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ST. THOMAS, DECEMBER 21.
Q. WHY does the church celebrate the festival of St. Thomas immediately before the Nativity ?
A. St. Thomas, though at first unbelieving, was at length convinced of our Lord's resurrection by the greatest possible evidence; and this evidence the church recommends as a fit preparative to our Lord's nativity, to incline us to believe with St. Thomas, that the Jesus whose birth we are to commemorate, is the very Christ, or, in the words of St. Thomas, our Lord and our God.
Q. Of what country and kindred was the apostle St. Thomas ?
A. St. Thomas, whose sirname was Didymus, was a Jew, and probably a Galilean; and it is very likely he was brought up a fisherman.“
Q. After he was called to be an apostle, what proof did he give of his willingness to adhere to our Saviour?
A. When the rest of the apostles dissuaded our Saviour from returning into Judea (whither he was resolved to go, to raise Lazarus from the dead,) lest the Jews should stone him, as they had before attempted, St. Thomas desires the apostles not to hinder Christ's journey hither ;' Let us also go, that we may die with him," saith he; probably concluding, that, instead of raising Lazarus from the dead, they themselves should be sent with him to their own graves.
Q. How did our Saviour treat the slowness of understanding which St. Thomas on a certain occasion evidenced ?
A. When our Saviour, a little before his cruel sufferings, was speaking to his disciples of the joys of heaven, and of his going to prepare a place for them, St. Thomas professed that he knew not whither he went, much less the way that led to it." Jesus, with the greatest mildness and gentleness, gave him the short but satisfactory answer, that he was the true living way, the person whom the Father had sent into the world to show men, by his doctrine and by his example, the paths of eternal life; and that they could not fail to reach heaven, if they did but keep to that way which he had prescribed.
u John xxi. 2, 3.
John xi. 8, &c. y John xiv. 6.
w John xi. 16
John xiv. 5.
Q. What may we learn from this conduct of our Saviour ?
A. From this behaviour of our Saviour to Thomas we may learn, that where the mind is rightly disposed, we ought to bear with the heaviness of the understanding, and to endeavour, with gentleness and patience, to instruct and convince the ignorant and doubtful.
Q. What proof did St. Thomas require of our Saviour's resurrection?
A. St. Thomas would not believe the resurrection of Christ but on the testimony of his own senses ; for though the rest of the apostles assured him they had really seen their Master alive again, yet he professed, except he should see in his hands the print of the nails, and thrust his hand into his side, he would not believe..
Q. How did our Saviour remove this infidelity of St. Thomas ?
A. Compassionating the weakness of St. Thomas, and willing to satisfy the doubts and scruples of a sincere though unbelieving man, our Saviour appeared to his disciples again, wien St. Thomas was with them, and gave him the satisfaction which he desired. Being quickly convinced of his error, he acknowledged Christ to be his very Lord and Master, a God omnipotent, thus able to rescue himself from the powers of death.
Q. What reply did our Saviour make to this profession of St. Thomas' faith?
A. To this profession which St. Thomas made of his faith, our Saviour replied, that he did well to believe upon this testimony of his senses; but that it was a more noble and commendable act of faith, to acquiesce in a rational evidence, and to receive the doctrines and revelations of the Gospel upon such moral evidence of their truth, as should always satisfy every wise and reasonable man.
Q. What benefit resulted from this instance of unbelief in St. Thomas ?
A. This unbelief of St. Thomas serves to confirm our faith in our Saviour's resurrection, by proving, beyond all doubt or scruple, that the very same body of our Lord was raised, in which he suffered.
a John xx. 26, 27.
2 John X. 25.
John xx. 29.
Q. Where did St. Thomas preach the Gospel ?
A. The province allotted to St. Thomas for the exercise of his apostolical office, was Parthia; he published the glad tidings of salvation to the Medes, Persians, &c. and at last came to the Indies, in which country he suffered martyrdom.
Q. What may we learn from the observation of this festival ?
A. From the gentleness with which our Saviour treated the dulness of understanding which St. Thomas on a certain occasion displayed, we may learn, that, provided our minds sincerely intend God's service, and our affections are fixed upon him as our chief good, he will compassionate the weakness of our understandings, and either pardon our errors, or deliver us from them. From the readiness which St. Thomas expresed to follow Christ even to death, we may learn, that no dangers should discourage us from adhering to our blessed Master, and that even death itself should not be able to separate us from him ; and from the declaration of Christ to St. Thomas, who was convinced only by the evidence of his senses, we may learn that faith ought to be the prevailing principle of a Christian, under all events, and in every condition of human life; and that a faith founded upon
sufficient testimony, is in fact more praiseworthy and exalted than that which is founded on the evidence of the senses : Blessed are they which have not seen, and yet believe."
Q. What is meant by faith in Christ ?
A. Faith in Christ means, in general, a sincere belief of every thing which is declared to us conce
cerning him in his Gospel; but more particularly, it means a sincere and supreme reliance on his merits and grace, as the only means of restoration to the favour of God: and when this faith is made the governing principle of our lives, when it works by love, and brings forth the fruits of holiness, it is then imputed unto us for righteousness.
Q. What are those properties that fit faith to produce the fruits of holiness ?
A. To produce these effects, faith must be real and unfeigned ; it must be hearty and affectionate ; it must be sincere and resolute.
c Euseb. lib. iij. c. 1.
& John u. 29
The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birth-Day of CHRIST,
commonly called CHRISTMAS DAY, December 25.
Q. WHAT festival does the Church celebrate this day?
A. The Church, this day, celebrates the great festival of the nativity of our Saviour Jesus Christ; or the
appearance of the Son of God in the flesh.
Q. What authority have we for the observation of this festivai?
A. For the observation of this festival, we have the authority of the primitive Church; for though we have no certain evidence of the exact time when it was first observed, yet it was certainly very early observed all over the West. The immemorial observation of it, is a proof of its primitive institution. It is a matter of inferior moment, whether the twenty-fifth of December be the real anniversary of Christ's birth : the only matter of real importance is, that a particular day be set apart for celebrating, with proper gratitude and devotion, the blessed event of the Saviour's nativity.
Q. What provision has the church made for celebrating this day with proper solemnity and devotion ?
A. The church both excites and assists our devotion, by the particular service appointed for the day. In the first lessons, she reads to us the clearest prophecies of Christ's coming in the flesh; and in the second lessons, and in the epistle and gospel, she shows us the completion of those prophecies, by giving us the entire history of his birth. In the collect, she teaches us to pray that we may be partakers of the benefits of his birth; and in the proper psalms, she employs us in our duty of praising and glorifying God for this incomprehensible mystery.* The epistle and gospel for the day were used in the most ancient liturgies.
e First Lessons. For the Morning, Isa. ix. to ver. 8. For the Evening, Isa. vii. ver, 10 to ver. 17.
f Second Lessons. For the Morning, Luke ii, to ver. 15. For the Evening, Tit iii. ver. 4 to ver. 9.
* The evangelical import of the psalms appointed for Christmas Day, will be found admirably explained by Bishop Horne, in his Commentary upon them.
Q. What are we to believe concerning the birth of our Saviour Christ?
A. In the fulness of that time, which was long before appointed in the eternal counsel of God, the holy Jesus, by the miraculous power of the Holy Ghost, was conceived and born of the Virgin Mary, who was of the house and lineage of David. The Saviour was born of a woman, and thus, though without sin, made subject to the law, that, by his obedience to the law, he might deliver us from its penalties ; and he was born of the house and lineage of David, to denote his sitting upon that everlasting throne, of which the throne of David was a type, and ruling for evermore the true Israel of God, his obedient people.
Q. Did not the prophecies of the Old Testament predict the miraculous birth of the Messiah ?
A. The prophecies of the Old Testament foretold the miraculous birth of the Messiah. Jeremiah says, The Lord hath created a new thing upon the earth, a woman shall compass a man.” Isaiah says, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
Q. What were the circumstances of our Saviour's birth ?
A. Christ was born at Bethlehem, according to the prediction of the prophet Micah ;' whither Joseph and Mary went, in obedience to the decree of Augustus, to be taxed. The concourse of people at Bethlehem was so great, that they could find no accommodation but a stable ;" where the blessed Virgin brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; dcing herself the offices of a pious and tender parent, whilst all the angels of God worshipped her holy child.'
Q. How was the birth of our Saviour published to the world ?
A. The birth of Christ was proclaimed by the administration of angels. As certain shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them." The splendour of the appearance confounded the humble shepherds; but the angel quickly dissipated the terror that seized them, with the tidings he brought of great joy to all people, addressing them in the joyful words, Unto you is
Jer. xxxi. 22.
Luke ii. 4. m Luke ii. 9.
h Isa. vii. 14.
i Mic. v. 2.