Christmas; Christ’s Nativity: The Manifestation of Christ, or Epiphany.

The Child of Promise and The Nativity of Christ

“The Greek word signifies manifestation, and hath been of old used for Christmas day, when Christ was manifested in the flesh; and for the day wherein the star did appear to manifest Christ to the wise men, as appears by Chrysostom and Epiphanius. For the antiquity of the day, Augustin says, The solemnity of this day, known throughout all the world, what joy doth it bring in!”—” This feast has several appellations amongst the Greek fathers, sometimes it is called, the day of sacred illumination, (Gregory Nazianzen); sometimes the Theophany, the manifestation of God. It often imports Christ’s birth-day; now is the festival of the Theophany, or Christ’s nativity. Yet sometimes they are distinguished, The nativity of Christ and the Theophany, &c. are to be accounted for holidays. And again, The first festival is that of Christ’s birth, the next is that of the Theophany, (Epiphanius). But of all the names most usual, and most frequently applied to it, is this of Epiphany, though under the patriarchate of Alexandria communicated both to the nativity and baptism of Christ.”

I.— The manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

The order of divine providence, to a contemplative mind, affords one of the strongest evidences of the over-ruling power of Almighty God, in arranging and completing the purposes of his will for the final benefit of all his creatures. The establishment and administration of nations, and even the successive transactions of every man’s life, sufficiently declare, “this is thy hand, and thou Lord hast done it.” The motive may not always be visible to the limited view of man, but the effect is always visible; or at least, may be deduced from the variety of combinations which every man sees before him. In nothing is this observation more conclusive, than in a comparison of the volume of Scripture with the general history of the human race; and still more, with the history of the human heart.

The manifestation of our blessed Saviour to the world, is the grand key of those unsearchable riches, which the grace of God has given to mankind. He was first manifested by the voice of prophecy, generally, and obscurely, in the early ages; afterwards, more fully revealed in the family of David; and at last, expected and received in the manger at Bethlehem. Could this have been thought possible? Could it ever have been imagined, that he who came specifically into the world to save sinners, and to establish for himself a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom, sooner or later, to comprehend all people, nations, and languages, should be received in a stable amongst the meanest of mankind? But this was an indispensable link in the history of redemption. The more wonderful, because the more unlikely.

Our Lord’s nativity, doubtless, was his first personal manifestation to the Jewish nation, to whom his Gospel was to be first offered. Connected with this was the manifestation of himself, at his baptism by John, by a miraculous appearance, and a miraculous voice. “Then Jesus when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and lo! The heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him; and a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. We cannot imagine any exhibition of himself more impressive, illustrious, or sublime. And if we refer on this occasion to the inspired words of the Evangelical Prophet, the scene before us becomes our own. “Behold my servant whom I uphold, mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth. I have put my Spirit upon him, he shall show forth judgment to the Gentiles.

It will not be supposed that great events can be accomplished without great  manifestations. There must be something of no common nature to mark the circumstance, and direct the attention. Though some mystery hangs over the disclosure of the wandering star to the wise men of the East, none whatever attaches to the object of their journey. The appearance of a star of an uncommon description was likely to attract the notice of celebrated men belonging to a nation long distinguished for their study of astronomy. How they were made acquainted with the expected, or actual birth of Christ, does not appear. The Chaldeans were a wise and an inquiring people, and might have heard, or read of, the predictions relative to the Messias from the books of Moses, through the information of travelling Jews; or they might have had the circumstance particularly revealed, an opinion I am inclined to adopt, as they were warned by God in a dream to return by a different road. However it was, a star of so particular a description pointing out distinctly to them a line of road leading to the very object of their search, was a pre-disposing cause of their journey; and a miraculous interposition of Divine Providence to reveal the new-born Saviour to a remote region of the Gentile world.

The leading of the star was a moral movement, and every step of the Magi was on sacred ground. They had a Saviour in view, and were little molested with the difficulties of their journey. Christian traveller! dost thou see any resemblance to thyself? The Gospel is thy star, and the heavens above thee are clear. Thou hast no Alps to climb, nor torrents to obstruct thy path; but thou hast dangers to encounter which they never felt, perverse passions and pernicious principles; thou art way-laid by temptations—the world, the flesh, and the devil, are inveterate enemies in that wilderness which thou must pass. But look upward! thou hast a guide and protector as well as them; the star is as visible to thee, as to any of the eastern sages. If the star was emblematic of the Gospel, thou hast the reality of what they only had the figure. The bright and morning star is thine. There was a time in the course of their journey, that the wise men lost sight of the friendly star. They were searching at Jerusalem, and saw it not . Their interview with Herod was of a dangerous nature, and excited both the jealousy and cruelty of the tyrant. Their fears might be proportionate. They departed, it may be, dejected with disappointment from the holy city on their road to Bethlehem; but they had not proceeded far, when the star again appeared, and “they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Thus the man that mourneth for his sin committed against conviction, fallen from prospects of holy hope through the infirmity, and perhaps worse than the infirmity of the flesh, when he again beholds the blessed star of salvation beam upon his soul; when the faith which once led him over floods of ungodliness, and the barren sands of an Arabian desert, begins again to influence his breast, and the spirit of divine love to re-assure his heart, then does he resemble the wise men of the East, rejoicing at the re-appearance of their star, and warmly pursuing their path to the place where the Saviour lies. Happy is the man that recovers from his sin, from the hiding of God’s face, with all the fatal consequences of such a privation; happy in the acquisition of that treasure which the wise men found at Bethlehem; most of all happy, in being taught by the grace of God how to value it! Their own treasures presented to the holy babe, were trivial in comparison with those which he had to bestow. Gold, and frankincense, and myrrh, might be appropriate marks of their own characters and country, and might not be without an allusion to the heavenly Prince, the object of their journey; but the offering of a convert of the Gospel, the offering of one wearied and heavy laden with the burthen of his sin, where was that to be found, but in the very bosom of him whom they came to worship.

Blessed Lord! accept thine own offering; neither the calves and goats of the Jews, nor the lip-labour of the Christian, if I may use a term too degrading for the holiness of his profession, can be a sufficient offering for thee, who art all in all to us. Let us, impressed with this, conviction, approach the humble cottage of the lowly Jesus, and present our own gifts before him; not indeed earthly treasures, to whatever they may allude; not costly presents, such as have too often deceived men of this world; neither with ashes on our heads, nor sackcloth on our persons, but such as the Gospel, pure and unadulterated, rejoices to present, a pure faith, a contrite heart, and an holy conversation.

But our contemplation on the Chaldean manifestation of Christ does not end here. Herod’s cruelty was itself a manifestation of its cause. How shall we reflect on the case of the poor infants who were slaughtered on this sad occasion? Even with that comfort which the Gospel only can bestow. No death is premature which the Almighty has designed; nor any injury inflicted, which the Son of God cannot cure. In infancy, every man may be satisfied with death. If unsinning life may be presented as an offering, through the merits and mediation of him who merited all for us, Oh! let the tear be checked which is shed for a dying babe. Nature may make some resistance, but grace is the healing balm. These poor infants resemble the souls under the altar, in the book of St . John’s revelation, who were “slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held. It may be said that they were baptized in blood. True; it was the blood of Christ which taketh away the sin of the world. Youth and age are as nothing in the sight of him, to whom a thousand years are as one day. “Cease, then, from man, whose breath is in his nostrils, for wherein is he to be accounted of?”

II.—The manifestation of Christ by his First Miracle.

To rejoice at every manifestation of the Saviour to the world is a Christian feeling, and must be considered as a manifestation of the increase of our Christian faith. Blessed are the people that are in such a case! and truly blessed is the heart that can sympathize in so holy an affection, that can go on from grace to grace, till he appears before the Lord in Zion.

Our Lord’s manifestations of himself were gradual; like that of the morning, which first irradiates the hills, then penetrates to the depths of the valleys. Each ray brings an accession of light, till the whole atmosphere is sensible of the blessing. If the revelation of natural beauty makes such an impression on the mind, what may we not expect, what, indeed, do we not experience, when the deepest recesses of the soul become the receptacles of spiritual joy, and the “whole of man’s existence is absorbed in the high conception? I speak this under correction; for being compounded of body as well as soul, our warmest aspirations must accord with our relative situation. This union cannot be forgotten, and when rationally, though spiritually established, it must afford the just measure of every religious feeling.

It was a manifestation of our Lord’s person and character, when, at an early period of his life, he was discovered by his mother, sitting in the midst of the learned rabbis in the temple at Jerusalem, hearing them and asking them questions. His proficiency, natural rather than acquired, amazed his hearers, and astonished his mother, who had reason to believe that the Son of Miracle was destined to sustain a character of undefined greatness. The immediate effect of this voluntary appearance is unknown; but, doubtless, it led the way to the disclosure of his future character, and was a link of that chain which bound in one, both the Jewish and the Gentile world: and though Scripture is silent on the subject, it is possible that a Nicodemus, or a Joseph of Arimathea, might be influenced to believe, from a remote circumstance, in the divinity of his character; and, finally, to adopt that acknowledgment of it afterwards, so honourable and valuable to themselves.

The true character of Jesus was, if I may so say, in abeyance with respect to his public history, till he had attained the usual age of public teachers. He then stepped forward with that divine dignity, which accompanied him to the end of his short ministry upon earth.

That which attracts attention in any great character must be something above the ordinary efforts of mankind; something allied, as it were, to a divine original: and though in the common dispensation of God’s Providence, the course of nature is smooth and undisturbed, yet, when his will is to be displayed for purposes higher than man’s understanding, he speaks a language that must be heard, and in accents derived from himself—the clouds pour out water, the air thunders, and his arrows are abroad. Miracle is the signal of God’s peculiar interference at the delivery of the law. The grandeur of the scenery is equal to the importance of the occasion. The Gospel also has its introduction. It is, indeed, a covenant of mercy, and therefore introduced with a milder designation of God’s will. Here miracle is equally conspicuous; but the lenient hand of the Saviour distributes it under a different principle. The law says, the soul that sinneth, it shall die—the Gospel, come unto me and ye shall live. There are also inward as well as outward miracles; miracles of grace as well as miracles of glory. The conversion of a sinner’s heart, and magnifying the glory of God by a miraculous interposition, are conspicuous proofs that God is in us of a truth.

It pleased the Almighty, that the first manifestation of the Saviour in his public capacity, should be made by a miracle. The nature of the miracle was appropriate to the circumstance. The person of our Lord had been miraculously attested at his baptism by John. A few, a very few friends had attached themselves to him at this period, by the tie of an affectionate friendship, founded on the holy character which they believed him to possess. These friends, with relatives of his temporal state, were present with him at a marriage feast, probably of one of his family; unconscious that, at that time, he would give any proof of the divine nature of his character. How unconscious are many of us of the moment, or circumstance, which decides the most important event of our whole lives! This observation must be obvious to every reflecting man. A journey is often commenced which, to many, never ends. We enter an apartment, careless and unconcerned, when the presence of a particular person, or an unexpected offer, gives a turn to every prospect of our hearts. This marriage festival, which brought present enjoyment to some, gave salvation to many more. It gave an impulse, through the grace of God, to the first ministers of the Gospel, and showed them the way, through many long and painful travels, to experience the blessings and happy consequences of an apostolic mission.

The order of divine providence is here as minutely followed, as in any other part of our Lord’s various life. The first manifestation of his glory by his first miracle, was apparently undesigned as to every outward circumstance. It was not made in the temple, the most eminent monument of the glory of God; it did not take place in the holy city, where great kings and great prophets had usually assembled; it did not occur in the mansion of the rich, or in the camp of the warrior, where numerous retainers might have maintained his cause, or fought his battles; but it happened in the humble cottage of a poor man like himself, unable to supply all things necessary on a memorable occasion. His mother’s anxiety was excited: for, when they wanted wine, she said unto him,—” They have no wine.” In that country, wine was not the luxury, but the necessary of life: and when he liberally and miraculously supplied the want, justly might they wonder, and lay the first foundation of that faith on which they were to be built up unto eternal life. “This beginning of miracles,” says the Evangelist, “did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory, and his disciples believed on him’.”

Though the conversion of a world was to be the consequence of our Lord’s manifestation, it was necessarily to commence from one point: for in all things there must be an impulse, as well as a final consequence. Here were friends to be convinced, as well as adversaries to be repelled. Both were ready to fill the ranks. Had they been as ready for conviction, or conciliation, the mystery would have been over. But not so, “great is the mystery of godliness.” “A great and effectual door is opened, and there are many adversaries. The harmony, however, of a family of love, as on this occasion, is a picture deserving the contemplation of everyone who would study the intrinsic beauty of Christian society; “after this, Jesus went down to Capernaum, he and his mother, and his brethren, and his disciples.”

The object of this miracle was to make Jesus known, as well as to confirm the faith of those who, in a short period, were to become missionaries of the Gospel. Eye-witnesses of such transactions were to be selected for the first preachers. Such was also the selection of witnesses of our Lord’s resurrection.

There is a consistency between this miracle, and the time, place, and persons, when, where, and by whom, it was performed. It had been tauntingly said of Christ, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Whence hath this man all these things*?” The performance of the miracle was an answer to the inquiry. Even his brethren were convinced.

But Jesus not only manifested himself, but his glory. The word glory, in its spiritual sense, is attributed to Christ in its most extensive signification. The glory of the Lord is an expression continually occurring in Scripture; and no man can read it with out an overwhelming apprehension of that Majesty which no man hath seen or can see; an eminence and splendour which surpass human conception, and when we see “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ,” we have a reflected glory which was communicated to man for the most beneficial purpose of man’s redemption. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto themWhen these expressions of love reach the heart, the glory of the divine union will excite every better feeling, and produce an animation and joy, as if touched with celestial fire.

Lose not a transport so seldom felt, so quickly lost. Be as one of the heavenly host, even now beholding and contemplating the magnificence of the Saviour. “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”

III.—Christian Missions.

No man can be satisfied of the value of our Christian faith on its true principle, without earnestly endeavouring to extend its advantages both within, and without his power. If salvation be the end of religion, and the knowledge of religion be derived from the word of God, we have here the first step of those many travels to which the zealous missionary is directed. “When thou art converted,” said our Lord to St. Peter, “strengthen thy brethren .” This was not a general, but a particular admonition. But as universal precepts include particular duties, we may imagine that the conversion of brethren was to be propagated from man to man, as all the benefits of society extend to every member of a community.

When we look around us, do we not wish that all we see were Christian? When we observe ordinary habits become public nuisances, and knowing that we reside in a reputed Christian country where salvation has been preached, and even, where, I trust, it has been found; when we reflect upon the relays of sin that pass along our streets, and still more, of what is concealed from our eyes, are we not disgusted at such circumstances, and feel our hearts sink at so appalling a prospect; and finally, under such an impression, is it not our endeavour, by God’s grace, to lessen the iniquity at least by one? He who takes this view of his situation, must necessarily strive to improve it, and to propagate a saving faith within his sphere as an indispensable duty.

But as every duty has its own qualification, so has even the solemn duty of conversion. The mark may be missed by an improper use of the means. A true zeal must be according to knowledge; otherwise we may mar the very blessing it might have been our happiness to procure. This is not the place, however, to draw distinctions. If Christian missions are necessary, a self-evident proposition, they must be supported; but to make them available, they must be derived from that legitimate authority, originally and especially deputed by the voice of inspiration. I mean not to make any observation on the good men who cross sea and land to make a proselyte; but I have often regretted, that more effectual measures had not been adopted for the promotion of this good cause, within the bosom of our own excellent Church.

The propagation of the Gospel, though miraculously rapid at its first institution amongst the civilized nations of the world, was left to find its way in savage countries, and in remote regions of the globe recently or slowly inhabited, by ordinary means, and by the intrinsic value justly attributed to it by pious, zealous, and intrepid neighbours. We will not speak of late or early propagation of the Gospel, because, to the Almighty Ruler of the universe, a thousand years are as one day; and to the happy country, whenever or wherever converted to pure Christianity, we need only reckon by the same measure of time. That which I would wish to inculcate is, that conversion is a duty of all times and seasons as well as in all places, and incumbent on persons of every age and station. The opportunities of life indeed, are different with respect to every event, but if the heart be right, the duty will find its proper place, and God himself will point out the opportunity. If we travel with our eye under this direction, we can follow the Lord’s leading through the most wonderful tracks, and accomplish his purpose by ways nothing less than miraculous.

Within the memory of man, ships of discovery have been sent out into regions not known, and among people the most unlikely to be brought under the cross of Christ. See! the prophecy is fulfilling, ” all nations shall call me blessed.” At various periods in the history of the world, certain impulses seem to prevail in the developement of new facts. The extension of trade, and the astonishing application of the mechanical arts, constitute new powers in the hand of man. These powers arise from new combinations in the reasoning faculties, and produce effects attributable only to the God of reason; the consequence, therefore, is, that the ways of God are carried into effect in a manner derivable only from himself. Thus it is that the trading ship with its Bible on board, is a messenger of heaven; whilst the vessel itself traverses the ocean unconscious of its treasure.

Though all the Apostles were missionaries, St. Paul was the original missionary of the Gentile Church. Not only his preaching and epistles, but the very circumstances of his travels, were appropriate to his mission. What was his shipwreck on the island of Melita, but a part of this design? When they saw the viper on his hand, was it merely considered as an accident by his heathen spectators? This man is a murderer, they said. But when he shook it off, and found no harm—This man is a god. He was a prisoner at Rome,—why? that he might spread the knowledge of the Saviour, and make proselytes in Nero’s prison as well as in Nero’s palace. It is even said, that this great missionary visited Britain. Certain it is, his doctrines came early to this island. In what state did they find our Saxon ancestors ?—oppressed with the cruel rites of Druidism; rude, ignorant, and idolatrous. How great then are the blessings which a mission has brought to us! Let gratitude, founded on the depths of religion, return the obligation, by doing to others what others have done for us; and may we never fail to express that gratitude with faithful hearts to the Giver of all goodness and lover of souls, who hath called us, and our forefathers, out of darkness into the marvellous light of the Gospel.

It is thus that the same benefits are destined to travel round the world. Every man may lend a helping hand. A man may travel by his prayers; he may travel by his bounty; he may be a missionary by his fireside; in humility of mind, and rich in spirit, he may do all this—neither will his labour be in vain in the Lord—he may cast his treasure on the waters, and it will return after many days.

God uses his own means to accomplish his own ends. The Gospel was never thought of when Cook landed at Otaheite. Yet see the change! I can only draw a general conclusion from the circumstance. But there is more in contemplation in the eye of Providence than can be drawn by the most reflecting mind from the events of the most interesting narrative. “I shall see him, but not now, I shall behold him, but not nigh; there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Scepter shall rise out of Israel.” The star travelled with the wise men from Chaldea, till it became fixed over the revealed Saviour at Jerusalem. The manifestation of Christ is still in progress; nor will it cease till the Gospel of ” the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations’.”

But in casting my eye over the extensive labours of a missionary life, I must not omit other duties, with which we ought to be better acquainted—the mission which presents itself to us at home. And if I add, that this is preparatory to the great and comprehensive plan for the conversion of a world, I trust that I should begin at the right point. Even under the pleasing duties of a parish minister, he cannot but feel discouraged by the carelessness of some, and the obstinate resistance of others, neither of whom he can by any means consider as converts of the Gospel. Here there is ample scope for missionary labours within a narrow compass.

An eminent and eloquent divine, though not of our Church, produces this argument in favour of national establishments of religion.

“An establishment,” he says, “when rightly viewed, has greatly more in it of the character and power of a missionary operation. It may be regarded as an universal home mission. It works aggressively over all the land. That was a prodigious progressive movement which it made at the outset, when it first planted its churches, and chalked out its parishes, and so caused the voice of the Gospel to be heard throughout the whole length and breadth of the territory. And, then, if rightly followed up, we shall discern in its internal workings the same character; for each minister in his own little vineyard is provided with ample scope, and is placed in the best vantage-ground for the high and holy functions of a Christian missionary. It is true that his pulpit is stationary, and there must be some predisposition for Christianity among those families of his people, who are drawn to it by a process of attraction on the Sabbath. But his power is moveable; and by a process of aggression through the week, he can go forth among all the families of his people, even among those who have as little of predisposition for Christianity as exists in the remotest wilds of Paganism. We have not to traverse oceans and continents in order to perform the essential work of a missionary, or to assail an immortal spirit which is not in quest of salvation for itself, with the calls and overtures of Heaven’s high embassy. There is a moral as well as a physical distance which must be overcome; and in the act of doing it, the parochial clergyman may have to face such difficulties, and to force his way through such barriers of dislike, or prejudice, or delicacy, that in the prosecution of his calling, he may, without half a mile of loco-motion, earn the proudest triumphs, and discharge the most arduous functions; and, in short, evince all the sound characteristics of a most deep and devoted missionary. We must not overlook the great Christian good achieved, whether in those rare and transient visitations by which they intersect our land, or in that multitude of fabrics, where they permanently emanate the lessons of the Gospel, and by which they have beautified, with frequent spots of surpassing verdure, the face of our island.”

See also:The Wisdom and Love of God as Shown by His Creation by Noah Webster

Source: Reflections adapted to the holy seasons of the Christian and ecclesiastical year: By John Brewster (1834)

The Child of Promise and The Nativity of Christ

LivingNativityThe Child of Promise.

The word promise, in the Christian acceptation of the expression, is attended with such a pleasing contemplation, that we are prepared to pursue the train of imagination with an alacrity that delights, and a zeal that leads to a conclusion which satisfies the warmest expectation. The land of promise has become proverbial; and we pursue the wanderings in the wilderness till we arrive, with the Israelites, at a country flowing with milk and honey, a country abounding in everything that could please the eye or gratify the senses. That land of promise to the sons of Jacob, was merely an emblem of a spiritual kingdom to the sons of the Gospel. For who is our leader through the wilderness of the world? Who is he that strikes the rock, and bids the living water flow through the Christian camp? One who was indeed the child of promise long before the patriarchal dispensation spread itself abroad in the land of Canaan. By faith, even in the most early days, the elders obtained a good report; and by faith, Abel offered an acceptable sacrifice ‘. This could not have been the case without an original revelation. And if we penetrate a little nearer to the first spring of salvation, we shall witness a grateful promise indeed, that the offspring of our first parents, who brought sin into the world and all our woe, should ultimately bruise the serpents head, and “through death, destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. That this is a great mystery must be acknowledged; but, as a confirmed doctrine of the Gospel, must be believed—believed, not merely as an historic fact, but as the foundation of our Christian dispensation. The purpose doubtless is most beneficial; and though the Almighty has permitted the enemy of our salvation to “walk about seeking whom he may devour’,” we may rest assured that he will be permitted to devour none but those who, virtually or really, renounce the allegiance of our God and Saviour.

If we have evidence of this inestimable promise, disbelief of it becomes tenfold sinful. The distinction of the Apostle is this—” Because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith’.” When we perceive, then, a long train of prophecy bearing on this one event, when we have been enabled to see that event accomplished; when we live after the fact, and are made acquainted with the inestimable benefits to be derived from it; that the child of promise has bruised the serpent’s head, by being himself bruised, and put to grief as a substitute for those who had been led astray by the wiles of the seducing serpent; when the blessings of his appearance have been felt in the breasts of the faithful; when the Comforter has come to soothe the orphan hearts of the miserable and heavy-laden—what can we say but that the voice of joy and gladness has cheered the desert, that “the branch of the Lord is beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth excellent and comely for them that are escaped of Israel!”

To enumerate the prophecies, would here be out of place; but to lay the elect corner-stone on this foundation, as the peculiar grounds of spiritual deliverance, is to establish a principle, which infidelity, with its fullest train of sophistry, is unable to remove, or destroy.

As the original sin of our first parents was the sole cause of the loss of their happy abode, and degraded and obscured the fine faculties with which they were endowed; as that sin has been but too fatally transmitted to their posterity in every succeeding age, and is still predominant in our own; the Almighty, in the depth of his divine mercy and goodness, proposed a deliverer to propitiate for his fallen creatures. The plan of Providence, as declared in the Scriptures of truth, was intimated in every age, obscurely perhaps at first; but sufficiently intelligible to excite hope; afterwards, in language that could not be mistaken; till at length the time came that Christ burst upon the world and completed the general joy.

I speak here collectively—waiving the hardness of the Jew and the resistance of the Gentile:—but anticipating that day of Messiah’s triumph, that one day, if I may so say, when “the multitudes that went before and that followed, cried, saying, Hosannah to the Son of David: blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosannah in the highest!” Is there any one duly impressed with the necessity of a Redeemer, with the true value of a Deliverer—and such a Deliverer !—” the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person,” and one “who, his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree;” is there any man so tame of soul, so destitute even of self-love, as not to hail his appearance with the most joyful acclamations?

This is, indeed, the advent of the child of promise: and to everyone who receives him graciously, he is the child of promise still: as he enters no man’s doors but with this benevolent assurance, this day is salvation come to this house . The promise is completed in the breast of every true believer—the fruit of David’s body now rests on David’s throne. Good old Simeon departed in peace when he had received the infant Jesus in his arms; and Anna, the venerable and aged’ prophetess, spake of him to all those that looked for redemption in Israel.

While our hearts are warm with expectation, let not our bodies faint with apprehension, either under the pressure of sin, sorrow, or affliction. These, indeed, are evils that no man can support without assistance far beyond his own; but he must not forget that help is at hand in the person of the promised child, who came with healing on his wings, with consolation sweet as his pure spirit, with salvation which his merits and his mercies only can communicate. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Rest then here on the omnipotence of this most explicit prophecy; repose with confidence that he who is all this, can bestow all that he possesses; and be assured, that the Prince of Peace is the holy child of promise.

May the benefits of this promise cheer and cherish the heart of every Christian: “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.

The Nativity of Christ.

“When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” We cannot have meditated truly on the preparation which was making for the greatest change which had ever taken place on the moral theatre of the world, if we perceive not the intrinsic value of the person to be introduced. Many great men have unexpectedly appeared at various periods, who, from unusual energy of mind or body, have occasioned great civil and political changes in their respective countries and stations. This age has not been without its instances. But, great as these changes may have been, they passed speedily away. Others may succeed; but none are permanent. New changes possibly form new habits: but do they form new men? We must look elsewhere for such a conformation. And such a change we have had, indeed such a change we now have in the blessed object of adoration on this day of Christ’s nativity.

A very partial and even prejudiced observer, is compelled to acknowledge that an important and visible change in the constitution of the world, took place as on this day of Christ’s nativity; the consequences of which will remain to the end of the world. Even the false apostles of later days, the instructors of new religions, wherever they may be found, are proofs of the existence of one pure fountain from whence their polluted streams have flowed; and when those streams shall be cleared from their defilements, which will be accomplished by an ethereal grace, all will flow together into the sanctuary of the Lord.

“When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son.” A short selection of passages from the more remote and obscure prophecies to the recent and explicit, will at once illustrate the point of time alluded to by the apostle. “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head’.”—” In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed—” Of the fruit of thy body (David’s) will I set upon thy throne.”— “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emanuel .”—” Behold! thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. ” He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of his father David‘.”—” From henceforth,” said Mary the virgin, “shall all generations call me blessed‘.”

This day of our Lord’s nativity presents to us a yearly representation of this fulness of time. It reminds us of another day distinguished in the annals of sacred history, when the children of Israel were delivered from the captivity of Egypt; and may also call attention to ourselves when delivered from the bondage of sin: ” this day shall be unto you for a memorial, and you shall keep it a feast unto the Lord throughout your generations ; you shall keep it a feast by an ordinance forever.” Previous to this day, the Messiah appeared only in figure, in shadow, and prophecy, but on this day of his revelation to Israel, and through Israel to the world at large, the shadow fled, and prophecy was accomplished. Then, indeed, time was at the full. God sent forth his Son: he went forth from himself, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. The passage illustrates, the whole scheme of man’s redemption through Christ, from the pressure of the law of Moses, from the pains and penalties of sin and death, from natural depravity, to an assumption, by the Saviour, into the inestimable blessing of adoption: “and because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father!” The connexion now is as full as the time—” Christ taking our flesh, we rejoicing in his Spirit—he, by us, partaking of our nature—we, by him, partaking of the divine nature, both sealing our duty to him”!

A contemplation of the sacred books, revealing and recording every circumstance relative to him who is the light of the world, is wonderful in every view. They are satisfactory evidences of what God has done for the soul of man; clear as a plan of salvation, consoling to penitent sinners, encouraging to those who are the happy recipients of so inestimable a blessing. When these consequences are fairly understood and appreciated, the prophetic notice of our Lord’s coming, the supernatural circumstances of his birth, the vision of angels to the shepherds, the harmony of the celestial hymn, the painful journey of the wise men of Persia, the presentation of a valuable symbolic offering to an obscure infant in the manger of an obscure inn; and at a later period of the infant’s life, the extraordinary appearance and preaching of his avowed forerunner, St. John; and more, the splendid and miraculous revelation of the Holy Spirit at his baptism;—will be thought far from unseasonable preludes to our hymns of praise and thanksgivings to him, who thus brought tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.

Had the Jews been sensible of such a visitor, as they ought to have been from a knowledge of their own Scriptures; were we sensible of such a visitor, with both the Jewish Scriptures and our own before our eyes, how very different would have been their conduct, and how very different should be our own on the anniversary of this day of our Lord’s nativity! It would not merely be a periodical blessing, but every day would cause a spiritual rejoicing for a new state of existence. “This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will be glad and rejoice in it.”

Considered in this light, we have a fulness of subject, suitable to the fulness of time: a subject which seems to burst beyond common bounds, and offers such a plenitude of thought, as ought, indeed, to fill our hearts with gladness, and our tongues with praise. I do not, however, call upon myself or others to desire an excitement beyond our natural powers. An enthusiastic elevation of mind is no proof of a sound and holy faith. The calmness of our belief is the criterion of our wisdom. “The wisdom that is from above, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. The subject indeed is high; and requires the highest attainment of spiritual understanding to reflect upon it with edification and improvement: but God has given us, on such occasions, not “the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” If our understanding be charged with righteousness, our Christian path will be as smooth, as if softened by the dew of the morning.

May my heart be prepared by divine grace for so holy a meditation! May it secure to me the calmness of piety; and then may I be allowed to open my eyes and exclaim with the servant of the prophet on the rapture of his master, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!”

The day of Christ’s nativity must not pass away like common days; neither must it be distinguished by that thoughtless and licentious hilarity, which custom has shed around it. The cheerfulness of true religion requires nothing austere or morose, much less anything brutish or intemperate, to correct it. The domestic virtues are Christian virtues; they are graces emanating from the very spirit of Christianity, and diffusing such a love among family-society, as the angels of heaven may look upon with complacency and satisfaction. Blessed is that season which is made holy by the pleasing and pious intercourse of prayer and praise! Blessed are those Christian friends who meet together to praise God and be thankful: thankful, not only for the comforts they enjoy as members of a Christian family, but as part of an holy brotherhood, of “the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven’;” as one of those that “have obtained a good report through faith, and have received the promise”.

The meditation is awful and interesting to which we are directed on this blessed day of our Lord’s nativity—it rests principally on the great doctrine of the day, salvation by Christ alone; “neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” No obscurity attends the doctrine; neither can salvation be explained away by any moral argument. The original revelation of our Lord’s name and character to his reputed father, -cannot be misunderstood; “Mary thy wife shall bring forth a son, conceived in her by the Holy Ghost, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sin.” “The God of our fathers,” says St Peter, “raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, and hanged on a tree: him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins’.” How was this accomplished? Hallowed be the exposition to every feeling member of the Church of Christ!” I delivered unto you, first of all,” says St. Paul, “that which I also received; how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures ‘.” And the beloved apostle expressly declares, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: and he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

To bring this home to the reflecting heart. We are, or ought to be well satisfied of the insufficiency of human merit; every man bears the evidence within his own breast; and I dare not think that any man can rest on his own merit. No man certainly, who does not greatly deceive himself. If he cannot rest on himself, he must look for help elsewhere. But where, in human life, can he find it? Poor human nature sinks beneath his grasp. No man may redeem his brother. But in the discovery made on this day of God, we have as much as God can send; as much as man can desire. “God sent forth his Son”—his great estimation of the person sent, is implied in the expression. Human feelings are those only by which we can arrive at any adequate conception of things divine. The name of Son needs no interpretation in a parent’s breast. And if we can imagine, even in a low degree, the infinite pureness of the Almighty’s love, then may we attempt to calculate the love of God, which passes all understanding. The Son, too, implies the human nature of Christ without which the object of his appearance would have been in vain. The world in which he appeared, and the character of that world, are consonant with the great purpose of his coming. “In this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”—” He sent his Son to be the propitiation [or, propitiatory sacrifice] for our sins ‘.” That is, to free us from all the evil consequences of sin, and endow us with all possible good; adopt us as beloved children, and invest us with an heavenly inheritance.”

Here then is disclosed, not only the fulness of time referred to in the birth of Christ, but the fulness of blessings attached to it. In consequence of the great event of this day, the circumstances of the world are changed. We were under the law, and subject to its penalties: we are under the Gospel, and expectants of its promises. Under the sentence of the law our very lives were jeopardied; under the benevolence of redemption we are not only rescued, but accepted. Our redemption is not restricted by cruel conditions, or by narrow bounds; the Son, thus given and received by faith in the pardoning mercy of God, through him, is all-sufficient; he is a common Saviour, and his gratuity “a common salvation.”In him shall all nations be blessed;” but not as all nations, or all sinners, but as redeemed, purchased by the blood of the Redeemer. It was a matter of purchase and delivery—” He gave his life a ransom for many,” for the many, the world. To make this redemption effectual it must be accepted in the beloved, the beloved Son of God, for “he that made Christ the Son of man, regenerates men to be the sons of God.”

As practical feeling is the proper result of sound faith, it becomes us to let no moment of reflection pass by without improvement in the contemplation of Divine truth. The fulness of time has brought before us a complete view of man’s salvation, let us inquire, whether our hearts have freely responded to such happy tidings? If they have, the convinced Christian will have great cause for rejoicing. No partial view of his religion will have produced a partial judgment of his condition, not relying on any personal call, he will still consider himself personally interested in an assurance of hope, resting on the firm basis of an assurance of faith.

As we rise by degrees through almost every situation of human life, so by degrees we rise from the humbling necessities of mortality to the triumphant glories of a better world. The progress, which at first is pleasant, at last is delightful. How exquisite the gradations of a Christian mind advancing daily in spiritual strength, daily rising from one eminence to another, and experiencing those sweet consolations, the happy consequences of an increase in religious knowledge! The Christian is springing upwards. At the first step he finds the fulness of comfort, that enviable state of mind, which may be felt, but cannot be described. After a hard day of conflict and of sorrow, he finds himself resting at ease on the bosom of a friend. But why represent in figure, what is best known in substance? The Spirit of God, which has guarded his footsteps in every movement of his variegated life, sheds a benignant glow around his heart, which thrills in every vein. Peace I leave with you—is the glad voice he hears—My peace I give unto you. From hence he springs forward again, in the fulness of duty, to perfect his day of holiness. This is the second step of advance in his growth of Christian grace. Here he calls to mind the wonderful arrangement of the Almighty, in the accomplishment of this day of salvation. The fulness of God’s mercy is manifested in the inscrutable, but sufficient dispensation of his Son. If we have received of his bounty, let us return of our fulness. But fulness of comfort, and even fulness of duty, however valuable in their separate stations, will both be incomplete, without that fulness of thanksgiving and joy, which is the third gradation of piety on this day of the Lord.

If this be a time of seasonable joyfulness, let it be on the best principles of spiritual enjoyment; connecting the passing scenes of a transitory life with the reversion of a goodly heritage, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

The meditating Christian will suffer no reflection to pass by him without improvement. Is this the day of Christ’s nativity? So is every day that rises upon the Christian’s soul. So is every day that finds him on his knees before this shrine. Such convictions are ever new—they spring daily like the tender grass, fragrant as the field which the Lord hath blessed.

Help us then, blessed Lord, so to live through this day of God, that we may indeed rejoice when the day-spring from on high shall visit us!

A double nativity; of our own, and of Christ.

“Unto Us a child is born, unto us a son is given”— the prophet Isaiah was as confident that the child whose high character he describes, (Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace,) would appear in a due season, as if he then stood before his presence. The angels, in a vision, announce the coming of this child on the very day of his nativity, to a company of unpretending shepherds, with an appropriation which cannot be mistaken. The prophet said, “Unto us a child is born;” the angel, “unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ, the Lord’.” The connection is extraordinary and important. The language of the angel is the interpreter of the voice of prophecy. He not only points out the child, but the end and design of that child’s appearance in the world. It is specifically declared that the nativity of Christ was intended to fulfill a peculiar purpose, and that the beneficial influence of it should extend to the remotest regions, and the most distant people. Unto you, he says, is born a Saviour; but lest the shepherds should suppose the revelation to be confined to themselves, he dispels their personal fears with this reviving and general promise:—,” I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people;” that is, according to the best Scripture interpretation, to all who shall beneficially to themselves lay hold on the good tidings o salvation through the means of faith.

The history of Christianity takes this direction from the first:—” Children of the stock of Abraham,” said St. Paul, “and whosoever among you feareth God, unto you is the word of this salvation sent.  But soon does he make the fatal distinction, “Seeing ye put the word of God from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, Lo! we turn to the Gentiles.” The Gentiles happily received the rejected doctrine of the cross: but “now” says the same Apostle to the Ephesians, “in Christ Jesus, ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”

From these considerations, it is clear that this salvation is personal, and therefore interesting: for the Lord Christ came not for his own sake into this miserable world, but that he might succour and save us. Let us then diligently endeavour to believe the angel, that we may enjoy the benefit of his coming. This is the language of Scripture in every part: believe and ye shall be saved; so believe as to make the nativity of Christ your own; and so live as to show that your whole conversation flows from your pure and lively faith: for the Scripture says, “The just shall live by faith.” This is the very ground of Christianity in its purest interpretation; and the end of all Christian knowledge is this.

The object of our present contemplation is that of a double nativity, that of our own, and of Christ; and that, in connection with each other.

The birth of our Lord, however it was received on earth, was the cause of great rejoicing in heaven. This joy is so great in this celestial region, that it cannot be contained, but bursts forth in splendour and in glory, that it may be communicated to the world. In contemplating this revelation we are ready to say, “Had I been one of the shepherds, with what devotion would I have received this holy child! With how much diligence would I have served him! But this presumption is soon checked by the self inquiry, do I duly serve him now? Is my devotion as ardent, and my love as pure, as I imagine it would have been then ?”—We see Christ now walking before us in the person of the poor and miserable. Do we now relieve him? We see his glory spreading over all the world, and the Gospel of his kingdom taking possession of the heart, and yet we are neither affected by the magnificence, nor the interest of the sight; neither do we turn our eyes on our own wants, and on that spiritual part which we are called upon to bear in it.:

Again, we see our Lord in the manger, and in as lowly a mansion as ever received any of the human race. Had I been there this should not have been the case. But, alas! like the three disciples on the mount of transfiguration, we wist not what we say. Let us turn aside from all such vain inquiries, and busy ourselves in those only which will make us wise unto salvation.

Our Lord in his cradle was like a treasure hidden in the earth. Search for it, and find it; open it, and possess it; and then it becomes profitable and precious. Such is this nativity. Use it as the pleasure of the Lord designed it; reflect upon it with all its consequences; otherwise it will be no comfort and advantage—it will be no nativity to us. For if we know no more than the bare history of our Saviour’s birth, and the circumstances which occurred at it—that he was born poor and needy—that he was visited in a stable as a forlorn and helpless infant, and lay reposing in a manger, we might have sympathized with him as a fellow-sufferer, but we could not have profited from this more than from any other history. If we looked upon him as no more than one of ourselves, one born in the ordinary course of human life, and returning again to the dust like other men, what rejoicing could we have had on this day of his nativity? No—look further :—” God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself.” And if he was so at his crucifixion, he was not less so on the day of his nativity. Look at the host of heaven announcing the event; hear the song of glad tidings harmoniously descending from the clouds; and, then, if the Gospel be true, not all the arguments of the most insidious skeptic can wrest this overwhelming truth from the record of the Almighty. How, then, it becomes us to inquire, should we use the day of his nativity, whom we acknowledge as the Saviour, the Messiah, “Him that should come, and that we look not for another?” even as I have already said, that if we believe that he was born for us, according to the declaration of the angel that his nativity is ours.

To complete our meditation, we must bring it home to ourselves, by reflecting deeply on the nature of our own nativity. And here we must refer to the same records which have so clearly delineated the purity of our Saviour’s birth, and his celestial origin, before we can duly appreciate our own. Adam’s sin, and man’s degeneracy are too well known to make us strangers to the depravity of our nature. Death was the mark of punishment assigned to the commission of the original sin of man: and the continuance of death in the world, affords decisive evidence both of the sin and the recompense. But though temporal death is unavoidable by the sons of men, as partakers of the fallen nature of their parents, a restoration to spiritual life is graciously permitted to all those who are capable of receiving such a blessing, by means of the merits and mediation of him, who, mercifully and specifically appeared as the promised Saviour of the world. “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

The best men under the first covenant, as well as under the second, have confessed, with heavy hearts, the original corruption of the nature of man. “In sin has my mother conceived me,” is a weight about the neck of every man born into the world; and the longer he lives, the stronger is the evidence. Our nativity, therefore, has but a melancholy presage: and “if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us ‘;” the Gospel truth, as well as the truth of our declaration. This will admit of self-evident proof. It is not because a man may say, “I am possessed of rational faculties, and an understanding heart, therefore I will not sin.” Experience is against him. God “destroys the wisdom of the wise, and brings to nothing the understanding of the prudent,” that no flesh should glory in his presence. Men of all learning and of all knowledge have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, as well as those who have had few opportunities of adding to their original stock of attainments. Here then we are all equal, and all bowing before the equitable throne of God. And here should we all have perished, if the wisdom of God had not been wiser than men, and found out for us a nativity not our own. “Christ was made sin, or a sin-offering for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. To deliver us from the effects of our natural nativity, God sent another nativity, which behoves us to be without spot or blemish, that it might make this unclean and sinful nativity pure.

This is that holy nativity, both of our own and of Christ, which we are called upon to celebrate on the anniversary of our Saviour’s birth. Happy is the man that can celebrate his spiritual birth on the same occasion. “If ye shall keep these,” says Luther, “then both the holy nativity of Christ shall be a help and comfort unto you, and also, ye shall be spiritual children of his mother, as Christ Jesus is her child according to the flesh.” In this discussion we have faith in its purest light, and we have love, the effects of faith, in its most brilliant colours.

This is then that most excellent provision which the ‘Lord hath provided for us; but of which none can experience the benefit, but those who accept it through faith. No man can easily believe this, but he that feeleth what his own nativity is; for he that feeleth not his own misery, can have no feeling for the nativity of Christ. If we are truly sensible of the original taint of sin, of our actual guilt and incessant propensity to evil, we shall then see the necessity of a restoration through the grace of God to that image of the Almighty in which man was first created.

This is an enviable situation for any Christian to attain: and the reverse of it, as we value the safety of our souls, carefully to be avoided. For if we feel not the weight of our sins, neither as yet feel the bitterness of them, the history of our Lord’s birth slides coldly to the heart—we may hear it, indeed, but it makes no impression; it never enters into our understanding, nor excites that warm feeling of danger which may rouse our attention, and, by divine grace, rescue us from a precipice, only one degree remote from everlasting ruin. If we really did believe that this nativity was for our advantage, we should fear neither sin nor death; and, therefore, to make this festival effectual to all its holy purposes, a faithful Christian must doubt nothing, that this nativity is as well his, as it is the Lord Christ’s. Let the heart have some confidence in this persuasion, otherwise it will be in a most evil case. This was signified by the angel, when he said, unto you he is born; as if he had said, whatever he is, or possesses to bestow, it is yours. He is your Saviour, and is able to deliver you from the wrath to come, and is truly your ” wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.

When we have meditated on a subject suitable, not to one day, but to every day of every Christian’s life, piously and religiously, are we not well assured that the angel has, indeed, brought us tidings of great joy; as it cannot but be that our hearts must be glad, when we enjoy this Saviour as our own?

When we are bent down with misery and sin, when we are oppressed with calamity and distress, and there remains no comfort or assistance within us, or without us, in a world of trouble; when the heavy heart cannot lift up itself above its burden, the situation is indeed deplorable and sad:—” I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me; refuge failed me, no man cared for my soul’:”—but when we conceive a trust which rises above the world, and are satisfied that Christ’s nativity is ours, and that the benefit of his coming reaches to us, under every circumstance of life or death, then the Sun of Righteousness rises upon the soul, and all creation is gladdened by its beams:—” This is the day which the Lord hath made, we will rejoice and be glad in it’!”

See also:The Wisdom and Love of God as Shown by His Creation by Noah Webster

Source: Reflections adapted to the holy seasons of the Christian and ecclesiastical year: By John Brewster (1834)

PROVIDENCE, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE by Samuel G. Arnold 1876

Samuel G. Arnold

Samuel G. Arnold

PROVIDENCE, PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE, Oration By The Honorable Samuel G. Arnold (1821-1880) Delivered At Providence, Rhode Island, July 4, 1876

To trace the causes that led to the American Revolution, to narrate the events of the struggle for independence, or to consider the effect which the establishment of “the great Republic” has had upon the fortunes of the race in other lands— these have been the usual and appropriate themes for discourse upon each return of our national anniversary. And where can we find more exalted or more exalting subjects for reflection? It is not the deed of a day, the events of a year, the changes of a century, that explain the condition of a nation. Else we might date from the 4th of July, 1776, the rise of the American people, and so far as we as a nation are concerned, we might disregard all prior history as completely as we do the years beyond the flood. But this we cannot do, for the primitive Briton, the resistless Roman, the invading Dane, the usurping Saxon, the conquering Norman, have all left their separate and distinguishable stamp upon the England of to-day. As from Caedmon to Chaucer, from Spenser to Shakespeare, from Milton to Macaulay, we trace the progress of our language and literature from the unintelligible Saxon to the English of our time; so the development of political ideas has its great eras, chiefly written in blood. From the fall of Boadicea to the landing of Hengist, from the death of Harold to the triumph at Runnymede, from the wars of the Roses to the rise of the Reformation, from the fields of Edgehill and Worcester, through the restoration and expulsion of the Stuarts down to the days of George III, we may trace the steady advance of those nations of society and of government which culminated in the act of an American Congress a century ago proclaiming us a united and independent people. When the barons of John assembled on that little islet in the Thames to wrest from their reluctant kins the right of Magna Charta, there were the same spirit, and the same purpose that prevailed nearly six centuries after in the Congress at Philadelphia, and the actors were the same in blood and lineage. The charging cry at Dunbar, “Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered,” rang out a hundred and twenty-five years later from another Puritan camp on Bunker Hill. So history repeats itself in the ever-recurring conflict of ideas, with the difference of time, and place and people, and with this further difference in the result, that while in ancient times the principal characters in the historic drama were the conqueror, the conquered and the victim, these in modem days become the oppressor, the oppressed and the deliverer. Charles Stuart falls beneath Cromwell and Ireton, George III yields to Washington and Greene, serfdom and slavery vanish before Romanoff and Lincoln.

But we must turn from this wide field of history to one of narrower limits, to one so small that it seems insignificant to that class of minds which measures States only by the acre, as cloth by the yard; to those men who, to be consistent, should consider Daniel Lambert a greater man than Napoleon Bonaparte, or the continent of Africa a richer possession than Athens in the days of Pericles. There are many just such men, and the materialistic tendency of our times is adding to their number. It is in vain to remind them that from one of the smallest States of antiquity arose the philosophy and the art that rule the world to-day, Judea should have been an empire and Bethlehem a Babylon to impress such minds with the grandeur of Hebrew poetry or the sublimity of Christian faith. But for those to whom ideas are more than acres, men greater than machinery, and moral worth a mightier influence than material wealth, there is a lesson to be learned from the subject to which the Act of Congress and the Resolutions of the General Assembly limit this discourse. And since what is homely and familiar sometimes receives a higher appreciation from being recognized abroad, hear what the historian of America has said of our little Commonwealth, that “had the territory of the State corresponded to the importance and singularity of the principles of its early existence, the world would have been filled with wonder at the phenomena of its history.

Roger Williams Statue

Roger Williams Statue

Hear too a less familiar voice from beyond the sea, a German writer of the philosophy of history. Reciting the principles of Roger Williams, their successful establishment in Rhode Island, and their subsequent triumph, he says: “They have given laws to one quarter of the globe, and dreaded for their moral influence, they stand in the background of every democratic struggle in Europe.” It is of our ancestors, people of Providence, that these words were written, and of them and their descendants that I am called to speak.

To condense two hundred and forty years of history within an hour is simply impossible. We can only touch upon a few salient points, and illustrate the progress of Providence by a very few striking statistics. Passing over the disputed causes which led to the banishment of Roger Williams from Massachusetts, we come to the undisputed fact that there existed, at that time, a close alliance between the church and the State in the colony whence he fled, and that he severed that union at once and forever in the city which he founded. Poets had dreamed and philosophers had fancied a state of society where men were free and thought was untrammeled. Sir Thomas More and Sir Philip Sydney had written of such things. Utopias and Arcadias had their place in literature, but nowhere on the broad earth had these ideas assumed a practical form till the father of Providence, the founder of Rhode Island, transferred them from the field of fiction to the domain of fact, and changed them from an improbable fancy to a positive law. It was a transformation in politics—the science of applied philosophy—more complete than that by which Bacon overthrew the system of Aristotle. It was a revolution, the greatest that in the latter days had yet been seen. From out this modern Nazareth, whence no good thing could come, arose a light to enlighten the world. The “Great Apostle of Religious Freedom” here first truly interpreted to those who sat in darkness the teachings of his mighty Master. The independence of the mind had had its assertors, the freedom of the soul here found its champion. We begin then at the settlement of this city, with an idea that was novel and startling, even amid the philosophical speculations of the seventeenth century, a great original idea, which was to compass a continent, “give laws to one quarter of the globe,” and after the lapse of two centuries to become the universal property of the western world by being accepted in its completeness by that neighboring State, to whose persecutions Rhode Island owed its origin. Roger Williams was the incarnation of the idea of soul liberty, the Town of Providence became its organization. This is history enough if there were naught else to relate. Portsmouth, Newport and Warwick soon followed with their antinomian settlers to carry out the same principle of the underived independence of the soul, the accountability of man to his Maker, alone in all religious concerns. After the union of the four original towns into one colony, under the Parliamentary patent of 1643, confirmed and continued by the Royal charter of 1663, the history of the town becomes so included in that of the colony, in all matters of general interest, that it is difficult to divide them. The several towns, occupied chiefly with their own narrow interests, present little to attract in their local administration, but spoke mainly through their representatives in the colonial assembly, upon all subjects of general importance. It is there that we must look for most of the facts that-make history, the progress of society, the will of the people expressed in action. To these records we must often refer in sketching the growth of Providence.

Roger Williams and Narragansett Indians

Roger Williams and Narragansett Indians

It was in June, 1636, that Roger Williams, with five companions crossed the Seekonk to Slate Rock, where he was welcomed by the friendly Indians, and pursuing his way around the headland of Tockwotton, sailed up the Moshassuck, then a broad stream, skirted by a dense forest on either shore.

Attracted by a natural spring on the eastern bank he landed near what is now the cove, and began the settlement which in gratitude, to his Supreme Deliverer he called Providence. He had already purchased a large tract of land from the natives which was at first divided with twelve others “and such as the major part of us shall admit into the same fellowship of vote with us,” thus constituting thirteen original proprietors of Providence. (4). The first division of land was made in 1638, in which fifty-four names appear as the owners of “home lots” extending from Main to Hope streets, besides which each person had a six acre lot assigned him in other parts of the purchase. The granters could not sell their land to any but an inhabitant without consent of the town, and a penalty was imposed upon those who did not improve their lands. The government established by these primitive settlers was an anomaly in history. It was a pure democracy, which, for the first time guarded jealously the rights of conscience. The inhabitants, “masters of families” incorporated themselves into a town and made an order that no man should be molested for his conscience. The people met monthly in town meeting and chose a clerk and treasurer at each meeting. The earliest written compact that has been preserved is without date but probably was adopted in 1637. It is signed by thirteen persons (5.) We have not time to draw a picture of these primitive meetings held beneath the shade of some spreading tree where the fathers of Providence, discussed and decided the most delicate and difficult problems of practical politics, and reconciled the requirements of life with principles then unknown in popular legislation. The records are lost and here and there only a fragment has been preserved by unfriendly hands to give a hint of those often stormy assemblies where there were no precedents to guide, and only untried principles to be established by the dictates of common sense. Of these the case of “Verm, reported by Winthrop, is well known wherein liberty of conscience and the rights of woman were both involved with a most delicate question of family discipline. It is curious enough that one form of the subject now known under the general name of women’s rights, destined more than two centuries later to become a theme of popular agitation, should here be foreshadowed so early in Rhode Island, the source of so many novel ideas and the starting point of so many important movement*

Roger Williams was an English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom, he started the Baptist church in America.

Roger Williams was an English Protestant theologian who was an early proponent of religious freedom, he started the Baptist church in America.

Religious services had no doubt been held from the earliest settlement, but the first organized church was formed in 1638, the first Baptist church in America.

From the earliest days of the colony to the close of the recent civil strife, the war record of the State has been a brilliant one. As early as 1655, in the Dutch war she did more than the New England Confederacy, from which she had been basely excluded. Her exposed condition, by reason of the Indians, fostered this feeling in the first instance, and long habit cultivated the martial spirit of the people till it became a second nature. Her maritime advantages favored commercial enterprise, and the two combined prepared her for those naval exploits which in after years shed so much glory on the State. The three Indian wars, the three wars with Holland (1652-8, 1667, 1672-4), and the two with France (1667, 1690), in the seventeenth century, the three Spanish(1702-13, 1739-48, 1762-3), and the three French wars (1702-13, 1744-8, 1754-63) of the eighteenth, had trained the American colonies to conflict, and prepared them for the greater struggle about to come. At the outbreak of the fourth inter-colonial war, known as the “old French war,” this colony with less than forty thousand inhabitants and eighty-three hundred fighting men, sent fifteen hundred of these upon various naval expeditions, besides a regiment of eleven companies of infantry, seven hundred and fifty men under Col. Christopher Harris, who marched to the siege of Crown Point. Thus more than one-quarter of the effective force of the colony was at one time, on sea and laud, in privateers, in the royal fleets and in the camp, learning that stern lesson which was soon to redeem a continent. Is it surprising then that when the ordeal came the conduct of Rhode Island was prompt and decisive? It is said that small States are always plucky ones, and Rhode Island confirmed the historic truth.

The passage of the stamp act (Feb. 27, 1765), roused the spirit of resistance through America to fever heat. But amid all the acts of Assemblies, and the resolutions of town meetings, none went so far or spoke so boldly the intentions of the people as those passed in Providence at a special town meeting (August 7,1765), and adopted unanimously by the General Assembly (Sept 16). They pointed directly to an absolution of allegiance to the British crown, unless the grievances were removed. The day before the fatal one on which the act was to take effect, the Governors of all the Colonies, but one, took the oath to sustain it. Samuel Ward, “the Governor of Rhode Island stood alone in his patriotic refusal,” says Bancroft. Nor was it the last as it was not the first time that Rhode Island stood alone in the van of progress. Non-importation arguments were everywhere made. The repeal of the odious act (Feb. 22, 1766) came too late, coupled as it was with a declaratory act asserting the right of Parliament “to bind the Colonies in all cases.” Then came a new development of patriotic fervor instituted by the women of Providence. Eighteen young ladies of leading families of the town met at the house of Dr. Ephraim Bowen (March 4, 1766), and from sunrise till night, employed the time in spinning flax. These “Daughters of Liberty,” as they were called, resolved to use no more British goods, and to be consistent they omitted tea from the evening meal. So rapid was the growth of the association that their next meeting was held at the Court House. The “Sons of Liberty” were associations formed at this time in all the Colonies to resist oppression, but to Providence belongs the exclusive honor of this union of her daughters for the same exalted purpose. This is the second time we have had occasion to notice that women has come conspicuously to the front in the annals of Providence, when great principles were at stake. But we claim nothing more for our women than the same spirit of self-denial and lofty devotion that the sex has everywhere shown in the great crises of history. The first at the cross and the first at the sepulcher, the spirit and the blessing of the Son of God have ever rested in the heart of woman.

Side by side with the struggle for freedom grew the effort for a wider system of education. It was proposed to establish four free public schools. This was voted down by the poorer class of people who would be most benefited by the movement. Still the measure was partially carried out, and a two story brick building was erected in (1768). The upper story was occupied by a private school, the lower, as a free school. Whipple Hall, which afterwards became the first district school, was at this time chartered as a private school in the north part of the town, and all the schools were placed in charge of a committee of nine, of whom the Town Council formed a part the next year a great stimulus was given to the educational movement in the town. Two years had passed since Rhode Island College was established at Warren, and the first class oi seven students was about to graduate. Commencement day gave rise to the earliest legal holiday in our history. A rivalry among the chief towns of the Colony for the permanent location of what is now Brown University, resulted in its removal two years later (1774) to Providence. This now venerable institution, whose foundation was a protest against sectarianism in education, has become the honored head of a system of public and private schools, which for completeness of design, for perfection of detail, and for thoroughness of work, may safely challenge comparison with any other organized educational system in the world.

There are some significant facts connected with The Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, which serve to show the relative importance of this city in the industrial summary of the country. One is that in the three principal buildings Providence occupies the centre and most conspicuous place. We all know the man who commands Presidents and Emperors, and they obey him—who says to Don Pedro “come,” and he cometh, and to President Grant “Do this,” and he doeth it, and we have seen the mighty engine that from the centre of Machinery Hall, moves fourteen acres of the world’s most cunning industry. The Corliss engine proudly sustains the supremacy of Providence amid the marvels of both hemispheres. Facing the central area of the main exhibition building, the Gorham Manufacturing Company have their splendid show of silver ware around the most superb specimens of the craftsman’s art that has ever adorned any Exposition in modern times. Under the central dome of Agricultural Hall the Rumford Chemical Works present an elaborate and attractive display of their varied and important products, arresting the eye as a prominent object among the exhibits of all the world. And when we visit the Women’s Pavilion we shall see that of all the rich embroidery there displayed none surpasses that shown by the Providence Employment Society, and shall learn that little Rhode Island ranks as the fifth State in the amount of its contributions to the funds of this department, being surpassed only by New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts. A city which occupies these positions in the greatest Exposition of the century has no cause to shun comparison between its past and its present.

But by far the greatest event of its bearing upon the prosperity of Providence was the introduction of water which, after being four times defeated by popular vote, was finally adopted in 1869. The work commenced the next year, and the water was first introduced from the Pawtuxet river in November, 1871. The question, whether Providence was to become a metropolis of trade and manufactures or to continue as a secondary city, was thus settled in favor of progress. The stimulus given in the right direction was immediate and immense. The overflow of population soon required the city limits to be extended, and the annexation of the Ninth and Tenth Wards caused an increase of forty-six per cent, from the census of 1870 to that of 1875, a showing which no other city in the country can equal.

That the city of Providence has its future in its own hands is apparent. With the vast wealth and accumulated industries of a century at its disposal; with the result which this latest measures of improvement has produced as an encouragement; and with the experience of other less favored seaports as a guide, there would seem to be the ability and the inducement to take the one remaining step necessary to secure the supremacy which nature indicates for the head waters of Narragansett bay. While our northern and western railroad connections are already very large and are rapidly reaching their requisite extension there remains only the improvement of the harbor and adjacent waters of the bay, which can be made at comparatively small expense, to make Providence the commercial emporium of New England. There is no mere fancy in this idea. It is an absolute fact, attested by the history of Glasgow, and foreshadowed by the opinions of those who have thought long and carefully upon the subject. It is a simple question of engineering and of enterprise, and it will be accomplished. When Providence had twelve thousand inhabitants, as it had within the life time of many of us who do not yet count ourselves as old, had some seer foretold that the centennial of the nation would see the quiet town transformed into the growing city starting upon its second hundred thousand of population, it would have seemed a far more startling statement than this with which we now close the Centennial Address—that the child is already born who will see more than half a million of people within our city, which will then be the commercial metropolis of New England.

See also: The Consequence of Bad Legal Precedent in American Legislation
Wide Spread And Growing Corruption In The Public Service Of The States And Nation
Founders & forefathers pledged their Sacred Honor, what did they mean?
THE POWER OF HISTORY by Horatio Seymour (1810–1886)
WHAT HISTORY TEACHES US ABOUT AMERICAN DIPLOMACY Addressed in 1876
THE COST OF POPULAR LIBERTY by Brooks Adams July 4th 1876
THE TRIUMPHS OF THE REPUBLIC! by Hon. Theodore Bacon, New York 1876
AMERICA OUR SUCCESS OUR FUTURE! by John P. Gulliver July 4th 1876 NYC
THE SOURCE AND SECURITY OF AMERICAN FREEDOM AND PROGRESS by Courtlandt Parker 1876
BENEFITS OF THE REPUBLICAN EXPERIMENT IN AMERICA by Thomas G. Alvord 1810- 1897
NEW HAVEN CT, ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO by Leonard Bacon July 4, 1876
Celtic Prayer of the Lorica or Breastplate prayer
Founders on the 2nd Amendment
The Story of Paul Revere