« PreviousContinue »
Q. Where did St. Thomas preach the Gospel? A. The province allotted to St. Thomas for the exercise of his apostolical office, was Parthia ;' he published the glad tidings of salvation to the Medes, Persians, &c. and at last came to the Indies, in which country he suffered martyrdom.
Q. What may we learn from the observation of this festival?
A. From the gentleness with which our Saviour treated the dulness of understanding which St. Thomas on a certain occasion displayed, we may learn, that, provided our minds sincerely intend God's service, and our affections are fixed upon him as our chief good, he will compassionate the weakness of our understandings, and either pardon our errors, or deliver us from them. From the readiness which St. Thomas expressed to follow Christ even to death, we may learn, that no dangers should discourage us from adhering to our blessed Master, and that even death itself should not be able to separate us from him; and from the declaration of Christ to St. Thomas, who was convinced only by the evidence of his senses, we may learn that faith ought to be the prevailing principle of a Christian, under all events, and in every condition of human life ; and that a faith founded upon sufficient testimony, is in fact more praiseworthy and exalted than that which is founded on the evidence of the senses : Blessed are they which have not seen, and yet believe.d
Q. What is meant by faith in Christ?
A. Faith in Christ means, in general, a sincere belief of every thing which is declared to us concerning him in his Gospel ; but more particularly, it means a sincere and supreme reliance on his merits and grace, as the only means of restoration to the favour of God : and when this faith is made the governing principle of our lives, when it works by love, and brings forth the fruits of holiness, it is then imputed unto us for righteousness.
Q. What are those properties that fit faith to produce the fruits of holiness?
A. To produce these effects, faith must be real and unfeigned; it must be hearty and affectionate ; must be sincere and resolute.
The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-Day of CHRIST,
commonly called CHRISTMAS Day, December 25.
A FESTİVAL. Q. WHAT festival does the Church celebrate this day ?
A. The Church, this day, celebrates the great festival of the nativity of our Saviour Jesus Christ; or the appearance of the Son of God in the flesh.
Q. What authority have we for the observation of this festival ?
A. For the observation of this festival, we have the authoe rity of the primitive Church; for though we have no certain evidence of the exact time when it was first observed, yet it was certainly very early observed all over the West." The immemorial observation of it, is a proof of its primitive institution. It is a matter of inferior moment, whether the twenty-fifth of December be the real anniversary of Christ's birth : the only matter of real importance is, that a particular day be set apart for celebrating, with proper gratitude and devotion, the blessed event of the Saviour's nativity.
Q. What provision has the Church made for celebrating this day with proper solemnity and devotion ?
A. The Church both excites and assists our devotion, by the particular service appointed for the day. In the first lessons,e she reads to us the clearest prophecies of Christ's coming in the flesh; and in the second lessons, and in the epistle and gospel, she shows us the completion of those prophecies, by giving us the entire history of his birth. In the collect, she teaches us to pray that we may be partakers of the benefits of his birth , and in the proper psalms, she employs us in our duty of praising and glorifying God for this incomprehensible mystery.* The epistle and gospel for the day were used in the most ancient liturgies.
e First Lessons. For the Morning, Isa. ix. to ver. 8. For the Evening, Isa. vii. ver. 10° to ver. 17
f Second Lessons. For the Morning, Luke ii. to ver. 15. For the Evening, Tit.ü. ver. 4 to ver. 9.
* The evangelical import of the psalms appointed for Christmas Day, will be found admirably explained by Bishop Horne, in his Commentary upon them.
Q. What are we to believe concerning the birth of our Saviour Christ?
A. In the fulness of that time, which was long before appointed in the eternal counsel of God, the holy Jesus, by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost, was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, who was of the house and lineage of David. · The Saviour was born of a woman, and thus, though without sin, made subject to the law, that, by his obedience to the law, he might deliver us from its penalties; and he was born of the house and lineage of David, to denote his sitting upon that everlasting throne, of which the throne of David was a type, and ruling for evermore the true Israel of God, his obedient people.
Q. Did not the prophecies of the Old Testament predict the miraculous birth of the Messiah ?
A. The prophecies of the Old Testament foretold the miraculous birth of the Messiah. Jeremiah says, The Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth, a woman shall compass a man. Isaiah says, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.b
Q. What were the circumstances of our Saviour's birth?
Ă. Christ was born at Bethlehem, according to the prediction of the prophet Micah ;' whither Joseph and Mary went, in obedience to the decree of Augustus, to be taxed The concourse of people at Bethlehem was so great, that they could find no accommodation but a stable ;k where the blessed Virgin brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; doing herself the offices of a pious and tender parent, whilst all the angels of God worshipped her holy child.
Q. How was the birth of our Saviour published to the world?
A. The birth of Christ was proclaimed by the administration of angels. As certain shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them. The splendour of the appearance confounded the humble shepherds ;- but the angel quickly dissipated the terror that seized them, with the tidings he brought of great joy to all people, addressing them in the joyful words, Unto you is
Jer. xxxi. 22.
Luke ii. 4. m Luke ü. 9.
h Isa. vii. 14. k Luke üi, 7.
i Mic. v. 2.
born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord."
Q. How were the shepherds directed io find this new-born King ?
A. Lest the shepherds should expect a prince, accompanied with outward pomp and magnificence, the angel describes the meanness and obscurity of his situation : This shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. The shepherds, without delay, went to Bethlehem, and finding the assurances of the angel verified, they published to the world both what they had seen and heard concerning the holy child Jesus.
Q. How was this joyful news of the birth of a Saviour received by the angels and the shepherds?
A. The multitude of the heavenly host celebrated the birth of Christ in that devout hymn, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men ;P and the shepherds, when they had found the real completion of what was told them by the angel, returned, glorifying and praising God.
Q. This hymn of the angels having been retained in the offices of the Church ever since the primitive times of Christianity, it will be proper to explain it.
A. In this hymn, the blessed angels excited one another to give glory and praise to God for his wonderful works towards the children of men. They celebrated the majesty and greatness of God, those exalted prerogatives of power, wisdom, and goodness, which appeared with the greatest lustre in the stupendous incarnation of the Son of God; and by proclaiming peace on earth, and good will towards men, they signified that Christ should take away the enmity between heaven and earth, and reconcile man to God.
Q. What may we learn from the circumstances attending our Saviour's birth ?
A. The eternal Son of God, when he descended upon earth, chose a state of poverty, to teach us, that riches and honours are not valued in the sight of God, nor necessary to true felicity. His birth was, in the first instance, announced, not to the haughty Herod, or to the proud Pharisees and Scribes, who would have contemned the humility of his appearance, but to the simple and innocent shepherds of Beth
n Luke ü, 10, 11.
o Łuke ii. 12.
p Luke ii, 14.
9 Luke ii. 20.
lehem. The important lesson is hereby taught us, that none but the poor in spirit, none but those who cherish meekness and humility of temper, are prepared to receive the blessings of salvation.
Q. At the time of our Saviour's birth, was there not a general expectation throughout the world, of the appearance of some great deliverer ?
A. At the time of our Saviour's birth, the expectation of the coming of the Messiah was universal among the Jews; and a general expectation of the appearance of some great and powerful personage was cherished among the Gentiles. Suetonius, the famous historian, says, There was an ancient and general opinion, famous throughout all the eastern parts, that the fates had determined that there should come out of Judea those that should govern the world. These words seem to be a verbal translation of that prophecy in Micah, that out of Judah should come the Ruler, Tacitus, another historian, asserts, that a great many were possessed with a persuasion, that it was contained in the ancient books of the priests, that, at that very time, the East should prevail, and that they who should govern the world were to come out of Judea. The phrase, that the East should prevail, refers to that title given the Messias by the prophet Zechariah,u who calls him the man whose name is the East. For though we translate the Hebrew word, Branch, yet it signifies also, the East; and may be rendered the one as well as the other.
Q. How was Christ qualified to make known the will of God to mankind ?
A. A principal office of our Saviour was to make known the will of God to mankind. He was eminently qualified for this office, by the dignity and excellency of his person; by the clearness and perfection of his doctrine and precepts; by the brightness of his example; and by the encouragements of gracious assistances and glorious rewards, which he promises to all those who engage and persevere in his service.
Q. How was our Saviour qualified by the dignity of his person to reveal to us the will of God?
A. He who lay in the bosom of the Father, and had the Spirit communicated to him without measure,y in whom dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily, w must have pos
I Lib. viii. c. 4.
s Mic. v. 2.
t Lib. v. Hist.