You will find, beloved brethren, in the Old Testament Scriptures, that the holy anointing oil employed in the consecration of Aaron and his sons to the priest's office was composed of several essential ingredients. These were myrrh, cinnamon, calamus, and cassia, with oil olive. Exodus 30. Imitation or common use of it was prohibited. It was specially set apart for that sacred purpose, and was that oil which descended on Aaron's beard, and came down to the skirts of his clothing, typifying the fulness and perfections of the Lord Jesus Christ as the power of all that was bestowed upon Aaron and his sons.
Now, has it ever struck you that one reason why we have in the New Testament Scriptures four different accounts of our Lord Jesus Christ is this that different excellences and perfections in the Christ of God might be set forth? I am not speaking of the subjects of the gospels, which, of course, are plainly to be seen. I speak of the striking manner in which, for faith, the glory of Christ stands out in this fact that each historian, as has been said, "produces different parts in this rare and sweet compound." See Exodus 30. And therefore you have God in His good pleasure employing four men — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — who were specially raised up and qualified by Him to present, by the Holy Ghost, the person of Christ in the various aspects in which we find Him revealed; and the one we have before us this evening is Luke.
The beauty of the Gospel of Luke, and that which gives it its character, is not so much the setting of the Lord Jesus Christ before us in His official, His personal, or His relative glories, nor indeed, as elsewhere, in His eternal Sonship, which is the characteristic of John all through, but its presentation of Christ Himself as Man. But, mark, apart altogether from that which belonged to Him, and that which He did, as Man; it is His person as Man. And, as has been said, such a Man that might have been seen any day in those wonderful times in which He lived and walked in this poor world, perfect Man, though very God. And, beloved brethren, what a theme for us, if our hearts are free; if we are at liberty, through His grace, from things around and within that distract! How sweet to sit down and contemplate this blessed Son of man, to trace His footsteps, to dwell upon all His grace, and drink in of the mind of God concerning Him! If I may say so, I believe this is the one great need of the moment for the saints of God.
Through God's grace we have, I trust, been instructed in the doctrines of Scripture. Through His infinite mercy — I trust it is not too much to say — we know something (small it may be) of the doctrines, the great essential truths, in the epistles of the New Testament. But, beloved friends, it is another thing to know the One who gave accomplishment to all; to keep the company of the One who is above all; to drink in the spirit of this blessed One, and then to reflect it. And that is what mere information in Scripture will never give you. No amount of knowledge, however correct; no amount of intelligence, however exact, will ever put upon your soul the impress of the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. You must be in His company, you must walk with Him, for that; and there is an abstraction, and a power, and a blessedness about it beyond all description. If you observe, you will ever find it so. The more accustomed your heart becomes adoringly to walk with Him, and know Him as a real living Person, a Companion, a Friend; One always at your side, so that you never can talk about being lonely or desolate, of being forsaken or disappointed or cast down, because He is ever with you, and He never changes, but is always Himself, and always equal to every occasion; the more, I say, Christ Himself is before you, the company you keep forms you, and you in turn reflect it. Think what a different kind of people we should be in our words, our character, our personal bearing, even towards one another! Do you suppose there would be the ungraciousness, the roughness, the uncouthness there is? Oh, beloved friends, it may be that we think little of these things, but they bespeak absence of the company and mind of Christ! You cannot be in His company, and gather up His mind, and act thus. Impossible! Indeed, that is the comfort of the gospel history. It brings us into direct contact, direct company with the blessed person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
There is another striking feature about the Gospel of Luke. From the moment you come to it, you get the sense that heaven is open. His gospel, in a very peculiar way, places you under an opened heaven; and, beloved friends, it is open from the very beginning. If you read the first chapter, you will find the visit of the angel from heaven to Zacharias. That is heaven, so to speak, let down and opened upon earth. When you come to the second chapter, you find all the world in the hands of Caesar, and God's own people Israel also in subjection to the Roman power. The world had got away from God, and was managing its own affairs without Him. Everything was running its accustomed course, and God was left out. God was outside the whole ordered system of things, and Israel were enslaved. If they had only had eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to understand, the yoke that pressed them down ought to have told them of their low moral condition before Him — but there was none of that. And while all the earth is in its full-blown departure from God, Caesar Augustus decrees that the whole world shall be taxed; and God turns it to account to bring about the accomplishment of His own purposes. Then you find the blessed Saviour ushered into the scene. But in the second chapter you have to go outside with God to the plains of Bethlehem. Not to the great ones of the earth, but to the poor, ignoble, unknown, disregarded men who were following their lowly occupation of watching over their flocks by night; and then we get the blessed intimation of the angel 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." vv. 10, 11.
Now, if you reflect, you will see very clearly that for God to reveal the thoughts of His own heart to us is a very different thing from His investigating the thoughts of our hearts. It is most important to have the thoughts of our hearts investigated, and for God Himself to read those thoughts out to us in secret; to look us through and through, and tell us what He sees in us, and knows about us. And we all have to pass, through that personally. It is not merely the great fact, as in Scripture; but we have to travel with God, and learn in His light all that He knows about us, and sees in us. That is a necessary and an important part; but for God to reveal His thoughts to us, for God to tell us the secrets of His bosom, the thoughts that were in His mind and heart long ere sin came in, long ere this world began; thoughts that ever centred in the Son of His love; oh, what a different thing that is! And here you have a little letting out of it. "Unto you," says the angel to the poor, obscure men outside the city, outside the world, outside the ordered system, "is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." v. 11.
The earth was asleep, but all heaven awake. Such was the contrast. Earth in a deathlike slumber, and heaven all alive to the fulness of the grace of God that has just come down. "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour."
This blessed fact is the very beginning of everything for us. But you may say, as many often say, "what is there in that? I know salvation." Ah! but do you know the Saviour? Have you considered that it is possible to know about the work of Christ, and yet have but a poor knowledge of the Saviour? Oh, there is a very great difference! You might know safety, you might be clear from coming judgment and from coming wrath, and yet be to a very great extent with small knowledge of Christ personally. But you could not know the Saviour, you could not come into personal contact with Him, without your soul having the divine meltings which that knowledge brings. And, beloved friends, there is another thing. You may know security, and be free from wrath and judgment, and still go on hard and fast with the world. That, I grieve to say, is what a great many people do. They try to hold religion, as they call it, in one hand, and grasp the world in the other. That is what hundreds of God's people are doing. They may be clear about their acceptance, and I do not desire to say a word which might appear even to cloud that; but I must bear testimony to this fact, that though they seem clear about their acceptance, and their immunity from coming judgment, fully assured of all this, yet they do not seem to have that personal knowledge of the Saviour which would fortify their hearts against the world; and, be assured, nothing but this will do it. Oh, brethren, assuredly if we know and have to do with the Saviour Himself (I do not now speak of what He has wrought, however blessed), then the end of everything that could attract us down here is before us.
I remember hearing, not very long ago, an interesting account of the visit of a servant of God (now gone to his rest) to a remarkable man, and dear child of God, who lived away amongst the hills in a distant part of England, and who had been so chafed and exercised and harassed by all the varied trials which have, alas! sprung up amongst the children of God, the divisions which have been permitted to test them, that he was rather timid about having anything to do with almost any other Christian. (I am not justifying that for a moment. I simply state what occurred.) Well, the visitor came to the door (the two were strangers to one another in the flesh), and sought admission, but was met somewhat coldly and roughly; so much so, that at last he simply stood and repeated these blessed words, "I was a stranger, and ye took me in." Ah! beloved brethren, the door was at once flung wide open, taxing the utmost strength of the hinges, and the welcome words were heard, "Come ye in."
I give you this merely as an illustration of what I seek to press. Now, here was One who had come into personal contact with Christ, who knew Christ, over whom the words of Christ had power; and from the moment those words were uttered he seemed not to be able to do enough for the one to whom he was cold and distant before; he could not now bestow upon him too much care or kindness, too great hospitality, or too much affection; and then listen to his testimony. He said, "Ever since I have seen yon blessed Man in the glory of God, I have seen the end of everything down here."
Beloved friends, nothing else will dim and fade things down here. Doctrines apart from Him, principles however true, have not the displacing power of Himself in the heart. I am not (God is my witness) speaking a word against doctrines; or principles of truth, for they have their place; but nothing will spoil the world for you, my brother, my sister; nothing will take the value out of present things but personal contact, in spirit and by faith, with Him who had not in this world where to lay His head. Do you want a sign, a proof? "Ye shall find the Babe," you shall find this Blessed One, "wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." v. 12. Think of all that is involved in this statement; the humiliation, the stoop, the emptying. Think of the circumstances in which He was found here. The mighty God, come down in grace, is seen a Babe, in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger!
And is that the world you covet, and court, and are shaking hands with, my brother or sister here to-night? Is that the world, young man, you desire to get on in, which gave the One to whom you trace your every blessing a reception like this? Oh, beloved friends, I feel persuaded that every one whose heart ever came in contact with the Lord Jesus, and who remembers Him in these circumstances, will turn his back happily on a world that gave his Lord only a manger at His birth, and a cross between two thieves at His death. Oh, to be able gladly to bid a long and final farewell to such a scene! But for this, beloved, you must in your souls be acquainted personally with Himself; and, I further believe, with Him where He is.
A dear saint of God, and servant of Christ, W. H. Hewitson, is reported to have said that he knew the Lord Jesus Christ better than he knew any living man. And this is considered a wonderful thing to say; but is there anything so wonderful about it? I ask you affectionately to-night, Did any one ever place himself at the disposal of your knowledge as Christ did? Did any one ever say to you, "Come, touch me; handle me; know me; abide with me; see me; observe me"? Did any one ever do that? He has said, "Come and see;" "Abide in Me;" "Come and dine;" "Come . . . and rest." Did any one ever do as He has done? He has laid Himself out in His blessed grace that we should know Him, the most accessible and gracious amongst men.
I am firmly convinced that the great danger of the child of God at the present moment is the world. The world has crept in and made sad inroads upon us. I am not thinking so much of the world as a snare; but what I see and deplore is the world on principle amongst the saints of God; that saints are positively citizens of this world on principle. I can understand one not cast on God entrapped and ensnared by it. Surely we all must know how exposed we are to any advance or any proposition in this way; and that we have to go through it with Christ before us, the only source of power and safety. But what I dread is that there should be the going into it on principle; adopting its ways, principles, habits, without a twitch of conscience as to it. That is the terrible part of it. Thus it is worldly positions are taken up and adopted as a matter of course. The necessity of the case is pleaded in extenuation; the impossibility of succeeding otherwise is urged; or the threadbare plea is made, "You see, I could not get on without it." Better far, my brother, have done with it. Oh that it were engraved as with a pen of iron on our souls, how awful a thing it is to be a friend of the world — a world too that cast out the Son of God! See James 4:4.
"And has this world a charm for us,
Where Jesus suffered thus?
No, we have died to all its charms
Through Jesus' wondrous cross."
In a certain sense, beloved friends, we all live too far off to be acquainted with what goes on in this world. Alas! what makes up its history? Unutterable woe, disappointment, anguish, vexation, sorrow, groans, and tears, are the atmosphere of it. We little know what it is. Yes, oh, beneath the surface of the lurid glare and dazzle, what an awful scene it is! Well now, the Lord Jesus measured it all; He knew it all, weighed it all, passed through it all. There is not a scene your heart could bring up to-night that God, come down here in grace, has not fully measured.
I think it is very interesting to contrast this coming down of God with His previous comings down. He came down and visited Adam; but there was a great reserve; innocence was short-lived; sin soon terminated that state for ever. He visited Abraham, and talked with him; that was brief as well. He visited Israel coming down on the fiery mount; but, as we know, darkness and distance characterized the dispensation of the law. But what I was more particularly thinking of was that occasion when man set up that first great tower of independency in this world —the tower of Babel — when "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded." Also of Sodom and Gomorrah He said, "I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto Me; and if not, I will know." Gen. 11; 18.
Oh, the contrast of this with what we have here! Here was God come down in lowly grace and love, as well as in saving power. It was not God testing, or proving, or detecting; but God manifest in flesh — God, in the blessedness and fulness of His own grace, become Man. This is the divine spring and motive of piety — God manifest in flesh. Piety is called forth by this. God manifest in flesh is the great productive and forming power of godliness. That is the meaning of the mystery of godliness. Is it, do you suppose, something in us? Ah! be assured it is not. All who know themselves in His presence know that the eye must be turned out upon an object for power, not on what is within. God manifest in the flesh is objective, and is the real power of Christianity. The subjective occupies you with yourself, and with what goes on within. Let us not appear to deny, in any sense, that there is the subjective side of the truth as the result of the objective presentation of Christ to the soul; and, assuredly, in proportion as we have before our souls what God presents to us in Scripture, and ministers by His Spirit, even the person of His Son, the subjective state is formed by that presentation. And herein is the real power of all true godliness: "God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory." 1 Tim. 3:16.
We are in the habit of making deductions and drawing conclusions, and all well in their place; but the facts of revealed truth are the things we draw conclusions from, and they are set forth by God in His own way. And that is the blessedness of His revelation. Everything else in this world is shifting and changing. Our deductions and conclusions vary and differ, but God's revelation ever abides the same. Perhaps, too, it is white-heat, as it were, in our hearts to-day, and ice-cold to-morrow. That is just what we are, and what goes on within us; but when we come to God's Word, there is no variation nor shadow of turning. It is always the same, and herein lies the blessedness of looking at the manifestation of the grace of God to us in the person of His blessed Son come down into this world.
There are three things that come out in the praise of the heavenly host, things which never could be true till then. We get first the ascription of "Glory to God in the highest." It is always well to begin there. Generally we do not so begin: but nothing is lost by beginning at God's side. "Glory to God in the highest." That never could have been said with such deep meaning before. It is not that the whole state of blessing had not to be made good historically, but the announcement of the blessing is connected with Christ's person and His coming. That is what is so blessed! Oh, the blessedness of connecting all with Him, with His person, when He is positively come into this world! Here was the One upon whose shoulders, as it were, the whole weight of this blessed work could be placed. In Jesus God found One on whom He could rest for the upholding of all His glory. Well the Father knew that He, the Blessed One, would sustain everything for Him, as well as bring forth blessing for the poor creature that had departed from Him. How securely it all stood in and under Him who had come! "Glory to God in the highest" tells us this. Now God can announce the fact Himself, and the Lord Jesus spoke of it anticipatively when He said, "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do." John 17:4.
This, then, is the announcement made, we may say, from heaven, yet upon earth, the very sphere where God had been outraged by sin. Man, as far as he could, as far as his responsibility was concerned, had tarnished the glory of God. Everything was in ruins; Israel, the chosen people, in bondage; the world a vast moral chaos, when He came who alone was the hope of man. But when Jesus is born the thoughts of God and heaven are made known upon earth. The sons of God had shouted when creation came forth from God's hand. The Book of Job tells us how they were moved — "The morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy." Job 38:7. Creation, come forth in perfection from the hand of the great Creator, thus moved them; but when they look at this great sight, they praise. There is great beauty in all this. Creation can evoke by its magnificence and grandeur the songs of the morning stars, and the shouts of the sons of God. We can, as it were, hear them say, as they behold the mighty power of God put forth to bring this orb into existence, "The hand that made us is divine." A very beautiful and blessed sight creation was, but it pertained to Jesus alone to be the key of that note, "Glory to God in the highest."
I would now for a little remind you how all this was made good, and on what this glory rested as a basis; and this will at once bring our souls to that great and blessed work of the cross, which alone could be the foundation on which the whole fabric of blessing, as it were, could rest. Christ must give to God a full equivalent for all His holy, righteous demands, ere glory could really be established; yet here there is no allusion to this; the work is not named. I think this is one of the most beautiful features of the passage, that all mention of the work is left out. There is not, you will observe, a hint or an allusion of any kind to the great work which the Saviour was to accomplish. Of course it is understood, but it is not here expressed. How is this? The whole blessing is summed up in His own Person. The great and blessed One is here come who was to do the work. Verily the Person who was God manifest in flesh had come. He, and He alone, was competent to undertake for God's glory. He, and He alone, could give effect to all the counsels and purposes of God. Who else could lay the foundation for these? Who else could put away sin by the sacrifice of himself? Who else could lay one hand on the throne of God, and the other on a poor sinner? "He alone the Saviour is." In connection with His advent, heaven can celebrate victories yet to be won, and connect those victories with Himself.
Now look at the second thing: "On earth peace." But there is little peace on earth now. That is too sadly evident. The spirit of strife and war rests on the whole earth, and it seems at times as if the saints had imbibed the spirit of the age. What peace is there in the great world abroad? Why, Europe is bristling with bayonets at this moment; and the ingenuity and energy of men's minds are concentrated on this — how, at the least expense and the saving of every trouble possible, the destruction of their fellows on a wholesale principle can be most effected. And when we come nearer home, and look at our own circle, ought not our hearts to be broken (if, indeed, we have hearts to break) when we behold the divided, torn, and broken state of the Church — the little practical manifestation of Christ amongst His own? Do you think we ought to feel that? Are we to be insensible to the afflictions of Christ? What is there to commend in maintaining a cold and chilly air of seeming indifference in relation to such sorrows? Oh, shame on us for our coldness, for our little sense of what it must be to the heart of Him who came into this world, who is the Prince of peace! I say all this, beloved friends, for I am pained to see how little we seem to feel these things. I grant, to the fullest extent, there may be a cause, yea, a necessity, for these griefs. I grant you that but should not that increase the heart-break, as well as move the conscience to its depths? That the Lord should, in His faithful grace, rebuke so severely, might assuredly afflict us. Oh, for broken hearts and weeping eyes over such a picture! But is it said, "We must stand for the truth"? Who denies it? God forbid that any one should for a moment hesitate to stand for it. But is it not possible to maintain to the utmost of our power the name and word of our Lord, and yet to have the heart afflicted at the thought of His own being allied with the dishonour done to His name, as well as the departure from His truth? It is well to remember how the blessed One Himself, when He contemplated His betrayal by one of His own disciples, was "troubled in spirit, and testified, and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, that one of you shall betray Me." John 13:21. Oh, that we had a little more of that blessed mind!
God knoweth I do not plead for any compromise. I would not surrender one point of truth; no, not for a moment. But then, beloved brethren, there are two ways of maintaining it. There is the brokenness of heart and the tenderness of spirit, and there is as well the feeling of shame. I say this affectionately. Bear with me! At this moment the divided, broken state of the Church is the scorn of the sceptic, the stock-in-trade of the infidel, and the delight of the devil. We are a positive disgrace at this moment in the eyes of the world. I am speaking of the whole Church of God. The great hindrance in the way of God's purposes of grace in the world at the present moment is the state of the Church of God. Are we not to feel that? Have we so isolated ourselves from God's Church, and have we shut ourselves up in what we have made a narrow section of it, that we have no heart, no feelings of compassion for, no tenderness in yearning over, the state of the whole Church of God? If we had Christ's mind we should feel it, we should verily be broken-hearted about it. And when I look around from place to place, and go to prayer-meetings, and never hear a breathing to God as to this, never a cry of confession about it, not even an allusion to it, how can I help saying, "It is not in our thoughts; it does not seem to burden us; to all appearance we are not feeling it?" Let me ask you, How should you feel if your own family were blighted and blasted and scattered to the very four winds — hand against hand, and heart against heart? And yet that is not an exaggerated description of the state of Christ's people. Oh, that we felt, even ever so little, our own sadly solemn part in it! Do we not know that there is something lying at our door? May God bring it home to us as we dwell on those beautiful words, "On earth peace."
Thank God, it will be so yet! And there again is part of His blessedness. As has been so touchingly and beautifully said, "The state of blessedness was born in the birth of the Child." It was not yet historically made good, but the blessing was born in the birth of Jesus, and therefore heaven can celebrate it on earth.
Then there is the third thing: "Good pleasure in men." Herein is set forth the kindness, the goodness, the tenderness, the compassion, the interest of God, the purpose of God; His counsels as to the poor race that had departed from Him. God's Son had become a Man. How could there be a doubt of God's interest in men? Jesus, God's Son, had become a Man! Could He show poor creatures like you and me a greater proof of His interest in us, His pity for us, than by His blessed Son thus coming into this world? Oh, the comfort of that word, "Good pleasure in men"!
And, beloved friends, there is more than that, because it was not the power of God as Creator. That power had already been witnessed. He had displayed His eternal power and Godhead in bringing this world into existence.
"The spangled heavens, a shining frame,
Their great Original proclaim."
But the grace that could triumph over evil, the grace that could take occasion by the fall to show itself in its fulness, that is the wonderful thing. And that is exactly what we have here; it brings to mind that blessed word in Scripture, "Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." Rom. 12:21. That is what God displayed. He was not overcome by the evil of man, His creature, but He overcame the evil by the good that was in Himself. He could now express the depths of the complacency of His wondrous love, His own Son having become a Man.
One word more, and I have done. I think there are two deeply practical things that are read out to us in this scripture. It is of great importance to see that the truth of God is practical, and speaks in a practical way. The first thing this tells me is what I am; what man is; what we all are; and this is a very important point. You may track a person's footsteps, look at his ways, his character, the evil of his doings; and that may be a perfectly true exhibition of the evil of the heart. But here it is a deeper thing, although there is no mention of it. We learn what we are in the presence of this marvellous display of God's grace. Look at the reception the Lord Jesus got in this world; look at the effect this had. If there had been the smallest response in man, the most latent seed of goodness in his nature; if there had been one redeeming feature in the creature, that could have been worked upon; the goodness of God in Jesus would have drawn that out, so that man would have answered to it. The person of the Lord Jesus would have attracted that to Himself. You remember what He said: "They hated Me without a cause." John 15:25. That is not a pleasant, but it is a very wholesome, truth for us to learn, because there is always a great danger of our becoming elated in our hearts because of the grace of God. It ought to be the other way. We ought to magnify the riches of His grace, as displayed to us in our worthlessness.
We find, then, these two things. First of all there was no power in man to profit by the grace when it came. Secondly, when it was brought to him, he refused it, rejected it, would not have it. These are two things that enhance the grace of God. First, I learn what I am as connected with the race that turned Jesus Christ out of this world, nailing Him to the cross. I learn that the same disposition, the same heart and nature those had who did that, are in you and me. It is not eradicated, changed, altered, improved, nor bettered. I learn in the presence of God the vileness of what I am, in the treatment the Lord Jesus received in this world. And then I learn the perfect goodness of God to me. I learn what God is in the marvellous display of His own goodness and kindness; and although I find it is all over with me as far as I am concerned in state and condition, yet there is fulness of blessing for me in that blessed One.
These are things very much on the surface, but just the things I am sure we need. Above all, think of the blessedness of His own person, when we become acquainted with Him, and with God in Him. Thus we get to know God in Him. We can say, blessed be His name, "I know God! I have met God in Him, I have seen God in Him, I have heard God in Him, am brought to God in Him, am set down in all the acceptance and fulness of blessing in Christ before God! I believe it would be impossible for any one who had really made such acquaintance with Him to go on with the world. It would put you outside at once. The more you are brought into blessed acquaintance and communion with Him personally, the more you are cast outside the world that would not have Him.
May God, in His infinite mercy, suggest to us, for meditation when alone, somewhat more of the glories of the Lord Jesus, and affect our souls, and impart to us more of His spirit, more of His tender compassion and longsuffering, more of Himself, concerning whom, when He had come, the multitude of the heavenly host praised God, saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."