Attached as I always was to the old custom of decorating our houses and churches with the holly-bough, it may be believed that the scene just sketched, left an impression not calculated to decrease my partiality for the usages of other days. From that evening, the holly has been to me a consecrated plant: and every sprig that I have gathered, has furnished me with a text for long and touching meditation, on the subject of our redemption,—on the character of Him who achieved it.
When commencing these sketches, T promised that they should embrace none but individuals who were known to me,—how solemn is the question that presents itself!—have / known Jesus Christ? Him to know is life eternal. Well I know my need of him: my total, and everlasting ruin without him : I know his power and willingness to save, even to the uttermost, the very chief of sinners who come to God by him—but to say that I know him as the dumb boy knew him, that I can with so steady a hand lay hold on Christ, as being made of God unto me, wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption—and that, too, to the utmost bound of my necessities— thus to believe, and believing to rejoice, with joy unspeakable and full of glory—no, I dare not yet say it. Often have I asked the boy, ' Does Jack love Jesus Christ ?' The reply has always been, with a bright and placid smile, 'Yes, Jack very much loves Jesus Christ—Jesus Christ loves poor Jack.' But if I ask myself, Do I love him? I can but tremble, and say, ' I desire so to do.' Yet I have the full conviction that he has loved me, and given himself for me ; and if I could unlearn enough to become as wise as Jack, I might attain to his blessed assurance.
Taking the holly as Jack viewed it,—as a type of that which is salvation to all wrho believe—how many interesting points of resemblance may be traced ! Passing through the highways, where every foot is free to tread, we mark the shining evergreen, with its bright berries, conspicuous by the road-side, inviting us to make the prize our own, to bear it away, that our hearts may be gladdened by its verdure, more rich and durable in midwinter than is the foliage of summer roses. Even so, salvation is found of them that seek it not ; freely, abundantly offered to all whose ear the glad tidings reach ; and when by the hand of faith appropriated, who shall dispute the possession ? Which of this world's fleeting glories can so gladden the heart, and beautify the home of its proprietor, as does the unwithering leaf of him who is rooted and grounded in the hope of the gospel ?
We cannot, indeed, divest the holly of its numerous thorns; neither can we separate the Christian from his cross, or the promised heaven from the " much tribulation" through which it is appointed us to attain it ; but a more touching character is imparted to those thorns, by adopting the idea of the dumb boy : every blessing that we reap from the grand work of redemption, is a memento of the sufferings of Him, upon whom the chastisement of our peace was laid.
And, in those uncultivated spots where the holly grows wild and free, by what a scene is it generally surrounded, at this season ! The oak that soars above, in the pride of vegetable empire, the elm, and the hazle, the hawthorn and the wild brier, look dark and chilling in their leafless guize * no verdant neighbour sympathizes with the holly, nor spreads its green mantle in cheerful companionship. No gaudy butterfly sports around it, nor does the bee come forth to ply her busy trade among its branches. The snow-drift alone lodges there ; and every howling wind vents upon it a passing murmur. Yet, calm and contented, the beautiful plant uprears its head, well-pleased to put honour upon a season that few of the gay ones of the earth care to adorn. I should be sorry to overlook this ; for it tells me of Him who came into this dark and stormy world, to suffer and to do what nothing but Almighty love could have supported or achieved ; who looked for some to take pity, but there was none ; and for comforters, but found no man :—who not only bore the scorn, the rebuke, and the rejection of those in whose likeness he vouchsafed to appear, but endured the storms of divine wrath, the blasting of the breath of that displeasure which had waxed hot against the inhabitants of the earth, and to which he presented himself, an innocent and a willing mark.
Then the berries: what a tongue is their's, while they represent to my eye that which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. Wrung forth in slow droppings from the agonized body, which sweated blood through the pressure of mental anguish, before the scourge, the thorn, and the nail had pierced the sinless flesh of their victim,—how precious was that coin which was given to ransom a world of lost sinners ! Who can hold back, when invited to wash and be clean, in the purifying fountain ? And who shall dare to exclude himself, or his fellow, from this sphere of an unlimited invitation ?
Perchance there may be some, who will trace, in my fondness for this type, an approximation to the popish doctrine of image-worship. We all know that this abominable idolatry originated in the specious contrivance of exhibiting pictures and images in the churches, that, by visible objects, the gazers might be stirred up to a more perfect realization of what was taught from the pulpit. I should be sorry to incur such suspicion ; but, as the introduction of holly-boughs into our temples, or the placing of a few sprigs over our fire-places, has never yet issued in any thing heterodox, as far as I can discover, I must still plead for the dear old custom ; still wreathe the holly with the misle-toe, in grateful acknowledgment of the mercy that rescued my country from the darkness of heathenism—from the sanguinary rites that once polluted the shadow of her majestic oaks. That kingly tree, himself denuded by the hand of winter, can yield no foliage to honour our sacred festival; but sends the little misletoe, his foster-child, to do homage in his stead. Alas, for England when she shall discontinue the observances of her pious reformers, her martyrs, and apostles of a brighter day! I grant that these are only shadows; yet, when the sun shines brightly, what body is without one ? It may be our pride to cast away such shades ; but when I can no longer trace them, I am inclined to apprehend, either that the substance has melted away, or that the sun-beam falls not so clearly as it was wont to do.
Yet not alone to the sufferings of a crucified Saviour do I hold the holly sacred. I know that He who once came to visit us in great humility shall yet come again in his glorious majesty, to judge both the quick and dead. I know that he .will appear, in the splendours of immortality, in the grandeur of his Almighty power, while the wrecks of all that this world cherishes, of pomp, and pride, and greatness, shall crumble beneath his feet, and pass away like the last fragments of November's shrivelled leaves before the whirlwind. Then every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him, and all the kindreds of the earth shall wrail because of him. No longer stained with the crimson drops of his own life-stream, his vesture shall then be dipped in the blood of his enemies. He, who, with tears and groans, achieved, unassisted, the work of our redemption, shall then alone tread the great wine-press of the wrath of God. Then his enemies shall feel his hand : for he will tread them in his anger, and trample them in his fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon his garments. Lovely and precious indeed is the accepted Saviour, to the souls who have made him their refuge : terrible, beyond what heart can conceive, will be the slighted, the rejected, Saviour, to those who, going on frowardly in the way of their own hearts, make light of his offered salvation, and treasure up for themselves the most dreadful of all inflictions—the wrath of the Lamb.
I am deeply convinced, that an apprehension of being led into the unscriptural lengths to which some have carried their speculations on unfulfilled prophecy, drives many into the opposite extreme of shrinking from the contemplation of that which is clearly revealed. Our Lord has given us a solemn, a reiterated injunction to watch for those things that, in the fulness of time, shall come to pass: he has made his warnings profitable to every intermediate period of the church ; but, inasmuch as it is not his will to add another revelation to what is already perfect, he has laid down marks and signs whereby his people may safely judge when the events predicted are about to take place. Around us, in this our day, every sign is rapidly accumulating,—and shall we close our eyes to the awful fact ?—shall we refuse to watch, and to expect the fulfilment to which God himself vouchsafes to direct our attention?—shall we arraign his wisdom, in preparing us for those things that are beginning to come upon the earth? Long has Satan triumphed over all that was created so beautiful and good, crushing it into a scene of wintry-devastation, and sending across it many a storm, originating in the perverted elements of depraved humanity ; and surely it is a glorious hope that spreads before us a speedy termination to this Satanic reign—that gives promise of another and a brighter spring; when the Sun of Righteousness shall arise and shine, throughout the wide range of our beautiful sphere, and the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God, and of his Christ.