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ttar in the east, and are come to worthip him.—Matt ii. 1, 2.
Is the productions of Jehovah we behold immensity and minuteness; complexness and simplicity; obscurity and luminousness; an effulgence that dazzles and repels, and a softness that composes anil allures. If this be true of the wonders of creation, it equally applies to the work of redemption; and shows us that nature and grace have one and the same Author. If we examine the character and the history of our Lord and Saviour, we shall discern a marvellous union of grandeur and humility; of independence and suhjoction; of indigence and riches. Observe his death. He suffers every kind of indignity; he is scourged, buffeted, spit upon, numbered with transgressors, crucified through weakness. But the sun is enveloped in darkness, the earth shakes, the rocks rend, the graves open, the dead arise: the centurion exclaims, "Surely this man was the Son of God;" the dying thief adores him as the disposer of the heavenly world; and cries, " Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom." See him in the ship. He sleeps—there is his infirmity. He awakes, and rebukes the wind and the sea—there is his omnipotence. Weary with his joumey, he sits at the well of Sychar, and asks for a cup of cold water—but at the same time, proclaims himself the Giver of the water of eternal life.
Nothing could be more expressive of the deepest abasement than the circumstances of his birth. To read the narrative is enough to scandalize all the worshippers of the god of this world. "She brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn." But the period of his birth is called the fulness of time. All heaven is awakened by it One angel of the I/jrd appears to Joseph, and informs him of the dignity of the child. Another flies to the shepherds in the fields, and cries, "Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people." When, lo!" a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." The Spirit of inspiration, after a lapse of ages, rests upon Simeon and Anna; and they prophesy. Some are waiting for the Consolation of Israel, and looking for redemption in Jerusalem; and embrace him with a joy that loosens all the ties of life.
But in him, as the seed of Abraham, "all the families of the earth" were to be blessed. He was to be "a light to lighten the Gentiles," as well as " the glory of his people Israel." And behold a star appearing to persons in a remote clime, and leading strangers in search of the infant Messiah. "Now when
Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaaa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying-. Where is he that is bom King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him?"
Various questions might be asked concerning these wise men, which it is not in our power to answer. We could entertain you, indeed, with the opinions of the learned concerning their profession, the country from which they came, and the star which guided them. But we hasten to make a practical improvement of the subject, only remarking, with as much brevity as possible, two or three things, in explanation ot the passage.
When it is said, "We have seen his star in the east," you are not to suppose that they saw the star shining in an easterly direction, for it appeared to them in the very opposite quarter; and the words mark, not the situation of the object, but of the spectators, when they viewed it
What is called a star could not mean any thing like those heavenly bodies which go under this name; but a luminous meteor in the middle region of the air; near enough to guide them, and at last dropping down so low, as even to signalize the very bouse which contained the child.
It is worthy of notice, that by a similar instrument, God formerly conducted his people through the wilderness. It was by a pillar of fire he led them to the holy hill of Zion.
But how could they infer, from this celestial appearance, that the King of the Jews was born? What relation was there between the sign and the event? All mankind originally had a revelation in the family of Noah, by whom the new world was peopled; and imperfect traces of it were found many ages after in the various nations of the globe. And though this revelation, as secured in writing, was committed to the Jews, it was not confined to them. Copies were occasionally taken away by foreigners, as objects of research, and even of religious information. Thus, we know, the queen of Sheba came to prove Solomon with hard questions, when she heard of his " fame concerning the name of the I/jrd." Also, by the dispersion of the Jews, their scriptures were scattered, and their prophecies as well as miracles were read; so that a general expectation was excited in the east of the birth of some very extraordinary character. It is needless to adduce proof of this; but we may observe, that Balaam, who was himself from the east, had predicted the Messiah under the very image of a star. But as the case before us was confessedly supernatural, why may we not extend the miracle a little further, and suppose, that while the sign engaged their attention God impressed their mmds with a conviction of its relation and design. Could not he do this as easily as he afterwards "warned them in a dream," that they should not return to Herod, but go back into their country by another way?
He was born King of the Jews. This awakened the alarm of Herod—but it was needless; though a king, he was not a temporal prince. In this character the Jews looked for him, and, not finding in him a hero who should deliver them from the Roman yoke, they despised and rejected him. But he had other enemies to conquer, and another empire to gain. "Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou say est that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice."
But let us ofler a few remarks upon this subject; "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness." Christ Is Owned By Some In The
HIGHER ORDERS OF LIFE—They WHO ARE REALLY DESIROUS OF FINDING HIM SHALL NOT ERR FOR WANT OF DIRECTION—We SHOULD DEEM NO DIFFICULTIES TOO GREAT TO ENCOUNTER IN SEEKING AFTER HIM—We ARE TO BE CONCERNED TO HONOUR CHRIST, AS WELL AS TO EE SAVED BY HIM.
I. Christ Is Owned By Some In The' Higher Orders Of Life. "Not many wise men after the. flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty ; and base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that arc." Such are they who have generally constituted the majority of our Lord's followers. His more immediate disciples, when he was on earth, were Galileans, fishermen, publicans, and sinners. This was urged as a reproach by his adversaries: "Have any of the rulers, or of the Pharisees, believed on him?—But this people who knoweth not the law are cursed." And the same matter of oflence has attended his cause in all ages. Had we the disposition of the Son of God, instead of being scandalized at such a dispensation, we should more than acquiesce in it;' we should rejoice in spirit, and say, "I thank thee, O Father, Ixjrd of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them- unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight" But his followers are not taken exclusively from those
of low estate. There liave always been some who have vanquished the difficulties of their station ; and "going forth without the camp," have thrown down their distinctions at the foot of the cross, glad to part with all to pur chase the pearl of great price. Zaccheus was rich. Joseph of Arimathaea was a counsellor. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. We read of a noblrman "who believed, with all his house;" and "of honourable women, not a few." A man who feared God rode in the second chariot of Egypt A prime minister of one hundred and twenty-seven provinces prayed three times a day. Kings have been nursing fathers, and queens nursing mothers. And as to talent, we are able to bring forward on the side of Christianity persons superior in every department of genius and science to its adversaries.
By all of which we do not mean to intimate that the great bring any real honour to the Gospel by embracing it—though they derive honour from it—but we wish to show what the power of Divine grace can accomplish; to rescue from despair the minds of those who are placed among the perils of elevation; and to remove the prejudice so often entertained, that Christianity is only limited to the taste of the vulgar, the illiterate, and the ignorant
II. They Who Are Desirous Of Finding Christ Will Ngt Miss Him For Want Of Direction. "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known; I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight; these things will I do unto them, and not forsake them. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." And is he unable to accomplish what he has promised? In how many ways can we ourselves convey information to a fellow-creature, even when no audible voice is heard! And how limited is human perfection: "To whom," says God, " will ye liken me, or shall I be equal, saith the Holy One? He that planted the ear, shall not he hear? He that formed the eye, shall not he see?" He who made us has access to every power of our souls. He who governs us has all the resources of nature and providence at his command. He who saves us can turn any object or event into an instrument to fulfil the purposes of his grace. Let us leave the poor heathen to Him who could make a star to conduct those who were destitute of a Bible; and who, without the intervention of a preacher, could convey to their minds a knowledge of the use of it; and let us not limit the Holy One of Israel either in his love, his power, or his wisdom. And let us remark, that where common means arc withholden, God often ha» recourse to unusual ones. "Faith cometh by hearing:" yet it is reasonable to hope that he has awakened many who were never blessed with an opportunity of hearing evangelical preaching; he has awakened their consciences to the importance of eternal things, and taken them under his more immediate tuition: and "none teaches like him."
But as for you, my dear hearers, who live in a Christian country, and are privileged with the ordinances of religion, you can never want a star to guide. Your danger lies not on the side of ignorance, but of knowledge— knowledge unprized, neglected, perverted, abused. This is the condemnation—that you have light, but refuse to follow its leadings, and cause the Saviour to complain, " Ye will not come unto me, that yo might have life."
For you have the Scripture, "which is a lamp unto our fbet, and a light unto our path." This is the word of Christ And what part of it is there that does not lead to him? Is it the predictive! "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. To him give all the prophets witness." Is it the ceremonial? The altar, the tabernacle, the temple, the showbread, the sacrifice?, and the incense; all were "shadows of good things to come, of which the body is Christ" Is it the miraculous! Who can help looking towards him from the ark of Noah; the deliverance of the Jews out of Egypt; the manna that fell in the desert; the waters that flowed from the smitten rock?—for "that rock was Christ" Is it the legal? The law, by convincing ns of sin, worketh a sense of wrath, and annihilates all hopes of salvation by our own obedience: "The law," says the Apostle, "was our schoolmaster, to bring us unto Christ" Is it the doctrinal? All the doctrines of the Gospel are derived from his history—from his incarnation, his sufferings, and his glory ; and all lead to him, as streams that flow from a fountain enable us to find it "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us."
You have the ministry of the word. And what does every preacher of the truth but proclaim, with the forerunner, "Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world!" Is he asked by an anxious inquirer, "What must I do to be saved?" He would be a misleader of souls, and chargeable with their ruin, if he gave any other direction than that of Paul and Silas to the jailer; "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ"—" These are the servants of the most high God, which show unto men the way of salvation."
You have the Spirit of promise: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." Though these words had a
peculiar relation to the apostles, they hare a real, and a very encouraging reference to Christians in every age of the world—" who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit: and as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they arc the sons of God." Avail yourselves of all these advantages, and, like these men from the east "then shall ve know, if you follow on to know the Lord.,f This brings us to observe:
III. We Should Deem Ng Difficulties
TOO GREAT TO ENCOUNTER, NO SACRIFICES TOO GREAT TO MAKE, IN SEEKING AFTER ( 'lllilST.
Behold your example. These wise men did not say as they were setting oil', "But will not our neighbours and friends condemn us?" They do not ask, "But what will the learned think of us? Will they not reproach us, as engaged in a visionary enterprise, unworthy of the professors of philosophy?" No. They did not consult the many, or the few, but the star. There is a striking difference between men, individually and socially considered. Alone, they often foci well; conscience has a moment of leisure; truth speaks, and in the absence of lies is heard; and now, convinced and impressed, they resolve to walk before God in newness of life: butall this resolution is ruined as soon as they intermingle with others. To avoid the laugh of one, and the frown of another; the coolness of friendship, or the enmity of power; they swerve from the known path of duty, and "hold the truth in unrighteousness." Public opinion is one of the greatest obstacles the grace of God has to overcome; especially in two cases—With regard to the young, who arc so impressible to flattery and ridicule—And the intellectual, who pride themselves on the reputation of knowledge, and to whom the words of our Saviour may be applied; "How can ye believe who receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?" How many are there who believe on him, but fear to confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue, "for they love fhc praise of men more than the praise of God." I.et us, therefore, like these Magi, choose our guide, not from below, but from above. Let us simply ask. What does God say—what does God require? It is a light thing to be judged of man's jujgment He that judgeth us is the Lord—How shall 1 appear before him?
Again. These men were willing to leave their country, their connexions, their families; and disregarded all the expenses, inconveniences, and dangers of a distant and difficult journey. And you know the decision: "Whosoever he be of you that forsaketfi not all that he hath cannot be my disciple." Some things must be nbsolutely renounced. This is the case with sin of every kind, and every degree.—Bosom lusts must all be sacrificed —the right hand cut off, the right eye pluck ed out Other things must be conditionally parted with. These are our temporal interests. Duty and advantage may lie the same road ; but when a separation is necessary we must show, by our choice, what we deem the one thing needful. Thus Moses "refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season." Thus, between a human and a Divine command, Peter and John said, "We ought to obey God rather than man."
If, however, the Gospel requires us to labour, and strive, and tight, it more than deserves all our exertions. If it demands sacrifices, it more than indemnifies us. "There is no man that hath left house, or parents, or brethren, or wife, or children, for the kingdom of God's sake, who shall not receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." But, alas! what a difference is there between the disposition of these followers of the star, and the conduct of mankind at large—may I not add, of many of you? Though you have no such lengths to go, but the kingdom of God is nigh you; though you know more of the end of the Saviour's coming, and through the vail of his humanity can behold his glory, "the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth;" though you have been invited, and pressed, times without number, to go and partake of the fulness that resides in him— what effect has all this had upon your hearts and lives? What solicitude have you discovered to "win Christ, and be found in him V" Of what importance should we deem salvation were we to judge of it by your concern to obtain it? How many will the wise men of the east rise up in the judgment against and condemn?
IV. We Are To Be Concerned To? Hongur Him, As Well As To Be Saved By Him. The first thought of a sinner when he seeks him is to obtain relief from him in a case wherein all other assistance must fail. He is guilty, and needs forgiveness. He is depraved, and needs renovation. He is all ignorance and weakness, and needs wisdom and strength. He therefore cries, " Lord, save, I perish!" And for this very purpose he is commanded to look to him: "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth." But whenever there is a real work of grace in the heart, there will be a disposition not only to seek him, but to serve him ; and we shall say with the wise men, "We are come to worship him."
What was the worship they rendered him? Some have ascribed to these men a higher degree of knowledge than we have any reason to believe they possessed. It is not to be
supposed that they knew his divinity; but they viewed him as an extraordinary personage; and as they were accustomed to prostrate themselves before a superior, and offer him presents, so when " they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh."
But what worship are you to render him? —You are to render him the homage of the mind. This is done by entertaining the most exalted conceptions of him. And can you think of him too highly, after searching the Scripture, and finding him "fairer than the children of men : the King of kings, and Lord of lords: the Sun of righteousness: the Saviour of the world : the brightness of the Father's glory, and the express image of his person ?"—You are to render him the homage of the heart This is done by giving hun your confidence; and "blessed are all they that put their trust in him." This is done by yielding him your supreme affection; and be it observed—you do not love him at all, unless you love him above all.—You are to render him the homage of the lip. This is done by extolling his excellences, and recommending-him to others. And can your tongue, which is your glory, be ever Bo well employed ?—You are to render him the homage of the life. This is done by obeying his commands; by holding yourselves at his disposal; by submitting to his dispensations; by devoting yourselves to his cause—honouring the Lord with your substance, and, in the true spirit of a moral, or rather Christian martyr, saying—
Are you afraid of rendering him such homage, lest you should incur the charge of idolatry? Behold your authority: "As the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Here is an authority which not
only allows, but demands the honours we pay him.
I hope you are not confounded at the thought of yielding this homage—in the stable, and kneeling—before the manger. The wise men, it is probable, judging from the prodigy of the star, expected to find the new-born king surrounded with magnificence; but his abasement hindered not their adoration. And shall it hinder your ardour? Yea rather, shall it not inflame your love? For what has brought him down; what has placed him here? Compulsion? No:—but compassion—a love "that passeth knowledge." He who was in the form of God, took upon him the form of a servant He made himself of no reputation. You know it, Christians! You know it:—" Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor: that ye through his iwverty might be rich." And is dignity lessened by condescension? Shall his goodness rob him of his glory? So far was Paul from being ashamed of' his humiliation, that he exclaimed, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ" And when does God require all the highest orders of his creatures to adore him? When he has not where to lay his head. "When He
BRINOETH THE FIRSTBEOOTTEN INTO THE
World, //c saith. And let all the angels of God worship him."
And when John heard the voice of many angels round about the throne, and the beasts, and the elders,—and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands,—they cried with a loud voice, saying, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing."
GOD THINKS UPON HIS PEOPLE .
T am poor and needy; yet the Lord thinketh upon me.—Psalm xl. 17.
The life of a Christian is a very chequered scene. If it be said of others, "They have no changes, therefore they fear not God;" he can say, with Job, "changes and war are upon me." However attractive this world may appear to those whose disposition is congenial with it, and who make it their portion, he feels that it is not his rest He is a stranger and a sojourner, as were all his fathers: and there are seasons when he sighs, "Wo is me that I dwell in Meshech, and make my tents in Kedar. Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest"
But let us not view his present condition
on the dark side only. It admits of relief! Under all his disadvantages and trials, he is furnished with everlasting consolation and good hope though grace. Though a soldier, he fights the good fight of faith; and does not go a warfare at his own charges. Though > stranger and a pilgrim, he lias accommodations and refreshments by the way. This is his emblem—a bush burning with fire and not consumed. This is his motto—" We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed."—This is his experience—" I am poor and needy, yet the Lord thinketh upon me." It would be fastidious to refuse the divisions which these words naturally atXoni They contain,
I. A HUMBLE CONDITION.
II. A BLESSED ASSURANCE.
I. A HUMBLE CONDITION. "I am poor
and needy." A man may be in such a state —spiritually—experimentally—comparatively—temporally.
All men are by nature poor and needy, as to their spiritual condition. Sin is very properly considered a fall; and it has reduced us to a low estate. It expelled us from paradise; it stripped us of our original righteousness and strength; it robbed us of the image, the favour, and the presence of God; it left us no worthiness, no hope—nothing but a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation to devour us.—Tllis is what we mean by being poor and needy, spiritually.
But the conviction of our natural state is not easily fixed in the mind; and hence. Jar from acknowledging it many, like the Laodiceans, are saying, "I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and know not that they are wretched and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." But the subjects of divine grace are all acquainted with their condition. The Holy Spirit has convinced them of sin; and bumbled them before God. They now see, that their recovery cannot spring from any goodness or power of their own; they are convinced, that if ever they are saved, it must be by another, in whom, at once, they can find wisdom and righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Hence they become beggars a' the door of mercy, and are willing to live on alms; feeling their dependence, and thankful for their supplies.—This conviction, though self-abasing, is necessary and profitable. Till we apprehend our danger, we shall not inquire after a refuge; till we are sensible of our disease, we shall not prize the physician, or submit to the remedy; till we know that we are guilty and helpless, we shall never cry with the publican, "God be merciful to me a sinner;" or with Peter, "Lord, save; I perish."—But "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their's is the kingdom