holiest works for the sanctification of the soul
"I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David"
Luke, ii. 10,11.
AGAIN, my beloved friends, your attention is summoned to the joyful tidings announced by the angels. A Saviour is born to us, who is Christ the Lord. His empire shall be extended, and there shall be no end of peace (Isa., ix. 7). By the completion of this wonderful mystery, "the seed of the woman has crushed the serpent's head" Gen., iii. 15; "the hand-writing that was against us is reversed" Col., ii. 16; the jaws of Hell are closed, and the gates of Heaven are thrown open to all who are seriously disposed to enter. The times foretold by the prophet, are, in a spiritual sense, arrived: "The wolf dwelleth with the lamb" Isa., xi. 6: the lawless passions of the mind are hushed, and the spirit of meekness resides undisturbed in the breast. "The calf, the lion, and the sheep live together, and a little child leadeth them" - ibid.
Pride, ambition, and the lust of power the haughty tyrants of the soul have resigned their place to the more humble virtues of mildness and simplicity. Or, in another sense, the lion the great and mighty ones of the Earth mix confusedly with the calf and sheep - the ignorant and the simple - in the fold of Christ; and a little child - the humility and simplicity of the gospel is the indiscriminate guide of them all. "The bear feeds with the calf, and their young ones lie down together: they do not hurt, neither do they kill, in all my holy mountain" Isa., xi. 7, 9. Hatred, animosity, and revenge are forgotten, and the spirit of brotherly love, and unlimited forgiveness of injuries, have dispelled the tumults of the breast, and diffused an universal peace. "The lion eats straw like the ox" ib., 7: the love of sensual pleasures is renounced, and the evils which it entailed on mankind are no more. "The sucking child plays on the hole of the asp" ib., 8: innocence of mind has dispelled the terrors and alarms which haunt the imagination of the guilty, and the securest confidence and peace direct all their steps.
These mystic times, my beloved, are arrived. An universal peace is announced to us. But have we hitherto enjoyed this peace? It is indeed announced to all; but it is enjoyed only by men of good will. On this subject I will enlarge in the present discourse, hoping that the description of the benefits imparted by this happy peace will stimulate your endeavours to banish from your breasts the evils which have hitherto prevented your enjoy ment of it.
1. A universal peace reigned over the universe when Jesus, "the Prince of Peace" Isa., ix. 6, appeared on Earth. All the nations subjected to the Roman empire peaceably endured the yoke of those haughty conquerors of the world. Rome herself, after the numberless dissensions which had depopulated her streets, and inundated Asia and Europe with the blood of her citizens, rested from the horrors of war, and, reduced under the authority of a Caesar, found in her servitude that peace, which she never enjoyed in the days of her boasted liberty.
The universe was thus in a state of profound peace; but it was not the peace which was promised to men of good will. Notwithstanding the din of arms had ceased, mankind were addicted to the most violent and tormenting passions, and experienced within themselves wars and dissensions of the worst description. Ignorant of their God, victims of the tumults and divisions of their own breasts, assaulted by the multiplicity and the incessant contrariety of their disordered inclinations, they were strangers to true peace. And no wonder; for they sought after this peace in the very source that gave rise to all their troubles and disquietudes.
Our divine Redeemer descends on Earth with full power to impart to man that happy peace which the world could not give. He comes to apply the proper remedy to the disorder. His divine philosophy is not confined to pompous precepts, which flatter the understanding without eradicating the evil; but as pride, self-love, hatred, and revenge, were the sources from whence proceeded the tumults of the heart of man, he comes to hush them into peace by his grace, his doctrine, and his example.
Yes, my beloved, pride was the primary source of the evils which were endured by the children of men. What wars, what devastations had this detestable passion occasioned in the world! With what torrents of blood had it deluged the universe! What was the history of all ages and states? What was the history of peoples and nations, of princes and conquerors? What was it but the history of the direful calamities which pride had poured forth on mankind? The whole world resembled a melancholy theatre, on which this restless and haughty passion daily exhibited the most shocking spectacles.
The external effects, however, of this vice were only a faint resemblance of the agitations which proud man experienced in his soul. Ambition was exalted to the rank of virtues; and indifference about honours and supereminence was treated as meanness of soul. A single man spread terror and devastation over a whole kingdom, overturned its laws and customs, and buried thousands in the abyss of poverty and distress, with no other object in view than the usurpation of the first place among the people. The success of his crimes excited admiration and respect: and his name, stained with the blood of his fellow-creatures, shone in the annals of history with superior lustre. Thus was a fortunate and bloody warrior considered the greatest man of his age.
This passion in the hearts of the multitude was equally furious and restless, although attended with less brilliant effects. The obscure man was not more tranquil than the man of dignity: each one contended for superiority above his equals; each one strove to satisfy the desires of pride; and, as these were insatiable, each one divested himself of the possibility of enjoying either peace or tranquillity. Thus was pride the source of honour and human glory; and thus likewise was it the fatal destroyer of the repose and happiness of mankind.
The birth of Christ exposes the fallacy of this error, and restores to the world the means of attaining true peace. He could have manifested himself to mankind decorated with all the splen dour of wealth and power. He had a right to assume the pompous titles of Conqueror of Juda, Legislator of his people, Saviour of Israel. Jerusalem would have acknowledged him with those glorious distinctions. But Jerusalem had worldly glory only in view, whereas Jesus came to teach her that such glory was vain; that worldly pomp and grandeur were of no consideration in the eyes of God, and consequently ought to be of no con sideration in the eyes of men; and that the oracles of the prophets foretold the coming of a Saviour, who was to redeem and sanctify the world, not by riches and honour and power, but by humility, ignominy, and suffering.
He therefore was born in Bethlehem, in a state of poverty and abjection; He, whose birth was celebrated by the canticles of all the Heavenly choirs, was born without any external pomp; He, who was superior to principalities and powers, was not decorated with any title that could distinguish him in the eyes of men; He whose name was above all names, and who alone had power to inscribe the names of his elect in the great book of life, permitted his own name to be enrolled amongst the most obscure of the subjects of Caesar. To him, only shepherds simple and ignorant shepherds pay their homage, although everything that is in Heaven, in Hell, or on Earth, was dependent on him. In a word, everything that was calculated to confound human pride was exhibited at his humble birth.
Ah, my beloved, look at your Saviour! If titles, if rank, if prosperity and wealth, were calculated to make you happy here below, and give peace to your souls, Jesus would certainly have possessed them, and imparted the valuable gift to his favoured disciples. But he informs us by his example, that peace can be obtained only by despising them. He teaches us that happiness depends on repressing those desires which had hitherto been the only objects of our solicitude. He points out to us blessings of a more durable and substantial quality blessings which alone are capable of satisfying our desires, of assuaging our pains blessings which man cannot take from us, and which may be obtained by only loving and desiring them.
And yet, where is the man that enjoys this happy peace? Wars, tumults, and miseries are as common now as at any former period. Empires and states which adore the God of peace, are not more peaceable than idolatrous nations. Where will you find that peace among Christians which ought to be their inheritance? Will you find it in cities? No: pride reigns triumphant there; every one is actuated by pride; every one attempts to be greater than his forefathers; every one envies the good fortune of a neighbour who attains honour or wealth. Will you find it within the precincts of domestic retreat? Here you will discover that every enjoyment is embittered by solicitudes and cares: you will see the father incessantly busied and troubled, not so much about the Christian education, as about the temporal advancement of his children. These disquietudes and anxieties will accompany him to the grave; he will bequeath them to his children as an inheritance, and they in the same manner will hereafter transmit them to their descendents.
Will you find it in the palaces of kings? Here likewise a boundless ambition corrodes every heart: here, under the specious appearances of festivity and joy, the most violent and destructive passions are matured: here happiness seems to reside; but, in reality, the victims which pride consigns to wretchedness and discontent are more numerous than elsewhere. Will you find it in the humble cottage? From hence, indeed, many of the more violent passions are removed, but peace is not admitted in their place. Petty animosities, disappointments, jealousies, the fear of coming to want, and numberless other evils, torment their souls: there is always some untoward accident, some disagreeable behaviour, or unkind treatment from a neighbour, that disturbs their peace; and even where no exter nal evils exist, there is always something wanting to complete their comfort; they are not satisfied with exactly what they have, and consequently they enjoy not that peace which our Saviour came to impart to men of good will.
O blessed peace of my Jesus, which surpasseth all understanding, and which art the only remedy for the innumerable evils occasioned by pride, when wilt thou come and take full possession of our hearts?
2. To the calamities I have already described, were added others arising from a different, though not less malignant source: I mean, from the impure desires of the flesh. Man had forgotten the excellence of his nature and the sanctity of his origin, and had given himself up like the beasts to the impetuosity of that animal instinct. He concluded that, as this was the most violent and the most universal passion of the human breast, it was on that account the most innocent and the most lawful. To give a still greater sanction to these lustful excesses, he made them a part of his religion, and formed to himself impure gods, in whose temples this impious vice became a part of their religious worship. Even a philosopher, who in other respects stands in the first rank amongst the pagan sages, fearing that marriage would put a restraint on that abominable passion, proposed the abolition of that sacred union, in order to introduce a promiscuous intercourse between the sexes, as it is with beasts, and to continue the succession of the human race by criminal means alone.
In proportion as this habit of dissoluteness was the prevailing distemper of the times, the appearance of its depravity seemed to be lost in the general corruption. But, my beloved friends, what a deluge of evils has it spread over the world! With what fury have we seen nations fighting against nations, kings against kings, brothers against brothers, spreading carnage and desolation on every side! These, in all probability, were for the most part judgments of God, which the multiplied commission of this vice drew down on the heads of the guilty. In the individual this vice became an inexhaustible source of troubles and remorse. It flattered the soul with the assurance of pleasure, and of calm, undisturbed enjoyment; but jealousy, suspicion, rage, excess, satiety, inconstancy, and melancholy attended its footsteps. So apparent, indeed, were these effects, that, although laws, religion, and universal example authorised it, the love alone of internal peace inspired a few prudent men, even in the ages of darkness and corruption, to fly from it with abhorrence.
This motive, however, was too weak to stem the general torrent, and extinguish in the hearts of men the impetuous violence of this passion. A more powerful remedy was necessary: and this remedy was the birth of a Saviour, whose ministry would withdraw mankind from the deep abyss of corruption, would exalt to honour the Heavenly virtues of purity and chastity, would disengage the unhappy victims of this vice from their disgraceful bonds, and would open the gates of peace, by restoring to them the liberty and innocence of which they had been deprived by their multiplied and abominable excesses.
Jesus was born of a virgin, the most pure of all creatures. This circumstance alone was a distinguishing encomium on a virtue to which the world had hitherto been strangers a virtue which was deemed a reproach even by his own people. But, in addition to this, by taking upon himself our nature, he has incorporated himself as it were with us: we are become members of his mystical body, and we are destined to sit with him on the right hand of the living God, and to glorify him for all eternity.
Exalted, then, dear Christians, is the degree of honour to which our flesh is raised by this mystery. It is made the temple of God, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, the portion of a body in which the plenitude of the Divinity resides, the object of the complacency and love of the Father. What a dignity! What an honour! But do we not still continue to defile this temple? Do we not enslave to iniquity those members of Jesus Christ? Do we respect our flesh the more because it is made a sacred portion of the mystical body of our Lord?
Ah! this detestable passion exercises the same tyranny over Christians, who are the children of liberty, light, and holiness, as it formerly exercised over the children of darkness. The havoc it makes in all ranks and conditions is too well known to require description. It is the most universal passion, the most favoured passion. The loss of health, of peace, of content, of happiness, are insufficient motives to ar rest its progress. The justice of God, the goodness and love of God, the hopes of Heaven, the remorse of conscience, the fears of Hell, are considerations too weak to resist its attacks. Oh! if you are solicitous to enjoy that peace which our Saviour purchased on this day for mankind, banish the impure spirit from your hearts; follow the paths of innocence, and you will experience a tranquillity and happiness, which is unknown to the children of lust.
3. Lastly, the birth of Jesus reconciles the world to his Father; it unites together the Jew and the Gentile; it abolishes the odious distinction of Greek and Barbarian; it extinguishes hatreds and enmities; of all nations, it makes but one people; of all disciples, but one heart and one soul. Formerly, mankind were united together by no common band of amity and union. The diversity of religions, of manners, of country, of language, and interest, had, in some degree, diversified in them the same common nature. They exterminated each other like wild beasts: they placed their glory in slaughtering their fellow-creatures, and carrying their bleeding heads in triumph, as trophies of their victory. It seemed as if they had received their existence from distinct and irreconcileable creators, who had placed them here be low for no other purpose than to espouse their quarrel, and terminate the contest by the total extinction of one of the parties.
Jesus, therefore, is come to be our peace, our reconciliation, the corner stone, to support and compact the whole edifice; the living head, to direct all the members, and form all mankind into one body. Everything tends to unite us to him, and everything that unites us to him, unites and reconciles us to each other. We are all animated by the same spirit, the same hope is our common consolation, and we partake of the same divine food. We are enclosed in the same sheepfold, and are led to pasture by the same shepherd. We are the children of the same father, heirs of the same promise, citizens of the same eternal city, and members of the same body.
These are are sacred bonds indeed. But, my beloved, have they hitherto been sufficient to unite us together in peace? Far otherwise. Christianity, which ought to unite all hearts, which ought to be the connecting link of the faithful among themselves, and of Jesus with them Christianity, which ought to reflect the image of the peace which reigns above Christianity itself is a scene of carnage and devastation. Whilst the idolater and the pagan are reposing under their fig-trees in the arms of peace, the inheritors of the promise, the children of peace, are advancing against each other with fire and sword. Ambition stimulates the rulers to begin the contest; and a false glory inspires the combatants to drench their swords in the blood of their fellow Christians.
This is not all: even within the precincts of towns and families, the hearts and affections of men are as little united, as between kingdoms. Animosities are perpetuated between families; dissensions are fostered in cities; injuries and affronts are every where revenged; and reconciliations and sincere forgiveness are extraordinary events; detraction, back-biting, and slander infect every company, and enter into every conversation; self-interest is the motive of every action; and the humiliations and sufferings of a neighbour are matters of indifference, provided they do not operate as obstacles to our own advancement. This is the unhappy state of the Christian world.
Thus, my friends, you see that Jesus has descended on Earth in vain. He came to bring us peace: he bequeathed it to us for our inheritance: his favourite injunction was mutual forgiveness and love. But, alas! peace and union and brotherly love are banished from amongst us. Religion, which endows an enemy with the endearing qualities of a brother, is no longer attended to: the menace of experiencing from the band of God the same severity with which we treat our offending brethren, has no effect on our minds; and in defiance of every consideration, hatred and dislike retain possession of our hearts. We live on in this state without fear or apprehension: the imaginary justice of our cause calms our conscience, and shuts our eyes to the injustice and criminality of our hatred and aversion: and if, at the point of death, we form a reconciliation, or publicly declare before our surrounding attendants that we forgive them, the motive that actuates us is, not that we love them as we love ourselves, but either that the power of perpetuating our hatred is about to be taken from us, or that we shudder at the idea of appearing before the tribunal of God with a conscience avowedly defiled with gall and bitterness.
Let us, my dearly beloved, throw ourselves into the arms of our infant Jesus: let us enter into the spirit of this mystery: let us give to God the glory which belongs to him. This is the only means of regaining the peace of which our passions have deprived us, and of acquiring a title to the peace which is prepared for us in the world to come.