Consider first, that on this day we keep the Octave of the birth of Christ, together with the festivity of his circumcision. when being yet but eight days old, he began to shed his sacred blood in obedience to his Father's will; subjecting himself to that most painful and most humbling ceremony, and bearing therein the resemblance of a criminal, as if he, like the rest had stood in need of the circumcising knife for the expiation of sin. Christians, learn here, from your infant Saviour, the lessons he desires to teach you in his circumcision; his unparalleled humility, his perfect obedience and conformity to his Father's will; his patience in suffering, and his ardent love and charity for us. He came to discharge the immense debt we owed by our sins to his Father's justice, by shedding the last drop of his blood in expiation of them; and behold he has here given us an earnest of this payment, by submitting himself this day to the knife of circumcision.
Consider 2ndly, and set before your eyes this divine infant, this innocent lamb of God, this beloved of your souls, beautiful beyond the children of men, all embrued in his own most sacred blood; and suffering in that tender age the cruel smart of a most sensible wound. O how sensible indeed to him! O how sensible to the loving heart of his blessed Virgin Mother! See with what affection she embraces him: se with what anguish of heart she bewails his sufferings: see with what tender compassion she strives to afford him all the comfort she is able. Learn of her the like affections of love and compassion for your suffering Lord.
O my soul, embrace, with her, thy infant Saviour, bleeding for thee. 'A bloody spouse thou are to me,' said Sephora to Moses, Exod. iv. 25: when to deliver him from the hand of the angel that threatened him with death, she touched his feet with the blood of her child whom she had just then circumcised. O how truly is our dear Redeemer a sponsus sanguinum, a bloody spouse to our souls, for whom he gives now this first fruit, and for whom he will one day give all his blood, to rescue us from the hand of the destroying angel! O blessed be his divine charity for ever!
Consider 3rdly, that it is the duty of all Christians to imitate our Lord's circumcision, by a spiritual circumcision of the heart, which God so often calls for in the Scriptures, and always preferred before the carnal circumcision. This spiritual circumcision requires of us a cutting off, or retrenching, all disorderly affections to the world and its pomps; to the mammon of iniquity, and to the flesh, and its lusts; and a serious application of our souls to a daily mortification of our passions and corrupt inclinations. My soul, let us heartily embrace, and daily put in practice, this circumcision of the heart.
Conclude to make a return of thy heart to thy infant Saviour, who began on this day to shed his blood for thee; but see it be a heart purified, by a spiritual circumcision, from all such affections as are disagreeable to him.
Consider first, how many years of your life are now past and gone; how long it is since you first came to the knowledge of good and evil; and in what manner you have spent all this precious time, given you for no other end but that you might employ it in the love and service of your God, and in securing the salvation of your immortal soul. Alas! have any of these past years been spent in such a manner as to answer this great end? Is not that one and only business for which you came into the world, still to be begun? Have not all these years, which one after another have flowed away into the gulf of eternity, been utterly lost to your souls? It is well if they have not; considering how soon the greatest part of Christians, after their coming to the use of reason, fall from the grace of their baptism; how quickly they gave themselves up to follow the bent of their corrupt inclinations and passions; and in what a forgetfulness of God they generally pass their days. Ah! my soul, what a sad thought it would be, if during all these years thou hast hitherto lived, instead of storing up provisions for a happy eternity, thou hast been only 'treasuring up to thyself wrath against the day of wrath!'
Consider 2ndly, the present state and condition of your conscience. What is your life at present? How stand accounts between your soul and God? What would you think, if this day you were to be called to the bar of divine justice? Would you not earnestly desire a delay? alas! how few live in the manner in which they would be glad to be found, when death shall overtake them! and yet they are not ignorant, that death generally comes when least expected, and that, generally speaking, as men live, so they die. Ah! my soul, deceive not thyself, not suffer thyself to be imposed upon by the enemy. Thy time, to all appearance, will be much shorter than thou art willing to think; this very year perhaps may be thy last; it will certainly be so to many thousands, who expect it as little as thyself. Set, then, thy house in order now; begin this very day to rectify the whole state of thy interior, and live henceforward as thou desirest to die. There cannot be so great a security where eternity is at stake.
Consider 3rdly, that the mercy of God has borne with you for so many years past, and, notwithstanding all the provocations of your repeated crimes and perpetual ingratitude, has brought you now to the beginning of this New Year, out of a sincere desire, that now at least you might begin a new life, and such a life as might secure to your soul that true life which never ends. You have been, alas! like the barren 'fig-tree, planted in his vineyard,' which hitherto is willing to try once more, in hopes of our doing better for the future. But, O take care to disappoint him no more, by refusing him the fruits he expects of a thorough amendment of life, lest he pass an irrevocable sentence, for the barren tree to be cut down, and cast into the fire.
Conclude to begin, from this very hour, to turn away from sin; and to dedicate yourselves henceforward in good earnest to the love and service of your God. Alas! how few Christians seem to be truly in earnest in this greatest of all concerns, where their all is at stake for eternity.
Consider first, that in the epistle which is read on New Year's Day, Titus ii. 11-15, the Apostle has in a few words declared to us the rules we are to follow in our lives, in consequence of the Son of God coming amongst us: viz., what are we to renounce; what we are to practise; what we are to look for; and what we are to attend to. 'The Grace of God our Saviour,'
saith he, 'hath appeared to all men; instructing us, that, denying ungodliness and worldly desires, we should live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world; looking for that blessed hope, and the coming of the glory of that great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and might cleanse to himself a people acceptable, a pursuer of good works.' O how many great lessons are here contained in a few words! Let us reflect on them one after another.
Consider therefore, 2ndly, the end for which our God and Saviour came down amongst us by the mystery of his incarnation - to enlighten us by his Gospel and by his life; and at length offer to himself in sacrifice for us, by his death upon the cross. 'He gave himself for us,' saith the Apostle, 'that he might redeem us from all iniquity:' by setting us at liberty from being slaves to Satan, sin, and hell: by breaking asunder all the chains of our vices and passions: and by purchasing all mercy, grace, and salvation for us: to the end that, by the virtue of his precious blood, 'he might cleanse us for himself, and make us an acceptable people (a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation,' 1 Pet. ii. 9), a zealous 'pursuer of all good works.' See, Christians, what kind of men we ought to be, in consequence of what the Son of God has done for us, in coming down from heaven for us, and laying down his life for us. O let us never more degenerate, by leading lives unworthy of him! Let us never more return to our former slavery!
Consider 3rdly, that being purchased by the Son of God with so great a price, we are to consider ourselves henceforward as his property; and therefore we must not pretend to dispose of ourselves any otherwise than according to his will and pleasure. This ought to be our rule in all we do: this we ought to consult in all our deliberations: this holy will of him that has bought us with his own blood should be in every thing a law to us, so as ever to renounce all that we know to be displeasing to him; and ever to pursue with all our strength what we know to be agreeable to him. 'You are not your own; you are bought with a great price,' says the Apostle, 1 Cor. vi. 19, 20. 'Glorify, and bear God in your body.'
Conclude to take in practice for the rule of your life this holy will of our Redeemer, and according to the whole extent of the Apostle's exposition and declaration of the Christian's rule, Titus ii. 11, &c., and you will be religious men indeed, of that excellent order which Jesus Christ came from heaven to institute, and you will be with him for ever.
Consider first, that in consequence of our redemption through Jesus Christ, we are bound, by the tenour of our rule above rehearsed, to deny, that is, to renounce, all 'ungodliness and worldly desires,' and to be 'clean from all iniquity;' we are to run away from all evil, but more especially from the evils here named, the first of which is 'ungodliness,' which is usually the first crime we commit, and the source of all the rest. For by ungodliness we understand, either the giving away from God what belongs to him, or the refusing him the service and love which we owe him. Now here the sinner usually begins to revolt. He is indispensably obliged to dedicate himself to God from his first coming to the use of reason; instead of which, like the apostate angels, he turns himself away from him, he refuses him his heart, which he so justly claims, and gives it away to empty toys and lying follies. This is 'ungodliness;' this in a kind of idolatry, in preferring the creature before the Creator; this is the source of innumerable evils; this is the very bane of the world. O let us renounce it and detest it!
Consider 2ndly, what those baits are which Satan usually employs to draw us away from God; for no man ever chooses to serve the devil for his own sake, or for any love he has for him: but the tempter sets before us the deceitful appearances of some worldly honour, profit, or pleasure, and with these he allures deluded mortals to his service; these are the gilded pills with which he poisons the soul; with which he draws millions into hell. Therefore the Christian's rules require that, together with 'ungodliness,' he should also 'deny' all 'worldly desires,' that is, all affections to these worldly toys and cheating vanities, as the most effectual means of disarming all of us. For when we despise all that he can offer, and even fly and abhor his choicest allurements, he stands confounded, and can do no more.
Consider 3rdly, that these worldly lusts and desires which the Christian must renounce, are, in particular, those of which the beloved disciple writes, 1 John ii. 15, 16. 'Love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father (the love of God) is not in him; for all that is in the world is the concupiscence of the flesh, and concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life.' It is on account of this 'triple concupiscence,' which reigns in all places, that the 'whole world,' as the same apostle tells us (ch. v. 19) 'is seated in wickedness:' so that if we desire to belong to Christ in good earnest, and to profess ourselves religious under this rule, we must declare a perpetual war against this triple concupiscence, and its abettors, vis., the world and our corrupt nature; and then we may despise all the devils in hell. Yes, Christians, renounce but these three capital enemies of your souls, viz., the love of sensual pleasures, the love of gratifying the covetous eye with worldly toys, and the love of worldly honour, and you shall be 'cleansed from all iniquity.'
Conclude to be ever zealous observers of your rule, by 'denying ungodliness and worldly desires;' and turn your heart, to seek your happiness in other kinds of honours, riches, and pleasures such as the world cannot give, and which may stay with you for ever.
Consider first, that by our rule above rehearsed, we are not only to decline from all evil, in consequence of our God and Saviour coming amongst us, but are also to do good. We are not only to 'deny ungodliness and worldly desires,' but also to 'live soberly, and justly, and godly in this world,' that we may walk worthy of him who has 'given himself for us,' not only that he 'might redeem us from all iniquity,' but also that he might 'cleanse us for himself,' and make us 'an acceptable people, a pursuer of good works.' The Christian's duty, by this rule of life, has three branches - one of them relates to the regulating of himself; another regards his neighbours; but the third, and chiefest of all, relates to God. All these we comply with, if we 'live soberly, and justly, and godly,' because by living soberly we keep ourselves in perfect order; by living 'justly,' we behave ourselves to 'our neighbours' in all things, as we ought; and by living godly, we dedicate our whole lives to God.
Consider 2ndly, the great extent of these three branches of the Christian's duty, and how much this sobriety, this justice, and this godliness require of us. Christian sobriety does not only exclude intemperance in eating and drinking, but also all other excesses and disorders, that may any ways carry us out of the bounds of strict regularity: so that to be truly sober, we must restrain pride by humility, anger by meekness, lust by purity, and all the irregular motions of our passions and disorderly inclinations, by such a general temperance and moderation, as may maintain the whole man in due decorum, both as to soul and body. And this Christian sobriety keeps us, as to ourselves, in perfect order, harmony, and peace. Christian justice regulates our whole conduct as to our neighbours, by that golden rule of 'doing as we would be done by:' and in consequence of this, excludes every thought, every judgment or censure, every word or discourse, every action or dealing, that may any ways tend to his prejudice or disadvantage: and by this means, as much as lies in us, we maintain due order, harmony, and peace with all our neighbours. And lastly, true godliness makes us seek God in all things, and above all things, and consecrates all our powers and faculties to his love and continual prayer; and we maintain a perpetual peace with God. So that the complying with these three branches of our duty makes us truly wise, and truly perfect, and establishes the peace of God in our souls.
Consider 3rdly, that according to the words of the Apostle, in the place above quoted, whilst we labour to comply with the excellent rule of Christ our Lord by 'living soberly, justly, and godly in this world,' we must not confine our views to the narrow limits of this short life here below; but we must be ever looking forward towards the great object of the Christian's hope, viz., the blessed and glorious coming of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ, when he shall come to accomplish the great work he has begun in us, and to take us home with him, both in soul and body, to our true country, and there make us his eternal kingdom. O how happy are those souls that are always aspiring after this coming of their Lord, and bewailing, in the mean time, the long continuance of their banishment here, and their great distance from him, in this foreign land!
Conclude to begin with this new year to enter upon the true paths of life, by a general sobriety, justice, and godliness; and to strive to advance daily, by large steps, in this happy way, which leads to that life which never ends.
Ante luciferum genitus, et ante saecula, Dominus Salvator noster hodie mundo apparuit.
Consider first, that this day is kept by the Church of God with great solemnity, as one of the principal festivals of the year; and is called the Epiphany, that is to say, the apparition or manifestation of our Lord, because on this day he was first made known to the Gentiles, viz., to the wise men of the east, who were conducted to him by the apparition of an extraordinary star, and inspired to pay their early homage and worship to him. O how just It is that we should all celebrate with a grateful devotion this day of our first calling to the knowledge and faith of Christ - this Christmas-day of the Gentiles! O my soul! how great is this benefit of thy vocation to the true Christian faith! What would all other favours or advantages, either of nature or of grace, have availed thee if this had been wanting? How miserable must thou have been, both for time and eternity, if, like millions of others, thou hadst been left to 'sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!' O bless him, then, both now and for ever, who without any desert on thy part, has brought thee to this admirable light!
Consider 2ndly, the wonderful ways of Divine Providence, as well in preparing beforehand both the Jews and Gentiles to expect about that time the coming of the great Messiah, as in giving an early notice of his birth both to the Jews and the Gentiles - to the Jews, by an Angel sent to the shepherds - to the Gentiles, by a star that appeared to the wise men of the east. But alas! how few, either of the one or the other, duly corresponded with this great call! And is not this the case of millions to this day, who though many ways called and invited by, and to, that 'light which enlighteneth every man that cometh into the world,' John i., Choose rather to remain in the darkness of infidelity, error, or vice, than to follow the conduct of that star that would bring them to the true light? O how clearly shall we see one day that there was nothing wanting on the part of Divine Providence to bring us all to himself, but that we have been generally so unhappy as to be wanting in our correspondence with his lights and calls.
Consider 3rdly, that this star, which gave notice of the birth of our Saviour, was seen by all the nations of the east; but that they generally contented themselves with gazing upon it, without taking any pains to seek him whom that star preached unto them: whilst the wise men, following this divine call, set out without delay, in quest of this new-born king: in consequence of which, these were happily brought to Christ, and to his admirable light; whilst those others remained in darkness, and died in their infidelity. See, my soul, the difference between a ready compliance with the inspirations and graces of God, and the neglect of these heavenly calls; a difference which, as it produces here the distinction of the saint and the sinner, so will terminate hereafter in a happy eternity, for such as follows God and his calls; and a miserable eternity, for such as neglect them. Ah! sinners, dread the consequences of neglecting the calls of heaven. God will not be mocked.
Conclude to be ever attentive to all those gracious lights and inspirations by which you are invited to leave the ways of iniquity, and to come and to follow Christ. Alas! how many of these stars have you hitherto neglected? Arise now at least, and set out by the guidance of this divine light, that you may make the best of your way home from those husks of swine to your Father's house. It is not yet too late.
Contents of Challoner's Meditations
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