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and softened, and the poor more readily share our generosity. The gift unexpected gladdens the heart of the needy friend. The distance between master and servant, landlord and tenant, becomes less marked, and without any preconcerted agreement the general wish tends, in our practice, towards an embodiment of the angel's song : • Peace on earth and good will towards man.
This season, too, awakens in an especial' manner the remembrance of the past. The days of childhood and of youth are vividly recalled. The social hours of the happy home, with its cheerful faces and loving hearts, are remembered with a pleasure tinged with a sober hue. Departed and loved ones are not forgotten now. They live again in lively recollection amidst our social scenes of festive enjoyment. Even the man on whose head “ the snow of age is drizzled " forgets not the old days of Christmas, with its pleasant hours and happy friendships, never more to return. It would scarcely be Christmas, in feeling, if the past were not blended with the present, and we recalled to our remembrance those who once sat with us around the blazing fire and talked the hours away. Nature has thrown over them her coverlet of green. They sleep away from us among the silent dead, and happy for us if we can think of them as sleeping in Jesus. They are now near us in our thoughts, and ere long they will join us again. Christianity not only sanctions the mirth of home life, and smiles benignantly on its social gatherings, but promises a glorious meeting never to be broken up to all who know Him, who has Himself gone to make ready the place for the great gathering. Although this season comes to us when winter is around us, and ofttimes with sullen skies and searching winds, yet we perhaps have less within us of what winter typifies than at any other season. While the frost leaves its impress on all objects which surround us, we feel, at heart, the glow of social warmth. We become more friendly as we feel the keen edge of the wind, and the flaky snow which thatches the roof seems to preserve from injury the charity dwelling in the hearts of those who are sheltered beneath it.
With such feelings is Christmas generally regarded. In past times it was observed by a festivity and mirth partaking of a ruder and wilder character, which, however, was only in harmony with the uncultivated state of society; and while it was always observed in connection with religious services, superstitious notions were strongly and almost universally entertained. It was supposed at this season that evil spirits were disarmed of their power to hurt.
“no spirit can walk abroad. The nights are wholesome ; then no planet strikes, no fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, so hallowed, and so gracious is the time.” We do not wonder that they so thought in those days, when the true light was so obscured by error, when ceremonial worship was substituted for spiritual devotion ; when gross ignorance peopled the church-yard, the ruined tower, and the lonely retreat with imaginary ghosts, and often took from the night the quiet rest which it mostly brings.
As Christmas commemorates so great an event as the Advent of the Saviour, it is meet that in Christian lands it should be hailed with thankfulness and joy. Well would it be if our gratitude always sprung from an inward experience of the blessedness of “the unspeakable gift.” There is nothing incompatible with Christianity in the custom of uniting this season with social gatherings and hospitable entertainment, if we cast not aside our moderation, and forget not to recognise, in our rejoicing, the goodness of God towards us in our low and lost estate. But such goodness is too generally unremembered, or remembered only as a fact in history, having no bearing on our personal life and endless well-being. Strong, indeed, is the tendency in us to overstep the limit-line of moderation in all that partakes of earthly pleasure or physical enjoyment. To many is this season welcomed, as though it gave sanction to revelling and excess. Every creature of God is good, as the Apostle says, and to be received with thanksgiving, but the Giver is mostly forgotten and dishonoured by the misuse of His gifts.
In the middle ages especially, when the haughty baron, in his gloomy castle, sought means to beguile the weary hours of the winter's day, was Christmas observed with prodigal festivity and unrestrained indulgence. In the old hall the company met, feasted long and drank deep.
The yule log blazed on the wide hearth, the mistletoe hung from the ample roof, clusters of red berries sparkled from the walls, while the wild uproar of loud talk, and louder song and laughter rang through the spacious chamber, and broke the silence which reigned around the stern battlements or mingled with the wilder uproar of the angry winds. Similar scenes were witnessed in the farm-house and cottage home, and the day was more distinguished by its desecration through carnal revelling, than by Christian rejoicing.
What changes has this day successively witnessed in domestic circles which once were gathered under the old roof. The chairs in the antiquated room may remain, but where are those who occupied them ? The fireplace may wear the same appearance which it has worn for many a long year, but where are the faces which once glowed in its ruddy light? The oak table may remain around which once gathered beloved families and friends, but around which gather now those who knew them not. Every return of this day has seen some change—in the absence of some one whom distance kept away, or in the appearance of a fresh face as a substitute for the one which death hath changed and sent away far beyond the sphere of all earthly meetings.
What a history could every Christmas-day record. A day annually observed has scope enough to mark the movements of God's hand in all variety of change. Custom, however, takes not this into accord. It keeps its festive days and social meetings as though no changes had taken place, and no ills had stricken sore humanity, and as though death himself were: kept beyond the territory of human existence.
In the domain of home all is now life and joy. The old seem to regain some of their lost vigour, and the young, with full purpose of heart, make merry and are glad. Brooding care is thrown off for awhile, and bid to wait and worry us not at least till Christmas is over. Sorrow may not appear to us to suit well at any time, but sorrow at Christmas is regarded as something anomalous. Custom has led us so long to look then only at the sunny
side of life. To the Christian especially should this season be one of profit and thankfulness. It marks a stage in his journey. He may erect his monumental stone, and inscribe upon it: “Hitherto the Lord hath helped me," and rejoice in the thought that when he has finished “as a hireling his day," there is for him the “home” on high, where finally all the family shall be convened.
Let Christmas, then, in all its associations and remembrances, beget in us all the spirit of kindness and charity. Too frequently is the opposite in us, to the loss of our own peace as well as the peace of others—for love worketh no ill to our neighbour, but the absence of it does. This season is also a revealer of want. This exists more or less at all times and mostly in all places, but nipping frosts and penetrating winds render it more manifest and more intense. The fact that Christ was born to redeem from all suffering and sin should open both the hand and heart. His eye, when a sojourner here, beheld our want and woe with compassion and tenderness, and His words to every wearied mind and burdened heart were :
" Come unto me and I will give you rest.” Although we cannot do much that He did, we can do all that He has told us and commanded, and we never better please and obey Him than when we remember the poor He has left us. To remember such amid the keen winds of winter and the keener winds of adversity, is to remember Him who once “ for us men and our salvation," had “ a stable for His palace" and "a manger for His throne.”
Like silver lamps in a dist shrine
Now a new Power has come on the
night; The gloom is past, and the morn at last
Is coming with orient light.
Whom the Prophets of God foretell.
Never fell melodies half so sweet
As those which are filling the skies; And never a palace shone half so fair
As the manger-bed where our Saviour
The stars of Heaven still shine as at first
They gleamed on this wonderful night; The bells of the City of God peal out, And the Angels' song still rings in
the height; And love still turns where the Godhead
burns, Veiled in the Flesh from fleshly sight.
No night in the year is half so dear
As this which has ended our sighs.
And all the bright host chanted
Words that shall never cease-
On earth good-will and peace.
Faith sees no longer the stable-floor,
The pavement of sapphire is there ; The clear light of Heaven streams out
to the world; And Angels of God are crowding theair; And Heaven and earth, through the
spotless Birth, Are at peace on this night so fair.
W. C. Dix.
The vision in the Heavens
Faded, and all was still,
Quickly their course they held,
Virgin and Child beheld.
THE MOON THAT NOW IS SHINING.
"The Moon that now is shining
In skies so blue and bright, Shone ages since on shepherds
Who watched their flocks by night :
The azure air was still,
Upon the grassy hill.
The watchers stood before,
For mortals to adore;
Listen, nor be afraid,
The glorious Child was laid. When suddenly in the Heavens
Appeared an Angel-band (The while in reverent wonder
The Syrian shepherds stand)
Beside a humble manger
Was the Maiden-mother mild,
A new-born Infant, smiled.
From Calvary then was cast;
The suffering was not past.
And rarest offerings brought;
The wonders God had wrought :
The future's glorious part:
A. A. PROCTER.
“ EARLY NONCONFORMIST ORDINATIONS.”
TO THE EDITOR.
SIR,—In your last number there appears a paper, by the Rev. James Browne, B.A., on the above subject, in which he demurs to a statement in Dr. Halley's magnificent work on Lancashire Nonconformity, intimating that “the first ordination in England of a Nonconforming minister, took place in the house of Mr. Robert Eaton, of Deansgate, Manchester, on October 29th, 1672.” Mr. Browne, on what appears to be good authority, claims “pre-eminence, in point of time,” for the ordination of “ Michael Briscoe, the first minister of Walmsley,” still he is not able to give us the date; but he does give the date of the ordination of his (Mr. Briscoe's) successor, viz., “ 10th day of the 7th month, 1671.” But if, abandoning the idea of uniformity of practice, we regard the solemn designation of a Christian man to the office to which the Church has called him, as ordination, then Lancashire must give place to Norfolk as to priority of date. From the Church book, in my possession, we learn that in 1642 certain exiles returned from Rotterdam to Norwich and Yarmouth, and constituted the Norwich and Yarmouth “ Congregational” Church.
On June 28th, 1643, the Church met at Norwich, entered into a covenant, and “began to advise about choosing an officer out from among them, and, after some advising together, they jointly, with one consent, called Mr. William Bridge to the office of pastor in the Church, who did accordingly accept thereof, and being ordained into that office, he administered baptism to divers children. . . . He also administered the Lord's Supper then to divers members of the present Church and the Church at Rotterdam.”
From the above extract it seems that the ordination was simply the act of the Church-possibly, of necessity so, there being no others to ordain. The same conclusions are also arrived at from the following minutes, taken from the same source :
In 1664 the United Church divided, in consequence of the inconvenience of the distance from the one place to the other—more than twenty miles,the pastor remaining with the Church at Yarmouth. From 1644 to 1647, the Church at Norwich seems to have struggled on without a settled minister; but in 1645, a Mr. Timothy Armitage joined them, and probably exercised his gifts in their meetings. On July 12th, 1647, “ It was agreed at a Church meeting that, on 26th July, the whole afternoon be sett apart to seeke direction from the Lord, in reference to calling forth one of the members to the office of pastor. . . Accordingly, at a Church meeting upon the said 26th day of July, Mr. Timothy Armitage was chosen to the office of pastor by all the brethren then present, being 32 in number, who desired hyme to give in his answere to the Church.
“ August 30th.—Mr. Timothy Armitage accepted of the pastor's office at a Church meeting.
“October 4th.–At a Church meeting, it was agreed, that the 21st day of this instant, October, should be spent in prayer, and compleating the business concerning Mr. Timothy Armitage's undertaking the pastorall charge.
“ October 21.—The Church being mett, most part of the day was spent in seeking God for a blessing upon Mr. Armitage's undertaking the pastor's office, concerning which he spake by way of acceptation, and concluded with prayer."
That this service was regarded as Mr. Armitage's ordination, is implied by resolutions that follow, directing the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and the administration of the ordinance of baptism.
I venture to think, Sir, that these brief minutes from our ancient Church book, throw some light on the form of early ordinations, and take us back nearer, at least, to the first ordination of a Nonconforming minister in England, than either the case referred to by Dr. Halley or the Rev. J. Browne.
Yours faithfully, John HALLETT. Norwich, Nov. 9th, 1869.