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FLOCKS BY NIGHT.

In Judea, the register of every family was, according to custom, kept in the city to which that family was originally attached. Bethlehem was the city of Joseph and Mary, the parents of Christ. In obedience to this decree, therefore, they were necessitated to go up from Nazareth, where they usually lived, to be registered in Bethlehem. While they were here attending on this business, she brought forth her first-born Son, the Redeemer of mankind.

At this time there was a number of Shepherds in the neighbour. ing fields, KEEPING WATCH OVER THEIR

As they were occupied in this employment, " the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them.” It cannot be wondered at that they were terrified by this vision, but the Angel soothed their fears, and restored their presence of mind, with these remarkable words : “ Fear not; for behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people: For unto you is born, this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the Babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

Immediately there appeared “ a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest ; and on earth Peace : Good will towards men.” »

Such is a brief recital of the story, of which the text forms an interesting part; a story wholly singular, recounting events of a wonderful nature, and demanding from mankind the deepest attention.

My design in choosing these words, as the theme of the present discourse, is to endeavour to illustrate the declaration, made by the Angel ; and to show, that the tidings, which he published of the birth of a Saviour, are tidings of great joy to all people.

This Doctrine I shall illustrate,
1st. From the story, which has been summarily recounted.

The person, who announced this intelligence to the shepherds of Bethlehem, was, it will be remembered, a person of high dignity. He was an inhabitant, and plainly no common one, of the highest heavens. In that happy world he had been formed with powers of an exalted kind; had stood from the beginning before the throne, and in the immediate presence, of God; had advanc

ed for a vast period of time, in knowledge and virtue; and had been holden in high estimation among Cherubim and Seraphim. Ample knowledge to discern, and an unquestionable disposition to declare, the real nature of the tidings, which he proclaimed, were of course united in him, and left no room to doubt the truth of his declarations.

From his own happy residence he came to this world, for the very purpose of publishing these tidings to the human race. Delighted with the nature of this intelligence, he was pleased to be the messenger of it to the world. to which it was so interesting. With him came also a train of his immortal companions; all alike astonished and transported by the event which he announced ; and all equally delighted to be present at the birth of the Stranger, who this night became a visiter to our ruined world.

The same illustrious beings had formerly attended him at the Creation ; when they sang together, and shouted for joy, at the sight of the amazing things which he then accomplished. Their songs, they now renewed ; and joined together in a hymn more noble, more divine, than had ever before proceeded from their lips. "Glory," they sung, “ to God in the highest; and on Earth Peace; Good will towards men." God, they perfectly well knew, had been always infinitely glorious, and possessed of infinite good will to his Universe; but his glory was now peculiarly displayed, and his benevolence outshone all its former manifestations. The redemption, renovation, and forgiveness of sinners, were an exhibition of divine excellence, which enlarged the views, and elevated the praises, even of Angels ; after all their preceding acquaintance with the heavenly system. In proclaiming these tidings, also, the Angel and his companions were wholly disinterested. They had never fallen, and needed therefore no Saviour to restore them to the favour of God. In that favour they now stood securely; and were assured by the divine goodness of unchangeable holiness and happiness forever. Still they rejoiced at the prospect of the restoration of the human race to the favour of God, and to their own happy society. The good, which they now enjoyed and celebrated, was the good of others; of a race of beings, united to them only as intelligent creatures of the same God; creatures, who had revolted from their Sovereign,

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and opposed all the wishes and interests of his virtuous subjects. It was, therefore, a joy most benevolently felt in the mere diffusion of happiness : a happiness made their own by exalted participation, and divine sympathy.

It is further to be remembered, that, although they came to this world voluntarily, and were joyfully present on this occasion ; yet they were sent hither by their Father and our Father, by their God and our God. Their mission they executed exactly, as well as gladly; and disclosed his views as well as their own. In declaring these to be tidings of great joy, 'they announced the decision of God himself, and proclaimed the views, formed concerning this subject by infinite wisdom and goodness. Through them, therefore, mankind are assured, that these are tidings of great joy, not only in the estimation of angels, but also in that of Jehovah.

2dly. The situation, in which mankind were, when these tidings were brought to them, strongly exhibits the truth of the doctrine.

The whole human race were in a state of determined rebellion against God. Since the Apostasy of Adam, there is not the least reason to believe, that a single member of his great family has been born with a disposition to obey and glorify his Creator; that even one solitary instance can be found among

his numerous progeny, in which a mind, pure and unbiassed, has loved God, cherished Righteousness, and hated sin, with all the heart; or that the heavenly character has ever made its appearance, un. mixed and unsullied, in this polluted world. On the contrary the scriptural declarations, which conclude all men under sin, and pronounce every imagination of man's heart to be evil, and only evil, are, and ever have been, completely verified by the concurring experience of all ages and nations.

As thus guilty and rebellious, mankind were condemned by the holy, righteous, and reasonable law, which they had violated; and were of course exposed to its dreadful penalty. The law was immutable, like its Author; and for the same reason; viz. that it was perfect. Death, therefore, endless and hopeless, was the proper and certain lot of all men: for the law specified no condition, on which transgressors might return; furnished no promise to repentance; and communicated no hope of redemption.

In themselves there was no relief for their distresses, and no

means of escape from their danger. They could make no atonement for their sins; for all their services were due, of course, for the time being. They could otser no righteousness to reconcile them to God; for their best righteousness was the polluted offering of unclean and rebellious creatures. The door of life was therefore shut to them; and could not be opened.

If relief existed for them in the divine system ; it lay beyond their discovery. In the present world it was unknown. With the future world they had no connection. From the regions where life is found, no messenger, independently of Christ's mediation, had ever visited this residence of apostasy; and no tidings had ever arrived of designs formed for their deliverance, or of hopes indulged concerning their restoration. If such designs existed ; if such hopes were entertained ; they were hidden from their knowledge in a book, sealed with seven seals.

Thus all the prospects were dark and desolate. A desert of ruin spread immeasurably around them; without a habitation to which they might betake themselves for shelter, or even a friendly hermit to point out a hopeful end to their melancholy pilgrimage. Over their heads extended, without limits, a dreary and perpetual night, in which no lamp lighted their bewildered path, and not a star, not a ray of hope or comfort twinkled through the vast gloom of sorrow and despair.

The destruction, to which they were devoted, was an awful and comprehensive destruction ; involving all evil, and excluding all good. Eternal sin, and eternal suffering, constituted this compound of woe. In the land of darkness, as darkness itself, where there is no order, and where the light is as darkness, they were banished forever from the presence of the Lord God, ori-, ginally their Sun and their shield, their light and their protection, and from the friendship and intercourse of every virtuous being. Here, forsaken and forgotten, distressed with the pains of an immortal body, and agonized with the throes of an ever-dying mind, they were utterly cast off from the virtuous universe, as objects of unchangeable contempt and abhorrence.

While this was their certain, and irremediable destiny ; they still did not even wish for deliverance. They sinned against God, und wronged their own souls; they hated him, and loved Death.

Accordingly they never sought nor prayed, neither desired nor laboured, for life; but cherished their misery, and were in love with their ruin. Heaven in all its long succession of ages, and amid all the sweet incense, which ascended continually before the throne of God, never heard a single prayer rise from this lost world for the renewal of one corrupted mind, or the salvation of one self-destroyed sinner, except as a consequence of the tidings of a Saviour

3dly. The Saviour, who, when they were in this wretched condition, was born unto them, is able, willing, and faithful, to save them from this complicated misery.

That he is able to save, even to the uttermost, all that will come Unto God by him, is evinced by arguments, which cannot be doubted.

All things are delivered into his hands, and all power in heaven and in earth is committed to him. His name is above every name, which is named, not only in this world but also in that whuch is to come; and he is head over all things to his church. By him also all things consist, and he upholds them all by the word of his power. All things also were made for him ; for his use, and pleasure. Hence they will be made subservient to the purposes of his redemption, and the salvation of returning sinners.

At the same time, while he knows whatever is within man, or without, he knows the Father also; the character, pleasure, and designs, of Jehovah. The worlds of creation, and providence, he searches alike ; and is therefore perfectly qualified to pronounce on every thing, which is proper to be done; whether as useful to men, or pleasing to God. With this perfect knowledge he began the work of redeeming love; and cannot be deceived in any thing, which pertains to its completion.

At the same time, he is a person of supreme excellency and loveliness, of supreme dignity and greatness. He is the beloved Son of God, the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person. In him the Father is ever well pleased. Infinite wisdom regards him as the assemblage, of all that is great and good ; as the light of the world, and the glory of heaven. Of course his attributes qualify him for every purpose ; however vast, however arduous, however incredible, it may seem to created minds. In

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