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for an hour or two. How many in London, have never taken that step; they have not gone to look for Christ until they have seen Him with the eyes of their own hearts, until, like Simeon, they have held the blessed Babe in their own arms, and have been made to feel, " Now let the end come, let me depart in peace, for · Mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.''
Come, now, let us exhort each other to leave the things of time, to leave for a little every care and every charge beneath the skies, that we may “see this thing that is come to pass," and worship and bow down before the Lord.
“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” What had come to pass ? Christ had been born. How quietly God does His great works! It is thought that Luke got some of the details from Mary. He has more detail than the others, because he got it from the maiden-mother herself. As some one has said, mothers are the natural historians of the child's infancy; and it was only the mother, and the mother like Mary, who would tell us so much, and would keep back so much more. If Mary had been other than the great soul she was, how she could have dilated and gratified mere gaping curiosity, and have told us things that would not after all bring Christ any nearer, and would not make the event either a bit more heavenly or human than it is. But there is the gentle concealing in the midst of the revealing; there is the lifting and yet the dropping of the veil. How unlike to the magical, weird stories, the traveller's tales, with which superstition has overloaded this sweet idyll of Christ's nativity.
“ This shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the Babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.” How unheralded, in one way, how unattended ! Did not I say, a little ago, that whenever God speaks, no matter how clearly, faith is needed; for faith is reason sublimed to its highest reach and its loftiest height. What an anticlimax it seemed to be to the heavenly message,
" This shall be
the sign to you": Go, and you shall find Him in a manger, among the stamping, champing cattle. They might have said, “Ah! there is some hallucination. It savours of some wild, visionary impressions and imaginations, that our great and glorious King, who should be born in a royal palace, should appear in this mean, poverty-stricken way.” Yet they must have had true faith to go and take this for their sign ; not going with lofty heads, but heads down earthwards, like men looking for something that God has laid pretty low down. Oh! again I would like to preach Christ to you. Some of us have not found Jesus because we are looking too high. "Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend? and say not in thine heart, Who shall descend ? " We require neither great soaring thoughts of imaginative power, nor do we need great depth and profundity.
"The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart.” The Bairn is lying at your feet; the Saviour is at your door; you will stumble over Him into destruction if you go on. Do not look high, nor deep, nor far off; but look close, look down-there He is !
And they went away to Bethlehem with this faith in their hearts, and by an unerring instinct it led them to Jesus. If they had gone adding something to the angel's message, they never had arrived there yet—if they had not taken the sign and held on to the sign. “ What we are looking for," they said, “is a Babe in a manger, wrapped in swaddlingclothes ”-hastily done. No fine dresses ready in a score of drawers, and nurses all round about, as when babes are born in our houses; but this suddenness, this almost unreadiness. But angels were there, and God was there, and God is preaching to us that the barest is enough for Him.
Now, do not look too high or too low, nor too far away, but take hold of the sign and do not lose it; and by this sign conquer all difficulties, and arrive at Christ always. A lowly heart and a literal obedience. Remember the word, add thou not to His words, "lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar unto Him." Take not away from His words, for that is another way of blasphemy; but simply, as God has spoken from heaven, so believe, and so it shall come to pass.
“ As we have heard, so have we seen," in the Word, in Providence, in our own experience of salvation, and by-and-bye in the city of our God. A little farther on we read, " And the shepherds returned, glorify. ing and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.”
There never was anything like the Gospel for the expectation being equalled by the realization. You notice that word I quoted from the Psalms; it is a word of profound significance in all spiritual things, “ As we have heard, so have we seen.' The shepherds would say that afterwards; when they talked about it they would say, “As the angels, yea, as the Lord told us, so we saw; we went to Bethlehem to see this thing, and the thing we saw just as had been said. We neither added to it nor took from it, we took it as we got it, and it led us to Jesus.” It is the same in all interpretation of Scripture and interpretation of Providence, in my own life and in yours, and it will be the same in heaven. When we step inside and see the Lord on His throne, we shall say, " As we have heard, so have we seen, in the earthly and heavenly Bethlehem, the exact glorious accomplishment and fulfilment."
How quietly, I say again, Christ was born. Is it not an illustration of the text, “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation"? It was late in the evening. Mary and Joseph had come a four days' journey. Other people, swifter of foot, passed on ahead of them, but for reasons we all know dear Mary's step was somewhat heavy, and Joseph and she arrived late. All the places of entertainment were full, this was the only corner that was left, and Mary just got there in time when this wonderful thing happened. A few pangs and pains, keener or lesser anguish, we do not know, and lo, the Saviour of the world was born! No heralding, no kings or mighty men or women there. Is
it not so with all spiritual birth? Christ “cometh not with observation." One day, never to be forgotten through all eternity, your pains came upon you, more or less keen, but severe or quiet, it does not matter—a few anxieties, greater or less, longer or shorter in their duration, and Christ was born in you, the hope of glory! It had come, it had happened, what many a time you wished for, and thought and hoped would come, but never dreamed that it would come in this quiet way. You were thinking that Christ would come to you in some far more striking and wonderful way, but He never came. Ah! it is a striking illustration and parallel-after a few hours or days, I do not know how long or short it may be, some longer, some shorter, but always the same blessed end, we find ourselves when faith comes “painless and at peace,” and the Christ of God, like a glowing coal, lying at our heart, and we bending over Him, as a mother over her firstborn. My Jesus, my Saviour, my Life, my Lord,
my heaven has come”-I am saved. I have found Jesus. He has found me. He is mine and I am His. And just as quietly as that first birth, so God in Christ always comes to these hearts of ours.
Now, I only wanted to make a few obvious reflections, and not to go into anything like a sermon; and it is exactly twelve o'clock. The Lord bless to us all our short service this Christmas morning. Even one short hour (with only a fiveand-twenty minutes' sermon) is ample time to take us from the fields of our earthly toil to Bethlehem. In the Master's name, I wish you a Happy Christmas, and may some soul find the Lord at Bethlehem this morning. For the Babe of Bethlehem is also Christ on the Cross, and the Lord upon the Throne. Who would reject a babe? Come, my hearer, pick up this Heavenly Foundling, and give Him room in heart and home. Let the Cradle as well as the Cross "abolish the enmity." Amen.
Henderson & Spalding, Printers, 3 & 5, Marylebone Lane, London, W.
"LAUNCHING OUT," "LETTING DOWN," AND
• LEAVING ALL."
PREACHED IN REGENT SQUARE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH,
ON SABBATH MORNING, JANUARY 4TH, 1891.
REV. JOHN MCNEILL.
TEXT—"Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a
draught.”—LUKE v. 4. This morning, then, in thought and fancy our Lord begins with us in a most pleasant scene ;-a lovely scene to Him, and for His sake, also, a lovely scene to us—the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Having learnt McCheyne's softly-flowing lines in early youth (lines which in his Memoir are headed, “Sea of Galilee, 16 July, 1839"), one can scarcely refrain from repeating them here. They are an excellent commentary on Dean Stanley's saying that “this is the most sacred sheet of water that the earth contains."
“How pleasant to me thy deep blue wave,
O Sea of Galilee !
Hath often stood by thee.
Where pine and heather grow
What nature can bestow,
Vol. III.-No. 9.