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THE ANGEL'S MESSAGE AND SONG.
LUKE ii. 8–14. There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multituule of the heavenly host, praising God, and sayiug, Glory to God in the highest ; on earth peace, good-vill toward men. THE gratification of the great, the wealthy, and the gay, was chiefly consulted in the late exhibitions in Westminster-Abby. But, notwithstanding the expense of the preparations, and the splendid appearance of the auditory, I may take it for granted, that the shepherds who were honoured with the first information of the birth of MESSIAH, enjoyed, at free cost, a much more sublime and delightful entertainment. How poor and trivial is the most studied magnificence and brilliancy of an earthly court, compared with that effulgence of glory which surrounded the shepherds! The performers of this Oratorio, if I may be allowed the expression, were a multitude of the heavenly host. And though I do not suppose that the angel delivered his message in the cadence which we call Recitative, I have no doubt but the chorus was a song, sweetly melodious as from blest voices. A song which the redeemed and the angels of the Lord are still singing before the throne. A new song* A song which will be always new. We are made acquainted with the subject, yea, with the very words of this song. May our hearts be suitably affected by the consideration of them to-day! The melody and harmony of heaven are far above our conceptions. The music of that happy land has no dependence upon the vibrations of the air, or the admirable structure of the human ear. But we have reason to believe, there is, in the world of light and love, something analogous to what we call music, though different in kind, and vastly superior in effect, to any strains that can be produced by the most exquisite voices or instruments upon earth; as we readily judge the glory of an angel to be unspeakably more excellent, both in kind and degree, than any thing that is deemed glorious among mortals.
To consider this passage at large, would require many discourses. I shall confine myself at present to a few brief reflections on the circumstances of this heavenly vision, the message of the angel, and the concluding chorus or song.
I. The circumstances.
1. "Lo, an angel came upon them,” &c. Suddenly when they had no expectation of such a visit, without any thing that might previously engage their attention, all at once, like a flash of lightning, a glory shone around them, and an angel appeared. We do not wonder that they were impressed with fear. We live near, perhaps
* Rev. v. 9.
in the midst of, an invisible world, full of great and wonderful realities, which yet, by too many persons, are considered and treated as non-entities, because they are not perceived by our bodily senses.
But the Scripture assures us of the fact; and to reject this testimony, because it is not confirmed by our senses, is no less irrational and unphilosophical, than impious. A man born blind can have no more conception of light and colours, than we have of what passes in the world of spirits. And a nation of blind men, if there were such a nation, would probably treat a seeing person as a visionary madman, if he spoke to them of what he
But he would be sure of his own perceptions, though he could not satisfy the inquiries and cavils of the blind. Our senses are accommodated to our present state; but there may be a multitude of objects, as real in themselves, and as near to us as any that we behold with our eyes; of which we, for want of suitable faculties, can have no idea. To deny this, and to make our senses the criteria of the existence of things which are not within their reach, is exactly such an absurdity, as a blind man would be guilty of, who should deny the possibility of a rainbow, because he never heard it nor felt it. However, “ Faith is the evidence of things
not seen.” And they who believe the word of God, cannot doubt of the existence of an invisible state and invisible agents. The barrier between the inhabitants of that state and us, is too strong to be passed; for the will of the great Creator seems to be the barrier. Otherwise it is probable they could easily surprise us, since, upon special occasions, they have been permitted to discover themselves. We have a natural dread of such visitants, even though they should appear to us, as they did to the shepherds, as messengers of
God. Yet we must shortly mingle with them. Death will introduce us into the world of spirits; and what we shall then meet with, what beings will be ready to accost us upon our first entrance into that unknown, unchangeable state, who can say? It deserves our serious thought. We are now encompassed by the objects of sense, but we must soon be separated from them all. We live in a crowd, but we must die alone. Happy are they, who, like Stephen, shall be able to commend their departing spirits into the hands of Jesus! He is Lord of all worlds, and has the keys of hades, of the invisible state.
2. The angel spoke. The Gospel was preached by an angel to Zacharias, to the virgin mother of MESSIAH, now to the shepherds; and, perhaps, to none but these. The angel, who appeard to Cornelius, said nothing to him of Jesus, but only directed him to send for Peter* The glorious Gospel of the blessed God, with respect to its dignity, depth, and importance, may seem a fitter theme for the tongue of an angel than of a man; but angels never sinned; and though they might proclaim its excellency, they could not, from experience, speak of its efficacy. In this respect sinful worms are better qualified to preach to others, concerning him by whom they have, themselves, been healed and saved. Their weakness, likewise, is better suited to show that the influence and success of the Gospel is wholly owing to the power of God. It has, therefore, pleased God to
put this treasure into earthen vessels,” and to commit the ministry of his word, not to angels, but to men. They whom he is pleased to employ in this office, however weak and unworthy in themselves, derive an ho
* Acts x. 4, 5.
nour and importance from the message intrusted to them, and are, so far, worthy of the same attention as if an angel from heaven spoke. They are sinful men, and have reason to think humbly of themselves : nor should they, as the servants of a suffering, crucified Master, either wonder or complain, if they meet with unkindness from those whom they wish to serve; but they may “magnify their office*,” and it is at the peril of their hearers to despise it. What the world accounts in us "the foolishness of preaching," is made to those who simply receive it,
“ the wisdom and power of God.” To others, even angels would preach in vain. They “ who hear not Moses and the prophets," who submit not to the ordinary methods and means of grace which God has appointed, “ would not be persuaded,
though one should rise from the dead.”
3. The angel was sent with the most interesting news that could be made known to mankind; not to Cæsar, or to Herod, or to the high priests, but to obscure and lowly shepherds. “The Lord seeth not as man seeth :" the petty distinctions that obtain among men are not regarded by him. He is equally near to them that fear him in every situation of life; as the sun shines, as freely and fully, upon a cottage as upon a palace. These shepherds were, doubtless, of the number of the happy few, who in that time of degeneracy, were waiting and longing “ for the consolation of Israel.” The heads of the Jewish people found their consolation in their rank and wealth, and in the respect paid them by the vulgar. These things usually add to the idea of self-importance, and feed those tempers which are most displeasing to the Lord, and which indispose the mind to the recep
* Rom. xi. 13.