Anthony Burgess

Espository Sermons upon the Whole 17th Chapter
of the Gospel According to St. John, or
Christ's Prayer Before his Passion Explicated
and both Practically and Polemically Improved.

To the Christian Reader

             The Evangelist John, because of that admirable, useful, and excellent matter, which he hath left on Record for the good of the Church, is dignified with some remarkable Titles. That which is the principal, and most to be observed, is the name Christ himself gave him, Mark 3:17[1]. He with his brother James are called, Sons of Thunder. When our Saviour changed Peter’s Name, there is the reason of that mutation expressed; but because here is none given, therefore the conjectures of interpreters are various. As for the application of it to John, some say, it was because of the greatness and vehemence of his voice, dia to megalofwnondia, but it is hard to prove that. Grotius thinketh our Saviour doth allude to that of Haggai chap. 2.6. “Yet once it is a little while, and I will shake (snw, from which he makes Boanerges, though other critics judge much otherwise) the Heavens and Earth, &c.” This Promise was fulfilled in the great mutation and change, which was made by the Gospel in which this Evangelist was an excellent Instrument. Some attribute it to the secrecy and sublimity of that matter which he delivereth, as having more familiarity with Christ, than others, for he used to lean on his breast, and so might receive some peculiar instruction from Christ. Thus Heinfius making Thunder to be no more than the Hebrew Shechina, God’s Presence and Majesty, applying that place, Psal. 81:7: “I have heard thee in the secret place of Thunder.” But that which is most probable is, because of the admirable gravity and weight in the matter delivered, as also the short and sudden expressions thereof, those sentences in the beginning of his first chapter are like so many thunderbolts, insomuch that if you do regard the matter and manner of his expression, he might more truly be said baontan, than Pericles in his Orations. Whatsoever therefore we find delivered by this divine penman, we are with much reverence and awful respect to receive it. Antiquity also hath in a peculiar manner honoured him with some other names: he is called the Heavenly Eagle,  and that because of the sublime Mysteries manifested by him in reference to the Godhead of Christ; and to this purpose, he is likewise styled Theologos, the Divine, where Yeologein or Yeologia, is not used in that sense, as afterwards it was in the Church of God, for it is opposed to oikonomia, hence they say, the other Evangelists do deliver oikonomian of Christ, the manner of his Human Nativity, but this Evangelist doth the Yeologian, the Divine Nature of Christ; although the Socinians have sacrilegiously perverted the beginning of that first chapter of John to another sense, than of Christ’s Eternal Deity (Which yet was used instrumentally to convert Junius from his atheism.) Now although the whole matter delivered thus by this Evangelist be so admirable and excellent, yet this seventeenth chapter, wherein is related the prayer of Christ for believers, not long before his death (and mentioned only by him), hath some appropriated reasons for a more peculiar attention and affection towards it, hence it hath always had a peculiar presidency in the hearts of believers. So that the opening of this precious Box of Ointment, must needs send forth a refreshing fragrant  smell to those that are spiritual; For it is truly said by Melancthon concerning this prayer, “Nec digniorem, necsanctiorem, nec fructuofiorem, nec magis patheticam vocem in Coelo ac Terra unquan suisse  auditam, quam hanc ipsius Filii precationem.” There was never a more excellent, more holy, more fruitful, and more affectionate voice ever heard in Heaven or Earth, than this prayer. So that we may call this chapter, as some of the Psalms are, a chapter of Degrees. If this reason may be admitted of that inscription, because they did surpass other Psalms in excellency, as also thereby the soul was like Elijah carried up in a fiery chariot to heaven, at the end of every verse me may write Selah. There was a very superstitious custom among Christians in Chrysostom’s time, which he doth severely inveigh[2] against, that they would hang this Gospel of John, or part of it about their necks, as an Amulet, or a spell against malignant things. But certainly, a gracious heart, preserving this Prayer of Christ, and making a wise and skilful improvement thereof, will find it wonderfully advantageous, both for the increase of godliness and comfort, here will be both bread to nourish, and wine to refresh and comfort. Although therefore multitude of books be complained of, as glutting the world; So that we may justly think there are more books than readers, yet the excellency, perpetual usefulness, and ravishing consolations of the matter delivered by our Saviour in this valedictory prayer, have prevailed with me to publish these expository sermons to the world, and the rather, not knowing of any English writer, who hath purposely made it his business to explicate and practically improve this chapter, whereas some other parts of Scripture have been diligently discussed. In the managing of this work, I have occasionally entered into some Socinian and Arminian disputes, some verses in this chapter being the proper subject for them. Although the greatest part of my work is to make honey rather than to sting; to inform us how to believe and walk in a Christian life, than to dispute and digladiate [3] about controversies, for we seldom gather grapes from such thistles. Yea sometimes in stead of conviction, they work confirmation in those errors, the minds of men are prepossessed with. And here I shall take leave to enter into a short digression[4], which would have come out more seasonably long before this time, but I had no opportunity till this occasion was offered to me.

           Not long since I published “The Second Part of the Treatise of Justification”, wherein among other particulars, my work was to prove, that works, though done by grace, are not the condition of our Justification, but that we are justified alone by Faith, as the means or instrument receiving of it. These two kinds of justification (viz. by faith receiving, or faith and works as a condition), I conceive to differ specifically one from the other, and that he who is justified the one way cannot be the other.  The former way, as the Scripture doth maintain, so generally the Reformed Churches have readily insisted in. The latter way the Remonstrants have vehemently pleaded for, opposing faith’s instrumentality in justification, with whom Vorstius and Grotius in this opinion associate themselves, as also one or two late English Writers[5]. Now when I had endeavored to state the question in as most candid and fair way between those that deny works to be a condition sine qua non[6] of our justification, and those who affirm. A Reverend and learned Brother, judging himself to be concerned in this opinion likewise, doth complain of the want of candor and truth[7] in my stating of the question, wherein I rather expected thanks for my ingenuity. For first, I said, “all merit and efficiency was with great distaste removed from these works of grace in our justification”; therefore the question was, “Upon what account these are required in justified persons, whether in some causality or concurrence, as faith is, only not with such a degree of excellency?” Now let any judicious reader, that is acquainted with this controversy, decide wherein any candor or truth may be desired herein, for I say causality (which is a general word), not efficiency or merit. Again, I say, some causality, Causalitas quaedam, which is Terminus diminuens. Yea, I added the word concurrence, which might easily satisfy any, how low I brought the question. Yea, as if this had not been enough, I propounded it in other terms, whether good works be required, as well as Faith? Yet when I had done all this, he complaineth, as if wrong were done. I am still more confirmed, and that by this instance, in what I delivered in that preface, that it is not a compendious or proper way to find out truth, and discover an error, by dealing with persons according to their particular expressions, or to attend to personal reflections, but to abstract the question, and to handle it in thesis. For how many words upon words may be multiplied in this very particular. My Reverend Brother saith, “He vehemently disclaimeth all causality of works in justification”: Surely his meaning is all proper causal efficiency (and so said I in the stating of it) but to deny causality in a large sense is plainly to contradict himself. For in his Aphorisme 74 Thesis, They both (viz.), faith and works, justify in the same kind of causality, viz. as Causae sine quibus non, or mediate and improper causes; or as Doctor Twiss, Causae dispositavae, but with this difference, faith as the principal part, obedience as the teste[8] principall. Here is causality, though improper; here is a Causa dispositiva, and yet shall I be blamed, after I had removed efficiency and merit, to state it with a Causalitas quaedam, some causality or concurrence. And therefore all the arguments I produce are not against any supposed causality, but that faith only is that which justifieth, and that good works, qua Works (let them be meritorious, efficient, or conditions only) are excluded as to the act of justification. Grotius (in cap. 2. Jacobi) who maketh this Promise of Justification and Salvation, “Ad donationem sub conditione, quam ad proprie dictam locu ionem & conductionem, propius accedere”, (happily this may occasion such great recourse to the lawyers about the nature of conditions) doth yet notwithstanding on the 22nd verse of the 2nd chapter of James, from that expression of the Apostle, faith did sunergei tis ergois aute, infer, “Docemur non male fidem & opera fidei posse dici causam Justificaationis – modo non intelligamus, causam primariam – sed conditiones quae saepe causae sine quibus non, aut sui generis causae dicuntur.” But I need not  run to this, for my arguments militate against works, as works justifying under any pretended notion whatsoever. And this maketh me admire, how my learned brother could let fall one passage, wherein he may be so palpably and ocularly[9] convinced to the contrary by first looking upon my arguments. That which he saith, is, “The strength of my arguments lieth upon a supposition, that conditions have a moral efficiency” (not to examine how freely he manageth his answer to such a supposition.) Now  this is that which I affirm, That there is not one of these ten arguments brought against justification by works, as a Conditio sine qua non, that is built upon supposition, or hath any dependence on it, only in the fourth argument, after the full strength thereof is delivered, then I do ex abundanti, and by way of amplification, shew, that a condition in a covenant strictly taken (I put that limitation) hath a moral efficiency, and is a causa cum qua, not a causa qua non; but this only by way of addition, the argument did not depend on this assertion. And my learned brother saith, “Some conditions (and most among men) are moral impulsive causes.”[10] I find another thing urged likewise, as not fair dealing, and that is, to fasten upon his opinion, that we may say a justifying repentance, as well as justifying faith, and also justifying love. Indeed in my book it is “law”, and that was the printer’s fault, which I am sorry for, because I see my learned brother so much moved at that, as if he were charged to hold a justifying “law”, it should have been “love”: But why doth this offend my Reverend Brother? He doth not say, “It is not true to say, justifying repentance, or justifying love”, but it is not fit to say (Confess. In the Pref.). Why is it not fit, if it be true? It may be such an expression would be offensive to godly ears, and therefore not fit. Can love be a condition of justification, and yet not justifying love as a condition? This seemeth very strange. But it’s said, “Faith hath a peculiar fitness and aptness to receive Christ, which love hath not.” It is true, and therefore faith only justifieth, and not love; thus it maketh against him, and not for him. Besides with him, Faith justifieth as a condition, not from its peculiar aptness, and therefore love and repentance being conditions, must justify ae que with Faith, though not ae qualiter. Faith’s aptness is the remote reason, as it is a condition, that is the proxime[11] and formal reason. Now repentance and love have this formal reason, for they are conditions. Certainly if Brutum were Animal rationale, he would be Homo, as well as man is. Some other minute and inconsiderable objections are also brought in, but they are not worthy of a contest.

            I therefore return from this digression to the subject in hand, which it to take notice of the great usefulness and excellency of the matter contained  in this prayer of Christ. Luther did justly call John the Evangelist for this book, “Malleus Pelagianorum”, the hammer of Pelagians, we may ad also of Socinians and Arians. Hence Sixtus Senensis speaketh of some Heretics called Alogi (a name that Epiphanius did justly put upon them), because they rejected this Gospel of John, and could not endure this logos, the Word, so often mentioned by him. What is thus said of the whole Gospel, may also be applied to this Prayer. For

            First, here is the system, as it were, of more exact and pure divinity, especially the Socinian and Arminian Errors are most powerfully and evidently profligate by it. Possevine chargeth it under his head of Atheism upon the Heretics, that Luther should say, “There was no other Gospel but that of John,” as if the books of the Evangelists did not deserve that name; but till I can find that expression in Luther, I shall not be solicitous for an answer. This is certain, that this very chapter I am treating of, is enough to put to flight and conquer the armies of the chiefest heretics; there being scarce any doctrine of weight in religion which may not from hence be strongly confirmed. Chrysostom maketh this Chapter lalian not euchn, a sermon not a prayer, but it may have this instructing matter in it, though poured out prayer-wise.

            Secondly, as this chapter is thus, the compendium and marrow of divinity, so it is also the foundation of the ministry, yea and of the Church also. For as at the creation by that word of blessing, “Increase and multiply”, all things have their being, and are continued therein, so from the virtue and efficacy of this prayer, the ministry, the ordinances, the Church itself have their existence and preservation.

            Thirdly, whereas the life and comfort of believers lieth in their union with Christ, and communion one with another. This precious truth is largely mentioned by our Saviour, which giveth occasion to treat of a believer’s union with Christ, as also of the unity which ought to be amongst believers, from which foundation we treat concerning the means to preserve unity, as also the causes of divisions amongst them, and likewise how far a forbearance and toleration in a church-way (for that question of a political and civil one, is not so pertinent to our Saviour’s words) is to be yielded unto in respect of erring brethren.

            Lastly, this prayer of Christ may be compared to a “land flowing with milk and honey,” in respect of that treasure of consolation which is contained therein. For as Chrisostom (Praefat. Ad Johan.) saith, “Though he be the Son of Thunder, yet his voice is sweeter than any melody;” therefore at the 13th verse he relateth, that our Saviour said, “These things have I spoken in the world that my joy might be fulfilled in them”. It is observed, that when Christ did in more extraordinary and ardent manner pray unto God, he went into some secret place, and was alone; and Casaubon leaveth it to be considered by the learned (Exerc. 16. Cap. 62.) “whether our Lord did not also pray this prayer privately.” But this expression - I speak these things in the world - do plainly demonstrate, that it was at least spoken in the presence of the disciples, and that for their edification and consolation. Seeing therefore this is such a foundation for healing and refreshing, come with a spiritual thirst to be replenished thereby. Seeing here is the honey and the honeycomb, do not with Jonathan taste a little only, but eat freely and abundantly thereof. Thou wilt by a serious and constant meditation find this heavenly matter in Christ’s prayer make thee heavenly also and assimilate thee into his own likeness. How vain and empty will all the glory of the world appear to thee, when thou shalt be lifted up upon the Mount of Transfiguration? They that live under the torrid zone never feel any cold, and thou who shalt find this prayer of Christ active and vigorous in thy breast, wilt never have a cause to complain of that dullness, formality and coldness which many others groan under. The Lord grant that thou mayest find this savoury power, and experimental efficacy upon thy heart in the reading thereof.

Sutton – Coldfield June 22nd, 1656

Thy Soul’s well wisher,

Anthony Burgess.

[1] Of the reason why Christ imposed on some new names, see Casauo, ad Annal Exere. 13

[2] to protest strongly or attack vehemently with words; rail (usually fol. by against)

[3] To fight like gladiators; to contend fiercely; to dispute violently. [Obs.]

[4] a passage or section that deviates from the central theme in speech or writing.

[5] Doctor Hammond Pract. Catech. Lib.s. Sect. 3

[6] "(a condition) without which it could not be"

[7] Confess.  Preface

[8] the witnessing or concluding clause of an instrument (as a writ) that is the best I could do with this phrase in the original it appears to be “tesse prinicipall”

[9] Ocular - performed or perceived by the eye or eyesight. ocularly, adverb  

[10] His apology pg. 8

[11] Next; immediately preceding or following. [Obs.]


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