II. The referring line, proper to this centre, is Semper idem, ‘(Always) The Same.’ There is no mutability in Christ; ‘no variableness, nor shadow of turning,’ Jam. 1:17. All lower lights have their inconstancy; but in the ‘Father of lights’ there is no changeableness. The sun hath his shadow; the ‘Sun of Righteousness’ is without shadow, Mal. 4:2; the sun turns upon the dial, but Christ hath no turning. ‘Whom he loves, he loves to the end,’ John 13:1. He loves us to the end; of his love there is no end. Tempus erit consummandi, nullum consumendi misericordiam (Time will be brought to a close, but mercy will never be ended). His mercy shall be perfected in us, never ended. ‘In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer,’ Isa. 54:8. His wrath is short, his goodness is everlasting. ‘The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee,’ ver. 10. The mountains are stable things, the hills stedfast; yet hills, mountains, yea the whole earth, shall totter on its foundations; yea the very ‘heavens shall pass away with a noise, and the elements shall melt with heat,’ 2 Pet. 3:10; but the covenant of God shall not be broken. ‘I will betroth thee unto me forever,’ saith God, Hos. 2:19. This marriage-bond shall never be cancelled; nor sin, nor death, nor hell, shall be able to divorce us. Six-and-twenty times in one psalm that sweet singer chants it; ‘His mercy endureth forever,’ Ps. 136. ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’
As this meditation distils into our believing hearts much comfort, so let it give us some instructions. Two things it readily teacheth us: a dissuasive caution, and a persuasive lesson.
1. It dissuades our confidence in worldly things, because they are inconstant. How poor a space do they remain, Τα αυτα, ‘the same.’ To prove this, you have in Jud. 1:7, a jury of threescore and ten kings to take their oaths upon it. Every one had his throne, yet there they lick up crumbs under another king’s table; and shortly even this king, that made them all so miserable, is made himself most miserable. Solomon compares wealth to a wild fowl. ‘Riches make themselves wings, they fly away as an eagle toward heaven,’ Prov. 23:5. Not some tame house-bird, or a hawk that may be fetched down with a lure, or found again by her bells; but an eagle, that violently cuts the air, and is gone past recalling.
Wealth is like a bird; it hops all day from man to man, as a bird doth from tree to tree; and none can say where it will roost or rest at night. It is like a vagrant fellow, which because he is big-boned, and able to work, a man takes in a-doors, and keeps him warm; and perhaps for a while he works hard; but when he spies opportunity, the fugitive servant is gone, and makes away more with him than all his service came to. The world may seem to stand thee in some stead for a season, but at last it irrevocably runs away, and carries with it thy joys; thy goods, as Rachel stole Laban’s idols; thy peace and content of heart goes with it, and thou art left desperate.
You see how quickly riches cease to be ‘the same:’ and can any other earthly thing boast more stability? Honour must put off its robes when the play is done; make it never so glorious a show on this world’s stage, it hath but a short part to act. A great name of worldly glory is but like a peal rung on the bells the common people are the clappers; the rope that moves them is popularity; if you once let go your hold and leave pulling, the clapper lies still, and farewell honour. Strength, though, like Jeroboam, it put forth the arm of oppression: it shall soon fall down withered, 1 Kings 13:4. Beauty is like a almanack: if it last a year it is well. Pleasure is like lightning: oritur, moritur (heard, it dies); sweet, but short; a flash and away.
All vanities are but butterflies, which wanton children greedily catch for (Anselm): and sometimes they fly beside them, sometimes before them, sometimes behind them, sometimes close by them; yea, through their fingers, and yet they miss them; and when they have them, they are but butterflies; they have painted wings, but are crude and squalid worms. Such are the things of his world, vanities, butterflies. Vel sequendo labimur, vel assequendo laedimur (often that which we struggle after will hurt us when we gain it). The world itself is not unlike an artichoke; nine parts of it are unprofitable leaves, scarce the tithe is good about it there is a little picking meat, nothing so wholesome as dainty: in the midst of it there is a core, which is enough to choke them that devour it.
O then set not your hearts upon these things: calcanda sunt (they are to be tread upon), as Jerome observes on Acts 4. ‘They that sold their possessions, brought the prices, and laid them down at the Apostles’ feet,’ Acts 4:35. At their feet, not at their hearts; they are fitter to be trodden under feet, than to be waited on with hearts. I conclude this with Augustine. Ecce turbat mundus, et amatur: quid si tranquillus esset? Formoso quomodo hareres qui sic amplecteris faedum? Flores ejus quam colligeres, qui sic a spinis non revocas manum? Quam confideres aterno, qui sic adhaeres caduco? Behold, the world is turbulent and full of vexation, yet it is loved; how would it be embraced if it were calm and quiet? If it were a beauteous damsel, how would they dote on it, that so kiss it being a deformed stigmatic? How greedily would they gather the flowers, who would not forbear the thorns? They that so admire it being transient and temporal, how would they be enamoured of it if it were eternal? But ‘the world passeth,’ 1 John 2:17, and God abideth. ‘They shall perish, but thou remainest: they all shall wax old as doth a garment and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail,’ Heb. 1:11,12. Therefore, ‘trust not in uncertain riches, but in the living God,’ 1 Tim. 6:17. And then, ‘they that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion, which cannot be removed, but abideth forever,’ Psa. 125:1. ‘Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.’
2. This persuades us to an imitation of Christ’s constancy. Let the stableness of his mercy to us work a stableness of our love to him. And howsoever, like the lower orbs, we have a natural motion of our own from good to evil, yet let us suffer the higher power to move us supernaturally from evil to good. There is in us indeed a reluctant flesh, ‘a law in our members warring against the law of our mind,’ Rom. 7:23. So Augustine confesseth: Nec plane nolebam, nec plane volebam. And, Ego eram qui volebam, ego qua nolebam. (Confessions) I neither fully granted, nor plainly denied; and it was I myself that both would and would not. But our ripeness of Christianity must overgrow wavering thoughts.
Irresolution and unsteadiness is hateful, and unlike to our master Christ, who is ever the same. ‘A double-minded man is unstable in all his ways,’ James 1:8. The inconstant man is a stranger in his own house: all his purposes are but guests, his heart is the inn. If they lodge there for a night, it is all; they are gone in the morning. Many motions come crowding together upon him; and like a great press at a narrow door, while all strive, none enter. The epigrammatist says wittily,
Omnia cum facias, miraris cur facias nil?
Posthumè, rem solam qui facit, ille facit.
(In all that you do, do you wonder why you accomplish nothing?
After you die, you will do one thing, namely that.)
He that will have an oar forevery man’s boat, shall have none left to row his own. They, saith Melancthon, that will know aliquid in omnibus (something about everything), shall indeed know nihil in toto (nothing completely). Their admiration or dotage of a thing is extreme for the time, but it is a wonder if it outlive the age of a wonder, which is allowed but nine days. They are angry with time, and say the times are dead, because they produce no more innovations. Their inquiry of all things is not quam bonus (what is good?), but quam novum (what is new?). They are almost weary of the sun for continual shining. Continuance is a sufficient quarrel against the best things; and the manna of heaven is loathed because it is common.
This is not to be always the same, but never the same; and while they would be every thing, they are nothing: but like the worm Pliny writes of, multipoda, that hath many feet, yet is of slow pace. Awhile you shall have him in England, loving the simple truth; anon in Rome, grovelling before an image. Soon after he leaps to Amsterdam; and yet must he still be turning, till there be nothing left but to turn Turk. To winter an opinion is too tedious; he hath been many things. What he will be, you shall scarce know till he is nothing.
But the God of constancy would have his to be constant. Steadfast in your faith to him. ‘Continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel,’ Col. 1:23. Steadfast in your faithfulness to man, promising and not disappointing, Psalm 15:4. Do it aliud stantes, aliud sedentes, (whether standing or sitting) lest your changing with God teach God to change with you. Nemo potest tibi Christum auferre, nisi te illi auferas (Ambrose). No man can turn Christ from thee, unless thou turn thyself from Christ. or ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday,’ &c.