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NATIVITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST:
PREACHED ON CHRISTMAS DAY.
LUKE ii. 13, 14.
AND SUDDENLY THERE WAS WITH THE ANGEL A MULTITUDE OF THE HEAVENLY HOST, PRAISING GOD, AND SAYING, GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD-WILL TOWARDS MEN.
IN this chapter we have a most wonderful History of the Na
tivity of the Son of God: and it is described both by the mean entertainment that earth, and the glorious attendance that heaven afforded him.
His own appearance was but despicable, but the appearance of his retinue was most magnificent and astonishing: he, who
* In a posthumous 8vo. volume, published in 1712, is "An Appendix, containing some passages omitted in that part of the author's works published in folio." Among these passages are found one entire division, and several considerable paragraphs, intended, apparently, for insertion or omis‐ sion, as the discourse was to be accommodated to one or more times of delivery. This piece was first printed in what is called the Third Volume of Discourses, 8vo. 1694; and was re-printed in the folio of 1701. Some of the sentences of these editions are abridged in the above mentioned Appendix, and others are amplified. The author seems to have preached it as Three distinct Sermons; probably on so many successive Christmas Days. The editors of the 3d octavo and the folio, not knowing of the alterations and additions, printed afterwards in the Appendix, have put together the Discourse as it stands in their editions, entirely omitting t'e second division of the second head, concerning Peace on Earth. I have endeavoured to combine the Appendix with the original text, so as to form one regular Discourse; and such parts of the Appendix as could not be so interwoven, I have given in Notes at the bottom of the page. EDITOR.
was the Ancient of Days, became a helpless infant: he, who was the light of the sun, comes into the world in the darkness of the night: he, who came that he might lay us in the bosom of the Father, is himself laid in the manger of a stable. The inn is full, and Joseph the carpenter, and Mary, though big with God, must take up with a stable; and she must lay her blessed burden among beasts and horses, far more hospitable than their owners.
But, though he be meanly welcomed on earth, yet heaven makes abundant amends for all: a company of industrious shepherds, lying all night in the fields by their flocks, while they are watching their sheep, themselves find their own shepherd. Whilst they thought of no apparition, but of some ravenous beasts to devour their herd, an angel is winged away with so great swiftness, that he scatters light round about the place, and tells them of the birth of Christ but then he bids them search for him in a strange place; telling them that they should find the Lord of Life and Glory in an inn: and a strange circumstance it is, that a holy angel should call the shameful debasement of the King of Heaven tidings of great joy, and make it the matter of his jubilee, and triumph upon the delivery of his message. The text tells us, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host: that is, of angels, those heavenly courtiers, leaving the glorious palace of heaven; as well they might, when their King lay here below: and then they second him with this joyful acclamation, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good-will towards men.
In these words is contained whatsoever God or man can desire. What Jotham, in the parable speaks concerning the vine, Judges ix. 13, is certainly true of this text: It cheereth God and man. God knoweth no higher design than his own glory; and Christ's coming into the world was for the accomplishment of that design. And man can desire no greater happiness than what follows, Peace and Good-will: and both these are born into the world, together with Christ.
Now, by this peace on earth, may be meant either mutually from men to men, that, upon Christ's birth, men should be at peace one with another: so history informs us, that, about this time, Janus's Temple was shut up, and the whole world was at peace: Florus, the Roman historian, records, that then there was either a peace or a truce in the whole world: and, indeed, it was but fit that war should cease, when the Prince of Peace was born. Or else it may be meant of peace and good-will
from God to man: now peace is not so much as good-will; for where there are not open acts of hostility, yet there may be secret grudges and displeasure: all sinners stand in a double state of distance to God; the one of opposition and defiance, the other of alienation and estrangement: peace destroys the one, and good-will the other; and, in the text, God, by his angel, proclaims both to the world; peace to reconcile them, and good will to endear them, and both in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, accordingly, let us take notice,
By whom this heavenly anthem is sung.
I. For the FIRST, it is said, that an innumerable company of the heavenly host praised God.
And we may well wonder what should occasion such mighty expressions of joy in those blessed spirits. Is it a time of joy, when the Great God is introducing himself into our flesh; when he is abasing himself to dust and ashes; when the Infinite God is retiring, and shrinking up himself into a small worm? Is it a time of joy with them, when the brightness of the Deity, from whose reflections only they borrow all their shining and lustre, is now eclipsed in a frail body? Strange, that they should make this day of heaven's humiliation, their festival and day of thanksgiving! Yet, possibly, we may give a Threefold account of it.
i. The holy angels rejoiced at the Birth of Christ, BECAUSE IT GAVE THEM OCCASION TO TESTIFY THEIR DEEPEST HUMILITY AND SUBJECTION.
To be subject to Christ, whilst he sat upon the throne of his kingdom, arrayed with unapproachable light, controlling all the powers of heaven with a beck, was no more than his dreadful` majesty and his infinite glory exacted from them: but, to be subject to him in a cratch, as well as on the throne, when he had, as it were, hid his beams, and made himself recluse in the human nature; (for the angels are subject to him when as the Apostle speaks, Heb. ii. 8. We see not yet all things put under him ;) this was not obedience only, but in a sense it was a condescension. Some of the Schoolmen, those busy priers into all the secrets of heaven, think that the pride, which tumbled the apostate angels out of heaven, was their disdaining to serve Christ in his state of exinanition and abasement; which they
then, by revelation, knew would certainly come to pass in the fulness of time: and that the rest of their fellow-angels preserved their station, by professing their cheerful willingness to be com mon servants to the Mediator, when he himself should appear in the form of a servant. Now is the time of their trial: their King, whose infinite essence gilds all the universe, doth now lie housed in a stable, cradled in a manger: there he lies, under all the dishonours of men, obscure in his birth, and shortly to be exposed to hardships, to the assaults of the Devil, to buffetings and cruel scourgings, and at last to die as a malefactor. This is that stone of stumbling, which hath long lain in the way both of the Jews and Gentiles: this is the scandal of the cross, which their pride would never stoop to: this is the foolishness of the Gospel, which the wisdom of the world did deride. What! for God to command them to believe in such a contemptible person as Jesus of Nazareth! what were this, but to destroy their reason, that he might save their souls? they scorn to own him, in his meanness, for their Saviour; whom yet the glorious angels scorn not to own, even in his meanness, for their Lord and King, And, therefore, we find how ready they are to wait upon him, in the greatest instance of his abasement: when he was in the wilderness, among howling beasts, tempted by the Devil, that roaring lion, it is said, then angels ministered unto him: Mat, iv. 11: when he was in an agony, and the heavy sense of God's wrath squeezed from him large drops of bloody sweat, an angel, it is said, strengthened him: Luke xxii. 43. And now the time is come, wherein they may express their fidelity and obedience, in the lowest estate of their Lord. And this is the first reason, why the holy angels rejoiced at the Birth of Christ, because now they have an opportunity of expressing their humility and subjection to their Lord and King.
ii. The angels rejoiced at the Birth of Christ, BECAUSE THE
CONFIRMATION OF THAT BLESSED ESTATE OF GRACE AND GLORY, WHEREIN THEY NOW STAND, DEPENDED UPON HIS INCARNATION.
God, upon Christ's undertaking the great work of his Mediatorship, made over to him the whole world, as it were, by deed of gift: Mat. xxviii. 18. All power, saith Christ, is given unto me in heaven and in earth. The government of all creatures is laid upon his shoulders: and, therefore, if there be so greata multitude of holy angels preserved in their blissful state be
yond all danger of apostasy, it must only be ascribed to Christ as God-Man. Hence he is styled, Col. ii. 10. the head of all principality and power: they are members of Christ, as well as we: they are united to him by love, as we are by faith: they are part of the Church of Christ, as well as we: they are glórified saints, triumphing in heaven; we, militant on earth, and aspiring thither. Eph. i. 10. It is said, God gathers together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth, even in him: we and they are sheltered together under the same veil of Christ's flesh and, as the saints on earth derive from Christ the grace of perseverance, which keeps them from drawing back to perdition; so also do the angels in heaven. Once, when the Great God hurled the apostate spirits down into the burning lake, their own wills were then mutable, and their estate too: they might have conspired in the same rebellion, and partaken of the same destruction; but that, it is probable, the Mediator interposed to secure and confirm them and therefore they rejoiced at the Birth of Christ, wherein they saw the Godhead actually united to the human nature; since the merit of this union, long before that, prevailed for their happy perseverance.
iii. The holy angels rejoiced at the Birth of Christ, FROM THE FERVENT DESIRE THEY HAVE OF MAN'S SALVATION.
Many thrones in heaven are vacant: God hath expelled thence many legions of devils: and it is the fancy of some, that the number of those, who shall be saved, is equal to the number of the fallen angels; as if they were appointed by God, to succeed in their places and dignities. Now the angels have an earnest desire to have these rooms filled; and to have more members added to their Heavenly Corporation : hence we find, Luke xv. 10. There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth: the news of a sinner's conversion is entertained with applause: it makes a festival in heaven, that now another man is made a free denizen of that holy city. And, if they thus rejoice at the conversion of a sinner, needs must they rejoice at the Incarnation of a Saviour; since this is the root and foundation of our conversion, of our hope, and of all our happiness. Thus you see the reasons, why the holy angels rejoiced so exceedingly at the Birth of