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from his Epistle to the Ephesians, to set before us these most gracious and important truths, that Christ and His Gospel are not for a favoured few, but for the whole earth—that God's eternal purpose is, that all mankind should come within the range of His redeeming mercythat the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ, through the Gospel
This, then, is clearly the subject for our thoughts to-day, Christ's Manifestation.
Taking St. John's words. for the key-note to my remarks, I would ask you to consider,
I. How the Lord Jesus Christ was Manifested in His infancy to the Gentiles.
II. How He has been Manifested since.
III. How He ought to be Manifested, made known, in our hearts and lives daily.
I. Let us look at that early manifestation of which we have the account in the Gospel for this day.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of Herod the King, behold there came wise men from the East, saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews ? for we have seen His star in the east, and are come to worship Him.
Now these wise men are called in the original Greek magi, from whence we have got our word magicians.
They were inhabitants, it is thought, of Arabia, and much given to the study of the stars. It was while intent on their favourite occupation, considering the heavens, the moon and stars, which God hath ordained, that
they discovered, we may suppose, that particular star in the east which was to be their guide to Jesus.
They called it His star, as if they had been looking for it, as if, from some prophecy or tradition, they were expecting such an appearance.
Arrived at Jerusalem, they are informed by the chief priests, whom Herod had called together to answer their question, that Bethlehem in the land of Juda was the place where Christ should be born.
To Bethlehem accordingly they went, still guided by the star, and there they found the object of their long search. They came into the house where the young child was, with Mary His mother, and when they saw Him, they worshipped Him-worshipped Him as He lay there, a helpless infant, without any mark of pomp or power about Him, and with the homage which is paid to kings only,— When they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts, gold, and frankincense, and myrrh -gold, because it was His due as a King, frankincense, because that holy perfume was burnt upon the altar of God, myrrh, because it was used in embalming the dead, and so a token that even this holy Child, this Lord and King, should die.
Such was the first Manifestation of Christ. These wise men were the first fruits of the Gentile world—the first among the heathen to whom it pleased God to reveal His Incarnate Son.
There is much instruction in this story—much to call forth our admiration of God's wonder-working ways, much for us to imitate in the Magi’s example. They, we have seen, consulted not their ease or their convenience
in making that long journey to come unto Christ. They brought with them offerings of their very best,—when they saw the Saviour in circumstances of poverty and lowliness, their faith stood firm, and they hesitated not to confess Him,—they did not draw back from the mean home and its unpretending inmates— When they were come into the house they fell down and worshipped Him.
Surely, brethren, this conduct of the wise men may put us to the blush. Surely they exhibited a zeal and a heartiness in seeking Christ and honouring Him, which contrasts in their favour, with our slackness and neglect of Him. Surely they admonish us to pay Him a greater reverence – to love Him better, and serve Him better and more heartily—and to present ourselves, our souls, and bodies, to be a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable before Him, which is our reasonable service!
II. But let us look how Christ has been Manifested in later days—let us inquire what His Manifestation has brought to us in our own land.
There was a time, about thirteen centuries ago, when our forefathers in England were idolaters—when they bowed down to stocks and stones, and did service to dumb idols, as though they had been really gods. That service, too, was often one of hideous cruelty. It was a notion—and we find the same in almost all heathen people—that the Supreme Being delighted in blood, that His favour was to be sought, His wrath appeased, by human sacrifices. No wonder if, with such dark views of God, our Saxon forefathers were merciless and cruel. No wonder if might, and not right, was the law by which
they lived. No wonder if, with them, to be tender and compassionate, forgiving and yielding, was counted a weakness, and the strong arm and strong hand alone regarded with respect. No wonder if their religious rites were bloody--no wonder if, thinking as they did about God, they sought to make Him their friend and buy His favour by taking the life of their captives, whom they offered upon their cruel altars.
And what has changed all this for the better? Why is it that we have now juster notions about God? Why is it that milder manners now prevail ? Why is it that the very thought of human sacrifice, of slaying a fellowcreature for the good of our soul, could never, by any conceivable means, enter into our minds ?
Because—I answer— because of the Epiphany. Because His life, the life of Jesus Christ, was manifested to our rude ancestors, and that life had such a power over them that they cast away their old superstition, and turned from their abominations to serve the true God.
Yes, it was the life of Christ that cleared up the darkness in their minds. It was this which first taught them that God is other than they had imagined Him—not a“ terrible and severe God,” not a “Father of slaughter," but a God full of compassion and mercy-One who loved them, and cared for them, and desired not the death of any, but the life of all : Who had sent to them His own Son out of heaven to assure them of this, to shew them a new and better way, how they ought to walk and please God.
This it was that brought our fathers out of bondage. A few Christian missionaries landed in a corner of our
island : they obtained leave of the pagan king to preach Christ among His people: and God so blessed their word, supported, as it was, by the purity and innocency of their lives, that in a very short time heathenism, with its idolatries and savage practices, was driven for ever out of the land. The King Ethelbert himself was first won to be a convert, and following his example, ten thousand of his subjects were, on a single Christmas Day, admitted by Baptism into the Church of the Redeemer.
Thus England took her place among Christian countries. Thus did she make the first step towards the height she has since attained—the first step in all true civilization—the step from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge, from Satan unto God.
And what, brethren, is the lesson which this Manifestation of Christ to our pagan forefathers, by foreign missionaries, should teach ? Clearly it is this—Go and do thou likewise.
I mean, if there be one obligation more binding upon us as a Christian people than another, it is this, that we make the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world—that we use those large means which God has given us in England, for manifesting ever wider and further the life of Christ, knowing that He is set for salvation unto the ends of the earth.
In this, I feel, we shall all be agreed, that we owe it to God to propagate His Gospel. We may choose our way of doing it, but that it ought to be done, that we are all called to take part in doing it, will hardly be a question.