Spurgeon lived during a time when the doctrine of the incarnation was being challenged. With the growth of German higher criticism, the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture were increasingly being questioned. The translation of David Strauss’ The Life of Jesus into English in 1846 led many to adopt a rationalistic understanding of the Gospels, stripping it of its supernatural elements. For them, the incarnation was no longer the miraculous joining of the eternal Son of God with our humanity. Instead, it was simply mythical language pointing to the disciples’ high view of their rabbi. Even as Christmas grew in cultural popularity, its meaning was increasingly lost.
But Spurgeon would have none of this. Even as he led his church in celebrating Christmas, Spurgeon made sure that this was a celebration rooted in doctrine. They rejoiced in the arrival of the Son of God, the miracle of the incarnation for their salvation. Jesus was no ordinary man. He is the Word made flesh. And His first coming lays a claim on our lives because He is coming back again.
On his first Christmas Sunday at the newly-built Metropolitan Tabernacle in 1861, Spurgeon drove this point home as he chose Hebrews 9:27-28 for his Christmas sermon text: “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
His takeaway was this: to understand Christ’s midnight birth rightly, we must see it in the radiance of his second coming. Even as we adore the Savior-infant in the manger, we must recognize He is also the coming Judge and King. What difference would it make in our Christmas celebration if we kept both advents in view?
Consider, then, four ways his second coming will be different from his first.
“How different I say will be his coming.”
At first he came an infant of a span long; now he shall come— “In rainbow-wreath and clouds of storm,” the glorious one.
Then he entered into a manger, now he shall ascend his throne.
Then he sat upon a woman’s knees, and did hang upon a woman’s breast, now earth shall be at his feet and the whole universe shall hang upon his everlasting shoulders.
Then he appeared the infant, now the infinite.
Then he was born to trouble as the sparks fly upward, now he comes to glory as the lightning from one end of heaven to the other.
A stable received him then; now the high arches of earth and heaven shall be too little for him.
Horned oxen were then his companions, but now the chariots of God which are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels, shall be at his right hand.
Then in poverty his parents were too glad to receive the offerings of gold and frankincense and myrrh; but now in splendor,
King of kings, and Lord of lords, all nations shall bow before him, and kings and princes shall pay homage at his feet. Still he shall need nothing at their hands, for he will be able to say, “If I were hungry I would not tell ye, for the cattle are mine upon a thousand hills.” “Thou hast put all things under his feet; all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field.” “The earth is the Lords, and the fullness thereof.”
“There will be a most distinct and apparent difference in his person.”
He will be the same, so that we shall be able to recognize him as the Man of Nazareth, but O how changed!
Where now the carpenter’s smock? Royalty hath now assumed its purple.
Where now the toil-worn feet that needed to be washed after their long journeys of mercy? They are sandaled with light, they “are like unto fine brass as if they burned in a furnace.”
Where now the cry, “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but I, the Son of Man, have not where to lay my head?” Heaven is his throne; earth is his foot-stool.
Methinks in the night visions, I behold the day dawning. And to the Son of Man there is given “dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him.” Ah! who would think to recognize in the weary man and full of woes, the King eternal, immortal, invisible. Who would think that the humble man, despised and rejected, was the seed-corn out of which there should grow that full corn in the ear,
Christ all-glorious, before whom the angels veil their faces and cry, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth!” He is the same, but yet how changed!
Ye that despised him, will ye despise him now? Imagine the judgment-day has come, and let this vast audience represent the gathering of the last dreadful morning. Now ye who despised his cross, come forward and insult his throne! Now ye who said he was a mere man, come near and resist him, while he proves himself to be your Creator! Now, ye who said, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” say it now if you dare; repeat now if you dare your bold presumptuous defiance! What! are ye silent? Do you turn your backs and flee? Verily, verily, so was it said of you of old. They that hate him shall flee before him. His enemies shall lick the dust. They shall cry to the rocks to cover them, and to the hills to hide them from his face. How changed, I say, will he be in the appearance of his person.
“But the difference will be more apparent in the treatment which he will then receive.“
Alas, my Lord, thy reception on earth the first time was not such as would tempt thee here again. “All they that see me laugh me to scorn; they thrust out—the lip; they say, He trusted in God that he would deliver him, let him deliver him if he delighteth in him; I am become a reproach; the song of the drunkard, a by-word and a proverb.” “When we shall see him, there is no beauty in him that we should desire him.” This was the world’s opinion of God’s Anointed. So they did salute Jehovah’s Christ when he came the first time.
Blind world, open thine eyes while the thunder-claps of judgment make thee start up in terror and amazement, and look about thee. This is the man in whom thou couldst see no beauty darest thou say the same of him now? His eyes are like flames of fire, and out of his mouth goeth a two-edged sword; his head and his hair are white like wool, as white as snow, and his feet like much fine gold. How glorious now! How different now the world’s opinion of him! Bad men weep and wail because of him. Good men cry, “All hail! all hail! all hail!” and clap their hands, and bow their heads, and leap for joy. Around him an innumerable company of angels wait; cherubim and seraphim with glowing wheels attend at his feet, and ever unto him they continually, continually, continually do cry, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts.”
Let us suppose again that the judgment-day has come, and let us challenge the world to treat the Savior as it did before. Now, then, crowds, come and drag him down, to hurl him from the hill headlong! Step forward, ye Pharisees, and tempt him, and try to entangle him in his words. Herodians, have ye no penny now, that ye may ask him a difficult question to entrap him? What, Sadducees, have ye no riddles left? Aha! aha! laugh at the Scribes and at the wise men; see how the wise Man of Nazareth hath confounded them all. See how the sufferer hath put to nought the persecutors! Come Judas, arch-traitor, sell him for thirty pieces of silver! Come and give him another kiss and play the traitor o’er again! Pilate, come forward and wash thy hands in innocency and say,” I am clear of the blood of this just person!”
See ye to it ye fathers of the Sanhedrim, wake from your long slumbers and say again, if ye dare, “This man blasphemeth.” Smite him on the cheek ye soldiers; buffet him again ye praetorians. Set him once more in the chair and spit into his face. Weave your thorn-crown and put it on his head, and put the reed into his right hand. What! have ye ne’er an old cloak to cast about his shoulders again? What, have ye no songs, no ribald jests, and is there not a man among you that dareth now to pluck his hair? No, see them how they flee! Their loins are loosed; the shields of the mighty have been cast to the winds. Their courage has failed them; the brave Romans have turned cowards, and the haughty bulls of Bashan have hastened away from their pastures. And now ye Jews cry, “Away with him,” now let his blood be on you and on your children. Now come forward ye ribald crew, and mock him as ye did upon the cross. Point to his wounds; jeer at his nakedness; mock ye his thirst; revile his prayer; stand ye and thrust out your tongues, and insult his agonies if ye dare. Ye did it once! ‘Tis the same person; do it over again.
But, no; they throw themselves upon their faces and there goeth up from the assembled mass a wail such as earth never heard before, not even in the day when Mizraim’s children felt the angel’s sword, and, weeping worse than ever than was known in Bochim, hotter tears than Rachel shed when she would not be comforted for her children. Weep on, ‘tis too late for your sorrow now. Oh! if there had been the tear of penitence before, there had not been the weeping of remorse now. Oh! if there had been the glancing of the eye of faith, there had not been the blasting and the scorching of your eyes with horrors that shall utterly consume you. Christ comes, I say, to be treated very differently from the treatment he received before.
“He will come again for a very different purpose.”
He came the first time with, “I delight to do thy will O God.” He comes a second time to claim the reward and to divide the spoil with the strong.
He came the first time with a sin-offering; that offering having been once made, there is no more sacrifice for sin. He comes the second time to administer righteousness.
He was righteous at his first coming, but it was the righteousness of allegiance. He shall be righteous at his second coming with the righteousness of supremacy.
He came to endure the penalty, he comes to procure the reward.
He came to serve, he comes to rule.
He came to open wide the door of grace, he comes to shut to the door.
He comes not to redeem but to judge; not to save but to pronounce the sentence; not to weep while he invites, but to smile while he rewards; not to tremble in heart while he proclaims grace, but to make others tremble while he proclaims their doom.
Oh Jesu! how great the difference between thy first and thy second Advent!
Read the full sermon here.