person, when we have spoken of his actions, if time and strength will give.
1. We beseech you to take notice of the unspeakable good∣nesse & graciousuesse of God towards poore suppliants in point of prayer,* for that is the thing we must grow to; and for this, consider the grounds in the Text, consider the person now in question, Cornelius, a poore man, was in a very great streight, faine he would please God, faine he would save his soule; nei∣ther of these could be done without a Christ, and Christ must now be beleeved, in a higher and closer way then before; it is not enough for him to beleeve, Christians, or in Christs, but he must beleeve that this is the very Christ, that this is the man and none else. Now here sticks the doubt; the Do∣ctors were mightily divided about this point; the Pharisees and those happily that had been meanes of his conversion from heathenisme to Judaisme, they were altogether against Christ, and looked upon him, and reported him as a seducer. On the other side, a few unlearned men they stood for him, and they preached that there was no other way to salvation but in and through this crucified person; in this case, what should poore Cornelius doe more then what he did? namely, to betake himselfe to God in way of prayer, and to desire di∣rection from him in this his doubt; and thus he does, and you see with what successe he does it, how graciously the Lord does condescend and answer him.
1. The Lord does heare him, nay, he does heare him effe∣etually, for that is the force of the word here used in the com∣pound in our Text,*〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉.
God did heare him to purpose, I say, heard him graciously; and not onely so, 2. but he does send him word that he heard him, and sent him word too 3. by an Angel, and gives him 4. to understand, how that his prayer and all his services Page 5are accepted of God. Oh! what a comfort was this to a poor di∣stressed soul, to have so punctuall, so direct an answer sent him from heaven unto his prayer, and unto his scruples! but thus deales God with his Children, never more kind unto his, then when they come unto him begging; then when men be∣gin to be shye and strange, and to stand off, and to hold off at a distance, then is God most free, most open, most gracious unto his people; this we see in this Cornelius here;
Now if you would know a reason of this, why God shewes himselfe so gracious to us in the time and case of prayer; [Reas. 1] the reason is not from any worth of our persons, or of our prayers, in themselves considered: for alas! what are they in the sight of God? or what need hath he of any service from us at all? you know in the law the burning and broyling of so many beasts, especially with hides and all (as sometime it fell out) was a thing that yeelded no savoar of rest at all in it selfe: Page 7what could come from this, but a filthy smoak, a filthy stench? but then there was added thereto wine & oyle, and incense of Gods appointment, and so it was Gods Ordinance, and then there was a savour of rest in it: Think the same for our pravers too, as they come from us, and are onely ours; there's nothing in them of worth or acceptance: But when Gods Spirit is in it, when Gods incense, Gods perfume is put to it, with his blessing upon his owne way and Ordi∣nance, then they come to be accepted, not (I say) simply, be∣cause they are ours, but because they are Gods; [Affirma∣tion. 2] God goes up∣on his owne motives, he graces and respects our prayers; but why? because he loves prayers as his owne, and the party pray∣ing as his owne; and because he delights in mercy prayed for, and for other reasons that we shall give you by and by.
First of all, God, he does love prayer, Pro. 15.8. The pray∣er of the righteous is his delight; it is Gods musick, it is re∣creation; it is called incense, in this respect it is pleasing and acceptable unto God, prayer is his delight, because that it is his own appointment and Ordinance, and that Ordinance that sets God in the Throne (if I may so speak) I meane that repre∣sents him as God unto his people; for we never give unto God the glory of himselfe untill such time as we fall a pray∣ing; but prayer gives away all from the creature, it carries all to God; and so sets up God, and therefore God is pleased with prayer, and delights in the same.
And then againe, God loves the party praying (we speak of Gods children that doe pray) I say, he loves the party praying too; and when the person is accepted, then you know any thing passes very well; let that Damosell, in Mark 6.22. please Herod, though in a toy, you know what Herod sayes to her straight, aske what thou wilt (sayes he) it shall be given unto thee; let Esther please Ahasuerus, and then shee need not wooe him, he will wooe her; speak (sayes he) O Queen Esther, what is thy petition, and what is thy request? and it shall be granted unto thee. God delights in the per∣sons of his children, he loves them dearly; and because they are so precious in his eyes, their prayers and their entreaties are very welcome to him, John 16.26.Page 8
Thirdly, God is a God that delights in mercy, as the Scrip∣ture tels us;*he delights in mercy, sayes Jeremy: and, sayes Micah, mercy pleases him: God is very well pleased when he hath an opportunity to shew his bounty, and to exercise his mercy, and his graciousnesse towards his people (and when he finds them on their knees, then they are in a capacity of mercy:) God is pleased with this, even to scatter mercy, and to shew himselfe a bountifull God, he delights herein, therefore does even heap mercy upon his people when they are capable of the same: Hitherto, sayes Christ in the 16. of John 24. hi∣therto you have asked nothing in my name, aske and you shall receive. Nothing, that is, nothing to speak of, as if he would say, nothing that I value at any thing, I doe not satisfie my selfe in that which I have done for you hitherto, you have hitherto asked nothing to speak of, aske more, I am ready to give you more; so large are his bowels and his favours to∣wards his people; God stands disposed to his when they come asking, as Naaman sometimes did, 2 King 5. toward Gehezi; Gehezi comes to aske one talent, and one suit of raiment for each Levite (that he suggests and sues for;) but what sayes Naaman to him? nay, take two; one is too little, take two, and the Text tels us that he did presse him, and heaps them upon him: So deales God with his people when they come to him for mercy and for kindnesse; nay (sayes God) take more, or at least, I would you were capable of more, I could as willingly give it, as you are willing to re∣ceive it, if the stay were not on your owne part: God loves mercy, and therefore is ready to entertaine the prayers of his children when they come for mercy. As there are these rea∣sons taken from Gods gracious and blessed nature, so others may be added from other occasions.
Fourthly, from the engagements that lye upon God, in re∣gard of his free and gracious promises; promises very free and very large, both for the matter that we shall ask; ask what∣soever you will,* ask in my name (sayes Christ) you shall re∣ceive it: as also for the measure, open thy mouth wide (sayes God) and I will sill it: as also for the time when God will doe it, before you speak I will heare, and while you are speaking Page 9I will answer, in the 65. of Isatah. I forbeare to name other places, because they are familiarly knowne to you, so that God having engaged himself by promise to doe great things, and (as he sayes in the Prophet) to be very gracious unto his people in point of prayer,* therefore certainly he will be as good as his word.
And last of all, (which is the maine reason of all in truth) the reason is from Christ, and from that Covenant and tran∣saction that passes between Christ and his Father: Christ, he presents our prayers, nay, we present Christ unto his Father; God looks upon a Christian as a piece and a member of Christ, he looks upon his prayer, as the fruit of Christs in∣tercession and Priestdome; our prayers (being Saints) are in∣dited by Christs Spirit, and are presented by Christs hand un∣to his Father; they are perfumed with his intercession, and with his incense,* and therefore it is certaine they be very pleasing to God: God for Christs sake will deny none that come in the name and in the Spirit of the Lord Christ; nay, God hath left the whole dispensation of this businesse unto the Lord Christ, and hath referred all to him, even to doe what he will with the Saints in the Church, as sometimes Ahasuorus did with Esther, left it to her what she would have done for her people and against her enemies; and as some∣times Pharaoh said to Joseph,
[Use 1] * First of all, this must instruct us in regard of time past, it Page 10must be matter of humbling and of blushing unto us, that we have not answered the Lord, and returned according to the kindnesse that we have received, we doe not give unto God the glory of his goodnesse and of his graciousnesse in answering prayer, but come many times with a great deale of feare, appeare before him with many doubts, and returne from him with a great deale of sadnesse and heavinesse: Oh! how does this offend and displease God? The Emperour was sor∣ry that any man should come to offer a Petition to him,* as if he were to offer meat to an Elephant (as he said) with a trembling hand: Another, he was sorry to see any man goe sadly out of his presence; and can the Lord doe otherwise,, but take it unkindly (as it were) at his peoples hands, who are so deare unto him, whenas they are so jealous, so doubtfull, so fearfull how they shall be accepted, and speed, when they come in point of prayer to him? Well, that is a thing we are to blame our selves for first.
* And then in the second place,this teaches us for the pre∣sent to take notice of Gods goodnesse this way, and to blesse and praise him for this his free grace, in hearing poore sinners, and poore Petitions put up unto him from time to time: This David took notice of, he would love the Lord, because God heard his prayer in one Psalme:* In another he blesses God, Blessed be God (sayes he) that thou hast not reje∣cted my prayer, nor turned thy mercy from me, Psal. 66.3. Blessed be God, why? that God did not scorne his prayer, that God did not fling it away from him with indignation; thus David: And truly, if we did truly understand the infi∣nite distance that is between God and us, and those many, many flawes and defects that be in our prayers and services; did we understand these things aright (his Excellency, and our owne lesle then nothingnesse) certainly we could not but stand in admiration at his goodnesse this way: Let me expresse my selfe unto you in a comparison, thus: Suppose that we must alwayes in all our suits apply our selves unto the King, and goe to him with our Petitions, what a busi∣nesse would this be? Consider of it I beseech you, 1. what a long journey we must take; and then, how long we must Page 11wait; and then, how uncertaine we should be of any successe or gracious answer at all: Weigh these things with your selves, and then reflect upon Gods goodnesse, and admire him for the same: I inlarge it a little further: A man hath a suit un∣to an earthly King or Prince, and what must he doe? First of all he must take a long journey to the Kings Court; and then when he is there, he must find out some Courtiers, some friends to speak for him, and to make way for him, that he may have accesse; when that is done, he must wait the Kings leisure, early and late he must be ready to wait, and so stay his lei∣sure, and his pleasure: When this is done, that he hath got accesse once, and is brought into the Kings presence, how then? he is not permitted to speak his heart unto the King, and to say at large what his griefe and his affliction is; nay, he must not speak at all, onely deliver his Petition, and that he must have ready drawne, and fairly drawne, there must be no blurre in it, very briefe it must be, and very succinct, he must not speak any thing in the world that is impertinent, or that would be displeasing, but carry it so, as that he may give full content: And when all this is done, and his Petition is received, he hath not presently an answer, but he must wait and wait againe, he must follow the Court into this place, and that place; and when answer does come, it may be it is but halfe an answer and a grant, perhaps the answer is none other but a bare deniall, at least a man cannot build upon it, because he hath no promise before-hand that he shall be accepted, and that his petition shall be granted: Thus it is when we deale with an earthly Prince, when we come but upon one Petition: But now put the case that this Peti∣tion be granted, what is it? it is but for some partiall or some particular thing; 'tis not a grant that will make me happy, and that will doe my soule any good at all, I shall need more things; and what if I need againe, must I to the Court again? must I wait againe? must I run the same round I ran before? Oh how troublesome, how costly, how tedious would this be unto me? And if this be so (my brethren) as you know it is, then I beseech you doe but consider how infinitely we stand bound to Almighty God for his goodnesse and his gra∣ciousnesse Page 12towards us this way: Alas! we need him every houre, and when we need him we may goe to him when we will, he is alwayes at leisure; come in the night and wel∣come, come in the day and welcome; and when we come, he is ready to receive us: his doors (as the doors of the Tri∣bunes once in Rome) are never shut, they alwayes stand open for petitioners that shall come unto him; and thou mayest there speak thy mind, and speak thy heart; all thy feares, all thy griefes, all thy wants thou mayest tell him at large, how the case stands with thee, and speak it in thy owne language, in such English and such termes as thou art able for to utter and to speak; and if thy Petition be not right, he will cor∣rect it and make it good for thee, he will alter it, he will mend it for thy advantage, and for thy benefit; and if it be too short, he will supply it, and bid thee put in more; and when he hath laded thee with mercy from his presence, as sometimes Boaz did Ruth, then he will give in charge that thou shouldest come againe to morrow, and that thou shouldst not be too long from him; he layes it as a charge upon thee, that thou shouldst not be a stranger to him, but that thou shouldst make use from time to time of his kindnesse, and the oftener the better welcome still: This, this is the graci∣ousnesse of our God unto his poore people; we need not goe farre, but step into our closets, there unbowell our selves, and unbosome our soules, and acquaint him with our sorrowes and griefes, and he is ready to heare us, and willing to passe by infirmities, and to accept of our weak (very weak) prayers, when they are put up in truth and in humility. Oh consider of this, and let the meditation of this now stirre you up unto thankfulnesse to God; his grace, his goodnesse is so great this way, as that I am swallowed up in the meditation of it, and I have not words to expresse what his tendernesse and his graciousnesse is unto us in every one petition that we put up unto him; you doe not know what a friend you have of God, and how many, many favours and kindnesses he shewes you in any one Petition that he hearkens unto, and grants to you at any time.Page 13
In the last place, this looks forward too,* and it teaches us a third thing, and then we have done with the first part: The thing is this: Sith God is so gracious towards his people impoint of prayer, therefore we should be invited now, and encouraged to make use of this his kindnesse, and to goe to him upon this errand of prayer, as need shall require: Let us, I beseech you, think as meanly of our selves, and of our services as you will; but let us alwayes have high thoughts of God, and when we come to him in his owne way, then promise great things to our selves: And know, that he is able and ready to doe abundantly above that we can speake or think (as the Apostle tels us;) thus we should goe to God,* and of his goodnesse herein we have a great deale of experience; if we will not beleeve the promises that are very gracious, yet let us beleeve our owne experience this way to trust in him: hath not God been gracious to us in particular, hath not God been gracious to us in common, for the publike, when we have sought unto him in this way of prayer? If so, then let us conclude, that God is a constant God, his power as great as ever, his love as much as ever, his truth the same for ever; he loves prayer as well as ever he did; he loves Christ as well as ever he did, who is our Mediator; and he loves the persons of the Elect as much as ever he did; he delights in mercy as much as ever; therefore let this encourage us to goe to God in all our afflictions and distresses, whether they are personall, or whether they are publike.
1. For our personall defects, and our personall distresses, let us goe to God as Cornelius here does; Cornelius he is in a streight, and it was in a point of great concernment, he must resolve one way or other, off or on; either be for this Christ, or against him; Cornelius knew not which way to resolve, he prayes therefore, he desires God that he would enlighten him, that he would direct him: Oh! let us doe the like in these distressed times, when there be such divisions and distractions in the Church of God, and amongst the people of God, that a poore simple body knowes not what is right, and what is Page 14truth, and what is not; knowes not which side to adhere un∣to: Some call him this way, and some call him that way; and another sayes this is right, and you must goe this way if ever you will be saved; and another speaks quite to the con∣trary: What now should a poore man doe? Doe as Cornelius did, goe unto God alone, pray, fast, importune him, desire him that he will teach thee, that he will resolve thee, desire him that he would send some Peter to thee, some Preacher, some Divine or other, that may settle thee and confirme thee in the way that thou shouldst goe: Thus if we doe, God will be the same to us that he was unto Cornelius, God heard him, and God will heare us too, though he doe not send an Angel from Heaven as he did to him, yet he will send some Peter, he will send some direction whereby we shall receive some satis∣faction, at least for those things that are simply necessary and fundamentall; he will discover so much unto us, as shall be accepted, and as shall guide us unto his Heavens: This is his promise, Psal. 25. he will guide the meek in his way, and he will teach sinners the way, and he will shew unto them his sal∣vation; and in John 7.17. sayes our Saviour, He that will doe the will of God, he shall know the doctrine whether it be of God or no: If a man in humility of spirit, and in sincerity and truth of heart will goe to God for direction, as Cornelius did, resolving with him, I and mine are here before God, and whatsoever God shall speak unto us in his ministery, we are rea∣dy to doe it, and to follow it: If any man will doe thus, it is certaine that God will give him a resolution and a settle∣ment, and such a settlement as shall be acceptable (as we said before) and shall give satisfaction to his soule. What I speak of this particular (because the very case leads me to it, in my Text) that we may say of all other things too: Carry all thy feares to God, and all thy sorrowes to God, and all thy scruples to God, acquaint him with thy case, and beg help and strength from him, he is able, he is ready to heare. Yea but will he heare (me?) Yea thee, he will heare thee. Oh! but my prayers are weak, and poore: He is a gracious God, he passes by infirmities, doe what thou art able to doe, and Page 15he is as ready to help thee as Cornelius. 2. What we say for private men, that we may say much more now, in the publike Case, when it comes to publike prayer, and to matter of a publike concernment, here we should be encouraged to goe to God: Is God so ready to heare prayer? does he so graciously answer and accept of poore and weak prayer? Then, I beseech you, why should not we goe to God in respect of the King∣dome, in respect of the Church, and in respect of the present condition that we lye under now? Oh! let us all set a praying; pray home the King, pray downe Antichrist, pray up the Lord Christ into his Throne, pray against the sinnes of the Land, that they may be removed, and all those obstructions that doe hinder the successe of our prayers from day to day; for cer∣tainly there are very strange and great obstructions that lye in the way, otherwise; it were not possible for our gra∣cious God that is so ready to heare the Petitions of one poore man, to stand out so long against the suits and pe∣titions of all the people in a whole Nation; the obstructi∣ons are great, pray all these out of the way. Of these I will instance one or two. I will leave the rest in regard of my haste.
* One maine thing which probably hinders our successes in prayer is the blood that lyes upon the Land, that is a heavy thing, that lyes heavy upon the heart of the Land. 'Tis said, 2 King. 24.4. that God would not pardon the blood that Manasses shed in Jerusalem; he filled: Jerusalem and the Land from corner to corner with innocent blood; God (sayes the Text there) would not pardon this sinne: Nay, this sinne lived some successions, after that Manasses was dead. Oh! this sinne, this sinne threatens this Land of ours! this blood that lyes upon the Land, the blood that was shed heretofore in the dayes of Queen Mary, that innocent blood that hath been shed since by this unhappy difference that is amongst us: Oh! the Sea of blood that runs through this Land; who must be responsall, who must be answerable for this? this is a great sinne that obstructs our prayers much. It behooves us, Beloved, to doe as God ordered them in Deut. 21.8. when Page 16there was innocent blood shed, and the murderer could not be found out, then the neighbouring Townes they must goe forth, they must slay a Beast, offer a Sacrifice, wash their hands, pray to God; Oh Lord! be mercifull unto the Land, and un∣to our Cities, lay not to our charge this blood! So must we doe in this case; Oh Lord, be mercifull unto this poore Land almost drowned in blood, doe not charge upon us this blood, lay not to our charge this innocent blood, but accept of a Sacrifice, and an atonement: That is one thing we must pray against, as a maine obstruction.
[ 2] And another is this, non. execution of Justice; let David in 3 Sam. 21. let David (I say) wait, and stay, and pray from yeer to yeer for the removall of the stroke that was then up∣on the Land, untill such time as execution be done upon the bloody house of Saul, there will be no cessation of that stroke and of the famine that was then upon them; but assoone as ever that was done, and justice executed, presently the face of the State was changed, and the Lord shewed himselfe a recon∣ciled God: Oh! let us pray here againe, that God would stirre up many a Phinehas in this age, and that he would give the spirit of Phinehas to those that be in authority,* that they may doe execution; and so the plague may cease: Now it is said of Phinehas, he did an execution, so the plague ceased: Let us pray, that there may be found in this City, and in other parts of the Kingdome, such a man as Jeremy describes, chap. 5.1. A man that does judgement, a man that seeks for truth (he is a man) a publike man that stands in the gap: pray, that we may have such to stand in the breach.
[ 3] And then thirdly; there is a third obstruction and that is the fearfill indisposition to peace that is amongst us, and an aptnesse to quarrell and fall out within our selves; I speak not onely of that outward warre that is abroad, but I speak of another businesse within our selves; if God would put up his sword, it is a question whethen we would put up ours, yea or no: I am afraid of a sacred warre, if the civill warre were once ended and determined; many spirits are so imbittered one against another, men are so inchanted with their owne Page 17conceits and opinions, that they will put all into a combusti∣on, rather then they will lay downe any one conceit, or any one quarrell or contention that they have engaged themselves in; this is a fearfull thing; how can we look that God should put an end to our warres, when we are so willing to be at warre one with another, brother against brother, and friend against friend, without any difference almost?
[ 4] But last of all, there is another, and that summes up all; and that is our unworthy carriage towards God in the midst of so many meanes and mercies: He hath given us his Word; we sleight that; he hath made a Covenant with us, and we have renewed the Seale thereof, many of us (I doubt not) of late: this Covenant we falsifie, we prophane and abuse; the Lord hath executed some judgements amongst us, and what use doe we make of them? where is the man (almost) that is one whit reformed, or much the better for all these miseries and ca∣lamities that have come upon the State, and upon the Land? this, this is the sinne, the provoking sinne, that we are too∣to incorrigible this way, and tooto backward to improve those meanes and those judgements which are amongst us: For this God might justly have a controversie with the Land; Oh! let us pray, let us pray, that we may be of one mind, and of one judgement, that so there may be peace in our Land, peace in our Churches, peace in our worships, that we doe not fight against our selves in our prayers: And let us pray in the next place, that we may make better use of the Word, and of the ministery thereof; that we may make better use of former corrections, and former judgements then we have done, that so the Lord at length may look upon us, and when we are humbled and doe accept of his punishment, may then. remember the Land, our distressed Land, our reeling Land, our dying Land, that God in mercy may then think upon it, and heale it: Thus we should labour, even to pray unto God for the publike, that all hinderances may be removed, and all furtherances expedited, whereby our happinesse may be recovered and resetled: And why should we not set upon this work now? what reason have we to be dismaid? [Object.] Happily some Page 18will suggest, we see our prayers doe not take, and that we doe not succeed as we would; nay, the Lord frownes upon us, and hides his face from us. [Sol.] Yea, but hang upon him still, pray still, follow him still; doe as Cornelius did, think of a Reformation; lay not all upon praying, and all upon fasting, but doe more, as he does; Cornelius prayes, but he feares God too; Cornelius prayes, but he reformes his Family too, (he had Servants, yea, Souldiers too, that feared God in his Family;) Cornelius prayes, but he hath respect to all Gods Commande∣ments, to both Tables as well as unto one: Cornelius prayes, but he is faithfull in the particular place and calling wherein God had set him; he was a good Souldier, he was a faithfull Officer and Centurion in the place that he did sustaine; and when as we are thus universally good, sutable unto our selves, that we are good Christians, and that we are good Masters, and that we are good Commanders, and that we are good Souldiers, (good and faithfull in the particular places wherein God hath set us) then our prayers will passe, and then God will be so gracious to us, as he was unto Cornelius: And so we leave that poynt with you.
The next thing Cornelius does, is a work of mercy; he gives Almes; he was not onely a just man, but he was a mercifull man, & was mercifull throughout; he had a mercifull hand, and he had a mercifull heart: The word here used 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, with words of that forme & termination, as 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, and the like, is very comprehensive; it implyes and concludes both, affection & affection, so that he does exercise mercy with a very merci∣full and a gracious heart and affection: The thing here direct∣ly spoken of is the fruits of his mercy, the effects thereof, as the plurall does shew us; and these are said for to be before God; they are before God, as they are acted by Cornelius; he did them in sincerity; and they are before God, as they are recor∣ded by God too, God sets them upon record, would keep them in memory, they are remembred of God, as the Text here tels us. I shall not need to tell you how that memory is too low a thing for to be properly ascribed unto God, he is one that sees and knowes all things at once, sub uno codemque Page 19intuitis, so that he hath no use of memory at all, but the Lord is pleased to apply himselfe to our capacity, and to con∣descend to us; and the plaine meaning is this, [Doct.] that God does observe and book (there is a condescention in that expression too;) God observes, and God does book (I say) every act, and every work of mercy that is done by his Servants, and by his People; God takes notice of them all, and notes them, in their circumstances, and with the particularities of the same; he observeth 1. who it is that does a work of mercy, [ 1] Cornelius: he observeth 2. what's the thing that he does, he [ 2] does (many Acts) of mercy, and that mercy properly, which hath respect unto mans present life and livelyhood, that is the mercy here spoken of: 3. He takes notice how much mercy [ 3] a man shewes; he gave much Almes, as 'tis said in this Chap∣ter; and Doras made many Coates for many poore persons:* God takes notice of 4. the Time when a man shewes mercy; [ 4] Obadiah in a hard time, he hid a hundred Prophets, and shew∣ed them mercy then, 1 King. 18.5. God takes 5. notice how [ 5] a man does mercy, with what heart, and with what inlarge∣ment of affection, as he does those Macedonians, 2 Cor. 8. that they in their extreame poverty, did shew mercy to their power, and beyond their power: 6. Yea, God takes [ 6] notice of the least degree of mercy that is shewed by his Ser∣vants to any of his people, even to a little cake of bread, as he does in the Book of Kings in the Widow;* and to one cup of cold water, as he he does in the Gospell; verily, if a man give but a cup of water; (water) that is a cheap thing; cold water, no matter either of cost or paines; sayes he, if he gives such a cup of water to the least of mine, it shall not be forgot∣ten, it shall be rewarded: So that God, you see, takes parti∣cular notice, writes downe,* books downe every act and work of mercy that is done by his people. I could be large in proving of this now, but I shall not need to say more to such an understanding auditory; I must hasten, in regard of the time and my owne strength.
[Reas. 1] What may be the grounds and reasons of this, that God does thus book and write downe every work of mercy?* The reason Page 20is not from the worth (as we said before, of prayer:) So here, not from the worth of our works, and of those Almes that we are able to give; as the Farmers of merit in another world and in another Church use for to speak, who are very high in their expressions this way, touching their Mercy, their Alms, their good Deeds, for which they expect a great deale of thanks, and respect frow God,* but without reason; for cer∣tainly (as one hath well observed) it is very true that many of those things which they called works of merey, were in∣deed the works of ponance, and were but mulcti, fines & amerce∣ments, laid upon them by their Confessors for faults that they had committed; and certaine it is, that many of those that they did so bragge and boast of, are more ours a great deale then theirs: However the Doners were cainted and sun∣burnt with some particulais of Popery; yet in the maine, many of them were moreours, then theirs: So that they have no reason to bragge that way. In truth, what is a mans mercy to God? our goodnesse reacheth not to him; whac can we give him, but what is his owne already, and what he hath given us first? So that that cannot be the reason why God respects our niercy, for any worth or dignity that is in our Almes: But the reason is this; God is pleased in Christ to look upon our persons, and then next to accept of our sorvices for Christs sake; * [Affirmat. 2] and so in particular of our Almes: God is pleased to respect them, because they are expressions of Christs Spirit, and the fruits of his owne Spirit, and because they are Seales of our obedience, and of our thankfulnesse unto him; and because that they are meanes of refreshing the bowels of his poore Servaints. For these causes, and under these names and notions it is, that God takes notice of our Almes and Works of mercy, and daignes to regard and write them: Write them, how? not to help his owne memory (that needs not) but to help our Faith, and to help our Love, that we should be encouraged in this way to doe works of mercy. I have spoken as briefly as I can unto the point, and yet, I think, sufficient for so plaine a point as this is. All the bu∣sinesse here lyes in the Application and the Use of this.Page 21
[Use 1] And the Uses (Honoured and Peloved) are these.
If this be so, that God takes particular notice, and writes downe every work of mercy that is done; then this speakes but sad newes unto divers sorts of people.
The first are such men as are meere strangers unto merey, [ 1] and the fruits thereof; they were never guilty of such a thing as Mercy and Almes-deeds: If you compare the Books (Gods and theirs) together, you shall find the Books much what alike unto some Almanacks, that are full of letters, both red and black & bloody on one side, but on the other side there is fair paper, a waste empty blank, that is all that is to be found there: Even so it is with many a mans books, if he be a true recorder of his works of mercy: On the one side, you shall find, Item, so much spent upon Pride, and so much spent up∣on Lust, and so much spent upon Revenge, and so much spent at Dice, and so much spent in Playes, and so much spent up∣on sinne and Wickednesse; this side is full of what hath been laid out touching themselves, and for themselves in pursu∣suance of their lusts: But now when it comes to a work of mercy, what have you done for God? what for Christ? what for the members of Christ? what for the advancement of Re∣ligion? or any pious work or service? what shall you sind there? Even a blank, meere cyphers, nothing else. Oh mi∣serable men! how will these fare when they shall be called to an accompt for their Stowardship? when they have laid out all for themselves, and upon themselves and their lusts, and laid out nothing at all for God, and for the love of God. This is one sort.
But then there is another sort worse then these, and they are [ 2] such as are not onely strangers unto mercy, but are Opposites, Enemies, (as it were) to mercy; at loast they walk in a quite opposite way unto the way of mercy: These, why these do not feed the poor, but they flay them; they do not cloath them, but they strip them; they make not any provision for them, but cast how utterly to ruine and to undoe them: In stead of hea∣ling them they wound them; in stead of relieving them, they oppresse them, and in stead of being to them any ease and Page 22comfort, they lay upon them heavy burdens, heavy pressures: This is a black crying firme, and will prove so at the last day; what? if they in Math. 25. (as Austin well inferres thence) if they shall be shut out of Heaven, and sent from the presence of God with a curse, who have not fed the hungry, nor cleathed the naked, nor visited the imprisoned? &c. Oh then! where shall they appeare? and what shall become of them that are so farre from this, that they have done what they could to suck out the very blood of the poor members of Jesus Christ! This is a second sort.
[ 3] Nay, in the third place, let this be a matter of humbling to the best of us, for certainly we are all short in this busi∣nesse, and have cause even to blush and hang downe our heads, betwixt man and man when it comes to a contri∣bution, and we see other men underwrite, it may be, so many crownes, or so many pounds, we are ashamed to appeare in the same Roll, and to have our names listed where farthings and half-pence are set upon our heads; much more should we blush when we bring our selves into the presence of God, and there consider that God sees all we doe, all that others have done; he writes downe every mans name, every mans worke, every mans Almes, and they are bookt, and this book will be read and produced at the last day: This, this should put us to the blush, especially when we consider two things yet found up∣on us: [ 1] That is, our backwardnesse unto works of mercy; and [ 2] our barrennesse in works of mercy.
[ 1] First, for our backwardnesse; how heavily doe we come off (for the most part) in works of this kind? Mercy is by our Saviour preferred before kindnesse:* Sayes he, when thou makest a Feast, bid the poore, &c. doe not bid the rich; a man may bid his rich friends in a way of kindnesse, but (sayes Christ) preferre the other before that, mercy before kindnesse; mercy is better then kindnesse. But now (my Brethren) is it so with us? doe we set mercy above kindnesse? in way of kindnesse and neighbourhood, you know what men will doe; a friend defires you to goe a journey with him, you will goe; you will say, what though it cost me five pound? what Page 23if it be ten pound? what a matter is that betwixt friend and friend, neighbour and neighbour? When you meet together (sometimes) in a Taverne, or at an Inne upon some occasions in way of kinduesse, to drink or feast together, then happy is that man that can be rid of his money first; I'le pay sayes one; I'le pay sayes the other; you shall not pay a penny sayes the third, I'le beare all, &c. and now happy is the man that can be rid of his money quickly; it growes sometimes very neer to a quarrell, because we cannot be suffered to spend our money: Thus in works of kindnesse. But now come to a work of Mercy, how is it then? is the money then upon the Table? is every man ready to throw downe then, and to lead the way unto other men in this case? Nay then, alas! I am in debt; then, my purse is not about me; or else, when it comes to the opening of the purse, every finger is a thumb, and it is such a while before any thing will be got out, that it is very tedious and irk some to a man to behold it: Then the questi∣on is not, who shall be first? but, who shall be last? I'le see what my betters doe first, there are such and such, they are a great deale richer and better then my selfe, I will see what they doe; happy is the man here that can be hindmost: Oh! my Brethren, is not this a thing, think you, that should hum∣ble us, that should shame us? that we in way of courtesie to man should be thus free, but when it comes to works of mer∣cy for God, we should be so bound up, that we cannot cheer∣fully, almost, part with any thing? this is one of the things we fault in our selves, this same backwardnesse to workes of this kind.
But secondly, there is another thing, and that is barrennesse [ 2] in works of mercy: If a man will but compare what is en∣pended on selfe, and on the publike; what a vast difference will there appeare upon the very first view? If a man read his books, he shall find, Item so much bestowed upon Apparrell, and so much bestowed upon a Feast, and so much for my selfe, my self-credit, and my self-delight and content, my selfe I know not what, so much for selfe; there it amounts to scores, to bundreds, it may be, to thousands: But then come on the other Page 24side; how much for Gods House? how much for Gods worship? how much for charitable and for mercifull uses? and then there come two-pences and three pences, and poore short reckonings, not worthy to be accounted and summed up almost: Is it not thus (I beseech you) with many of us? are we not thus barren in works of mercy? and should not this shame us now? I hope, my Brethren, I hope, that there are none of you but will beare me company in this work, even this night before you sleep, betwixt God and your selves to confesse this your sinne, your nigardize towards God, your pinching when it comes to a work of mercy and charity; whereas you can be profuse and prodigall when it is to serve your selves, and your owne ends.
[Use 2] But this is not all; we must not onely be sorry for our fail∣ing this way, but we must labour to reforme and amend this now, to put on to this great work of charity and mercy that is underhand:* I beseech you, consider, that we are bound to it as well as Cornelius; and that we are as able many of us to doe it, as that poore Captaine was: Consider, how that we have as faire promises as ever he had, and that we have as saire opportunities: Opportunities, said I? Nay, never more opportunities then in this day in which we live; I need not tell you; you cannot be strangers to the miseries of the Land, and of this City; I am but a stranger here my selfe, yet not∣with standing, I see and know so much, that if you would be pleased, you (I meane) of the richer sort, to descend and to goe into the houses of many poore men (hundreds in some severall Parishes) and there see how they fare, and how they lodge, I am perswaded, you would be sorry, that your horse, that your dog should feed and lye no better then some of them doe: And if you would yet goe farther, and look upon many men that labour, and labour diligently, early up, and late downe, that take excessive paines for to get their bread, you should find that they be not able to afford so much woney as would buy a little fresh water to make their children drink; yea, that they are so called upon by Wife and Children with∣in, that they cannot endure the house almost, bread sayes one, Page 25'drink, sayes the other; Father, where shal's have victuals, 'oh! I am ready to sinke, I am ready to faint: It is the case of many modest men, labouring men, that toyle and take a great deale of paines, and are not able to maintaine them∣selves and their Families with their labours, you would find it so upon search made.
Shall I adde a third Instance? there are come to the City (certainly it is the honour of this City, and God will blesse the City for it, and you will all speed the better for your re∣ceiving of them;) there are come to the City, I say, a com∣pany of poore people that are driven out of the Country; they lived, some of them, in good fashion in their Country, able to relieve many poor (some of them able men that did bear office in the place where they lived;) men that stand so disposed, that they had rather halfe starve, then they would be burthen∣some to you; such there are about this Towne: Touching these I may say, that unlesse God be mercifull to them, and the times doe mend and settle, and some course be taken, many of them will be more then halfe starved. You, my Brethren, you here sit warme, you here live in plenty, live in abundance, but my heart bleeds and dyes within me, to think of the misery and desolation that I have in part seen in some parts of the Coun∣try: I must tell you, that if so be the Lord be not pleased to find out some way of reliefe for many poore people in the Country, they will be utterly starved and undone; they can∣not expect many more Harvests and crops of Corne: Well may they come up hither and eat up your plenty, but they will not be able to bring in any supplies to you, as formerly they have done: Oh! consider, and say not now, men groane without a cause, and there is not such need as men will pre∣tend: No, certainly, certainly there is great need; for many men, they have lived as long, and shifted as long as they know how to live in an honest way; the Lord pitty them, and give you hearts to tender them to your power.
Well, but things so standing, what shall I perswade you to? two things, my Brethren.
The first is this; that you would labour to make your selves Page 26able to doe somewhat: And then secondly, that you will travell with your selves, that you may be willing to doe for those that be necessitous, in misery and want.
* For the first; some man will say, Alas, how can we help it now? how (can) we help it? trade failes us; our burthens, they are heavy, and payments, they are multiplyed upon us more and more; it is not with us as it hath been, we are not able to doe what we are willing to doe.
Well, I heare your answer, I beleeve it to be true in some part: But now I bessech you, good my brethren, let us cast about a little, and see whether we may not be in some mea∣sure enabled doe for those that be in greater want then our [ 1] selves. 1. Use your hands, you that are able to labour, la∣bour and take paines,* as Paul would have you, Ephes. 4. that so you may have somewhat to spare for those that are not [ 2] able to labour or to take paines. 2. And use your heads too, set your wits awork this way, cast about and contrive as well as you can how the necessities of people may be supplied in some measure: Cast about, I say; is there no way to prevent these idle vagrants, and these persons that eat up the bread of the honest poore? Is there no way for to pull downe more of these Play-houses, I meane, Tipling-houses, Ale-houses, and the like; and to set up Working-houses, that people may have la∣bour, and that they may be set upon somewhat? is there no way for us to cast and contrive how people may be kept alive? I beseech you that are men of wisdome and understanding, that you will imploy your thoughts this way.
[ 3] 3, And then next; doe something by way of abatement, abate something, and abridge your selves a little, that you may be helpfull to others: Abate something from your backs, and something from your belltes and something from your de∣lights and recreations; be content a litile to deny your selves, (to deny your selves a latle, I say) for the supply of others. I tell you, I am verely perswaded that there would be enough saved and spared from needlesse drinking, I meane, from Wine, and Tobacco, and Strong-waters, and the like; and from trim∣mings, & laces and dresses, and such like things as are more then Page 27necessary; enough spared, I say, to supply the necessities of ma∣ny men that doe now stand in great need of very necessaries: Oh! let your Bread be a little browner, let your Tables be a little shorter, let your Coats be a little plainer, a little course; a little condescend to the wants of your poore brethren, and impart something unto them that are distressed and naked.
[Object.] You will say happily, that you must maintaine not onely Nature, but you must maintaine the honour, the port, and the credit of your places too.
[Answ.] I answer, it is true, you must, (I'le not presse you now with that which some Casuists say touching this point in case of extremity, and of meere necessity, how farre forth a man must deny himselfe that way; we will not stand upon that now) we will yeeld you that; and there will be a competency, I hope, without any such extremity: We doe not presse you that you should any way deny your selves any thing that is fit for na∣ture, that is fit for your places, and for your relations: onely I propound and offer this, whether when these are answered and satisfied competently, whether then there will not be some overplus? and if so, then I presse the point: Will you not deny your selves in a superfluity? abate a little for Christ? a lit∣tle finishnesse, and a little excesse and superfluity? What? not abate a little from a dog, from a brid, from a beast? Will you not doe thus much for Christ? Christ bated of Heaven (as it were) for the time, he was content to lay aside his glorious Robes in our misery, and in our beggery: Oh! let Christ be so much beholding to you, that you lay something out of the everplus for him and for his sake: And when you doe what you are able to doe, it is accepted; as the Apostle saith, It is accepted according to that that a man hath, and not according to that which he hath not, 2 Cor. 8.12. Thus you must labour to be able to doe works of mercy.
* But then there is a second thing; and that is, when you are able, you must be willing and ready to doe it too; you must be willing to it, I say; and here God beares us downe with a world of Arguments. 1. If we look to God, he is our friend, nay [ 1] Page 28our Father; you know, for a friend you will doe somewhat; if a friend come to you, and say, here is such a such a poore friend and Kinsman of mine in want, for my sake doe somewhat, I'le doe as much for a friend of yours; will you not do it? and will you [ 2] doe it for a friend? and will you not doe it for a God? Con∣sider Christ; Christ comes in his flesh to you, when poore Christians come to you; he presents a pale face, a thin cheeks, he presents a bare arme or leg (it may be) to you; will you not doe somewhat for to support Christ, and to cloath Christ in his members, & in his servants? shall the bones of Christ stare and stand out? shall the naked flesh and skin of Christ pine away for want of succour? 3. Adde to this: Christians them∣selves [ 3] that come unto you; alas! they are your flesh, as the Prophet sayes, Isa. 58. they are your owne flesh: What? shall the head doe nothing for the foot? and shall the hand and the eyes do nothing for the legs? what? not for its owne flesh, [ 4] and for those that be of the same body? 4. But lastly, consi∣der your selves, and have respect to your selves (if you regard none of the former,) and provide for your selves, labour to place your wealth safely, to secure it first, and then to im∣prove it next.
For the securing of it, put it into a sure hand; you know, men in these doubtfull and dangerous times cast about where they may safely place their Treasure and their Goods; some send it to a Garrison, and some (happily) passe it over the Seas into another Country. But tell me now, I beseech you, is there any place so safe as Heaven, where no thiese comes, where no plunderer comes, where no rust comes? is there any place like that? or can you put it into a better and safer hand then into the hand of God himselfe? labour to lay it where you may be sure to have it forth-comming, put it into Gods hand.
Nay, improve your estates this way: you are willing to doe that, I hope, sow, that you may reap, so the Apostle cals works of mercy:* It is a sowing; it is good husbandry for a man to sow, in payes him for his paines to sow; what you give in works of mercy, you shall reap for the same a greater Crop, and a Page 29greater harvest. Nay, what sayes Soloman? Prov. 19.17. he that gives to the poore, lends to the Lord, and the Lord will repay him againe. I beseech you, mark that place: You give to a man, but God takes it not as a gifi, he takes it as a debt; 'tis your gist, 'tis Gods debt; and he becomes the debtor and the surety for the poore man; you give to man, but you lend it to God, and God is at least debtor to himselfe and his owne truth.
Yea, but when shall I have it againe? sayes he there, God will (certainly) repay it, God will (fully and abundantly) repay it,* no man shall lose by God. My Brethren, take Gods word once, take him for your surety, and lend to him; he hath pawned his Honour and his Credit upon it, that you shall be repaid, first or last. Labour to improve your estates this way; yea, labour to settle something upon Posterity, put it into Gods hand: We will put (sometimes) a Portion into a friends hand for a child; trust God with it, he never dyes, he never breaks, he ever lives; make him your Executor, God will then provide for yours: The righteous, he gives, and he di∣stributes, and his seed enjoyes the blessing: Oh! lay up your estates with God, lend unto God, lend it upon this Publike Faith, as it were, upon Gods Faith, and God will not faile you, he will certainly repay you againe. Thus you should labour to be willing unto this good work of mercy: Many reasons more we might presse you withall: I'le onely mind you of that of our blessed Saviour, in Acts 20. where it is said (it was a Proverb of his) that it is a more blessed thing for to give, then it is to receive: Doe not you think so? doe not you think your case better to be able to reelieve others, rather then to be relieved by others? is it not in your eyes better and happier for you to have somewhat to give, then that you should be beholding to other men? sith it is a more blessed thing to give then to receive, be you more forward to give then modest men will be to receive gifts: Give cheerfully, bless. God that you have ability to give, and blesse God that you have opportnity to give, and a heart to give, and an affe∣ction to give, and make God a sharer in your wealth, and in Page 30your plenty, and your selves sharers in this blessednesse, blesse your selves, blesse your houses, blesse your estates.
[Object.] Yea but, will some man say, a man may give indeed, give a-Way all, if he will, that he hath; and then what shall become of himselfe and his?
[Answ.] The holy Ghost answers this; I referre you at your leisure to one Scripture,* in Eccles. 11.1. and so forward; where the Wise man doth prevent all the Cavils and Objections that flesh and blood is ready for to make against this work of mercy. 1. Whereas a man would say, it is but cast away all that is given, it is lost and drowned (as it were) I shall never see it againe. No, sayes Solomon, though it may seem to be a throw∣ing downe the streame; yet (sayes he) cast thy bread upon the waters, and thou shalt find it many dayes after; first or last it will returne, it is gone but a voyage, it will come back with a great returne, thou shalt find it againe many dayes after: [Object.] And whereas a man would say, alas! there is no end of giving; there be so many poore that now want, that a man may exhaust himselfe sooner then repaire and satisfie them: [Answ.] Solomon an∣swers him; give (sayes he) to seven, and give a portion also to eight; though they be many, proportion it accordingly; give to this man a little, and to that a little, that every body may have something of a little. [Object.] Yea, but I know not what times may come, and what I my selfe may be put to: Solomon an∣swers him, [Answ.] Give (sayes he) for thou knowest not what evill may be upon the earth, therefore give while thou hast some∣what to give, because thou knowest not how long thou shalt have it; therefore give, because thou knowest not what thy selfe mayest come unto: Thou mayest need mercy, therefore sow mercy, that in time of need thou mayest reap. [Object.] Yea, but, will some man say; it is true, I should pitty people, and so I doe with all my heart, I pity them with my soule, but I am not able to help them, and to relieve them; I hope, the heart wlil be accepted: [Answ.] Solomon answers, If the Clouds be full of water they will drop down raine, that is certaine; if there be abun∣dance of raine there, the Cloud will not keep it all to it selfe, it will impart it to the thirsty and hungry ground: So Page 31must we doe: thou hast mercy and charity in thy heart, and it pitties thy heart to see men in this misery: Oh! remember, if there be water in the Clouds some of it will drop downe; if there be mercy in thy heart, there will be some in thy hand too. [Object.] Yea, but will some men say yet further; if I were well seated & accommodated, then I could spare somewhat; but alas! I live in a corner, I live out of the way, I have no great trading, and it is not with me as it is with many others, I cannot give: [Answ.] So∣lomon answers you; whether the Tree (sayes he) stands south, or whether it stands north; in a more fruitfull, or in a more barren place, yet it is the Lord's Tree still, cadit Domino, it fals to him, and it beares fruit to him, and so it will be with us too: If we be good Trees, let us live in the north or in the south, in a better place, or in a worse habitation, if so be we be good, somewhat will be comming, and we will yeeld some fruit; so Solomon tels us. [Object.] Yea, this is true, if so be a man did know how it would be accepted; I could find In my heart (in∣deed) to give, but I know not how it will be taken; poore men are captious, and they will not take a little; and rich men will take exceptions: some will say, I doe it out of pride and ambition, and raise me (it may be) higher in the Subsidie book, because I am so forward and free of my purse, so that I know not what to doe: [Answ.] Solomon answers you; he that ob∣serves the wind and the raine shall never plow, never sow; if a man will be still objecting, he shall never goe on with any work or service whatsoever. [Object.] Yea, but I know not the parties to whom I give; there are many hypocrites and dissemblers, that pretend a great deale of want when there is no such matter: if I did know the men, it were another matter: [Answ.] Solomon an∣swers; Neither doest thou know how the child growes in the womb of her that is with child, but for all that thou must not starve the child; we must labour to doe that which is fit for us to doe, to follow our light, and our best wisdome and discretion, and when we have so done, leave the rest to God, whose providence works (as it were) under the ground for us, as for the child. [Object.] Yea, but I find in experience that I have been cheated and abused by fellowes heretofore, and that puts me Page 32off now, and discourages me: [Answ.] Solomon answers thee; in the morning sow thy feed (saves he) and in the night let not thy hand slack: thou knowest not which shall prosper, this or that; or whether both shall be alike; therefore cast not perils, but venture it (as it were) venture it sometimes, when thou hast nothing to the contrary, thou knowest not but it may succeed very well: howsoever, what thou doest in uprightnesse, and with thy best discretion, that God will accept, and that God will take in good part: Thus Solomon, you see, does wipe off those Objections that flesh, and blood, and unbeliefe is apt to make. I could (if it were needful now) adde more which are answered sufficiently by many, specially by two of the Fathers, which professedly writ upon this Argument; the one is Cyprian, and the other is Basil, and I must referre Schol∣lers unto them: I should now adde some rules for your better working,* as touching the ground and order of your giving; you must 1. give your selves to God, as Paul saith; 2. for matter, give your owne, whence Almes tearmed often righ∣teousnesse by the Hebrewes and the 70. 3. for time, doe it quickly whilst you live,* and men live, and not (as later Jewes doe) give for the dead, But of these and other rules I have spoken elsewhere, and you may read every where: and therefore I here conclude this Point. And now we have done with the two Acts of Cornelius; we heare what he was in point of Prayer, we heare what he was in point of Almes too: I perceive the time hath deceived me, and there∣fore I will but touch upon the third point: I crave your pati∣ence so long.
We have spoken of the things selves; here is yet something that would be said of the Person, that is, Cornelius; he was a Gentile, and (as it should seem) none of the best of the Gen∣tiles neither, an Italian, his Name, his Band, and his Host speak that way somewhat.
This Cornelius was also a Souldier, and amongst Souldiers an Officer; and yet notwithstanding, you see, that he was a praying man, a very godly, a very devout, a very mercifull man.Page 33
[Doct.] The thing that hence we had thought to have observed, is this:
That there is no outward disadvantages that can excuse us from Gods service, or exempt us from Gods acceptance; we will put in both: He served God, and he is accepted of God, notwithstanding his Country and his disadvantages; so that let a mans Country be what it will, let his calling be what it will, let his condition be what it will, if he serves God, God will accept of him, and of his services. We note this the ra∣ther, because that Peter gives us the note in the 34. verse of this Chapter; I perceive indeed (sayes he) that God is no respecter of persons, but in every Nation he that feares God, and works righteousnesse, is accepted of God, let him be what he will: but I dare not stand to prosecute this point.
[Use] All that we will now say for the Application of it, is thus much:
First, it takes off that lazy excuse that is made by many men; they would serve God, and they would pray, and they [ 1] would doe much, that they would, but they are not accom∣modated accordingly: there be lets and hinderances in the way; the Time serves not, and the Place serves not, and their Calling serves not; thus many exceptions they have against the service and the worship of God. All these may be answered with one Cornelius, besides others, if time would have given leave. We see that Noah and some others, in the worst times, could find time to serve God: We see that some in Nero's house, and so in the worst places, have found place for to serve God: We see that some of those cal∣lings that seeme to be farthest from Heaven and God, some of those Callings have served God: Gajus, it seems, was an Inne∣keeper, yet a faithfull man; Cornelius a Souldier and a Com∣mander, and yet a godly and a religious man: So that there is no place, no time, no calling that can exempt us this way.
But then secondly, we had thought to have said something [ 2] of those that pretend they would serve God, but they feare it would not be accepted: and why not accepted? Oh! their per∣sons are so meane and poore, and their services are so weake Page 34and so contemptible, and their sinnes so great and so enormi∣ous, that sure God will not accept of them. It is answered, God is no respecter of persons, in every Nation he is ready to heare every poore soule that seekes unto him, and calls upon him.
[ 3] We should (in the nexe place) have called upon you all, to doe what you can in your families, sith that there is no man excluded from Gods acceptance, or Gods service; therefore have respect to your servants, even to the very Kitchin-boy; have respect to all that are within your compasse, and with∣in your selves, doe what you can to reclaime them from sin, to bring them up in the knowledge and information of God: What knowest thou (sayes the Apostle) beleeving man, but thou mayst convert thy unbeleeving wife? So say I to you, what know you but that God may have pitty upon thy poore slave, thy poore apprentice, as well as upon thy selfe? Yea, what know you, but if you make a good choyce, and take a good course, and carry a good hand over them, but that Souldiers and those that lye in Garrisons, and repaire to your Forts, may be godly men, religious men, as Cornelius was?
And for your selves, let me call upon every man this day, to hasten to Gods service: You have all the advantages that may be; you live in a Land of uprightnesse, in a Goshen of light; you are under a Constellation (as it were) of ablest Ma∣gistrates, and of ablest Ministers; who shall serve God, if you will not, that have all these helps, and these advantages? Therefore, art thou called to repentance? Never say, I can∣not, I have no leisure, and the like; thou mayst have leisure and grace, God is able to break the hardest heart, he is able to melt the frozenest heart, and to subdue the sturdiest spirit; and therefore say not, thou canst not: Are you called to duty and service? Say not, I would pray, and I would heare, and I would doe many duties to God, but I cannot, I have not leisure, I have no time, my place will not beare it, my occasions will not suffer it: Thou mightst if thou hadst a heart; other men in the same circumstances, in as great difficulties, have Page 35served God, and waited upon him: Daniel was a man full of State-businesse, yet he finds his time for praying every day to God more then once or twice: Here is a Souldier in the Text, he can feare God, he can look after his Family, and he can restraine his Souldiers from pilfering, and plundering, and drinking, and swearing, he can doe it by Gods blessing upon his endeavours; and if he, why not others too? therefore doe not make any such lazy plea: Much lesse say, Oh, it will not be accepted! it will be accepted: Give but what thou canst give, God will accept it; pray but as thou canst pray, God will accept it; repent as thou art able to repent, and call in Gods help and assistance, God will accept it: What shall I say more to you? I am cut off, I am afraid to be too-to tedi∣ous to you: And therefore I conclude abruptly; onely I have propounded unto you one Example and Patterne of mercy, presented unto you many Objects of mercy, and of compassi∣on; now let me present unto you some more, and these are knowne well to your selves: Here is a true report, &c.
Here, according to the custome, a Catalogue was read of sundry Benefactors to the severall Hospitals, and such like Houses for charitable uses; and that done, the conclusion was as followes: Thus you see (Beloved) here is work enough for your cha∣rity to be imployed about; here are many Objects of mercy, many Arguments of mercy; here are Objects of all sorts: Old men and Babes, Widowes and Orphans, many poore persons that want stocks to set them on work, that would faine be im∣ployed if they knew how: Here are also divers others that cry to you, that call upon you for mercy, and for re∣liefe: The Arguments you have heard; Arguments from God; Arguments from Christ; Arguments from your selves; Arguments from the times; Arguments from your Brethren; Let me say all at once, God requires it, God eals for it, God commands it: God commanded once the Clouds, and they gave bread; God once commanded the Rocks, and they gave wa∣ter; Page 36God once commanded a Raven for to carry meat to a Prophet, and the Raven did it: Oh! for Christs sake, let us not shew our selves more ravenous then the Raven, more reckie then Rocks themselves; and thus we leave our errand with you; another Theme I confesse would better have liked me, and perhaps more reached you, but I have answered your de∣sire in my choyce, and, I confesse, the Subject is not unseasona∣ble; the Lord goe with it.