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RIGHTS OF PRIMOGENITURE,
GEN, CHAP. XLIX, VER. 3.
Reuben, thou art my first born, my might, and the beginning of my strength.
This is the beginning of Jacob's blessing his children, which was an act, and a principal act, of his faith, as it is in Heb. chap. XI. ver. 20.
And in this we may see a difference betwixt the death of Jacob and his father's. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were famous in their generations : God is not ashamed to be called their God. And if we consider their lives and deaths, we shall find this difference. Abraham in his life was most glorious, his faith famous, witness his offering his only son to God with that strength of faith, that, although he verily believed that “ in Jacob all the nations of the earth should be blessed,” yet was his faith so strong as to be content to offer him up, being persuaded that God was able to raise him from the dead.
Now although his life was thus glorious, when ye come to his death, this is all that is said of him : " Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, and was gathered unto his fathers.”
Commonly great things are expected from holy men at their death, yet ye see Abraham was but ordinary in his death.
Concerning Isaac's life the Scripture saith but little, and the self same words are used of him at his death, as was at the death of Abraham.
Jacob as ordinary in his life as ye shall meet withal ; but his death was a prophecy of Christ's coming into the world. He begins with Reuben, to whom, though he had no mind at all to bless him, he gives his due; shows him that the right of primogeniture belonged unto him, if he had not forfeited it : “ Thou art my first born, my might, and the beginning of my strength.” For this reason God commands, that the first born should have a double portion. And so Reuben should have received, but that he forfeited it; therefore, saith he, because thou art unstable as water, thy excellency is departed from thee : and so he gave it to Joseph. In repeating the genealogy of Jacob's sons, “Now,” saith the text, “the sons of Reuben, the first-born of Israel,” for he was the first-born, but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birth-right was given unto the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, and 'the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birth-right.
Ye see, though he had forfeited his birth-right, he could not forfeit his primogeniture, but there was an escheat thereof to Joseph. All the rest had 'a single tribe set out to them, but Joseph' had two tribes, and so the right that should have gone to Reuben fell to Joseph. Besides this, had not Reuben forfeited his birth-right, he should have had more than his double portion, for there was a promise made, that “ kings should proceed from him.” Now as in the former Joseph succeeded him, so in this of eminency and power; it fell to Judah ; for so it follows in 1 Chron. chap. Vi before named.
Now to explicate this.
a 1 Chron. chap. 5. ver. 1, 2.
by a double eminency: the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.
By dignity you understand all outward glory; by power, all dominion, and these are the two branches of majesty.
The Greeks do therefore express it in the abstract. In respect of dignity, the supreme magistrate is called glory; in respect of sovereignty, he is called lordship.
The king is not only glorious, but glory; not only powerful, but power.
“Let every soul be subject to the higher powers." Both are joined in the epistle to Jude; and in the eighth verse there is a wicked sort described, that “despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.” They despise dominion that make no conscience “ to blaspheme the footsteps of the Lord's anointed.” These men dare do what Michael durst not do', he durst not bring against the devil " a railing accusation,” but these dare
speak evil of dignities.” And what is their censure?“ Toc whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever." We use to say, that those that have God's tokens upon them are past hopes of like. Here ye may plainly see God's tokens upon these men: “ They are reserved to everlasting damnation."
Well, let us now come to unfold these two parts of majesty, dignity and dominion: the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.
By dignity is meant the outward pomp and glory annexed to the sceptre. For, it is God's ordinance that there should be an extraordinary splendour in majesty more than in any other. And therefore the Scripture doth often describe the courts of princes, their splendour at home, and their progress abroad, with dignity and state. Whend king Agrippa and Bernice went to hear Paul, the text saith, “ They removed with great pomp." It was a thing beseemed the regal power so to do. The queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to see Solomon with a great train : but she came to a far greater court than her
b Verse 9.
c Verse 13.
And this state in courts is not pride, but it is a thing allowed by God's ordinance, as Christ saith : “ Those that wear soft raiment are in kings' courts.” And speaking of the lilies of the field : “I say to you,” saith he," that Solomon in all his glory was not like one of these."
If you see a man, though in russet, attended upon by others in rich clothes, you will conclude that man, though in russet, to be some great personage. The queen of Sheba was astonished at what she saw in Solomon's court; for, when she beheld the meat of his table (he must not be served as other men) the sitting of his servants, the attendance of his ministers, and his cup-bearer, &c. the text saith, “ There was no more spirit in her.” She was, as a man may say, beside herself to see this state. And so stately it was, that it is brought in as an allegorical description of the glory of Christ and his Church. I need not go to foreign princes to prove this, the Scripture doth sufficiently evidence it. In Esther, chap. I. there is a description of Ahasuerus and his feast, the like to which you will not read of in any other story, it lasted one hundred and fourscore days, which was a full half year, and with the greatest glory that could be8. When he showed the riches of his glorious kingdom, and the honour of his excellent majesty, &c.
So then, this is the first part of majesty, namely, outward splendour, which is lawful and requisite to maintain the dignity of a prince. And as the prince ought to have this in his own person, and his attendants, so all dignity and glory rests in him as in the fountain, and all titles of dignity are in him also. Even as ye see in the firmament : “ There" is one glory of the sun, another of the moon, and one star excelleth another in glory.”
In the commonwealth there are some knights, some lords, some earls, &c. but all these differences come from one sun, one head, the prince. There is no light in the
1 Cor. chap. 15.