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Maintaining the truth, then, under the beautiful imagery adopted by Isaiah, we are authorized to consider
1st. The long-standing purpose of Heaven, that a “high-way” should be opened up through the moral world for the entrance and triumphant progress of its reigning King.
2d. To mark the character of the preparation required for this extended visit of the royal guest through His earthly dominion.
3d. To contemplate the promised results of His reign.
To consider the first proposition, then : Man has lost his original position in the scale of creation. He was once a temple filled with God,—the light of Divine glory streaming through all its aisles and arches, and revealing the virgin beauty of its lovely interior. But, alas! a wasting hurricane has swept over the spot, and now its architectural magnificence, like the crumbling columns of Palmyra, lies in fragmentary ruins, while Contemplation broods in melancholy reverie over the moral desolation of the scene. It is good that man should hold communication with the past, and learn to check the pride and arrogance of an easily inflated mind, by hutoiliating reminiscences of its ancestral fall, and the consequent conviction of its entailed helplessness and present guilt.
The first representative of our race, then, was the fit companion of angels and the favorite of the skies. Inhaling the pure atmosphere of his innocent home, he stood in the dignity of his noble manhood, with the earth around him blooming in the freshness of its green beauty—the heavens above him radiant with the Creator's smile-no ominous cloud to darken the back-ground of his young history, and a wide vision of coming bliss stretching out in long perspective before him. He stood, too, in the undimmed lustre of priceless purity -the richest crown jewel in the kingdom of God. Hell's vindictive monarch, big with hate to Him who booned it, and guided to his task by a deadly strategy, approached, and praised, and stirred ambition's fires, and then bartered for the gem. Knowledge, (0, Heaven !) knowledge-when authorized and hallowed, the patrimony of angels; but when forbidden and profane, the curse of archangels ruined,knowledge was lyingly tendered as the tempting equivalent of its worth! The guile was deep and damning. The fiendish swindler triumphed, and a beggared, blasted, and expatriated race lived to date their crime and their curse from Paradise. But mercy still lingered over the doom of the rebel, apd taxed the resources of Almighty
Goodness to avert his final fate, despoil the infernal monster of his prey, and let immortality, once more restored to her primeval honors, claim her perennial bliss in the smile of Heaven.
But no upseemly haste was necessary to perfect the execution of the Divine plans. “One day is with the LORD as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." As one hundred and twenty years must slowly wear away before Noah's floating palace was ready for the floods; so one hundred and twenty generations must find their way to the tomb, before its great antitype-the place of refuge for the dying nations—is ready for their full reception. A straggling beam of light, it is true, had fallen upon the devious path of the exiles from Paradise, as a voice from Heaven whispered in mysterious purport, “ The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head.”
But still darkness brooded over their doom. Time rolled heavily on. Their posterity increased, and the coming of some great event, which was deeply to affect its destiny, hung portentously upon the heart of the world. Patriarchs lived, and longed, and died, with a limited horizon and a star-lit path. Next, in the order of Heaven, followed a long line of consecrated men, burning with inspiration's fires, kindled at the upper temple. Ascending, in deliberate succession, the mount of prophesy, they flung the light of hope far down the vista of future ages. The princely son of Amoz, the loftiest of their rank, seemed laden with the excess of a boundless revelation, and rolled from his sounding harp the coming glories of the “ golden age," and the royal reign of Heaven. And to arouse into activity the moral languor of a forgetful world, his monitory tones have for more than twenty-five hundred years rung upon its ear from the heights of prophecy, in the exhilarating accents of the text,<« Prepare ye the way of the LORD: make straight in the desert a high-way for our God," &c. Malachi caught the glowing theme, and following in the train, sang, swan-like, his last and sweetest notes : “ Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD."
But the last sounds of prophetic minstrelsy died away in the distance; the unstrung harp was laid upon the altar, and silence reigned in the synagogue for four hundred years. It seemed the breathless stillness of a crowded court, where every heart palpitates, and where every eye is strained to catch the presence of coming royalty, whose approaching footsteps are heard upon the threshold. At length the destined hour arrives, and the King of Glory comes.” But alas! how widely different from human expectation is the manner of his advent! How mortifying to the arrogance of rabbinical learning! How humiliating to the pride and vanity of the world!
It is midnight. Jerusalem's thousands are wrapped in slumber. The little village of Bethlehem, nestling in its quiet seclusion like some land-locked bay away from the storms of the deep, has nursed its busy population to rest. All is still. One sound only occasionally disturbs the drowsy air. It must be—it is—the wail of an infant from a neighboring manger. It clings to the bosom of its outcast mother, as her circling arms, its only cradle, rock it to its rest. Merciful Heaven! What means this supernatural scene ? A queenly star, unseen before, stands sentinel over the spot. An angelic legion are out upon the wing, and the skies resound with a new anthem from heaven: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men; for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is CHRIST the LORD.”'
The mystery is now solved. I understand its lofty import. The infant Messiah breathes! The incipient God incarnate enters upon his mission of mercy to the world ; and that wail—that plaintive and thrilling wail, was the seal of the fleshly tie that binds him to our suffering nature. The great event is proclaimed. Wonders in earth and heaven attend his bright career, encircle his divinity upon the Cross, and herald him home from the conquered tomb to the welcoming skies. The promised redemption has come. The pulse of immortality now beats fully and freely under the winding-sheet, and a dead world, Lazarus-like, leaps from its grave, to enjoy the light of an everlasting day. But earth is not yet ready for her higher destiny of innocence and purity, and for ages to come, the mandatory message of Isaiah, reiterated by the harbinger of Christ: “Prepare ye the way of the LORD,” &c., must still be thundered upon the ear of the nations from the high places of Zion.
We are to consider, secondly,
“The character of the preparation required for this extended visit of the royal guest through his earthly dominions."
Christianity contemplates a progressive and thorough reformation of the world. Her heavenly efficiency, and her benevolent and sublime purpose, will compromise for no less noble results. The loathsomeness of vice must be transformed into the loveliness of virtue, or fly before her reign and meet the bolt that dooms it. Earth must be purified from her blood, and robed in her beauty, to shout the welcome advent of the " latter day glory." But for the consummation of this high destiny, no single instrumentality from earth or heaven has been exclusively consecrated. The universe of means is under her control, and a thousand auxiliaries may be legitimately taxed for the accomplishment of the grand event. The mammoth obstacles which have heretofore obstructed her career of glory must be broken down by powerful appliances, commensurate with the majesty of her designs. When the claims of Divinity are to be vindicated, Omnipotence must signalize itself by an outlay of God-like power, independently of human aid, and above and beyond all human resources. Obsequious nature must suspend her laws in allegiance to her Lord, and earth and air, and sea, and sky, pour their voiceless tribute at his feet. At his word the green fig tree must wither to its roots, as if smitten with the volcano's breath. The wild hurricane, lashed on by the lightning's thong to make battle with the angry seas, must sink apoplectic upon its mission of wrath, while the lulled waves softly ripple the lullaby of peace to rescued and rejoicing nature; and even the unaccustomed grave disgorge at his fiat its sheeted dead, in triumphant proof of a coming resurrection.
But when miracles have proclaimed and sustained the origin of our religion, and her effective machinery is manifestly in motion, under a Divine momentum, every subordinate agency within the range of her action may be fitly employed in the spread and enforcement of her soul-saving truths, as each succeeding age affords its own peculiar supply. Hence, in the outset of the apostolic mission, a diversity of talents characterized the leading disciples, each being suited to his appropriate sphere. There was the mild, meek, aud faithful JOHN, the very impersonation of gentleness and love, and emotionally constituted to woo, and to win. With the warm gush of christian sympathy in his heart, and the persuasive eloquence of paternal affection upon his tongue, how touchingly he pleads : “ Little children, love one another.” There, too, was the bold, frank, and fearless PETER, to confound the circumcision, and charge home the murder of his immortal master upon the cowering Jews, whose hands yet reeked with the blood of the crucifixion. Amid this galaxy of primeval worth, stood the kind, cultivated, and eloquent Apollos, to still the noise of the heaving multitudes by the sweetness of his tones, and charm the subdued heart by the pathos of his sanctified rhetoric. And last, but not least, the learned, magnanimous, and powerful disciple of Gamaliel-rich in historical, mythological, and rabbinical lore ; whose steel-like logic fell with the keenness of a Damasous blade upon the cloven helmets and sinking forms of the stupid philosphy and arrogant religionism of the day.
In accordance with the order of Divine Providence, therefore, it has been reserved for learning, science, and the arts, in the latter ages of the church, to furnish new instrumentalities for the diffusion and defence of moral truth.
The Butlers and Paleys; the Watsons and Clarks; the Chalmerses and Keiths, who have stood upon the walls and labored for the glory of Jerusalem, have “wrought in the work” with one hand, while the other has held a weapon” whose trenchant blade told fearfully upon the intruding ranks of infidelity. Indeed some of the most signal and startling repulses with which skepticism bas met, in modern years, have been from the strongholds of learning—even unconsecrated by piety. It was the profound knowledge of La Place, and the cultivated discernment of De Lambre, each in search of solely scientific truth, and both the avowed friends and patrons of infidelity, that exploded the ingenious and alarming treatise of M. Bailey, upon the celebrated Hindoo Tables, which in the close of the last century, under the powerful prestige of Professor Playfair's name, threatened to subvert the whole Mosaic cosmogony. And, later still, it was the deep archeological lore of the younger Champolion of France, in 1801, which scattered to the winds the gossamer texture of the famous Zodiacal system of infidelity, by solving the mysterious hieroglyphics found upon the Egyptian planispheres, in the temples of Esne and Dendera.
But the Sciences too, we have said, have entered the field in defence of Revelation.
Astronomy, the noblest of the sisterhood, came first to do homage to the babe of Bethlehem. A strange and lonely star—the virgin creation of his natal hour, or summoned, it may be, from some far-off home in immensity, as if at once the commissioned herald and lustrous symbol of his future reign-graced the brow of our firmament, and culminated over the manger cradle, where the Prince of Peace reposed. Astronomy, too, when his benevolent mission was closed, stood last at his cross, and contributed her solemnly-sublime testi