FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
[Preached in 1849.]
Behold, thy King cometh unto thee.--MATTHEW xxi. 4.
This Sunday is the first of the four Sundays in Advent. During those four Sundays, our forefathers have advised us to think seriously of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ--not that we should neglect to think of it at all times. As some of you know, I have preached to you about it often lately. Perhaps before the end of Advent you will all of you, more or less, understand what all that I have said about the cholera, and public distress, and the sins of this nation, and the sins of the labouring people has to do with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. But I intend, especially in my next four sermons, to speak my whole mind to you about this matter as far as God has shown it to me; taking the Collect, Epistle, and Gospels, for each Sunday in Advent, and explaining them. I am sure I cannot do better; for the more I see of those Collects, Epistles, and Gospels, and the way in which they are arranged, the more I am astonished and delighted at the wisdom with which they are chosen, the wise order in which they follow each other, and fit into each other. It is very fit, too, that we should think of our Lord's coming at this season of the year above all others; because it is the hardest season--the season of most want, and misery, and discontent, when wages are low, and work is scarce, and fuel is dear, and frosts are bitter, and farmers and tradesmen, and gentlemen, too, are at their wits' end to square their accounts, and pay their way. Then is the time that the evils of society come home to us--that our sins, and our sorrows, which, after all, are the punishment of our sins, stare us in the face. Then is the time, if ever, for men's hearts to cry out for a Saviour, who will deliver them out of their miseries and their sins; for a Heavenly King who will rule them in righteousness, and do justice and judgment on the earth, and see that those who are in need and necessity have right; for a Heavenly Counsellor who will guide them into all truth--who will teach them what they are, and whither they are going, and what the Lord requires of them. I say the hard days of winter are a fit time to turn men's hearts to Christ their King--the fittest of all times for a clergyman to get up in his pulpit, as I do now, and tell his people, as I tell you, that Jesus Christ your King has not forgotten you--that He is coming speedily to judge the world, and execute justice and judgment for the meek of the earth.
Now do not be in a hurry, and fancy from what I have just said, that I am one of those who think the end of the world is at hand. It may be, for aught I know. "Of that day and that hour knoweth no man, not even the angels of God, nor the Son, but the Father only." If you wish for my own opinion, I believe that what people commonly call the end of the world, that is, the end of the earth and of mankind on it, is not at hand at all. As far as I can judge from Scripture, and from the history of all nations, the earth is yet young, and mankind in its infancy. Five thousand years hence, our descendants may be looking back on us as foolish barbarians, in comparison with what they know: just as we look back upon the ignorance of people a thousand years ago. And yet I believe that the end of this world, in the real Scripture sense of the word "world," is coming very quickly and very truly--The end of this system of society, of these present ways in religion, and money-making, and conducting ourselves in all the affairs of life, which we English people have got into nowadays. The end of it is coming. It cannot last much longer; for it is destroying itself. It will not last much longer; for Christ and not the devil is the King of the earth. As St. Paul said to his people, so say I to you, "The night is far spent, the day is at hand."
These may seem strange words, but almost every one is saying them, in his own way. One large party among religious people in these days is complaining that Christ has left His Church, and that the cause of Christianity will be ruined and lost, unless some great change takes place. Another large party of religious people say, that the prophecies are on the point of being all fulfilled that the 1260 days, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, are just coining to an end; and that Christ is coming with His saints, to reign openly upon earth for a thousand years. The wisest philosophers and historians of late years have been all foretelling a great and tremendous change in England, and throughout all Europe; and in the meantime, manufacturers and landlords, tradesmen and farmers, artisans and labourers, all say, that there MUST be a change and will be a change. I believe they are all right, every one of them. They put it in their words; I think it better to put it in the Scripture words, and say boldly, "Jesus Christ, the King of the earth, is coming."
But you will ask, "What right have you to stand up and say anything so surprising?" My friends, the world is full of surprising things, and this age above all ages. It was not sixty years ago, that a nobleman was laughed at in the House of Lords for saying that he believed that we should one day see ships go by steam; and now there are steamers on every sea and ocean in the world. Who expected twenty years ago to see the whole face of England covered with these wonderful railroads? Who expected on the 22nd of February last year, that, within a single month, half the nations of Europe, which looked so quiet and secure, would be shaken from top to bottom with revolution and bloodshed--kings and princes vanishing one after the other like a dream--poor men sitting for a day as rulers of kingdoms, and then hurled down again to make room for other rulers as unexpected as themselves? Can anyone consider the last fifty years?-- can anyone consider that one last year, 1848, and then not feel that we do live in a most strange and awful time? a time for which nothing is too surprising--a time in which we all ought to be prepared, from the least to the greatest, to see the greatest horrors and the greatest blessings come suddenly upon us, like a thief in the night? So much for Christ's coming being too wonderful a thing to happen just now. Still you are right to ask: "What do you mean by Christ's being our King? what do you mean by His coming to us? What reason have you for supposing that He is coming NOW, rather than at any other time? And if He be coming, what are we to do? What is there we ought to repent of? what is there we ought to amend?"
Well, my friends--it is just these very questions which I hope and trust God will help me to answer to you, in my next few sermons--I am perfectly convinced that we must get them answered and act upon them speedily. I am perfectly convinced that if we go on as most of us are going in England now, the Lord of us all will come in an hour when we are not aware, and cut us asunder in the deepest and most real sense, as He came and cut asunder France, Germany, and Austria only last year, and appoint us our portion with the unbelievers. And I believe that our punishment will be seven times as severe as that of either France, Germany, or Austria, because we have had seven times their privileges and blessings, seven times their Gospel light and Christian knowledge, seven times their freedom and justice in laws and constitution; seven times their wealth, and prosperity, and means of employing our population. Much has been given to England, and of her much will be required. And if you could only see the state of mankind over the greatest part of the globe, how infinitely fewer opportunities they have of knowing God's will than you have, you would feel that to you, poor and struggling as some of you are-- to you much has been given, and of you much will be required.
Now first, what do I mean by Christ being our king? I daresay there are some among you who are inclined to think that, when we talk of Christ being a king, that the word king means something very different from its common meaning--and, God knows, that that is true enough. Our blessed Lord took care to make people understand that-- how He was not like one of the kings of the nations, how His kingdom was not of this world. But yet the Bible tells us again and again that all good kings, all real kings, are patterns of Christ; and, therefore, that when we talk of Christ being a king, we mean that He is a king in everything that a king ought to be; that He fulfils perfectly all the duties of a king; that He is the pattern which all kings ought to copy. Kings have been in all ages too apt to forget that, and, indeed, so have the people too. We English have forgotten most thoroughly in these days, that Christ is our king, or even a king at all. We talk of Christ being a "spiritual" king, and then we say that that merely means that He is king of Christians' hearts. And when anyone asks what that means, it comes out, that all we mean is, that Christ has a very great influence over the hearts of believing Christians--when He can obtain it; or else that it means that He is king of a very small number of people called the elect, whom He has chosen out, but that He has absolutely nothing to do with the whole rest of the world. And then, when anyone stands up with the Bible in his hand, and says, in the plain words of Scripture: "Christ is not only the king of believers, He is the king of the whole earth; the king of the clouds and the thunder, the king of the land and the cattle, and the trees, and the corn, and to whomsoever He will He giveth them. Christ is not only the king of believers--He is the king of all--the king of the wicked, of the heathen, of those who do not believe Him, who never heard of Him. Christ is not only the king of a few individual persons, one here and one there in every parish, but He is the king of every nation. He is the king of England, by the grace of God, just as much as Queen Victoria is, and ten thousand times more." If any man talks in this way, people stare--think him an enthusiast--ask him what new doctrine this is, and call his words unscriptural, just because they come out of Scripture and not out of men's perversions and twistings of Scripture. Nevertheless Christ is King; really and truly King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and He will make men know it. What He was, that He is and ever will be; there is no change in Him; His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and His dominion endureth throughout all ages, and woe unto those, small or great, who rebel against Him!
But what sort of a king is He? He is a king of law, and order, and justice. He is not selfish, fanciful, self-willed. He said himself that He came not to do His own will, but His Father's. He is a king of gentleness and meekness too: but do not mistake that. There is no weak indulgence in Him. A man may be very meek, and yet stern enough and strong enough. Moses was the meekest of men, we read, and yet He made those who rebelled against him feel that he was not to be trifled with. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram found that to their cost. He would not even spare his own brother Aaron, his own sister Miriam, when they rebelled. And he was right. He showed his love by it; indulgence is not love. It is no sign of meekness, but only of cowardice and carelessness, to be afraid to rebuke sin. Moses knew that he was doing God's work, that he was appointed to make a great nation of those slavish besotted Jews, his countrymen; that he was sent by God with boundless blessings to them; and woe to whoever hindered him from that. Because he loved the Jews, therefore he dared punish those who tempted them to forget the promised land of Canaan, or break God's covenant, in which lay all their hope.
And such a one is our King, my friends; Jesus Christ the Son of God. Like Moses, says St. Paul, He is faithful in all His office. Therefore He is severe as well as gentle. He was so when on earth. With the poor, the outcast, the neglected, those on whom men trampled, who was gentler than the Lord Jesus? To the proud Pharisee, the canting Scribe, the cunning Herodian, who was sterner than the Lord Jesus? Read that awful 23rd chapter of St. Matthew, and then see how the Saviour, the lamb dumb before His shearers, He of whom it was said "He shall not strive nor cry, nor shall His voice be heard in the streets"--how He could speak when He had occasion. . . . "Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
My friends, those were the words of our King; of Him in whom was neither passion nor selfishness; who loved us even to the death, and endured for us the scourge, the cross, the grave. And believe me, such are His words now; though we do not hear Him, the heaven and the earth hear Him and obey Him. His message is pardon, mercy, deliverance to the sorrowful, and the oppressed, and the neglected; and to the proud, the tyrannical, the self-righteous, the hypocritical, tribulation and anguish, shame and woe.
Because He is the Saviour, therefore He is a consuming fire to all those who try to hinder Him from saving men. Because He is the Son of God, He will sweep out of His Father's kingdom all who offend, and whosoever maketh and loveth a lie. Because He is boundless mercy and love, therefore He will show no mercy to those who try to stop His purposes of love. Because He is the King of men, the enemies of mankind are His enemies; and He will reign till He has put them all under His feet.
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