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been present in the place at that time. We should have had, each of us, no doubt, his own fancies and imaginations, not one agreeing with another : many would have hardly thought at all about it: some would just have pitied the Mother and Babe, suffering what to them would appear such pain and inconvenience, and there would have been an end; they would forget it in a few hours. Some few, perhaps, who knew more of the circumstances before, and were more considerate than others, might say to themselves, What manner of child shall this be? but none without especial revelation, such as the Blessed Mary had herself, could have lifted up his thoughts to the real truth--that this is the Eternal Son, the WORD of the FATHER, made a little lower than the Angels for the suffering of death, the Desire of all nations, the second Adam, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the SAVIOUR of the world.
Never, I suppose, since the world began, was there such a moment as that, to show how unlike God's thoughts are to our thoughts, and God's ways to our ways; except, it may be, that more awful, perhaps more surprising moment, in which the Holy SAVIOUR, the God of Heaven and Earth, bowed His head on the Cross and gave up the ghost, being in the place of a malefactor between two thieves. It is in vain trying to think worthily of it. But such thoughts as the following, we may humbly hope, are some of those which the ALMIGHTY meant should be in our minds when we remember it:
We may learn not to doubt that God's purposes, however to us unlikely, will be one way or another accomplished. He had declared, by His holy Prophets, that at that time He would redeem the world, and that the redemption should begin from Bethlehem : and we see how He fulfilled it, in a way which no person present would ever for a moment have suspected. So He has declared that His Church shall last for ever, and shall finally prevail against all the kingdoms of the world; and that all shall work together for good to them that love God, and for the punishment of His enemies. This work is even now going on, and we are standing by, witnesses of it, though not knowing how: nay, we are every one of us working in it, either with or against Him. At present we cannot at all see how it will turn out; many things appear to us going on the contrary way to what they ought, to bring about the great purpose : many more, of which we cannot see how they should, in any respect, advance it. But let us only wait awhile, and we shall see how, by the most improbable means, He shall work out the counsel of His will.
And not only in the great concerns of the world and of the kingdom of God, but also in what relates to each of us particularly, we are to be quite sure that the ALMIGHTY has His own purpose concerning us, and that He is working around us and within us, even in the most ordinary things. We think it a very small matter, whether we perform such and such a task in its time, whether we resist or give way for once to such and such a common temptation; and all the while, who knows but in God's knowledge and purpose this small matter may
be the beginning of great things, to us or to some other, through all eternity ?
Recollect how it is in that, which the Scriptures and the Prayer-book teach us to consider as having something more particularly to do with our Lord's birth : recollect our own baptism. The Collect for Christmas-day teaches that our Lord's taking our nature upon Him, and His birth on this day of a pure virgin, answers, in some remarkable way, to our being regenerate, and made His children by adoption and grace, that is, to our baptism : for then, as the Baptism Service teaches, we are regenerate and born anew of water and of the Holy Ghost; and then, as the Catechism teaches, we are made children of God. As Christ at his Nativity showed HIMSELF in our human nature, so we at our new birth, St. Peter tells us, are made partakers of His Divin nature. As He then became a child of Adam, so we now are made children of God. So great is the change wrought in Holy Baptism: yet who that stood by, and judged by sight, not faith, would imagine there was any change at all? Who would lift up his heart to believe that a little water, and a few words spoken by Christ's Minister, would make so much difference in a little child, were it not that the Scripture of God, interpreted by His Church, so distinctly teaches it? In this point then, also, we clearly see that our new birth answers to our Lord's nativity; that is, in the manner of its being so very far unlike what would expect. Why should we doubt that so great an end as
salvation may come of so small an outward beginning as the sprinkling of the holy baptismal water in the Three Holy Names ? we who know that our own redemption, and that of the whole world, depended on a child in swaddling clothes, born in an inn stable and laid in a manger ? Surely, among the plain lessons which our Lord's Nativity teaches us, one of the very plainest is, not to despise (what the Prophet calls) the day of small things : that is, to be very exact about our duty even in matters which may at first sight seem trifling ; not knowing of how much consequence they may one day prove to that which is the greatest matter of all.
Think this well over, my brethren; think whether you yourselves, since this time last year, have not had more or less reason to be quite sure that God's ways and thoughts are far higher and deeper than ours, if it be only in His bringing great matters out of what seem to us very small beginnings. I wish, too, many of us may not have to recollect this with bitter shame and remorse before HIM who reads their hearts, as having been guilty, within that time, of grievous sin owing to this very cause,—that they made light of small beginnings, and what they called trifling liberties, which they permitted themselves to take with God's Commandments. Oh! if the unhappy lost souls could speak from the next world, or send a message, as that rich man in our LORD's parable wished to do, how certain we may be that they would warn us against the first trifling with the beginnings of mischief, the first scornful or idle neglect of what would be called little acts of goodness!
Let us think of these sad self-reproachings before it is too late for ourselves, and let us endeavour steadily to contemplate the great wonder of this day, the Son of God born of a woman, and laid, like another child, in the manger at Bethlehem ; with this prayer, among others, that our eyes may be opened to understand, in some measure, God's gracious and gentle beginnings with ourselves. As HE, our LORD and Saviour Himself, from the very moment of His birth as on this day, never ceased loving us, and preparing all good things for us; so never let us quite take off our thoughts from that, His unspeakable love, of which this day is the crown.
It is such love as we never can fathom, never can come truly to understand; but we may and shall understand more and more, as we turn our minds towards
it more earnestly. To watch and study Christin His cradle is the very mystery of humility ; and if of humility, then of love, peace, and joy. It is the very preparation, the beginning of eternal happiness; for in knowledge of Him standeth our eternal life, and such knowledge must begin from His lowliness. Jesus Himself is that little child, like whom we must especially become, if we would be ever really fit for the kingdom of Heaven.
RETURNING TO GOD.
(PREACHED AT THE BEGINNING OF A NEW YEAR.)
MALACHI iii. 7.
“Return unto Me, and I will return unto you; saith the LORD of Hosts. But ye say, Wherein shall we return ?”
This is one of those verses which show most clearly and graciously the forethought of our heavenly Teacher, in providing for us the Old Testament ; first, in that words spoken on a particular occasion to the Jews are made to convey a heavenly warning and message to Christians, of all generations, at all times. Secondly, in that Almighty God here, as in many other places, furnishes comfort and instruction beforehand to that bitterest of cares and doubts, the care and doubt which must hang over those, who feel that they have grieved His Spirit, received in baptism, by wilful sin, and having been partakers of the heavenly gift, have fallen away, and trodden Christ, His grace, His warnings, His example, under foot.
I say, these words of the prophet Malachi may with advantage be considered, as showing forth God's love for His people in both these ways. As to the particular occasion on which they were spoken, it is easy to make that out, on comparing this prophecy of Malachi with the historical Books of Ezra and Nehemiah, written about the same time; and also from the Prophecy of Haggai. It is plain, there were bad seasons; they