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by how much better we know Him whom we have excluded. What, do we cry shame on the Bethlehemites, whilst we are wilfully more churlish, more unthankful ?
That the visitation might be answerable to the homeliness of the place, attendants, and provision, who shall come to congratulate his birth but poor shepherds! The kings of the earth rest at home, and have no summons to attend Him by whom they reign. God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the mighty. In an obscure time, the night, unto obscure men, shepherds, doth God manifest the light of his Son by glorious angels. It is not our meanness, O God, that can exclude us from the best of thy mercies : yea, thus far dost thou respect persons, that thou hast put down the mighty, and exalted them of low degree. Their vigilance is honoured with this heavenly vision. Those, who are industrious in any calling, are capable of further blessings; whereas the idle are fit for nothing but temptation, whatever be their rank and station in life.
No sooner do the shepherds hear the news of a Saviour, than they run to Bethlehem to seek him. Those that left their beds to tend their flocks, leave their flocks to inquire after their Saviour. No earthly thing is too dear to be forsaken for Christ. If we suffer any worldly occasion to stay us from Bethlehem, we care more for our sheep than our souls. It is not possible that a faithful heart should hear where Christ is, and not labour to the sight, to the fruition of him. Where art thou, O Saviour, but at home in thine own house, in the assembly of thy saints? Where art thou to be found but in thy word and sacraments? Yea, there thou seekest for us : if we haste not to seek for thee there, we deserve to want thee; deserve that our want of thee here should make us want the presence of thy face for ever.
The Bethlehemites were Jews; the wise men Gentiles. This first entertainment of Christ was a presage of the sequel. The Gentiles shall come from far to adore Christ, while the Jews reject him.
Those eastern sages were great searchers of the depths of nature, professed philosophers. Them hath God singled out to the honour and manifestation of Christ. Human learning, well improved, does not make us incapable of Divine. There is no knowledge whereof God is not the author: he would never have bestowed any gift that should lead us away from himself. It is an ignorant conceit, that inquiry into nature should make men atheistic.
Doubtless this light was visible unto more; but those only followed it, who knew it had more than nature. He is truly wise, that is wise for his own soul. If these wise men had been acquainted with all the other stars of heaven, and had not seen the star of Christ, they would have had but light enough to lead them into utter darkness. Philosophy, without this star, is but the wisp (will-of-the-wisp, or meteor) of error.
These sages were in a mean between the angels and the shepherds. God would, in all the ranks of intelligent creatures, have some to be witnesses of his Son.
The angels direct the shepherds; the star guides the sages: the duller capacity hath the more clear and powerful helps. The wisdom of our good God proportions the means unto the disposition of the persons.
Whither do these sages come but to Jerusalem ? Where should they hope to hear of the new king, but in the mother city of the kingdom ? The conducting of the star was first only general to Judea : the rest is, for a time, left to inquiry. They were not brought thither for their own sakes, but for Jewry's, for the world's; that they might help to make the Jews inexcusable, and the world faithful. That their tongues therefore might blazon the birth of Christ, they are brought to the head city of Judea, to report and inquire concerning him.
Why art thou troubled, O Herod ? A king is born; but such a king, as whose sceptre may ever concur with lawful sovereignty : yea, such a king, as by whom kings do hold their sceptres, not lose them. If the wise men tell thee of a king, the star tells thee he is heavenly. Here is good cause of security, none of fear. The most general enmities and oppositions to good arise from mistakings. If men could but know how much safety and sweetness there is in all Divine truth, it could receive nothing from them but welcomes and gratulations. Misconceits have been still guilty of all wrongs and persecutions.
And now, behold, God encourages their holy forwardness from heaven, by sending them their first guide. What joy these sages conceived, when their eyes first beheld the reappearance of that happy star, they only can tell, who, after a long and sad night of temptation, have seen the loving countenance of God shining forth on their souls. If, with obedience and courage, we can follow the calling of God in difficult enterprises, we shall not want supplies of comfort. Let us not be wanting to God; we shall be sure he cannot be wanting to us.
Surely, when the wise men saw the star stand still, they looked about to see what palace there might be near unto that station fit for the birth of a king ; neither could they think that sorry shed was it, which the star meant to point out; but, finding their guide settled over that lowly roof, they go in to see what guest it held. They enter, and there what a king do they find ! how poor! how contemptible ! laid in straw, cradled in the manger, attended with beasts! What a sight was this, after all the glorious promises of that star, after the predictions of prophets, after the magnificence of their expectations !
All their way afforded nothing so despicable as that babe, whom they came to worship. But, as those who could not have been wise men unless they had known that the greatest glories have arisen from low beginnings, they fall down and worship that hidden majesty. This humiliation hath bred wonder in them, not contempt. They well knew the star could not lie. They, which saw his star afar off in the east, when he lay swaddled in Bethlehem, do also see his royalty further off, in the despised estate of his infancy; a royalty more than human. They well knew that stars did not use to attend earthly kings; and if their aim had not been higher, what was a Jewish king to Persian strangers ? Answerable, therefore, hereunto was their adoration.
Neither did they lift up empty hands to him whom they worshipped ; but presented him with the most precious commodities of their country, “gold, incense, myrrh.” As God loves not empty hands, so he measures fulness by the affection. Let it be gold, or incense, or myrrh, that we offer him, it cannot but please him, who doth not use to ask how much, but how good.
HOPE IN TROUBLE. LET us never despair for any miseries whatsoever, but still hope, Isa. xl. 2, for the Lord hath already numbered the days of thy life, and of thy sorrow, and of thy pain, and of thy affliction; therefore never care, for it will one day be ended. Thou wilt say, “ It will be ended, but it will be long first; therefore I fear I shall faint in suffering." But how canst thou tell it will be long ? Hath the Lord told thee so ? Then abide his pleasure, though it be to thy pain. Hath he not told thee so ? Then make not thy affliction longer or greater. God, who made the oaks subject to the greatest winds, hath given them the largest and deepest roots to stay them up withal. And if God do try thee with long calamity, O happy man art thou! for he trieth none above their power. And if God load thy days with sickness, or poverty, or losses, or pains, or wounds, or infamy, or servitude, yet know thou shalt be able to abide it if God hath sent it.
Another use is, that under our afflictions we rejoice in hope, Rom. xii. 12, for what greater persuasion can we have to move us hereunto than this, that the Lord hath already determined the continuance thereof. Rejoice, therefore, that thou art like unto Christ, though thou art unlike to thyself. But some will say, “ We may endure our adversity, but we cannot rejoice in the company of it. How shall we rejoice under tribulation ?” My dear brethren, if you can bear it patiently, you may easily rejoice therein ; for there is not required laughter to this joy, but the inward peace of the soul, whereby you may know it shall turn to your good ; and this you may have, although you lament with tears. Therefore lift up your sorrowful minds, and put away your mourning garments, for the time is at hand that your easeless days shall be changed into painless rest, and your careful
prayers into the joyful possession of life and glory, and angels and saints, and God and Christ, for ever
HOW OLD ARE YOU ? “ HOW old are you?” said a woman in a red cloak to an aged man, who was standing by a butcher's shop leaning upon two sticks. As I was going by at the time I lingered a little to hear the old man's reply. “ I shall be four score," said he, “ if I live till next Easter."
There seemed to be nothing remarkable in the question, “ How old are you?” and yet I could not help thinking of it as I walked on. How old are you? How old are you? continually recurred to my mind. Many a word dropped by the way-side has been picked up and pondered on with advantage in an after hour; let me, then, reader, ask
you, “ How old are you?”
Are you ten? because if you are, you have ten thousand sins to repent of, and ten thousand mercies to be grateful for. What a thought! Did you ever think of it before ? If not, it is worth your while to think of it now, and very seriously too, bearing in mind that youth is the time to serve the Lord ; that a good beginning bids fair to be followed by a good ending; that “ Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return, Gen. iii. 19, and that “We shall all stand before the judgment-seat of Christ,” Rom. xiv. 10.
Are you twenty or thirty? If so, you have still more sins to forsake, and more mercies thankfully to acknowledge. You are in the meridian of your day, the prime of your life. If you have allowed your youth to pass unimproved, run no further risk, try to make amends for the past. Up and be doing; call upon the name of the Lord. Though you forget a thousand things, never forget that “ It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,” Heb. ix. 27.
Are you forty or fifty? If this be the case, there is no time to lose. You must look about you, lest the shadows of night overtake you. What have you done for the glory of God? What are you doing? What do you intend to do? More than half your life is gone by, even though your days should be long in the land. If
have not yet made up your mind to forsake sin, and to cling to the cross of the Redeemer, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest the following passage in the word of God: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord,” Rom. vi. 23. Are you sixty or se
you answer, Yes. Then I hope that while your feet are on the earth, your eyes and your heart are fixed upon heaven. Is it necessary to reinind you, that
your days are drawing to a close, that your life is as a spider's web? “The days of our years are threescore years and ten ; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for