For me and for countless others during the last four centuries Andrewes has been "a light" to guide us in the way of truth and life in the Resurrected and Glorified Lord. The faith he preached, that Catholic faith as taught by the Fathers, he believed was a sure way to heaven. His sermons revealed the joy of being a Christian, which radiates from his belief in a God who is loving, good, beautiful, compassionate and merciful to all of His creation. This is continually sanctified by the Spirit, and above all from that great Mystery when the eternal Word became flesh. "He is not only God for us, or God with us, but God one of us. - that was the great marvel. Thus the humility of God descending to our earthly abode, and robing Himself in our frail flesh never ceased to amaze Andrewes. "He was born weak and feeble as we are, an infant of a span long, in great poverty, is parents so poor, that his mother was not worth a lamb. He was obscurely brought up, increased in age, stature, wisdome, attained by degrees to his perfection, was troubled like one of us, with hunger, thirst, weariness, weakness, weeping and heaviness." It did not stop there, but he was content to die a despicable death for us, so we in turn may become the sons of God.
Hence "the feast of our saviour's nativitie, [is] not a single festival, [but] the most holy and most solemn of all the rest." As it is "the original of all others", the Church has appointed the season of Advent "to usher in this celebrity & to prepare & dispose us for it." So numerous are the benefits and gifts we receive from "our incarnate Saviour", that even if we spent "all our dayes ... our whole life would be too short for so worthy an exercise." What draws me back time and time again to Andrewes' sermons is not only their literary fineness which Eliot commended, but more than anything else his belief in the perennial Bethlehem. He directs us over and over again to the Bethlehem of this world. For you see for Andrewes what happened at Bethlehem almost two thousand years ago still happens every day and will continue until our Lord's return to claim this world as His. The star of Bethlehem is always over us. Nearly all his sermons end by linking Christ in various aspects of His life with how He is with us now in the very special way under the guise of bread and wine. Thus His life is always available to us at the altar each day. For example in his 1618 Nativity sermons he concludes:
For Christ in the Sacrament is not altogether unlike Christ in the cratch. To the cratch we may well like the husk or outward symbols of it. Outwardly it seems little worth but it is rich of contents, as was the crib this day with Christ in it. For what are they, but weak and poor elements of themselves? yet in them find we Christ. Even as they did this day in the beasts' crib the food of angels; which very food our signs both represent, and present unto us.
Undoubtedly for Andrewes, the Incarnation had to be the lynch pin of preaching. As he said, "There is no religion but this that teacheth to the heart."
Another reason for admiring Andrewes is that he conveys the awe and mystery of the creation of the cosmos and its Creator, the Trinitiarian God. I suspect part of this comes from his respect and admiration for the Orthodox liturgies and the Eastern Fathers as his sermons and indeed his Preces draw on these substantially. Above all this, there is Andrewes' belief that we should not seek to understand every little jot of our faith. There are many aspects that belong to God alone, and to seek to know and perhaps understand them would be encroaching on forbidden territory. Hence his sermons have not just an intellectual appeal, but also a deep sense of the mystical in which we should find ourselves "lost in wonder, love and praise".
Another appealing element of his preaching was that he proclaimed not only God's love, but love as reciprocated to God by us in loving our brethren. Firstly God's love. He can never act contrary to His own nature. Thus He is always Love, and it is this Love which bore our human flesh. Hence from the moment of His conception within the womb of our Lady His love was for us.
From which his conceiving we may conceive His great love to us-ward. Love not only condescending to take our nature upon Him, but to take it by the same way and after the same manner that we do, by being conceived. ... The womb of the Virgin ... He might well have abhorred ... [but] He stayed ... nine months.
Indeed each Christian festival is a manifestation of God's love. For example, Andrewes describes Pentecost as "the feast of love"; it is indeed the feast of "the Holy Spirit, love itself, the essential love and love-knot of the two persons of the Godhead, Father and Son." This "love-knot" is the same which exists between God and man, and even more so "between Christ and His Church." Christmas day is also a day of love, the day Christ became our brother. He "became flesh" that we might love Him, and to love each other as our brothers and sisters.
As God gave because He loves, so must we. As he told the students when Christianity teaches this, it is well taught. Thus charity as the second bow of Christianity featured prominently in Andrewes' sermons and prayers. Adam sinned against God, but Cain sinned against his fellow man. Christians must labour, and part of that labour is expressed in their charity towards others. Love therefore is the essence of our faith, and without it, everything we do is worthless. A Christian cannot love God, if he does not love his neighbour, including the poor, lonely and outcast. "It sufficeth not to say to a brother or sister that is naked and destitute of daily food, Depart in peace, warm, your selves, fill your bellies; but the inward compassion must shew it self outwardly, by giving them those things which are needful to the body... Our lights must so shine before all men, that the wicked and the ungodly, by seeing our good works, may take occasion to glorifie God and be converted." In his own life Andrewes lived out what he preached. Buckeridge in his funeral oration emphasized Andrewes' charity towards those less fortunate than himself. He regularly invited his poor parishioners and prisoners to share his dining table. Although he himself ate very frugally, he always made sure there was plenty for his guests. He acknowledged that everything he had was given to him from God, and so had to be shared with others as Christ taught. Thus Buckeridge preached at his funeral: He wholly spent himself and his studies and estates in these sacrifices, in prayer and the praise of God, and compassion and works of charity, as if he had minded nothing else all his life long but this, to offer himself, his soul and body, a contrite and a broken heart, 'a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God by Jesus Christ which is our reasonable service'. Perhaps the most winning feature of Andrewes' preaching was that he never preached at people. He invariably used the royal "we", and so he preached as much to himself as to others. For instance when preaching on a Christian's duty to pray daily each day and evening, he adds, "But who is that is able all the dayes of his life, night and day, to intend his business as he ought?" Another example was when he preached on sin. Knowing only so well the battle against sin in his own life, we hear him confessing in the 1614 Pentecost sermon, "And oh, the thraldom and misery the poor soul is in, that is thus held and hurried under the servitude of sin and Satan! The heathens' pistrinum, the Turkey galleys are nothing to it. If any have felt it he can understand me, and from the deep of his heart will cry, 'Turn our captivity, O Lord.'" "These and these sins so long lain in; these deserve to be bewailed even with tears of blood." "Thus "we are all to pray to God to take from us the opportunity of sinning; so frail we are, it is no sooner offered but we are ready to embrace it - God help us." "Best it were before we sin to say to ourselves, What am I now about to do? If we have not done that, yet it will not be amiss after to say What have I done?" When preaching about seeking God on one's deathbed in the 1598 Ash Wednesday sermon, he declared, "This is the time when all hypocrites, atheists, tag and rag, come in and seek Him in a sort; and shall not we be confounded to see ourselves in their number?" He was also realistic about living out the Faith. He could say, "From sins lighting upon our thoughts it is impossible, it cannot be; but from making there a nest or hatching ought, that we are willed to look to, and that by god's grace we may." As we are all susceptible to temptation, we should not provoke our succumbing "by suffering our minds to wander in it; by ... keeping our ears from such company, and our eyes from such [tempting] occasions."
Above all else Andrewes was a praying man. As the first translator of this devotional book, Richard Drake, tells us, "Had you seen the original manuscript, happy in the glorious deformity thereof, being slubbered with his pious hands, and watered with his penitential tears, you would have been forced to confess that book belonged to no other than pure and primitive devotion." Buckeridge at his funeral also spoke of his life as one of prayer that manifested itself in his approach to his sermons and theology. Indeed as Dr. Brightman expressed it, "The devotions are in fact an abstract of the sermons and the sermons a development and expressions of the devotions." Dean Church added to these thoughts last century when he said, "It seems to me that the key to the influence which Andrewes had in his own day, and which recommended his theology, is to be found in his Devotions. For they show what was the true meaning and reach of his theology, how unspeakably real and deep he felt its language to be; and how naturally it allied itself and was interwoven with the highest frames of thought and feeling in a mind of wide range, and a soul of the keenest- self-knowledge and the strongest sympathies. ... nowhere, that I know of, does the whole mind of the student, the divine, and the preacher, reflect itself in his prayers so simply and easily and harmoniously as in this book. ... Nothing can be more comprehensive and more complete in their proportions than his devotions for each day; nothing more tender and solemn; nothing more compressed and nervous than their language."
So for Andrewes there was never a time when one could not pray: "Always without ceasing: at all times". His devotions followed the pattern of the Church's daily offices with its five-fold approach - confession, thanksgiving, praise, intercession and petition. All of these were extensive. For instance in confession he shows "the infinite acknowledgement of unworthiness and want, and the infinite hope in God's mercy and love, in one who searched and judged himself with keen and unflinching truth." So many of his praises were those that have echoed throughout the centuries from the time of the great Eastern Fathers. And yet so much of his devotions flow from his love of the Prayer Book and Holy Scripture, especially the psalms.
His prayers reflected his concern for all humanity, as they embraced king and subject, rich and poor, and each man in his various daily work and circumstance; for all creation, for the entire world, and of course for the universal church. "Let us beseech the Lord for the whole creation; a supply of seasons, healthful, fruitful, peaceful."
He was also oecumenical, with a great desire for unity amongst Christians. So in his Preces we find this prayer:
For the Catholic Church:
for the churches throughout the world:
their truth, unity and stability to wit:
in all let charity thrive,truth live:
for our own church:
that the things that are wanting therein be supplied,
that are not right be set in order.
Undoubtedly the great love of Andrewes was for our Lord in the Sacrament of the altar. Hence in the Preces, there features a penetrating preparation for the holy Sacrament, and suitable prayers to be said at the crucial points of the Liturgy. He believed that nowhere else are we more disposed for Christ to come to us than at the Eucharist. "If a contrite spirit for sinne can set a man in state to be received of Christ, man is most contrite and broken in heart at this time. If Christ will then receive us, when he may dwell in our hearts by faith, ... at this time is our faith at the highest; for when we have the body and blood of Christ in our hands, then it makes us say with Thomas ... Domine mi & Deus mi." If any time is going to move our Lord by prayer, "made with boldnesse and confidence" to receive our petitions it is "at that time" when "the love of God" is present in our hearts by the Holy Ghost". Preaching to a regular congregation at Court, Andrewes gave a continuity of teaching and pastoral care. This continuity is illustrated for instance in his 1620 Nativity sermon when he announced, "We pass now this year from the shepherds and the angels, to the wise men and their star." As we would expect his sermons are basically doctrinal, rooted in the Catholic faith as taught by the Fathers. Yet each sermon brought a freshness to one of the main Christian doctrines, and the encouragement to apply this on our lives. Andrewes' love of souls shone through his sermons. Thus at Christmastide Andrewes emphasizes salvation. For the man who has been rescued from everlasting perdition, "there is no joy in the world to the joy of a man saved; no joy so great, no news so welcome, as to one ready to perish, in case of a lost man, to hear of one [who] will save him." Moreover the very "name of a saviour" brings joy, and thus we all have "cause to be glad for the birth of this Saviour" celebrated on "diem Meum." On "His day" there is "joy in Heaven, joy in earth" when Love became Man, so that every man could be saved.
In his Lenten sermons he insisted we are given this solemn time to ponder on the urgency of repenting and returning to God. Now is the time to do it. "It may be the last Spring, the last swallow-time, the last Wednesday of this name or nature, we shall ever live, to hear this point preached." Hence we should not "let this time slip."
Good Friday is the day to be spent with our Redeemer, and so Andrewes encouraged his congregation to gaze and gaze on the crucified Lord because "It was the sin of our polluted hands that pierced His hands, the swiftness of our feet to do evil that nailed His feet, the wicked devices of our heads that gored His head, and the wretched desires of our hearts that pierced His heart."
As we meditate on our Saviour's sufferings, Andrewes suggested:
Pierce that in you, that was the cause of Christ's piercing; that is sin and the lusts thereof. ... Look and be pierced with love of Him, who so loved you, that He gave Himself in this sort to be pierced for you. ... Look upon Him, and His heart opened, and from that gate of hope promise yourself, and look for all manner of things that good are: ...the deliverance from the evil of our present misery ... [and] the restoring to the good of our primitive felicity. ... Look back upon it with some pain; for one way or other, look upon it we must.
By keeping Good Friday aright Andrewes assured we can then hasten to the Paschal garden as Easter ushers in a new era, the Christian era: "Easter-day [is] the day of Christ's rising", that act "made an end of all Sabbaths" and made "the Lord's day ... the Christian's day." In His Resurrection, Christ has become "the first fruits". This is indeed our hope. On this Queen of all Christian festivals, Andrewes fills his Easter sermons with so much tenderness. This is no better illustrated than when he speaks of the women, and especially of Mary Magdalene, who came to the tomb on that "'very first day of the week', ... to anoint Him", not with some cheap ointment, but costly, sweet-smelling spices. Of Mary Magdalene, our Saviour only had to utter the two syllables of her name, and all her tears vanished, and her heart overflowed with joy of finding her Lord.
However wonderful Easter is, it is not complete without the events of Pentecost. Thus his Pentecostal sermons manifest that not only is this feast the celebration of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church but also is the festum charitatis, when love itself is especially honoured. The Spirit is also "sent to be the union, love and love-knot of the natures united in Christ; even of God with man." Whitsunday was also His "dies donorum", a day on which, Andrewes assures us, He will bestow some gift upon His people; "Some gift He will give, either from the wind, inward, or from the tongue, outward."
The doctrine preached by Andrewes was that of the universal church, the Catholic faith, handed down by the Apostles, enshrined in the teachings of the Patristics and laid down in the early Councils of the Church. "For one Canon given of God, two testaments, three symbols, the four first councils, five centuries and the series of Fathers therein, fix the rule of religion." Eliot referred to Andrewes as "the first great preacher of the English Catholic Church" who always spoke as "a man who had a formed visible Church behind him." In his 1607 Nativity sermon Andrewes defends this Catholic faith against the "false conceit" that has crept "into the minds of men, to think points of religion that be manifest to be certain petty points scarce worth the hearing." For Andrewes those aspects which were vital to Christian belief had been made "plain" enough, and those not "plain" were "not necessary". Yet many disputed the Faith; "We see ... how men languish about some points, which they would have thought to be great; and great controversies there be, and great books of controversies about them." He pleads for the end of controversy over essential Christian doctrine. "I hope there will be no more question or controversy ... than there is of the mystery itself and the greatness of it." For Andrewes the Faith is a great "mystery", and therefore above the cavilling and contention of men. The "great mystery" is God Himself who chose to manifest Himself in the flesh, not only in the "cratch" but "on the cross". This certainly was not the ground for controversy!
In his sermons as he had in his Preces, Andrewes utilized a vast selection of sources. Hardly a book in the bible is not quoted as some stage, while the Eastern and Western Fathers such as Irenaeus, Tertullian, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory the Great, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Gregory Nanzianen and Bernard are referred to constantly. In a Pentecostal sermon he paid tribute to them when he desribed their works as "lights of the Church, in whom the scent of this ointment was fresh, and the temper true." He even quoted from the Classical writers of ancient Greece and Rome such as Euripides, Cicero and Seneca, in order to contrast the pagan philosophical interpretation of life to that as taught by Christ. Hence these pagan writers "provoke Christian men to emulation, by showing them their own blindness in matter of knowledge, that see not so much as the heathen did by light of nature; or their slackness in matter of conversation, that cannot be got so far forward by God's law as the poor pagan can by his philosophy."
When he used the Holy Scriptures, Andrewes frequently intertwines the Old with the New with his analytical approach. For example in his sermon for Christmas Day, 1613, he took as his text, St. John's reference of Abraham rejoicing in seeing "My day".(viii:56) To illustrate how we "have Abraham for our example", Andrewes takes us to the valley of Mamre as recorded in Genesis, and related how here Abraham saw the birth of Christ, just as clearly as the shepherds did. "But this day he saw at Mamre. Then was Christ in Person there, one of the Three; then made Abraham the confession we before spoke of."
The joy that Abraham experienced for Christmas is compared with "the joy of Job's Easter", another Old Testament reference. This lead to further probing into Genesis, where Abraham acknowledged his need of a Redeemer when he "complains" that "I am but dust and ashes", and refers to God as "Judge of the world". Thus this is the reason, explains Andrewes, why Abraham "should desire to see this day; [and] why, but for this day Abraham had been but ashes of the furnace." In explaining how Abraham could see this day, Andrewes returns to the New Testament by using St. Paul's interpretation of man. As he is both a physical and spiritual being, he is able to behold the visible and invisible aspects of life. For the latter he needs "the light of faith". It was by this means that Abraham was able to see Christ as clearly as the shepherds and Simeon saw the baby Jesus.
As well as his sermons teaching the main Christian doctrines of creation, redemption, resurrection, and sanctification, they also conveyed other aspects of our religion. For instance Andrewes had much to say about worship. Important as the sermon was in the context of the Liturgy, Andrewes emphasized that his sermons, any sermon, are not worship by itself, but merely part of it. For him all worship revolved around the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated and offered. As already mentioned he had a profound love for our Lord in His Sacrament, and so into most of his sermons he had woven some teaching on, and devotion towards the blessed Sacrament. He could never stress enough how essential it is to receive this heavenly Food on our earthly pilgrimage. It is "the means to re-establish our hearts with grace, and to repair the decays of our spiritual strength; even His own flesh, the Bread of life, and His own blood, the Cup of salvation." This "Bread made of Himself, [is] the true Granum frumenti,...[and the] Wine made of Himself, the true Vine." The Nativity sermons especially focused on the Blessed Sacrament because on Christmas day Bethlehem and the altar are one:
Now the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body, of the flesh, of Jesus Christ? It is surely, and by it and by nothing more are we made partakers of this blessed union ... because He has so done, taken ours of us, we also ensuing His steps will participate with Him and with His flesh which He has taken of us. It is most kindly to take part with Him in that which He took part in with us, and that, to no other end, but that He might make the receiving of it by us a means whereby He might dwell in us, and we in Him. He taking our flesh, and we receiving His Spirit; by His flesh which He took of us receiving His Spirit which He imparts to us; that, as He by ours became consors humanae naturae,[ a partaker of our human nature] so we by His might become consortes Divinae naturae, partakers of His divine nature.
Thus the focal point of the Holy Eucharist, is at that most precious moment of our union with Him in the act of Communion itself. "Never can we more truly ... say, in Christo Jesu Domino nostro, as when we come new from that holy action, for then He is in us, and we in Him." This Sacrament also had another significance for Andrewes - it was the locus of unity, or "the Sacrament of accord", manifested first by the Apostles as they broke bread with one accord. This "perfect unity" is also represented "in the many grains kneaded into one loaf, and the many grapes pressed into one cup; and what it represents lively, it works as effectually."
With his profound love for the Blessed Sacrament, Andrewes deplores the attitude of those in his day who showed no reverence towards it, and who refused to kneel to receive their Lord, or for that matter during the celebration of the Liturgy. So he deeply lamented the neglect of adoration. "Most come and go without it, no they scarce know what it is. And with how little reverence, how evil beseeming us, we use ourselves in the church." He also deplored the neglect of the altar where "the highest and most solemn service of God" fares worse than any other." Regrettably people attended Divine Service not for worship but to hear a sermon."
As we can see his sermons also express the need for reverence, dignity and sincerity in worship. This should be no less than what is given of "the glorious saints in heaven" who cast "their crown ... before the throne and fall down." Indeed worship "is [what] Cornelius did to Peter; he met him, fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. And [what] John did to the Angel; that is, he fell down before his feet to worship him." Having in mind those who showed little outward reverence in the Church's worship, Andrewes argues that as man is a composite of body and soul, both parts must be expressed in worship to Him. Indeed "the inward affection" can only be expressed by the outward action. It is never possible, Andrewes asserts for "a man ... [to] be too reverent to God." However "we think it a great disgrace, and debasing of ourselves, if we use any bodily worship to God." Sadly we would not be as irreverent to "come before a mean prince as we do before the King of kings, and Lord of lords, even the God of heaven and earth." Our attitude should be like "The four-and-twenty elders [who] fell down before Him Who sat on the throne, and worshipped Him Who lives for ever, and cast their crowns before His throne." Thus at worship, he insists we should make "the knees to bow, and kneel before the Lord [our] Maker. Our feet are [also] to come before His face; for the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods." Furthermore "the wandering eye must learn to be fastened on Him, and the work of justice and peace." In other words every part of the body is involved in worship.
Those who scorn bodily acts of reverence, Andrewes warns were in danger of losing their souls. Therefore he urged his auditors to follow the example of those "in heaven" and "under the earth". For "they in heaven cast down their crowns, and fall down themselves of their own accord; and confess Him singing, as at His birth." Even those "under the earth do it too, but not ultro"; instead they "are thrown down, and even made His footstool, ... though sore against their wills; and confess Him too, though roaring. ... as it were upon the rack." We who live on earth, as in between, "partake of both." Hence the alternative was "either fall on our knees now, or be cast flat on our faces" later; it is a matter of "either confess Him cantando, with Saints and Angels, or ululando, with devils and damned spirits."
One of the religious controversies Andrewes felt compelled to defend during his life was over the doctrines of grace and assurance. Predestinarians taught that the elect could not fall from grace and therefore perish. Thus in this Lenten sermon he referred to the danger of believing "we are saved". Here Andrewes reiterates St. Paul's warning against false assurance. Those who feel anchored in securitas should be aware of sudden destruction. Like Lot's wife, we can reach the entry to the gates, "so near her safety", but still perish. "Remember, that near to [the] Zoar gates there stands a salt-stone." Therefore we can never be secure of our salvation. From "youth ... until ... old age" we must not grow weary on the plain but continue faithfully to the end, "for if we stand still, ... we are [likely] ... to be made a pillar." Furthermore we must "remember the judgment that is upon them after their relapse."
Thus it is imperative to "remember that we shall justify Sodom by so doing, and her frozen sin shall condemn our melting virtue". We must remember also "they in the wilfulness of their wickedness persisted till fire from Heaven consumed them." Andrewes warns how important it was for the "obdurate in sin, ... to be constant in virtue, and to practice "the Queen of virtues", "perseverance".
In other words it was possible for us, even after we have sought grace to fall from it. We are responsible for our every action, and if and when we sin, unless repented, severs our relationship with God. Nothing could be more forceful than Andrewes' preaching on the consequence of sin. "Sin ... will destroy us all". There is "nothing so dangerous, so deadly unto us, as is the sin in our bosom". Sin when first committed may seem "sweet", ... but after it is committed, the sinner finds ... that it turns to a bitter and choleric matter". Perhaps sin at first may seem "a matter of liberty", yet it really is like "a worm which never leaves gnawing". We must realize as Andrewes pointed out that Christ died not only for our sins, but for us to cease from sin, so that it does not reign within us. He quoted St. Augustine who had insisted it was harder "to raise a soul from the death of sin ... than to raise a dead body out of the dust of death." Thus "Mary Magdalene's resurrection in soul, from her long lying dead in sin was a greater miracle than her brother Lazarus' resurrection" after being in the grave for four days.
What Christians needed to practice to assure themselves of living in a state of grace was regular repentance and confession. In regards to the latter Andrewes defends the need for auricular confession by indicating how much it has been neglected by people, and thus denying the parish priest of one aspect of his pastoral care:
I take it to be an error ... to think the fruits of repentance, and the worth of them, to be a matter any common man can skill of well enough; needs never ask St. John or St. Paul what he should do, knows what he should do as well as St. Paul or St. John either; and that it is not rather a matter wherein we need the counsel and direction of such as are professed that way. Truly it is neither the least nor the last part of our learning to be able to give answer and direction in this point. But therefore laid aside and neglected by us, because not sought after by you."
In our understanding of God and man Andrewes acknowledges the place of nature and reason as well as the Scriptures. He had especially focused on this approach in his catechist lectures at Cambridge. Here he argued that "true reason [is] a help to faith and faith to it. ... When we have yielded ourselves to belief" it is strengthened by reason." Yet we must always remember that faith, although imperfect, is a higher teacher than reason. "Though faith be an imperfect way, and we imperfect, yet may we walk in it. We are therefore to pray to God, that by the inspiration of His Spirit, He would keep us in this way."
Although the natural world teaches us much about God, we nevertheless must also seek for knowledge greater than own "natural knowledge", otherwise "[we] will come to more grossness and absurdities, than the very beasts." That "higher knowledge" is given to us by God through grace, whereby we also obtain "faith ... [and] eternal life." Thus to know God and ourselves, and the relationship between the two, it was essential for us to use every gift God has given. Andrewes' sermons indeed teach us that all of life is hallowed and sacramental.
To conclude this introduction to Andrewes and his sermons, I would like to comment briefly on them from their literal appeal. His sermons in the words of Eliot, "rank with the finest English prose of their time." There is in his sermons a spiritual and sensitive depth which was hardly reached by any other preacher of his time or after. This is achieved firstly by his presentation. In each of his sermons there are distinctly three parts: the working and manifestation of the Divine, the benefits received from the Divine, and the application of these benefits by the receiver.
Secondly in his use of language skills. This is achieved through his dextrous use of words, and how he manipulates and plays on them to extract every meaning possible in relation to his subject matter in which he himself was totally engrossed, spiritually, intellectually and emotionally, and I dare say he expected his auditors to be so too. Therefore as we read them and persevere with his style, we become aware of this deep penetrating spirituality as well as a subtlety and a sense of urgency as Andrewes unfolds the mysteries of the great teachings of the Church.
He is very much a metaphysical preacher. For example in his 1615 Nativity sermon he wants to convey that it is in the little and lowly things that greatness comes. To achieve this he uses repetition and juxtaposing often. So we find this sermon dispersed with all kinds of references to littleness. Bethlehem is described as "sorry poor village; scarce worth an Apostrophe"; it is "diminutively little"; it is "the very least of all". It is "least for the small number of the inhabitants, least for the thinness and meanness of the buildings, as was seen at Christ's Birth." This littleness is simultaneously juxtaposed with greatness - "so great a State"; "that birth is sure too big for this place"; and "so great a birth." To further contrast the smallness of Bethlehem with the greatness of the event which happened there, Andrewes compares these with the oak and mustard trees, both which grow to an enormous size from a minute beginning. "How huge an oak from how small an acorn! ... From how little a grain of mustard seed, the very Bethlehem minima, the least of all seeds, how large a plant! of how fair a spread!"
Another reason for stressing little is that despite the greatness of the event, it shows that God in becoming man, unveils His humility - a great humility in being born in such "a sorry poor village". By being little, Bethlehem becomes to represent the virtue of humility, "where He in great humility was found this day". To come to such a little place, only the humble will come such as the shepherds; and those like "the Pharisees" are "too big for Bethlehem." His messsage is clear, only those Christians who are humble will want to venture to such a little and insignificant place, but if they do, they will discover something big!
In this same sermon he cleverly plays on the word bread, to stress its importance as the staff of life in both the natural and spiritual. Bethlehem itself means "the house of bread" (lehem means bread and beth, house), This was the Bethlehem of Ephratah, and so this particular town means the house of plenty Bread. This day, Christmas day, this Bread is here, in His House on the altar. He who is born in Bethlehem is "the true Bread of life who came down from heaven, ... called by Him so, the true Bread, the Bread of Heaven, the Bread of life - and where that Bread is, there is Bethlehem ever." And so when we come to His house there is always Bread and therefore "never take Him without bread, His house is the house of bread, inasmuch as He Himself is Bread; that in the house or out of it - wheresoever He is, there is Bethlehem. There can no bread want."
His Good Friday sermon for 1597 is a good example of how Andrewes in a sermon achieves what Eliot refers to as "squeezing and squeezing the word until it yields a full juice of meaning which we should never have supposed any word to possess." The words that Andrewes concentrates on are die/death, pierce/ piercing and heart/hart as he wants us to not only view the Crucifixion but to feel its very pain through "piercing". Beginning with a basic quotation from Isaiah, "Die he will...", he takes the word die as a command for the following sentences, each one building in its intensity in order to describe the kind of death Thus we read:
Die - but what death? a natural or violent? Daniel tells us He shall die, not a natural, but a violent death. But many are slain after many sorts, and [many] kinds there be of violent deaths. The psalmist ... describes it thus: 'they pierced My hands and My feet', which is only proper to the death of the cross. Die, and be slain, and be crucified.
This dying by crucifixion by Christ was not a normal one as it was especially violent as not only were Christ's hands and feet pierced with nails in the normal way, but His heart was also which made it extraordinary. Thus everything climaxes in this piercing of the heart.
In his application of pierce/piercing and heart/hart Andrewes intensifies their meaning by using them over and over again in a slightly different context. Thus he weaves throughout his sermon that Christ's "piercing of the heart" is the fulfilment of the prophecy, "And they will look upon Me Whom they have pierced. Christ is compared "to the morning hart" Just as the hart is hounded "all his life long" until his end, and so Christ "this day brought to His end, ... and stricken and pierced through side, heart, and all." This "piercing" comes from the "spear-point which pierced, and went through, His very heart itself; for of that wound, of the wound in His heart, is this spoken. ... So that we extend this piercing of Christ farther than to the visible gash in His side, even to a piercing of another nature, whereby not His heart only was stabbed, but His very spirit wounded too."
The hart having being slain by the spear-point, Andrewes continues his theme of piercing the heart by redirecting heart and hart, pierce and piercing to his listeners.
Yes, Christ Himself, is pierced as He is, invites us to it. ... 'Look and be pierced', yet that it might be 'that with looking on Him we might be pricked in our hearts', and have it enter past the skin, ... and pierce that in you that was the cause of Christ's piercing upon Him and pierce. ... 'look and be pierced with love of Him' who so loved you, that He gave Himself in this sort to be pierced for you.
Andrewes also used images to great effect. In his 1623 Paschal sermon he wishes to convey the unity of Good Friday and Easter Day, that Christ in sacrificing His life for us on the Cross conquers death through His resurrection. To achieve this he uses winery imagery: Christ is the winepress but "a double winepress". Firstly He is "Himself trodden and pressed; He was the grapes and clusters Himself", and secondly, "He who was trodden on before, gets up again and does tread upon and tread down." In the former the winespress represents "His cross and passion," and for the latter, His release from it, "in His descent and resurrection." In the first example when grapes are trodden, a liquid, a red liquid flows, wine, but now the precious Blood of Christ. To heighten the intent of Christ pouring out His blood for mankind, he takes Him as representing that man who came from Bozrah wearing "red garments". Thus Andrewes speaks of the man "from Bozrah imbrued with blood, the blood of his enemies", and Isaiah's Suffering Servant "was led as a sheep to be slain, and so was slain there." Furthermore this bloody man from Bozrah was on his way to Edom, the place "upon earth [which] comes nearest to the kingdom of darkness in hell", symbolizing Christ as the second imagery, descending into Hell.
The other intention for using winery images is to teach on the sacraments. Christ "is the true Vine, and ... to make wine of Him, He and the clusters ... must be pressed." In His passion this blood ran forth three times. "One, in Gethsemane that made Him sweat blood." Secondly in "Gabbatha which made the blood run forth at His head with the thorns, [and] out of His whole body with the scourges." Thirdly "at Golgotha where He was so pressed that they pressed the very soul out of His body, and out ran blood and water both." This leads to the point He wants to make. From His body flowed "the twin sacraments of the Church", and for this particular sermon the emphasis is on the blood, the wine from the Vine which becomes "the cup of salvation". Red now is identified with the wine as expressed in psalm seventy-five, "the wine is red, it is full mixed, and He pours out of it." This wine unlike the wine made from sour grapes which was offered to Christ on the cross is pressed from good grapes and is poured into the "cup of blessing" for our salvation.
When we read his sermons, we become aware that Andrewes had "a grasp of the wholeness of the Christian faith and a conviction of the importance of theology". He saw his role as "the conscience" to proclaim the Gospel. He was never concerned with using the sermon as exciting emotion. As Eliot pointed out - all his sermons are purely contemplative. Any "emotion is wholly contained in and explained by its object."
Nevertheless his sermons are rich, rich of detail and devotion, but reflecting that meticulousness that Andrewes had for all of life. For Andrewes only the best was ever good enough for God, and as we read and meditate on these Liturgical sermons, we sense they were, like incense, offered up to the heavenly Court as an act of worship.
Finally, Andrewes may have been "a lover of books", but theology for him was more than an intellectual exercise or a system of beliefs. It was firstly the path which led to union with Christ, communion with the entire Church and a sharing in the whole mystical experience of the Trinitarian acts of creation, salvation and sanctification. Secondly theology had to be lived out in the context of a community. This meant serving others by good works, and sharing one's possession. Thus for Andrewes the Catholic faith meant giving one self in service as well as spending time in prayer and study. In his fifty years of preaching he strived to communicate this to his contemporaries. It certainly was a balance that Andrewes strictly adhered to for his long life.