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"FIRST-FRUITS UNTO GOD, AND

TO THE LAMB,”

(THE HOLY INNOCENTS.)
BY REV. S. IV. SKEFFINGTON, M.A.,

(Fellour of Unirersity College, Oxm.)

S. MATTHEW XXI. 16, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings Thou hast perfected praise."

Again, my brethren, as on the night of the Nativity, the Church calls us to Bethlehem-the centre of our thoughts and affections during the Christmas festival. But in the festival of to-day she anticipates somewhat the course of events; the Divine Infant no longer lies wrapped in the poor swaddling clothes and in the stable of the inn, surrounded by the beasts of the field, the glory of the Lord no longer shines in the heavens, the songs of the angels have died away on our ears, the shepherds have returned to their midnight watches on the hill-side, the Eastern strangers have departed to their own country another way; it is no longer possible for Bethlehem to honour or cast out God Incarnate in

the midst of her, no more do men cast a glance of pity or wonder on the group which meets their eye in the rude stable ; for the Holy Child has been quickly hurried away by night into Egypt in the arms of his blessed mother, and is waiting a little while until Herod's tyranny be overpast. And now within the streets of Bethlehem there is the sound of wailing. Brokenhearted women are uttering a mother's sharp cry of distress over their little ones bathed in their infant blood ; pitiless men are carrying out the mandate of a cruel king; from two years old and under the children in Bethlehem and all its coasts are being ruthlessly massacred. “In Rama was “ there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, 6 and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her "children, and would not be comforted because "they are not.” Oh, what a heart-rending scene must it have been to witness the dying struggles of those sinless sufferers, to view the speechless agony of those weeping mothers. But, brethren, it was for the Redeemer that those little ones were unconsciously yielding up their young lives, their blood, shed by Herod that His might be mingled with it, was in reality poured out instead of His; instead of His, yes, but only that He

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might employ the life which was thus extended for their final good; only that He might one day, when arrived at man's estate, pour forth His Precious Blood on Calvary in a more acceptable sacrifice, and by that blood-shedding redeem to His Heavenly Father not only those infant firstfruits unto God, but the great army of the redeemed which no man can number. Then was it permitted to these Holy Innocents to take their place in the white-robed army of the martyrs-of those who for God and His Truth have not counted their life dear unto themselves; thus did they in deed, if not in will, lay down their lives for their Saviour, and receive His baptism of blood ; thus did the sword of the executioner gain for them unfading crowns, and confer on them more than baptismal grace and glory ; thus do they head that far-stretching band of babes and sucklings, who from that day to this have been taken away in the spotless innocence of unconscious childhood ; who are set forth by our Blessed Lord as the very models and types of holiness alike to penitents and saints; thus were their names incessantly linked with the Divine infancy and childhood of Him Who in time vouchsafed to be co-equal with them ; thus do

they form a precious offering to Him from His otherwise careless and ungrateful birth-place ; thus did they, being made perfect, in a short time fulfil a long time, and pass in one brief moment to the goal which other saints have reached only after years of doubtful struggle, and the agonies of an uncertain conflict. Fitly indeed do they gather round the cradle in this glad solemnity of the Nativity to offer their adorations to the newborn King ; “ young men” in the person of S. Stephen, “old men ” in the person of S. John, have borne witness to the truth and power of the great fact of the Incarnation, and now on this day “children" also praise the name of the Lord for "out of the mouth of babes and “ sucklings thou, O Lord, hast perfected praise." In to-day's festival, then, we see a remarkable illustration of the great truth which lies at the very foundation of our Christian faith, that the true perfection of human nature lies in conformity not to the intellectual but to the spiritual and moral likeness of Almighty God. A festival like that of the Holy Innocents provokes at once the criticism of the hostility of the unregenerate heart. Why, it asks, commemorate with special honour the memory of a few poor Jewish children who were butchered before they attained to years of discretion ? We can understand and reverence the heroic constancy of a S. Stephen or a S. John, even though we decline to share their enthusiasm or to tread in their footsteps; we can account as benefactors of their race any who have dared to assert in the face of a tyrannical opposition the inalienable right of man to think and judge for himself on the highest subjects which can claim his attention ; but we cannot consent to dignisy with the prerogatories of saints and martyrs, infants whose power of thought and speech were alike undeveloped, who, if they had no evil, had certainly nothing to show of positive good. Such objections, my brethren, proceed upon a total ignorance of that which is radically valuable in the life of

If it were true that man's highest good were to attain to the most perfect knowledge possible concerning himself and the universe which surrounds him; if Christianity were a philosophical scheme for disciplining the character and habits through the action of the intellect upon them; if our Lord were not very God, but a teacher of surpassing wisdom and goodness, if the soul were only a phrase used to

man.

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