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my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee."
Secondly, But why doth this prophet precede the Messiah? To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins. God's people then were sinners, and their salvation is by the remission of their sins; and this remission could only be obtained by the shedding of blood. Luke xxiv. 4, 7, “And that repentance and remission of sins, should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." Romans iii. 25, "Whom God hath sent forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God."
Thirdly, Through the tender mercies of our God, whereby the day spring from on high hath visited us. Psalm cxlv. 9, "The LORD is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” Yea, verily, it is through the tender mercies of our God, that the day spring from on high hath visited us. Malachi iv. 2, "But unto you that fear my name, shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing under his wings." John Baptist was the prophet which ushered in this morning without a cloud, this day spring from on high.
Fourthly, For what purpose? To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; to guide our feet into the way of peace. Isaiah ix. 2, "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined." Isaiah xlii. 6, 7, "I the LORD will give thee for a covenant to the people, for a light to the Gentiles, to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house." Isaiah xlix. 9, "That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves." Isaiah lx. 1," Arise, shine: for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee." Although all God's holy prophets testified of the Redeemer, yet was the Baptist greater than all, inasmuch as he pointed out the fulfilment of their prophecies. They said, Messiah shall come; John said, he is come. Behold the Lamb of God. John prepared the way of the LORD by preaching repentance; he did not give salvation to God's people; he only gave the knowledge thereof. This knowledge of salvation, is through the remission or forgiveness of sins. God's
people were sinners, and the remission of their sins was only gained through the tender mercies of the God, against whom they had sinned. It was this tender mercy of God, which gave light and Life to the world. God so loved the world he gave them his Son, and this Son is the light of the world, and this Son will lighten every man that cometh into the world. Those who set in darkness are in the shadow of death; but their feet shall ultimately be guided into the way of peace. All believers are thus circumstanced, even in this present world. As we have received the Redeemer as our peace, so let us walk in him.
LUKE ii. 8-14.
First, W HY was this message sent, in the first instance, to shepherds? Shepherds were figures of the ministers of the gos pel. Jesus himself, to whom, by the divine Nature, the words of life were given, was denominated the Shepherd of the sheep.
Secondly, They were watching their flock when the heavenly visitant appeared. Shepherds are watchmen; the sheep are a species of animals, that are not able to take care of themselves. Shepherds are, therefore, appointed by the owner of the sheep for three especial reasons: First, To lead. And thirdly, To protect them.
Secondly, To feed.
Thirdly, The shepherds were watching their flocks by night. A learned commentator remarks upon this clause in our text, that these shepherds being engaged in the open air, watching their flocks by night, is a proof that the birth of the Redeemer could not have taken place in the winter. But this learned commentator did not recollect, that in those countries where wine and oil are produced, the wintry season is never severe; that it is sufficiently mild to admit of flocks, with their attending shepherds, passing the night in the open field. It was necessary this astonishing intelligence should be delivered in the winter season, and in the night. First in the winter season, inasmuch as in the
beautifully figurative language of revelation, the wintry season is selected to delineate the barren and comfortless state of human nature, previous to the dawning of the sun of righteousness; before the promulgation of that doctrine which was to drop as the rain, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and the showers upon the grass. Hence in the gospel dispensation, the winter is said to be over and gone, the time of the singing of birds to be come, and the voice of the turtle to be heard in the land.
Again, It was necessary this God-honouring, this divine message, should be delivered in the night. The vicissitudes of day and night are, we know, occasioned by, and dependent upon the presence or absence of the sun. The darkness called he night, and the light called he day. When the Saviour was born it was a time of darkness: darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people. Thus the propriety of proclaiming these glad tidings in the night, becomes self-evident.
Fourthly, The angel of the LORD came upon them. The visibility of disembodied spirits or celestial beings, to those who are yet clothed in mortality, is admitted by some and denied by others.. It is a subject which has been, in all ages, strongly contested. But to call in question the visibility of angels, is to call in question the veracity, in other words, the divinity of revela tion, since there is no truth more clearly taught and established, throughout the sacred volume, even from its commencement. The vision of the ladder, which the patriarch Jacob witnessed, was designed to teach him, that through the instrumentality of these heavenly visitants, a constant communication betwixt heaven and earth should exist.
By what means celestial spirits render themselves to our astonished gaze, and why we do not always behold those myriads of beings, which, both when we sleep and when we wake, do constantly throng around us, with many other points equally inexplicable, must be considered as secret things which belong to God. But, that angels have appeared, that they have been seen by men, and have conversed with them, is revealed to us and to our children.
Fifthly, And the glory of the LORD shone round about them. Not the glory of the angels; for they had no independent glory. Some writers have supposed, that it was the native glory of the angels which shone so bright, like the face of Moses when he
descended from the mount, and that to this glory the shepherds could not lift their eyes. But the Spirit of God asserts, that the glory of the LORD shone round about them. Here a question is naturally suggested. What is the glory of the LORD? Moses once desired to see God; but instead of seeing God, he was informed, that God would cause his glory to pass before him. "And God placed Moses in the cleft of the rock, while his glory passed by. And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD, while his glory passed by him. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, and transgression and sin; and that will by no means clear the guilty: visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation." This was the glory of God; and there is a divine consistency in its shining round about the angel dispatched upon such an embassy. "And the glory of the LORD shone round about them, as the rainbow of the covenant surrounding the throne of grace." Figures of this nature are calculated to show the eternal duration of God's favour, as the ring placed upon the finger of the prodigal, which had neither beginning nor ending, so the glory of the LORD shone round about the angel, rendering visible the excellency of this glory in every possible direction. Are we not justified in pronouncing this glory an appropriate appendage to a proclamation of the birth of the world's Saviour? who being the Saviour of all men, his salvation, like the glory of the LORD, shone round about the world of mankind.
Sixthly, If this glory was the glory of the LORD, how came it to pass, that the shepherds were sore afraid? Fear is a passion by no means peculiar to the mind of man. All animated nature is more or less subjected to this passion. But man knowing more of himself, is more fearful than any other animal; and those who are apprized of their danger, without being made acquainted with their Deliverer, are consequently greatly alarmed, are, of necessity, fearful and unbelieving. But the fears of individuals respecting Deity, respecting their God and Father, are no evidence of a disposition in the divine Nature to injure them. Guilt is the parent of terror; but from a reconciled God, ought we to look for
any thing which can originate or justify terror? When the glory of the LORD shone round about these shepherds, their fears were excited by their ignorance of God; and so, just so, when the sinful world shall behold their Saviour in the clouds of heaven, with power and great glory, they will be sorely afraid; not apprehending him to be their Saviour, they will call upon the rocks and mountains to hide them from the wrath of that Lamb of God, who hath taken away the sin of the world. Yet, in the Lamb, there is certainly no wrath, but the fearful and unbelieving, judge from their own darkened and tormented minds.
Seventhly, And the angels said unto them, Fear not. But why should they not fear? Had they not reason to expect as much wrath as grace? Certainly they had not. Why, were they not sinners? Undoubtedly they were, nor were they bid to banish their fears by reverting to a contemplation of their own rectitude. The angel did not say fear not, for behold I have found you in the path of duty, watching your flocks even in the night season. No consideration of this description was urged by this messenger of God. The only reason produced by this angelic preacher, why these poor affrighted shepherds should not fear, was based upon the message he was about to deliver. Fear not; for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.
What were these glad tidings of great joy, which were to be to all people? That they may be saved if they would? That there was a Saviour born unto believers? Do you not, my beloved hearers, know, that this was not the language of this celestial messenger?
But what were these glad tidings? There is born unto you this day, in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the LORD. This consideration was in truth, and indeed sufficient to banish, to annihilate their fears, for he could not be their Saviour, if they were never to be saved; he could not be the Saviour of any individual who was never saved. These tidings were indeed glad tidings of great joy. But were there no signs given by which these shepherds were to know whether they were saved or not? Signs were unnecessary, as we shall observe in the conclusion of our subject; indeed signs were given by which they might determine the identity of the Babe, whose birth was thus gloriously announced. Yet those signs were calculated rather to