THE EPIPHANY GOODNESS. BY Rev. F. D. HUNTINGTON, D.D.

First Sunday after Epiphany .

"Behold my Servant, whom I have chosen; my Beloved, in whom my soul is well- pleased: I will put my Spirit upon Him, and He shall show judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A bruised, reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall He not quench, till He send forth judgment unto victory. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust."— /S^ Matthew xii. 18-21.

Wherever, in all the world, in any heart of Jew or Gentile, bond or free, formalist or prodigal, there is any movement toward Him, Christ encourages it. Whether it is an outward movement, of travelling feet, an inquiring tongue, the open confession that brings visible offerings, as with the wise men that came out of heathendom to Bethlehem at the Great Epiphany, or whether it is only the inward movement of a secret desire after His holiness, it is never the economy of Heaven to despise it or smother it. It may be very feeble and dull; very awkward and irregular; very much mixed with baser elements, which overlay it with their unsightly deformities and almost kill it . Let them kill

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it, if you will, God never kills it. It may only smoulder out of sight, like fire in a ball of flax, where nothing but smoke struggles out through the mass of matted fibres, and a little heat warms the hand that feels for it. This does not provoke the mighty Lord to " quench " it.

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His hand is patient, and does feel for it. He is as long-suffering as He is mighty. By His very name as a Saviour, the business of His ministry, the passion of the " spirit " " put upon Him,- ' is not to destroy the faint flickerings of spiritual life, but to save them. Even the fragments of that poor bread which only nourishes the body He would not waste, but gathered it up in baskets. Much more the broken and dying embers of penitence and faith in the soul will He not quench. He will gather and cherish and watch over and fan them, if He is not hindered, into flames of vigorous and constant ardor.

As with feeble religious affections in men's hearts, so with mistaken opinions in their minds. In almost every false system of belief, whether within or outside the limits of nominal Christianity, there are some traces of

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truth. Like the seeds of ancient grain that were sometimes wrapped up in the winding-sheets of dead bodies and buried in dusty sepulchres for centuries, which germinate, and send up the green blade, and the full corn, when air and light and soil are given them ages after, so some dry germs of God's early but buried gifts lie lifeless in these dark religions, till Christ, the Light of the world, quickens them. He came into the world on that mission. He came not to create a world, but to seek out, to gather up, to save, something which had been lost in the world, and, taking hold of that, to give Himself for it, — to breathe His own life into it, to pour out the blood of His own veins to revive it, — and thus to redeem and recreate the world. Notice how almost every common term that expresses the object of Christ's mediation includes this little particle, which signifies that His work was a second work, — a doing over of what had been done, or a bringing back of what had been thrown away, or a bringing up of what had been buried under

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iniquity and falsehood, — re-storing, re-generating, renewing, re-covering, re-forming. To save, to rescue,

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to deliver, to ransom, — all imply that there is a substance of life remaining to work upon ; and that the Great Redeemer's ministry is to seek it out and save it, — in other words, to take these broken, disordered, depraved elements of our humanity out from under their corrupt bandages ; to set them free ; to cleanse them ; to graft them into the Heavenly Vine ; to train them up into fruit-bearing branches, as members of His own Life. In doing this His patience and His condescension are wonderful. He despises no virtue because it is frail. He refuses no prayers because they are timid or ignorant. He thrusts away from Him no inquirers because they are yet beclouded with much doubt or superstition. He listens to them. He tells them to come nearer. He makes the way of admission not harder, but as easy as He can. He lays hold, first, of everything in man which is already in sympathy with Him, — the life not utterly gone, the better feelings not completely dead, and by these He strives with this seeking soul to increase its faith, and to recover it altogether. Be it false living, or false doctrine, vice, heresy, heathenism, infidelity, the sin of publicans and harlots, — whatever the transgression, whatever the unbelief. His Divine heart so loves the souls they enslave, and so longs to deliver them, that He comes down into the midst of them; and then, the point at which He begins to save is that last

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spark of unquenched life which gleams out, brightens, and warms toward Him. Tliis is the central miracle of the Gospel, and the glory of the Cross. It is that " love of Christ which passeth knowledge."

Go with it, this morning, to that grand promise of the gathering in of the nations which now, at Epiphany,

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tirs the heart and inspires the animating worship of the 3hurch. Look, from under it, at the star in the east, nd the adoration of the magi.

After dpscribing how silent and- unobtrusive the Savour's method was, in His teaching and His miracles ; low willing He was to wait for the fulfilment of His glorious purposes; how He withdrew Himself from rowds and avoided noisy demonstrations, disappointing he pompous expectations of the people ; and how all his Divine patience was only the calm surface of that leep sea of power which was one day to overflow and onvert the world, — the Evangelist goes on : " That it flight be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the

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^rophet, saying. Behold my Servant, whom I have hosen ; my Beloved, in whom my soul is well-pleased :

will put my Spirit upon Him, and He shall show udgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive, nor cry ; leither shall any man hear His voice in the streets. A iruised reed shall He not break, and smoking flax shall le not quench, till He send forth judgment unto vicory. And in His name shall the Gentiles trust." ?hat is, these tender traits of His person, these chartable aflections of His Gospel, this catholic economy of lis kingdom, this patient and comprehensive love of lis sacrifice, shall accomplish the gathering in of Genile nations to His feet. He meets them where they are. lis judgment of them, as of us, is first gentle, conescending, and so afterward the more terribly just, lis victory over them is on the Cross where He sufliers ^r them. Oh, to helieve this is to be "justified by iith."

Turn to the wise men, following the star to His irthplace. Think who they were, and why they ame. They were from far beyond the bounds of that

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chosen and favored Israel whose were the covenants, the oracles, the fires of Sinai, the glory of Sion, and the faith of the fathers. They came, doubtless, from Persia, a heathen country. "With whatever distinction among their countrymen, they were yet hitherto but princes among pagans, or a priesthood of superstition. Their business was a vain attempt to read the fortunes of empires and of men by watching the changing positions and mutual attractions of the stars. Ko plainer revelation of God's loving-kindness and wisdom for them stood before their eyes than the cold splendors of the midnight sky. The heavenly commandment and promise they must spell out in the mystic syllables of the constellations, or else grope on in darkness. The sun was the burning eye of an Unknown Deity. With night-long, solemn vigils, they strained their eyes into the heavens; but they saw no "Heaven of heavens," because they saw no Father of forgiveness, and no heart of love, there. Astrology was their pursuit, and astrology was neither a true faith nor a true science. !N^ot Abraham, nor Moses, nor Elijah, nor Daniel, nor Isaiah, nor any of the " glorious company " was their prophet, but Zoroaster, — a mysterious if not quite mythical personage, ever vanishing in the shadows of an uncer-

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tain antiquity. These were the men that God was leading to Bethlehem, representatives of that whole pagan world that He would draw to the Saviour.

On the other hand, we must take care not to fall into the popular mistake about these magi. They held the best religion of their time, outside of Judaism, Their sacred books prove tliem to have been no degraded or sensual idolaters, probably not idolaters at all. When they fed their sacred fires with spices and fragrant wood, it was not the fire they worshipped, but a strange and

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unseen Light, of which the fire was a symbol. Their Ormuzd was an Infinite Spirit, and the star-spirits were his bright subordinates. They believed in immortality, in judgment, in prayer, in the sacredness of marriage, in obedience, in honesty ; they practised carefully most of the virtues of the Christian morality, including that foundation one of truthfulness, which is rare enough in both East and West, and which Christianity has found it so hard to establish in public or in private life, in all its eighteen centuries of discipline. And to this day, when

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the American traveller or merchant meets among the miserable native communities of the East-Indian cities a citizen more intelligent, more upright, of nobler manners and gentler hospitality than the rest, he is almost sure to find him a Parsee descendant of those Zoroastrian students of the stars : brethren or children of the wise men who offered their gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the infant Messiah in the stable.

Now, from these mixed characteristics of the magi, — the first worshippers our Lord had on earth, — it is easy to learn, I think, just what their place on the pages of Scripture is meant to teach : — practical truth for us all.

First, they teach us this : that^ in the largeness of the plan of His salvation^ Christ not only hreaJcs over all the narrow notions of national, family, and social prejudice, hut He permits every heart to come to Him, in spite of its imperfections and errors, hy the test light and the test feeling it has. These astrologers were all wrong about the stars presiding over the destinies of men, and foretelling the birth of kings. Yet, condescending to them, taking them up at that low point of their childish superstition, this " testimony of Jesus, which is the spirit of prophecy," made use of their astrological credulity to guide them to Christian knowledge, shaping the miracle

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even to their mistake, by all means to bring them out into " the truth as it is in Jesus " ; saving them finally from their error, in seeming to save them by it.

It is most impressive to see how this patience and condescension, beginning there at the cradle, run through our Lord's personal ministry among men. He always gains persons, just as He gains the world, by going down to them. If fishermen are to be converted, lie gets into a boat, or sits down by them as they are mending their nets. If ]N"icodemus is too cowardly to come to Him in the daytime. He lets him come in the night, and willingly wakes to explain to him the new birth of water and spirit which is the entrance into life. In order to show the proud doctors of the law that all their traditional learning is good for nothing without a simple heart. He goes in among them at the temple, as a child, listens to them, and asks them questions, in the fashion of their Eabbinical schools. "When wicked women are to be purified. He allows them to come in the wild earnestness of their impulsive devotion, and lets them wash His feet with

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tears. Sometimes He reasons with men ; sometimes He waits silently for them ; sometimes He sends them away only till they need Him more ; sometimes He passes quietly out of their reach, to let their passions cool. If the cure of disease, or raising the dead, or stilling the sea, will turn men's hearts to Him, He works the outward wonder for the inward blessing. Indeed, it is probable that the whole system of miracle-working, sublime as it is to us, was rather a condescension of our Lord, and looked to Him as but an inferior ministry, — since He said, " Blessed are they which have not seen and yet have believed," and " If ye will not believe Me, believe the works." When He chose His disciples. He adapted their calling to their capacity, — some to speak,

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others to work. Because common people are more readily reached by those in their own condition He chose poverty, and sat down to meat with publicans and sinners. So when Ilis Apostle to the Gentiles preached, He addressed the love of eloquence at Athens, the logical understanding at Rome, the versatile imaginations and emotions of the East at Corinth, Ephesus, and

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Antioch. Everywhere, without abating a whit the strict sanctity of its principles, or the awfulness of its righteous retributions, the Gospel goes forward, becoming all things to all men, taking men as it finds them, suiting the manner and voice of its appeal to their culture, tastes, and aptitudes ; feeling after some better quality or longing in them, to lay hold of, by all means, as St. Paul puts it, to " save some." For the present, Christ says He is not come to judge the world, but to save the world — quenching not the smoking ilax. "When all these merciful and fostering ministries are ended, — the7i Cometh the judgment, rendering unto every man according as he has accepted or slighted them.

We see the same gracious economy proceeding about us every day. Every careless, unchristian person is like these wandering Gentiles. Worse than that, he may be living in frivolity, or in pride and self-will. But the Spirit of God is constantly at work, trying and searching him, to see if there is any tender spot in his heart, any sacred memory, any purer attachment, any look toward the stars, any nobler aspiration, or at least any susceptibility to suffering, by wliich he can be touched and renewed. By that door repentance may enter. So all our personal traits are, one by one, taken in hand by the Spirit, as instruments to awaken and sanctify us,

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that we may not perish. If pain and sorrow and death are used, it is only because nothing softer would

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rouse US. There is not one stroke of superfluous agony. Every pulse of anguish is felt by God, as the refiner and purifier of silver watches the furnace, sure to lift the molten metal out, or to cool the fire, when the needed change is wrought. The instant faith's deep discipline is accomplished, Christ stays His hand. The bruised reed will not be broken, nor the smoking flax quenched, till He bring forth judgment unto victory.

Another part of what is taught by the leading of the Gentile wise men to Christ is, that at every step forward in the Christian life, each disciple's amount of privilege or blessing is generally in proportion to the growth of his faith, up to that time. We saw, just now, that these Eastern magi were the purest-minded and most spiritual

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religionists in the heathen world. There can hardly be a doubt that it was for that superior cleanness of heart that they were honored with this heavenly illumination, and promoted to the leadership of the whole Gentile procession in their pilgrimage to the Son of God. I believe the rule of God's dealing is the same with ourselves : that our future advances in the knowledge and obedience of the Gospel are always in the degree of our past endeavors. We are not to carry the doctrine of Christ's condescension to such a pitch of extremity as to hide from view the real dififerences in men's hearts. Christ seeks for all, invites all, dies for all, that none might perish.. But He does not kindle a star for every one, nor make all converts memorable among His saints wherever the Gospel is preached. There are laws in tlie economy of grace, as in the growth of the body and the mind. Blessings are according to faith. Faith is nothing but the soul's willingness to receive Christ's blessings, and to receive them in Him by whom alone they can come. If, like the wise men, you have been

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true to the early Hglit; if, like Timothy, you have

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remembered what a Christian mother, — ^your mother after the flesh, or your mother in the Spirit, the Christian Church, — has taught you ; if conscience has been kept tender and true ; if, like Saul of Tarsus, while you were only under the law you were a faithful and scrupulous servant of the law, — then there is a firm and healthy stock on which your new-born Christian grace will thrive. Then the pagan abominations of a godless youth, or the renounced delusions of worldliness, or of a conceited mind dallying with doubt and proud of unbelief, will not hinder and darken your way to Heaven. Spiritual glory will be revealed to spiritual eyes. Character will unfold and strengthen in its heavenly order. According to your faith it will be unto you. Every new year will set you nobly forward toward higher purities of sanctification. Power, patience, consistency, self-control, peace with God, joy in believing, victory over the world, — these and every other grace will grow with your growth. Such a life will be a perpetual journey of honor, with light all the way, and immortality at the end.

Once more, the subject completes itself in the still higher thought that, after all, wherever the startingpoint, whoever the travellers, whatever the gentleness that forbears to quench our feeble life, and however

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merciful the long-suffering that waits for us, there is an end of the whole way, at the feet of the Lord. All His patience, His diversities of working, the discipline of life, the dealings of the Spirit ; all the gentleness and infinite charity in Christ, are for this end. And if, after all, we are not found there, — ^liear the Scripture of God, — " there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment."

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Judge, then, of yourselves, my friends, whether this is not the unvarying doctrine of God's vrhole Word, of His Providence in Christ, of the daily discipline of His Spirit. Through these unclean chambers of our hearts, like the earnest woman who swept her littered house for the lost piece of silver, moves this our Blessed Friend, — the same who receives the praises of saints and the adoration of angels, — searching amidst the poor rubbish that the world and the senses have scattered there for some remaining sign of hope, some fire of love not quite gone out, some broken pledge of union with Himself that He may bind together again, and so make us His own, in everlasting comfort. Or, as

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in another parable. He walks among the stones and thorns and thistles, there searching for stray affections, like the shepherd for the wandering sheep. I have seen a striking picture, by a great artist, of that Shepherd, with the recovered sheep lying weak and famished on His shoulders. The fierce, dark wilderness is behind. A rocky precipice falls steep and rough to the bitter sea below, and up in the wintry sky whirl the disappointed vultures, that had waited for their perishing prey. How can we help crying in thankful faith, O faithful and everlasting Shepherd, find us in our wilderness ; let not the adversary have dominion over us ; quench not, but rekindle by Thy Spirit, the dying embers of our repentance; bring us home, where the angels rejoice over every wanderer that was lost

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