"How can this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
I. HIS DIVINE ORIGIN. He was not only to be her offspring, but he should "be called the Son of the Most High." And there was to come upon her and overshadow her the Holy Ghost, the Power of the Most High. He was to be not only a son of God, but the Son of God, related to the Eternal Father as no other of the children of men had ever been or should ever be. He was to be One that would in the fullest sense partake of the Divine nature, be one in thought and in aim and in action with the Father (John 5:19, 23; John 8:28; John 10:30; John 14:10, 11). He was to be "God manifest in the flesh."
II. THE WORK HE SHOULD ACCOMPLISH. "Thou shalt call his name Jesus;" and he was to be so called because he would "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:25). There have been "saviors of society" from whom this poor wounded world might well have prayed to be delivered, men who tried to cover their own hideous selfishness under a fair and striking name. What they have claimed to be, Jesus the Savior was and is. He saves from sin. And to do that is to render us the very greatest conceivable service, both in its negative and positive aspects.
1. Negatively considered. To destroy sin is to take away evil by the root. For sin is not only, in itself, the worst and most shameful of all evils by which we can be afflicted, but it is the one fruitful source of all other evils - poverty, estrangement, strife, weariness and aching of heart, death.
2. Positively considered. Saving from sin means restoring to God; it includes reinstatement in the condition from which sin removed us. Jesus Christ, in the very act in which he redeems us from the penalty and power of sin, restores us to God - to his Divine favor, his likeness, his service. Accepting and abiding in the Savior, we dwell in the sunshine of God's everlasting friendship; we grow up into his perfect image; we spend our days and our powers under his direction. It is not only that Jesus Christ delivers us from the darkest curse; it is that he raises us to the loftiest heritage, by the salvation which he offers to our hearts.
III. THE DIGNITY AND POWER HE SHOULD ATTAIN. He was to reign upon a throne, "over the house of Jacob for ever;" and "of his kingdom there should be no end." Great and large as Mary's expectations for her promised Child may have very justly been, they can have been nothing to the fulfillment of the angel's words. For the kingdom of Christ. (as it is or as it shall be) is one that surpasses in every way that of the greatest Hebrew sovereign. It does so:
1. In its main characteristics. It is spiritual. The only homage which is acceptable to its King is the homage of the heart, the only tribute the tribute of affection, the only obedience the obedience of love. It is beneficent. Every subject in this realm is sacredly bound to seek his brother's wellbeing rather than his own. It is righteous. Every citizen, because he is such, is pledged to depart from all iniquity, to pursue and practice all righteousness.
2. In its extent. It has "no end" in its spacial dimensions. No river bounds it; no mountain, no sea; it reaches the whole world round.
3. In its duration. He shall reign "for ever;" his rule will go down to remotest times; it will touch and include the last generation that shall dwell upon the earth. Let us rejoice in his greatness; but let us see to it that
(1) we have a part in the heritage of those whom he is blessing, and that
(2) we take our share in the furtherance of his mission of mercy. - C.
The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee.
1. The angel tells her how she should " conceive and bring forth a Son," namely, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which is the power of the Highest, the Spirit of God being the true God, and so the Highest. The way of the Spirit's powerful working to this miraculous conception, is denoted by two words. One is, that the Holy Ghost should come upon her, not in an ordinary way, as in the conception of all men (Job 10:8, "Thine hands have made me, and fashioned me together round about)"; but in an extraordinary way, as on the prophets, and those that were raised to some extraordinary work. The other is, that the power of the Highest, which is infinite power, should overshadow her, to wit, make her, though a virgin, to conceive by virtue of the efficacy of infinite power, by which the world was created, when the same Spirit moved on the waters, cherished them, and framed the world.
2. He shows what should follow on this miraculous conception, namely, that the fruit of her womb, the child she should bear, should be called "the Son of God." Where the angel teaches two things.(1) The immaculate, sinless conception of the child Jesus, that holy thing, a holy thing though proceeding from a sinful creature, not tainted with sin, as all other children are. The powerful operation of the Divine Spirit sanctified that part of the virgin's body of which the human nature of Christ was formed, so that by that influence it was separated from all impurity and defilement. So that, though it proceeded from a creature infected with original sin, there was no sin or taint of impurity in it. This was a glorious instance of the power of the Highest.(2) He tells the virgin, that therefore, seeing that child to be thus conceived, he should be called, that is, owned to be, "the Son of God." He says not, Therefore that holy thing shall be the Son of God, for he was the Son of God before, by virtue of His eternal generation; but, therefore he shall be called, i.e., owned to be really so, and more than a man.
I. I AM TO SHOW WHO SHE WAS THAT WAS THE MOTHER OF CHRIST AS MAN. Christ as God had no mother, and as man no father. But His mother as man was Mary. She was the seed of Abraham; and so Christ was that seed of Abraham, in whom all nations were to be blessed (Galatians 3:16). She was of the tribe of Judah (Luke 3:33), and of that tribe Christ by her did spring (Hebrews 7:14). She was also of the family of David, as appears by her genealogy (Luke 3.), and therefore Christ is called the Son of David, as the Messiah behoved to be. She was, however, but a mean woman, the family of David being then reduced to a low outward condition in the world, having long before lost its flourishing state; so that our Lord "sprung up as a root out of a dry ground "(Isaiah 11:1, and Isaiah 53:2).
II. I COME TO SHOW WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY CHRIST'S BECOMING MAN. It implies —
1. That He had a real being and existence before His incarnation. He truly was before He was conceived in the womb of the virgin, and distinct from that being which was conceived in her. "What and if ye shall see the Son of Man ascend up where He was before?" (John 6:62). Yea, He was with His Father from all eternity, before any of the creatures came out of the womb of nothing.
2. That He actually took upon Him our nature. He assumed the entire nature of man into the unity of His Divine person, with all its integral parts and essential properties; and so was made or became a real and true man by that assumption. Hence it is said (John 1:14), "The Word was made flesh." But though Jesus Christ had two natures, yet not two persons, which was the error of Nestorius, who lived in the fourth century. Again, though "the Word was made flesh," yet it was without any confusion of the natures, or change of the one into the other: which was the heresy of the Eutychians of old, who so confounded the two natures in the person of Christ, that they denied all distinction between them. Eutyches thought that the-union was so made in the natures of Christ, that the humanity was absorbed and wholly turned into the Divine nature; so that, by that transubstantiation, the human nature had no longer being. But by this union the human nature is so united with the Divinity, that each retains its own essential properties distinct. The properties of either nature are preserved entire. It is impossible that the Majesty of the Divinity can receive any alteration; and it is as impossible that the meanness of the humanity can receive the impression of the Deity, so as to be changed into it, and a creature be metamorphosed into the Creator, and temporary flesh become eternal, and finite mount up into infinite. As the soul and the body are united, and make one person, yet the soul is not changed into the perfections of the body, nor the body into the perfections of the soul. There is a change indeed made in the humanity, by its being advanced to a more excellent union, but not in the Deity; as a change is made in the air when it is enlightened by the sun, not in the sun which communicates that brightness to the air. makes the burning bush to be a type of Christ's incarnation; the fire signifying the Divine nature, and the bush the human. The bush is a branch springing from the earth, and the fire descends from heaven. As the hush was united to the fire, yet was not hurt by the flame, nor converted into the fire, there remained a difference between the bush and the fire, yet the properties of fire shined in the bush, so that the whole bush seemed to be on fire. So in the incarnation of Christ, the human nature is not swallowed up by the Divine, nor changed into it, nor confounded with it: but they are so united, that the properties of both remain firm: two are so become one, that they remain two still; one person in two natures, containing the glorious perfections of the Divinity, and the weakness of the humanity. The fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily in Christ.
3. Christ's becoming man implies the voluntariness of this act of His in assuming the human nature.
III. I proceed to show that CHRIST WAS TRUE MAN. Being the eternal Son of God, He became man, by taking to Himself a true body and a reasonable soul. He had the same human nature which is common to all men, sin only excepted. He is called in Scripture "man," and" the Son of man, the seed of the woman, the seed of Abraham, the Son of David," &c.; which designations could not have been given unto Him, if He had not been true man. The actions and passions of His life show that He had true flesh. He was hungry, thirsty, weary, faint, &c. For certainly if the Son of God would stoop so low as to take upon Him our frail flesh, He would not omit the nobler part, the soul, without which He could not be man. We are told that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, the one in respect of His body, the other in respect of His soul. The sufferings of His body were indeed very great; it was filled with exquisite torture and pain; but His soul sufferings were much greater, as I observed in a former discourse.
IV. I come now to show WHAT WE ARE TO UNDERSTAND BY CHRIST'S BEING CONCEIVED BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY GHOST IN THE WOMB OF THE VIRGIN MARY. To open this a little three things are to be considered here.
I. The framing of Christ's human nature in the womb of the Virgin. The matter of His body was of the very flesh and blood of the virgin, otherwise He could not haw been the Son of David, of Abraham, and Adam, according to the flesh. Indeed God might have created His body out of nothing, or have formed it of the dust of the ground, as He did the body of Adam, our original progenitor: but had He been thus extraordinarily formed, and not propagated from Adam, though He had been a man like one of us, yet He would not have ban of kin to us; because it would not have been a nature derived from Adam, the common parent of us all. It was therefore requisite to an affinity with us, not only that He should have the same human nature, but that it should flow from the same principle, and be propagated to Him. And thus He is of the same nature that sinned, and so what He did and suffered may be imputed to us. Whereas, if He had been created as Adam was, it could not have been claimed in a legal and judicial way. The Holy Ghost did not minister any matter unto Christ from His own substance. Hence Basil says, Christ was conceived, not of the substance, but by the power, not by any generation, but by appointment and benediction of the Holy Ghost.
2. Let us consider the sanctifying of Christ's human nature. I have already said that that part of the flesh of the Virgin, whereof the human nature of Christ was made, was purified and refined from all corruption by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, as a skilful workman separates the dross from the gold. Our Saviour was therefore called " that holy thing " (Luke 1:35). Now this sanctification of the human nature of Christ was necessary.(1) To fit it for personal union with the Word, who, out of His infinite love, humbled Himself to become flesh, and at the same time out of His infinite purity, could not defile Himself by becoming sinful flesh.(2) With respect to the end of His incarnation, even the redemption and salvation of lost sinners; that as the first Adam was the fountain of our impurity, so the second Adam should also be the pure fountain of our righteousness. He that needed redemption himself could never have purchased redemption for us.
3. We are to consider the personal union of the manhood with the Godhead. To clear this a little, you would know —(1) That when Christ assumed our nature, it was not united consubstantially, so as the three persons in the Godhead are united among themselves; they all have but one and the same nature and will: but in Christ there are two distinct natures and wills, though but one person.(2) They are not united physically, as the soul and body are united in a man: for death actually dissolves that union; but this is indissoluble. So that when His soul was expired, and His body interred, both soul and body were still united to the second person as much as ever.(3) Nor yet is this such a mystical union as is between Christ and believers. Indeed this is a glorious union. But though believers are said to be in Christ, and Christ in them, yet they arc not one person with Him. But more positively, this assumption of which I speak is that whereby the second person in the glorious Godhead did take the human nature into a persons! union with Himself, by virtue whereof the manhood subsists in the second person, yet without confusion, as I showed already, both making but one person Immanuel, God with us. So that though there be a twofold nature in Christ, yet not a double person. Again, as it was produced miraculously, so it was assumed integrally; that is to say, Christ took a complete and perfect soul and body, with all and every faculty and member pertaining to it. And this was necessary, that thereby He might heal the whole nature of the disease and leprosy of sin, which had ceased upon and wofully infected every member and faculty of man. Christ assumed all, to sanctify all. Again, He assumed our nature with all its sinless infirmities: therefore it is said of Him (Hebrews 2:17), "In all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren." But here we are to distinguish between personal and natural infirmities. Personal infirmities are such as befall particular persons, from particular causes, as dumbness, deafness, blindness, lameness, leprosies, &c. Now, it was no way necessary that Christ should assume these; but the natural ones, such as hunger, thirst, weariness, sweating, bleeding, mortality, &e. (Romans 8:3). Again, the human nature is so united with the Divine, that each nature still retains its own essential properties distinct. The glory of His Divinity was not extinguished or diminished, though it was eclipsed and obscured under the veil of our humanity; but there was no more change in the hiding of it, than there is in the body of the sun, when he is shadowed by the interposition of a cloud, And this union of the two natures in Christ is an inseparable union; so that from the first moment thereof, there never was, nor to all eternity shall there ever be, any separation of them.
V. I now proceed to show way CHRIST WAS BORN OF A VIRGIN. That Christ was to be born of a virgin, was prophesied and foretold many ages before His incarnation, as Isaiah 7:14. The Redeemer of the world behoved to be so born, as not to derive the stain of man's nature by His generation. It was most conformable to the infinite dignity of His person, that a supernatural and a Divine person be concerned as an active principle in it. By His being born of a virgin the holiness of His nature is effectually secured. Christ was an extraordinary person, and another Adam; and therefore it was necessary He should be produced a new way. Thus we may be thoroughly satisfied —
2. That He had reasonable soul, which was a created spirit, and that the Divine nature was not instead of a soul to Him.
3. That Christ's body was not made of any substance sent down from heaven, but of the substance of the Virgin (Galatians 4:4). He was "the seed of the woman" (Genesis 3:15), and the fruit of Mary's womb (Luke 1:42), otherwise He had not been our brother.
4. That the Holy Ghost cannot be called the Father of Christ, since His human nature was formed, not of His substance, but of that of the Virgin, by His power.
5. That though as to the nativity of Christ there was nothing as to the way of it extraordinary, but He was at the ordinary time brought forth as others (Luke 2:22, 23), and that as a general truth. "A woman, when she is in travail, hath sorrow, because her hour is come" (John 16:21), yet He was born without sin, being "that holy thing." He could not have been our Redeemer, had He not been so (Hebrews 7:26).
6. That the reason why Christ was born without sin, and the sin of Adam did not reach Him, was because He came not of Adam by ordinary generation, not by the blessing of marriage, but by a special promise after the fall.I shall conclude all with some INFERENCES.
1. Jesus Christ is the true Messiah promised to Adam as the seed of the woman, to Abraham as his seed, the Shiloh mentioned by Jacob on his deathbed, the Prophet spoken of by Moses to be raised from among the children of Israel, the Son of David, and the Son to be born of a virgin.
2. Behold the wonderful love of God the Father, who was content to degrade and abase His dear Son, in order to bring about the salvation of sinners.
3. See here the wonderful love and astonishing condescendency of the Son, to be born of a woman, in order that He might die in the room of sinners. What great love to sinners, and what unparalleled condescension was here!
4. See here the cure of our being conceived in sin, and brought forth in iniquity.
5. Christ is sensibly touched with all the infirmities that attend our frail nature, and has pity and compassion upon His people under all their pressures and burdens (Hebrews 2:17, 18).
(T. Boston.)Ecclesia. The Eccleisa is a people called out. Out from what? Out from the world. As long as the present condition of things continues, the Church and the world can never be coextensive terms. The Church will always be found to be an Ecclesia, an election; in other words a people of separation, separate by privilege of course, but separate by responsibility also. And separation is the first essential feature of every true Christian life. In this separation there are two things to be remembered. In the first place, the separation is the act of God. It is God who separates, as He teaches us, when speaking to His people of old He says to them, "Be ye holy, for I am holy, who have separated you to be My people." God separated His people to Himself, first, by the passage of the Red Sea, and then by the sprinkling of the blood when Moses came down from Mount Sinai. And so it is with us. We are separated by God's act. The great act of separation with us is the act of Holy Baptism. We have been separated by God's act, and we are to respond to it now by coming out and by being separate. Separate from what? Now here we must be very careful as we work our way, for we have to avoid two distinct difficulties. We have to avoid practically making the Church and the world the same, and saying that the Church has, so to say, to put a gloss over the world; and, on the other hand, we have to avoid an unpractical, uncommon sense trancendentalism, which is contrary to the example of Christ and the spirit of His gospel. That marvellous Eucharistic prayer of our Lord seems to teach the plain truth about this matter: "I pray not that Thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil." What He prays for is this — not that He may have a people living in absolute isolation from society, but that He may have a people going out into the society of their day, living lives of loyalty to Christ where Christ's name is denied, living lives of bold obedience to principle while passion sways the conduct of the many. Well, then, what we understand by the world is society as far as it is swayed by passion and desire, and not by principle and loyalty to Christ. In other words, the world is godless and corrupt society; and from that we must come out and be separate. Woe be to us if we fail in loyalty to Christ here. We shall bear, to our own shame before men, angels, and God, the brand of moral cowardice, and a more degrading brand than that cannot be stamped on any man or woman's brow. Again, what are we to understand by separation? Well, we know in the Jewish days there were different degrees of separation. There was, for instance, the separation of the tribe of Levi for the diaconate, the separation of the family of Aaron for the priesthood, the separation of the Nazarites for a life of special strictness. Then, above all, there was the life of separation which marked off every Jew from the Gentiles as he obeyed the requirements of the Jewish law. So, again, in the Church there are different forms of separation.
I. To mention the highest of all, THERE IS THE SEPARATION TO WHAT WE CALL RELIGION. There are those to whom the voice comes which has found its expression in the 45th Psalm, verses 10 and 11. There is a state of life created by Christ in His Church, to which men and women are attracted to follow Him in poverty, in chastity, and in obedience; and of all forms of separation, that of the religious life is the most intense in its expression.
II. Then, again, THERE IS THE SEPARATION OF PROVIDENTIAL CIRCUMSTANCES. I want to mention three especially.
1. First of all, come family ties. Always think highly of the family. There is no sphere in life in which woman can minister better, in which she can do greater work for God, for the Church, and for those for whom Christ lived and died, than within the limits of the home.
2. Then there are those who are called aside by sickness, those whom God in His wonderful way leads by constrainings that must be submitted to, to a separation not only from the world outside, but sometimes even from the family within. As the world would say, they are apparently useless for life. But Do; they are led by God within the veil. Like the priest of Israel who twice daily entered into the Holy Place, and stood by the alter of incense alone and offered its sweet savour to God; so these are led by God by a wonderful separation to do a higher work than that of ministering, and that is the work of intercession.
3. Then, again, I cannot help thinking that there is a third way in which God separates some in His providential leadings, and that is by a retiring disposition. I do not for a moment say that you ought to give way to that self-consciousness which to many makes intercourse with the world one long agony. But there are many of you who go through life sorely weighted by that shyness, that self-consciousness, which makes you always think that nobody cares for you. It may be that even this temperament is a revelation of the will of God for you, and that by it he has separated you from much social joy and from many opportunities of exercising visibly holy influence, in order that you may be numbered with that hidden band whose ministry is the secret ministry of intercession rather than the ministry of open work. And, believe me, all these family ties, all these providential visitations of sickness and of temperament, are separations created by God, to which it is our wisdom, as it is our duty, to be submissive and obedient.
III. Then, again, THERE IS THE SEPARATION OF OBEDIENCE TO THE INNER LEADINGS OF THE SPIRIT, "We are not under the law, but under grace." Many, we know, would like to have a definite law telling them what they may do and what they may not. You may go to a concert, but not to a theatre, you may ,go to a dinner party, but not to a ball — everything put down as clear as it can be. And we know that in former days Puritanism did attempt something of the kind; but it ended in failure, as it was bound to do. For we have not simply to deal with abstract laws, but we have to deal with individual characters. Cannot you see how it may be harmful for one to go where to another it would not only be not harmful, but positively helpful. So, outside the great Moral Law, God does not lay down any hard and fast rule, He does not legislate for our amusements. He put us under the guidance of the Spirit. Some people go with a clear conscience where others cannot go but with a guilty conscience. The great law of Christian life here is this — always be true to conscience; never allow yourself to do what you believe to be contrary to God's Will for you, but do not limit another Christian's liberty by your own rule of conduct or your own conviction as to what is lawful or expedient. Ah! be sure of it, separation will always mark off those whose lives are ruled by principle where lives are generally ruled by passion. What is the great principle that rules conduct in the world? Is it not undisciplined desire? That is the one great thing men live for — to gratify desire. But when Christ really comes into the heart the pain of pains is to grieve Him, and the joy of joys is to please Him, because we love Him. In no mere metaphorical language, we really love Him, and to give Him joy is our joy. How can we henceforth go out into the world and deny Him, and not rather there own Him gladly, by proved obedience to His manifested will? Last of all, love separates in yet another way. Love melts. It first renews, and then inspires, and then it melts. It has often happened even in the love of this world, that intercourse has begun with revulsion, but then love came in after a time, and the one who has been misunderstood is seen as she really is; and then comes grief for all the past, and with that grief comes of necessity the desire for reparation, the ready confession of wrong-doling and full purpose of amendment of life. And so it is with us. We loved not God, we knew not what He was; and then came a revelation of Him in Christ, and then the free gift of His Spirit in our hearts brings upon us a deep grief. I grieve that I should have sinned against a love so great, so long enduring — this recognized love of God melts me down into contrition, it makes me hate all my past life, until continuance in it is an impossibility, it brings me to his feet in confession, it raises me to go forth and show my sorrow for a life conformed to the world in the dead past by separation from the world in the living present. Such is the first thought that we have to notice. The life of a Christian is a life of separation because it is a life lived in the power of the love of God.
(Canon Body.)I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE DOCTRINE AS AN ARTICLE OF THE FAITH. It is evidently the foundation of the whole distinction between the character of Christ in the condition of a man and that of any other prophet. Had the conception of Jesus been in the natural way, His intercourse with the Deity could have been of no other kind than the nature of any other man might have equally admitted; than the prophets enjoyed, when their minds were enlightened by the extraordinary influence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Scriptures speak a very different language: they tell us, that "the same God who spake in times past to the fathers by the prophets, hath in these latter days spoken unto us by His Son;" evidently establishing a distinction of Christianity from preceding revelations, upon a distinction between the two characters of a prophet of God, and of God's Son. Moses bore to Jesus, as we are told, the humble relation of a servant to a son. And lest the superiority on the side of the Son should be deemed a mere superiority of the office to which He was appointed, we are told that the Son is "higher than the angels; being the effulgence of God's glory, the express image of His person; "the God whose throne is for ever and ever, the sceptre of whose kingdom is a sceptre of righteousness." And this high dignity of the Son is alleged as a motive for religious obedience to His commands, and for reliance on His promises. It is this, indeed, which gives such authority to His precepts, and such certainty to His whole doctrine, as render faith in Him the first duty of religion. But we need not go so high as to the Divine nature of our Lord to evince the necessity of His miraculous conception. It was necessary to the scheme of redemption, by the Redeemer's offering of Himself as an expiatory sacrifice, that the manner of His conception should be such that He should in no degree partake of the natural pollution of the fallen race whose guilt He came to atone, nor be included in the general condemnation of Adam's progeny. On the other hand, it were not difficult to show that the miraculous conception, once admitted, naturally brings up after it the great doctrines of the atonement and the incarnation. The miraculous conception of our Lord evidently implies some higher purpose of His coming than the mere business of a teacher. The business of a teacher might have been performed by a mere man enlightened by the prophetic spirit.
II. Having seen the importance of the doctrine of the miraculous conception as an article of our faith, let us, in the next place, consider THE SUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE BY WHICH THE FACT IS SUPPORTED. We have for it the express testimony of two out of the four evangelists, — of St. Matthew, whose Gospel was published in Judea within a few years after our Lord's Ascension; and of St. Luke, whose narrative was composed (as may be collected from the author's short preface) to prevent the mischief that was to be apprehended from some pretended histories of our Saviour's life, in which the truth was probably blended with many legendary tales. It is very remarkable, that the fact of the miraculous conception should be found in the first of the four Gospels, — written at a time when many of the near relations of the holy family must have been living, by whom the story, had it been false, had been easily confuted; that it should be found again in St. Luke's Gospel, written for the peculiar use of the converted Gentiles, and for the express purpose of furnishing a summary of authentic facts, and of suppressing spurious narrations. Was it not ordered by some peculiar providence of God, that the two great branches of the primitive Church, the Hebrew congregations for which St. Matthew wrote, and the Greek congregations for which St. Luke wrote, should find an express record of the miraculous conception each in its proper Gospel? Or if we consider the testimony of the writers simply as historians of the times in which they lived, without regard to their inspiration, which is not admitted by the adversary, — were not Matthew and Luke — Matthew, one of the twelve apostles of our Lord, and Luke, the companion of St. Paul — competent to examine the evidence of the facts which they have recorded? Is it likely that they have recorded facts upon the credit of a vague report, without examination?
(Bishop Horsley.)agony of faith. Nay! may she acquiesce without sin? Her betrothal — what can it mean? — is to be ignored, and her child is to recognize no earthly father. What will the world say, that little world — all the more terrible because it is so little — of society in Nazareth? And how shall she break it to Joseph? And, then, she may remember some dreadful story she has overheard her elders tell in low, stern tones; how some betrothed maiden had been suspected of what she herself was now called upon to brave, and how there had been a trial, and she had been pronounced guilty; and then they had brought her out to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city had stoned her to death: the only way, they said, of putting away evil from among them. And she was conscious that she must brave all this, practically, alone; there was no prophet, in her case, who would make himself responsible for her integrity, and explain it all to the people, and give them a sign, and convince them that it was all from God. The angel there before her might be very real to her, but when he has disappeared and left her — people do not very readily believe in angels' visits to their neighbours; will she ever be quite sure herself?
(E. T. Marshall, M. A.)
II. And now let us see, secondly, THE PENALTIES UNDER WHICH THIS DOCTRINE IS PROMULGATED. They are those of the Church's anathema and the condemnation of God. Whosoever henceforth shall deny it is condemned as an heretic. "Let no man," says the decree, "interfere with this our declaration, pronunciation, and definition, or oppose or contradict it with presumptuous rashness. If any should presume to assail it, let him know that he will incur the indignation of the Omnipotent God, and of His blessed apostles Peter and Paul."
III. Thirdly, let us consider OUR REASONS FOR OBJECTING TO THIS PROMULGATION. First, then, we object to it as the unlawful addition of a new article to the Creed. And here, first, we must establish that it is such an addition. There can be no mistake as to this matter. Before the promulgating of this decree, any one within the Roman communion might, as she teaches, deny, with St. Bernard and St. , the doctrine of the immaculate conception of the virgin and be saved; since that 8th of December, whosoever denies it must be lost. It is, therefore, on their showing, anew and necessary article of a Christian man's faith. Every lawful addition then to the Creed must be made in accordance with these conditions. And now, if we try this newly-propounded article by these conditions, we shall be able to prove its unlawfulness. For, first, it lacks the condition of the assent of the whole body of the faithful. It is assented to neither by the Eastern, nor by our own branch, of the universal Church. It is true that this argument will not weigh with Rome, because, after the exact pattern of the old Donatist schismatics, she claims to be exclusively THE catholic body, and makes, as they did, communion with herself the one condition of communion with her Lord. But to all beyond these comparatively narrow limits, this argument against her intrusive article is of itself unanswerable. But next it falls under the same condemnation, because it is not the old truth held from the beginning, but a new proposition, which was not received by the primitive Church. To prove this, we need but to compare a few of the plainest facts of history with the very words of the decree by which this dogma has been now promulgated. "The Church," it declares, "has never ceased to lay down this doctrine, and to cherish and to illustrate it continually by numerous proofs, and more and more daily by splendid facts. For the Church has most clearly pointed out this doctrine, when she did not hesitate to propose the conception of the Virgin for the public devotion and veneration of the faithful. By which illustrious act she pointed out the conception of the Virgin as singular, wonderful, and very far removed from the origins of the rest of mankind, and to be venerated as entirely holy; since the Church celebrates festival-days only of the saints." Here, then, we have(1) an admission that, for the validity of the decree, it must be possible to assert that it is the ancient truth which it enacts; and next(2) the rest pretended proof which can be given that the doctrine was thus held of old. From what remote antiquity then is this proof drawn? The answer is well worthy of notice. The earliest date which the Pope can give for any declaration of the dogma, is that of the "illustrious act by which the Roman Church proposed the conception of the virgin for the public devotion of the faithful." And when that "act" was wrought we may learn from a decree of Alexander VIIth, the earliest of his predecessors whom the Pope dares to quote by name, as having " protected and defended the conception as the true object of devotion." For this decree informs us, that "this pious, devout., add laudable institution emanated from our predecessor Sixtus the IVth." Now Sixtus IVth succeeded to the papacy almost at the close of the fifteenth century; so that this is the earliest act which the Pope can allege to prove his proposition, that "the Church has never ceased to lay down this doctrine." But even this is not all; since we cannot fully estimate the falsehood of this reference until we compare it with the decree itself. For this, so far from implying, even at that late period, the implicit holding of the doctrine which is here insinuated, actually provides a special prohibition to guard against any being led by the fact of the festival to condemn those who deny the immaculate conception, "because the matter has not been decided by the Apostolic See." Of so late a growth is this doctrine in the Roman communion itself, and so signally does this its novelty condemn its promulgation as an article of faith. We are able to disprove by positive evidence the only other conceivable suggestion by which it could be justified, namely, that though not enunciated sooner, yet that within the bosom of the Church the doctrine was held implicitly from early times. For in answer to this, we assert not only that there is no evidence for it, but that the voice of catholic antiquity distinctly contradicts such a supposition. "Of thee," for instance, says one, speaking of our Lord's nativity, "He took that which even for thee He paid. The mother of the Redeemer herself, otherwise than by redemption, is not loosed from the bond of that ancient sin." "He, therefore," says the great , "alone who was at once made Man and remained God, had never any sin, nor took a flesh of sin, although tie came from a maternal flesh of sin. For that of flesh which He took He either purified to take it, or in the taking purified it;" and so say all their own greatest authorities. Hear the judgment on this point of one of their bishops, by no means the least learned of their canonists: — "That the Blessed Virgin," says Melchior Canus, "was entirely free from original sin, is nowhere held in Holy Scripture, taken in its literal sense; but on the other hand, in them is delivered the general law which includes all the sons of Adam. without any exception. Nor can it be said that this teaching descended to the Church through the tradition of the apostles, since such traditions have come down to us only through those ancient and holy writers who succeeded the apostles. But it is evident that those ancient writers had not received it from those before them... All the saints who have mentioned this matter have with one mouth asserted that the Virgin Mary was conceived in original sin. This St. lays down, this St. Augustine repeatedly; this St. , this Eusebius Emissenus, this and Maximus, this and Anselm affirm; this St. Bernard and Erhardus, bishop and martyr, with a multitude besides: this doctrine none of the saints have contravened." Neither implicitly, then, nor in open declaration, has this dogma been a doctrine of the Church of old.
IV. But once more, and above all; since the canon of Holy Scripture was complete, No DECLARATION OF DOCTRINE COULD EVER BE INSERTED IN THE CREEDS, WHICH COULD NOT BE SHOWN TO ACCORD WITH THAT WRITTEN WORD OF GOD. And when tested by this rule, the unlawfulness of this attempt will be most clearly proved. For not only is there no passage which can be alleged as even tending to prove it, but against it stand arrayed the clearest sentences of Holy Writ. "For," says St. Paul, after examining the case alike of those without the law, as the heathen, or under the law, as the mother of Christ; "For there is no difference, for all have sinned" — and therefore Mary — "and come short of the glory of God; being justified," not by immaculate conception, but "freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." And again, "There is none righteous, no, not one." But next
V. we object, not only to any introduction of a new dogma, but we object also in particular to this as, to say the least, HAVING DIRECT TENDENCIES TO HERESY. For it is no mere speculation; it is full of deadly consequences. For, first, if in the course of the Divine process for working out our salvation, our fallen nature was pure from spot of sin in any one before that in the person of Jesus Christ our Lord it was through the operation of the Holy Ghost, sanctified wholly by the union of His Godhead with it, then is that one, and not He, the first fountain of new life to our corrupted race. This teaching, therefore, points us not to Christ, but to Mary, as the well-head of our restored humanity; and thus does it directly shake the great doctrine of the incarnation. And then, further, if that nature which He thus took in the womb of His virgin mother was not that which she, like others, inherited from Adam, but one made by God's creative power to exist under new conditions of original purity, how can we say that He indeed took from her our very nature? Then was that quarry whence was dug that flesh which He united to His Godhead, not of our fallen, but of a new and different, nature; and then is His perfect brotherhood with us destroyed. And yet once more: this last conclusion leads us to another reason why, in God's name, we protest against this dogma. For it is not merely accidentally that it thus endangers our faith in the true incarnation of our Lord, and points our eyes from Him to His mother as the medium between God and us; but this dangerous delusion is a part, and the crowning part, of a whole system which really places on the Mediator's throne the virgin mother instead of the incarnate Son. For this is the grand characteristic of the whole Roman system of Mariolatrous imposture. It does confer upon the Virgin Mary the Mediator's office. The whole system of Rome does make the Virgin Mother the special mediator between God and man. It teaches sinners to look to her as more tender, more merciful, more full of pity, more able to sympathize with their infirmities, than is that true High-priest, who is such as "became us," because He is fitted by the perfect holiness, and yet true brotherhood with us, of the nature He assumed, "to have compassion upon the ignorant, and upon them that are out of the way." Amongst all its defacement of the truth of Christ, this is perhaps the plainest and one of the most hideous features of Roman superstition.
VI. Lastly, brethren, suffer me to lay before you SOME OF THE DUTIES WHICH, AS IT SEEMS TO ME, ARE ENFORCED UPON US BY THIS SAD SPECTACLE OF DEEP CORRUPTION WITHIN THE ROMAN CHURCH.
1. The first is that which, however inadequately, I have felt bound to attempt this day to discharge. It is to protest anew against this monstrous effort to corrupt, by man's additions, the revealed truth of God.
2. Next, surely it is our duty, with all sadness of soul, to make on behalf of those who have so deeply fallen, our humble intercessions with our long-suffering Lord.
3. Again, the sight of this evil surely enforces upon us another duty. For the sake of truth and for the love of souls, we, whose rule of faith is God's Word, and whose interpreter of Scripture is true catholic consent, are bound to hold faster than ever to these our real principles.
4. But we have yet another duty, as we contemplate this fearful spectacle; we have to separate ourselves from its evil.
(Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)
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