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Q. How ought we to express our thankfulness for the in carnation of the Son of God?
A. We should express our thankfulness for the incarnation of the Son of God, by devout acts of praise and thanks giving; by complying with the great design of this wonderful plan of redemption, which teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldy lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world ;' and by imitating the infinite love of God, and as he so loved us, to love one another.'
Q. How should we express our gratitude to the blessed Jesus for his infinite love, in condescending to become our Redeemer?
A. We should express our gratitude to the blessed Jesus for his infinite love, in condescending to become our Redeemer, by sincerely believing in him; by cordially receiving him as our divine Prophet and instructor, our gracious High Priest and intercessor, our almighty King, obeying his commands, trusting in his intercession, and submitting to his laws ; and by earnestly endeavouring to advance daily in piety and virtue, that we may be conformed to the likeness of that holy Redeemer whom we love. Our gratitude should also be expressed, by setting a great value upon all the means and opportunitiess of holding communion with him; by meditating upon his glorious character and offices; by earnestly imploring his mercy and grace; and by commemorating his infinite love in the holy Eucharist: and to complete the ex. pressions of our gratitude, we should, by endeavouring to do good both to the bodies and souls of men, show that we are indeed the foilowers of that compassionate Jesus, who came into the world to save lost mankind. If, in this way, we express our gratitude to our blessed Lord, we may, with joy. ful confidence, look forward to his glorious appearing," as our Judge and King, to exalt us to the eternal fruition of the joys of his presence.
Q. How is the observation of this festival abused ?
A. This festival is abused, when, instead of devoting it !. the exercises of piety, we chiefly employ it in vain and idle pleasures; when our joy degenerates into sin and sensuality; and when we indulge in luxury and intemperance, to the great scandal of our Saviour and his holy religion, and co our own great guilt and condemnation.
. Tit. li. 12.
ti John iv. ll.
u Tit. ji 13.
Q. WHAT reason has been assigned for placing the festi. vals of St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents imme. diately after Christmas ?
A. For placing the festivals of St. Stephen, St. John, and the Holy Innocents immediately after Christmas, the following reason, among others, has been assigned: that St. Stephen was the first who suffered martyrdom; St. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved; and the slaughter of the Holy Innocents was the first considerable consequence of our Saviour's birth. Thus martyrdom, love, and innocence, are first magnified as things wherein Christ is most honoured.
Q. What have you to observe in regard to the collect, epistle, and gospel for the day?
A. The collect teaches us to pray that we may imitate this holy martyr, in his lively faith of immortal glory, and in his forgiveness of his enemies; the epistle gives us an account of his martyrdom ; and the gospel assures us, that his blood, and the blood of all those who suffer for the name of Christ, shall be required at the hands of those who shed it.
Q. What character do the Scriptures give us of St. Stephen ?
A. St. Stephen, who was a Jew, and probably one of the seventy disciples, is described in Scripture as a man full of faith and the Holy Ghost. This character implies, that he had great zeal and piety, and that he was endowed with extraordinary measures of that divine Spirit which had been shed upon the Church on the day of Pentecost; by which he was peculiarly qualified for the honourable and useful office of Deacon, to which he had been advanced.”
Q. What was the treatment which St. Stephen received from the Jews to whom he preached the Gospel ?
A. St. Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people ;* and by his ministrations the word of God increased' so much, that the malice of the unbelieving Jews was excited against Stephen. There were synagogues or colleges established at Jerusalem, not only for expounding the law and for prayer, but for the instruction of youth. These colleges, being sometimes built by Jews who were foreigners, were called after the names of the respective countries of those who built them. Certain members of these synagogues were excited to oppose and dispute with St. Stephen, but not being able to resist the spirit and the wisdom with which he spake, they suborned false witnesses to depose against him, that they had heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God; that he had threatened the destruction of the temple, and the aboli. tion of that religion which had been established by Moses, and by God himself.
2 The office of a Deacon has been explained, page 51.
• Acts vi. 5. % Acts vi. 8.
Q. What was the substance of the defence which St. Ste. phen made against the accusation of the Jews ?
A. In answer to the accusation of the Jews, that he was guilty of blasphemy, in setting the Gospel of Jesus of Naza. reth above the Mosaic law, which was established by God, St. Stephen endeavoured to prove that the Mosaic rights and economy were not designed to be of essential and permanent obligation. He accordingly told them, that if they would look back to their forefather Abraham, they would find that God chose him to be a father of the faithful when he lived among idolatrous nations, and that he served God acceptably, without those external rites upon which they laid so great stress; that when God entered into covenant with him, no ceremony was appointed but that of circumcision; and that, by this rite, the succeeding patriarchs worshipped God for
And when Moses was appointed by God to conduct their forefathers out of the house of bondage, he signified, that the law which he imposed upon them, should be superseded by another law, by foretelling, that God would raise up to them a prophet like unto him, and that they should hear him. By these and similar arguments, he endeavoured to prove to them that there could not be that necessity for those Mosaic rites which they pretended ; that these rites were designed to last but for a time; and that it was that refractory humour which they inherited from their forefathers, who had persecuted and slain those prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah, which led them to resist
y Acts vi. 7.
3 Acts vi. 9
the Holy Ghost," and to betray and murder that just One," who came to fulfil that law for which they pretended so great regard.
Q. How did the judges bear his defence ?
Ă. The judges expressed the greatest rage and fury, their consciences being stung with the truths which St. Stephen delivered. But, regardless of their resentment, he fixed his eyes and thoughts upon Heaven: and when, being full of the Holy Ghost, he declared that he saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, his adversaries asserted that he was a blasphemer, and resolved upon his death, without any further process.
Q. How did St. Stephen suffer martyrdom?
A. St. Stephen was stoned to death, which was one of the punishments inflicted by the Jews for great and enormous crimes. The witnesses, whose hands were to be first upon him, putting off, according to custom, their upper garments, laid them down at Saul's feet;d while the holy saint was upon his knees, recommending his soul to God, and praying for his murderers, that the guilt of his death might not be laid to their charge. In this manner, copying the example of his blessed Master, whom he implored to receive his spirit this holy martyr fell asleep.
Q. What may we learn from the observation of this festival ?
A. St. Stephen was calm and resigned under the greatest sufferings, looking steadfastly to the glory prepared for him. Hence we may learn, that a firm belief and persuasion of another life, is the great support of a good man under the sufferings of the present. St. Stephen, by the animating succours of the Holy Ghost, triumphantly suffered martyrdom. Hence we may learn, that when malice and opposition to the truth lead men to persecute the faithful servants of God, he will graciously assist his suffering people with extraordinary communications of his grace. St. Stephen meekly, yet resolutely proclaimed and defended the divine religion of his Master. Hence we should learn, that no opposition or calumny from bad men, should discourage us from doing all the good in our power: and that we should, on all proper occasions, defend, and seek to promote the honour of God with courage and resolution, and yet with that patience and moderation which 'best become the advo
a Acts vii. 51.
b Acts vii. 52.
6 Acts vij. 56.
cates of truth. And, finally, the holy charity of this blessed martyr, in praying, after the example of his divine Master, for his persecutors and murderers, should teach us that we must love our enemies, bless them that curse us, pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us; thus fulfilling the perfection of Christian love, and proving ourselves, like St. Stephen, to be true disciples of the blessed Jesus.
Q. Explain wherein the love of our enemies, to which we are excited by the example of St. Stephen, as well as of our blessed Lord, consists.
A. The love of enemies, a duty peculiar to the Christian institution, consists in a sincere disposition to promote their welfare and happiness, and in being ready, upon proper occasions, to give real testimony of this disposition. We should accordingly honour them for their virtues, and pity them for their miseries; we should relieve their wants, conceal their defects, and vindicate their injured reputation; we should pray for them, and be always ready to take such steps as will most probably tend to remove their enmity.
Q. What obligations do we lie under to the performance of this duty ?
A. The express commands of our Saviour, the Author of our holy religion, require from us the forgiveness of our enemies. Christ has made forgiveness of injuries the condition, without which we can expect no pardon of our sins from him ;' and has, in his own person, set the most exalted example of this virtue.
Q. Wherein consist the reasonableness and excellency of this duty ?
A. This duty tends to the comfort and happiness of our lives-patience and forgiveness affording a lasting and solid pleasure : it prevents the agitation and uneasiness which always accompany the indulgence of violent passion, and prevents many troubles and inconveniences which arise from a malicious and revengeful temper. To do kindnesses, not only where there are neither the claims of merit and obligation, but even in opposition to affront and injury, is the perfection of goodness; to overcome resentment, is an argumeni of great mind, the most valuable and exalted conquest that we can obtain ;" and, finally, the practice of this duty assimilates us to God himself, who does good to the unthanks ful and the evil. f Matt. v. 44. & Matt. vi. 14, 15.
Prov. xvi. 32.