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Sermons for the Christian Seasons.
JESUS A SAVIOUR BY OBEDIENCE.
St. Luke i. 21. And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His name was called JESUS.
The year of the world begins to-day; meanwhile the holy Church has so far advanced in her year, that having spent a month in preparing for Christ's birth, and a week in celebrating it, we now begin fairly to enter upon His life, and to consider the first event in it, His circumcision. The gospel for the day contains the history of this event in the verse I have chosen for the text: and there are two great doctrines which it joins together and brings before us; viz. that Christ was to learn obedience by suffering, and that by this His obedience He was to be our Saviour. The first of these is shewn by His submitting to be circumcised; the second by His receiving, when so circumcised, the name of Jesus, the Saviour. Let us shortly consider these two points.
1. The text tells us, “ Eight days were accom
plished for the circumcising of the Child;" this was in strict accordance with the order of God to Abraham. “Thou shalt keep My covenant,” said the Almighty; "thou and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep between Me and you, and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised . . . . he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you.” Circumcision, then, or the cutting off of part of the flesh of the foreskin, was the painful way in which it was appointed for every male infant amongst the Jews to be brought into covenant with God. It was not like baptism, a sacrament having both an outward sign and an inward grace. It had the outward sign of wounding the body, as it is the instrument of lust; and it no doubt signified that the spirit within must be chastised and cleansed; that all that can lead to impurity and sin must be cut off from the soul : as St. Paul says, “He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that (truly) circumcision, which is outward in the flesh : but he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter.' But the outward rite only signified this inward holiness, it did not produce it. Holy baptism, however, besides the outward part of washing with water to signify the putting away of sin, has, as you know, the inward grace of the new birth, by which sin is actually put away. Both are signs, but baptism is also something more ; it does what circumcision did not; it gives the cleansing which it represents.
Thus, then, the Jewish rite was only a sign of obedience, a painful ordinance causing bloodshedding and tears to the tender infant upon whom it was performed; a sad representation of the truth, that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” Indeed so painful was it, that even Moses and his wife seem, if we may judge from Zipporah’s words, on this account to have delayed to perform it upon their son, until God's anger was visibly shewn at their disobedience.
· It came to pass,” we read in the book of Exodus, “ by the way in the inn, that the Lord met Moses, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So God let him go; then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” But painful as it was, both for the infant to undergo, and for the
parents to witness, it was the one mark of obedience which God required from them; and therefore it was that Christ underwent it. Having condescended to take upon Him our common nature, and to be born as powerless as any other infant, and subject to all the conditions of God's laws, which bound the rest of the sons of Abraham, our Lord must needs be circumcised like any other Jewish babe.
He must take upon Him the sign that sin should be put away, being indeed the only one of all mankind who could by His own strength make that sign a reality. Though He were a Son, yet must He learn obedience by the things which He suffered. He must be able to say in the words which He had long before uttered by the Psalmist, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of Me, that I should fulfil Thy will, O My God : I am content to do it; yea Thy law is within My heart.”
I made haste, and prolonged not the time, to keep Thy commandments.” Soon, indeed, was He called upon to obey ; in haste truly, and prolonging not the time, did He keep His Father's commandments. One short week,
. wrapped in swaddling bands, He lay in the manger, and then forth He came to do His Father's will. Eager to rescue sinners He was but eight
days old when He began to shed His blood for them : forward to bear the chastisement of our iniquities, even while yet unable to lift up Him- . self He began to feel the smart due to a world's wickedness.
2. But the text continues :-" His name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before He was conceived in the womb :" for the angel had said, “ Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost : and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus; for He shall save His people from their sins.”
What a glorious name! how full is it of meaning! Men have been called the great, the wise, conquerors, deliverers of their country, lovers of mankind; none but this little babe deserved to be called the Saviour, Jesus. Conqueror of Satan, Deliverer from the bands of sin, Victor over death and corruption, Redeemer of the world, Saviour of that multitude which no man can number, which shall hereafter stand before the throne on high; all this is included in that one short Name. The heavenly hosts adore it ; the devils, as they themselves confessed at Ephesus, know it and flee before it; the holy Church