[Published here in full, as it appears in The Works of John Knox, VI: 227–273. All syntax, diction, and original notes from publisher David Laing have been retained, while word endings, spelling, and punctuation have been modernized by Sam Caldwell.]
A sermon preached by John Knox
Minister of Christ Jesus in the public audience of the Church of Edinburgh, within the realm of Scotland, upon Sunday, the 19 of August 1565. For the which the said John Knox was inhibited [from] preaching for a season.
To this is adjoined an exhortation to all the faithful within the said realm, for the relief of such as faithfully travail in the preaching of God’s Word. Written by the same John Knox at the commandment of the ministry aforesaid.
Imprinted Anno. 1566.
John Knox, the servant of Jesus Christ, in preaching of His holy evangel, to the benevolent reader, desires grace and peace, with the Spirit of righteous judgment.
Wonder not, Christian reader, that of all my study and travail within the Scriptures of God these twenty years, I have set forth nothing in expounding any portion of Scripture, except this only rude and indigested sermon preached by me in the public audience of the Church of Edinburgh, the day and year above mentioned. That I did not in writ communicate my judgment upon the Scriptures, I have ever thought and yet think myself to have most just reason. For considering myself rather called of my God to instruct the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak, and rebuke the proud, by tongue and lively voice in these most corrupt days, than to compose books for the age to come, seeing that so much is written (and that by men of most singular condition), and yet so little well observed, I decreed to contain myself within the bounds of that vocation whereunto I found myself especially called. I dare not deny (lest that in so doing I should be injurious to the giver), but that God has revealed to me secrets unknown to the world; and also that He made my tongue a trumpet, to forewarn realms and nations, yes, certain great personages, of translations and changes, when no such things were feared, nor yet was appearing, a portion whereof cannot the world deny (be it never so blind) to be fulfilled; and the rest (alas!) I fear shall follow with greater expedition, and in more full perfection, than my sorrowful heart desires. These revelations and assurances notwithstanding, I did ever abstain to commit anything to writ, contented only to have obeyed the charge of Him who commanded me to cry.
If any then will ask to what purpose this only sermon is set forth, and greater matters omitted, I answer, to let such as Satan has not altogether blinded see upon how small occasions great offense is now conceived. This sermon is it for the which from my bed I was called before the counsel; and, after long reasoning, I was by some forbidden to preach in Edinburgh so long as the King and Queen were in the town. This sermon is it that so offends such as would please the court, and yet will not appear to be enemies to the truth, that they dare affirm that I have exceeded the bonds of God’s messenger. I have, therefore, faithfully committed to writ whatsoever I could remember might have been offensive in that sermon, to the end, that as well the enemies of God’s truth as the professors of the same may either note to me wherein I have offended, or at the least cease to condemn me before they have convicted me by God’s manifest Word. If any man think it easy to me to mitigate by my pen the inconsiderate sharpness of my tongue, and so cannot men freely judge of that my sermon, I answer that neither am I so impudent that I will study to abuse the world in this great light, neither yet so void of fear of my God, that I will avow a lie in His own presence. And no less do I esteem it to be a lie to deny or conceal that which in His name I have once pronounced than to affirm that God has spoken, when His Word assures me not of the same, for in the public place I consult not with flesh and blood what I shall propone to the people, but as the Spirit of my God who has sent me, and to whom I must answer, moves me, so I speak; and when I have once pronounced threatenings in His name (how unpleasant so ever they be to the world), I dare no more deny them than I dare deny that God has made me his messenger to forewarn the inobedient [disobedient] of their assured destruction.
At that sermon were auditors to me, not only professors of the truth, and such
as favor me, but rank papists, dissembled hypocrites, and no small number of covetous clawbacks [flatterers] of the new court. Now I will appeal the conscience of them all, as they will answer in the presence of the Eternal God, that either they bear me record now writing the truth, or else note to me the sentences offensive then by me pronounced, and now omitted in writing. For, in God’s presence, I protest that, so far as memory would serve me, I have written more vehemently than in the action I spoke and pronounced, but of purpose I have omitted persuasions and exhortations which then were made for alluring such to the fear of God whom gladly I would have pleased if so I could have done, and not have betrayed the manifest truth of my God. The Lord be merciful to me that I did not more fully express whatsoever His Holy Spirit laid before me in that text which, I am assured, the indifferent reader shall thinkI have but slenderly handled, all circumstances being considered.
O Lord! For Your great namesake, give to us princes and rulers that delight in Your truth, that love virtue, hate impiety, and that desire rather to be roundly taught to their salvation than deceivably flattered, to their everlasting confusion. Amen.
At Edinburgh, the 9 of September 1565.
Isaiah 26, verses 13–21
13. O Lord our God, other lords beside thee have ruled us; but we will remember thee only, and thy Name.
14. The dead shall not live, neither shall the dead arise, because thou hast visited and scattered them, and destroyed all their memory.
15. Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord: thou hast increased the nation: thou art made glorious: thou hast enlarged all the coasts of the earth.
16. Lorde, in trouble have they visited thee: they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.
17. Like as a woman with child, that draweth near to the travail, is in sorrow, and cryeth in her pains, so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.
18. We have conceived, we have born in pain, as though we should have brought forth wind: there was no help in the earth, neither did the inhabitants of the world fall.
19. Thy dead men shall live: even with my body shall they rise. Awake, and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.
20. Come, my people: enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors after thee: hide thyself for a very little while, until the indignation pass over.
21. For lo, the Lord cometh out of his place, to visit the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth upon them: and the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall no more hide her slain.
As the cunning mariner, being master, having his ship tossed with vehement tempest and winds contrarious, is compelled oft to traverse, lest that either by too much resisting to the violence of the waves his vessel might be overwhelmed, or by too much liberty granted to be carried whither the fury of the tempest would, his ship should be driven upon the shore, and so make shipwreck. Even so does our prophet Isaiah, in this text which presently you have heard read. For he, foreseeing the great desolation that was decreed in the counsel of the Eternal against Jerusalem and Judah, to wit, that the whole people that bore the name of God should be dispersed, that the holy city should be destroyed, the temple wherein was the Ark of the Covenant, and where God had promised to give His own presence, should be burnt with fire, the king taken, his sons in his own presence murdered; his own eyes immediately after to be put out, the nobility, some cruelly murdered, some shamefully lead away captives, and, finally, the whole seed of Abraham razed, as it were, from the face of the earth – the prophet, I say, fearing these horrible calamities, does, as it were, sometimes suffer [allow] himself, and the people committed to his charge, to be carried away with the violence of the tempest, without further resistance than by pouring forth his and their dolorous complaint before the majesty of God, as in the 13, 17, and 18 verse of this present text we may read. At other times he valiantly resists the desperate tempest, and pronounces the fearful destruction of all such as trouble the church of God, which he pronounces that God will multiply even in such time as when it appears utterly to be exterminated. But because there is no final rest to the whole body till that the head return to judgement, he calls the afflicted to patience, and promises such a visitation as whereby the wickedness of the wicked shall be disclosed and finally recompensed in their own bosoms.
These are the chiefest points which, by the grace of God, we intend more largely at this present to entreat.
Verse 13. First, the prophet says, “Lord our God, other lords besides You have ruled us.”
This, no doubt, is the beginning of this dolorous complaint, in the which he first complains of the unjust tyranny that the poor afflicted Israelites sustained during the time of their captivity. True it is that the prophet was gathered to his fathers in peace before that this extremity apprehended the people. For a hundreth year after his decease, was not the people lead away captive, yet he, foreseeing the assurance of the calamity, did beforehand indict to them the complaint that after they should make. But at the first sight it appears that the complaint has small weight. For what new thing was it that “other lords than God” in His own person ruled them, seeing that such had been their regiment from the beginning? For who knows not that Moses, Aaron, and Joshua, the Judges, Samuel, David, and other godly rulers, were men, and not God? And so “other lords than God” ruled them in their greatest prosperity.
For the better understanding of this complaint, and of the mind of the prophet, we must first observe from whence all authority and dominion flows, and secondly, to what end powers are appointed of God, the which two points being discussed, we shall the better understand what Lords and what authority rules beside God, and who are they in whom God and His merciful presence rules.
The first is resolved to us by the words of the apostle, saying, “There is no power but of God” [REF]. David brings in the eternal God speaking to judges and rulers, saying, “I have said, you are Gods, and the sons of the most highest.” And Solomon, in the person of God, affirms the same, saying, “By me kings reign, and princes discern the things that are just.” Of which places it is evident that it is neither birth, influence of stars, election of people, force of arms, nor, finally, whatsoever can be comprehended under the power of nature, that makes the distinction betwixt the superior power and the inferior, or that does establish the royal throne of kings, but it is the only and perfect ordinance of God, who wills His power, terror, and majesty, in a part, to shine in the thrones of kings, and in the faces of judges, and that for the profit and comfort of man, so that whosoever would study to deface the order of regiment that God has established, and by His holy word allowed, and bring in such a confusion as no difference should be betwixt the upper powers and the subjects, does nothing but evert and turn upside down the very throne of God, which He will to be fixed here upon earth, as in the end and cause of this ordinance more plainly shall appear, which is the second point we have to observe, for the better understanding of the prophet’s words and mind.
The end and cause then, why God prints in the weak and feeble flesh of man this image of His own power and majesty, is not to puff up flesh in opinion of itself, neither yet that the heart of him that is exalted above others shall be lifted up by presumption and pride, and so despise others, but that he shall consider that he is appointed lieutenant to One whose eyes continually watch upon him, to see and examine how he behaves himself in his office. Saint Paul, in few words, declares the end wherefore the sword is committed to the powers, saying, “It is to the punishment of the wicked doers, and unto the praise of such as do well.” Of which words it is evident that the sword of God is not committed to the hand of man to use as it pleases him, but only to punish vice and maintain virtue, that men may live in such society as before God is acceptable. And this is the very and only cause why God has appointed powers in this earth. For such is the furious rage of man’s corrupt nature that unless severe punishment were appointed, and put in execution upon malefactors, better it were that man should live among brute and wild beasts than among men.
But at this present I dare not enter into the description of this common place, for so should I not satisfy the text which, by God’s grace, I purpose to absolve. This only by the way: I would that such as are placed in authority should consider whether they reign and rule by God, as that God rules them, or if they rule without, besides, and against God, of whom our prophet does here complain. If any lust to take trial of this point, it is not hard, for Moses, in the election of judges, and of a king, describes not only what persons shall be chosen to that honor, but does also give to him that is elected and chosen the rule by the which he shall try himself, whether God reign in him or not, saying, “When he shall sit upon the throne of his kingdom, he shall write to himself an exemplar of this law in a book, by the priests the Levites; it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, and to keep all the words of this law, and these statutes, that he may do them; that his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not from the commandment, to the right hand or to the left” [Deut 17…].
The same is repeated to Joshua, in his inauguration to the regiment of the people, by God Himself, saying, “Let not the book of this law depart from thy mouth; but meditate in it day and night, that thou mayst keep it, and do according to all that which is written in it; for then shall thy way be prosperous, and thou shalt do prudently” [Josh…].
The first thing then that God craves of him that is called to the honor of a king is the knowledge of His will revealed in His Word.
The second is an upright and willing mind to put in execution such things as God commands in His law, without declining either to the right or left hand.
Kings then have not an absolute power in their regiment what pleases them [to do whatever pleases them], but their power is limited by God’s word, so that if they strike where God commands not, they are but murderers, and if they spare when God commands to strike, they and their throne are criminal and guilty of the wickedness that abounds upon the face of the earth, for lack of punishment.
O! if kings and princes should consider what account shall be craved of them, as well of their ignorance and mis-knowledge of God’s will as for the neglecting of their office!
But now to return to the words of the prophet. In the person of the whole people he does complain to God that the Babylonians (whom he calls “other lords besides God,” both because of their ignorance of God and by reason of their cruelty and inhumanity), had long ruled over them in all rigor, without pity or compassion had upon the ancient men and famous matrons; for they, being mortal enemies of the people of God, sought by all means to aggravate their yoke, yes, utterly to have exterminated the memory of them and of their religion from the face of the earth.
After the first part of this dolorous complaint, the prophet declares the protestation of the people, saying, “Nevertheless, only in thee shall we remember thy name” (others read it, “But we will remember thee only and thy name”), but in the Hebrew there is no conjunction copulative in that sentence. The mind of the prophet is plain, to wit, that notwithstanding the long sustained affliction, the people of God declined not to a false and vain religion, but remembered God, that sometime appeared to them in His merciful presence, which albeit then they saw not, yet would they still remember His Name, that is, they would call to mind the doctrine and promise which sometimes they heard, albeit in their prosperity they did sufficiently glorify God, who so mercifully ruled in the midst of them.
The temptation, no doubt, of the whole Israelites was great in those days. They were carried captive from the land of Canaan, which was to them the gauge and pledge of God’s favor towards them, for it was the inheritance that God promised to Abraham and to his seed forever. The league and covenant of God’s protection appeared to have been broken. They lamentably complain that they saw not their accustomed signs of God’s merciful presence; the true prophets were few, and the abominations used in Babylon were exceeding many, and so it might have appeared to them that in vain it was that they were called the posterity of Abraham, or that ever they had received law or form of right religion from God.
That we may the better feel it in ourselves, the temptation, I say, was even such as if God should utterly destroy all order and policy that this day is within His church, that the true preaching of the Word should be suppressed, the right use of sacraments abolished, idolatry and papistical abomination erected up again, and therewith, that our bodies should be taken prisoners by Turks or other manifest enemies of God and of all godliness. Such, I say, was their temptation. How notable then is this their confession that in bondage they make, to wit, that they will remember God only, albeit He has appeared to turn His face from them; they will remember His Name, and will call to mind the deliverance promised.
Hereof have we to consider what is our duty if God bring us (as for our offenses and un-thankfulness justly He may) to the like extremity. This confession is not the fair flattering words of hypocrites, lying and bathing in their pleasures, but it is [the] mighty operation of the Spirit of God, who leaves not His own destitute of some comfort in their most desperate calamities. This is then our duty, not only to confess our God in the time of peace and quietness, but He chiefly craves that we avow Him in the midst of His and our enemies. And this is not to do, but it behooves that the Spirit of God work in us above all power of nature. And thus we ought earnestly to meditate before the battle rise more vehement, which appears not to be far off.
But now must we enter in somewhat more deeply to consider these judgments of God. This people, entreated as we have heard, was the only people upon the face of the earth to whom God was rightly known. Among them only was His laws, statutes, ordinances, and sacrifices used and put in practice. They only invocated His Name, and to them alone had He promised His protection and assistance. What then should be the cause that He should give them over into this great reproach, and bring them into such extremity, as His own name in them should be blasphemed?
The prophet Ezekiel, that saw this horrible destruction forespoken by Isaiah put in just execution, gives an answer in these words: “I gave unto them laws that were good, in the which, whosoever should walk, should live in them; but they would not walk in my ways, but rebelled against me; and, therefore, I have given unto them laws that are not good, and judgements in the which they shall not live.” The writer of the books of Kings and Chronicles declares this in more plain words, saying, “The Lord sent unto them his prophets, rising early, desiring of them to return unto the Lord, and to amend their wicked ways” (for he would have spared His people and His tabernacle), “but they mocked his servants, and would not return unto the Lord their God to walk in his ways.” Yes, Judah itself kept not the precepts of the Lord God, but walked in the manners and ordinances of Israel, that is, of such as then had declined to idolatry from the days of Jeroboam. And, therefore, the Lord God abhorred the whole seed of Israel, that is, the whole body of the people. He promised them, and He gave them into the hands of those that spoiled them, and so He cast them out from His presence. Hereof it is evident that their stubborn disobedience to God, and to the voices of His prophets, was the cause of their destruction.
Now have we to take heed how we should use the good laws of God, that is, His merciful will revealed to us in His Word, and that order of justice that by Him for the comfort of man is established among men. It is no doubt but that obedience is the most acceptable sacrifice to God, and that which above all things He requires, that when He manifests Himself by His Word, that men follow according to their vocation and commandment. Now so it is that God, by that great Pastor our Lord Jesus, now manifestly in His word calls us from all impiety, as well of body as of mind, to holiness of life, and to His spiritual service. And for this purpose He has erected the throne of His mercy among us, the true preaching of His word, together with the right administration of His sacrament, but what is our obedience? Let every man examine his own conscience, and consider what statute and laws we would have to be given to us.
Would you, O Scotland, have a King to reign over you in justice, equity, and mercy? Subject yourself to the Lord Your God, obey His commandments, and magnify that word that calls to you, “This is the way, walk into it,” and if you will not, flatter not yourself –– the same justice remains this day in God to punish you, Scotland, and you, Edinburgh, in especial, that before punished the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. “Every realm or nation,” says the prophet Jeremiah, “that likewise offends, shall be likewise punished.” But if you shall see impiety placed in the seat of justice above you, so that in the throne of God (as Solomon does complain) reigns nothing but fraud and violence, accuse your own ingratitude and rebellion against God. For that is the only cause why God takes away (as the same prophet in another place does speak) “the strong man and the man of war, the judge and the prophet, the prudent and the aged, the captain and the honorable, the counselor and the cunning artificer.” “And I will appoint, saith the Lorde, children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. Children are extortioners of my people, and women have rule over them.” If these calamities, I say, apprehend us, so that we see nothing but the oppression of good men, and of all godliness, and wicked men without God to reign above us, let us accuse and condemn ourselves as the only cause of our own miseries. For if we had heard the voice of the Lord our God, and given upright obedience to the same, God should have blessed us, He should have multiplied our peace, and should have rewarded our obedience before the eyes of the world.
But now let us hear what the Prophet says further.
Verse 14: “The dead shall not live, saith he, neither shall the tyrants, or the dead arise, because thou hast visited and scattered them, and destroyed all their memory.”
From this 14th verse to the end of the 19th, it appears that the prophet observes no order, yes, that he speaks things directly repugning one to another. For first he says, “The dead shall not live.” After he affirms, “Thy dead men shall live.” Secondly, he says, “Thou hast visited and scattered them, and destroyed all their memory.” Immediately thereafter, he says, “Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord! Thou hast increased the nation. They have visited thee, and have poured forth a prayer before thee.” Who, I say, would not think that these are things not only spoken forth of good order and purpose, but also manifestly repugning one to another. For to live and not to live, to be so destroyed that no memorial remains and to be so increased that the coasts of the earth shall be replenished, seem to import plain contradiction.
For removing of this doubt, and for better understanding of the prophet’s mind, we must understand that the prophet had to do with diverse sorts of men. He had to do with the conjured and manifest enemies of God’s people, the Chaldees or Babylonians. Even such as profess Christ Jesus have to do with the Turk and Saracens. He had to do with the seed of Abraham, whereof there were three sorts. The ten tribes all degenerate from the true worshipping, and corrupted with idolatry, as this day are our pestilent papists in all realms and nations. There rested only the tribe of Judah and Jerusalem, where the form of true religion was observed, the law taught, and ordinances of God outwardly kept. But yet there were in that body (I mean in the bosom of the visible Church) a great number that were hypocrites, as this day yet are among us that do profess the Lord Jesus, and have refused papistry; not a few that were licentious livers; some that had turned their back to God, that is, had forsaken all true religion, and some that lived a most abominable life, as Ezekiel says in his vision. And yet there were some godly, as a few wheat corns oppressed and hid among the multitude of such chaff. Now, according to this diversity, the prophet keeps diverse purposes, and yet in most perfect order.
And first, after the first part of the complaint of the afflicted, as we have heard, in vehemence [original: vehemency] of spirit, he bursts forth against all the proud enemies of God’s people, all such as trouble them, and against all such as mock and forsake God, and says, “The dead shall not live: the proud giants shall not arise: thou hast scattered them, and destroyed their memorial.” In which words he fights against the present temptation and dolorous estate of God’s people, and against the insolent pride of such as oppressed them, as [if] the prophet should say, “O ye troublers of God’s people, howsoever it appears to you in this your bloody rage, that God regards not your cruelty, nor considers not what violence you do to His poor afflicted, yet shall you be visited. Yes, your carcasses shall fall and lie as stinking carrions upon the face of the earth. You shall fall without hope of life, or of a blessed resurrection. Yes, howsoever you gather your substance, and augment families, you shall be so scattered that you shall leave no memorial of you to the posterities to come but that which shall be execrable and odious. Hereof have the tyrants their admonition, and the afflicted church inestimable comfort. The tyrants that now do oppress shall receive the same end that they which have passed before [received], that is, they shall die and fall with shame, without hope of resurrection, as is aforesaid – not that they shall not arise to their own confusion and just condemnation, but that they shall not recover power to trouble the servants of God, neither yet shall the wicked arise, as David says, in the council of the just.
Now have the wicked their councils, their thrones, and finally handling, for the most part, of all things that are upon the face of the earth; but the poor servants of God are reputed unworthy of men’s presence. Yes, they are more vile before these proud tyrants than is very dirt and mire that is trodden under foot. But in that glorious resurrection this estate shall be changed for then shall such as now, by their abominable living and cruelty, destroy the earth and molest God’s children, see Him whom they have pierced. They shall see the glory of such as now they persecute, to their terror and everlasting confusion. The remembrance hereof ought to make us patient in the days of affliction, and so to comfort us that when we see tyrants in their blind rage tread underfoot the saints of God, that utterly we despair not, as that there were neither wisdom, justice, nor power above in the heavens to repress such tyranny, and to redress the dolors of the unjustly afflicted. No, brethren, let us be assured that the right hand of the Lord will change the state of things that be most desperate. In our God there is wisdom and power in a moment to change the joy and mirth of our enemies into everlasting mourning, and our sorrows into joy and gladness that shall have no end.
Let us, therefore, in these apparent calamities (and marvel not that I say calamities apparent, for he that sees not a fire begone, that shall burn more than we look for, unless God of His mercy quench it, is more than blind) yet, I say, let us not be discouraged, but with unfeigned repentance let us return to the Lord our God. Let us accuse and condemn our former negligence, and steadfastly depend upon His promised deliverance, and so shall our temporal sorrows be converted into joy everlasting. The doubt that might be moved concerning the destruction of those whom God exalts shall be discussed, if time will suffer [allow], after that we have passed throughout the text.
Now proceeds the prophet, and says – verse 15: “Thou hast increased the nation, O Lord, thou hast increased the nation ; thou art made glorious, thou hast enlarged all the coasts of the earth.”
Verse 16: “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee; they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.”
In these words the prophet gives consolation to the afflicted, assuring them that, how horrible soever that desolation should be, yet should the seed of Abraham be so multiplied that it should replenish the coasts of the earth, yes, that God should be more glorified in their dispersion than He was during the time of their prosperity. This promise, no doubt, was incredible when it was made, for who could have been persuaded that the destruction of Jerusalem should have been the means whereby the nation of the Jews should have been increased, seeing that much rather it appeared that the overthrow of Jerusalem should have been the very abolishing of the seed of Abraham. But we must consider to what end it was that God revealed Himself to Abraham, and what is contained in the promise of the multiplication of his seed, and of the benediction promised thereto.
First, God revealed Himself to Abraham – and that by the means of His Word – to let all flesh after understand that without God first call [unless God first calls] man, and reveal Himself to him, that “flesh can do nothing but rebel against God,” for Abraham, no doubt, was an idolater before that God called him from Ur of the Chaldees. The promise was made that “the seed of Abraham should be multiplied as the stars of heaven, and as the sand of the sea,” which is not simply to be understood of his natural seed, although it was sometimes greatly increased, but rather of such as should become the spiritual seed of Abraham, as the apostle speaks.
Now if we be able to prove that right knowledge of God, His wisdom, justice, mercy, and power, was more amply declared in their captivity than ever it was at any time before, then can we not deny but that God, even when to man’s judgment He had utterly razed them from the face of the earth, did increase the nation of the Jews, so that He was glorified in them, and did extend the coasts of the earth for their habitation. And for the better understanding hereof, let us shortly try the histories from their captivity to their deliverance, and, after the same, to the coming of the Messiah. It is no doubt but that Satan intended, by the dispersion of the Jews, so to have profaned the whole seed of Abraham that among them should neither have remained the true knowledge of God, nor yet the Spirit of sanctification, but that all should have come to a like ignorance and contempt of God.
For I pray you, for what purpose was it that Daniel and his fellows were taken into the king’s court, were commanded to be fed at the king’s table, and were put to the schools of their divines, soothsayers, and astrologians? It may be thought that it proceeded of the king’s humanity, and of a zeal that he had, that they should be brought up in virtue and good learning, and I doubt not but it was so understood [original: understanded] of a great number of the Jews. But the secret practice of the devil was understood [original: understanded] of Daniel when he refused to defile himself with the king’s meat which was forbidden to the seed of Abraham in the law of their God. Well, God begins shortly thereafter to show Himself mindful of His promise made by the prophet, and He begins to trouble Nebuchadnezzar himself by showing to him a vision in his dream, which did the more trouble him because he could not forget the terror of it, neither yet could he remember what the vision and the parcels thereof were. Whereupon were called all divines, interpreters of dreams, and soothsayers, of whom the King demanded if they could let him understand what he had dreamed. But while that they answer that such a question used not to be demanded of any soothsayer or magician – for the resolution thereof only appertained to the gods, whose habitation was not with men – the charge was given that they all should be slain. And amongst the rest Daniel was sought (whose innocence the devil most envied) to have suffered the same judgement. He reclaims, and asks time to disclose the secret (I only touch the history, to let you see by what means God increases His knowledge) which, being granted, the vision is revealed to him. He shows the same to the King, with the true interpretation of it, adding that the knowledge thereof came not from the stars but only from the God of Abraham, who only was, and is, the true God. Which thing understood [original: understanded], the King burst forth in his confession, saying, “Of a truth your God is the most excellent of all gods, and He is Lord of kings, and only He that reveals the secrets, seeing that you could open this secret.”
And when the king after, puffed up in pride by the counsel of his wicked nobility, would make an image, before the which he would that all tongues and nations subject to him should make adoration, and that Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego would not obey his unjust commandment, and so were cast in the flaming furnace of fire, and yet by God’s angels were so preserved that no smell of fire remained in their persons nor garments; this same king gives a more notable confession, saying, “The Lord God of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego is to be praised, who has sent his angels, and delivered his worshippers that put their trust in him, who have done against the king’s commandment, who have rather given their own bodies to torment, than that they would worship another God except their own God. By me, therefore, is there made a decree that whosoever shall blaspheme the God of Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, that he shall be cut in pieces, and his house shall be made detestable.”
Thus we see how God began even almost in the beginning of their captivity to notify His Name, to multiply His knowledge, and set forth as well His power as His wisdom and true worshipping, by those that were taken prisoners, yes, that were despised, and of all men contemned, so that the name and fear of the God of Abraham was never before notified to so many realms and nations.
This wonderous work of God proceeded from one empire to another. For Daniel, being promoted to great honor by Darius, King of Persians and Medes, falls into a desperate danger; for he was committed to prison among lions, because that he was deprehended, breaking the king’s injunction; not that the king desired the destruction of God’s servants, but because the corrupt idolaters, that in hatred of Daniel had procured that law to be made, urged the king against his nature. But God by His angel did stop the lion’s mouths, and so preserved His servant. Which considered with the sudden destruction of Daniel’s enemies by the same lions, King Darius, besides his own confession, wrote to all people, tongues, and nations after this form: “It is decreed by me that in all the dominions of my kingdom, men shall fear and reverence the God of Daniel, because He is the living God abiding forever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and His dominion remains, who saves and delivereth, and sheweth signes and wonders in heaven and in earth, who hath delivered Daniel from the lions.”
This knowledge was yet further increased in the days of Cyrus, who giving freedom to the captives to return to their own native country, gives this confession: “Thus says Cyrus, the king of Persians, all the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given unto me, and hath commanded me that a house be built to him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever therefore of you that are of his people, let the Lord his God be with him, and let him pass up to Jerusalem, and let him build the house of the Lord God of Israel), for he only is God that is in Jerusalem.” Time will not suffer to intreat the points of this confession, neither yet did I for that purpose adduce the history, but only to let us see how constantly God kept his promise in increasing of His people, and in augmenting of His true knowledge, when that both they that were the seed of Abraham, and that religion which they professed, appeared utterly to have bene extinguished; above men’s expectation, I say, he brought freedom out of bondage, light out of darkness, and life out of death. I am not ignorant that the building of the temple and reparation of the walls of Jerusalem were long stayed, so that the work had many enemies. But so did the hand of God prevail, in the end, that a decree was given by Darius (by him, I suppose, that succeeded to Cambyses), not only that all things necessary for the building of the temple, and for the sacrifices that were to be there brent, should be ministered upon the king’s charges, but also that whosoever should hinder that work, or change that decree, that a balk should be taken out of his house, and that he should be hanged thereupon, yes, that his house should be made a dunghill. And thereto he adds a prayer, saying, “The God of heaven who hath placed his name there, root out every king and people, (O! that kings and nations should understand) that shall put his hand either to change or to hurt this house of God that is in Jerusalem P” And so, in despite of Satan, was the temple built, the walls repaired, and the city inhabited; and in the most desperate dangers it was preserved till that the Messiah promised, the glory of the second temple, came, manifested Himself to the world, suffered and rose again, according to the Scriptures. And so, by sending forth His gospel from Jerusalem, did replenish the whole earth with the true knowledge of God; and so did God in perfection increase the nation and the spiritual seed of Abraham.
Wherefore, dear brethren, we have no small consolation, if the estate of all things be this day rightly considered. We see in what fury and rage the world for the most part is, now raised against the poor Church of Jesus Christ, to the which He has proclaimed liberty, after this fearful bondage of that spiritual Babylon, in the which we have been held [original: holden] captives longer space than Israel was prisoner in Babylon itself. For if we shall consider, upon the one part, the multitude of those that live without God, and upon the other part, the blind rage of the pestilent papists, what shall we think of the small number of them that do profess Christ Jesus, but that they are as a poor sheep, already seized in the claws of the lion? Yes, that they, and the true religion which they profess, shall in a moment utterly be consumed.
But against this fearful temptation let us be armed with the promise of our God, to wit, that He will be the protector of His Church, yes, that He will multiply it, even when to man’s judgment it appears utterly to be exterminated. This promise has our God performed in the multiplication of Abraham’s Seed, in preservation of it when Satan labored utterly to have destroyed it, in deliverance of the same, as we have heard from Babylon. He has sent His Son Christ Jesus, clad in our flesh, who has tasted of all our infirmities (sin except), who has promised to be with us to the end of the world. He has further kept promise in publication, yes, in the restitution of his glorious gospel. Shall we then think that he will leave his church destitute in this most dangerous age? Only let us stick to His truth, and study to conform our lives to the same, and He shall multiply His knowledge and increase His people.
But now let us hear what the prophet says more.
Verse 16: “Lord, in trouble have they visited thee, they poured out a prayer when thy chastening was upon them.”
The Prophet means that such as in the time of quietness did not rightly regard God, nor his judgements, were compelled by sharp corrections to seek God, yes, by cries and dolorous complaints to visit Him. True it is that such obedience deserves small praise before men; for who can praise or accept that in good part which comes as it were of mere compulsion? And yet rare it is that any of God’s children do give unfeigned obedience until the hand of God turns them. For if quietness and prosperity make them not utterly to forget their duty both towards God and man, as David for a season, yet it makes them careless, insolent, and in many things unmindful of those things that God chiefly craves of them – which imperfection espied, and the danger that thereof might ensue, our heavenly Father visits the sins of His children, but in the rod of His mercy, by the which they are moved to return to their God, to accuse their former negligence, and to promise better obedience in all times thereafter, as David confesses, saying, “Before I fell in affliction, I went astray; but now will I keep thy statutes.”
But yet for the better understanding of the prophet’s mind, we may consider how God does visit man, and how man does visit God; and what difference there is betwixt the visitation of God upon the reprobate, and His visitation upon the chosen.
God sometimes visits the reprobate in His hot displeasure, pouring upon them His plagues for their long rebellion ; as we have heard before that he visited the proud and destroyed their memory. Other times, God is said to visit His people being in affliction, to whom He sends comfort or promise of deliverance, as He did visit the seed of Abraham, being oppressed in Egypt. And Zachariah says that God had visited His people and sent to them hope of deliverance when John the Baptist was born.
But of none of these visitations speaks our prophet here, but of that only which we have already touched, to wit, when that God lays his correction upon His own children, to call them from the venomous beasts of this corrupt world, that they suck not in over-great abundance the poison thereof; and [He] does, as it were, wean them from their mothers’ paps, that they may learn to receive other nourishment. True it is that this weaning (or “speaning,” as we term it) from worldly pleasure, is a thing strange to the flesh, and yet it is a thing so necessary to God’s children, that unless they be weaned from the pleasures of the world, they can never feed upon that delectable milk of God’s eternal verity. For the corruption of the one does either hinder the other to be received, or else so troubles the whole powers of man that the soul can never so digest the truth of God as that he ought to do. Albeit this appears hard, yet it is most evident, for what liquor can we receive from the breasts of the world but that which is in the world; and what that is, the Apostle John teaches, saying, “Whatsoever is in the world, is either the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, or the pride of life.” Now, seeing that these are not of the Father, but of the world, how can it be that our souls can feed upon chastity, temperance, and humility so long as that our stomachs are replenished with the corruption of these vices?
Now so it is that willingly flesh can never refuse these forenamed, but rather still delights itself in every one of them, yes, in them all, as the examples are but too evident. It behooves therefore that God Himself shall violently pull his children from these venomous breasts, that when they lack the liquor and poison of the one, they may visit Him, and learn to be nourished of Him. Oh! if the eyes of worldly princes should be opened, that they might see with what humor and liquor their souls are fed, while that their whole delight consists in pride, ambition, and lusts of the stinking flesh. We understand then how God does visit men, as well by His severe judgments, as by His merciful visitation of deliverance from trouble, or by bringing trouble upon His chosen for their humiliation.
And now it rests [remains] to understand how man visits God.
Man does visit God when he appears in His presence, be it to the hearing of His Word, or to the participation of His sacraments; as the people of Israel, besides the observation of their sabbaths and daily oblations, were commanded thrice a year to present themselves before the presence of the tabernacle, and as we do, as often as we present ourselves to the hearing of the Word; for there is the footstool, yes, there is the face and throne of God himself, wheresoever the gospel of Jesus Christ is truly preached, and His sacraments rightly ministered. But men may, on this sort, visit God hypocritically, for they may come for the fashion, they may hear with deaf ears, yes, they may understand, and yet never determine with themselves to obey that which God requires. And let such men be assured that He who searches the secrets of hearts will be avenged of all such. For nothing can be to God more
odious than to mock Him in His own presence. Let every man therefore examine Himself, with what mind, and what purpose, He comes to hear the word of God; yes, with what ear he hears it, and what testimony his heart gives to him, when that God commands virtue and forbids impiety.
Repine you when God requires obedience? You hear to your own condemnation. Mock you at God’s threatenings? You shall feel the weight and truth of them, albeit too late, when flesh and blood cannot deliver you from His hand. But the visitation (whereof our prophet speaks) is only proper to the sons of God, who in the time when God takes from them the pleasures of the world, or shows His angry countenance to them, have their recourse to Him, and, confessing their former negligence with troubled hearts, cry for His mercy. This visitation is not proper to all afflicted, but appertains only to God’s children, for the reprobate can never have access to God’s mercy in time of their tribulation, and that because they abuse as well His long patience as the manifold benefits they receive from His hands. For as the same prophet heretofore says, “Let the wicked obtain mercy, yet shall he never learn wisdom, but in the land of righteousness,” that is, where the very knowledge of God abounds, he will do wickedly, which is a crime above all others abominable. For to what end is it that God erects His throne among us, but for that we should fear Him? Why does He reveal His holy will to us, but that we should obey it? Why does He deliver us from trouble, but that we should be witnesses to the world that He is gracious and merciful?
Now when that men, hearing their duty and knowing what God requires of them, do malapertly fight against all equity and justice, what, I pray you, do they else but make manifest war against God? Yes, when they have received from God such deliverance that they cannot deny but that God Himself has in His great mercy visited them, and yet that they continue wicked even as before, what deserve they but effectually to be given over into a reprobate sense, that headlong they may run to mine both of body and soul? It is almost incredible that man should be so enraged against God that neither His plagues nor yet His mercy showed should move them to repentance. But because the Scriptures bear witness of the one and the other, let us cease to marvel, and let us firmly believe, that such things as have been are even presently before our eyes, albeit, many blinded by affection cannot see them.
Ahab, as in the book of the Kings is written, received many notable benefits of the hand of God, who did visit him in diverse sorts – sometimes by His plagues, sometimes by His word, and sometimes by His merciful deliverance. He made him king, and for the idolatry used by him and by his wife, he plagued whole Israel by famine. He revealed to him His will and true religion by the prophet Elijah. He gave to him sundry deliverances, but one most special, when proud Ben Hadad came to besiege Samaria, and was not content to receive Ahab’s gold, silver, sons, daughters, and wives, but also required that his servants should have at their pleasure whatsoever was delectable in Samaria. True it is that his elders and people willed him not to hear the proud tyrant. But who made to him the promise of deliverance? And who appointed and put his army in order? Who assured him of victory? The prophet of God only, who assured him that by the servants of the princes of the provinces, who in number were only 232, he should deface that great army in the which there were thirty-two kings with all their forces. As the prophet of God promised, so it came to pass; victory was obtained, not once only but twice, and that by the merciful visitation of the Lord.
But how did Ahab visit God again for his great benefit received? Did he remove his idolatry? Did he correct his idolatrous wife Jezebel? No, we find no such thing; but the one and the other we find to have continued and increased in former impiety. But what was the end hereof? The last visitation of God was that dogs licked the blood of the one, and did eat the flesh of the other.
In few words, then, we may understand what difference there is betwixt the visitation of God upon the reprobate, and His visitation upon his chosen. The reprobate are visited, but never truly humbled, nor yet amended. The chosen being visited, they sob and they cry to God for mercy, which obtained, they magnify God’s name, and after declare the fruits of repentance.
Let us, therefore, that hear these judgements of our God call for the assistance of His Holy Spirit, that howsoever it pleases Him to visit us, that we may stoop under His merciful hands, and unfeignedly cry to Him when He corrects us; and so shall we know in experience that our cries and complaints were not in vain.
But let us hear what the prophet says further.
Verse 17: “Like as a woman (says he) with child that draws near to the travail, is in sorrow, and cries in her pains; so have we been in thy sight, O Lord.”
Verse 18: “We have conceived, we have born in pain, as though we should have brought forth the wind: salvations were not made to the earth; neither did the inhabitants of the earth fall.”
This is the second part of the prophet’s complaint, in the which he, in the person of God’s people, complains that of their great affliction there appeared no end. This same similitude is used by our Master Jesus Christ. For when He speaks of the troubles of His church, He compares them to the pains of a woman travailing in her childbirth. But it is to another end. For there he promises exceeding and permanent joy, after a sort, though it appear trouble. But here is the trouble long and vehement, albeit, the fruit of it was not suddenly espied. He speaks, no doubt, of that long and dolorous time of their captivity, in the which they continually travelled for deliverance, but obtained it not before the complete end of seventy years, during the which time the earth, that is, the land of Judah, which sometimes were sanctified to God, but was then given to be profaned by wicked people, got no help. Nor perceived any deliverance. For the inhabitants of the world fell not, that is, the tyrants and oppressors of God’s people were not taken away but still remained, and continued blasphemers of God and troublers of His church.
But because I perceive the hours to pass more swiftly than they have done at other times, I mind to contract that which rests [remains] of this text into certain points.
Verses 19, 20.
The prophet first fights against the present desperation; after he introduces God Himself calling upon His people, and last of all he assures his afflicted that God will come, and require account of all the blood-thirsty tyrants of the earth.
First, fighting against the present desperation, he says, verse 19: “Thy dead shall live; even my body (or with my body) shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: For thy dew is as the dew of herbs.”
The prophet here pierces through all impediments that nature could object; and by the victory of faith, he overcomes not only the common enemies but the great and last enemy of all, to wit, death itself. For this would he say: “Lord, I see nothing to Your chosen but misery to follow misery, and one affliction to succeed another. Yes, in the end I see that death shall devour Your dearest children. But yet, O Lord, I see Your promise to be true, and Your love to remain towards Your chosen, even when death appears to have devoured them. For Your dead shall live, yes, not only shall they live, but my very dead carcass shall arise. And so I see honor and glory to succeed this temporal shame. I see joy permanent to come after trouble, order to spring out of this terrible confusion, and, finally, I see that life shall devour death, so that death shall be destroyed, and so Your servants shall have life.”
This, I say, is the victory of faith, when in the midst of death, throughout the light of God’s Word, the afflicted see life. Hypocrites, in the time of quietness and prosperity, can generally confess that God is true in His promises, but bring them to the extremity and there ceases the hypocrite further to trust in God than he sees natural means whereby God uses to work. But the true faithful, when all hope of natural means fails, then fly they to God Himself, and to the truth of His promise, who is above nature, yes, whose works are not so subject to the ordinary course of nature that, when nature fails, His power and promise fail also therewith.
Let us further observe that the prophet here speaks not of all dead in general, but says, “Your dead, O Lord, shall live” – in which words he makes difference betwixt those that die in the Lord and those that die in their natural corruption and in the old Adam. Die in the Lord can none except those that live in Him (I mean of those that attain to the years of discretion), and none live in Him except those that with the apostle can say, “I live, not I, but Christ Jesus lives in me; the life that now I live, I have by the faith of the Son of God.” Not that I mean that the faithful have at all hours such sense of the life everlasting that they fear not the death and the troubles of this life; no, not so: for the faith of all God’s children is weak, yes, and in many things imperfect. But I mean that such as in death, and after death, shall live must communicate in this life with Jesus Christ, and must be regenerate by the seed of life, that is, by the Word of the living and everlasting God, which whosoever despises, refuses life and joy everlasting.
The prophet transfers all the promises of God to himself, saying, “Even my dead body shall arise,” and immediately after gives commandment and charge to the dwellers in the dust, that is, to the dead carcasses of those that were departed (for the spirit and soul of man dwells not in the dust), that they should awake, they should sing and rejoice; for they should arise and spring up from the earth, even as the herbs do, after they have received the dew from above.
Time will not suffer that these particulars be so largely intreated as they merit, and as I gladly would; and, therefore, let us first consider that the prophet, in transferring the power
and promise of God to himself, does not vindicate to himself any particular prerogative above the people of God, as that he alone should live and arise, and not they also; but he does it to let them understand that he taught a doctrine whereof he was certain, yes, and whereof they should have experience after his death, as he should say, “My words appear to you now to be incredible, but the day shall come that I shall be taken from you. My carcass shall be enclosed in the bosom of the earth and, therefore shall you be lead away captives to Babylon, where you shall remain many days and years, as it were, buried in your sepulchers. But then call to mind that I said to you beforehand that my body shall arise. Even so shall you rise from your graves out of Babylon, and be restored to your own country and city of Jerusalem. This, I doubt not, is the true meaning of the prophet.
The charge that he gives to the dwellers in the dust is to express the power of God’s Word. Whereby, he not only gives life where death apparently had prevailed, but also by it he calls things that are not even as if they were.
True it is that the prophet Isaiah saw not the destruction of Jerusalem – much less could he see the restitution of it – with his corporal eyes, but he leaves this, as it were, in testament with them, that when they were in the extremity of all bondage they should call to mind what the prophet of God had before spoken. And lest that his doctrine, and this promise of God made to them by his mouth, should have been forgotten (as we are ever prone and ready to forget God’s promises, when we are pressed with any sorrow), God raised up to them in the midst of calamity his prophet Ezekiel, to whom, among many other visions, he gave this: “The hand of the Lord first led him in a place which was full of dry and dispersed bones.” The question was demanded of the prophet, if these bones being wondrous dry should live. The prophet answered, “the knowledge thereof appertained to God.” Charge was given to him that he should speak to the dry bones, and say, “Thus says the Lord God to these bones, ‘Behold, I shall give you breath, and you shall live; I shall give to you sinews, flesh, and skin, and you shall live.” And while the prophet spoke (as he was commanded), he heard a voice, and he saw every bone join in his marrow. He saw them covered with flesh and skin, albeit, there was no spirit of life in them. He was commanded again to speak and to say, “Thus says the Lord God, ‘Come, Spirit, from the four quarters, and blow in these that are slain, that they may live.” And, as he prophesied, the Spirit of life came. They lived and stood upon their feet. Now does the Lorde interpret what this vision meant, saying, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried, our hope is perished, we are plainly cut off. But, “Behold,” says the Lord, “I will open your graves, I will bring you forth of them, you shall live, and come to the land of Israel, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
This vision, I say, given to the prophet, and by the prophet preached to the people when they thought that God had utterly forgotten them, compelled them more diligently to advert what the former prophets had spoken. It is no doubt but they carried with them both the prophesy of Isaiah and Jeremiah, so that the prophet Ezekiel is a commentary to these words of Isaiah, where he says, “Your dead, O Lord, shall live; with my body they shall arise.”
The prophet brings in this similitude of the dew to answer to that part of their fidelity who can believe no further of God’s promises than they are able to apprehend by natural judgment. As [if] he would say, “Think you this impossible, that God shall give life to you, and bring you to an estate of a common wealth again, after that you be dead, and as it were razed from the face of the earth? But why do you not consider what God works from year to year in the order of nature? Sometimes you see the face of the earth decked and beautified with herbs, flowers, grass, and fruits. Again you see the same utterly taken away by storms and vehemence [original: vehemency] of the winter. What does God to replenish the earth again, and to restore the beauty thereof? He sends down his small and soft dew, the drops whereof in their descending are neither great nor visible, and yet thereby are the pores and secret veins of the earth, which before, by vehemence [original: vehemency] of frost and cold, were shut up, opened again; and so does the earth produce again the like herbs, flowers, and fruits. Shall you then think that the dew of God’s heavenly grace shall not be as effectual in you to whom He has made His promises, as that it is in the herbs and fruits that from year to year bud forth and decay? If you do so, the prophet would say, your incredibility is inexcusable, because you do neither rightly weigh the power nor the promise of your God. The like similitude uses the Apostle Paul against such as called the resurrection in doubt, because that by natural judgement they could not apprehend that flesh once putrefied and resolved, as it were, in other substance, should arise again and return again to the same substance and nature. “O fool,” says he, “that which you sow is not quickened except it die; and that which you sow, you sow not that body that shall be, but bare come, as it falls, of wheat or some other; but God gives it a body as it pleases Him, even to every seed his [its] own body.” In which words and sentence the Apostle sharply rebukes the gross ignorance of the Corinthians, who began to call in doubt the chief article of our faith, the resurrection of the flesh after that it was once resolved, because that natural judgment (as said is) reclaimed thereto. He reproves (I say) their gross ignorance, because that they might have seen and considered some proof and document thereof in the very order of nature; for albeit the wheat, or other corn cast in the earth, appears to die, to putrefy, and so to be lost, yet we see that it is not perished, but that it fructifies according to God’s will and ordinance.
Now, if the power of God be so manifest in raising up of the fruits of the earth, to the which no particular promise is made by God, what shall be His power and virtue in raising up of our bodies, seeing that thereto He is bound by the solemn promise of Jesus Christ, His Eternal Wisdom, and the verity itself that cannot lie. Yes, seeing that the members must once communicate with the glory of the head, how shall our bodies, which are flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, lie still forever in corruption, seeing that our Head, Jesus Christ, is now exalted in His glory. Neither yet is this power and good will of God to be restrained to the last and general resurrection only, but we ought to consider it in the marvelous preservation of His church, and in the raising up of the same from the very bottom of death, when by tyrants it has been oppressed from age to age.
Now, of the former words of the prophet we have to gather this comfort, that if at any time we shall see the face of the church within this realm so defaced (as I think it shall be sooner than we look for), when we shall see, I say, virtue to be despised, vice to be maintained, the verity of God to be impugned, lies and men’s inventions held [original: holden] in authority; and finally, when we shall see the true religion of our God, and zealous observers of the same, to be trodden under the feet of such as in their heart say there is no God. Let us then call to mind what have been the wonderous works of our God from the beginning, that it is His proper office to bring for the light out of darkness, order out of confusion, life out of death; and finally, that it is He that calls things that are not even as if they were, as before we have heard. And if in the day of our temptation (which in my judgment approaches fast) we be thus armed, if our incredibility cannot utterly be removed, yet shall it so be corrected, that damnable desperation oppress us not.
But now let us hear how the prophet proceeds.
Verse 20: “Come (says he) thou my people, enter within thy chambers, shut your door after you; hide yourself a very little while, until the indignation pass over.”
Here the prophet brings in God amiably calling upon His people to come to Himself, and to rest with Him to such time as the fury and sharp plagues should be executed upon the wicked and inobedient [disobedient]. It may appear at the first sight that all these words of the prophet in the person of God, calling the people to rest, are spoken in vain. For we neither find chambers nor rest more prepared for the dearest children of God (so far as man’s judgement can discern) than there was for the rebellious and inobedient [disobedient]. For such as fell not in the edge of the sword, or died not of pestilence, or by hunger, were either carried captives into Babylon, or else departed after into Egypt, so that none of Abraham’s seed had either chamber or quiet place to remain within the land of Canaan. For the resolution hereof, we must understand that, albeit the chambers whereunto God called his chosen be not visible, yet notwithstanding they are certain, and offer to God’s children quiet habitation in spirit, howsoever the flesh be travailed and tormented.
The chambers are then God’s sure promises, to the which God’s people is commanded to resort, yes, within the which they are commanded to close themselves in the time of greatest adversity. The manner of speaking is borrowed from that judgement and foresight which God has printed in this our nature; for when that men espy great tempests appearing to come, willingly they will not remain uncovered upon the fields, but straightway they will draw them[selves] to their houses or holds, that they may escape the vehemence of the same. And if they fear any enemy to pursue them, they will shut their doors, to the end that suddenly the enemy shall not have entry.
After this same manner God speaks to His people; as [if] He should say, “The tempest that shall come upon this whole nation shall be so terrible that nothing shall appear but extermination to come upon the whole body. But you, my people, you, I say, that hear my word, believe the same, and tremble at the threatenings of my prophets, now when the world does insolently resist, let such, I say, enter within the secret chamber of my promises. Let them contain themselves quietly there. Yes, let them shut the door upon them[selves], and suffer [allow] not infidelity, the mortal enemy of My truth, and of My people that depend thereupon, to have free entry to trouble (yes, rather, to murder) my promise. And so shall they perceive that my indignation shall pass, and that such as depend upon me shall be saved.
Thus we may perceive the meaning of the prophet, whereof we have first to observe that God acknowledges them for his people that are in greatest affliction. Yes, such as are reputed unworthy of men’s presence are yet admitted with the secret chamber of God. Let no man think that flesh and blood can suddenly attain to that comfort; and, therefore, most expedient it is that we be frequently exercised in meditation of the same.
Easy it is, I grant, in time of prosperity, to say and to think that God is our God, and that we are his people; but when he has given us over in the hands of our enemies, and turned (as it were) His back to us, then I say, still to reclaim Him to be our God, and to have this assurance that we are his people, proceeds wholly from the Holy Spirit of God as is the greatest victory of faith, which overcomes the world, for increase whereof we ought continually to pray. This doctrine we shall not think strange, if we shall consider how suddenly our spirits are carried away from our God, and from believing His promise, as soon as any great temptation does apprehend us, then begin we to doubt if ever we believed God’s promises, if God will fulfill them to us, if we abide in his favor, if he regards and looks upon the violence and injury that is done to us – and a multitude of such cogitations, which before lurked quietly in our corrupted hearts, burst violently forth when we are oppressed with any desperate calamity. Against the which, this is the remedy, once to apprehend and still to retain God to be our God, and firmly to believe that we are His people whom He loves and will defend, not only in affliction, but even in the midst of death itself.
Secondly, let us observe that the judgments of our God never were, nor yet shall be so vehement upon the face of the earth, but that there has bene and shall be some secret habitation prepared in the sanctuary of God for some of His chosen, where they shall be preserved until the indignation pass by; and that God prepares a time, that they may glorify Him again before the face of the world that sometimes despised them: and this ought to be to us no small comfort in these appearing dangers, to wit, that we be surely persuaded that, how vehement that ever the tempest shall be, that it yet shall pass over, and some of us shall be preserved to glorify the name of our God, as is aforesaid.
Two vices lurk in this our nature. The one is, that we cannot tremble at God’s threatenings before that the plagues apprehend us, albeit that we see cause most just why that His fierce wrath should burn as a devouring fire. The other is that when calamities before pronounced fall upon us, then begin we to sink down in desperation, so that we never look for any comfortable end of the same.
To correct this our mortal infirmity, in time of quietness we ought to consider what is the justice of our God, and how odious sin is. And above all other, how odious idolatry is in His presence who has forbidden it, and who has so severely punished it in all ages from the beginning. And in the time of our affliction we ought to consider what have been the wonderous works of our God in preservation of His church when it has been in uttermost extremity. For never shall we find the church humbled under the hands of tyrants, and cruelly tormented by them, but therewith we shall find God’s just vengeance to fall upon the cruel persecutors, and His merciful deliverance to be showed [shown] to the afflicted. And in taking of this trial, we should not only call to mind the histories of ancient times, but also we should diligently mark what notable works God has wrought, even in this our age, as well upon the one as upon the other. We ought not to think, that our God bears less love to His church this day than that He has done from the beginning. For as our God in His own nature is immutable, so remains His love towards His elect always unchangeable. For as in Christ Jesus He has chosen His church before the beginning of all ages, so by Him will he maintain and preserve the same to the end. Yes, He will quiet the storms, and cause the earth to open her mouth, and receive those raging floods of violent waters, cast out by the dragon, to drown and carry away the woman which is the spouse of Jesus Christ, to whom God for His own name sake will be the perpetual protector.
This saw that notable servant of Jesus Christ, Athanasius, who, being exiled from Alexandria by that blasphemous apostate, Julian the Emperor, said to his flock, who bitterly wept for his envious banishment, “Weep not, but be of good comfort,” said he, “for this little cloud will suddenly vanish.” A little cloud he called both the emperor himself and his cruel tyranny; and albeit that small appearance there was of any deliverance to the church of God, or yet of any punishment to have apprehended the proud tyrants, when the man of God pronounced these words, yet shortly after, God did give witness that those words did not proceed from flesh nor blood, but from God’s very Spirit. For not long after, being in warfare, he received a deadly wound, whether by his own hand, or by one of his own soldiers, the writers clearly conclude not, but casting his own blood against the heaven, he said, “Vicisti tandem, Galilaee,” that is, “At last You have overcome, You Galilean.” So in despite he termed the Lord Jesus. And so perished that tyrant in his own iniquity, the storm ceased, and the church of God received new comfort. Such shall be the end of all cruel persecutors, their reign shall be short, their end miserable, and their name shall be left in execration to God’s people; and yet shall the church of God remain to God’s glory, after all storms.
But now shortly let us come to the last point.
Verse 21: “For, behold (says the prophet), the Lord will come out of his place, to visit the iniquities of the inhabitants of the earth upon them; and the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall no more hide her slain.”
Because that the final end of the troubles of God’s chosen shall not be, before that the Lord Jesus shall return to restore all things to their full perfection.
The prophet brings forth the eternal God, as it were, from His own place and habitation, and therewith shows the cause of His coming to be that He may take account of all such as have wrought wickedly. For that he means where he says, “He will visit the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth upon them.” And lest that any should think that the wrong-doers are so many that they cannot be called to account, he gives to the earth, as it were, an office and charge to bear witness against all those that have wrought wickedly, and chiefly against those that have shed innocent blood from the beginning, and says, “that the earth shall disclose her blood, and shall no more hide her slain men.”
If the tyrants of the earth, and such as delight in shedding of blood, should be persuaded that this sentence is true, they should not so furiously come to their own destruction; for what man can be so enraged that he would willingly do even before the eyes of God that which might provoke His majesty to anger; yes, provoke Him to become his enemy forever, if that he understood how fearful a thing it is to fall into the hands of the living God [Heb]? The cause then of this blind fury of the world is the ignorance of God, and that men think that God is but an idol, and that there is no knowledge above that beholds their tyranny, neither yet justice that will, nor power that may, repress their impiety. But yet the Spirit of truth does witness the contrary, affirming that as “the eyes of the Lord are upon the just,” and as His ears are ready to receive their sobbing and prayers, so is His angry visage against such as work iniquity. He hates and holds in abomination every deceitful and blood-thirsty man. Whereof He has given sufficient document from age to age, in preserving the one – or at the least in revenging of their cause – and in punishing of the other.
Where it is said, “that the Lord will come from his place, and that he will visit the iniquity of the inhabitants of the earth upon them, and that the earth shall disclose her blood,” we have to consider what most commonly has been, and what shall be the condition of the church of God, to wit, that it is not only hated, mocked, and despised, but that it is exposed, as it were, in a prey, to the fury of the wicked, so that “the blood of the children of God is spilt like water upon the face of the earth.” The understanding whereof, albeit it be unpleasant to the flesh, yet to us it is most profitable, lest that we, seeing the cruel entreatings of God’s servants, begin to mis-know the spouse of Jesus Christ, because that she is not intreated in this unthankful world as that the just and upright dealings of God’s children does deserve. But contrariwise, for mercy they receive cruelty; for doing good to many of all the reprobate, they receive evil. And this is decreed in God’s eternal counsel, that the members may follow the trace of the Head, to the end that God, in His just judgments, should finally condemn the wicked. For how should He punish the inhabitants of the earth if their iniquity deserved it not? How should the earth disclose our blood, if it should not be unjustly spilt?
We must then commit ourselves into the hands of our God, and lay down our necks, yes, and patiently suffer our blood to be shed, that the righteous Judge may require account, as most assuredly He shall, of all the blood that has been shed, from the blood of Abel the just, till the day that the earth shall disclose the same. I say, everyone that sheds, or consents to shed the blood of God’s children shall be guilty of the whole. So that all the blood of God’s children shall cry vengeance, not only in general, but also in particular, upon every one that has shed the blood of any that unjustly suffered.
And if any think it strange that such as live this day can be guilty of the blood that was shed in the days of the apostles, let them consider that the verity itself pronounced that all the blood that was shed from the days of Abel to the days of Zachariah, should come upon that unthankful generation that heard His doctrine and refused it. The reason is evident; for as there is two heads and captains that rule upon the whole world, to wit, Jesus Christ, the Prince of justice and peace, and Satan, called the Prince of the world, so are they but two armies that have continued battle from the beginning, and shall fight to the end. The quarrel is one which the army of Jesus Christ sustains, which the reprobate do persecute, to wit, the eternal truth of the eternal God, and the image of Jesus Christ printed in His elect, so that whosoever in any age persecutes any one member of Jesus Christ for His truth sake, subscribes, as it were, with his hand, the persecution of all that have passed before him. And this ought the tyrants of this age deeply to consider, for they shall be guilty not only of the blood shed by themselves, but of all (as said) that has bene shed for the cause of Jesus Christ from the beginning of the world.
Let the faithful not be discouraged, although they be appointed as sheep to the slaughter-house, for He for whose sake they suffer shall not forget to revenge their cause. I am not ignorant that flesh and blood will think that kind of support too, too late, for we had rather be preserved still alive than to have our blood to be revenged after our death. And truly, if our felicity stood in this life, or if death temporal should bring to us any damage, our desire in that behalf were not to be damned, but seeing that death is common to all, and that this temporal life is nothing but misery, and that death does fully join us with our God, and gives to us the possession of our inheritance, why should we think it strange to leave this world, and go to our Head and sovereign captain, Jesus Christ?
Now last, we have to observe this manner of speaking, where that the prophet says, “The earth shall disclose her blood,” in which words the prophet would accuse the cruelty of those that dare so unmercifully rive from the breasts of the earth, the dearest children of God, and cruelly cut their throats in her bosom, who is by God appointed the common mother of mankind, so that she unwillingly is compelled to open her mouth and receive their blood. If such tyranny were used against any natural woman, as violently to pull her infant from her breasts, cut the throat of it in her own bosom, and compel here to receive the blood of her dear child in her own mouth, all nations would hold the fact so abominable, that the like had never been done in the course of nature. And no less wickedness commit they that shed the blood of God’s children upon the face (as I have said) of their common mother, the earth. But be of good courage, O little and despised flock of Christ Jesus, for he that sees your grief has power to revenge it, He that will not suffer [allow] one tear of yours to fall, but that shall be kept and reserved in His bottle, till the fullness thereof be poured down from heaven, upon those that caused you to weep and mourn. This your merciful God, I say, will not suffer your blood forever to be covered with the earth. Nay, the flaming fires that have licked up the blood of any of our brethren, the earth that hath been defiled with it – I say, with the blood of God’s children, for otherwise to shed the blood of the cruel blood-shedders is to purge the land from blood, and as it were to sanctify it – the earth, I say, shall purge herself of it, and show it before the face of God. Yes, the beasts, fowls, and other creatures whatsoever, shall be compelled to render that which unjustly they have received, be it flesh, blood, or bones that appertained to Your children, O Lord! Which altogether You shall glorify according to Your promise, made to us in Jesus Christ, Your Son, to whom with You and the Holy Ghost, be honor, praise, and glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Let us now humble ourselves in the presence of our God, and, from the bottom of our hearts, let us desire him to assist us with the power of His Holy Spirit, that albeit, for our former negligences, God gave us over in the hands of other than such as rule in His fear, that yet he let us not forget His mercy, and that glorious Name that has been proclaimed amongst us, but that we may look throughout the dolorous storm of His present displeasure, and see as well [both] what punishment He has appointed for the cruel tyrants as what reward He has laid in store for such as continue in His fear to the end. That it would further please Him to assist, that albeit we see his church so diminished, that it shall appear to be brought, as it were, to utter extermination, that yet we may be assured that in our God there is power and will to increase the number of His chosen, even while they be enlarged to the uttermost coasts of the earth.
Give us – O Lord! – hearts to visit You in time of our affliction, and that albeit we see none end of our dolors, that yet our faith and hope may conduct us to the assured hope of that joyful resurrection, in the which we shall possess the fruit of that for the which now we travail. And in the mean [meanwhile] season, grant to us – O Lord! – to repose ourselves in the sanctuary of Your promise, that in You we may find comfort, till that this Your great indignation, begun amongst us, may pass over, and You Yourself appear to the comfort of Your afflicted, and to the terror of Your enemies. Let us pray with heart and mouth, “Almighty God and merciful Father,” etc.
Lord! In Your hands I commend my spirit, for the terrible roaring of guns, and the noise of armor, do so pierce my heart that my soul thirsts to depart.
The last of August 1565, at four at afternoon, written indigestly, but yet truly, so far as memory would serve, of those things that in public preaching I spoke upon Sunday, the 19 of August, for the which I was discharged to preach.
Be merciful to Your flock, O Lord! And at Your good pleasure put an end to my misery.
 Original reads: 1 Tim. 4.
 Knox uses an expanded paraphrase of this verse as the epigraph to his sermon. Knox’s Scripture references throughout are…
 Laing note: “Clawbacks,” flatterers.
 Laing: “Indifferent,” impartial.
 Laing: The translation here used is that known as the Geneva version, first printed in the year 1560.
 Laing: “THE DISPOSITION.––(Marg. note.)”
 Laing: Psal. 83.
 Evert: turn outward or inside out.
 Laing: Rom. 13.
 Laing: “Lust,” desire.
 Laing: Deut. 17.
 Laing: Joshua 1.
 Laing: What is required of a king or prince.
 Laing: The authority and power of kings is limited.
 Laing: The duty of God’s people.
 Laing: Ezek. 20. [Original: Eche. 20.]
 Laing: 2 Reg. 17.
 His sacrament: note that sacrament here is singular.
 Laing: Isa. 30
 Laing: Jer. 9.
 Laing: Eccl. 3.
 Laing: Isa. 3.
 Laing: Verse 15.
 Laing: Ezech. 8.
 Laing: Apoca.
 Laing: Josu. 24. [Joshua 24:19]
 Laing: Rom. 9.
 To man’s judgment: by man’s estimation.
 Laing: Daniel 1.
 Astrologians: astrologers.
 Laing: Daniel 2.
 Laing: Daniel 3.
 Laing: Daniel 6.
 Deprehended: NOTE.
 Laing: 1 Esd. 1.
 Laing: [Brent, burnt.]
 Laing: 1 Esd. 6.
 Laing: [Balke, bawk, a beam.]
 Laing: A prayer.
 Laing: Psal. 119.
 Pap: breast.
 Laing: 1 John 2
 Original: Repinest thou.
 Whole Israel: all of Israel.
 Laing: 1 Reg. 22.
 Laing: 2 Reg. 9.
 Laing: John 16.
 Knox’s text reads as is: “the life that now I live, I have”
 Laing: Gal. 2. [Gal. 2:20]
 Laing: 1 Pet. 1.
 Laing: As he: as if he.
 Laing: Ezek. 37
 Laing: In the original “deawe.”
 Laing: “Incredibility,” unbelief.
 Laing: 1 Corin. 16.
 Laing: “Reclaymed thereto,” cried out against it.
 Laing: Ephe. 5
 Laing: Psal. 14.
 Laing: Unbelief.
 Laing: “Amiably,” lovingly.
 Laing: “As he,” as if he.
 Laing: 1 John 5.
 Laing: Ephe. 1.
 Laing: Apocal. 12.
 Laing: Eccle. Histo. Sozomeni. lib. 5, ca. 5.
 Note Knox’s account of prophesy here. Compare the following places in the History of the Reformation in Scotland:…
 Laing: Psal. 33.
 Laing: Psal. 79. [Cf. 2 Sam. 14:14]
 Laing: A terrible, but most true sentence.
 Laing: Matth. 23.
 Laing: “ryve,” pull away, tear.
 Laing: “The castle of Edinburgh was shooting against the exiled for Christ Jesus sake.” This marginal note reefers to an event described in Book V. of the History of the Reformation, supra, vol. ii. p. 499.
 Indigestly: undigested-ly, in a hasty or not sufficiently processed manner.
 Laing: “Discharged,” forbidden.