James Dana (1735-1812) graduated from Harvard in 1753. He was ordained as a minister in 1758. His first congregation was in Wallingford, CT, and later was minister at the first church in Haven (1789). Dana was a vocal supporter of the American Revolution, preaching sermons in New Haven, CT during the legislative session. Below is his 1788 sermon on the Natvity of Christ.
A DISCOURSE delivered in Christ-Church,
Wallingford, December 25, 1788; and in
the City of New-Haven, on Lord’s-day,
January 4, 1789.
To which is subjoined (by particular Desire) a
PRAYER after the Sermon when delivered
By J A M E S D A N A, D. D.
Senior Pastor of the First Church in Wallingford.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.
The entrance of Emmanuel into our world was first announced by an angel to some humble shepherds. “I bring you,” said the heavenly herald, “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For this day is born, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord—And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.” 1
We will consider, FIRST, the subject matter of this acclamation of the heavenly host.
Secondly, The foundation laid by the advent of the Saviour for the united acknowledgments of men and angels.
Thirdly, Recommend the spirit of his religion, the prevalence of which would be most happy for mankind on earth, and bring glory to God on high.
First, Of the subject matter of this acclamation.
Here we may take a general survey of the Christian institution, as a promulgation of peace to mankind in a state of apostacy. They are represented as alienated, and enemies in their mind, without strength, children of disobedience, and consequently of wrath. They therefore need reconciliation to God.—Nor less to one another. For unrenewed nature is thus described: Living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another; full of all unrighteousness, malignity, and deceit. The old man, in distinction from such as are renewed in the spirit of their mind, is known by pride, jealousy, malice, revenge, and other unfriendly passions, the bane of society, the source of private animosities and national wars. And even those who have put off the old, and put on the new man, having remains of human depravity, experience and manifest more or less of the carnal mind, which is enmity. “All have gone out of the way. There is not a just man who doth good, and sinneth not.”
The existence of the above alienation hath been, and is manifest over all the earth: It is supposed in all those scriptures which speak of reconciliation for iniquity, and represent Jesus Christ as our peace, coming into the world, and enduring the cross to restore peace on earth. God made man upright. He hath fallen from original rectitude. His glory is departed from him.
The peace celebrated by angels, as in the text, denotes, first, peace with God. He is reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their trespasses. He proclaimeth peace through Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, and whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation for it, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. It is to the glory of God’s grace, that he maketh us accepted in the beloved. He first loved us, or no mediator would have been provided. Hence the ransom Jesus paid is the effect, not the cause of the love of God. In this greatest gift of the Father’s love, grace super abounds where sin abounded.
In the parable of the prodigal son, the father met the profligate while a great way off; fell on his neck, and kissed him; put the best robe on him, and a ring on his finger, and shoes on his feet, receiving him with every mark of paternal affection and joy. Such is the divine condescension and compassion to wandering, perishing sinners. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” Let the glory of his grace be celebrated by heaven and earth. For if God be for us, who shall be against us? No temptation can happen to us above that we are able. All things shall work together for good. Should any injure us in our outward in work together for good. Should any injure us in our outward interest, it will not be in their power to deprive us of the special protection and smiles of a reconciled God. If not reconciled to him, what power can deliver us from his hand who is able to destroy soul and body? Whom then would you fear? With whom would you be at peace?
Further: The sacrifice of Jesus was a voluntary one. The Messiah, having a body prepared for him, “gave himself an offering and sacrifice to God, and put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. Lo, I come—I delight to do thy will, O my God. There is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.” How wonderful his friendship! “Though he was rich, for our sakes he became poor, that we through his poverty might be rich. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. But “when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son.”
Consider how great HE was who undertook our redemption, and you cannot doubt but he was able to heal the breach the apostacy had made. Call to mind on this occasion the character given of him in prophecy. “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders: And his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of peace.” He who was “set up from everlasting, by whom all things were made and consist,” whose “glory was that of the only begotten of the Father, HE was made flesh. The word, who was God,” became incarnate: God was manifest in the flesh—This is a plain declaration of his divinity and humanity. Thus the prophet who foretold his miraculous conception: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel.” If such is the character of our redeemer, who will question but he is mighty to save?
Further: The peace here proclaimed includes peace and good will among men. The example of our heavenly Father instructs us to love our enemies, bless them that curse us, and do good to them that hate us. Our own forgiveness is expressly suspended on our imitation of the divine example. As a motive to such imitation, a comparison is made of our offences against God with those of our fellow-men against us. The former are said to be to the latter as ten thousand talents to an hundred pence. The example of the author of our faith is a further motive to the exercise of forgiveness. These are examples which can never be paralleled. Were we “followers of God as dear children;” did we “walk in love as Christ hath loved us,” we should “put away all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil-speaking, with all malice, and be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another.” The peculiar characteristics of the wisdom from above are these: “First, pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Those whom the Saviour pronounceth blessed, are, the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers, such as can bear to be reviled and persecuted for righteousness’ sake; such as forgive injuries to seventy times seven;–who do not wait till the injurious ask reconciliation, but prevent them by unsolicited proposals of it, in imitation of the divine example. Did the principles and maxims of benevolence, inculcated by our religion, rule in men’s hearts, all unworthy emulations, all animosities and bitterness would cease. The members of a family, neighbourhood, civil or religious community would be of one heart and soul. The spirit of Christianity “beareth, hopeth, believeth all things, thinketh no evil, seeketh not her own, envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up.” It worketh no ill to its neighbor; doth good to all as it hath opportunity; and, if possible, lives peaceably with all men.
This may be impossible. For some men would wrest from others the liberty of judging and acting for themselves, in a matter wherein every one must stand or fall to his own master, being accountable only to the searcher of hearts. When men make their own sentiments the terms of salvation, it may be impossible to be on good terms with them, and yet have peace with God and their own consciences.
There doubtless are real Christians in all communions, whether different communions acknowledge it, or not. In the exercise of Christian charity the question is not to what class of professors a person belongs, but whether he is a real member of that kingdom which is righteousness and peace. Professors may agree by love to serve one another, and unite their interest for the advancement of the kingdom of their common master, while they are best edified by a diversity of forms, have different views of some revealed truths, and different apprehensions as to some of the ways whereby Christianity may be best advanced. If, on account of such differences, or any of a like nature, they separate each other from the body of Christ, they know not what they do.
The church of Christ, in its extensive boundaries, needs the gifts of all the parts into which it is divided, and of every individual of each denomination, as the natural body needs the concurrence of all its members, in order to its beauty, health and growth. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all members have not the same office, so also is Christ.” Hence it ill becomes any denomination of Christians to assume the whole honour of supporting Christianity, or the reformation, even suppose they may be viewed as eminent defenders of both. And it would as ill become any denomination to suppose their own weight and influence so inconsiderable, that it is of little consequence how they demean themselves. Various denominations should consider themselves, and treat each other, as severally and jointly subservient to the cause of the same Lord. They should excite each other to a laudable emulation, that through their united influence the gospel may have free course.
“Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Why dost thou judge thy brother?” Had this advice been followed, the religion of the prince of peace would never have been improved as an instrument of discord and war. This was a consequence, an undersigned consequence, of its establishment. As its author foretold, it separated nearest friends, and proved an occasion of the sharpest contests. This came to pass, however, through the ignorance, prejudices and lusts of men: It was not the consequence of a right understanding of the gospel, or of men’s having the spirit it inculcates; but the reverse. Peace on earth, good will among men, are the legitimate fruits of this religion. Under its influence the state of this world would be that which we are taught to expect when “the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth: They shall not hurt nor destroy in all God’s holy mountain.”
RELIGION must be maintained under some form. This is indispensible to the welfare of communities. In this view it will be the care of the magistrate who seeks the good of his people: At the same time it is the unalienable right of every individual to choose his own way of worship. Particular forms do not open the kingdom of heaven to men, nor shut that kingdom against them. “If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” Whoever hath this spirit, is an heir of salvation. Shame to the charity of such as will not allow it!—
We have but one rule by which to judge whether men are Christians, viz. by their fruits. And the fruits of Christianity are “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” Perfect unity in sentiment among the professors of the same religion is impossible. They may yet be one in affection—may “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” as the disciples of one Lord, who are called in one hope.
Those who have such confidence in their own construction of the scriptures as to make it necessary to all Christians, have much occasion to consider our Lord’s words respecting such as said, “Lo, here is Christ; or lo, he is there;” that is, here or there only. Our Lord said, “Go not after them; nor follow them.” Hence we infer, either that they had not his presence with them; or if they had, they yet knew not what spirit they were of in denying this presence to be with others: Herein at lest they may not be imitated. This is a distinguishing mark of the Romish church; and it is doubtful whether infallibility itself can support the exclusive claim. For if her infallibility be not proved and known to others as well as herself, are others obliged to admit her faith? What effect hath it on that peace and good will which Christianity inculcates? On brotherly kindness and charity? Compare Saul of Tarsus, making havoc of the church, with Paul the meek and humble apostle of Jesus, going everywhere in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of peace. Thus the gospel, thro’ divine operation, takes from men the spirit of self-sufficiency, and gives them a better mind.
Our Lord rebuked the spirit of the disciples who would have called for fire from heaven on the Samaritan village. The Samaritans would not receive him, because he was going to Jerusalem. The disciples wished that the Samaritans might be instantly consumed. In both there was doubtless a mixture of an old national enmity. But Jesus came not to destroy, but to save. Nor may his disciples consign one another over to the divine wrath, because they have not attained to think alike. By sentiments of mutual respect, by imitating the virtues of their master, they would adorn the doctrine of our Saviour.
It must give one who hath the spirit of Christianity an exalted pleasure to be able to reflect, that his best endeavours have been used to promote the great end of the incarnation of Christ. Compare the pleasures of Christian benevolence, which thinks and hopes the best of all men, is kindly affectioned, and, with brotherly love, in honor preferreth others, while all within its reach are the better for it—compare the satisfaction such an one hath in himself, with the spirit of bigotry and suspicion—the spirit which absolves or retains men’s sins according as they do or do not conform to us—the spirit which loves, and doth good to those only of one denomination. The former are perfect as our Father in Heaven. The latter, whatever they imagine, have much reason to ask, whether their love is anything more than the interest of a party. Their own assurance, their trusting in themselves, and despising others, is no circumstance in their favour. Error has usually more confident and zealous advocates than the truth. The disciple of Jesus “receiveth the Kingdom of God as a little child.”
Lastly, the peace our subject mentions includes peace in our consciences. The disciple of Jesus hath “joy and peace in believing, and aboundeth in hope by the power of the Holy Ghost.” This is called “the love of God shed abroad in the heart”—“the witness of the spirit of God with theirs, that they are children of God”—“the earnest of the spirit in their hearts.” Hence their “fellowship is with the Father and Son.” This “peace which passeth understanding,” is doubtless comprehended in the peace for which the angelic hosts celebrated the praise of the MOST HIGH at the nativity of Christ. “Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.” To accomplish the end of his death, Jesus sent the Spirit after his return to heaven, for the conviction and conversion of unbelievers, and the confirmation and joy of believers unto life, that they might go on to perfection. The design of the dispensation of grace thro’ a Mediator is thus expressed: “The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be made low: and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day.” When this design is effected, through the power of the Spirit with the word, the alienation of the sinner is destroyed. He commenceth an object of the special love of God, an heir of salvation. He “hath put off the old, and put on the new man.” In the eternal counsel of peace it pleased the Father to reconcile all things to himself by Jesus Christ. The covenant of peace was between them. The chastisement of our peace was upon him. God now condescends to beseech sinners to accept reconciliation in Christ. The sum of our ministry is this: “Be ye reconciled to God.” Angels minister to men for this end. And the eternal Spirit operates with the means of grace. Hence “the weapons of our warfare are mighty to the pulling down of strong holds.” Not by human exertions; “but by my Spirit, saith the Lord.” The excellency of the power is of God, that no flesh should glory in his presence. “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
We proceed to remark, Secondly, the foundation laid, by the advent of a Saviour, for the united acknowledgments of men and angels.
The subject of the united adoration and gratitude of the heavenly host at the nativity of Christ was this: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men. Let the earth join with heaven in this acclamation. Join in it this day, ye who observe the present solemnity in commemoration of the birth of Christ. Ye who believe it to be the birth-day of your eternal hopes. So illustrious a personage was never born into our world—one so worthy to be remembered—one whom all men are commanded to honour, even as they honour the Father.
Whether other worlds have fallen, and had a Redeemer provided? Or how far the angelic host, who here celebrate the birth of the Redeemer of mankind, are interested in his redemption? Are questions which do not affect the present subject, nor do at all belong to us. It is sufficient that we know there is peace on earth through the interposition of the Saviour, Christ the Lord—that superior intelligences give glory to God in the highest for this, and interest themselves in what so nearly concerns us. They were never alienated from God. They have always done his will with alacrity and zeal. Perfect harmony and love have reigned among them. They rejoice that peace is proclaimed to our fallen race, and desire to look into the scheme of man’s redemption: It is the subject of their adoration. There is joy among these benevolent spirits at the conversion of every sinner on earth. They cheerfully minister for this purpose, that rebels may be reclaimed; and recovered sinners trained up to join them in the exercises and enjoyments of the world of perfect purity and love.
Shall heaven be full of joy and praise, that God hath sent his Son to our redemption? And shall rebels and apostates be indifferent to the proclamation of pardon, peace and glory? Is God propitious? Will he accept repentance? Has he laid help on one that is mighty? Are the glad tidings published to us? Doth the offended majesty of heaven offer us full pardon unsolicited; and even entreat us to lay down our weapons of rebellion? Is he long-suffering, not willing that any should perish? Is the proclamation of peace unlimited, so that whosoever will may share in it? What shall we say? “Bless the Lord, O our souls! And all that is within us, bless his holy name.” For he hath remembered us in our low estate. “The day spring from on high hath visited us, and the sun of righteousness risen upon us, to guide our feet in the way of peace. Sing, O ye heavens, for the Lord hath done it; shout ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel. Blessed are the people who know the joyful sound: They shall walk, O Lord, in the light of thy countenance. In thy name shall they rejoice all the day; and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted.”
But redemption should be imprinted on our hearts, as well as celebrated with our tongues. What would be our obligations for deliverance from formidable outward enemies; from slavery, prison and death; and restoration to freedom and eligible circumstances? From the abundance of our hearts we should seek opportunities to te4stify our gratitude to our deliverer, and endeavour, by every means to secure his friendship. Are our obligations less for deliverance from the slavery of sin, from the hosts and prison of hell; restoration to the glorious liberty of the sons of God? Are our obligations less for eternal redemption? Had not messages of salvation been brought from heaven to earth by the Son of God in our nature, must we not have joined with sinning angels, “Farthest from God is best.” How beautiful, then, upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, that saith unto Zion, thy God reigneth.”
If it be asked. What evidence have we that there was such a person as Jesus born in the city of David, at the time we suppose; who taught, lived, and performed such works as never man did, died on the cross, and rose to immortal life? Our answer is, the same evidence as we have for the existence of any conspicuous characters in ancient history. Yea, more, if possible: For besides the testimonies of Christian, Jewish and Pagan historians to the life of Jesus, the accomplishment of his prophecies in all ages since, and before the face of all people, undeniably proves, not only that there was such an illustrious character at that time, but also that he was sent of God.
The temple and city of Jerusalem were laid in ruins about seventeen hundred years ago, and have never been rebuilt, though Jews and heathen have united their efforts to defeat the prophecy of this desolation. The chosen people have ever since been scattered over the face of the earth, and yet preserved as a distinct people; alike distinguished by universal approbrium, and by their malignity to the author of Christianity. Consider their state at present, and ever since their desolation. Were these things foretold, and have they come to pass, without the determinate counsel and providence of God? Hath this unexampled chastisement befallen them, because they added to their other crimes this above all, that they crucified the Lord of Glory? Let such in the present age as deny the Lord that bought them, be warned. Let them seek refuge in that Saviour whom they have pierced by their infidelity and other crimes. For there is no more sacrifice for sin.
If the whole history of Jesus is denied, let them shew in what age, in what country, and by whom his religion was first introduced—and by what means it was established.
Thirdly, It was proposed to recommend the benevolent spirit of Christianity, the prevalence of which would be most happy for mankind on earth, and bring glory to God on high.
St. Paul inculcates Christian union on the primitive converts by such considerations as these. 2
All professions are alike entitled to, and bound to exercise, private judgment. Those who have the most improved knowledge in Christianity should bear with the prejudices of such as are less informed, and not please themselves. All being accountable at the tribunal of God, all should beware lest they invade his prerogative, by excluding their fellow-disciples from his mercy, because of different opinions on unimportant points. A contention for forms should never be so maintained as to bring into neglect and reproach things commendable, and even essential to all Christians. For the most specious professors are nothing, if they have not charity, Hence a regard to the common cause of Christianity, the purity and extension of it, the union and edification of its disciples, should govern all who assume the profession. For no man liveth to himself. By such considerations as these doth the apostle exhort to brotherly love—to peace with all men, and holiness. On what other terms can we enjoy the God of peace, or the society above who are made perfect in love.
The unexampled instance of humility and charity exhibited by the Lord of glory, when he took our nature upon him, inculcates on all his followers the most unfeigned and fervent love to one another, and to mankind of every nation. This spirit renders the righteous man more excellent than his neighbor. Those especially have engaged to cultivate and display it, who have fellowship in breaking of bread and prayer, in that institution which is the body and blood of Christ. Different denominations of professors, under the influence of this spirit, will unite their endeavours for the purity and extension of the Christian religion, rejoicing in each other’s gifts, and in the peace of the church.
Is this mind in us? Then our good wishes and earnest prayers embrace men of every communion, nation and character; at the same time we feel a peculiar complacence in such as appear to have the spirit of Christ, whether they are of our persuasion or now; whether near or remote; our own countrymen or foreigners. With all such we shall most cheerfully unite in the propagation of the Gospel.
St. Paul has given us a particular description of charity, I Cor. XIII. This is the more excellent way mentioned at the conclusion of chapter XII. Whoever compares the two chapters will plainly see, that schism is the opposite to charity. The schismatic divides the body of Christ: The spirit of charity unites it. Schismatics establish this rule for the excision of members:–We ourselves are always right: They who differ from us are wrong; and therefore to be excluded from the communion of saints.
Our Lord forewarned his disciples, that they would meet with like treatment as he had, and by his own behavior taught them a proper temper under it. “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously. Leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” The Christian therefore must lay his account to suffer wrongfully from the world. He forfeits his character, if he doth not arm himself with the same mind as was in Christ Jesus, who endured the contradiction of sinners. A true disciple will shew much condescension for the Gospel’s sake, that others may partake of its blessings with him. He will be patient in tribulation. He will walk in wisdom towards them that are without. He will take care that there be no occasion of stumbling in him. Is this attended to by those who are pertinacious and obstinate about meat and drink—the peculiarities of any one denomination; while righteousness and peace, the essentials of Christianity, are sacrificed?
The Christian will indeed obey God rather than men, though men should persecute him for obeying the dictates of his conscience. At the same time he will endeavour to recommend his profession to all men, by shewing them, that Love, divine and social, is more than whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices—that faith worketh by love. Under the commanding influence of this spirit, a fondness for discriminating terms would be forgotten in a common concern for Christianity, and a common exertion against its foes. Thus our Lord prayed for his disciples. “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” There would be no jar in families, no schism in churches, no tumults in the state, were the spirit of Christianity imbibed. Domestic tranquility and love would bless every house, alleviating every care, consoling under every sorrow, giving a relish to every enjoyment. Kindred would e knit together, as David and Jonathan. Neighbours would be as brethren. It would be with kingdoms as in the natural body, in which “the members have the same care one of another.” Numerous as they are, and however various their office, “the eye doth no say to the hand, I have no need of thee; nor the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Those members which seem to be more feeble are necessary.” Under the influence of this spirit, nations would learn war no more. All would be content with their own rights, and fulfill their duty to others. Whatever different apprehensions there might be, any ill effects therefrom would be prevented. Yea, these would but display the Christian spirit to better advantage. The earth would be like heaven. What glory would be brought to God on high from the universal prevalence of this spirit! What shall we say more to recommend it?
How much then is it to be lamented, that the spirit of Christianity has been departed from in all times and places, by those who have professed a zeal for it? What cause have we to lay our hand upon our heart, and be deeply humbled that we are so prone to animadvert with severity on every mistake and trespass of our brethren; while God in Christ is ever ready to bury in eternal oblivion our numberless and aggravated offences, and proclaimeth peace to all mankind? Dare we indulge hatred against another, while we glory in this, that the Son of the blessed was born into our world, and endured the cross, to make reconciliation for our iniquities? Shall we look for mercy from God, and yet suffer one sun after another to go down upon our wrath against our brother? Yea, one year after another to roll over, and our resentment to continue unabated? Those of whom this may be said, do not surely give the best evidence that they themselves are reconciled to God. In the day of judgment we shall all have infinite need of mercy. Our hope that we shall then find it, depends much on our loving mercy. The merciful shall obtain mercy. Why then has peace been taken from the church and world, under pretence of contending for the faith? The consequence of obedience to the faith would be, as we have seen, peace on earth, and good will among men. To this end Christ was born and came into the world. To this end he both died and revived.
Many rejoiced at the birth of John, because he prepared the way of the Lord. But the birth of Christ is matter of highest joy to all people. For all the blessings of time and eternity are the purchase of his being made flesh, and placing his delights with the sons of men. “Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength; ye ministers of his that do his pleasure”—But why call on the angels? They cease not day and night from celebrating the Redeemer. Unto you, therefore, O men! I call; and my voice is unto the sons of men. With God there is plenteous redemption. He that is mighty hath done great things for our ruined race. He hath not withheld his own Son from us. The Son of the blessed “is our peace, having reconciled Jews and Gentiles unto God by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby. Through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Joy to the world that Jesus reigns! May each of our hearts be his throne. We his ambassadors pray you in his stead, be ye reconciled to God.
Every intelligent and serious Christian will distinguish between a religious commemoration of the birth of Christ, and such excesses as have been common on this occasion. The Christian’s joy in outward things is regulated by the rules of morality, and the superior rules of sobriety and heavenly-mindedness inculcated by the precepts and life of Jesus. He hath not forbid us to rejoice with our friends—to take our portion. But to rejoice in his salvation is to see our own necessities and his fullness; and to come to him as he inviteth all that labour and are heavy-laden, that we may find rest to our souls. In him we shall have peace, if we take his yoke upon us and learn of him. May no light or extravagant joy stain the joy of this day.
Were his religion well understood and universally practiced, all nations would be blessed in abundance of peace. Would we be useful to society or ornaments in the church, would we enjoy ourselves and have peace with God, let us cordially embrace the faith of Christ, and live by it. So shall we rejoice and be glad all our days. It comes recommended to all ages, and to all orders. It is alike adapted to public and private stations, to high and low, rich and poor. Under its influence men will be faithful in little and much; will possess the confidence of each other, the approbation of their own minds, and of him with whom they have to do. It ends in glory honor and immortality. Would to God that such sentiments, and correspondent resolutions, might be taken up on the present occasion by old and young, and middle aged. How few the years of man’s rapid race! We are hastening to the grave. Our fathers where are they? Yea, where are many of our cotemporaries? How many that were younger than we, are gone to the house appointed for all living? In the year past some of us have been bereaved of tender connections. It is not with me as it once was 3—
Instead of presuming on years to come, let us determine to improve the present to the glory of God on high, and the good of men. Let us lay up in store a good foundation against the time to come, by abiding in our callings, walking as God hath variously distributed to us. He that teacheth, let him attend continually on this thing. He that ruleth, let it be with diligence, and as the minister of God for good. And let not those who occupy a lower room, say, Because I am not the eye or the head, I am not of the body. Let love be without dissimulation. Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.
When the devout Simeon, who waited for the consolation of Israel, saw the infant Saviour, he said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.” It will be the consolation of every dark hour thro’ life, and especially of our last moments, if we love the Savior whom we have not seen—if we can assuredly say, I know whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep what I have committed to him against that day, when he shall come in his kingdom.
Impress on our minds what we have heard concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, through whom pardon, grace and glory are published to a world of apostates. All the angels of God worship him. They are employed by him as ministering spirits for the heirs of salvation. We would honour him even as we honour the Father.
May professors of different denominations unite in their endeavours to advance that kingdom which is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the holy Ghost. To this end may they be like-minded one towards another, according to Christ Jesus; that with one mind and one mouth they may glorify God. Christ is not divided. There is one body, and one spirit, even as we are called in one hope. We have all one Father, even God; and one master, even Christ; and all we are brethren. May ministers and churches of every denomination adorn the doctrine of our Saviour by a conversation becoming the gospel, not seeking their own things, but hose of Jesus Christ; above all things putting on charity, which is the bond of perfectness; rejoicing in the gifts, and contributing to the proficiency and usefulness of one another, and to the edification of the universal Church. By caring for each other as members of one body, by keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, and a common concern for the honour of the great head of the church, may they fulfill their duty to him, and one another, and the whole church, that there may be no schism in the body. The faith of our Lord Jesus, the Lord of glory, is without respect to persons, or forms of profession. Grant, O Father, that all in every place, who call on his name, may stand fast in one spirit, with one mind, striving together for the faith of the gospel. According to the Saviour’s prayer for his disciples, may they all be one—that the world may know that thou hast sent him.
Revive the languishing spirit of Christianity among all who make profession of it, and make known thy saving health to all nations. Root out of thy church every plant which thou our heavenly Father hast not planted.
May grace and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied to the flock of God who usually worship in this Sanctuary. May they remember how they have received the messages of salvation from their late worthy pastor, 4 and hold fast, and repent. We commend him and his family to the grace of God. Grant him more perfect and confirmed health. Protract his life and usefulness. May the wilderness and solitary place be glad for the good tidings he may bring; and welcome him, saying, Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Send labourers into that part of thine harvest, who may go forth in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of peace.
May the rules of Christian sobriety regulate the joy of this day, in this place and elsewhere. May nothing take place unbecoming the occasion.
Teach us to rejoice in the Lord always. May our moderation be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. May the peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Jesus Christ; to whom with the Father and Holy Ghost be glory from all on earth and in heaven for evermore. Amen.
1 When this sermon was preached at New-Haven, the general distribution of the subject was thus introduced: “The substance of what will be offered to your consideration, was delivered a few days since to an Episcopal congregation, on occasion of the celebration of the nativity of Christ. But it is equally applicable to the present occasion, (the holy Communion) and to professors of all denominations.