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Sermon for Christmas Day
(From the Gospel for the day)
John i. 12.—“But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God.”
THIS day, dear children, hath God wrought a great wonder, and manifested the greatness of His love towards us, in that He hath looked down upon us, who were His enemies, aliens and afar off from Him, with such mercy as to give us power to become His sons and children; therefore it behoves us not to show ourselves unthankful for such kindness, but to put on the true marks and qualities of the elect, beloved children of God. And hereby we may know what these are.
He who would be a son of our Father in Heaven must be a stranger among the children of this world, and separate himself from them, and must have an earnest mind and a single eye, with a heart inclined towards God. Now such a one is made a son of God when he is born again in God, and this takes place with every fresh revelation of God to his soul. A man is born of the Spirit when he suffers God’s work 224to be wrought in his soul; yet it is not this which makes the soul to be perfectly blessed, but that revelation, of which we have spoken already, makes the soul to follow after Him who has revealed Himself to her, and in whom she is born anew, with love and praise. Thus she returns again to her first source, and is made, of God’s grace, a child of God, united to Him in rightful love. And let him who would attain hereunto, copy Christ in his human nature, and God Himself will verily come unto him in His superhuman Godhead.
The beloved children of God renounce themselves, and hence they do right without effort, and mount up to the highest point of goodness; while he who will not let go of himself, but does right by labour and toil, will never reach the highest that he might. In other words: he whose works proceed from himself, does little good service to God; while he who suffers himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit, does great works even in small actions. But he who will attain to this must beware of men, so far as is consistent with reason. A heathen teacher has declared: “I never mingled with men, but I came home less of a man than I went out.” Men who live on the outside of things are a great hindrance in the way of goodness by their many idle words. Therefore those who wish to foster the inner life of their souls, are in great danger of receiving hurt from things which are said without thought, especially when many are together. He who repents what he has said as soon as the words are out of his mouth, is one of the careless speakers.
He only is a good son who has cast off his old sins and evil habits; for without this it is impossible that 225he should be created anew in Christ Jesus. It is not until the thoughts can find rest in nothing but God, that the man is drawn close to God Himself, and becomes His. He is happy who is always in the full use of his collective powers; and this is the case when God is present to his spirit, and he gladly obeys all the motions of God’s Spirit, and gives his whole diligence to act and live agreeable thereunto. He hath a right spirit who is free from all craving after temporal things, and like a good son is united by love to his God, without any earthly desires.
The child of God should so order his life as always to promote his own steadfastness in virtue. When a man always keeps his body in due subjection, it is an outward pledge of the strength of his virtuous intents. Then is God in the man, when there is nothing in him which is contrary to the will of God. For God makes a man’s body the temple of the Holy Ghost when He finds nothing in the man which grieves His Spirit, but He reigns with Jesus Christ over the body. That is to say: when a man knows of nothing in himself which is displeasing to God, then God dwells in him, and he is set free from the things that perish. He who most hates and comes out from himself has the greatest share in God, and possesses his earthly heritage in peace.
Master Eckart says; “That which kindles the warmest devotion in a man’s heart, and knits him most closely to God, is the greatest benefit he can receive in this present time; and hence the greatest good work a man can do, is to draw other men to God, so that they enter into a union with Him. And this is the best work of love to our neighbour while we are in this world.”226
Further: it is a mark of the children of God that they see their own little faults and shortcomings to be great sins. Now he who entangles himself with a multitude of matters, outward or inward, and will meddle with every thing that is going forward, will also have a share in the evil thereof. We must let all things be to us merely the supply of our wants, and possess them in their nothingness. The great work and aim of the beloved children of God is to shun all sin, deadly or trifling, that they may not grieve God’s spirit; for they know, as St. Augustine says, that for the smallest habitual sin which is not punished and laid aside in this present life, they will have to suffer more than all the pains of this world. Hence Anselm says, that he would rather die, and that this world should be destroyed, than commit one sin a day knowingly. And Augustine says: “The soul is created eternal, and therefore she cannot rest but in God.” And again: “He who prays for anything except for God’s sake, does not ask aright, and will not be answered with a blessing.”
Again: the child of God must have exercise in good works; but when he comes to possess the very substance of virtue, then virtue is no longer an exercise to him; for he practises it without an effort, and when virtue is practised without labour or pain, we have got beyond exercises. But none may get so far before body and soul are separated from each other; unless, indeed, the soul were drawn out of herself, and it were possible in this present state for God to dwell in the soul, acting and suffering. Ah, Lord, did we all we should, God would do to us all we would. If any wish to become such that God can love him, and look upon him with 227complacency, let him forsake all that he loves in the world, and love nothing but God alone. He who desires to receive with the Son of God a man’s reward, must suffer from and with the wicked of this world; and if he hunger after his salvation as one who is perishing for lack of food, it will avail him nothing, until he cast off sin and work the works of righteousness which are befitting [a child of grace], and endure all wrong and injustice patiently for God’s sake. For without this, his hunger and thirst after salvation can neither be satisfied here nor hereafter. For it is of the very essence of salvation to love God, to depart from sin, and to work righteousness; not to be able to find happiness in all the pleasures of earth, but to be willing to suffer willingly all manner of pain and contradiction, and not seek to avoid them: when a man has come to this state all is well with him, and not otherwise. And whatever such a child of God beholds, it works for his good. If he sees sin, he thanks God for having kept him from it, and prays for the conversion of the sinners; if he sees goodness, he desires to fulfil it in his own practice. We ought always to keep two ends in view,—to put away from us all that is hurtful, and to put on all that is yet lacking to us of good works. But those who vainly think to be made God’s children by their much watching, and fasting, and labour, by keeping silence, by singing hymns, by wearing bad and inconvenient clothing, or again by great deeds and pious works, while they do not dive into the bottom of their hearts, and spy out all their secret inclinations, to lesser as well as to greater faults; such as an inclination to think too well of themselves and too ill of their neighbours, or to 228harshness, to trespass on the rights of others, to moroseness, to a bitter spirit, to contradiction, to obstinacy, to caprice, and the like, and do not perceive these things in themselves, nor wish to learn how to get rid of their old bad dispositions nor yet of their outward bad habits, such as evil speaking, lightness of manners, unkind ridicule of others, and refuse to give ear to those who teach and exhort them to what is right, or to probe their own motives;—these are all the children of the Devil. Alas! how many are martyrs for the Devil! To such as these Isaiah says: “Bring no more vain oblations: cease to do evil; learn to do well; wash you, make you clean.” Yea, if a man were to suffer himself to be torn to pieces, and did not learn to cleanse himself thoroughly from his sins, to behave towards his fellow-creatures in a spirit of generous love, and to love God above all things, it would all be useless and in vain.
Dionysius says: “To be converted to the truth means nothing else but a turning from the love of created things, and a coming into union with the uncreated Highest Good. And in one who is thus converted there is a joy beyond conception, and his understanding is unclouded and unperverted by the love of earthly things, and is mirrored in his conscience, in the mirror of God’s mind. Love is the noblest of all virtues, for it makes man divine, and makes God man.” And again: “Cleanse your hearts and make yourselves at one with God, for one glimpse of Him brings the soul closer to Him than all the outward works of all Christendom. He who wishes to attain to this union must get beyond all that may be conquered and grasped by 229the understanding, for God hath nothing so hidden that it cannot be revealed unto the soul. O that she were but wise enough to seek after it with all earnestness!”
A certain teacher has said, that if a man will give his heart and life to God, God will give him in return greater gifts than if he were to suffer death over again for him.
Now that man shall attain unto the Highest Good who is ready to descend into the lowest depths of poverty. And this comes to pass when he is cast into utter wretchedness, and forsaken of all creatures and all comfort. And let him ask help of none; let him be as knowing nothing, and as though he had never been aught but a fool; let him have none to take compassion on him, even so much as to give him a cup of cold water to drink; yet let him never forget God in his heart, and never shrink from God’s searching eye of judgment, though he knows not what its verdict will be; but with a cheerful and thankful spirit yield himself up to suffer whatever God shall appoint unto him, and to fulfil according to his power, by the grace of God, all His holy will to the utmost that he can discern it, and never complain of his distresses but to God alone with entire and humble resignation, praying that he may be strong to endure all his sufferings according to the will of God;—Ah, dear children, what glorious sons of God would such men be! what wonders would God work through them to the magnifying of His glory! These are the true and righteous men who trust in God, and cleave to Him in spirit and in truth! That we may thus become His sons, may God help us by His grace! Amen.
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