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A Rationale upon the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England
By Anthony Sparrow, D.D.
first printed in London, 1655.
With thanks to the Project Canterbury Website for this contribution.

THIS day the HOLY GHOST came down from heaven upon his Church, as the Epistle tells; according to the promise of the Gospel.

As in a long war it happens; when the war is ended, and peace concluded, Pledges and Hostages are mutually sent, both as tokens of, and securities for, the mutual agreement and peace: so was it betwixt God and Man. After our Lord Jesus had ended the long war betwixt God and Man, and finished the reconciliation, he sent up, or rather he carried up himself, our Hostage, our flesh and nature ennobled by the union with his Divine Person, as a royal pledge to his Father: on the other side, God sent this day his royal Hostage, his holy Spirit, a security for our future peace. 1. S. John 4. 12, 13. Chrys. Hom. 1. in Pentecost. Edit. Savil. tom. 5. The Devil had taken us captive, our Lord Christ undertakes the quarrel, his death was his battel, but then he seem'd to be overcome: but up he got again at his Resurrection; that was his victory; his Ascension was his triumph: and as the ancient custome was for Conquerours to scatter gifts amongst the beholders, especially on the last and great day of the triumph: so does our Lord, in this last day of the Feast, the Conclusion of his triumph, he doth, as it were, make the Conduits run with Wine; he poured out his Spirit so upon all flesh, that some mockers said, they were full of new wine, Acts 2. 12. He casts abroad his new wine, new gifts and graces of the world, giving to some the word of wisdome, to others the gift of knowledge, to others faith, to others the gift of healing, to others the working of miracles, to others prophesie, to others discerning of spirits, to others divers kinds of tongue, to others the interpretations of tongues: all these worketh one and the same spirit, the Holy Ghost (1 Cor. 12. 4.) whom the Lord Christ as he promised, sent down this day with these gifts, in honour of whom and his gifts we keep this day holy.

This time was also appointed of old for solemn baptism. The reason was: 1. Because this day the Apostles were baptized with the holy Ghost and fire, Acts 2. 3. 2. Because this day three thousand were baptized by the Apostle, Acts 2. 40. In memory of which, the Church ever after held a solemn custome of baptizing at this Feast. Gratian. de Consec. Dis. 3. c. 13.

This day is called Pentecost, because it is fifty days betwixt the true Passeover and Whitsunday.

As there were fifty days from the Jews Passeover to the giving of the Law to Moses in Mount Sina, which Law was written with the finger of God: (for from the 14. day of the first month, the day of the Passeover, to the third day of the third month, the day of the Laws giving, Exod. 19. are fifty days) so from the true Passeover which was celebrated, when Christ was offered up for us, are fifty days to this time when the Holy Ghost came down upon the Church, to write the new Law of Charity in their hearts. Upon this meditation S. Aug. breaks out thus, Who would not prefer the joy and pleasure of these mysteries, before all Empires of the world? Do you not see, that as the two Seraphins cry one to another, holy, holy, holy, Esay. 6. 3. So the two Testaments Old and New faithfully agreeing, convince the sacred truth of God? S. Aug. Ep. 119. Note that we must not count the fifty days from the very day of the Passeover, but from the Sunday following; and so God directed the Jews Lev. 23. 15. speaking of their Pentecost or Feasts of Weeks, And ye shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath, from that day seven weeks shall be compleat.

It is also called Whitsunday from the glorious Light of Heaven which was then sent down upon the Earth, from the Father of Lights: so many tongues, so many Lights, which kindled such a light in the world on this day, as never shall be put out to the worlds end: as also because the new baptized, which were many at that Feast (Whitsunday and Easter, being the two solemn times of baptism) and of old called Illuminati, the Enlightned, Heb. 6. 6. from the spiritual light they received in baptism, were then cloathed in white garments, as types both of that spiritual whiteness and purity of soul, which they received in baptism, and were carefully to preserve all their life after, As also of their joy for being made then by baptism members of Christ, Children of God, and Heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven. White is the colour of joy, says Eccles. 9. 8. Let thy garments be always white, for God now accepts of thy works. S. Cyril in his 4. Cat. myst. alluding to this ancient custome of the new baptized, of putting off their old garments, and clothing themselves in pure white, hath words to this effect. 

This white clothing is to mind you, that you should always hereafter go in white. I speak not this to perswade you always to wear white clothes, but that you should ever be clothed with spiritual white, brightness and purity of soul that so you may say with divine Esay 61. 10. I will greatly rejoyce in the Lord, for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness. Of which robe of righteousness and garment of salvation, the white vestment was a resemblance. Apoc. 19. 8. And to her was granted, that he should be arrayed in fine linnen, clean and white, for fine linen is the righteousness of the Saints.

Whitsunday then is as much as Dominica in albis, the Sunday in white. The Greeks for the same reason call Easter ??????????????, the Bright Sunday, because then also the new baptized wore white. But the Latins call neither of these days from thence, but give them their names from the Resurrection, and Pentecost, and the Octave of Easter or Low Sunday is by them called Dominica in Albis, as is abovesaid.

This Holy day hath Proper Lessons and Psalms.

The Second Lessons are plain. The Morning first Lesson Deut. 16. gives us the Law of the Jews Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, which was a type of ours.

The Evening first Lesson Wisd. 1. is fit for this day. For it treats of the holy Spirit, ver. 5, 6. how it fills the world, ver. 7. which was most exactly fulfilled this day, in which they were all filled with the holy Ghost, Acts 2.

The Psalms for the morning 45. 47. are very proper to the day. The beginning of the 45. is concerning the Birth of Christ, and therefore used upon Christmas-day; but the latter part is concerning the calling of the Gentiles, ver. 10, 11. and the glory of the Church the King of Heavens Daughter, v. 14. Who is all glorious within, through the heavenly gifts and graces of the holy Ghost, sent down this day; which glorious gifts miraculously poured upon the Church brought in the Gentiles to the Christian faith, ver. 15. The Virgins that be her fellows shall bear her company; and shall be brought unto thee. For which all the people shall (as holy Church directs us to do this day) give thanks unto thee, verse 18. In holy Davids Psalms, as we do, so Theodoret in Psal. 

I will remember thy Name from one generation to another, therefore shall the people give thanks unto thee, world without end: That is, all people to the worlds end shall praise God for these blessings upon the Church with those Psalms which I compose, and so, (though I be dead long before) yet in my Psalms sung by them, I will remember thy Name from one generation to another.

The 47. Psalm is a song of praise for the conversion of the Gentiles, by the Gospel published this day in all Languages, Acts 2. for which the Prophet invites them to active praises, ver. 1. O clap your hands together all ye people; O sing unto God with the voice of melody, for God is gone up, in jubilo, with a merry noise, ver. 5. That was upon Ascension day. And now he is set upon his holy and royal seat, he reigns over the heathen, makes the Princes of the people joyn in one body unto the people of the God of Abraham, brings the Gentiles in to the Jews, and makes one Church of both; and that by the Gospel of the kingdom, published this day, to all Nations, and so, that was done this day, for which this Psalm gives thanks.

Evening Ps. are 104, 145. These two are thankful Commemorations of the various gifts of God the Holy Ghost, who then gave temporal, this day, spiritual gifts, which spiritual gifts of this day were shadowed out by those temporal, and all come from the same spirit, 1 Cor. 12. 4. to whom this Feast is held sacred: So that in blessing the Author of them, we bless the Author of these, the holy Spirit from whom these divers gifts. Some part of the 104. is more particularly appliable to this Feast. He maketh the clouds his chariots, that was upon Ascension day, when he went up to Heaven in a cloud, Acts 1. 9. ver. 5. Then follows ver. 30. Emittis spiritum, Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, and they shall be made, thou shalt renew the face of the earth, which is proper to this day; for this day the Holy Spirit was sent, and renewed the face of the Earth, with new Creatures, new Men of new hearts and new tongues, Acts 2. Old things passed away, and all things are become new.

The same Harmony of Epistle, Gospel and Collect, and Lessons and Psal. that we have observed upon Christmas and Easter, and Ascension, may with pleasure be meditated upon this day.

The same Ancients testifie the Antiquity of this Feast, that gave in evidence for Easter.

Munday and Tuesday in Whitsun-week.

The Epistles for both relate not only to the sending of the Holy Ghost, but also to Baptism, which the Church takes often occasion to remember us of by her Readings and Usages, and would have us improve them all towards most useful Meditations.

This is one of the four Ember-weeks; of which see above, after the first Sunday in Lent.