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THE near approach of the time appointed for commemorating the birth of the Saviour invites us to anticipate the occasion and make some reflections on the event.
Grand in itself, in its purpose, and in its results, the Incarnation must ever continue to be a theme of wonder and admiration to angels and men. No event can be conceived of as approaching in greatness and grandeur the manifestation of God in the flesh. It transcends the conception and exceeds the belief of the natural man. The idea could only have entered the mind through Divine Revelation. Glimpses of the truth have indeed been found in other religions than those derived immediately from our Holy Scriptures; but these have been received from an older Revelation, an ancient Word, the origin of all ancient and most modern religions, which we speak of as heathen, but which are only the traditional forms of a once universal faith. Whatever is true in any of those religions has been revealed, not by flesh and blood, but by the Father of light, who has never left Himself without a witness in any age or in any land. The highest of these revealed truths is that which has given the faith and inspired the hope of the Divine Incarnation. Although this event was far distant, belief in it had the power of giving the mind of fallen man an upward and onward direction. When the minds of men had be
come too gross and sensual to think of God as a Spirit, and to worship Him in spirit and in truth, faith in the incarnate God was necessary to preserve them from falling into a state of ignorance or atheism, so as to be without God in the world, a state from which there could have been no redemption. If the patriarchs who "all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth," secured to themselves a better country, that is, an heavenly, so was it to some extent with those among the nations who had so much of the same faith that the Lord the Saviour had become the Desire of all nations.
The manifestation of God in the flesh is no doubt the great mystery of godliness. But it is, like the other mysteries of the kingdom, capable of being understood. Revelation is higher than reason, hut is in nothing contrary to it. The Word of God reveals what human reason could not have discovered, but it reveals nothing that reason cannot comprehend. Although God is infinite and man is finite, and between infinite and finite there is no proportion, yet God is infinite man and man is finite god; and there is thus a relation between them that is capable of being exalted to the highest degree, which is that of conjunction and even of union. It was on this ground that the Lord justified to the cavilling Jews His claim to being the Son of God. "If I called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said, I am the Son of God?" But the manhood of Christ was different from that of any other human being. He was not created but begotten of God. He was the Son not only of a human mother but of a Divine Father. The soul, or the essential nature, of the Lord's Humanity was therefore Divine from His birth; and this Divine soul gradually made Divine the Lord's body also, the glorification of the humanity being completed at His resurrection. In Jesus Christ therefore dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. He is the visible God in whom is the invisible.
The purpose of the Incarnation was as great as the event itself. 'The salvation of the human race was its object. This all Christians joyfully acknowledge, but it is the peculiar glory of the New Dispensation to know how that purpose was wrought out by God manifest in the flesh, and how it was that it could be effected by no other means. The only rationale of the Incarnation which the Churches of the present day can see is that, as Man had sinned in the flesh, it was necessary for
Christ to suffer in the flesh; and, in this way, with His stripes we are healed. How incomparably grand is the true view of the subject, that the Lord assumed man's fallen and sinful nature, that He might restore it, and reconcile and reunite to Himself those whom sin had turned away and alienated from Him! Here is the grandeur of the Incarnation: "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." This great truth has almost been lost sight of in the notion of God being reconciled to man. The primary idea of the Atonement is that of satisfaction to God by Christ suffering the penalty duc to the sins of men, and men's acceptance and salvation for Christ's sake. When we regard the Atonement as consisting in God reconciling to Himself the human nature which He Himself assumed, how perfectly in harmony with the Divine Nature, which is infinite Love and Wisdom, does the Lord's Incarnation become! No anger to appease, no vindictive justice to satisfy. Love is the moving cause, and Wisdom is the operating power; and the Divine work has no other purpose than to reconcile the human to the Divine, and ultimately man to his Maker. How truly sublime is the doctrine, how consistent with the nature of God and with the condition of man, that the Lord reconciled His own manhood to His Godhead in the same way and by the same means as those in and by which He reconciles His rational creatures to Himself! The Lord's work in the flesh, His life of perfect righteousness, His temptations, His sufferings, His death, his resurrection and ascension, as they were the means of perfecting His humanity, and uniting it with His Essential Divinity; so are they not only the archetypes, but the producing causes, of the same works, and experiences, and changes of state in us, by which we become, in our degree, perfect as He is perfect. When we see that our regeneration is an image and a result of His glorification; that our vile bodies are changed so as to become like unto His glorious body by a similar work; that we become heavenly as He became Divine, we have attained to a true view of the purpose of the Incarnation. and of the atoning or reconciling work which the Lord accomplished in the world.
And what is the legitimate result of the Lord's redeeming and saving work? By overcoming the powers of darkness, the Lord effected the redemption of the whole human race. He delivered them from captivity, and restored them to a state of spiritual freedom, in which they are able to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. By glorifying His humanity and uniting it to
His Divinity, the Lord has provided for the salvation of His people, by enabling them to live a life of righteousness, to overcome in temptation, to suffer for conscience' sake, to die to sin, to rise from the dead, and walk with the Lord in newness of life, and finally ascend into heaven; and, having overcome, to sit with Jesus on His throne, as He also overcame, and is set down with His Father in His throne.
Such is the result or realized purpose of the Incarnation. In celebrating the Lord's birth in the world, we should regard it as more than an annually recurring festival; as nothing less than the day of salvation as well as the year of redemption, a day ever to be remembered as that in which the Dayspring from on high hath visited us, in which the Sun of righteousness arose with healing in His wings. Blessed, then, be the Lord God of Israel, who hath visited and redeemed His people, to give light to them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
HYMN FOR CHRISTMAS.
BY JOSEPH DUFTY.
Lo! in Canaan's darkling skies
Shepherds watching on the plain,
Sages precious offerings bring
"Peace on earth, goodwill to men,"
To the Councillor be praise !
FROM BEYROUT TO BETHLEHEM :
BEING REMINISCENCES OF A RECENT JOURNEY THROUGH THE HOLY LAND.
By C. COLLINGWOOD, M.A., etc.
XII. BETHLEHEM, ETC., CONCLUSION.
WHILE staying at Jerusalem, we one day mounted our horses and sallied forth on a most interesting expedition, to visit some of the historical places situated a little north of the city. Passing by the Tombs of the Judges, and taking a north-west direction, we began a toilsome ascent across the shoulder of a hill, and found ourselves threading the passes of Benjamin, surrounded everywhere by limestone slopes. Emerging from an amphitheatre of hills, we perceived one more lofty than the rest, for which we directed our course. This is called by the Arabs Neby Samwil, or the Prophet Samuel, and is usually believed to be Mizpeh. It rises nearly six hundred feet above the plain, and is crowned with a mosque; the hillsides rudely terraced for the cultivation of figs and vines. By a winding path we ascended to the summit, and were well repaid by the splendid view therefrom, for this hill is one of the highest of those which compass about Jerusalem. From hence the whole surrounding country for very many miles is spread before us like a map. We see Jerusalem, its grey walls and houses mingling with the uniform and sombre tints of the limestone hills around, and beyond it the hills on which are situated Bethlehem, and in this southerly direction almost as far as Hebron. To the east the hills of Gilead and Moab close the horizon. To the north a host of spots of interest come into view. Gibeon, situated in the midst of its plain, is not far off; while in the distance may be distinguished the Rock of Rimmon (still known as Rummôn), the scene of the terrible calamity which befell the Benjamites, as related in Judges xx. and xxi.; Ophrah (1 Sam. xiii. 17), called later the “city called Ephraim," to which our Lord retired when the evil counsels of the priests prevailed after the raising of Lazarus ; while nearer are perceived Ramah of Benjamin (called Er Râm, "the high place," as it means, as Mizpeh is "the watch tower"), Beeroth, and Gibeah of Saul. But it is to the west that the view most fully opens, and the eye stretches its vision, not only all the long day's journey we were shortly about to take on leaving Jerusalem, but also embraces the great sea beyond. The plain of Sharon, deep below the level of Jerusalem, the smooth table-land in which the large town of Ramleh