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which, under the veil of flesh, they worshipped the eternal Word; the wisdom of God, under infant innocency; the almighty power, in so great weakness; and under the lowness of human nature, the altitude of majesty and the infinity of divine glory. And so was verified the prediction of the prophet Esay ”, under the type of the son of the prophetess, “ Before a child shall have knowledge to cry, My father and my mother, he shall take the spoil of Damascus and Samaria from before the king of Assyria.”
13. When they had paid the tribute of their offerings and adoration," being warned in their sleep by an angel, not to return to Herod, they returned into their own country another way;" where, having been satisfied with the pleasures of religion, and taught by that rare demonstration which was made by Christ, how man's happiness did nothing at all consist in the affluence of worldly possessions, or the tumours of honour; having seen the eternal Son of God poor and weak, and unclothed of all exterior ornaments; they renounced the world, and retired empty into the recesses of religion, and the delights of philosophy.
Ad SECTION IV.
Considerations upon the Apparition of the Angels to the
Shepherds. 1. When the angels saw that come to pass, which Gabriel, the great ambassador of God, had declared; that which had been prayed for and expected four thousand years; and that, by the merits of this new-born Prince, their younger brethren and inferiors in the order of intelligent creatures were now to be redeemed, that men should partake the glories of their secret habitations, and should fill up those void places, which the fall of Lucifer and the third part of the stars had made, their joy was as great as their understanding; and these mountains did leap with joy, because the vallies were filled with benediction, and a fruitful shower from heaven. And if, at the conversion of one sinner, there
v Isa. viii. 4. Justin M. Dial. cum Tryphon. Tertul. lib. iii. contra Marcion. c. 13.
is jubilation, and a festival kept among the angels, how great shall we imagine this rejoicing to be, when salvation and redemption was sent to all the world! But we also, to whom the joy did more personally relate, (for they rejoiced for our sakes,) should learn to estimate the grace done us, and believe there is something very extraordinary in the piety and salvation of a man, when the angels, who in respect of us are unconcerned in the communications, rejoice with the joy of conquerors, or persons suddenly ransomed from tortures and death.
2. But the angels also had other motions : for besides the pleasures of that joy, which they had in beholding human nature so highly exalted, and that God was man, and man was God; they were transported with admiration at the ineffable counsel of God's predestination, prostrating themselves with adoration and modesty, seeing God so humbled, and man so changed, and so full of charity, that God stooped to the condition of man, and man was inflamed beyond the love of seraphim, and was made more knowing than cherubim, more established than thrones, more happy than all the orders of angels. The issue of this consideration teaches us to learn their charity, and to exterminate all the intimations and beginnings of envy, that we may as much rejoice at the good of others as of ourselves : for then we love good for God's sake, when we love good, wherever God hath placed it: and that joy is charitable, which overflows our neighbours' fields, when ourselves are unconcerned in the personal accruments; for so we are “made partakers of all that fear God," when charity unites their joy to ours, as it makes us partakers of their common sufferings.
3. And now the angels, who had adored the holy Jesus in heaven, come also to pay their homage to him upon earth; and laying aside their flaming swords, they take into their hands instruments of music, and sing, Glory be to God on high.” First signifying to us, that the incarnation of the holy Jesus was a very great instrument of the glorification of God; and those divine perfections, in which he is chiefly pleased to communicate himself to us, were in nothing manifested so much as in the mysteriousness of this work. Secondly: And in vain doth man satisfy himself with complacencies and ambitious designs upon earth, when he sees
before him God in the form of a servant, humble, and poor, and crying, and an infant full of need and weakness.
4. But God hath pleased to reconcile his glory with our eternal benefit; and that also was part of the angels' song, “ In earth, peace to men of good will.” For now we need not, with Adam, to fly from the presence of the Lord, saying, “I heard thy voice, and I was afraid, and hid myself;" for he, from whom our sins made us once to fly, now weeps,
and is an infant in his mother's arms, seeking strange means to be reconciled to us; hath forgotten all his anger, and is swallowed up with love, and encircled with irradiations of amorous affections and good will: and the effects of this good will are not referred only to persons of heroical and eminent graces and operations, of vast and expensive charities, of prodigious abstinencies, of eremitical retirements, of ascetical diet, of perfect religion, and canonized persons ; but to all of good will,” whose souls are hallowed with holy purposes and pious desires, though the beauties of the religion and holy thoughts were not spent in exterior acts, nor called out by the opportunities of a rich and expressive fortune.
5. But here we know, where the seat and regiment of peace is placed, and all of it must pass by us and descend upon us, as duty and reward. It proceeds from the Word incarnate, from the Son of God, undertaking to reconcile us to his Father; and it is ministered and consigned unto us by every event and act of Providence, whether it be deciphered in characters of paternal indulgence, or of correction, or absolution. For that is not peace from above, to have all things according to our human and natural wishes; but to be in favour with God, that is peace; always remembering, that to be chastised by him is not a certain testimony of his mere wrath, but to all his servants a character of love and of paternal provision, since "he chastises every son, whom he receives,” Whosoever seeks to avoid all this world's adversity, can never find peace; but he only who hath resolved all his affections, and placed them in the heart of God; he who denies his own will, and hath killed self-love, and all those enemies within, that make afflictions to become miseries indeed, and full of bitterness; he only enjoys this peace : and in proportion to every man's mortification and selfdenial, so are the degrees of his peace. And this is the peace, which the angel proclaimed at the enunciation of that birth, which taught humility, and contempt of things below, and all their vainer glories, by the greatest argument in the world, even the poverty of God incarnate. And if God sent his own, natural, only-begotten, and beloved Son, in all the dresses of poverty and contempt; that person is vain, who thinks God will love him better, than he loved his own Son, or that he will express his love any other or gentler way, than to make him partaker of the fortune of his eldest Son. There is one other postern to the dwellings of peace, and that is, “ good will to men;" for so much charity as we have to others, such a measure of peace also we may enjoy at home: for peace was only proclaimed to “ men of good will,” to them that are at peace with God and all the world.
6. But the angel brought the message to shepherds, to persons simple, and mean, and humble; persons likely to be more apprehensive of the mystery, and less of the scandal, of the poverty of the Messias : for they whose custom or affections dwell in secular pomps, who are not used by charity or humility to stoop to an evenness and consideration of their brethren of equal natures, though of unequal fortunes, are persons, of all the world, most indisposed and removed from the understanding of spiritual excellencies, especially when they do not come clothed with advantages of the world, and of such beauties which they admire. God himself in poverty, comes in a prejudice to them that love riches, and simplicity is folly to crafty persons“; a mean birth is an ignoble stain, beggary is a scandal, and the cross an unanswerable objection. But the angel's moral in the circumstance of his address, and inviting the poor shepherds to Bethlehem, is, that none are fit to come to Christ but those, who are poor in spirit, despisers of the world, simple in
a At nos virtutes ipsas invertimus, atque
Horat. Serm. I. i. Sat. 3. 65.
their hearts, without craft and secular designs; and therefore neither did the angel tell the story to Herod, nor to the scribes and pharisees, whose ambition had ends contradictory to the simplicity and poverty of the birth of Jesus. 7. These shepherds, when they conversed with angels,
watching over their flocks by night;" no revellers, but in a painful and dangerous employment, the work of an honest calling, securing their folds against incursions of wild beasts, which in those countries are not seldom or unfrequent. And Christ being the great Shepherd, (and possibly, for the analogy's sake, the sooner manifested to shepherds,) hath made his ministers overseers of their flocks, distinguished in their particular folds, and conveys the mysteriousness of his kingdom, first to the pastors, and by their ministry, to the flocks. But although all of them be admitted to the ministry, yet those only to the interior recesses and nearer imitations of Jesus, who are watchful over their flocks, assiduous in their labours, painful in their sufferings, present in the dangers of the sheep, ready to interpose their persons and sacrifice their lives; these are shepherds, who first converse with angels, and finally shall enter into the presence of the Lord. But, besides this symbol, we are taught in the significations of the letter, that he that is diligent in the business of an honest calling, is then doing service to God; and a work so pleasing to him, who hath appointed the sons of men to labour, that to these shepherds he made a return and recompence, by the conversation of an angel; and hath advanced the reputation of an honest and a mean employment to such a testimony of acceptance, that no honest person, though busied in meaner offices, may ever hereafter, in the estimation of Christ's disciples, become contemptible.
8. The signs, which the angel gave to discover the babe, were no marks of lustre and vanity; but they should find, 1. a babe, 2. swaddled, 3. lying in a manger : the first a testimony of his humility; the second, of his poverty; the third, of his incommodity and uneasiness; for Christ came to combat the whole body of sin, and to destroy every province of Satan's kingdom; for these are direct antinomies to “ the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” Against the first, Christ opposed his hard and uneasy lodging; against the second, the poorness of his swaddling