|« Prev||Lecture XLIII. Preached, December 29, 1694.||Next »|
Good will towards men.
[The whole verse runs thus,—Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and good will towards men.]
YOU know we have been largely, and very lately, discoursing to you of the apostacy, the fall of the first man, and the fallen state of men, with the continual descent of a corrupt nature through all the generations of men hereupon. It now follows, of course, (and according to the natural order of things as they lie,) to speak of man’s recovery. And in order thereunto, in the first place, of God’s kind propension towards men; which is to be considered as that which leads on the whole of any design or endeavour to that purpose; His good-will, the original, the source, the fountain, the well-head, of the glorious design which he hath set on foot for the recovery of such a lost and lapsed creature. This is more especially held forth to us in the close of this verse now read; and not more distinctly and fully any where else in Scripture. But it is in conjunction (as we shall come more particularly to take notice of by and by) with other things which we shall not overlook, though that which I design to fasten upon, is this particular only—“Good will towards men.”
And if, with reference to what we have heard, we do but 2consider the summary import of these words, “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and good will towards men,” it might fill us with amazement and wonder. And sure it would do so, if these things were now altogether new to us, or did now come at this time to our notice and hearing. Upon what hath been so largely discoursed concerning the fall, and the degenerate state of fallen creatures; how sin and death have spread themselves through this world; how an impure and poisoned nature was continually descending, and transmitting from age to age, a nature envenomed with enmity against the Best of beings, the Sovereign rightful Lord of all: and that by this continual descent and transmitting of such a nature, (which as you have heard it did not seem meet to the divine wisdom to hinder by preternatural means,) here was, hereupon, a continual war maintained, and kept upon earth against heaven; and this, war carried on in an open hostility from age to age. Upon the discovery (I say) of all this the true representation (however defective and short of the full) of the state of the case between God and man; if we did not live under the gospel, or had no notice, no intimation or hint, of any such thing before, as now comes to be laid in open view before our eyes, we should be the most transported creatures that ever God made: the children of men would generally be so. And certainly, upon the supposition already made, two things we would have expected. And two things we would little ever have expected or thought of. We would,
1. Sure, have expected mat there should have been an efficacious revelation of wrath from heaven. There hath been a verbal one, and a real one in degree; we would sure have expected it to have been most efficacious and total. We would wonder that it hath not been long ago; that it hath not turned this world into flames and ashes, many a day since; and in that way put a period to the propagation of a wicked nature, and the continuation of a war and hostility against heaven, and the Lord of heaven and earth. And we would have expected,
2. That, whereas men have been accomplices with the devil, in this apostacy from God, and in the continuation of this rebellion and war against him, from age to age; (accomplices with a sort of creatures of an higher order, a great part of the heavenly host that first made a defection from God, and drew in man with them into the same apostacy;) I say, we would sure have expected that none should have been more ready executioners of the just wrath of God upon 3those disingenuous, apostate, ungrateful generations and race of creatures, than those angels that retained their integrity, that left not their first estate. We would have expected that they should have been the most prepared, expedite instruments of God’s vengeance upon such a generation of creatures as we were, and have been most willing, to have come upon that errand, to vindicate their rightful Sovereign Lord, from all indignities and dishonours that have been done him, by the creatures of their own order first, who had drawn into a confederation with them, a whole race of creatures of an inferior nature and order. One would think that love to God, and a zeal for his honour and interest, should so universally have inspired them, the glorious inhabitants of heaven, that no errand would have been more grateful to them, than to be sent as the quick executioners of the divine revenge upon such a wicked world as this.
And again, upon the forementioned supposition, there are two things that we should as little ever have expected, to wit:
1. That there should ever have been a thought of favour and kindness in heaven, and with the God of heaven, towards such creatures as we. That we would little have looked for, that ever the sound of such a voice should have been heard from heaven towards such an apostate degenerate race of creatures, as “peace on earth, and good-will towards men.” Who would ever have looked for it? That when they were breathing nothing but war, and enmity, and hostility, against heaven, there should be a proclamation from thence, of peace towards men on earth, proceeding from (as it could proceed from nothing else but) good will. And again,
2. We would as little have expected, that the angels of God should be the messengers of such tidings to this world, whose dutiful and loyal breasts we must conceive filled with indignation against apostate creatures, that had left, and put themselves off from so kind, so benign, so gracious, and so rightful a Lord. One would little have thought, that they should have come upon such an errand; that when they would rather have been waiting for a commission to execute the just wrath of God upon this wretched world, they should be sent to proclaim peace, and to signify the divine good-will towards men. Though, indeed, for the same reason for which they would have been executioners of the divine revenge upon this wretched world, they would also be messengers of such glad tidings, to wit, because they were 4obsequious, dutiful, and loyal; and had but one will with him, whose creatures and servants they were. His will, so far as it is notified and made known, is always perfectly complied with in heaven, as we are to desire it should be here on earth. But that was the case here; the angels are sent upon this errand first, to bespeak “glory to God in the highest,” and to speak out, “peace upon earth, and good will towards men.”
And now finding ourselves outdone every way, that what we would most of all have expected, we find not; but what we would never have expected, that we find; That as to the most dismal and dreadful things that we would have looked for, we meet with a grateful disappointment: but as to such things that we would never have looked for, we meet with a most grateful surprise. When we find (I say) the matter to be so, then would our narrow minds begin to fall a wondering at somewhat else; to wit, that since wrath did not break forth upon this world, to put a sudden end and period to it; and that God having so many mighty and powerful agents to employ as instruments therein, prest and ready at his command, they were not yet employed in that work; but, on the contrary, grace breathes from heaven upon this forlorn world, and the angels of God are here made the first ministers (as it were) thereof, to publish it and make it known; we would, then, wonder why was not this much earlier? Why was it not many ages before? Why did not that gracious, kind design break forth sooner, so as to have mollified the world, to have assuaged and conquered down that enmity, and to have prevented the insolencies of wickedness, which, through a succession of many ages, for almost four thousand years together, had prevailed, and been acted on the stage of this rebellious world.
But we see that in all respects, “God’s ways are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts; but as the heavens are high above the earth, so are his ways above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts,” Isaiah lv, 7. What was, with deepest and most profound wisdom, forelaid with him in the eternal counsel of his will, it was to have a gradual, and a very gradual, discovery and revelation to this world; and not to have its fulness of accomplishment till the fulness of time set for it. Every part of that method, which he had laid with himself, every juncture in it being, by divine counsel, affixed to so many parts, and points of time, so as that every thing belonging to that glorious design must fall into that very season which was fore-determined for it, and then receive its punctual accomplishment: 5according to that of the Apostle James, that sage saying of his, Acts xv. 18, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Not only known that they shall be, but known when every thing shall be, in what time, with what dependencies upon other things, with what references unto things that are to follow and ensue; according to that scheme and model which lay in the all-comprehending, Divine Mind; the thoughts and purposes of that mind being not hitherto unformed, but only unrevealed; hid in God, (as the expression is, Eph. i. 19;) folded up in mystery, and so concealed from ages and generations by past; in a mystery that was (as it were) inwrapt in rich glory, or in the riches of glory, as Eph. i. 22. This mysterious design, with the method of it, was not to come into view, but in the determinate season; all things being left by the supreme wisdom, in the dependence of one thing upon another, and with a particular reference to such and such seasons, that all things must have in the course and current of time.
Long it was, therefore, that this world was let sleep on in sin and darkness, unapprehensive generally, that there were any such kind thoughts in heaven towards them. Little was that thought of; and, indeed, for the most part, it was as little desired, as expected, that ever God should have given such relief or redress, to the sad, forlorn state of things in the world. It was, I say, as little desired, as it was expected or hoped; for, as the most deplorable things in this our calamitous state, such as distance from God, ignorance of him, unacquaintance with him, the presence of the sensible, and the debasement of the intellectual nature. These were not men’s more real misery than they were their imagined felicity: things that they were generally very well pleased with; that which was their doom, was their choice. It was in every man’s heart to say unto God, “Depart from us, we desire not the knowledge of thy ways; we had rather live alone apart from God.” If any scattered beam of divine light shone here and there, it shone amidst the darkness which refused to comprehend it; a malignant darkness, that was naturally bent to exclude and shut it out. So that it might be truly said, The wretchedness of this world was become con-natural to it—its very element; and men did enjoy their misery: those viperous lusts, that, as so many serpents, were inwrapping and preying upon the hearts and vitals of men, they were hugged as their only delectable darlings; and all their business, every where, was to 6make provision for these lusts, and to satisfy, to the utmost, what was insatiable, and could not be satisfied. So that there was not less need of divine power, to apply a remedy in such a case, than there was of wisdom to contrive, or kindness to design it.
And thereupon, as men did all this while generally (as it were) enjoy (as we said) their own misery, enjoy it to themselves; so God did all this while enjoy his own love to himself; pleased himself in this design of his, which yet, for the most part, was concealed and hid in God, as was before noted to you; and he might do so, the whole method of that design, in all the parts and junctures of it, being so surely and firmly laid, and one thing so connected with another, that it was altogether undisappointable; he being Master of the design, having it perfectly in his power, and it being impossible any thing should intervene the accomplishment of whatsoever he had determined, and purposed within himself. He enjoyed his own love, this good will of his towards men, as it was a fountain of that designed good, which they should enjoy, and which, through the several successions of some ages of time, they did, in some measure, enjoy. And that also was an ever springing fountain to himself; for nothing can satisfy God but God: an everlasting complacency, therefore, he must be supposed to take in his own benignity, in the goodness of his own will, with all the other perfections thereof.
But now, at length, in the fulness of time, this design of his breaks forth unto men too; not till time was come to its fulness, its parturient fulness, and was to be disburthened of that birth, the greatest and most glorious that ever lay in the womb of time, or was possible so to do. When the Son of God was to appear here upon this stage, and to be brought forth into this world, then it was not fit that so glorious a work as that, the manifestation of the Son of God in human flesh, should come forth without a previous knowledge. When he was come, it was fit it should be known what he was come for: and so Christ and a gospel, they do, in this world, commence both together: that is, now doth the Sun of Righteousness arise and shed his beams upon this world. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself was that Sun; the gospel was the beams of it, the radiations of that Sun.
And this beaming out of the light and grace of the gospel, it was, at first, in a way as extraordinary, as the thing itself was. How extraordinary was the thing, that God should descend, be manifested in human flesh, put on man, take the 7name of “Emanuel, God with us:” a God among men, how extraordinary was that thing? And the way of its discovery, it was suitably, it was correspondently, extraordinary, too: that is, by an embassy of angels, this should be first made known to the world. They were not to be the ordinary ambassadors of those glad tidings among men, but they were ambassadors extraordinary. So you find this matter is represented in this context. First, one angel appears to a company of shepherds, and tells them, (as soon as they were recovered out of their sudden affright,) that he was come to publish to them glad tidings of great joy, that should be to all people—and by and by there is a numberless host, a vast chorus, a choir of angels; a multitude of the heavenly host, who all come together upon the same errand, to publish what we have here contained in the Scripture: “Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, and good will towards men.”
So that look upon Christ as the Sun of Righteousness; look upon the gospel as the beaming forth, the irradiation of that. Sun; and you may look upon this text as the epitome, or that which hath in it the contracted beams of all that irradiation: for a sum of the gospel it is. Look into the particulars of it, and it is made up especially of these parts.
1. The final issue and effect of this great and glorious undertaking of the Son of God, in descending and coming down into this world, putting on human flesh, and being manifested therein. And that is two-fold—supreme and subordinate.
(1.) Supreme: “Glory to God in the highest.” That is the thing in which this whole dispensation shall finally result; all shall terminate in the highest glory to God above; to God that inhabits those highest and most glorious regions, that is there enthroned: all shall have a final resultancy into his highest glory, who inhabiteth those highest and most glorious regions of the universe. And then,
(2.) There is the subordinate effect, or final issue, out of which that glory is to result unto God: “Peace on earth.” There is a peace-making design yet on foot. It shall not be abortive. It shall have its effect, and take place. God will, upon certain terms, be reconciled unto men. Men shall be brought first or last (many of them, multitudes of them) to comply and fall in with those terms. And so where there was nothing else but war, there shall be peace: 8the Prince of Peace is now arrived into this world, and it shall not be without effect: his kingdom is a kingdom of peace, a peaceful kingdom. That peace is principally, and, in the first place, to be between the offended God, and his offending creatures here below. Other peace will proportionably, and in due time, ensue.
This is the final issue and effect of this undertaking of our Lord: that is, the ultimate effect—“Glory to God in the highest;” and the subordinate effect—“peace on earth.” And that is the first part that we have considerable here of the words made up of these two. And,
2. The principal, the original, the source and fountain, of that whole undertaking of our Lord, and of this two-fold effect, which is to result from it: and that is God’s good will towards men. From this fountain shall spring forth both peace on earth, and glory to God; the former more immediately, and the latter ultimately: the former being subordinate to the latter, as the supreme and last end of that. And so as to this matter, the same account is here given of the whole gospel-constitution, as we find given in that Ephes. i. 4, 5, 6. “According as he hath chosen us in him, that we might be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us to the adoption of children, according to the riches of his grace in Christ Jesus, to the praise and the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” So that take the whole scheme of the gospel-revelation together, and it bears this inscription: It is a frame of things finally and ultimately dedicated to God, as all things must be to him, as well as from him. He that is the author is the end of all. He can do nothing but for himself. How or in what sense he doth so, to wit, doth things for his own glory, we shall have occasion to open more distinctly hereafter. But this being now the first thing that we have in view here; and which I design to touch upon as previous to that which comes last in the text, and is the main I intend to insist upon. Something, I say, I shall speak in reference to this—“Glory to God in the highest.”
This you see is the final effect and issue of this mighty undertaking of a Redeemer. The Son of God descending and coming down into the world. Why, what shall be effected hereby? What shall be brought about? Why, “Glory to God in the highest.” That should not fail to be effected. God would, it is true, have been glorified in the destruction of this world altogether: if it had been all laid 9in ruin; if it had been turned into one heap, he would have had his glory. He might have continued that as an ever lasting trophy of his power and justice; of his justice by his power.
But that was not the way chosen; and he will not lose by it, as to all revenue that it is possible can be added to me divine treasure. Nothing can be really added. Glory can be added, to wit, reputation, (as the word signifies,) which, therefore, must be supposed to have its place in the intelligent and apprehensive minds of men. For the word made use of here, comes from a word that signifies esteem, or to judge. There must be some that are capable of judging of what is honourable and glorious: God himself is the Supreme Judge: and, indeed, there is no competent judge besides. As it is altogether impossible that any should be his peer, or capable of making an estimate of what will be fully and adequately answerable to him in point of honour and glory. And as the matter doth relate to him, as he is to be himself the judge of honour, of what is becoming of God, what will be an honour to himself; so it is here considered,
(1.) Objectively, as the glory that could only be the thing designed by himself, to himself; to wit, the complacency that he takes in himself, which must bear some proportion to the excellency of his nature and being. And that cannot lie in the mere opinion that he hath in the minds of his creatures, (be those minds never so right, and never so comprehensive,) but the satisfaction that he receives to himself, in himself. This is an end worthy of God, and suitable unto God. Nothing can be an adequate satisfaction unto him, but what is in himself. Now there is an objective glory in himself—the glory of all his excellencies, of all his perfections: and this is the object in which he satisfies himself, and takes his own complacency there. There are, indeed, beamings forth of that excellency into the minds of creatures, but this cannot be his end; to wit, to be well thought of, or well spoken of, by his creatures: they are inconsiderable unto him. The whole creation is even as the dust of the balance, or the drop of the bucket; lighter than nothing and vanity, in comparison with him.
But there is, I say, to be considered, first, an objective glory, the excellency, the becomingness of the order of things, as they lie in God, which only comes under the notion of creatures, as he is pleased to make the discovery; 10and when he so doth, that shines into their enlightened minds, which was, indeed, before; to wit, the order of things, that harmony, that comely dependance and reference of one thing to another, as it lies in the counsel of God’s wisdom from eternity. Here is that glory which he beholds first in himself, and so he satisfies himself on the rectitude and perfection of all that is in him, and all that immediately proceeds from him, as it doth more immediately proceed. This only can be God’s end. Indeed, the creature’s end must be the display of this glory, when once it doth shine forth and come under their notice; then they are to reflect it from one to another, and to diffuse it among one another; so that there must be very different notions of the divine glory as it is his end, and as it is the creature’s end. And that this matter may be the more distinctly explicated withal, consider two things here: first, the form, and, secondly, the matter, of this saying of the angels in this part of it. “Glory to God in the highest,” which is the principal part of the effect or end of this under taking, the Redeemer’s descent into this world; it was to produce glory to God in the highest, as it should produce, in due time, peace on earth, a reconciliation between God and man. I say, the former of this speech is to be inquired into. What doth it mean, that it should be here said, “Glory to God in the highest?” And then, the matter of it, and what is signified under it, we shall come more distinctly to inquire into afterwards.
(1.) For the form of this speech, that it may be rightly understood, we must consider from what mouth it comes, or who are the speakers, who they are that utter it: they are an heavenly host; a most numerous heavenly host; an host of angels that descend upon this account, in this juncture of time, (as it were,) upon a visit, upon a kind visit unto our earth, and to pay a dutiful homage unto the Son of God, whose descent they wait upon at his first arrival into this world of ours. The form of expression will very much be collected by considering the speakers. And nothing, indeed, could be more decorous, more becoming, than that they should be first employed upon such an errand as this, who are the speakers and mouth by whom this first summary of the gospel is communicated amongst men, here in our world. It was fit there should be such messengers employed and sent; to wit, to celebrate his arrival into our world, who was so great an one, and who came upon so great an errand.11
Let us but take notice, by the way, (before we come to collect from hence what the form of this saying must import,) why it should be said by such speakers, a multitude, a choir of angels, who were employed to utter it. Why, that was not all their business, to utter this saying here to a company of shepherds; that falls in with it, and that very aptly; but their great business is to wait upon the first arrival of the Son of God into this world, as a due honour to him. Upon which account we are told, (Heb. i. 6.) “That when he brought his first born into the world, all the angels of God were to worship him,” or to pay an homage to him. When he brought this his first-born into the world, this was (as it were) a decree then published in heaven: “Now let all the angels of God worship him.” The thing also refers to 1 Tim. iii. 6. “Great is the mystery of godliness, God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels.” Seen? How seen? Not barely looked upon as by a company of gazers, or of idle, unconcerned spectators; but seen, beheld with an adoring eye; every one seeing and adoring at once.
It was a suitable dignity and honour to them; and it was very suitable from them, considering what a state the Son of God was now coming into. A state that was to be “a little lower than the angels,” as Heb. ii. 7. quoted from the 8th Psalm, or “lower for a little while.” So the word admits to be read. That in as much as this humiliation of his was spontaneous and voluntary, he might not lose their homage by it: and undoubtedly they tendered it him. That self-depression was elective, not necessitated; therefore, he was not to lose by it: he descends, goes down into a state a little lower than the angels; therefore, the justice of heaven determined thus concerning him, and the justice of their minds could not but so consent and fall in with it. “You shall pay your homage to the descending Son of God; he shall lose nothing that is due from you (coelites) the inhabitants of heaven, for this self-debasement.” Therefore, though this descent of his was to look with a dark side towards this our earth, because here he was to appear in obscurity; the ends of his coming down here among men would never have been composed and brought about, if he had been td shine as an illustrious person, in bright celestial glory, visibly and openly attended with guards of angels; is work would never have been done; he could never, on those terms, have arrived to the cross, which was finally the thing he had in his eye and design. Therefore, I say, this 12descent of his must look with a dark side here towards us here below. But yet, care was taken that it should look with a bright side in heaven above, that the glorious inhabitants there, might be kept in a dutiful, adhering posture towards him, as understanding their own subserviency, and subjection to him; and that he was their Lord still, though he did voluntarily go down into a state a little lower than theirs; lower for a little while. Therefore, upon occasion, their subserviency to him is plainly signified, when he was at the lowest, in his last agonies, angels came and ministered unto him. And so his descent looks with a bright side towards heaven, and those vaster numbers of intelligent minds, that do inhabit those regions; all was lightsome thitherwards, and must be, though it was necessary it should look with a dark kind of gloominess and obscurity towards men on earth, that the design might be accomplished and not frustrated, for which he did descend and comedown into this world.
And so much being premised, it is now obvious to collect what the form is of this same diction, this same saying, by these excellent, dutiful creatures. It must carry with it,
[1.] The form of an acclamation, giving glory to God; proclaiming the divine glory, upon this wonderful product of his wisdom and love, that began now to appear, and obtain, and take place in this world. It was an acknowledgment that he was worthy to receive all honour, and glory, upon this account. And,
[2.] It must bear, too, the form of an apprecation, that is, wishing he might continually do so; that all glory and honour might be continually given to God in the highest. And,
[3.] It might carry in it, too, the form of a narration, there being no verb in the sentence; and therefore, is to be understood as much as if it had been said, “Glory is to God in the highest;” that is, it is a representation how well the glorious inhabitants of the upper world were at that time employed, to wit, in celebrating the divine glory, and giving glory to him. This is the business of heaven: and upon this account, that the Son of God is now descended and come down upon this earth, it is their business on earth to be all giving glory to God in the highest. Or,
[4.] It may be also an invitation to angels above, and men below, so to do. All the glorious inhabitants of heaven, who behold and see; and so, likewise, all the men, and 13wretched and miserable inhabitants of this earth, who are concerned in all that is now done, join in this, giving glory to God in the highest. And,
[5.] It may be a demand or claim of glory to God in the highest; not only a mere invitation, but a challenge: “Let God have his due glory; withhold not his glory from him. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord.” Psalm cl. last. Let the universe praise him, upon account of this marvellous undertaking, that his own Son is come down in glory, veiled and obscured into this world. And it may, in the last place,
[6.] Carry with it the form of a prediction; Glory shall be to God in the highest. As heaven is now full of this thing, earth shall be full of it; God will have his glory, even to the full, out of this wonderful thing, a thing infinitely more wonderful than the creation of this world was; even the extraction of such an universe out of nothing: that God should come down, and be manifest in such flesh as the children of men do wear, and carry about them here upon earth. We do all predict Glory to God in the highest hereupon. So great a thing can never be, but there must be a production of glory to God in the highest, some time or another, as far proportionable hereunto, as the capacity of such creatures can admit. He will not lose his glory. We foretel he shall have his glory, even from all the ends of the earth, directed to him in the highest, arising and springing up from this very thing. But then,
(2.) The matter expressed and signified under this various form, that will also require some further explication too, which now I shall not enter into: but, in the mean time, let us consider,
[Use.] Doth heaven appear to have been so full of this thing, the descent of the Son of God into this world, when we were the persons concerned? What amazing stupidity is it, that our souls should not be more taken up about it? It was, indeed, partly duty to God, and to the Son of God, that these blessed angels should be in such a transport upon this occasion: but it was also benignity and kindness, and wonderful kindness towards us. When they saw what was designed to us, they give glory to God in the highest, upon the prospect they had of peace springing up towards us on earth, and of the view they had by retrospection upon the divine good-will: finding now that anciently, and heretofore, his delights must have been with the children of men; (as miserable as their state and condition 14was;) not upon the account of what they now were, but upon the account of what he would one day make them. He would yet one day make them a delectable sort of creatures. The angels or God are full of this; and heaven was full of it. And we are not to think it was only so seventeen hundred years ago; that the thoughts and apprehensions of the glorious inhabitants of heaven are lower about these matters now: no; there is the same occasion, and the same sense. They are in the same joyous and dutiful raptures, upon account of what was doing and designing hereupon earth, for producing of peace to men, and glory to himself.
What an amazing stupidity is it, that all this should signify so little with us? That when we are the persons chiefly concerned; when hell may be designing upon us from beneath, heaven is designing upon us from above; yet we are in a deep sleep all this while, neither feel the drawings of hell downward, nor the drawings of heaven upward. Hell is working upon us, and heaven is working upon, us, and we seem insensible of the designs of either; the destructive designs of the one, or the kind designs of the other: but vanity fills our minds, and we wear out a few days here upon this earth, without considering what we are here for, or what the Son of God did one day come hither for! What awakenings do we need f And before God shall have his glory, and the earth its peace, what wonderful changes are there yet to be wrought in the minds and spirits of men? And surely if God have any kindness for us, there will be great change wrought upon us.
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