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stone : He is the foundation, the support, the Head and King of His Church and Kingdom.
This corner-stone, this great Saviour, was rejected by the builders ; He was not owned by the Jewish people ; they would not receive His teaching ; but they rejected and crucified Him. But He rose again, and established a Church among the Gentiles, which grew and increased, while the Jewish system was destroyed. Thus did Christianity rise and flourish ; and the stone refused by the builders became the headstone of the corner.
This, however, was not all—not all the fulfilment of the prophecy in our text. This prophecy was not to be of private interpretationnot to be confined to one class or nation of men. It refers to men's states universally. Wherever there is sin or evil governing men's minds, the great Saviour is rejected; there He has no dwelling-place, no kingdom, but Satan there dwells and rules. Such men build on the sand ; and in the evil day their house will fall, and great will be the fall of it. It follows that all unregenerate men, whatever name they may bear, are of those builders who reject the corner-stone of the Church.
Viewing our text in this wide sense, let us view it interiorly also. This corner-stone, this rejected Saviour, was the incarnation of truth; He was the “Word made flesh.” He was the Truth itself; and His teaching was divine truth. He taught self-renunciation, and universal love and charity. He said that all revealed truth, all the law and the prophets, hang on the two commandments of love to God and charity to men; by which He meant that all the practical principles of religion are comprised in this love and charity, so that where such principles do not rule, or this love does not prevail, there is no religion. Apart from this love there is no heaven, no kingdom, no Church. Love is the great distinguishing feature of true discipleship. By this, saith the Saviour, “by this shall all men know that ye are My disciples if ye have love one to another.” It follows that where doctrines of love and charity are acknowledged as the leading principles of theology, and practised as the first essentials of religion, there is the Church, the house, the dwelling-place of the Lord ; there He becomes the Headstone of the corner.
This stone, this corner-stone, refers especially to these principles of love and charity. These principles are truths, and truths are imaged by stones in the Word. The source of truth is the Word, which is therefore called a rock. We need true doctrines for our life and faith, even as the earthly builder needs stones to build with. Without such doctrines we cannot build up the temple of God within us. Without doctrine we are blind, and we go we know not whither. Without doctrine we have no weapons with which to fight our inward and outward foes ; neither have we a true faith. But with doctrine we see our way; it is a lamp to our feet, and a light to our path. And this doctrine must be true, especially so far as regards practical principles. It must come from that rock of ages, the Word. It must be cut out without hands; no human fashioning to favour sin must be made therein. If man's tool be so used upon it, it will be polluted.
There was once a time when principles of love and charity did generally sway the minds of men. It was in the primeval age when man, when Adam stood in his integrity, and all was a paradise around him. The Lord had then a dwelling-place on the earth, a church, a house in the minds of men. Men then loved one another, and there was union and peace among them; the earth yielded her increase, and all was blessed. But Adam ate of the forbidden fruit; he introduced self-will and self-love, and fell from God. He became a wanderer in the ways of sin, and would not return to his father's house. Destruction overtook him as a flood; and the Lord then built Himself another habitation. Still men forsook Him, and lived to themselves. At length He built another kind of house ; He established a representative system with Israel's children. He gave them the decalogue, and taught them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, mind, and might; but still they would go after other gods. They brake His covenant; they killed His prophets, and stoned His messengers; and at length they crucified the great Messiah who came to save them. He offered peace and good-will to men ; He revealed a God of love, and called on men to love Him and love one another. All His teachings were but means of happiness ; they were a golden chain to bind men together as brethren ; they were as steps of a ladder by which men should ascend to heaven and to heaven's God. Still they crucified this Saviour; the builders rejected Him who was the Cornerstone of the Church.
The Lord, then, established His Church among the Gentiles. The early Christians composing this Church built their spiritual house with stones from the rock of ages; their system was practical truth from the Word ; it was a stone cut out without hands; the principles of their system were doctrines of love and charity. The Church was then fair to behold; the brethren were one; they loved one another, had all things in common, and were as one family, with their Saviour as their Head, their chief Corner-stone. The heathen raged against them. Dire persecutions had they to suffer; but they held fast their faith; they nobly withstood their enemies. Then was the golden age of Christianity. At length, however, seeds of division were sown. Doctrinal principles began to be discussed, and human creeds were set up in a way to weaken their charity and mar their peace. In time their persecutions ceased, and the world smiled on them, but smiled only to betray. With the protection of kings and governments the Church became external. Power and wealth, forms and ceremonies, had a corrupting influence, and made the Church into a form of godliness, without the power thereof. A long dark night succeeded, and continued until some zealous men set up the supremacy of the Bible, and the right of private judgment in its interpretation. Still the doctrine of charity did not resume its power and pre-eminence, but forms and creeds became the criterion of the true Church. Hence came strife and division ; names and creeds set up as guide-posts only confused the simple wayfaring Christian, or led him in a wrong direction. One said, “ Lo, here is Christ,” and another said, “Lo, there,” and men's hearts failed within them. The stones of the temple-principles of love and charity, calculated to bind all together as brethren, and build them into one united house and family, were thus thrown down and dispersed. Oh, it is sad to see Christian men divided against each other! It opens the gates of infidelity ; Satan looks approvingly on, and the enemy comes in as a flood. What is the cause of the widelyspread unbelief but this, that men have lost the way to Zion? What cause but this prevents the spread of Gospel truth in heathen lands? And what but this can be the cause that men live so much after the flesh ? Men live to themselves and the world, and hence the long train of evils by which the land is overspread. War and bloodshed, pestilence and famine, crime and wretchedness, are the portion of our cup. Who or what shall prevail to stay these plagues, and bring life and healing to our suffering humanity?
But blessed be the Lord our God, He is not unmindful of His promises. His word of prophecy announces that He will again visit His people; that He will make new heavens and a new earth, wherein there shall dwell righteousness. The Son of Man shall come in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory; and to Him shall be given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages shall serve Him. The Lord will hasten this in His time. Even now He has bared His arm ; He has lifted up His standard against the enemy; He has opened the day which never more shall close. Do we not see the signs of the times ? Are not Christian men beginning to examine afresh their creeds, their systems ? Are they not beginning to consider afresh what the Lord does really teach in His Word ? Yea, it is so. We see these things; we see the dry bones moving ; we see men collecting the scattered stones of the temple ; we see them asserting principles which will help to break down the barriers erected by Christians one against another, until they shall at length join hand to hand, build the temple of God anew, and bring the chief Corner-stone,—bring Jesus with His doctrines of love and charity, and make Him the Head-stone of the Corner.
We see signs of the times even in the secular affairs of men. On every hand we see marvellous changes. The Lord has arisen to shake terribly the earth. We see a great upheaving of the nations. Men are awakening from their slumber of ages ; they are rising and reaching forward to better things. There is a thirst for knowledge, a thirst for liberty; a wish and endeavour by men to cast off the yoke of despotism and tyranny, take their rights, and assume the dignity which is the birthright of all the rational creatures of God. All these are tokens that the world is preparing for that brighter and better day,—that new era which is opening, and coming with the fulfilment of prophecy.
As the new era progresses, how glorious will be the scene! Jerusalem will become a praise in the earth. Her light will shine, and men will walk in her light. They will learn the way of peace; they will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks. The wolf shall come to dwell with the lamb, the leopard lie down with the kid, and the calf, young lion, and fatling together. Eden will bloom again, and men will again eat of the tree of life. The kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of the Lord and of His Christ, and He will reign for ever and ever.
May we, my brethren, in all we do make the Lord our chief Corner-stone. May we build our spiritual house with stones which are doctrines of love and charity,--doctrines of pure truth from the Word. So shall we build on a rock, and the rains may descend, and the floods may come, and the winds may blow and beat upon our house, but it will not fall, because it will be founded on a rock.
THE WISE MEN FROM THE EAST. VARIOUS opinions exist as to who were the wise men that came to worship the Infant Redeemer, as recorded in the second chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel. Mediæval legendary lore represents them as three in number, and as kings—one of whom is described as of dark complexion, probably a native of India or Africa; the two others of unknown nationality, but presenting in their appearance the two extremes of human life. But without stopping to inquire into the value of these traditions, we have much more satisfactory information conveyed in the Scripture narrative. The term translated “wise men,” is literally “ Magi,” and refers us to a well-known people or caste in the East, who held one of the purest systems of religion that ever existed apart from Divine Revelation. The Magi flourished principally in Persia and Bactria, but their system extended into various countries, as Chaldea, Syria, and Arabia. Those Magians who came to adore our Lord have been supposed, on very probable evidence, to have come from Elymais, a region connected by situation and other circumstances with the three last-mentioned countries. “They were," says Swedenborg, “ of the ancient church, and acquainted with the science and wisdom of ancient time.”
The mysterious luminary which guided them on their journey, “the star in the east,” has been also the theme of much speculation and conjecture. Some have regarded it as a meteor of extraordinary brightness and miraculous character: others, as the most auspicious conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter which took place at the birth of Christ, which, in their proximity, appeared as one star. The Magi, we know, possessed great astronomical knowledge, and their departure and progress westward corresponded, we are informed, to the rising and progression of the planetary conjunction in the heavens, as their arrival at Bethlehem took place about the time of its setting. These varying opinions as to the literal account of this remarkable phenomenon are noticed in order that we may the more fully appreciate the value of the spiritual sense.
In the appearance of the angel to the shepherds, and of the mystic star to the Magi, we have the respective manifestations of the birth of Christ to the Jews and the Gentiles. But more interiorly. As the shepherds represented those who, through a state of obscurity, advance from truth to good, and thence to the higher light of Truth Divine, which is ever united with Good, so the Magi denote those who possess