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“ God manifested in the flesh,” now actually realized, called forth the amazement, and enlivened the affections of these heavenly worshippers; and dictated that zealous song of adoring praise, which is the subject of our present meditation.
II. Then, we proceed to explain the song itself. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, “ good will to men.” The angels celebrated the praises of God, and congratulated the happiness of man, with most fervent love and joy. “To you," Oye sons of men, “is born a Saviour, who is Christ, “ the Lord:” we exult in your felicity, “ we rejoice “over one sinner that repenteth :” “how much "greater then, must be our joy and gladness at the nativity of Him who is come to stoop, suffer, and
die, that he may“ be exalted as a Prince and Sa. “ viour, to give repentance and remission of sins?”
It is very affecting to compare the conduct of the heavenly host, in this respect, with that of men in general, who neglect or oppose the message of salvation, and despise the glorious Redeemer. But angels know our real character and condition : while we are blinded with pride and prejudice, and are extremely unwilling to be convinced that we deserve destruction! or so taken up with “the world, and the things that " are in the world,” that we disregard the important interests of eternity!
In considering the hymn of praise before us, we may perhaps begin to best advantage with the con- , cluding sentence, “Good will to men.”—The blessed angels had witnessed the creation of the earth, " when these morning stars sang together, and all the
“ sons of God shouted for joy ;*" for in that august transaction they saw the immensity of their Creator's power, wisdom, and goodness. With astonishment and awe they beheld also the fall of their compeers; and when “ God spared not the angels that sinned, “ but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into “chains of darkness to be reserved unto judgment, t'; they adored his righteous severity against the rebellious, and his holy abhorrence of sin; and they recei. ved instruction of inestimable value from the impres. sive solemn scene. They saw too the fall of man; and probably expected that vengeance would, with unabated vehemence, seize in like manner upon him; not conceiving that a God of infinite purity and justice could possibly shew mercy and kindness to rebels and apostates. No doubt they heard the first intimation of favour to our offending parents, mixed with the solemn denunciation of death, and all the woes that preceded it: and this must have excited a pe. culiar attention to so new and interesting a discovery of the divine perfections.
From that crisis, they had been witnesses and mes. sengers, both of the Lord's mercy and of his indignation, towards the human race. Numerous opportu. nities had been afforded them, in the history of man. kind, of learning the fatal effects of transgression, and the power of divine wrath. The deluge; the tremendous doom of Sodom and Gomorrah; the desolations of Egypt; the severities inflicted on the devoted Canaanites; the judgments executed even on offending Israel, in the wilderness and Canaan, and by the Babylonish captivity; were so many illustrations of the justice of God, and his holy abhorrence of iniquity. But at the same time his patience and bounty towards sinful men, his gracious interpositions in be. half of his people, the intimations and predictions of a Saviour, the promises given to believers, and the actual salvation of numbers, shewed his good will to mankind; and his readiness to pity, help, and relieve them, as far as could consist with the honour of his name, and the interest of his universal and everlasting kingdom.
* Job, xxxviii. 7.
+ 2 Pet. ii.
Yet in the infant lying in the manger at Bethle. bem, the angels had such a discovery of the Lord's good-will to men, connected with his detestation of their sins, as had never hitherto attracted their notice or raised their expectations. They no doubt, before this, had some general conception of the plan formed by infinite wisdom and everlasting love: perhaps the whole had been fully notified to them. Yet when the stupendous design was thus far accomplished; their previous admiration of the ineffable condescension, compassion, and love of the holy and glorious Lord God towards lost sinners, whose multiplied and heinous crimes had so long called loudly for vengeance, was far exceeded, and as it were swallowed up in inexpressible astonishment. Good-will to man! to guilty, polluted, ungrateful man! to idolatrous, impious, and blaspheming man! This overwhelmed the blessed angels with amazement, and tuned their hearts to adoring praises: and these reflections must have the same effect on all, who have just views of the majesty and glorious holiness of God, the nature
and desert of sin, and the wonderful plan of redemp. tion.-" God commendeth his love to us in that “ while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” “ Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he “ loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for “our sins. *"
This good-will of God to men is mere compassion and benevolence, not approbation or complacency. The crimes, dispositions, and characters of the creatures, thus beloved, were unspeakably hateful in his holy eyes: and none of his protestations against sin are so decided and energetick, as that which principally de- · clares his love to sinners. The compassion and tenderness, which induce virtuous and pious persons, at great expence, to relieve those pitiable objects whose crimes have rendered them miserable; in order that an attempt may be made to rescue them from temporal and eternal ruin, is a very distant imitation of the love shewn by our God to sinners, in giving his Son to be their Saviour, even while he declares them to be deserving of his everlasting wrath and abhorrence. The heinousness of our crimes, the contrariety of our dispositions to the divine purity, the great things he hath done to make way for our salvation, and the inestima. ble blessings prepared for us, combine to illustrate the riches of his mercy and the immensity of his good. ness. The love of the Father, in giving his only-begotten and well-beloved Son; the love of the Son iu most willingly assuming our nature, that he might give himself a sacrifice for our sins; and the love of
* Rom. v. 6--10. 1 John, iv. 10.
the Spirit, in preparing our hearts to receive this salvation, and in making us meet for the heavenly in. heritance, demand our warmest gratitude and most fervent praises; while we give “ glory to the Father, " to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit," into whose Dame we were baptized.
Before the coming of Christ, the special tokens of the Lord's good-will to men were principally confined to the people of Israel; and he had suffered all other nations to walk in their own ways. But in the child born at Bethlehem the angels saw him, who was appointed for “ Salvation to the ends of the earth.” The partition-wall was about to be removed; the good tidings of a Saviour, even Christ the Lord, were speedily to be proclaimed to all people without distinction; and thus a proposal of mercy and every blessing, “ without money and without price,” would be made to persons of all characters and descriptions, not excepting the vilest. Nay, all men every where would be commanded to repent: and the ambassadors of Christ would, in his stead, and as if God besought them by their mouth, beseech them to be reconciled to God. The fullest assurances were thus about to be given, that the loving Saviour would reject none, on any account whatever, who came to him for life and godliness; and exceedingly great and precious promises, together with the institution of sacred ordinances as means of grace, would concur in encouraging sinners of every nation to seek the blessings of eternal life, without fearing a denial or disappoint. ment.—All this doubtless and far more was percei. ved by the heavenly host, when they proclaimed