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HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
LUKE II. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be laxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David,) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
From the first instant of time until now, every instant has been displaying some new wonder, unfolding some new design of the Eternal mind. God gives the word. Light arises, the earth emerges out of ocean, the firmament is expanded, sun, moon, and stars appear, nature teems with life, man starts up out of the dust, rears his erect form to heaven, shines in his Maker's likeness; the Creator contemplates the progressive glories of his power, and pronounces every thing good. The Lord gives the word, and ocean again covers the earth, Chaos and ancient night resume their empire the breath of every living thing expires. Again he sends forth his word, the windows of heaven are stopped, the seas retire to their appointed bed, the dry land appears, the bow is seen in the cloud, the sign of God's covenant of peace. The period of every event is settled to a moment, the instrument is provided, the hand is prepared. But of all the events which have taken place since the beginning of the world, the most illustrious and important surely is that recorded in the words now read. The moment of every child's birth, is highly interesting, at least to the mother.-The birth of an heir, to a title, to an estate, to a crown, is felt by thousands, by regions, by empires.
Here we have the birth of the “ first among many brethren," of "the heir of all things," of "the Prince of the kings of the earth.” Toward this eventful hour, time, from the first dawn of light, began to flow in one rising, swelling tide, here it came to its fulness, and hence it began to bend its awful course to lose itself in eternity again. Toward this, as to their common central point, all the powers of nature are attracted ; from this, as from the sun, the central light of the universe, glory is in all directions diffused. In the
birth of this wonderful child, all the children of men who lived before, or who arose after it, have a serious, an everlasting concern. Is it any wonder, then, that by so many signs in heaven and signs on earth, that by the tongues of prophets, the decrees of Princes, the revolution of empires, the descent of Angels, the finger of God should have pointed it out to mankind ?
The Evargelist, at the beginning of the chapter, conveys us to Rome, the proud and puissant mistress of the world; the enslaver of the nations, sinking, sunk herself into slavery. From what particular motive we are not informed, nor is it of much importance to dețermine, Augustus Cæsar thought proper to issue a decree for making an exact enrolment of all the subjects of his vast empire. A vainglorious monarch, who could exaltingly call a subjugated hemisphere his own, might be prompted by pride to ascertain the number of slaves destined to obey him. “As it was the boast of this magnificent prince that he had found Rome a city of bricks, and was leaving it a city of marble, the splendour of the capital was no doubt extracted out of the ruins of the provinces, and enrolment probably was intended to precede taxation. However it was, and on whomsoever beside the decree of the emperor fell, it affected one little, poor family in circumstances of singular delicacy, and fell upon it with uncommon severity. Behold the messenger of Cæsar at the door of an obscure carpenter at Nazareth of Galilee, summoning him with all his family to repair to his native city, to be enrolled in their proper district : and as the commandments of kings require haste, and do not always stoop to consult the feelings of the humble and the miserable, he must depart on a moment's warning, with his tender companion, now in the last week of pregnancy, poor and unprovided, to a home from which he had been long exiled, and to visit kinsmen to whom he had become a stranger.
But this removal was wholly ordered by the supreme will of Heaven. The Son of David, who was to reestablish his throne, could be born no where but in Bethlehem the city of David. Thus the great Ruler of the world had willed, and thus prophecy had declared. And thus Cæsar was merely the unconscious, unintentional minister of the Son of Mary; furnishing a link to the chain of evidence respecting the truth and divine original of Christianity, and exhibiting an illustrious instance of the sovereign control which the great Jehovah possesses and exercises over the counsels of princes, the convulsion of nations, the fate of worlds.
We hasten from proud Rome to humble Nazareth, from a haughty despot to uncomplaining sufferers, from unfeeling power to patient submission. Behold that delicate woman, in the most delicate and interesting of all female situations, forced from home, constrained to undertake a painful and anxious journey in a condition which rendered ease, and attention, and tenderness, and the accommodations of sympathy, peculiarly desirable. See her advancing by slow and distressing stages towards the residence of her forefathers, onee illustrious, but now fallen into decay; to the city of her ancestors, but not to receive the attendance of royal state, not to usher into the world the heir of David's throne, amidst the prayers, and expectations, and kind wishes of the myriads of Israel : no, not so much as to enjoy the consolation and support which even the poor enjoy in such a case, to deposit the solicitude of approaching child-birth in the bosom of a fond mother, or sympathizing friend; alas, not even to partake of the ordinary conveniences which a traveller has reason to expect, the general hospitality, and mercenary comforts of an inn: -but to know the heart of a stranger, to swallow down the bitterness of neglect, to feel the insult of the proud, and the merciless pity of the mean. " There was no room for them in the inn." Bethlehem was crouded with guests, but lo, the lineal heirs of the royai house of Judah, in the city of David, are so unconnected, so forlorn, so friendless, that not a door will open to
let them in, not a tongue say “God relieve you” as they pass by; and so poor that an apartment in the stable is all the accommodation which, by intreaty, or promise, or by presenting the face of misery, they are able to purchase.
The inevitable hour, to which nature at once looks with hope and shrinks from with horror, overtakes her; and unsupported, unassisted, as it should seem, she brings forth her first-born son ; and is able at once to perform the earliest duties of a mother, “ she wrapped him in swaddling clothes,” and with the humility and resignation becoming her destitute condition, “ laid him in the manger," leaving it to Providence to unveil its own secret counsels and accomplish its own gracious purposes. And thus the Saviour of the world
entered upon that state of depression, poverty and suffering, which terminated i only with his life.
But the affectingly humiliating scene in the stable at Bethlehem of Judah is relieved by the glory of the Lord shining round about it. That Babe nego lected, unknown, despised, outcast of men, is declared, by the concurring testimony of patriarchs and prophets, of angels and men, by the shaking of the heavens and the earth, of the sea and the dry land, to be “the Son of the Highest.” His parentage, his name, the time and place of his birth, the condition of his infant hours have all the seal of heaven upon them. For what end did Isaiah prophecy, Alexander conquer, and Augustus give laws, but to point out to the world the instant, the spot, the descent, the estate in which the Son of God assumed our nature, in order to enter on the work of our redemption.
Preparation is making in another quarter of the globe, to bring a tribute of praise to the Redeemer of mankind. The East is ready to contribute its gifts, is preparing its gold and frankincense and myrrh to lay them at his feet. The wise men of distant nations, occupied in the study of nature, and attentive to the signs of the times, are awaked to inquiry by a silent but shining monitor. The appearance of the starry heavens was well known to them, they can calculate the distances and revolutions of each little star that sparkles in the expanse of heaven ; but in a moment all their science is confounded, all their experience is overthrown, by the appearance of a new created light, in motion and at rest by a law peculiar to itself, to fulfil a transitory indeed, but a most important purpose, and which having pointed to "the place where the young child lay,” is blotted out of nature, and disappears for ever.
Now none of “these things were done in a corner. ." Christianity did not steal in upon the world, without warning ; all characters and descriptions of men were called in to give testimony to it, and without acquaintance, concurrence, or cooperation they establish the same truth. The eastern Magi on their arrival at Jerusalem, and on explaining the reason of their journey thither, are not treated as visionaries, who dreamed of things that never existed, but are listened to and respected as reasonable men inquiring after important truth. The attention of Herod, and of all Jerusalem with him, is roused; that jealous and sanguinary tyrant, takes every precaution, sets on foot every inquiry that his reigning passions could suggest, to elucidate the case ; to secure possession to himself, and to crush every rival. He summons the chief priests and scribes of the people, consults them respecting the determinations of prophecy, as to the birth place of the expected King of the Jews, he compares their opinion with the report of the wise men, and acts npon the result of that comparison. A coincidence of persons and circumstances so striking, and all relating to one person and one point, must lead to the acknowledgement and adoration of that God, in whose hand are the hearts of princes, the deliberations of councils, the number and motions of all the bost of heaven. " He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all
by their names; great is our Lord and of great power ; his understanding is infinite." Augustus Cæsar, Herod, the Magi, the Jewish Sanhedrim, the inhabitants of Bethlehem, of Jerusalem, all concur to give witness to yonder babe laid in a manger, and they involuntarily assist in demonstrating the certainty of those things wherein ye have been instructed : that ye might have strong consolation in having fled for refuge to the hope set before you.
But higher testimony still than that of the potentates of the earth is given to the Lord of glory. Angels descend with songs to meet him at his coming : the gloom of night is dispelled by celestial radiance ; silence, well-pleased, hears the sweet melody of angelic notes chanting the glad tidings of great joy, “ unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” The harmony of a thousand heavenly voices in chorus join to celebrate the advent of the Prince of Peace; to announce to a slumbering world Him in whose light they shine, by whose power they are supported, in whose praise they unite, to whose will they are devoted. What a wonderful contrast! A deserted, friendless mother, a helpless infant, a stable, a manger! What humiliation like this humiliation! A throne above the heavens, the homage of princes, the effulgence of a star to mark the way to his cradle, the adoration of the glorious host of heaven, the arm of the Lord revealed! What design but the salvation of a lost world, what event but the birth of a Saviour, what person but the Son of God, could warrant all this display of majesty and might? Christian, keep these astonishing extremes continually in sight. This is bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh; “ as children are partakers of flesh and blood he likewise himself also took part of the same ; verily, he took not on him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham. In all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest, in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people ; for in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted." The subject teaches us,
1. How incompetent judges we are of the ways and works of God. Few events if any, correspond to our preconceived opinions of them. From the glimmering that we have, without any light at all save the sparks of our own kindling, we take upon us to arrange and decide, and to limit the holy one of Israel. Like Naaman the Syrian, we have settled the mode of cure in our own mind, dressed it in proper parade and ceremony, and fall out with the prophet because the simplicity of the process confounds the airy vision with which our imagination had amused itself. Not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God, the carnal Jews had dressed out, for Messiah the prince, a throne like Solomon's, of ivory overlaid with gold, had placed bim at the head of armies, had surrounded him with guards, had crowned him with laurels. When the event belied their groundless expectations, with Naaman they turned away in a rage, saying, “ Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel ?" “ Away with this man, crucify him, not this man but Barabbas."
2. Observe here in how many instances God writeth vanity on all the glory of man.
In the pride of their hearts, the princes and potentates here mentioned, vainly imagined a prostrate world to be all their own. Every will must bend to theirs; to their pleasure every power and possession must minister; all the while they are the mere attendants on the royal state of the real Prince. Their names are indeed some of them still had in remembrance but their power is annihilated, their consequence is swallowed up, or if any remain, it is derived from the relation which it bears to the superiour, the commanding, the undiminished importance of Him to whom they gave witness, and whose state, in spite of themselves, they continue to support. The
empire of Augustus speedily fell under its own weight, and the downfal of Rome quickly followed that of Jerusalem, and both approved the truth, and power, and justice of God: while that child born, that Saviour given, holds undivided empire, and exercises unbounded sway. Eighteen centuries have confirmed, not shaken his authority, and time has discovered another hemisphere, far more extensive than the former, and added it to his dominion. Let us again sing, “ His name shall endure forever. His name shall be continued as long as the sun : and men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only, doth wondrous things; and blessed be his glorious name forever, and let the whole earth be filled with his glory.” Amen and Amen.
Augustus, in the pride of his heart, and an abject world in flattery to him, prefixed his name to the age in which he lived and let this piece of vanity have its scope. With the classical, philosophic, scholar, let the Augustan age boast of a Cicero, a Virgil, a Livy, a Mæcenas; the humble christian will rather glory in its having produced light from heaven, which eclipsed all human eloquence and wisdom in their highest splendour, and, resigning to the schools their favourite historians, orators and poets, will rejoice in revolving in their place the hallowed page of Luke, the beloved physician, and in listening to the fervid, native, inartificial eloquence of Paul of Tarsus, and above all, in attending to the dignified wisdom which flowed from the lips of Him who “ spake as never man spake.”
3. Finally, this wonderful child born teaches us the value and importance of little children. What human sagacity could penetrate the thick cloud which shrouded his nativity? What but the spirit of prophecy could draw aside the veil which concealed his future eminence ? Who but a Simeon could discern in him the salvation of God, and foretel that “this child was set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel ; and for a sign which should be spoken against ?” And who but He who“ declareth the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure ;" who but He knows what the infant, now drawing its first breath, is one day to become? What dormant powers may there lie bid! What a germ of wisdom ready to expand! What godlike faculties, which are at length to astonish, to delight, to bless mankind! Watch over the expansion. The precious seed is sown by the hand of the Creator. Mark its springing; mark its progress. God has done his part, parent, master, minister, see that thou dost thine. not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.”
The next Lecture will have for its subject the history of the infancy and childhood of Jesus Christ. May he who condescended to become a little child for our sakes ; who, as He " went about doing good," encouraged the approach of little children, saying, "suffer them and forbid them not to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of God :" may he bless us with the spirit of adoption, and endow us with the lovely simplicity, the docility, the submissiveness of little children, that we may enter into the kingdom of heaven. Amen.
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