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DELIVERED ON BOARD THE WATERLOO, NEAR CHRISTMAS ISLAND, DECEMBER 25, 1823.
[Bethlehem, a small town, about six miles south of Jerusalem, was called the " City of David" in consequence, probably, of David, king of Israel, having been born there an event which occurred about a thousand years before the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Bethlehem, or the "City of David," is a place well known, and much frequented by Christians of different countries, Latins, and Greeks, and Armenians; and it is supposed, that the very field is known where the shepherds were watching their flocks, when the angel announced the birth of our Saviour.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived at Nazareth, which was about seventy miles north of Jerusalem; and the occasion of her coming to Bethlehem, about eighty miles distance, was, an order issued by the Roman Emperor, Cæsar Augustus, that all persons in Judea should repair to their native place, to have a list of their names taken. Whilst Mary was at Bethlehem, Jesus was born; and on that occasion, an angel from heaven appeared during the night to some shepherds, and speaking audibly, called upon them not to be afraid, for he brought them good tidings, which concerned all people in the world, these tidings were, that a Saviour was born-Christ, the Lord.
To commemorate this event, the 25th of December has been fixed on; it is not, however, certain that Christmas-day, as it is called, was the precise time of our Saviour's birth; nor is the keeping of this holiday commanded in the Sacred Scriptures; but if it be observed with decorum, and be not profaned by any excess, the observance of it may be rather useful than otherwise. The commemoration of any event ought to correspond to the nature of that event; and what we have to-day to commemorate, is not some domestic or national occurrence, but the birth of the Saviour of the world; it seems, therefore, incumbent on us to consider the nature of his salvation, and how it concerns us.]
ACTS, v. 30, 31.
"Jesus, hath God exalted to be a Prince and a SAVIOUR."
A SAVIOUR is a deliverer; one who rescues from some evil. A man who delivers his country from foreign enemies, is sometimes called the saviour of his country; and people speak of saving a man from drowning, or from any similar calamity. Whenever men speak of a Saviour, it is understood that some evil is hanging over, or has actually come upon those who are to be saved. The same as when men speak of a physician, it is understood that there are sick persons to be healed.
Now the evils to which men are subject, are some of them bodily evils, otherwise called natural evils; such as sickness, poverty, and so on: others are mental evils; such as concern the mind, or the thinking part of man-the soul; and these are sometimes called moral, or spiritual evils. Such bodily evils terminate when the body diesthere is no sickness or poverty in the grave; but as the soul, or spirit, never dies, the death of the body does not deliver from those evils which are of a spiritual nature, nor from the punishment which awaits the bodies of the wicked after the resurrection: hence calamities, or evils, are some temporal, or enduring only for a few years; and some of them eternal, or never-ending. But all human calamities, whether bodily or spiritual, temporal or eternal, are, without exception, the consequence of sinning against God. We are taught, that man was originally made a holy, obedient, and a happy being. Then there was no sickness, no death, no affliction. But man sinned. He disobeyed God, and became wicked and miserable. At the beginning, the Bible assures us, man was made in the image of God;
he resembled the Divine Being in these three things ;-in knowledge, in innocence, in holiness; but by transgression he fell into a state just quite the reverse, a state of ignorance, and of guilt, and of wickedness. Now to deliver man from these three evils, the Saviour is appointed, and sustains a threefold character; he is a Prophet, a Priest, and a King. A Prophet, or Teacher, to teach ignorant man; a Priest, or one who offers sacrifice, to atone for man's guilt; and a King, or Prince, to bring man into a state of willing obedience to the divine law.
Since the time when man fell from his original state, he has become ignorant of the Divine Being. He knows not the living and the true God. In many parts of the world, both in ancient and in modern times, as in China for example, people have imagined that there were many gods, and that they were such beings as sinful man himself is; hence they made images of their gods, and worshipped the works of their own hands-a bit of carved wood, or a rude stone. In other parts of the world, where idols or images are not used, as in our own country, there is still great ignorance of God prevailing; and many false opinions, some of which set the divine perfections at variance with each other. There are people who, contrary to Scripture, think that God is so merciful he will not punish sin; and, by this notion, his holiness and his justice are set aside altogether; and these persons live and die without repentance, and never apply by faith to the Saviour.
There is much ignorance also amongst men, concerning the holy and spiritual law of God. Man is very ignorant of his duty to God, and often has no desire to know the truth; and hence it is, that many are so careless and jovial whilst living in disregard of their religious duty; and, consequently, still under the wrath of God. Most of men think, that simply avoiding great crimes, is fulfilling `their duty; whereas, the Bible declares every one accursed, who continues not in all things written in the book of the law, to do them.
Further, fallen man is ignorant concerning a future state; the state after death. Some people, who think
themselves very wise, have denied that there is any future state, and others have said many foolish things about it; but Jesus Christ, the Saviour, is a divine teacher, who came down from heaven, to instruct man concerning God, and his glorious perfections, and his holy law, and man's duty, and a future state; and therefore he is called, in the Bible, "the light of the world; the sun of righteousness," because when the sun shines, and there is broad day-light, people can see and know what is going on; but ignorance is like the night, and darkness, when people know not whither they go, nor at what they stumble. Christ, our Lord and Saviour, brought life and immortality to light; he has declared plainly that there are two states after death, one of happiness, and one of misery; one of rewards, and one of punishment. A heaven, where there shall be no sorrow, no pain, no death; but life, and peace, and joy for ever and ever; and that there is a hell, a place of remorse and despair, where there is nothing but weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
If men would but listen to the Saviour, they might know their real circumstances; but alas! most men love darkness and ignorance, rather than light and knowledge. Just like some men who are ill, and daily getting worse, but will not listen to the advice of a physician, till they get so bad that no medicine will do them good; they put off from day to day, and, though sorry for it afterwards, it is then too late. Now, the great thing to be effected, in this case, is, first to let these people know their real danger, that they may be induced to use proper means for their recovery. So divine teaching begins by letting men see God's greatness and goodness, holiness and justice; and their own sinfulness, and wickedness, and guilt, and misery; and the awful condition of living in defiance of the Almighty; and the dreadful consequences of dying whilst under the wrath of God, that they may use the means which Heaven has appointed to deliver them from impending ruin, and cause them to look by faith to Christ the Lord, who is a Prince and a Saviour.
II. But one may inquire, if a man be found guilty of
breaking the law, how can he be delivered from that guilt? If a man be guilty of wilful murder, must he not be condemned to die? Who can ave him? The answer to this is, that although those who break human laws often cannot be saved from the penalty, God has provided a way to save sinners.
The way which heaven has been pleased to appoint for the delivery of guilty man, is the substitution of a Surety; that is, of a person to bear the punishment due to man in his stead; this person, otherwise called a Redeemer, and a Mediator between God and man, is Christ the Lord; who, as on this day, was born at Bethlehem, in the land of Judea. Christ is a word in the Greek language, which means the same as Messiah does in the Hebrew language, and they both mean a person anointed with oil, or one who has had oil poured on the head; which was an old custom, when prophets, priests, and kings were appointed. Therefore the names Christ, and Messiah, denote that the Saviour, Jesus, was appointed to deliver man; and whatever Jesus taught, and whatever he did, is sanctioned in heaven. Christ, the Saviour, was not a mere man; that is, although he was truly man, he was not a man only, but he existed before man was made. He was from everlasting, and came down from heaven; he was God and man in one
person; and he is therefore sometimes called the Lord; the Lord of heaven and earth; and the Son of man. The Bible says, "He being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, yet took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of sinful man." Though he was rich in heaven, yet for our sakes he became poor on earth. In the prophecies of Isaiah, these words refer to him (chap. ix. 6.) "For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."-"Christ the Lord, was God manifest in the flesh." Thus we learn that the Saviour is almighty, and infinitely able to deliver man from guilt and misery.