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HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
LUKE II. 40.
And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon
Of all the wonders presented to us in the world of nature, man is the greatest wonder to himself. His body dust of the ground, and mouldering back to dust ; reduced to the level of the beasts of the field; but that dust animated with the breath of life, a living soul, exalted to the rank of angels, an emanation from God himself. In him are blended, in a most wonderful manner, three distinct kinds of life, forming one glorious individual formed " after the image of Him who created him." As the tree in the forest imperceptibly rises, increases from lowness and feebleness to stateliness and strength, and having attained full maturity imperceptibly decays, so the feeble infant gradually increases in stature, changes the grovelling into the erect form, rears his head to the vault of heaven, exulting in the greatness of his strength; he begins to verge towards decay, he bends to the ground from whence he was taken, and at length sinks into it again. But he is not like the plant rivetted to one spot, unconscious of existence, incapable of self-motion. With the other animals around him, he feels himself among his fellows, he rejoices in society, he possesses consciousness, he is directed by motives, he aims at a determinate end. But he is not, like the beasts that perish, impelled by instinct merely, the slave of appetite and sense. To the animal, the goodness of the Creator has superadded the rational life, the faculty of contemplating that great universe of which he constitutes a part so essential, the capacity of rising from the effect to the cause, from the work to the Author : Man enjoys the gift of speech, whereby he is rendered capable of communicating his reflections and reasonings, of forming combinations of power which awe, control, and direct the subject world.
To mark the progress of a human being is an interesting and delightful employment-to observe how the limbs acquire firmness and strength, how the mental powers unfold themselves, and all the passions of the man, in succession, stand confessed. See the fond mother bending with delight over her infant, at first a little pliant lump of animated clay, every power lying dormant save one, that of drawing its nourishment from her breast. By and by the eye begins to feel and follow the light, the slender neck strengthens and sustains the reclining head; the babe smiles, and the parent's heart is overwhelmed with joy. Now he can distinguish the face of her that suckles him from that of a stranger, at least she flatters herself he can, while the soft murmur of infantine satisfaction expresses his gratitude. The figure by degrees be
comes erect, every limb is in motion, the uncertain tongue attempts to imitate the sounds, which strike the opening ear, and the feet press downward to the supporting earth ; tremblingly he totters into walking, and stammers into speech. The powers of recollection and comparing appear, the symptoms of passion become visible, love and aversion, desire and gratitude. The moral sense at length begins to dawn, and the man in miniature finds himself a limited, dependent, subject, accountable being; hence hope and fear, self-complacency and remorse.
We are this evening to contemplate infancy and childhood in their loveliest " and most attractive form, and in their most interesting and 'affecting circumstances. Look yet again to Bethlehem of Judea, and behold the nothingness of human greatness ; the offspring of kings a stranger in his paternal city, the heir of David without a place where to lay his head, a Sovereign destitute of all things.
When God, at the fulness of time, sent forth his own Son, as he was made of a woman, so was he “made under the law," subjected to all its rites and restraints however painful and humiliating, and the Saviour of mankind, that he might fulfil all righteousness, and become a perfect pattern of obedience, first passively submitted to every ordinance of religion, and then by an active and exact conformity, magnified the law and made it honourable.
The minuter circumstances of this period of our blessed Lord's life are not left on record ; those excepted which relate to his public character and divine mission, for as to these Scripture is most exact and particular. Of the progress of his infant mind no traces remain; not a word is said even of the beauty of his person; though the general terms which the Evangelists employ warrant ús in thinking, that never in child born of a woman did such early dawnings of superiour wisdom appear, that never was human form so perfect. The modest reserve of the historians of Jesus Christ, in this respect, seems to minister a severe reproof of the ridiculous details to be found, in modern biography, of infantine actions and sayings, the supposed prognostics of future eminence and distinction. We can forgive a fond mother, nay love her the more for the amiable weakness, when we hear her repeat the pretty sayings, interpret the significant looks, and describe the wonderful deeds of her Boul's darling ; but it excites pity, if not an ungentler feeling, to be told gravely, from the press, of the insipid nothings which a great man said and did, when he was an ignorant and silly, perhaps a pert and petulant boy, who probably merited correction where he obtained praise.
Of our divine Master we are told what was done to him, not what he did; what was said by others concerning him, not what he said concerning either himself or others. And thus was he early an instructer of parents to abstain from partial and excessive admiration of their children ; and to little children to cultivate that modesty, docility, and huinbleness of mind, which are the real ornament and honour of their tender age. Behold in him then, parents, children, a helpless infant at the disposal of others. It is of importance to the world to know that, at the appointed period, the terms of the Abrahamic covenant were complied with ; that the name of Jesus was given him, according to the direction of the angel ; that as the first-born of his mother, being sacred to God, he was solemnly presented the Lord in the temple at Jerusalem; for these things admonish us of the divine truth and faithfulness in keeping covenant and promise with his people, and of the right which he has to expect, and require faithfulness and obedience on their part; of the character and offices annexed to that sacred, precious and venerable name, and of the self-dedication which not the first-born only, but even all owe unto God. On the eighth day, then, he was circumcised, and named, according Vol. VII.
to the commandment, and on the fortietb day he was presented with the accustomed offering in the temple.
Providence lays hold of this latter occasion to procure a noble testimony to the high rank and character of the Son of God. The spirit of prophecy had lately revived, and many in Jerusalem were " waiting for the consolation of Israel," and considered it as near at hand. Of this number was a just and devout man named Simeon, to whom it was communicated by a special revelation, that, old as he was, his eyes should not be closed in death, till he bad seen the Lord's Christ. Heaven-directed he goes up to the temple, probably to entreat the speedy accomplishment of this gracious promise, at the very instant when the ceremony of the law was performing, and the spirit that was upon him instantly points to Jesus as the fulfilling of the word in which God had caused him to hope. Filled with holy joy he takes the expected child into his arms, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, blesses God, saying, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word : for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel." He then points him out to the bystanders as the person spoken of by ancient prophecy, “who should be set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign which should be spoken against;" a prediction descriptive of the reception the Messiah should meet with from that world which he came to redeem. The same important truth is immediately confirmed by an ancient prophetess, who, coming in the instant Simeon had done speaking, gave public thanks likewise unto the Lord, and “ spake of bim to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem."
Thus He, whose birthplace was determined many ages before, by prophetic illumination, whose natal hour was announced by one angel, and celebrated by a multitude of the heavenly host; to whose feet a company of shepherds is led, with their simple offering, by a voice from heaven, and to whom eastern sages are conducted by an extraordinary star, is in the most public place of resort in the Jewish metropolis, declared aloud, a few weeks after his birth, at a public religious service, by testimony on testimony, the accomplishment of God's great purpose of mercy to mankind.
While so many illustrious personages were producing their concurring evidence to the truth as it is in Jesus, exalting him to endless honours and universal dominion, one is cruelly plotting his destruction. Agitated by jealousy as groundless, as it was barbarously pursued, Herod determines to crush at once this pretender to a throne, whom so many signal and splendid appearançes in heaven and earth were striving to display in superiour glory. To make sure of his blow, his dark remorseless mind enlarges the circle of suspicion froin a few days to two years, and from a single feared, hated individual, to all the male children of a great city. Humanity sickens at the thought of the dreadful tragedy of that day, when “ in Rama a voice was heard, lamentation and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not." By aiming at too much, the tyrant misses his aim altogether. The vigour of his pursuit exerted in one direction, confined to one object, might have overtaken it; but extending the sphere, dividing the pursuit, “ the captive of the inighty is taken away, and the prey of the terrible is delivered, for thus saith the Lord, I will contend with him that contendeth with thee." And how was this deliverance effected ? Providence employs not extraordinary means, to fulfil its designs, wantonly and unnecessarily, but makes ordinary instruments to produce mighty events. The bloody intention of Herod is hardly conceived in the gloomy hell of his own breast, than it is seen of that eye which nothing can escape, and no sooner is it seen than prevented. In a dream, in a vision of the night, when
deep sleep falleth on men Joseph is admonished of the danger which threatened the child's life, and warned to shun it, by fleeing into Egypt. Thus at every stage of his life was the Saviour of mankind hated and persecuted of men; thus the all-wise Ruler of the Universe knows how to deliver, and finds a way to escape ; thus He" confounds the wisdom of the wise, and brings to Aought the understanding of the prudent.''
By a strange, perhaps unaccountable direction of the supreme will, the land of Egypt frequently serves as an asylum to persecuted goodness, protects and cherishes the precious seed of the church. Thither Abraham flees from the pressure of famine, and is thence dismissed with riches and honour. Here Joseph finds refuge from the malice of jealous and cruel brothers; from hence Jacob and his starving family are repeatedly fed. Here sprung up Moses, in times of extreme danger and distress ; here he was miraculously preserved, and reared to unexampled eminence and usefulness. Here Israel miraculously increases into a great nation, and from hence triumphantly departs; and here, finally, He whom all the rest prefigured, and in whoin their several glory united as in their centre, sought and found protection fron the rage of án incensed king. This too was ordered of Him who seeth the end from the beginning. He went down into Egypt that in his return the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, “out of Egypt have I called my Son.” Surely, O Lord, the wrath of man shall praise thee, and the remainder of wrath thou "shalt restrain."
A vail is drawn over the sojourn in Egypt, and it were presumption to attempt to draw it aside : neither is it possible exactly to ascertain its duration. The infamous Herod meanwhile paid the debt of Nature, leaving behind him a name loaded with the execrations of the age in which he lived, and with the detestation of every future generation to which the history of his enormities shall descend. His death was the signal of return to the land of Israel; but prudence suggested the retirement of the poor and despised town of Nazareth, as a residence more suitable to the circumstances of the times than the noise and hurry of a metropolis, the seat of faction and intrigue, or the suspiciously observed city of David, to which the jealous eyes of successive tyrants had been attracted by well known prophecies and by recent portents.
As the place of Christ's birth, so that of his up-bringing was prophetically marked, not indeed by any particular text that appears in the sacred code, but by its whole spirit and tenor, which represent him as voluntarily submitting to every species of reproach and indignity ; the carpenter's son, a Galilean, a Nazarene, can any good come out of Nazareth! It was in this obscure village, of a region of a conquered country, proverbially contemptible, that the childhood of Christ passed unseen, unnoticed of the great world; but carefully observed of an attentive mother, who, to the tender solicitudes of that relation, was inspired with hopes, and animated with prospects, and torn with anxieties which no mother before or since ever could know; there this wonderful "child grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom,” exhibiting unequivocal signs of a superiour nature, without courting the public notice, or attracting premature homage ; and thus humility, from the beginning and throughout, marked the character of the condescending friend of mankind, who became of no reputation, sought not glory of man, took on him the form of a servant; he “ strives not, nor cries, neither doth he lift up his voice in the streets;" and from the return out of Egypt, which was probably not beyond his second year, up to the twelfth, history is entirely silent as to the particulars—but O how much is conveyed in the strong general terms employed by inspiration, to impress on our hearts the discovery and progress of Mese vailed ten years. May not the history of them be one of the precious
arcana which " the Father hath kept in his own power," and reserved for the information, wonder and joy of an improved state of existence, when things hard to be understood shall be fully explained ; and things known in part shall be unfolded in all their connections and dependencies; and infinite intelligence shall supply all the deficiencies of human understanding.
It was in that fameless village, and in those trackless years that the foundation was laid of a greatness which should eclipse all created glory ; of a kingdom that should swallow up every other; of an enterprize which should extend its influence to the remotest ages of eternity
The next Lecture will, if God permit, take up the next recorded period of our Saviour's history, his assuming for a moment a public character at the age of twelve years, and his sliding away from it again into silence and retirement, till his thirtieth year, the time of his final manifestation unto Israel, as the great “ Prophet that should come into the world."
Shall I degrade my subject, by saying it suggests to parents many useful hints respecting the early treatment of their children? Be as tender and attentive as you will ; listen to the voice of nature and learn your duty ; but dream not of making a stranger bend the knee to your idol, perhaps he has an idol of his own, weak, silly and ridiculous as yours ; perhaps he sees nothing but impertinence and imperfection, where you behold only grace and loveliness, and the more you force your Dagon upon his attention, the more hideousness and deformity he will discover in it. Be not eager to bring forward the accomplishments of your child. If they are worthy of being seen, your reserve and the child's modesty will give a glow to the colouring which will strike every eye, and please every heart. If they be trivial, why will you force a good-natured looker-on, to flatter your vanity at the expense of his own judgement; or provoke a stern and severe one, to approve his sincerity and truth at the expense of your feeling and of your idol's fancied importance ? In private let the person most dear to you, be most dear to you ; in society, the darling object, the first in consideration and affection, ought to be the last in respect of attention.
Be not over anxious about an early crop from your offspring. You may have the fruit, it is true, by means of vehement cultivation, a little earlier in the season, but it savours of the artificial heat that hurried it forward ; the tree is wasted and fades before the time; and at the proper season, when nature is clothing the vigorous plant with its golden harvest, the languid child nf art stands lifeless and leafless, expiring before its time. There is always danger from a premature spring, though it be in the course of nature. Happy is the man who can hit the temperate mean betwixt indecent haste and indolent delay. I would address a few words, to the same effect, to advanced childhood and early youth. But childhood and youth are not disposed to attend serious Lectures, or do not understand, or disbelieve, and therefore do not attend to them. They must be left to the forcible, the irresistible lessons of experience. I earnestly recommend them to the teaching of God's good spirit. May the Son of God, who vouchsafed for our sake to pass through infancy and childhood poor, neglected, unknown, guard our helpless infants, direct our thoughtless, wayward children, counsel and instruct manly, matured reason, and smile with complacency on the hoary head, and make it a crown of righteousnese. And to God in Christ be ascribed immortal praise. Amen.