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But probably the joy in question results mainly from the glory accruing to God, or from the manifestation which redemption puts forth of the attributes of Deity. And therefore, though we may afterwards glance at the feelings with which men are regarded by angels, we shall chiefly labour to show you how the scheme of our salvation was a new discovery of God to heavenly beings, and why therefore there should be joy in the presence of those beings whensoever a sinner takes hold of the obedience proffered in the Gospel.
Now, the wisdom, the power, and the goodness of God-under which all his other attributes are comprehended—these constitute the glorious majesty of our Creator; and of these, we are bold to affirm, our redemption is the noblest manifestation. If this be once proved, you will readily understand why angels rejoice over penitent sinners. Angels must be gladdened by every exhibition of the high prerogative of their Maker ;' and if redemption be signally such an exhibition, then redemption--as wrought out for all, or as applied to individuals-must signally minister to their joyousness.
Let us begin, then, with wisdom: and shall we hesitate to say of the scheme of our redemption, it was the mightiest exhibition ever put forth of this divine property? Here was a province of God's empire which had cast off its allegiance ; a province on which he had shed profusely the rich and the beautiful; which he had given to creatures fashioned after his own image; on whose faculties there was no warp, and no bias, to lead them to sin; and on whom he imposed the gentlest terms as preparatory to an admission to still higher enjoyments. And when these creatures, in spite of every advantage thus liberally imparted, yielded at once to the suggestions of evil-when they hearkened readily to the insinuation of God's inveterate enemy, and so wrenched open the floodgates that a deluge of moral ruin overspread the earth; there seemed to remain nothing but final separation-nothing but that this globe, if still left to trace out her orbit, should trace it as a wrecked and despoiled thing, preaching to other stars the fearfulness of disobedience. And it was with the problem of restoring this earth without dishonouring its Maker, that finite wisdom, whatever its strength, was quite unable to cope: but Infinite Wisdom arranged a plan which made man’s rescue not only consistent with the honour of God, but a source of the greatest revenue of glory. We are not indeed at liberty to exalt one attribute of the Most High at the expense of another : nay, these attributes, being all infinite and equally perfect, admit not of lines or figures of comparison. But nevertheless to us—and we believe also to angels-wisdom would appear most called into exercise when required, as it were, to undertake the guardianship of every other perfection. She must set herself to the task of preserving justice inviolate, holiness immaculate, and truth uncompromising ; and yet allow the love of God to go forth to the succour of transgressors : so that whilst the remaining properties of Godhead might wrap themselves up each in its own dignities, and in its own claims, wisdomi must be occupied in embracing them all within the sphere of her advice, manifesting herself by upholding the rest.
Let these several statements be considered, and what will you say of redemption, but that it overpoweringly manifested to angels the wisdom of their Maker? No sooner had the Godhead joined itself to the manhood, and the mystery which had for ages been hid in the Eternal Mind, and of which only shadowy notices had been vouchsafed to earthly creatures, broke forth, splendid with the corus
cations of wisdom, than a thrill of gladness must have gone down the ranks of the celestial hierarchy. We marvel not that with one accord they should have sent forth such an anthem, that shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem caught ils echo. And ever since, when redemption is brought bome to the conscience and the heart, and the sinner repents, it must be the display of Wisdom by which they are especially moved. It is not so mucn the display of Love ; for they have known from the first that infinite love induced God to plan redemption. It is not the display of Justice ; for their own company must have computed the justice which could not pass by iniquity. It is not the display of Holiness ; for it would have been to undeify Deity to suppose him capable of admitting the unclean into communion with himself. It must be the Wisdom which amazes and delights ; “ the manifold wisdom" which, according to St. Paul, “ is now made known by the Church to principalities and powers in heavenly places :" “ manifold,” for it has removed every opposing obstacle; it has provided for every possible emergency; it has left no point neglected, either in the attributes of the Creator, or the necessities of the creature. This wisdom, manifested in that process of human rescue which is practically developed before them whensoever a lonely prodigal returns home to his father, must introduce new ecstacy through the angelic company; yerg, must introduce, as it were, such a new epoch in the heavenly annals, as though there had been heretofore silence in the majestic temple of the skies, and no ascription of praise had proceeded from that throng which moves in the light of God's immediate presence. We might expect one rank to call to another, even as they did in the hearing of the amazed and almost terrified Isaiah,—angel to archangel, cherubim to seraphim, principality to power, to roll such a chorus of exultation, as might vindicate to the letter the assertion of the text, “ There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."
But if the manifestation of wisdom in the plan of redemption specially caused gladness to angels, we doubt not that a portion of this joy is produced by the manifestation of power. It shows omnipotence as much, at least, to create man the second time as the first. To rebuild what sin had thrown down, is as mighty an act as to speak it out of nothing : we should rather say mightier, if we dare speak of facilities in respect of Him with whom to will is to produce. It must have been easier to call the world into being than to purify it when corrupted. Nay, there is nothing presumptuous, but every thing scriptural in assertions of this kind. It cost God nothing to create a universe; “ He spake and it was done; he commanded and it stood fast:" but it cost him the gift of his own Son (who shall measure it?) to redeem a single sinner. We know not how to express to you what we think of the power displayed in the work of our redemption. It is possible that this attribute of God is not so generally recognized as are others in the interference of Christ; but indeed there is none whose manifestation is more marked, or more wonderful. It is not merely that God entered into conflict with, and overcame, Satan: angels knew, and men knew, that the power of God was immeasurably greater than the power of Satan; and that therefore, if the two were antagonists there could not be doubt on which side would be the victory. But the ansazing display of God's power is that of power over himself. This has been exhibited froin the first moment of our apostacy. When penalty had been incurred, and God forebore to strike,
there was the grandest demonstration of omnipotence. If I were to figure to myself almightiness, creation is as nothing to me when compared with longsuffering. Worlds upon worlds, systems upon systems, a syllable peopling immensity, and causing the untravelled solitudes to teem with life-all this conveys to me no such august idea of omnipotence as God's bearing with sinners, and not striking down the rebellious ones. We say again, that longsuffering is God's power over himself; it is restraint on his own attributes : and that matter is at his disposal, this, we say, is nothing; and that spirit is at his disposal, this, we say, is nothing: but that he can be insulted and not take vengeance, defied and not crush, blasphemed and not annihilate- this is the overwhelming truth; this is the being omnipotent enough to control omnipotence: and myself, in my constant offences, a living thing and yet a sinful-myself am a greater proof how mighty is the Lord, than the earth with its wonders, and the firmament with all its hosts. This, then, is the first respect in which God's power is displayed in the rescue of a single sinner. This rescue demanded the continued exercise of long-suffering, so that God should bear with the wickedness and ingratitude of men ; and this long-suffering is omnipotence in its most wonderful shape—the strength of Deity put forth upon Deity itself.
But this is not the only respect in which redemption displays power. Redemption demanded the humiliation of God: and that God could humble himself-this was the same kind of demonstration of omnipotence, though we know not whether yet more surprising as that furnished by long-suffering. God could not make himself to be divine; he must necessarily be self-existent: and if he could not produce, neither could he destroy himself; it being just as contrary to the divine nature to suppose him ceasing, as beginning to be God. But that without ceasing to be God he should be able to “empty himself," as is the strong language of the Scriptures—to circumscribe himself within a human body, to put off his glories by shrouding himself in matter—we say of this, that it was apparently such an approach towards the suspension, or even the cessation of Deity, it was drawing so elose to the impossibility, that imagination can figure nothing that could more possess omnipotence. to be God-this was the impossible; to remain God, and yet be found in the likeness of men—this was not the inipossible; but till done, this was the inconceivable: it was stopping the pulse, and yet keeping the life—the giving that to be born which never had a beginning, and to die which never can have end. If we may use such an expression—there seemed to be in humility a natural unsuitableness to God: it becomes the created, but appears excluded by his very nature from the Uncreated. And, therefore, that God should have humbled himself-that He who was rich should for our sakes become poor—it is not merely nor mainly the condescension or the loving-kindness which is wonderful in this ; it is the power. That divinity and humanity should coalesce to make a Mediator-I more recognize omnipotence in the fact of such combination, than in all the registers of might, whose letters are the mountains, and whose syllables are the stars.
And then, again, the power displayed throughout the application of redemption--displayed in the change of heart, in the renewal of nature, and finally in the quickening of the dust of saints, so that this corruptible shall put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality; where shall we find the
parallel to this? Think you that within the circle of the universe there could be found at least such a display of omnipotence, that the child of a fallen race, doomed for transgression—the body perpetually to the grave, the soul perpetually to the rack-advanced, by the energies of the atonement, to greater likeness and closer affinity to God than belonged to creatures first in magnificence in the creation, and that magnificence never sullied by rebellion? And when you combine these several demonstrations of almightiness you must admit, that in the provision made for a single sinner, and appropriated by him when repenting, there is such a display of the power, as well as of the wisdom of God, as may naturally excite in angels emotions of great joy. There are undoubtedly thrown open to those lofty creatures, the material and spiritual creation ; so that, free to expatiate over the works of God's hands, and to penetrate its wonders, they gather such ideas as are unattainable by ourselves, of Him to whom they refer all the architecture, and all the animation. But when Deity is before them, as he is in his dealings with the solitary prodigal, manifesting long-suffering, that power over himself which had not been shown when their own compeers transgressed (for with the fall of the angels came vengeance, and the rebellious were to be crushed); and when divinity is exhibited in humility, such might having been applied to the mightiest as brought him down from his inaccessible splendours, and made him of no reputation ; and, yet further, when corruption will be eradicated from the corruptible, and graves resign their vast population, and death be swallowed up in victory, and an innumerable company of the people become kings and priests unto the living God, and all through the energies of that one work of mediation which is gathering home the solitary wanderer; O we think it must be as nothing to them, that they have traversed creation in its height, and length, and breadth, and found omnipotence at every step. Redemption is such a fresh unrivalled display of this love that, as though for the first time exulting in the discovery that nothing is too hard for the Lord, they may so triumph in its very success as to make good the saying, “ There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.”
But you are to add to this, that in God's purposes towards men, as set forth in every instance of salvation, angels must find such proofs of divine goodness as they cannot gather from any other exhibition, that their Creator is a being of amazing benevolence, full of love towards the disobedient. Of this it is impossible that they should entertain any doubt: their own existence and their own enjoyments attest a principle in Deity leading him to desire and to design universal happiness. But take away human redemption, and they cannot behold mercy rejoicing against judgment: in the only instance, as far as we know, besides our own, in which creatures have thrown off their allegiance, love had seemed extinguished by apostacy, and made no attempt to mitigate the severity of justice. Angels might, therefore, have supposed, judging from what had happened in their own ranks of being, that to displease God was to lose, at once and for ever, all share in his mercy; they could have had no idea, until informed by God's dealings with man, that love was of a nature and a strength to triumph over unworthiness, and preserve its enjoyment in spite of the enmity of its object. It was not possible that such ideas could be gathered from any of the ordinary demonstrations of benevolence-from those exuberant and tender compassions which encircled, as they knew, the countless tribes that have done
nothing to alienate the divine favour. And until there had been disobedience, tney could not determine whether love could bear with ingratitude ; and when the disobedience came, and evil first entered the universe, the decision must have been, that ingratitude would have turned love into hatred : and therefore, when they find the divine compassion encompassing man in the midst of his rebellion, and see that love can subsist unimpaired when every thing has been done to alienate and to quench it; will you not allow that the goodness of the Almighty is displayed to them under an aspect of extraordinary beauty-an aspect which it does not wear when ministering to the wants of all ranks in the creation, and wonderfully providing that there shall be happiness wherever there is innocence throughout the universe ? And shall we marvel that as they marked the dealings of God with sinners, and observed how he brings home the prodigal who has forsaken and despised him, they should seem emphatically to know him as infinitely benevolent, because commending his love by fixing it on an enemy? O then shall we marvel that all the company of heaven, learning, from the favour shewn to the returning wanderer, what divine mercy is, break into one expression of enraptured admiration, and thus prove, that there is joy in their presence over one sinner that repenteth?
You see, then, with how much truth it may be affirmed, that in regard equally to divine wisdom, mercy, and goodness, God's dealings with the sinner furnish such discoveries to angels, as quite account for that outbreaking of gladness which is mentioned in our text. We are sure, indeed, that much of the delight shown by those celestial beings, is to be traced to their deep and disinterested sympathy with men. But it consists with their lofty nature, that we should suppose their joy produced chiefly, by fresh and amazing disclosures of God's attributes; and a brief explanation suffices to shew, that redemption presents such disclosures, and may therefore be expected to cause the whole ocean of celestial bliss to swell into a fuller and more ample tide.
But we shall now consider our text as indicative of the feelings of angels towards our race; and thus complete the exposition of the cause of their joy. Let it be observed, that whatever the majesty and might of those multiforin creatures which people the invisible world, they are always represented as taking an intense interest in the affairs of human kind; and as sympathizing most keenly and constantly with what is done and suffered on this globe. The statements of the Bible are such as lead us to regard our earth as centering in itself the watchful inspection of myriads of the heavenly host. So that illustrious creatures, who have never yet slighted love, congregate around the alienated tribes, and distinguished amongst those who come out from the mass of unrighteousness, are themselves instructed by the developments of redemption.
Without inquiring into the nature of angels, we know that they are ethereal things, altogether spiritual beings; and that God makes use of their instrumentality in carrying on many of his purposes. They are undoubtedly attendants on the righteous as they fight the good fight of faith; for St. Paul asks, “ Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister to them who shall be the heirs of salvation ?" And when Christ declares in regard to his followers, " Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones : for 1 say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven :" he seems to go beyond St. Paul. St. Paul asserts generally, that angels minister to the rightcous; but Christ would appear to affirm, that every