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God, and the Son of man ; Him whom angels worship, and whom the poorest of mankind consider as one of their kinsinen. Observe the exactoess of arrangement in every part of the plan of Providence. Time is setiled to a moment, place to a point. No design of heaven can be accelerated or retarded, changed or frustrated. God said unto the serpent, in the day that man by transgression fell, “ I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel," and it is not an unmeaning, lifeless sentence, filling up space in the sacred page. Lo, it awakens into animation and energy, not one title of it shall fail.
To accomplish it behold Gabriel is again on the wing ; but not armed with a flaming sword to guard the way of the tree of life, but bearing the olive branch, and the message of peace, announcing a new and living way into the holiest of all, into the paradise of God. If there be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, what was the joy of heaven on that day when the great archangel received his commission to revisit the earth, to convey the glad tidings of great joy. The celestial bands adoring prostrate themselves before the eternal throne: contemplating this new creation of God, the morning stars sing together, and all the sons of God shout for joy. These things they have for ages
and generations been looking into, the great mystery of godliness, God made manifest in the flesh: they enjoy the exalted delight of beholding it unfolded, and the time, the set time, to favour a perishing world arrived. Gabriel has received his instructions ; he flies with transport, such as angels feel, to execute the will supreme; the flaming portal flies open; myriads of pure spirits celebrate his descent with songs of praise. And whither does he bend his flight ? To learned Athens or imperial Rome? To give understanding to the prudent, or to hold the balance of power ? No: but to bring to nought the understanding of the prudent, to humble the mighty and confound the proud. He is sent to a country favoured indeed of nature and renowned in story, but sunk in the scale of nations, the skeleton of ancient grandeur, and to a district of that despised country proverbially contemptible and to one of the least of the cities of that region, and to one of the poorest and meanest of the inhabitants of that city—to a virgin iudeed of royal extraction, but fallen into indigence, betrothed to an obscure mechanic, a stranger in a strange place. It is thus that God chooseth “ the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things which are."
The destinations of the Almighty stamp a dignity and importance on per: sons, places, and things which they possessed not before; to be employed of him is the highest dignity which the creature can acquire ; to minister to him, in ministering to the objects of his compassion or of his love, is the glory and joy of angels and archangels. Galilec and Nazareth now possess an eminence unknown to the most illustrious kingdoms and the proudest capitals. He maketh his angels Spirits, but we discern, and reason, and converse through the mediuin of sense. Men cannot rise to the level of angels, but angels are permitted, for wise and gracious purposes, to descend to the level of men, to assume an organized body, to convey their ideas in the accents of the human voice. But can this be a degradation of their superiour nature? No: it is its glory and perfection. To descend to those who are below us, to aspire after greater resemblance to those who are above us, in this consists the real excellency of a created being. We cannot imitate angels in their intelligence and elevation, but in their condescension and humility we may, and we ought.
What a contrast have we here, between the rank of the messenger and of the person to whom the message is addressed! But the presence and purpose of God level all distinctions. Mary, the mother of our Lord, rises, and Gabriel sinks, for the Son of God himself, the Lord of angels, is about to “take upon him the form of servant." The evangelists are minutely particular in detailing the circumstances which concurred to impress the characters of truth and importance on this event. This spirit of prophecy had lately and unexpectedly been revived in the persons of Simeon and of Anna, and of others who were waiting for the consolation of Israel. The extraordinary case of Zacharias and Elizabeth, which was well known to all who attended the worship of the temple, must have excited the public attention and expectation. This is followed, six months after, by a case still more extraordinary, more out of the course of nature, and of still higher moment, and of equal notoriety. Opportunity was thereby afforded to the suspicious and incredulous to inquire and examine: that inquiry must lead to the discovery of a cloud of witnesses, lying dormant in books universally held sacred, but neglected, misunderstood and misapplied : life and substance, meaning and lustre, are in a moment given to them by well known and undeniable facts. No appearance of art or industry is discernable, but a simple, easy, natural transition from one thing to another. The appearances, indeed, are out of the ordinary course of nature ; but they are narrated as mere ordinary things; and the descent of an archangel, and his speech and demeanour are described with no more parade of words, no more labour of thought, than the springing of an ear of corn, or the fall of a sparrow to the ground.
This majestic, dignified ease marks the presence of a God, with whom nothing can be extraordinary or miraculous; who exhibits persons and events as they really are, whether men will hear or whether they will forbear. The angel represents none but objects of the highest interest and importance. He announces the approach of a great prince, who should ascend the throne of David, who was to exercise unbounded authority, and enjoy everlasting dominion ; who should be distinguished by the state and title of the Son of the Highest; and that this extraordinary personage should be introduced upon the grand theatre by the Almighty's creating a new thing upon the earth. * The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thec shall be called the Son of God.” The singularity of this wonderful conception and birth was greatly heightened by having been prefigured and foretold at sundry times, and in divers manners; such as the preiernatural birth of Isaac, of Jacob, of Sampson, of John Baptist, and the express and pointed prediction of Isaiah, " the Lord himself shall give you a sign, behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emanuel,” God with us. All these hold up to us, through a succession of ages, the substance of the first threatening to the serpent, which was at the same time the first promise of grace to mankind was made, that Ile, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, and who should bruise the serpent's head, should be in a proper and peculiar sense the seed of the woman. Astonishing and instructive view of the undeviating steadiness of the divine counsels! He willeth and none can let it; heaven and earth may pass away, but his word shall not pass away, but every one come to pass in his season.
Mary having been referred to her cousin Elizabeth, whose advanced state of pregnancy was to be an additional confirmation of her own faith in the promises of God, as soon as the angel departed from her, retired from Nazareth into the hill country of Juda to salute her kinswoman, and to confer with her on the several manifestations of divine favour to them. This interview produced another declaration of the interest that providence took in the event
which was pressing to its accomplishment; Elizabeth is not only destined to be a mother in Israel, a mother of John the Baptist, but she becomes already a prophetess; she has a sign given her in her own person equivalent to the declaration of the Archangel. “ And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, blessed ari thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed ; for there shall be å performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." This fills the virgin's mouth with a song of praise dictated by faith, piety, humility, and gratitude ; “ and these are the rapturous strains which flow from her lips, “ My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden : for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him, from generation to generation. He hath showed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away. He hath holden his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy; as he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his secà for ever."
The course of nature now takes place, and he who made man, the first man Adam, perfect at once, from dust of the ground, and who is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham, raises up first John and then Jesus in a way at once miraculous, and natural, according to the way of sovereign, irresistible power, and according to the time of life. Glorious in establishing and supporting the laws of nature, glorious in suspending and dispensing with thein, we behold thee, O God, subduing all things to the counsel of thy will that all should be to the praise of thy glory. At the end of three months more, Elizabeth, as it was predicted of the angel, is delivered of a son; the name of John, as the heavenly messenger directed, was imposed on him, the father's speech was suddenly restored and the first use which he makes of it is to celebrate the high praises of that God, who had made him such an illustrious example of both mercy and judgement. He“ was filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel ; for he hath visited and redeemed his people. And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David ; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began; that we should be saved from our enemics, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shall be called the Prophet of the Highest : for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God: whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
And now the way is prepared, the voice is heard crying in the wilderness, the forerunner of the Lord has begun his course, the Saviour comes. But other messengers, of whom we have not yet heard, precede him. Behold yonder comet glare in the eastern sky, it performs a track untrodden before,
the wise men of distant lands are summoned to meet him at his coming, to lay their gifts at his feet; Augustus Cæsar, the sole regent of half the globe, is pressed into the ministering train, an unconscious, unintentional servant to the Prince of the kings of the earth.
But here we must once more pause and inquire, Is this a cunningly devised fable, or a real history ? Is it a fanciful representation, or the simple truth? If it be a fine tissue woven by a luxuriant imagination, say so at once, unbeliever, and renounce the fiction in whole, as a rule of faith, or as a ground of hope. Say unreservedly that the mission and message of the angel is merely a bold eastern metaphor: and the whole mere ordinary facts, related with somewhat more than the usual pomp of diction, but to set forth only a man of like passions with ourselves, whom the credulous, prejudiced and illiterate are disposed to receive as a superiour being-In a word, give up the evangelists as plain men conveying, to plain men like themselves, simple matters of fact, and recur at once to unmixed, undisguised deism. But are these things indeed ? Were angels sent from God to declare the approach of what prophets had of old predicted ? Did the Son of the Highest vouchsafe to be born of a Woman, and thereby become partaker of flesh and blood, David's son, yet David's Lord, then let earth prepare to receive its king. Lo, the angels of God worship him. He is the Son of God, he is our Lord, and let us worship him.
This history assists us in correcting the false scale of human greatness. Here we behold the princes and the potentates of this world sinking to their proper level; Herod, Augustus Cæsar, and persons of their character and station are thrown into the back ground of the piece, while Zacharias, Elizabeth and Mary are brought forward with honour, and to fill a higher destination than that of kings. Respect, by all means, powers that are, as the ordinance of God, but respect with higher, with supreme veneration, Him who ordained them, to carry on the purposes of his wisdom and his love.
Learn, Christian, to make a just estimate of thy own importance in the scale of being. Thou art a creature of God, formed after his image, a partaker of immortality, destined to glory and honour. An origin so dignified confers true nobility ; faculties so superiour, prospects so extended, denote a being of high estimation in the sight of God, and who ought to be of high estimation in his own eyes. Defile not that fair temple, discredit not that illustrious descent, dishonour not a father's name. But well does it become a creature so dependent, so frail, so fallen, so lost, to be clothed with humility. O man, thou standest in need of every thing ; what possessest thou that thou didst not first receive ? Thou hast been forgiven all; by the grace of God thou art what thou art. The religion of Jesus Christ alone effectually teaches a man to descend without degradation, and to rise without pride ; reduces him to the level of his natural guilt and misery, and exalts him to the glorious liberty, and the heavenly inheritance of the sons of God.
We have here a preternatural, a miraculous conception. It reminds us of our common origin, of our common feebleness, of our mutual connexion and dependence. God " hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth.” Every man therefore is a brother, and bound to entertain the affections, and to perform the part of a near kinsman to every man. This consideration I press upon you in the words and the spirit of the Apostle of the Gentiles: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think
soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For, as we are many members in one body, and all members have not the same office : so we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts, differing
according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophecy according to the proportion of faith ; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching ; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation : he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy with cheerfulness. Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil, cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another !"“Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one towards another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate”—“ If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." “ Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
The subject of the next Lecture will be the history of the nativity of our blessed Lord, and of the more remarkable circumstances which accompanied that all-important event. May what has been spoken become a profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness." Amen.