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Lord. Perhaps Christ, as a sacrifice for sin, is beyond the present measure of your faith. He is the great mystery of godliness, which, because you cannot fathom it, you do not receive ; and, as Judge of the living and the dead, perhaps he awakens your fears.
Begin, then, where the wise meu began, supposing your knowledge and your belief to be even as limited as theirs ; but, adopting their desire and zeal to know something more of Christ, like them, “ follow on to know the Lord.” Let us trace the progress of their faith.
The star shone at a great distance, but in the direction of Judea ; and these wise men arose and followed it. But when they had entered on their way, the star, for a large part of the time, if not entirely, must have dis. appeared. In the daytime, of course, they could not see it; in stormy and dark nights-it was veiled ; and thus, through their long and wearisome journey, they must, to a great degree, have walked by faith.
Not supposing that a king could be born out of the metropolis, they bent their way toward Jerusalem, inquiring for Christ. Instead of finding the great city moved with joy at his birth, it would seem as though the city had the first information of it from these Persians. The story of the shepherds, perhaps, had been treated with ridicule, and was forgotten ; and the arrival of the Magi, with such an inquiry, only had the effect to trouble the king, and the whole city with him. Nothing daunted by this, nothing chilled in their faith and zeal, they literally followed on to know the Lord, seeking him with all the heart ; and, pursuing their way to humble Bethlehem, behold, the star which they saw in the east came and stood over the place where the young child was !
If we were half as zealous to know the truth respecting Christ, and the way of salvation by him, as these heathen were to find him, all our wishes would be crowned with complete success. We are strongly disposed to hope and to believe that they were not moved to perform such a journey, and such an act of love and worship, to die, after all, without a saving knowledge of the Redeemer. Supposing them to have become acquainted with the gospel, they must have reflected with great satisfaction on the pains they took to find the Saviour, the faith they exercised, their perseverance, and, finally, their not being offended at the lowly condition in which they found him, though their imaginations had, no doubt, presented him to their minds in a manner corresponding with the sublime sign which bad distinguished his birth. If they took with them to their home the sacred books of the Jews; if devout men had been mored duricg their brief sojourn in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, to disclose to them such thoughts and feelings concerning Jesus as Zacharias, and Elizabeth, and Simeon, and others like them entertained ; if, along their homeward journey, by day and by night, they read, and prayed, and talked concerning the Messiah, and found that they could worship still at the feet of that everywhere present Saviour, in the desert, and in Persia, as well as in Bethlehem ; and if, returning to their people with this song in their hearts, and upon their lips, " For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall bo called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace, they thus became the worshippers of the true God and the Redeemer, what gain must they have felt that their long and dreary journey had brought them ! what caravan ever brought back treasures to be compared with those unsearchable riches of Christ, of which they had become possessed! and what must have been their joy as they turned, from worshipping the host of heaven, " to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come !".
No distant, silent star beckons us, like them, to seek Christ. We have a more sure word of prophecy—a Bible, in which prophets and apostles conspire to bring us to the Saviour ; his history is finished; we have not only his manger, but his cross, his tomb. Judea, Samaria, Galilee are impriuted with his familiar footsteps ; his resurrection and ascension, the gift of the lloly Ghost, the testimony and blood of martyrs, the conversion of souls already without number, all perform that office for us which that solitary star rendered to these wise men. But faith is not in proportion to the amount of evidence. “ Prophets teach the Jews in vain ; a silent star beckons the Gentiles; they arise and follow." Still, the same promise assures us of success, if we follow after the small portion of light which our unbelieving eyes take in ; still he that seeketh findeth, if he seeks, like these wise men, with all the heart.
These wise men will, hereafter, condemn those nations who, on the first news of Christ, and salvation by him, should have received the gospel, but still reject it. The Queen of Sheba, it seems, is summoned as a witness, at the last judgment, against the men of the Saviour's time ; for she came from the utmost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, while a greater than Solomon was with the unbelieving men of that age. So if we, with all our knowledge of Christ, should fail to believe on him, the sight of that company of wise men from the East, appearing in the last judgment, before the Saviour, to be openly acknowledged by him, as a consequence of their faith and zeal, would powerfully condemn our indolence and unbelief, and leave us without excuse. Could we then return to earth, no pilgrimages, sufferings, zeal, and love would seem too much for so great an object as a personal interest in the work of redemption. Yet this is offered to us every Sabbath, and as often as we open the Scriptures. With the example of the wise men before us, and all that serves to illustrate and enforce the privilege and duty of believing on Christ, with every opportunity to obtain all that others have been obliged to purchase at vast expense, let us be sure that we be not thrust down from such exalted privileges to a deeper hell. It is not enough to commend religion by approving its doctrines and its influence. “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”
If those wise men are now among the redeemed, having washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, what thoughts and feelings they must have, as they recollect the star in its first appearance to them ; the difficulties which they overcame in following after it; the joy they felt when it re-appeared, and gave a divine seal of approbation to their effort; their first sight of the infant Jesus ; the impressions made upon them when, in this young mysterious potentate as they believed him to be, they found the King of kings and Lord of lords ! As they cast their crowns at his feet, they remember the gold, and frankincense, and myrrh which they once brought so far and laid there; they adore the sovereign love which selected them in their idolatrous land, and brought them to worship at those feet, and now rewards their gifts and their zeal, which were themselves the work of divine grace, with heavenly blessings. Among the happy spirits in heaven, these wise men must have no common joy in thinking of the method by which they were brought to the knowledge of Christ, and their salvation was secured. Who, of all the armies of heaven, fall at the feet of Christ with more affecting recollections, or with greater reason for gratitude and praise ? Of the innumerable friends of Christ in heaven, who more suitably lead the Gentile Church than those who were the first fruits of his advent, the trophies of victories won by him while yet in his manger at Bethlehem ? And yet every one of us who shall be saved will be an instance and illustration of sovereign mercy; and in proportion to the strength of our faith and love shall we be happy in the recollections of earth, in the society of just men made perfect, and be qualified for future employment in the service of God.
We read no more of these wise men but that they returned to their own country. They carried with them, of course, the news of the Saviour, and no doubt were instrumental in advancing the new religion in the East. Were we allowed to indulge our fancy, as the Christian writers of the middle ages have done, and embellish the history of these wise men with imaginary in. cideuts, we might do it, perhaps, after this manner : Persia, we would say, has not yet ceased to feel the benefit, indirectly, of their early homage at the feet of the infant Saviour. We cannot fail to remember, in connection with these Magi, that to their fellow-countrymen, the Nestorians of Persia, we are now sending the means of re-establishing among them a pure Christianity That people are remarkable from early times for their substantial orthodoxy. Nestorius was excommunicated by the Papal Church for denying that Mary was the mother of God, and refusing to worship her; and it is interesting to notice here that the wise men paid no homage to Mary. A peculiar tone of piety characterises the Nestorian converts, and it may be that they are blessed, and that great blessings are yet in reserve for them, in consequence of the zealous efforts of the Magi to find Christ. For God is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and he remembers mercy to a thousand generations.
We have named the wise men from the East, “ Friends of Christ," and have given them a prominent place among the honourable number whom we are to consider in these discourses under that name. It is encouraging to notice how little of true faith in Christ, and what imperfect knowledge of him, they probably had when they came to his feet. And yet what consequences have flowed to them in their usefulness, during their lives, in directing the attention of others to Christ, in comforting the mourning people of God, in giving an example of zeal and faith to those who have more knowledge of Christ than they. This teaches us that with whatever motive we seek Christ, or however imperfect and deficient our knowledge of him, we cannot seek in vain, nor will our sincere efforts to know him better fail to be rewarded. “A bruised reed he will not break; and smoking flax he will not quench."
It deserves a passing noticc, in conclusion, that
III. The adoration of the Magi affords a remarkable illustration of our Saviour's humility and meekness.
We cannot suppose that the knowledge of this adoration was withheld from himn when he came to years of understanding. What effect might we suppose it would have had on any one of us, had he been told that, when he was an infant, learned men came in a company and did him reverence; that wise men from the continent of Europe made a pilgrimage to his feet i But the Saviour was subject to his parents, and worked at his trade as a carpenter. When he began his public ministry, and selected his first apostles, did he choose Magi for his ministers? No; but Andrew, and Peter, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and the sons of Zebedee. With what truthfulness and beauty, then, does that gracious invitation to each of us proceed from his lips : “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls." There is only one instance in the New Testament in which the Man of Sorrows is said to have rejoiced ; and this was in connection with the truth that God had hid the things of his kingdom from the “ wise and prudent," and had “revealed them unto babes." It gratified the benevolence of Christ to think that the humble, unlettered poor of our race were specially the objects of divine compassion, while those who were wise in their own conceit, in consequence of their human learning or gifts, were passed by. When the Saviour, who had had the wise men of the East at his feet, stretches forth his hand, and says, Blessed are ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God, he excites the confidence and joy of every one whom he honours with being his ambassador, and he should draw all men unto him.
The title, "Friends of Christ," naturally leads to the inquiry, Am I a friend of Christ ? Perhaps every one will readily answer, Yes. Mention some proof of it. Take time, and see if you are a friend of Christ by any such proof as commonly evinces friendship. How much do you pray to Christ? what communion have you with him ? how often do you repeat with yourself his precious name? on whom of his disciples have you ever bestowed a gitt, a kind word or look, for the reason, and for that reason only, that you believed him to be a friend of Christ? what have you ever done for that cause which is all in this world that Christ holds dear?
It is a truth to which every minister of Christ testifies from personal ex. perience, that everything which man can do to influence his fellow-men is easier than to make them love him who is “the chiefest among ten thousand," and "altogether lovely.” Amid unsuccessful efforts for this object, saying, Who hath believed our report ? and mourning that we can persuade so few to love and honour the Saviour, it is always refreshing and encouraging to look into the New Testament and contemplate the instances of love to Christ as there recorded. It re-assures us of the Saviour's infinite excellence; it shows us how the human heart has responded to bis claims upon its love and homage, while the prophecies and promises of the Bible come to our aid, showing that he, whoin, having not seen, we love, shall yet be loved and adored on earth and in every land, and by myriads of our race in heaven.
This series of discourses on the Friends of Christ in the New Testament, is begun, therefore, with the view and in the hope of assisting every one, by example, to love and honour the Saviour of the world, to become his friend, and to secure the friendship of him whose loving kindness is better than life. You will find the question constantly recurring, Are you a friend of Christ? The answer to this question will, at the great harvest of the earth, determine whether the reaping angels shall place us with the wheat or with the tares. The Judge himself will assign, as the reason for the sentence which he will pronounce upon us, the evidence which our present lives afforded whether we were, or were not, his friends.
THE NEW HEART.
DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, SEPTEMBER 5, 1858, BY THE
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh,"_Ezekiel xxxvi. 26.
BEHOLD a wonder of divine love. When God maketh his creatures, one creation he regardeth as sufficient, and should they lapse from the condition in which he has created them, he suffers them, as a rule, to endure the penalty of their transgression, and to abide in the place into which they are fallen. But here he makes an exception; man, fallen man, created by his Maker, pure and holy, hath wilfully and wickedly rebelled against the Most High, and lost his first estate, but behold, he is to be the subject of a new creation through the power of God's Holy Spirit. Behold this and wonder! What is man compared with an angel? Is he not little and insignificant?" And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.” God hath no mercy upon them; he made them pure and holy, and they ought to have remained so, but inasmuch as they wilfully rebelled, he cast them down from their shining seats for ever; and without a single promise of mercy, he hath bound them tast in the fetters of destiny, to abide in eternal torment. But wonder, ye heavens, the God who destroyed the angels stoops from his highest throne in glory, and speaks to his creature man, and thus saith unto him—“Now, thou hast fallen from me even as the angels did; thou hast grossly erred, and gone astray from my ways-not for thy sake do I this, but for mine own name's sake-behold I will undo the mischief which thine own hand hath done. I will take away that heart which has rebelled against me. Having made thee once, thou hast unmade thyself— I will make thee over again. I will put my hand a second time to the work; once more shalt thou revolve upon the potter's wheel, and I will make thee a vessel of honour, fit for my gracious use.
I will take away thy stony heart, and give thee a heart of flesh; a new heart will I give thee; a new spirit will I put within thee.” Is not this a wonder of divine sovereignty and of infinite grace, that mighty angels should be cast into the fire for ever, and yet God hath made a covenant with man that he will renew and restore him?
And now, my dear friends, I shall attempt this morning, first of all, to show the
THIS GREAT PROMISE.
necessity for the great promise contained in my text, that God will give us a new heart and a new spirit; and after that, I shall endeavour to show the nature of the great work which God works in the soul, when he accomplishes this promise; afterwards, a few personal remarks to all my hearers. I. In the first place, it is my business to endeavour to show THE NECESSITY FOR
Not that it needs any showing to the quickened and enlightened Christian; but this is for the conviction of the ungodly, and for the humbling of our carnal pride. O that this morning the gracious Spirit may teach us our depravity, that we may thereby be driven to seek the fulfilment of this mercy, which is most assuredly and abundantly necessary, if we would be saved. You will notice that in my text God does not promise to us that he will improve our nature, that he will mend our broken hearts. No, the promise is that he will give us new hearts and right spirits. Human nature is too far gone ever to be mended. It is not a house that is a little out of repair, with here and there a slate blown from the roof, and here and there a piece of plaster broken down from the ceiling. No, it is rotten throughout, the very foundations have been sapped; there is not a single timber in it which has not been eaten by the worm, from its uppermost roof to its lowest foundation; there is no soundness in it; it is all rottenness and ready to fall. God doth not attempt to mend; he does not shore up the walls, and re-paint the door ; he does not garnish and beautify, but he determines that the old house shall be entirely swept away, and that he will build a new one. It is too far gone, I say, to be mended. If it were only a little out of repair, it might be mended. If only a wheel or two of that great thing called “manhood” were out of repair, then he who made man might put the whole to rights; he might put a new cog where it had been broken off, and another wheel where it had gone to ruin and the machine might work anew. But no, the whole of it is out of repair ; there is not one lever which is not broken; not one axle which is not disturbed ; not one of the wheels which act upon the others. The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot, to the crown of the head, it is all wounds and bruises and putrifying sores. The Lord, therefore, does not attempt the repairing of this thing; but he says, “ I will give you a new heart, and a right spirit will I put within you; I will take away the heart of stone, I will not try to soften it, I will let it be as stony as ever it was, but I will take it away, and I will give you a new heart, and it shall be a heart of flesh.”
Now I shall endeavour to show that God is justified in this, and that there was an abundant necessity for his resolution so to do. For in the first place, if you consider what human nature has been, and what it is, you will not be very long before you will say of it, " Ah, it is a hopeless case indeed.”
Consider, then, for a moment how bad human nature must be if we think how ill it has treated its God. I remember William Huntingdon says in his autobiography, that one of the sharpest sensations of pain that he felt after he had been quickened by divine grace was this, “He felt such pity for God.” I do not know that lever met with the expression elsewhere, but it is a very expressive one; although I might prefer to say sympathy with God and grief that he should be so evil entreated. Ah, my friends, there are many men that are forgotten, that are despised, and that are trampled on by their fellows; but there never was a man who was so despised as the everlasting God has been. Many a man has been sla ndered and abused, but never was man abused as God has been. Many have been treated cruelly and ungratefully, but never one was treated as our God has been. Let us look back upon our past lives—how ungrateful have we been to him! It was he who gave us being, and the first utterance of our lips should have been in his praise; and so long as we were here, it was our duty to have perpetually sung his glory; but