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Kings levelled to the dust before an appearance like this! How many princes and potentates have ariseo, and fallen, and sunk into oblivion since Gabriel last visited the earth! How have the kingdoms of this world been shaken during the course of five centuries ! How often has the seat of empire changed, and the globe changed its inhabitants ! but the heavenly messenger enjoys unfading lustre and undiminished strength. The purpose of the Eternal has been proceeding all the while, and the convulsions and contention of the nations have been working the righteousness of God, and preparing the way for the kingdom of peace and love.
The appearance of an angel, however, though sent on an errand of mercy, though delivering a message of grace from on high, is an object of terror to frail mortality: “ When Zacharias saw him he was troubled, and fear fell upon him;" and if the upright and blameless man tremble at the presence of an angel, " where shall the ungodly and the singer appear," when “the Lord himself shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all them that know not God and obey not the gospel !” The triumph of goodness is the glory of a really superiour being. The Angel that “ stands in the presence of God,” exults not in the confusion of a frail mortal, but said to him " fear not, Zacharias." The insolence of superiority, and the delight of outshining, of dazzling, of distressing an inferiour, are the characteristics of a little soul, of some angels falsely so called ; those who are truly such condescendingly sink to the level of those who are beneath them, or affectionately raise the humble up to their own. In the presence of God all distinctions vanish; Gabriel and Zacharias are fellow-creatures, fellow-servants, fellow dependants; the inferiour being makes himself known by his timidity, the superiour by his benevolence and love: this marks the difference, the affecting difference which purity and guilt have made.
The flaming minister addresses the attendant on the earthly sanctuary, with all the familiarity and ease of ancient friendship; the desires of his heart, the subject of his prayers are well known to him ; he has all along been the sympathizing, though unseen, unknown witness of his anxieties and distresses, and he esteems it an honour and a happiness to be employed as the messenger of glad tidings to a pious, suffering human being. Zacharias had long ago ceased from expecting, had ceased from praying for the building up of his own house, but he waited for the consolation of Israel, he continued instant in prayer for the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David which was fallen down, and lo, God at length bestows, as he did upon Solomon, not only the blessing which he asked, but that also which he asked not : namely, a son to support the honour of his own name, and the promise of the Son that should be born, the Child that should be given, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. The injunctions of the law respecting Nazarites are repeated and applied to the present case, and the future greatness and importance of this miraculous child, in the scale of Providence, are foretold ; and Zacharias has the satisfaction of hearing that he was to be the father of him who should be the accomplishment of ancient prophecies, “ The voice crying in the wilderness,” the finger to point out to mankind “ the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”
Terror gives way by degrees to feelings of a different kind, and, with the glory of the heavenly vision before his eyes, with the faith of father Abraham, in similar circumstances, as an encouragement to his own, and with the manifold instances which the history of his own country afforded of similar interposition, he converses with flesh and blood, he staggers at the promise through unbelief, and for a moment forgets that with God all things are possible. The angel vouchsafes to explain himself to the unbeliever; his incredulity shall not frustrate the purpose of Heaven, nor even divert into a different
channel the mercy which he doubted; but his frailty shall not go wholly unpunished, he shall be wounded in those faculties which he had so ill employed as the avenues to his mind, the tongue which dared to express the language of doubt and suspicion must undergo a temporary silence, the ear which would not admit the communications of an Archangel, shall be shut for a season against the delights of social intercourse, and the sign which he unwisely demanded shall bear upon it a mark of displeasure. Striking mixture of goodness and severity, of goodness unbounded, and severity restrained ! Striking view of the supreme power possessed and exercised by the great Lord of Nature, over all our powers and possessions. He who bestowed the gift of speech on man can withdraw it in a moment; or confound it so as to be no longer a medium of communication between mankind; He can confer it on the dumb ass to reprove the madness of the prophet;" or instantaneously communicate it, in all its different forms, to the ignorant and illiterate, for the instruction and salvation of the various nations of the earth. Let a gift so precious never be vilely profaned as an organ of falsehood, pride, lust, or profanity.
The words of the Angel all meet their accomplishment in their season. The pretended oracles of paganism were constrained to veil their prophetic enunciations in terms of mystery and obscurity; they spake with timidity and caution ; they clothed their responses and mandates in general and ambiguous expressions, which superstition might interpret what way soever it would; and which any event might be wrested to justify and support; but the lively oracles of God are minute, distinct, intelligible and pointed; he who runs may read them; they clothe predictions with such an exactness of circumstance: they appeal to events so near at hand, so obvious to investigation, that it is impossible to mistake one thing for another, to confound one with another. Zacharias' dumbness, the season of his being attacked with it, the unexpected, miraculous preguancy of Elizabeth, the birth of the child according to the time of life, the sudden restoration of the Father's hearing and speech, at the very moment predicted, were all matters of public notoriety; every one singular in itself, the whole taken in connexion so singular, as to mark the interest which eternal Providence took in an event, at first sight, of no great general importance, but in its effects and consequences involving the fate of nations, the everlasting destination of worlds.
What! all this state and magnificence; the trumpet of prophecy resounding, the prince of Angels descending, to proclaim the advent of merely a man with raiment of camels' hair, with a leathern girdle about his loins! The Ruler of the Universe, be assured, is not so lavish of extraordinary displays of his power and wisdom. If the true God appear, it is on an occasion worthy of a God. And if this be the preparation made for the appearance of the servant, what state shall precede the entrance of the Sovereign ? Gabriel, I foresee, has another message to bring, a multitude of the heavenly host is on the wing, to announce a greater than John Baptist, even him of whom John Baptist himself says, “ There standeth one among you, whom ye know not; He it is who coming after me is preferred before ine, whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” This solemn preparation for the manifestation of God in the flesh, if God permit, will be the subject of the next Lecture. I now conclude with the following reflections :
1. Angels, we perceive, take a lively, an affectionate, and a compassionate interest in the affairs of men. “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation ?!? The “ little ones” of Christ's family, the little in age and stature, the little in condition, must not be despised, “ for I say unto you," are his emphatic words, “ that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heav
en;" and " There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repentetb.” What condescension on the part of beings so highly exalted! What a protection provided for the feeble! What encouragement proposed to the penitent! “ The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.” Pleasing, awful thought! The host of heaven guards my path and my bed, watches over my lying down and rising up; but their eyes are continually upon me, I am “compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses,” they bear testimony to what I am, whither I go, how I am employed. Is the eye of a child a guard to virtue? What holy circumspection and watchfulness, then, what earnestness and perseverance in well doing, what abhorrence of that which is evil, ought the inspection of an angel, ought the all-seeing eye of God to produce? “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways;" “ keep,” therefore, " thy heart with all diligence ; for out of it are the issues of life.”
2. From a preparation thus solemn and magnificent what are we not to expect? Four thousand years have been employed in making it ; a processionz of patriarchs, of prophets, of sages, of priests, of potentates, has passed on before in uninterrupted succession ; angels have descended from heaven: Surely He who thus conieth is the Son of God. “ When he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, He saith, “ And let all the angels of God worship Him :" And “unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever ; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom :" for • Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.” “His naine shall endure for ever : his name shall be continued as long as the sun : and men shall be blessed in him : all nations shall call bim blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doth wondrous things : And blessed be his glorious name for ever and ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory, Amen, and amen."
3. Though predicted events are strictly conformable to the word of prophecy, they nevertheless, in many cases, contradict, disappoint and far exceed human expectation. The prophets themselves had not always a distinct and complete perception of the object which they were commissioned to hold up to the eyes of the world. Those “ holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The agents employed in the accomplishment of promise and prediction, little understood the part which they acted. They thought of nothing less ; they intended nothing less. They were unconscious instruments in the hand of God to execute a purpose, which had they known they would have striven to defeat. " The heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing. The Kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed—He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh : The Lord shall have them in derision." Were “ Herod and Pontus Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, gathered together” to promote the cause of Christianity ? No, they meant to destroy it. But " of a truth,” Lord, they were constrained “ to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.” Happy are they who, with Gabriel and the other flaming ministers who stand before God, are the conscious, the voluntary, the joyful agents under, and together with God, in promoting the great work of Salvation.
4. Let not man, then, presume to make his own understanding the measure of revealed truth, or of divine conduct. “Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or Who being his counsellor hath taught him ?" It ill becomes a creature conscious to himself of so much weakness, of so much ignorance, of such liableness to error, to erect himself into an infallible judge. “Search the Scriptures,” but with reverence, with humility, with a desire to be instructed, not censoriously, self-sufficiently, not to wrest Scriptures in favour of a preconceived opinion, or long-established dogma. Study the ways of Proyidence; but dare not to interpret them according as passion or prejudice may dictate. “Thy way," O God," is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known.” Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, and Providence of Providence; and “ if any man will do his will, he shall koow of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” Practical conformity to the divine will is preferable to the highest attainments in knowledge, and it is the most direct road to farther discovery.
5. Superiour beings are now an object of terror, and it is conscious guilt in man which clothes them with that terror, They are our friends, they take delight in ministering to our necessities, they cherish the gracious affections of elder to younger brethren, yet the apparition is formidable even to a Zacharias. But “there is no fear in love ; for perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." To that glorious perfection the Christian is encouraged to aspire. We shrink from the idea of a visit from a departed friend arising out of the grave, but we look with hope and desire to the day when we shall be added “ to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven-and to the spirits of just men made perfect.” The vision of one angel, in our present state of depression, strikes the mind with awe; but we hope to come " to an innumerable company of angels ;” nay “to God the judge of all," for we come through “ Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” “Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
LUKE 1. 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth.
To a virgin espoused to a man, whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee : Blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, fear not, Mary: For thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest : And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
EVERY thing in nature, we have observed, is revelation and discovery, and yet all is mystery inexplicable. Every flower of the field, every pebble in the brook, every leaf on the tree, every grain of sand on the sea shore, is a world in miniature, possessed of qualities which a little child is capable of observa ing and of comprehending; yet at the same time containing hidden treasures which no Solomon can find out unto perfection. One object overwhelms us with its magnitude, the minuteness of another mocks our research. The Creator here, involving himself in clouds and darkness, eludes our pursuit; there, arrayed in “ light inaccessible, and full of glory,” He forbids our approach. In all the ways and works of God there is a simplicity level to the meanest understanding, and a complexness which confounds the most acute and enlarged. If all' nature and Providence present this strange mixture, is it any wonder if we find it in the work of redemption ? That grand era, called in scripture " the fulness of time,” was now come; even the time for accomplishing ancient predictions and promises ; for displaying and fulfilling the purpose of the Eternal in the salvation of mankind, by him to whom all the prophets give witness, and in whom all the promises are yea and amen.
In order to introduce him with more than royal state, God shook the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land; the Gentiles pressed toward the appearing of this great light of the world, and kings to the brightness of his rising. To prepare the way of the Lord, throne was shaken after throne, empire swallowed up empire. Alexander carried his all-conquering arms into the remotest regions of the east ; Cæsar extended his conquests as far as to France and Britain in the west ; and Augustus gave peace to a troubled world. We are now led to attend to the minuter circumstances of this allimportant event.
We perceive from the beginning what we are never permitted to lose sight of to the end, a magnificence that dazzles, connected with a plainness and simplicity which interest and attract the heart; declaring at once the Son of