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SECOND SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS.
THE SHEPHERDS' THANKSGIVING.
Luke ii. 20.
AND THE SHEPHERDS RETURNED, GLORIFYING AND PRAISING GOD FOR ALL THE THINGS THAT THEY HAD HEARD AND SEEN, AS IT WAS TOLD UNTO THEM.
ANOTHER year has completed has completed its course since we last met in this house of prayer, and another solemn warning has thus been given to us that our fleeting life must also, in the course of time, come to a close. O that our minds were solemnized as they ought to be by such a consideration! Let us, brethren, anew resolve, not in our own strength, but in dependence on Divine grace, and with earnest prayer that this grace may rest upon us, to devote ourselves more
entirely and unreservedly to the service of God than we have hitherto done, to live to His glory and show forth His praise; remembering continually the solemn account which we must one day give at the tribunal of God, when He will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.30
The subject of the services of this day, "the circumcision of Christ," is calculated to remind us of the obligation, under which all who hope for the Divine favour, and bear the name of Christ, are laid, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. The mortification of the desires of the flesh was evidently pointed out by that ordinance. This is absolutely required of all who would partake of the Divine favour and blessing. It is therefore said, They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts,32 In whom ye also are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in the putting off of the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.33
But the Israelites by submitting to this rite, were debtors to do the whole law of Moses, both moral and ceremonial; which St. Peter declared to be a yoke they were not able to bear, since it
30 Eccles. xii. 14. 31 Titus ii. 12. 32 Gal. v. 24. 33 Col. ii. 11.
denounced its curse upon every one that continued not in all things that were written in the book of the law to do them. And therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh living could be justified, since fallen man was continually transgressing it in one point or another, and bringing its curse upon himself. So that his attempts to keep it perfectly only manifested that by the law is the knowledge of sin.35 The more he was acquainted with the requirements of the holy law of God, the more sensible he became of his own deficiencies, and his failure in obedience to its just demands.
Our Lord Jesus Christ was, we are told, born under the law, and initiated into its rites and ceremonies, and thus as man laid under its obligations, in order that He might redeem them that were under the law, that He might deliver them from its curse; so that instead of being under the spirit of bondage to fear, they might receive the adoption of sons,36 and through faith in His name might partake of the Spirit of adoption, whereby they should be enabled to draw nigh unto the God of heaven with humble confidence, and call upon Him as their Father; a Father of boundless compassion and almighty power, who is able and willing to do for His children exceeding abundantly above all that they can ask or
34 Gal. iii. 10. 35 Rom. iii. 20. 36 Gal. iv. 4,5. 37 Rom. viii. 15.
think,38 to supply all their needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.39
The subject of the circumcision of Christ is referred to in the last verse of the Gospel for this day. When eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, His name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb. To the name that was given to our adorable Redeemer, our attention was directed by the Gospel for last Sunday; where it is shown that this name was designed to intimate that He who bore it was truly God with us, God manifest in the flesh, to be the Saviour of lost sinners, to save His people from their sins.40 That we may partake of this blessing, that we may each of us be personally interested in His great salvation, is of more importance to us than any thing else in this world. May we seek it earnestly, that we may obtain it to the consolation and rejoicing of our souls. Then will this be indeed a happy new year to us; for a view of God in Christ, reconciling us to Himself, not imputing our trespasses to us," but admitting us to the enjoyment of communion and fellowship with Him, will be found sufficient to bear our spirits up under all the trials, and afflictions, and difficulties, which we may be called to pass through in this
38 Ephes. iii. 20. 39 Phil. iv. 19. 40 Mat. i. 21. 412 Cor. v. 19.
life; and will give us a joy that a stranger intermeddleth not with, joy and peace in believing;" a foretaste and anticipation of that joy unspeakable and full of glory," which is possessed by those who are admitted to the beatific vision of God.
The Gospel for this day brings before us particularly the conduct of the shepherds of Bethlehem, after they had witnessed the won- ̧ derful scene of the heavenly hosts celebrating the birth of the Redeemer of mankind. During the time of midnight darkness, or while they were keeping watch over their flocks by night, they were filled with fear by the extraordinary sight of the glory of the Lord shining round about them. But their fears were quickly removed, when the angel of the Lord announced to them, Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people; for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And when the place where this illustrious Stranger was to be found had been described, a multitude of the heavenly host suddenly joined the angelic messenger, and sang in joyful chorus, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.4 What delight and astonishment must have filled the minds of these
42 Romans xv. 13. 43 1 Peter i. 8. 44 Luke ii. 8-14,