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one of us, when we were reconciled and saved by this wonderful love; —a love, whose peculiar commendation it is, that' while we were yet enemies, Christ' was not only born, but' died for us:'—Are they inferiors, and looked upon as not worth our concern? That, above all objections, ought, on this day, however, to be silent:— ... i •/!•■• \
4. For, surely we are obliged on this, above all other days, to be possessed with the most profound humility; a grace, at least, as proper to the season, as any hitherto insisted on: for never were vanity and pride so put out of countenance, as by 'God taking upon him the form of a servant.' [Phil. ii. 7.] Never were the pomp and grandeur of the world so vilified, as when the Lord of heaven and earth condescended to make his entry in so poor a figure,—and, from a throne of glory, stooped down ' to swaddling clothes and a manger.' Never were the splendour and magnificence of courts, and numerous trains, and noble retinue, set in a truer light, than when the King of kings contented himself with the ministry of his meek mother, and chose to receive the first respects of a few humble shepherds. Never was the true use of power more nicely taught, nor its haughty arrogance and insolent abuses more effectually reproached, than by this proof, that God was then strongest, when he put on the greatest appearance of weakness. The princes, and great ones of this world, are then most truly great, most like their glorious original above, when they think no condescension below them for a general good. And who indeed can scorn the vilest of his fellow-creatures, when contemplating such a pattern of condescension? For, let the distance be as wide as fortune, or station, or birth, or even imagination can make it; still can it carry no manner of proportion between Creator and creature, God and man: and let the kind office to be exercised, be magnified ever so much, still all is nothing, in comparison of that God who, that ' he might deliver man' from misery, submitted to endure the same affliction, with those whom he took upon him to deliver. ■■ . . •
Faith, then, and love of God, universal charity, and unaffected humility, are the pious dispositions suited to this occasion. Such are the graces, such the ornaments, with which every soul should be decked in this festival of peace and love: and ye, whose truly Christian spirits have thus put on Christ, come forth, and prepare to meet your God in his kind approaches towards you: meet him, first, in your closets, with fervent devotion and heavenly meditations. And, when these more retired exercises of piety have wrought your souls up to a holy warmth, ' Go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise;' there cherish the holy flame your private thoughts have kindled, by a zealous joining in the prayers of the Church; by hearkening to the story of his birth, and all its circumstances, with fixed attention and holy wonder; but, above all, by spiritually feeding upon that flesh, with which God, as at this time, clothed himself for your sakes; by dedicating to him, in a most solemn manner, every faculty of that nature, which he came to sanctify, and to which he bath acquired a full right by this stupendous union with his own. When this is done, let no profane or worldly thoughts presume to mingle themselves with your religious ones; but give a truce to business and care, to every disorderly and melancholy passion; and let this whole day be sacred to calmness of mind, to spiritual comforts, and uninterrupted joy. Let no voice now be heard, but that of hearts making melody to our Lord. With such the angels brought him into the body: nor can we think it strange, that they who conceive a fresh joy at the conversion of a single sinner, should now publish their general joy, at the salvation of a whole world set on foot. But strange it may very well bethought, if angels should sing, and men should be silent upon this occasion; if they should even overflow with gladness at the happiness of others, and we should express no feeling of our own. To conclude, remember, that the calves of your lips, even when most devoutly offered, are not a suiiicient sacrifice; but, as this day was to Jesus, so let it be to you, the beginning of a new life. Remember, he was made the Son of Man, to make us the sons of God; that none can receive the benefit of his being, the former, who do not themselves become the latter; and that none are the sons of God, anyfurther, than they make it their business to be ' holy, as their heavenly Father is holy.' In vain, alas! was this divine babe born into the world, except he be likewise born in our hearts. In vain, did I say? Nay, good were it for us, that he had never been born, if we do not live up to the light which this Word hath shed abroad, and follow the example of this ' Word, inade flesh.' Such is the absolute necessity, that we should aspire to his likeness, who hath so graciously condescended to ours; and, ' that being made God's children by adoption and grace, we should,' not this day only, but every day, be ' renewed by his Holy Spirit.' A blessing, which, as -we are taught to ask in the solemn devotions of this morning, so shall we not fail to receive, if this Festival be rightly improved, to the honour of Him, who, in marvellous compassion to poor lost man, came, ' as at this time,' into his own world,' and took our nature upon him:' even Jesus Christ, the eternal and ' only begotten Son of God,' the wonderful' Son of a pure virgin;' to whom with the Father and Holy Spirit, ever one God, be all glory, thanksgiving, adoration, and obedience, world without end.
ST. STEPHEN'S DAY.
CHARACTER OF ST. STEPHEN.
Acts vii. 55.—Stephen, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven.
[Text taken from the Epistle for the Day.]
Wt are here called to contemplate the character of one, who imbibed much of our Saviour's spirit, trod in his steps with singular firmness, and, after eminent usefulness, obtained, before any others in the Christian church, the honourable Crown of martyrdom. Amongst that illustrious company, who have fought and bled in a glorious manner, for the testimony of Jesus, none shines with greater splendour than St. Stephen. In his dying behaviour, especially, we perceive a rich assemblage of graces, which we should keep in view lor our own imitation.
He is introduced to our notice, as one of the seven first deacons at Jerusalem. That the apostles might be relieved from the care of the poor, and give themselves entirely to the spiritual duties of their function, proper persons were chosen for the regular and impartial distribution of the public money; though, it is presumed, their attention was not confined merely to temporal concerns. [Acts vi. V&c.] None, doubtless, were invested with this office, but such as were of known integrity, piety, and discretion. The direction of the apostles was, ' Look ye out from among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom ye may appoint over this business.' Of this description was St. Stephen. He stands the foremost in the list, and, probably, surpassed the rest in his gifts and attainments. 'They chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost.'
Such a man as St. Stephen, so laborious and useful in the service, could not long remain unnoticed by the adversaries; and at him especially, as one standing in the front of the battle, their envenomed darts were levelled. 'Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.' Having felt in himself the blessedness of ihe gospel, he could the more earnestly recommend it to others. He preached with peculiar fervour, and confirmed his doctrines by the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit, which he possessed. Attempts were, therefore, made to confound and silence this zealous advocate for Christ.
Certain persons, probably of distinguished abilities and learning, from the different synagogues in Jerusalem, attempted to oppose him by argument; and he was not backward to declare and maintain the truth before these subtle disputants. In this contest he spake by a wisdom superior to his own, which irresistibly overpowered his antagonists. When reasoning failed, they tried the effect of slanderous invectives. Men, in general, are disposed to misrepresent and revile, what they have in vain endeavoured to confute. Accusations were sought for, and perfidious wretches hired to assert a base calumny. The minds of the people were inflamed, and even the principal persons of the city engaged in the opposition. Stephen was dragged, with rage and violence, before the grand council of the Sanhedrim. A show of justice was preserved: the prisoner was put upon his trial, and witnesses called, who declared, ' We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God.' In support of their accusation, it was alleged that Stephen had predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and a change of the Mosaic law, through the interposition of that Jesus, whom he preached.
The prisoner stood at the bar, and, the charge being brought, the eyes of the court were fixed upon him. And what did they behold? Were there any signs of guilt, any terror or confusion discoverable in his countenance? No: they saw him, not only composed and undaunted, but filled with lively joy, and shining with a radiant brightness, like the lustre which appeared in the face of Moses, when he came down from the mount of God. This was more than the natural effect of a good conscience, of a pure zeal for God, or an assurance of his love; though these will afford support and comfort in extreme dangers. Here, a miraculous, a divine splendour was diffused, which was a singular honour conferred upon St. Stephen, and which his enemies ought to have acknowledged as an evident token that God was with him. They ' saw his face, as it had been the face of an angel,' majestic and glorious. Were they not then so struck with the phenomenon, as to desist from the persecution, ' lest they should be found even to fight against God V Alas! such are the blindness and obduracy of the human heart, that no external evidence will, of itself, produce any proper religious convictions; not the vision of an angel from heaven, nor the testimony of a miserable spirit, if released from its confinement in hell. [Luke xvi. 31.]
Accordingly, the court, disregarding this uncommon appearance, proceeded in the trial; and the high-priest, as president of the council, put the prisoner upon his defence. [Actsvii. 1, &c] Then Stephen spake in his own vindication. Yet, perhaps, upon viewing the strain of the holy advocate, we may view him as an orator who brought, rather than repelled, an accusation. More solicitous to save his audience, than procure his discharge, he solemnly warned them not to reject the gracious proposal of God by his faithful servants, as many of their forefathers had done. We cannot here enlarge upon the different parts of this animated address, which bears the clearest marks of profound wisdom. He endeavoured to fix their attention by giving a short detail of their history; and, while he showed the various dispensations of mercy to their nation, the tendency of his discourse was to deliver them from a blind attachment to their external privileges, their boasted forms and ceremonies. He observed, that the Lord had called and blessed their ancestors, before their law was published, or their temple built, Yet he expressed himself