Great Texts of the Bible
The Song of the Heavenly Host
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men in whom he is well pleased.—Luke 2:13-14.
1. In all the Christian year, in all the secular year, there is not a day that has gained the same heartiness of universal welcome as the kindly Christmas. Though Easter-day is chief in the Church’s Calendar, and though it comes in the hopeful spring with the first green leaves, when the most care-worn know some fitful waking-up of the old light-heartedness, it has never taken such hold of the common mind of our race as has the Sacred Festival that comes in the deadest days of the drear December, when in the wild winter-time “the heaven-born Child lay meanly-wrapt in the rude manger”; when those linked by blood, and early remembrances of the same fireside, but parted the long year through by the estranging necessities of life, strive to meet again, as in childhood, together; and all the innocent mirth, the revived associations, the kindly affection, are hallowed by the environing presence of the Birth-day of the Blessed Redeemer.
Like small curled feathers, white and soft,
The little clouds went by
Across the moon, and past the stars,
And down the western sky:
In upland pastures, where the grass
With frosted dew was white,
Like snowy clouds the young sheep lay
That first best Christmas night.
With finger on her solemn lip,
Night hushed the shadowy earth,
And only stars and angels saw
The little Saviour’s birth;
Then came such flash of silver light
Across the bending skies,
The wondering shepherds woke and hid
Their frightened, dazzled eyes!
And all their gentle sleepy flock
Looked up, then slept again,
Nor knew the light that dimmed the stars
Brought endless peace to men,—
Nor even heard the gracious words
That down the ages ring—
“The Christ is born! The Lord has come,
Goodwill on earth to bring!”
Then o’er the misty moonlit fields,
Dumb with the world’s great joy,
The shepherds sought the white-walled town
Where lay the baby boy—
And oh, the gladness of the world,
The glory of the skies,
Because the longed-for Christ looked up
In Mary’s happy eyes!1 [Note: Margaret Deland.]
In an Oxford College Chapel is a famous Nativity window. From the Infant, lying in the midst, light is made to stream on all around. So, through the Christmas chapter, ending with our text, light streams from the manger on the Christmas feast; tingeing alike its festivity and fun, its tender memories and associations, making it the Child’s Festival of all the year. Children understand it best, with a fulness of feeling and an implicitness of faith they lose in after years; but still to us older ones each Christmas freshens and recaptures something of our childish feelings—in hymn and carol, in family and neighbour greetings, in fireside merriment and kindliness, we feel again the tender softening emotion which was our childish tribute to the day. With shepherds, angels, kings, we once more go even unto Bethlehem, content if only, after failures and shortcomings past, chances missed, friends lost, aims unperformed, we may win and make our own the Christmas prize which the angels glorified and the Infant taught, anchoring our souls at last upon the steadfast dominating Peace which waits on gentle will.
The sacred chorus first was made
Upon the first of Christmas days.
The shepherds heard it overhead,
The joyful angels raised it then:
Glory to heaven on high it said,
And peace on earth to gentle men.
My song, save this, is little worth,
I lay my simple note aside,
And wish you health and love and mirth,
As fits the solemn Christmas tide,
As fits the holy Christmas birth;
Be this, good friends, our carol still,
Be peace on earth, be peace on earth,
To men of gentle will.1 [Note: W. Tuckwell, Nuggets from the Bible Mine, 144.]
2. In its liturgical use the “Gloria in Excelsis” contributed a precious element to the devotions of the Church, as was natural from its heavenly origin and its tone of glory and gladness. It was known as the “Angelic Hymn” (the “Sanctus” being in later time distinguished as the “Seraphic Hymn”). The name in course of time signified not only the words of the angels as used alone, but also the full form of praise and prayer and creed, of which those words became the opening and the groundwork. There are traces of this noble hymn as used in the Church from the most ancient times; and the Alexandrine Codex (close of fifth century) gives it at length at the end of the thirteenth Canticle of the Greek Church, entitling it a “Morning Hymn.” Early Latin translations with differences are found in various quarters, and it seems clear that when the well-known Latin form of the hymn was inserted in the Latin Psalters it was used in the daily or weekly hour services of the clergy.
The introduction of the hymn into the Eucharistic Office of the Western Church has been traditionally assigned to different popes, but it was certainly a part of that Office in the fifth and sixth centuries, and directions are given in the Sacramentaries as to occasions for its use. At times and in places it exhibited doctrinal variations, as in the form given in the Apostolical Constitutions, where it has received a shape possible for Arian use. On account probably of doctrinal diversities the fourth Council of Toledo, a.d. 633, directed that in churches only the primitive angelic words should be sung, without the additions composed, as they said, “by the doctors of the Church.” But this was a local and temporary restriction. The hymn, or “greater doxology,” as it was sometimes called, had its place at the opening of the service as it now has with us at the close. There is a fitness in either position.1 [Note: T. D. Bernard, Songs of the Holy Nativity, 116.]
3. This is not the earliest angelic hymn that is recorded or alluded to in Scripture. At the first creation, too, “the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Whatever doubt there may be in respect of those “sons of God” mentioned in Genesis whose apostasy from Him did so much to hasten the flood, there can be no doubt or difficulty in regard of these. The “sons of God” here can be only the angels of heaven, the heavenly host; for there as yet existed no other who could claim, or be competitors with them for, this name. So was it at the first creation; and it might almost seem on this night of the Nativity as if a new creation had taken place, for now again we hear of “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Nor, if we thus judged, should we prove very wide of the truth. There is indeed now a new creation, and a new which is more glorious than the old. In the creation of the world God showed forth His power, His wisdom, His love; but in the foundation of the Church all these His attributes shine far more gloriously forth; and that Church was founded, the corner-stone of it, elect, precious, was securely laid, on that day when the Son of God, having taken upon Him our flesh, was born of a pure Virgin, and was laid in the manger at Bethlehem. Most fitly therefore was that day of the New Creation, which should repair and restore the breaches of the old, ushered in with hymns of gladness; most fitly did “the sons of God” once again shout for joy, and welcome, with that first Christmas carol which this dull earth ever heard, the birth of a Saviour and Restorer into the world.
Handel, entering fully into the spirit of this narrative, represents the angel as singing this announcement; and there can be no doubt that he is right. This was a grand solo sung by one of the leading choristers of heaven. But when the angel had sung his solo, his companions joined in the chorus—“Suddenly there was with him a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will.”1 [Note: D. Davies, Talks with Men, Women and Children, v. 385.]
4. This song of the angels, as we have been used to reading it, was a threefold message—of glory to God, peace on earth, and good will among men; but the better scholarship of the Revised Version now reads in the verse a twofold message. First, there is glory to God, and then there is peace on earth to the men of good will. Those, that is to say, who have the good will in themselves are the ones who will find peace on earth. Their unselfishness brings them their personal happiness. They give themselves in good will, and so they obtain peace. That is the true spirit of the Christmas season. It is the good will that brings the peace. Over and over again in these months of feverish scrambling for personal gain men have sought for peace and have not found it; and now, when they turn to this generous good will, the peace they sought comes of itself. Many a man in the past year has been robbed of his own peace by his misunderstandings or grudges or quarrels; but now, as he puts away these differences as unfit for the season of good will, the peace arrives. That is the paradox of Christianity. He who seeks peace does not find it. He who gives peace finds it returning to him again. He who hoards his life loses it, and he who spends it finds it:—
Not what we give, but what we share,
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,
Himself, his hungering neighbour, and Me.
That is the sweet and lingering echo of the angel’s song.
The second member of the hymn celebrates the blessing to mankind, according to the A.V., in the familiar words, “On earth peace, good will toward men”; or, according to the R.V., in the less graceful English, “Peace on earth among men in whom he is well pleased.” The literal renderings would be, in the first case, “On earth peace, in men good pleasure”; in the second, “On earth peace, in men of good pleasure.” Two different readings are thus represented, each of them supported by large authority. The difference is only in the presence or absence of a final letter.1 [Note: T. D. Bernard, Songs of the Holy Nativity, 162.]
Such was the text of the angels on the night of our Saviour’s birth; and to that text our Saviour’s life furnished the sermon. For it was a life of holiness and devotion to His Father’s service, a life spent in doing good to the bodies and souls of all around Him; and it was ended by a death undergone on purpose to reconcile man with God, and to set earth at peace with heaven. Here is a practical sermon on the angel’s text, the best of all sermons, a sermon not of words, but of deeds. Whoever will duly study that practical sermon, whoever with a teachable, inquiring heart will study the accounts of our Saviour’s words and actions handed down in the four Gospels, will need little else to enlighten him in the way of godliness.2 [Note: A. W. Hare, The Alton Sermons, 80.]
Glory to God
1. “Glory to God in the highest.” It is the first doxology of the gospel—brief words, yet bearing up the soul into illimitable regions of thought! Is it a proclamation—“There is glory to God in the highest”? or is it an ascription—“Glory be to God in the highest”? It is both; for ascriptions of praise are also proclamations of fact. Glory given to God is only some manifestation and effluence of His own glory, recognized by created intelligences, and reflected back in adoration and joy. So it is here. In the birth of a Saviour which is Christ the Lord, the mystery of the Kingdom has begun, and the glory of God has appeared. It is a glory of mercy to repair spiritual ruin, of wisdom to solve problems of sin and righteousness, of judgment to convict and condemn the powers of evil, of faithfulness to fulfil promises to prisoners of hope, of grace to conduct a history of salvation, of love to be manifested in the ages to come. This is the glory recognized by the heavenly host in the holy Nativity and celebrated in their responsive praise.
The first words of it are, Glory to God! and a most weighty lesson may we draw for ourselves, from finding the angels put that first. A world is redeemed. Millions on millions of human beings are rescued from everlasting death. Is not this the thing uppermost in the angels’ thoughts? Is not this mighty blessing bestowed on man the first thing that they proclaim? No, it is only the second thing: the first thing is, Glory to God! Why so? Because God is the Giver of this salvation; nay, is Himself the Saviour, in the person of the only-begotten Son. Moreover, because in heavenly minds God always holds the first place, and they look at everything with a view to Him. But if this was the feeling of the angels, it is clear we cannot be like angels until the same feeling is uppermost with us also. Would we become like them, we must strive to do God’s will as it is done in heaven; that is, because it is God’s will and because we are fully persuaded that whatever He wills must needs be the wisest and best thing to do, whether we can see the reasons of it or not.1 [Note: A. W. Hare, The Alton Sermons, 80.]
The religious faith on which my own art teaching is based never has been farther defined, nor have I wished to define it farther, than in the sentence beginning the theoretical part of Modern Painters: “Man’s use and purpose—and let the reader who will not grant me this, follow me no farther, for this I purpose always to assume—is to be the witness of the glory of God, and to advance that glory by his reasonable obedience and resultant happiness.”2 [Note: Ruskin, Epilogue to Modern Painters (Works, vii. 462).]
2. How does the coming of Christ bring glory to God? It displays all the attributes of God to advantage. The general arranges his forces to display his wisdom; the orator arranges his arguments to display his power; the philanthropist arranges his gifts and so displays his mercy. In the coming of Christ we see wisdom and power and mercy displayed in their fullest and sublimest manner. The whole character of God stands out resplendent in faithfulness and love. How many promises were fulfilled, how many obligations discharged by the coming of Jesus! By setting forth God in His highest glory it brings glory to Him.
The glory which lay hidden from eternity in the creative Mind began to disclose itself in the myriad forms of beauty abounding in the inorganic kingdom, in crystals of snow and ice, in sparkle of jewels, in the exquisite hues of precious stones, in splendour of sunrise and sunset, in glint of moonbeam and gleam of star, in cloud, wave and sky—then continued to unfold with ever-increasing beauty and wonder as Life, that great magician appeared, the waving of whose wand inaugurated the organic kingdom, and changed the face of all things into a new Creation. Thus the unveiling of the sublime purpose continued, till through rudimentary forms of sensations, intelligence, and love, in the vegetable and animal kingdoms, it blossomed into completer form in Man, and finally broke into all fruition in Christ the glory of Eternal Love unveiled.1 [Note: L. W. Caws, The Unveiled Glory, 64.]
3. But can God receive increase of glory, more than He has already? Is it not the very idea of God that He is infinitely glorious, and that this He always has been and ever will be? Assuredly so: in Himself He is as incapable of increase as of diminution of glory. But we may ascribe more glory to Him, more, that is, of the honour due unto His name, as we know Him more, as the infinite perfection of His being—His power, His wisdom, His love—is gradually revealed to us. So too may angels; and the heavenly host declare in this voice of theirs that the Incarnation of the Son of God was a new revelation, a new outcoming to them of the unsearchable riches of the wisdom, the power, the love, that are in God; that in that Church of the redeemed which now had become possible would be displayed mysteries of grace and goodness which transcended and surpassed all God’s past dealings with men or with angels.
We have St. Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians declaring the same thing; that heaven was taught by what was done upon earth; that angels, as they stooped from the shining battlements on high and looked toward this dim speck of earth and on one obscure province of it, and at a little village, and to one lowliest household there, learned about the mind of God things which they had not learned standing upon the steps of the throne and beholding the unapproachable brightness of Him who sat thereon. Can we doubt this? Does not St. Paul declare that he was himself set to proclaim the mystery which from the beginning of the world had been hid in God, more or less concealed therefore from men and angels alike? And why to proclaim it? He proceeds to give the answer: “to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places”—in other words, to the angelic host—“might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God.” Here then is the explanation of the angels’ song, of this “Glory to God in the highest,” this melody of heaven, to bear a part in which they invite and challenge the listening children of men upon earth.
Of God’s goodwill to men, and to all creatures, for ever, there needed no proclamation by angels. But that men should be able to please Him,—that their wills should be made holy, and they should not only possess peace in themselves, but be able to give joy to their God, in the sense in which He afterwards is pleased with His own baptized Son;—this was a new thing for angels to declare, and for shepherds to believe.1 [Note: Ruskin, Val d’Arno, § 253 (Works, xxiii. 148).]
4. The glory thus manifested, apprehended, and given back, is “glory in the highest.” What is intended by this superlative? What noun shall we read into this adjective? Things, places, beings, realms of space, regions of thought, worlds of life? The unexplained word embraces and exceeds all these. At least the angels knew their meaning, cognizant as they are of the gradations and levels of creation, the lower and the higher, the higher and the highest. Men may employ such a word with vague and partial intention; but angels know whereof they affirm, and the single word declares the glory of God in this Nativity to be no secondary manifestation in the common level of human history, but a fresh effulgence of His highest attributes to which the highest heavens respond.
There are some who take the word “highest” to mean that there is glory to God in the highest degree by the coming of Christ. God is glorified in nature—“the heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.” He is glorified in every dew-drop that sparkles in the morning sun, and, in every tiny wood-flower that blossoms in the copse. Every bird that warbles on the spray, every lamb that skips the mead, glorifies God. All creation glorifies God. Do not the stars write His name in golden letters across the midnight sky? Are not the lightnings His sword flashing from His scabbard? Are not the thunders the roll-drums of His armies? From least to greatest the whole of creation tells forth His glory. But the majestic organ of creation cannot reach the compass of the organ of redemption. There is more melody in Christ than in all worlds. He brings glory to God in the very highest degree.
An Indian rajah has built over the grave of his favourite wife a mausoleum which is one of the wonders of the world. So perfectly and wonderfully is this built that a word spoken at the entrance proceeds from point to point and is distinctly re-echoed until it reaches the very topmost height. So would the angels have it to be in living glory to God. They would have all men praise God for His great love-gift, the praise proceeding higher and higher, gathering in volume as it proceeds, until it surges up against the throne of God, and bursts into the spray of ten thousand songs. Oh, let us praise Him! If angels did who were spectators, surely we ought who are recipients of such blessings. Let us say, “Highest! highest!”
Remember the words of Edward Perronet when dying, and try to catch his spirit:—
Glory to God in the height of His Divinity:
Glory to God in the depth of His Humanity:
Glory to God in His All-sufficiency.
Glory to God in the Highest!1 [Note: W. L. Mackenzie, Pure Religion, 105.]
Peace to Men
“Peace” how precious is the word! There is warmth in it. There is music in it. There is Heaven in it. What pictures it paints! We can see in this mirror-like word a hundred dear delights. A sky without a cloud. A sun whose rays are benignant. Fields rich in harvests, white-washed farmsteads looking cosy and clean on the hills and in the dales, cattle browsing in sweet content, workmen plying their common tasks in undisturbed serenity, no war or battle’s sound creating feelings of dread apprehension in human breasts anywhere. Oh, lovely peace! But other and sweeter images are in that word: men and women find reflexion therein, with happy faces aglow with innocent pleasure, no strife in their hearts, their passions orderly and under correct government, their feelings pure, their emotions, all noble, their aspirations all heavenly, their consciences tranquil at peace with themselves, their neighbours, with nature, and with God. This is the peace that Jesus brings. The angels’ song has set men dreaming, and the dreams are not unworthy; they have dreamt of peace in the workshop, the ending of the unhappy misunderstandings between master and man; peace in the home, the ending of all domestic disquietude; peace in the State, rival parties in unholy rivalry no longer, but all men’s good each man’s rule; peace betwixt the nations, the sword no longer to do its inhuman butchery, and the cannon no longer to be the cause of unspeakable horrors; but, beautiful as are all these dreams, and compassed as they are by the angels’ words, they fall far short of what Christ’s gift involves. The peace He gives is not superficial, but radical: it means, first of all, peace in man, peace at the centre of things. He does not make the profound mistake of beginning at the circumference; He works at the centre. He puts His peace into men, and the charm of it is sighted, and the power of it is felt, and the contagion of it is diffused. He influences the world within, and in that way the world without.
Placed in the midst of Europe, the Emperor was to bind its races into one body, reminding them of their common faith, their common blood, their common interest in each other’s welfare. And he was therefore, above all things, claiming indeed to be upon earth the representative of the Prince of Peace, bound to listen to complaints, and to redress the injuries inflicted by sovereigns or peoples upon each other; to punish offenders against the public order of Christendom; to maintain through the world, looking down as from a serene height upon the schemes and quarrels of meaner potentates, that supreme good without which neither arts nor letters, nor the gentler virtues of life, can rise and flourish. The mediæval Empire was in its essence what its modern imitators have sometimes professed themselves: the Empire was Peace: the oldest and noblest title of its head was “Imperator Pacificus.”1 [Note: J. Bryce, The Holy Roman Empire, 254.]
1. What then is this peace? Let us understand it as a fourfold personal peace.
(1) The peace of an illumined life.—No one can canvass the world’s literature, listen to his fellows, or interrogate his own heart, and be unaware how chafed and bewildered men are apart from Christ. We are capable of thought, but our reflexions are at times of a mutinous and melancholy order. We appeal to what we call the master-minds of the world, but as we note the earnest, far-away look in their eyes, the pallor on their countenances, the grave lines which thought has carved on their foreheads, and the note of interrogation which is ever and anon upon their lips, we are distressed to find that the secret of peace is not in dreaming, inquiring, speculating. We listen to science, and it seems to clash with all our best thoughts and feelings. We feel that there is a God, and it smiles at our weakness and whispers, No, only a Force; we feel that we are greater than we seem, and it talks seriously of matter as though we were only that; we feel we ought to pray, and it laughs at our credulity; we feel that our life is unending, and it points with cruel finger to the grave. Science does not calm us; it chafes us. Where, then, can peace be found? Not in ignorance, for darkness evermore distresses; not in superstition, for error is disquieting; not in unbelief, for men have flung away rare and long-cherished beliefs for the incertitudes of intellectual charlatans, only to find that peace has deserted them; not in literature, for many a book is only the foam of a storm-lashed mind, and not a few are the progeny of a diseased pessimism; not in the voices of the world, for strife of tongues is sadly discomposing. Then where? Thank Heaven, fooled though we be everywhere else, and disappointed with the pretty lanterns which men have hung out to lighten the gloom, we hear the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto me and rest,” and peace steals over us as He gives His gracious and sufficing answers to our sundry questions.
I had a deep peace which seemed to pervade the whole soul, and resulted from the fact that all my desires were fulfilled in God. I feared nothing; that is, considered in its ultimate results and relations, because my strong faith placed God at the head of all perplexities and events. I desired nothing but what I now had, because I had a full belief that, in my present state of mind, the results of each moment constituted the fulfilment of the Divine purposes. I do not mean to say that I was in a state in which I could not be afflicted. My physical system, my senses, had not lost the power of suffering. My natural sensibilities were susceptible of being pained. Oftentimes I suffered much. But in the centre of the soul, if I may so express it, there was Divine and supreme peace. The soul, considered in its connexion with the objects immediately around it, might at times be troubled and afflicted; but the soul, considered in its relation to God and the Divine will, was entirely calm, trustful and happy. The trouble at the circumference, originating in part from a disordered physical constitution, did not affect and disturb the Divine peace of the centre.1 [Note: Madame Guyon, in Life by T. C. Upham, 130.]
At the close of a sermon on the words, “The peace of God which passeth all understanding shall keep (Gr. shall keep as by soldiers in a fortress) your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” Dr. Duncan came up to the preacher with his own summary of the text, clinching it with his sharp incisive “What?”—his constant mode of eliciting assent to a sentence which in his own judgment was both justly conceived and rightly worded. His beautiful paraphrase of the text was this: “Christ Jesus is the garrison, and Peace is the sentinel.”2 [Note: A. Moody Stuart, Recollections of John Duncan, 218.]
(2) The peace of a purified life.—We have had fair dreams of a peace which passeth all understanding. We have looked on the sea when it has been beautifully placid: of thunder there was none, but the waters made a murmuring music as they broke in cresting waves upon the beach. Can my life be like that? This imagination, can it be saved from the base dreams which are fatal to its pleasure? This memory, digging open long-closed graves and giving a resurrection to painful and hideous incidents, can it ever be satisfied? This conscience, may I ever hope for the silencing of its accusatory voices, the stilling of this inward thunder? This soul, which has so sadly damaged and deranged itself, can its equilibrium and equanimity ever be restored? Thank God, yes; in Jesus Christ we may find life and peace. Too impotent to emancipate ourselves from our bitter past, to free ourselves from, the burden of our sin, to rectify our self-inflicted wrongs, to dispose of the disabilities which are the fruit of our unrighteousness, He comes to our conscience, to pardon our iniquity, to change our nature, to renew our hearts. “Peace on earth”; yes, that is the meaning of Bethlehem and the story of the great humiliation; that is the teaching of Calvary, with its all-sufficient sacrifice; we have peace through the blood of the Cross, and only through that blood.
The Christian may have, must have, an outer life in the world, of training, toning, educating—in fact of “tribulation”; but with equal certainty he has a true life, an inner life, “in Christ.” The character of the inner life—as of the majestic life of the Eternal even in His Passion—is this, “in Me ye may have peace.” Examine, then, some of the conditions of the Mystery of Peace. And think, I have called it (and rightly, have I not?) a mystery. It is no mere acquiring the right of rest by the sacrifice of principle, it is no mere buying of freedom from disturbance at any price, it is no mere “making a solitude” and calling it “Peace.” No, it is an inner condition of soul realized, and blessed; and that it may be ours some conditions must be fulfilled. What are they? Sin must be forgiven, its weight removed, its tormenting sense of ever-reviving power attenuated, the wear and tear of its memories softened and relieved by penitential tears. This is a possibility of supernatural life; this is a result, a blessed outcome of life “in Christ.”1 [Note: W. J. Knox Little, The Mystery of the Passion, 168.]
(3) The peace of a harmonized life.—Not a little of our acutest misery is due to an internecine war which rages in man, and which makes itself felt subsequent to our forgiveness and renewal. The Apostle paints an elaborate picture of it in the seventh chapter of Romans, and calls our attention to that dual self of which every nature consists: the flesh and the spirit, the law of the members and the law of the mind. Both strive for the ascendancy, and full often the battle waxes hot. Virtue contends with vice, pure instincts with unholy tendencies, aspirations of the heavenliest with desires’ the most hellish. Assuredly this is never the life of peace our God intends us to find. The human soul was never meant to be the scene of conflict so terrible. Can it end? Is there a deliverer? Thank Heaven, the Apostle found an answer to his question. With unmistakable clearness his voice proclaims that the strife can end, the discord can cease “the life-long bleeding of the soul be o’er.” Listen to him: “I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.”
Christ comes to restore our whole nature. As the able physician searches into the out-of-the-way places of our body, and shows no mercy to the microbes which would lay waste our earthly house, but drives them thence, so Jesus has no pity for our carnal self. He tears it out root and branch, destroying the works of the devil, and making man at one with Himself and at one with his God. And this is the way of peace: peace at any price is not the will of our Father. We are not to be content with the peace that comes from making concessions to the carnal nature, or with sundry respites from the more serious strife, but only with the peace that comes from the complete rout of the foe, deliverance from bondage to the flesh, the elimination of the law of antagonism, the restoration of our inner life to its original homogeneity. To be spiritually minded is life and peace. And this, too, is peace on earth.
Steep Cliff Bay is now a Christian village. A dramatic incident took place not long ago in the middle of a great native feast in North Raga. The biggest chief of the whole district was present—one of the few then still heathen. He stepped forward, and handing his war-club to the giver of the feast, announced that it was to be chopped up and distributed among the other chiefs as a declaration of peace and good-will.1 [Note: Florence Coombe, Islands of Enchantment, 10.]
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The household born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!”1 [Note: H. W. Longfellow, Christmas Bells.]
(4) The peace of a solaced life.—We are not allowed to live our life untempted, untroubled. There are stern factors in human experience. There was a shadow even on the cradle of the World’s Redeemer, and the shadows are thick on the lives of many. We are mariners, and while sometimes it is fair sailing, at others fierce euroclydons threaten us with wholesale wreckage. There are times when life seems almost unendurable. The troubles of our hearts are enlarged, hell attacks us with unwonted ferocity, the world seems cold and callous, sorrow grips us like a tiger as if it would draw our last drop of blood. Bereavement sucks all the sunshine out of our landscape, tramples on our sweetest flowers, silences voices which gave us cheer. Alas! alas! for the riddles of this painful earth. Well, blessed be God, here again Christ is more than precious. He understands us perfectly. Has He not been in the thickest shadows? Has He not braved the dreadest storms? Has He not fought the gravest battles? He brings peace to the earth. Wet eyes He touches with kindly hand, broken hearts He comforts and heals, desolat homes He cheers by His presence, reeling lives He steadies and supports by His grace, and in life’s gravest vicissitudes He afford us the secret of tranquillity.
Peace is more than joy: it is love’s latest boon, and her fairest. I hesitate to speak of it: I know so little what it is One may have love in a measure, and joy many times, and yet be but a raw scholar in this art of peace. The speaker here, methinks, should be one far on in pilgrimage; or, if young in years, old and well-stricken in grace. “Well-stricken,” whether the rod have been heavy or light; weaned and quieted, like a child, from a child; or, though it “have burned the hair and bent the shoulders,” still weaned and quieted. “Peace,” what is it? It is what remains in the new heart when joy has subsided. Love, that is the new heart’s action, its beat; joy its counter-beat; peace is the balance, the equilibrium of the heart, its even posture, its settled attitude. It is neither the tide going, nor the tide flowing, but the placid calm when the tide is full, and the soft sea-levels poise themselves and shine—poise themselves because there is such fulness within them; shine because there is so much serenity above them.1 [Note: R. W. Barbour, Thoughts, 2.]
2. Have we any proper sense and feeling of this good-will? If we have, we shall be humble, inasmuch as we are saved, not by our merits, but by the love of God, in spite of our manifold demerits. We shall be thankful; for surely kindness like this ought to fill our hearts with gratitude. God’s love toward us should beget in us love toward Him. Above all, we should be full of faith, trusting that He who has begun so excellent a work will bring the same to good effect; that He who for our sakes gave His only Son to live a poor and humble life, and to die a painful and shameful death, will together with that Son freely give us all things. We cannot suppose it was a pleasure to the Son of God to suffer the pains of infancy, the labours and mortifications and trials of manhood, the pangs of a cruel death. It was no pleasure to Him to quit the glories of heaven, in order so dwell in lowliness and contempt. Why then did He undergo all this? From good-will, to save man. And think you He will leave this salvation imperfect, and so render His incarnation, and birth, and human life and death, of no avail? O no! He must desire to finish His work; He must be anxious to make up the known He has toiled and bled for, by placing in it all the jewels, all the souls, He can gather. He will never be wanting to us, if we are not wanting to ourselves.
Think of it—The love of God! We use those words very ten, and get no comfort from them, but think what human love means,—a perfect oneness of sympathy and will with any near friends, and imagine that purified and intensified to Infinitude! The depth of our misery now is to me a witness of the immensity of the blessing that makes all this worth while.1 [Note: Letters of Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, ii. 163.]
3. If we look closely at the expression “men in whom he is well pleased,” we shall observe that this striking and remarkable description of men is parallel with the words used by the Father at the baptism of Jesus Christ. As Christ rose from the Jordan the voice of the Eternal said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). In the text exactly the same phrase is used of men. God is “well pleased in” men as He is “well pleased in” His beloved Son.
But in what sense can God be well pleased with men? He cannot be well pleased with their sins, or even with their folly. No! He is well pleased with men in so far as they are capable of salvation in Christ, are capable, that is to say, of being made Christlike. On the other hand, as He declared at the baptism of Christ in the Jordan, He is well pleased with Christ as being actually and already all that He intended every man to be when He declared, on the sixth day of the creation, that man, the final outcome and masterpiece of the evolution of the world, was “very good” (Genesis 1:31). In a word, Christ is actually what every man is potentially. Christ is the new Head of humanity, “the last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45). Christ realizes the Divine ideal of man. He is the proof and pledge of what every man may yet become. When the sculptor sees the rough, unhewn marble, he is “well pleased” with it, not because it is shapeless and rough and ugly, and for immediate purposes useless, but because it is capable of being chiselled into forms of enduring beauty and service. The incarnation of the Eternal Word is the definite, concrete, decisive evidence of what human nature can become when sin is eliminated.
Jesus of Nazareth was God and man, not because His physical birth and death took place under conditions impossible to the normal human organization, but on the contrary because having the normal human organization, in its entirety, He realized in and through it His absolute union with God, and became actual fact what all men have it in them potentially to become This divinization of humanity, this “incarnation,” took place in Him at a certain time and place, under special historical conditions, which the gospel narrative enables us partially, but only partially, to reconstruct. The incarnation is not completed, the truth which Jesus proclaimed is not fully revealed, until the whole of mankind and the whole of nature become a perfect vehicle for the life which lived in Him.1 [Note: R. L. Nettleship, Memoir of Thomas Hill Green, 48.]
Not long ago a gentle Christian lady went to a house of infamy in London to see a fallen girl whom she hoped to rescue. The door of that house was opened by one of those ferocious bullies who are employed in such establishments to negotiate between the victims and their clients. For a moment she was terrified at the fiendish appearance of this monster of iniquity. It was a low neighbourhood; she was far from home; she was alone. But, inspired of God, she resolved to appeal to the better self even of that foul and savage man. Taking her well-filled purse out of her pocket, she suddenly placed it in his hands and “I do not like to take my purse about here, will you please keep it for me until I return?” The man was speechless with amazement; a tear burst from his eye. She passed on. In that vestibule of hell she found the girl and arranged for her delivery. After some interval the lady returned to the door, and there was the man where she left him, with her well-filled purse in his hand. He stored it to her, not a single penny had been taken from it. For the first time in his life, probably, he found himself trusted by a lady. It appealed to all the courtesy and nobility that was left, or that was undeveloped, in his nature. He responded at once to that appeal, and proved worthy of that confidence.2 [Note: H. P. Hughes, Essential Christianity, 284.]
Good Tidings of Great Joy
Aitken (W. H. M. H.), The Revealer Revealed, 1.
Alexander (W.), Leading Ideas of the Gospels, 148.
Askew (E. A.), The Service of Perfect Freedom, 32.
Austin (G. B.), The Beauty of Goodness, 202.
Blake (R. E.), Good News from Heaven, 1.
Brooke (S. A.), The Kingship of Love, 215.
Carter (T. T.), Meditations on the Hidden Life of our Lord, i. 44.
Channing (W. E.), The Perfect Life, 215.
Collins (W.E.), Hours of Insight, 124.
Craigie (J. A.), The Country Pulpit, 49.
Doney (C. G.), The Throne-Room of the Soul, 95.
Ellicott (C. J.), Sermons at Gloucester, 11.
Greenhough (J. G.), Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, 204.
Hancock (T.), The Pulpit and the Press, 41.
Hare (J. C.), Sermons Preacht in Herstmonceux Church, ii. 167.
Harper (F.), A Year with Christ, 14.
Leathes (A. S.), The Kingdom Within, 1, 15.
Macmillan (H.), The Garden and the City, 31.
Marjoribanks (T.), The Fulness of the Godhead, 44.
Massillon (J. B.), Sermons, 407.
Miller (J.), Sermons Literary and Scientific, i. 211.
Moody (A.), “Buy the Truth!” 29.
Morrison (G. H.), The Footsteps of the Flock, 385.
Murray (W. H.), The Fruits of the Spirit, 201, 485.
Parker (J.), The City Temple, iii. 307.
Peabody (F. G.), Mornings in the College Chapel, i. 76.
Spurgeon (C. H.), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, xii. (1866), No. 727; xvii. (1871), No. 1026; xxii. (1876), No. 1330.
Thorne (H.), Notable Sayings of the Great Teacher, 250.
Vaughan (J.), Sermons (Brighton Pulpit), New Ser., xix. (1881), No. 1171; xxi. (1882), No. 1204; xxvi. (1886), No. 1309.
Watkinson (W. L.), The Education of the Heart, 247.
Christian Age, xli. 83 (Lyman Abbott).
Christian World Pulpit, xliv. 161 (J. O. Dykes); lxxiv. 409 (W. D. Lukens).
Homiletic Review, xxxiv. 43 (E. D. Guerrant); xlviii. 459 (W. D. Lukens); liv. 461 (W. A. Quayle); lxiii. 51 (J. Denney).
The Great Texts of the Bible - James Hastings
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