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The antithesis, the opposite of Death is Breath. There is One among us WHOSE NAME IS BREATH. Do we know Him ? Are we giving Him honour and glory? Oh, that there may be, at this very hour, as we are sitting here, seemingly so like the living, but perhaps so ghastly in our death—the breathing, the sweeping energy of the Holy Ghost ! May He breathe upon us, and in that breath may the bonds of death be loosed, and the heaving and throbbing of life begin!

“O Spirit of the Lord, prepare

All the round earth her God to meet;
Breathe Thou abroad like morning air,

Till hearts of stone begin to beat.”

Now and again, from different quarters, some of my readers have gently reminded me that I speak “no little word” at the close of the sermon to my invisible audience. True; and perhaps because it has taken time to convince me that I had such a large (and increasing) company outside the hallowed walls of Regent Square. Let me make some amends now; and, as this sermon reaches you on Christmas Day, let me say that I pray for you all, and send to each of you my love in Christ at this glad and sacred Christmastide. Let your response be an earnest prayer that the Word spoken and printed may be blessed of God.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN MCNEILL.

Henderson & Spalding, Printers, 3 & 5, Marylebone Lane, London, w.

A HASTY MARCH FROM THE FIELDS TO

BETHLEHEM,

A Sermon PREACHED IN REGENT SQUARE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,

ON CHRISTMAS MORNING, 1890.

BY THE

REV. JOHN MCNEILL.

Text.--"And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord has made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.”—Luke ii. 15, 16. ONE or two obvious reflections from this old, old story. Surely there never were words more beautifully written than those in this second chapter of Luke's Gospel. Of course, with such a theme who would not be eloquent? But here, although it is not poetry (it is only prose), yet with what matchless touches, with what skill and grace the Holy Spirit guided the thoughts and the pen of the man who wrote this chapter! What delicate things are touched upon, and with what delicacy! What a sense of greatness, gladness, and joy, and yet so quietly and calmly expressed ! There are traditional narratives as to the birth of Christ, and of the incidents connected therewith; but the moment you lay them alongside Luke's story, you feel at once that they force themselves. They try to make things very eye-opening and wonderful; they drag in all manner of things portentous; but you shut out all these apocryphal and spurious records, and turn to this quiet, simple, matterof-fact, and yet poetical, imaginative, and soul-subduing

Vol. III.-No. 8.

now

way of putting it. We might almost have expected apocryphal and traditional records of this time. It is in human nature to hanker after, trying to put things better than God has put them; trying to get in more, and to know more than God has revealed ; trying to deal with an event like this in a superstitious rather than in a truly religious way; trying to

“Gild refined gold, and paint the lily,

And throw a perfume on the violet;

Seeking with taper light the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish.” But when we are taught of God, and led by His Word and Spirit, how often the written Word becomes wide, broad, and deep, filled with light and with heavenly music, while at the same time outwardly so bare, and bald, and matter-of-fact. “Let us go even

unto Bethlehem,” said the shepherds, “and see this thing that is come to pass.” They might have said, “But the vision is gone, the angels have vanished, the heavenly music has ceased." God had come to them in a most wonderful way, suddenly, when they were on that memorable night tending their flocks, with no sound round about them, save the bleating of the sheep now and again, the city six miles away in the distance, and all as calm and quiet as a field in the country can be in a midnight hour.

Have you ever been out at midnight in the country? Let me ask you dwellers in the city, Do you know anything of this almost heavenly quiet and peace ? Far from the hum, and roar, and the din, and the sin, and the smoke of cities, out in the quiet, out with God, and with God's works, in the quietness and harmony of God's own world. There they were, quietly sitting, perhaps talking; perhaps the devout among them, as they looked at the stars, talking about the great God, and the great heaven; perhaps they were waiting for the “consolation of Israel," wondering when it would come to pass; quoting Old Testament Scriptures, quoting the same words as we have them, and wondering, Well, now, when is it to be ?" And perhaps, as they talked, one word would lead to another : desire would grow by what it fed on. Bringing one live coal to another the blaze would get up; and so, as thus, “they that feared the Lord spake often one to another,” the Lord was listening. He came nearer, and the wish in their heart was the offspring of the purpose of His own.

The very geography, too, would be suggestive. They might be saying, "Well, this Bethlehem, what a wonderful place !” Perhaps they were shepherds, too, who tended the sheep for the Temple. The fields around a city even to-day are greatly occupied for the feeding of sheep for the supply of the city markets; and at Bethlehem they were occupied for the feeding of the daily sacrifice of the Temple : so that the shepherds might have very likely a religious element in their work. They would be saying,

Well, all around us is a wonderful country; on these very fields David kept sheep; on these very fields Jesse, before David, kept sheep; here Ruth had her wonderful history; here Rachel died by the way.” What sacred memories ! As I have often said, God never wastes Himself on nobodies, and maybe He revealed Himself to these men because, although poor, they were rich in faith--men of thought and emotion, of Bible knowledge and Bible hope. Well, suddenly, as they were thus talking together, the silence deepening round about them, the lights in the sky seemed to hang down on little chains of silver, and then the whole concave of heaven was dazzling with a heavenly light. There was glory all around. Voices were ringing in their ears : “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, goodwill to men.”

If this glorious light had just come out, and then faded into that of common night, the shepherds might have heaved a sigh, and wondered a thousand wonderings, but have sat still. But they were not ordinary shepherds, they were not ordinary men. They believed the wonderful word spoken to them about the birth of the Saviour, and they

exhorted each other, and said, “ Come, now, up; and let us go to Bethlehem and prove this thing; let us go

and see

this thing that has come to pass.” Search the Bible all through, and wherever you come on God revealing Himself, you will always find that He does not tell us everything, and He does not do everything for us. The most startling communications of heaven to earth always leave us something to do; we have to take to our feet, we have to arouse ourselves, we have a certain amount of faith to exercise. Even here, if there had been no faith, in vain had been the opening of heaven, and the multitude of angels, and the annunciation of Christ's arrival. Is it not so still? How often we preachers, we Gospel shepherds, have to exhort each other and to exhort our people to prove the heavenly vision !

me, let us go and see if all that is said by prophet and preacher is true; let us find it out beyond a doubt; let us give ourselves no rest until we have seen “ this thing that is come to pass.”

Do I speak to any soul this Christmas morning who has not seen " the thing that is come to pass"? It is perfectly possible. Alas! alas ! round about us in London here, the multitudes who in some dim, dumb, numb way understand that God is near, that heaven has opened, that the Son of God has come, but they have stopped there; they have never proved it for themselves. They have kept by the keeping of the sheep. They have said, “ We are too busy, we cannot leave, we will just sit and wait.” How many people are waiting thus for Him, and saying, “ If it is to be, it will be; it will drop down into our laps.” My dear unsaved onefor I would like to preach the Gospel this morning, it is the justification of our gathering - it will never come that way. You have to leave even legitimate work, and it does not seem a safe thing to tell a shepherd to leave his sheep; but there are some things which, if you leave, the Lord will look after while you are away. If the shepherd leaves his sheep to go and see this thing which is come to pass, the multitude of angels can surely look after his fleecy charge

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