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THE ANGELS' SONG.—A CHRISTMAS SERMON.
By the Rev. W. BRUCE. " And suddenly there was with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will towards men.”—Luke ii. 13, 14. The advent of Jehovah, the grandest event which the Sacred Word records, could not have been more fitly announced to the world than by an angel of the Lord, nor more fitly celebrated than by a multitude of the heavenly host. There is something truly sublime and impressive in this celestial choir, consisting, no doubt, of an innumerable company of angels, praising God for the marvellous instance of His goodnessHis coming into the world to accomplish the great work of human redemption. When we reflect that there is not an angel in heaven who was not once a man upon earth, we can judge how feelingly the heavenly host would enter into the subject of the Lord's incarnation. They themselves had suffered from the effects of the Fall; they had contributed to the cause which rendered redemption necessary. They had learnt in the world the promise of the Lord's coming; and had been saved by faith in Him as the coming Saviour,—the seed of the woman who was to bruise the serpent's head. But there is still more than this comprehended in their song of praise. The angels had a fellow-feeling of personal interest with mortals in the Lord's advent and its gracious purpose. The conservation of heaven, as well as the salvation of the world, depended on that event; for if the Lord had not come in the flesh, not only could no man have been saved, but the angels themselves THE ANGELS' SONG.
could not have remained in a state of integrity. The heavenly company, therefore, who sang the song of praise at the birth of the Saviour, saw at once in the event the only possible means of the salvation of men and the preservation of the whole kingdom of God.
Let us turn, then, to the song itself, in the theme of which we have so deep an interest, and in which, on this day especially, we have so great occasion to join in this angelic glorification. The first expression of our feelings, on contemplating the event of the Lord's birth into the world, should be that of the angels, an expression of thanksgiving to the Lord Himself—"Glory to God in the highest.” The first impulse of every right-minded man, on the experience of a benefit, is to express gratitude to his benefactor. If this is the dictate of a grateful heart for the reception of a benefit, even of a temporal kind, from a fellowcreature, how much more does it become us to feel and to express gratitude to the Lord for such an act of goodness as that in which the Incarnation originated, and for the benefits which we and all have experienced from so beneficent an act! The Lord's coming into the world was a spontaneous act of pure love, and to us-ward, of unmerited mercy. Mankind had done nothing to preserve, but everything to lose, the love and favour of God. They had become altogether filthy; there was none amongst them that did good,—no, not one; they were in a state of enmity against Him who had created them by His power, who sustained them by His providence, and who desired to render them happy by His truth and love. It is true that from His very nature God could not but love His creatures, even in their evil and rebellious states, and do all that the tenderest love could prompt an Infinite Being to do for their benefit; but this does not render gratitude and praise less necessary or dutiful on the part of those who are its objects. Nay, the perfection and constancy of the Lord's love towards man in his rebellious state, should rather increase our gratitude to a Being so spontaneously beneficent; and all our affections should be attuned to harmony on so
glorious a theme as that of the Incarnation, and for which we should · render “glory to God in the highest.”
In ascribing glory to God we do not intend to shed any lustre on His Divine character, but only seek to make some feeble attempt to express and acknowledge its greatness. The glory which is spoken of in Scripture as being rendered to God, not only relates to our offering of praise and thanksgiving, but is expressive of the glory which belongs to Him to whom it is ascribed. When the prophet Isaiah speaks of the Lord's advent, he says—"The glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and all flesh
A CHRISTMAS SERMON.
see it together;" and when John speaks of the Lord, as the Word made flesh, he says—“We saw His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Glory is predicated of the Lord, especially with respect to His divine truth; and the Lord came into the world as the Divine Truth itself,--the Word which was the form and image of the Divine Love. The glory which was then revealed on earth had been displayed in heaven; and the angels praised God that the glory which they had seen in the highest had now come down to earth, to shed its light around the dwellings of men, and bring peace and good-will in its train.
What are the peace and good-will, of which the Lord's birth into the world was the harbinger ? It has been for many ages the practice of the church to think of and celebrate the birth of the Saviour as the sign of a God willing to be reconciled to man. And so much has this idea entered into the views of the church, that the very language of our Bible has, in some instances, been made to yield to it. In our text the angels are made to sing—“Peace on earth, and good-will towards men,” as if the Incarnation had rendered God propitious to the human race. But the song of the angels had regard to the effects of the Lord's coming, in restoring peace on earth and good-will amongst men. The earth had been robbed of its peace and harmony by the introduction and prevalence of evil; contention, strife, and warfare, as its consequences, had made men and nations the enemies and destroyers of each other. To restore even natural peace and harmony on earth was undoubtedly one of the purposes of the Lord's coming. A peaceful disposition was one of the chief virtues which the Lord inculcated in His teachings. This disposition was manifested by the early Christians; and had Christianity been preserved in its primitive simplicity, peace would have prevailed wherever Christianity had been established. If this fruit of Christianity has not always been produced where the Lord's name has been acknowledged, it is because the tree has become corrupt.
But there is another and higher peace, and one in which every lower kind of peace originates, which the Lord's birth was to introduce. This was spiritual peace. The general means by which this was to be introduced was two-fold. The Lord came, first, to put an end to the warfare which the powers of darkness had long and successfully waged against His own kingdom of light upon earth, and so restore spiritual peace to the church, of which the earth is used in Scripture as the symbol : and He came, secondly, to make peace between the human and the Divine nature, and so bring men into peace with their God, and
· THE ANGELS' SONG.
thence with each other. For this purpose he took upon him our fallen human nature, in all its contrariety to his own pure and perfect Divine nature. By sufferings and temptations He overcame the powers of darkness; and by the same acts removed the enmity of the human nature, which He so perfected as to make it one with His essential Divine nature, and so made peace between the human and the Divine. The union of the divine and human in the Lord, effected by the glorification of the human, was peace itself. It was the reconciliation of man to God in the first instance and in the highest sense. In glorifying the human nature, the Lord made Himself the “ Prince of peace, and of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order and to establish it with judgment and justice, from henceforth even for ever.” The peace which the Lord effected in himself, by the reconciliation or atonement of His human to His divine nature, is the origin of all peace in heaven and in the church, and thence in the world. Without this there could have been no reconciliation of men to God, and consequently no spiritual peace.
Of all the sublime truths restored or made known under the dispensation of the Lord's Second Advent, there is none of more importance to the vital interests of Christianity than that which relates to the Lord's incarnation. No greater blemish ever attached to the religion of the Bible, and none ever contributed more to its intellectual and moral weakness, than the doctrine that Jesus Christ, as the eternal Son of God, came into the world to offer Himself up to His Father as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of mankind. No doubt the doctrine of propitiation by substitution had early acquired, and has long maintained a hold on the human mind; but it owes not its origin to the sacred Scriptures. Yet, so completely does this idea possess the minds of many Christians, that they are at a loss to conceive for what other purpose the Lord could have lived and died; and are ready to demand, For what, then, did Christ come into the world ? To this question the Word, as interpreted by genuine doctrine, affords a most satisfactory answer. The Lord came to save His people from their sins, by removing not legal but moral obstacles to man's reconciliation to Himself. The sins of man had separated between him and his God, and nothing but the removal of his sins could reunite him with his Maker. The only way to effect this, was for the Lord to assume
man's sinful nature, and reconcile that nature to Himself, by making it - pure and perfect, even as He Himself was pure and perfect. Through
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that reconciled nature--the Divine Humanity, the Lord is now able to reconcile man to Himself, by making män’s nature the image of His own. The Divine Humanity is therefore the pattern of perfected finite humanity, and the medium through which its conformity to the divine-human pattern is effected. The Lord is intimately present with mankind in His perfected Humanity, and all the teachings of His Word, and all the influences of His spirit, are constantly operating upon them to bring them into harmony with Himself. Here is a doctrine, then, that is perfectly consistent with all the attributes of God, and perfectly adapted to the necessities of men.
These truths the angels of heaven well knew. The mystery of the Incarnation was to them an open and celestial truth. They saw in the babe of Bethlehem the future conqueror of the world and of hell, and Him who was to establish His kingdom of peace upon the immutable foundation of order and righteousness, a foundation which the Lord Himself laid, by His finished work, in the subjugation of the powers of darkness and the deification of His humanity. Thence all true peace descends ; for all true peace which can exist on earth is the Lord's peace. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you, not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” This peace, like that which the Lord Himself became, is not acquired without tribulation and combat. He therefore warned His disciples that, in this world, they should have tribulation, and instructed them that the ground of their hope and comfort was in the circumstance, that He had overcome the world. The disciple has to acquire peace as the Lord acquired it, by overcoming the world in himself ; by taking up his cross daily and following where the Lord has led. This conquest of the world can now be effected by the disciple only because the Lord has effected it before him. Until the Lord had overcome the world, no man was able to overcome. In His strength only can the disciple engage with any possibility of success in the warfare of the spiritual life ; and it is only in Him that he can have peace. “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.” And what were the things which the Lord had spoken unto His sorrowing disciples? He had spoken of the troubles and trials they were to experience in consequence of His departure out of the world. And those trials were to them the opportunities of overcoming evil, and the means in His hand, of drawing them into a closer connection with Himself, in whom their peace was to be found. Peace is the reward of conquered passions and regenerated affections ; for, “to be spiritually minded is life and