The third sign and token of tribulation approaching near to the church, may well be taken of the too much unequal proportion seen this day in the church; where one is hungry and starveth, another is drunk. By reason of which so great inequality, it cannot be that the state of the church, as it is now, can long endure; like as in good harmony, to make the music perfect, is required a moderate and proportionate inequality of voices, which if it do much exceed, it taketh away all the sweet melody; so, according to the sentence of the philosopher, by too much immoderate inequality or disparity of citizens, the commonwealth falleth to ruin. On the contrary, where mediocrity, that is, where a mean inequality with some proportion is kept, that policy standeth firm and more sure to continue. Now, among all the politic regiments of the Gentiles, I think none more is to be found in histories, wherein is to be seen so great and exceeding odds, as in the policy of priests; of whom some be so high, that they exceed all princes of the earth; some again be so base, that they are under all rascals, so that such a policy or commonwealth may well be called Oligarchia.
This may we plainly see and learn in the body of man, to the which Plutarch, writing to Thracinius, doth semblably compare the commonwealth. In the the which body, if the sustenance received should all run to one member, so that that member should be too much exceedingly pampered, and all the other parts rest be too much pined, that body could not long continue; so in the body of the wealth ecclesiastical, if some who be the heads be so enormously overgrown in riches and dignity, that the weaker members of the body be scantly able to bear them up, there is a great token of dissolution and ruin shortly. Whereupon cometh well in place the saying of the prophet Isaiah: "Every head is sick, every heart is full of sorrow;" of the which heads it is also spoken in the prophet Amos [chap, vi.], "Woe be to the secure, proud, and wealthy in Sion, and to such as think themselves so sure upon the mount of Samaria, taking themselves as heads and rulers over others,” &c. And, moreover, in the said prophet Isaiah it followeth, "From the top of the head to the sole of the foot there is no whole part in all the body," to wit, in the inferiors, because they are not able to live for poverty; in the superiors, because for their excessive riches they are let from doing good. And it followeth in the same place, "But all are wounds, and botches, and stripes." Behold here the danger coming, the wounds of discord and division, the botch or sore of rancour and envy, the swelling stripe of rebellion and mischief.
The fourth sign is the pride of prelates. Some there have been who fondly have disputed of the poverty of Christ, and have inveighed against the prelates, because they live not in the poverty of the saints. But this fantasy cometh of the ignorance of moral philosophy and divinity, and of the defect of natural prudence; for that in all nations, and by common laws, priests have had, and ought to have, wherewith to sustain themselves more honestly than the vulgar sort, and prelates more honestly than the subjects. But yet hereby is not permitted to them their great horses, their troops of horsemen, the superfluous pomp of their waiting-men and great families, which scarcely can be maintained without pride, neither can be sustained with safe justice, and, many, not without fighting and injuries inconvenient; not much unlike to that which Justin the historian writeth of the Carthaginians, "The family," saith he, ''of so great emperors, was intolerable to such a free city." In semblable wise, this great pride in the church of God, especially in these days, doth move not so few to due reverence, as many to indignation; and yet more, to those things aforesaid: who think no less but to do sacrifice to God, if they may rob and spoil certain fat priests and persons, namely, such as neither have nobility or blood, and less learning to bear themselves upon, but are liars, servile and fraudulent, to whom the Lord speaketh by his prophet Amos [chap, iv.], "Hear you fat-fed kine of Samaria, ye that do poor men wrong, and oppress the needy, the day shall come upon you," &c.
The fifth sign is, the tyranny of the prelates and presidents, which as it is a violent thing, so it cannot be long lasting. For as Solomon saith [chap, xvi.], "For it was requisite that, without any excuse, destruction should come upon those which exercised tyranny." The property of a tyrant is not to seek the commodity of his subjects, but only his will and profit. Such were the pastors late fed not the Lord's flock, but fed themselves; of whom and to whom noted. speaketh the prophet Ezekiel [chap, xxxiv.], "Woe be unto those pastors of Israel that feed themselves. Should not the shepherds feed the flocks?" with many other threatenings against them in the same chapter. "Woe be unto them who rejoice at the transgressions of those whom it lieth in their power to condemn, neither do they seek what he is able to pay;" to whom crieth Micah the prophet [chap, iii.], "Ye hate the good and love the evil; ye pluck off men's skins, and the flesh from the bones; ye eat the flesh of my people, and flay off their skin; ye break their bones; ye chop them in pieces, as it were into a cauldron, and as flesh into the pot, ' &c. And, therefore, the aforesaid Ezekjel [chap, xxxiv.] pronounceth, "Behold, I will myself come upon the shepherds and require my sheep from their hands, and make them cease from feeding my sheep, yea the shepherds shall feed themselves no more; for I will deliver my sheep out of their mouths, so that they shall not devour them anymore."
The sixth sign is the promoting of the unworthy, and neglecting them that be worthy. This, as Aristotle saith, is a great cause many times of the dissolution of commonweals. And oftentimes it so happeneth in the wars of princes, that unworthy the contempt and small regarding of the valiant, and the exalting of others that be less worthy, engender divers kinds and kindlings of sedition. For partly by reason of the same, partly of the other causes above recited, we have read not only in books, but have seen with our eyes, divers flourishing cities well nigh subverted; whereas good men be not made of, but are vexed with sorrow and grief by the evil: the contention at length bursteth out upon the prince, as Haymo reciteth out of Origen. This always hath been the perverse incredulity of man's hard heart, and that not only in hearing, but also in seeing: yet will they not believe that others have perished, unless they also perish themselves.
The seventh sign is, the tribulation of outward policy and commotions of the people, which in a great part has now happened already. And therefore, forasmuch as Seneca saith, "Men do complain commonly that evils only come so fast;" it is to be feared lest also the ecclesiastical policy be afflicted not only outwardly, but also in itself; and so that be fulfilled in us, which in Jeremy is prophesied [chap, iv.], "Murder is cried upon murder, and the whole land shall perish, and suddenly my tabernacles were destroyed, and my tents very quickly." And Ezekiel [chap, vii.], "Wherefore I will bring cruel tyrants from among the heathen, to take their houses in possession; I will make the pomp of the proud to cease, and their sanctuaries shall be taken. One mischief and sorrow shall follow another, and one rumour shall come after another: then shall they seek visions in vain at their prophets; the law shall be gone from their priests, and wisdom from their elders," &c.
The eighth is, the refusing of correction, neither will they hear their faults told them, so that it happened to the princes and rulers of the church, as it is written in the prophet Zechariah, [chap, vii.] "They stopped their ears that they would not hear, yea they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law and words which the Lord of hosts sent in his Holy Spirit by the prophets aforetime." Also Isaiah, witnessing after the same effect [chap. xxx.], saith, "For it is an obstinate people, lying children, and unfaithful children, that will not hear the law of the Lord, which say to the prophets, Meddle with nothing, and tell us nothing, that is true and right, but speak friendly words to us," &c. All this shall be verified when the prelates begin to hate them that tell them truth, and have knowledge; like unto such of whom Amos speaketh [chap, v.], "They bear him evil will, that reproveth them openly, and whoso telleth them the plain truth, they abhor him.' And therefore saith the Lord, by Hosea, to the church of Jerusalem [chap, iv.], "Seeing thou hast refused understanding, I have refused thee also, that thou shalt no more be my priest. And forasmuch as thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children, and change their honour into shame. And so shall it be, like priest, like people," &c.; and many other sayings there be in the prophets, speaking of the dejecting and casting down of the priestly honour.
Besides these aforesaid signs and tokens hitherto recited, there be also divers others; as the backsliding from righteousness, the lack of discreet and learned priests, promoting of children into the church, with others such. But these being already well noted and marked, you may easily judge and understand whether these times now present of ours be safe and clear from tribulation to be looked for, and whether the word of the Lord be true according to my theme, "My righteousness is near at hand to be revealed," &c. And thus much of the second part.
Now to the third part or member of my subdivision, which is concerning the false and perilous opinions of some, upon this word of my theme, "Ut veniat," &c.; which opinions principally be four, all repugning against the truth of the canonical scripture.
The first opinion is of such men, who, having too much confidence in themselves, do think and persuade with themselves, that the prelates be the church which the Lord will always keep and never forsake, as he hath promised in the persons of the apostles, saying, in Matthew [chap, xxviii.], "And I will be with you to the end of the world," &c. But this is to be understood of faith, whereof Christ speaketh in Luke [chap, xxi.], "I have prayed for thee, that thy faith shall not fail." Whereof we read in Ecclesiastes [chap, xl.], "Faith shall stand forever," &c. And albeit charity wax never so cold, yet faith, notwithstanding, shall remain in a few, and in all distresses of the world; of the which distresses, our Saviour doth prophesy, in many places, to come. And lest, peradventure, some should think themselves to be safe from tribulation, because they be of the church; this opinion the Lord himself doth contradict in Jeremiah [chap, vii.], "Trust not," saith he, "in false lying words, saying, The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord." And a little after, "But you trust in words and lying counsels which deceive you, and do you no good."
The second opinion is of them who defer time; for this they will grant, that the church shall abide trouble, but not so shortly; thinking thus with themselves, that all these causes and tokens afore recited, have been before, at other times as well, in the church. For both by Gregory and Bernard, holy doctors, in time past, the prelates have been in like sort reprehended, both for their bribings, for their pomp and pride, for the promoting of children, and persons unfit unto ecclesiastical functions, and other vices more, which have reigned before this in the church of God more than now, and yet by God's grace the church hath prospered and stands. Do ye not see, that if a house have stood and continued ruinous a long season, it is never the more near the fall thereby, but rather to be trusted the better? Moreover, many times it cometh so to pass, in realms and kingdoms, that the posterity is punished for the sins of their predecessors. Whereof speaketh the book of Lamentations [chap, v.], "Our fathers have sinned and are now gone, and we must bear their wickedness," &c. Against this cogitation or opinion, well doth the Lord answer by the prophet Ezekiel [chap, xii.], saying, "Behold, thou Son of Man, the house of Israel saith in this manner, Tush, as for the vision that he hath seen, it will be many a day ere it come to pass; it is far off yet, the thing that he prophesieth; Therefore say unto them, thus saith the Lord God, The words that I have spoken shall be deferred no longer, look, what I have said shall come to pass, saith the Lord," &c. We have seen in our days things to happen, which seemed before incredible. And the like hath been seen in other times also, as we read written in the book of Lamentations [chap, iv.], "The kings of the earth, nor all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed, that the enemy and adversary should have come in at the gates of the city, for the sins of her priests and for the wickedness of her elders, that have shed innocent blood within her," &c. By Jerusalem, as is said, is meant the church.
The third opinion or error is very perilous and perverse, of all such as say "veniat," let come that will come; let us conform ourselves to this world, and take our time with those temporizers who say in the book of Wisdom [chap, ii.], "Come, let us enjoy our goods and pleasures that be present, and let us use the creature as in youth quickly," &c. Such as these be, are in a dangerous case, and be greatly prejudicial to good men in the church. And, if the heads and rulers of the church were so vile to have any such detestable cogitation in them, there were no place in hell too deep for them. This church, founded by the apostles in Christ, consecrated with the blood of so many martyrs, enlarged and increased with the virtues and merits of so many saints, and endued so richly with the devotion of so many secular princes, and so long prospered hitherto; if it now should come into the hands of such persons, it should fall in great danger of ruin, and they, for their negligence and wickedness, would well deserve of God to be cursed; yea here, also, in this present world, to incur temporal tribulation and destruction, which they fear more; by the sentence of the Lord, saying to them in the book of Proverbs [chap, i.], "All my counsels ye have despised, and set my correction at nought; therefore shall I also laugh in your destruction, when tribulation and anguish shall fall upon you."
Fourthly, another opinion or error is, of such as being unfaithful, believe not that any such thing will come. And this error seemeth to have no remedy, but that as other things and other kingdoms have their ends and limits set unto them, which they cannot overpass; so it must needs be, that such a domination and government of the church have an end, by reason of the demerits and obstinacies of the governors provoking and requiring the same; like as we read in the prophet Jeremy [chap, viii.], "There is no man that taketh repentance for his sin, that will so much as say, Wherefore have I done this? But every man runneth forth still like a wild horse in battle." And the same prophet, in chapter xiii. of his prophecy, "Like as the man of Inde may change his skin, and the cat-of-mountain her spots, so may ye, that be exercised in evil, do good." Whereunto also accordeth that which is written of the same prophet [chap, xvii.], speaking of Judah, signifying the church, "The sin of Judah," saith ne, "is written in the table of your hearts, and graven so upon the edges of your altars with a pen of iron, and with an adamant claw;" which is as much to say, it is indelible, or which cannot be rased out; as also Ezekiel, speaking of the punishment [chap, xxi.], saith, "I the Lord have drawn my sword out of the sheath, and it cannot he revoked." Notwithstanding, all these signify no impossibility, but difficulty, because that wicked men are hardly converted; for, otherwise, the Scripture importeth no such inflexibility with God, but if conversion come, he will forgive. So we read in the prophet Jonas [chap, iii.], "Who can tell? God may turn and repent, and cease from his fierce wrath that we perish not." And to the like effect saith the same Lord in Jeremy [chap, xxvi.], "Look thou keep not one word back, if peradventure they will hearken and turn every man from his wicked way, that I also may repent of the plague which I have determined to bring upon them, because of their wicked inventions," &c. For the further proof whereof, Nineveh we see was converted, and remained undestroyed, &c. Likewise the Lord also had revealed destruction unto Constantinople by sundry signs and tokens, as Augustine in a certain sermon doth declare. And thus for the third part or member of my division.
Fourthly and lastly, remaineth to declare, some wholesome concluding, now upon the causes preceding: that is, if by these causes and signs, heretofore declared, tribulation be prepared to fall upon the church, then let us humble our minds mildly and wisely. And if we so return with heart and in deed unto God, verily he will rescue and help after an inestimable wise, and will surcease from scourging us, as he promiseth by his prophet Jeremiah [chap, xviii.], "If that people against whom I have thus devised, convert from their wickedness, immediately I will repent of the plague that I devised to bring upon them:" speaking here after the manner of men, &c. Now therefore, forasmuch as tribulation and affliction is so near coming toward us, yea lieth upon us already, let us be the more diligent to call upon God for mercy. For I think, verily, these many years, there have not been so many and so despiteful haters evil-willers, stout, and of such a rebellious heart against the church of God, as be now-a-days; neither be they lacking, that would work all that they can against it, and lovers of new- fangleness; whose hearts the Lord haply will turn, that they shall not hate his people, and work deceit against his servants, I mean against priests, whom they have now in little or no reputation at all, albeit many yet there be, through God's grace, good and godly; but yet the fury of the Lord is not turned away, but still his hand is stretched out. And unless ye be converted, he shaketh his sword; he hath bent his bow, and prepared it ready. Yet the Lord standeth waiting, that he may have mercy upon you [Isaiah xxx.] And therefore, as the greatness of fear ought to incite us, so hope of salvation may allure us to pray and call upon the Lord, especially now, toward this holy and sacred time and solemnity of Christ's nativity: for that holy and continual prayer without intermission is profitable, and the instant devotion and vigilant deprecation of the just man is of great force. And if terrene kings, in the day of celebration of their nativity, be wont to show themselves more liberal and bounteous, how much more ought we to hope well, that the heavenly King, of nature most benign, now at his natal and birth-day, will not deny pardon and remission to such as rightly call unto him.
And now, therefore, as it is written in Joshua [chap, vii.], "Be ye sanctified against to-morrow," &c. And say unto him, as it is written in the first book of Samuel [chap, xxv], "Now let thy servants I pray thee find favour in thy sight, for we come to thee in a good season." Moreover, ye may find what ye ask, if ye ask that which he brought, in the day of his nativity, that is, the peace of the church, not spiritual only, but also temporal; which the angelical noise did sound, and experience the same time did prove, testified by Livy, Pliny, and other heathen story-writers, who all marvelled thereat, saying that such an universal peace as that could not come on earth, but by the gift of God. For so God did forepromise in the prophet Isaiah [chap, lxvi.], "Behold, I will let peace into Jerusalem like a waterflood," &c.; and in Psalm lxxi., "In his time righteousness shall flourish, yea, and abundance of peace," &c.
Therefore now, O reverend fathers in the Lord! and you, here in this present assembly! behold, I say, the day of life and salvation; now is the opportune time to pray unto God, that the same thing, which he brought into the world at his birth, he will now grant in these days to his church, that is, his peace. And, like as Nineveh was subverted, and overturned, not in members but in manners, so the same words of my theme, "Juxta est justitia mea ut reveletur," may be verified in us, not of the primitive justice, but of our sanctification by grace; so that, as to-morrow is celebrated the nativity of our Saviour, our righteousness may rise together with him, and his blessing may be upon us, which God hath promised, saying, "My saving health is near at hand to come," &c.; whereof speaketh Isaiah the prophet [chap.li.], "My saving health shall endure forever," &c. This health grant unto us, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! Amen.