Newspaper Page Text
In th 0 midst of Bethlehem a dull square,
paved with cobblestones, opened before the Church of the Nativity. We gazed upon that ancient building with awe. It is not beautiful, nor stately, nor a gem of architecture. But it is probably the oldest Christian Church in the world. Justin Martyr, who died i6o years after Christ, speaks of this church, as built upon the spot where Jesns was born. Here St. .Jerome labored for years, living and dying (September 30, 420) in a little cave by the wall of the church. He wrote a library of theological books, but the civilized world re members St. Jerome as the author of the Vul gate. lie gave the Scriptures to the Western World in their vernacular. In t his church Baldwin, a Belgian knight, was crowned "King of Jerusalem"; at the close of the First Crusade. He declined to be crowned in Jerusalem, because he said he would not wear a crown of gold where his Saviour had worn a crown of thorns ? that is about all the world remembers of King Bald win, but the sentiment does him honor. Here, alas! as in the CJnireh of the Holy Sepulchre, we find throe tribes of Christians huddled under one great roof, each hostile to the other: Oh! that these so-called Christians would learn something of the spirit of Jesus Christ! Oh! that they would fling away their mummery and prayer-books, pick up the Bible St. Jerome opened to them, and follow its teaching. As in Jerusalem, the Greek Church has the best of the situation. The Roman Church has a monastery hard by the church wall, and a cave under the church. As throughout the East the Roman Catholic Church is clean, the Greek Church is dirty, and the Armenian Church worse than dirty. I wondered what St. Paul would have said, if he had seen the vermin crawling over the Oriental rugs in the Armenian Church. There are other things more disagreeable than filth and vermin, namely a plethora of holy lies. There is a spring under the church of good, pure water. When the Virgin and Christ-Child were thirsty a star fell from heaven and hit the ground so hard that it opened this spring! There is an altar where the Wise Men offered their gifts. There is an other altar where Joseph heard the Lord speak to him, and still another where the blood of the innocent children (the first Christian martyrs), slain by Ilerod, fell to the ground. Near the birthplace of Jesus is a marble manger, and in it a doll, and the doll has a crown on its head ! It is intended to honor Jesus. The bedizened doll especially irritated me. T wished to make away with it. It seemed a gratuitous sacrilege, more blatant and insistent than the other holy lies. These altars, pictures and false stories are encouraged as aids to worship. One cannot blame the ignorant people, with child-minds for the most part, and almost wholly illiterate. Neither can one blame the parish priests. They hav? but little intelligence and less learning. Tli average parish priest in the Orient is but little, if at all, superior to the people to whom he ministers. But the leaders are responsible. The bishops and the heirarchy above them must know and do know that these childish tales are false. It is a matter of common knowledge. The leaders of the church must have direct and detailed information that a casual visitor has not. It is impossible for a western visitor, Protestant or Catholic, to acquit the heirarchy of the Oreek and Latin churches of deliberate and far-reaching de ception in holy things. Only on the ground that the end justifies the means can they be* ex cused. Alas! the results of such mummery in itself alone considered, condemns such false practices even if the logic of principle and the plain prohibition of Scripture be left entirely without consideration. After centuries of trial the end conspicuously condemns the means. We come to Bethlehem with thankful hearts for the great Truth, undisturbed by childish falsehoods, by ignorance or by superstition. The noble front doors have been closed with brick, except one which has been closed with planks. One enters by a little door set in this portal. The vestibule too has been closed with brick walls. It resembles a prison vault. Within the nave, the elegance and simplicity of the building makes the poverty of the mod ern interior sadly conspicuous. Four rows of stately pillars lead down the nave. There are 44 columns of rod sandstone set. on massive blocks of stone. The Moslems (to show their utter contempt for Christianity, used this church as a stable for their horses. The Greeks built a solid brick wall between nave and choir to protect the sanctuary. It is now partly removed, and it lends an air of crum "Jacob passed this xtf\y and here liLs beloved Rachel yielded up lier life when Benjamin wax lK>rn. He laid her in a tomb which 1ui.s been re spected and protected by Jew, Christian and Mos lem, alike." bling delapidation to the noble structure. The high altar is erected over the cave in which our Lord was born. To the right is the Armenian wing of the church, the center and left are Greek. Each has a stairway descend ing under the altar. Candles were handed us,, after a fee was paid, and we entered the little crypt. It is so small that 36 or 18 persons fill it uncomfortably. Against the rock of the hillside is an altar and under it a star with the words: "Jesus Christus natus est hie de Virgine Marie." It is impossible to describe the feeling of awe that sweeps one's heart strings as he stands in this holy place. Without a doubt this spot is authentic. The earliest writers and saints so believed. Modern scholars are agreed that Jesus was born in a cave under the hillside of Bethlehem. We stood in long and reverent silence. Not a word was spoken. The candles flickered in misty drafts. Dim lamps hung about the cave gave forth more odor and smoke than light. The ornaments were tawdry. The hangings far too elaborate. We wished for the sim plicity of Christ in this holy place. The Orien tal idea is to overlay all with tinsel. In the deep gloom I had not noticed the sol dier, a Palestinian, in British uniform. It is the law. There have been so many riots and so many quarrels here; and so many visitors have stolen holy ornaments and even cut tho canvass that is spread over the rough walls that a guard must descend with every visitor. We yielded up our dripping tapers and passed out of the church. To the east the hills fall abruptly. Green pastures descend steeply toward the Sea of Death. The day was almost done. The sun hung low and long shadows were flung like soft mantles over the land scape. The Dead Sea was completely hidden in the twilight of dim distance, for in that deep gorge the sun had set. These sloping pastures are called "The House of Watching," for here the shepherds watched their flocks by night. These hillsides are rich pastures still. Even as we stood and gazed the shepherds were gathering their sheep and goats into the protection of the folds. The familiar words of Phillips Brooks run through my mind as we walked the narrow streets: ' ' O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie, Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by; Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tongiht." "How silently, how silently the wondrous Gift is given. So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of Ilis Heaven. No ear may hear ilis coming, but in this world of sin. Where meek souls will receive Ifim still, the dear Christ enters in." And then there is the cry of a lost and sin ful world that looks to Bethlehem for salva tion; aye, and shall not look in vain; "O little Child of Bethlehem, descend on us we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in. Be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell. Oh ! come to us, abide with us, our Lord Em manuel." WHEN GOD WORKS WITH MEN. God is present in human affairs. Instances, the Spanish Armada; Napoleon's campaign against Moscow, where, on "one memor able night of frost, twenty thousand hoirses perished and the strength of the French army was utterly broken." Here God used the snow and the cold, as he may have used the pestilence or the simoon to destroy Senna cherib. -Victor Hugo attributes the defeat of Napoleon at WTaterloo to a few drops of rain, more or l?ss, which in the early morning made the roads unfit for the movement of artillery. Providence, he thus claims, defeated "the man of destiny." ? Selected. Our days are in God's hands. And this not calling us to put on sack-cloth for, if they arc in God's hands, they are in good hands. They surely could not be in better keeping. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the liv ing God." Ik it? God is love. Is it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of love? Yes, as ? rebel. But for the Christian, it is a lvlessed ex perience. For the Christian the fall is a flight, the sinking a soaring, the prostration is a pro motion. It means slipping into the clasp of his Father.