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THE HOLY SEASONS IN THE PRIMITIVE CHRISTIAN
O most holy God, separate us from the world, and raise us in meditation to thee. May the stillness of thy Sabbath ever rest upon us, that we may have our walk in heaven. Be thou, O Lord Jesus, as thou hast promised, in the midst of us; for we are assembled together to pray in thy most prevailing name. O do thou bless us with thy blessings. Amen.
I doubt not, in the life of each individual, important, I might almost say, sacred days and seasons, which, although they be to all appearance intrinsically the same as others, yet, in a certain measure, stand out before, and are marked out among them, partly on account of the recollections connected with them, partly on account of the manner in which we celebrate them. There are likewise days and seasons of a higher import, whose influence again extends over the other days and seasons of life, and serves to give a holiness to them also. Thus we are wont to consider our birthdays as especially important, and to mark them particularly, and that certainly not without reason, when we reflect that the time of grace commences with us when we enter into this earthly existence, on the use and application of which depends the decision of our eternal destiny. Thus, also, those days appear to us as peculiarly worthy our remembrance on which something extraordinary has happened to us, or which have had some great and decisive influence on our whole lives ; as, for example, the day of our entering into the marriage state, or the day on which we entered upon any vocation to
which we dedicate all our time and powers, or that on which dear friends were snatched
from by death. Such times are, and continue to be, important to us, particularly if they have exercised any marked influence on our lives, and have perhaps given them a new turn and direction.
But that, my brethren, which, on this head, is the case with individuals, is generally the case also with larger societies. In the existence of nations and of churches, we find such consecrated days, such festive seasons, which are distinguished before all others. The birthday, or the day of the ascension of the throne of a beloved monarch, the anniversaries of important occurrences in the history of a people, the days of remembrance of great and decisive victories, by which our country has preserved its independence, these are feast-days which, although not celebrated every where through the land, are yet, at least, always kept in many societies of larger or smaller extent. And has not the church her feast-days, her holy seasons, which are dedicated to the memory of remarkable and important events, namely, of the wonderful acts of the life of their divine founder ? Do we not celebrate our Sunday every week ? Do we not every year celebrate the high feasts of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide ? Does not the memory of the reformation of the sixteenth century remain strong and sacred ? Do we not close our ecclesiastical
year celebration to the memory of the departed ? Such days and seasons we peculiarly appropriate to pious meditations ; they are the days on which we come together in our churches to our public exercises of piety.
How did matters stand in this regard in the Christian church of antiquity, my brethren ? Had they, even at that time, their feasts and holy seasons, and what were the days which were particularly distinguished from others? What views prevailed among Christians in general on this subject during the first centuries? We must all of us desire to find out and know, how far our present regulations agree with those of former days, or differ from them. As then, my brethren, we have com
menced an inquiry into the ecclesiastical life of the early Christians, and spoke on the last occasion of the holy places where the believers in the gospel were wont to assemble for their public services, let us this day follow out our researches farther, and treat of the holy seasons
which were then appropriated to united worship. We are now celebrating our Sunday. May our meditations contribute to making it a day of blessing to us, that we may consecrate and dedicate to the Lord not only this day, but every day of our lives. And let us together beg of him, in silent prayer, to grant us his grace in our undertaking.
TEXT. Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the newmoon, or of the Sabbath-days : which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.-Col. ii. 16, 17.
Thus does the apostle Paul express himself, he who had grasped the spirit of Christianity in all its purity, in opposition to those who had set up the distinction of certain meats, and the celebration of certain feasts, as necessary and inomissible for religion and the salvation of souls, and who were disposed to judge and condemn those who would not be bound by the like observances. And in these words he declares the principle which prevailed in the earliest times of the Christian church in relation to the observance of feast-days, without entirely rejecting the appointment and setting apart of feastdays at set times for public and congregational worship. His principles will appear clear and distinct when we proceed to treat farther of the holy times of the Christians of the first centuries. Let us then consider,
1. How the early Christians in general thought of holy seasons.
2. What feasts were originally celebrated in the church ; and,
3. How we ought to consider our holy seasons and feasts.
Holy Father, sanctify us with thy truth; thy word is truth. Amen.
I. Before all things, my brethren, we must not forget what I reminded
you of in my last discourse, that Christianity is a religion of the spirit, by which the views that prevailed, both among Jews and heathens, of an especial priesthood, and especially holy places and consecrated seasons, have been thoroughly changed, and transferred from the domain of the flesh to that of the spirit. The great principle of Christians, as regards the worship of God, must be this, “ God is a Spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth.” The gospel never places any weight in the form, but in the spirit; never lays any stress upon the shadow, but upon the reality, upon the body itself, as is said in our text, of the laws concerning meat, and the holy days of the old covenant, “ which are a shadow of things to come, but the body (that is, the reality), is Christ,” that is, is to be found in Him alone, in Him, and in the kingdom of God, which he has founded. The shadow is indeed a faithful copy of the body, but it cannot exist without: in and for itself it is nothing, and has no being; it only serves to point to the body, and he who possesses the body, will no more require
the shadow. Thus, the Old Testament, with all its holy persons and uses, and all its sacred ordinances, was but a shadow of things to come ; i. e. of that new order of things which have begun in and with Christ. In Christ we have the reality, the one thing needful for man's salvation and his everlasting happi
He, therefore, who still holds to the Old Testament, has grasped the shadow, and lost sight of the reality, the body itself. No one can be saved by the precepts of the Old Testament, but only by Him whom they mark out, as the shadow does the body. In Christ, and in Christ alone, is salvation given unto us. That man who is truly in Christ, is exempted from every law concerning holy seasons which had force under the Jewish dispensation, for he knows that there is no time
in his life which must not be dedicated to God, and thus, that there is no time which should be to him more holy than another. As every place appears to him holy, because God is every where present, so must every moment be dedicated to Him, and the whole life pass with regard to him. In this sense St Paul exhorts, “ Let no man judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy-day, or of the new-moon, or of the Sabbath-days." The Sabbath appears, viewed in the light of the gospel, as a day of rest, not a single day, severed from the rest, but it should be rather every day, the whole life should rather be one unbroken Sabbath, on which we should rest, not outwardly from work and occupation, but inwardly from every evil thought. The Christian must every where, and at every time in the week, as upon the Lord's day, witness, by thought, word, and deed, that he belongs to God, and is his property. He will be always at worship; he will be always planning and thinking how to please God; and his whole life will, in like manner, be consecrated by unremitting dedication of it to him, and will serve to the glory of His name. St Paul combats this keeping holy of set seasons and days, in as far as men wished to consider them as necessary to salvation, as empty ordinances, as something thoroughly unevangelical, as a return “ to the bondage of the law," as a lapse into the fleshly principles of Judaism. The gospel gives us no authority to make a difference of days, to sever one time from another, and to say, “ This day thou must sanctify to God, and not another; on this day thou must serve God, on that it is not necessary; and without observing these, thou canst not be saved.” The apostle blames the Galatian Christians impressively, for having suffered themselves to be misled by false teachers, to change the free, evangelical spirit, for the beggarly elements of Judaism, and for considering the Mosaic dispensation in its whole extent as binding and necessary to salvation, and also for observing the Jewish feasts. < But now that ye have known God, rather are known of God,” he exclaims to them (that is, are