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TO THE KING'S MOST EXCELLENT MAJESTY,
BY THE GRACE OF GOD KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, FRANCE, AND
IRELAND, DEFENDER OF THE FAITH.
MOST GRACIOUS AND DREAD SOVEREIGN :
More than twenty years are slipped away, since I entered upon this task of sacred Contemplations; presuming so long ago, to prefix your Royal Name to some of the first pieces of this long work, which I rather wished, than hoped I might live to finish. The God of Heaven hath been pleased to stretch out my days so far, as to see it brought, at last, after many necessary intermissions, to a happy end. Now, not with more contentment than boldness, I bring to your sacred hands, besides variety of other discourses, that work complete, whereof some few parcels saw the light before, under subordinate Dedications. The whole is your Majesty's due, no less than the unworthy Author ; whose age pleaseth and prideth itself in nothing more, than in the title of one of your Majesty's most ancient Attendants, in my station, now living,
TO MY MUCH HONOURED AND RIGHT WORSHIPFUL FRIEND,
SIR HENRY YELVERTON,
KNIGHT, ATTORNEY GENERAL TO HIS MAJESTY.
RIGHT WORSHIPFUL: It is not out of any satiety, that I change from the Old Testament to the New. These two, as they are the Breasts of the Church, so they yield milk equally wholesome, equally pleasant, unto able nurselings. Herein I thought good to have respect unto my reader, in whose strength there may be difference. That other breast perhaps doth not let down this nourishing liquor so freely, so easily. Even so small a variety refresheth a weak infant, Neither will there perhaps want some palates, which will find a more quick and pleasing relish in this fresher substance. These I thought good to please with a taste, ere they come to sate themselves with a full meal of this divine nourishment; in emulation of the good scribe, that brings forth both old and new. If it please God to enable my life and opportunities, I hope, at last, to present this Church, with the last service of the history of either page; wherein my joy and my crown shall be the edification of many. In the mean time, I dedicate this part unto your name, whom I have so much cause to observe and honour. The blessing of that God, whose Church you have ever made your chief client, be still upon your head, and that honourable society, which rejoices in so worthy a leader. To it and yourself I shall be ever, as I have cause, Humbly and unfeignedly devoted,
THE ANGEL AND ZACHARY. When things are at worst, then God begins a change. The state of the Jewish church was extremely corrupted, immediately before the news of the Gospel ; yet, as bad as it was, not only the priesthood, but the courses of attendance continued, even from David's time till Christ's. It is a desperately depraved condition of a church, where no good orders are left,
Judea passed many troubles, many alterations; yet this orderly combination endured about an eleven hundred years. A settled good will not easily be defeated; but, in the change of persons, will remain unchanged; and, if it be forced to give way, leaves memorable footsteps behind it. If David foresaw the perpetuation of this holy ordinance, how much did he rejoice in the knowledge of it! Who would not be glad to do good, on condition that it may so long outlive him?
The successive turns of the legal ministration held on, in a line never interrupted. Even in a forlorn and miserable church, there may be a personal succession. How little were the Jews better for this, when they had lost the Urim and Thummim, sincerity of Doctrine and Manners! This stayed with them, even while they and their sons crucified Christ. What is more ordinary, than wicked sons of holy parents ? It is the succession of truth and holiness, that makes or justifies a church, whatever become of the persons.
Never times were so barren, as not to yield some good. The greatest dearth affords some few good ears to the gleaners, Christ would not have come into the world, but he would have some faithful to entertain him. He, that had the disposing of all times and men, would cast some holy ones into his own times. There had been no equality, that all should either overrun or follow him, and none attend him.
Zachary and Elizabeth are just, both of Aaron's blood, and John Baptist of theirs. Whence should a holy seed spring, if not of the loins of Levi? It is not in the power of parents, to traduce holiness to their children ; it is the blessing of God, that feoffes them in the virtues of their parents, as they feofse them in their sins. There is no certainty, but there is likelihood, of a holy generation, when the parents are such.
Elizabeth was just, as well as Zachary; that the forerunner of a Saviour might be holy on both sides. If the stock and the graft be not both good, there is much danger of the fruit. It is a happy match, when the husband and the wife are one; not only in themselves, but in God; not more in flesh, than in the spirit. Grace makes no difference of sexes : rather, the weaker carries away the more honour, because it hath had less helps.
It is easy to observe, that the New Testament affordeth more store of good women, than the Old, Elizabeth led the ring of this mercy ; whose barrenness ended in a miraculous fruit, both of her body and of her time.
This religious pair made no less progress in virtue, than in age ; and yet their virtue could not make their best age fruitful: Elisabeth was barren. A just soul and a barren womb may well agree together. Amongst the Jews, barrenness was not a defect only, but a reproach : yet, while this good woman was fruitful of holy obe, dience, she was barren of children. As John, which was miraculously conceived by man, was a fit forerunner of him, that was con.