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Every Name Historical Christ Always Coming Christ Comes Through All Sorts of People
Matthew 1:1-40.1.17 .
1. The book of the generation (a Hebrew form) of Jesus Christ (Jesus was a common name, but not Christ ), the Son of David (the most popular of his names), the son of Abraham.
2. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren;
3. And Judas begat Phares and Zara of Thamar (quite exceptional to find the name of a woman in a Jewish genealogy); and Phares begat Esrom; and Esrom begat Aram;
4. And Aram begat Aminadab; and Amiriadab begat Naasaon (the brother-in-law of Aaron); and Naasson begat Salmon (probably one of the two spies saved by Rahab);
5. And Salmon begat Booz of Rachab (the harlot of Jericho); and Booz begat Obed of Ruth (a heathen Moabitess); and Obed begat Jesse;
6. And Jesse begat David the king; and David the king begat Solomon of her that had been the wife of Urias (the last woman's name in the genealogy);
7. And Solomon begat Roboam; and Roboam begat Abia; and Abia begat Asa;
8. And Asa begat Josaphat; and Josaphat begat Joram; and Joram begat Ozias (the Uzziah of the Old Testament);
9. And Ozias begat Joatham; and Joatham begat Achaz; and Achaz begat Ezekias;
10. And Ezekias begat Manasses; and Manasses begat Amon; and Amon begat Josias;
11. And Josias begat Jechonias and his brethren, about the time they were carried away to Babylon:
12. And after they were brought to Babylon, Jechonias begat Salathiel; and Sala thiel begat Zorobabel;
13. And Zorobabel begat Abiud; and Abiud begat Eliakim; and Eliakim begat Azor;
14. And Azor begat Sadoc; and Sadoc begat Achim; and Achim begat Eliud;
15. And Eliud begat Eleazar; and Eleazar begat Matthan; and Matthan begat Jacob;
16. And Jacob begat Joseph (descended from David through Rehoboam and Solomon) the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
17. So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. (So divided merely to help the memory. The division is arbitrary.)
This is a genealogical tree. One sometimes wonders why such lists of names are in a book which is specifically known as a revelation of the will and love of God. Who cares to read a genealogical table? Most of the names are unknown, many of them are difficult to pronounce, and once read, who can remember a solitary verse of the whole catalogue? Yet the names are here, and if here, there must be some purpose in the record. God is a severe economist of space as of everything else: he does not throw anything away, though there may be wastefulness here and there, according to our present incomplete notions of things. Fasten your attention upon this genealogical tree for the purpose of studying it with a view of finding out whether the matter ends within this formal tree, or whether it does not become a tree that fills the whole earth and heaven, yea, and spreads itself over all the spaces and liberties of the universe.
The great mistake which you have to overcome in your Christian studies is, that Jesus Christ lived within a few days only, and then ceased to live upon the earth. In only a very narrow sense is that true. I am interested for the time being in learning the peculiar circumstances under which my Lord's ministry was conducted. I am not unwilling to listen to pictorial descriptions of the scenery through which he passed: it gives me but momentary delight to know whether he spoke in the sunrise or in the sunset, yet I like to hear the rhetoricians' beautiful way of setting forth the surrounding circumstances of his ministry. But Jesus Christ was not a figure on a landscape: he was and is the life of all living things. Paint the landscape when you are going to give some hint of mighty discoverers or warriors or men of local and perishable renown; the landscape may be more important than such men themselves were within the immediate lines of their earthly history; but in the case of Jesus Christ I want nothing but Christ: I want the landscape to fade away into an invisible fleck, and nothing to be seen but the CHRIST, filling all things and making all things look small under his infinite presence.
We speak of Jesus Christ as a historical character. In no such sense can I be constrained to speak of him except for momentary convenience. Jesus Christ is the contemporary of all ages. He is living as certainly upon the earth as he ever lived in Nazareth. He is the Man of to-day, and there is no man beside. All good things flow from him, all beauty takes the hue of its tenderest colour from his countenance, and all strength is but a flash and throb of his almightiness. It is in this way that I study Christ, and it is so that we come to live upon most intimate terms, so that every day he baptizes me with his blood, and I besprinkle him with my tears. Do not go to the grave to find Christ: you will only find an angel there who says, "He is not here, he is risen." That is the daily speech which may be made about Christ: he is risen, so as to claim a still higher place in the attention and confidence of men, so as to fill a wider place, so as to claim a higher, stronger throne alway rising. The resurrection is not a miracle, measurable within five seconds, or within the twinkling of an eye it is the perpetual miracle of truth and purity and divine life.
Realize the nearness of Christ. Do not vex your souls by thinking that he lived centuries since. The centuries have nothing to do with his life except to continue it, and to open up some new unfoldment of its infinite compass and resource. I will say to my soul Thy Saviour is looking upon thee: he is watching all thy growth, he is sending his daily blessings upon thee, he is alway dying, alway rising, alway interceding a contradiction it may be in literal words, but the soul that has passed through the mystery of that agony which is birth, will understand that amid all this contradiction of letters there is a solid and melodious reconciliation and unity of meaning.
Every name is more or less historical. Even your obscure name has around it a little circle of associations peculiarly and incommunicably its own. What we call obscurity is only a relative term. God knows all the insects that are in the air: all the ephemera that are born in the sunbeam and that die in the moment of their birth, he registers in his great record. Do not say it does not matter what you, so little, obscure, unknown and socially contemptible, do. Every atom has its own shadow, every life has its own charge, and because you are obscure and uninfluential now, it does not follow that you need be so in the lapse of time. Besides that, consider your son. Sometimes a great figure stands upon a common and rough pedestal: who can tell the name of the father and mother of Moses? Yet Moses stands up in the gallery of history the most towering and indestructible figure. Do not let us therefore look at our own personal standing alone: we cannot tell what lives we may be, under God, creating, guiding, stimulating, blessing. We may bless others by sympathy, we may help the great by prayer: many an obscure suppliant gladdened the great heart of Paul by nothing but simple, loving intercession for him, that he might set his feet upon the neck of his enemies and be crowned with the glory of Christ's honour.
Some of these names were in the direct line of the royal succession, and some come into the genealogical table, as it were indirectly, so that commentators have to pause in their annotations and wonder how such and such names came into the genealogical table at all. We are soon puzzled by divine providences things do not always fall into easy straight lines; life is a complication, a problem, a difficulty. Now and again we catch a clue, and think we can unwind the whole, and presently we come to a knot which we cannot disentangle, and which it would be impious to attempt to cut. You know not what your incidental and indirect relations to the great lines of history are. You may be startled some day to find how much you have been and how much you have done. And when you ask how it is that this sudden renown has brought upon you the flame of immortality, the answer may be this: "Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me." Do not say that you are not upon the great lines of history, that you are not tributaries to the great river that seems to fray for itself an infinite channel through the earth, and pours its noble waters into a great sea. All rills trickle into the rivers. There is a royalty of mind as well as a royalty of blood. There is a royalty of behaviour as well as a royalty of descent. The question for each of us to consider is, whether we are acting up to the measure of our endowment and responsibility, and having answered that question in the affirmative, all the rest will be settled by the Supreme Power.
These words are spoken that I may break the spell of delusion and self-despair under which some men may be suffering. Do we not all suffer from that unhappy spell sometimes? Now and again we say. "Let the gourd wither, and let me cease to live, for all my efforts are but beatings of the air, and I seem to have no relation to the great currents and swift deep movements of Divine Providence and why I am here at all I cannot tell: would God the sleeping hour would come, when I might fall off into an everlasting self-oblivion! "It is foolish talk. The very least of us has a mission to fulfil, a function to discharge, a reward to secure. Let me then, as an apostle of Christ, call upon myself, upon every other soul, to seize the privilege and magnify the office to which we are called by the All-wise and All-good Creator.
All generations travail in birth with one greater than themselves. The great man is not yet come, he is always coming. The Son of Man has come? Yes, but not in his glory. Christ has come? Yes, but in his everyday clothes, to begin his work, to give the earnest of his blood but he is always coming. That was the explanation of apostolic fire and unquenchable enthusiasm, and it must be the explanation of the inspiring force under which our own life is stirred and whirled in its daily course. I am always looking for and hastening to the coming of Jesus Christ. He will never come as a man. He will come with a new coming, wider and more beautiful and satisfying than as a visible figure. Let those explain the meaning of such terms, who have felt what it is to have the heart move to apprehensions and seizures of realities for which there are no words. "Thy kingdom come." Do I thus pray for some great square figure to fall out of the blue heavens and establish itself upon wheels to roll round the earth? I pray, rather, for the infinite domination of ideas, purposes, and intentions of the most elevated and sacred kind. When Christianity comes, Christ will come: when the spirit of self-sacrifice has established itself upon the earth, then tell the heavens that the arrival has been completed, and that earth is just outside heaven, sunned with all its light, and made tuneful with all its music.
I find from these genealogical records that the most illustrious lines often dip into strange places and seem to become lost in great moral swamps, so much so that it appears to be impossible they can ever be found again and reunited. There is many a bad man in this list. There are men here who have broken all the commandments of God. There are women here who have done the same. And yet the grand purpose moves on: it is not in the power of men's hands to break the threads of the divine purpose and scheme. The Saviour comes, notwithstanding at times the whole history seems to be depraved and utterly lost. I remark upon this fact the more pathetically because it is even so in the individual life. Sometimes we find ourselves where it seems to be impossible that God can ever find us more. Yet the life is redeemed with great cost to God, for he pays blood for blood, but his redeemed ones are not given over to the power of the destroyer. Cast down, but not destroyed; smitten on the cheekbone, but not forsaken; cursing, swearing, denying Christ with oaths and blasphemy, flat, black and then saying, "Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I love thee." As the predicted man came through all the troubled lines, now illustrious with moral purity, now shamed with infinite disgrace, so through my life and thine, with all their slips and falls, their mighty prayers and horrible blasphemies, our better self shall come, the saint that is in us shall be delivered and nourished and perfected, and through our ungainly life, most depraved and occasionally most loathsome, there shall come that glorious body, that shining self, which is like Christ.
As I read this genealogy, I feel how true it is that grace is not hereditary. The good man, so good as to be almost an angel, has a son that shames the very genius of decency and insults with violence the very spirit of righteousness. This is a great mystery, that a mother, whose voice the angels might well mistake for a voice of their own, gives birth to a son that breaks her heart with his great wickedness. And a more astounding wonder still that a man whose name is a disgrace to humanity shall have a daughter beautiful as an angel, a son both philosopher and saint. Despise no man, blame no man, for circumstances over which he had no control, and praise no man for advantages which were thrust upon him without any spontaneity on his own part. Remember what your children may be; though oftentimes your minds become shocked and confounded because it seems as if the divine purpose were broken off, know that God is at the head, and through all the process of the suns, his grand purpose is developing and widening itself. Judge not by the accident; do not come to broad generalizations upon the circumstance of the passing moment; remember that all history, all time, all influences are under divine moulding and direction, and when God says "It is finished," he and the universe may hold quiet and solemn Sabbath together.
In reading further these genealogical records, I find that Jesus Christ came through all sorts of people. If I were minded to challenge him, I could upbraid him with some names that are here, and with cruel taunting I could add bitterness to his cup. He tells me that he came through all sorts to all sorts. It must be so with your life, if you are to be a great minister of God. You must not belong to any one class. You must have been depraved in your ancestors, however holy you are in yourself. O thou Son of Man, I have found thee, ancestrally, in the very pit of shame. What a history lay behind him: how he brought it all up into one focus and lived it over again in his tender sympathy, his universal understanding of human want, and his infinite beneficence whilst ministering to all classes of human kind. O thou art my preacher who comest up to every mood of my soul, so that when I am less than beast, thou knowest how to speak to me, and nearly angel, thou canst accost me in the better tongue.
This is the Christ that we preach, the Christ who came through all sorts of people, that he might teach and bless all sorts of people, so that you, wise sage, can go to him and find that your ingenuity is a blunder and your profundity the shallowest of surfaces so that you, poor sinner, can go to him, and find him girded with a towel, ready to wash with water or with blood the stain that no other but himself can ever reach. And you too, little child, dear sweet little girl or boy, you can go to him, for he himself was the Child Jesus, and he knows everything that swells the child's breast and makes the child's eyes glisten and the child's soul laugh with glee. Behold, this is no class-man, no local deity, no special missionary, no man who can speak in one language only. His tabernacle is in the sun, and his speech as impartial and universal as the wind.
In looking still further into this genealogical table, I find that Jesus Christ did not always come through the eldest sons. Some of these names are the names of the eldest sons of their families and some are younger sons. God will not be bounded in his movements by our little laws of primogeniture and precedency. To-day he says, "I will go through the eldest son;" next time he says, "Younger son, come, I will elect thee." And thus he moves, not by our ceremonial arrangements, but by a grandeur and a sweep of movement which takes in all elements and all arrangements of human life, and gives a tender sanctity to the things that we often foolishly despise.
The question has arisen again and again as I have been perusing this genealogical table, Why did not Jesus Christ come earlier? Thus I come upon a mystery in Divine Providence. Jesus Christ came before he came in the flesh. I want you, therefore, to recall the very first lesson of the morning, that as he comes now, since his flesh was buried, so he came before his incarnation in Bethlehem. Said he, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day." As a Guest, a nameless Presence, a wrestling Angel, a Cloud by day, a Fire by night, an Eye in the wheels of the chariots of Israel, in a thousand ways he came to the olden church, in a thousand ways he comes to the baptized church of to-day. Have all your doors and windows open, for you cannot tell by what means he will find access to your individual life or to your organized existence as churches. Be ready for him. What I say unto one I say unto all, Watch.
Let me say that there is a record in which even our names may all be found. Rejoice not that the spirits are subject unto you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. Let every soul remember that his name may be written in the Lamb's book of Life. When the Saviour was told that his mother and other relatives stood without, desiring to see him, he said, "Who is my mother and who are my brethren? Whosoever doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my mother, and sister, and brother." So we may all be in the genealogical tree of which he is the root: we may all be in the great sky, as little stars indeed, of which he is the central and inextinguishable glory.
Review of the Whole Chapter
You will find it a delightful and profitable study to look at the first chapter of Genesis and the first chapter of Matthew together. I have found it useful to read the one chapter immediately after the other. The contrast between Genesis and Matthew is most vivid, and in some points most startling. In both cases you have what is termed the Beginning a term that cannot be defined. There are compasses, one point of which we can lay upon these terms, but the other point cannot be stretched to the full extent of their meaning. Both chapters, with a most startling audacity, give us a point to begin at: they create history, they draw a line and say, "History begins here." How far the beginning is right has to be ascertained by long continued investigation. No answer can be immediately given to the bold assumption: it must be found in the course of persistent and enlightend inquiry. Let us, having read both the chapters, look at some of the points of contrast and some of the points of union, and learn as the result of our study how with completeness the Bible confirms itself and challenges attention to points which lie below the surface and are likely to elude the most watchful criticism that is not inspired by the purest desires of the heart.
In the first chapter of Genesis, we see how order and beauty were brought out of confusion, and in the other how spiritual harmony was brought out of infinite discord. In Genesis you have chaos turned into cosmos, in Matthew you have a tumultuous, fierce, rebellious humanity, shaped into dignity and worship, and blessed with the completeness of rest. If these chapters were mere poetry, I should be struck with the manner in which both the conceptions are expressed. The manner is, in this case, nothing less than an argument. This to my mind is one of the most beautiful of the incidental illustrations of the truth of the Bible. In the first instance we have to deal with matter. What is the tone in which matter is dealt with? It is a tone of command, it is a fiat. Put into words, the words would be Let it be done. There is no consultation, there is no entreaty, there is no persuasion, there is no remonstrance. The fiat is omnific. As a mere question of poetic conception this manner is equal to the occasion. When we go into the region of matter, we do not say "If you please;" we stand above it, we command it. This is a fact of our own consciousness and experience. When you want to shape that long stretch of iron into an arch, what do you say? You say precisely what is said in the first chapter of Genesis. You cannot get away from this biblical tether, you say "Let it be done." Is your tone one of beseeching entreaty do you ask the iron to be kind enough to allow itself to be moulded into an arch? When you want the quarry to yield you stones wherewith to build a temple, what say you? You copy the first chapter of the book of Genesis: you are biblical without the Bible, the tone cannot be changed, you say "Let it be done," and therein you echo the fiat that rounded the heavens and populated the seas.
This then is true to our own consciousness and experience. I say, "Let my house be built, let it be decorated, let it be richly furnished, let it be thus and so." Why is my tone so dogmatic and positive? Because I am within a region where the human will is supreme. You may remind me of incidental circumstances, and I am not oblivious of them, but their being in the case as details does not for one moment alter the principle which I am endeavouring to elucidate, namely, that wherever mere matter is concerned, our will determines its uses. There shall be a bridge across that river, there shall stand a temple on that site, there shall be a picture on that wall. So far as the matter is one purely materialistic, the will is supreme, the word creates, the word determines.
In the second case, it is not matter that is dealt with, but manhood. How different is the process, how long the delay, how intricate the method, how innumerable and subtle the perils. Instead of commanding, we have persuasion, entreaty, nurture, encouragement, even the whole ministry of long-suffering patience and all-hoping love. Looking at this also as a mere conception of manner, how true it is to our own consciousness and experience and method. You can order a coat for your child you cannot order a character. You can command a dress to be fashioned, you cannot command an education to be received, except in the only sense, namely, the mechanical, which proves, by a still broader illustration, the very principle on which I am insisting. You can decorate your house with a word, you cannot decorate your child's intellectual nature nay, you cannot decorate his back without his consent. He tears your jewelled rags from his shoulders, throws them on the ground, steps on them and defies you.
Look, therefore, at both the chapters as indicating a wide contrast of manner, a contrast arising from the fact that in the one case it is matter that is being treated, and in the other case it is manhood that is being created and trained and completed. Can you amend this method? You give orders for a building, you cannot give orders for a soul. You will goto your desk tomorrow morning, and with one scratch of your pen you will order work for a thousand pounds, or ten thousand, to be done, and you properly say you have given the order. If you understood the meaning of your own music, you would be taken back to the first chapter of Genesis and set down there repeating the first words you have never got beyond that liberty! You will come home after having given your order, and you will have, with your children round about you, to ask their consent to kiss them. It is no kiss upon the child's lip that is given by force a kiss of the flesh, not a kiss of the soul. Then you will come into the first chapter of Matthew, and find how, by wondrous processes, too subtle to be caught in iron speech, hearts are won, characters are formed, and destinies are determined.
It is by these practical illustrations that I find, again and again, how unexpectedly and wondrously the Bible is confirmed, and how our liberty is restricted by a history thousands of years old. We think we do some things by our own ingenuity and by our own strength, and again and again we are reminded that our originality is stale and our wit a borrowed dart.
If we look at these two chapters side by side from another point of view, we shall find that in both cases the events spread themselves, as to their execution, over vast periods of time. As for the creation, the date is "in the beginning." Search your calendar for that line, or put a better line in its place. Man likes to know details simply because he is himself a detail. But as he grows in the knowledge of God, and in the completeness of his purposed character, viewed in the light of the divine will, he finds that detail is but a momentary convenience. Observe how profoundly true this is also to our own consciousness and experience. Time represents value. We have a saying amongst ourselves to the effect that time is money. Time is more, time represents value: the political economist says that money is nothing, a mere token or symbol, of that which money can purchase the value is not in the money, it is in the production. And a greater teacher than the political economist tells us that time is nothing; I must look at what time represents: a day is not the same thing to the idle man that it is to the man who is busy.
Lay it down broadly that time represents value. "Why," said an artist no sooner born than dead, to a great painter, "do you spend so much time upon your pictures?" The profound and courteous answer was, "Because I paint for immortality." And as a man soweth so shall he also reap. "And why," said one who looked upon a great sculptor, "are you spending so much time over that face? I saw it a month ago, and it seemed to be as far advanced in its formation as it is now." "No," said Angelo, "I have been rounding that cheek, and giving a little additional expression to that nostril, and bringing out that under part of the eye more clearly." Said the observer, "These are but trifles." "True," answered the great man of the chisel, "these are trifles, but trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle." Thus to the wise time represents value. We say of some buildings that they have been run up in the night time, and when we pass that commentary upon them, we mean it as a sneer, or as an indication of the estimate we place upon the value of the thing done. We call such buildings shells, we say they will need repair in a month or two no time has been spent upon them, and for no time will they endure.
The expenditure of time, therefore, must have a moral value yet to be discovered. What time was spent on building the universe! Men who have made the universe from that point of view a special study, say that the earth must have taken tens of thousands of ages to build. They ridicule the notion of a six thousand-years-old globe: they take me down as far as they can to the roots of the rocks and show me the stony registers, pile on pile, where the ages are buried under unsculptured stone. When I compare these wondrous things with what I know to be true in my own consciousness and experience, I reason thus: Time represents value: a man spends time upon the outworking of a purpose according to the value he sets upon it: if thousands of ages have been sown upon these barren fields, God's meaning in that scattering of the ages upon a rocky surface must be profound and is not now to be understood or explained.
Yet to one test I can put this expenditure of time. It is a common test: it is in use amongst ourselves; we apply it to all things, perhaps even to the most sacred. I can stand on the green surface of the earth and look up into the starry roof, and ask what has come of all this time, what is the success which has attended this infinite delay? Then comes to my waiting mind and heart the great answer: "Canst thou amend anything that is within thy reach, O man? Stoop down and pluck thee a grass-blade from thy feet, look at it and say whether thou couldst sharpen it to a finer point, fill it with more delicate blood, clothe it with a tenderer bloom, make it in any respect more beautiful? Look at the sun: canst thou sphere him out into a more perfect circle, or add one ray to his effulgence, or suggest a supplement to his infinitude of light?" These questions are put to me with courteousness, yet reading between the lines I feel that they mock me like a defiant thunder. Then I come to the conclusion that time represents value. I cannot paint the lily without painting upon it my own folly. I cannot suggest a single re-adaptation of any of the functions of my body, I cannot add a healthier colour to my blood, I cannot fix my eyes so as to see better than they now see the wonders of this gallery and museum of things infinite and grand. I cannot amend God's work. It is to this little test, yet not useless, that I can bring this marvellous fact of the expenditure of what to us is an eternity, in the building up of a globe that holds upon its face all that is beautiful of summer, and hides in its kind heart all that is ghastly in death.
The Lord having thus made me a universe says, "My child, this is a symbol: this is not made for its own sake, this is meant to teach thee great lessons; it is my board of illustration; I have inscribed the heavens and the earth with innumerable sermons, and lessons, and poems and parables go thou and find them out, write them in thine own speech, and make thyself glad in this deep and gracious study." He is also building a spiritual universe, and it takes him a long time to construct it. He is making Man, and man takes more making than all the stars that throw their light on space. Why, this is true at home: you made your carpet, and your table, and your pictures, and your china in no time; you sent them back and had them altered: but your child, the son that has never yet stooped in filial worship at your knee; that daughter, bad with a fire your love has been unable to quench; that will that seems to hold you at its cruel mercy there your efforts appear to have been wasted.
I might argue that as it has taken God a long time to build creation, so it takes Him a long time to build the higher creation of manhood. I set up no such contention, nor dare I avail myself of any such illustration. The rocks require long time, but they cannot be damned. What care I if we pile eternities upon them? They cannot suffer. But man dies and goes to hell! To me, therefore, some tenderer and deeper argument must be addressed than the argument of analogy from the long periods required for physical formations, and the spaces and periods of time required for the development of moral harmony and beauty. I find the necessity for the expenditure of long time, in myself, in my moral nature. I will not let God. complete his work. I find the reason of the delay in me, not in him.
Nor need this be considered as a piece of theological metaphysics. It is a piece of matter-of-fact life. Every one now hearing me I could summon as a witness to bear testimony to the fact that to do right is not pleasant to any of us. If the religion of Jesus Christ is to be discounted or set aside simply because it takes a long time to make itself universally felt in the world, then with it, by parity of reasoning, must go down everything that is beautiful and noble in human education, morals, and progress. Do not suppose that your blow terminates upon the faith of Jesus Christ when you say that if that faith were divine it would make more rapid progress in the world. That blow, if it have any effect at all, shatters the entire temple of beauty, morals, and all that goes to make up completeness of human character. We all agree, for example, that honesty is right and good. Not one dissentient voice is raised to that proposition. But, according to the reasoning by which you wish to upset the divinity of Christ's religion, honesty cannot be good, otherwise every man would be honest. We are all further agreed that temperance is excellent, self-control, personal moderation, having all our faculties, passions, fires of our nature under our entire dominion and sway. To that proposition not one single dissentient voice is raised. But, according to the reasoning referred to, temperance cannot be a good thing, otherwise every man would practise it. The very fact that it is rejected, would, according to the reasoning now in question, upset the claim of temperance to be a virtue at all. We are all agreed that cleanliness is beneficial to health: we say properly that without cleanliness there can be no permanent health. That proposition is unanimously carried in every intelligent assembly; but if I am to avail myself of the reasoning which is now levelled against the divinity of Christ's religion, then I reply, cleanliness cannot be beneficial, otherwise every man, woman, and child would instantly be cleanly. Every man, woman, and child is not cleanly, therefore cleanliness cannot be the excellent thing you try to prove it to be.
So with the pleas of God, the expostulations of the Most High, and the offers of the gospel they all fall into the ruck of these common reasonings, and I, who have been convicted on every point of the former indictment, am convicted with a ten thousand fold conviction upon the supreme point of all, namely, that God waits to be gracious, and I keep him waiting.
But as in the former case of the creation, so in this latter case of the completeness of the human character, the result will be worthy of him who has been conducting the process. I cannot amend his heavens, add a deeper tint of blue to his sky, increase the richness of the green which he has spread over the earth, suggest an improvement to a single sporule of moss or blade of grass, or feather on bird's wing. In all these things I have to say "It is very good." If amendment might be possible, not on my side has the possibility been realized. So he will build this other creation, the great house of Manhood, the infinite temple of redeemed and sanctified humanity, and when it is done he will say, "It is very good, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, complete, rhythmic, restful, majestic, immortal." I must, therefore, make right use of the material symbol, and translate it into its highest spiritual meanings. I look for new heavens and a new earth and a new Jerusalem, a church beautiful as the Lamb that redeemed it.
This brings me to the last point of contrast which I can now notice, namely, that in the first chapter of Genesis the endeavour, the process rather, is to make man, in Matthew the object is to REDEEM man. In the first instance, we had no part or lot. If you will search into this matter, you will find how at all points you are restricted and humbled, so far as your birth is concerned. For a moment look at this matter. You are born without your own will, configured without, your own consent: whether you were to be dark or fair, tall or short, strong or weak not a word had you in that solemn covenant. You were nationalised without your own consent; you were not asked, "Will you be born in the temperate zone, or in the torrid zone? Will you be born in a little island or in a broad continent? Will you prefer to be an Englishman or a Turk an Indian or an African?" In that destiny you had neither part nor lot. Why, your consent was not asked even to the name you bear! You were born, nationalised, named, and over these things you had no control whatsoever. How wondrously we are limited on that side of our nature, yet on the other what marvellous freedom we have! We who can curse God to his face, cannot add one cubit to our stature. We who can say "No" to all the eloquence of the divine love, cannot make one hair white or black. Calvinism is true, and Arminianism is true, and they are both in the Bible, and they are both in your life. Limit and liberty, law and freedom, you find everywhere. You are pinned down and cannot break the pin. Yet you have tether enough to give you the notion of infinite freedom.
We were no parties to our being made, we are asked to be parties to our being redeemed. Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Whosoever believeth shall not perish but have everlasting life. Ye will not come unto me that ye might have life. How often would I have gathered thee, but thou wouldst not.
I have spoken of two beginnings, yet the two are but one, Jesus Christ is not a point in history, he is the point which antedates all history. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. He is the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. He created all things, and he is before all things and by him all things consist. When, therefore, we speak of the beginning of the gospel as subsequent to the beginning of creation, we only use a phrase for human convenience. The divine meaning is that all things begin in God, and that God never began.
Christ's Birth Always a Miracle The Garden of Eden the Perplexity of Joseph the Ministry of Dreams Review of the Chapter Genesis and Matthew Compared Matter Ordered: Man Educated the Moral Value of Time the Reason of Divine Delay the Two Beginnings Are One
Almighty God, who can speak like thee? There is music in thy voice and there is infinite tenderness in every tone which thou dost breathe into the listening heart. Thy words are full of hope: thou dost bring a great brightness to shine upon our dark life, and in many a prophetic word thou dost cause us to forecast the morning and rejoice in the broad light of boundless day. Thou hast never withheld the word of hope from the race of mankind. In the hour of sadness and intolerable depression thou hast caused thy voice to be heard, promising that the light shall come and that the glory of the Lord shall fill the earth. We bless thee that we have seen the fulfilment of thy promises: we live in the cloudless noontide: Jesus Christ thy Son, our Saviour, has come in all the plenitude of his redeeming power, and after his descent upon us there can be no more night on earth. May we receive him as men receive the light who have been long waiting for it: worn out, wearied, and sleep-bound, we rejoice when thou dost come to us with rest, security, and peace. We rejoice when the light calls us to renewed duty and to rekindled hope. May the Sou of the Father, the Prince of Peace, the King of kings and Lord of lords be born again in our hearts every day. May our breasts be the Bethlehem of his incarnation, and may our life be the sphere of his illuminating and redeeming ministry.
For his great glad words we bless thee: they are sweeter to our taste than honey, yea than the honeycomb. For his simple but infinite sayings that touch our whole life how can we praise thee enough? We live upon them as upon living bread sent down from heaven; they are our joy and song, they are our strength and security, they are the answer to every hard question, they are the light which turns every mystery into a blessing. We assemble around his cross, we see the tragedy of his suffering, we feel the meaning of his agony it was for us he thus endured the cursed tree, he was delivered for our offences, he suffered, the Just for the unjust. Evermore draw us away with infinite constraint of love from the foolish delusion that we could have saved ourselves, bind us with ever deepening and ever purifying loyalty to Jesus Christ, our only Saviour, infinite in his redeeming power.
We need this gospel all our life long, but specially in hours of agony when our sin is heavy upon us and our remorse doth eat as a canker and our conscience is as a flaming fire within us, and all life gathers itself up into an unanswerable accusation. Then may we hide ourselves in thy wounded side, Messiah, Son of God. We humbly implore thee to guide us during our life. It is a life that is reckoned in days: behold it is in the power of man to tell us how many breaths there are in our seventy years. We count our small life by its single respirations we know not that we may ever draw another breath. Our house is built half over the grave, and at any time the other half may be engulfed in the great tomb. Help us then to live wisely, with sobriety of heart, with dignity of purpose, with obedience of will, having no will or mind of our own, but seeking to live thy will and to breathe all thy purpose. Thou didst make us and not we ourselves: we are thine, we are not our own, therefore would we resign to thee that which never belonged to us, and our prayer would sum itself up in this one desire, namely, not my will but thine be done.
Thou hast clothed us with great and terrible power; thou hast enabled us to blaspheme thy name; thou hast so made us that we can curse thee to thy face; thou hast given us that power, almost divine, which enables us to lift ourselves up in haughty pride and daring, so that we may challenge thy supremacy. We have played the actor well; our hypocrisy has been a life-long success; we have spoken the language of selfishness with the accent of sacrifice; we have hidden the gems and the garments we have stolen, and our wealth is a great theft. Behold our life lies naked before thee, a throbbing, black, horrible lie. Our prayers are aggravations, and our piety but a refined sin. O thou who hast the atoning blood, the riven heart, out of which alone there streams the river that can cleanse the defilement of mankind let us know the cleansing power of that precious blood.
We put ourselves and one another confidently and affectionately into thine hands: deal with us as thou dost see best: keep us here or send us yonder as may be right in thy sight, not in ours. Make our house larger and multiply our estate greatly, or diminish both and send us into blankness and poverty, if it be for our soul's health. Grant unto our counsels and devices great success and abundant honour, or drive them all back again into our open windows that they may be ours without result, if so be our life may thereby be saved.
Pity us in our distresses, laugh not at us from the heavens derisively when we try to climb and then ignominiously fall, but lift us with strong and healing hands and set us where thou wouldst have us be, and not our will but thine be done, again and again we say. We have no better prayer: it is not ours, it is thy Son's. Amen.
Matthew 1:18-40.1.25 .
18. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary (probably an orphan, as her parents are not mentioned) was espoused (for a whole year during which the bride and bridegroom elect did not meet) to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.
19. Then Joseph her husband (so called among the Jews from the moment of betrothal), being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privily.
20. But while he thought (was distracted and perplexed) on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived (begotten) in her is of the Holy Ghost.
21. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS (not yet a specially sacred name); for he shall save his people from their sins.
22. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying:
23. Behold, a virgin [ ἡ παρθένος the virgin, or "even a virgin"] shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
24. Then Joseph, being raised from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife:
25. And knew her not till she had brought forth her first-born son: and he called his name JESUS.
From this time human history takes a new departure. How otherwise would you have Christ come? You suggest a difficulty or two as to the acceptance of the story we have read: will you be good enough to suggest another story by which we shall escape all difficulty, the object being to bring into the human race a man different from all other men, and yet a Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind? How will you escape difficulty in carrying out that grand design? It is not enough for us to criticise the method by which Jesus Christ was declared to have come into the world; we ought to go one step further if we can, and that is to suggest a method which would have been clear of every difficulty, and which yet would have obviously covered the whole ground and accomplished the one supreme design. We are awaiting suggestions; as soon as the right ones come we shall know them: we cannot mistake true music, we shall know whether the wind comes along the earth and brings the earth's dust with it, or whether it comes resoundingly from the heavens and brings with it voices and utterances of the upper and better world. Observe what had to be done: a Redeemer like ourselves in all points had to be introduced into the race, and yet so unlike us as to be wholly separate from sinners. Put that problem distinctly before your mind, and answer how it could have been accomplished as a grand historical success, except on the basis which is laid down in the Evangelic narrative.
Wherever Christ is born it is a miracle. When he is born in us it is by a miraculous conception. You do not suppose that a man becomes a Christian by some simple and obvious method which anybody can suggest and which any mind can fathom and understand? When Christ is born in your heart and mine, precisely the same operation is gone through as is indicated in this opening chapter of the gospel. It is an unexpected event, it is an event brought about by the overshadowing and ministry of the Holy Ghost. It is associated with ineffable joy, it enlists the co-operation of the angels in lifting up our gladness to its true pitch of utterance. The language of the gospel is only romantic and intellectually distressing to those who bring to bear upon it nothing but the effort of an unassisted mind. Regarded sympathetically, seized emotionally, read in the light of our own individual experience, no other language can so adequately and correctly set forth the infinite wonder and the ineffable emotion as that which we find in the gospel story. Moreover, it is in the line of the divine development, it is in harmony with the creation of the first Adam: out of the dust was brought the man, out of the man was brought the woman, out of the woman was brought the Son, out of the Son is brought the Church, which is his body, the glory of his ministry, the conquest of his almighty arm. It is all one line, beginning in the dust, ending where God ends, a development historical, gradual, sequential, complete. In very deed, great is the mystery of godliness.
Human history then, I repeat, breaks away into a new line at this point, namely, the 18th verse of the first chapter of the gospel by Matthew. The great exception takes place here. From this moment human history has an upward direction, and focalises itself in a personality hitherto but dimly indicated by the voice of often enigmatical prophecy. There are such distinct points of departure in your life and mine. The point of departure, therefore, given by the Evangelist, ought not to startle us as though it had no analogy or confirmation in human experience. I object to the law which says that it can receive nothing that has not a counterpart in human consciousness and experience, because human consciousness and experience may yet have themselves to enlarge: they have not reached the highest and last point of their own development. On the other hand, I would call attention to the fact that there are a great many things within human consciousness and experience which are not distinctly recognised as being there. Why recoil from the first chapter of the book of Genesis or the first chapter of the gospel by Matthew? If I regard these chapters in a merely literal and verbal way, I am filled with distress. If I regard them sympathetically, and in the light of what takes place in the dim sanctuary of my own consciousness, I understand them every whit. That subtle old serpent, the devil, has talked to me. I do not ask the naturalist to tell me whether, by the conformation of the serpent's mouth, it was possible for the serpent to practise the utterance of articulate language: that is the question of a mountebank. The serpent has spoken with fatal eloquence to every man amongst us. Object to the figure, if you like, but the grim, stern, damning fact remains. And as to the tree in the midst of the garden, and the fiery, flaming sword and guarding cherubim, I know them. It is impossible to get back to the lost chance, it is impossible to sponge out one spot of crime, it is impossible to find the way to the tree we have once despoiled. To try it is to fight with fire, and the fire roots itself in the inextinguishable furnaces of the divine anger.
And in very deed, if I go further back still, and think of man being shaped out of the dust, I know it: I feel the dust, I feel the Deity too. I know it must have been out of the deepest dust of the earth some parts of my nature were made, and I also know that there burns within me a fire which only God could have lighted. Observe, therefore, that I do not go back with the grammarian and the pedantic etymologist and ask those teachers to be kind enough to explain to me the opening chapters of Genesis or the opening chapters of human life in any of its grand beginnings and developings. I go down there alone, all silent, all wondering, and myself is the best annotation. So it is with this opening chapter of the gospel of Matthew. Jesus Christ is born in me, and a new departure is taken in my life by processes which can never be explained in words. In your development from infancy to spiritual manhood there comes in the story this all-separating "NOW." When did it enter? You cannot tell. The chronometer has not yet been made that indicates these millionths of seconds in which great divine ministrations accomplish themselves in births that have no deaths. Have we passed from death unto life? Has Christ been born in us the hope of glory?
Read the chapter still further until you see the wonderful union in Christ of the human and the divine the human on the mother's side, the divine as indicated by the mysterious operation of the Holy Ghost. This was no imaginary Mary. This literal history was required in order to vindicate her memory from the charge of her being a merely dramatic woman. She was real, like ourselves, one of us; she lived the common human life, wept the common human tears, enjoyed the same enjoyments that fall to our lot: there is enough said about her in the gospels to prove the pure human nature of the woman, and little enough said about her not to magnify her into a feminine god. She is here long enough to be seen, understood, spoken about, attested, initialled by every witness that knows human nature, and behold she is gone! The mother of Emmanuel must not remain too long; she must be before my eye long enough for me to know that she is Mary, and none other: not a theatrical woman or a paper minister, conceived by the wild imagination of a delirious theology, but a WOMAN, a sister, a friend, a sufferer, a loving one and then she must go, and I cannot tell how. Buried without a funeral, buried without a grave, buried without an epitaph gone, and the eye cannot follow the swift movement of her translation.
As for the operation of the Holy Ghost, it begins and ends in the word miracle. Yet it, too, is a miracle which has its correspondence in our own nature. I cannot tell the source of my prayers. When I pray with you, it is not I praying, it is a voice I never heard before in that same tone. When I close my eyes to lead you upward, is it by some utterance I have committed to memory, some paragraphs I have formulated in the library, some sentences I have caught and detained as friends? God forbid. It is a birth of the Holy Ghost. The poor words, half dumb, and trembling through and through with a throb of conscious weakness, may be partly mine, but the thing they labour to say I know not. Can you tell me the genesis, and give me the roots and starting fibres of all the purposes that have distinguished your life and made it as a flame of sacred fire, burning upward unto the heavens? You can rehearse to me the history of your commerce, and even that you can give in some instances only in part, for you know not whence the brightest suggestions came. You can tell me somewhat of the outward history of your life and body during the day as to where you have been and partly what you have seen; but even then the story is remarkable mainly for its incompleteness. Behind, and around, and above there are forces and ministries which have entered as living factors in all you have done, for which you have no name forces that have broken your thigh in the night's wrestling, but left you in the morning with a nobler name.
Such is the work of the Holy Ghost. It is not to be settled in language. The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof; thou canst not tell whence it cometh and whither it goeth; so is every one that is born of the Spirit. We prove our birth, we do not explain it. I cannot tell you how I came to be; the Lord help every one of us to vindicate his being by temper pure as fire, by love noble as sacrifice!
There was one man who looked on with great wonder. All the ages have crowded around that man, and, so to speak, have thronged him into an infinite multitude, all looking on with the same amazement, all distracted by the same perplexity. Joseph knew not what angel was coming to him along the crooked lines of his mental distraction. We seem to be born to misunderstand everything that is at all great and noble: we cannot understand ourselves, we can give but foolish answers to all the great questions which relate to our own being and our own destiny. No man yet ever satisfied his friend fully and left him in the position in which he could ask no question or suggest no doubt regarding any movement in life which was really tragical, involving suffering when that suffering might have been escaped. You are looking at your life as a great perplexity. God delights in our embarrassments: you cannot see how this knot can be untied, and you feel that it would be impious to attempt to cut it. Be in no haste. I have had a thousand knots like that in my life. When I touched them my fingers were too soft to get hold of the lines that bound them together in hardness. When I have called for steel, I have been guilty consciously of a coward's trick, and the angel has said, "Do not cut it: let it alone: the answer of all things is not yet; in due time that knot shall prove itself to be part of the strange but ever beneficent ministry of the divine and Holy Father."
A most remarkable reason is given why the name should be called Jesus. Referring to the 21st verse, you will find that the reason is, "for he shall save his people from their sins." Christ is the only man known in history who was born with specific and exclusive reference to the sins of the human family. He does not come into the race with a small programme. The world had sickened at its heart of programmes an inch long; in its intolerable soreness of soul it could not have endured another. Make way: here is a man who is going to remove the dust from our house windows. We are glad to see him. Make way again: here is a man who is going to remove the dust from our doorstep. Welcome to him also. Again and again make way for a thousand men, each of whom has a short purpose and a superficial programme. So far as they go we bid each a cordial welcome. But when all the thousand have done their little work, and have gone away from our door, we feel that ANOTHER must come with some fuller purpose, with some grander ministry. I thank all men who have done anything for me, but there is a fire in me that is burning up my life who is to put that out? For all temporary mitigations of suffering I am thankful, but there is an asp biting my soul and I am dying of its injected poison. Who can touch a mind diseased? This Son of Mary, Son of God, comes with the avowed purpose of doing this very thing I want to have done. By so much, therefore, as he even seems to rise to the dignity of the occasion, I hail him, for he has caught the genius of my malady perhaps he may bring with him the one remedy. If he had made light of my disease, I should have run away from him, for he had not then understood me. If he had come with light and jaunty words upon his lips, I should have called him liar, and found the evidence in his tone. But when he meets me he says the case is grave, the case is fatal, the disease is sin, the malady is in the soul, the blood is tainted, the life is rotten, the burden is grievous. I say to him, as a mere man, "Sir, thou understandest me: what is the answer to all this suffering?" And when he says "Blood" I feel that we are grappling with a Man that has at all events the right words. Let him prove them then will he be the crowned Saviour of the race, and his name shall be worn by no thief, but by himself only, every other Jesus forgotten in him whose surname is Christ.
All that we have now read was done in fulfilment of prophecy. God does not work extemporaneously, the suddenness of his movements is only apparent; every word he says comes up from eternity around the birth-place of Jesus Christ. There assembled the prophets and the minstrels of ancient time. "All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet." The prophets were misunderstood men; they seemed to sing a song which found an entrance into no heart. Their forecasts were met with derisive laughter, their vaticinations were but the plaints of a disordered and unbalanced mind, and many a time, wrapping their mantles around them, travel-stained, they lay down, saying, "Would God the prophetic afflatus had never moved me to speech." Prophets always suffer. It is a crucifixion to be born before your time. Happy he who speaks the language of the day: popular as a god is he. The man who projects himself by divine energy through centuries ahead, dies a thousand deaths. The prophets suffered for us: Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the mighty tribe of men who never spake to their own day, but shot their thunder voices across the ages, died for us. They have their reward. I cannot think of them as dead dust, scattered upon the winds and going to make up some other man's grave, and there an end of them. I must, following the instinct of justice and nobleness of compensation, think of them as seeing the triumphs they predicted, and turning into songs all the tears and woes that afflicted them during their misunderstood ministry.
Joseph was put to sleep by God, and was talked to through the medium of a dream. It is God's old plan: He puts us into a deep sleep, and behold when we come out of it, there is the beautiful companionship of our life standing before us, or there is the great answer to a small difficulty that turned our life into a sharp pain, or there is the way out of an entanglement difficult as a labyrinth, puzzling as a thicket, devised by all the cunning cruelty of our worst enemies. Sometimes I have done as you have; many a time fallen off into sleep, quite unable to do the work that was pressing upon me. A refreshing slumber has blessed the brain, has wound it up in every energy and force, and the awakening has been as a resurrection, and we have gone to the work that defied us, and lo, in the hands recovered by sleep there has been cunning enough to lift the burden, or to dispel the difficulty, and we, who had fainted in weariness, rejoiced in a renewed and apparently inexhaustible strength.
We are most alone when we are asleep. God loves to speak to us in our loneliness. We are more spiritual when we are are asleep than when we are awake. When I am awake I have to do with all this world; I am lost and dazed amid countless eyes that are watching; I am struck by a million wonders that challenge my attention; my ears are filled with countless noises that fall upon one another and make rough tumult in my soul. God says to me, "Come into the darkness, and I will close thine eyelids and speak to thee alone." If you ask me if I believe in dreams, taking the word dream in its wholeness, I say no: if you ask me if I believe in particular dreams, I say yes. Who would give up his dream life? In the dream life we are larger than in our waking hours. In dream I float through the air by easy and pleasant levitation; I move across difficulties I dare not encounter when I am awake. In dreams I step from star to star and cross the horizon at a bound. I know that these things appear to me in alight almost laughable when I awake, yet in my better thinking I get out of them hints, hints that startle me, make me think of possibilities which never come within the dull routine of life, and which have no place in the reckonings of the book-makers.
Thank God for sleep, thank God for dreams, thank God for every ministry that gets you out of your littleness. If any minister of God in any church can charm you away from your counter and your desk, and make you feel even for one moment that the universe is larger than you had supposed it to be, go and hear that man: he is your soul's true friend. If by tone of the voice, if by vehemence of appeal, if by tender ness of prayer, he can turn you to an upward look, he is God's minister to your soul. Love him, honour him. You may disagree with him in many of his words, some of his propositions you may be quite unable to accept from an intellectual point of view; again and again he may provoke you into controversy by statements that appear to you either rash or irreconcilable; but by as much as he has the power to make you look up and see God's wonders in the heavens, and to excite in you a desire to be broader and nobler than you are, is he the anointed minister of God to you, and should be received as such. I read the books that make me larger, I follow the authors that tell me of bigger things than I have yet seen, I love the souls that lure me into sleep that is enriched with dreaming, that extends the horizon, and doubles the stars, and heightens the sky in which they shine. From such companionship I return saying, "I have seen heaven's gate open to-day, and there are lines in this universe that were never dreamed of before in my philosophy."
Thus, then, Jesus Christ comes into the world. We have now, from time to time, to follow him in his wondrous ministry. I will not attempt to prove the miracle of the incarnation by any verbal argument, but I will ask him to meet us here morning by morning, and to vindicate, by the eloquence of his own speech and the marvellousness of his own action, the claim that is set up for him in this chapter that he is at once the Son of Mary and the begotten of the Holy Ghost.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Matthew 1". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent