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by John Lightfoot
Exercitations upon the Gospel of St. Mark
Sacred to God and the King,
An altar is here to be erected before the porch;
and thanksgivings to be offered on it,
for this leisure granted to the studies of learning;
for the muses preserved,
for me and mine snatched from imminent ruin,--
To Jehovah the Deliverer,
and to Caesar the Preserver:
To Caesar the things which are Caesar’s,
and to God the things which are God’s.
Come hither, stranger, [viator], and stand by me, while I am sacrificing; and when you hear me relating my own story, help my prayers with yours; assist me in this holy office, and worship the same deities with me.
I sing the mercy of God, and the clemency of the king, by which I was preserved from suffering shipwreck, when I had been already shipwrecked; and from being driven out of doors, when I had been already driven out.
This rectory of Great Mundon, which I have now enjoyed for almost twenty years, belongs to the royal donation and grant, pleno jure, as they use to speak. By which right two rectors were placed here heretofore by two kings: persons they were of eminent name, of no ordinary worth, and the like to whom their times produced not many. One was the very famous George Downham, STD, presented by king James, who was promoted hence, and sent over to the bishopric of Derry in Ireland. And he leaving it, that excellent person Samuel Ward, STD, master of Sidney Sussex College, in the university of Cambridge, and also the most grave and learned professor of the lady Margaret in the same university, was made his successor by king Charles. Upon his decease I succeeded here; far unequal (alas!) to so great men: and as unhappy, that I was not admitted by the same right, but by that power that then, while the wars prevailed, possessed all. The brittleness of this my weak title lay not concealed; but when the king’s majesty, in which we now rejoice, by a happy turn of Providence returned to his own rights, it was presently discovered; and this rectory was granted to one who was a suitor for it, by the royal donation.
Thus I and my fortunes are shipwrecked, and my affairs are come to that last extremity, that nothing now remains for me but to leave my house and these quiet retirements wherein for so many years I followed my studies with the highest satisfaction and the sweetest leisure. But another thing there was that stuck more close, namely, that I seemed to see royal majesty offended with me, and that brow that shined on others with a most sweet serenity, sad, clouded, bended on me; and certainly to perish under the displeasure of a king is twice to perish.
Under these straits what should I do? There was no place for hope, when the fatal instrument was now signed against me: but to despair is to subscribe to one’s own misfortune, is to derogate from the king’s mercy, is to submit to certain ruin under uncertain suspicion. Perhaps the most merciful king is not angry with me at all, for eagles do not use to be angry with flies. Nor, perhaps, is it too late, nor altogether to no purpose, to seek after a remedy for my wound, not yet incurable; for as yet the fatal decree was not gone out without repeal. Perhaps my case is altogether unknown to the best king, or disguised by some unjust complaint; and it is a comfort that my business lies before a king, not before a common man.
To the altar, therefore, of his mercy I humbly fly in a lowly supplication, begging and entreating him to consider my case, to revoke the destructive decree, and to vouchsafe to continue and establish my station in this place. Take now, O England, a measure of thy king; and, even from this one example, learn what a prince thou hast to boast of. The royal father of his country received my supplication cheerfully, complied with my desires, and granted me his donation,--established it with his great seal, and (which I desire might be written in letters of gold to last for ever) by a particular, and, as it were, paternal care, took order that hereafter none, by any means whatsoever, should proceed to do any thing that tended either to my danger or ruin.
O! How would I commemorate thee, thou best of princes, greatest Charles, how would I commemorate thee! What praises or what expressions shall I use to celebrate or set forth so great clemency, commiseration, and goodness? Those are light obligations that speak, these my obligations stand amazed, are speechless, and swallowed up in admiration. It is for common men to do benefits that may be expressed in words, it is for Charles to oblige beyond all that can be spoken.
I will add another thing also, O stranger, which the same mercy and goodness also added. For when I feared the same fortune in the university as I had felt in the country, and fled again to the same altar, the royal bounty heard me, granted my petition, ratified my desires, and confirmed and strengthened my station there also.
To comprise all in a word, which indeed exceeds all words. Although I were an obscure person and of no note, altogether unworthy and of no merit, wholly unknown to the king’s majesty, and lying possibly under some kind of accusations, (for it wanted not an accusation that I was put into these places by that authority that I was,) yet twice within two weeks by the royal favour I obtained his grant, confirmed by his hand, and the great seal of England. And thus rooted out here he replanted me; and ready to be rooted out elsewhere he preserved me, rescued me from danger, freed me of my fear: so that now I, as well as my worthy predecessors, have this to boast of, that I have a king to my patron.
But far be it, far be it, from me, most unworthy man, to boast: all this, most great, most merciful prince, redounds to your praise alone; and let it do so: rather let England glory in such a prince, and let the prince glory in such mercy. Triumph, Caesar, triumph in that brave spirit of yours, as you well may. You are Charles, and you conquer; you subdue all by pitying, delivering, giving, and forgiving all.
That conquest I shall always acknowledge with all humility and thankfulness: and thou, little book, and you, trifling sheets, wheresoever ye shall fly, tell this abroad in my name everywhere, and to every man, that although there be nothing else in you worthy to be read, yet that this my sincere profession may be read and heard; that, next after the divine mercy, I owe to the mercy of the king, that I enjoy this sweet leisure for learning, that I enjoy these quiet retirements, that I enjoy a house, that I enjoy myself.
So, O father of the country, may the Father of mercies reward you sevenfold, and seventy times sevenfold into your bosom; and may you feel every day the benefit and sweetness of doing good by the recompenses that are made you by Heaven. Thus may your mercy ever triumph, and ever reap as the fruit of it the eternal favour of the Divine mercy. Thus may England be crowned for a long time with her king; and may the king be crowned for ever with the love of God, with his protection, his blessing, his grace, his glory.
Made these vows, Jan. 1, 1661.
To the Right Reverend Father in Christ, Gilbert,
By the Divine Providence, Lord Bishop of London.
The sacrifice by the law was to be delivered into the hands of the priest, and to be offered by him: and since your hands, reverend prelate, vouchsafed to offer my petitions, to the king’s majesty, I now become an humble petitioner that those hands would please to offer also these testimonials of my thanks.
I bring the firstfruits of my replantation which the royal favour indulged me by the intercession of your honour, when I had been rooted up. For since by that favour I am restored to these seats, to peace, and my studies, there is nothing I now desire besides, nothing more than that that most excellent prince may perceive, that he hath not been a benefactor to an ungrateful person, however unworthy, however obscure: and that your honour may see that you have not interceded for a forgetful person, howsoever undeserving.
I shall never forget, great sir, with how much kindness and candour your honour received me in my straits, altogether unknown to you, and whose face you had never before seen: with how great concern you pleaded my cause before the king’s majesty, before the most honourable the lord chancellor of England, and before the right reverend my diocesan: how your honour consulted for me, wrote letters, laid stops, that my ruin might not proceed beyond a possibility of restoration. All which while I reflect upon, which I ever do, and while, together with that reflection, I consider what ever do, and while, together with that reflection, I consider what obligation lays upon me on one hand, and my own meanness on the other; on one hand how unworthy I am of so great favour, and how altogether unable to make any recompense on the other; what else is left me but to fly again to the same kindness, humbly imploring it, that as it at first so obligingly received me, a person unknown and unworthy; so it would now entertain me, known and bound by so great obligation, and approaching with all the thanks I can give. Those thanks so due to your honour I have committed to these papers; unlearned indeed they are, and undressed [impolitis]; but such as carry sincerity with them, though not learning, thankfulness, though not eloquence. And I have intrusted this charge with them the rather, because I suppose they may disperse themselves far and near, and perhaps may live to posterity: and that which I desire of them is, that they would declare to all how indebted he is to your honour, and to your great humanity, with how great obligations he is bound to you, and with how grateful a mind and inward affection he professeth all this, and will acknowledge it for ever, who is,
Your Honour’s most obliged servant,
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30