Likewise, I say to you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.
I. In the first place, then, WE HAVE THE SPECTACLE WHICH IS HERE PRESENTED, A SINNER REPENTING. Not the most noteworthy object, some of the wise ones of this world would be tempted to say — not the most noteworthy object earth could present to the eye of God. There are many fairer and brighter scenes upon earth to attract the regard of her God and King. Man's vagrant gaze is always wandering hither and thither in search of some scene of interest, or some form of beauty, on which for a moment it may rest; but who thinks of gazing with interest and hope, unless instructed out of the gospel of Christ, upon one sinner that repenteth? No; it is the halls of science, and the temples of art, and the statesman's cabinet, and the battle-field of nations, which centre all man's regard. Wherever the battle-cry of keenly conflicting interest is swelling on the ear, where brave words are being spoken, and brave deeds being done, thither man's eye restlessly turns. It is the rising and the setting suns of empire, the waxing and the waning tide of greatness; the rise, culmination, and decline of those stars that lead man's social progress; the chiefs and the heroes who are set far on in the van of the world — these offer to man the theme of his loftiest contemplations. And perhaps it is by the cradle of social reforms — it is by the birthplace of political revolutions and reformations that man's purest and holiest vigils are held. My brethren, I am not here to deny the interest which may attach to any of these scenes or occasions. There is not one of these elements, so pregnant with future results to society, which are at work now, seething and surging in that great moral fermenting vat which we call society, that the angels do not look upon. That great battle which is being fought in every age, and perhaps never more earnestly fought than now — the battle which the ancients, for want of a better name, called the battle of the Gods and Titans — what we know as the battle of Chaos and Creation, Anarchy and Order, Might and Right, Slavery and Liberty — all these they look upon; nothing of this is hidden from their gaze. We do rightly to take deep interest in all these things, to let our hearts be stirred by them all. All these, God's angels look upon; nothing is hidden from their sight. But one thing they see through all these — amidst all these great interests of society — one thing they see, which for them has more momentous interest, because they see that it has more pregnant consequences; it is the spectacle of one sinner that repenteth, one poor man, it may be. All that interest, remember, is concentrated upon the individual. I say there is that man wrestling in the sweat and agony of his soul with his spiritual tyrants and task-masters, he is bidding them defiance, he is casting them forth; but no trumpet-call summons the world to be spectator of his conflicts. There is nothing to distinguish his battle, so as to attract the eye of the man of this world. No, it will be in silence, silence that sometimes gives no outward indications of what is passing — silence, perhaps, only broken by these pleadings of a broken and contrite spirit, half uttered, half articulate, which God sees and answers as prayers — perhaps it may be thus that the repentant sinner will carry on and complete the work. Repentance is just the first stage and the first sign of that new life of the Christian, that life of which the Saviour said, "Ye must be born again" — that life which cannot come into a human spirit save by the work of God's living Spirit within man's heart. No man can work this transformation of himself, no man is strong enough to wrestle with this great monster of evil by himself. I say repentance is just the first stage of that new Divine life of which the Saviour spoke, in which a man, being freed from sin, has progressively his fruit unto holiness, and the end thereof life everlasting.
II. Direct your thoughts to THE JOYFUL WATCHERS OF THE SPECTACLE HERE PRESENTED. The progress of a soul through the various stages of its redemption excites, for the most part, very little interest upon earth. It connects itself with no great human interests, and it ministers no aid to purely human designs. But how differently is it regarded in heaven! Scribes and Pharisees, if they like, may mock at repentance; sophists and infidels, if they like, may jest at the penitent tear, or the pleading and struggling groan of a broken and contrite spirit; but I say to you, Christ says to you by my lips — I am speaking His own words — that "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over even one repenting sinner." Brethren, we should teach ourselves to believe this. We cannot see it; nature does not seem to care for us; all we look upon seems to take little care for us in regard to our spiritual experience, but God and His angels watch us earnestly, and no sigh is breathed and no tear falls that is not caught and cherished by the spirits that are before the throne. I say this repentance, the soul turning away from sin by the power of the grace of Christ which it has received, awakens supreme interest, is a matter of intense importance to all dwellers in the spiritual world. Aye! as the soul thus rises from the dust to adorn herself with the only jewels that Christ cares for — jewels of penitence, humility, and charity — methinks there are God's angels then harping with their harps, prepared to celebrate with vestal strains the indissoluble union of a repenting and ransomed spirit with its Lord. Those are the joyful watchers of the spectacle.
III. Now, in the third and last place, in bringing these remarks to a conclusion, I dwell upon the rising interest to which I have already averted more fully. Let us inquire WHAT IS THE SECRET OF THIS INTEREST WHICH THEY FIND IN THE SPECTACLE OF A REPENTING SINNER, and of their exulting joys. Of course we can only understand a portion of this matter, and only a portion of that portion can be brought within the limits of a brief discourse.
1. But, first, I should say that the angels of God who look upon all that is passing upon earth, all the scenes of interest that earth presents — scenes in which we are bound to take an interest, in which certainly the Christian ought not to be behindhand in his interest as compared with his fellow-men — look upon a repenting sinner as the directest and completest result of Christ's working upon earth, and, therefore, they abundantly rejoice. He who was with God, who was God, by whom all things were made, became flesh and dwelt among us; and here, in a sinner repenting, you have the directest result of His Incarnation.
2. A second reason is this. In a sinner repenting we must remember there is a rising up of a fresh witness to God's righteousness, a fresh subject of God's kingdom in the universe, and, therefore, do the angels rejoice.
3. Lastly, in a sinner repenting, the angels see the widening of the kingdom of the Redeemer. They see that He sees increasingly of the travail of his soul, and is satisfied, and, therefore, one thinks they rejoice. He is their King as well as ours; their Master as well as ours.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.