The holy scripture maketh mention of a sin against the Holy Ghost, which sin cannot be forgiven, neither in this world, nor in the world to come. And this maketh many men unquiet in their hearts and consciences: for some there be which ever be afraid, lest they have committed that same sin against the Holy Ghost, which is irremissible. Therefore some say, "I cannot tell whether I have sinned against the Holy Ghost or not: if I have committed that sin, I know I shall be damned." But I tell you what ye shall do: despair not of the mercy of God, for it is immeasurable. I cannot deny but that there is a sin against the Holy Ghost, which is irremissible: but we cannot judge of it aforehand, we cannot tell which man hath committed that sin or not, as long as he is alive; but when he is once gone, then I can judge whether he sinned against the Holy Ghost or not. As now I can judge that Nero, Saul, and Judas, and such like, that died in sins and wickedness, did commit this sin against the Holy Ghost: for they were wicked, and continued in their wickedness still to the very end; they made an end in their wickedness. But we cannot judge whether one of us sin this sin against the Holy Ghost, or not; for though a man be wicked at this time, yet he may repent, and leave his wickedness tomorrow, and so not commit that sin against the Holy Ghost. Our Saviour Christ pronounced against the scribes and Pharisees, that they had committed that sin against the Holy Ghost; because he knew their hearts, he knew they would still abide in their wickedness to the very end of their lives. But we cannot pronounce this sentence against any man, for we know not the hearts of men: he that sinneth now, peradventure shall be turned tomorrow, and leave his sins, and so be saved. Further, the promises of our Saviour Christ are general; they pertain to all mankind: he made a general proclamation, saying, Qui credit in me, habet vitam aeternam; "Whosoever believeth in me hath everlasting life." Likewise St. Paul saith, Gratia exsuperat supra peccatum; "The grace and mercies of God exceedeth far our sins." Therefore let us ever think and believe that the grace of God, his mercy and goodness, exceedeth our sins. Also consider what Christ saith with his own mouth: Venite ad me, omnes qui laboratis, &c. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are laden, and I will ease you." Mark, here he saith, "Come all ye:" wherefore then should any body despair, or shut out himself from these promises of Christ, which be general, and pertain to the whole world? For he saith, "Come all unto me." And then again he saith, Refocillabo vos, "I will refresh you:" you shall be eased from the burdens of your sins. Therefore, as I said before, he that is blasphemous, and obstinately wicked, and abideth in his wickedness still to the very end, he sinneth against the Holy Ghost; as St. Augustine, and all other godly writers do affirm. But he that leaveth his wickedness and sins, is content to amend his life, and then believing in Christ, seeketh salvation and everlasting life by him, no doubt that man or woman, whosoever he or they be, shall be saved: for they feed upon Christ, upon that meat that God the Father, this feast-maker, hath prepared for all his guests.
You have heard now who is the maker of this feast or banquet: and again, you have heard what meat is prepared for the guests; what a costly dish the house-father hath ordained at the wedding of his son. But now ye know, that where there be great dishes and delicate fare, there be commonly prepared certain sauces, which shall give men a great lust and appetite to their meats; as mustard, vinegar, and such like sauces. So this feast, this costly dish, hath its sauces; but what be they? Marry, the cross, affliction, tribulation, persecution, and all manner of miseries: for, like as sauces make lusty the stomach to receive meat, so affliction stirreth up in us a desire to Christ. For when we be in quietness, we are not hungry, we care not for Christ: but when we be in tribulation, and cast in prison, then we have a desire to him; then we learn to call upon him; then we hunger and thirst after him; then we are desirous to feed upon him. As long as we be in health and prosperity, we care not for him; we be slothful, we have no stomach at all; and therefore these sauces are very necessary for us. We have a common saying amongst us, when we see a fellow sturdy, lofty, and proud, men say, "This is a saucy fellow;" signifying him to be a high-minded fellow, which taketh more upon him than he ought to do, or his estate requireth: which thing, no doubt, is naught and ill; for every one ought to behave himself according unto his calling and estate. But he that will be a christian man, that intendeth to come to heaven, must be a saucy fellow; he must be well powdered with the sauce of affliction, and tribulation; not with proudness and stoutness, but with miseries and calamities: for so it is written, Omnes qui pie volunt vivere in Christo persecutionem patientur; "Whosoever will live godly in Christ, he shall have persecution and miseries:" he shall have sauce enough to his meat. Again, our Saviour saith, Qui vult meus esse discipulus, abneget semetipsum et tollat crucem suam et sequatur me; "He that will be my disciple must deny himself and take his cross upon him, and follow me." Is there any man that will feed upon me, that will eat my flesh and drink my blood? Let him forsake himself. O this is a great matter; this is a biting thing, the denying of my own will!' As for an ensample: I see a fair woman, and conceive in my heart an ill appetite to commit lechery with her; I desire to fulfil my wanton lust with her. Here is my appetite, my lust, my will: but what must I do? Marry, I must deny myself, and follow Christ. What is that? I must not follow my own desire, but the will and pleasure of Christ. Now what saith he? Non fornicaberis, non adulteraberis; "Thou shalt not be a whoremonger, thou shalt not be a wedlock-breaker." Here I must deny myself, and my will, and give place unto his will; abhor and hate my own will. Yea, and furthermore I must earnestly call upon him, that he will give me grace to withstand my own lust and appetite, in all manner of things which may be against his will: as when a man doth me wrong, taketh my living from me, or hurteth me in my good name and fame, my will is to avenge myself upon him, to do him a foul turn again; but what saith God? Mihi vindicta, ego retribuam; "Unto me belongeth vengeance, I will recompense the same." Now here I must give over my own will and pleasure, and obey his will: this I must do, if I will feed upon him, if I will come to heaven. But this is a bitter thing, a sour sauce, a sharp sauce; this sauce maketh a stomach: for when I am injured or wronged, or am in other tribulation, then I have a great desire for him, to feed upon him, to be delivered from trouble, and to attain to quietness and joy.
There is a learned man which hath a saying which is most true: he saith, Plus crux quam tranquillitas invitat ad Christum; "The cross and persecution bring us sooner to Christ than prosperity and wealth." Therefore St. Peter saith, Humiliamini sub potenti manu Dei; "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God." Look, what God layeth upon you, bear it willingly and humbly. But you will say, "I pray you, tell me what is my cross?" Answer: This that God layeth upon you, that same is your cross; not that which you of your own wilfulness lay upon yourselves: as there was a certain sect which were called Flagellarii, which scourged themselves with whips till the blood ran from their bodies; this was a cross, but it was not the cross of God. No, no: he laid not that upon them, they did it of their own head. Therefore look, what God layeth upon me, that same is my cross, which I ought to take in good part; as when I fall in poverty, or in miseries, I ought to be content withal; when my neighbour doth me wrong, taketh away my goods, robbeth me of my good name and fame, I shall bear it willingly, considering that it is God's cross, and that nothing can be done against me without his permission. There falleth never a sparrow to the ground without his permission; yea, not a hair falleth from our head without his will. Seeing then that there is nothing done without his will, I ought to bear this cross which he layeth upon me willingly, without any murmuring or grudging.
But I pray you, consider these words of St. Peter well: Humiliamini sub potenti manu Dei; "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God." Here St. Peter signifieth unto us that God is a mighty God, which can take away the cross from us when it seemeth him good; yea, and he can send patience in the midst of all trouble and miseries. St. Paul, that elect instrument of God, shewed a reason wherefore God layeth afflictions upon us, saying: Corripimur a Domino, ne cum mundo condemnemur; "We are chastened of the Lord, lest we should be condemned with the world." For you see by daily experience, that the most part of wicked men are lucky in this world; they bear the swing, all things goeth after their minds; for God letteth them have their pleasures here. And therefore this is a common saying, "The more wicked, the more lucky:" but they that pertain to God, that shall inherit everlasting life, they must go to the pot; they must suffer here, according to that scripture, Judicium a domo Dei incipit; "The judgment of God beginneth at the house of God." Therefore it cometh of the goodness of God, when we be put to taste the sauce of tribulation: for he doth it to a good end, namely, that we should not be condemned with this wicked world. For these sauces are very good for us; for they make us more hungry and lusty to come to Christ and feed upon him. And truly, when it goeth well with us, we forget Christ, our hearts and minds are not upon him: therefore it is better to have affliction than to be in prosperity. For there is a common saying, Vexatio dat intellectum; "Vexation giveth understanding." David, that excellent king and prophet, saith, Bonum est mihi quod humiliasti me, Domine: "Lord," saith he, "it is good for me that thou hast pulled down my stomach, that thou hast humbled me." But I pray you, what sauce had David, how was he humbled? Truly thus: his own son defiled his daughter. After that, Absalom, one other of his sons, killed his own brother. And this was not enough, but his own son rose up against him, and traitorously cast him out of his kingdom, and defiled his wives in the sight of all the people. Was not he vexed? had he not sauces? Yes, yes: yet for all that he cried not out against God; he murmured not, but saith, Bonum est mihi quod humiliasti me; "Lord, it is good for me that thou hast humbled me, that thou hast brought me low." Therefore when we be in trouble, let us be of good comfort, knowing that God doth it for the best. But for all that, the devil, that old serpent, the enemy of mankind, doth what he can day and night to bring us this sauce, to cast us into persecution, or other miseries: as it appeareth in the gospel of Matthew, where our Saviour casting him out of a man, seeing that he could do no more harm, he desired Christ to give him leave to go into the swine; and so he cast them all into the sea. Where it appeareth, that the devil studieth and seeketh all manner of ways to hurt us, either in soul, or else in body. But for all that, let us not despair, but rather lift up our hearts unto God, desiring his help and comfort; and no doubt, when we do so, he will help: he will either take away the calamities, or else mitigate them, or at the leastwise send patience into our hearts, that we may bear it willingly.
Now you know, at a great feast, when there is made a delicate dinner, and the guests fare well, at the end of the dinner they have bellaria, certain subtleties, custards, sweet and delicate things: so when we come to this dinner, to this wedding, and feed upon Christ, and take his sauces which he hath prepared for us, at the end cometh the sweetmeat. What is that? Marry, remission of sins, and everlasting life; such joy, that no tongue can express, nor heart can think, which God hath prepared for all them that come to this dinner, and feed upon his Son, and taste of his sauces. And this is the end of this banquet. This banquet, or marriage-dinner, was made at the very beginning of the world. God made this marriage in paradise, and called the whole world unto it, saying, Semen mulieris conteret caput serpentis; "The Seed of the woman shall vanquish the head of the serpent." This was the first calling; and this calling stood unto the faithful in as good stead as it doth unto us, which have a more manifest calling. Afterward Almighty God called again with these words, speaking to Abraham: Ego ero Deus tuus et seminis tui post te; "I will be thy God, and thy seed's after thee." Now what is it to be our God? Forsooth to be our defender, our comforter, our deliverer, and helper. Who was Abraham's seed? Even Christ the Son of God, he was Abraham's seed: in him, and through him, all the world shall be blessed; all that believe in him, all that come to this dinner, and feed upon him. After that, all the prophets, their only intent was to call the people to this wedding. Now after the time was expired which God had appointed, he said, Venite, parata sunt omnia; "Come, all things are ready."
But who are these callers? The first was John Baptist, which not only called with his mouth, but also shewed with his finger that meat which God had prepared for the whole world. He saith, Ecce Agnus Dei qui tollit peccata mundi; "Lo, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world." Also Christ himself called, saying, Venite ad me, omnes qui laboratis; "Come to me, all ye that travail and labour, and I will refresh you." Likewise the apostles cried, and called all the whole world; as it is written, Exivit sonus eorum per universam terram; "Their sound is gone throughout all the world." But, I pray you, what thanks had they for their calling, for their labour? Verily this: John Baptist was beheaded; Christ was crucified; the apostles were killed: this was their reward for their labours. So all the preachers shall look for none other reward: for no doubt they must be sufferers, they must taste of these sauces: their office is, arguere mundum de peccato, "to rebuke the world of sin;" which no doubt is a thankless occupation. Ut audiant montes judicia Domini, "That the high hills," that is, great princes and lords, "may hear the judgments of the Lord:" they must spare no body; they must rebuke high and low, when they do amiss; they must strike them with the sword of God's word: which no doubt is a thankless occupation; yet it must be done, for God will have it so.
There be many men, which be not so cruel as to persecute or to kill the preachers of God's word; but when they be called to feed upon Christ, to come to this banquet, to leave their wicked livings, then they begin to make their excuses; as it appeared here in this gospel, where "the first said, I have bought a farm, and I must needs go and see it; I pray thee have me excused. Another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them; I pray thee have me excused. The third said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." And these were their excuses. You must take heed that you mistake not this text: for after the outward letter it seemeth as though no husbandman, no buyer or seller, nor married man shall enter the kingdom of God. Therefore ye must take heed that ye understand it aright. For to be a husbandman, to be a buyer or seller, to be a married man, is a good thing, and allowed of God: but the abuse of such things is reproved. Husbandman, and married man, every one in his calling, may use and do the works of his calling. The husbandman may go to plough; they may buy and sell; also, men may marry; but they may not set their hearts upon it. The husbandman may not so apply his husbandry to set aside the hearing of the word of God; for when he doth so, he sinneth damnably: for he more regardeth his husbandry than God and his word; he hath all lust and pleasure in his husbandry, which pleasure is naught. As there be many husbandmen which will not come to service; they make their excuses that they have other business: but this excusing is naught; for commonly they go about wicked matters, and yet they would excuse themselves, to make themselves faultless; or, at the least way, they will diminish their faults, which thing itself is a great wickedness; to do wickedly, and then to defend that same wickedness, to neglect and despise God's word, and then to excuse such doings, like as these men do here in this gospel. The husbandman saith, "I have bought a farm; therefore have me excused: the other saith, I have bought five yoke of oxen; I pray thee have me excused:" Now when he cometh to the married man, that same fellow saith not, "Have me excused," as the others say; but he only saith, "I cannot come." Where it is to be noted, that the affections of carnal lusts and concupiscence are the strongest above all the other: for there be some men which set all their hearts upon voluptuousness; they regard nothing else, neither God nor his word; and therefore this married man saith, "I cannot come;" because his affections are more strong and more vehement than the other men's were.
But what shall be their reward which refuse to come? The house-father saith, "I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper." With these words Christ our Saviour teacheth us, that all those that love better worldly things than God and his word shall be shut out from his supper; that is to say, from everlasting joy and felicity: for it is a great matter to despise God's word, or the minister of the same; for the office of preaching is the office of salvation; it hath warrants in scripture, it is grounded upon God's word. St. Paul to the Romans maketh a gradation of such-wise: Omnis quicunque invocaverit nomen Domini salvabitur: quomodo ergo invocabunt in quem non crediderunt, aut quomodo credent ei quem non audisrunt? that is to say, "Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved: but how shall they call upon him, in whom they believe not? How shall they believe on him of whom they have not heard? How shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" At the length he concludeth, saying, Fides ex auditu; "Faith cometh by hearing." Where ye may perceive, how necessary a thing it is to hear God's word, and how needful a thing it is to have preachers, which may teach us the word of God: for by hearing we must come to faith; through faith we must be justified. And therefore Christ saith himself, Qui credit in me, habet vitam aeternam; "He that believeth in me hath everlasting life." When we hear God's word by the preacher, and believe that same, then we shall be saved: for St. Paul saith, Evangelium est potentia Dei ad salutem omni credenti; "The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to all that believe; the gospel preached is God's power to salvation of all believers." This is a great commendation of this office of preaching: therefore we ought not to despise it, or little regard it; for it is God's instrument, whereby he worketh faith in our hearts. Our Saviour saith to Nicodeme, Nisi quis renatus fuerit, "Except a man be born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God." But how cometh this regeneration? By hearing and believing of the word of God: for so saith St. Peter, Renati non ex semine mortali corruptibili; "We are born anew, not of mortal seed, but of immortal, by the word of God." Likewise Paul saith in another place, Visum est Deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes; "It pleased God to save the believers through the foolishness of preaching." But, peradventure, you will say, "What, shall a preacher teach foolishness?" No, not so: the preacher, when he is a right preacher, he preacheth not foolishness, but he preacheth the word of God; but it is taken for foolishness, the world esteemeth it for a trifle: but howsoever the world esteemeth it, St. Paul saith that God will save his through it.
Here I might take occasion to inveigh against those which little regard the office of preaching; which are wont to say, "'What need we such preachings every day? Have I not five wits? I know as well what is good or ill, as he doth that preacheth." But I tell thee, my friend, be not too hasty; for when thou hast nothing to follow but thy five wits, thou shalt go to the devil with them. David, that holy prophet, said not so: he trusted not his five wits, but he said, Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, Domine; "Lord, thy word is a lantern unto my feet." Here we learn not to despise the word of God, but highly to esteem it, and reverently to hear it; for the holy day is ordained and appointed to none other thing, but that we should at that day hear the word of God, and exercise ourselves in all godliness. But there be some which think that this day is ordained only for feasting, drinking, or gaming, or such foolishness; but they be much deceived: this day was appointed of God that we should hear his word, and learn his laws, and so serve him. But I dare say the devil hath no days so much service as upon Sundays or holy days; which Sundays are appointed to preaching, and to hear God's most holy word. Therefore God saith not only in his commandments, that we shall abstain from working; but he saith, Sanctificabis, "Thou shalt hallow:" so that holy day keeping is nothing else but to abstain from good works, and to do better works; that is, to come together, and celebrate the Communion together, and visit the sick bodies. These are holy-day works; and for that end God commanded us to abstain from bodily works, that we might be more meet and apt to do those works which he hath appointed unto us, namely, to feed our souls with his word, to remember his benefits, and to give him thanks, and to call upon him. So that the holy-day may be called a marriage-day, wherein we are married unto God; which day is very needful to be kept. The foolish common people think it to be a belly- cheer day, and so they make it a surfeiting day: there is no wickedness, no rebellion, no lechery, but she hath most commonly her beginning upon the holy-day.
We read a story in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Numbers, that there was a fellow which gathered sticks upon the sabbath-day; he was a despiser of God's ordinances and laws, like as they that now-a-days go about other business, when they should hear the word of God, and come to the Common Prayer: which fellows truly have need of sauce, to be made more lustier to come and feed upon Christ than they be. Now Moses and the people consulted with the Lord, what they should do, how they should punish that fellow which had so transgressed the sabbath-day. "He shall die," saith God: which thing is an ensample for us to take heed, that we transgress not the law of the sabbath-day. For though God punish us not by and by, as this man was punished; yet he is the very self-same God that he was before, and will punish one day, either here, or else in the other world, where the punishment shall be everlasting.
Likewise in the seventeenth chapter of the prophet Jeremy God threateneth his fearful wrath and anger unto those which do profane his sabbath-day. Again, he promiseth his favour and all prosperity to them that will keep the holy-days; saying, "Princes and kings shall go through thy gates," that is to say, Thou shalt be in prosperity, in wealth, and great estimation amongst thy neighbours. Again: "If ye will not keep my sabbath-day, I will kindle a fire in your gates;" that is to say, I will destroy you, I will bring you to nought, and burn your cities with fire. These words pertain as well unto us at this time, as they pertained to them at their time: for God hateth the disallowing of the sabbath as well now as then; for he is and remaineth still the old God: he will have us to keep his sabbath, as well now as then: for upon the sabbath-day God's seed-plough goeth; that is to say, the ministry of his word is executed; for the ministering of God's word is God's plough. Now upon the Sundays God sendeth his husbandmen to come and till; he sendeth his callers to come and call to the wedding, to bid the guests; that is, all the world to come to that supper. Therefore, for the reverence of God, consider these things: consider who calleth, namely, God; consider again who be the guests; all ye. Therefore I call you in God's name, come to this supper; hallow the sabbath-day; that is, do your holy-day work, come to this supper; for this day was appointed of God to that end, that his word should be taught and heard. Prefer not your own business therefore before the hearing of the word of God. Remember the story of that man which gathered sticks upon the holy day, and was put to death by the consent of God: where God shewed himself not a cruel God, but he would give warning unto the whole world by that man, that all the world should keep holy his sabbath-day.
The almighty ever-living God give us grace to live so in this miserable world, that we may at the end come to the great sabbath-day, where there shall be everlasting joy and gladness! Amen.