stretching yourself upon the cross: a Good Friday thought from William Perkins (1558-1602)

Below is a thought I felt was fitting for Good Friday. It’s from a book by William Perkins (1558-1602), a minister in Cambridge whose life coincided almost exactly with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Though today Perkins is not well-known except among scholars who specialise in relevant fields, he was one of the best-selling authors of his day, with a particular reputation for writing “practical divinity”, which sought to relate theology and doctrine to the spiritual experience of his readers. In this passage he is drawing an analogy between an Old Testament narrative in which the prophet Elisha raises a child from the dead and the way in which people can come to experience the benefits of Christ’s saving death on the cross. (The italicised part is in italics in the edition I am using and a marginal note gives the biblical reference for this story – 2 Kings 4:34-35.) On a lighter note, I think “neezed” was an actual word at this time and not just a misprint for “sneezed”.

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Faith purifieth the heart by a particular applying of Christ crucified with all his merits. Elisha when he went up, & lay upon the dead child, and put his mouth to his mouth, and his eies upon his eies, and his hands upon his hands, and stretched himself upon him, then the flesh of the child waxed warme: Afterward Elisha rose and spread himselfe upon him the second time: then the child neezed seven times and opened his eies. So must a man by faith even spread himselfe upon the crosse of Christ, applying handes and feete to his peirced hands & feet, and his wretched heart to Christs bleeding heart, & then feele himselfe warmed by the heat of Gods spirit, & sin from day to day crucified with Christ, and his dead heart quickened & revived.

(William Perkins, A Direction for the Governement of the Tongue according to Gods Word, in The Workes of that Famous and Worthie Minister of Christ, in the Uniuersitie of Cambridge, M. William Perkins (London, 1608-9), volume I, p. 439.)

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