George Abbot (1562-1633): This is the Christian’s surest anchor

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George Abbot (1562-1633) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611 to 1633. He had previously been master of University College, Oxford, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and bishop of London. He was furthermore part of the translation committee which translated the Gospels, Acts, and the Book of Revelation for the Authorized Version of the Bible (a.k.a. the King James Version).

In 1600, Abbot published his Exposition upon the Prophet Jonah, which consisted of sermons/lectures preached to the University of Oxford in the University Church (St Mary’s). In Lecture XII Abbot preached on Jonah 2:5-6, culminating with Jonah’s calling upon the LORD as “LORD my God”:

20 The only thing now remaining, is the confident appellation, which he useth to the Lord, Jehovah o my God. This sheweth a faith beyond faith, and a hope beyond hope: when he knew that the Lord was angry, and extremely wrathful at him, yet to cling in so to his mercy, as to appropriate to himself a portion in his maker. For what greater insinuation of confidence can there be, than by particular application to apprehend God’s mercy: to lay hold upon him as on a father; and that not as we say, with a reference to the communion of saints, Our father which art in heaven (Matt. 6:9), but my father and my God. This hath been the perfect trust of the faithful in all ages, which hath encouraged them to approach with boldness, unto the throne of grace. My God, my Godsaith David (Ps. 22:1). And, thou that art the God of my salvation(Ps. 51:14). And Job, I am sure that my Redeemer liveth(Job 19:25). My spiritsaith the Virgin Mary, doth rejoice in God my Saviour(Luk. 1:47). My Lord and my God, saith Thomas (Joh. 20:28). Paul saith of himself, I live by faith in the Son of God, who hath loved me and given himself for me(Gal. 2:20). This true faith doth close with God, and incorporateth itself into the body of the Redeemer.

21 And this is it, which bringeth comfort unto the wounded soul, and afflicted conscience, not that Christ is a Saviour, for what am I the better for that? but a Saviour unto me. That I am one of the adoption, reconciled and brought into favour, sealed up against that day, when the quick and dead shall be judged: my portion is with the Highest, mine inheritance with the Saints. How could flesh and blood ever bear the heat of strong temptation, without this firm persuasion? What is it to my belly, that bread is prepared for [an]other, unless I be assured that my part is therein? What is it to my soul, that Christ hath died for [an]other, unless I know that my sins are washed away in his blood? It may be good for Moses, it may be good for Paul, or Peter, or James, or Stephen, but what is it unto me? It is Meusthen and Tuus, as Luther did well teach, it is my God and thy Saviourwhich doth satisfy thirsty consciences (Luther in Epist. ad Galatas). There is the joy of the Spirit, when men come to that measure. Then it is a blessed doctrine which instilleth that faith into us; and in that, if in anything, doth appear the fruit of the Gospel, which is preached in our days: that people sick and dying, being taught before in their health, can give [the] most divine words, and right admirable speeches, in this behalf whereof I speak, sayings full of holy trust and assurance; which as it is a thing most comfortable to themselves (beyond all gold and treasure, which are but as dung and dross to a man yielding up the ghost), so it bringeth good meditations unto the standers by, in causing them to acknowledge very evident and plain arguments of election in the other, whom they see to be so possessed with joy in the holy Ghost, and so rapt up, as if they had already one foot within the heaven.

22 But it is otherwise with the ignorant; they lie grovelling upon the ground, and cannot mount up with the eagle. So is it in that doctrine which the Church of Rome doth maintain, when their people are taught, that they must believe in general, that some shall go to heaven, that some belong to God: but to say or think, that [they] themselves shall be certainly of that number, or constantly to hope it, that is boldness overmuch, that is over-weening presumption. They are to wish and pray, that it may be so with them, but yet it appertaineth to them evermore to doubt because they know not the worthiness of their merits: a most uncomfortable opinion, which cannot choose but distract the heart of a dying man, that he must not dare to believe with confidence, that he shall go to God: that Jesus is his Saviour, & the pardoner of his faults. No marvel if the life and death of such who hearken unto them, be full of sighs and sobs, & groans, and fears, and doubts, since quietness and settled rest cannot be in their hearts. They have a way to walk, but what is the end they know not. They are sure of their departure, but whither they cannot tell. A lamentable taking, and wherein of necessity must be small joy. How contrary hereunto doth Saint Paul speak, being justified by faith we have peace toward God, through our Lord Jesus Christ(Rom. 5:1). How contrary to this doth Saint John speak in the name of the faithful, we know that we are of God(1 Joh. 5:19). How doth dejected Jonah yet keep him fast to this tackling, when he crieth o Lord my God?

23 And this is the surest anchor, whereunto a Christian man may possibly know how to trust. This is it which in the blasts of adversity, will keep him fast at the root; which in the waves of temptation, will hold him fast by the chin, which in the greatest discomforts, and very pangs of death, will bring him to life again: To ground himself upon this, as on a rock assured, that his God is his father, that Jesus is his redeemer, that the holy Ghost doth sanctify him, that although he sin oft-times, yet evermore he is forgiven; and albeit he do transgress daily, yet it is still forgotten; that whether he live or die, yet ever he is the Lord’s. Good father lead us so by thy most blessed Spirit, that we never do fall from this. But although sin hang upon us, as it did upon the Prophet, yet raise us so by thy love, that laying hold on thy promises, and the sweetness of thy favour, we may reap eternal life, to the which o blessed Lord bring us for thine own Son Christ his sake, to whom with thee and thy Spirit, be laud for evermore.

John Hall (1633-1710): A prayer in time of prosperity

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A prayer in time of prosperity by the bishop of Bristol and master of Pembroke College, Oxford, John Hall (1633-1710), to be found at the beginning of his Jacob’s Ladder: Or, The Devout Soul’s Ascension to Heaven (1676), p. 154-157:

Heavenly Father, Lord of plenty, thou who hast created the world by thy power, and continuest thy love in thy providence and protection; to thee do I render thanks for my plenty, and to thee do I offer the service of my store. What I have, is thine; for the earth is thine, and all that therein is; the compass of the world, and they that dwell therein; it is thou only that commandest thy blessing in the store-houses, and in all that thy servants do set their hands unto. Lord make me one of thy faithful servants, that what thou hast sent me, may be a testimony of thy love, and not of thy hatred. Make me always to magnify thee in the time of plenty, and not to be high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in thee the living God, who givest me all things richly to enjoy. O suffer me not to treasure up the deceitful riches of this sinful world as thereby forgetting to be rich toward thee, but as from thy bounty I receive these temporal blessings, so in thy mercy make me abound in grace, that always having sufficiency in all things, I may abound to every good work.

In this my prosperity, prepare me for adversity, if it shall please thee at any time to send it unto me, give me a sense of the afflictions of many of thy saints and distressed servants, and enlarge my heart that I may be ready and forward to contribute to their necessities. Make me to shew mercy with cheerfulness, and to possess with thankfulness what thou sendest unto me, that I may neither forget thee in thy poor members, nor deny thee to be the giver. Let me never stop mine ears at the cries of the distressed who beg for relief in the name of thyself. Thou, Christ, who wert rich didst for my sake become poor, that so through thy poverty thou mightiest make me rich; Lord make me as willing to the poor for thy sake, always considering that the vanities of the earth are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed. Make me labour for heavenly riches, and for the ornament of the hidden man in the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in thy sight of great price.

Make me, O heavenly Father, rich in thyself, rich unto liberality, rich in good works and in faith: make me to buy of thee gold tried in the fire that I may be rich, and white raiment that I may be clothed, that the shame of my nakedness may not appear. Let me always remember that great account which one day I must render to thee, the Lord of heaven and earth, that so I may serve thee here with my substance in my body, and in my soul with zeal and devotion; and hereafter be received to thine everlasting glory, through the merits of thy Son in thy bosom Jesus Christ, my only Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) on the Lord’s Supper and assurance

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It was the principal end of Christ’s institution of the Sacrament of the Supper, that he might assure them of his love, and that he might seal up to them the forgiveness of their sins, the acceptance of their persons, and the salvation of their souls (Matt. 26:27-28). The nature of a seal is to make things sure and firm among men; so the Supper of the Lord is Christ’s broad seal, it is Christ’s privy-seal, whereby he seals and assures his people that they are happy here, that they shall be more happy hereafter, that they are everlastingly beloved of God, that his heart is set upon them, that their names are written in the book of life, that there is laid up for them a crown of righteousness, and that nothing shall be able to separate them from himwho is their light, their crown, their all in all (2 Tim. 4:8; Col. 3:11). In this sacrament Christ comes forth and shows his love, his heart, his bowels, his blood, that his children may no longer say, ‘Doth the Lord Jesus love us? Doth he delight in us, &c?’ but that they may say with the spouse, I am my beloved’s and his desire is towards me(Songs 7:10).

Many precious Christians there are, that have lain long under fears and doubts, sighing and mourning, and that have run from minister to minister, and from one duty to another, &c, and yet could never be persuaded of the love of Christ to their poor souls, but still their fears and doubts have followed them, till they have waited upon the Lord in this glorious ordinance, by which the Lord hath assured them of the remission of their sins, and the salvation of their souls. In this ordinance God hath given them mannahto eat, and a white stone, and new name, which no man knoweth, but he that receiveth it. Tell me, you precious believing souls, whether you have not found God in this ordinance, often whispering of you in the ear, saying, Sons and daughters be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you? I know you have.

– Thomas Brooks (1608–1680), Heaven on Earth (1654), p.23-25.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Christians should not tremble at the fear of death

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In my spare time over the past while I have been reading several early modern commentaries on the twelfth article of the Apostles’ Creed concerning the life eternal, as well as other sources touching on this theme, particularly on the immense consolation it provides to believers in the face of death. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.ix.5-6, John Calvin (1509-1564) writes about the benefits of meditating on the future life, and counsels Christians on why they have no reason to fear death:

[M]any who boast of being Christians, instead of thus longing for death, are so afraid of it that they tremble at the very mention of it as a thing ominous and dreadful. We cannot wonder, indeed, that our natural feelings should be somewhat shocked at the mention of our dissolution. But it is altogether intolerable that the light of piety should not be so powerful in a Christian breast as with greater consolation to overcome and suppress that fear. For if we reflect that this our tabernacle, unstable, defective, corruptible, fading, pining, and putrid, is dissolved, in order that it may forthwith be renewed in sure, perfect, incorruptible, in fine, in heavenly glory, will not faith compel us eagerly to desire what nature dreads? If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort? But everything longs for permanent existence. I admit this, and therefore contend that we ought to look to future immortality, where we may obtain that fixed condition which nowhere appears on the earth. For Paul admirably enjoins believers to hasten cheerfully to death, not because they “would be unclothed, but clothed upon,” (2 Cor. 5:2). Shall the lower animals, and inanimate creatures themselves even wood and stone, as conscious of their present vanity, long for the final resurrection, that they may with the sons of God be delivered from vanity (Rom. 8:19); and shall we, endued with the light of intellect, and more than intellect, enlightened by the Spirit of God, when our essence is in question, rise no higher than the corruption of this earth? […] This, however let us hold as fixed, that no man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection (2 Tim. 4:18; Tit. 2:13) for Paul distinguishes all believers by this mark; and the usual course of Scripture is to direct us thither whenever it would furnish us with an argument for substantial joy. “Look up,” says our Lord, “and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh,” (Luke 21:28). Is it reasonable, I ask, that what he intended to have a powerful effect in stirring us up to alacrity and exultation should produce nothing but sadness and consternation? If it is so, why do we still glory in him as our Master? Therefore, let us come to a sounder mind, and how repugnant so ever the blind and stupid longing of the flesh may be, let us doubt not to desire the advent of the Lord not in wish only, but with earnest sighs, as the most propitious of all events. He will come as a Redeemer to deliver us from an immense abyss of evil and misery, and lead us to the blessed inheritance of his life and glory.

6. Thus, indeed, it is; the whole body of the faithful, so long as they live on the earth, must be like sheep for the slaughter, in order that they may be conformed to Christ their head (Rom. 8:36). Most deplorable, therefore, would their situation be did they not, by raising their mind to heaven, become superior to all that is in the world, and rise above the present aspect of affairs (1 Cor. 15:19). On the other hand, when once they have raised their head above all earthly objects, though they see the wicked flourishing in wealth and honour, and enjoying profound peace, indulging in luxury and splendour, and revelling in all kinds of delights, though they should moreover be wickedly assailed by them, suffer insult from their pride, be robbed by their avarice, or assailed by any other passion, they will have no difficulty in bearing up under these evils. They will turn their eye to that day (Isaiah 25:8; Rev. 7:17), on which the Lord will receive his faithful servants, wipe away all tears from their eyes, clothe them in a robe of glory and joy, feed them with the ineffable sweetness of his pleasures, exalt them to share with him in his greatness; in fine, admit them to a participation in his happiness. But the wicked who may have flourished on the earth, he will cast forth in extreme ignominy, will change their delights into torments, their laughter and joy into wailing and gnashing of teeth, their peace into the gnawing of conscience, and punish their luxury with unquenchable fire. He will also place their necks under the feet of the godly, whose patience they abused. For, as Paul declares, “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven,” (2 Thess. 1:6, 7). This, indeed, is our only consolation; deprived of it, we must either give way to despondency, or resort to our destruction to the vain solace of the world. The Psalmist confesses, “My feet were almost gone: my steps had well nigh slipt: for I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” (Psalm 73:3, 4); and he found no resting-place until he entered the sanctuary, and considered the latter end of the righteous and the wicked. To conclude in one word, the cross of Christ then only triumphs in the breasts of believers over the devil and the flesh, sin and sinners, when their eyes are directed to the power of his resurrection.

Anthony Horneck (1641-1697): A prayer for humility

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Anthony Horneck (1641-1697) was a German-born Reformed divine of the Church of England. He studied under Friedrich Spanheim Jr in Heidelberg before furthering his studies at The Queen’s College, Oxford, under the Reformed professor Thomas Barlow, and served at Queen’s for a time as chaplain. Horneck would go on to become a popular preacher in London and a major role player in the early development of the Society for the Reformation of Manners.

Horneck published a number of works, among which is his The Exercise of Prayer (1685), in which the following prayer for humility is found (p. 16-20):

O thou lofty and holy One, who inhabitest eternity, and dwellest in the high and holy place, with him also that is of an humble spirit! Whither shall I go, but to thee who hast the words of eternal life! How shall I get this humble spirit, but by thy power and influence! Ah! How proud is my heart! How loth am I to submit to thy will! How loth to think ill of myself! How loth to bear injuries! How loth to converse with thy poor members! How loth to be sensible of my errors! How loth to acknowledge a fault! And yet all this while, I believe that thou beholdest the proud afar off, and that nothing is more abominable in thy sight! How apt am I to admire myself! How apt to harbour high conceits of my endowments! How apt to hunt after the praise of men! And what is all this but wind? What is it but smoke, and air, and vanity? How suddenly do these things grow, and how suddenly do they die again! How sensual, how carnal must that soul be, that minds such things! How void of a sense of greater beauties! How little affected, how little touched with the honour that comes from God! How weak in grace! How feeble in religion, that hath not learned yet to leap over such straws!

This is my case, O Lord; I am that weak, that empty soul, and yet unwilling to confess that I am proud, and vain, and lifted up: Pity me, O my God; make me sensible how far I am from the kingdom of God, till humility brings me nearer. Crush whatever proud thoughts and desires thou spyest in me. O put me in mind of my duty, whenever any vain thoughts rise in my soul. Pull down in me all imaginations that exalt themselves against Christ Jesus. O let not my heart be haughty, nor mine eyes lofty; neither let me exercise myself in things too high for me. Give me a sight of mine own vileness. Let me not be cheated with false colours. Let thy greatness overawe my soul. Let the example of my Saviour work upon me. How shall I be his disciple, and think of myself above what I ought to think? Let god arise, and let all my vain conceits of mine own worth be scattered. What am I but a handful of dust! What am I but a beggar, and thy pensioner, and who lives upon thy charity! O let these thoughts subdue my soul. Make me as ambitious of an humble spirit, and lowly mind, as others are of the greatness and admiration of the world.

Humility will make me great and honourable in thy sight. Let that honour content me, let that privilege satisfy my soul. O let a deep sense of my guilt humble me; then shall I with the penitent prodigal be welcome in my Father’s house, and my soul shall live, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marius d’Assigny (1643-1717): A meditation and prayer for hearing the preached Word in public worship

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Marius d’Assigny (1643-1717) was a Reformed divine of the Church of England. Of French Huguenot heritage, his career included spells as vicar of Cutcombe in Somerset, vicar of Tidmarsh in Berkshire, and rector of St Lawrence Newland in Essex. D’Assigny wrote several works, including The Divine Art of Prayer (1691), of which a sample is given below (p. 237-240):

O eternal Wisdom, what a mercy is this! To instruct and teach us at our doors, to enable, enlighten, inspire and send messengers so near our dwellings, to direct us in the right way of eternal happiness. What a condescension is this, to speak to us in our own language, according to our capacities; by men, whose presence express nothing but meekness and love! Was it not sufficient, O blessed God, that thou shouldest open to us the large book of nature, to inform us of thy will and sacred laws, by so many characters imprinted in every thing that is made? Was it not sufficient for our learning, to shew us thy pleasure in the several leaves of another book of providence, opened to us wide every day of our life! But must thy tender compassion of our natural ignorance, unmindfulness, and wilful corruption, teach us by such plain easie and excellent methods, so full of kindness and love! Must the repetition be so frequent? Must thou so often visit and call upon us to study and meditate upon the divine matters! Certainly our minds are too much wedded to the world, and too much enclined to irregular actions, seeing thou hast judged needful to repeat so often to us our duties, and we want every weeks instruction to withdraw our contemplation from evil and vanity. Should not our diligence answer in some respect thy continual care, O merciful Wisdom, and as frequently meet thee, as we are called upon by these publick summons!

Doubtless the business that we are to mind is of importance, seeing my Creator thinks necessary to interpose his divine authority, and to speak to us himself, though by the tongue of a mortal man. With what reverence and dread ought I to approach the gracious presence of my God, who vouchsafes to speak and instruct me in such a loving manner. His Word and laws should not in reason have the less power and impression upon me, because of his condescension to my weakness and capacity: Should I despise the mercies of my God, that are so great and wonderful, delivered to me in earthen vessels?

O blessed and heavenly Wisdom, I am called away from my temporal affairs to wait upon thee, and hearken to the divine matters that shall be proposed, which relate to my eternal interest. Their excellency requires my attention and diligent enquiry for this supernatural knowledge, which is able to save my soul. Here thou dost reveal unto me what I am, and what I should be, and what I shall be: Here are discovered the admirable mysteries of the holy Trinity and unity of the incarnation and redemption. Here thou dost unbosome thy self to mortal creatures, and shewest the tenderness of thine affection to us: Here I may have a prospect of the unspeakable riches of heaven, and see the glories that are laid up for me in thine eternal sanctuary. These are matters worthy of the angels prying into; these are meditations fit for the heavenly spirits; and shall I neglect or despise them, shall I idle away this precious moment designed for the benefit of mine immortal soul?

My gracious God, cause me to increase in grace, and in the divine knowledge of my redemption, enlighten mine understanding with a clear apprehension of the heavenly truths, sanctifie the outward preaching of thy word, that it may be effectual, and able to work upon my will. Give me an attentive ear, and an obedient heart, willing to submit to, and practise whatsoever thou shalt command. Deliver me from the ill consequences of errors, partiality and prejudice, and make me truly thankful to thee for this great blessing. Remove not thy Gospel from us, but save us from the pernicious plots of the Antichristian heresie. Unite all of us in our worship and Church, that we may study to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. And being all together united now in the church militant, we may be all the more ready and prepared to enter in due time into the church triumphant, into that glorious kingdom of love and peace, where our sanctification shall be compleated, our knowledge perfected, and our employment for ever shall be to celebrate and sing forth thy praises with the chorus of heavenly spirits. Amen.

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300–368) on the Incarnation

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For the past few years during Advent or on Christmas day, I have been in the habit of reading and reflecting on Augustine’s famous sermon on the Feast of the Nativity, in which this immensely profound passage on Christ’s Incarnation can be found. For Christmastide this year, we reflect on a similar passage from Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300–368) in his De Trinitate, II.24-25, on how the Incarnation and Christ’s life on earth – from Virgin birth to descensus ad inferos – was for our benefit and salvation:

The Virgin, the birth, the Body, then the Cross, the death, [the descent into] hell; these things are our salvation. For the sake of mankind the Son of God was born of the Virgin and of the Holy Ghost. In this process He ministered to Himself; by His own power—the power of God—which overshadowed her, He sowed the beginning of His Body, and entered on the first stage of His life in the flesh. He did it that by His Incarnation He might take to Himself from the Virgin the fleshly nature, and that through this commingling there might come into being a hallowed Body of all humanity; that so through that Body which He was pleased to assume all mankind might be hid in Him, and He in return, through His unseen existence, be reproduced in all. Thus the invisible Image of God scorned not the shame which marks the beginnings of human life, and, by his conception, birth, wailing, and cradle, he passed through all the successive humiliations of our nature.

What worthy return can we make for so great a condescension? The One Only-begotten God, ineffably born of God, entered the holy Virgin’s womb and grew and took the frame of poor humanity. He Who contains everything, within Whom and through Whom are all things, was brought forth by common childbirth; He at Whose voice Archangels and Angels tremble, and heaven and earth and all the elements of this world are melted, was heard in childish wailing. The Invisible and Incomprehensible, Whom sight and feeling and touch cannot gauge, was wrapped in a cradle. If any man deem all this unworthy of God, then the less such condescension befits the majesty of God, the greater must he own his debt for the benefit conferred. He by Whom man was made had nothing to gain by becoming Man; it was our gain that God was incarnate and dwelt among us, making all flesh His home by taking upon Him the flesh of One. His humiliation is our exaltation; his shame is our honour. He, being God, made flesh His residence, and we in return are lifted anew from the flesh to God.