Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Lancelot Andrewes' 1621 Pentecost Sermon

This 16th century portrait of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes 
was painted on a thin, oak panel. 
(Photo: Jonathan Friedman) 

I share with you today excerpts of the sermon Bishop Lancelot Andrewes preached before King James on Pentecost (Whitsunday), 20th May, 1621. He took as his text James 1:16-17. (You can read about Andrewes HERE.)

Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down: from the Father of lights, with Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. (James 1:16-17)

AND, if “every good giving and every perfect gift,” what giving so good, or what gift so perfect, as the Gift of Gifts,this day’s gift, the gift of the Holy Ghost? There are in it all the points in the text. It is “from above” (Luke 3:22), it “descended” visibly this day, and from “the Father of lights” - so many “tongues,” so many “lights” (Acts 2:3); which kindled such a light in the world on this day, as to this day is not put out, nor shall ever be to the worId’s end.

First, the Holy Ghost is oft styled by this very name or title, of “the Gift of God.” “lf ye knew the Gift of God,” saith our Saviour to the woman at the well’s side (John 4:10). What gift was that? It is plain there, “the water of life.” That “water” was the Spirit. “This He spake of the Spirit, saith St. John, who knew His mind best, as then “ not yet given” (John 7:39); but since, as upon this day, sent into the world.

Secondly, this “gift” is both “good” and “perfect” - so good, as it is de bonis optimn, “of all goods the Best;” and of all perfects, the most, absolutely perfect, the gift of perfection, or perfection of all the gifts of God. What should I say? Not to be valued, saith St. Peter (Acts 8:20); not to be uttered, saith St. Paul (Romans 8:26): as if all the tongues that were on earth before, until and all that came down this day, were little enough, or indeed were not enough, not able any way to utter or express it . . . 

St. James . . .  speaks in the present, and of the present, what now is, what is “perfect” in this life. And this, lo, brings us to donum diei, the gift of the Holy Ghost. For to “be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4), is all the perfection we can here attain. No higher here. Now to be made partakers of the Spirit, is to be made partakers “of the Divine Nature.” That is this day’s work. Partakers of the Spirit we are, by receiving grace; which is nothing else but the breath of the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Grace. Grace into the entire substance of the soul, dividing itself into two streams: one goes to the understanding,  the gift of faith; the other to the will, the gift of “charity, the very bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). The tongues, to teach us knowledge; the fire, to kindle our affections. The state of grace is the perfection of this life, to grow still from grace to grace, to profit in it. As to go on still forward is the perfection of a traveller, to draw still nearer and nearer to his journey’s end . . .

There is the “wonderful light” of His Gospel, so St Peter calls it (1 Peter 2:9), the proper light of this day. The tongues that descended - so many “tongues,” so many “Iights;” for the tongue is a light, and brings to light what was before hid in the heart. And from these other is the inward light of grace, whereby God, Which commanded “the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Corinthians 4:6). He it is “That shineth in our hearts;” by the inward anointing, which is the oil of this lamp, the light of His Holy Spirit, chasing away the darkness  both of our hearts and minds . . . “a light sown for the righteous” (Psalm 97:11) here in this life. And there is the light of glory which they shall reap, the light where God dwelleth, and where we shall dwell with Him; even the “inheritance of the Saints in light” (Psalm 97:11), when the righteous shall shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father, “the Father of lights” (Colossians 1:12). Moses’ candlestick with seven stalks and lights in each of them . . . (Exodus 25:32).

Whom He loves doth “He love to the end?” (John 13:1) Let our service be so too, not wavering. O that we changed from Him no more than He from us! Not from the light of grace to the shadow of sin, as we do full often.

But above all, that which is ex tota substantia, that if we find any want of any giving or gift, good or perfect, this text gives us light, whither to look, to Whom to repair for them; to the “Father of lights.” And even so let us do. Ad Patrem luminum cum prima lumine; “Let the light every day, so soon ns we see it, put us in mind to get us to the Father of lights.” Ascendat oratio, descendet miseratio, “let our prayer go up to Him that His grace may come down to us,” so to lighten us in our ways and works that we may in the end come to dwell with Him, in the light which is Φως ανέσπερον, “light whereof there is no even-tide,” the sun whereof never sets, nor knows tropic - the only thing we mix, and wish for in our lights here, primum et ante omnia.

Within us there is no spirit but our own, and that “lusts after envy” (James 4:5), and other things as bad; from beneath it cannot be had. It is donum caeleste: Simon, if he would give never so largely for it, cannot obtain it. It descended ad oculum this day; it was seen to descend, and so will.

Which descents from on high, from the “Father of lights,” there in the tongues of light, light on us, to give us knowledge, a gift proportioned to light, and to give us comfort, a gift proportioned to light; by faith, to lighten, by grace to stablish our hearts.


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