The Noble Lesson
Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set..
O Brethren, attend to this excellent lesson:
We should often watch and pray, for we see this world is near to a close.
We should be very careful to do good works, seeing that the end of this world is at hand.
One thousand and one hundred years are now completed, since it was written, "It is the last time."
We should desire little, for we are now at the remnant.
Daily we see the signs in the increase of evil, and decrease of good. These are the perils, which the Scriptures mention: and the same recorded in the gospels, and confirmed in St. Paul's writings. No man living can know the hour of his death: therefore we ought to fear the more, because we are not sure, whether we shall die to-day or to-morrow. But when the day of judgment comes, every one will receive his full payment: both those that have done evil, and those that have done good. For the Scriptures say, and we should believe them, that all men must pass by two roads: the good will go to glory, and the wicked to torments. But he that does not believe these parting ways, should examine the Scriptures from the beginning; and there he will find, if he have understanding, that from the time when Adam was formed, few are the saved, in proportion to the others.
But whoever wishes to do well must begin by the love of God.
He should likewise call on his glorious Son, the dear child of the blessed virgin Mary;
And on the Holy Spirit, who shows us the right way.
These three are the Holy Trinity, and the one God, to whom prayer is due; and he is all-powerful--all wise--and all-good.
We should often beg, and pray that he would strengthen us to fight against our enemies (the world, the devil, and the flesh,) so that we may overcome them before we die:
And that he would, in his goodness, give us wisdom to know the way of life, and to keep pure the soul, that he gave us; yea, both soul and body in all charity, so as to love the Holy Trinity, and our neighbour, as God has commanded.
Not only those, who do us good, but those who injure us.
And we should ask for a steadfast hope in the King of heaven, that at the end he may receive us into his glorious mansion.
This is hard to be received by the wicked, who love gold and silver; despise the promises of God; keep none of his laws and commandments; nor suffer the good to keep them, but hinder them according to their power.
How came evil to enter into mankind?
Because Adam sinned at the beginning, by eating of the forbidden apple, and, the grain of the evil seed taking root in others, he thus brought death on himself, and all his posterity.
Well may we say this was a bitter morsel.
But Christ has redeemed the good by his sufferings.
Alas! we find in this lesson, that Adam believed not in God his creator; and now we see men grown worse, forsaking God, the almighty Father, and trusting in idols to their own destruction:
Which were forbidden by the law from the beginning; viz. the law of nature, (common to all men) written in the heart of the man first formed; God giving him a free power to do either good or evil; though he forbad the evil, and commanded the good.
And you may clearly see, that this was ill observed, for we have all left the good, and done the evil; as Cain the eldest child of Adam, did; who killed his brother Abel without any cause; except that he was good, and put his trust in the Lord, and not in any creature.
Here we may take an example from the law of nature, which we have broken, and transgressed, by sinning against the Creator, and injuring the creature.
This was a noble law, that God gave us, and wrote in the heart of every man, that he might read and keep it, and learn righteousness; love God in his heart above all creatures, and fear and serve him without reserve.
This law is therefore, not found in the holy Scriptures. [This is a reference to the existence of the moral Law of God, prior to its codification at Mt. Sinai--Ed.].
Also, that he should be true to his marriage bond; that excellent compact, and be at peace with his brethren, and love all other people.
Moreover, that he should hate pride, and love humility; and do unto others, as he would be done by; and, if he did the contrary, that he should be punished.
Few there were, who observed this law; and the greater part broke it, forsaking the Lord, and dishonouring him.
They believed the devil, and his temptation:
Loving this world too much, and heaven too little.
And served the body, more than the soul.
Here every one may be reproved, who says, that God did not make man to allow him to perish.
But let each take heed, that it happens not to him, as it did to them: for the deluge came, and destroyed the wicked:
Nevertheless God caused an ark to be made, in which he saved the good.
So many were the wicked, and so few the good, that of all the world only eight persons were saved.
Let us all be hereby admonished to avoid evil, and to repent: for Jesus Christ has said, and St. Luke has written, that all, who do not, shall perish.
To those, who escaped, God promised, that the world should never more perish by water; and they believed him, and multiplied.
But the favours which God bestowed on them, they soon forgot, having little faith, and great fear; so that they did not fully believe the word of the Lord, and dreaded the waters again troubling the world.
They therefore talked of building a tower, where they might take refuge: and they began it (as it is recorded):
And they said they would make it large and high,--so lofty, that the top should reach heaven:
But this they could not accomplish; for it displeased God, and he made his displeasure known to them.
That great city was called Babel, but now Confusion, on account of its sad condition.
There was then but one language among them.
And that they might not understand one another, God parted and confounded them, that they might not finish what they had begun: and languages were thus spread through the world.
After this they sinned grievously, forsaking the law of nature; for the Scriptures affirm, and it may be easily proved, that five cities, which committed wickedness, were destroyed by a judgment of fire and brimstone from God.
He destroyed the sinners, but delivered the righteous, viz. Lot and his family, which the angel brought out, four in number; but one was punished, and that was his wife, because she disobeyed the command:
A notable example this, for the whole world to take heed to what God forbids.
In those days lived Abram, a man who pleased God, and begat a patriarch, of whom came the Jews, a noble race, fearing the Lord.
They dwelt in Egypt among wicked people, who oppressed and afflicted them a long time.
But when they cried unto the Lord, he sent them Moses, who set his people free, and destroyed the other nations.
They passed through the Red Sea, as through a dry and pleasant place; but their enemies, who pursued them, all perished in the waters.
Many other wonders did God show to his people; feeding them forty years in the wilderness, and giving them the law graven and excellently arranged on two tables of stone, which he sent by Moses.
This taught them, that there is a Lord over all, whom they were bound to believe, and love with all their heart; and also to fear, and serve to the end of their lives.
Likewise, that every one should love his neighbour as himself;
That they should give counsel to widows, and maintain the fatherless; shelter the poor, and clothe the naked; feed the hungry, and guide the traveller; and, in short, carefully observe his law; God promising to those who kept it, the kingdom of heaven.
He forbad the worship of idols, manslaughter, adultery, and all kinds of uncleanness; lying, perjury, and false witness; usury, rapine, and evil coveting; as also avarice, and all manner of wickedness.
To the good he promised life, but threatened death to the wicked.
Then were they clothed with pride; but those that sinned, and did wickedly, died, and were destroyed without mercy.
For the Scripture says (and it is plain enough) that thirty thousand were left in the wilderness; and thirty thousand, and more, (as the law saith) were destroyed by the sword, fire, and serpents.
And many others perished in another way, the earth opening, and hell receiving them.
And here we have matter for reproving ourselves very seasonably.
But those which pleased the Lord inherited the land of promise.
Now there were in those days many worthies: as David and Solomon, the kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others, who fought for the faith, and defended it.
But there was only one people chosen by God out of all the world.
And many were their enemies round about, who persecuted them.
This lesson affords us much instruction:
When they kept the law, and the commandments, God fought for them against the other nations.
But when they sinned, and committed wickedness, they died; were destroyed, and made prisoners by other nations.
This people prospered so much, and became so rich, that they kicked against the Lord.
Wherefore we find in this lesson, that the king of Babylon put them in prison; where they were distressed, and afflicted a long time.
Then they cried to the Lord with a repentant heart, and he restored them to Jerusalem.
But there were few that were obedient, and kept his law, and feared to offend the king.
Indeed, there were some of them full of deceit and falsehood, and these were the pharisees, and others acquainted with the Scriptures:
Who kept the law (as plainly appears) only to be seen by men, and to be held in greater respect.
But that honour, soon comes to nothing, is of little value.
Then were the saints, the just and the good, persecuted.
And they prayed to the Lord with cries and tears, that he would come down upon earth, and save the world:
For all mankind were in the road to destruction.
Then God sent the angel to the noble virgin of the royal family.
And he sweetly saluted her, (for he came by command) and then said unto her,
Fear not, Mary, for the Holy Ghost shall overshadow thee, and thou shalt bear a Son, whom thou shalt call Jesus: he shall save his people from their sins.
Nine months did the glorious virgin bear him: but that she might not be made a public example, Joseph married her.
The virgin was pure, and so was Joseph:
And this we must believe, because the Gospel declares it.
When the infant was born, he was laid in a manger, wrapped in clothes, and meanly lodged.
This is a reproof to the covetous, and misers, who never cease to heap up riches.
Now there were many wonderful things done, when the Lord was born:
God sent the angel to make it known to the shepherds:
A star appeared to the three wise men in the east:
Glory was given to God in heaven, and peace on earth to the good.
Afterwards the child suffered persecution:
Nevertheless he grew in favour, and in stature; and likewise in Divine wisdom, in which he was taught.
And he chose the twelve apostles, who were rightly so named;
And he was pleased to change the law, which he before gave:
He did not so change it, as to do it away altogether, but renewed it, that it might be better kept.
He himself was baptized, that he might give salvation to us.
And he commanded the apostles to baptize the nations.
For then began the renewal.
The old law forbad fornication, and adultery; but the new forbids looking at a woman to lust after her.
The old law allowed the breaking the marriage ties, and permitted divorces by a writing; but the new says, thou shalt not marry her that is put away; and what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.
The old law cursed the barren womb; but the new recommends us to keep ourselves chaste.
The old law only forbad perjury; but the new says, swear not at all, and let your conversation be only yes and no.
The old law commanded fighting against enemies, and returning evil for evil: but the new says, avenge not yourselves, but leave your revenge to the King of heaven, and let those, who injure you, live peaceably, and you shall find pardon from the heavenly King.
The old law said you shall love your friends, and hate your enemy; the new says, you shall no more do so, but you shall love your enemies, and do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute you, and seek occasion against you, that you may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.
The old law said, punish those who do you evil; but the new says, forgive all sorts of persons, and you will have forgiveness of your Almighty Father; but if you will not forgive, you shall not be saved.
No one should kill, or hate one another; much less should we mock the simple, or the poor.
Neither should we despise the foreigner, or stranger; for in this world we are all pilgrims.
And we are all brethren, and ought to serve God.
This is the new law, which Jesus Christ says we ought to keep.
And he called his apostles, and commanded them to go throughout the world, to make disciples of all nations:
To preach to Jews and Greeks, and every human being.
He gave them power over serpents; also to cast out devils, heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and to do to others, as he had done to them.
He bid them not to possess gold or silver, but to be content with food and clothing:
To love one another, and be at peace.
He promised the kingdom of heaven to them, and to those, who are poor in spirit:
And he, who knew the spiritually poor, said, he would soon number them.
Then he told them what should come to pass:
How he must die, and afterwards rise again:
And he foretold the signs, and wonders, which must happen before the end.
He spoke many excellent parables to them, and to the people, which were written afterwards in the New Testament.
But if we will love Christ, and know his doctrine, we must watch, and read the Scriptures:
Where we shall find, when we read, that Christ was persecuted only for doing good.
He raised the dead by divine power;
He made the blind to see, who never had before seen;
He cleansed the lepers, and made the deaf to hear;
He cast out devils, and worked many more miracles.
And the more good he did, the more he was persecuted.
His persecutors were the pharisees; the follower of Herod, the king, and those of the priesthood;
For they all envied him, because the people went after him, and believed in him, and his commandments.
They formed a design to put him to the most cruel death,
And spoke to Judas, and made an agreement with him, to deliver him up for thirty pieces of silver.
Now Judas, being a covetous man, betrayed him, and gave up his Master to those wicked people.
The Jews were the occasion of his being crucified, and having his feet, and his hands pierced with nails.
A crown of thorns was set on his head, and they reproached him much, and blasphemed him.
And when he said he was thirsty, they gave him gall and vinegar to drink.
The torture was so sharp and painful, that his soul separated from his body, to procure salvation for sinners.
The body remained hanging upon the cross between two thieves.
Four wounds were inflicted on him; besides other blows.
They then gave him the fifth, to finish him.
For one of the soldiers came, and pierced his side;
And immediately there flowed out blood and water together.
Then all the apostles fled, but one returned,
And stood there with two women near the cross.
All were in great grief, particularly the mother,
When she saw her Son dead, and naked, fastened to the cross.
He was buried by the good, and guarded by the wicked.
He rose from the grave on the third day; and raised to life many of his saints.
And he appeared to his disciples, as he had foretold them.
Then they rejoiced greatly, when they saw the Lord.
And they were comforted, for before they were in great fear.
And he conversed with them till the day of the ascension.
When our Saviour went up into glory, saying to his apostles, and all his other followers, that he would be with them to the end of the world.
He remembered them at the feast of Pentecost;
And sent them the Holy Ghost, who is the Comforter:
Who taught the apostles heavenly doctrine;
And made them understand languages, and the holy Scriptures;
Then they remembered what he had said.
And they proclaimed without fear the doctrine of Christ, preaching to Jews and Greeks, and working many miracles.
And they baptized the believers in the name of Jesus Christ.
Then there became a people of new converts,
And they were called Christians, because they trusted in Christ.
But we find in the Scriptures, that the Jews and Saracens persecuted them grievously.
Yet the Apostles were so strong in the fear of the Lord, and likewise the men, and women, who were with them,
That they did not leave off speaking, and doing for all that,
Whatever might come of it, so that they might win Jesus Christ.
Great were their torments, according to what is written;
And only, because they taught the doctrine of Jesus Christ.
But as for their persecutors, we need not so much wonder;
For they had not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ;
Like those, who now-a-days seek occasion to persecute so much;
These ought indeed to be Christians, but have a poor claim to the name.
But in this respect they are to be blamed, that they persecute and imprison the good:
Yet it is no where found, that the saints ever persecuted, or put any in prison.
Now after the apostles, there were certain teachers, who showed the way of Jesus Christ our Saviour;
And some of these are found even at this present time, but they are known to be very few.
They have a great desire to point out the way of Jesus Christ:
But are so persecuted, that they can do but little.
So blinded by error are the false Christians: and especially the pastors;
For they persecute, and kill those, who are better than themselves,
And let those live quietly, who are false, and deceivers.
But by this we may know, that they are not good shepherds:
For they love not the sheep, except for their fleeces.
Nevertheless the Scripture says, and we may read it,
That if any one love the good, he must needs love and fear God, and Jesus Christ.
Such a one will never curse, swear, or lie.
He will not commit adultery, kill, or cheat his neighbour:
Neither will he take revenge of his enemies.
Now such a one is called a Waldense, and said to be deserving of punishment.
And they find occasion, by lies and deceit, to take from him what he has earned by fair dealing.
However, he who is thus persecuted for the fear of the Lord, comforts himself greatly by this, that the kingdom of heaven shall be given to him at the end of the world.
Then he will have great glory for all his dishonour.
But in this their malice is very evident:
For he who curses, lies, swears, often lays out his money at usury, kills, fornicates, and takes revenge of those who injure him:
He, they say, is to be considered a good, and honest man.
But let them take heed, that they be not deceive at last.
When the mortal disease comes, and death seizes on one of them, and makes him almost speechless;
Then he calls for a priest to confess to him.
But according to the Bible, he has delayed this too long:
For that commands, and teaches us to repent in good time, and not to put it off to the last:
The priest asks him, if he has any sin upon him.
He answers in two or three words, and soon makes an end:
The priest replies, that he cannot be forgiven, except he make restitution, and amends for his frauds.
When he hears this, he is very much troubled, and thinks within himself, if he restores all,
What shall he have to leave to his children; and what will the world say?
Then he commands the children to examine their faults,
And he buys a full absolution from the priest;
Though he possess a hundred, or two hundred shillings of another, yet the priest acquits him for a hundred pence, and sometimes for less, when he can get no more.
Telling him a long story, and promising him pardon;
And that he will say masses for his soul, and for his relations.
And in this way he pardons the righteous, and the wicked, by laying his hand on their head.
But when he takes his leave, he assures the sick person that he is fully pardoned:
Then the priest makes good cheer.
But he is sadly amended this, who has committed sin:
And will find himself deceived by such an absolution.
And he that occasions him to believe it, is guilty of a deadly sin.
For I dare say it, because it is true,
That all the popes, from Sylvester to the present one,
And all the cardinals, bishops, and abbots -- all together, have no power to forgive sin.
They cannot forgive any creature a single mortal sin.
It is God alone who pardons, and no other being can.
But those who are pastors should do this:
They should preach to the people, and pray with them;
Feed them often with divine doctrine,
And punish sinners with discipline, and admonish them to repent.
And chiefly, that they should confess their sins to God without reserve;
And repent in this life; fast, give alms, and pray with a fervent heart;
For by these things the soul finds salvation.
Wherefore we Christians who have sinned, and forsaken the commands of Jesus Christ, because we have no fear, faith, or love,
We should acknowledge our sins without delay:
We should weep tears of penitence for the offenses we have committed,
Particularly for these three mortal sins, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life; by which we have done evil.
We must keep in this way, if we will love and follow Jesus Christ:
We must be poor in spirit and heart:
Love chastity, and serve God humbly.
Then we follow the way of Jesus Christ, and thus overcome our enemies.
There is a short account in this lesson of three laws, which God gave to mankind;
The first law shows sensible and reasonable creatures,
How to know God and honour their Maker.
For whoever has understanding, may easily think within himself, that he neither made himself, nor any other.
Therefore, he may know by his own judgment and reason,
That there is One Lord God, who created all the world.
And knowing him, he ought to honour him greatly,
For those who would not do this, were damned.
The second law which God gave to Moses, teaches us to fear God, and to serve him with all our strength.
For he condemns and punishes every offender.
But the third law, which exists in this present time, teaches us to love God, and to serve him purely;
For he waits for the sinner, and gives him time to repent in this life.
As for any other law to come, we shall have none, but this: viz. to imitate Jesus Christ, and to do his will.
To keep steadfastly what he commands us,
And to be well aware of the coming of antichrist.
And not to believe either his words or his works.
Now, according to Scripture, there are many antichrists:
For all those are antichrists, who are against Christ.
There will be many signs and great wonders from this time until the day of judgment.
Heaven and earth shall be burnt up; all the living shall die, and every building shall be thrown down.
After which all shall rise again to never-ending life.
Then shall come the last judgment, when God shall separate his people according as it is written:
To the wicked he will say, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire:
There to be tormented with the heaviest punishments; a multitude of pains, and sharp tortures;
For you shall be damned without fail.
From which may God, in his good will, preserve us!
And give us to hear what he shall then say to his own people:
Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
There you will have pleasure, and riches, and honour.
May it please that Lord, who formed the world, that we may be of the number of his elect, to dwell with him in his court for ever!
Thanks be unto God! Amen.