The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,…
St. Austin says of the Syrophenician woman, who was both hardly spoken of by our Saviour at first, and anon commended highly before her face; she that took not her reproach in scorn, would not wax arrogant upon her commendation; so these Rechabites who lived with good content in a life full of neglect, may the better endure to have their good deeds scanned, without fear of begetting ostentation. And therefore I will branch out my text into four parts, in every of which they will justly deserve our praise, and in some our imitation. First, when the prophet Jeremiah did try them with this temptation, whether they would feast it and-drink wine, they make him a resolute denial, a prophet could., draw them. to no inconvenient act. Some are good men of themselves, but easily drawn aside by allurements; such are not the Rechabites. He that will sin to please another, makes his friend either to be a God that shall rule him, or a devil that shall tempt him. Three things, says , do preserve the life of friendship.
1. To answer love with like affection.
2. Some similitude and likeness of condition.
3. But above either, neither to sin ourselves, nor for our sakes to lay the charge of sin upon our familiars.No, he is too prodigal of his kindness, that giveth his friend both his heart and his conscience. I may not forget how Agesilaus' son behaved himself in this point toward his own father: the cause was corrupt wherein his father did solicit; the son answers him with this modesty: Your education taught me from a child to keep the laws, and my youth is so inured to your former discipline, that I cannot skill the latter. Here let rhetoricians declaim Whether this were duty or disobedience. But let us examine the case by philosophy. I am sure that no man s reason is so nearly conjoined to my soul as my own appetite, although my appetite be merely sensitive. And must I oftentimes resist my own appetite, and enthral it as a civil rebel: and have I not power much more to oppose any man's reason that Persuades me unto evil, his reason being but a stranger unto me, and not of the secret council of my soul! Yes, out of question. How it pities me to hear some men say, that they could live as soberly, as chastely, as saintlike as the best, if it were not for company! Fie upon such weakness: says St. Austin, If thy mother speak thee fair, if the wife of thy bosom tempt thy heart, beware of Eve, and think of Adam. The serpent was a wise creature (Genesis 3), and Eve could not but take his word in good manners. Fond mother of mankind, so ready to believe the devil, that her posterity ever since nave Dean slow to believe God. Never can there be a better season for nolumus, for every Christian to be a Rechabite, than when any man reacheth out a cup of intemperance unto us, to say boldly, We will not drink it. Now I proceed to the second part of my text, which hath a strong connection with the former; for why did they resist these enticements, and disavow the prophet (ver. 8)? Their obedience is the second part of their encomium, they will obey the voice of Jonadab their father. The name of father was that wherewith God was pleased to mollify our stony hearts, and bring them into the subjection of the fifth commandment. Surely as a parricide, that killed his father, was to have no burial upon the earth, but sewed in an ox hide and east headlong into the sea; so he that despiseth his father deserves not to hold any place of dignity above others, but to be a slave to all men. For what are we but coin that hath our fathers' image stamped upon it? and we receive our current value from them to be called sons of men. And yet the more commendable was the obedience of the Rechabites, that their father Jonadab being dead, his law was in as good force as if he had been living. Concerning this virtue of obedience, let us extend our discourse a little further, and yet tread upon our own ground. Obedience is used in a large sense, for a condition, or modus, annexed unto all virtues. As the magistrate may execute justice dutifully under his prince, the soldier may perform a valiant exploit dutifully under his captain; but strictly, and according to the pattern of the Rechabites, says Aquinas. It is one peculiar and entire virtue, whereby we oblige ourselves, for authority's sake, to do things indifferent to be done, or omitted; for sometimes that which is evil may be hurtful prohibito to the party forbidden: as the laws forbid a man to murder himself: sometimes a thing is evil prohibenti, so treasons, adulteries, and thefts are interdicted: but sometimes the thing is no way in itself pernicious to any, but only propounded to make trial of our duty and allegiance, as when Adam was forbid to eat the apple; and this is true obedience, not to obey for the necessity of the thing commanded, but out of conscience and subjection to just authority. Such obedience, and nothing else, is that which hath made the little commonwealth of bees so famous: for are they not at appointment who should dispose the work at home, and who should gather honey in the fields? they flinch not from their task, and no creature under the sun hath so brave an instinct of sagacity. Let us gather up this second part of my text into one closure: we commend the Rechabites for their obedience, and by their example we owe duty to our parents, natural and civil, those that begot us, those that govern us. We owe duty to the dead, after our rulers have left us in the way of a good life, and changed their own for a better. We owe duty to our rulers in all things honest and lawful; in obeying rites and ceremonies indifferent, in laws civil and ecclesiastical. But where God controls, or wherein our liberty cannot be enthralled, we are bound ad patiendum, and happy if we suffer for righteousness' sake. Now that the obedience of the Rechabites was lawful and religious, and a thing wherein they might profitably dispense with freedom and liberty, the third part of my text, that is their temperance, will make it manifest, for in this they obeyed Jonadab. To spare somewhat which God hath given us for our sustenance, is to restore a part of the plenty back again; if we lay hands upon all that is set before us, it is suspicious that we expected more, and accused nature of frugality. And though the vine did boast in Jotham's parable, that it cheered up the heart of God and man, though it be so useful a creature for our preservation, that no Carthusian or Caelestine monk of the strictest order did put this into their vow to drink no wine, yet the Rechabites are contented to be more sober than any, and lap the water of the brook, like Gideon's soldiers. Which moderation of diet did enable them to avoid luxury and swinish drunkenness, into which sin whosoever falls makes himself subject to a fourfold punishment. First, The heat of too liberal a proportion kindles the lust of the flesh. Lot, who was not consumed in Sodom with the fire of brimstone, drunkenness set him on fire with incestuous lust in Zoar. What St. Paul hath coupled (2 Corinthians 6.), let us not divide; lastings go first, then follows pureness and chastity. Secondly, How many brawls and unmanly combats have we seen? Thirdly, Superfluity of drink is the draught of foolishness. Such a misery, in my opinion, that I would think men had rather lose their right arm than the government of their reason, if they knew the royalty thereof. Lastly, Whereas sobriety is the sustentation of that which decays in man, drunkenness is the utter decay of the body. The Rechabites had encouragement to take this vow upon them for three reasons:
1. As being but strangers to the true commonwealth of Israel.
2. To make the better preparation for the captivity of Babylon.
3. To draw their affections to the content of a little, and the contempt of the world.Now I follow my own method to handle the second consideration of this vow, that these circumstances were not only well foreseen, but that the conditions of the thing vowed are just and lawful. Not to tumble over all the distinctions of the schoolmen, which are as multiplicious in this cause as in any; of vows, some are singular, which concern one man and no more, as when David vowed to build an house unto the Lord, this was not a vow of many associated in that pious work, but of David only. Some are public when there is a unity of consent in divers persons to obtest the same thing before the presence of God. And such was this vow in my text, it concerned the whole family of the Rechabites. That this vow was of some moment in the practice of piety, appears by God's benediction upon them. For as it was said of ' goodness, that it stood the common. wealth of Athens in more stead than all their warlike prowess by sea and land, so that religious life of the Rechabites was the best wall and fortress to keep Judah in peace and safety. And almost who doth not follow Christ rather to be a gainer by Him than a loser. Behold, we have left all and followed Thee; that was the perfection of the apostles, that was the state of the Rechabites; not simply all, everything that belonged to the maintenance of a man, and so to live upon beggary, they have learned to ask nothing but a gourd to cover their head, a few flocks of sheep to employ their hands, the spring water to quench their thirst. They that must have no more, have cut off superfluous desires, that they can never ask more. And so piety and a godly life were chiefly aimed at in the vow of the Rechabites. The end and last part of all is this: That forasmuch as God was well pleased with these abstemious people that would drink no wine, therefore promise unto the Lord, and do the deed; for that is my final conclusion, that a vow justly conceived is to be solemnly performed. When we have breathed out a resolved protestation before God, it is like the hour we spake it in, past and gone, and can never be recalled. Says David, "I have poured out my soul in prayer," as if upon his supplication it were no longer his, but God s for ever. Surely if our soul be gone from us in our prayers, then much more in our vows they are flown up to Heaven, like Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham, they cannot, they should not return to earth again. He that changed his sex in the fable is not so great a wonder, as he that changeth any covenant which is drawn between God and his conscience. He that hath consecrated himself to God, doth, as it were, carry heaven upon his shoulders. Support your burdens in God's name, lest if you shrink the wrath of God press you down to the nethermost pit. I will give a brief answer to one question. Is Christ so austere that He doth reclaim against all dispensation? no, says Aquinas, you are loose again, if the thing in vow be sinful, nay if it be unuseful, nay if it cross the accomplishment of a greater good. This is good allowance, and well spoken. The careful pilot sets his adventure to a certain haven, and would turn neither to the right hand nor to the left, if the winds were as constant as the loadstone, but they blow contrary to his expectation. Suppose a Rechabite protesting to drink no wine, had lived after the institution of our Saviour's Supper, when He consecrated the fruit of the grape, and said, Drink ye all of this, would it pass for an answer at the Holy Communion to say, We will drink no wine? No more than if he had sworn before not to eat a paschal lamb, or any sour herbs, quite against the institution of the passover. There is enough in this chapter to stride over this doubt if you mark it. Jonadab indented with God, that he and his seed should live in tabernacles for ever; and in tabernacles they did live for three hundred years. Then comes the king of Babylon with an army into the country to invade the land. It was dangerous now to live in tabernacles; there was no high priest, I assure you, to absolve them; no money given to the publicans of the Church for a dispensation: but they said, "Come and let us go to Jerusalem for fear of the army of the Chaldeans and Syrians, and let us dwell at Jerusalem." The vow was unprofitable, tabernacles dangerous, and so the bond is cancelled. Yet, do not take all the liberty due unto you, if I may advise you: there are two things which you may choose to untie the knot of a vow. The peremptory rejecting of a bad vow, and that is lawful, and the changing thereof into some other vow, and that is more expedient, that God may have some service done unto Him, by way of a vow.
Parallel VersesKJV: The word which came unto Jeremiah from the LORD in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, saying,