The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,Chapter 3
The Culture of the Young—The Reason of Christ's Sovereignty—Flattering Christ—Christ Himself Is With Men
Almighty God, we bless thee for psalm and gospel; we thank thee that the olden men were enabled to speak their heart's life in holy psalm. Though they saw not the King, yet did they speak tunefully of him: it was in no mean praise they forecasted the coming One. Thou didst give them music, music of heart and voice—lo, in that music they all but realized the ineffable joy of the divine presence upon the earth. It is thus thou dost ever treat us: thou dost give us means of utterance which are themselves sacred, and in the very utterance of our prayer thou dost give us sweet answers. We bless thee that we have read the word of the gospel, spoken in no poetry of expression, but in the poetry of fact, for we have seen Jesus, and his star, we have been present at the offering of the first worship to the child—may that worship be the keynote of our life, expressing always our uppermost desire: may it be our joy to be found serving no other master, and loyally bending before no other king. We will have this Man to reign over us by thy grace, yea, though we once rejected his dominion, yet now would we contritely and humbly welcome him. We would live in Christ, for Christ would we live, we would be found in him as the branch is found in the vine, drawing our life and its daily sustenance from him who is the one root. Seeing that this is our desire and that it has risen into a prayer, we accept the prayer as the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, and knowing it to be inspired, we are already assured of thine infinitely gracious answer. We would no longer live in ourselves and to ourselves. We would enter into fellowship with Christ in every pang of his suffering and in every ecstacy of his joy. Let this our prayer be answered to-day, and we shall rejoice with exceeding great joy, yea our satisfaction and gladness shall be full.
For all the mercies of another week we bless thee. Thou hast given us a staff to help us along every difficult road, thou hast set lights above us in the time of darkness, in the hour of solitude; thou hast spread companionships for our souls, yea all thine angels have ministered unto us, and because of their society we have not the pain or the temptation of loneliness; thou hast given us food convenient for us; thou hast not neglected us in any point or in any degree whatsoever, thy ministry towards us has been one of overflowing love, we are to-day the living, the living to praise thee with new and richer song for all thy kindness, for thy patience, thy tender mercy. Evermore fill us with a sense of thy presence, let a consciousness of thy nearness destroy all fear of man, let it expel from our heart everything that is of the earth, earthy, and fill us with high desire to enlarge our capacity and to discharge with a more ardent zeal all the obligations of this life.
We mourn our sin: it makes our tongue black to mention our iniquities, and our lips quiver under the infinite distress of their burden. We know not where to begin, and beginning, we should never end, for our breath is tainted with corruption, our every thought is borne downward to the dust, our prayers are mingled with earthliness: we cannot escape this bondage except by thy grace, thou loving one, who didst die for us and rise again, to lead us to the noblest conquests. Let thy grace abound over our sin, we now penitently and humbly entreat thee; let the cross of Christ rear itself above all our iniquity, and have written above all the superscription of Pilate the great welcome of thy love, and the gracious assurance of thy pardon.
Enable us to live our few days in peace and quietness, in zeal for all godliness, in diligent and honest service in thy kingdom. Seeing that our days are few, and that they are flying whilst we mourn over their brevity, we may gird up our loins and be instant in season and out of season, doing thy will with lowly patience and with confident trust.
According to our individual necessities, let thy gospel come to us this day. Thou knowest the prayers we cannot utter, thou understandest the thoughts for which there is no language. We ask thee now to come into our heart, to see our need exactly as it is, and to supply our want out of thy great grace.
In our prayer we would remember our loved ones who are not with us, the children too young to come, the sick and the weary, shut up, in pain, desiring release from the torment of a life that has been a long disappointment, yet willing to fall into thine hand and know no will but thine. The poor, the desolate, the feeble, the infirm, the friendless—the Lord's blessing be upon them all, giving them warmth of heart and such renewal of hope as can find its satisfaction in Christ only. Be with those also who are separated from us by long distance: the Lord's merciful messages go out towards them, Sabbatic gospels and benedictions—reminding them of this service, filling their souls with all gladness. The Lord's blessing be round about the whole globe like a living light; omit none from thy benediction; let the rudest, poorest, vilest, feel that the heavens are filled with the Father, and that the earth is his footstool.
Let thy word be amongst us to-day, a sweet message, a wind from heaven, a fire from above the fountains of the sun, a great joy, an ineffable rapture; yea, may it be all things beautiful, tender, and ennobling to our waiting souls. Amen.
1. Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem (six Roman miles south-west of Jerusalem) of Judea (so called to distinguish it from another Bethlehem in Galilee), in the days of Herod the King (the father of Herod Antipas and the grandfather of Herod Agrippa, before whose son Paul pleaded), behold there came wise men (Magians—Magicians) from the east (the far East, supposed by some to be Persians) to Jerusalem.
2. Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews (not King of the Jews alone, but the king that springs from the Jews), for we have seen his star (an astrological mystery for which there is no modern interpretation) in the east, and are come (more than a four months' journey) to worship (to do homage to) him.
8. When Herod the king had heard these things he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5. And they said unto him, in Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet.
6. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shalt come a governor, that shall rule (literally shall conduct as a shepherd, ποιμαυει) my people Israel.
7. Then Herod, when he had privily (secretly) called the wise men (for royalty must consult wisdom), inquired of them diligently (ascertained exactly) what time (having found out the place by another authority) the star appeared.
8. And he sent them to Bethlehem (from a metropolis to a village—the usual way!) and said, Go and search diligently for the young child, and when ye have found him bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9. And when they had heard (equal to the Latin verb audire, which implies not only hearing but obedience) the king, they departed; and lo, the star which they saw in the east went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10. When they saw the star they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
Here would seem to begin the inquiry about Jesus Christ which has never since ceased to be the supreme question of the religious mind. That inquiry, I take it, is more eager and widespread to-day than ever it was in any period of human history. Still the great subject is—where is Christ, who is Christ, what is Christ? The books that reveal him most profoundly and lovingly to the human mind and heart are books which hold their own to-day amid the fiercest possible literary competition. All this means something. There is in it a deep and all but tragical mystery; an agony of the heart speaks in this inquiry of the lips. The life of man wants something more than it has yet secured; it tries to evade answers that bring with them severe moral obligations, and yet it recurs to those answers as if they were the only profound and vital replies. It is a great mystery, it is even a sharp pain, it is a dense cloud, and out of it there come, in strange and terrible gleamings, lightnings that might affright and destroy the mind that inquires and wonders.
The great inquiry related to that which was essential rather than to that which was accidental. Of course that which was accidental had to come into the inquiry. Certain things had been prophetically written, certain places and times had been specifically indicated, and therefore attention must be directed into those quarters. Still the grave and everlasting inquiry relates to that which is essential and immutable. The word upon which I would lay the strongest emphasis is the word born. Not upon the word young, not upon the word child. "Young "is a term that lives on for a few days, and then melts out of our sight and becomes age whilst yet we admire its tender bloom. "Child" is a beautiful bud that bursts into a full flower whilst we are looking at it. But BORN is a historical word: it is the same always, it indicates the revelation of life, the setting up of new ministries and forces in the universe. To be young is to be a child, is to pass through very transitory stages and attractions; but to be born sets up a fact, immortal as God. We have been born. Our youth has gone like the mist of the morning, our childhood is a hardly remembered sun-spot in our recollection, but our birth hastens to shape itself into a permanent destiny. It is in this light I look upon your dear little children when you bring them to me to be baptized. I do not sneer at babyhood, nor do I say, how can the dear unconscious little infant understand this ordinance of baptism? Life is larger than understanding, life is grander than logic. Are we subjects for the vivisecting instruments of the Aristotles of the ages? Are we not something infinitely and inexpressibly more? When you bring the child, you bring more than childhood, you bring life, and when I throw upon the dear little face the baptismal drops, I throw them not upon a creature six weeks old, but a creature born—a new creation, a beautiful presence in the universe, great enough for God to take an interest in, small enough for us to smile about, precious enough for Christ to die for.
This interest in childhood should teach us a great deal. Childhood in itself is little, but it is a quantity that is always growing. Let old Pharaoh teach us what to do with the children. He said, "These Israelites will be too many for us one day." What, then, did he propose in the view of their over-multiplication? To kill off all the men, or all the women? His was a profounder policy: I would God the Church could seize it and apply it to the current questions of our own economy. He said, "Kill the boys, drown them." Am I appalled by the idiot's philosophy? No; but I am struck by the wisdom that sees in childhood, boyhood, a growing power, and that directs its attention to the early life of nations, for they who begin with the adults begin at the wrong end, and they who begin with the little ones begin at the right point, and may achieve profound and permanent success. Do not sneer at the boys. Do not count them for nothing. They will be your successors, they may now be your scholars. For a time they may grieve you and annoy you, and, by an impertinence that is only for the passing day, they may again and again bring momentary annoyance or distress upon you; but it is a grand thing to have to do with them. Let your gentleness make them great. Show yourself so deeply interested in them, by many an inquiry, as to start in their minds the question whether they be not something greater and grander than they appear to be merely for the passing moment.
Pharaoh and Herod directed their attention to young life. If they could have gotten hold of the young life and turned it in their direction they might have built up very bad sovereignties, but it was one of two things with them, either the boys would overcome them or they must overcome the boys. Let me speak words of strong encouragement and genuine comfort to those of you who are young. You cannot tell what you may be yet. Work with a high aim, be moved to noble and pure ambitions. You will have your broad chance in the world. O may every finger you have, and every faculty, be made keen enough and strong enough to seize the chance and turn it as it were into fine gold.
In reading this text one is struck with the power of one life to rouse a world. Observe who gather around this young child. Wise men from the east, kings, chief priests and scribes of the people, and elsewhere we hear of the interest of shepherds who were keeping their flocks by night. A strange thing for these old Persian astrologers to come four months from their homes to see one who was born—not king of the Persians, then their journey would have admitted an easy explication—but king of the Jews —why should those Oriental star-gazers be interested in Jewish history to this extent? There is more in the question than appears on the surface. This king of the Jews is not king of the Jews only, but he is the king who springs out of the Jews to be the king of all men. He will choose his own name presently. Our fathers called us what they pleased without consulting us: not a man was asked what name he would bear: his name is the finger-mark of a power he can neither understand nor resist, but there comes a time when every man may make himself a name, may by his spirit and his actions build up an appellation which will endure through all eternity. When Jesus Christ comes to speak of himself he will explain this Persian eagerness. He will call himself the Son of Man. He will broaden away from his birthpoint until he covers the whole area of human nature, answering every throbbing pain, anticipating every distressful prayer, and giving answers greater than any questions that ever could be framed.
Herein is the explanation of all kinds of people wanting to know about Jesus Christ. Philosophy calls in to see what he is. Kings pause a moment on their royal processions to ask questions about him, chief priests and scribes of the people betake themselves to literary research and religious investigation that they may be able to answer popular inquiries concerning this unnameable Man. And all kinds of poor people want to know where he is, that they may speak to him a prayer that has come back from every door, a bruised bird that could find no space for its flying. We have read in the seventy-second psalm of the first Solomon, type of a greater, who shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth—why? Heard ye the sweet answer? For he shall deliver the poor and the needy and him that hath no helper. This is not a painted majesty, a gilded dominion, a great comet-like blaze of transient splendour: it is a monarchy built on beneficence. He who makes it his supreme business in life to help the poor and the needy, the woman and the child, the far off and the destitute, the misunderstood and the friendless—nothing can hinder him putting on his head crown upon crown until other kings look petty beside his majesty.
It is thus that Jesus Christ will reign. Not by force of chariots and multitudinousness of horses, not by the grandeur of his earth-state, but by that loving sympathy which understands everybody, by that infinite beneficence that stops not at donations of the hand but gives all the blood of its heart. Hereon ye may build the Christian argument, and naught will be able to overthrow it. They will be able to ask you difficult questions about miracles and mysteries of every kind, they will be able to puzzle you with grammatical inquiries, they may lose you altogether in historical and archæological investigations and references: your heads may become bewildered there—you stand to this grand sovereign fact, let him be king who can do most for men. Here you have the key which explains the in-rushing upon Christ of all the nations and climates of the world.
Yet one cannot but be struck with the different purposes of the inquiry. The Magians said, "We have come to worship him,"—literally to do homage to him. Trust the men who can do homage to anything, out of and greater than themselves. Always set a high price upon reverence. Veneration is the basis of. all noble and tender and beneficent character. I would distrust the man who has proved himself destitute of veneration. It does us good to bend the knee to an object which we suppose to be greater than we are ourselves. We have all seen the poor superstitious creatures, as we deem them, on the continent of Europe, coming into the churches for a moment and bowing and genuflecting after a manner which we could not understand. I never could mock that service. I have thought I have seen upon the peasant's face a tenderer expression, a more glowing solemnity because of that little service in the house of God. There are men who are greater in blasphemy than in reverence, and the world over they never had anything good to say of men, and they never did anything for men worthy of a moment's remembrance. Why have we come into Christ's house this morning? If we have come to worship him, we shall retire from the house larger and better men: the small critical function with which we might have distressed ourselves in passing through the service will be suspended, and in our hearts there will glow a fire of new love. By so much as we have bent the knee lovingly and loyally to the Son of Man have we thrown off the worst part of ourselves, and taken upon us part of that which constitutes his beauty and strength.
Herod's purpose was not to worship him: he said it was to worship—he lied. Can men lie about religious things? Yes. Can men say worship when they mean destroy? They say it every day. Can men be found who will put up a church for Christ and yet not know what they are building? Alas, it is not only possible, it is the saddest fact of our business, that we build temples, and curse the stones as we put them together. We set up ministers, not with songs but sometimes with oaths. There is a possibility of destroying Christ, under the guise of worshipping him, and there is a further possibility of destroying Christ more or less unconsciously, by giving false notions of him, by making him a class-Redeemer, by setting him apart for sectarian uses, by attaching to him badges and labels, scarves, and memorials, that make him belong to one corner only, by narrowing his words down into denominational shibboleths—by a thousand such ways we destroy Christ's influence in the world. Know ye that Christ is a Sun which cannot be touched, and also a light which plays with loving familiarity upon the one-paned cottage of the poor man and upon the stately palaces of royalty and wealth? He is a Sun not to be clipped by your instruments or rearranged by your eager fingers, and he is a light that will bless you, but must never be trifled with.
Then there are other men who do not come to worship Christ, and who certainly do not come to destroy him—who simply come to speculate upon him. They make him an intellectual puzzle. He is the mystery of the day to them, they must say something about him, he is an enigma they cannot afford wholly to ignore, and it is heart-breaking to hear the chaff they pour forth without one grain of wheat in the innumerable bushels. And sadder still to hear the patronage they offer the Son of God. Have you heard how they speak about him? With measured approbation, with a fine critical discrimination as to his properties, and qualities, and place in human history. It makes me sad to hear how they damn him with faint praise. They say he had upon him the inspiration of genius, they allow that he was an excellent character, perhaps a little too amiable now and then. He had wondrous prevision, he saw a great deal more than many of his contemporaries saw. He was a very excellent man in all his purposes; his motives were unquestionably good. If he is not more than that, he is the crowning hypocrisy of history. What I dread amongst you most is not that you will destroy Christ, but that you will patronise him. You who laid the hand upon the fat bullock and said "Good," will put the same paw upon the Son of God and say "Not bad." He will resist such patronage, and denounce it, and decline it, and return it to rest upon those who gave it. It will be a curse that they can never survive.
Jesus Christ is nothing to me if he is not the Saviour of the world. I never heard persons in moments of great agony or distress speak about the inspiration of genius being upon Christ. I have heard them say so when they were doing well: I have heard them speak thus about Christ when they were parenthetically interposing, "No more, thank you," about their fat dinner. But when I have seen them doubled up with great distress, and thrust into dark corners, and carrying burdens that break the back, and shuddering under clouds that may be laden with death darts, I have heard a whimper that would have disgraced a dog. You will know what Jesus Christ is most and best when you are in greatest need of such service as he can render.
You find, too, very different results flowing from these inquiries. Herod was troubled, but the wise men rejoiced with exceeding great joy. This is a summary of to-day's experience. It is one of two things with this Christ in the life. He is either the source of your keenest troubles, or he is the beginning and the end of your supremest joys. The good always trouble the bad. The honest clerk troubles you who are not honest. You hate that young man: he is good to look upon, he is pleasant to speak to, he is most companionable, many an attraction attaches to his method and ways amongst men, but his honesty is a continual judgment upon your dishonesty. If you were to hear that he had dropped down dead, it would only be a hypocrite's sigh that would answer the announcement. It is a law of the universe, if we may judge by its being a law of society, that the bad are always troubled by the good, the generous giver is a daily trouble to the penurious man: he finds motives for his generosity, he attributes his liberality to false inspirations, he wonders he could not be more prudent, careful, and thoughtful: all the while in his heart he hates the man who by contrast throws him into very cold and distant shadow.
On the other hand, no man has given such joy to the world as Jesus Christ has given. He carries all his disciples up to the point of rapture. Such have been the feelings of Christian men that a new language has had to be invented for the expression of their lofty and sacred emotions. Religion, say you, has a cant of its own: it is only a cant to those who have not been fired to the same intensity of zeal, and brought to the same nobility of sacrificial temper. When the Christian man shouts, "Praise the Lord, Amen, Hallelujah," he utters a fool's language to those who have never been in his temper. It is a foreign tongue to them, which they can only answer by foolish mocking. But there are times in the religious experience when only such a word as Hallelujah—Hallelujah—a word not to be explained in smaller terms—expresses the dominant feeling of the excited and grateful soul.
Have you seen Christ's star in the east? That is a sight which we may never behold; but we may see a greater sight than that. We may see himself. It is only the accidental that drops off—such words as young, child, Bethlehem, star—fall away into their proper insignificance, but such words as born, King, Christ, Redeemer, sin, salvation—abide with a most indestructible permanence in human recollection. It will be a happy day when we are more eager to see Christ than we are to see any symbol of Him that could be found, either in the heavens or on the earth. I do not want you, as my fellow-students of this Word, to care about baptism and the Lord's supper, and the Sabbath-day, and the church built with hands—except as these may lead you further into the inner sanctuary where is enthroned Christ himself. If I found men now earnestly searching the heavens with the most scientifically constructed telescopes, that they might find a star resembling what the Persian sages saw, that they, too, might follow its guiding light to some distant Bethlehem, I would say to them, "Christ is not here nor there: he is not to be found in sign or symbol now, except in some low and momentarily convenient sense. He himself is with us: he is to be found in our consciousness, he is to be the answer to our sin, he is to be the satisfaction of our hunger, he is to be the light of our intellectual firmament, he is to be the glory of our spiritual hope."
What, then, is our supreme anxiety to-day? Is it to see the star or to see the Saviour? Is it to make a prophetical calculation of years and months, or to go out of the heart searching for One who is the answer to sin and the balm for its cruel wounding? If you say, "Sirs, I would see Jesus," you will find him in the Holy Scriptures, you will find him in every Christian's experience, in proportion as it is enlarged and true; yea, you will find him in the very question itself, for no man ever asked that question with the sincerity and earnestness of fire, without the answer beginning the moment the question ended.
Chapter 6 Review of the Second Chapter—The Troubled King—the Beneficence of Trials—the Scriptures Always New Prayer
Review of the Second Chapter—The Troubled King—the Beneficence of Trials—the Scriptures Always New
Almighty God, we know thee as a God of Love, and it is to thy pity that we now come with our praises and our prayer. We do not address thy righteousness, for thy purity makes us afraid with a great and painful fear: we come to thy mercy—thou hast been pleased to exercise mercy towards the sinful children of men. Through Jesus Christ our Saviour we know of this mercy; he indeed is the mercy of God in human form, our Priest, our Saviour, our only Intercessor, mighty in all things, but mightiest in the intercession of his love. We would hide ourselves in Jesus Christ; he is our safety, our security; the rock that cannot be broken into by thief or robber, or overwhelmed by fiercest storm. Hide us in thyself, thou Rock of Ages, then shall we be safe for ever from fear of man, and from all other fear.
We have come with a great, broad, loud psalm in our heart, for our joy is great and our thankfulness unutterable in mortal speech. We look back and behold a great light; on either hand we look, and behold a rod and a staff, and if we venture to trespass and look for one moment into the future, there is no trouble there; the clouds will roll away and the broad bright morning will shine upon our life. We wish to trust thee more, our desire is to go out of ourselves, to bid farewell to our own devices and defences, and to cast ourselves upon the wisdom and the protection of our Father in heaven. We have heard wonderful things of thee, we know they are all true, for we ourselves have tested them word by word, and are to-day thy living witnesses, showing forth the abundance of thy goodness and the sureness of thy promises.
Thou hast dried our tears, thou hast recovered us from many a slip; when the enemy has taken us in his strong snares, thou hast broken every one of them and blessed us with renewal of liberty. We have played the fool, and prayed downwards instead of upwards, and our hearts have gone far astray from thee, yet has thy Jove been greater than our sin, thy grace has overflowed our guilt, and by the infinitude of thy mercy and thy love we have been brought back again from far off places, and set once more within the warmth of our Father's house. We bless thee for all thy care. There is nothing too small for thee to look at. Thou governest the heavens and thou blessest little children. Thou lightest the lamps which flame across the universe, and thou dost make the lily beautiful in its quiet place. Thou numberest the hairs of our head, our tears thou dost put in thy bottle, our heart-throbs thou dost count one by one; when the last pulsation comes, our immortality shall begin.
We have come to bless thee: this was our set purpose; our one meaning was to lift up the psalm high as heaven, until it filled thine ear, and made thee glad with our filial love. We now commend ourselves to thy keeping. We would not live one day without thee: we would live and move and have our being in God. We would rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him; we would have no desire that cannot be satisfied by his grace. Our hearts would be as temples of the Holy Ghost, in which the loving One reigns and rules with all the omnipotence of love. The Lord purify us by the blood of sacrifice, the Lord wash us in the holy, sacred stream that flowed from the Saviour's riven side, the Lord give us to know the mystery of pardon and the joy of adoption into his family.
We commend also unto thee all whom we love and for whom we ought to pray. As patriots we remember our country and say, God save the Queen, bless the land, make its harvest abundant and its commerce prosperous, and let all the people sitting at the table of plentifulness remember who spread the banquet, and praise the Lord with a life of love. We remember our sick ones, too, for whom we have prayed many a prayer, and for whom we seem to be unable to do aught that is really effectual for their bodily recovery. We can do more, and we do it now: we pray that thy grace may be greater than their weakness, and that in their hearts there may be a sacred joy, a very rapture and song of triumph, a victory greater than all the distresses which make them weak.
We pray for those from whom we are separated for awhile, for our friends on the great wide sea—the Lord give the winds and the waves charge concerning them. For our loved ones in far away lands, for our sons and daughters in the colonies, for all for whom we ought to pray, of every class and name, the Lord bind us together in the bonds of a true love. Being one in Christ, may our fellowship be complete and lasting.
Let thy word dwell in us richly, let thy gospel come to us this morning as a singing angel, coming with sweet messages from thy heart, and may we listen to every tone and give broad welcome to every word from heaven. Amen.
Review of the Whole Chapter
The second chapter of Matthew is a record of trials. Everybody engaged in the tragedy seems to have been pierced through and through with the same sharp sword. This is the more wonderful, seeing that the object of the chapter is to set up the kingdom of heaven amongst men. One would have supposed that with a purpose so lofty and so beneficent, the career would have been one perfectly clear of all difficulty, broadening like a dawning day, and offering to every one engaged a right hearty welcome, and crowning each toiler with a gentle and loving benediction. If the people engaged in this exciting narrative had been about to do something very bad, we would have followed their punishment with keen interest, and after each infliction of the deserved blow we would have said, "This is merited; no man can do wrong and yet enjoy prosperity." But nothing of the kind is here. With one exception everybody wants to do what is good so far as the kingdom of heaven is concerned, and yet every one engaged in this marvellous development of human history is smitten, pierced, thrown down, banished, or otherwise visited with some heavy and inexplicable penalty. This chapter is a record of trials, and these trials acquire a keener accent and a more painful significance from the fact that they all occur in connection with the establishment of a beneficent kingdom, whose avowed object is the salvation and holiness and infinite blessedness of all who accept its dominion.
There are trials purely personal, for example those of Joseph and Mary. Mary comes into the story by the pressure of an infinite destiny. She does not ask to be an actor in this scene—she is modest; violet-like she seeks the shade, she craves for no renown, she does not ask to be put in the fore-front of any battle or contest. Yet to pains of divers kinds is added the agony of misunderstanding and banishment, suspicion of the foulest kind and abandonment by those who should have loved her most. This, in connection with setting up the Christly kingdom on the earth! Our narrow, short-sighted sympathy says she might have been spared this; an angel might have rolled a white cloud for her to sit upon as upon a throne. Instead of this, behold the severity of her lot, behold what unmerited punishment darkens her little patch of sky and makes her earth barren and desolate, without green thing or root of promise.
And Joseph, a negative character, a man who is in, and yet hardly knows why he is in, the story, sustaining an incidental and relative position to it, wholly secondary, almost yet not altogether needless,—even he is afflicted with great visions and great distresses, startled by unexpected ghosts, aroused from his sleep that he may be told to flee away as if he were an offender against human law and social decency. He must needs be up and flee like a thief in the night-time. And all this, in connection with introducing to the world the only Friend it ever had! These historical recollections would always be interesting to minds who study the unity of the human race, but they are more than interesting, they are religiously suggestive and comforting to those who remember that all these trials are repeated in the life of every honest man and woman to-day.
Then there were trials, imperial as well as personal. Herod was troubled. Not Herod the individual man, but Herod the king. His throne, which had been steady as a rock, began to quake under him, and he said, "What ghost is shaking this firm seat?" He was distracted, his mind was split in two, he was in perplexity, in intellectual vexation—he could not bring the pieces together and shape them into coherence and meaning. He was a shrewd man, a man to whom councillors appealed in the time of their perplexity, a man high in authority, to whom was committed the giving of great decisions; and yet something occurred in his history which brought a great blinding mist over his eyes. He mistook distance, proportion, colour, he could see nothing as it really was; he rubbed his eyes to cleanse them of the mist, but it grew as he rubbed, and he was blinder at the last than at the first. And this, let us constantly remember, in connection with setting up a kingdom of light and peace, righteousness and love.
Instead of the king having the first revelation, and receiving that revelation as the earth receives the bright morning, he seems to have been left out of the count altogether. He stumbles into it, he does not walk lovingly and loyally into this inheritance. The revelation is a ghost, a flash of light, a rattle of thunder, a shaking of the throne, a darkening of the window, an overturning of the hot brain. Herod cannot speak coherently; all other questions have dwindled into commonplace or into trifles since this great inquiry thrust itself on his reluctant but startled mind. Hitherto he has sat on his throne or presided over his court, he has been attentive to every one, and has meted out justice with an even hand, with a balance that could not be tampered with. He has acted in a manner that claimed and secured the confidence of those who were round about him, but a question has arisen in his intellectual thinking which makes all other questions mean and covers them with infinite contempt. Since that question arose and gave direction and colour to his thinking, all the questions that he had hitherto thought to be great have fallen away from their eminence, and he can hardly command patience to consider and balance and decide the trifling inquiries. This again would be an interesting historical fact, if it were only confined to Herod himself, but it broadens into something greater, brightens into something more fascinating, when we remember that this trouble, vexation, or pain is repeated in the case of every king and every country receiving or inquiring about the Son of God.
Surely the trials end here? We must now have come to the end of the blank catalogue. The light will come now. As a faithful expositor of the Word, I must say, not yet can the light come. There were trials personal, as in the case of Joseph and Mary; there were trials imperial, as in the case of Herod the king; I have to add, in pathetic and distressing culmination; that there were trials domestic, as in the massacre of the innocents. "Herod was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem and all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under." It was truly called the massacre of the innocents, it was making the many suffer for the one; it was a picture of the indiscriminate vengeance of excited and uncontrollable human nature. It was the thrust of a blind man who said, "I will strike who comes first, if haply I may strike the offender." Who can calculate the number of little ones slain by that fierce and cruel sword? Who can hear the mourning, lamentation, great weeping and distress? We stand a thousand years and more away from those desolated and depeopled homes; we can take with some comfort a tragedy two thousand years old, but that is to our shame and not to our honour. It is possible to set ourselves back along the historical line, far enough to sympathise with those whose children were given up to that unsparing sword. All this, let me say again, was in connection with the setting up of the kingdom of Jesus Christ upon the earth! A sword through his mother's heart, a shadow across the path of his reputed father, a king smitten by invisible lightning, troubled as with a cloud terrible with the presence of innumerable ghosts, homes made black because of the death of little children. All this was not in our reckoning This never came into our dream. No poet dare have dreamt this poem; it would have damned his reputation. Truth is stranger than fiction, reality is hardly reached by poetry; when it is the highest poetry of all it is the most real, it touches heights which men call insanity.
What then have we, as Christian readers, to say about these trials in their relation to the kingdom of heaven? I have three things to say about them, and the first is that the kingdom of heaven, as represented by Jesus Christ, was not responsible for them. It is a fine matter, is this allotment of responsibility. We are sometimes occasions without being causes. Who is responsible for the pain suffered by that poor man whose limb is being amputated at this moment? Do we say, "Cruel surgeon, why do you inflict such pain on a fellow creature?" We do not hold the surgeon responsible for the agony of the sufferer: he may be the occasion of it, but he inflicts agony that he may save from some greater distress. You must look into causes preceding the ministry of the surgeon; the limb was beginning to putrify—it was momentary agony or death, and the surgeon beneficently advised the infliction of transient pain. When he said, "Cut off the limb," he did not say it loudly or unfeelingly, he spoke the language of sympathy and beneficence. Let us. know that in all our education and uplifting pain is unavoidable, because of the moral condition into which we have brought ourselves. When the father uses the rod upon the criminal child, does he inflict the pain cruelly? He inflicts it beneficently. If he loved less he would strike less, if he were less loving he would be less severe. His very severity is an expression of his pity and yearning love.
It is hard to understand this, it cannot be defended as a mere theory; it is not open to any discussion that could be conducted in words, but it comes up as a great fact in the swelling human heart, that sometimes we are obliged to prove our love by our severity. When the Son of God came into the world there was no room for him: he had to make room for himself, and sometimes when a tree makes room for itself it overthrows old walls and strong buildings—those silent, ever swelling roots thrust out the masonry of man.
This leads me to say, in the second place, that these trials were part of a happy necessity. All education is but another word for pain, trial, trouble, discipline. The education that comes otherwise may disappear as it came. We learn by pain, we advance by strange and often intolerable agonies, we cannot understand why our ignorance should be driven away only by processes that tear and wear the finest sensibilities of the soul. Look back upon your education: oh the headaches, the smartings, the disappointments, the troubles, the evasions; and yet the result of the whole is wisdom. Your will was curbed at every point, your little plans were turned upside down, you were made to know that you must begin at this hour and work till that appointed time, or if not you must suffer the penalty. The tasks we had, the lines to commit to memory, the sharp visitations of the rod, the chidings and reproachings and scoldings and buffetings, the shamings with the uplifted finger of the mocking master, and yet now, somehow, it seems as if all these things worked together, being duly and lovingly controlled, to the formation of a massive and broad character not easy of destruction.
As civilization widens, trials multiply. You could not introduce the locomotive engine into your English civilization without a great massacre of innocents. When the locomotive engine took his breath and gave his first utterance into the startled air, what a slaughter there was all over the country of innocent speculators, innocent investors, innocent people of all kinds. What vested interests went down, what arrangements of stabling and hostelry and hospitality of every kind were knocked on the head. Every grand improvement in civilization means death as well as life, in proportion as a man or an improvement is great. No introduction can be effected into old habits or established upon old lines without great rending and tearing of things long-existent. No preacher could come into London with any dominating power of light and wisdom without having to make room for himself and inflict pain upon many innocent people. He would not be otherwise admitted. He must come by fighting, battling, blood, fury, vehemence, for seven years be suspected and misunderstood, and reproached, and only as the divinity is within him would he create his own space and liberty. His friends would be troubled, driven off into Egypt; all Herods would shake on their thrones, and innocent people of all kinds would be caught in a shower of stones. It is the mystery of civilization; it belongs to the widening course of things; it is true of all departments of life.
The third thing I have to say about these trials is that they imperfectly, yet definitely, represent the greater trials of God in the education and maintenance of his universe. He can do nothing without pain. He is tried every day. He builds a wall around his vineyard and sets up a tower in it; and he comes at the appointed time to gather the grapes that he may crush them into wine for his heart's drinking, and behold the vineyard bringeth forth wild grapes. He nourishes and brings up children: the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but his children do not know, do not consider, take their bread as if it had come from the earth, and not fallen from heaven, drink their unblest water, and sleep an irreligious slumber. He looks on from the heavens with a great face of trouble, more marred than the face of any man. He cannot rule his children without being insulted every day. He cannot propose to add one beam of light to the glory which falls upon them without criticism that amounts to impiety, or without reproaches that add up to the sum total of blasphemy.
Let us not, then, suppose that these are merely historical trials, and that they have no counterpart in the current experience of the day or in the mysteries of the divine government of man. The glory of the New Testament is that it is new. I would not charge myself with boldness if i undertook to show that every line in this New Testament was printed only yesterday, so true is it to human life, so photographic of everything that is immediately round about us, so ardent with the warmth of our own life, so throbbing with all that is quick in our own pulsations. Hast thou read the New Testament as an old book, say sixteen or eighteen hundred years old? I do not wonder that thou hast stumbled in many places and been caught in many a thicket, and in trying to disentangle thyself hast come to great difficulty and distress. I read the New Testament as just written, just put into my hands, printed afresh with the ink of heaven every morning, and sent down for the day's guidance. It is the part of the Christian preacher to freshen old histories, to throw upon them the dew of the morning, and make them sparkle with immediate light.
What is true of these trials, so far as the establishment of the kingdom of Christ upon the broad earth is concerned, is painfully and often insufferably true of the setting up of the kingdom of heaven in the individual heart. It is not easy to go over from Baal to Jehovah. Some of us are now only on the road, with the journey merely begun, though we have been five-and-twenty years endeavouring to take a step or two. Could I address some dear young heart, looking upon these statements as great mysteries, that heart would say to me, "Oh, you must be such a happy man, you are free from all these trials and bitternesses, and are already in Beulah's fair land, blest with the spirit of peace, lighted with the glories of heaven, far above the cold winds and darkening fogs. You have accomplished the journey." To that sweet speech I should make a frank reply. For days, and weeks, and months, dear child, I know not what joy is. Sometimes I feel as if I were worse now than I ever was in my whole Christian life before. My wonder is that I am not damned and put out of sight. God has hard work with me: it is difficult for him to build his temple in such a heart as mine: the devil will not let me lay one stone upon the top of another without trying to throw it down, the enemy will not let me get one whole prayer right clear out of me—he stands at my mouth to prevent the word, to twist the prayer. Whilst I am in my highest moods of communion, he whispers to me with hot breath, "What a fool you are: this is mockery, this is emptiness; take your prayer back, you impious idiot, and use your breath for other work." Still the kingdom of heaven is going on in my heart; other voices say, "Cheer thee; thy way is one of tribulation, but the end is peace. Fear not, they that are for thee are more than all they that can be against thee. God will accomplish his purpose little by little, but he will have the victory. Great are they that are against thee, greater they that are for thee. Hold up thy head, fear not, the angel will break the power of the enemy, and out of thy distress shall come thy joy."
These words fall on the breaking heart with infinite healing, and comfort me with a sure hope. By-and-by we shall say to some watcher, fairer than the morning light, "What are these arrayed in white robes, and whence came they?" He will answer, "These are they that came out of great tribulation." Tribulation is another word for education if rightly accepted. Let me, then, cheer you and cheer myself. It is a hard fight, the trials are thick on the ground, the air is black with them, but we shall be "more than conquerors through him that loved us." Be this your motto: "The Sword of the Lord—and Forward!"
And 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.Chapter 4
Life Larger Than Logic—The Helpfulness of Science—the Religious Imagination—the Difficulty of Patience
Almighty God, we know thee through Jesus Christ our Lord, our Priest and Saviour. He is the Mediator between God and Man, he is the propitiation for our sins, his blood cleanseth from all guilt, he is our joy and our strength, and there is none beside him, our whole salvation, a redemption complete and infinite. We assemble to-day around his Cross, we touch the dying Lamb, we look first at our sin and then at his grace; where sin abounds grace doth much more abound, so that the blood of Jesus Christ thy Son is our answer to thy fierce law. We have no other reply, our hearts are silent when thy law accuses, bat in Christ Jesus and his cross, and in all the wondrous work he did, we find our answer to the accusations of thy righteousness and all the challenges of thy law. We pray in his name; our intercessions are mighty because they are offered at his cross; they are weak and worthless in themselves, but because of what Jesus is and what Jesus did, all our weakness is turned into strength, and our trembling prayer becomes a prevalent intercession.
We have come to bless thee with a new song, for thy mercies have been renewed in our life day by day. Every hour has brought its own miracle of grace, every moment has seen some fresh display of thy patience or providential care. The very hairs of our head are all numbered. Thou hearest the throbbing of our heart, thou knowest the way that we take; yea, thou dost beset us behind and before, and upon us is laid thy gentle yet mighty hand. We are here because of thy goodness, thou hast saved our soul from death, we are yet on praying ground, we have the opportunity of uttering our psalm and hymn and prayer into Heaven in the name and for the sake of the one Saviour. Thou hast given us bread to eat, thou hast sheltered us from the darkness and the storm, thou hast given unto us rest in sleep, and the renewal of strength therein, thou hast continued unto us our reasoning faculties, the chain of our friendship has not been broken in one link—because, therefore, of all these thine earthly mercies, we bless thee with a rising gratitude, we praise thee with a full heart, for thy mercies have been many and tender.
Thou hast, above all things, nourished our soul. Though we were branches that had no place in the living stem, yet hast thou graffed us in, so that now we partake of the root and the fatness of the olive. Thou didst find us when we were lost, thou didst make us sons when we were aliens and wanderers, thou didst invest us with all the privileges of thy church when our arm had been lifted against thee in continual rebellion. This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. May we enjoy all thy privileges now, may we seize our inheritance and claim it with our whole heart, so that we who were poor by reason of this world's sins and distresses may now become rich with imperishable wealth. To this end do thou pour upon us the Holy Ghost; may he dwell in us, ruling our thought and purpose and will, and sanctifying us altogether, till there be in our whole nature nothing of impurity or wrong. Complete the miracle of thy grace in our sanctification; may we be without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, glorious personally, and glorious as a redeemed church.
We put our life into thy care day by day. We know not when its last breathings shall be; help us, therefore, to be diligent with all care and filial anxiety to do that which is right in thy sight, and to make the most of our day and generation. Deliver us from the torment of fear, save us from the hell of despondency, create in us that happiness, that overflowing joyousness which comes of complete trust in God. May we not give way to the temptation of the evil one, may our fears never multiply themselves against us to the extinction of our hope, and in the darkest night may we see some distant and trembling star, in the coldest winter may there come upon us now and again some gleam of light that tells of the summer that is yet to dawn. In all the way that we take give us guidance, ensure unto us defence, then snail our steps be steady, and they shall all point towards the city of light and the city of rest.
Thou knowest what we need: grant unto us, we humbly pray thee, in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ, that which our heart most truly requires. Wherein our words do not express our needs, do thou not hear those words nor answer them: wherein we are inspired to speak of our real and vital wants, do thou command thy blessing to rest upon us, even life for evermore. Pity us when we are infirm and little in soul and in purpose, save us when we are most conscious of our aggravated guilt, fill our vision with thy beauty when that which is of the earth and time would tempt us with its meaner attractions.
Hear us when we pray one for another, when we pray for heads of houses that they may be clothed with wisdom, sobriety, and grace, for children, that they may be brought up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, for masters and servants, that they may understand and help one another, for the sick and the afflicted, that in their weakness they may see the incoming of Christ, bringing with him health and immortality, for the distant and the wandering, those from whom we are for the moment separated, that there may be no division of soul or distraction of love, but that though far apart, we may yet be one in affection and godly desire.
The Lord hear us on account of those who never pray for themselves, those who are aliens and prodigals, who have broken every vow, dishonoured every covenant, and have gone far away into the bleak wilderness of iniquity—the Lord's Gospel flee after them like a saving angel, and flash upon them some home-light or strike in their hearts some tender chord that shall bring them back again, that there may be rejoicing on earth and in Heaven. The Lord's light make our morning glad, the beauty of the Lord himself be upon us, making our souls lovely with his presence and strong with his grace. Amen.
11. And when they were come into the house they saw the young child (the child first, not the mother: this order should be marked) with Mary his mother, and fell down and worshipped him (a word often used in a double sense; Xenophon says that Cyrus was worshipped by his subjects); and when they had opened their treasures (caskets or packages), they presented (according to oriental custom) unto him gifts: gold and frankincense, and myrrh, (Psalm 45:8, Psalm 72:15; Isaiah 60:6).
12. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
13. And when they were departed, behold, the (an) angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt (the nearest asylum), and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
14. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother (this order is unnatural, if not inspired) by night, and departed into Egypt;
15. And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet (of Israel, but typically of Christ), saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
"They found the young child with Mary, his mother." Surely this is an inversion of the right method of stating the case, judged by our little rules, pedantic and inadequate. A critic might here interpose and say, You have adopted the wrong order of sequence, you have inverted the proper method of statement. Instead of saying, Mary, the mother, and the young child, you have actually put the young child first, and thus you have inverted the order of time. Nor is this a slip, for I find the angel of the Lord adopting the same sequence in the 13th verse, saying to Joseph in a dream, "Take the young child with his mother," and afterwards in the 20th verse, the angel again says, "Arise, and take the young child and his mother," and in the 21st verse, "Arise, and take the young child and his mother." The frequency of the repetition shows us that to indicate the young child first and the mother afterwards was not a literary slip.
When will we learn that life is larger than logic? When will we keep our little technical rules away from great providences and mysteries? We are ruined herein by our own exactness. The literalist can never be right in anything that challenges the highest efforts of the mind. He who is right in the mere order of words, after a pedantic law of rightness and accuracy, often misses the genius, the poetry, the overflowing and ineffable life of things. He boasts of his exactitude, he is very clever in defending himself against etymological and critical assaults, but he is vitally wrong. Within the limits which he has assigned for the movement of his powers he is right, but those limits themselves are wrong, and, therefore, it is possible to be partially right and yet to be substantially and vitally in error. He, for example, who says the earth stands still, is in a popular sense right, and yet his statement is absolutely wrong.
If we could apply this great thought of the largeness of life to the interpretation of Scripture, we should not be fretted by many of those petty and distracting criticisms which bring down heaven to the scale of earth, and vex us with unworthy controversies. The rule is, Christ first—the young child mentioned at the top of every list. "He was before all things and by him all things consist." If he is Alpha, he is Omega; if he is the young child, he is the Ancient of Days. He takes precedence of the whole universe, for he was before it—he laid its foundations, and arched its canopies. Refrain, therefore, from thy little and dwarfing criticisms as to chronological sequence, and abandon those neat exactitudes which, by their very superficial claim to being considered right, may prevent the entrance into thy mind of the larger light and the broader revelation.
When the wise men came into the house they fell down and worshipped the young child. They did not fall down and worship Mary—they hardly saw the mother. Who can see anything but Christ when he is there? To see anything in God's house but God is to waste the opportunity. The wise men worshipped the young child, they did him homage, they bent before him, they became oblivious of themselves in his presence; not a word might they say, for worship when deepest is often silent. Words have been hindrances in the way of spiritual progress. Words are to blame for the thousand controversies that afflict and distress the Church. I would to God we could do without words, for who can understand even his friend? Who can catch the subtle emphasis, who has eyes quickened to see the colouring of the word, and sagacity to set it in its right place, so as to lose nothing of its rhythm, and harmony, and sweet intent? Whatever the word worship may mean here, religiously—for that word is used ambiguously both in the classics and in Scripture—it is evident that the wise men offered homage to the young child. The right attitude of wisdom is to bend before Christ, to be silent in his presence, to wait for him to lead the conversation. If wisdom venture to utter its voice first, it ought to be in inquiry or in praise. Wisdom is always reticent of speech; it is the fool who chatters, the wise man thinks. When Socrates was told that he was the wisest man in the world, he ran away, and yet returned to accept the compliment, for, said he, "I knew that I knew nothing, and I have met with no other man so wise."
If we come into the house where Jesus Christ is, our business is to imitate the wise men who came from the far east, namely, to bend the knee, to put our hand over our eyes, lest we be blinded by the great light, to be silent, to wait. It would be well, if in our brief time of worship we could set aside a few minutes for absolute silence. No minister to speak, no organ to utter its voice, no hymn to trouble the air. If we could, with shut eyes and bent head, spend five minutes in absolute speechlessness, that would be prayer, that would be worship. The fool would misunderstand it, and think nothing was being done, but as the last expression of velocity is rest, so the last expression of eloquence is silence, and sometimes the highest liturgy is to be dumb. We have banished the angel of silence, the angel of quietude is a nuisance to our fussy civilization; we have set noise in the front, and silence has been exiled from the Church.
Not only did the wise men worship Christ, they presented unto him gifts, "gold and frankincense and myrrh." This is the method of love. Worship is giving, it is not receiving. We are never to see Christ without giving him ourselves. Jesus Christ does not seek the homage of a courteous recognition, he seeks the loyalty of absolute sacrifice. The wise men gave him all they had, and Jesus Christ never says, "Hold, you have given enough." Never, till the heart's last fibre is given to him, and the last red blood-drop falls upon his hand—then, having received us in the totality of our being, his soul is satisfied.
"And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way." God is in continual communication with the right-minded. He speaks to them by starry eloquence. He speaks to them in words and visions and dreams. He is a God nigh at hand, and not afar off to all those who are rightly disposed towards him, and whose hearts rise up in vehement desire to know his will. He will be as near us as our desire is pure: the fire of our earnestness will be, as it were, the measure of his readiness to come and give us guidance and defence. He spake to the wise men in a dream. We have debased the word dream, and then we ask one another, with a hilarious scepticism if we believe in dreams? What word have we not fouled and despoiled, and then, having brought it to its smallest significations; we have turned round and asked if we believe that such terms can be measured by divine revelations? By overfeeding, we have brought upon ourselves all the distresses of dyspeptic nightmare, and having come out of the nightly struggle, we say, "Now do you suppose that there is any truth in dreams?" See how the argument is put upon a false centre, see how we first waste the inheritance, and then demand its value?
What does the word dream signify? Not a nightmare, not the incoherences and ravings of a disordered brain, resulting from overfeeding. It means the outgo of the soul towards the invisible, distant, spiritual, incomprehensible, eternal. We have lost the dream out of the Church. We have lost everything—prophecy, tongues, miracles, songs, gifts of healing, helps, governments, enthusiasms, heroisms—we have lost them all! It is just like us—fools, we ought never to have been trusted with anything! What have we left now? Nothing. Miracles gone, prophecy gone, the devil gone, God—GOING. As for dreams, we have long survived their foolish means of communicating with the invisible. As for dreams, we despise them, and laugh mockingly over our smoking chocolate, and ask one another if we believe in dreams! Reclaim the original signification of the term, rebuild the shattered inheritance, and then ask the great question, and you shall have a great reply.
The dream stands for that grandest of all powers, the religious imagination. That, again, is a word which must be used with great guardedness, because the word imagination has itself been stripped, wounded, and left half-dead. Who can now define imagination with the original fire and with the original grandeur? We abuse and misapply the terms. We now say, speaking of a man who makes false suppositions, "He imagines things." When we so use the word, we use it with improper limitations, and in short we give a wrong turn to the term. No wonder, therefore, that we are afraid to use the grand word imagination in any religious sense. It is only a man in a century or two who is really gifted with imagination. Imagination is a creative faculty, imagination images the unimaged, gives visibility and palpableness to the immaterial, the unmeasured and the unnamed.
When we charge certain persons with having no imagination, they start and say, "If we have one faculty more than another, it is imagination." When we ask them to provide the proof, what do they reply? They mistake description for imagination; thus, they will describe an object as blue on one side and yellow on the other and surmounted by a coronal of red, and then they will claim for their speech the sublime epithet of imagination! It is a house painter's imagination. It is the imagination of a man who paints rustic signs for rustic inns. Imagination!—it is God's supreme gift to the human mind. When a thought presents itself to the intelligence, imagination bodies it, gives it form, configuration, colour, and enters into high dialogue with the strange and most wondrous guest. The most of us have no imagination; the next best gift we can have is to listen with patience rising into delight, to the man to whom God has given this great gift of making the dumb speak, and calling into visibleness the unseen and unpalpable.
The wise men "departed into their country another way." God knows the way into your countries and kingdoms, how distant soever they be. You have made a high road out of your Persia into the distant Judea, how will you get back again? Why, by the same road—there is no other, say you, in conscious wisdom concerning the whole topographical arrangement. The angel of the Lord says, "I will show you the way home: not one step of the old road shall you take, I will make a way for you." Do not say there is no way out of your difficulty. It is a family difficulty, or a difficulty imperial or ecclesiastical, or a difficulty upon which you can take no human counsel. Do not, therefore, say that your way is passed over from your God, that you have been brought into a cul de sac, and must bruise your head against the resisting and defiant walls. Stand still, and say, "Lord, show me thy salvation: take me home by another way: I thought this was the right road, I find that my thinking has been misinformed, or that circumstances have arisen which throw my calculations into preplexity and environ my life with strange and mighty opposition. Lord, I will not move one inch until thou dost lead the way." Say you so—is that your heart's sweet litany? No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper. Commit thy way unto the Lord: trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass. Oh, rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him, and he shall give thee thy heart's desire.
This incident shows us in how many ways God interposes in human affairs. The angel of the Lord warned the wise men, and he also warned Joseph. There is a ministry of warning in our life. Why that sudden start? You cannot explain it. It was a frightening angel that looked upon your life for a moment, and by his look said, "Not this way—straight on." Why tear up the programme on which you have spent months? You cannot explain why, but a voice said to you, "That programme is all wrong, tear it to pieces and throw it into the fire: there is danger there. Beware, take care. Not this road. Trust not to thine own understanding. That programme is a witness to thy folly and shallowness: throw it from thee as thou wouldst throw poison, and stand empty-handed before God, and ask him to write the way-bill." "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Lean not to thine own understanding."
Sometimes God sends warnings to us in extraordinary ways by extraordinary people and under improbable circumstances. I am conscious of the presence of this warning ministry in my life, though I have no words subtle and keen enough wherewith to express all that I feel on that solemn subject. Shall I shake hands with yonder man? I think I will; he looks healthy, he looks kind, and yet in the midst of all these hopeful lucubrations, my hand takes sudden palsy and I will not shake hands with him, and cannot. How so? There is a warning angel in my life. I, poor unsuspecting fool, would shake hands with every man who smiles upon me, for I have no eye for the detection of the villain's cheek, but the warning angel says, "Take care, go aside, he is a goodly apple—rotten at the core."
Not only is there a warning ministry in this incident, there is also a watching ministry. The angel of the Lord watched Herod, watched the young child and his mother, watched the wise men. O those watchers that fill the air—your mother, your child, your friend, your guardian angel—every one of us has an angel-self to be seen only with the eyes of the soul's inspired imagination. They watch us night and day. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation?" I am alone, yet I am not alone, for God's angel is with me. Do not live a little fleshly life, do not shut yourself up within the limits of your constabulary arrangements and imagine that no eye is upon you but the eye of detective and suspicious law. Love watches, redemption, embodied in Jesus Christ, watches, we are beset behind and before, and there is a hand upon us, and a kind eye is behind the cloud, looking now and again upon our life, and flashing a tender morning ray upon our long-bound and darkness-wearied souls.
Learn from the next passage in the incident, that man's simple business in preplexity is to obey. "Joseph arose and took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt." Obedience sometimes requires activity. The angel said, "Arise and flee." That is the easiest part of obedience. There is no difficulty about fleeing, about exerting oneself; the blood heats, and activity is delight. God puts these calls to activity into our life at the right times and with the right measure of appointment. Why, you say, you would have died on the dear friend's coffin, but that you were obliged to arouse yourself to attend to the last obsequies. Kind is the way of God even in these matters. When death darkens your window and turns your day into night it always says to you, "Arise and flee, work, arrange, settle," and one of the first things you have to do in the midst of your intolerable agony is to bestir yourself. In that bestirring there is sometimes salvation.
After activity comes patience. The angel said, "And be thou there until I bring thee word." That is the hard part of life. Whilst I am climbing the mountains, passing through the wildernesses, daring dangers, I feel comparatively quiet, or even glad. But to sit down when the angel tells, me to sit, and not to stir till he comes back again—who can do it? I inquire of the first man who comes near me, whether I cannot get away out of Egypt? He says he thinks I can if I try the next turn, and I, disobedient soul, move towards the next turn, and if a wolf sent of God did not show its gleaming teeth at me there, I would be off, so fond am I of activity and self-direction, and so impossible is it to me to sit still and see the outworking of the divine will.
The true interpretation of human purposes is from God. Herod said, "I will worship him, when you bring me word." The angel said, "Herod will seek the young child to destroy him." Herod said worship —Herod meant destroy. The angel knows our meaning: God does not take our words always in the sense in which we offer them. He reads between the lines. He peruses the small print of the motive and of the inward and half-revealed or even half-formed desire. He shows us to ourselves. Sometimes when we say worship, he shows us by an analysis of our own acceptation of the term, that destroy is the proper meaning of our language. Lord, interpret my speech to me: I use words of false meaning, I think sometimes I mean to be religious—show me that some religions are lies, and that some prayers are offences. Save me from being my own lexicographer: when I write a word, do thou, gentle Father, ever wise, write after it its true and proper meaning.
The young child, Mary and Joseph, are now at this point of the incident, away in Egypt. There are times of retreat in every great life, times when Christ must be driven into Egypt, when the prophet must be banished into solitude, when John the Baptist must be in the desert eating locusts and wild honey, when Saul of Tarsus must be driven off into Arabia—times when we are not to be found. An asylum need not be a tomb, retreat need not be extinction. For a time you are driven away—make the best of your leisure. You want to be at the front, instead of that you have been banished to the rear: it is for a wise purpose. Gather strength, let the brain sleep, yield yourself to the spirit of the quietness of God, and after what appears to be wasted time or unprofitable waiting, there shall come an inspiration into thy soul that shall make thee strong and fearless, and the banished one shall become the centre of nations.
Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.Chapter 5
Second Causes Not Sufficient—Physical Force Weaker Than Moral—Angel Ministries—Afraid of Whole Families—Goodness Cannot Die
Almighty God, thy way is very wonderful, and we cannot find it out; thou dost justify thyself in righteousness and in mercy, notwithstanding our sore perplexity and the vexation of our soul in time of trouble. Thou dost send men on strange errands, thy requests are bold; thou dost lay thine hand upon our life, and require it as our gift. Who can restrain thee? Who can mitigate thy severity? Who can answer thy great thunder? What sword have we that can reply to thy lightning? Teach us that our place is to obey, to receive the will from heaven, and with all patience and loving industry to do it every whit. How can we do so? We are of yesterday, and know nothing; we mistake the near for the precious and the great; we do not allow for distance and colour in the proportion of things, so we are constantly mistaking that which is in our hand as being greater and better than that which is afar off. We consult impatient temper; we are the slaves of an imperfect and depraved will; a thousand mean and treacherous appetites besiege the very centre and source of our best life—how then can we obey? This is of the Lord's doing: we are saved by grace and not by work; this is not an offering of our own; it is the outworking of the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. We do not marvel now that we must be born again; we bless thee for this gospel of regeneration, which is the gospel of the heart of thy Son, for the laver of regeneration is filled with nothing less than the blood of the heart of Christ. To no baptismal water do we come, but to a laver and fountain of regenerating blood. The blood of Jesus Christ, thy Son, cleanseth from all sin. We would test its power; we would see our sin cleansed by its efficacy; we are weary of sin: it tires those whom for a moment it pleases—the fire of wickedness goes out and leaves a death-like cold behind it. We would therefore turn unto the Lord with full purpose of heart; we would live in the Lord, for the Lord would we live, our delight would be in thy testimonies, and our satisfaction in thy service.
Thou hast appointed unto us but a few days wherein to live. Our life is as a dying smoke, or as a wind that flieth speedily away and which none can find. We are like water spilled upon the ground which cannot be gathered up. Few and evil are the days of thy servants; our life is but a span; we see the meanness of its duration and the poverty of its own resources, yet are we enslaved by fascinations which throw their spell upon us every day. We would that God would deliver us from all these bondages, and cause us to enter into the wide and glorious liberty of his Son. That we should ever have prayed this prayer is the miracle of our life, for we were dead in trespasses and sin, and our soul's delight was in the gardens forbidden, and in the trees that are interdicted, but now we are alive in Christ, and our soul's desire is to drink of the living stream, to pluck of the tree of life, and to do God's will with hearty sincerity, with humble devoutness, with reverence that itself is worship.
Appoint unto us our task and give us strength to fulfil it all. When the burden is very heavy, do not lessen the load, but increase the strength. When the hill is very high and the wind is very bleak, and we are ill able to bear it, reduce nothing of the severity of the discipline, but increase in us that loving patience, that high hope, that gentle trust, which accepts everything at thine hand as right and wise and good.
Thou art teaching us many lessons difficult to learn, hard to apply, yet which in the application turn to sweet gospels, even to resurrections and great deliverances. Thou dost take away the pride of our life, the delight of our eyes, the song of oar souls. Thou dost make us poor indeed: thou sendest a bitter cold upon us, under which we shiver and tremble with agony: thou dost distress us by many troubles, thou wilt not allow us to keep the dear child—it is plucked like an unopened bud. When thou dost see us in the midst of our joy thou dost trouble our cup with bitterness—as for our fig-tree, thou dost bark it and leave it naked—as for our one lamb, its loneliness is no protection against thy judgment; thou dost take it away in the night time, and in the morning we are visited with infinite distress.
This is the life we live: we sing and curse and mourn and reproach, and there is no prayer found upon our lips, yet dost thou send unto us messages from heaven, yea, last of all thou didst send thy Son, and he gave himself for us. We have been touched by the pathos of the cross, we have been moved by the entreaties of the dying Christ, we have found in him our one and only priest—now we would live in him, and for him and to him, and would be bound to his kingdom as willing and loving slaves. Amen.
16. Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men (mocked of God, rather) was exceeding wroth, and sent forth (murderers), and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts (suburbs or precincts) thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
17. Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
18. In Rama (which lay on the way to Babylon) was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel (the progenetrix of Israel) weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
19. But when Herod was dead, behold an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.
20. Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel (the country is divinely named; the particular town was humanly selected); for they are dead which sought the young child's life (literally the young child's soul).
21. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign (under the inferior title of Ethnarch) in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither; notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23: And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a. Nazarene (mean and. contemptible, so the root of the word signifies.)
"Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men"—yet the wise men did not mock him at all! When will people get away from the region of secondary causes, and understand that life has a divine centre, and that all things are governed from the throne of heaven? It is not only a philosophical mistake to drop into second causes for the purpose of finding the origin of our miseries, it sometimes, yea often, becomes a practical mischief, a sore and terrible disaster of a personal and social kind. Therefore with great urgency would I drive men away from secondary lines and intermediate causes, to the great cause of all—God, and King, and Lord, and Christ. Herod was mocked of God: he was not mocked of the Persian sages: they were not unwilling to ally themselves with him, so far as they were personally concerned, if they could contribute aught to his intelligence or to the carrying out of his expressed purpose to "worship" the Child of whom they themselves were in quest. Herod was mocked, vexed from heaven, troubled from the centre of things. The fog that, fell upon his eyes came downwards, not upwards, it was a blinding mist from him who sends upon men delusions as well as revelations.
We have ourselves been mocked of God, and we have taken vengeance upon human instrumentalities. If we insist upon having our own way, there is a point at which God says, "Take it, and with it take the consequences." If we resolutely and impatiently say, "We will find success along this line and no other," God may say to us, "Proceed, and find what you can." And at the end of that line, what have we found? A great rock, a thousand feet thick, and God has said, "You may find success if you will thrust your hand through that granite." So we have been mocked. We have determined to proceed along a certain course, notwithstanding the expostulations of heaven, and having gone mile after mile, what have we found at the end of the course? A great furnace, and God has said to us with mocking laughter, that hast shaken the skies, "Your success is in the middle of that furnace: put your hand right into the centre and take it,"—knowing that he who puts his hand in there takes it out no more.
In proportion, therefore, as we are mocked and vexed, as we come back from the wilderness, bringing with us nothing but the wind, as we return from the mountains bringing with us nothing but a sense of perplexity, it becomes us to ask serious questions about our failure. Who mocked us? Not men, not women—we were laughed at from heaven. There is no passage of Scripture which has upon me so weird an effect as that which says that God will mock at our calamity, and laugh when our fear cometh. We have seen his tears—they baptized Jerusalem, they have fallen in gracious showers upon the graves that hold our heart's treasure, but we have never heard his laugh. There is a human laughter that turns us cold—God forbid that we should ever hear our divine Father's laughter, when the great fire-waves swell around us and all heaven seems to be pleased with the discomfiture of our souls.
When Herod saw that he was mocked of the wise men, what did he? Let us suppose that the passage is interrupted at that point and that we are required to continue the story. Now let us set our wits to work to complete the sentence which begins with "When Herod saw that he was mocked of the wise men." Let me suggest this continuation—He saw a religious mystery in this matter: he said, "This is not the doing of the wise men, there is a secret above and behind and around this, which I have not yet penetrated: I am troubled, but it is with religious perplexity. I will fall down upon my knees, I will outstretch mine arms in prayer, and will cry mightily to God to visit me in this crisis of my intellectual distress and moral consternation." Let me now turn and see how far my conjecture is right. "Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew." The power of wickedness is physical, the power of goodness is moral. Wickedness says, "A sword;" goodness says, "A pen."
We know that this narrative is true in the case of Herod, because it is made true every day in our own experience. When we are vexed and mocked and disappointed, we do exactly what Herod did—we grow exceeding wroth, and slay. You need not consult the ancient historians to know whether Herod really did this work or not, when we ourselves are doing it every day of our vexation and disappointment. We all play the fool under such visitations. Not unless we are regenerated by God the Holy Ghost and cleansed through and through by the atoning blood do we rise to the high dignity and grandeur of moral dominion and spiritual conquest.
There are two victories possible to us, the one is physical, the other is a moral. I want this child to attend public worship. I say to the child, "You must: if you refuse I will scourge you until you go to church. I am older, I am stronger than you are, and you shall feel the supremacy of my age and the oppressiveness of my strength. To church I will make you go." I have succeeded, the child is in the church to-day. The child is here, but not here. By a perverse will the child is turning this church into a desecrated place. The child's will is not here, nor is the child's love present with us: our prayers have been burdensome, and God's own word has lost its music, because of the constraint under which that attendance has been enforced.
Let me take the case of the child from another point. I have been dwelling upon the advantages of going to church: I have been speaking about God and God's love, Christ and Christ's cross, about the tender music and the beautiful word and the loving gospel, and I have said to the child, "I should like you to go: it would make my heart glad if you did go—I only ask you, I do not force you." And the child has said, "Certainly I will go; show me the way, I should be glad to go." The child is here, every blood-drop in his heart is here, his eyes are rounding into a great wonder, and his breast heaving with an unusual but most glad emotion. Which is the conquest? The conquests of force exhaust themselves and perish in ignominious failure, the conquests of love grow and increase with the processes of time.
When Herod saw that he was mocked of the wise men, he was exceeding wroth, and sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem. The power of badness is destructive, the power of goodness is preservative. We need direction in the quality and uses of strength. It is easy to destroy: even a beast can crush a flower, but no angel in all the heavens can reset the broken joint. We mistake destructiveness as a sign of power. What power there is in the act of destructiveness is of the lowest and coarsest quality. You cannot drive evil out of men by any merely negative and destructive process. If you call out "Repent," you must immediately follow the word with "For the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The call to repentance is in a sense a negative call, the announcement that the kingdom of heaven is at hand is the positive and affirmative call, which tends to the upfilling of the emptied heart with the better dominion, the sanctuary from heaven. You may cut down all the weeds in your garden, but if you do not attend to that garden, putting in the place of that which was noxious that which is useful, the old roots will re-assert themselves and your garden will become a scene of confusion. Jesus does not destroy without creating. If we suppress anything we do not believe in, we ought to set up in its place influences of a higher and nobler kind. It is no use for you, my friends, to empty the public-house unless you open some other place that shall attract within its better limits those whom you have expelled. It is of no use for you to drive the devil out of a man unless you have something to put into the man. That devil will wander about and will return and bring with him seven worse than himself, and the end of the man will be worse than the beginning.
"Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, mourning, lamentation, weeping," distress night and day, the cry of pain and the moan of agony. The result of selfishness is human distress, the result of goodness is good-will towards men. See then what the world would come to under a selfish rulership. Selfish rulership says, "If I cannot have my own way easily, I will have it at all costs and hazards." Selfish rulership lifts up its sword and says, "Make way." Selfish rulership will purchase its own ends at any cost of mourning, lamentation, and weeping. Thus the bad man seems to succeed more than the good man; his way is rougher, his manners are ruder, he destroys, he does not create, and it is always easier to pull down than to build up. Jesus Christ proceeds slowly because of the depth and vitality and permanence of his work. It is easier to curse than to pray. Under Herod the world would become a scene of selfish triumph; under Christ it would become a family united by tenderest bonds, made holy by mutual and sympathetic love, and sacred by the exercise of those obligations which elevate and ennoble human nature. I ask you, therefore, to-day, as the end of this part of the exposition—who is to be king, Herod or Christ, violence or persuasion, force or love, selfishness or beneficence? The choice is sharp, the division is distinct: he who would seek to muddle and confuse these distinctions, is not the friend of progress, he is the victim of a mischievous pedantry. The world can only be under one of two kings, God—mammon, Christ—Herod, beneficence—selfishness. Choose ye; put high his banner over your life and let it float so that men can see it from afar.
In the next paragraph of our text we find the appearance of an angel of the Lord in a dream. The angels are ever mindful of the good. "Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation?" You say you have had no experience of angel ministry: be careful what you say, lest you narrow yourselves unduly by the mere letter, and miss the poetry and grandeur of your life. You say you are bound by things visible and palpable, and beyond those things do not venture to go. I am not asking you to venture to go any distance beyond those limitations, but I am asking you to allow God the power to come to you by any one of a series of innumerable ministries. You must not "limit the Holy One of Israel." The question is not, What can I do? It is, What can God do?
I could imagine a little boy with his arithmetic saying that all things that could be reckoned up, in space and in quantity, were reckonable upon the basis of his book of figures. He begins and ends with the multiplication table; he says the multiplication table ends at twelve times twelve, and beyond that he will never go. He is not going to be wise above what is written: if any man should venture to ask him how many are thirteen times thirteen, he would shudder with arithmetical aversion, and reply that thirteen times thirteen was not to be found in the multiplication table. Would he be right? He would be as far wrong as possible! Thirteen times thirteen is as certainly in the multiplication table as twice one or five times five. He will find that out by-and-by. He thinks he is keeping himself within due limits and must not transgress certain boundaries, when he says the table ends at twelve times twelve. He is going to be arithmetically orthodox: other people may dream about thirteen times thirteen if they please, he thinks that inquiry involves a very grave responsibility: he shrinks from their society, and he betakes himself with renewed ardour to the four corners of the table that begins at twice one and ends at twelve times twelve. Is he arithmetically pious and arithmetically orthodox? He is arithmetically narrow and arithmetically bigoted and arithmetically foolish!
By-and-by he will advance further. I will say to him, "What is the square root of five-and-twenty?" And he will say, "Anybody knows that the square root of five-and-twenty is five." "What is the square root of minus a?" "Ah, I do not go into that sort of thing at all." "But there is a science which tackles questions of that kind." The boy replies, "I know nothing about it; I do not want to be wise above that which is written. I can give you the square root of one hundred in a moment, but the square root of minus a—he must be a very presumptuous and arrogant person to discuss such a question! If it be not presumptuous, which it appears to me to be, it is exceedingly foolish." He lives within his arithmetic, he does not know that there is another science just over it, which undertakes to find out sums by signs, and to discuss deep problems by letters and symbols that appear to be foolish to those who have never entered their higher education.
When I come to these angel ministries, they baffle me. I say, "They are not in my arithmetic, they are not in the multiplication table." Let me never forget that algebra continues and perfects common arithmetic, and let me never forget that even beyond algebra itself are methods of calculation unknown to those who are in the lower ranges of human thought. I must not set up myself as the measure and bound of things. If the Bible comes to me with angel ministries, with assurances of what has been done by angels and through the medium of dreams, by high efforts of the religious imagination, I must not play the boy-fool by saying that reckoning ends with twelve times twelve; I must remember that the universe is larger than I have yet imagined it to be, and that there are men who are older and wiser, and it is not for me to say God's ministry begins here and ends there. I love to live in an enlarging universe, I love the horizon which tempts me to touch it, and then vanishes to an infinite distance.
The angel of the Lord said, "They are dead, which sought the young child's life." The good have everything to hope from time, the bad have everything to fear from it.
The bad man is in haste, the good man rests in the Lord and waits patiently for him. The bad man says, "It must be done now; my motto is 'ad rem,'—now or never, strike the iron while it is hot, let passion have its way instantaneously." They that believe do not make haste, they are calm with the peace of God; they trust to time; they say, "All things will be fulfilled in the order of duration and the process of the suns." Innocence can wait; innocence can go into any land and tarry there until sent for by the angel; innocence can go into any prison and wait, not till helped. by a butler, but until sent for by the king. If thou art innocent, be quiet; if thou art really good at the core, through and through, simple-minded, honest in motive, pure in purpose, high and sacred in ambition, wait; thy funeral will not be first.
Yet another fear fell upon the mind of Joseph. When he heard that Archelaus reigned in Judea, under the inferior title of Ethnarch, in the room of his father Herod, he was "afraid to go thither." There are some families of which we are afraid: there are whole generations that seem to be blighted with a common taint. There are some chains whose links are all bad. Joseph thought that Archelaus might inherit the prejudices and hostilities of his father. There was no need for him to do so. Thank God, a man may break away from his own family, a child may be a stranger to his own father. Thank God for these possibilities of beginning again. I see what is called fate in the order and destiny of men: I have taken hold of the chain and find it to be thick and strong—yet I see also the wonderful liberties of men, so that they can detach themselves from a melancholy and shameful past on the part of others and begin again, by themselves, under God's blessing and direction, for themselves. Was your father a bad man? You may be a good son. Fear not, do not droop under the blighting cloud. If it be in your heart to be better and you mention this purpose in prayer to God, your father's name shall rot, and yours shall be a memorial of goodness and hope, long as the sun endures.
They are DEAD which sought the young child's life. That is always the ending of wickedness: that is the history of all the assaults that ever have been made upon Jesus Christ and his kingdom. I have seen great armies of men come up against the young child, and behold they have perished in a night, and in the morning the angels have said to one another, "They are DEAD which sought the young child's life." I have seen armies of infidel books come up to put down Christianity, to expose it; and refute it and cut it to pieces, and destroy it as Herod's sword the children of Bethlehem, and lo, in twelve months not one of them could be found, and the angels have said to one another, "They are DEAD which sought the young child's life." I have seen critics come up with keen eye and sharp knife, and a new apparatus adapted to carry out its processes and purposes of extermination, and behold the critics have cut their own bones and died of their own wounds, and the angels have said, "They are DEAD that sought the young child's life." I have seen whole towns of new institutions, created for the purpose of putting down the Christian Church. All kinds of competitive buildings have been put up at a lavish expenditure, the preacher was to be put down, the Bible was to be shut up, the old hymn-singing was to be done away with, a new era was to dawn upon the wilderness of time, and lo, the bankruptcy court had to be enlarged to take in groups of new mendicants, for they DIED that sought the young child's life!
No man ever died who sought the young child's saving ministry; no man ever died who went to the young child and said, "My Saviour, thy grace is greater than my sin, pity me and lift me out of this deep pit by the hand of thy love." The angels never said about such a one, "He is dead who offered that prayer." No dead man is found at the foot of the cross, they live who touch that tree, they are immortal who open their hearts to receive that baptism of blood, they are a triumphant host that take hold of hands around the young child.
He is always young: he is always in bloom. Time cannot wither him: as for custom it cannot "stale the infinite variety" of his ministry and his worship. God delights in youth: there is no wearying in the duration of goodness—wickedness runs down into exhaustion, goodness runs up into renewal of efflorescence and beauty, and eternal spring.