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A. The gospel contains the history of the martyrdom of the Innocents: the epistle describes the glorious state of those and the like innocents in heaven.
Q. What was the occasion of the death of these infants?
A. Herod, alarmed with the inquiry of the wise men from the East," and apprehending his own kingdom might be in danger from him who was born king of the Jews, endeavours at first, under a pretence of worshipping the Saviour, to get him into his power. But the wise men being warned of God in a dream, after they had been at Bethlehem, did not return to Herod, but went to their own country another way. Enraged at this disappointment, Herod sent forth and slew all the children that were in Bethlehemn, under the hope of involving the young child Jesus in this destruction. This massacre of the infants is mentioned by a Heathen historian."
Q. How did our blessed Saviour escape this bloody design of Herod?
A. Joseph, at the command of God, by the ministration of an angel, took the young child and his mother by night, and fled into Egypt ;' where they remained till they were by the ingel informed of the death of Herod, and commanded to return into the land of Israel.'
Q. Where did our Saviour dwell on his return from Egypt?
A. Our Saviour, on his return from Egypt, dwelt at Nazareth ;“ thus fulfilling the prophecy, that he should be called a Nazarene ; which name was applied to him as a name of infamy, by the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles, Nazareth being reputed a contemptible city, out of which no good thing could come."
Q. What punishment did Herod suffer for his cruelty ?
A. The signal vengeance of God was inflicted upon Herod, who for his cruelty was smitten with many plagues and tortures."
Q. Ought not God in his almighty providence to have precented the destruction of these innocent children?
A. It does not become frail and finite man to arraign the proceedings of the infinitely wise and good Sovereign of the aniverse. The death of these children was made by God the instrument of their glory, they being thus delivered from the miseries of life, and crowned with the high rewards of martyrdom.
n Matt. ii.
Matt. ii. 16. t Matt. ii. 19. w Josephus, lib. xvii. c. 8.
o Matt. ii. 8.
Macrobius, lib. ii. c. 4.
p Matt. ii. 12.
Q. What may we learn from this festival ?
A. Herod, under the pretence of worshipping Jesus sought his destruction : hence we may learn, that religion is sometimes used as a cloak for ambitious and worldly designs. Since innocent children were made a sacrifice to the ambition of a cruel tyrant, we may learn, that suffering and affliction are not always proofs of guilt, but, on the contrary, are sometimes the marks of God's favour. The recollection that the same almighty providence which rescued Jesus from the cruel purposes of Herod, is ready to succour and defend us in difficulty and danger, should inspire us with confidence and hope. On this holy festival, our minds should be led to the contemplation of the temper and disposition of innocent children, of whom, says our Saviour, is the kingdom of God."
Q. Wherein consists that temper of mind which our Saviour commends, when he enjoins us to become like unto little children?
A. This temper of mind consists in humility and lowliness ; in a total submission to the will of God; in an entire dependence upon him; and in a holy contempt of the riches, honours, and pleasures of this world.
Q. Wherein consists this humility and lowliness of mind ?
Ă. This humility and lowliness of mind consists in the true knowledge and sense of our weak and sinful condition, and in a profound sense of our obligations to God for those divine succours by which alone we are enabled to serve him. It will lead us to bear with patience contumely and insult; it will prevent us from being too much elated or influenced by the praises of men, knowing that the approbation of God alone can give us solid comfort
, and that a sense of duty to him should be the governing principle of our conduct.
Q. Wherein consists the submission of a Christian ? A. The virtue of submission consists in a firm persuasion of mind, that nothing happens to us but by the will and permission of God; that he loves us better than we do ourselves, and knows the best methods of making us happy ; and that, therefore, we should reverently and cheerfully acquiesce in all his dispensations, however they may thwart those schemes of happiness which we may have formed.
* Luke xviii. 16
Q. Wherein consists the duty of dependence upon God?
A. Dependence upon God will lead us to cherish the firm belief, that the power and goodness of God will rescue us from the dangers and difficulties which assail us; or will support us under them, or overrule them to our advantage.
Q. Wherein consists the contempt of the world ?
A. A contempt of the world will lead us to regard all worldly enjoyments as unworthy of our attention, when compared with the enduring and satisfying happiness of heaven. This virtue will lead us to be content with that portion of the good things of this life which providence may assign us, without purchasing the enjoyment of worldly goods by the commission of any sin; without being anxiously concerned for the increase of them, or extremely depressed when we are deprived of them. Mindful that our portion is not in the pleasures of this world, but in the happiness of the next, we shall enjoy in moderation those innocent gratifications which the bounty of providence may have put in our power. Ever remembering that our blessed Master passed a life of self-denial, suffering, and sorrow, the view of him will arm us with patience and constancy under the deprivation of worldly comfort and the heavy pressure of affliction ; and steadily fixing our hearts on the glories of that heavenly kingdom which he hath prepared for us, we shall triumphantly soar above the vain and perishing enjoyments of the world.
Q. What are the benefits of this 'humble, submissive, and dependent temper, this contempt for worldy pleasures ?
A. By cherishing these dispositions, we shall experience most real enjoyment in the present life; we shall rejoice in the light of the reconciled countenance of our God, who ever regardeth with favour the humble and meek; and we shall be prepared for entering on the blissful fruition of the glories of his presence.
THE SUNDAY AFTER CHRISTMAS DAY.
Q. WHAT have you to observe in regard to this day ?
A. It was a custom among the primitive Christians to observe the octave, or eighth day after their principal feasts, with great solemnity; and upon every day between the feast and the octave, as upon the octave itself
, they used to repeat some part of the service that was performed on the feast day. In imitation of this custom, this day generally falling within the octave of Christmas, the collect then used is repeated now. The lessons, the epistle, and gospel, still set forth the mysteries of our redemption by the birth of Christ.
The CIRCUMCISION of our Lord JESUS CHRIST,
or New YEAR'S DAY, January 1.
Q. WHAT festival doth the Church celebrate this day?
A. The Church this day celebrates the festival of the circumcision of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, when eight days were accomplished, subjected himself to this rite, and first shed his sacred blood for us.
Q. What have you to observe in regard to the lessons and the epistle and gospel for this day?
A. The first lesson for the morning, gives an account of the institution of circumcision. The first lesson for the evening, both the second lessons, and the epistle, tend to show, that though the circumcision of the flesh is abrogated, God still requires that circumcision of the heart, which the external rite denoted and enforced. The gospel records the cir. cumcision of our blessed Saviour, and the divine and sacred name which was then imposed upon him.
Q. Explain the rite of circumcision.
8. Circumcision was a rite of the Jewish law, whereby that people were received into covenant with God. It was, under a severe penalty," to be administered on the eighth day after the birth of the child. It was first enjoined on Abraham, as a token of the covenani God made with him and his posterity ;' and it was renewed by Joshua, when the Israelites entered the land of Canaan; having been disused by them for forty years, during their sojourning in the wilderness.
Q. What was the original design of this rite?
A. The original design of this rite was, that every son of Abraham might bear in his body the seal of the inheritance of the land of promise, and the sign of their being in covenant with God. The visible sign was designed to remind them of their allegiance to the only true God, and to excite them to strive after the invisible grace which it sealed, his favour, and an eternal inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.
Q. What rite in the Christian Church answers to that of circumcision under the law ?
A. When all distinction between the children of Abraham and other nations was abolished, and Gentiles as well as Jews rendered capable of entering into covenant with God, the rite of circumcision was abolished, and the sacrament of baptism substituted. By this rite, children are entered into covenant with God under the Gospel, as they were, under the Law, by circumcision; and become, by baptism, obliged to observe the commands of the Gospel, as the circumcised infant became a debtor to the whole Law of Moses." That infants are proper subjects of baptism, as they were of circumcision, there can be no doubt. If infants, under the Jewish dispensation, were admitted into covenant with God by circumcision, how can it be improper that, under the Gospel, they should be admitted into covenant with him by baptism? The language of Christ is, “suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of God.” Since they sustain the lamentable consequences of the fall, it is certainly proper that they should enjoy the means of redemption which God has provided in his holy Church, into which baptism is the only mode of admission; for the Saviour himself declares, that except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. In the primitive Church, baptism was administered to infants; and the custom was considered as of apostolic institution.
Q. Why was Jesus Christ circumcised, since he was holy and without sin ?
y Gen. xvii. 14.
7 Gen. xvii. 10.
a Gal. v. 3.
b John iii. 5.