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THE GRACIOUS AND BENEVOLENT DESIGN OF THE
LUKE 11. 13, 14.
AND SUDDENLY THERE WAS WITH THE ANGEL A MULTITUDE
OF THE HEAVENLY HOST, PRAISING GOD AND SAYING, GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE,
GOOD-WILL TOWARDS MEN.
Those, who are not acquainted with the original language of the New Testament; and even those, who are acquainted with it only in its more pure and native form, would be surprised at the variety of interpretation, to which these few expressions of the angels have given occasion. I do not however mean to enter upon any critical topic further than to remark, that many a passage, which appears plain and consistent to an English reader, may be susceptible of a different sense from what is usually assigned to it; and that, even in cases, where no contrariety of opinion exists about the interpretation, it is often necessary to sift the expressions with the utmost nicety; because they may throw light upon other parts of Scripture, where light is indispensably required.
Amidst the variety of opinions upon particular expressions in this remarkable passage, still all agree,
that it proclaims praise and thanksgiving, as préeminently due to Almighty God for that tender care of His rational creatures, which caused His Son to appear upon earth, as the Author and Promoter of human
peace and happiness.“ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will towards men!”
When we contemplate the account, given by our Evangelist, of the wonderful events, which announced and accompanied the birth of the Saviour of the world; it seems impossible not to be struck with the exact correspondence, which they shew, to the dignity of the personage thus introduced ; to the appearance, as well as the character, He was hereafter to exhibit; and to the end and object of that dispensation, of which He was “ the chief corner-stone." He, who thus undertook to redeem a miserable world from the captivity of sin and from the sentence of death, was no other than the Son of God. His future birth therefore was announced by an angel, and accomplished by an act of Divine power. It took place indeed in an humble shed ; an apt emblem of the lowly guise, in which He was to appear amongst men; it was immediately announced to shepherds; that class of mankind, to whom the preaching of the Saviour of the world was to be first addressed, and by whom it would be more sincerely welcomed. Moreover, the actual birth of this extraordinary Infant was attested by a preternatural display of heavenly glory, and triumphantly hailed by a band of angels. This too, in contrast with the total absence of earthly splendour and even earthly comforts in the place and manner of His birth, well comported with the seeming contra
dictions, which marked the life of Him, who “ had not where to lay His head;" yet who evidently shewed that all nature was subject to His command, when He controlled the very elements, and was continually performing the most beneficent miracles. Still further; the tenor of the strain, chanted by the heavenly band, designates most exactly the end and object of Christ's mission, as exemplified by His precepts and His actions. Now I cannot help thinking that this adaptation of circumstances to the very peculiar nature of our Saviour's office; and to the singular contrast, which appeared between the humility of His condition and the personal dignity of His character; the want of worldly conveniences, and the exercise of power actually Divine; I say, this visible congruity of circumstance, at the time of the nativity, to events which took place so long after, can scarcely fail to impress a reflecting mind with a firmer dependence upon the truth of these supernatural events, , arising from internal testimony. It is calculated, I think, to improve our general belief in the miraculous agency, which supported the pretensions of Jesus, by the importance of the occasion, on which this particular display of Divine power was made; by the unpretending simplicity, with which it is narrated; and by the wise and benevolent sentiments to which it gives utterance, and which it tends so powerfully to enforce.
I do not however mean to press this observation any farther than to draw your fixed attention to this uncommon adaptation of events to character. But I shall proceed to shew, in what manner the song of the angels, quoted in the text, clearly illustrates the end and object of our religion : “ Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will towards men!”
Let us then consider, what very serious mistakes have been at different times committed with the vain view of promoting the glory of God; and also, what are the real principles, established for this end, by the holy religion we profess.
I. Whether the sentiments, conveyed by the song of the angels, consisted of three clauses, as the words at present stand; or of two, as some learned men have supposed; they equally imply, that the glory of God is best promoted by the diffusion of peace and happiness among men. But, whatsoever 'may have been the degree and extent of human knowledge upon all other subjects, yet, in proportion to the absence of Divine revelation, men's ideas respecting a power or powers, superior to themselves, have been always confused and erroneous. From partial and indistinct notions of the attributes of the Godhead, must result utter ignorance of the manner of serving and worshipping Him; of propitiating His displeasure; of obtaining His favour; in a word, of acting conformably to His will and promoting His glory.
The various and extraordinary methods of offering homage to the Divinity, which were adopted by the Greek and Roman polytheists, scarcely need be enumerated. The least exceptionable no doubt were the offering of the productions of nature, and even the slaying of hecatombs. For these in part were sanctioned by the provisions of the Mosaic law; yet there, only as the means to an end,-ultimately, no doubt, as typical “ of the atoning sacrifice of the Gospel ;" but immediately, as a mark of obedience to that God, who enforced and expected attention to moral duties; while the idolaters of Greece and Rome conceived their duty fulfilled in every respect by such comparatively harmless, though useless, ceremonies. But their errors or prejudices on religious subjects led, on some occasions, to very immoral practices; to acts even of the most revolting cruelty, by way of disarming the vengeance, or conciliating the regard, of their falsely-styled divinities.
Among other idolaters,—those of our own days for instance,--the most strange and inconsistent methods have been adopted for promoting the glory of the gods, which they serve. Some devotees of Hindostan pass many years of their lives in the most wearisome posture, or continually expose themselves to violent pain, in order to gain the favour, or deprecate the wrath, of some popular idol.-Others consign themselves to self-destruction, or expose
their children and other relatives to death, like the worshippers
of Moloch of old: little aware, alas ! of the real principle, upon which the glory of God is to be promoted, and of the pointed rebuke, contained in the Christian Scriptures, against such monstrous and practical errors. 6. Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with
á See Davison on Primitive Sacrifice, p.