Great Texts of the Bible
And she brought forth her firstborn son; and she wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.—Luke 2:7.
There are not many texts in the Bible with which Christians, from the highest to the lowest, from the very aged to the young child who can but just speak, are more familiar than they are with this. We learn more or less about our Lord’s cradle almost as soon as we are out of our own cradles. That one part of the gospel history we know, even when the rest has quite slipped out of our minds.
Christ’s mother and Joseph had been living at their home at Nazareth when, according to St. Luke’s Gospel, orders were given for one of those censuses, or enrolments of the people, which were sometimes used in ancient days as a basis for the imposition of a poll-tax. In such cases, people were enrolled according to their ancestry and the region from which they originally came; and thus it was that “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David; to enrol himself with Mary who was betrothed to him, being great with child.”
The little town—it was no more than what we should call a village—was crowded with people, many of whom had come for the same purpose and claimed the same exalted lineage; the inn or guest-chamber—there was rarely more than one in such small places—was already crowded; this carpenter and his young bride were people of no particular importance and needed no special consideration, still less did the unborn Child; and so, as there was no room for them among the human guests, they had to find shelter in the stable hard by, among the beasts.
It used to be brought as an objection against the trustworthiness of St. Luke’s Gospel that there was no evidence other than his that such an enrolment was known at that time or in that region. Why the evidence of this ancient document should be regarded as less valuable than that of another on such a point did not appear; but at any rate it no longer matters. Within the last few years records have been discovered, on fragments of papyrus found in the rubbish-heaps of old Egyptian towns, which prove conclusively that such enrolments did take place in that time and region; and of this objection we shall doubtless hear no more.1 [Note: 1 Bishop W. E. Collins, Hours of Insight, 112.]
No Room in the Inn
1. The story of the Nativity is not only very beautiful, as surely all will be willing to confess; it is historically true, a thing that some, even quite recently, have shown themselves eager to deny. Of course, to the faithful soul the whole story is convincing. The man who has seen the heavens opening in mercy and hope above his dark and sin-bound life finds no difficulty in believing that the glory of the Lord broke forth before men’s very eyes what time the Saviour of the world began His earthly life. The man who year after year has been led by the Light of the World across the wastes and through the dark places of life does not ask the astronomers to give him permission to believe in the Star of Bethlehem. But apart from such a gracious predisposition to receive this lovely story, we find touches in it that a master of fiction, much less a simple, plain-minded man, could surely never have given to it. There are points in the story that would never have occurred to the weaver of a tale. And notable amongst them is St. Luke’s simple statement that Mary in the hour of her need was shut out from such comfort and shelter as the inn at Bethlehem might have afforded. The Gospels were written by those who believed in Jesus as the Son of God. St. Luke was writing of the Nativity of his Lord, the birthday of the King of kings. And he pictures Him in that hour at the mercy of untoward circumstance. He is born in a stable and cradled in a manger. He could not have had a lowlier, a less kingly entrance into the world than that. There seems to be but one explanation of these apparently unpropitious details of the story, and that is that they are true.
One of the most absent-minded people I ever knew was a more or less distinguished ecclesiastic at whose house I used to visit as a child. He had won some fame in his youth as a poet, and he was, when I remember him, a preacher of some force; but he could not be depended upon in that capacity. Whatever he was interested in at the moment he preached about, and he had the power of being interested in very dreary things. His sermons were like reveries; indeed, his whole rendering of the service was that of a man who was reading a book to himself and often finding it unexpectedly beautiful and interesting. The result was sometimes startling, because one felt as if one had never heard the familiar words before. I remember his reading the account of the Nativity in a wonderfully feeling manner, “because there was no room for them in the inn.” I do not know how the effect was communicated; it was delivered with a half-mournful, half-incredulous smile. If those who refused them admittance had only known what they were doing.1 [Note: A. C. Benson, Along the Road, 286.]
2. To us, the first thought that would be suggested by being relegated to the stable would be that of humiliation: it would be degrading to be sent out amongst the beasts; and the second thought would be that of privation: it would be hard to be condemned to no better accommodation than that. But that idea would scarcely have occurred to travellers in those lands. In those lands, the inn or guest-chamber will be a large room or shed built of rough stones and mud, or a cave partly dug out of the earth, with an earthen floor, more like an English cow-house than anything else; and the stable may either be actually a part of the same cave or building, or a similar one close at hand. Anyhow, the accommodation is much the same, and you camp on the cleanest spot you can find of the earthen or stony floor, and make yourself comfortable as best you can; so that—and this is the important point to keep in mind—the real difference between the inn and the stable was rather in the company than in the accommodation. In some ways the stable had its advantages. It was perhaps quieter, it was certainly more secluded; possibly it was not less comfortable with the oxen and the asses than it would have been in the inn; certainly the manger—a mere recess about half-way up the wall, where the fodder was stored—made a safer crib for the Holy Babe than the crowded floor of the guest-chamber, with hardly an inch to spare anywhere. Yes, nature did its best for Him, and He found a shelter amongst the beasts when men cast Him out; but that does not alter the fact that when the Lord of Glory came to be born on this earth, not even a common guest-chamber could find room for Him. He was born in the stable and cradled in a manger, “because there was no room for him in the inn.”
When I was travelling in Armenia and Kurdistan some three years ago, it befell me more than once or twice to have to spend the night in the stable, “because there was no room in the inn”; and the difference in actual accommodation was not so great as you might have supposed. The East Syrian people amongst whom I was travelling part of the time are very closely allied in race to the inhabitants of Palestine in the time of our Lord, and the customs are much the same still.1 [Note: Bishop W. E. Collins, Hours of Insight, 114.]
I never felt the full pathos of the scene of the birth of Jesus till, standing one day in a room of an old inn in the market-town of Eisleben, in Central Germany, I was told that on that very spot, four centuries ago, amidst the noise of a market-day and the bustle of a public-house, the wife of the poor miner, Hans Luther, who happened to be there on business, being surprised like Mary with sudden distress, brought forth in sorrow and poverty the child who was to become Martin Luther, the hero of the Reformation, and the maker of modern Europe.2 [Note: J. Stalker, The Life of Jesus Christ, 12.]
3. The birth in the manger because there was no room in the inn was natural. The fact that the child who was born was He whom Christendom celebrates does not make the indifference of Bethlehem a peculiar crime. The men of that time were not different from us all. They did not know. God, who taught through this His Son that, when we give alms, we should not sound a trumpet before us, gave His great gift with the like simplicity. When He gave His Son, He sent no heralds. The men to whom He came were busy with the cares which have always busied men. They were like ourselves, eager over what have always been recognized as great questions—questions about taxation, national independence, a world empire, and singularly careless as to where the children are born.
We need to make room amid the crowding thoughts for the coming of the Lord of life and light. And some day, when we have done it, there will be a country which has a national religion, because there will be a country which believes in the Incarnation. It will realize something more of the mighty mystery that flesh and blood are the temple of the Holy Spirit. It will realize how our souls, which come hither to tabernacle in flesh a little time, give us kindred with the Christ who was born among us. And we shall make room amid our crowding and eager thoughts for Him to come in us.1 [Note: A. C. Welch.]
4. The birth in the manger was of His own ordering. It was the Divine Babe’s will to be born in such a place as that, and therefore He so ordered matters that His parents should not come to the inn till it was full, and that there should be no other place but that stable where they should lodge. It was not chance, God forbid! It was the will of the unborn Infant Himself. For He it is who ordereth all things in heaven and earth. He would be born in the city of David, because He was the Son of David, the King of Israel, and was to fulfil all the prophecies; He would not be born in royal state or comfort as the Son of David might be expected to be, because He was to save us by suffering and humility.
Whilst our Lord Jesus Christ was yet in the bosom of the Father, before He took our nature, He was free from all liability of suffering, and was under no call to suffer for men, except the importunate call of His own everlasting love; yet after He took our nature, and became the man Jesus Christ, He actually stood Himself within the righteous liability of suffering, not indeed on account of any flaw in His spotless holiness, but as a participator of that flesh which lay under the sentence of sorrow and death; and being now engulfed in the horrible pit along with all the others, He could only deliver them by being first delivered Himself, and thus opening a passage for them to follow Him by; as a man who casts himself into an enclosed dungeon which has no outlet in order to save a number of others whom he sees immured there, and when he is in, forces a passage through the wall, by dashing himself against it, to the great injury of his person. His coming into the dungeon is a voluntary act, but after he is there, he is liable to the discomforts of the dungeon by necessity, until he breaks through.1 [Note: Thomas Erskine, The Brazen Serpent, 263.]
No Room in the World
1. What was true of the Lord’s entrance upon life was true of all His later life also. There never was one amongst the sons of men who was so truly human as He; for in us humanity is marred and blurred by so much that is weak and low and base, and not truly human at all; but He who was the most truly Man of all men was all His life a stranger among men: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” It was not that He was in any sense a recluse, or that He shrank from human society; indeed, it was all the other way—He yearned for companionship. The very first act of His public life was to draw to His side a little company of friends who were like-minded with Himself, and they were His companions ever after. Within this circle there were some who were specially dear to Him; and when He was about to face the darker agony of life He always invited them to accompany Him, and threw Himself on their sympathy. He was at home at the wedding feast and in the house of Simon the Pharisee and at the table of Levi the publican, and many another; indeed, when His enemies were casting about for some accusation against Him, they did not accuse Him of being inhuman like the ascetic John the Baptist, but called Him rather “a man gluttonous, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners.” And yet, all His life He was alone; He was despised and rejected of men. He was occupied in “business” that—so men chose to think—they had no interest in; and so—they had no room for Him. When He had preached at Nazareth, where He was brought up, they arose and thrust Him out of the city. At Capernaum, when they saw the mighty works that He did on them that were diseased, they came and besought Him to depart out of their coasts. He passed through Samaria, and the Samaritans would not receive Him. Wherever He went He was a homeless wanderer. “The foxes have holes,” He said, “and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” And the solitude was all the greater as the end drew near. Jerusalem would have none of Him; one of His own little company covenanted to betray Him. He went into the Garden that He might face all that was coming and be ready for it, taking the three to watch and pray with Him; but in the last resort not even they could help Him: He must needs tread the winepress alone. And so the rulers compassed His destruction, and the Romans scourged Him and delivered Him to be crucified, and at length He hung there upon the cross, isolated between heaven and earth, naked, forsaken and alone. Truly, while He was on earth there was no room for Him.
A marvellous great world it is, and there is room in it for many things; room for wealth, ambition, pride, show, pleasure; room for trade, society, dissipation; room for powers, kingdoms, armies, and their wars; but for Him there is the smallest room possible; room in the stable but not in the inn. There He begins to breathe, and at that point introduces Himself into His human life as a resident of our world—the greatest and most blessed event, humble as the guise of it may be, that has ever transpired among mortals. If it be a wonder to men’s eyes and ears, a wonder even to science itself, when the naming air-stone pitches into our world, as a stranger newly arrived out of parts unknown in the sky, what shall we think of the more transcendent fact, that the Eternal Son of God is born into the world; that, proceeding forth from the Father, not being of our system or sphere, not of the world, He has come as a Holy Thing into it—God manifest in the flesh, the Word made flesh, a new Divine Man, closeted in humanity, there to abide and work until He has restored the race itself to God? Nor is this wonderful annunciation any the less welcome, or any the less worthy to be celebrated by the hallelujahs of angels and men, that the glorious visitant begins to breathe in a stall. Was there not a certain propriety in such a beginning, considered as the first chapter and symbol of His whole history, as the Saviour and Redeemer of mankind?1 [Note: H. Bushnell, Christ and His Salvation, 2.]
2. What does the world offer in place of a room in the inn?
(1) We build Him stately material temples.—We expend boundless treasure in their erection. Art joins hands with architecture, and the structure becomes a poem. Lily-work crowns the majestic pillar. Subdued light, and exquisite line, and tender colour add their riches to the finished pile. And the soul cries out, “Here is a house for Thee, O Man of Nazareth, Lord of glory! Here is the home I have built for Thee.” And if the soul would only listen there comes back the pained response, “Where is the place of My rest? saith the Lord.” “The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands,” “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit.” The Lord of glory seeks the warm inn of the soul, and we offer Him a manger of stone.
(2) Or, in place of the home which He seeks, we build Him a fane of stately ritual.—We spend infinite pains in designing dainty and picturesque ceremonials. We devise reverent and dignified movements. We invent an elaborate and impressive symbolism. We engage the ministry of noble music for the expression of our praise, and we swing the fragrant censer for the expression of our prayer. Or perhaps we discard the colour and the glow. We banish everything that is elaborate and ornate. We use no flowers, either in reality or in symbol. We reduce our ritualism to a simple posture. Our music is rendered without pride or ostentation. Everything is plain, prosaic and unadorned. We have a ritual without glitter, and we have movements without romance. But whether our ceremony be one or the other, the soul virtually says, “Here is a ritualistic house I have built for Thee, O Christ! Take up Thine abode in the dwelling which I have provided.” And if the soul would only listen it would hear the Lord’s reply, “My son, give me thine heart.” He seeks the inn of the soul; we offer Him a ritualistic manger.
(3) Or again, we build Him the massive house of a stately creed.—The building is solid and comprehensive. All its parts are firm and well defined, and they are mortised with passionate zeal and devotion. We are proud of its constitution. The creed is all the more beautiful that it is now so venerable and hoary. The weather-stains of centuries only add to its significance and glory. There it stands, venerable, majestic, apparently indestructible, “Here is a credal home for Thee, O Lord! I am jealous for the honour of Thy house. I will contend earnestly for every stone in the holy fabric! Here is a home for Thee, O King.” And if the soul would reverently and quietly listen this would be the response it would hear, “When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” That is what the Lord is seeking. He seeks not my credal statements but my personal faith. He solicits not my creed but my person, not my words but my heart. And so do we offer Him all these substitutes in the place of the dwelling He seeks. And if these are all we have to offer, “the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” We offer Him the hospitality of a big outer creed, but “there is no room in the inn.”1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
Creed is the railway carriage; it won’t take you on your journey unless you have the engine, which is active religion.2 [Note: George Frederic Watts, iii. 326.]
Some people seem to think that if they can pack the gospel away into a sound and orthodox creed it is perfectly safe. It is a sort of canned fruit of Christianity, hermetically sealed and correctly labelled which will keep for years without decay. An extravagant reliance has been placed, therefore, on confessions of faith as the preservatives of a pure gospel. But the heart is greater than the creed; and if the heart is wrong it will very soon corrupt the creed and interline it with its own heresies. Hence the wise injunction of the Apostle, “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.”3 [Note: A. J. Gordon: A Biography, 289.]
3. How may the world find room for Him?
(1) By finding room for His truth and the love of it. The world’s attitude towards the birth of every great truth is focused in a single phrase in the simple story of the first Christmas, the greatest birthday since time began. Mary laid the infant Christ in a manger—“because there was no room for them in the inn.” Right must ever fight its way against the world. Truth must ever walk alone in its Gethsemane. Justice must bravely face its Calvary if it would still live in triumph after all efforts to slay it. Love must ever, in the end, burst forth in its splendour from the dark clouds of hate and discord that seek to obscure it. These great truths must be born in the manger of poverty, or pain, or trial, or suffering, finding no room in the inn until at last by entering it in triumph they honour the inn that never honoured them in their hours of need, of struggle or of darkness. It requires sterling courage to live on the uplands of truth, battling bravely for the right, undismayed by coldness, undaunted by contempt, unmoved by criticism, serenely confident even in the darkest hours, that right, justice and truth must win in the end.
Every great truth in all the ages has had to battle for recognition. If it be real it is worth the struggle. Out of the struggle comes new strength for the victor. Trampled grass grows the greenest. Hardship and trial and restriction and opposition mean new vitality to character. In potting plants, it is well not to have the pot too large, for the more crowded the roots the more the plant will bloom. It is true, in a larger sense, of life. The world has ever misunderstood and battled against its thinkers, its leaders, its reformers, its heroes.1 [Note: W. G. Jordan, The Crown of Individuality, 33.]
A happy man seems to be a solecism; it is a man’s business to suffer, to battle, and to work.2 [Note: Carlyle, in Life of Lord Houghton, ii. 478.]
Even the spectacle of man’s repeated and pathetic failure to live up to his own ideal is “inspiring and consoling” to this onlooker, since, in spite of long ages of ill-success, the race is not discouraged, but continues to strive as if for assured victory, rendering obedience, however imperfect, to the inner voice that speaks of duty owed to ourselves, to our neighbour, to our God; and it is “inspiring and consoling” that traces of the same struggle can be discerned in the poor sentient beings, our inferiors. “Let it be enough for faith that the whole creation groans in mortal frailty, strives with unconquerable constancy: Surely not all in vain.”3 [Note: J. A. Hammerton, Stevensoniana, 215.]
(2) We find room for Him when we find room for His little ones.
A few days ago there was performed in the hall of Lincoln’s Inn, London, a mystery play called “Eager Heart.” The story is briefly this. Eager Heart is a poor maiden living in a wayside cottage, who has heard that the king is going to pass that way, and that he will take up his quarters for a night somewhere in the neighbourhood. With all diligence she prepares the best room in her cottage for his reception, hoping that she may be the favoured one whom he will honour with a visit. Her two sisters, Eager Fame and Eager Sense, deride her expectations, and assure her that the king would never condescend to enter so humble an abode, and that he will, as a matter of course, seek hospitality with some of the great folk in that part of the country. She, however, has a strong premonition that her hopes are not ill-founded, and goes on with her preparations. When all is ready, a knock is heard at the door, and a poor woman with an infant at her breast begs the charity of a night’s lodging. Eager Heart, sad and disappointed, yet feeling that she cannot refuse such a request, gives up to the distressed wayfarers the room which she had prepared for the king; and then goes forth into the night in the hopes of meeting him and at least expressing her goodwill to have entertained him had it been possible. On her way she meets a company of shepherds, who tell her they have seen a vision of angels, who have assured them that the king has already come, and is in the village. And as they return, they are joined by another pilgrim band, of eastern princes, who are making their way, guided by a heavenly light, to pay their homage to their sovereign lord. Needless to say, it is to the cottage of Eager Heart herself that they are guided. The infant is Himself the King, and the homeless woman is the Queen Mother.1 [Note: H. Lucas, At the Parting of the Ways, 79.]
4. The world will find room for Him at last. Has it not found room for Him already? Has He not made room for Himself—He for whom the inn of Bethlehem had none? Through half the world men remember continually that coming. Amid the trivial associations of each Christmas, amid the kindlier thoughts which are native to the time, there is not wholly lost the sense of Him who in His greatness made these days solemn and sweet and grand, who made their kindlier thoughts become more natural. God, they remember, bowed Himself to become man for man’s redemption. And He who dwelt among them in more than common lowliness now fills the thoughts and inspires the hopes of thousands who find through Him surer foothold for life, and through Him can face death.
Little Hettie had a model village, and she never tired of, setting it up.
“What kind of a town is that, Hettie?” asked her father.
“O, a Christian town,” Hettie answered, quickly.
“Suppose we make it a heathen town,” her father suggested.
“What must we take out?”
“The church,” said Hettie, taking it to one side.
“Is that all?”
“I suppose so.”
“No, indeed,” her father said. “The public school must go. Take the public library out also.”
“Anything else?” Hettie asked, sadly,
“Isn’t that a hospital over there?”
“But, father, don’t they have hospitals?”
“Not in heathen countries. It was Christ who taught us to care for the sick and the old.”
“Then I must take out the Old Ladies’ Home,” said Hettie, very soberly.
“Yes, and that Orphans’ Home at the other end of the town.”
“Why, father,” Hettie exclaimed, “then there’s not one good thing left! I would not live in such a town for anything.”
Does having room for Jesus make so much difference?1 [Note: A. P. Hodgson, Thoughts for the King’s Children, 220.]
No Room in our Lives
The difficulty with us to-day is just what it was when Christ trod this earth; and the real reason why He means so little to many of us is that there is no room for Him in our lives.
The only place in which He can make His home to-day is the inn of the soul, the secret rooms of the personal life. We sometimes sing, in one of the most tender and gracious of our hymns, “O make our hearts Thy dwelling-place,” and that is just what the Lord is willing and waiting to do. “O make our hearts Thine inn!” But when He moves towards us He finds the inn already thronged.
You may talk as you please about the things that have “put you off,” as we say, and made you less keen about religion and its claims than you once were—the tendency of the Higher Criticism, or the results of the comparative study of religions, or the New Theology, or the Athanasian Creed, or the futility of our ordinary church-life, or the worldliness of professing Christians, or the divisions of Christendom. All these things have some importance; but you know perfectly well, and it has recently been set before us with extraordinary force and vigour, that if the Lord Jesus Christ were but to appear in the smoking-room one day when religious questions were being discussed so freely, all these things would dwindle into absolute insignificance, and the one vital question for you and for me would be whether we really loved Him enough to take up His cross and live out our lives manfully for His sake. Well, you may not interview Him in the smoking-room, but you can see Him just as clearly as ever you could if you will only give yourself a chance. He is as near as ever He was, as dear as ever He was, and the one question is whether we will give ourselves the chance of seeing Him.1 [Note: Bishop W. E. Collins, Hours of Insight, 117.]
Yea, in the night, my soul, my daughter,
Cry,—clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo! Christ walking on the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames.
1. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?” This is the house our Redeemer seeks, the wonderful inn of the soul. Let us go and look inside that inn, for it has many rooms, housing many varied interests, and we may exclude the Lord from them all. Let us walk through a few of the rooms.
(1) There is first of all the room of the mind, the busy realm of the understanding. Try to imagine the multitude of thoughts that throng that room in a single day. From waking moment to the return of sleep they crowd its busy floors. There they are, thoughts innumerable, hurrying, jostling, coming, going! And yet in all the restless, tumultuous assembly, with the floor never empty, the Lord may have no place. “God is not in all his thoughts.” There is no room in the inn.
One forenoon a stranger entered a publishing establishment in a Russian city—I think in Moscow. He was dressed in very plain, homely garb. He quietly drew a manuscript out of his pocket, and requested that it be published. But the publisher, taking in his homely appearance with a quick glance of his shrewd, practised eye, answered him very curtly, refusing his request He said, “It’s no use looking at your sketch. I really cannot be bothered. We have hundreds of such things in hand, and have really not time to deal with yours, even though you were in a position to guarantee the cost—which I very much doubt.”
The stranger rolled up his manuscript, saying he must have been labouring under some misapprehension, as he had been told that the public liked to read what he wrote.
“The public like to read what you write?” repeated the publisher, eyeing the rugged figure before him. “Who are you? What is your name?” The stranger quietly said, “My name is Leo Tolstoi,” as he buttoned his coat over the rejected manuscript. Instantly the astonished publisher was on the other side of the counter, with most humble apology, begging the privilege of publishing the manuscript. But the famous, eccentric genius quietly withdrew, with the coveted paper in his inner pocket.
There standeth One in your midst whom ye acknowledge not. And He does not tell us who He is, in the manner of the offended Russian Count. He tells us plainly that He is here, looking keenly, listening alertly, noting all. The Christ of the manger is in our midst. Even though not acknowledged perhaps, yet He is not unknown; He is not unrecognized. No one ever yet refused Christ admittance in ignorance of what he was doing, not really knowing whom he was crowding out. He may have failed to realize the seriousness of what he was doing, and the wonder of Him who was knocking; quite likely. But he knew that he was refusing entrance to Him who should be admitted. There is always a quiet, inner messenger making that unmistakably clear.1 [Note: S. D. Gordon, The Crowded Inn, 25.]
(2) And here is another room, the room of personal affection and desire. It is the room where love lives and sings. And it is the room where love droops and sickens and dies. It is the room where impulse is born and where it grows or faints. It is the room where secret longing moves shyly about, and only occasionally shows itself at the window. It is the busy chamber of the emotions. And the Lord yearns to enter this carefully guarded room to make His home in the realm of waking and brooding affection. Is there any room for Him?
That wondrous Christ is standing to-day at some heart-door pleading for entrance. Is it yours? You attend the church service, and give a tacit acknowledgment to the claims of Christianity, and prefer life in a land that owes its prosperity and safety to this pleading One. Yet He is standing outside of the door of your heart. Is he? He is, if He has not been let inside. The talented Holman Hunt, in his famous picture of Christ knocking at the door, reminds us that that door opens only from within. If you have not opened it, it is shut; and He without, knocking! strange!2 [Note: Ibid., 27.]
Strangely the wondrous story doth begin
Of that which came to pass on Christmas Day—
“The new-born babe within a manger lay
Because there was no room inside the inn.”
No room for Him who came to conquer sin
And bid distress and mourning flee away!
So in the stable He was fain to stay
Whilst revelry and riot reigned within.
And still the same old tale is told again:
The world is full of greed and gain and glee,
And has no room for God because of them.
Lord, though my heart be filled with joy and pain,
Grant that it ne’er may find no room for Thee,
Like that benighted inn at Bethlehem!1 [Note: Ellen Thorneycroft Fowler, Verses, Wise or Otherwise, 196.]
(3) Let us pass into another room in the inn—the room of the imagination. It is the radiant chamber of ideals and fancies and visions and dreams. In this room we may find Prospect Window and the Window of Hope. It is here that we look out upon the morrow. And it is here that life’s wishes and plans may be found. The Lord delights to abide in that bright chamber of purpose and dream. Is there any room?
It is a popular impression of Bushnell that he was the subject of his imagination, and that it ran away with him in the treatment of themes which required only severe thought. The impression is a double mistake; theology does not call for severe thought alone, but for the imagination also and the seeing and interpreting eye that usually goes with it. It is not a vagrant and irresponsible faculty, but an inner eye, whose vision is to be trusted like that of the outer; it has in itself the quality of thought, and is not a mere picture-making gift. Bushnell trained his imagination to work on certain definite lines, and for a definite end; namely, to bring out the spiritual meaning hidden within the external form.2 [Note: T. T. Munger, Horace Bushnell, 383.]
(4) Not far from this room there is another—the chamber of mirth. It is here that the genius of merriment dwells, and here you may find the sunny presences of wit and humour. Here are quip and jest and jollity. Here is where bridal joy is found, and where the song of the vineyard is born. Will the Master turn into this room or will He avoid it? No; He even longs for a place in the happy crowd! Is there any room for Him in this hall of mirth, or is He crowded out?
I remember that Charles Kingsley used to say, “I wonder if there is a family in all England where there is more laughter than there is in mine.” And the Lord was an abiding guest at Charles Kingsley’s table. Take Him into your conversation. He will come in like sunshine. There are some things that will just disappear at His coming as owls and bats vanish at the dawn. Our conversation will lose its meanness, and its suspicions, and its jealousies, and all uncharitableness. Our Christmas speech will itself be a home of light.1 [Note: J. H. Jowett.]
2. Why is it that we keep Him out of our lives?
(1) We are too much occupied with our ordinary affairs. There are men upon whom work has grown by little and little, so slowly that they hardly realize how; perhaps it has not all been of their own seeking; certainly it has not all been the result of selfish ambition; sometimes it seems to be the result of a tendency which they could hardly resist. Anyhow, there can be no question as to the result of it all; little by little devotion, meditation and prayer seem not so much to have been given up as to have dried up of themselves out of the life. And the worst of it is that the occupations do not seem to have gained in the process. Like Pharaoh’s lean kine, they have swallowed up everything else, but instead of being better, they are worse; the work is done more mechanically, and less freshly; more severely, but less wholeheartedly.
One feels how natural it was that the small, weary company which crept in footsore by the north gate should have been ignored. They were quite humble people; they did not even belong to the village; they were among the last comers, for they have travelled from the distant north, and Mary in these days is not the swiftest of travellers. The village is crowded, for all have come to be enrolled. The interest is keen, for the matter involves questions of taxation, questions of national independence, questions of a world empire. It is not to be wondered at that none notices the group which creeps in when the sun is nigh setting, and, because the inn is full, finds what poor shelter it can. The world lost the honour of providing a place where its Redeemer might be born, because it was very busy over important things.2 [Note: A. C. Welch.]
An inn—what an appropriate figure of the soul of man as it is by nature! What a multiplicity and what a prodigious variety of thoughts are always coming and going in the soul—the passengers these which throng the inn, and some of whom are so fugitive that they do not even take up their abode there for the night! And what distraction, discomposure, and noise do these outgoing and incoming thoughts produce, so that perhaps scarcely ever in the day is our mind collected and calm, except just for the few moments spent in private prayer before we lie down and when we rise—the hurry and confusion this, produced by the constant arrivals at, and departures from, an inn.1 [Note: E. M. Goulburn, The Pursuit of Holiness, 281.]
(2) Our life is sometimes already filled with the thronging multitude of our cares. We can be so full of care as to be quite careless about Him. We can have so much to worry about that we have no time to think about Christ. “The cares of this world choke the word,” and the Speaker of the word is forgotten. Yes, we may entertain so many cares that the Lord cannot get in at the door. And yet all the time the gracious promise is waiting: Cast all your care on Him, for He careth for you.
And what, then, is the cure for worry? Can you ask? If you will but make room for Him in your heart and keep Him there, your worry will vanish, even as in the Pilgrim’s Progress Christian’s load fell off when he lifted his eyes to the Cross of Christ. With Him there to share every thought, you will find that many of the difficulties will smooth themselves out forthwith; and as you learn to leave in His hands the things which are His business, not yours, so will all worry become by His grace a thing of the past.
Doubtless your cross was chosen for you by our Lord and Master just for its weight. To me there is always a wonderful beauty and consolation in the fact, so simply told in the narrative of the Passion, that His cross proved too heavy for Him. He has never since that hour suffered any one of His own to bear a cross unaided, nor yet too heavy.2 [Note: Archbishop Magee, in Life by J. C. Macdonnell, i. 268.]
(3) Our pleasures keep Christ out of our lives. A merely sensational life can make us numb to all that is spiritual; and the unseen world becomes non-existent to our souls. That is an awful law of life. We may so dwell in the pleasures of the senses that all the deeper things are as though they were dead, and buried in forgotten graves.
One would certainly think that the Lord of glory could not be crowded out of a wedding, that solemn and sacred experience in human life. But He can! Of course we may mention His name, but the naming is too often only a conventional courtesy, while the Lord Himself is relegated to the yard. We may be engrossed with the sensations of the event, with the glittering externals, with the dresses and the orange-blossoms, while the holy Christ, upon whom the lasting joy and peace and blessedness of the wedded pair will utterly depend, is absolutely forgotten.
(4) And again, there are those who have no room for Him because of their sin: and this is the most real and all-pervading obstacle of all. A sinful habit, using the word in its largest sense, of pride or envy, covetousness or gluttony, and not only of particular sinful acts, is by far the worst obstacle to keep the Saviour out, and that because it at once deadens and deceives us. Far be it from me, for instance, to deny that doubts are sometimes purely intellectual; but I say deliberately that I have rarely talked with a man, or a woman either, about religious doubts without finding, when they come to speak quite freely, that the difficulty was, in part at any rate, a moral one. When I look into my own heart, I see the same thing; my own doubts have been based on moral difficulties far more largely than I was willing to admit to myself at the time, or even than I knew at the time; and I believe that most of us would have to make the same confession.1 [Note: W. E. Collins, Hours of Insight, 121.]
Christ’s crowding-out power is tremendous. That explains why He is so crowded out. When allowed freely in He crowds everything out that would crowd Him out. He crowds out sin. By the blood drawn from His own side He washes it out. By the soft-burning but intense fire of His heart He burns it out. By the purity of His own wondrous presence, recognized as Lord, He reveals its horrid ugliness, and compels us, by the holy compulsion of love, to keep it out.2 [Note: S. D. Gordon, The Crowded Inn, 58.]
There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.
For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the Yule tale was begun.
A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam,
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home:
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost—how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky’s dome.
This world is wild as an old wives’ tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.
To an open house in the evening
Home shall all men come,
To an older place than the Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.1 [Note: G. K. Chesterton, The House of Christmas.]
Askew (E. A.), The Service of Perfect Freedom, 37.
Bourdillon (F.), Short Sermons, 139.
Brooke (S. A.), The Early Life of Jesus, 12.
Bushnell (H.), Christ and His Salvation, 1.
Butler (W. A.), Sermons Doctrinal and Practical, 254.
Carter (T. T.), Meditations on the Hidden Life of our Lord, i. 39.
Clayton (J. W.), The Genius of God, 136.
Collins (W. E.), Hours of Insight, 112.
Goulburn (E. M.), The Pursuit of Holiness, 279.
Gregory (J. R.), Scripture Truths made Simple, 53.
Hart (H. M.), A Preacher’s Legacy, 1.
Hiley (R. W.), A Year’s Sermons, ii. 360.
Hodgson (A. P.), Thoughts for the King’s Children, 215.
Jordan (W. G.), The Crown of Individuality, 24.
Keble (J.), Sermons for the Christian Year; Christmas and Epiphany, 97.
Low (G. D.), The New Heart, 67.
Lucas (H.), At the Parting of the Ways, 79.
Nicoll (W. R.), Sunday Evening, 401.
Norton (J. N.), Old Paths, 54.
Oosterzee (J. J. van), The Year of Salvation, i. 62.
Paget (F. E.), Plain Village Sermons, i. 30.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, viii. (1862), No. 485.
British Congregationalist, Dec. 5, 1912 (J. H. Jowett).
Christian World Pulpit, lxxiv. 412 (J. E. Rankin).
Church Pulpit Year Book, 1905, p. 315.
Churchman’s Pulpit: Christmas Day, ii. 103 (C. P. Eden); First Sunday after Christmas, iii. 76 (J. W. Burgon).
Clerical Library: Outlines for Special Occasions, 16 (J. G. Rogers).
Homiletic Review, xlviii. 454 (J. E. Rankin); lxiv. 478 (A. C. Welch).
Literary Churchman, xxviii. (1882) 516 (E. C. Lefroy); xxxiii. (1887) 530 (J. B. C. Murphy); xxxiv. (1888) 529 (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton).
Methodist Times, Dec. 21, 1908 (P. C. Ainsworth).