And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, Who is this? And the multitude said, This is Jesus, the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. Matthew xxi. 10, 11.
AND, my brethren, were strangers to us and to our religion to appear on this day, for the first time, among us, and to witness the general burst of joy which marks this festive day, and to hear that it was called forth in commemoration of the birth of some celebrated personage, his would be the inquiry which was excited by the advent of Christ to Jerusalem, Who is this I And ours would be the answer of the multitude who accompanied him, of the admiring thousands who hung upon the words that proceeded out of his mouth, of the celestial harbingers of his birth, This is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee--the Teacher sent from God, who spake as never man spake--the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
The individual who comes forward as the Guide and Instructor of mankind, must expect his pretensions to be strictly scrutinized, and his character and qualifications to be brought to the ordeal of severe investigation. Who is this? is a question which not merely idle curiosity, but sober reflection, will prompt. And when the subjects on which [259/260] this personage professes to cast the light of truth, respect not physical, intellectual, or political, but religious knowledge--not the evanescent life that now is, not the transitory concerns of the world, but the never-ending existence, the enduring scenes beyond the grave--the claims which he advances to our confidence and submission become infinitely exalted in importance.
Never was the solemn attention of the world called to a personage so interesting as he whose birth we this day commemorate, Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth of Galilee. In the fulfilment of predictions which, shining with the increasing lustre of ages, had from the beginning marked him as the desire of all nations, and the hope of his chosen people Israel, he appeared, to accomplish the stupendous object from which cherubim arid seraphim would have shrunk--to take away sin, to make atonement for transgression, to bring in everlasting righteousness: he appeared, to perform what had hitherto baffled the mightiest efforts of the human intellect, to unbar the prison-house of the grave, and to open the mansions of the eternal world.
And surely every one who reflects that he possesses a spiritual and immortal nature, must instantly feel the earnest and deeply-solicitous desire that a personage, whose errand is so benignant, whose designs of mercy are of such infinite moment, may evidence those qualifications and exhibit those testimonies which would irresistably prove that God is with him.
Let us then with humility and reverence investigate the personal character of him who, as at this time, appeared as the divine Messenger of the Father, the powers which he exercised, and the offices [260/261] which he came to execute, and we shall see abundant cause to adore him as the Teacher sent from God--the way, the truth, and the life--the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.
1. The personal character of Jesus Christ.
In one who should claim a divine mission, who should profess to reform the world and to establish a system of religious and moral truth, we should expect to behold exemplified the exalted virtues which he inculcates. Example adorning and enforcing precept, would alone give authority to his instructions, and excite our admiration and our confidence.
In the character of Jesus Christ the expectations of the most scrupulous are fully gratified. The precepts and the spirit of the religion which he inculcated were of the most pure and exalted nature; and this spirit shone forth most resplendently in his character; these precepts, in their uttermost purity and strictness, he uniformly illustrated and enforced in the tenour of his life.
He inculcated humility, meekness, and lowliness, as the most exalted virtues that can adorn the human character. Of these, virtues we behold him a perfect model. Born in a manger, and cradling with the beasts of the stall, the example of humility which ushered him into the world, marked every period of his life, and shone forth most illustriously in its close. Wandering without a place to lay his head; not disdaining the society of the refuse of the people, of publicans and sinners, when his object was to administer to their spiritual wants; choosing for his companions, for the friends of his bosom and the heralds of his instructions to the world, those emphatically styled, in the language [261/262] of contempt, the fishermen of Galilee; wishing neither the favour of the great nor the splendid gifts of the wealthy, but going about among the children of poverty and affliction, that he might bind up the broken-hearted and comfort those that mourn; when the great work of atonement for man's transgression was to be effected, not shrinking from the agony and infamy of the cross, the punishment of the vilest malefactors; where, among the most perfect of the sons of men, was there one who displayed humility like thine, Saviour of the world? Though thou wast the brightness of the Father's glory, the only-begotten Son who shared the throne of universal dominion, thou didst humble thyself to a life of the deepest suffering, and to a death of agony and infamy.
Jesus Christ inculcated purity, self-denial, and the most active benevolence; and he exhibited in his character and life what his instructions enforced: deceit was not in his tongue, neither was guile found in his mouth. He took up the cross of self-denial, and it sunk him to the grave. In doing good, in relieving the diseased bodies, in saving the guilty souls of men, his heart was unceasingly occupied, his life unceasingly engaged.
He inculcated that perfection of virtue, the forgiveness of injuries; and though persecution assailed him--though his sacred person received the vilest indignities--though by wicked hands he was crucified and slain; prayers were the only reproaches which he poured forth on his murderers--"Father, forgive them: for they know not what they do."
There was not a virtue which can adorn or exalt the human character, which can claim for it [262/263] admiration, veneration, and love, or which can raise it to a resemblance to the perfection and purity of the divine nature, which shone not forth with transcendent lustre in the character and life of Jesus Christ.
From the character of Christ turn your view to the powers which he exercised.
These are the great tests by which we determine his pretensions to divine authority; for how can a man do works obviously and decidedly transcending human power, unless God be with him? Behold, then, this Prophet of Nazareth, commanding and receiving the obedience of universal nature--by a word calming the boisterous tempest--by a word quelling the raging surges of the ocean: hear him speaking the word, and the eyes of the blind are opened, the lame man leaps as a hart, the ears of the deaf are unstopped, the tongue of the dumb sings: behold him entering the domains of death, and raising to life and strength the victims of corruption. Well may we say, Could a man do these miracles, except God were with him?
In regard to these miracles, there could be no deception, no collusion: they were wrought, not in some obscure retreat, but in the face of day--not among a few of his friends and companions, but amidst large assemblages of the people, among his bitter and scrutinizing enemies.
Require we evidence that he wrought these mighty works? The record of them is contained in writings which have been handed down to us from the period of his appearance. As a faithful history of his life and actions, friends and foes both appealed to them. Every possible evidence which authenticates ancient writings, supports them. The [263/264] scepticism which rejects them, must reject all historical testimony, and destroy the records of the past transactions of the world.
Are there then any who doubt whether Jesus of Nazareth and his apostles wrought the miracles which have been ascribed to them? How will these sceptics account for a fact which even the early opponents of Christianity attest--the rapid and universal propagation of the Gospel, its establishment on the ruins of that Pagan superstition whose temples were supported by the credulity of the ignorant, the passions of the vicious, and the power of the mighty?
Did the potent sway of wealth, learning, or rank, aid the promulgators of this religion in a system of imposture? They subsisted principally by the work of their hands, or the alms of their followers; they were illiterate fishermen; they rose from among the outcasts of the people.
Did the wealth, the power, and the learning of the world unite to establish and support the religion of Jesus of Nazareth? The wealth, learning, and power of the world combined to crush the disciples of a crucified Galilean, these setters forth of strange gods, these disturbers of the peace of the world.
Did the religion of Jesus and his disciples offer any compromise with the passions of men, hold forth any excitement to his pride, any lure to his passions? Look at this religion and say, whether, to the prejudices and pride of man, many of its doctrines are not revolting; and whether, to his guilty passions, its pure and self-denying precepts are not hateful? So far from conciliating the prejudices, or enlisting in its support the passions of [264/265] men, the Gospel of Christ was to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness.
Were there any worldly motives which could have induced the disciples of Christ to form or to persevere in a system of imposture? Totally destitute, as ignorant fishermen, of the qualifications and means of imposture, the bonds and imprisonment to which they were soon subject would have arrested them in a course of deception; and it is contrary to reason and nature to suppose that they would have persevered in attesting the death and resurrection of their Master, in constant opposition to their worldly interest, through poverty, persecution, and death.
It is morally impossible that a religion opposed to all the prejudices and passions of mankind, which the arm of wealth and power sought to crush, would have been carried triumphant through the world by a set of illiterate and obscure impostors. Unless Jesus of Nazareth had himself exercised miraculous powers, and had conferred these powers on his disciples, his death would have blasted his designs; and his disciples, who, at this awful event, forsook him and fled, instead of being the illustrious heralds of a religion which shook to its foundations the temple at Mount Zion and overthrew the altars of Pagan idolatry, would have sunk again into obscurity among the fishermen of Galilee.
But if we rejoice that he whose birth we this day celebrate, exhibits, in his personal character and in the works which he performed, the strongest claims to confidence as the divine Messenger of the Father, we shall find these claims powerfully enhanced by the testimony of prophecy.
For who but some being commissioned by that [265/266] Almighty Jehovah who beholds with one glance the past, the present, and the future, could foretell future and distant events, the most improbable and incredible? Pass by the numerous predictions relative to the Messiah, enlightening, through a long tract of time, the darkness of the world, and at last centering all their rays in Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth, and contemplate a single prediction which he delivered--the destruction of Jerusalem, the dispersion of the Jews, and their remaining for centuries a despised and persecuted, yet distinct and independent people. The prediction was made--history records, our eyes see its signal fulfilment.
Thus then, my brethren, while the personal character of Jesus of Nazareth, whose birth we this day celebrate, entitles him to our esteem and confidence, the powers which he exercised prove that God was with him--prove that he was, what he professed to be, the Son of God and the Saviour of the world.
2. Our confidence in his divine character and mission will be increased, and our grateful joy confirmed and enlivened, if we contemplate the exalted offices which he came to execute.
As a religious Instructor. Where, but in the Words of him who spake as never man spake, shall we find a full and luminous exhibition of the perfections and will of the eternal Maker and Sovereign of the universe--of those duties by which we must honour and glorify him who has made, who sustains and governs, and who is to judge hs--of the duties which our fellow-men claim from us--of those by which we must advance our own perfection and happiness? Where, but in the Gospel of Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth, shall we find [266/267] every pious and moral virtue exalted to the highest purity--illustrated by example, as well as taught by precept--rendered practicable by divine aids, and enforced by everlasting sanctions?
As our gracious High Priest and Intercessor. Where, but in that cross, which, by the sufferings and death of him, the Almighty Victim, vindicated to the universe the violated authority of its Almighty Sovereign, is the mystery resolved which so long perplexed and tortured the bosom of guilty man--how the punishment of sin, which divine justice demanded, can be reconciled with its pardon, to which divine mercy prompted? Where, but in the merits of him, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world, can we find the balm which soothes the pains of a guilty conscience, and allays the fears of the troubled bosom? Where, but in him whose mercy is equal to his power, can the guilty obtain a refuge, the weary and heavy-laden an eternal rest? Where, but in the intercession of him who is an all-prevailing Advocate with the Father, can we find a shelter from the penalties of that divine law which we have violated--from the fearful indignation of that justice which, by our transgressions, we have provoked?
As the great King and Captain of our salvation. Where, but in that Holy Spirit which he, our divine Redeemer, hath purchased for us, and which he confers in answer to our prayers, which he conveys through the ministrations and ordinances of his church, can we find that light which will disperse from our minds the shades of spiritual darkness--that grace which will subdue in our hearts the sinful dominion of the passions, and [267/268] invest our souls with those holy virtues which alone can qualify us for the fruition of the divine presence--and that almighty strength which will enanble us to overcome the numerous, insidious, and powerful temptations that assail us? Where, but in him, the King of kings and Lord of lords, to whom all power is given in heaven and in earth, shall we find an unfailing refuge amidst the agitations, the changes, and trials of this mortal pilgrimage? Whence, when convulsed in the grasp of our last enemy, shall we draw consolation and support, but from the grace of him who hath passed through the grave and gate of death, to conduct his followers to a joyful resurrection'! To whom, indeed, when our souls tremble on the verge of eternity, shall we go but unto thee, blessed Jesus?--thou only hast the words of eternal life--art mighty to save in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment.
At this season, brethren, when the church calls you to celebrate the nativity of your Lord, how can you be more suitably or profitably engaged than in the inquiry that occupied Jerusalem at his advent into it--Who is this? It is Jesus, the Prophet of Nazareth; he whose pure and benevolent virtues demand your admiration and love; he whose divine powers prove that he is a Teacher sent from God--the Saviour, who is Christ the Lord; he who, in his beneficent and divine offices, as that Instructor, that atoning Priest and Intercessor, that Almighty Defender and Ruler, claims your profound homage, your cordial trust, your grateful love, your devoted service.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the [268/269] prophets, hath, in these last days, spoken unto us by his Son; and his commandment is, that we believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth, mighty to save. On the infinitely momentous subject of their acceptance with God, Jews and Gentiles, the bond and the free, the learned and the ignorant, are all equal; they have but one hope--he who, as at this time, came to save his people from their sins; and who will thus save the humble and penitent, believing in his name, and merits, and power.
See then that ye refuse not him that speaketh; for how many and how infinitely powerful the claims which he presents to our homage and our confidence! He is, as an inspired prophet calls him, Wonderful, whether we consider the dignity and glory of his nature, the astonishing mystery of his incarnation, or the splendid triumphs of his grace: he is the Counsellor--the infinite, eternal, incomprehensible Word, who promulgates the counsels of the Godhead, the messages of divine wisdom: he is the mighty God, equal in power and glory with the everlasting Father, Jehovah, King of kings and Lord of lords: and he was hailed by adoring seraphs on the morn of his birth--and on the anniversary of this blessed day let us, brethren, thus adore him--as the Prince of Peace, the Messenger of glad tidings to a guilty world, speaking peace, by the merits of his blood, to the guilty conscience, and calming, by his peaceful and consoling spirit, the agitations of the sinful and troubled soul. "Fairer art thou than the sons of men, O thou most mighty!--grace is poured on thy lips--God hath blessed thee for ever."
 Brethren, let not this sacred festival, which records his deep humiliation, which presents him to us in the garb of poverty and wretchedness, the devoted representative of our guilt and heir of our misery, return, time after time, and still find any of us insensible to the infinite condescensions of his love, unmoved by the solicitations of his mercy, attached solely to the perishing pleasures of the world, and indifferent to those immortal glories which he hath brought down from heaven for us. How inestimable indeed the gift of life and immortality which this Prophet of Nazareth dispenses! The original sentence of mortality, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return," will be executed upon all the sons of men. That towering strength, which subdues to our dominion the powers of nature, and often marches in horror through the world, will fail at the touch of death. Those ardent desires, which, not confined within the limits of this earth, wing their way through immeasurable space, will sink under the stroke which consigns the breast in which they glow to the embrace of Corruption. Those precious sensibilities of the heart which now burn with so bright and pure a flame, will soon be extinguished in the dark, and «old, and silent grave. In that grave already slumber myriads, who were once ardent, active, joyful, like ourselves. Into the awful repose of this house appointed for all the living, we have seen committed, alas! how many endeared objects of our friendship and affection!--and here, in this gloomy receptacle, will friends and relatives soon, with sorrowing footsteps, consign us. And is this the end of our splendid worldly career--this the termination of our labours and our hopes--to be [270/271] entombed for ever in the mansions of darkness--to have the worm for our couch, and the earth-worm for our covering? No, brethren; this joyful day celebrates the birth of that Almighty Conqueror, who has subdued to his dominion these dread domains. And if our faith is stayed on him, he will redeem us from death, he will ransom us from the grave. Through the grave and gate of death he will open to us the path of life, and will conduct us to those mansions of glory which he hath gone before to prepare for us. "The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." [Isaiah xxxv. 10.]
Let, then, every return of this sacred festival, which celebrates the birth of that Saviour who is Christ the Lord, excite in all faithful Christians the emotions of triumphant confidence and grateful adoration.
In his humiliation they witness the most powerful proof of his infinite love for them--in his glorious offices and character they behold the pledges of their salvation. Having devoted themselves to him by lively faith, and serving him in holiness and righteousness, they have secured their interest in the blessings of his redemption. He whom they this day hail as the Son of the Most Highest, is their ever-present and invincible Redeemer. Head over all things to his church, he controls and directs all the events of the world to subserve the good of his people: all the attributes of the Godhead are engaged, faithful Christians, in the person of your Saviour, for your defence, your comfort, and [271/272] salvation: through his almighty mediation you can approach with boldness the throne of offended justice: in his mercy you can find a refuge from every guilty fear, and every corroding sorrow: his grace will conduct you through all the trials and conflicts of this sinful and weary pilgrimage, to the everlasting repose of his heavenly kingdom. Let then the voice of praise, on this hallowed day, when his reign commenced, ascend to this great King and Captain of your salvation, this everlasting Prince of Peace. Behold, the church invites you to the feast of the holy table, to seal there your vows of grateful love, to devote yourselves anew to that Son of the Father, who, for your sakes, became an infant of days, and bought you with his precious blood. Come, then, and in the emotions of penitence commemorate your Saviour sacrificed for you. Come, and in the fervour of devout gratitude adore his surpassing love. Come, humble, faithful, and obedient, and receive the pledges of the mercy and grace of that Saviour who is Christ the Lord; and unite in the song with which the host of heaven proclaimed the glad tidings of his birth--"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."