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Expositor's Dictionary of Texts Expositor's Dictionary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ edt/ luke-1.html. 1910.
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Luke 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
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St. Luke's Gospel
Our information concerning St. Luke is scanty. It is conjectured by some that he was one of the seventy disciples sent forth by our Lord, in addition to the twelve Apostles (Luke 10:1 ). There seems no reason to doubt that he was the companion of St. Paul in his travels, and that he was a 'physician' (Colossians 4:14 ). Some have thought that his profession as a physician may be traced in his manner of describing our Lord's miraculous cures of diseases, and his companionship of St. Paul in his manner of speaking on such subjects as God's glory and Christ's love to sinners. It is generally agreed that his Gospel was written with a special reference to Gentile converts rather than Jews. Origen, Jerome, Chrysostom, Ambrose, and others suppose that St. Paul refers to St. Luke and his Gospel in the words, 'the brother whose praise is in the Gospel' (2 Corinthians 8:18 ).
The short preface is a peculiar feature of St. Luke's Gospel. But we shall find, on examination, that it is full of most useful instruction.
I. St. Luke Gives us a Short but Valuable Sketch of the Nature of a Gospel. He calls it, 'a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us'. It is a narrative of facts about Jesus Christ. Christianity is a religion built upon facts. Let us never lose sight of this. It came before mankind at first in this shape. The first preachers did not go up and down the world proclaiming an elaborate, artificial system of abstruse doctrines and deep principles. They proclaimed facts.
II. He Draws a Beautiful Picture of the True Position of the Apostles in the Early Church. He calls them 'eye-witnesses and ministers of the Word'. There is an instructive humility in this expression. They were servants of the word of the Gospel. They were men who counted it their highest privilege to carry about, as messengers, the tidings of God's love to a sinful world, and to tell the story of the Cross.
III. He Describes his own Qualifications for the Work of Writing a Gospel. He says that he 'had perfect understanding of all things from the very first'. It would be mere waste of time to inquire from what source St. Luke obtained the information which he has given us in his Gospel. We have no good reason for supposing that he saw our Lord work miracles or heard Him teach. To say that he obtained his information from the Virgin Mary or any of the Apostles is mere conjecture and speculation. Enough for us to know that St. Luke wrote by inspiration of God. Unquestionably he did not neglect the ordinary means of getting knowledge. But the Holy Ghost guided him, no less than all other writers of the Bible, in his choice of matter. St. Luke does not wish his friend to remain in doubt on any matter of his faith. He tells him that he wants him to 'know the certainty of those things wherein he had been instructed'. Let us bless God daily that we have a written volume which is 'able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus' (2 Timothy 3:15 ).
What are the legitimate uses of the imagination, that is to say, of the power of perceiving, or conceiving with the mind, things which cannot be perceived by the senses? Its first and noblest use is, to enable us to bring sensibly to our sight the things which are recorded as belonging to our future state, or invisibly surrounding us in this... but, above all, to call up the scenes and facts in which we are commanded to believe, and be present, as if in the body, at every recorded event of the history of the Redeemer.
Ruskin, Frondes Agrestes, sec. 9.
References. I. 3. Expositor (7th Series), vol. x. p. 452. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. i. p. 144. I. 3, 4. T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. iv. pp. 236 and 243. I. 5. Expositor (5th Series), vol. v. p. 284. I. 5-17. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Luke, p. 1. I. 9. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. i. p. 393. 1.13. A.G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pi i. p. 9. Expositor (4th Series), vol. i.p. 19. I. 15. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 257. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Luke, p. 8.
It is because we have so few high saints among us, that we have so many low sinners.
It would have been but a poor occupation for God to compose this heavy world out of simple elements, and to keep it rolling in the sunbeams from year to year, if He had not had the plan of founding a nursery for a world of spirits upon this material basis. So He is now constantly active in higher natures to attract the lower ones.
Preparation for the Best (First Sunday in Lent)
When we speak of preparing ourselves for the future, we commonly think of some coming evil. Life is, in our familiar and apposite metaphor, a campaign; and 'it is usual in war for the guns and the sentinels always to face towards the enemy however far off he may be'. There is an instinctive sense of enemies in this mortal life of ours, and every day looks forward more or less anxiously to its tomorrow. Men have so generally acknowledged this state of matters that there are few vaunts which have a more honourable sound to our ears than the old Latin one in utrumque paratus . Yet the phrase is sad. Its readiness for either fate suggests alertness, but has a certain desolate suggestion also: it acknowledges the possibility of the better chance, but it somehow seems to expect the worse.
So it comes to pass that we are far more seldom ready for the better than for the worse event. Preparedness for the best things is rare, because we do not realize that they need preparation, and concentrate our attention in steeling ourselves against possible adversity.
Many a Parsifal is able to combat and unhorse his enemy, and yet is stupefied and blunders irretrievably when he sees the vision of the Holy Grail. Many an adventurer like Jacob looks back ruefully upon an hour of far-reaching promise and spiritual opportunity, saying 'Surely God was in this place and I knew it not'. The world, in the beginning of the first century, was adjusting itself to Augustus as best it might; but when Christ came, the world knew Him not. We are often prepared to meet the devil: to meet our God we are not prepared.
In the Church Year the great events of the Christian story group themselves into a cluster from Palm Sunday to Whitsunday, breaking the routine of the daily life with the splendid memories of Christ's passion and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is fitting that before this season the Church should have set apart a prior season of special preparation.
I. First, there is the preparation of the purification of the heart. All meditation leads that way at once. There is much to be forgiven before we can hope to understand and triumph, and there is much also to be changed. It is only the pure in heart who can by any means see God, and the evil habits of thought, imagination, and desire must be searched out and put away.
II. There is also necessary the boldness of Divine affections. We all admit that the world is, one way or another, too much with us. Preparation, therefore, must include the practice of looking beyond the world, and carrying up our thoughts and feelings to God Himself. But it requires daring to train our eyes on the Divine, and none but the courageous in heart will succeed in doing it. For the affections that are to find God in Christ must travel along the two lines of our worst and of our best.
Let us face and fully recognise both our weakness and our strength, our worst and our best. Let us bring them both, a strange offering of contrasts, to His feet; that, in our communion with Him, His power and His love may go out upon them both, and recreate us after His image.
John Kelman, Ephemera Etemitatis, p. 49.
References. I. 17. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xli. No. 2404. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. pp. 53, 545. 1. 18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1405.
Then Gabriel, like a rainbow's birth,
Spread his wings and sank to earth;
Entered, in flesh, the empty cell,
Lived there, and played the craftsman well;
And morning, evening, noon and night,
Praised God in place of Theocrite;
(He did God's will; to him, all one,
If on the earth or in the sun.)
R. Browning, The Boy and the Angel.
Reference. I. 20. Expositor (6th Series), vol. x. p. 281.
Dr. Richard Hooker, at one period of his life, was exposed to a cruel slander against his moral character, which, says Izaak Walton, 'he kept secret to himself for many months; and being a helpless man, had lain longer under this heavy burthen, but that the Protector of the innocent gave such an accidental occasion as forced him to make it known to his two dearest friends, Edwin Sandys and George Cranmer, who were so sensible of their tutor's sufferings, that they gave themselves no rest, till by their disquisitions and diligence they had found out the fraud, and brought him the welcome news.... To which the good man's reply was to this purpose: "To my God I say, as did the mother of St. John Baptist, Thus hath the Lord dealt with me, in the day wherein He looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men. And, O my God! neither my life nor my reputation are safe in my own keeping, but in Thine, who didst take care of me when I yet hanged upon my mother's breast."'
The Angel's Greeting to the Virgin Mary
The festival of the Annunciation has been variously yet appropriately designated thus: 'The Day of Salutation'; 'the Day of the Gospel'; and 'the Festival of the Incarnation'. In many parts it was for some time the first day of the ecclesiastical year, as it is now, under its vernacular name Lady Day, the first quarterly division of the ordinary year. How the ancient Church observed the day can scarcely be ascertained now. And this is not a little remarkable, as the Christian Fathers have written numerous homilies on the day itself, and the Christian Muse has for centuries been actively engaged in illustrating it To the Christian artist, the holy mysteries of the day have ever had a special fascination, as shown by the pictures and paintings some very grotesque, others very beautiful which were produced during the first ages succeeding the Annunciation itself. Christians of the present day regard it as the first stage of the Incarnation. Hence we gladly keep the day as a holy festival, and fix our mind upon its marvels.
I. In Old Testament times names were reckoned of paramount consequence, as they were identified with some unusual fact in personal and family life, and were also prophetical. The name Mary so familiar to us is the same as Miriam. Its first and best signification is 'exalted'; and this applies with peculiar emphasis to Mary of Nazareth. Yet it must not be forgotten that she had lineally descended from David; therefore the blood of Israel's ancient kings flowed in her veins. She was also a virgin pure and spotless. Had it been otherwise she had never been the mother of Jesus, because, from first to last, He was to be holy and undefiled; and this could not possibly have been if the least fleck of impurity had been found in her nature. The place of her residence corresponded with her true condition. Nazareth means 'separated' or 'sanctified'. Yet it was no grand metropolis, no flourishing sea-side town, but a small inland, upland city, in the heart of Galilee, called 'Galilee of the Gentiles'. In other words, it was a little city of carpenters; hence Joseph lived here, and though 'of the house of David, 'yet, being poor, he worked hard at the toilsome craft of the place. It had no reputation for learning or piety. To this little city a great angel was Divinely sent. He is called Gabriel 'the strength of God'. In the celestial hierarchy he ranked next to Michael the archangel, and when in heaven, he says, 'I stand in the presence of God'; that is, right before His throne.
II. Whether Mary was in her house, or what her engagement when Gabriel visited her, we know not; but he instantly saluted her 'Hail!' After this brief salutation, Gabriel bids Mary rejoice, because being 'highly favoured' she is to be the mother of the Messiah. This, in truth, was the honour for which every Hebrew female intensely longed from the beginning; but Mary was Divinely chosen for this signal pre-eminency. What joy she felt when Gabriel assured her of this! When he left, she hastened to her cousin, Elisabeth, in the upland country, to communicate the information and the joy to her. 'Only the meeting of saints in heaven can parallel the meeting of these two cousins: the two wonders of the world under one roof, declaring their mutual happiness!' (S. Luke 1:46-47 ). High dignity, beside deep joy, was now conferred upon Mary. 'Thou art highly favoured,' said Gabriel to her. But this dignity was not of an earthly, fleeting nature; for Mary was left by the angel in the same humble condition in which he found her; and, in truth, her humble condition was the same at the birth of Christ, and to the day of her own death. The dignity, therefore, was heavenly and lasting. So it has proved itself. No woman, from Eve downward, has been so honoured as the Blessed Virgin of Nazareth. Her very memory is fragrant as Eden. Nor is this all: 'The Lord is with thee'. This constituted her real blessedness, and was the climax of the annunciation of the angel. The Lord was with Mary in two sublime senses to sustain and further deepen the joy of her soul, and to perform the covenant which Gabriel had made with her at His bidding. One other brief sentence fell from those angel lips, forming the noblest utterance ever made: 'Blessed art thou among women!' After the battle of the river Kishon, and after Jael had slain, in her tent, the captain of the host of the King of Canaan, Deborah, the prophetess, pronounced the heroine 'blessed above all women'; but Gabriel, the angel, pronounces a better and richer blessing on Mary; and Mary, in her glorious Magnificat, says of herself, 'All generations shall call me blessed'. This they have done since the birth of Christ, and this they will continue to do as long as Christ Himself shall reign, even for ever (Luke 1:32-33 ).
References. I. 28. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 191. J. T. Bramston, Fratribus, p. 111. C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p. 157. J. H. Barrows, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 330. J. Denney, ibid. vol. xlix. p. 337.
Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
March 25 is a memorable day in our calendar. It is important in our business life and in our domestic life. To Churchmen Lady Day has a high significance because that on it we commemorate the announcement of the angel to the Blessed Virgin that she should bring forth a Son who was to be the Incarnate Son of God. We can never forget that she was 'highly favoured amongst women' in that she was chosen to be the channel by which and the thought is a most stupendous one the Incarnation of the Son of God was to be effected. We reverence her purity and we admire the beauty of her character. When we think of the greatness conferred upon womanhood in the Incarnation it should lead all men should it not? to cultivate habits of chivalry and grace in all their dealings with women. But we shall mistake the significance of this festival unless we observe that the Church centres our attention not upon Mary but upon her promised Son. The Collect, the Epistle, the Gospel, the Lessons all point to Him.
I. The Promised Son. The message of the angel revealed to Mary that her Son should be Jesus, the Saviour. He was coming to redeem Israel, 'to save His people from their sins' and not Israel only but all the world. This was He, of Whose coming Isaiah prophesied (as we read in the portion of Scripture appointed for today's Epistle) when he said that, 'a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel' . Nor was this all. The angel who appeared to Mary said that her Son should be a King, 'and of His kingdom there shall be no end'.
II. The Work He Came to do. As our Saviour He came to save us from our sins. He was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil. Has His coming made any difference to your life? Is He in our workshop? Is He in our office? Is He in our home? Is He in our amusements? 'God with us' will sanctify every relationship of life. He claims to have control over our life, for is He not the King? 'Of His kingdom there shall be no end.' Has it begun in you? The religion of Jesus Christ is not for one time or for one land, for 'He hath made of one blood all the nations of the earth,' and you and I have to spread the kingdom of our Lord if He really is our King.
III. The Future Glory. It is astonishing that although nineteen hundred years have passed away there should still be so many who do not recognise His claims over them. May it be ours to know Jesus to be our Saviour! May we realise His presence in our lives as our Immanuel! May we recognise His claims as our King! Then and then only shall we pass through this world with an assurance of the future glory.
References. I. 30, 31, 34, and 35. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 209. I. 31-35. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 93. I. 33. Ibid. vol. i. pp. 36, 209; ibid. (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 470. I. 34. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv. No. 1405. Expositor (7th Series), vol. vi. p. 182.
In her volume on The Makers of Florence, Mrs. Oliphant describes Mariotto's picture of the 'Visitation 'which hangs in the Pitti Palace; Elisabeth and Mary stand in the foreground of the canvas, against the blue sky, the elder woman stepping out eagerly to meet and welcome the shrinking mother of our Lord. 'I have heard,' she adds, 'of a woman, sadly lonely in a strange country, and little aware of the merits of the picture, poor soul! who would go and linger in the room "for company," wistfully wishing that the kind, penetrating, sympathetic tale of that old, tender Elisabeth could but fall on herself.' The passage has an autobiographic note, for the woman was no other than Mrs. Oliphant herself.
References. I. 35. W. Alexander, Primary Convictions, p. 67. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 201. W. Archer Butler, Sermons Doctrinal and Practical (1st Series), p. 16. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 165; ibid. vol. ix. p. 86.5
The Handmaid of the Lord (The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
The story of the Annunciation is one of the most impressive to be found in the Gospels. In the Gospel for today we have a striking illustration of the singular beauty, purity, and steadiness of character which are manifested by the Blessed Virgin.
I. Her Faith. The remarkable faith with which she received the annunciation from the angel of the wonderful event which was to take place is a lesson to us all. Her words are very simple and very full of submissive faith 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word'.
II. Her Piety. The manner in which, as we read later, she pondered in her heart the various events of the Lord's childhood, which seemed to point out her Son as being greater than even she herself had suspected, is worthy of notice. It befits religious character of the highest order, and shows her to have been possessed of the deepest piety.
III. Her Submission. The same religious discretion marked her conduct on the occasion of her losing sight of Jesus on their return from Jerusalem when He was twelve years old. His answer might well add to His parents' perplexity, and His mother does not seem to have understood it; but she did not forget the saying because she could not understand it; on the other hand, she kept it in her heart. She was wholly submissive to what she believed to be the Divine will.
IV. The Reverence Due to Her. We need not flinch from according to the Blessed Virgin the honour which belongs to her. 'All generations shall call me blessed,' and we must have dull hearts if we do not so account her. We honour the Apostles because they were very near to, and much honoured by, the Lord, and we rightly honour the Virgin Mother of our Lord. But one word of caution is necessary. While we reverence the Blessed Virgin as one of the first of saints, while we call her blessed, and think her the most highly honoured of the human race, we must not harbour any temptation in our hearts to worship her. The best antidote to Mariolatry is to have our whole souls filled with the contemplation of the Virgin's Son, even our Saviour and hers, Jesus Christ our Lord, the Eternal Son of God.
References. I. 38. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 171. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 200. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy Tide Teaching, p. 77. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 22. Bishop Jacob, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 21. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 90. C. W. Furse, Sermons at Richmond, p. 285. R. W. Church, Human Life and its Conditions, p. 172. I. 39. Expositor (7th Series), vol. x. p. 93. I. 42. J. H. Barrows, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. p. 330. I. 43. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iv. p. 40. I. 43. Expositor (5th Series), vol. ii. p. 244. I. 44. Ibid. vol. v. p. 448.
'After this,' writes George Fox in his Journal for 1646, 'I met with a sort of people that held women have no souls (adding, in a light manner) no more than a goose. But I reproved them, and told them that was not right; for Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.'
References. I. 46. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvi. No. 1514. W. P. Paterson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. p. 22. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 269. I. 46-55. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 17. I. 46, 47. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 606; vol. xxxvii. No. 2219, and vol. li. No. 2941. J. 46-48. H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, p. 1. I. 47. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 495.
Reverence Due to the Virgin Mary
Many truths are, like the 'things which the seven thunders uttered,' 'sealed up' from us. In particular, it is in mercy to us that so little is revealed about the Blessed Virgin, in mercy to our weakness, though of her there are 'many things to say,' yet they are 'hard to be uttered, seeing we are dull of hearing'.
But, further, the more we consider who St. Mary was, the more dangerous will such knowledge of her appear to be. Other saints are but influenced or inspired by Christ, and made partakers of Him mystically. But, as to St. Mary, Christ derived His manhood from her and so had an especial unity of nature with her; and this wondrous relationship between God and man it is perhaps impossible for us to dwell much upon without some perversion of feeling. For, truly, she is raised above the condition of sinful beings, though by nature a sinner; she is brought near to God, yet is but a creature, and seems to lack her fitting place in our limited understandings, neither too high nor too low. We cannot combine, in our thought of her, all we should ascribe with all we should withhold. Hence, following the example of Scripture, we had better only think of her with and for her Son, never separating her from Him, but using her name as a memorial of His great condescension in stooping from heaven, and not 'abhorring the Virgin's womb'. And this is the rule of our own Church, which has set apart only such festivals in honour of the Blessed Mary as may also be festivals in honour of our Lord; the Purification commemorating His presentation in the Temple, and the Annunciation commemorating His Incarnation. And, with this caution, the thought of her may be made most profitable to our faith; for nothing is so calculated to impress on our minds that Christ is really partaker of our nature, and in all respects man, save sin only, as to associate Him with the thought of her by whose ministration He became our brother.
J. H. Newman.
References. I. 48. C. A. Berry, Vision and Duty, p. 157. I. 48-50. H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, p. 30. I. 49. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 106. I. 51-53. H. P. Liddon, University Sermons (2nd Series), p. 203. Ibid. The Magnificat, p. 57. I. 53. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2582, and vol. lii. No. 3019. I. 54, 55. H. P. Liddon, The Magnificat, p. 84. I. 65, 66. J. Keble, Sermons for the Saints' Days, p. 247. I. 66. R. F. Horton, This Do, p. 61. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for Saints' Days, p. 131. I. 67. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, pt. i. p. 39. I. 67-80. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture St. Luke, p. 24.
About one hundred and eighty years ago (that was in the time of King Charles II.) six persons died in this college in less than a week. That was what we call an awful visitation of God. When we speak of a visitation of God we generally mean His visitation to punish. Then why is it said here, 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited'. Why, because you see how it goes on, He hath visited and redeemed His people.
I. Old age is His very true and real visitation and being so, how ought you to receive it? If a king, an earthly king, were to give you notice that he was coming to see you, what preparation should you make for his visit? The very first time God begins to visit you in old age, the very first time you can say, 'I am quite well, and yet I am not so strong as I was,' then that means, 'Now this corruptible body is beginning to show me that it cannot always, no, nor yet for very much longer, hold together'. And that means that it will in time be laid to sleep in the churchyard, waiting for that blessed hope and the Resurrection brought to pass by our Lord Jesus Christ So still you ought to be able to say ought you not? 'Blessed be the Lord God of Israel'.
II. Israel means He that sees God. And why that name? Because it is only to them who, so David says, have set God always before them that these promises are made.
See how God visited Zacharias himself. In the first place, in judgment, because he disbelieved the miraculous birth of St. John Baptist. 'Behold, thou shalt be dumb and not able to speak.' And then in love, when immediately the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. And so He visits all of us. Think of every affliction that you have had from your youth up till now; they were God's visitations. And every deliverance you ever had; that was God's visitation too. One's whole life is full of such visitations, such deliverances, and we may all say with good King Hezekiah, 'The Lord was ready to save me'. J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. i. p. 65.
We talk very much, and very badly; in pulpit, and Parliament, and press. We want the man who has something new to say, and knows how to say it. For my own part, I don't think, when he comes, that he will glorify explosives. I want to hear some one talk about Peace and not from the commercial point of view. The slaughterers shan't have it all their own way: civilization will be too strong for them, and if old England doesn't lead in that direction it will be her shame to the end of history.
References. 1. 74, 76. E. J. Boyce, Parochial Sermons, p. 216. E. H. Hopkins, The Record, vol. xxvii. p. 799. I. 76. W. G. Rutherford, The Key of Knowledge, p. 96. I. 77-79. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxii. No. 1907.
The Eternal God is never in a hurry, for a thousand centuries are unto Him but as a moment. In all His great kingdoms the Divine Actor works gradually the blade, the ear, and the full corn in the ear; the daydawn, the ascending sun, and the full meridian; the promise, the type, and the antitype; the law, the prophets, and the Gospel; the crude altar, the superb temple, and God manifest in the flesh. Gradual progression runs through the ages like a line of light. We invite your attention to the gradual unfolding of Redemption.
I. Gradualness of Development is a prominent feature in all the works of God. (1) In the physical sphere we meet on every hand with this striking feature. A great story demands a long prologue hence the slowly ascending scale from the protoplasmic beginning to man! In the words of Emerson: 'The gases gather to the solid firmament, the chemic lump arrives at the plant and grows, arrives at the quadruped and walks, arrives at the man and thinks'. The wheels of His stupendous machinery revolve slowly, and the majestic gradualness of their revolutions bears the stamp of eternity. (2) In the intellectual sphere we meet with this feature of gradualness. Even our consciousness, the so-called foundation of our being, develops. How very gradually our education proceeds. Again, most of our great discoveries have been gradually lured out of their hiding-places. All our great discoveries have come about gradually, 'like the deities, their feet have been shod with wool'. (3) In the moral and spiritual sphere we meet with this principle of gradualness. No man can leap at a bound into sainthood. The soul can no more be fully sanctified at once than the dawn can become the meridian in an hour, than the blossom can become a ripe apple in a day, than the babe can become a giant in a week!
II. Analogy suggests that the gradualness which we find in the physical, mental, and moral spheres may also be expected in the Progress of Redemption. (1) The world was not ready for an earlier Revelation. The lesson must always be suited to the mental and moral capacity of the learner. Carlyle's essay on 'Bacon' was one of his finest; but it took twenty-five years to become popular, because the age was not educated up to it! A schoolboy cannot understand Milton's poems without first learning the alphabet, and for ages humanity was God's child in God's school learning the moral and spiritual A, B, C. (2) God was anxious to convince humanity of the utter impossibility of self-education. Intellect, and the arts, and physical force, and order, and government strained every nerve to save the world; but it was a colossal failure, and the world, like a tired child, sat weeping away its heart. For our own part we rejoice in this gradualness. And why? Simply because a full-orbed revelation flashed upon us in one instant would have overwhelmed us! We mortals are too feeble and frail to bear the full outflashing of the Divine! 'Ye cannot bear it now.' As one divine well puts it: 'God could have said more to us; but He has not because He would not, and He would not because He loved us too well to overwhelm us with this revelation'.
J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p. 9.
Thus, from our point of view, does Goethe rise on us as the Uniter, and victorious Reconciler, of the distracted, clashing elements of the most distracted and divided age that the world has witnessed since the introduction of the Christian Religion; to which old chaotic Era, of world-confusion and world-refusion, of blackest darkness succeeded by a dawn of light and nobler 'dayspring from on high,' this wondrous Era of ours is, indeed, oftenest likened. To the faithful heart let no Era be a desperate one! It is ever the nature of darkness to be followed by a new, nobler light; nay, to produce such.... Woe to the land where, in these seasons, no prophet arises; but only censors, satirists, and embittered desperadoes, to make the evil worse; at best but to accelerate a consummation, which in accelerating they have aggravated! Old Europe had its Tacitus and Juvenal; but these availed not. New Europe too has had its Mirabeaus and Byrons and Napoleons and innumerable red-flaming meteors, shaking pestilence from their hair; and earthquakes and deluges and Chaos come again; but the clear Star, day's harbinger ( Phosphoros, the bringer of light), had not yet been recognised.
References. I. 78. Basil Wilberforce, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 30. W. M. Bunting, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xviii. p. 234. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3029. G. H. Curteis, Christian World Pulpit, v ol. xlv. p. 4. J. Ossian Davies, The Dayspring from on High, p. 22.
'Them that sit in darkness.' The figure is not suggestive of the twilight of a summer's eve, or the trembling expectant twilight of a summer's morn; it is the midnight of the winter season. We all know the power of the darkness. How intense and feverish becomes the imagination in the still dark hours of the night! How erratic and untrustful our judgments!
I. 'Them that sit in darkness.' That was the condition of the race before the Saviour was born. The world was dark, and clammy, and cold. What did death mean to these tenants of the night? It meant the dissolver of the body. It meant the pilot of the soul. If you want to know the explanation of much of the darkness, you must turn to the first and second chapters of the Epistle to the Romans.
II. 'They sit in darkness and in the shadow of death....' Now, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem... what? The morning dawned upon that night-burdened, shadow-haunted, fear-filled world. 'The dayspring from on high hath visited us.' 'The dayspring?' not the full day, but the spring of the day, the light-fountain, Heaven's East. We should only have been 'blinded with excess of light'. So He dawned upon us; the light fell upon the sore and wearied hearts of men with the soft warmth of an infant's kiss. 'Soft and quiet as the breast feather of a motherly bird.' 'Hath visited.' Another word which helps to heap up and multiply the comforting suggestion. It is a visit of sympathy, of healing, of relief, of release. Such is the infinitely gentle and delicate coming of the omnipotent God.
III. What was the purpose of the dawning? 'To give light to them that sit in darkness.' (1) To illumine the world. The mission of the dayspring was the ministry of illumination. The Dayspring was not first of all a redeemer. He must first reveal before He can redeem. (2) As redeemer also did this Dayspring visit us. 'To guide our feet into the way of peace.' It is the guidance of a pioneer. Pioneers are 'living ways'. David Livingstone laid down his life in Africa, and became a 'living way 'to guide our feet into the heart of that dark continent. The pioneer is the living way into undiscovered realms.
J. H. Jowett, Apostolic Optimism, p. 186.
References. I. 78, 79- R. J. Campbell, City Temple Sermons, p. 223. J. Keble, Sermons for Christmas to Epiphany, p. 1. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, St. Luke, p. 30. I. 79. F. de W. Lushington, Sermons to Young Boys, p. 73.
'Every week,' said Goethe of Schiller in his early life, 'he became different and more finished; each time that I saw him he seemed to me to have advanced in learning and judgment.'
References. II. 1. Expositor (7th Series), vol. i. p. 89; (6th Series), vol. v. p. 433; (6th Series), vol. iii. p. 137. II. 1, 2. Ibid. vol. v. p. 274. II. 1-7. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvii. p. 193. II. 1-3. Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 19. II. 4. Ibid. (6th Series), vol. x. p. 280. II. 6. Expositor (5th Series), vol. i. p. 11.