A Homily for Good Friday Part I

A Homily for Good Friday, Concerning the Death and Passion of Our Saviour Jesus Christ

It should not become us, well beloved in Christ, being that people which be redeemed from the devil, from sin and death, and from everlasting damnation by Christ, to suffer this time to pass forth without any meditation and remembrance of that excellent work of our redemption, wrought as about this time, through the great mercy and charity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, for us wretched sinners and his mortal enemies. For, if a mortal man’s deed done to the behoof of the commonwealth be had in remembrance of us, with thanks for the benefit and profit which we receive thereby, how much more readily should we have in memory this excellent act and benefit of Christ’s death; whereby he hath purchased for us the undoubted pardon and forgiveness of our sins; whereby he made at one the Father of heaven with us, in such wise that he taketh us now for his loving children, and for the true inheritors with Christ,[1] his natural Son, of the Kingdom of Heaven!

And verily so much more doth Christ’s kindness appear unto us, in that it pleased him to deliver himself of all his godly honour,[2] which he was equally in with his Father in heaven, and to come down into this vale of misery, to be made mortal man, and to be in the state of a most low servant, serving us for our wealth and profit, us, I say, which were his sworn enemies, which had renounced his holy law and commandments, and followed the lusts and sinful pleasures of our corrupt nature; and yet, I say, did Christ put himself between God’s deserved wrath and our sin, and rent that obligation[3] wherein we were in danger to God, and paid our debt. Our debt was a great deal too great for us to have paid; and without payment God the Father could never be at one with us: neither was it possible to be loosed from this debt by our own ability. It pleased therefore him to be the payer thereof, and to discharge us quite.

Who can now consider the grievous debt of sin which could none otherwise be paid but by the death of an innocent, and will not hate sin in his heart? If God hateth sin so much, that he would allow neither man nor angel for the redemption thereof, but only the death of his only and wellbeloved Son, who will not stand in fear thereof? If we, my friends, consider this, that for our sins this most innocent Lamb was driven to death, we shall have much more cause to bewail ourselves, that we were the cause of his death, than to cry out of the malice and cruelty of the Jews, which pursued him to his death. We did the deeds wherefore he was thus stricken and wounded: they were only the ministers of our wickedness.

It is meet then that we should step low down into our hearts, and bewail our own wretchedness and sinful living. Let us know for a certainty, that, if the most dearly beloved Son of God was thus punished and stricken for the sin which he had not done himself, how much more ought we sore to be stricken for our daily and manifold sins which we commit against God, if we earnestly repent us not, and be not sorry for them. No man can love sin, which God hateth so much, and be in his favour. No man can say that he loveth Christ truly, and have his great enemy (sin, I mean, the author of his death) familiar and in friendship with him. So much do we love God and Christ, as we hate sin. We ought therefore to take great heed that we be not favourers thereof, lest we be found enemies to God and traitors to Christ. For not only they which nailed Christ upon the cross are his tormentors and crucifiers, but all they, saith St. Paul crucify again the Son of God[4] as much as is in them, which do commit vice and sin, which brought him to his death.

If the wages of sin be death[5] and death everlasting, surely it is no small danger to be in service thereof. If we live after the flesh[6] and after the sinful lusts thereof, St. Paul threateneth, yea Almighty God in St. Paul threateneth, that we shall surely die.[7] We can none otherwise live to God but by dying to sin. If Christ be in us, then is sin dead in us: and if the Spirit of God be in us, which raised Christ from death to life, so shall the same Spirit raise us to the resurrection of everlasting life.[8] But, if sin rule and reign in us, then is God, which is the fountain of all grace and virtue, departed from us; then hath the devil and his ungracious spirit rule and dominion in us. And surely, if in such miserable state we die, we shall not rise to life, but fall down to death and damnation, and that without end. For Christ hath not so redeemed us from sin, that we may safely return thereto again; but he hath redeemed us[9] that we should forsake the motions thereof, and live to righteousness. Yea, we be therefore washed in our baptism from the filthiness of sin, that we should live afterward in the pureness of life. In baptism we promised to renounce the devil and his suggestions, we promised to be, as obedient children[10] always following God’s will and pleasure. Then, if he be our Father[11] indeed, let us give him his due honour. If we be his children, let us shew him our obedience, like as Christ openly declared his obedience to his Father, which, as St. Paul writeth, was obedient even to the very death, the death of the cross.[12]

And this he did for us all that believe in him. For himself he was not punished; for he was pure and undefiled of all manner of sin. He was wounded, saith Esay, for our wickedness and striped for our sins:[13] he suffered the penalty of them himself, to deliver us from danger. He bare saith Esay, all our sores and infirmities upon his own back: no pain did he refuse to suffer in his own body, that he might deliver us from pain everlasting. His pleasure it was thus to do for us: we deserved it not. Wherefore, the more we see ourselves bound unto him, the more he ought to be thanked of us; yea, and the more hope may we take, that we shall receive all other good things of his hand, in that we have received the gift of his only Son through his liberality. For, if God, saith St. Paul, hath not spared his own Son from pain and punishment, but delivered him for us all unto the death, how should he not give us all other things with him?[14] If we want any thing either for body or soul, we may lawfully and boldly approach to God as to our merciful Father, to ask that we desire, and we shall obtain it. For such power is given to us[15] to be the children of God, so many as believe in Christ’s name.[16] In his name whatsoever we ask we shall have it granted us.[17] For so well pleased is the Father, Almighty God, with Christ his Son, that for his sake he favoureth us, and will deny us nothing. So pleasant was this sacrifice and oblation of his Son’s death, which he so obediently and innocently suffered, that he would take it for the only and full amends for all the sins of the world. And such favour did he purchase by his death of his heavenly Father for us, that for the merit thereof, (if we be true Christians indeed, and not in word only,) we be now fully in God’s grace again, and clearly discharged from our sin.

No tongue surely is able to express the worthiness of this so precious a death. For in this standeth the continual pardon of our daily offences, in this resteth our justification, in this we be allowed, in this is purchased the everlasting health of all our souls; yea, there is none other thing that can be named under heaven to save our souls,[18] but this only work of Christ’s precious offering of his body upon the altar of the cross. Certes there can be no work of any mortal man, be he never so holy, that shall be coupled in merits with Christ’s most holy act. For no doubt all our thoughts and deeds were of no value, if they were not allowed in the merits of Christ’s death. All our righteousness is far unperfect, if it be compared with Christ’s righteous righteousness. For in his acts and deeds there was no spot of sin or of any unperfectness; (and for this cause they were the more able to be the true amends of our unrighteousness) where our acts and deeds be full of imperfection and infirmities, and there fore nothing worthy of themselves to stir God to any favour, much less to challenge the glory that is due to Christ’s act and merit: for not to us, saith David, not to us but to thy Name give the glory, O Lord.[19]

Let us therefore, good friends, with all reverence glorify his Name; let us magnify and praise him for ever. For he hath dealt with us according to his great mercy; by himself hath he purchased our redemption. He thought it not enough to spare himself and to send his angel to do this deed; but he would do it himself[20] that he might do it the better, and make it the more perfect redemption. He was nothing moved with the intolerable pains that he suffered in the whole course of his long passion, to repent him thus to do good to his enemies; but he opened his heart for us, and bestowed himself wholly for the ransoming of us. Let us therefore now open our hearts again to him, and study in our lives to be thankful to such a Lord, and evermore to be mindful of so great a benefit.

Yea, let us take up our cross with Christ, and follow him. His passion is not only the ransom and whole amends for our sin, but it is also a most perfect example of all patience and sufferance. For, if it behoved Christ thus to suffer, and to enter into the glory of his Father[21] how should it not become us to bear patiently our small crosses of adversity and the troubles of this world? For surely, as saith St. Peter, Christ therefore suffered, to leave us an example to follow his steps.[22] And if we suffer with him, we shall be sure also to reign with him[23]in heaven. Not that the sufferance of this transitory life should be worthy of that glory to come;[24] but gladly should we be content to suffer, to be like Christ in our life, that so by our works we may glorify our Father which is in heaven.[25] And, as it is painful and grievous to bear the cross of Christ in the griefs and displeasures of this life, so it bringeth forth the joyful fruit of hope in all them that be exercised therewith. Let us not so much” behold the pain, as the reward that shall follow that labour.[26]

Nay, let us rather endeavour ourselves in our sufferance to endure innocently and guiltless, as our Saviour Christ did. For, if we suffer for our deservings, then hath not patience his perfect work in us:[27] but if undeservedly we suffer loss of goods and life, if we suffer to be evil spoken of, for the love of Christ, this is thankful afore God; for so did Christ suffer. He never did sin, neither was there any guile found in his mouth. Yea, when he was reviled with taunts, he reviled not again; when he was wrongfully dealt with, he threatened not again nor revenged his quarrel, but delivered his cause to him that judgeth rightly.[28] Perfect patience careth not what or how much it suffereth, nor of whom it suffereth, whether of friend or foe; but studieth to suffer innocently and without deserving. Yea, he in whom perfect charity is careth so little to revenge, that he rather studieth to do good for evil, to bless and say well of them that curse him, to pray for them that pursue him,[29] according to the example of our Saviour Christ, who is the most perfect example and pattern of all meekness and sufferance. Which, hanging upon his cross in most fervent anguish, bleeding in every part of his blessed body, being set in the middes of his enemies and crucifiers, and, notwithstanding the intolerable pains which they saw him in being of them mocked and scorned despitefully without all favour and compassion, had yet towards them such compassion in heart, that he prayed to his Father of heaven for them, and said O Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.[30] What patience was it also which he shewed when one of his own Apostles and servants, which was put in trust of him, came to betray him unto his enemies to the death! He said nothing worse to him but, friend wherefore art thou come?[31] Thus, good people, should we call to mind the great examples of charity which Christ shewed in his passion, if we will fruitfully remember his passion. Such charity and love should we bear one to another, if we will be the true servants of Christ. For if we love but them which love and say well by us what great thing is it that we do? Saith Christ: do not the pagans and open sinners so?[32] We must be more perfect in our charity than thus, even as our Father in heaven is perfect: which maketh the light of his sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and sendeth his rain upon the kind and unkind. After this manner should we shew our charity indifferently, as well to one as to another, as well to friend as foe, like obedient children[33] after the example of our good Father in heaven. For, if Christ was obedience to his Father even to the death, and that the most shameful death (as the Jews esteemed it), the death of the cross[34] why should not we be obedient to God in lower points of charity and patience?

Let us forgive then our neighbours their small faults, as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us our great.[35] It is not meet that we should crave forgiveness of our great offences at God’s hands, and yet will not forgive the small trespasses of our neighbours against us. We do call for mercy in vain, if we will not shew mercy to our neighbours. For, if we will not put wrath and displeasure forth of our hearts to our Christian brother, no more will God forgive the displeasure and wrath that our sins have deserved afore him. For under this condition[36] doth God forgive us, if we forgive other. It becometh not Christian men to be hard one to another, nor yet to think their neighbour unworthy to be forgiven. For, howsoever unworthy he is, yet is Christ worthy to have thee do thus much for his sake: he hath deserved it of thee, that thou shouldest forgive thy neighbour. And God is also to be obeyed, which command us to forgive, if we will have any part of the pardon which our Saviour Christ purchased once of God the Father by shedding of his precious blood. Nothing becometh Christ’s servants so much as mercy and compassion.

Let us then be favourable one to another: and pray we one for another, that we may be healed from all frailties of our life, the less to offend one the other; and that we may be of one mind and one spirit[37] agreeing together in brotherly love and concord, even like the dear children of God. By these means shall we move God to be merciful to our sins. Yea, and we shall be hereby the more ready to receive our Saviour and Maker in his blessed Sacrament to our everlasting comfort and health of soul. Christ delighteth to enter and to dwell in that soul where love and charity ruleth, and where peace and concord is seen. For thus writeth St. John: God is charity; he that abideth in charity abideth in God, and God in him. And by this, saith he, we shall know that we be of God, if we love our brothers. Yea and by this shall we know that we be shifted from death to life, if we love one another. But he which hateth his brother, saith the same Apostle, abideth in death,[38] even in the danger of everlasting death; and is moreover the child of damnation and of the devil, cursed of God, and hated (so long as he so remain of God and of all his heavenly company. For, as peace and charity make us the blessed children of Almighty God, so doth hatred and envy make us the cursed child ren of the devil.

God give us all grace to follow Christ’s example in peace and in charity, in patience and sufferance; that we now may have him our guest to enter and dwell within us, so as we may be in full surety, having such a pledge of our salvation. If we have him and his favour, we may be sure that we have the favour of God by his means. For he sitteth on the right hand[39]of his Father, as our proctor and attorney, pleading and suing for us in all our needs and necessities. Wherefore, if we want any gift of godly wisdom, we may ask it of God for Christ’s sake, and we shall have it.

Let us consider and examine ourself in what want we be concerning this virtue of charity and patience. If we see that our hearts be nothing inclined thereunto in forgiving them that have offended against us, then let us knowledge our want, and wish of God to have it. But, if we want it and see in ourself no desire thereunto, verily we be in a dangerous case afore God, and have need to make much earnest prayer to God, that we may have such an heart changed, to the grafting in of a new. For unless we forgive other, we shall never be forgiven of God. No, not all the prayers and merits of other can pacify God unto us unless we be at peace and at one with our neighbour: nor all our deeds and good works can move God to forgive us our debts to him, except we forgive to other. He setteth more by mercy than by sacrifice.[40] Mercy moved our Saviour Christ to suffer for his enemies: it becometh us then to follow his example. For it shall little avail us to have in meditation the fruits and price of his passion, to magnify them, and to delight or trust to them, except we have in mind his examples in passion, to follow them. If we thus therefore consider Christ’s death, and will stick thereto with fast faith for the merit and deserving thereof, and will also frame ourself in such wise to bestow ourselves and all that we have by charity to the behoof of our neighbour, as Christ spent himself wholly for our profit, then do we truly remember Christ’s death; and being thus follow of Christ’s steps, we shall be sure to follow him thither where he sitteth now with the Father and the Holy Ghost. To whom be all honour and glory. Amen.

  1. Rom vii, 17
  2. Phil ii, 6-7
  3. Col ii, 14
  4. Heb vi, 6
  5. Rom vi, 23
  6. Rom viii, 13
  7. Rom vi, 11
  8. Rom viii, 10-11
  9. Tit ii, 14
  10. 1 Pet I, 14
  11. Mat I, 6
  12. Phil ii, 8
  13. Is iii, 4-5
  14. Rom vii, 32
  15. Jon I, 13
  16. John I, 12
  17. Matt xvi, 23; John xvi, 23-27
  18. Acts iv, 12
  19. Ps cxll
  20. Heb 1, 3
  21. Acts xvii, 3; Luke xxiv, 36-48
  22. 1 Pet II, 21
  23. 2 Tim II, 12
  24. Rom viii, 18
  25. Matt v, 10-12, 16
  26. Heb xii, 1-2; 11
  27. James I, 4
  28. 1 Pet ii, 19-33
  29. Matt v, 44
  30. Luke xxiiii, 34
  31. Matt xxvi, 50
  32. Matt v, 45-48
  33. 1 Pet I, 14
  34. 1 Pet ii, 8
  35. Eph iv, 32; Matt xvii, 35
  36. Matt vi, 14-15
  37. James V, 16
  38. 1 John iv, 16; iii, 14-19
  39. Rom viii, 14
  40. Hos vi, 6; Mic vi, 6-8; Matt ix, 15

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