Lancelot Andrewes Sermon MDCIX
A SERMON PREACHED BEFORE THE KING'S MAJESTY AT WHITEHALL, ON THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER, A.D. MDCIX.
Luke ix. 54 — 56.
Jesus’ disciples James and John said, Lord, wilt Thou that we command that fire come down from Heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did? But Jesus turned about and rebuked them.
We have here in this text a whole town of Samaria in danger of being destroyed — of being destroyed by fire, and they escaped it narrowly; so near it was, there lacked but a word, ‘speaking.’ Of the disciples some were very forward in the motion, but Christ ‘rebuked them;’ and the end was, the town was saved. And was not this our very case this day four year ? We were then in danger of destroying, and destroying by the same element—fire. There were then that forwarded these fireworks with their ‘speaking’ all they could; and they said, they were disciples of Jesus' society [Jesuits]. But Jesus shewed Himself to be in Heaven, of the same mind He was on earth. And as He was then better to this town than His disciples, so to us He was better than the fathers of His society, and rebuked them too; and blessed be God, as the text ends, so did the matter, in none destroyed, all saved.
The whole text is a question upon a case, this. Christ was journeying from Galilee to Jerusalem. Being in that country, He sent to this town to take up lodging; no lodging would be had, no man to receive Him; Upon this case this question: Whether this town, for not receiving Christ, might not be consumed? Or, if you will, blown up with fire. Some little difference there is, but little.
It was an error, this, of the disciples, we see it plain by ‘You do not know.’ What Christ answered in this case, He would have answered in ours; if not a poor town, not such an assembly. If not by a miraculous, not by a monstrous act. We are all much bound to St. Luke for recording it, or to the Holy Ghost rather for inspiring him so to do. For so long as this verse shall stand in this Gospel, it will serve for a resolution to this question: whether, upon pretence of religion, Christ will allow the Jew should blow up the Samaritan? This ‘not to destroy but to rescue’ saves all our towns, cities, and states, from consuming by fire from any of Christ's company.
To pass then to the entreaty. His disciples, James and John, saw somewhat to move them—Christ's suffering repulse. The motion: 1. to have the town destroyed for it; 2. destroyed by fire; 3. by fire from Heaven; 4. from Heaven only by speaking a word; and 5. this upon warrant, Elias' example.
Christ giveth no leave nor liking any way to the motion. Nay, he goeth further; likes not the spring it comes from. In His rebuke tells them, ‘You do not understand’: they are mistaken themselves, and mistake Him. But because we come not now [5. November 1609] to learn only but to give thanks, we will lay the two cases together, this of the day to this in the text.
Let us begin with that that was the beginning of all this quarrel, that is, dissent in religion between Samaritan and Jew. We see the fruit of it here, and what spirit it maketh men of. On the one side: Be they Jews? starve them! On the other: Be they Samaritans, sectaries [heretics]? burn them, blow them up! Mutual and mortal hatred breaking forth upon every occasion. Thus it was, and thus it will be; and by this we see, how necessary Christ's ‘Peace be to you’ is!
But this spirit was not then in all; neither all the disciples, nor all the Samaritans. Some there were on both sides, more moderately affected. The disciples did all of them much dislike this discourse offered Christ, yet all cried not for fire; two only of the twelve. On the other side, the Samaritans neither, all were not thus inhuman. Though this town received Him not, it is said they went to ‘another town,’ and there he was received.
Our Saviour Christ was inclined to humanity and peace. It was His desire to use and be used by Samaritans. Let me say this for St. James and St. John; they saw enough to move any to indignation. A great indignity it is, that which is done by common courtesy to every ordinary traveller (harbour for a night) to deny to any. And when was this? It was even then, when He was newly come down from the mount, from His transfiguration; immediately upon that came this. Him Whom a little before they had seen glorified from Heaven, to see Him now thus vilified upon earth, would it not move any?
And who were they that did it? A pelting [paltry] country and they in it a sort of heretics; at whose hands, who could endure to see Him thus used? Coming from hatred of heresy, how can it choose but be a good motion?
Why was it they did Him this disgrace? A barbarous indignity, harbour for a night denied; and denied Christ; Christ so late in all His glory; and that by a sort of heretics. We see what moved them. They move to have them destroyed by ‘fire from Heaven.’ Their warrant? ‘As Elijah did’; whom they had seen a little before in the mount, and who, they are sure, would never have endured it. In their motion, methinks, two things they take for granted: die they must: and then, being heretics, best even burn them and make no more ado.
Now they break company, Jesus' disciples and Jesus' society. For when it comes to the means, Jesus' disciples will do it like disciples, or not at all. St. John, as an eagle, flies up to the clouds, not like a molewarp creeps into a vault to do it. Do it, like prophets; not like incendiaries.
The like may be said of ‘speaking’: not fire by any instrument, no, but only by saying the word and no more. No powder but from the clouds, no match but their tongue; by way of miracle or not at all. A good warrant, no novelty, a precedent: no less Prophet than Elias. They had seen him but lately, they did the more easily call him to mind. Moses they saw then too, but he was taken out of the water, no good for them that were about fireworks!
But Christ rebukes them for moving the motion, rebukes the spirit it came from, and rebukes them; ‘Ye know not what spirit ye are of.’ As much to say as, If ye did, ye would make no such motions. They are in ignorance, and the worst ignorance of themselves, that move for fire. They knew not what spirit they are of; but whatsoever it is, a wrong spirit it is, for here it is rebuked by Christ.
Without knowledge, the soul itself is not good. ‘You do not know what you are asking!’ — no good prayer. You worship what you do not know—no good worship. And so ignorant devotion, implicit faith, blind obedience, all rebuked. Zeal, if it be not according to knowledge, cannot be according to conscience. ‘Test the spirits’ is ever good counsel, and ‘discernment between spirits’ a principal part of knowledge.
What Elias did, he did by special inspiration, had a particular commission, and as it were a privy seal for it. And that we must ever distinguish in the Prophets, when they proceed by their general calling, (therein we may follow them) and when an act is executed and done by them by immediate warrant; for such warrant passes not the person, no precedent to be made of it.
Indeed, there is ‘a time to destroy,’ saith Solomon [Ecclesiastes 3]. But now the ‘Son of man is come:’ —The spirit of Elias was good till the Son of man came; but now He is come, the date of that spirit is expired. Now no law-giver, no prophet, but Christ. Worse it is to be mistaken in Christ, than in ourselves. And Him they mistook, in that they would move Him to that Whose coming was contrary, quite contrary to that they would have Him do; to seek at the hands of Him that is the master of all meekness, a license to commit such cruelty.
Christ doth here tell what spirit is he of, by His first text ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, to heal the broken, to deliver the captive, to save that was lost.’ You may know it by His name, ‘Jesus,’ a Saviour; you may know it by His similes: a ‘lamb,’ no wolf; ‘a hen,’ no kite; a ‘vine,’ no ‘bramble,’ out of which came fire to burn up all the trees in the forest. Of His coming, clean contrary to this speaks the Prophet, ‘He shall come down like the rain,’ to quench, not fire to consume. He came not ‘to destroy,’ but ‘to save.’ Christ came to save only, with a flat exclusive of the other.
Here we have a case of fire; will ye have another of the sword? Shall we do it by fire? say James and John here; ‘Lord, shall we strike with the sword?’ saith St. Peter after, in a greater quarrel far than this, when they laid hands on Him, to carry Him to His passion. That He denieth too, and in that quarrel, and saith, ‘Let alone your sword.’ Out with your fire, James and John; Up with your sword, Peter. So that neither by fire here, nor by sword there.
If so oft as Christ suffers indignity, fire should come down from Heaven, ‘Who shall endure it?’ We were all in hard case, Jews and Samaritans and all, yea disciples, yea this James and John and all. The Samaritans, they received not Christ; they were gone, burnt all. When He came to Jerusalem, how was He received there? Why, there He was murdered, worse used than in Samaria. Then we must call for more fire, Jerusalem must be burnt too. Now for the disciples, James and John, how carried they the matter? It is true, they had received Him, but when most need was, thrust Him from them, renounced Him, utterly denied that ever they knew Him. Then we must trouble Heaven once more, call for fire for James and John too. Nay then, ‘the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not,’ nor ‘received Him not;’ why then the world is at an end, all a heap of ashes if this doctrine go forward. Who receiveth Christ as he should? yea, who refuseth not one time or other to receive Him? Then this will follow, if no place for repentance then no use of Christ. For whom shall He save, when James and John have consumed all to ashes? By this time we know Christ's Spirit. His coming was not to destroy. Christ likes no destroying. It is not God's will, in the Old Testament, that Sion should be built in blood; nor in the New that His Church on the ashes of any estate; nor that His not receiving should be pretence for the extirpation of any town, much less kingdom or country.
But we come not only for that, but to congratulate ourselves, that should have perished by [fire]; though not by ‘speaking,’ yet by another means; and in public manner to render our yearly solemn thanksgiving. We also, by the Son of man, were delivered from the powder laid ready to consume, and from the match-light to give it fire. They were rebuked, yea more than that destroyed themselves, that sought our destruction.
Now if ye weigh the destruction, ye shall find, ours was the worse. Worse, for it should have been sudden. Worse certainly, for that should have consumed but Samaritans only; but this, for the good of the catholic cause, Samaritans and Jews both. When all is done, that which was saved here was but a poor town without a name. I should much wrong that famous assembly and flower of the kingdom [Parliament], if I should offer to compare it with that, either in quantity or in quality.
[James and John] were rebuked but verbally on earth, [the Gunpowder plotters] really rebuked from Heaven. Really rebuked in their intention by miraculous disappointing the execution, and themselves put to a foul rebuke besides ; God first blowing their own powder in their faces to write their sin there, and after making their merciless bowels to be consumed with fire, within the very view of that place which they had meant to consume with fire, and all us in it.
Christ came to save us: there be manifest steps of His coming. He made them they could not contain their own spirits, but made them take pen and paper and tell it out themselves, and so become the instruments of their own destruction. Again He came, when He gave His Majesty understanding to construe the dialect of these unknown spirits, and pick it out of a period as dark as the cellar was dark where the powder lay. To conclude. This one notable difference there is on our side: they should have been destroyed by miracle, and we were saved by miracle. Their fire, they came to put under the earth, Christ would not have burn; another ‘fire’ He came to put upon earth and His desire is that it should burn, even that fire whereon the incense of our devotion and the sacrifice of our praise burn before God.
Let our souls magnify the Lord, and our spirits rejoice in God our Saviour; that the beginning of the text and of our case was ‘fire’ to ‘consume them,’ in the first verse ; that the end was, ‘not to destroy but to save, in the last. Such may ever be the end of all attempts to destroy us. So He came; never to destroy, ever to save us. But ever, as He doth save still, we may praise still; and ever magnify His ‘mercy, that endureth for ever.’ Amen.