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النشر الإلكتروني

132

IRRELIGION OF SOCIETY.

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There is as real, and certain, and determined a combination among men, to exclude God and his law from any actual control over human hearts, as it the standard of open rebellion was raised, and there were gathered around it all the demonstrations of physical resistance. It is sometimes said that the reason why subjects connected with God and religion are so excluded from conversation in polite circles of society, is the fact, that when such subjects are introduced, they are so often a cloak of hypocrisy and deceit. I know t is so, and this fact constitutes the inost complete and overwhelming evidence of the extent to which this world is alienated from God. Even what little professed regard there is for him here, is two-thirds of it hypocrisy! This is, in fact, what the objection amounts to; and what a story does it tell in regard to the place which God holds in human hearts. No. As men have generally made up their minds to have nothing to do with God, they are determined to hear nothing about him, unless it be in such general terms, and in such formal

ways, as shall not be in danger of making an impression. We may almost wonder how eternal justice can spare this earth from day to day, when we reflect upon what is unquestionably the awful fact, that throughout all those countries where the true God is known, in four cases out of five in which his name is mentioned at all, it is used in oaths and blasphemies.

The world has been full of religions, it is true; but they have been the schemes of designing men, to gain an ascendency over the ignorant, by deceiving and bribing that conscience which God has placed in every heart to testify for him. It has been the studied aim of these religions to evade the obligation of moral law, and the authority of a pure, and holy, and spiritual Deity. They substitute for it empty rites and ceremonies, in order to divert the attention of the sentry which God has stationed in the soul, while all the unholy lusts and passions are left unrestrained. The Pharisees gave a specimen which will answer for all. Unjust and cruel towards men, unfaithful and unbelieving towards God, and habitually violating and trampling under foot the whole spirit of his law, they would go out into their gardens, and carefully take one tenth of every little herb which grew there; and this they would carry with ridiculous solemnity, to the Temple of God, to show their exact observance of his commands! This is an admirable example of the spirit and nature of all false religions. Men will do any thing else but really give themselves up to God. They will go barefooted to Jerusalem, for the sake of being sainted on their return: they will fight under the crescent for plunder or military renown; they will build churches and contribute money to public charities, from a hundred different motives ; but as to coming and really believing all that God has said, and giving up the whole soul to him, entering his service, and looking forward habitually to heaven as their home, they will not do it. It has been proposed to them again and again, in every variety of mode, and they will

The prophets proposed it :-men stoned them. Jesus Christ proposed it:—they crucified him. The apostles and their immediate successors proposed it :-in the course of a very few generations they succeeded in bribing them, by means of worldly rewards and honours, to pervert their message, and leave the world undisturbed in its sing.--ABBOTT.

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THE NATIVITY OF CHRIST.

HION. AND REV. B. W. NOEL, A.M.

ST. JOHN'S CHAPEL, BEDFORD ROW, DECEMBER 23, 1834.

" 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 saiå unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall 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.”—LUKE, ii. 8-13.

Seven hundred and fifty years before our Lord came into this world, was his birth predicted by the Prophet Isaiah, in those remarkable terins which we have heard this day. In that chapter of his prophecy he announced, that God would cause Israel to rejoice, as when men divide the spoil; that he would break the yoke of the oppressor from off the shoulders of his people. And this was to be effected by the coming of the Saviour, whose birth was predicted in these terms: “ For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given : and the gorernment shall be upon his shoulders : and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with justice and with judgment from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” According to this prediction the Saviour was expected to be divine as well as human; that, from the time of his ministry upon earth, he would be seated upon a throne, of which David's was to be a type, the real and spiritual King of his people; and that his government in the hearts and minds of his people, should from that time continually increase, until at length the world should be under his dominion. And as this was beyond what man might expect as the result of any natural circumstances, it must be the accomplishment of almighty power : ". The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

When our Saviour actually came “in the fulness of time," there was much that would seem to contradict those magnificent expectations, which, from some passages of the Old Testament, we might be led to form respecting his appearance upon earth. And yet at the same time, lowly as he was when he came down, he was not destitute of those manifestations of the divine approbation of his own divine glory which might confirm their faith. In fact, the humbler circumstances of our Saviour's ministry, as well as the more remarkable indications of divine power and glory, were predicted in the Old Testament: and the more remarkably, in combination, served to convince of that truth, that Jesus is the promised Saviour.

The passage we are called to contemplate illustrates these circumstances. It shews our Lord's glory when upon earth; and at the same time his lowliness. The first point to which our attention is called, is, the persons to whom his birth was made known : “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." It did not please the Almighty to make the birth of the Saviour thus divinely known to the High Priest, who was the head of the religious ceremonials of his country, by whose influence and authority the prejudices of the Jewish nation might be consulted, and, apparently, numbers brought to believe on him: it did not please him to come in divine splendour, that he might have exchanged his opposition for homage, and have forborne to persecute the Lord's anointed. Nor was it inade known to Cæsar, through whose imperial support numbers in every land might have been brought to acknowledge that this was the promised Saviour. But it was made known to a few lowly and simpleminded men, who were “ keeping watch over their flocks by night;" and who had only power to be simple witnesses of what they saw and heard, and to praise God for the blessings he had bestowed upon his people. This teaches us, that lowly circumstances do not in the least interfere with the divine communications. It is as easy for God Almighty to hold communication with the humblest as with the most exalted. If lowly circumstances are no hindrance to the divine communications, a lowly temper will favour thein. He bids us expect divine communications when in a lowly frame; but to expect that the Lord should pass us by, and refuse those manifestations of his glory, if ever we cherish pride.

The passage also before us, affords us a certain proof that our Lord Jesus Christ is the Messiah ; that he was the promised Saviour, and that we may look for no other. It was not to one person to whom these communications were made, but to several; and they could not all be mistaken in the things which are here predicted. If one might have imagined the vision of angels, it was impossible that several should at the same moment imagine it, if it had not really happened. Still less was it probable that they should imagine, not one vision, but two; that they should suppose first one angel to address them, and then that they saw a multitude of the heavenly host, and heard them praising God. Again, it was still less likely that it could have been imagination, that they should have supposed they distinctly heard words, and those not a few but many, and these words exactly according with the birth of that Saviour: “ Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord." And still less could it be by imagination, that they learned before-hand that such a child was born in the neighbouring country, and that they should find him in a most improbable place-laid in a manger; and that so minute a circumstance should have occurred to the imagination, as that he should be laid in swaddling clothes in that manger. So that it is impossible to refer this narrative to the imagination of these shepherds to whom the angels revealed this truth. If the narrative be true, then did the shepherds in fact see the angelic herald of this great truth. And as this herald declared, that as this child that was that day born was the

Saviour, Christ the Lord; then, if this narrative be true, Jesus is indeed the Christ whom his people were taught to expect.

Again, the narrative must be true, for we find that it was received universally by the early Christian fathers ; that a hundred years after the death of St. John, it was acknowledged by Origen; that it was quoted by Hieronimus, the disciple of Polycarp-Polycarp being the friend of St. John; nay more, it is found in the Syriac version, which is ascribed to the second century, or as some think, more probably, even to the first; it is found in one hundred and thirteen catalogues of the sacred Scriptures, independent almost of each other, and formed early in the history of the Christian Church, and in different parts of the world. And how could all this be possible, unless this Book were written by the author to whom it is ascribed, by Luke, the companion of St. Paul? Under these circumstances, could this narrative possibly be a forgery? If so, it must be forged about the close of the first century: and if so, is it conceivable, that those who were the immediate friends of St. Luke, who was the companion of Paul, should have known nothing of the fact? And if they were totally ignorant of it, would the Christian Church have begun to acknowledge it, when it so suddenly appeared that no one knew from whence it came, and that it was utterly unknown to the primitive Christians ? So that it is inconceivable that this is a forgery.

On the other hand, there is an internal proof, that has been often adverted to -its undesigned coincidence with the other Gospels ; the manifest tokens of honesty, utterly inconsistent with the idea that it was a forgery subsequent to the event. Had it been a forgery, it must have betrayed itself by many inconsistencies, however carefully that forgery might have been composed. But if it indeed be, as it is, correctly ascribed to St. Luke, then must the narrative itself be true: because, if there were no shepherds, who had kept their watch over their focks by night, the inhabitants of Bethlehem must have been acquainted with that fact; and the enemies of Christiarity were numerous and keen enough to have convicted this writer of falsehood. If Joseph and Mary had not come from Nazareth to Bethlehem, their Jewish relations must have known that fact, and would, most unquestionably, have carefully made that known, that these Christians might not palm on the world, that this new sect might not palm on the world, the falsehood of the birth of their alleged Messiah. Again: we read in the seventeenth and eighteenth verses, that those shepherds, when they had seen this vision of angels, “made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” So that all the inhabitants of Bethlehem, and all round about, who are alleged to have heard these facts, if they never had heard them, would unquestionably have joined the priests, in condemning this early fact, and declared that these things were not 80. So that the evidence for this being a narrative written by St. Luke, proves further, that the history which he wrote was itself true, worthy to be received as a narrative of facts, and that this vision was really presented to the shepherds who heard it, and that the message was from God, and that that child, of whom they spoke to the shepherds was indeed the Christ.

Thus our faith rests upon unquestionable testimony; upon facts which we are not allowed, by the historical evidence, for one moment to doubt. And thus, as one particular text, or one particular book, rests upon a chain of evidence like this, so there are a number of independent chains of evidence of the same kind, all tending to give us the fullest conviction of this truth-that these Scriptures are inspired records, and facts that really happened--and that when we are building our faith on this, we are building it upon a rock.

Again, we are called to notice the testimony of the angelic messengers to these shepherds. “ 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.” Although they were making known to the shepherds, the birth of one who was apparently nothing but an humble infant, placed in the humblest circumstances, with nothing outward to attract their regard, yet did this angelic messenger declare, in the first place, that he was a Saviour ; that he was come to deliver his people from their sins; that he was that promised person who · is to be born, mighty to save, able to bear the load of the world's iniquities, ai, to carry unnumbered souls in perfect purity, to perfect bliss, for ever to share his glory. This lowly child was likewise Christ; he was the anointed of God, appointed of God to execute this same work, filled with the Holy Spirit of God to accomplish it; and accepted when his work was done; the Saviour in whom it was the will of the Almighty that all his people should trust. They announced him, besides, as Christ the Lord, one who should rise to reign over the universe. He was, as the just reward of his condescension and his sufferings, to have all hearts and all worlds for his own. And yet, glorious as he was, the angel further announced the lowly circumstances in which they should find him. “ This shall be a sign to you ; a proof that our message is from heaven; a proof that you are not deluded; a proof in which your faith might rest assured, because imagination could never direct you to such an expectation as this: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” He should lie in a manger, in the lowliest circumstances ; "there being no room for him in the inn." He shall be wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying there, a little infant in all his helplessness ; in his own helplessness, and in the lowly condition of the manger, giving a most remarkable proof of the condescension of the Almighty.

Again, we have in this passage the declaration of the joyfulness of this message. When they announced these facts to the shepherds, they announced them under these terms ; “ I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” Had our Saviour come merely as a man, however perfect and endowed with pre-eminent virtues, to set us an example of holy excellence, these had been no glad tidings to the miserable transgressors who could never imitate that virtue, and if they did, could never remove from themselves the curse of God. Those glad tidings would vanish into empty sound :. if the Lord and Saviour is nothing but a man, he is no Saviour to the lost. Nor would these have been glad tidings, if, zhatever his work on earth, he had coine as a divine person, and merely to leave us to work out our own justification before God. If he had not come to make a perfect atonement for our sins, his coming would not have been glad tidings: the means of our improvement might have involved us in deeper guilt, but the absence of the atonement would have left

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