Daily Archives: December 23, 2012

Christianity ‘close to extinction’ in Middle East

Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report.

The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.

And it claims politicians have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

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The Observation of the Birth of Christ, The Duty of all Christians; or The True Way of Keeping Christmas by George Whitefield

Matthew 1:21, “And she shall bring forth a Son, and then shalt call his Name Jesus: For he shall save his People from their Sins.”

 

The celebration of the birth of Christ hath been esteemed a duty by most who profess Christianity. When we consider the condescension and love of the Lord Jesus Christ, in submitting to be born of a virgin, a poor sinful creature; and especially as he knew how he was to be treated in this world; that he was to be despised, scoffed at, and at last to die a painful, shameful, and ignominious death; that he should be treated as though he was the off-scouring of all mankind; used, not like the son of man, and, therefore, not at all like the Son of God; the consideration of these things should make us to admire the love of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was so willing to offer himself as a ransom for the sins of the people, that when the fullness of time was come, Christ came, made of a woman, made under the law: he came according to the eternal counsel of the Father; he came, not in glory or in splendor, not like him who brought all salvation with him: no, he was born in a stable, and laid in a manger; oxen were his companions. O amazing condescension of the Lord Jesus Christ, to stoop to such low and poor things for our sake. What love is this, what great and wonderful love was here, that the Son of God should come into our world in so mean a condition, to deliver us from the sin and misery in which we were involved by our fall in our first parents! And as all that proceeded from the springs must be muddy, because the fountain was so, the Lord Jesus Christ came to take our natures upon him, to die a shameful, a painful, and an accursed death for our sakes; he died for our sins, and to bring us to God: he cleansed us by his blood from the guilt of sin, he satisfied for our imperfections; and now, my brethren, we have access unto him with boldness; he is a mediator between us and his offended Father.

 

 

Therefore, if we do but consider into what state, and at how great a distance from God we are fallen; how vile our natures were; what a depravity, and how incapable to restore that image of God to our souls, which we lost in our first parents: when I consider these things, my brethren, and that the Lord Jesus Christ came to restore us to that favor with God which we had lost, and that Christ not only came down with an intent to do it, but actually accomplished all that was in his heart towards us; that he raised and brought us into favor with God, that we might find kindness and mercy in his sight; surely this calls for some return of thanks on our part to our dear Redeemer, for this love and kindness to our souls. How just would it have been of him, to have left us in that deplorable state wherein we, by our guilt, had involved ourselves? For God could not, nor can receive any additional good by our salvation; but it was love, mere love; it was free love that brought the Lord Jesus Christ into our world about 1700 years ago. What, shall we not remember the birth of our Jesus? Shall we yearly celebrate the birth of our temporal king, and shall that of the King of kings be quite forgotten? Shall that only, which ought to be had chiefly in remembrance, be quite forgotten? God forbid! No, my dear brethren, let us celebrate and keep this festival of our church, with joy in our hearts: let the birth of a Redeemer, which redeemed us from sin, from wrath, from death, from hell, be always remembered; may this Savior’s love never be forgotten! But may we sing forth all his love and glory as long as life shall last here, and through an endless eternity in the world above! May we chant forth the wonders of redeeming love, and the riches of free grace, amidst angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim,

without intermission, for ever and ever! And as, my brethren, the time for keeping this festival is approaching, let us consider our duty in the true observation thereof, of the right way for the glory of God, and the good of immortal souls, to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; an event which ought to be had in eternal remembrance.

 

It is my design to lay down rules for the true keeping of that time of Christmas, which is now approaching.

 

I. I shall show you when you may be said, not to observe this festival aright.

 

II. I shall show you, when your observation and celebrating of this festival is done according to the glory of God, and to the true manner of keeping of it.

 

III. Shall conclude with an exhortation to all of you, high and low, rich and poor, one with another, to have a regard to your behavior at all times, but more especially, my dear brethren, on this solemn occasion.

 

I. My brethren, I am to show when your celebration of this festival is not of the right kind.

 

And FIRST , you do not celebrate this aright, when you spend most of your time in cards, dice, or gaming of any sort.

 

This is a season, for which there is no more allowance for wasting of your precious time in those unlawful entertainments, than any other. Persons are apt to flatter themselves that they are free and at liberty to spend whole evenings now at cards, at dice, or any diversion whatsoever, to pass away, as they call it, a tedious evening. They can do any thing now to pass away that, which is hastening as fast as thought: time is always upon the wing; it is no sooner present but it is past, and no sooner come but it is gone. And have we so much to do, and so little time to do it in, and yet complain of time lying heavy upon our hands? Have we not the devil and the beast to get our of our souls? Are not our natures to be changed, our corruptions to be subdued, our wills to be brought over to God, or hard hearts to be softened, all old things to be done away, and all things to become new in our souls? Is there not all this to be done? And yet we have too much time upon our hands! It is well, that instead of having too much time, it be not found that we have got too little, when we come to die: then we shall wish, my brethren, that we had made more account of our time, that we had improved it for the glory of God, and the welfare of our immortal souls.

 

Good God! How amazing is the consideration, that many can go to church in the morning, and take the Sacrament, and come home and spend the afternoon and evening in cards. Is this, my brethren, discerning the Lord’s body? Is this taking the sacrament according to its institution? Is not this a pollution thereof, and making the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.

 

 

Therefore, those of you who have made this your practice in times past, let me beseech you, in the bowels of mercy, not to do so any more; for, indeed, it is earthly, it is sensual, it is devilish. Consider what is said of those who eat and drink at the Lord’s table unworthily, that they eat and drink their own damnation: And can they, my brethren, be said to eat and drink any otherwise, who no sooner go from the table of the Lord, but run to the diversions of the devil? Indeed this is exceeding sinful, and displeasing unto the Lord; then forbear those diversions which are so evil in themselves: O be not found in those exercises, and in that pleasure, which you would not be found in when you come to die. Thus, my brethren, you se it is not a right celebration of the birth of the Lord Jesus, to spend it in cards, dice, or any other diversions, which proceed so directly from the devil, and are destructive to all true goodness.

 

S ECONDLY , They cannot be said truly to celebrate this time, who spend their time in eating and drinking to excess.

 

This is a season when persons are apt to indulge themselves in all manner of luxury: iniquity now abounds apace; nothing is scarcely to be seen but things of the greatest extravagance imaginable; not only for the necessities of the body, but to pamper it in lust, to feed its vices, to make it go on in sin, to be a means for gratifying our carnal appetite; and this is a means to make us forget the Lord of glory. This makes us only fit to do such drudgery, as the devil shall set us about; this is only preparing to run wheresoever the devil sends: this, instead of denying ourselves, is indulging ourselves, this is not, nor cannot be called, a celebration of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we are making ourselves worst than the beasts that perish.

 

I am not speaking against eating and drinking of the good things of life, but against the eating and drinking of them to excess, because, thus they unqualify us for the service of God; and to our fellow-creatures they make us unsociable, and may occasion us to be guilty of saying and acting those things, which we should be ashamed to think of, if we had only ate or drank with moderation.

 

Therefore, my dear brethren, let me beseech you to set a watch over yourselves; be careful that you do not run into that company which may tempt you to evil, for would a man run himself into danger on purpose?

 

 

Would a man enter himself into that company, where, before he goes, he knows he shall be exposed to great temptations; and therefore, if you have any reason to think that the company you are going into will be a temptation, I beseech you, by the mercies of God in Christ Jesus, that you would not run into it.

 

How can you say, “Lead us not into temptation,” when you are resolved to lead yourselves into it, by running into the occasions of sins. You are commanded to keep from the appearance of evil; and do you do that, by running into the place and company where it is like to be committed? No, this is so far from avoiding, and shunning it, that it is a plain proof to the contrary; therefore, if you are for observing this time, this festival of our church, let it not be done by running to excess; for you plainly see, that those who are guilty thereof, cannot be said properly to celebrate it.

 

THIRDLY , Nor can they, my brethren, be said to keep, or rightly observe the commemoration of the birth of our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who neglect their worldly callings to follow pleasures and diversions.

 

Alas! many, instead of keeping this time as it ought to be, run into sin with greediness; instead of devoting their time to the Lord, it is only devoted to the devil and their own lusts. How many who thus mispend their time, at this season, lay by the work of their callings for a considerable time, with no other view, but to follow earthly, sensual, and devilish pleasures. If they should go to hear a sermon, or to a society, my brethren, the mouths of all the Pharisees at once are open against them, that they are not only a going to be ruined themselves, but are going to ruin their families too; they think it needless to make so much ado; this is being righteous over-much; but you may be as wicked as you please, and they will not cry out; however, when you are wicked over-much, by serving the devil and your own pleasures for a week or a month together, then, my brethren, with them you are only taking a little recreation, spending your time in innocent diversions; no one cries out against you, there is no outcry that you are going to be ruined. Again, if you give never so small a matter among the poor people of God for their relief, then you are robbing your families, then you are going to turn madmen! And in a few days will be to methodistically mad, that you are not fit for a polite gentleman’s conversation; but if you spend one hundred times the money in playhouses, etc. on your lusts and pleasures, then you are liked and esteemed as a good friend and companion; but, my dear brethren, these good companions in the world’s account, are never so in the Lord Jesus Christ’s. You cannot serve God and mammon; you must either lost your lusts, your pleasures, and your delights, or you cannot expect to find favor with God; for indeed, and indeed, the ways that too many follow at this time, are sinful, yea, they are exceeding sinful. You see they cannot be said to celebrate this holy time, who thus mispend their precious time to the neglect of their families; such are destroying themselves with a witness.

 

Thus, my dear brethren, I have shown you who they are who do not observe this holy festival.

 

II. I come now, in the second place, to show you, who they are who do rightly observe, and truly celebrate the birth of our Redeemer.

 

And I shall show you who they are in two particulars, directly opposite to the others; and then, my brethren, take your choice: you must choose the one or the other, there is no medium, you must either serve the Lord or Baal; and, therefore, my dear brethren, let me beg of you to consider,

 

FIRST , That those spend their time aright, and truly observe this festival, who spend their hours in reading, praying, and religious conversation.

 

What can we do to employ our time to a more noble purpose, than reading of what our dear Redeemer has done and suffered; to read, that the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, came from his throne and took upon him the form of the meanest of his servants; and what great things he underwent. This, this is an history worth reading, this is worth employing our time about: and surely, when we read of the sufferings of our Savior, it should excite us to prayer, that we might have an interest in the Lord Jesus Christ; that the blood which he spilt upon mount Calvary, and his death and crucifixion, might make an atonement for our sins, that we might be made holy; that we might be enabled to put off the old man with his deeds, and put on the new man, even the Lord Jesus Christ; that we may throw away the heavy yoke of sin, and put on the yoke of the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, my brethren, these things call for prayer, and for earnest prayer too; and O do be earnest with God, that you may have an interest in this Redeemer, and that you may put on his righteousness, so that you may not come before him in your filthy rags, nor be found not having on the wedding garment. O do not, I beseech you, trust unto yourselves for justification; you cannot, indeed, you cannot be justified by the works of the law. I entreat that your time may be thus spent; and if you are in company, let your time be spent in that conversation which profiteth: let it not be about your dressing, your plays, your profits, or your worldly concerns, but let it be the wonders of redeeming love: O tell, tell to each other, what great things the Lord has done for your souls; declare unto one another, how you were delivered from the hands of your common enemy, Satan, and how the Lord has brought your feet from the clay, and has set them upon the rock of ages, the Lord Jesus Christ; there, my brethren, is no slipping; other conversation, by often repeating, you become fully acquainted with, but of Christ there is always something new to raise your thoughts; you can never want matter when the love of the Lord Jesus Chris is the subject: then let Jesus be the subject, my brethren, of all your conversation.

 

Let your time be spent on him: O this, this is an employ, which if you belong to Jesus, will last you to all eternity. Let others enjoy their cards, their dice, and gaming hours; do you, my brethren, let your time be spent in reading, praying, and religious conversations. Which will stand the trial best at the last day? Which do you think will bring most comfort, most peace, in a dying hour? O live and spend your time now, as you will wish to have done, when you come to die.

 

S ECONDLY , Let the good things of life, you enjoy, be used with moderation.

 

I am not, as the scoffers of this day tell you, against eating and drinking the good things of life; no, my brethren, I am only against their being used to  an excess; therefore, let me beseech you to avoid those great indiscretions, those sinful actions, which will give the enemies of God room to blaspheme. Let me beseech you, to have a regard, a particular regard to your behavior, at this time; for indeed the eyes of all are upon you, and they would rejoice much to find any reason to complain of you. They can say things against us without a cause; and how would they rejoice if there was wherewith they might blame us? Then they would triumph and rejoice indeed; and all your little slips, my dear brethren, are, and would be charged upon me. O at this time, when the eyes of so many are upon you, be upon your guard; and if you use the good things of this life with moderation, you do then celebrate this festival in the manner which the institution calls for.

 

And instead of running into excess, let that money, which you might expend to pamper your own bodies, be given to feed the poor; now, my brethren, is the season, in which they commonly require relief; and sure you cannot act more agreeable, either to the season, to the time, or for the glory of God, than in relieving his poor distressed servants. Therefore, if any of you have poor friends, or acquaintance, who are in distress, I beseech you to assist them; and not only those of your acquaintance, but the poor in general. O my dear brethren, that will turn to a better account another day, than all you have expended to please the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the pride of life. Consider, Christ was always willing to relieve the distressed; it is his command also; and can you better commemorate the birth of your king, your Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, than in obeying one of his commands?

 

Do not, my dear brethren, be forgetful of the poor of the world; consider, if providence has smiled upon you, and blessed you with abundance of the things of this life, God calls for some returns of gratitude from you; be ye mindful of the poor, and when you are so, then you may be said to have a true regard for that time which is now approaching; if you would truly observe this festival, let it be done with moderation, and a regard to the poor of this world.

 

THIRDLY , Let me beg of you not to alienate too much of your time from the worldly business of this life, but have a proper regard thereunto, and then you may be said rightly to observe this festival.

 

God allows none to be idle: in all ages business was commended; and therefore do not think that any season will excuse us in our callings; we are not, my brethren, to labor for the things of this life inordinately, but we are to labor for them will all moderation: we are not to neglect our callings; no, we are to regard those places and stations of life, which God in his providence has thought convenient for us; and therefore, when you neglect your business of the hurt of your families, whatever pretense you thereby make for so doing, you are guilty of sin; you are not acting according to the doctrine of the gospel, but are breaking the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ, both according to his word, and to his own practice.

 

At this festival, persons are apt to take a little more liberty than usual; and if that time from our vocations is not prejudicial to ourselves or families, and is spent in the service of God, and the good of immortal souls, then I do not thing it sinful; but there is too much reason to fear, that the time spent upon our own lusts, and then it is exceeding sinful, it is against our own souls, and it is against the good of our families, and instead of commemorating the birth of our dear Redeemer, we are dishonoring him in the greatest degree possibly we can.

 

Therefore, inquire strictly into your end and design in spending your time; see, my brethren, whether it proceeds from a true love to your Redeemer, or whether there is not some worldly pleasure or advantage at the bottom: if there is, our end is not right; but if it proceed entirely from love to him that died, and gave himself for us, our actions will be a proof thereof; then our time will be spent, not in the polite pleasures of life, but according to the doctrine and commands of the blessed Jesus; then our conversation will be in heaven; and O that this might be found to be the end of each of you, who now hear me; then we should truly observe this festival, and have a true regard to the occasion thereof, that of Christ’s coming to redeem the souls of those which were lost.

 

Let me now conclude, my dear brethren, with a few words of exhortation, beseeching you to think of the love of the Lord Jesus Christ. Did Jesus come into the world to save us from death, and shall we spend no part of our time in conversing about our dear Jesus; shall we pay no regard to the birth of him, who came to redeem us from the worst of slavery, from that of sin, and the devil; and shall this Jesus not only be born on our account, but likewise die in our stead, and yet shall we be unmindful of him? Shall we spend our time in those things which are offensive to him? Shall we not rather do all we can to promote his glory, and act according to his command? O my dear brethren, be found in the ways of God; let us not disturb our dear Redeemer by any irregular proceedings; and let me beseech you to strive to love, fear, honor and obey him, more than ever you have done yet; let not the devil engross your time, and that dear Savior who came into the world on your accounts, have so little. O be not so ungrateful to him who has been so kind to you! What could the Lord Jesus Christ have done for you more than he has? Then do not abuse his mercy, but let your time be spent in thinking and talking of the love of Jesus, who was incarnate for us, who was born of a woman, and made under the law, to redeem us from the wrath to come.

 

Now to God the Father, God the Son, etc.,[1]

 


[1] George Whitefield. GEORGE WHITEFIELD 59 SERMONS.

GOING HOME — A CHRISTMAS SERMON (DECEMBER 21, 1856) by Charles H. Spurgeon

DELIVERED ON SABBATH MORNING, DECEMBER 21, 1856, AT THE MUSIC HALL, ROYAL SURREY GARDENS.

 

“Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” — Mark 5:19.

 

THE CASE of the man here referred to is a very extraordinary one: it occupies a place among the memorabilia of Christ’s life, perhaps as high as anything which is recorded by either of the evangelists. This poor wretch being possessed with a legion of evil spirits had been driven to something worse than madness. He fixed his home among the tombs, where he dwelt by night and day, and was the terror of all those who passed by. The authorities had attempted to curb him; he had been bound with fetters and chains, but in the paroxysms of his madness he had torn the chains in sunder, and broken the fetters in pieces. Attempts had been made to reclaim him; but no man could tame him. He was worse than the wild beasts, for they might be tamed; but his fierce nature would not yield. He was a misery to himself, for he would run upon the mountains by night and day, crying and howling fearfully, cutting himself with the sharp flints, and torturing his poor body in the most frightful manner. Jesus Christ passed by; he said to the devils, “Come out of him.” The man was healed in a moment; he fell down at Jesus’ feet; he became a rational being — an intelligent man, yea, what is more, a convert to the Savior. Out of gratitude to his deliverer, he said, “Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest; I will be thy constant companion and thy servant; permit me so to be.” “No,” said Christ, “I esteem your motive; it is one of gratitude to me; but if you would show your gratitude, ‘go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.’“

 

Now, this teaches us a very important fact, namely, this, that true religion does not break in sunder the bonds of family relationship. True religion seldom encroaches upon that sacred, I had almost said divine institution called home; it does not separate men from their families, and make them aliens to their flesh and blood. Superstition has done that; an awful superstition, which calls itself Christianity, has sundered men from their kind; but true religion has never done so. Why, if I might be allowed to do such a thing, I would seek out the hermit in his lonely cavern, and I would go to him and say, “Friend, if thou art what thou dost profess to be, a true servant of the living God, and not a hypocrite, as I guess thou art — if thou art a true believer in Christ, and would show forth what he has done for thee, upset that pitcher, eat the last piece of thy bread, leave this dreary cave, wash thy face, untie thy hempen girdle; and if thou wouldst show thy gratitude, go home to thy friends, and tell them what great things the Lord hath done for thee. Canst thou edify the sere leaves of the forest? Can the beasts learn to adore that God whom thy gratitude should strive to honor? Dost thou hope to convert these rocks, and wake the echoes into songs? Nay, go back; dwell with thy friends, reclaim thy kinship with men, and unite again with thy fellows, for this is Christ’s approved way of showing gratitude.” And I would go to every monastery and every nunnery, and say to the monks, ‘Come out brethren, come out! If you are what you say you are, servants of God, go home to your friends. No more of this absurd discipline; it is not Christ’s rule; you are acting differently from what he would have you; go home to your friends!” And to the sisters of mercy we would say, “Be sisters of mercy to your own sisters; go home to your friends; take care of your aged parents; turn your own houses into convents; do not sit here nursing your pride by a disobedience to Christ’s rule, which says, “go home to thy friends.” “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” The love of a solitary and ascetic life,  which is by some considered to be a divine virtue, is neither more nor less than a disease of the mind. In the ages when there was but little benevolence, and consequently few hands to build lunatic asylums, superstition supplied the lack of charity, and silly men and women were allowed the indulgence of their fancies in secluded haunts or in easy laziness. Young has most truly said, —

 

“The first sure symptoms of a mind in health Are rest of heart and pleasure found at home.”

 

Avoid, my friends, above all things, those romantic and absurd conceptions of virtue which are the offspring of superstition and the enemies of righteousness. Be not without natural affection, but love those who are knit to you by time of nature.

 

True religion cannot be inconsistent with nature. It never can demand that I should abstain from weeping when my friend is dead. “Jesus wept.” It cannot deny me the privilege of a smile, when providence looks favorably upon me; for once “Jesus rejoiced in the spirit, and said, Father, I thank thee.” It does not make a man say to his father and mother, “I am no longer your son.” That is not Christianity, but something worse than what beasts would do, which would lead us to be entirely sundered from our fellows,  to walk among them as if we had no kinship with them. To all who think a solitary life must be a life of piety, I would say, “It is the greatest delusion.” To all who think that those must be good people who snap the ties of relationship, let us say, “Those are the best who maintain them.” Christianity makes a husband a better husband, it makes a wife a better wife than she was before. It does not free me from my duties as a son; it makes me a better son, and my parents better parents. Instead of weakening my love, it gives me fresh reason for my affection; and he  whom I loved before as my father, I now love as my brother and co- worker in Christ Jesus; and she whom I reverenced as my mother, I now love as my sister in the covenant of grace, to be mine for ever in the state that is to come. Oh! suppose not, any of you, that Christianity was ever meant to interfere with households; it is intended to cement them, and to make them households which death itself shall never sever, for it binds them up in the bundle of life with the Lord their God, and re-unites the several individuals on the other side of the flood.

 

Now, I will just tell you the reason why I selected my text. I thought within myself, there are a large number of young men who always come to hear me preach; they always crowd the aisles of my chapel, and many of them have been converted to God. Now, here is Christmas-day come round again, and they are going home to see their friends. When they get home they will want a Christmas Carol in the evening; I think I will suggest one to them — more especially to such of them as have been lately converted. I will give them a theme for their discourse on Christmas evening; it may not be quite so amusing as “The Wreck of the Golden Mary,” but it will be quite as interesting to Christian people. It shall be this: “Go home and tell your friends what the Lord hath done for your souls, and how he hath had compassion on you.” For my part, I wish there were twenty Christmas days in the year. It is seldom that young men can meet with their friends; it is rarely they can all be united as happy families; and though I have no respect to the religious observance of the day, yet I love it as a family institution, as one of England’s brightest days, the great Sabbath of the year, when the plough rests in its furrow, when the din of business is hushed, when the mechanic and the working man go out to refresh themselves upon the green award of the glad earth. If any of you are masters you will pardon me for the digression, when I most respectfully beg you to pay your servants the same wages on Christmas- day as if they were at work. I am sure it will make their houses glad if you will do so. It is unfair for you to make them feast or fast, unless you give them wherewithal to feast and make themselves glad on that day of joy.

 

But now to come to the subject. We are going home to see our friends, and here is the story some of us have to tell. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for them, and hath had compassion on thee.” First, here is what they are to tell; secondly, why they are to tell it; and then thirdly, how they ought to tell it.

 

I. First, then, HERE IS WHAT THEY ARE TO TELL. It is to be a story of personal experience. “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” You are not to repair to your houses and forthwith begin to preach. That you are not commanded to do. You are not to begin to take up doctrinal subjects and expatiate on them, and endeavor to bring persons to your peculiar views and sentiments. You are not to go home with sundry doctrines you have lately learned, and try to teach these. At least you are not commanded so to do; you may, if you please, and none shall hinder you; but you are to go home and tell not what you have believed, but what you have felt — what you really know to be your own; not what great things you have read, but what great things the Lord hath done for you;  not alone what you have seen done in the great congregation, and how great sinners have turned to God, but what the Lord has done for you. And  mark this: there is never a more interesting story than that which a man tells about himself. The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner derives much of its interest because the man who told it was himself the mariner. He sat down, that man whose finger was skinny, like the finger of death, and began to tell that dismal story of the ship at sea in the great calm, when slimy things did crawl with legs over the shiny sea. The Wedding guest sat still to  listen, for the old man was himself a story. There is always a great deal of interest excited by a personal narrative. Virgil, the poet, knew this, and therefore he wisely makes Aeneas tell his own story, and makes him begin it by saying, “In which I also had a great part myself.” So if you would interest your friends, tell them what you felt yourself. Tell them how you were once a lost abandoned sinner, how the Lord met with you, how you bowed your knees, and poured out your soul before God, and how at last you leaped with joy, for you thought you heard him say within you, “I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for my name’s sake.” Tell your friends a story of your own personal experience.

 

Note, next, it must be a story of free grace. It is not, “Tell thy friends how great things thou hast done thyself,” but “how great things the Lord hath done for thee.” The man who always dwells upon free will and the power of the creature, and denies the doctrines of grace, invariably mixes up a great deal of what he has done himself in telling his experience; but the believer in free grace, who holds the great cardinal truths of the gospel, ignores this, and declares, “I will tell what the Lord hath done for me. It is true I must tell how I was first made to pray; but I will tell it thus —

 

‘Grace taught my soul to pray, Grace made my eyes o’erflow.’

 

It is true, I must tell in how many troubles and trials God has been with me; but I will tell it thus: —

 

‘‘Twas grace which kept me to this day, And will not let me go.’“

 

He says nothing about his own doings, or willings, or prayings, or seekings, but he ascribes it all to the love and grace of the great God who looks on sinners in love, and makes them his children, heirs of everlasting life. Go home, you man, and tell the poor sinner’s story; go home, young woman, and open your diary, and give your friends stories of grace. Tell them of the mighty works of God’s hand which he hath wrought in you from his own free, sovereign, undeserved love. Make it a free grace story around your family fire.

 

In the next place, this poor man’s tale was a grateful story. I know it was grateful, because the man said, “I will tell thee how great things the Lord hath done for me;” and (not meaning a pun in the least degree) I may observe, that a man who is grateful is always full of the greatness of the mercy which God has shown him; he always thinks that what God has done for him is immensely good and supremely great. Perhaps when you are telling the story one of your friends will say, “And what of that?” And your answer will be, “It may not be a great thing to you, but it is to me. You say it is little to repent, but I have not found it so; it is a great and precious thing to be brought to know myself to be a sinner, and to confess it; do you say it is a little thing to have found a Savior.” Look them in the face and say, “If you had found him too you would not think it little. You think it little I have lost the burden from my back; but if you had suffered with it, and felt its weight as I have for many a long year, you would think it no little thing to be emancipated and free, through a sight of the cross.” Tell them it is a great story, and if they cannot see its greatness shed great tears, and tell it to them with great earnestness, and I hope they may be brought to believe that you at least are grateful, if they are not. May God grant that you may tell a grateful story. No story is more worth hearing than a tale of gratitude.

 

And lastly, upon this point: it must be a tale told by a poor sinner who feels himself not to have deserved what he has received. “How he hath had compassion on thee.” It was not a mere act of kindness, but and act of free compassion towards one who was in misery. Oh! I have heard men tell the story of their conversion and of their spiritual life in such a way that my heart hath loathed them and their story too, for they have told of their sins as if they did boast in the greatness of their crime, and they have mentioned the love of God not with a tear of gratitude, not with the simple thanksgiving of the really humble heart, but as if they as much exalted themselves as they exalted God. Oh! when we tell the story of our own conversion, I would have it done with deep sorrow, remembering what we used to be, and with great joy and gratitude, remembering how little we deserve these things, I was once preaching upon conversion and salvation, and I felt within myself, as preachers often do, that it was but dry work to tell this story, and a dull, dull tale it was to me; but on a sudden the thought crossed my mind, “Why, you are a poor lost ruined sinner yourself; tell it, tell it, as you received it; begin to tell of the grace of God as you trust you feel it yourself.” Why, then, my eyes began to be fountains of tears; those hearers who had nodded their heads began to brighten up, and they listened, because they were hearing something which the man felt himself, and which they recognised as being true to him, if it was not true in them. Tell your story, my hearers, as lost sinners. Do not go to your home, and walk into your house with a supercilious air, as much as to say, “Here’s a saint come home to the poor sinners, to tell them a story;” but go home like a poor sinner yourself; and when you go in, your mother remembers what you used to be, you need not tell her there is a change — she will notice it, if it is only one day you are with her; and perhaps she will say, “John, what is this change that is in you?” and if she is a pious mother, you will begin to tell her the story, and I know, man though you are, you will not blush when I say it, she will put her arms round your neck, and kiss you as she never did before, for you are her twice-born son, hers from whom she shall never part, even though death itself shall divide you for a brief moment. “Go home, then, and tell your friends what great things the Lord hath done for you, and how he hath had compassion on you.”

 

II. But now, in the second place, WHY SHOULD WE TELL THIS STORY? For I hear many of my congregation say, “Sir, I could relate that story to any one sooner than I could to my own friends; I could come to your vestry, and tell you something of what I have tasted and handled of the Word of God; but I could not tell my father, nor my mother, nor my brethren, nor my sisters.” Come, then; I will try and argue with you, to induce you to do so, that I may send you home this Christmas-day, to be missionaries in the localities to which you belong, and to be real preachers, though you are not so by name. Dear friends, do tell this story when you go home.

 

 

First, for your Master’s sake. Oh! I know you love him; I am sure you do, if you have proof that he loved you. You can never think of Gethsemane and of its bloody sweat, of Gabbatha and of the mangled back of Christ, flayed by the whip: you can never think of Calvary and his pierced hands and feet, without loving him; and it is a strong argument when I say to  you, for his dear sake who loved you so much, go home and tell it. What! do you think we can have so much done for us, and yet not tell it? Our children, if anything should be done for them, do not stay many minutes before they are telling all the company, “such an one hath give me such a present, and bestowed on me such-and-such a favor.” And should the children of God be backward in declaring how they were saved when their feet made haste to hell, and how redeeming mercy snatched them as brands from the burning? You love Jesus, young man! I put it to you, then, will you refuse to tell the tale of his love to you? Shall your lips be dumb, when his honor is concerned? Will you not, wherever you go, tell of the God who loved you and died for you? This poor man, we are told, “Departed and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him, and all men did marvel.” So with you. If Christ has done much for you, you cannot help it — you must tell it. My esteemed friend, Mr. Oncken, a minister in Germany told us last Monday evening, that so soon as he was converted himself, the first impulse of his new-born soul was to do good to others. And where should he do that good? Well, he thought he would go to Germany. It was his own native land, and he thought the command was, “Go home to thy friends and tell them.” Well, there was not a single Baptist in all Germany, nor any with whom he could sympathise, for the Lutherans had swerved from the faith of Luther, and gone aside from the truth of God. But he went there and preached, and he has now seventy or eighty churches established on the continent. What made him do it? Nothing but love for his Master, who had done so much for him, could have forced him to go and tell his kinsmen the marvellous tale of Divine goodness.

 

But, in the next place, are your friends pious? Then go home and tell them, in order to make their hearts glad. I received last night a short epistle written with a trembling hand by one who is past the natural age of man, living in the country of Essex. His son, under God, had been converted by hearing the Word preached, and the good man could not help writing to the minister, thanking him, and blessing most of all, his God, that his son had been regenerated. “Sir,” he begins, “an old rebel writes to thank you, and above all to thank his God, that his dear son has been converted.” I shall treasure up that epistle. It goes on to say, “Go on! and the Lord bless you.” And there was another case I heard some time ago, where a young woman went home to her parents, and when her mother saw her, she said, “There! if the minister had made me a present of all London, I should not have thought so much of it as I do of this — to think that you have really become a changed character, and are living in the fear of God.” Oh! if you want to make your mother’s heart leap within her, and to make your father glad — if you would make that sister happy who sent you so many letters, which sometimes you read against a lamp-post, with your pipe in your mouth — go home and tell your mother that her wishes are all accomplished, that her prayers are heard, that you will no longer chaff her about her Sunday-school class, and no longer laugh at her because she loves the Lord, but that you will go with her to the house of God, for you love God, and you have said, “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God, for I have a hope that your heaven shall be my heaven for ever.” Oh! what a happy thing it would be if some here who had gone astray, should thus go home! It was my privilege a little while ago to preach for a noble institution for the reception of women who had led abandoned lives — and before I preached the sermon I prayed to God to bless it, and in the printed sermon you will notice that at the end of it there is an account of two persons who were blessed by that sermon and restored. Now, let me tell you a story of what happened to Mr. Vanderkist, a city missionary, who toils all night long to do good in that great work. There had been a drunken broil in the street; he stepped between the men to part them, and said something to a woman who stood there concerning how dreadful a thing it was that men should thus be intemperate. She walked with him a little way, and he with her, and she began to tell him such a tale of woe and sin too — how she had been lured away from her parents’ home in Somersetshire, and have been brought up here to her soul’s eternal hurt. He took her home with him, and taught her the fear and love of Christ; and what was the first thing she did, when she returned to the paths of godliness, and found Christ to be the sinner’s Savior? She said, “Now, I must go home to my friends.” Her friends were written to; they came to meet her at the station at Bristol, and you can hardly conceive what a happy meeting it was. The father and mother had lost their daughter, they had never heard from her; and there she was, brought back by the agency of this institution,1 and restored to the bosom of her family. Ah! if such an one be here! I know not; among such a multitude there may be such an one. Woman! hast thou strayed from thy family? Hast thou left them long? “Go home to thy friends,” I beseech thee, ere thy father totters to his grave, and ere thy mother’s grey hairs sleep on the snow-white pillow of her coffin. Go back. I beseech thee! Tell her thou art penitent; tell her that God hath met with thee — that the young minister said, “Go back to thy friends.” And if so, I shall not blush to have said these things, though you may think I ought not to have mentioned them; for if I may but win one such soul, I will bless God to all eternity. “Go home to thy friends. Go home and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee.” Cannot you imagine the scene, when the

poor demoniac mentioned in my text went home? He had been a raving madman; and when he came and knocked at the door, don’t you think you see his friends calling to one another in affright, “Oh! there he is again,” and the mother running up stairs and locking all the doors, because her son had come back that was raving mad; and the little ones crying because they knew what he had been before — how he cut himself with stones, because he was possessed with devils. And can you picture their joy, when the man said, “Mother! Jesus Christ has healed me; let me in; I am no lunatic now!” And when the father opened the door, he said, “Father! I am not what I was; all the evil spirits are gone; I shall live in the tombs no longer. I want to tell you how the glorious man who wrought my deliverance accomplished the miracle — how he said to the devils, ‘Get ye hence,’ and they ran down a steep place into the sea, an I am come home healed and saved.” Oh! if such an one, possessed with sin, were here this morning, and would go home to his friends, to tell them of his release, methinks this scene would be somewhat similar.

 

Once more, dear friends. I hear one of you say. “Ah! Sir, would to God I could go home to pious friends! But when I go home I go into the worst of places; for my home is amongst those who never knew God themselves, and consequently never prayed for me, and never taught me anything concerning heaven.” Well, young man, go home to your friends. If they are ever so bad they are your friends. I sometimes meet with young men wishing to join the church, who say, when I ask them about their father, “Oh, sir, I am parted from my father.” Then I say, “Young man, you may just go and see your father before I have anything to do with you; if you are at ill-will with your father and mother I will not receive you into the church; if they are ever so bad they are your parents.” Go home to them, and tell them, not to make them glad, for they will very likely be angry with you; but tell them for their soul’s salvation. I hope, when you are telling the story of what God did for you, that they will be led by the Spirit to desire the same mercy themselves. But I will give you a piece of advice. Do not tell this story to your ungodly friends when they are all together, for they will laugh at you. Take them one by one, when you can get them alone, and begin to tell it to them, and they will hear you seriously. There was once a very pious lady who kept a lodging-house for young men. All the young men were very gay and giddy, and she wanted  to say something to them concerning religion. She introduced the subject, and it was passed off immediately with a laugh. She thought within herself, “I have made a mistake.” The next morning, after breakfast, when they were all going, she said to one of them, “Sir, I should like to speak with you a moment or two,” and taking him aside into another room she talked with him. The next morning she took another, and the next morning another, and it pleased God to bless her simple statement, when it was given individually: but, without doubt, if she had spoken to them altogether, they would have backed each other up in laughing her to scorn. Reprove a man alone. A verse may hit him whom a sermon flies. You may be the means of bringing a man to Christ who has often heard the Word and only laughed at it, but who cannot resist a gentle admonition. In one of the states of America, there was an infidel who was a great despiser of God, a hater of the Sabbath and all religious institutions. What to do with him the ministers did not know. They met together and prayed for him. But among the rest, one Elder B       resolved to spend a long time in prayer for the man; after that he got on horseback, and rode down to the man’s forge, for he was a blacksmith. He left his horse outside, and said, “Neighbour, I am under very great concern about your soul’s salvation; I tell you I pray day and night for your soul’s salvation.” He left him, and rode home on his horse. The man went inside to his house after a minute or two, and said to one of his faithful friends, “Here’s a new argument; here’s Elder B        been down here, he did not dispute, and never said a word to me except this, ‘I say, I am under great concern about your soul; I cannot bear that you should be lost.’ Oh! that fellow,” he said, “I cannot answer him;” and the tears began to roll down his cheeks. He went to his wife, and said, “I can’t make this out; I never cared about my soul, but here’s an elder, that has no connection with me, but I have always laughed at him, and he has come five miles this morning on horseback just to tell me he is under concern about my salvation. After a little while he thought it was time he should be under concern about his salvation too. He went in, shut the door, began to pray, and the next day he was at the deacon’s house, telling him that he too was under concern about his salvation, and asking him to tell him what he must do to be saved. Oh! that the everlasting God might make use of some of those now present in the same way, that they might be induced to

 

“Tell to others round

What a dear Savior they have found; To point to his redeeming blood, And say, Behold the way to God!”

 

III. I shall not detain you much longer; but there is a third point, upon which we must be very brief. HOW IS THIS STORY TO BE TOLD?

 

First, tell it truthfully. Do not tell more than you know; do not tell John Bunyan’s experience, when you ought to tell your own. Do not tell your mother you have felt what only Rutherford felt. Tell her no more than the truth. Tell your experience truthfully; for mayhap one single fly in the pot of ointment will spoil it, and one statement you may make which is not true may ruin it all. Tell the story truthfully.

 

In the next place, tell it very humbly. I have said that before. Do not intrude yourselves upon those who are older, and know more; but tell your story humbly; not as a preacher, not ex-cathedra, but as a friend and as a son.

 

Next, tell it very earnestly. Let them see you mean it. Do not talk about religion flippantly; you will do not good if you do. Do not make puns on texts; do not quote Scripture by way of joke: if you do, you may talk till you are dumb, you will do no good, if you in the least degree give them occasion to laugh by laughing at holy things yourself. Tell it very earnestly.

 

 

And then, tell it very devoutly. Do not try to tell your tale to man till you have told it first to God. When you are at home on Christmas-day, let no one see your face till God has seen it. Be up in the morning, wrestle with God; and if you friends are not converted, wrestle with God for them; and then you will find it easy work to wrestle with them for God. Seek, if you can, to get them one by one, and tell them the story. Do not be afraid; only think of the good you may possibly do. Remember, he that saves a soul from death hath covereth a multitude of sins, and he shall have stars in his crown for ever and ever. Seek to be under God — Saviors in your family, to be the means of leading your own beloved brethren and sisters to seek and to find the Lord Jesus Christ, and then one day, when you shall meet in Paradise, it will be a joy and blessedness to think that you are there, and that your friends are there too, whom God will have made you the instrument of saving. Let your reliance in the Holy Spirit be entire and honest. Trust not yourself, but fear not to trust him. He can give you words. He can apply those words to their heart, and so enable you to “minister grace to the hearers.”

 

To close up, by a short, and I think, a pleasant turning of the text, to suggest another meaning to it. Soon, dear friends, very soon with some of us, the Master will say, “Go home to thy friends.” You know where the home is. It is up above the stars.

 

“Where our best friends, our kindred dwell, Where God our Savior reigns.”

 

Yon grey-headed man has buried all his friends; he has said, “I shall go to them, but they will not return to me.” Soon his Master will say, “Thou hast had enough tarrying here in this vale of tears: goo home to thy friends!” Oh! happy hour! Oh! blessed moment, when that shall be the word — “Go home to thy friends!” And when we go home to our friends in Paradise, what shall we do? Why, first we will repair to that blest seat where Jesus sits, take off our crown and cast it at his feet, and crown him Lord of all. And when we have done that, what shall be our next employ? Why, we will tell the blessed ones in heaven what the Lord hath done for us, and how he hath had compassion on us. And shall such a tale be told in heaven? Shall that be the Christmas Carol of the angels? Yes, it shall be; it has been published there before — blush not to tell it yet again — for Jesus has told it before, “When he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.” And thou, poor sheep, when thou shall be gathered in, wilt thou not tell how thy Shepherd sought thee, and how he found thee? Will thou not sit in the grassy meads of heaven, and tell the story of thine own redemption? Wilt thou not talk with thy brethren and thy sisters, and tell them how God loved thee and hath brought thee there? Perhaps thou sayest, “It will be a very short story.” Ah! it would be if  you could write now. A little book might be the whole of your biography; but up there when your memory shall be enlarged, when your passion  shall be purified and your understanding clear, you will find that what was but a tract on earth will be a huge tome in heaven. You will tell a long story there of God’s sustaining, restraining, constraining grace, and I think that when you pause to let another tell his tale, and then another, and then another, you will at last, when you have been in heaven a thousand years, break out and exclaim, “O saints, I have something else to say.” Again they will tell their tales, and again you will interrupt them with “Oh, beloved, I have thought of another case of God’s delivering mercy.” And so you will go on, giving them themes for songs, finding them the material for the warp and woof of heavenly sonnets. “Go home,” he will soon say, “go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee.” Wait awhile; tarry his leisure, and ye shall soon be gathered to the land of the hereafter, to the home of the blessed, where endless felicity shall be thy portion. God grant a blessing for his name’s sake![1]

 


[1] Charles H. Spurgeon. THE SPURGEON SERMON COLLECTION, VOL. 1.

Christmas Around The World

Through the centuries, many customs have been developed to express the significance of the Incarnation. Setting forth universal truths in the context of local backgrounds and concerns, these practices reflect both the substantial unity and multifaceted diversity of the Christian faith. Christmas traditions tend to cluster around the following six themes:

Giving gifts. Perhaps the first thing that enters our minds about Christmas is the tradition of giving gifts to one another. But we do well to remember that the very first Christmas presents were offered by the Magi to our Lord, as a grateful response to God for His unspeakable gift of salvation. This pattern is still followed in many communities: In Zaire, for example, an early morning Christmas service includes a procession of worshipers to present gifts on or near the Lord’s Table.

Fasting. Christmas is a feast—the Feast of the Incarnation, a glad celebration of thanksgiving for God’s saving grace. But we enter Christmas through the season of Advent. Sometimes called “Christmas Lent,” Advent is in many Christian traditions a time of fasting, of privation, as believers meditate on the brokenness of the world and the emptiness of life before the birth of Christ, the King.

The Advent fast usually means abstaining from meat, eggs, and dairy products. On Christmas Day, Middle Eastern Christians assemble in church at dawn. For them, Holy Communion is the breaking of the fast, literally, the break-fast—the glad beginning of a feast that will last throughout the “12 days of Christmas,” until the Feast of Epiphany on January 6.

Evergreens. Jesus came as the Second Adam, to restore “the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Rev. 2:7 nkjv; cf. Rev. 22:1–2). In the bleak midwinter, while most vegetation lies dormant under a blanket of snow, evergreens testify of life. Holly, ivy, and mistletoe are especially beloved at Christmastime. As earthly images of Christ the Tree of Life, they bear fruit in winter. Psalm 1 reminds us that the faithful believer too is a tree of life—a fruit-bearing evergreen “whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:3 nkjv).

Perhaps the clearest reminder of the Tree of Life is the traditional Christmas tree, decorated with lights and real or artificial fruit. By some accounts, this custom was started by St. Boniface, the eighth-century missionary to the Germans, who bravely chopped down the sacred oak of Thor and replaced it with a fir tree dedicated to the Christ Child—teaching his converts what the church father Tertullian had said five centuries earlier in his treatise against idolatry: “You are a light of the world, a tree ever green, if you have renounced the heathen temple.”

Light. Christmas celebrates the coming of the Light of the world—“the Sunrise from on high” (Luke 1:78)—and for that reason it is the season most associated with lights. Across the world, streets, homes, churches, schools, and shopping malls come alive in a jubilant blaze of multicolored brilliance. In part, this tradition stems from the Jewish winter feast of Hanukkah, the “Festival of Lights,” commemorating the cleansing and dedication of the temple under the Maccabees in 165 b.c.

Fire has long been a symbol of Christ. In many Christian homes, the family assembles for a special candle-lighting ceremony around the Advent wreath on the Sundays preceding Christmas. In Ireland, a candle within a holly or laurel wreath burns throughout Christmas Eve. Portuguese Christians keep candles lit in every window of the home from Christmas Eve till New Year’s, as a sign of welcome to all, friends and strangers alike.

In Syria on Christmas Eve, a Christian household gathers to hear the youngest son read the story of the Nativity. The father then lights a bonfire, and the family sings psalms until the fire burns to embers. A few hours later, before sunrise, they will attend worship in church, where another bonfire will burn to the accompaniment of Christian hymns.

Bell-ringing. Bells have been used in Christian worship from at least the fifth century. Since medieval times, church bells have traditionally tolled a solemn, eerie death-knell for the devil just before midnight on Christmas Eve—then, at the stroke of midnight, suddenly changing to a joyous peal of victory, announcing the triumph of the King and the inauguration of His worldwide rule.

Singing. Christmas literally began with singing, as the angelic choir sang “Gloria in Excelsis Deo” to the wondering shepherds outside Bethlehem. Christmas is inseparable from music, and one of the glories of the season is that it is the one time of the year when the world seems to approach sanity—when virtually every office, elevator, and supermarket is suffused with the message of the Gospel presented in glorious song.

And such joyous music! Have you ever heard a somber or morbid Christmas carol? It is unthinkable, for they are all coronation songs, ringing the praises of the King of kings. Carols never suggest that Christ is not yet enthroned; from “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” they all rejoice with the apostolic Gospel that God “has delivered us from the power of darkness and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of His love” (Col. 1:13 nkjv).

Christmas doesn’t end with the Babe in the manger. It leads us forward to Epiphany, Christ’s saving manifestation of Himself to the nations. The visit of the Magi, commemorated on January 6, was but a foretaste of the stated goal of Christ’s mission: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32 nkjv).

Joy to the world! ▲

David Chilton is pastor of Church of the Redeemer in Placerville, CA, and is a regular contributor to World magazine.[1]

 


[1] Chilton, D. (1993). Christmas around the World. In R. C. Sproul, Jr. (Ed.), Tabletalk Magazine, December 1993: Marley’s Message to Scrooge (R. C. Sproul, Jr., Ed.) (14–55). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

The Spirit of Christmas Past

JESUS WAS PROBABLY NOT BORN ON DECEMBER 25.

The early church did not celebrate Christ’s birth on December 25. In fact, that date was a pagan celebration of the birth of the unconquered sun until early in the fourth century, when Christians vested the date with Christian meaning. Not only that, many of the traditional ways we celebrate (Christmas trees, holly, mistletoe) have their origin in Northern European pagan rites.

Therefore “real” Christians will at minimum feel uncomfortable with the pagan nature of the present date and practices surrounding Christmas, and those who are really committed will renounce the date altogether as a part of their faithful witness to Christ in an increasingly pagan culture.

Right? Wrong.

As a matter of fact, just the opposite. Every time we celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 with the traditional symbols of Christmas, we are giving testimony to the power and reign of King Jesus. Sometimes, in our effort to offer acceptable sacrifices of praise to God, we miss wonderful opportunities to point to Christ and His work in the world and in our lives.

The celebration of Christmas on December 25 is a testimony to the supernatural work of God’s Spirit in and through the faithfulness of God’s people in the early church.

It started with the birth, life, and death of Christ on a cross. By all human measurements, the movement founded by Christ should have died when He died. The disciples were broken and beaten. Their hopes and their dreams had ended up on a cross. When Peter told the others that he was going fishing, he was facing the fact that his dreams had turned to nightmares. There was nothing left to do but go back to the old ways and the meaninglessness of catching fish. He had been challenged by Christ to catch men—now it was back to the fish.

And then something happened. The dead Man they had followed got up and walked, and He told them they could do it too. Pentecost came with a new power—the spiritual power of a crucified and risen Christ. The world would never be the same.

Those brothers and sisters out-thought, out-lived and out-died all other competitors. The pagan festivals lost their meaning, the pagan beliefs fell apart, and the pagan realities were unmasked for what they were—a mirror of mankind’s desire for God. The old platitudes didn’t work anymore because some men and women had seen the truth. They worshiped a King nobody ever elected and nobody would ever depose.

The story is an exciting one. The road from Bethlehem to Rome was a road bloodied by the death of men and women who refused to bend, break, or compromise. They spit in the face of Caesar and bowed before no human being—except the One who had become human at Christmas.

Will Durant, in the third volume of his monumental The Story of Civilization, wrote:

“Accounts of the loyalty of martyrs who had died, or of ‘confessors’ who had suffered, for the faith were circulated from community to community. ‘The blood of martyrs,’ said Tertullian, ‘is seed.’ There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won” (p. 652).

And so, this Christmas when you are a part of a pagan festival turned Christian, remember those men and women who, by God’s grace, made it so. That was a time when giants walked in the land. As you decorate the Christmas tree, thank the Father for those who have gone before and who, by their faithfulness, made Christmas possible. Then offer a prayer of supplication: “God, do it again. Do it again!”

For instance, the celebration of Christmas on December 25 is a testimony to the God who works in history.

Were history merely the record of mankind’s efforts to climb out of the primordial slime or the register of the dead who were accidental victims of a mindless and uncaring universe, there is a good chance that you and I would still be, assuming we would have even reached the state of paganism, celebrating the winter solstice with the pagan rites from which Christmas emerged. Our protests against those rituals would have nothing to do with their pagan nature. Rather, our protests would surround their superficiality and their powerlessness.

However, history is not mindless. History is the record of a sovereign God’s way with His creation. Hundreds of years before Bethlehem, a group of “nobodies” in the middle of the desert held to an unbelievable proposition. They said that there was one God and that He, and only He, was worthy of worship. Those nomads in the wilderness developed the highest form of ethical monotheism known to man, and no anthropologist has ever adequately explained how they did it. Nevertheless, those old covenant believers maintained their belief for hundreds of years before the events of Bethlehem.

Meanwhile there was another theme of history. It started with the Greeks, Alexander the Great, the Peloponnesian wars, exciting philosophical surmise, and magnificent art and architecture. As the Romans, the greatest military machine the world had ever known, came on the stage of history absorbing the Greeks and their culture, there came with them a common coinage, a road system covering the Western world, a common language and, for the first time in the history of Western civilization, the conditions of peace (the Pax Romana) whereby an idea could reach the whole of that civilization.

From the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem. His birth was the affirmation of the beliefs of His people and the answer to the questions of the Greeks and the Romans. For the first time in history, two great themes of history came together and crossed. At that very moment, Jesus was born. If He had been born 70 years earlier, you would never have heard His name. If He had been born 70 years later, the pagan festivals would have remained pagan.

Against the greatest odds, by the end of the third century, the Christian community numbered some 100,000 in Rome. By 300 a.d., a fourth of the population in the East was Christian, and a 20th in the West. Tertullian wrote: “Men proclaim that the state is beset with us. Every age, condition, and rank is coming over to us. We are only of yesterday, but already we fill the world.” Paganism, with all its festivals and all its celebrations, would never again have a hold on mankind.

So, when you celebrate Christmas on December 25 with its former pagan symbolism, think of history. And then think of the sovereign God who smashed the demons of paganism and substituted, through His control of history, the exciting reality of the Word become flesh. Christmas is a symbolic representation of a sovereign God’s victorious purpose in history.

What God has done in history is His promise of what He will do in the future. The principle is this: What God begins, He will complete, and the very fact of its beginning is the promise of its successful completion. Thus Advent is not just a time when we remember what happened. It is a time when we rejoice in what is going to happen.

The wonderful substitution of pagan dates and symbols with the reality and joy of the incarnation of God in Christ is a promise that, in the end, everything that is not of Him will be substituted with that which is of Him. It is the promise and the beginning of a universal recognition of the fact that “of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Whom be glory forever. Amen.”

So, on December 25, rejoice in the coming of King Jesus. Decorate your tree, deck the halls with boughs of holly, and kiss someone you love under the mistletoe. It is an affirmation not only of the past—it is a celebration of God’s faithfulness, His sovereignty, and His promises.

And when someone looks down an arrogant nose at your celebration of Christmas, tell them that they will probably still go to heaven, but, when they get there, they will find out that they missed a glorious opportunity to point to the One who got them there. ▲

Steve Brown is president of the Key Life Network and professor of practical theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.[1]

 


[1] Brown, S. (1993). The Spirit of Christmas past. In R. C. Sproul, Jr. (Ed.), Tabletalk Magazine, December 1993: Marley’s Message to Scrooge (R. C. Sproul, Jr., Ed.) (7–52). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

Marley’s Message to Scrooge

BAH! HUMBUG! These two words are instantly associated with Charles Dickens’s immortal fictional antihero, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge was the prototype of the Grinch who stole Christmas, the paradigm of all men cynical.

We all recognize that Ebenezer Scrooge was a mean person—stingy, insensitive, selfish, and unkind. What we often miss in our understanding of his character is that he was preeminently profane. “Bah! Humbug!” was his Victorian use of profanity.

Not that any modern editor would feel the need to delete Scrooge’s expletives. His language is not the standard currency of cursing. But it was profane in that Scrooge demeaned what was holy. He trampled on the sanctity of Christmas. He despised the sacred. He was cynical toward the sublime.

Christmas is a holiday, indeed the world’s most joyous holiday. It is called a “holiday” because the day is holy. It is a day when businesses close, when families gather, when churches are filled, and when soldiers put down their guns for a 24-hour truce. It is a day that differs from every other day.

Every generation has its abundance of Scrooges. The church is full of them. We hear endless complaints of commercialism. We are constantly told to put Christ back into Christmas. We hear that the tradition of Santa Claus is a sacrilege. We listen to those acquainted with history murmur that Christmas isn’t biblical. The Church invented Christmas to compete with the ancient Roman festival honoring the bull-god Mithras, the nay-sayers complain. Christmas? A mere capitulation to paganism.

And so we rain on Jesus’ parade and assume an olympian detachment from the joyous holiday. All this carping is but a modern dose of Scroogeism, our own sanctimonious profanation of the holy.

Sure, Christmas is a time of commerce. The department stores are decorated to the hilt, the ad pages of the newspapers swell in size, and we tick off the number of shopping days left until Christmas. But why all the commerce? The high degree of commerce at Christmas is driven by one thing: the buying of gifts for others. To present our friends and families with gifts is not an ugly, ignoble vice. It incarnates the amorphous “spirit of Christmas.” The tradition rests ultimately on the supreme gift God has given the world. God so loved the world, the Bible says, that He gave His only begotten Son. The giving of gifts is a marvelous response to the receiving of such a gift. For one day a year at least, we taste the sweetness inherent in the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive.

What about putting Christ back into Christmas? It is simply not necessary. Christ has never left Christmas. “Jingle Bells” will never replace “Silent Night.” Our holiday once known as Thanksgiving is rapidly becoming known simply as “Turkey Day.” But Christmas is still called Christmas. It is not called “Gift Day.” Christ is still in Christmas, and for one brief season the secular world broadcasts the message of Christ over every radio station and television channel in the land. Never does the church get as much free air time as during the Christmas season.

Not only music but the visual arts are present in abundance, bearing testimony to the historic significance of the birth of Jesus. Christmas displays, creches, Christmas cards, yard displays all remind the world of the sacred Incarnation.

Doesn’t Santa Claus paganize or at least trivialize Christmas? He’s a myth, and his very mythology casts a shadow over the sober historical reality of Jesus. Not at all. Myths are not necessarily bad or harmful. Every society creates myths. They are a peculiar art form invented usually to convey a message that is deemed important by the people. When a myth is passed off as real history, that is fraud. But when it serves a different purpose it can be healthy and virtuous. Kris Kringle is a mythical hero, not a villain. He is pure fiction—but a fiction used to illustrate a glorious truth.

What about the historical origins of Christmas as a substitute for a pagan festival? I can only say, good for the early Christians who had the wisdom to flee from Mithras and direct their zeal to the celebration of the birth of Christ. Who associates Christmas today with Mithras? No one calls it “Mithrasmas.”

We celebrate Christmas because we cannot eradicate from our consciousness our profound awareness of the difference between the sacred and the profane. Man, in the generic sense, has an incurable propensity for marking sacred space and sacred time. When God appeared to Moses in the burning bush, the ground that was previously common suddenly became uncommon. It was now holy ground—sacred space. When Jacob awoke from his midnight vision of the presence of God, he anointed with oil the rock upon which he had rested his head. It was sacred space.

When God touches earth, the place is holy. When God appears in history, the time is holy. There was never a more holy place than the city of Bethlehem, where the Word became flesh. There was never a more holy time than Christmas morning when Emmanuel was born. Christmas is a holiday. It is the holiest of holy days. We must heed the warning of Jacob Marley: “Don’t be a Scrooge” at Christmas. ▲

Dr. R. C. Sproul is president of Ligonier Ministries and professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando.[1]

 


[1] Sproul, R. C. (1993). Right Now Counts Forever: Marley’s Message to Scrooge. In R. C. Sproul, Jr. (Ed.), Tabletalk Magazine, December 1993: Marley’s Message to Scrooge (R. C. Sproul, Jr., Ed.) (5–6). Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

Christmas Time: Suppose

Suppose it were your birthday

And all your friends would come

And gather ’round your fireplace

There in your happy home.

 

They come with smiles and gladness,

And bring their presents, too.

But when they start to share them,

There’s not a one for you.

 

They give them to each other,

A grand and costly lot.

But for the guest of honor,

They somehow just forgot.

 

You say such things don’t happen,

Nor should it ever be;

It seems too crude and cruel,

For folks like you and me.

 

But friend, have you considered

Just this is what men do?

Not, of course, to humans,

But of our Lord, its true.

 

We celebrate His birthday

With all our pomp and style;

But give to one another

And grieve Him all the while.

 

’Tis Christ we claim to honor

At this glad Christmastime;

Don’t spend on friends the dollars

And give Him just a dime.

 

To give to one another

Indeed is very nice;

But best of all to Jesus,

For Him let’s sacrifice.

 

His cause too long has suffered

By thoughtless, selfish men.

Let’s bring to Christ the firstfruits,

And give our best to Him.

—Fred D. Jarvis[1]

 


[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.

Early Christmas Happenings

Christmas was first celebrated in the year 98, but it was forty years later before it was officially adopted as a Christian festival: nor was it until about the fifth century that the day of its celebration became permanently fixed on the 25th of December. Up to that time it had been irregularly observed at various times of the year—in December, in April, and in May, but most frequently in January.

Clovis, the first Christian King of France, was baptized on Christmas Day, 496. Gilles de Retz, of France, the original “Bluebeard,” was executed on Christmas Day, 1440, in atonement for a multitude of crimes, which included the killing of six wives, from which the popular nursery story is derived. The Pilgrim Fathers, who condemned all church festivals, spent their first Christmas in America working hard all day long amid cold and stormy weather, and commenced the building of the first house in Plymouth 1620.

It is a significant fact that no great battles were fought on Christmas Day. They have occurred on the 24th and 26th of December, but the anniversary of the advent of Peace on Earth has ever been observed by a cessation of hostilities.

In history Christmas has been a very remarkable day. It was on Christmas Day that Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Holy Empire in the Cathedral of Aix-la-Chapelie. On Christmas Day, in the year 1066, William the Conqueror was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

—Current Anecdotes[1]

 


[1] Tan, P. L. (1996). Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations: Signs of the Times. Garland, TX: Bible Communications, Inc.