Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: The Angels' Song
Author: Guthrie, Thomas, 1803-1873
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Angels' Song" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



         THE ANGELS' SONG.


        ALEXANDER STRAHAN
148 _Strand_,          London
178 _Grand Street_,    New York



         THE ANGELS' SONG


      BY THOMAS GUTHRIE, D.D.

 AUTHOR OF "MAN AND THE GOSPEL," ETC.


  [Illustration: Publisher's device]


     ALEXANDER STRAHAN, PUBLISHER
         LONDON AND NEW YORK
                1866



CONTENTS.


                                                                  PAGE

PART I.,                                                             5

     I. THAT REDEMPTION YIELDS THE
        HIGHEST GLORY TO GOD,                                       14

PART II.,                                                           23

    II. REDEMPTION GLORIFIES GOD IN
        THE SIGHT OF HOLY ANGELS,                                   30

   III. REDEMPTION GLORIFIES GOD
        THROUGHOUT ALL THE UNIVERSE,                                35

    IV. THE REDEEMER AND REDEMPTION
        ARE WORTHY OF OUR HIGHEST
        PRAISE,                                                     40

PART III.,                                                          47

     V. THEY WERE MEN OF A PEACEFUL
        CALLING,                                                    55

    VI. THEY WERE MEN OF HUMBLE
        RANK,                                                       60

   VII. THEY WERE MEN ENGAGED IN
        COMMON DUTIES,                                              65

PART IV.,                                                           69

  VIII. JESUS RESTORES PEACE BETWEEN
        GOD AND MAN,                                                80

PART V.,                                                            93

    IX. JESUS BRINGS PEACE TO THE SOUL,                            102

     X. JESUS SHALL BRING PEACE TO THE
        WORLD,                                                     110

PART VI.,                                                          117

    XI. THE PERSONS TO WHOM GOOD
        WILL IS EXPRESSED,                                         126

   XII. THE PERSON WHO EXPRESSES
        "GOOD WILL,"                                               134



_PART I._


The birth of an heir to the throne is usually accompanied by
circumstances befitting so great an event. No place is deemed worthy
of it but a royal palace; and there, at the approach of the expected
hour, high nobles and the great officers of state assemble, while the
whole country, big with hope, waits to welcome a successor to its long
line of kings. Cannons announce the event; seaward, landward, guns
flash and roar from floating batteries and rocky battlements; bonfires
blaze on hill-tops; steeples ring out the news in merry peals; the
nation holds holiday, giving itself up to banqueting and enjoyments,
while public prayers and thanksgivings rise to Him by whom kings reign
and princes decree justice. With such pomp and parade do the heirs of
earthly thrones enter on the stage of life! So came not He who is the
King of kings and Lord of lords. On the eve of His birth the world
went on its usual round. None were moved for His coming; nor was there
any preparation for the event--a chamber, or anything else. No fruit
of unhallowed love, no houseless beggar's child enters life more
obscurely than the Son of God. The very tokens by which the shepherds
were taught to recognise Him were not the majesty but the extreme
meanness of his condition: "This shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall
find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." In
fact, the Lord of heaven was to be recognised by his humiliation, as
its heirs are by their humility. Yet, as we have seen a black and
lowering cloud have its edges touched with living gold by the sun
behind it, so all the darkest scenes of our Lord's life appear more or
less irradiated with the splendours of a strange glory. Take that
night on Galilee when a storm roared over land and lake, enough to
wake all but the dead. The boat with Jesus and His disciples tears
through the waves, now whirling on their foaming crests, now plunging
into their yawning hollows; the winds rave in His ear; the spray falls
in cold showers on His naked face; but He sleeps. I have read of a
soldier boy who was found buried in sleep beneath his gun, amid the
cries and carnage of the battle; and the powers of nature in our Lord
seem to be equally exhausted. His strength is spent with toil; and
with wan face and wasted form He lies stretched out on some rude
boards--the picture of one whose candle is burning away all too fast,
and whom excess of zeal is hurrying into premature old age and an
untimely grave. Was the sight such as to suggest the question, Where
is now thy God?--how soon it changed into a scene of magnificence and
omnipotent power! He wakes--as a mother, whom louder sounds would not
stir, to her infant's feeblest wail, He wakes to the cry of His
alarmed disciples; and standing up, with the lightning flash
illumining His calm, divine face, He looks out on the terrific war of
elements. He speaks; and all is hushed. Obedient to His will, the
winds fold their wings, the waves sink to rest; and there is a great
calm. "Glory to God in the highest!" How may His people catch up and
continue the strain which falls from angels' lips? In disciples
plucked from the very jaws of death, and pulling their boat shoreward
with strong hands and happy hearts over a moonlit glassy sea, Jesus
shows us how He will make good these sayings, "Fear not, for I am with
thee; be not afraid, for I am thy God"--"I have given unto them
eternal life, and they shall never perish."

The divine glory of that scene is not peculiar to it. For as an eagle,
so soon as she has stooped from her realm to the ground, mounts aloft
again, soaring into the blue skies of her native heavens, our Lord
never descends into the abasement of His meanest circumstances without
some act which bespeaks divinity, and bears Him up before our eyes
into the regions of Godhead. The grave, where He weeps like a woman,
gives up its prisoner at His word. Athirst by Jacob's well, like any
other wayfaring, way-worn traveller, He begs a draught of water from
a woman there, but tells her all she ever did. Houseless and poor, His
banquet hall is the open air, His table the green grass, His feast
five barley loaves and a few fishes from the neighbouring lake, yet
this scanty fare supplies the wants of five thousand guests. His birth
and life and death, His whole history, in fact, resembles one of those
treasure-chests which double locks secure; for as that iron safe
yields its hoards of gold, silver, pearls, and precious stones to none
but Him who brings to each lock its own appropriate key, so the riches
of divine truth, redeeming love, and saving mercy are open only to
such as come to Jesus with a belief in His divinity on the one hand,
and a belief in His humanity on the other;--who behold in the child,
whose birth was sung by angels, the son of Mary, and worship the only
begotten, well beloved, and eternal Son of God.

Now this mingling of divine and human characters distinguished
Christ's birth as much as His death. The halo of glory that surrounded
His dying, crowned His infant head. His sun rose, as it afterwards
set, behind a heavy bank of clouds; but the divinity they screened,
touched their edges alike with burning gold; so that He at whose death
the rocks were rent, and the sun eclipsed, and graves deserted of
their dead, no more entered than He left our world as a common son of
Adam. Not that a world which was to reject Him went out to meet its
King with homage and royal honours. Omen of coming events, it received
Him in sullen silence. But the heavens declared His glory, the skies
sent out a sound; and the tokens of His first advent--unlike the
thunders which shall rend the skies when He comes the second time to
judgment--were all in beautiful harmony with its object. It was love
and saving mercy; there were light, music, and angel forms. With this
object all things indeed were in perfect keeping,--the serene
night--the shining stars--the pearly dews glistening on the
grass--snowy flocks safely pasturing--and the shepherds themselves, to
whom the annunciation was made; men who, whether going before their
charge, or carrying the lambs in their arms, or gently leading those
that were with young, or standing bravely between their flocks and the
roaring lion, were the choicest emblems and types of Him who, dying to
save us, gave His life for the sheep. To them there suddenly appeared
a multitude of the heavenly host, turning night into day, and shedding
on the soft hills around a bright but gentle radiance. As guard of
honour, they had swept in their downward flight by many a sun and
star, escorting the Son of God to our nether world. And now--ere they
left Him to tread the wine-press alone, and returned on upward wings
to their native heavens, and their service before the throne of
God--these celestials bent their loving eyes on the stable; and in
anticipation of Jesus' triumphs, of men saved, death conquered, graves
spoiled, and Satan crushed, they sang "Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace, good will toward men."

This hymn, sung perhaps in parts by different bands of these heavenly
choristers consists of three parts; and we now proceed to the
illustration of these.



I.

THAT REDEMPTION YIELDS THE HIGHEST GLORY TO GOD.


I say the highest; for though His _absolute_ glory, like His eternal
being and infinite perfections, admits of no degrees, and is affected
by no circumstances whatever, it is otherwise with His _declarative_
glory, as old theologians called it. This, which I speak of, and which
angels sung of, consists in the manifestation of His attributes.
Whatever it be, though only the drop of water, which appears a world
of wonders to the eyes of a man of science, any work is glorious which
reflects the divine character in any measure, and still more glorious
or glorifying which exhibits it in a greater measure. God's glory
expands and unfolds itself as we rise upward in the study of His
works--from inanimate to living objects; from plants to animals; from
animals to man; from man to angels; from these to archangels, upward
and still upward, to the Being who, bathed in the full blaze of divine
effulgence, tops the pyramid, and stands on the highest pinnacle of
Creation. That Being is God manifest in the flesh, our Lord Jesus
Christ--the redemption which He wrought for us, through blood and
suffering and death, being the work which reveals God most fully to
our eyes, and forming a looking-glass, so to speak, to reflect the
whole measure of divinity. This will appear if we look at--

The Redeemer.--One of His many titles is the _Wonderful_. Anticipating
the royal birth at Bethlehem, and speaking of Christ in terms which no
other key can open but the doctrine of His divinity, Isaiah says,
"Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government
shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful,
Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of
Peace." With pencils of sunlight God paints the rose; by arts of a
divine chemistry He turns foul decay into the snow-white purity and
fragrant odours of a lily; He fashions the infant in the darkness of
the mother's womb; He inspires dead matter with the active principle
of life; in man He unites an ethereal spirit to a lump of
clay--wonders these which have perplexed the wisest men, and remain as
incomprehensible to philosophers as to fools. Yet, as if there was no
mystery in these but what our understanding could fathom--as if there
was nothing in these to teach proud man humility and rouse his
admiration--as if there was indeed no wonder but Christ himself in all
this great and glorious universe, He is called by way of eminence the
_Wonderful_. And why? Because, as the stars cease to shine in presence
of the sun, quenched by the effulgence, and drowned in the flood of
his brighter beams, these lose all their wonders beside this little
Child. To a meditative man it is curious to stand over any cradle
where an infant sleeps; and, as we look on the face so calm, and the
little arms gently folded on the placid breast, to think of the mighty
powers and passions which are slumbering there; to think that this
feeble nursling has heaven or hell before it; that an immortal in a
mortal form is allied to angels; that the life which it has begun
shall last when the sun is quenched, enduring throughout all eternity.
Much more wonderful the spectacle the manger offers, where shepherds
bend their knees, and angels bend their eyes! Here is present, not the
immortal, but the eternal; here is not one kind of matter united to
another, or a spiritual to an earthly element, but the Creator to a
creature, divine Omnipotence to human weakness, the Ancient of Days to
the infant of a day. What deep secrets of divine wisdom, power, and
love lie here, wrapped up in these poor swaddling-clothes! Mary holds
in her arms, in this manger with its straw, what draws the wondering
eyes, and inspires the loftiest songs of angels. If that be not God's
greatest, and therefore most glorifying work, where are we to seek
it? in what else is it found? "The depth saith, It is not in me; and
the sea saith, It is not in me!" Were we to range the vast universe to
find its rival, we should return, like the dove to its ark, to the
stable-door, and the swaddled babe, there to mingle human voices with
the heavenly choir--singing, Glory to God in the highest!

The fact that redemption yields God the highest glory will appear also
if we look at--

The Redeemed.--It is in them, in sinners saved, not in the happy and
holy angels, that God stands out fully revealed as in a mirror; long
and broad enough, if I may say so, to show forth all His attributes.
To vary the figure; the cross of Christ is the focus in which all the
beams of divinity, all the attributes of the Godhead, are gathered
into one bright, burning spot, with power to warm the coldest and melt
the stoniest heart. No man hath seen God at any time, otherwise than
in His works; and though created things are immeasurably inferior to
their Creator, they may still help us to form some conception of His
character. A drop of water is an ocean, a spark of fire is a sun,
every grain of sand on the sea-shore is a world, in miniature; and as
those who have never seen ocean, or sun, or world, may form some idea
of their appearance by magnifying these their miniatures millions of
millions of times, so, by immensely magnifying the age, the power, the
wisdom, the holiness of an angel, we could form some dim conception of
God. Not that we would not have still to ask, "Who can by searching
find out God? who can find out the Almighty to perfection?"--not that
when we had exclaimed, in the sublime words of Job, "Hell is naked
before him, and destruction hath no covering. He stretcheth out the
north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth on nothing. He
bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds. He holdeth back the face of
his throne. The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at his
reproof. He divideth the sea with his power. By his spirit he hath
garnished the heavens;"--we would not have to add with the patriarch,
"These are parts of his ways; but how little a portion is heard of
him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?"

Study Him, for example, in the angels who sung this birth-song! They
are holy, and we may conclude that their Maker is infinitely holy;
they are wise, and He who made them must possess infinite wisdom; they
are powerful, and He must be omnipotent; the God of good angels must
be infinitely good, as the avenger of sin and evil ones must be
infinitely just. This is sound reasoning--for, as David says, "He that
planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he
not see? He that chastiseth the heathen, shall not he correct? He that
teacheth man knowledge, shall not he know?" Still, however lofty and
worthy were the conceptions which we thus formed of God, He had never
been discovered in the full glory of His gracious character by this or
any corresponding process. Unspeakable honour to man and unspeakable
grace in God, the fulness of His character is revealed, not by seraphs
but by saints--in redeemed and ransomed sinners. And so Mary
Magdalene, as reflecting His attributes more fully than angels, wears
in heaven a brighter glory than crowns their unfallen heads. She, and
all with her, who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb,
are trophies of free, saving mercy; monuments of that love which, when
stern justice had dragged us to the mouth of the pit, and angels, who
had seen their fellows punished by one awful act of vengeance, stood
in dread and silent expectation of another, graciously interposed,
saying, "Deliver from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom."
Then, blessed Son of God, thou didst step forward to say, And I am
that ransom! From that day heaven was happier. It found a new joy.
Angels tuned their golden harps to higher strains; and now, these
blessed spirits, above the mean jealousies of earth's elder brothers,
whenever they see Christ born anew in a soul--a sinner born again,
called, converted, apparelled in Jesus' righteousness, rejoicing in
His arms, or even weeping at His feet, wake up the old, grand
birth-song, singing, "Glory to God in the highest!" "There is joy,"
said Jesus, "in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that
repenteth--joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more
than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance."



_PART II._


No man hath seen God at any time; so saith the Scriptures. He who is
confined to no bounds of space cannot in the nature of things have any
visible form. God has however occasionally made revelations of
Himself; and such are described in language which seems opposed alike
to the declarations of Scripture and the deductions of reason. It is
said, for instance, of Moses and Aaron, when they ascended Mount
Sinai, that "they saw the God of Israel;" and Isaiah tells how he "saw
the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train
filled the temple." Believing with the Jews that if any man saw God he
could not survive, but would die as by a flash of lightning, the
prophet was struck with terror, and cried, in expectation of immediate
death, "I am undone; for mine eyes have seen the Lord of hosts."

The object seen in these and also other cases was no doubt the
Schekinah--that holy and mysterious flame whereby God made His
presence known in the days of old. We know little concerning it beyond
this, that it was of the nature of light. The fairest, purest, oldest
of created things, passing untainted through pollution, turning gloomy
night into day, and imparting their varied beauties to earth and air
and ocean, this of all material elements was the fittest symbol of
God. A circumstance this to which we probably owe the ancient practice
of worshipping the Divinity by fire, and certainly such figures as
these: "God is light;" "He clothes himself with light as with a
garment;" "He dwelleth in light that is inaccessible and full of
glory." This light, said to have been intensely luminous, brighter
than a hundred suns, was not always nor even usually visible;
although, like a lamp placed behind a curtain, it may have usually
imparted to the cloud which concealed it a tempered and dusky glow.
There were occasions when the veil of this temple was rent asunder;
and then the light shone out with intense splendour--dazzling all
eyes, and convincing sceptics that this cloud, now resting on the
tabernacle, and now, signal for the host to march, floating upward in
the morning air, was not akin to such as are born of swamps or sea;
and which, as emblems of our mortality, after changing from rosy
beauty into leaden dullness, melt into air, leaving the place that
once knew them to know them no more for ever. This symbol and token of
the Divine presence was of all the types and figures of Jesus Christ
in some respects both the most apposite and glorious: a cloud with God
within, and speaking from it--going before to guide the host--placing
Himself for their protection between them and their enemies--by day
their grateful shade from scorching heat, by night their sun amid
surrounding darkness.

It was one, and not the least singular of its aspects, that this cloud
always grew light when the world grew dark--the cloudy pillar of the
day blazing forth at night as a pillar of fire. So shone the divinity
in Him who was "Emmanuel, God with us," His darkest circumstances, His
deepest humiliations, being the occasions of His greatest glory. He
was buried, and being so, was greatly humbled; but angels attended His
funeral, and guarded His tomb. He was crucified, condemned to the
death of the vilest criminal, and being so, was greatly humbled; but
those heavens and earth which are as little moved by the death of the
greatest monarch as by the fall of a withered leaf, expressed their
sympathy with the august Sufferer--the sun hid his face, and went into
mourning, the earth trembled with horror at the deed. He was born, and
in like manner He was greatly humbled, and had been, though His birth
had happened in a palace and His mother had been a queen; but with a
poor woman for His mother, a stable for His birthplace, a manger for
His cradle, and straw for His bed, these meannesses, like its spots on
the face of the sun, were lost in a blaze of glory. Earth did not
celebrate His advent, but Heaven did. Illumining her skies, she sent
herald angels to proclaim the news, and lighted up a new star to guide
the feet which sought the place where man's best hopes were cradled.
The most joyful birth that ever happened, it was meet that it should
be sung by angel lips,--and all the more because, redemption glorifies
God in the sight of holy angels.



II.

REDEMPTION GLORIFIES GOD IN THE SIGHT OF HOLY ANGELS.


They take a lively interest in the affairs of our world, as the
Scriptures show, and as Jacob saw in his vision; for what else means
that ladder where they appeared to his dreaming eye ascending and
descending between earth and heaven? To the care of John our dying
Lord committed his mother; but God, when He sent His Son into the
world, committed Him to their care,--"He hath given his angels charge
over thee, that thou dash not thy foot against a stone." The care
which their Head enjoyed is extended to all the members. How happy are
the people that are in such a case! Think of the poor saint who has
none to wait on him, or the pious domestic who serves a table, and
humbly waits on others, having angels to wait on her! Are they not
said in Scripture to be "ministering spirits sent forth to minister to
them who are heirs of salvation?"--however the world may despise them,
"this honour have all his saints." However lowly their earthly state,
the saints are a kingly race; and as our highest nobles deem it an
honour to wait on the princes of the blood, accepting and soliciting
offices at court, the angels are happy to serve such as, through their
union with His incarnate Son, stand nearer the throne of God than
themselves. Unseen by him, these celestials guard the good man's bed;
watch his progress; wait on his person; guide his steps; and ward off
many a blow the devil aims at his head and heart. They are the nurses
of Christ's babes; the tutors and teachers of His children. A belief
in guardian saints is a silly Popish superstition; but we have good
authority in Scripture for believing that in this our state of
pupilage and probation, along all the way to Sion, in the conflicts
with temptation, and amid the thick of battle, God commits His saints
to angels' care; and that, as it is in their loving arms that the soul
of an aged saint is borne away to glory, every child of God has its
own celestial guardian, and sleeps in its little cradle beneath the
feathers of an angel's wing. What said our Lord? On setting a child
before the people as a pattern for them to copy, "Take heed," He said,
"that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you,
That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father
which is in heaven."

But whether we are, or are not, the happier for angels, there is no
question that they are the happier for us. They always loved God; but
since man's redemption they love Him more, and employ higher strains
and loftier raptures to praise His wisdom, power, holiness, justice,
and love. It has disclosed to them new views of God, and opened up in
heaven new springs of pleasure. Heaven has grown more heavenly, and
though they might have deemed it impossible to add one drop to their
happiness, they are holier and happier angels. There is joy among the
angels of heaven over every sinner that repenteth; and to the joyful
cry, My son that was dead is alive again, they respond, as they
receive the returned penitent from the Father's arms into their own,
My brother that was dead is alive again, that was lost is found! Never
from surf-beaten shore or rocky headland do spectators watch with such
anxious interest the life-boat, as, now seen and now lost, now
breasting the waves and now hurled back on the foaming crest of a
giant billow, she makes for the wreck, as they watch those who, with
the Bible in their hearts and hands, go forth to save the lost. And
when the poor perishing sinner throws himself into Jesus' arms, what
gratulations among these happy spirits! "There is joy in heaven over
one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just
persons." The event is one which I can fancy was in the prophet's eye,
when, fired with rapture, he cried, "Sing, O ye heavens; for the Lord
hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth; break forth into
singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the Lord
hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel!" And the heavens
do sing. While the saints, descending from their thrones, cast their
sparkling crowns at Jesus' feet, and ten times ten thousand harps
sound, and ten times ten thousand angels sing, "Worthy is the Lamb
that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength,
and honour, and glory, and blessing."



III.

REDEMPTION GLORIFIES GOD THROUGHOUT ALL THE UNIVERSE.


With a small band of fishermen at His side, and no place on earth
where to lay His head, Jesus pointed to the sun, riding high in heaven
or rising over the hill-tops to bathe the scene in golden splendour,
and said, "I am the Light of the world." A bold saying; yet the day is
coming, however distant it appears, when the tidings of salvation
carried to the ends of the earth, and Jesus worshipped of all nations,
shall justify the speech; and the wishes shall be gratified, and the
prayers answered, and the prophecies fulfilled, so beautifully
expressed in these lines of Heber:

    "Waft, waft, ye winds, His story,
      And you, ye waters, roll,
    Till, like a sea of glory,
      It spreads from pole to pole."

But shall our world be the limits of the wondrous tale? Though ever
and deeply interesting as the scene of redemption, just as to patriots
is the barest moor where a people fought and conquered for their
freedom, our earth holds in other respects but a very insignificant
place in creation. In a space of the sky no larger than a tenth part
of the moon's disc, the telescope discovers many thousands of stars,
each a sun, attended probably by a group of planets like our own:
their number indeed is such that many parts of the heavens appear as
if they were sprinkled with gold-dust; and probably there are as many
suns and worlds in the universe as there are leaves in a forest, or
rather, sands on the ocean shore.

Boldly venturing out into the regions of speculation, some have
thought that, if sin defile any of these worlds, its inhabitants may
share in the benefits of the atonement which Christ offered in ours;
and that beings further removed than we from the scenes of Calvary,
and differing more from us than we from the Jews of whom the Messiah
came, may, as well as we, find a Saviour by faith in Jesus; and that
for this end the work of redemption has perhaps been revealed to such
as, removed from our earth many millions of miles, never even saw the
planet that was its theatre and scene. There may be nothing in this. I
dare not say it is impossible; but these speculations touch the deep
things of God, and we would not attempt to be wise above that which is
written. Still, Scripture affords ground for believing, for hoping, at
least, that the story of redemption has been told in other worlds than
ours, and that the love of God in Christ--that fairest, fullest
manifestation of our Father's heart--links all parts of creation
together, and links all more closely to the throne of God. "He that
hath seen me, Philip," said our Lord to that disciple, "hath seen the
Father also;" and as I believe that He who delights to bless all His
unfallen creatures would not withhold from the inhabitants of other
spheres the happiness of knowing Him in His most adorable, gracious,
and glorious character, I can fancy them eagerly searching their
skies for a sight of our world,--the scene of that story which has
conveyed to them the fullest knowledge of Him they love, their deepest
sense of His ineffable holiness and unspeakable mercy. Not from pole
to pole, but from planet to planet, and from star to star, the love of
Christ deserves to be proclaimed; and it is a thought as grand as it
is probable, that the story of Calvary, not yet translated into all
the tongues of earth, is told in the ten times ten thousand tongues of
other worlds, and that the Name which is above every name--the blessed
Name which dwells in life in a believer's heart and trembles in death
on his lips--is known in spheres which his foot never trod and his eye
never saw. Such honours crown the head man once crowned with thorns;
and therefore did David, with the eye of a seer and the fire of a
poet, while calling for praise from kings of the earth and all people,
princes and all judges, young men and children, rise to a loftier
flight, exclaiming: "Praise Him in the heights. Praise ye Him, all ye
angels: praise ye Him, all His hosts. Praise ye Him, sun and moon:
praise Him, all ye stars of light."



IV.

THE REDEEMER AND REDEMPTION ARE WORTHY OF OUR HIGHEST PRAISE.


Let us bend the head, and, in company of the shepherds, enter the
stable. Heard above the champing of bits, the stroke of hoofs, the
rattling of chains, and the lowing of oxen, the feeble wail of an
infant turns our steps to a particular stall: here a woman lies
stretched on a bed of straw, and her new-born child, hastily wrapped
in some part of her dress, finds a cradle in the manger. A pitiful
sight!--such a fortune as occasionally befalls the Arabs of
society--such an incident as may occur in the history of one of those
vagrant, vagabond, outcast families who, their country's shame, tent
in woods and sleep under hedges, when no barn or stable offers a
covering to their houseless heads. Yet princes on their way to the
crown, brides on their way to the marriage, bannered armies on their
way to the battle, and highest angels in their flight from star to
star, might stop to say of this sight, as Moses of the burning bush,
"Let me turn aside, and see this great sight!"

The prophet foretells a time when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and, bound in the same
stall, and fed at the same manger, the lion shall eat straw with the
ox. Here is a greater wonder! This stable is the house of God, the
very gate of heaven: under this dusty roof, inside those narrow walls,
He lodges whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain: the tenant of
this manger is the Son, who, leaving the bosom of His Father to save
us, here pillows His head on straw; of this feeble babe the hands are
to hurl Satan from his throne, and wrench asunder the strong bars of
death; this one tender life, this single corn-seed is to become the
prolific parent of a thousand harvests, and fill the garners of glory
with the fruits of salvation. Mean as it looks, yet more splendid
than marble palaces,--more sacred than the most venerable and hallowed
temples, here the Son of God was born, and with Him were born Faith,
Hope, and Charity--our Peace, our Liberty, and our Eternal Life. Had
He not been born, we had never been born again; had He not lain in a
manger, we had never lain in Abraham's bosom; had He not been wrapped
in swaddling-clothes, we had been wrapped in everlasting flames; had
His head in infancy not been pillowed on straw, and in death on
thorns, ours had never been crowned in glory. But that He was born,
better we had never been; life had been a misfortune to which time had
brought no change, and death no relief, and the grave no rest. "Glory
to God in the highest" that He was born: we had otherwise been lifting
up our eyes in torment with this unavailing, endless cry, "O that my
mother had been my grave! Cursed be the day wherein I was born?"

If language cannot express the love and gratitude we owe to the
Saviour, let our lives do so. Shallow streams run brawling over their
pebbly beds, but the broad, deep river pursues its course in silence
to the sea; and so is it with our strongest, deepest feelings. Great
joy like great sorrow, great gladness like great grief, great
admiration like great detestation, take breath and speech away. On
first seeing Mont Blanc as the sun rose to light up his summit and
irradiate another and another snow-clad pinnacle, I remember the
silent group who had left their couches to witness and watch the
glorious scene: before its majesty and magnificence all were for
awhile dumb, opening not the mouth. I have read, when travellers
reached the crest of the hill, and first looked down on
Jerusalem,--the scene of our Saviour's sorrow, the garden that heard
His groans, the city that led Him out to die, the soil that was
bedewed with His tears and crimsoned with His blood,--how their hearts
were too full for utterance. If a sight of the city where He died so
affects Christians, as the scenes of His last hours rush on their
memory and rise vividly to their imagination, how will they look on
that scene where, surrounded by ten times ten thousand saints and
thousands of angels, He reigns in glory! I can fancy the saint who has
shut his eyes on earth to open them in heaven, standing speechless;
and as the flood of music fills his ear, and the blaze of glory his
eye, and the thought of what he owes to Jesus his heart,--I can fancy
him laying the crown, which he has received from his Saviour's hands,
in silent gratitude at His feet; and as he recovers speech, and sees
hell and its torments beneath him, earth and its sorrows behind him,
an eternity of unchequered, unchanging bliss, before him,--I can fancy
the first words that break from his grateful lips will be, "Glory to
God, glory to God in the highest!" Never till then, nowhere but there,
will our praise be worthy of Jesus and His redemption. Meanwhile, let
Him who demonstrates God's highest glory and fills heaven's highest
throne, hold the highest place in our hearts. Let us surround His
name with the highest honours; and, laying our time and talents, our
faculties and our affections, our wealth, and fame, and fortunes at
His feet, crown Him Lord of all.



_PART III._


Some years ago the question which agitated the heart of Europe was,
Peace or War? The interests of commerce, the lives of thousands, the
fate of kingdoms, trembled in the balance. Navies rode at anchor, and
opposing armies, like two black thunder-clouds, waited for statesmen
to issue from the council-chamber, bearing the sword or the
olive-branch. Esteeming the arbitrament of battle one which necessity
only could justify, Britain longed for peace; but, with ships ready to
slip their cables, and soldiers standing by their guns, she was grimly
prepared for war. Had ambassadors from the nation with which we were
ready to join issue approached our shores at this crisis, what eager
crowds would have attended their advent, and how impatiently would
they have waited the course of events! And had peace been the result
of the conference, how would the tidings, as they passed from mouth
to mouth, and were flashed by the telegraph from town to town, have
filled and moved the land! The pale student would have forgot his
books, the anxious merchant his speculations, the trader his shop, the
tradesman his craft, tired labour her toils, happy children their
toys, and even the bereaved their griefs; and like the whirlpool,
which sucks straws and sea-weed, boats and gallant ships--all things,
big or small--into its mighty vortex, the news would have absorbed all
other subjects. The one topic of conversation at churches and
theatres, at marriages and funerals, in halls and cottages, in crowded
cities and in lonely glens; ministers had carried it in their sermons
to the pulpit, and devout Christians in their thanksgivings to the
Throne of Grace.

In a much greater crisis, where the stakes were deeper, the question
being not one of peace or war between man and man, but between man and
God, an embassy from heaven reached the borders of our world. Unlike
Elijah, rough in dress, of aspect stern and speech severe, whose
appearance struck Ahab with terror, and wrung from the pale lips of
the conscience-stricken king the cry, "Hast thou found me, O mine
enemy?"--unlike Jonah as he walked the wondering streets, and woke
their echoes with his doleful cry, "Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall
be destroyed,"--the ambassadors were "a multitude of shining angels."
Leaving the gates of heaven, they winged their flight down the starry
sky to descend and hover above the fields of Bethlehem, and in the
form of a song, as became such joyful tidings, to proclaim news of
Peace--their song, "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace,
good-will toward men." Nothing presents a more remarkable example of
"much in little" than these few but weighty words. In small crystals,
that coat, as with shining frost-work, the sides of a vessel, we have
all the salts which give perpetual freshness to the ocean, their life
to the weeds that clothe its rocks, and to the fish that swim its
depths and shallows. In some drops of oil distilled from rose-leaves
of Indian lands, and valued at many times their weight in gold, we
have enclosed within one small phial the perfume of a whole field of
roses--that which, diffused through ten thousand leaves, gave every
flower its fragrance. Essences, as they are called, present, in a
concentrated form, the peculiar properties of leaves or flowers or
fruits, of the animal, vegetable, or earthly bodies from which they
are extracted; and, like these, this hymn presents the whole gospel in
a single sentence. Here is the Bible, the scheme of redeeming love,
that grand work which saved a lost world, gladdened angels in heaven,
confounded devils in hell, and engaged the highest attributes of the
Godhead, summed up in one short, glorious, glowing paragraph. For what
so much as the gospel, what, indeed, but the gospel, yields Jehovah
the highest glory, blesses our earth with peace, and expresses
Heaven's good-will to the sons of men? Such were the ambassadors, and
such the embassage!

When the king of Babylon, hearing how the shadow had travelled back
ten degrees on the dial of Ahaz, sent ambassadors to Hezekiah to
inquire about this strange phenomenon, Hezekiah received them with the
greatest respect; paid them honours, indeed, which cost both him and
his country dear. The news of an embassy having come to Joshua spread
like wildfire among the Israelites, moving the whole camp. Seized with
eager curiosity, all ran to hear what the strangers had to say, and
gaze with wonder on their soiled and ragged dress, their clouted shoes
and mouldy bread. The herald angels, though arrayed in heavenly
splendours, and bringing glad tidings of peace, were received with no
such honours, excited no such interest. Strange and sad omen of the
indifference with which many would hear the gospel! While angels sung,
the world slept; and none but some wakeful watchers heard their voices
or beheld this splendid vision. They were humble shepherds, to whom
the ambassadors of heaven delivered their message; and it may be well
to pause and look at those who were privileged and honoured to hear
it. We do not pretend to know certainly the reasons why God, who
giveth no account of His ways, conferred an honour so distinguished on
them rather than on others. But we may guess; and in any case may find
the employment profitable and instructive, if we are wise enough to
find "sermons in stones, books in the running brooks, and good in
everything."



V.

THEY WERE MEN OF A PEACEFUL CALLING.


The highest view of the profession of arms is, that the soldier,
deterring evil-doers and maintaining order at home, on the one hand,
and prepared, on the other, to resist hostile invasion, is in reality,
notwithstanding his deadly weapons and warlike garb, an officer or
instrument of peace. A day is coming--alas! with the roar of cannon
booming across the ocean, how far distant it seems!--when Christianity
shall exert a paramount influence throughout all the world: then,
tyrants having ceased to reign, and slaves to groan, and nations to
suffer from the lust of gold or power, this beautiful picture of the
prophet shall become a reality: "The whole earth," said the seer, "is
at rest, and is quiet; they break forth into singing." Till then,
paradoxical though it appears, the cause of peace may be pled with
most effect by the mouths of cannon. Fitness for war is often the
strongest security for peace; and a nation whose wishes and interests
both run in the direction of peace, may find no way of warning
restless and unprincipled and ambitious neighbours that it is not to
be touched with impunity, but by showing itself, thistle-like, all
bristling over with bayonets. "Necessity," said Paul, "is laid on me
to preach." It may be laid on a people to fight. Nor, when the sword
has been drawn in a good cause, has God refused His sanction to that
last, terrible resort. It was He who imparted strength to the arm
before whose resistless sweep the Philistines fell in swathes, like
grass to the mower's scythe. It was He who guided the stone that, shot
from David's sling, buried itself in the giant's brow. It was He who
gave its earthquake-power to the blast of the horns which levelled the
walls of Jericho with the ground. And when night came down to cover
the retreat of the Amorites and their allies, it was He who
interposed to secure the bloody fruits of victory--saying, as
eloquently put by a rustic preacher, "'Fight on, my servant Joshua,
and I will hold the lights;' and 'the sun stood still on Gibeon, and
the moon in the valley of Ajalon.'" Admitting war to be an awful
scourge, these cases show that the duties of a soldier are not
inconsistent with the calling of a Christian.

Yet it was over no battle-field, the most sacred to truth and liberty,
these angels hovered; no blazing homesteads nor burning cities shed
their lurid gleam on the skies they made radiant with light; nor was
it where their sweet voices strangely mingled with the clash of arms
and the shouts of charging squadrons that they sang of glory,
good-will, and peace. This had been out of keeping with the congruity
which characterises all God's works of nature, and which will be found
equally characteristic of His works of providence and grace. As was
meet, the glad tidings of peace were announced to men who were engaged
in an eminently peaceful occupation; who passed tranquil lives amid
the quietness of the solemn hills, far removed alike from the
ambitious strife of cities and the bloody spectacles of war. Lying
amid the solitudes of the mountains, where no sounds fall on the ear
but the bleating of flocks, the lowing of cattle, the hum of bees, the
baying of a watch-dog from the lonely homestead, the murmur of hidden
rills, the everlasting rush of the waterfall as it plunges flashing
into its dark, foaming pool, pastoral are eminently peaceful scenes.
Indeed, the best emblem of peace which a great painter has been able
to present he owes to them--it is a picture of a quiet glen, with a
lamb licking the rusty lips of a dismounted gun, while the flocks
around crop the grass that waves above the slain.

Apt scholars of the devil, wicked men have used Holy Scripture to
justify the most impious crimes. Others, with more fancy than
judgment, have drawn the most absurd conclusions from its facts; but
we seem warranted to conclude, that by selecting shepherds to receive
the first tidings of Jesus' birth, apart from the circumstance that
they were Christ's own favourite types of Himself, God intended to
confer special honour on the cause, and encourage the lovers and
advocates of peace. Deer are furnished by nature with horns, dogs with
teeth, eagles with talons, serpents with poison, and bees with stings;
but men have no weapons of offence. Yet, acting under the dominion of
their lusts, men have a passion for fighting, and, easily fired with
the spirit, and dazzled with the glory of war, are ready to abandon
arguments for blows; and I cannot but think that He who would not
permit David, the man after His own heart, to build Him a house
because he had been a man of blood, conferred this honour on these
humble shepherds because they were men of peace. Whether it be with
Himself or our own consciences, in the midst of our families, among
our neighbours, or between nation and nation, He enjoins us to
cultivate peace: in His own emphatic words, we are to "seek peace and
pursue it."



VI.

THEY WERE MEN OF HUMBLE RANK.


Many in humble, as well as in more coveted circumstances, are
discontented with their position. They repine at their lot, and murmur
against the Providence which has assigned it. This is not only wicked
but absurd, since true happiness lies much less in changing our
condition than in making the best of it, whatever it be. Besides, God
says, "I will make a man more precious than fine gold; even a man than
the golden wedge of Ophir;" and the estimate which He forms of us
turns in no respect whatever on the place we fill. One artist paints a
grand, another a common, or even a mean, subject; but we settle their
comparative merits, praising this one and condemning that, not by the
subjects they paint, but by the way they paint them. To borrow an
illustration from the stage, (as Paul did from heathen games,) one
player, tricked out in regal state, with robes, and crown, and
sceptre, performs the part of a king, and another that only of a
common soldier or country boor; yet the applause of the audience is
not given to the parts the actors play, but to the way they play them.
Even so, it is not the place that man fills, whether high or humble,
but the way he fills it to which God has, and we should have, most
regard.

Not that we would reduce the inequalities of society any more than
those of the earth, with its varied features of swelling hill and
lovely dale, to one dull, long, common level. Death, the great grim
leveller, does that office both for cottagers and kings. Let it be
left to the sexton's spade. The mountains which give shelter to the
valleys, and gather the rains that fill their rivers and fertilise
their pastures, have important uses in nature, and so have the
corresponding heights of rank and wealth and power in society.
Setting our affections on things above, let us be content to wait for
the honours and rest of heaven; let us seek to be good rather than
great; to be rich in faith rather than in wealth; to stand high in
God's esteem rather than in man's; saying, with Paul, "I have learned
in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content;"--or singing with
the boy in the "Pilgrim's Progress," who, meanly clad, but with "a
fresh and well-favoured countenance," fed his father's sheep,--

    "He that is down needs fear no fall;
      He that is low, no pride;
    He that is humble ever shall
      Have God to be his guide.

    "I am content with what I have,
      Little be it or much;
    And, Lord, contentment still I crave,
      Because thou savest such."

"Do you hear him?" said the guide. "I will dare to say that this boy
lives a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called heart's-ease
in his bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet."

Why should a man blush for his humble origin? The Saviour's mother was
a poor woman; and no head ever lay in a meaner cradle than the manger
where Mary laid her first-born--the Son of the Most High God. Why
should any be ashamed of honest poverty? Men of immortal names, the
apostles, were called from the lowest ranks, and went forth to conquer
and convert the world without a penny in their purse. Was not our Lord
himself poor? He earned His bread, and ate it, with the sweat of His
brow, while others lay luxuriously on down; He had often no other roof
than the open sky, or warmer bed than the dewy ground; and never had
else to entertain His guests than the coarsest and most common
fare--barley-loaves and a few small fishes. Though rich in the wealth
of Godhead, with the resources of heaven and of earth at His sovereign
command, poverty attended His steps like His shadow, along the way
from a humble cradle to a bloody grave. He made Himself poor that He
might make us rich; and it seemed meet that to poor rather than to
rich men God should reveal the advent of Him who came to enrich the
poor, whether kings or beggars, peers or peasants. As if to censure
the respect paid to rank apart from merit, or to wealth apart from
worth, He who has no respect for persons honoured in these shepherds
honest poverty and humble virtue. They received ambassadors not
accredited to sovereigns; as cottages, not palaces, housed Him whom
the heavens have received, and the heaven of heavens cannot contain.



VII.

THEY WERE MEN ENGAGED IN COMMON DUTIES.


Mothers cumbered with a load of domestic cares, merchants worried with
business, statesmen charged with their country's affairs, and
thousands who have a daily fight to keep the wolf from the door, fancy
that, if they enjoyed the leisure some have, and could bestow more
time on divine things, they would be more religious than they are,
and, rising to higher, calmer elevations of thought and temper, would
maintain a nearer communion with God. It may reconcile such to their
duties to observe how the men were employed on whom God bestowed this
unexpected and exalted honour. They were engaged in the ordinary
business of their earthly calling; of a hard and humble one. Types of
Him to whose care His people owe their safety amid the temptations,
and their support amid the trials of life, these shepherds were
watching their flocks; peering through the gloom of night; listening
for the stealthy step of the robber; ready, starting to their feet, to
beat off the sneaking wolf, or bravely battle with the roaring lion.

He whose sun shines as brightly on the lowliest as on the stateliest
flower, regards with complacency the humblest man who wins his daily
bread, and discharges the duties of his station, whatever they be, in
such a way as to glorify God and be of advantage to his
fellow-creatures. Heaven, as this case brilliantly illustrates, is
never nearer men, nor are they ever nearer it, than in those fields or
workshops, where, with honest purpose and a good conscience, they are
diligently pursuing their ordinary avocations. No doubt--for God does
not cast His pearls before swine--these shepherds were pious men. One
passing a night in their humble dwellings would have seen the father
with reverent mien gather his household to prayer; and one passing
these uplands, where they held their watch, might have heard their
voices swaying on the midnight air, as they sang together the psalms
of David amid the very scenes where he tuned his harp and fed his
father's flocks. But people are too apt to suppose that religion lies
mainly, if not exclusively, in prayers, reading the Bible, listening
to sermons, and attending on sacraments; in time spent, or work done,
or offerings made, or sacrifices endured, for what are called, in
common language, religious objects. These are the means, not the end.
He who rises from his knees to his daily task, and, with an eye not so
much to please men as God, does it well, carries divine worship to the
workshop, and throws a sacred halo around the ordinary secularities of
life. That, indeed, may be the highest expression of religion; just as
it is the highest expression of devoted loyalty to leave the precincts
of the court and the presence of the sovereign, to endure the
hardships of a campaign, and stand in soiled and tattered regimentals
by the king's colours amid the deadly hail of battle. He who goes to
common duties in a devout and Christian spirit proves his loyalty to
God; and, as this case proves, is of all men the most likely to be
favoured with tokens of the Divine presence--communications of grace
which will sustain his patience under a life of toil, and fit him for
the rest that remaineth for the people of God.



_PART IV._


Mingled with its rattling shingle, the sea-beach bears hazel-nuts and
fir-tops--things which once belonged to the blue hills that rise far
inland on the horizon. Dropped into the brooks of bosky glens, they
have been swept into the river, to arrive, after many windings and
long wanderings, at the ocean; to be afterwards washed ashore with
shells and wreck and sea-weed. The Gulf Stream, whose waters by a
beautiful arrangement of Providence bring the heat of southern
latitudes to temper the wintry rigour of the north, throws objects on
the western coasts of Europe which have performed longer
voyages--fruits and forest-trees that have travelled the breadth of
the Atlantic, casting the productions of the New World on the shores
of the Old.

Like these, the record of events which happened in the earliest ages
of the world has been carried along the course of time, and spread by
the diverging streams of population over the whole surface of the
globe. The facts are, as was to be expected, always more or less
changed, and often, indeed, fragmentary. Still, like old coins, which
retain traces of their original effigies and inscriptions, these
traditions possess a high historic value. Their remarkable
correspondence with the statements of the Bible confirms our faith in
its divinity; and their being common to nations of habits the most
diverse, and of habitations separated from each other by the whole
breadth of the earth, proves the unity of our race. If they cannot be
regarded as pillars, they are buttresses of the truth; being
inexplicable on any theory but that which infidelity has so often, but
always vainly, assailed, namely, that all Scripture is given by
inspiration of God, and that He has made of one blood all the nations
of the earth.

To take some examples. Look, for instance, at a custom common among
the Red Indians, ages before white men had crossed the sea and carried
the Bible to their shores! At the birth of a child, as Humboldt
relates, a fire was kindled on the floor of the hut, and a vessel of
water placed beside it; but not with the murderous intent of those
savage tribes who practise infanticide, and, pressed by hunger,
destroy their children to save their food. The infant here was first
plunged into the water--buried, as we should say, in baptism; and
afterwards swept rapidly and unharmed through the flaming fire. A very
remarkable rite; and one that, as we read the story, recalled to mind
this double baptism, "He shall baptize you," said Jesus, "with the
Holy Ghost and with fire;" "Except a man be born of water and of the
Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Its administration to
infants, to such as had committed no sin, nor knew, indeed, their
right hand from their left, implied a belief in the presence, not of
acquired, but of original impurity. It is based on that; and without
it this rite is not only mysterious, but meaningless. Blind is the eye
which does not see in this old pagan ceremony a tradition of the
primeval Fall, and dull the ear which does not hear in its voice no
faint echo of these words, "I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did
my mother conceive me.... Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew
a right spirit within me."

Like the Fall, the Flood also was an event which, though it may have
worn no channel in the rocks, has left indelible traces of its
presence on the memory of mankind. The Greeks had strange traditions
of this awful judgment; so had the Romans; and so had almost all the
heathen nations of antiquity--strange legends, to which the Bible
supplies the only key. Its account of the Deluge explains the
traditions, and the traditions corroborate it; and by their general
mutual correspondence we are confirmed in our belief that its authors
were holy men of old, who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
To evade this argument, infidels may trace these legends to Jews, who,
led captive of the heathen, related to them the Mosaic story, and took
advantage of man's love of the marvellous to practise on his
credulity. The attempt is vain; since, on turning from the Old World
to the New, we find the very same traditions there; and there, long
ages before Jew or Christian knew of its existence, or had landed on
its shores. Those paintings which were to Mexicans and Peruvians
substitutes for history, for a written or printed language, embody the
story of the Flood. One of these pictures, for example, shows us a man
afloat with his family in a rude boat on a shoreless sea; in another,
the raven of Bible story is cleaving on black wing the murky sky; in a
third, the heads of the hills appear in the background like islands
emerging from the waste of waters, while, with such confusion as is
inseparable from traditionary lore, the raven is substituted for the
dove, and appears making its way to the lone tenants of the boat with
evidence of the subsidence of the waters--a fir-cone in its bloody
beak. Rolled down the long stream of ages, the true history is more or
less changed, and even fragmentary, like a water-worn stone. Still,
between these traditionary records and Bible story there is a
remarkable agreement. They sound like its echo. In them pagan voices
proclaim the holiness of God. Lest we also should perish with those
who, looking on the placid sea and starry sky of the Old World's last
night, asked, "Where is the promise of His coming?" they warn us to
flee from wrath to come.

Of all these venerable legends painted in colours or embalmed in
verse, written in story or sculptured on stone, none are more
remarkable than those where the serpent appears. Old divines imagined
that the creature whose shape Satan borrowed for the temptation had
originally no malignant aspect; neither the poisoned fangs, nor eyes
of fire, nor cold, scaly, wriggling form which man and beast recoil
from with instinctive horror. They fancied that the curse, "Upon thy
belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat," was followed by a
sudden metamorphosis, and that till then the appearance of the serpent
was as lovely as it is now loathsome. They gave the words of the
curse a literal interpretation. They bear a deeper meaning, no doubt;
yet the fancy of these old divines may have approached nearer to fact
than many perhaps suppose. Science reads the history of remote ages as
she finds it inscribed on the rocks; and, on turning over these stony
leaves, we find that the earliest form of the serpent was different
from that which, as it crawls and wriggles along the ground, so
forcibly recalls the very words of the curse. Though they have now
only such powers of motion as belong to the meanest worm, those
skeletons which the rocks entomb show that the serpent tribe had once
feet to walk with, and even wings to spurn the ground and cleave the
air. Such is the testimony of the rocks! And, taking the words of
Scripture in their literal sense, there is, to say the least of it, a
very curious coincidence between the voices of the rocks and the voice
of revelation. But, be that as it may, what else but fragmentary
traditions of Eden and the Fall are the forms of serpent worship among
the heathen, who acted, as they still often act, on the principle of
propitiating the powers of evil, the many old monuments on which its
figure is sculptured, and the many old legends in which it plays a
conspicuous part? What else was the belief of our pagan fathers, that
within a dark cave in the bowels of the earth there sat a great scaly
dragon, brooding on gold? What else was the fabled garden of the
Hesperides, where the trees, guarded by a fierce and formidable
serpent, bore apples of gold? What else was the tragic story of a
father and his sons dying by the bites and crushed within the scaly
folds of a coil of serpents; and on which, as touchingly represented
in the sculptured marble, we have never looked without recalling the
fate of Adam and his unhappy offspring? And what else is the old
legend of him who with rash hand sowed serpent's teeth, and saw spring
from the soil, not clustering vines, or feathery palms, or stalks of
waving corn, but a crop of swords, and spears, and armed men? Read
that fable by the light of the Bible, and the wild legend stands out
the record of an awful fact. To the serpent the world owes it wars,
and discords, and the sin which is their source. Disguised in its
form, Satan brought in sin; and when sin entered on the scene, peace
departed--peace between God and man, peace between man and man, peace
between man and himself--the peace which, with all its blessings, He
descended from heaven to restore who is our Peace, and whom angels
ushered on the scene of His toils and triumphs, of His atoning death
and glorious victory, with songs of "Glory to God in the highest, and
on earth peace, good-will toward men."



VIII.

JESUS RESTORES PEACE BETWEEN GOD AND MAN.


There are things which God cannot do--which it were not to honour but
dishonour Him to believe He could. He can neither tempt, nor be
tempted, to sin. The sinner He may love, but not his sin; that is
impossible; as the prophet expresses it, "Thou art of purer eyes than
to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity." Indeed, I would as
soon believe that God could condemn a holy spirit to the pains of
hell, as admit a guilty one, unjustified and unsanctified, to the joys
of heaven. In that terrible indictment which God thunders out against
Israel by the mouth of Ezekiel, He says, "Thou art the land which is
not cleansed. Her princes in the midst thereof are like wolves
ravening the prey, to shed blood, and to destroy souls, to get
dishonest gain. Her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar,
saying, Thus saith the Lord God, when the Lord hath not spoken. The
people of the land have used oppression, and exercised robbery, and
have vexed the poor and needy; therefore have I poured out mine
indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath:
their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord." So
he arraigns this and the other class. And how of the priests? "Her
priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they
have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they
showed difference between the unclean and the clean." He censures His
servants for not separating between the clean and unclean; and it
insults Him to suppose that He could do in His own practice what He
condemns in theirs. Events, such as old murders brought to light, ever
and anon occur to show that God's mill, as runs the proverb, though
it grinds slow, grinds sure; yet because He does not execute judgment
speedily on workers of iniquity--giving them space to repent; because
He often seems, like one far remote from earth, to treat its crimes
and virtues with equal indifference, men have not believed these
solemn words, "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." But
let the wicked hear His words, and take the warning, "Thou hatest
instruction; thou castest My words behind thee. When thou sawest a
thief, then thou consentedst with him. Thou hast been partaker with
adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue practiseth
deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest
thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done, and I kept
silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself:
but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.
Consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and
there be none to deliver."

The universal conscience of mankind is stricken with a sense of
guilt. Alarmed by an instinctive sense of danger, men have felt the
need of reconciliation; and, under a sense of His displeasure, have
everywhere, and in all ages, sought to make their peace with God. For
this end altars were raised and temples built; sacrifices offered, and
penances endured. If the colossal structures of Egypt, and the lovely
temples of Greece and Rome, were erected, as well to adorn the state
as to please the gods, it was less to please approving, than to
appease angry divinities, that their courts resounded with the cries
of victims, and smoking altars ran red with blood. So much did the
heathen feel their need of peace, such store did they set by it, that
many of them sought it at any price. They would buy peace at any cost;
nor did they shrink from giving all their fortune, even the fruit of
their body, for the sin of their souls. For peace with God the Hindoo
walked to his distant temples in sandals that, set with spikes,
pierced his flesh at every step, and marked all the long, slow,
painful journey with a track of blood; for peace with God the Syrian
led his sweet boy up to the fires of Moloch, and, unmoved in purpose
by cries, or curses, or passionate entreaties, cast him shrieking on
the burning pile; for peace with God the Indian mother approached the
river's brink with streaming tears and trembling steps, and, tearing
the suckling from her bursting heart, kissed it, to turn away her
eyes, and fling it into the flood. We pity their ignorance. But how do
they rebuke the indifference of many; their unwillingness to submit to
any sacrifice whatever for the honour of Jesus and the interests of
their souls? These heathens may pity thousands whom they shall rise up
in judgment to condemn. Neglecting the great salvation, preferring the
pleasures of sin, what a contrast do these offer to a poor Hindoo,
who, hearing a missionary tell of the blood of Christ, sprang from the
ground, and, loosing his bloody sandals, flung them away to exclaim,
"Now, now I have found what I want!"

The peace which he found all men want, and shall find in Jesus, if
they seek it honestly, earnestly. God has no pleasure in the death of
the wicked. He never had. We pronounce him an unnatural father, who,
on a breach occurring between him and his child, though he is the
injured and not the injurer, does not long to be reconciled--is not
the first to make advances and overtures of peace. In this feature of
the parental character God has stamped upon our hearts the beautiful
image of His own. Yearning over them as the kind old man over his
wayward prodigal, his exiled child, God was willing to receive back
sinners to His arms; to reinstate them in His family, and restore them
to His favour. But how was this to be done?--done without dishonour to
His holy law, and with due regard to His character as a God of truth.
He had said, "The soul that sinneth shall die;" nor could peace be
restored between Him and man but on such terms as maintained His
truth. A father or mother punishes one child, and allows another,
guilty of the same offence, to go free. But had God cast fallen angels
into hell, and, without any regard to His word, admitted fallen men
to heaven, what had angels, what had devils, what had men themselves
thought of a God who conducted his government with such
caprice--playing fast and loose with His most solemn words? "The way
of the Lord," said ancient Israel, "is not equal;" and in such a case
there had been ground for the charge, and none for the indignation
with which He repels it, saying, "Hear now, O Israel, is not my way
equal? are not yours unequal?"

There was only one way of restoring peace; but it involved a sacrifice
on God's part which the most sanguine had never dared to hope for. If
the Lord of heaven and earth, veiling His glory, would assume our
nature, would take the form of a servant, would stoop to the work of a
subject, would die the death of a sinner, we might be saved--not
otherwise; if He would leave heaven, we might enter it--not otherwise;
if He would die, we might live--not otherwise; if He would enter the
grave its captor, we might leave it its conquerors--not otherwise; if
He, as our substitute, would fulfil the requirements of the law, both
in doing our work and discharging our debt, both obeying and suffering
in our stead, peace could be restored--not otherwise. For these ends
God did not spare His Son, but gave Him up to death, "that whosoever
believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life;" and the
"set time" having come at length, Jesus descended on our world, to
make peace through the blood of His cross--His angel-train, ere they
returned to heaven, holding a concert in the skies.

Dying, the just for the unjust, He has made peace; and these are the
easy terms, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be
saved." How gladly should we accept them? If men reject peace, what
chance for them in war? "Hast thou an arm like God? Canst thou thunder
with a voice like him?" "Let the potsherds strive with the potsherds
of the earth; but woe to the man who striveth with his Maker!" He has
proclaimed a truce--granting a suspension of arms, and offering most
generous proposals of peace. How should men improve the pause, and
accept the overtures!--as eagerly seizing salvation through the cross
of Christ as a drowning man life through the rope some kind hand
flings within his reach. In warfare patriots have stood up gallantly
against overwhelming odds, and, closing their broken ranks, have said,
"Better fall on the field, better lose life than honour;" but when
sinners, dropping the weapons of rebellion, yield themselves up to
God, honour is not lost, but won, in a crown that fadeth not away.
Brave men have said, "Better fight to the last, die with our swords in
our hands, than become captives to pine away a weary, ignoble life
within the walls of a prison;" but when the sinner gives himself up to
God, he goes not to exile but home; not to chains and a dungeon, but
to glorious freedom, a palace, and a throne. God asks you to give up
your sins that they, not you, may be slain. It is of them, not of you,
He says, "But those mine enemies which would not that I should reign
over them, bring hither, and slay them before me!"

In these circumstances, oh for the wisdom of her who showed herself on
the city walls in the thick of the assault, crying to Joab, "Hear,
hear, come near hither, I pray you, that I may speak with thee!" A
woman's figure there, her voice sounding above the thunder of the
captains and the shouting, suspends the attack. Assailants and
assailed alike rest on their arms; and as one marked as a leader by
his plume and bearing, covered with the dust and blood of battle,
steps forward, she bends over the battlements to ask, "Art thou Joab?"
"I am he," is the reply. "Then hear the words of thy handmaid," she
cries; "I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel:
thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel!" He solemnly
repudiates the charge. "Far be it from me," he answers, "that I should
swallow up and destroy. The matter is not so: but a man of Mount
Ephraim, Sheba, the son of Bichri, hath lifted up his hand against
the king, against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the
city." She accepts the terms; and saying "Behold, his head shall be
thrown to thee over the wall"--vanishes. Prompt in action as wise in
counsel, she goes to the people, deals with them, sways the multitude
to her will; and ere the last hour of the brief truce has closed, a
bloody head goes bounding over the wall. It rolls like a ball to the
feet of Joab; and in its grim and ghastly features they recognise the
face of the son of Bichri. So Joab blows the trumpet, and the host
retires from the walls, every man to his own tent. So let men deal
with their sins. Let them die with the son of Bichri: they have
"lifted up their hand against the King." Why should we spare them, and
lose our souls? By His precious blood Jesus has opened up a way to
peace. He has come, but not "to swallow up and destroy." Blessed Lord,
He came to save, not to destroy. "O earth, earth, earth," cried the
prophet, "hear the word of the Lord;" and be it known to the world's
utmost bounds that God willeth not the death of the sinner, but
rather that he would turn to Him and live. With her flaming sword, red
with the blood of men and angels, Justice holds to us no other
language but that of Joab, "Deliver up your sins only, and I will
depart!" and, inspired of God with the wisdom that chooseth the better
part, and maketh wise unto salvation, let us say, "Better my sins die
than I; better Satan be cast, than Jesus be kept out of it; better
strike off the heads of a thousand sins that have lifted up their
hands against the King, than that I should fall--sparing my sins to
lose my soul!"



_PART V._


Ahab and Jezebel, two of the worst characters in sacred story, had a
son; and with such blood as theirs in his veins, no wonder that Joram,
on succeeding to the throne of one parent, exhibited the vices of
both. His mother does not seem to have had a drop of human-kindness in
her breast. Yet he was not altogether dead to humanity, as appears by
an incident which occurred during the siege that reduced his capital
to the direst extremities. The ghastly aspect of a famished woman who
throws herself in his way with a wild, impassioned, wailing cry of
"Help, my lord, O king!" touches him; and he asks, "What aileth thee?"
Stretching out a skinny arm to one pale and haggard as herself, she
replies, with hollow voice, "This woman said unto me, Give thy son,
that we may eat him to-day, and we will eat my son to-morrow. So we
boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day,
Give thy son, that we may eat him; and she hath hid her son." Struck
with horror at the story, Joram rent his clothes. He had pity, but no
piety.

"Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will but revolt more and
more." Never were these words, never was the fact that unsanctified
afflictions have the same hardening effect on men which fire, that
melts gold, has on clay, more strikingly illustrated than on this
occasion. So far from rending his heart with his garment, and humbling
himself before the Lord, Joram flares up into fiercer rebellion; and
turning from these victims of the famine to his courtiers, he grinds
his teeth to profane God's name and vow vengeance on his prophet,
saying, "God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son
of Shaphat shall stand on him this day." Impotent rage against the
only man who could have weathered the storm, and saved the state! The
prophet's head stood on his shoulders when that of this son of a
murderer--as Elisha called him--lay low in death in the dust of
Naboth's vineyard. The day arrives which sees the cup of Joram's
iniquity full, and that of God's patience empty--drained to the last
drop. The chief officers of the army are sitting outside their
barrack, when one wearing a prophet's livery approaches them. Singling
out Jehu from the group, he says, I have an errand to thee, O captain!
The captain rises; they pass in alone; the door is shut; and now this
strange, unknown man, drawing a horn of oil from his shaggy cloak,
pours it on Jehu's head. As if it had fallen on fire, it kindled up
his smouldering ambition--so soon at least as this speech interpreted
the act, "Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I have anointed thee king
over the people of this land. Thou shall smite the house of Ahab thy
master; dogs shall eat Jezebel in the portion of Jezreel, and there
shall be none to bury her." Having spoken so, the stranger opens the
door, and flies. But faster flies God's vengeance. Ere his feet have
borne the servant to Elisha's door, the banner of revolt is up,
unfurled; troops are gathering to the sound of trumpets; and soldiers,
eager for change and plunder, are making the air ring to the cry, Jehu
is king!

Launched like a thunderbolt at the house of Ahab, Jehu makes right for
Jezreel with impetuous, impatient speed. A watchman on the palace
tower catches afar the dust of the advancing cavalcade, and cries, I
see a company! Guilt, which sleeps uneasy even on downy pillows,
awakens, on the circumstance being reported to him, the monarch's
fears. A horseman is quickly despatched with the question, Is it
peace? Thus, pulling up his steed, he accosts the leader of the
company, who, drawing no rein, replies, in a tone neither to be
challenged nor disobeyed, What hast thou to do with peace? Get thee
behind me! Failing the first's return, a second horseman gallops forth
to carry the same question and meet the same reception. Sweeping on
like a hurricane, the band is now near enough for the watchman to
tell, "He came near unto them, and cometh not again;" and also to
add, as he marks how their leader is shaking the reins and lashing the
steeds of his bounding chariot, "The driving is like the driving of
Jehu, the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously." Displaying a
courage that seemed his only redeeming quality, or bereaved of sense,
according to the saying, Whom God intends to destroy He first makes
mad, Joram instantly throws himself into his chariot, advances to meet
the band, and demands of its leader, Is it peace, Jehu? What peace, is
the other's answer, so long as the whoredoms of thy mother and her
witchcrafts are so many? With the words that leave his lips an arrow
leaves his bow to transfix the flying king--entering in at his back
and passing out at his breast; and when he is cast, a bloody corpse,
into Naboth's vineyard, and dogs are crunching his mother's bones, and
Jehu has climbed the throne, and Elisha walks abroad with his head
safe on his shoulders, and the curtain falls on the stage of these
tragic and righteous scenes, it was a time for the few pious men of
that guilty land to sing, "Lo thine enemies, O Lord, lo thine enemies
shall perish; but the righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree:
they shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon."

Such was the mission of Jehu, the son of Nimshi. How different that of
Jesus, the Son of God! They might have been identical; presented at
least grounds of comparison rather than grounds of striking contrast.
Yet so remarkable is the contrast that Jehu's mission--and therefore
have we related the story--forms as effective a background to
Christ's, as the black rain-cloud to the bright bow which spans it.
The cause of the difference lies in God's free, gracious, sovereign
mercy--in nothing else; for had mankind, at the tidings that the Son
of God, attended by a train of holy angels, was approaching, met Him
on the confines of our world with Joram's question, "Is it peace?"
that question might justly have met with Jehu's answer, "What hast
thou to do with peace?"--what have you done to obtain it, or to
deserve it? Yet, glory be to God in the highest, it is peace--peace
more plainly and fully announced in these most gracious words, "It
pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; and, having
made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all
things to himself, whether they be things on earth, or things in
heaven."



IX.

JESUS BRINGS PEACE TO THE SOUL.


Having reconciled us to God by the blood of His cross, Christ is "our
Peace," as the apostle says. He is called so, first, because He
restores us to a state of friendship with God; and, secondly, because
a sense of that fills the whole soul with a peace which passeth
understanding. So, speaking of the righteousness which Christ wrought
out for us, the prophet says, "The work of righteousness is
peace"--His righteousness being the root, and our peace the
fruit--that the spring, and this the stream. To describe for the
comfort of the Church the constancy of the last and the fulness of the
first, another prophet borrows two of nature's grandest images, "Thy
peace shall be like a river, and thy righteousness like the waves of
the sea"--the believer's peace flowing like a broad, deep stream, with
life in its waters and smiling verdure on its banks; and a Saviour's
righteousness covering all his sins, as the waves do the countless
sands of their shore, when, burying them out of sight, the tide
converts the whole reach of dull, dreary sand into a broad liquid
mirror, to reflect the light of the sky and the beams of the sun.

Christ's imputed righteousness is bestowed equally on all
believers--none, the least any more than the greatest sinner, being
more justified than another. Feeling assured or not of their
salvation, all His are equally safe--"those whom Thou hast given me I
have kept, and none of them are lost." There is no such equal
enjoyment among believers of peace in believing; some walking all
their days under a cloud, and some who walk in darkness and have no
light, only reaching heaven, like a blind man guided homewards by the
hand of his child, by their hold of the promise, Who is he that
feareth the Lord and obeyeth the voice of His servant, that walketh
in darkness and hath no light; let him trust in the name of the Lord,
and stay himself in his God. But where there is peace springing from a
sense of forgiveness, of all the fruits of the Spirit that grow in
Christ's fair garden, this is sweetest. Among the blessings enjoyed on
earth, it has no superior, or rival even. It passeth understanding,
says an apostle. Nor did David regard any as happy but those who
enjoyed it--pronouncing "blessed," not the great, or rich, or noble,
or famous, but "the man," whatever his condition, "whose transgression
is forgiven, whose sin is covered." And so he might. With this peace
the believer regards death as the gate of life: enters the grave as a
quiet anchorage from seas and storms; and looks forward to the scene
of final judgment as a prince to his coronation, or a happy bride to
her marriage day. A sense of forgiveness lays the sick head on a
pillow softer than downs; lightens sorrow's heaviest burdens; makes
poverty rich beyond the wealth of banks; spoils death of his sting;
arms the child of God against the ills of life; and, lifting him up
above its trials, makes him like some lofty mountain, at whose feet
the lake may be lashed into foaming billows, and adown whose seamed
and rugged sides clouds may fall in gloomy folds, but whose head,
shooting up into the calm blue heavens, reposes in unbroken peace,
rejoices in perpetual sunshine.

Happy such as obtain a firm hold of Christ, and, having made their
calling and election sure, enjoy unclouded peace! Feeling that there
is now no more condemnation for them, because they believe in Jesus,
and walk not after the flesh but after the spirit, they see a change
come on objects such as imparts pleasure and surprise in what are
called dissolving views. Where death, with grim and grisly aspect,
stood by the mouth of an open grave, shaking his fatal dart, we see an
angel form opening with one hand the gate of heaven, and holding in
the other a shining crown--from the face of God we see the features
of an angry, stern, inexorable judge melt all away, and in room of an
object of terror we behold the face and form of a kind, loving,
forgiving Father, with open arms hastening to embrace us. The God of
hope give you joy and peace in believing, is the prayer of the
apostle--a prayer in many cases so fully answered that the dying saint
has been borne away from all his earthly moorings; and, ready to part
from wife and children, has exclaimed with Simeon when he held the
infant Saviour in his joyful arms, "Now, Lord, lettest thou thy
servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."

"Be at peace among yourselves," is a blessed injunction which an
apostle lays on families, on friends, and on churches. In happy
contrast to the storm which, hurtling through the troubled air, and
shaking doors and windows, goes raving round every corner of the
house, let peace reign on the domestic hearth, and also within the
church, when, like the ark of old, she drifts on the billows of a
shoreless sea--God only at the helm.

It is good to be at peace with our brethren, but to be at peace with
one's-self is better. At peace with conscience, one can afford, if God
will have it so, to be at war with all men. It is painful, when we
cannot be at peace with all men--to have enemies without; but his case
is infinitely worse who lodges an enemy in his own breast--in a
guilty, uneasy conscience, in self-reproaches, in terror of death, in
the knowledge that God and he are not friends, nor can be so, so long
as he cherishes his sins. There is no peace, saith my God, to the
wicked. There cannot be. Drugged with narcotics, you may sleep as
quietly on a bed of thorns as of roses. Drugged with narcotics, you
may lie down on the cold pavement, and fancy as you throw your arms
around the curbstone that it is the wife of your bosom. Drugged with
narcotics, you may go to sleep in a cell with visions of home playing
round the head that shall be capped for hanging to-morrow. But no more
than I call these peaceful sights, can I apply the name of peace to
the insensibility of a conscience seared by sin; to the calmness, or
rather callousness of one who has allowed the devil to persuade him
that God is too merciful to reckon with us for our transgressions. The
peace we are to seek, and, seeking to pursue, is not that of death,
but life,--not that the lake presents in winter, when no life appears
on its shores, nor sound breaks the silence of its frozen waters; but
that of a lake which, protected from tempests by lofty mountains,
carries life in its waters, beauty on its banks, and heaven mirrored
in its unruffled bosom. Being justified by faith we have peace with
God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Such is the peace which we are to
seek--a peace which, springing from a sense of reconciliation through
the blood of the Lamb and wrought within the soul by the in-dwelling
of the Holy Spirit, has so raised the saint above all fears of death,
and shed such a flood of glory around his dying head, that wicked men
have turned from the scene to exclaim, May I die the death of the
righteous, and may my last end be like his!



X.

JESUS SHALL BRING PEACE TO THE WORLD.


How many pages of history are written with the point of the sword--not
with ink, but tears and blood? It is chiefly taken up with the recital
of wars. What age has not been the era, what country the scene of
bloody strifes? What soil does not hold the dust of thousands that
have fallen by brothers' hands? Our glebes have been fattened with the
bodies of the slain? On those fields where, with the lark carolling
overhead, the peasant drives his ploughshare, other steel than the
sickle has glanced, and other shouts have risen than those of happy
reapers bearing some blushing, sun-browned maid on their broad
shoulders at the Harvest Home. The tall gray stones, the hoary cairns,
tell how on other days these quiet scenes were disturbed by the roar
of battle, and lay red with another dye than that of heath or purple
wild flowers. Go wherever our foot may wander, we find tokens of war;
and select what age soever we may, since Abel fell beneath a brother's
hand, we find in man's first death, and the earth's first lone grave,
a bloody omen of future and frequent crimes. What a commentary is
human history on these words of Holy Scripture, "The whole creation
groaneth, and travaileth in pain till now!--nor shall it cease to
groan, or hail the day of its redemption, till the Prince of Peace is
enthroned in the heart of all nations, and the labours of missionaries
have extended that kingdom to the ends of the earth, whose triumphs
are bloodless--whose walls are Salvation and her gates Praise."

Without disparagement to the happy influence of education, the
extension of commerce, and the efforts of benevolent men, the real
Peace Society is the Church of God; the olive branch which the Spirit,
dove-like, is bearing on blessed wing to a troubled world, is the
Word of God; and the gospel's is the voice which, like Christ's on
Galilee's waves, shall speak peace to a distracted earth, and change
its wildest passions into a holy calm. Till all nations receive the
Bible in its integrity and own it as their only rule of policy, till
kings reign for Christ and lay their crowns at His feet, a lasting
peace is an idle dream. Treaties will no more bind nations that lie
under the influence of unsanctified passions, that chains him who
dwelt among the tombs, and within whom dwelt a legion of devils. Till
other and better days come, the best cemented peace is only a pause--a
truce--an armistice; the breathing-time of exhausted combatants. Alas,
that it should be so: yet true it is, that that nation dooms itself to
disaster, if not destruction, which, pursuing only the arts of peace,
leaves its swords to rust, and its navies to rot, and forts with empty
embrasures to moulder into ruins. The trumpet of the world's Jubilee
has not yet sounded, nor have all the vials of the Apocalypse been
emptied of the wrath of God. And so, till the nations have emerged
from spiritual darkness; till God's Word is an open book, and duly
honoured in all lands; till immorality has ceased to weaken the bonds
of social happiness, discontent to rankle in the bosom of the people,
and ambition to fire the breasts of kings, the world may expect ever
and anon to hear the voice of Joel sounding out this trumpet call,
"Prepare ye war; wake up the mighty men; let all the men of war draw
near--beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning-hooks into
spears--put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe."

Better days are coming--some think near at hand. Turning a seer's eye on
futurity, Isaiah descried them in the far distance--saw the reign of the
Prince of Peace--Jesus crowned King of kings and Lord of lords--swords
beaten into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks--every man,
whether at hall or cottage door, sitting under the shade of his vine
and fig-tree--the whole earth quiet, and at rest. And glad is the
Church, as, weary of strife and sin and sorrow, she looks up into the
darksome sky, and cries, Watchman, what of the night? to get a hopeful
response,--to catch any sign, in break, or blush, or gray gleam however
feeble, that seems to reply, The morning cometh! Come blessed morn,
come Prince of Peace--come Lord Jesus--come quickly! Let wars cease
unto the ends of the earth! Scatter Thou the people that delight in war.

The vision tarries, but come it shall. In answer to the cry of blood
that rises to heaven with a different voice from that of Abel's, peace
shall reign and wars shall cease. By the hands that men nailed to a
cross God will break the bow, the battle, and the spear--burning the
chariot in the fire. And though any peace which our age may enjoy
should be only a breathing-time, but a pause in the roar of the bloody
tempest, let us improve it to remedy all wrongs at home; to educate
our ignorant and neglected masses; to eradicate the vices that
disgrace and degrade our nation; to build up the Church wherever it
lies in ruins; to extend not so much Britain's empire as Christ's
kingdom abroad, and so hasten forward the happy time when the Song of
the Angels shall be echoed from every land, and the voices of the
skies of Bethlehem shall be lost in the grander, fuller, nobler chorus
of all nations, singing, Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth,
good will toward men!



_PART VI._


Though the last to be dropped into its place, the keystone is of all
the stones of an arch the first in importance; the others span no
flood, carry no weight, are of no value, without it. It gives unity to
the separate parts, and locking all together, makes them one. Of such
consequence to the other parts of the Angels' Song is its last clause.
It was not simply Glory to God, nor peace on earth, but good will
toward men, which made the angels messengers of mercy, and the news
they brought tidings of great joy. Glory to God! Amid the rush of the
waters that drowned the world, and the roar of the flames that laid
Sodom in ashes, they sang glory to God. God is glorious in acts of
judgment as well as in acts of mercy--"the God of Glory thundereth."
So on shores strewn with the corpses of the dead, beside a sea which
opened its gates for the escape of Israel and closed them on Egypt,
burying king and bannered host beneath its whirling waves, Moses and
Miriam cried, Sing ye to the Lord, for He hath triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider hath He cast into the sea! Then the deep
lifted up its voice, and all the waves of the sea sang Glory to God!
as, bearing the dead in on their foaming crests, they laid them at
Moses' feet. And when that judgment comes to which these are but as
the big drops that prepare us for a burst of thunder and the rushing
rain, when the great white throne is set, and the books are opened,
and the Judge rises in awful majesty to pronounce words of doom, the
voices of ten times ten thousand saints shall add, Amen; and in an
outburst of praise that drowns the wail of the lost, the whole host of
angels shall sing, Glory to God! With such ascription of praise
Christ's heralds would have announced His advent, had He come not to
save, but to destroy.

"Glory to God," the first clause of this song, does not, therefore,
necessarily involve good will towards men; and no more does the
second, "peace on earth." Peace! Peace was in the valley where the
prophet stood with the grim wrecks of war around him,--friend and foe
sleeping side by side, skeletons silently turning to dust, and swords
to rust. Peace is in the battle-field when the last gun is fired, and,
the last of the dying having groaned out his soul in a gush of blood,
the heaving mass is still. Peace was on the sea and the storm suddenly
became a calm, when the waves leaping up against the flying ship
obtained their prey, and from the deck where he stood summoned by the
voice, Arise, O thou that sleepest, and call upon thy God, Jonah was
flung into the jaws of death. Peace was in that land he had ravaged of
whom men said, "He made a solitude, and called it peace,"--all its
homesteads lay in ashes, and its cities stood in silent ruins. Peace
was in Israel, when, provoked by their sins, God cast His people out:
swept them all into captivity. The land had its Sabbaths then. The
Angels' Song might have announced a similar, but greater,
judgment--that, as a landlord clears his estate of turbulent, lawless,
bankrupt tenants, God, who had repented long ago that He had made man,
was at length coming to clear the earth of his guilty presence, and
make room for better tenants; a purer, holier race. It is the last
clause of this hymn, therefore, that gives it an aspect of mercy--the
revenue of glory which God was to receive, and the peace which earth
was to enjoy, flowing from that fountain of redeeming love which had
its spring in God's good will. Of this Christ was the divine
expression, and angels were the happy messengers.

Happy messengers indeed! No wonder they hastened their flight to
earth, and having announced the good tidings, lingered over the fields
of Bethlehem, singing as they hovered on the wing. To announce bad
news is the unenviable office often imposed on ministers of the
gospel; and recollecting with what slow, reluctant steps my feet
approached the house where I had to break to a mother the tidings of
the wreck, and how her sailor boy with all hands had perished; or, in
the news of a husband's sudden death, I had to plant a dagger in the
heart of a young, bright, happy wife. I never have read the story of
Absalom's tragic end, without wondering at the race between Ahimaaz
and Cushi who should first carry the tidings to David. It had been
easier, I think, to look the foe in the face and hear the roar of
battle than see the old man's grief, and hear that heart-broken cry,
"O Absalom, my son, my son Absalom, would God I had died for thee, O
Absalom, my son, my son!" I can enter into the feelings of the two
Marys, when, to quote the words of Holy Scripture, "they departed
quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy, and did run to
bring the disciples word." I see them, as, regardless of appearances,
and saluting no one, they press on, along the road, through the
streets, with panting breath and gleaming eye and streaming hair and
flying feet, striving who shall be first to proclaim the resurrection,
and burst in on the disciples with the glad tidings, crying, "The Lord
is risen!" Teaching the Churches how to strive, their only rivalry who
shall first carry the tidings of salvation to heathen lands, I dare to
say those holy women never took such bounding steps, nor sped on their
way with such haste before. And never, I fancy, did angels leave the
gates of heaven so fast behind them, pass suns and stars in downward
flight on such rapid wing, as when they hasted to earth with the
tidings of great joy. May we be as eager to accept salvation as they
were to announce it! May the love of God find a responsive echo within
our bosoms! Would that our wishes for His glory corresponded to His
for our good, and that His good will toward us awoke a corresponding
good will toward Him--felt in hearts glowing with zeal for Christ's
cause, and expressed in lives wholly consecrated to His service.

In studying this, we shall now consider the persons to whom good will
is expressed.



XI.

THE PERSONS TO WHOM GOOD WILL IS EXPRESSED.


It is expressed to men--to all men; so that if we are finally lost,
the blame as well as the bane is ours. God has no ill will to us, or
to any. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; nor is He
willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Him, and
live. His good will embraces the world.

"When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and
the stars which thou hast ordained; what is man, that thou art mindful
of him? and the Son of man, that thou visitest him?" So said the royal
psalmist. And, in a sense, time should only have deepened the
astonishment which this question expresses. For man's ideas of the
magnificence of the heavens have grown with the course of ages; and
though the stars in the transparent atmosphere of Palestine shone with
a brilliancy unknown to us, our conceptions of the heavens are grander
and more true than David's--thanks to the discoveries of modern
science. As navigators, so soon as by help of the mariner's compass
they could push their bold prows into untravelled seas, were ever
adding new continents to the land and new islands to the ocean, so,
since the invention of the telescope, science has been discovering new
stars in the heavens; filling up their empty spaces with stellar
systems, and vastly enlarging the limits of creation. And since every
new orb has added to the lustre of Jehovah's glory, another world to
His kingdom, another jewel to His crown, these discoveries, by
exalting God still higher, have added point and power to the old
question, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the Son of
man, that thou visitest him?"

Yet, apart from man's sinfulness, I cannot feel that he is beneath
the regards of the Maker and Monarch of the starry heavens. I can
fancy that an earthly sovereign who, dwelling apart from his people,
is jealous of their intrusion within his palace gates, and sits
enthroned amid an exclusive though brilliant circle of proud and
powerful barons, may neither know nor care about the fortunes of lowly
cottagers; but there could be no greater mistake than out of such a
man's character to weave our conceptions of God, or fancy that because
we are infinitely beneath His rank, we are therefore beneath His
notice. A glance at the meanest of His creatures refutes and rebukes
the unworthy thought. It needs no angels from heaven to inform us that
God cherishes good will to all the creatures of His hand, nor deems
the least of them beneath His kind regards. Look at bird, or
butterfly, or beetle! Observe the lavish beauty that adorns His
creatures, the bounty that supplies their wants, the care taken of
their lives, the happiness, expressed in songs or merry gambols or
mazy dances, which He has poured into their hearts. The whole earth is
full of the glory of God's infinite benignity and good will.
Insignificant as I--a speck on earth, and earth itself but a speck in
creation--seem to myself when, standing below the starry vault, I look
up into the heavens, yet, apart from the thought that I am a sinner, I
cannot say, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? How can I, when
I see Him mindful of the brood that sleep in their rocking nest, of
the moth that flits by my face on muffled wing, of the fox that howls
on the hill, of the owl that hoots to the pale moon from ivy tower or
hollow tree? Are you not of more value than many sparrows? said our
Lord. Fashioned originally after the divine image, with a soul
outweighing in value the rude matter of a thousand worlds, able to
rise on the wings of contemplation above the highest stars and hold
communion with God himself, man, apart from his sinfulness, was every
way worthy of divine good will; that God should be mindful of him.

But we are sinners--sinners by nature as well as practice; polluted;
unholy; so unclean that our emblem is that hideous form which, from
the crown of the head to the soles of the feet, is wounds and bruises
and putrifying sores; and the news that God cherishes good will to
such guilty creatures may well evoke the old, wondering cry, Hear, O
heavens; be astonished, O earth! On recalling the happy days of early
life, when, a child, he lay in his father's arms; a boy, he sat on his
knee; a youth, he walked by his side--the tears that at parting
streamed over the old man's cheeks--his kind counsels, his tender
warnings, his warm kisses, and how he had stood and watched his
departing steps till the brow of a hill or a turn of the road hid him
from view, the poor prodigal ventured to hope that his father would
not turn him from his door; for the sake of the past and of his mother
in the grave, would grant him at least a servant's place. Weighed down
by a sense of guilt, his hopes rose to no higher flight--expected
nothing beyond a menial's office. To be received with open arms, to
be welcomed back again like some youth who has gone abroad to win a
fortune or be crowned with laurels--that his should be the fairest
robe, the finest ring, the fatted calf--that instead of stealing in
under the cloud of night to be concealed from strangers' eyes, the old
house on his return should ring to the sound of music, and floors
should shake to the dancers' feet, and the whole neighbourhood should
be called to rejoice with a father whose shame and sorrow he had been,
was a turn of fortune he never dreamt of; never dared to hope for. On
the part of that loving, forgiving father, what amazing good will! But
how much more amazing this which God proclaimed by the lips of angels,
and proved by the death of His beloved Son!

I have known fathers and mothers who were sorely tried by wayward,
wicked children--I have seen their gray hairs go down with sorrow to
the grave. With hearts bleeding under wounds from the hands of one
they loved, I have seen them welcome the grave; saying as they
descended into its quiet rest, "the days of my mourning are ended." It
is a horrid crime to wring tears from such eyes, to crush such hearts:
but was ever patient, hoping, loving parent tried as we have tried our
Father in heaven? Not without reason does He ask, "If I be a father,
where is mine honour? if I be a master, where is my fear?" And who
that thinks of his sins, their guilt, their number, and, as committed
against infinite love and tender mercy, their unspeakable atrocity,
but will acknowledge the truth of these words, "Because I am God, and
not man, therefore the children of men are not consumed"--just as it
is because the ship rides by a cable, and not a cobweb, that, when
sails are rent, and yards are gone, and breakers are foaming on the
reef, she mounts the billows and survives the storm. That we are not
suffering the pains of hell, that we have hopes of heaven and ever
shall be there, we owe not to our good works, but to God's good will;
to that only. Till converted, man does not desire this good will; and
never deserves it. We have no claim to it whatever. It is "not by
works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy
God saves us, by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the
Holy Ghost"--therefore His good will has no root in any good works of
ours. A sacred mystery, we may apply to it the words which Job,
contemplating the grand mysteries of nature, applied to our earth
when, seeing this great globe floating in ethereal space, sustained by
no pillars, nor suspended by any chain that linked it to the skies, he
said, Thou hast hung it upon nothing!



XII.

THE PERSON WHO EXPRESSES "GOOD WILL."


The person is God--He who spake by holy men of old, speaking here by
the lips of angels. Where there is a will, there is a way, is a brave
and admirable proverb. Yet, though comparatively true in most cases,
to some it is altogether inapplicable. Look, for example, at the women
who, when the men had turned cowards, boldly follow our Lord to
Calvary, bewailing and lamenting Him! What tears they shed, what a
wail they raise, when the door opens, and, surrounded by armed guards,
Jesus comes forth from the Judgment Hall, bleeding, bound, crowned
with thorns. When He sank down on the street under the weight of the
cross, and His blessed head lay low in the dust, had there been a
chance of saving Him, how had they rushed to His help; and, giving
their naked breasts to the Roman spears, burst through the circle to
rescue Him; to die with Him rather than desert Him. But they were
helpless. Their good will availed the loved object nothing--beyond
this, that the sympathy flowing in their tears and expressed in their
looks, somewhat soothed the sorrows of His heart, and fell like balm
drops on His smarting wounds.

Again, what good will did David bear to Jonathan! Did Jonathan love
David as his own soul? and under circumstances calculated to dissolve
all common friendships, and work such change on the heart as wine
suffers when it turns into vinegar, did Jonathan's sentiments continue
unchanged, his affection unabated to the last? His love was strong as
death; many waters could not quench it. But it was amply requited.
David proved that with his harp; had he been present on that fatal
field where the bow of Jonathan was broken, he had proved it with his
sword. With what a lion spring had he answered Jonathan's cry for
help; how had he bestrode his fallen friend, covering him with his
battered shield; mowing a way through the ranks of the Philistines,
how had he borne him off to a place of safety, or falling in the
attempt, left others to compose their elegy, and sing, They were
pleasant in their lives, and in death they were not divided! God is a
very present help in time of trouble; but there was no help for
Jonathan in David. Far away from that bloody field, his good will
availed Jonathan nothing--beyond embalming his rare virtues in
immortal song, and in an imperishable lament raising an imperishable
monument to the memory of a man whose love to him was wonderful,
passing the love of women.

Again, what good will in his father's heart to Esau? But the old man's
hands are tied. Fresh from the chase, and ignorant of what has
happened in his absence, Esau approaches Isaac, saying, Let my father
arise and eat of his son's venison, that thy soul may bless me! Who
art thou? says the blind old man--astonished that any should ask what
he has already given away. Recognising the beloved voice which
replied, I am thy son, thy first-born Esau, and dreading some dire
calamity, Isaac trembled exceedingly, crying, "Who? where is he that
hath taken venison and brought it me; and I have eaten of all before
thou camest, and have blessed him? yea, and he shall be blessed." By
the basest, cruelest fraud, Jacob has possessed himself of the
blessing; and if their mother, his own partner in guilt, was watching
the issue of this perfidious plot, how had it pierced her heart to
hear Esau, when the truth flashed on his mind and he saw the treasure
stolen, cry, "with a great and exceeding bitter cry, Bless me, even me
also, O my father!" The strong man, the bold hardy hunter, lifted up
his voice and wept; seeking repentance, as the apostle says--to get
Isaac to undo the deed--with tears but found it not. What availed his
father's good will to him, his favourite son? What was done must
stand. The blessing was gone; and Isaac, though he had the will, had
no way to recall it.

But what need to ransack old history for examples? How often have our
hearts overflowed with good will, yet we could only weep with them
that wept--pity sorrows we could not soothe, wants we were powerless
to relieve? Tears we might give, but they could not clothe the naked,
or feed the hungry, or save the dying, or recall the dead, or close
the wounds which death had made. In dying chambers how are we made
painfully, bitterly to feel that man's power is not commensurate with
his will? What good will, what tender affection toward some dear,
beloved object! yet, as we hung over the dying couch, all we could do
was to moisten the speechless lips, to wipe the clammy sweat from
death's cold brow and watch the sinking pulses of life's ebbing tide.
What would we not have done to meet the wishes of the eye that, when
speech was gone, turned on us imploring, never-to-be-forgotten looks!
Alas, our good will availed them nothing!

Such recollections, by the contrast which they present to God's good
will, greatly enhance its preciousness. "His favour is life, his
loving-kindness is better than life." Where God has a will, God always
has a way. At the throne of divine grace, none had ever to shed Esau's
tears, or cry with him, Hast thou but one blessing, O my father? Our
father in heaven is affluent in blessings, plenteous in redemption,
abundant in goodness and in truth. Who ever turned an imploring eye on
God, and brought to prayer the earnestness of him that bends the knee
to yon blind old man, but became in time the happy object of God's
loving, saving mercy. Let men trust in the Lord. In the name of Christ
let them throw themselves on His mercy. What though they cannot see
it? It is around them, like the invisible but ambient air on which the
eagle, with an awful gulf below, throws herself from her rocky nest in
fearless freedom, and with expanded wings. So let men, trusting in
God's faithful word, spread out the wings of faith, and cast them on
His good will. Wrapping the world round in an atmosphere of mercy, it
shall sustain their weight, and bear them aloft, till, ascending into
the calm regions of Christian hope, they bathe their eyes in the beams
of the Sun of Righteousness, and feel their feet firmly planted on the
Rock of Ages.

But let one thing be remembered, this, namely, that God will not save
any against their will. Let us therefore seek, and seek till we
obtain, a change of heart. He draws, not drives--will not force any
into heaven--nor be served by the hands of a slave. If I would not
have a sullen, crouching slave wait at my table, work in my house,
stand in my poor presence, much less He who says, Give me thy heart,
my son! He makes His people willing in the day of His power. Softened
in the flames of Divine love, their stubborn wills yield to His, and,
under the hand of His Holy Spirit and the hammer of His mighty word,
take the fashion and form of His own. Thus, His will and their wills
being brought into perfect harmony, His people feel their duty to be
their delight, and regard His holy service as no irksome bondage, but
the truest liberty and highest honour.


THE END.


_Ballantyne, Roberts, & Co., Printers, Edinburgh._



Transcriber's Note:

Minor printer errors (omitted letters or punctuation) have been
corrected without note. Any variations in spelling or hyphenation have
been left as they appeared in the original.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Angels' Song" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home