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The Holy Name of Jesus
St. Luke, ii. 21.
“ His name was called Jesus, which was called by the Angel before He was conceived in the womb.”
It is not uncommon, nor I think unwise, my brethren, for those who undertake what seems beyond their strength, to shelter themselves under the protection of some great name, by the authority of which they may ensure success. It was thus that, a few centuries ago, in times of turbulence and oppression, the feeble would put on the cognizance of some powerful lord, as whose vassal they would not fear to repel the attempts of an unjust and stronger aggressor. It is thus that, even at the present day, the obscure scholar hopes to win some more partial favor, if he can prefix to his labors the name of any one, whose reputation and acknowledged merit may give consideration to his humble efforts. Now, by the blessing of God, as I think, it has this day befallen me to open our annual course of instructions, in the full consciousness of inability and unworthiness, but under the sanction of that Name, besides which there is none other on earth given to men whereby they may be saved. For you are not ignorant, brethren, that on this day the Holy Catholic Church commemorates the blessed and adorable Name of Jesus. Amidst the joyful festivals of our Lord’s Nativity, the mysteries of this holy Name could not be forgotten. But so many and so various have been our motives for joy, that we scarcely have had time, during their celebration, to pause upon this. Even on the first day of the year, on occasion of our Lord’s Circumcision, there were too many other mysteries of faith and love, to allow the mind’s dwelling as it should upon the tender glories of the Name then given. Worthily, then, has there been allotted to it its own proper festival ; for it is a Name to us full of delightful suggestions, — one that will amply repay the devout meditations of our hearts.
But on this occasion it presents itself in connection with the circumstances under which you are addressed. It is impossible to overlook the consideration that we are here assembled in the Name of this our Lord : and that for a purpose which can have no virtue if performed not in His Name. In this Name I summon you to hear the word of God ; under this I mean to seek protection and virtue for my feeble efforts. Of old, when this city (Rome) was the abode of every evil passion, they who called themselves clients of patrons, wicked as themselves, would, under the sanction of their name, run into every excess of violence and injustice, and foul the name, which they affected to honor, with reproach and public infamy. But we, blessed be God, have chosen for the name to be invoked upon us, one which can only be the symbol of peace, and charity, and joy. They who reverence that Name must reverence His laws who bore it ; they who love it, must love the boundless treasures of benevolence, mercy, and charity, which it records.
Let us, then, prepare our hearts this day for the receiving of His law when declared to us, and for the practice of His commandments ; by considering the force they must derive from the holy Name that sanctions them, — a name of mighty power with Him who proclaims it, a name of boundless sweetness to those that learn it. When God had decreed to achieve the wonderful deliverance of His people from the Egyptian yoke, the first step which He chose towards its accomplishment, was revealing to them a name, whereby they should know Him, and worship Him as their deliverer. Moses, in fact, asked Him by what name he should declare Him to the people of Israel, when he communicated to them his commission. Then, “ God said to Moses, I am who am. . . . This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” (Exod. iii. 14.) And afterwards He reappeared to the holy law-giver, and said to him, “ I am the Lord, that appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, by the name of God Almighty ; and my name Adonai” (or Jehovah) “ I did not show them.” (vi. 3.)
God then began His first work of deliverance by the assumption of a new name, unknown to those who had not witnessed His salvation. And that Name was a name of power. It is a name of terrible power. Not by it were the blind made to see, but darkness such as might be felt with the hand, was brought over the entire land of Egypt. Not by it were the lepers cleansed, but foul ulcers and sores were brought to defile and disfigure the bodies of its inhabitants. Not by it were the sons of widows and the friends of the poor restored to life, but all the first- born of Egypt, from the heir of Pharaoh who sat with his father on his throne, to the eldest son of his meanest subject, were struck in one night with death. Such was the power of this delivering Name, — a power to make the proud and obstinate quail, to scourge kingdoms, and to destroy their princes, — a power of angry might and avenging sway.
And such it ever continued, even to those in whose favor its power was exerted. It resembled, in fact, the protection of the cloud that guided them through the desert, which, whether by day with its overhanging shadow, or by night with the red glare of its fiery pillar, must have excited feelings of awe and terror, rather than of love. So great, in fact, was the fearful reverence paid this dread Name of God, that it ceased to be ever uttered until its true pronunciation was completely lost. And, moreover, such is the measure of power attributed by the Jewish teachers to this now ineffable Name of God, that they scruple not to assert, that whosoever should discover its true sound, and according to this utter it, would thereby perform any work however wonderful, and find no miracle too great.
But leaving aside these opinions, which, as of later growth, deserve not as much notice, it is sufficiently obvious how through the sacred Scriptures the Name of God becomes the symbol of Himself, so that to it all power is attributed which to Him belongs. It is the Name of the Lord which men are invited to bless ; it is by calling on His Name that we shall be saved from our enemies ; it is in His Name that we put our trust, when others confide in chariots and in horses; His Name is holy and terrible, or glorious and pleasant. In the Name of God victories are gained, and prophecies spoken, and the evil threatened, and the perverse punished, and the good encouraged, and the perfect rewarded. It receives the homage due to God, for it is the representative of God : it is as God Himself ; spoken by the lips, it is to our hearing what were to the eye the angels that appeared to Lot or Abraham, or the burning bush of Horeb to Moses, or the dove to John, — a sensible image of Him, whose invisible nature can only be manifested through such imperfect symbols.
When the covenant of new and perfect redemption was made, a new name was requisite to inaugurate it ; and it needed to be, even more than the former, a name of power. For it was not any longer a bondage under man that was to be destroyed, but slavery to the powers of darkness and of wicked might. They were not chains of iron or bolts of brass which were to be broken in sunder, but the snare of death and the bonds of hell, which had encompassed and straitened us on every side. We were not merely condemned by an earthly tyrant, to make bricks without straw, but we were deeply fixed in “ the mire of dregs,” as the Psalmist expresses it (xxxix. 3, and Ixviii. 15) ; that is, in the filthy corruption of vicious desires ; or, as Ezekiel describes the foolish devices of the wicked, we were as “ a people that buildeth up a wall, and daubs it with clay in which there is no straw.” (xiii. 10.) So much as spiritual wretchedness is deep beyond the bodily, so much stronger was the power required to drag us from the abyss.
Now, to do this was the great work of our salvation, and He who came to accomplish it was to bear, as in the former deliverance, a name of power. And that name, as brought down from heaven by an archangel to Mary, as communicated by an angel to Joseph, and as solemnly given eight days after His birth, by a priest, was the Name of Jesus. If, during His life, He concealed the glorious might of His Name ; if He bore it meekly as another might have done, and as though it but formed a name to distinguish Him among the children of His people, who shall thereat wonder, seeing how He shrouded from the eyes of men the fullness of the Godhead that resided in Him, and reserved, for a later period, the completer manifestation of His true character ? For no sooner had His prerogatives as the Savior of man been finally asserted, by His triumph over death, and His return to the right hand of His Father, than the “ Name which is above all names ” became, in the hands of His apostles, the great instrument of all their power.
There are few incidents in the apostolic annals more beautiful and interesting to a loving Christian, than the first public miracle after the Paraclete’s descent. It was wrought, as you well know, upon the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the Temple, by Peter and John, when they entered it to pray. I know not whether, humanly speaking, we can fully realize their feelings, I mean apart from the consciousness of power which they had just received. During their divine Master’s life, they had occasionally failed in their attempts to work miracles. Now they are alone, the entire cause is in their hands; any ill success on their parts will be ruinous to it, for they cannot now fall back upon the certain might of Him who sent them. We might have supposed some slight fluttering of the heart, some creeping anxiety coming over the mind, as they decided upon putting the power of their Savior’s Name to a great public test. But no; mark the calm decision, the unwavering confidence with which they proceed. The cripple asked them, as he did every passer-by, for an alms. “ But Peter, with John, fastening his eyes upon him, said : Look upon us. But he looked earnestly upon them, hoping that he should receive something of them. But Peter said : Silver and gold I have not, but what I have I give thee. In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk. And taking him by the right hand, he lifted him up, and forthwith his feet and soles received strength. And he leaping up, stood and walked.” (Acts, iii. 4-8.) It was in virtue of no personal power, that the holy apostles expected or claimed this dominion over Nature, as spoilt by the fall of man ; it was the virtue of His Name who had conquered sin, and plucked out the sting of death, that wrought through their hands.
So necessary did some such sanction appear to the very priests, that when they had apprehended the two apostles and placed them in the midst of them, they asked them “ by what power, or by what name , have you done this ?” Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, replies, that “ by the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” whom they had crucified, even by Him that man stood there before them whole. Then they “ charged them not to speak at all, nor to teach in the Name of Jesus.” But when they had been let go, and returned to the assembly of the faithful, they lifted up their voices in one unanimous magnificent prayer, concluding with these words — “ And now, Lord, behold their threatening, and grant unto Thy servants that, with all confidence, they may speak Thy word, by stretching forth Thy hand to cures, and signs, and wonders, to be done by the Name of Thy holy Son Jesus.” (Acts, iv.)
And what was this first public triumph of that glorious Name, but only the first of a long series of victories over earth and hell ? Tet, terrible as it was to those leagued powers of evil, it was ever wielded for the benefit of men. It was as a healing balm for the sick and the halt ; they were anointed in this Name, and were raised up from their infirmity. “ The Lord Jesus Christ healeth thee,” said Peter to Eneas; “ and immediately he arose ” from his eight years’ illness. (Acts, ix. 34.) It was a savior of life to the dead in Christ, whom it raised, when expedient for them, from the grave. It was, moreover, a bright and burning light to them that sat in darkness. It overthrew the dominion of Satan ; it destroyed the empire of sin ; it brought forth fruits of holiness, and diffused over earth the blessings of heaven. Soon did it become “ great among the Gentiles, from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same.” (Mai. i. 11.) As the first discoverers of unknown lands, as the conquerors of hostile countries solemnly pronounce that they take possession thereof in the name of the sovereign who commissioned them ; so did the twelve, whether explorers of the distant seats of barbarism, beyond the flight of the Roman eagles, or as valiant warriors against the active resistance of worldly principalities, register their discoveries and settle their conquests in no other name than that of the Lord Jesus.
Often was the world distracted by the rival claims of pretenders to the empire ; often was province in arms against province, through the wide extent of Roman domination ; often was the empire itself engaged in cruel war with the nations without its pale : still there was one empire, vast, interminable, and indivisible, ruled in peace over all the world, Greek and barbarian. The dominion of Jesus was undisturbed by rivalry and undistracted by conflict. It could allow no competition, it could fear no jealousy among its subjects. One Name was called upon by them all ; and it was a name that drew from all an undivided homage. So secure were the early Christians of its power, that they hesitated not to attribute to it an efficacy, so to speak, sacramental — that is, a virtue independent of all peculiar privilege in the individual who employed it. They were not afraid of incurring the guilt of superstition, by believing its very sound to possess a resistless influence over the powers of darkness. Saint Justin, in his Apology, only fifty years after the death of Christ, appeals for a testimony of the truth of His religion to the acknowledged fact, that any Christian, by pronouncing the Name of Jesus, could expel the evil spirit from any one possessed by him. And Tertullian goes even as far as to challenge the heathens to the experiment, with the condition that if any Christian failed in it, they might instantly put him to death.
But now, alas ! my brethren, the first fervor of faith has long waxed cold, and with it have been withdrawn the wonderful prerogatives it had obtained and secured. We, the servants of Christ, may speak His word with all confidence in His Name, but the cures, and signs, and wonders, which may ensue by the stretching forth of His hand, will be in the inward soul, not upon the outward flesh. And in whose name else can I, or any other that shall fill this place, address you ? In what other name were we admitted into His ministry, in what other name have we received commission to the flock of Christ, if not in His, the shepherd's ? In His Name alone are the sacraments of life administered to you ; in His Name alone is the adorable Sacrifice of His Body and Blood offered by us ; in His Name alone we can admonish you and threaten you, upbraid and encourage you, forgive you or retain you in your bonds. When the prophets spoke of old, they contented themselves with the simple preface, “thus saith the Lord of Hosts.” Seldom was it a prologue to words of peace or comfort, but rather to menaces and warnings, and woes. And yet they that heard them looked not on the meanness of the speakers, but considered the majesty of the God who sent them, and they rent their garments before them, and humbled their souls with fasting, and covered their bodies with sackcloth and ashes, and did penance.
And when the minister of the New Law stands before you saying : “ Thus saith the Lord Jesus,” shall there be less heed taken of his words, because he speaketh in the name of One who is gracious and full of mercy, and comes to communicate “ thoughts of peace and not of affliction”? No. Did we come before you in our own names, and speak to you “of justice and chastity, and of the judgment to come,” you might, like Felix, send us back and say, “ For this time go thy way.” (Acts, xxiv. 24.) Did we, as of ourselves, preach to you the resurrection of the dead, ye might, as they of Athens, mock us to scorn, (xvii. 32.) If, in fine, we presumed to command you to be continent and chaste, meek and forgiving, penitent and humble, to distribute your goods to the poor, or to afflict your bodies by fasting, you might, perhaps, resent our interference with the concerns of your lives, and chide us, not unreasonably, for exacting duties hard and disagreeable. But when we speak unto you these things by the power and in the Name of Him who is King of your souls and Master of your being, — when we claim from you docility and obedience for Him whose livery we bear and whose heralds we are, refuse ye at your peril to receive our words, and honor our commission. But, good God, what do I say ? Shall I misdoubt me of the power and virtue of the Name of Thy beloved Son, — of that Name, at the sound whereof “ every knee shall bow, of things in heaven, of things on earth, and of things under the earth ” ? Shall I fear that the neck of man redeemed, will be more inflexible than the knees of Thy vanquished enemies, and refuse to take up Thy gentle yoke? Shall I apprehend that the soul of the captive, who hath been ransomed by the power of this Name, will adore and love it less than the angels, to whom it brought no tidings of salvation ?
No, my brethren, from you we hope for better things. For know you not that we are engaged together in a holy warfare, for which we have no other strength than that of this holy Name ? In “ a wrestling, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in high places ” ? (Ephes. vi. 12.) And if you fight not under the Name of the God of Jacob, how shall you prevail ? Anciently when armies rushed to battle, a name was put into the mouth of each, as a watchword and cheering symbol of the cause in which they struggled. Glad was the heart of the commander, and flushed with confidence of victory, when one unanimous shout of the name of their king or their patron rung clear and joyous from his men, as they rushed to the onslaught, and drowned the feeble response of the rival host. And so, in the Name of Jesus, will we strike boldly at our spiritual foes ; and bravely will we sound it forth together, to the terror and discomfiture of hell, and the overthrow of its might.
It is the Name of ten thousand battles, and of countless victories. It echoed of old through the vaulted prisons of this city, and filled the heart of the confessor with courageous joy. It broke from the martyr’s lips, when Nature could no longer brook silence, and was as “oil poured out” upon his wounds. It was the music of the anchorite, when in the depths of the desert the powers of darkness broke loose upon him : and it dissipated his temptation. And so it shall be the signal of our combat, the watchword of our ranks. See, it is written in broad letters upon the standard we have followed, “ Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Shame and confusion to the dastard who deserts his banner, or refuses to follow where that Name leads ! Victory and glory to the chosen ones, who shall confide in its power, and combat in its cause ! “ Out of the strong,” said Samson, in proposing his riddle to the Philistines, “out of the strong came forth sweetness.” “ What,” they replied, in solving it, “ is stronger than the lion, and what is sweeter than honey ?” (Jud. xiv. 14, 18.) Surely, we may reply, “ His Name, who, as the lion of the tribe of Judah, hath prevailed over death and hell, and hath been found worthy to open the book and loosen its seals : and who yet in proposing to us its precepts, makes them to us sweeter than honey and the honey-comb.”
It would seem to have been a special privilege of patriarchal foresight, to understand when a child was born what character it should bear through life, and to name it accordingly. Thus was Noah so named by Lamech, because he said : “ This same shall comfort us from the works and labors of our hands, on the earth which God hath cursed.” (Gen. v. 29.) When the Savior of man-kind received from God himself a name, it could not fail to be one descriptive of His high and gracious office; and the Name of Jesus doth, in truth, signify a savior. In this its meaning is treasured up its sweetness. It is a name as pregnant with merciful recollections, with motives of gratitude, with assurances of hope, with heavenly comfort, and with causes of joy, as to be the abridgment, as it were, and essence of whatever religion has brought of blessing down from heaven. Who does not know what choicest delicacies of feeling may be condensed within the small compass of a little name ? How the name of home will bring to the exile’s heart more ideas than a volume of eloquent description ? How the title of child or parent, wife or sister, will stir the affections of a bereaved survivor? And in this Name of Jesus, we shall find it to be so, if we duly meditate upon it. It is the name more especially of His infancy, and the name of His passion. During the important, but to us less dear, interval of His life, while engaged in the task of preaching His doctrines, men addressed Him as Rabbi, or Master; He was saluted with titles of well- deserved respect.
But while yet a child, and when abandoned by human favor to the ignominy of the cross, we know Him by no name, we read of Him in the Gospel by no name, but that of Jesus. And those surely are the two portions of His life wherein principally he proposes Himself as the object of our love. No ; think of Him by that Name, and you cannot present Him to your imagination as an object of awe or dread, as just or terrible. He smiles upon you as an infant in the arms of His maiden mother; He seems to stretch forth to you His little hands from the manger of Bethlehem ; you see Him reposing, on the way to Egypt, amidst His blessed family ; or you think of Him lost to His parents, and found again by them in the Temple. Through all these scenes, what can you do less than love Him, — the God-like child that bears the grievances of unnecessary infancy for love of you. During all this time He answered to no other name than that of Jesus, — a Name rendered to us doubly sweet by the lips of her who first addressed it to Him.
As you will think on His Name in hours of deeper meditation and repentance ; and straightways you shall see Him transformed into the man of sorrows, the bearer of our griefs. You shall see Him cast upon the ground in the prayer of agony, swallowed up in mortal anguish; you shall follow Him through steps too painful to be here rehearsed, to the great sacrifice of Calvary. When you behold Him there stretched upon His cross, and expiring in cruel torment, you will ask of any who stand gazing upon Him, by what name they know Him, and all will answer, “ by the Name written above His head, ‘ Jesus of Nazareth.’ ” No other name will suit Him in these passages of His life but this. We cannot bring ourselves to call Him here our Lord, our Messiah, the Christ, our Teacher. They are but cold and formal titles of honor, when given to Him at Bethlehem or on Calvary. One name alone, the adorable Name of Jesus, satisfies the desires of our heart, and utters in a breath its accumulated feelings. Hence, the Seraph of Assisium, as St. Francis has been called, than whom no other on earth ever more closely imitated or resembled, as far as man may, the Son of God, ever cherished with peculiar devotion the early infancy and the passion of Jesus, and by a natural consequence, never, as St. Bonaventure tells us, heard that sacred Name pronounced, but a bright glow of gratitude and delight diffused itself over his countenance.
St. Bernard, too, the warmth of whose devout outbreaks the coldness of our age would almost deem extravagant, overflows with the most affectionate enthusiasm when he comments on this blessed Name. It was, as he says, to him, “ honey in the mouth, music to the ear, and jubilee in the heart.” “ If thou writest, I find no relish in it unless I read there Jesus. If thou discoursest, it hath no savor for me unless the Name of Jesus be heard.” (Serm. xv. in Cant.) Yet even we, with all our lukewarmness, will not occasionally help feeling some small portion of this holy ardor. Never will our secret prayer warm into fervent and loving supplication, without this Name frequently escaping from our lips. We shall dwell upon it with a tenderer emotion than on any other whereby we address God, our salvation. It will, when often pronounced, unlock the more recondite stores of our affections, too seldom opened in the presence of God; it will be as wings, to the soul, of aspiration and love soaring towards the possession of our true country.
And now, applying this quality of His ever-blessed Name to this preaching of His word, — what more can we require to recommend it, than its being proclaimed in that His Name ? Who shall be able to resist a summons addressed to him under this most winning sanction? Who will refuse his heart, when claimed by One who bears such a title to his love ? When we shall address the sinner, immersed in his vices or enslaved to his passions, what shall we need to say, beyond the eloquent appeal of this most blessed Name? We will place before him all that his Savior has done to raise him from sin, and gain his love. On His behalf, and in His Name, we will conjure him to answer with a generous heart the call upon his affections. We will paint as best we can the dark ingratitude and enormous guilt of making this Name, as far as he can, an empty sound, without character or meaning as regards him. Or we will show him how that Jesus who ascended to heaven, will one day return bearing the same Name, but as an outraged title that pleads for vengeance, to punish his unfeeling conduct.
When we shall see the slothful, faint-hearted Christian, whose desires are good, while his efforts are weak, staggering along the right path, but scarce standing upright thereon, how better can we address him, to arouse and strengthen him, than by recounting to him the earnestness of purpose which the very Name of Jesus imports in Him that bore it, to save and win his soul. It described an office of painful and arduous discharge, through suffering and death ; He who undertook it, would fain keep the thought of it ever before His eyes, by bearing, even in the apparent thoughtlessness of infancy, the name which must ever have recalled it. And at the sight of such steadiness in love, such earnestness of perseverance in care of him, will he refuse an earnestness of gratitude and a steadiness of requital ? Will he refuse anything which in that Name is required ? If ever it be necessary to offer consolation to the virtuous, in affliction and distress of mind, in temptation or desolation of spirit, what will be required but to repeat to him this dear Name, so often a source of refreshment to his soul, so often his shield in time of conflict, so often his reward in heavenly contemplation. It will be to him as manna in the desert, or as dew to Hermon — a quickening food, a fertilizing influence, by whose vigor he shall be restored to comfort and inward joy.
Such shall be, with God’s blessing, “ our speech and our teaching, not in the persuasive words of human wisdom,” but in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Cor. ii. 4.) Nothing else shall we judge ourselves to know. But if we address ourselves to you in His Name, in this Name do ye also hear. Remember, that this Name was given Him for you, that is, for each amongst us. It was one which without us He could not have borne ; for it expresses His relation to us. To each of us ought it to be dear, by each of us ought it to be cherished, and lovingly pronounced. Speak it in trouble, and it shall bring you comfort ; speak it in temptation, and it shall give you victory ; speak it in times of relaxing fervor, and it shall throw fire into your hearts ; speak it in devotion, and it shall perfect you. There is no time, no place, where it is out of season, if to the lips at least to the thought; there is no action so lessed which it will not improve; there is no forgetfulness so deep from which it will not arouse you.
But, my brethren, there are two periods when its sweetness seems doubly sweet. For as we have seen that this is peculiarly the name of Our blessed Savior in His infancy and in His passion, so are they two corresponding periods of our lives, when it best appears to become us. It is a sweet Name when lisped by babes and sucklings, joined, through early suggestion, with those first names dear to parental affection, which form so firm a root for filial love. It is good to teach your little ones to utter it as they do your own, that He who became an infant for their sake may grow up in their hearts as the first companion of their dawning attachment, and have His love implanted as deeply at least as any earthly affection. But oh ! it is sweeter still to the tongue of the dying who in life have loved it and Him who chose it. Insipid to the ears of such a one will be the catalogue of his titles, his honors, or his possessions. Without power to help will their names be, whom the bonds of the flesh have knit to him, to be separated from them at that hour. He will search his soul for some affection which can stretch across the grave, for some link between the heart of flesh and the disembodied spirit. He will earnestly desire some token to show that he was fore-chosen here below, some pass-word which angels shall recognize, some charm which evil spirits shall dread. He will want some name written upon his garment and upon his forehead, which at first glance may establish his claim to the mansions of bliss. And all this he will find in this holy Name of Jesus, the God of his salvation. If through life he have received it and loved it, as the summary of what under it was wrought for his salvation ; if he have often fed his heart upon its sweet nourishment, he will find in it an object of his affections, imperishable and unchangeable, enduring beyond his dissolution, and even more powerful in the next world than in this. It shall seem written in letters of light over the gate of eternity; it shall seem graven with a pencil of fire on his heart ; and even from very habit and strengthened practice, his lips will struggle to arrest his last parting breath, and form it into that sacred Name, inaudible save to angels, whispered now only to Him that bore it.
Oh, be this Holy Name called down upon us all ! be it our protection through this our earthly pilgrimage; be it the assistance of this our ministry and of your patience and profit. Be it our comfort in death, and our joy in