THESE expressions look backward. The verbs are in a past tense. They seem to point to a transaction that is done. The question springs up, Why should we go back with them? Christianity is here, as hospitably lodged as most other interests. We reckon our time by " the year of our Lord ; " the very chronology of civil ization dating forward and backward from his coming. His name is stamped on the seals that accredit the best authority, in thought, education, and empire. The symbol of his sacrifice surmounts the highest buildings men raise, in village or city. Even a great deal of modern infidelity insists on calling itself Christian. The Gospel is recognized ; we are familiar with the letter of its lessons. What occasion is there for recall ing its beginnings ? Why take our places, even for an hour, with the Evangelist, and Philip, and Andrew, and Simon, by the shores of Galilee ? Why celebrate the season of the Saviour s advent ?



There is a reason why. Christ s coming into the world was not for a particular generation, nor for a par ticular country. The causes for his coming are in every heart in this place, every heart that beats any where, with life, and love, and sorrow, and sin, in its blood. The wants he came to satisfy, the alienation he came to heal, the depravity he came to atone for, the unbelief he came to scatter, and the misery he came to bless, were not local, nor of one age. The need of that day spring which broke when " the Word " was manifest was not Syrian, Roman, nor Grecian, not Jewish nor Ethnic. Humanity did not exist four thousand years or more with none of the elements and susceptibilities that Jesus would personally meet, and after an interrup tion of thirty years or thereabouts return to that con dition. " He came to his own ; " to a race that be longed to him "from the beginning;" since "in the beginning he was with God, and was God." His out ward appearance, limited as to time and place, was necessary to give form and force to the inward work he was to do. Christ must be seen, must be historical,


must enter into time and into space, though having all time and space in himself. It wanted all the signals and efficacy of his physical presence and suffering : the houseless head ; the speech of which it was said that man never spake like it; the look that was like no human look, now healing the sick, and now sending a storm through Peter s conscience, comforting timid women, and striking down the stout soldiers to the ground as by their own swords and staves. It wanted the body and the blood, the countenance that was marred more than the countenance of any man, the shape that had virtue in the hem of its garments and


arose visibly to walk again after death had done its work, because death could have no power over it. All this was needed. As John relates it, the word must be " made flesh, and dwell among us."

Notwithstanding this, and indeed as a part of this truth, it is a low view of the Saviour which insulates his ministry within a brief section of the reigns of two earthly emperors. The true view makes his physical


advent only a type of what goes on in each single dis ciple s soul. Any one of us without a Saviour is like the world without him : wandering, weak, lost. What the world had to do each of us has to do ; to receive him, to prepare a place for him, to welcome his spirit, to obey him as the friendly Lord, and trust him as the Redeemer.

The text presents three things in connection : the Coming, the Reception, the Blessing. " He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name."

I. The Coming. This had an object, a motive, and a method.

To find the object, we might go either to the direct declarations of Christ himself and his apostles, or to the actual state of the world when he appeared. Both would give us the same account. Men had lost sight of God. Some nations, rather, had lost it; others had never had it. All alike, if we except a small class of Hebrew believers like Simeon and Nathanael, lingering about the old Temple, and keeping their devout sim plicity, Israelites in whom there was no guile, all


were destitute of it. Three kinds of selfishness had blinded them. Three rank roots had struck into the


soil, sending up growths of superstition and sensuality which overshadowed all pure religion ; self-admiration, self-will, self-indulgence : three forms of sin ; three usurpers of the human soul. One, self-admiration, perverts and makes a rebel of the intellect ; another, self-will, of the conscience ; the other, self-indul gence, of the passions. The whole head was sick; the whole heart faint ; the whole practical direction un strung. In this threefold treachery and corruption, the world had grown giddy, rapacious, and godless. Curi osity was all that was left as the highest aim in science ; war, in enterprise ; and a sensuous enthusiasm for the beautiful in art. Alexandria, Rome, and Athens repre sented these three ambitions. In losing his God, man had lost himself, as always happens. The Fall was com plete. Faith in God and the dignity of man went down together. With divine worship fell human rights and liberties. The scholars and the priests mystified the people, the Epicureans tempted them, the Stoics flattered


and despised them. Seneca, with his dainty doctrine that " the finding out of things useful is not work for a philosopher, but drudgery for slaves, * stood for the world s idea of learning ; Caesar, for its idea of politics ; Corinth, for its idea of pleasure. There were gods enough : one for every propensity. But they were either patrons to be purchased, or abstractions to be apostrophized, or demons to be propitiated. Religion, where it was not a voluntary deception, had degenerated into an incantation and a ceremony. The priest, if he was a pagan, was a juggler or a dupe ; if he was a Jew, read the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, and its eightfold woes on the hypocrites, to know what he was. There was intellect enough ; but the amount of all that


was, as Paul put it, that " the world by wisdom knew not God," and never would, till that " Logos," or Mes siah, came, who was to the Jews a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness, but, to them that believe, Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God unto salvation. And the literatures of the nations confirm his saying. Leave out two names, nay, leave out not


even Plato and Cicero, and nothing puts a gloomier aspect upon the Christless world than to take up and really read, as seeking spiritual satisfaction, the works of antiquity that are oftenest quoted in company with the Bible.

The object, then, of the Advent is plain. Men had lost sight of their God, their Father. Christ came to show him unto them. Manifestation was the purpose ; reve lation ; the bodying forth of the Divine ; to show God ; to reveal the Father. Not first by a book : that would have reached not one in ten thousand, nor him in his heart. Not chiefly by oral instructions, which have to be certi fied to the understanding before they can inspire faith. Not by a mere creature-image of Deity, for that would have been only adding another to the old Pantheon of idolatries. This infinite goodness, this One Spirit of God, must come in a life. Christ must be the Son of the Father ; must touch humanity and enter into it ; must wear its flesh ; must lift its load ; must partake its experience; must be tempted with it; must be seen, nay, felt, suffering for it. This will complete the mani festation. This will be, not an education, not an inspi ration, not a human self-elevation, which neither history nor logic hints at ; but a coming of Heaven to earth ; a theophany, or manifesting of God. This is perfect com


passion, and effectual relief. This gets the sundered


souls together. Even stolid and blinded eyes will now begin to behold their Lord. And when they not only see him, but see him in disinterested agony, giving the last gift, life itself, in the most torturing anguish of body and spirit that human death can bring, an ever-living God mysteriously passing through the valley of the shadow of death, this will move and melt and convince of sin, and arouse to holiness, and release from the bond age of law, if anything. He who could do this must know how to reconcile Law and Love, how to legislate and forgive, how to be just and justify the sinner, and thus be able to atone and able to renew, a Redeem er, such as all weak and wandering hearts like ours need. We cannot fathom the metaphysical composition of his incarnate being. But we can bow before him, and follow after him, and be grateful, and cry gladly and gratefully, with Thomas, " My Lord and my God!"

You see, then, the object. The Advent of the Mes


siah was not a movement to establish an original right of possession in men. He came to his own. It was not to create an original religious capacity. It was to open the way, and fill out all the conditions of salva tion. It was to gain men s faith. It was to quicken them with trust and love. It was to acquire, not a legal title to their persons, but the free will offering of their hearts. Why that? Because the one needed thing, a living goodness, could be produced in the world in no other way. Because sin could not other wise be conquered.

And in finding the object of the Advent, we begin to find also the motive and the method. There could be but one motive : " God so loved the world." The


method : " The form of a servant," " born in a man ger," " the death of the cross."

II. The Reception. This is man s part in the Ad vent ; the coming was Christ s. It was for a few of the purer, simpler, more advanced spirits, of the age of his


outward appearance, to welcome him : with what spe cial illumination or help from on high, in that unspiritual time, and uncongenial people, we can never know. Here and there a stranger or foreigner clung to him. When it was told him, just before his crucifixion, that some Greeks were inquiring for him, Jesus seeing in that a promise that the self-sufficient mind of the world was feeling its way to him, cried, " The hour is come that the Son of Man should be glorified."

A true reception of Christ, for every man alike, is of three parts : belief, sympathy, service. These together make up the righteousness of faith, the great character istic and criterion of a Christian.

There must be, first, a belief that he is what he says he is, the Only-begotten of the Father, Emmanuel, God with us, the Giver of Eternal Life, the Sender of the Comforter, the Everlasting and Almighty Head of his Church in heaven and earth, the Vine of which his fol lowers are the branches, the Friend of the poor, the Foe of oppression, the Forgiver of sin. For any mes senger, ambassador, prophet, the first condition of ac ceptance is that he be found to be what he claims to be : much more for the Saviour of mankind. He knows who he is, or not. If he does, he is all that


these terms mean. If not, ignorance or deception would make him less than one of the honest soldiers that obeyed orders and led him away to the judgmenthall. The text makes this part of receiving him plain :


" As many as received him," i. e. it adds, they " that believe on his name."

But, again, there is no receiving the Saviour with out sympathy. A plenipotentiary from one court to another, a bearer of despatches, a commercial agent, or a purely mental operator, does not need this. But the moment you include a moral purpose, spiritual influ ence, the kindling of any new life, there must be a com mon feeling ; there must be assimilation. The interests must be felt as identical. Loyalty must bind the subject to his King. Enthusiasm must mount at the mention of the Leader s name. If the Saviour s purpose was to fill human breasts with love, we cannot be his without loving him.

" His own." There are two ways of belonging to


another : unwilling and inevitable, or willing and hearty. You may belong to a nation by birth, and dislike it ; to a family, from dependence or self-interest, and care for no welfare in it ; to a university, and be out of harmony and out of temper with its administra tion. But so you cannot belong to the brotherhood that is the body of Christ. You must be in sympathy both with the brotherhood and its head. The legal ownership you cannot help ; it brings no animation and no comfort. By your creation you are the Lord s, his to be disposed of, to live or die, to be judged. The business of your new heart, " receiving Christ," is to change this reluctant belonging for the closer and grate ful loyalty of affection ; the legal bond for the gracious one of faith.

Yet there will be service too ; only not the service of compulsion, but such service as they that love each other render without calling it service. "Lovestthou




me ? then feed my sheep ; " " Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, ye have done it unto me." There is a cross to be taken up. There are the hungry, the sick, the ignorant, bondmen and prisoners, all around you. In them the Lord makes a new advent to your door and your heart, every winter, every week. For the illiterate and the educated alike there is always a field for good Samaritanism : some body lying half-dead by the roadside. Christ will not be received by society, by governments, by us, till everybody within our reach is made, somehow, better by our faith in the Saviour of us all.

III. After the Coming and the Reception, is the Blessing. " To as many as received him, to them gave he power," and gives he power, " to become the sons of God." That is the sublime promise : have we ever thought, deeply, how much it means? Servants we were before, creatures of God, and, in the sense of owing life and comfort to his impartial providence, his children ; but not in the full and glorious significance " the sons of God." They are the royal line. They are the heirs of immortality. They are the conquerors that overcome the world, and the sufferers that rejoice in the midst of affliction, and the lowly saints that come spotless and beautiful out of their great tribulation.


Persecution perhaps has purified them. Ridicule per haps has made their regeneration perfect. Temptation trampled down has brought angels to minister to them. Born now, not of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God, their immortal seed remaineth in them. They are the multitude whose praise no unbe lieving tongue can join, whose joy no arrogant and unrepenting heart can understand.


It was thus that the moment Christ appeared, he became a judgment, or a judge. There was no visible bench, no formal sentence. He was even anxious to remove the impression that condemnation was his earthly errand. He said, " I came not to judge the world, but to save the world." Nevertheless the judg ment comes, and by a law inwrought into all your souls. No one of you can ever be as if Christ had not appeared on the earth. To hear the name of Christ alters the relations of every human being to the highest facts, to God, to eternity. It was not so much any spe cial saying ; it was his character, his very nature, that was judicial. As soon as he was manifest, the whole


world of men about him fell apart, and souls took their places on the right hand and the left. It was as if that divine presence located instantly every human life on earth. And so he added : " Though I came not into the world to judge it, though that is not my special mission here in the body, but to manifest God to you, yet afterwards, in the world to come, and in conse quence of that manifestation, judgment will come, sol emn, awful, inevitable, sudden as a thief in the night. The word that I speak unto you, that shall judge you."

The question, then, for the individual is this : Do we see Christ ? Do we recognize and own our Lord ? Whether he has come, where he is, whether he can be found, is riot the matter we have to consider ; nor whether we belong to him. He has come : he lives : he is visible to the eyes of faith : his life goes forth into the race forever, flowing into all hearts that will open to receive it, making them sons and kings and priests unto God.

" He came to his own, and his own received him



not." Can we let the passage go without a penitent conviction ? See how pathos and rebuke are mingled in it ! The sentence of a heavier condemnation never was written. Severity never spoke in a tenderer com passion. It is not weak complaint. It is not bitter sarcasm. It is not sentimentalism bewailing its own impotence. It is not tyranny exulting over its victim, and saying, " You would not give me your heart, and so I rejoice to see your heart crushed." It is another spirit, and has another sound. " He came to his own, and his own received him not." It is the sadness of parental affection repulsed. It is the sorrow of a heart that bleeds, not for itself, but for children lost, and knowing the misery before them as the children them selves cannot know it. It is one audible note of the unutterable pity of God for ungrateful souls.

And who are they ? Men of the past only ? Peas ants and Pharisees of Palestine only ? Students in the schools of the Scribes, and the Scribes that taught Hebrew learning only ? Answer for yourselves. In a day that is coming, we must all answer for ourselves. Who are God s ungrateful children ? " Last of all he sent his Son," saying, They have slighted my common mercies ; they have ridiculed or criticised my mortal


messengers : I gave them food from Heaven and fruit ful seasons, and they feasted and drank and were mer ry and profane, and forgot me : I gave them friends, and they tempted them, misled them, dragged them down to their own level of denial, vanity, selfishness, and shame : they stoned my prophets : but " they will rev erence my Son." " He came to his own ; they re ceived him not."

As was said at the beginning, it is the language of


narrative. But in what we have to do with the Eternal One, to whom there is no yesterday and no to-morrow, nothing old and nothing new, the past brings no excuses for the present. Time does not alter truth. There is no partiality for ages, nations, or persons. As John writes, there was an advent and a rejection : a bodily advent, a bodily crucifixion : the image and outer form of the Word that was from the beginning, the ever-living Emmanuel, the Christ that comes to-day. If he is rejected to-day, it is by the pride and fashion and self-indulgence of to-day. It is our compromising


consciences, it is our well-dressed sensuality, it is our commercial cunning, it is our literary conceit, it is our making merchandise of men and of men s virtue, our covering up cruelty, and calling it patriotism ; dishon esty, and calling it regular trade ; hollowness and mu tual flattery, and calling it good society ; prayerless selfidolatry, and calling it a rational religion ; it is these things that prepare and build his cross, and crucify him afresh.

How to receive the Son of God : they that, in any sense, believe on his name will seek earnestly the full answer to that question. They will seek it through the giving up of the dearest preference that hurts the sim plicity and humility of their faith. They will seek it in the New Testament, in Christian instruction, in prayer, in doing every hour all of God s will they know, in counting belief, not doubt, the glory and power and joy of man. Strong and ample minds will reverently bring their strength and amplitude, a free and noble offering to their Saviour s cause, yet not thinking it much to give Him who, knowing all that is in men, hav ing all the science they are striving after, the wisdom of




which their learning is but a broken alphabet, the Master of that world of Nature whose margin they are holding up dim lamps to explore, and commanding, that spark of life at whose mysterious, silent secret, all their knowledge of phenomena stops short, and is dumb, not much to give Him who, having power and honor like this, yet gave his own mortal life for them. The young will bring the freshness and dew of their youth. Life and lips will not give too much emphasis to that good confession. No energy of health, no affection of the heart, will be willingly excused.

And if you have sought elsewhere, but find some thing lacking yet, then candidly and cordially consider whether some further help may not possibly be held waiting for you, where thousands upon thousands of stronger minds and humbler hearts than any here have found it, at the foot of his cross, in the communion of his body and his blood, the sacraments of his presence, the memorials that he has come, the symbols of his sac rifice, the images of his bread of Truth, which whoso eateth never hungers, and of his spirit of Life which


whoso drinketh never thirsts.




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