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ST. MATT. i. 21.

“Thou shalt call His name Jesus.”

THESE words were spoken in vision by the angel of God to Joseph. They are a part of the divine message which revealed to him the mystery of the Incarnation. Strange things were in the thoughts of his heart, but stranger still were those made known from heaven. He was himself included in the great ministry of divine power and love. Second only to Mary, who was chosen to be the Mother of our Lord, is he who was elected to be her betrothed husband, and the foster-father of the Son of God. “Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife; for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” What a charge was here committed to him—to watch over the Mother and the Son; to be the guardian of 45the Word made flesh. Unto which of the angels gave He at any time so great a trust? They ministered to Him; but Joseph was invested with a father’s sway; he fostered Him in His childhood; wrought for Him, nurtured Him, bare Him as a protector and a guide.

And when the angel had given this great commission, he revealed also the Name of the divine Child. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus.” The Name had been chosen in heaven. It was already known in the heavenly court. Angels worshipped it when they adored the Eternal Son Incarnate from the foundation of the world.

Why, it may be asked, was so great care taken to choose and to reveal a name? Because names are realities—what they express is no mere sound, but a living truth. The Father is the Father, not because He is called so, but He is called so because He is the Father. The Son is the Son, not because He is called the Son, but He is called so because He is the Son. Names stand for persons; and persons are living and true realities. This we know even in earthly names; they represent to us persons, with all their complex associations of character and feature. As persons kindle our affections, and waken our sympathies, so names take up the sympathies and affections which cling to persons. When present, persons are the objects 46 of our hearts; when absent, names come into their place. And names call up the liveliest and fondest memories. When we hear them, we see before us forms and countenances, with their expression and character; we hear the tones and accents, the laugh and footstep of the past. Names are to us what persons are, dear or indifferent, moving or powerless, just as they for whom they stand. Who does not know what is the power of the name of father or mother, sister or brother? What visions they bring back upon us: what a stream of memories; of years long passed away, of careless childhood, bright mornings, lingering twilights, the early dawn, the evening star, and all the long-vanished world of happy, unanxious thoughts, with the loves, hopes, smiles, and tenderness of days gone by. Who does not know what visions of maturer life come and go with the sound of a name, of one familiar word—the symbol of a whole order now no more? The greater part of our consciousness is summed up in memory; the present is but a moment, ever flowing, past almost as soon as come. Our life is either behind us or before; the future in hope and expectation, the past in trial and remembrance. Our life to come is little realised as yet; we have some dim outlines of things unseen, forecastings of realities behind the veil, and objects of faith beyond the grave; but 47all this is too divine and high. We can hardly conceive it; at best faintly, often not at all. Our chief consciousness of life is in the past, which yet hangs about us as an atmosphere peopled with memories and forms. They live for us now in names, beloved and blessed.

So is it with this Name chosen of God. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus.” It stands to us as the witness of peace and bliss. What visions are called up by it! The Child at Nazareth, or sitting in the temple; the Healer of sorrows at the gate of Nain, or weeping by the grave in Bethany; the Cleanser of sin; the Lord of compassion, breaking bread in the wilderness; the good Shepherd; the Friend of Sinners; the Absolver of penitents; the Companion of the lonely, as they walk by the way of life and are sad; and now, in the heavenly kingdom, the Redeemer, pitiful, loving, compassionate; stooping over us, with a countenance of light, meek and patient, divine in tenderness, our Lord and our God. All this rises up at the sound of this sacred Name. Let us see why it reveals all this to our faith.

1. First, because the name Jesus is the name Saviour. When Isaiah, in the spirit of prophecy, spake of Him, he gave His heavenly titles, His divine name. “His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting 48 Father, The Prince of Peace.”1212   Isaiah ix. 6. But the angel brought to us His earthly title, the human name which He should take as the Son of man. “Thou shalt call His name Jesus.” And then he reveals the reason: “For He shall save His people from their sins.”

It expresses His office as our Saviour. He is our salvation. The whole mystery of His person and of His work is revealed in the name Jesus; for He first saved our nature by taking if upon Himself. He took to Himself our manhood of the substance of our fallen humanity, and made it sinless and deathless. In our nature, though without sin, He suffered death, that He might save us from sin and death. Therefore He is the Saviour both of our nature and of ourselves. And His name is a healing name, pledging to us the salvation He has made perfect in His own immortal flesh. We may draw from this word the whole baptismal faith. It brings before us the Godhead of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; the divine image in which we were created; the abyss into which we fell and died. It reveals to us the mystery of the eternal Son made Man, suffering and dying for us, His life of contradiction, His death of agony. “He is our peace.”1313   Ephes. ii. 14. And His name reveals to us the reconciliation of God and 49man, of things in heaven and things in earth; the justification of the faithful, the absolution of sinners, the calm of the dying, the rest of saints. What a title is Saviour! dear to each one, as he knows the depth of his own fall. If we realise what sin is, and death: the eternal weight of guilt, the anguish of defiled hearts, the torment of temptation, the judgment to come, the undying worm, the everlasting flame, the loss of God; if we know, each one, what our life has been in childhood, youth, and manhood,—its sins and sorrows, its wounds and sicknesses, its inward darkness and deceit:—and unless we know these things, we do but take this Name in vain:—if, indeed, we know all this with a living and thrilling heart, then there is no “name under heaven given among men” so full of calm and healing. It will be to us exactly what we are in ourselves: to the impenitent an empty word, to the penitent life and pardon: to any measure of penitence, dear as the sorrow is deeper; dearest to those who are self-accused and convicted, guilty in their own eyes above all, sorrowing and alone, not for want of kind hearts around them, but because the kindest and nearest heart is all too far away to soothe the affliction of a contrite spirit. One alone can enter into the quick of our grief. One alone can heal 50 a wounded heart. One only Name has power to save.

2. But there is a deeper meaning still. The name Jesus is His name as our kinsman. It is His name as man—the name of His humiliation, given on the eighth day, when, for our sakes, He humbled Himself. He is very Man, in all the truth of our humanity. He took our true manhood—not of a like substance with us, but of the same; the one substance of mankind. By regeneration, we are “of His flesh and of His bone,” who by incarnation is of ours. He entered into human relations. He shared our kindred, and placed Himself in the order of our consanguinity. The Spirit of prophecy, speaking in the person of the Church, cried of old, “Oh, that Thou wert as my brother.”1414   Cantic. viii. 1. And this desire He has granted. He is made our brother: “He is not ashamed to call us brethren.” “Go to My brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto My Father and your Father.”1515   St. John xx. 17. He has, therefore, taken upon Him all the affections of kindred. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.”1616   St. Matt. xxv. 40. As He is the faultless and perfect Son, so He is the loving and perfect Brother, As human nature has its perfection in 51His person, so human kindred has its perfection in His heart. His love, tenderness, and sympathy as a Brother, are as perfect as His patience, lowliness, and sanctity as Man. The name Jesus is the name of a brother in blood, who thereby binds Himself to us with the natural bonds which unite us to each other. It pledges to us His sympathy in all sorrows of body and of soul,—in poverty and straits, in weariness and fasting, in fear and anxiety, in temptation and desertion: all these He shares with us, by the perfect sympathy and perfect affection of a brother. Let us dwell upon this thought, as it is revealed to us in the mystery of the Incarnation.

There are two spheres of being; the uncreated, where from everlasting the eternal Son dwelt with the Father and the Holy Ghost; and the created, into which, by His incarnation, He came down to dwell with us. In the higher sphere, He still received the adoration of the heavenly court as God, while, in the lower, angels ministered to Him as man. And now, exalted in our manhood to His Father’s throne, the Lord Jesus, very Man as very God, receives the homage of all worlds, while, as our brother, He is united still with us. Here is the line at which the faith of many fails. They believe His Godhead, and profess to believe His manhood; but they shrink from the divine mysteries 52 of our living incorporation with His perfect humanity, our very and true participation in His divine nature. Therefore, to them, sacraments are figures of an intellectual food; the Church and union springing from our individual will; the sympathy of Christ a fancy, or even an irreverent approach. And for the same cause they cannot understand the blessed reality of His human affections, of His heart as man. They shrink from it, as something presumptuous, or enthusiastic; or as lowering, and, as they say, humanising the spiritual and divine. What, then, would they have said of the Incarnation itself, if they had not unconsciously received it before they began to judge as a condition to believing? The mystery of the Incarnation is, indeed, a humanising of God, as it is also a deifying of man; for in Him the Godhead and the manhood are alike perfect and indivisible. The name Jesus speaks to us through His human heart, like ours in all things, sin only excepted.

3. But there is, if possible, a still deeper and more precious meaning of this name. “There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.”1717   Prov. xviii. 24. When He was on earth, He had, if I may speak after our common way, His particular friendships. Beside the kindred of blood which He contracted 53with all, there is a spiritual kindred, which is even nearer still. “Who is My mother, and who are My brethren? Whosoever shall do the will of My Father in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.” “He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him.”1818   St. Matt. xii. 48; St. John xiv. 23. He has told us on what this special love is founded. It rested on the zeal of Peter, the ardent love of John, the diligent service of Martha, the yearning devotion of Mary; and yet their love was but the reflection of the love He first bare to them—the faint return of that love wherewith He had loved them eternally. Nevertheless, we here may learn a great law of His kingdom, that He has particular friendships, and a special love for those who love and live for Him. To them this Name is a depth of sweetness, as the harmonies of a perfect strain. It is “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.” It sheds abroad in them a consciousness of heavenly love. It has been to them as a hymn of praise, a prayer of power, a litany of pleading, a meditation all the day long. “My meditation of Him shall be sweet.” This has been the musing of saints. Their words and their writings, their acts and their prayers, their public labours and their solitary hours, their 54 lives and their deaths, have been full of it. Preachers have taken it as their text. The name of Jesus, said one of old, “is honey in the mouth, melody in the ear, gladness in the heart, medicine to the soul. Is any of you sad, let Jesus come into his heart, and thence pass into his lips. No sooner is the light of this name arisen, than all clouds fly before it, and the calm sky returns.” “When I speak the name ‘Jesus,’ I set before me a man meek and lowly of heart, benign and modest, pure and pitiful, bright with all goodness and holiness; and He is, moreover, God the Almighty, Who heals me by His example, and strengthens me by His help.”1919   S. Bernard, in Cant. Serm. xv. The Church has made hymns of this one sacred word. “Jesu, sweet in memory, Giver of joy to the heart; sweet above the honeycomb, sweeter than all, is Thy Presence. No song so soft, no tidings so glad, no thought so grateful, as Jesus the Son of God. Jesu, Hope of penitents, how gentle to those who plead with Thee! how good to those who seek! But what to those who find Thee?”

What, if we dare to speak of it, was the name of such a Son to His blessed Mother; what a name of love ineffable, of adoring fond delight! What was the memory of that name, in after years, to her whom He had forgiven sevenfold; what in long 55years of loneliness to St. John; what to St. Peter in the sharpness of the cross? What has it been, what is it not, to all solitary and saintly hearts, for whom this world has no solace, this life nothing that they should any more desire it?

And what is this name to us? When we hear it, what does it awaken? When we read it, what does it kindle in our hearts? Does it call up a vision of beauty and of majesty; a Presence awful with divine glory, radiant with a countenance of love? Does it make our hearts to burn with a memory of His meekness and tenderness, His afflictions and His passion? Does it thrill through them with a consciousness that for us He was all this, and He suffered all this, and that He is all this to us still?

No other word can declare at once, what we have been to Him, and what He has been to us.

We have been to Him all that sinners can: we dethroned Him from our hearts, and from the kingdom of His Father; we girded Him with our fallen manhood; we laid on Him the necessity of sorrow; we bound Him by the law of death; we pierced Him upon the cross; we have been to Him as the ungrateful lepers, cleansed and thankless; we have slighted and forgotten Him all the day long. “Out of sight, out of mind.” We have lived as if He had never suffered and died; as if 56 He had never been, as if He were a fabulous person, an abstraction, a name standing for a theory or an intellectual scheme.

And what has He not been to us? From our childhood to this hour; in the days of our sinful blindness, and in the years of our more sinful contempt of light; in our sinning and repenting, our returning and relapsing; all the while He has been to us forgiving, patient, tender, full of pity, full of peace, our Saviour, kinsman, and friend. He loved us even in our falls, and accepts our love even after so great ingratitude. Let each one look into himself. What has He been to you in times of sickness, and what have you been to Him in your time of health? Has not His countenance shone upon you in the darkness of sorrow, bereavement, and solitude; and has not your face been turned away from Him when the light came back into your home again? Have you not learned by trial, and almost by sense, that all the visions and parables of mercy revealed in the earthly life of the Lord Jesus are perpetual miracles of grace, perpetual ministries of consolation? Does He not now as then—has He not always until now received sinners, bound up broken hearts, cleansed the contrite, consoled mourners, upheld the sinking, visited the path of the lonely, the hiding-place of sorrow, the pains of sickness, the pallet of the 57dying? Have you not so known Him nigh to you in your home and heart?

Let us, then, desire and pray that we may love His person. Let us not think, or fancy, or dream about loving Him, but love Him “in deed and in truth.” To love Him is not an act of the intellect, but an affection of the heart. It is to be attained, not by a vivid imagination, but by a fervent will. If we would love Him, we must ask of Him to make us feel His love. It is love that awakens love. In the measure in which we feel the glow and sunshine of His love resting upon us, we shall kindle and break forth into love to Him again. As we learn to know our guilt and sinfulness, our sloth and perversity, our churlish and ungrateful hearts; as we come to see the coldness, weariness, estrangement of our souls, even in our prayers before Him, nay, above all, at the very altar; and, feeling all this, as we taste His forgiveness and compassion, His tenderness and pity, then we shall know the sweetness of this sacred Name. It will be to us the pledge of all He is. “Thy name is as ointment poured forth;” all the day long we shall remember it: abroad and at home it will be with us, and “the whole house shall be filled with the odour of the ointment.”

For this let us strive always to realise His 58 Presence. O slow of heart; we speak of Him as of one come and gone, as of a wayfarer who once tarried for a night, long ago past in the dimness of history; or we think of Him as of one whom we shall some day see, with whom we shall then begin to make account. How few live upon His promise, “Lo, I am with you alway;” and the blessedness of the relation, that He is our Master, and we His servants; He our Lord, and we His disciples. “They have taken away my Lord out of the sepulchre, and I know not where they have laid Him.” What love and sorrow is in that one word, “my Lord!” Is He not so to each of us? May not each one of us say, “My Lord and my God?” What a strength and spring of life, what hope and trust, what glad, unresting energy, is in this one thought,—to serve Him who is “my Lord” ever near me, ever looking on; seeing my intentions before He beholds my failures; knowing my desires before He sees my faults; cheering me to endeavour greater things, and yet accepting the least; inviting my poor service, and yet, above all, content with my poorer love. Let us try to bear this in mind, whatsoever, wheresoever we be. The humblest and the simplest, the weakest and the most encumbered, may love Him not less than the busiest and strongest, the most gifted and laborious. If our heart be 59clear before Him; if He be to us our chief and sovereign choice, dear above all, and beyond all desired; then all else matters little. That which concerneth us He will perfect in stillness and in power, and His name will be our solace and strength, the beginning of every work, the end of every desire, our motive and our hope, our meditation and our confidence. The Name of Jesus will be our all: what it speaks, He is. It shall be perseverance in life, and peace in death; an absolving plea in the day of His coming, a song of joy in the kingdom of the Resurrection. It is even now the chant of saints, the hallelujah of angels; for God hath given Him “a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”2020   Phil. ii. 9-11.

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