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NEW YEAR'S DAY,
[Preached in the Cathedral, Calcutta, Jan. 1, 1824.]
St. Luke ii. 21.
And when eight days were accomplished, for the circumcising of
the child, his name was called Jesus.
In reviewing those circumstances in the life of our Lord, which it is the custom of the Church to commemorate on the first day of every year, there are two observations which would seem to force themselves on our notice ; the one personal and respecting Christ alone, the other of a more general character, and relating to the institution itself to which He thus, in great humility, became subject. The first is the apparent strangeness of the fact that at His earliest entrance into the world, the Son of God should be made liable to suffering; the other the authority and sanction which, from the analogy of the Jewish covenant, is afforded to the practice of the general Christian Church, in not denying baptism to persons of like tender years.
The first of these is a reflection of no inconsi
derable importance, as it conduces, or should conduce, to our love and admiration of His goodness who, being throned above all created things, endured the elements of the world to save us; who, being born before all worlds, became for our sakes a suckling; whose entrance and exit into life were sprinkled alike with blood; and who, though Himself spotless and pure, thought it not unworthy of His nature or His character to fulfill even the most revolting forms of legal righteousness. It may teach, too, that even the forms and ceremonies of religion (particularly when those forms and ceremonies have received the sanction of the Most High) are neither to be neglected without abundant cause, nor dispensed with by a less authority than that which imposed them; but that, in these outward signs, an inward blessing dwells. And that He who Himself condescended to observe that law which was so soon to vanish away, will far less hold them guiltless who neglect or regard as trifling those rites which are to endure till He shall return again ; of which the one was the legacy of His death, and the other the injunction of His triumph ; His “ do this in remembrance of me,” and His “go ye baptize all nations !.” The second is a remark of a more controversial, but of a scarcely less practical nature; it is a reflection which penetrates into the recesses of every family, and which blends with the earliest affection and the earliest duties which we can feel for, or extend to our offspring. And, in this region of India, it is a question the more seasonable, and the more obvious to our consideration from the numbers, the popularity and distinguished learning of those among our Christian brethren who have embraced a contrary opinion and practice. I am anxious, therefore, to offer (with as much brevity as the subject will admit, and I trust with as little violation of mutual charity as the infirmity of our nature suffers) a few of the many reasons which have induced the great body of Christians to apply the analogy of the ancient rite to that rite by which it was superseded, and to bring the first fruit of their infants' days to that merciful Saviour of all, who did not forbid the little children to come unto Him, and who, Himself, when a child, became partaker of the covenant of Israel.
' 1 Cor. xi. 25. St. Matt. xxviii, 19.
That the intention and advantage of the federal rite of the Jews were in many, nay, in most particulars, very closely answerable to the intention and advantages of baptism, is an assertion which even a moderate acquaintance with the Old Testament and the writings of St. Paul might seem sufficient to convince us. In the first appointment of circumcision by the Almighty, it is represented as an expression of the faith of the person initiated in the power
and promises of Jehovah. “I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee and thy seed after thee.” Every man child among you shall be circumcised,” “and it shall be a token
of the covenant betwixt me and you.” “Abraham,” saith St. Paul, “ received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised "." Nor was it of faith only in the promises of God that circumcision was expressive. It was expressive also of a controul over men's unruly appetites, a purification of the inward man from every foul and sordid affection, and a renunciation of the superfluities of the world for the service of that God who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity. And it is hard to deny, when reading some of the later prophets, that the same change in the inner man of which baptism is typical, was betokened by and confirmed in circumcision; that “the circumcision of the heart” must have been something very like in its import to our term of “regeneration;" and that to them who, under affliction and persecution, kept the law, “ circumcision verily profitetha” in the only way by which it could profit them, by purchasing the praise not of men but of God, and a participation in the benefits of those promises, the fulfilment of which they did not in life receive, but in which they died stedfastly believing.
Nor am I aware that any thing further or greater is expressed or received by the Christian in baptism than is attributed by St. Paul to circumcision in the Jew; a declaration of faith, an assurance of mercy, an admission into the privilege of God's
Gen. xvii. 7, 10, 11. Rom. iv. 11.
2 Rom. ii. 25.
elect people upon earth, and a renunciation of those sins and vanities which unfit us for that Heaven whither our hopes are tending. Nor can any words, as I conceive, be devised, which, mutatis mutandis, more accurately express the obligations and the benefits of a truly Christian baptism, which more strongly depict the danger of holding the faith in unrighteousness, or of resting contented with an outward sign while the inward and spiritual grace is, in our heart, extinct and buried, than the caution that “ he is not a Jew which is one outwardly, neither is that 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 1."
And here the question will naturally arise, “at what period of their lives were men conceived fit subjects for such engagements ? how soon or how late were they called on by a public ceremony to receive a seal of that righteousness which was by faith, and whereby they, the Jews, were justified with faithful Abraham ?" And when these enquirers learn that, at eight days' old, the infant Israelite was thus initiated ; that the period of his initiation was thus fixed by God himself; and that at the same early age the Son of God began in this manner to fulfill the righteousness of the law, they may be led to ask, perhaps with some surprise, what Christians those can be who are insensible to the analogy of