A Homily for Good Friday Part II

The Second Homily Concerning the Death and Passion of our Saviour Christ

That we may the better conceive the great mercy and goodness of our Saviour Christ in suffering death universally for all men, it behoveth us to descend into the bottom of our conscience, and deeply to consider the first and principal cause wherefore he was compelled so to do.

When our great-grandfather Adam had broken God’s commandment in eating the apple forbidden him in Paradise at the motion and suggestion of his wife,[1] he purchased thereby, not only to himself, but also to his posterity forever, the just wrath and indignation of God; who, according to his former sentence pronounced at the giving of the commandment, condemned both him and all his to everlasting death, both of body and soul. For it was said unto him: Thou shalt eat freely of every tree in the garden: but as touching the tree of knowledge of good and ill, thou shalt in no wise eat of it; for in what hour soever thou eatest thereof thou shalt die the death.[2] Now, as the Lord had spoken, so it came to pass. Adam took upon him to eat thereof, and in so doing he died the death; that is to say, he became mortal, he lost the favor of God, he was cast out of Paradise, he was no longer a citizen of heaven, but a firebrand of hell and a bondslave to the devil. To this doth our Saviour bear witness in the Gospel, calling us lost sheep which have gone astray and wandered from the true Shepherd of our souls.[3] To this also doth St. Paul bear witness, saying, that by the offense of only Adam death came upon all men to condemnation.[4] So now that neither he nor any of his had any right or interest at all in the kingdom of heaven, but were become plain reprobates and castaways, being perpetually damned to the everlasting pains of hellfire.

In this so great misery and wretchedness, if mankind could have recovered himself again, and obtained forgiveness at God’s hands, then had his case been somewhat tolerable; because he might have attempted some way how to deliver himself from eternal death. But there was no way left unto him; he could do nothing that might please God’s wrath: he was altogether unprofitable in that behalf there was none that did good, no, not one.[5] And how could he work his own salvation? Should he go about to pacify God’s heavy displeasure by offering up brent sacrifices, according as it was ordained in the old Law?[6] by offering up the blood of oxen, the blood of calves, the blood of goats, the blood of lambs, and so forth? O these things were of no force nor strength to take away sins; they could not put away the anger of God; they could not cool the heat of his wrath, nor yet bring mankind into favor again: they were but only figures and shadows of things to come, and nothing else, Bead the Epistle to the Hebrews, there shall you find this matter largely discussed: there shall you learn in most plain words,[7] that the bloody sacrifice of the old Law was unperfect, and not able to deliver man from the state of damnation by any means; so that mankind in trusting thereunto should trust to a broken staff, and in the end deceive himself. What should he then do? Should he go about to observe and keep the law of God divided into two tables, and so purchase to himself eternal life? Indeed, if Adam and his posterity had been able to satisfy and fulfill the law perfectly in loving God above all things and their neighbor as themselves, then should they have easily quenched the Lord’s wrath, and escaped the terrible sentence of eternal death pronounced against them by the mouth of Almighty God. For it is written Do this and thou shalt live[8]that is to say, Fulfil my commandments, keep thyself upright and perfect in them according to my will; then shalt thou live and not die. Here is eternal life promised with this condition, so that they keep and observe the law. But such was the frailty of mankind after his fall, such was his weakness and imbecility, that he could not walk uprightly in God’s commandments, though he would neverso fain; but daily and hourly fell from his bounden duty, offending the Lord his God divers ways to the great increase of his condemnation, insomuch that the Prophet David crieth out on this wise: All have gone astray, all are become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.[9] In this case what profit could he have by the law? None at all. For, as St. James saith, he that shall observe the whole law, and yet faileth in one point, is become guilty of all.[10] And in the book of Deuteronomy it is written: Cursed be he, saith God, which abideth not in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them[11]Behold the law bringeth a curse with it, and maketh us guilty, not because it is of itself naught or unholy, (God forbid we should so think,) but because the frailty of our sinful flesh is such that we can never fulfill it according to the perfection that 5 the Lord requireth. Could Adam then, think you, hope or trust to be saved by the law? No, he could not: but, the more he looked on the law, the more he saw his own damnation set before his eyes, as it were in a most clear1 glass. So that now of himself he was most wretched and miserable, destitute of all hope, and never able to pacify God’s heavy displeasure, nor yet to escape the terrible judgment of God, whereinto he and all his posterity were fallen by disobeying the strait commandment of the Lord their God.

But O, the abundant riches of God’s great mercy! O the unspeakable goodness of his heavenly wisdom![12] When all hope of righteousness was past on our part; when we had nothing in ourselves whereby we might quench his burning wrath, and work the salvation of our own souls, and rise out of the miserable estate wherein we lay; then, even then, did Christ the Son of God, by the appointment of his Father, come down from heaven, to be wounded for our sakes, to be reputed with the wicked,[13] to be condemned unto death, to take upon him the reward of our sins, and to give his body to be broken on the cross for our offenses. He, saith the Prophet Esay, meaning Christ, hath borne our infirmities, and hath carried our sorrows; the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his stripes are we made whole. St. Paul likewise saith: God made him a sacrifice for our sins which knew not sin, that we should be made the righteousness of God by him.[14] And St. Peter most agreeably writing in this behalf saith: Christ hath once died and suffered for our sins, the just for the unjust[15] To these might be added an infinite number of other places to the same effect, but these few shall be sufficient for this time.

Now then, as it was said at the beginning, let us ponder and weigh the cause of his death, that thereby we may be the more moved to glorify him in our whole life. Which if you will have comprehended briefly in one word, it was nothing else on our part but only the transgression and sin of mankind. When the angel came to warn Joseph that he should not fear to take Mary to his wife, did he not therefore will the child’s name to be called Jesus because he should save his people from their sins? When John the Baptist preached Christ, and shewed him unto the people with his finger[16] did he not plainly say unto them, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world? When the woman of Cananie brought Christ to help her daughter, the which was possessed with a devil, did he not openly confess that he was sent to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel by giving his life of their sins?[17] It was sin then, O man, even thy sin, that caused Christ, the only Son of God, to be crucified in the flesh, and to suffer the most vile and slanderous death of the cross. If thou hadst kept thyself upright, if thou hadst observed the commandments, if thou hadst not presumed to transgress the will of God in thy first father Adam, then Christ being in the form of God needed not to have taken upon his the shape of a servant;[18] being immortal in heaven, he needed not to become mortal on earth; being the true bread[19] of the soul he needed not to hunger; being the healthful water of life[20] he needed not to thirst; being life[21] itself he needed not to have suffered death. But to these and many other such extremities was he driven by thy sin, which was so manifold and great, that God could be only pleased in him and no other.

Canst thou think of this, O sinful man, and not tremble within thyself? Canst thou hear it quietly, without remorse of conscience and sorrow of heart? Did Christ suffer his passion for thee, and wilt thou shew no compassion towards him? While Christ was yet hanging on the cross and yielding up the ghost, the Scripture witnesseth that the veil of the temple did rent in twain that the earth did quake, that the stones clove asunder that the graves did open and the dead bodies rise;[22] and shall the heart of man be nothing moved to remember how grievously and cruelly he was handled of the Jews for our sins? shall man shew himself to be more hardhearted than stones? to have less compassion than dead bodies? Call to mind, O sinful creature, and set before thine eyes, Christ crucified; think thou seest his body stretched out in length upon the cross, his head crowned with sharp thorn, his hands and his feet pierced with nails, his heart opened with a long spear, his flesh rent and torn with whips, his brows sweating water and blood; think thou hearest him now crying in an intolerable agony to his Father, and saying My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?[23] Couldest thou behold this woeful sight or hear this mournful voice without tears, considering that he suffered all this, not for any desert of his own, but only for the grievousness of thy sins? O that mankind should put the everlasting Son of God to such pains! O that we should be the occasion of his death, and the only cause of his condemnation! May we not justly cry, Woe worth the time that ever we sinned?

O my brethren, let this image of Christ crucified be always printed in our hearts; let it stir us up to the hatred of sin, and provoke our minds to the earnest love of Almighty God. For why is not sin, think you, a grievous thing in his sight, seeing for the transgressing of God’s precept in eating of one apple he condemned all the world to perpetual death, and would not be pacified but only with the blood of his own Son? True, yea, that work iniquity; neither shall the wicked and evil man dwell with thee.[24] By the mouth of his Prophet Esay he crieth mainly out against sinners, and saith: Woe be unto you that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with cart ropes.[25] Did not God give a plain token how greatly he hated and abhorred sin, when he drowned all the world save only eight persons?[26] When he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone?[27] When in three days space he killed with pestilence threescore and ten thousand for David’s offense? [28] When he drowned Pharao and all his host in the Red Sea?[29] When he turned Nabuchodonzor the king into the form of a brute beast, creeping upon all four?[30] When he suffered Achitophel and Judas to hang themselves upon the remorse of sin which was so terrible to their eyes?[31] A thousand such examples are to be found in Scripture, if a man would stand to seek them out. But what need we? This one example which we have now in hand is of more force, and ought more to move us, than all the rest. Christ, being the Son of God and perfect God himself, who never committed sin, was compelled to come down from heaven, and to s give his body to be bruised and broken on the cross for our sins. Was not this a manifest token of God’s great wrath and displeasure towards sin, that he could be pacified by no other means but only by the sweet and precious blood O sin, sin, that ever thou shouldest drive Christ to such extremity! Woe worth the time that ever thou earnest into the world. But what booteth it now to bewail? Sin is come, and so come that it cannot be avoided. There is no man living, no, not the justest man on the earth, but he falleth seven times a day, as Salomon saith.[32] And our Saviour Christ, although he hath delivered us from sin, yet not so that we shall be free from committing sin, but so that it shall not be imputed[33] to our condemnation. He hath taken upon him the just reward of sin[34] which was death, and by death hath overthrown death, that we believing in him might live forever and not die. Ought not this to engender extreme hatred of sin in us, to consider that it did violently, as it were, pluck God out of heaven, and make him feel the horrors and pains of death? O that we would sometimes consider this in the midst of our pomps and pleasures: it would bridle the outrageousness of the flesh; it would abate and assuage our carnal affects; it would restrain our fleshly appetites, that we should not run at random, as we commonly do. To commit sin wilfully and desperately, without fear of God, is nothing else but to crucify Christ anew, as we are expressly taught in the Epistle to the Hebrews.[35] Which thing if it were deeply printed in all men’s hearts, then should not sin reign everywhere so much as it doth, to the great grief and torment of Christ now sitting in heaven.

Let us therefore remember and^ always bear in mind Christ crucified, that thereby we may be inwardly moved both to abhor sin thoroughly, and also with an earnest and zealous heart to love God. For this is another fruit which the memorial of Christ’s death ought to work in us, an earnest and unfeigned love towards God. So God loved the world, saith St. John, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have life everlasting[36]If God declared so great love towards us his seely creatures, how can we of right but love him again? Was not this a sure pledge of his love, to give us his own Son from heaven? He might have given us an angel if he would, or some other creature, and yet should his love have been far above our deserts. Now he gave us, not an angel, but his Son. And what Son? His only Son, his natural Son, his well-beloved Son, even that Son whom he had made Lord and Ruler over? all things. Was not this a singular token of great love? But to whom did he give him? He gave him to the whole world, that is to say, to Adam and all that should come after him. O Lord, what had Adam or any other man deserved at God’s hands, that he should give us his own Son? We were all miserable persons, sinful persons, damnable persons, justly driven out of paradise, justly excluded from heaven, justly condemned to hellfire: and yet (see a wonderful token of God’s love) he gave us his only begotten Son, us, I say, that were his extreme and deadly enemies; that we, by virtue of his blood shed upon the cross, might be clean purged from our sins, and made righteous again in his sight. Who can choose but marvel, to hear that God should shew such unspeakable love towards us, that were his deadly enemies? Indeed, O mortal man, thou oughtest of right to marvel at it, and to acknowledge therein God’s great goodness and mercy towards mankind; which is so wonderful, that no flesh, be it never so worldly-wise, may well conceive it or express it. For, as St. Paul testifieth, God greatly commendeth and setteth out his love towards us in that he sent his Son Christ to die for us, when we were yet sinners and open enemies of his Name.[37] If we had in any manner of wise deserved it at his hands, then had it been no marvel at all; but there was no desert on our part, wherefore he should do it. Therefore, thou sinful creature, when thou hearest that God gave his Son to die for the sins of the world, think not he did it for any desert or goodness that was in thee, for thou wast then the bondslave of the devil; but fall down upon thy knees, and cry with the Prophet David, O Lord, what is man that thou art so mindful of him? Or the son of man, that thou so regardest him?[38] And, seeing he hath so greatly loved thee, endeavor thyself to love him again with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy strength[39] that therein thou mayest appear not to be unworthy of his love. I report me to thy own” conscience, whether thou wouldest not think thy love ill bestowed upon him that could not find in his heart to love thee again? If this be true, as it is most true, then think how greatly it belongeth to thy duty to love God, which hath so greatly loved thee, that he hath not spared his own only Son from so cruel and shameful a death for thy sake.

And hitherto concerning the cause of Christ’s death and passion, which as it was on our part most horrible and grievous sin, so on the other side it was the free gift of God, proceeding of his mere and tender love towards mankind, without any merit or desert of our part. The Lord for his mercies’ sake grant that wc never forget this great benefit of our salvation in Christ Jesu, but that we always shew ourselves thankful for it, abhorring all kind of wickedness and sin, and applying our minds wholly to the service of God and the diligent keeping of his commandments.

Now resteth to shew unto you u how to apply Christ’s death and passion to our comfort, as a medicine to our wounds, so that it may work the same effect in us wherefore it was given, namely, the health and salvation of our souls. For, as it profiteth a man nothing to have salve, unless it be well applied to the part affected, so the death of Christ shall stand us in no force, unless we apply it to ourselves in such sort as God hath appointed. Almighty God commonly worketh by means, and in this thing he hath also ordained a certain mean whereby we may take fruit and profit to our souls’ health. What mean is that? Forsooth it is faith; not an unconstant or wavering faith, but a sure, steadfast, grounded, and unfeigned faith. God sent his Son into the world,[40] saith St. John. To what end? That whosoever believed in him should not perish but have life everlasting. Mark these words, That whosoever believed in him. Here is the mean whereby we must apply the fruits of Christ’s death unto our deadly wound; here is the mean whereby we must obtain eternal life; namely, faith. For as St. Paul teacheth in his epistle to the Romans, with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.[41] Pual being demanded of the keeper of the prison what he should do to be saved, made this answer: Believe in the Lord Jesus: so shalt thou and thine house both be saved.[42] After the Evangelist had described and set forth unto us at large the life and the death of the Lord Jesus, in the end he concludeth with these words: These things are written, that we may believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, and through faith obtain eternal life.[43] To conclude with the words of St. Paul, which are these: Christ is the end of the law unto salvation for everyone that doth believe. By this then you may well perceive that the only mean and instrument of salvation required of our parts is faith, that is to say, a sure trust and confidence in the mercies of God, whereby we persuade ourselves, that God both hath and will forgive our sins, that he hath accepted us again into his favor, that he hath released us from the bonds of damnation, and received us again into the number of his elect people, not for our merits or deserts, but only and solely for the merits of Christ’s death and passion, who became man for our sakes, and humbled himself to sustain the reproach of the cross, that we thereby might be saved, and made inheritors of the kingdom of heaven. This faith is required at our hands; and this if we keep steadfastly in our arts, there is no doubt but we shall obtain salvation at God’s hands, as did Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of whom the Scripture saith, that they believed, and it was imputed unto them for righteousness. Was it imputed unto them? And shall it not be imputed unto us? Yes, if we have the same faith as they had, it shall be as truly imputed unto us for righteousness as it was unto them.[44] For it is one faith that must save both us and them, even a sure and steadfast faith in Christ Jesu; who, as ye have heard, came into the world for this end, that whosoever believed in him should not perish but have life everlasting.[45]

But here we must take heed that we do not halt with God through an unconstant and wavering faith, but that it be strong and steadfast to our lives’ end. He that wavereth, saith St. James, is like a wave of the sea; neither let that man think that he shall obtain anything at God’s hands.[46] Peter coming to Christ upon the water’, because he fainted in faith, was in danger of drowning.[47] So we, if we begin to waver or doubt, it is to be feared lest we shall sink as Peter did, not into the water, but into the bottomless pit of hellfire. Therefore I say unto you, that we must apprehend the merits ofChrist’s death and passion by faith; and that with a strong and steadfast faith, nothing doubting but that Christ by his one oblation and once offering of himself upon the cross,[48] hath taken away our sins, and hath restored us again into God’s favor, so fully and perfectly that no other sacrifice for sin shall hereafter be requisite or needful in all the world.

Thus have ye heard in few words the mean whereby we must apply the fruits and merits of Christ’s death unto us, so that it may work the salvation of our souls, namely, a sure, steadfast, perfect, and grounded faith. For, as all they which beheld steadfastly[49] the brazen serpent were healed and delivered, at the very sight thereof, from their corporal diseases and bodily stings, even so all they which behold Christ crucified with a true and lively faith shall undoubtedly be delivered from the grievous wounds0, of the soul, be they never so deadly or many in number. Therefore, dearly beloved, if we chance at any time, through frailty of the flesh, to fall into sin, as it cannot be chosen but we must needs fall often; and if we feel the heavy burden thereof to press our souls, tormenting us with the fear of death, hell, and damnation; let us then use that mean which God hath appointed in his word, to wit, the mean of faith, which is the only instrument of salvation now left unto us. Let us steadfastly behold Christ crucified with the eyes of our heart. Let us only trust to be saved by his death and passion, and to have our sins clean washed away through his most precious blood; that in the end of the world, when he shall come again to judge both the quick and the dead, he may receive us into his heavenly kingdom, and place us in the number of his elect and chosen people, there to be partakers of that immortal and everlasting life which he hath purchased unto us by virtue of his bloody wounds. To him therefore with the Father and the Holy Ghost be all honor and glory world without end. Amen.

  1. Gen III, 17-19
  2. Gen ii, 16-17
  3. Luke xv, 4
  4. Rom v, 13-18
  5. Ps iii, 5; Rom iii, 15
  6. Heb ix, 9-12
  7. Heb x, 1-4, 11
  8. Luke x, 18
  9. Ps iii, 3
  10. James ii, 10
  11. Deut xxvi, 16; Gal iii, 10
  12. Rom xi, 33
  13. Is III, 13
  14. Cor v, 31
  15. Matt I, 30-31
  16. John I, 29
  17. Matt xv, 22-24
  18. Rom v, 13-19
  19. John vi, 32-35
  20. John vi, 32-35
  21. John xi, 25
  22. Matt xxvii, 51-52
  23. Matt xxvii, 48
  24. Ps v, 4
  25. Is v, 18
  26. Gen vii
  27. Gen xix, 24
  28. 2 Sam xxiv, 13-15
  29. Exod xiv, 28
  30. Dan iv, 33
  31. Acts I, 18; Matt xxvii, 5
  32. Prov xxiv, 16
  33. Rom vii, 1
  34. Rom vi, 35
  35. Heb vi, 6
  36. John iii, 16
  37. Rom v, 8
  38. Ps vii, 4
  39. Luke x, 27
  40. John iii, 16
  41. Rom x, 10
  42. Acts xvi, 30-31
  43. John xx, 31
  44. Gen xv, 6; Rom iv, 4, 9, 23, 24
  45. John iii, 16
  46. James I, 6-7
  47. Matt xiv, 28-31
  48. Heb x, 10-18
  49. Numb xvi, 9; John iii, 14-15

 



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