Prayer at The Commencement of The New Year

HappyNewYearBlessingO LORD, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations. From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God, without change or decay; but to us, Thou hast divided our time into weeks and days and months and years. In this way Thou dost admonish us of the progress of our duration here. The heavens continue to this day, for they are Thy ordinances, intended by Thee to admonish us of our progress towards a boundless eternity. Another year has completed its rounds. We look back over the past and recall to our memory the many changes which have occurred, and the numerous mercies which have befallen us. Many are they whom we knew on earth who are now numbered with the dead. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. Many tender ties have been severed; many useful lives have been terminated. Many unlooked-for events have transpired, and we acknowledge the reception of many unlooked-for and precious blessings.

O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endureth for ever.

Grant, O Lord, that should we be spared through another year, our lives may be spent to Thy praise. But hast Thou otherwise determined, and if this year we must die, prepare us for an exchange of worlds. Whatever our hands find to do may we do it with all our might. We would not forget that the night cometh when no man can work; therefore, grant, O Lord, should this year be our last, it may be the most serious and the most devout we have ever yet passed, and may it be the most diligent of all we have yet spent in the cause of the Redeemer. May it be a good year to our precious souls, and a prosperous year to the Church of the Saviour. May the gospel be preached more widely and more effectually than ever before. May all Thy priests be clothed with righteousness; send down upon them all the healthful spirit of Thy grace. Oh that amidst all Thy Churches the gospel may be better understood, and more faithfully and more successfully preached! Prepare Thy people by Thine own presence amongst them for Thy expected return.

Teach us, O Lord, during this year more diligently to employ and improve our precious time. May we walk circumspectly, redeeming the time, because the days yet to come are few and may be evil. Let not our indolence invite the tempter. May every day as it passes carry with it into eternity the record of some work done for Thee and for our fellow-men; and if we be spared to reach the close of this year, may the retrospect afford us some degree of satisfaction and peace.

May we remember that we are in a world of change and disappointment; prepare us for all the vicissitudes of life. In the day of prosperity may we be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider. Help us in all things to remember that Thou art our Sovereign, and that Thou art ever good and kind, just and true. O God, our help in ages past, be Thou our strength for years to come. We yield ourselves to Thee, and amidst all the uncertainties of the future, we hope in Thy mercy. Graciously accept our confidence, for the sake of Thy dear Son Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Source: The blessing of the household, a series of family prayers by Thomas Talman Gough 1875

ANewyearsBlessing

The Preacher’s Blessing; Or, The Happy New Year.

NewYearsBlessingsThe Preacher’s Blessing;
Or, The Happy New Year.

Numbers vi. 22—26.

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron and unto his sons, saying, On this wise ye shall bless the children of Israel, saying unto them, The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

Such, my brethren, was the blessing which Aaron and his successors, the Jewish priests, were to pronounce by the Lord’s appointment over the people of God; and I know no words of pious greeting better suited to this day. New Year’s Day so seldom falls on a Sunday, that, when it does, it would be a pity to let it slip, without wishing you all a happy new year, according to the good old English custom. But, as Jesus Christ once said to his disciples, “Not as the world giveth give I unto you,”—meaning that his gifts are very different from those of the world,— so it becomes the minister of Jesus Christ to say to you on this occasion, “Not as the world wisheth, wish I unto you;” meaning thereby, that the happiness he wishes for you is something very different from what the world commonly esteems such. The world’s notion of happiness, and the gospel notion of happiness, are very different; and therefore the world’s wishes for your happiness, and the preacher’s wishes for your happiness must be very different also. The world, when it wishes a man happiness, means a long life, and strong health, and plenty of money, and a good name, and a thriving family. The preacher, on the other hand, when he wishes you happiness, as I wish you all now, means something very different thereby. What? (you will perhaps ask,) do I not then wish you life and riches? Yes, my dear brethren, I wish you, and pray God to give you these things, and that far more abundantly than the world can wish them for you—even a life without end, and an inheritance more to be desired than gold, a crown eternal in the heavens. These are the wishes of the preacher, these are his prayers in your behalf,—everlasting life and everlasting glory after your departure out of this world; and, during your stay on earth, a sound body, a healthy soul, a name in the book of life, and a household affectionate and dutiful, lovers of God and of his will. Such is the difference between the good wishes of the world and the good wishes of the preacher. The world’s good wishes are like itself, worldly: they look chiefly to the body: they reach not beyond earth, and the things of earth; while the good wishes of the preacher are chiefly for your souls: he looks, and by his office is bound to look, first to the one thing needful: his desires for your welfare are guided by the gospel, and like that would raise you up to heaven. Even with regard to this world, the preacher knows full well that the greatest happiness we can any of us enjoy in it is a peaceful mind, a quiet conscience, the feeling that God is reconciled to us, and loves us, and cares for us, and watches over us, and will so order and arrange whatever may befall us, that all things shall work together for our good.

These, I say, are the very best gifts,—they are the truest good, which any man can have in this life; and they are all contained in the text. Therefore what the Jewish priests were commanded to say to their people at seasons of joy and blessing, the same words do I now utter as a new year’s prayer for the whole of my parishioners and my people. To every one of you, my friends, I say, in the words of Moses: “The Lord bless thee, and keep thee; the Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee; the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.” This is my prayer now in your behalf: may each of you, young and old, male and female, rich and poor, may each of you take the words home to your hearts! and may God Almighty hear the words, and bring them all to pass to your great, and endless good!

But let us look at the text a little more in detail; and let us keep in mind, that this solemn blessing was of God’s own appointment, and that therefore we may expect to find mention in it of all those things which he knows to be best for his people. The first words of it are, “The Lord bless thee!” that is, the Lord give thee every good gift, and pour down upon thee in due abundance whatever is wholesome and profitable for thy soul first, and also for thy body. “The Lord keep thee!” that is, the Lord watch over thee for good, and shield thee from every kind of evil. Here then we have already prayed for every thing that is good for you; and have also called on the Almighty (think of that word) to be a guard to you against your enemies of every kind, and to defend you from all sorts of dangers. Is not this enough? Can we wish for any thing more? We perhaps might have thought it enough; but God in his bounty does not: at least he is pleased to shew forth the overflowings of his loving-kindness by heaping up blessing upon blessing. So the text goes on thus: “The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.” You all know the difference of feel there is between a sunshiny and a cloudy day. The real heat may be the same; nay, the cloudy may be warmer than the sunshiny. In point of fact we know it often is; for we often have bright sunshine in the clear frosty days of winter, and dull clouds in the middle of summer. But though the real heat may be the same on both days,—though the thermometer, as it is called, or the glass which measures heat, may tell us that the cloudy day is the warmer of the two,—yet to our feelings it may be quite the contrary. There is something so enlivening in the sun, that I have often known persons come in from a walk on a bright winter’s day, and speak of it as very pleasant; while the same persons, on a damp cloudy evening in July, would be the first perhaps to shiver, and to wish for a fire. Now the same difference which it makes to a man’s body, whether the sun is shining upon him, the same difference does it make to his soul, whether God’s face is shining on him or no. Let God’s face shine on the soul, it walks in the brightest sunshine: let God veil his face and cloud it over, the soul feels chilled and is discomforted. Thus it is written, “Thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled.” (Psalm xxx. 7.)

Think not, my brethren, that this is a small blessing. I said, that we often feel the cold on a sunshiny day in winter less than on a cloudy day in summer. Now is not something answering to this often met with in the world? Do we not see many a man there disquieted and ill at ease in the midst of riches and luxuries; while his poor neighbour, who lives in some sorry hovel, may look always cheerful and contented? What is this difference owing to? Not to the health and strength of the poor man: for he may be old, and often a sufferer from cold and wet; and he cannot afford to buy himself the little comforts proper for his years and infirmities. The rich man, on the other hand, may be still young: his disease, if it can be called one, is more of the mind than of the body: he can consult the best physicians: he can travel from place to place in search of pleasure: he is not obliged to deny himself any one earthly thing necessary to his ease and enjoyment. Yet with all this, in spite of his youth and his riches, and his having no outward ailment, and his possessing every comfort and luxury that heart could wish for, he may be always growling and grumbling; while the dweller in the old hovel, with the pinching frost of poverty and age, and sometimes sickness to boot, sharp upon him, may be ever making the best of his condition, and finding out something or other in it to thank God for. This is no mere dream of what might be. Those who mix much with the rich and with the poor, may see instances such as I have been describing, of discontented rich men and contented poor men, in every part of the land. What then, I ask, is this difference owing to? To what cause must we trace the gloomy spirit of the one, who has every worldly good to satisfy him, and the blithe-hearted contentedness of the other, whose lot in the world’s eyes is so hard and wretched? The cause is simply this, that the poor man I have been speaking of—for what I have said is true only of such— has led a Christian life, or at least has turned to God in earnest and repented of his sins betimes; and so God has allowed his face to shine upon him and to cheer him: while his rich neighbour has been led astray by the deceitfulness of riches, and has been so taken up with his pleasures, or with the cares which riches brings with it, that he could not spare time to think about God. He has turned his face away from God: therefore God has turned away his face from him, and left him in clouds and heaviness. O, my brethren, that you might but know and feel the joy and gladness which the light of God’s face can shed sceptre to us, as King Ahasuerus held his out to Esther, when she presented herself before him,— this surely is the highest privilege a son of Adam can enjoy. It is true, God does not in reality sit, like an eastern king, on a visible throne: for he dwells in glory unapproachable, and in light which no eye can pierce. Nor does he really lift up his head, any more than he holds out a golden sceptre. But a child may understand, that, when such things are said of God Almighty, it is only for the purpose of bringing down what is declared concerning him to the level of our poor weak minds. If heavenly things were spoken of after a heavenly manner, how could we creeping earthworms understand them? Therefore it has pleased God in Holy Writ to speak of himself in words and images borrowed from earthly things, that so we may be enabled to form some notions, however dim, and to gain some knowledge, however scanty, of his infinite power and goodness. Thus in some places of Scripture God is called a king, and in others a father. Not that he is like an earthly king, or an earthly father: but we all know what a king is, and what a father is: therefore, in compassion to our ignorance, God suffers himself to be thus spoken of, that we may in some measure understand the duty, and the obedience, and the love, which we owe him, and the protection, and the benefits, and the mercy, which we may hope for from him. So we read too in Scripture of God’s hands, and God’s eyes. Not that God, who is a spirit, either has, or is believed to have, hands and eyes, as we have: but this is said, to teach us that he sees and knows all our most secret actions, just as if he had eyes to see them with, and that he can punish us for our sins, and smite us down, just as if he had a strong right hand. You must not therefore be surprised by the expressions,” The Lord make his face shine upon thee,” and ” lift up his countenance upon thee:” for these things too are said in compassion to our weakness, to make us understand that God’s favour is as cheering to the soul, as sunshine is to the body; and that they who are reconciled to him, and are living in his love, have the same quiet trust and confidence that no real harm can happen to them, as you and I should have, if we knew ourselves to be countenanced and befriended by the king. If we had the king’s countenance, if he had looked favorably upon us, and assured us of his friendship, we should expect to receive some honour or preferment from him; or at least we should feel certain that, so far as he could hinder, he would not suffer any one to harm us. So is it with those who have God’s countenance, but in a far, far higher degree. For the king, great as he is, is only a man. His power is cut short in a thousand ways, and at the very best can only follow us to the grave. When dust to dust is thrown upon our coffins, we are beyond the sway of every earthly prince. But God is the King of kings: his power is bounded by nothing, but his own wisdom and goodness and will: whatever he pleases to do, he can do: above all, in the grave, where all human rule is at an end, his rule and sovereignty are doubled. Here he leaves us in a great degree to our own devices: he governs us by human means: he rules us by viceroys and by stewards: but the moment the soul leaves the body, it passes into his immediate kingdom: it goes to a place where the government is given in charge, not to any earthly prince, but to the only begotten Son, who there reigns and judges in person with a boundless power to punish and to reward. My brethren, the friendship and protection of the King of kings is surely well worth having. May he be pleased, as the Psalmist expresses it, to ” give us everlasting felicity, and to make us glad with the joy of his countenance!” (Psalm xxi. 6.)

Since God however does not really sit like a king upon a throne, nor shew himself to man face to face, how are we to know whether his countenance has been lifted up upon us? The last blessing mentioned in the text will furnish an answer to this question: “The Lord give thee peace.” For peace is the fruit of God’s favour. He who is at peace, and feels himself at peace with God, he who knows himself to be reconciled to his heavenly Father through the sufferings and merits of Jesus Christ, he who knows that he has been admitted and adopted into Christ’s family, and feels that obedient reverence and love toward God, which every true son must feel for the best of fathers,—such a person may be quite sure that God has indeed smiled upon him and lifted up his countenance upon him. “The effect of righteousness,” in both senses of the word,—the effect of justification by faith in the blood of Christ, and of our living thereupon a good and christian life, both which things in Scripture are often termed righteousness,—the effect of this righteousness, the prophet Isaiah says, ” is peace.” Peace then is the offspring of righteousness. If we know we are forgiven for Christ’s sake, we are at peace, because we know that nothing can hurt us. If, out of gratitude and love to our Master and Saviour, we are living in obedience to his holy laws, then too we have every ground and reason to be at peace: for, as the apostle exclaims, “If we are followers of that which is good, who is he that will harm us?” (1 Peter iii. 13.) Here I should conclude, but for one caution most necessary to be given. Some may think, that, because they are at peace, because their conscience does not prick or pain them, therefore all must be well with them. My brethren, it is not every sort of peace that is to be desired, but only that true peace, which is the effect of righteousness. There is a false peace, a peace arising out of recklessness and carelessness and the never thinking about God. Let me warn you against this false peace. Would you say, a man was at peace, who was dropping into a deadly slumber? Would you say that Sampson was at peace, when he lay sleeping in the lap of Delilah? Such, so dangerous, so deadly is,—the peace shall I call it? or rather, the false security of the self-righteous and the wicked.

Rouse yourselves then, I beseech you, from such fatal slumbers, if any of you have hitherto been sinking beneath them. Awake! the flames of the fiery lake are flashing in your eyes, and you see them not, but are sliding sleep-bound toward them. Awake! behold, the face of the Lord does not shine, but frown upon you. Any fear, any woe, any sting of conscience will be a blessing to you, which can but save you from the wrath of a disregarded and offended God. As the old year has fallen into its grave, and the new year has just opened its eyes to the light of this morning’s sun, so let the days of your ungodliness have come to an end, and let this be the first day of a new year of godly fear and hope. This is my prayer for you: this is my new year’s blessing. I cannot wish you peace yet, your false dead peace must be broken up, the crust of hard ice which covers your hearts must be broken up, before you can enjoy anything like true living peace, before the waters can flow gently and calmly, basking in the sunshine of heaven.

My brethren, you can now understand a little better how precious was the blessing which the priest of God among the Jews called down upon the people of God. Let me repeat the words again, as I do from my heart: my brethren, the Lord bless you this year, and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace, now and evermore.

source: Sermons to a country congregation;  by Augustus William Hare 1836

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)

In Response To Juan Williams Concerning Volunteer Fire-Fighters

AmericanFireFightersI have to write this in response to Juan Williams and his sneering, disparaging critique of volunteer fire-fighters, I heard from him a couple nights on Hannity. They were doing a segment on 12/10 on a study that said because of the Labor Dept and IRS legal definition of volunteers the numerous volunteer fire fighter service members around the country may be subject to the Obamacare mandates, and the municipalities may have to provide healthcare insurance for the fire fighters who volunteer to serve their respective communities because their municipalities and communities cannot afford to pay them a salary, likewise they cannot afford to provide them with healthcare insurance.

Juan Williams during the segment questioned David Limbaugh and Host Sean Hannity with a skeptical, sneering look on his face about volunteers working 30-60 hours a week, the quote was “By the way if your working 30-60 hours a week,,,volunteers? Come on, you know there’s something strange going on.”

Why is it, liberals always think just because most of them are corrupt, everyone else must be too. They find it impossible to believe that someone would actually do what liberals claim they do or want to do, which is to spend a large portion of their time helping others without thought of reward, praise, power or monetary gain.

I know the type of people who become volunteer fire fighters because my brother was one for many years, up until he got married last year. My mother helps with the meetings of the local rural fire station where he was a member. They are just average everyday patriotic Americans who out of a sense of community, fellowship and goodwill desire nothing more out of their efforts, than the satisfaction they get, from doing a job well that helps their families, friends, neighbors, saves their communities from numerous disasters and saves the taxpayers billions of dollars every year.

They don’t do it for the reasons your liberal pundits, celebrity busy-bodies and government power brokers would.

OldFireTruckNo they do it out of loyalty, genuine feeling and care for their fellowman. Volunteer fire fighting goes back to the beginning of community, practically all small communities in the United States rely on, or have relied, solely on volunteers to make up their company of fire fighters in the past.

George Washington was a volunteer fire fighter in Alexandria, Virginia in 1774, as a member of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company, he bought a new fire engine and gave it to the town, which was its very first. Many of our founding fathers were also volunteer firefighters. Some of these included; Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and Aaron Burr. Benjamin Franklin is quoted as describing firefighters as, “Brave men of Spirit and humanity. Good Citizens, or neighbors, capable and worthy of civil Society and the enjoyment of a happy government.

Most of the volunteer fire companies around the U.S., rely on charity for their fire trucks and expensive equipment. Many make do with out dated equipment, they spend many hours of their free time performing maintenance on, because they cannot afford new modern equipment. They also depend on bake sales, or other forms of fund raising to be able to afford the parts they need to fix the equipment, buy the protective clothing, or personal items they need for the job. Some charge a small yearly fee to the land owners of the areas they serve to help offset their expenses, many spend money out of their own pockets to better be able to serve their communities. These same volunteers spend time taking classes during their free time learning new practices, first responders skills, and other classes to better serve their communities and neighbors.

Yes, Juan Williams, there is something strange about these people that you liberals and elitists will never understand. They truly care about their fellowman, unlike you liberals and elites, who can only espouse how everyone else should care as much as you liberals and elitists do. These average everyday Americans will always be strange to you, because you share none of their values, sufferings nor triumphs.

I remember many times growing up we would get out the gunny sacks and buckets to fight a grass fire on a neighbors property, or as teenagers stopping at the side of the road or highway because we saw a fire in the woods or a grass that needed to be put out. It was just something you do, when you see someone else in trouble, you stopped to lend a hand.

This is what is great about the vast majority of Americans in middle America, something you elitists in your ivory towers along the western and eastern seaboard will never understand. We didn’t do it to be a part of something, for profit or praise, or anything other, than the hope that someone will do the same for you and yours if the need ever arises.

No, volunteer fire fighters who give freely of their time to their communities are not strange, to those of us in the real America, they are simply our neighbors and friends for whom we are truly thankful, for the dedicated service and thankless tasks they perform to keep the rest of us in comfort. They don’t get a salary, pension or other compensation that you can see, no, the compensation they seek comes from the unseen, things like honor, character, duty, things liberals and elitists will also never understand.

You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists 
who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part 
of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the 
same time they pretend to make them the depositories of all 
power. ~ Edmund Burke

Corruption tends to only see corruption, shysters see other shysters everywhere they look, so it is with liberals and elitists when they look at their fellow average Americans.