THE EIGHTH SERMON UPON THE INCARNATION.
LUKE ii. 14.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, and good will towards men.
OSing unto the Lord a new Song, for he hath done marvelous things. I will begin the New year from that portion of Davids Canticle. Marvelous things they were, you will all confess, that the powerful God should be made a feeble Infant: that a woman should bear him in her womb, who supports the world, and all the Creatures that are contained in it; that the Eternal should be born who had no beginning; never was the like heard or seen before, therefore whatsoever was said of old will not agree to set it forth, it must be a new Song of praise and thanksgiving to our God. So is the Text which I have read before you. It cometh to pass by the providence of God, that St. Lukes Gospel is more chearful than all the rest, and full of Musick: So that he is well called by one, not only the Evangelist, but the Psalmist of the New Testament. The Song of Zachary, the Song of Maries Magnificat, the Song of Simeon, this Song of the Angels, the Church is beholding to him for reciting them, and to no other Penman of the holy Word. St. Paul calls him Luke the Physician; some of the Roman Church, to serve their own Imagery de∣lights, out of some Histories unallowed, call him Luke the Painter, there is no con∣jecture for that out of the book of Scripture, which cannot lye: But I have more conjecture for my own opinion, that he was Luke the Musician, (a man of divers gifts and qualities) for the Prophets and Evangelists wrote the Scriptures by divine revelation, yet always with a sweet tincture of their own abilities; The stately elo∣quence of Isaiah shews his breeding; St. Pauls Logical Arguments shew his Scholar∣ship; St. Peters facile Exhortations shew his zeal, and plain Education; Finally, if I be not deceiv'd, the repeating of so many celestial Hymns in St. Luke shew his mu∣sical art and affection.
Now, the Spirit of the Church hath been ever so directed by God, to take in all the Songs of the New Testament into its publick Service and Liturgie, the Magni∣ficat, the Benedictus, the Nunc Dimittis. Thus it is not only with us, but was so most anciently in all flourishing and well established Churches. Neither is this Ver∣sicle of the Angels, I mean my Text, left out, but it is referred to the chief part of our serving of God in the celebration of the holy Communion; before we part from the Table of the Lord our Rubrique commands us to sing or say, Glory be to God on high. Indeed, that Prayer as we have it, is enlarged with many other pithy strains of devotion, We praise thee, we bless thee, we worship thee, we glorifie thee, &c. And such as have wrote of ancient Ceremonies say that Pope Telesphorus made up that excellent prayer of Laud and Thanksgiving, beginning with my Text. Very Page 71 ancient it is I am sure, because I meet with it for the most part in those pieces which are called the Constitutions of Clemens, and St. James his Liturgy. But for the words which I handle I have great cause to judge that they were the most accepta∣ble Prayer of the Primitive Church, for St. Paul begins his Epistles with grace and peace be multiplied, as much as to say, peace on earth, and good will towards men; and the end of many clauses in his Epistles is that Doxology to God, To whom be glory for evermore, Amen. I wonder that the words themselves are bended in and out with such curious divisions by many Divines, for the Angel hath parted them into three several rests, and I will not go about to mend his work; and whereas Points are raised out of Grammatical constructions of the Verb, whether they should be the Indicative or the Optative Mood it shall be all one to that way in which I will handle the parts, for I will handle every of the three members three ways: First, As a Congratulation or thanksgiving. Secondly, By way of Prayer or Petition. Thirdly, By way of Doctrine and Instruction. Thanksgiving unto God that his glory on high appeareth, that peace doth flourish on earth, and that he is pleased with men; or make it a Prayer or Postula∣tion that all glory may be given to God, all safety to the earth, and that an happy reconciliation may be begun with men. Otherwise, if it be a Sermon or Exhorta∣tion, the sum is, that God be magnified, peace preserved, a friendship with God endeavoured; thus nothing shall be lost of this divine musical Embassage, Glory be to God in the highest, &c.
Now we cannot be to seek, what is the sum of the first member, Glory to God in the highest, it must be thus, the Angels glorifie God for sending Christ in the flesh to redeem mankind, and they wish and pray that men may glorifie God in Christ; and they teach us that Gods glory is to be sought before all things; and so I proceed to explicate it before you. If the Disciples be silent at what time it is fit to praise God, the stones shall speak, says our Saviour, that's ultimum refugium, the last shift and refuge, that the very dross of the earth, if need were, should not want a tongue to magnifie its Creator. But it stirs up emulation, and provokes us more, when those that are far above us discharge the duty which we ought to execute, rather than when those things which are much beneath us should give us example. So my Text lets you see, that if men be silent, and set not forth the praise of the Lord, the Angels will speak, and give him glory. It were a great shame for the Com∣mons to be rude and irrespectful towards their King, when the Nobles and Princes of the people are most dutiful and obsequious; so when the Cherubins devote their Songs to extol the most High, it were a beastly neglect in man, a worm in respect of a Cherubin, not to bear a part in that humble piety: But to speak after the me∣thod of reason, had it not been more proper for the Angels at this time to have proclaimed Christs Poverty than his Power, his Infancy than his Majesty, his Humility in the lowest, rather than his glory in the highest? If there wereany glo∣ry coming out of this work of the Incarnation, it may seem we had it rather than our Saviour, and he lost it. But the piercing eye of those celestial Spirits could see abundant honour compassing Christ about, where ignorant man could espy no∣thing but vileness and misery. For first they celebrate the glory of Gods justice in sending his Son made of a woman, and made under the Law, to suffer for us that had sinned against the Law, because that Justice would not receive man into favour without a Lutrum, or satisfaction. This stops the mouth of the Devil that he cannot calumniate, and it resounds the praise of God that the iniquity of the world did not escape unrevenged. Caiaphas meant to speak bitterly, and to blas∣pheme; but the Lord turned the curse of his mouth into the words of blessing, It is expedient for us that one man die for the people, and that the whole Nation perish not, Joh. xi. 50. Secondly, They divulge the honour of Christ unto the ends of the world, for the mercy that came down with him upon all those that should believe in his name; if his Justice was not forgotten in their Song, surely his Mercy should be much more solemnized. The Angels for their own share were unac∣quainted with mercy, 'twas news in heaven till this occasion hapned; they had felt gratiam confirmantem, but not gratiam condonantem; that is, the Lord bestowed upon the good Angels grace to confirm them in grace; but for those rebellious ones of their Order that had sinned, they found no grace to remit their trespasses; properly that is called mercy, but a thing so rare and unheard of in heaven, that as soon as ever they saw it stirring in the earth, they sing Glory to God in the highest. Thirdly, They praise the Lord on high for the Incarnation of his Son, because the dignity of the work was so from himself, that no Creature did merit it, none did Page 72 beseech or intercede unto him for it, before he had destinate it, nothing but his own 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, and compassion could move him to it; Nemo in hoc opere glorietur, nullius merito ascribatur; no man can ascribe it to his deserts, no man can partake in the glory. What was man that the Son of God did visit him? For him we shall be glorified, by him we have obtained peace, through him good will hath shined up∣on men, therefore unto him be all the glory.
This was the Angels Congratulation, and no doubt God shall be glorified in his holy places on high; but shall that God who is most high be worshipped and glorifi∣ed by us below? That is it the Angels pray for, and wish for our sakes, and for our Salvation, that we of the Militant Church beneath may extol the name of the Lord, and give him glory. Among men, sinners pray for sinners, and it is but one for an∣other; the People pray for the Prince, and the Prince for the People: The Priest for the Congregation, and the Congregation for the Priest. Great and small there are no odds in that, they requite one another with their mutual Charity, the head cannot say unto the feet I have no need of your Prayers, nor the feet unto the head, Dum singuli orant pro omnibus, omnes orant pro singulis, while every particular man prays for all Christians in the Church, all Christians in the Church pray for every particu∣lar man; but as I said, this is sinners for sinners, quid pro quo: But when the Angels are sollicitous in Hymns and Supplications for us, it is not that we should pray to them, or pray for them again, but shew charity that cannot be requited. They know that many Sacrifices of Prayers are requisite to bless any Congregation on earth, that God may have his due honour from it, and therefore all the powers in heaven above assist us with their intercession. And especially they are mindful over us to make that Petition on our behalf, that we may never forget that our condition is base, and as low as the clay and dust of the earth, and that God is highly exalted above all the world, therefore that we are made to worship him, and to fall down before him, and to render the homage of our humility to our Chief, that is dominion and glory to him that is the highest. We find this title of most high in Melchisedechs title, Gen. xiv. 18. and never before. There it comes in, as some say, whom I approve for this reason: Melchisedech is the first in holy Scripture that is called a King, that being the greatest name of pre-eminency among men. God blazons his own honour just at the first discovery of that name, to shew how far it exceeds all earthly Principality, and calls him, Melchisedech King of Salem, a Priest of the most high God. And indeed there was a glory due to that Melchisedech, and to every one in his rank, that is set on high above the people; but take heed we let not our Worship and Service rest in them, and in the admiration of their outward Pomp, and go no higher. God set Princes in their Thrones of Majesty to be bowed unto, and obeyed, that we may rise up in our Meditations, and consider how ex∣cellent and superlative he is that gave such power and dominion to men. Before Christ came into the world it was Gloria in excelsis, men worshipt their Idols in every high place, as the Prophets did greatly complain of it; but it was not Deo in altis∣simis, they worshipt the Host of heaven, and things above, but they did not lift up their hearts to him that sitteth above the heavens. Therefore this is the sum of the Angels Prayer, that men may give dominion, and praise, and thanksgiving to the true God; and their wish was as effectual as they could desire, for even im∣mediately upon the Birth of Christ Idolatry went down, the heathen Gods were discovered more and more to be but Wood and Stone, the work of mens hands, and the praise of the true God began to be sounded forth in all places.
The next issue of this first Point is, the Angels teach us by the contents of their Prayer, that Gods glory is to be sought before all things. Nihil aequius est quam ut pro quo quis oret pro eo etiam laboret, says St. Austin. Whatsoever we pray for, we must not only stand wishing it, but as much as in us lies endeavour it also. First, re∣peating often the marvelous works which he hath done for the conservation of those that praise him, and for the destruction of his enemies. O God we have heard with our ears, and our Fathers have declared unto us the noble works that thou didst in their days, and in the old time before them. Secondly, By confessing of our grievous sins, which makes his mercy and his grace so excellent throughout all the world: and depres∣sing our best works to be as ineffectual as our sins unto Salvation, unless the Lord will cover the stains that are in them with the bloud of Christ. Surely the reward which he brings with him is much exalted, when we deny not but the best thing we do is less than the least of all his mercies. Thirdly, by defying, by shunning, by resisting, nay, by rooting out the children of Belial that blaspheme his glory; for Page 73God will avenge himself of them that are tame and patient when his name is vio∣lated, and his honour prophaned; it is the glory of humane Laws, and of Prince∣ly Justice, that there is no impunity or connivency for them that scandalize the glory of the great King who ruleth over all. Fourthly, God hath his house wherein he hath promised to dwell, let every thing therein be magnificent, full of splen∣dor, bountiful, fit to entertain his Majesty. The Angels might have said, Fie upon the earth when they sang glory in the highest to see Christ tumbled heedlesly in a Stable by most brutish hospitality; I am sure men deserved no glory for this days work, to bestow their Saviour in so ignominious a Lodging; we may all blush to re∣member it, but that I hope through all Ages we will satisfie for it, as we shall be able, and reform it. Provide for him sumptuously in the beauty of holiness, let no place be statelier than Christs Church among us Gentiles, because no place was worse than the Manger, wherein he was received among the Jews. These things as I have laid them in order, you may do well to do, and then the good Angels have their wish; but the Devil doth all he can to spoil their celestial musick. We like not this partition, says St. Austin, wherein men have peace demised to them,* and God hath all the glory; Et dum gloriam usurpant turbant pacem, but they drive away their own peace by usurping glory. O stulti filii Adae, qui contemnentes pacem, & gloriam appetentes, & pacem perdunt, & gloriam; Fond and silly men that neglect peace, and seize upon glory to themselves, and so they lose both peace and glory. But most accurate is this distribution as the Choir of heaven hath laid it forth; Here is nothing but discord and sedition in this lower world, Nation against Nation, and Kingdom against Kingdom; nay, the very bowels of the Church torn out with Questions and Controversies; here the blessing of peace is most to be desired to bring bone unto his bone, and sinew unto his sinew: In the world above their is nothing but righteousness, and zeal, and purity, therefore the pro∣per Incense to be sent up thither is perpetual praise and glory. Avoid Satan that wouldst confound these things, that malignant Spirit knows it would be no peace in earth if men on earth should hunt for glory, but peace will ensue here if glory be given to him that is above. So runs these words which are the Angels Con∣gratulation to God, their Prayer for men, their Sermon unto men, Glory be, &c.
The next staff of the Song is, and on earth peace; for the second happiness on earth is peace, and there is but one blessing, that is Gods glory, before it. Some take the word peace in this place personally for Christ himself, as if the Song went, Let God be glorified that hath sent Jesus the Prince of Peace upon earth, who brings good will to men. Qui in coelis glorificatur in terrâ est, & factus terrenus, says one. He that sitteth in the heavens and ruleth over all dwelt upon the earth, and became the peace of earth, and the chastisement of our peace is upon him, Isa. liii. Indeed, he is God from heaven, man from earth, partaker of both in his two natures, and therefore fit to reconcile all, and to put all in peace. It is the Hypostatical union that brings both ends together, the two extremes heaven and earth, and by that inseparable union God greets us with the kiss of love, and gives us osculum pacis, the Symbol of much endeared friendship, the kiss of peace. All enmities were so compounded, and well agreed for his sake, that St. Paul says, He is our peace, Eph. ii. 14. The principal reconciliation which he obtained was, that man might have peace with God; for God wanted his own glory through the Idolatry of the world, and there∣fore men wanted their peace because of their sins. Our first Fathers prevarication (we must often look back to that woful estate) had caused such a rupture between God and us, that no doubt the very Angels wondred how that offence would ever be remitted and forgotten. And indeed, that rent could never have been made up, unless God and man by an infinite dispensation had been pieced together in one person; unless he that is greater than Moses had stood before him in the gap to turn away his wrathful indignation, we should all have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah. Justice hath a great voice among the Attributes of God, carries a mighty sway, and it roared out from Mount Sinai, Cursed is he that keeps not this whole Law, cursed be he that breaks a tittle. Then Christ steps in, the Malediction light upon me, I will endure it, but these Sheep let them be spared. Why Justice could not say this was a total indulgence, then it would have clamou∣red, but only a commutation of punishment; for our acquitment the Lord did lay upon his Son the iniquity of us all. We must not say, this was just, therefore the Lord decreed it, but the Lord decreed it, therefore this was just. Alius solvit pro debitore, Page 74 aliud solvitur quam debebatur; one was the debtor, and another satisfied: one thing was owed to God, I mean the life of sinners; another thing was paid, I mean the life of an innocent. So Justice had no injury, and Mercy had no denial; but justitia & pax osculatae sunt, two things that stood at distance were brought together, that is, righteousness and peace did kiss each other, Psal. lxxxiv. If we set not Christ be∣fore us the Mediator between God and man, our unworthiness would be such, that we durst not ask of God to be appeased with us: We could expect nothing but tri∣bulation and anguish upon every soul both Jew and Gentile, and that all the An∣gels should be in arms like Souldiers to bid us battel and to slay us. But Christ came into the world like an Herald to stop the battel, the Angels sang of their arms, Salvation appeared unto us, we cast up our eyes with joy to heaven from whence cometh our help, our help cometh even from the Lord, which hath made heaven and earth; therefore when Christ was brought with triumph into Jerusalem, the Song of the people did a little vary from my Text, Peace in heaven, say they, and glory in the highest; for when the great Majesty of heaven was pleased to spare men on earth, the sure part of the amity was peace in heaven, for when Christ had reconciled us to his Father, that the peace came downward, the Covenant was sure, and could never be broken.
The next peace which the Angels congratulate unto us, is, Interioris domus tran∣quillitas, if Christ have attoned the variances which our sins made between us and God, peace will succeed within the closets of the conscience, where there was no∣thing but horror before, and perturbation: Therefore Theophylact doth thus con∣nect the first and second part of this Song, Gloria in excelsis Deo, quia in terra pacem se∣cit, Glory be to God on high, because he hath made peace on earth. Lord let me not be at war with my own heart, though all the world should defie me and set themselves against me. As a continual dripping of humors upon the lungs consumes the body, so a continual disquieting of mind, as if viols of anger from hea∣ven were ready to be poured upon it, breeds such an anxiety in the whole man, that he will wish his whole substance were dissolved into nothing. O thrice happy when God sends that serenity of favour into our thoughts and cogitations, to make us truly say with David, Turn again unto thy rest, O my soul, Psal. cxvi. 7. This is that peace which the world cannot give. This is St. Paul's confidence against all opposers, Who is he that condemneth, it is Christ that justifieth. When the Wise men askt, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. So sore troubled that he would not spare poor inoffensive babes, who could not offend him; no not his own babes as some say, who were the pillars of his family: when he thrust his sword into them he digged into his own bowels. No man is able to express what a discomfortable mutiny this wretch had within himself. No plague like a wounded disturbed spirit, whereas old Simeon, that saw death at the door, that felt one foot in the Grave, was exhilerated for all that through the joy which he had in Christ, and warbled that Swan-like Dirge over his own Grave, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. Wherefore if there be any of you which have a conscience sorely wounded with horror, and even tempted to despair (which God forbid) chide it with David out of that dreadful moode, Why art thou so sad O my soul? and why art thou so disquieted within me? Hath not Christ said there is peace between God and thee, and dost thou say there is en∣mity? foolish heart, shall I not rather believe the tidings which an Angel brings, than that which thou dost suggest? and doth not he say, Peace on earth? Whoso∣ever will not be cheared up, will not be comforted, will not be established with hope from this sweet proclamation which the Ministers of Heaven sang unto the Shepherds, it had been better for him that he had never been born: nay, I speak it with reverence to God, and condemnation to such a one, it had been better for him that Christ had never been born, because he receives not the Son of God into his heart, neither believes in his Redemption. Many flagitious sins do make men as execrable before God as the devil himself, but he that despairs of Gods mercies, as if Christ would not keep his Covenant of peace with him, I may truly pro∣nounce it against him, that he is even possessed with a devil. O cast forth that evil Spirit, and be resolved, the Lord would never have sent his Angel to sing the Hymn of peace unto men, but to revive our souls, and to raise them up from dust and despair, because he is gracious and favourable to all penitent sinners.
And thus you have heard that upon the occasion of this blessed Nativity of Christs, the Angels have congratulated both heaven and earth, as David foretold it, Page 75Psal. xcvi. 11. Let the heavens rejoyce, and let the earth be glad. The congratulation to men on earth hath been unfolded in two members, that there is peace above us which passeth all understanding; and peace within us, such as the world cannot give. Thirdly, It follows, they sing and rejoyce for our sakes that there is peace without us, and on every side a good way laid open to take away all Schisms, strifes, divisions, debates, and as Solomon says in his mystical Song, the voice of the Turtle is heard in our land. What a hurly burly was in the world before Christ made his Church one body out of all Languages and Nations. They that professed the Law of Moses you know had no communication with those millions of millions that knew no Schoolmaster to teach them but the law of nature. Among those few that were zealous of the Law, the Jew forsook them of Israel of the ten Tribes for Re∣bels and Idolaters. Among the Jews the Pharisee condemned the Sadducce for an He∣retick: Then the Samaritan had an antipathy both against Jew and Israelite; and all these accounted of the Gentiles no other ways than as bond-slaves of the De∣vil. Here was nothing but hate and defiance between one Sect and another over all the world, until Christ broke down the wall of separation, made of two one, invited them all to embrace, and to greet one another with an holy kiss. Thus the Prophet Isaiah upon it, Chap. xix. 23. in his stately but dark eloquence, In that day shall there be a high-way out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria; and in that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and As∣syria; that is, there shall be traffique and friendship, and conversation together, from one Nation to another over all the earth. And indeed National feuds are the more odious and unchristian, by how much Christ hath called all people to the sprinkling of the same water, and to alike participation of his Body and Blood at the same table. And it was well apprehended of one, that God hath given un∣to men more excellent gifts in the skill of Navigation since his Son is born, than ever they had before; that he might shew the way how all the Kingdoms of the earth should be sociable together: for Christ hath breathed his peace upon all the Kingdoms of the world.
Then I descend from generals to specials. The Angels did not only see that our Saviour had built a wall of Charity, as it were about the whole earth, and made it one, but that his Gospel is the love knot and band of agreement between one member and another in all particular persons. It turns the hearts of the Fathers unto the Children, and of the Children unto the Fathers: it makes peace conjugal between man and wife; for Marriage is a Mystery of Christ and his Church: and the instance which the Apostle lays before us, is, how Christ loved his Church, and laid down his life for it. It attones variances between Neighbour and Neighbour; for it calls upon us to forgive and put up injuries: it non-suits many actions of trespass between man and man, with St. Pauls sweet propo∣sition to the Corinthians, Why do ye not rather suffer wrong? That jangling fellow in the Gospel that came to Jesus to give him authority for his contention, Dic fratri ut mecum dividat, Master, bid my brother that he divide the inheritance with me; our Lord put him off, and would hear of no division: Such motions did jar in the ear of him that was the God of reconciliation. The Law of Moses either was or did seem to be vindicative, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but the Gospel exhibiteth patience for wrongs received, and benediction for injuries. And indeed the cha∣rity of the Law was but partial, as I may say, it admonisheth fairly, Levit. xix. 18. Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people; but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thy self: But this 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, or forgetting of all evil done un∣to them extended only to Israelites, which was not the full and large duty, but an epitome of Charity. If aliens from their own stock had provok'd them, though many years before, there's another lesson for it, Deut. xxv. 17. Remember what Amaleck did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt. Such fruit grows upon the bramble of the Law, not upon the Olive tree of the Gospel. God forbid that we should keep a Register what Moab, or Amaleck, or what any adversary hath done unto us; the peace which the Angels proclaimed forbids, that after the be∣ginning of the new year we should remember the enmities or discords that were occasion'd in the old: whosoever nourishes old grudges and contentions, when the heavens sing peace, gives the lye unto the Angels. Let your ear receive this with it, that all other practises of Religion, having not peace and perfect amity among them are but forms of godliness, which deny the power thereof. This is not far off to be proved, but within the verge of the Text; for it will not be re∣garded Page 76 that you give glory to God on high, if there be not peace below; you must leave your gift upon the Altar, your glory to God, and go home for peace; go and be re∣conciled to your brother, and then you are a fit instrument to give God his honour.
Some are always wrangling for the glory of God, as they pretend, and care not which way peace goes on earth. Every theological conclusion, I say not Articles of Faith, but disputable deductions not near the foundation of Faith, must be maintain'd precisely as they apprehend it, or they cry out that truth is violated further than can be endured: Every ceremonial observation must be either ta∣ken off, or discharg'd punctually as they score a line, or else they contend bitter∣ly that Gods Worship is abused. All this while two things are quite forgotten, First, that there is a compass and latitude for mens wits and judgments to be di∣verse one from another, and yet no unity to be broken. All points touch not to the quick; and in such things because every mans reason hath not the same kind of reach and notion, there may be much variety of opinions without all dissention. Secondly, few lay it to their thoughts, that to meet in agreement as far as possibly the conservation of truth will permit, is far more acceptable to God than an in∣flexible pertinacy, which is rather rigorous than pacificous. There was much ado to settle the pure Doctrine of the Church in the first four hundred years, but nothing avail'd more than that 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, as the Greek Fathers call it; a condescending one to another, making moderation the umpire of all strifes: By these calm de∣grees God was more glorified among the Gentiles that were unconverted, who per∣ceived how the Christians kept the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace, than if they had wrangled about every nicety, and prosecuted every disagreement to an utter separation. Peace on earth is a ready means, that glory in the highest may not be scandalized.
And after all this that hath been said, certainly the Angels meaning extends it self thus much further, that the Child which was born in Bethlehem, the Messias of the world would direct them in a way, if men would be diligent to observe it, that there should be no bloody Wars of seditious Princes in all the earth, no Armies clattering together, no rouling in blood; it is his property to break the bow, and knap the Spears in sunder, and to burn the Chariots in the fire: and it makes much that this is votum militare, peace on earth comes from the mouth of Souldiers; the Angels were arrayed like an host in battail when they preacht it; as if milita∣ry men could best tell the world, what a blessed thing it is to have cessation from Wars, and sweet agreement. Our neighbour Kingdoms know the true rellish of this Doctrine, who live in continual alarms, losses, destructions, desolations; alas their vintage is become not the blood of grapes, but of men. O 'tis a most savage, a very bruitish affection in them that are sick of the long continuance of peace, and wish that Leagues and Truces were expired. They are of another mind, I warrant you, that have felt the unutterable miseries of War, for the space of fif∣teen years and more, in their flourishing Empire without pause or respiration. He that could certainly pronounce before them, that they should enjoy the liberty of their conscience, and no hostility should invade them, they would receive him with as much gladness as the Shepherd heard the Angel say, Glory he to God in the highest, and on earth peace. But the objection is ready to be cast in my way by every man, (I would it were not) that all the divine inspirations of God have ensued plentifully upon Christs coming into the world, but nothing less than peace. Persecutions, Massacres, Contentions, irreconcilable Wars, these have entred in wheresoever the Gospel hath been taught, and Jesus denied it not, but said unto the twelve, Think not that I come to send peace into the world, I come not to send peace but a sword, Mat. x. 34. Beloved, opposition and war are not the right fruits of the Gospel, no more than Ivy is the fruit of the Oak tree, though it creep upon it: But pre-supposing the malice and corruption of men, the tidings of salvation, though they exhort unto peace, yet they will beget division; for Satan reigns in the wicked, and it makes him rage to hear celestial Doctrine preacht; and that impiety which was asleep befere is roused up with the noise of the Gospel, and grows tumultuous: this is consequentiae necessitas non consequentis, an accidental misfortune, not a proper effect.
Yet very true that none is a greater adversary than our Saviour to some sorts of peace, Pax Christi bellum indicit mundo, voluptati, carni, demoni, says Beda upon my Text, The peace of Christ breaks the confederacy which sinners have in evil; it defies the Devil and the vain pomp of the world; it draws the sword against blas∣phemy Page 77 and Idolatry; it will not let a man be at quiet within himself when he is full of vicious concupiscence. To make a Covenant with Hell, as the Prophet speaks, or to have any fellowship with the works of darkness, as St. Paul speaks, Illa mala pax est, & indigna hominibus bonae voluntatis, that's a pernicious peace, and unworthy of those to whom that blessing belongs, good will towards men.* But for brethren to dwell to∣gether in a good amity, and as much as in us lies to have peace with all men, it makes heaven upon earth. Malignities and disagreements are things whereof the Angels have no experience in heaven; but because the earth is full of mischief and debate, and there must be seditious truce-breakers at all times, that peace-makers may be more approved: Therefore the Angels do not only congratulate the Church, but they pray for it, that it may abound with peace; and they preach unto it that it may seek peace, and ensue it. We know not so well as the Angels do what an Hell it is to be an enmity with God; we perceive not so well as they what a black sin it is to be at strife and division among our selves: Hear and attend what they wish for our sakes, and will not we wish the same benefit as heartily to our selves? wish and labour for it; for they that will not do their part to effect that they pray for, they did but dream, and not pray. The Angels in these words gave our Church a pattern to repeat the collect for peace every day in our morning Devotion, O God which art the author of peace and lover of concord. And that which we pray for daily, compose we our charity to practice daily, especially while it is called to day, when we come to the Table of the Lord: The Angels Song is perswasive, but the Body and Blood of Christ doth more effectually commend unto us this middle strein of my Text, Peace on earth.
Now I come to the last part of the three: and as the close of a Song is best composed when it hath a soft and a gentle cadence; so it fails not here in the last note of all, and good will towards men. And good will, &c. so our old English Translation reads it with the conjunction copulative; and perhaps upon the au∣thority of some Greek Copies: but for my own part I never saw, or heard of any that had 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉. Yet Beza commends the Syrian Paraphrase for adding it to the clearing of the sense, and so do I. And this is gained by it, that the au∣thor of that Syrian gloss goes against the common reading of the Latin Church, that make but two portions of this Angelical Ditty, Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to men of good will,〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, make that noun the Genitive case, as they do, and the whole order is inverted. It is not to be denied unto them but that such a reading is in some ancient Fathers; but the most and the best concur with our Translation. Howsoever let the words have the right interpretation, and that shall make no disagreement.
The Latin Expositors are divided in it; for some say it is peace of good will towards men: others say it is towards men of good will peace. So Beda, Non est pax impiis, sed hominibus bonae voluntatis, This peace on earth belongs not to all promiscuously, good and bad, elect and reprobate, but to such as are well affected to Gods glory. And Leo inclines most that way, In terra pax conceditur quae facit homines bona voluntatis; such a peace is come down on earth, as makes men willing and ready to serve the Lord. Surely this is an inforced sense, and must rightly be understood of Gods good will towards men, and not of mans good will towards God; for it is the praise of God, and not of man: it is but a colour therefore of some learned Romanists to say that as it is specified in the first section to whom glory is given, to God in the highest: so it is fitly specified in the second section, to whom peace is bequeathed, to men of good will. For the very word 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 or good will is mostly referred to God, and not to man: and surely it refers it self to God and his good pleasure, not to men, or to any good will of theirs. I know it, and ever preach that consolation to you, that where there is a diligent and a studious endeavour, God will accept of our good will, though the action be offensive, Ʋt si sit actionis infirmitas, at sit voluntatis inte∣gritas, and the Lord will speak peace unto their souls that are men of good will: but Christ came not to save us, because any of us all were men of good will, and took delight in him: nay, he came unto his own, and his own received him not, and when we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, Rom. v. 10. They make far better use of the Latin reading that expound 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 to be as much as 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, men of good will are men whom God hath respected from on high in his good will and pleasure, such as belong to his beneplacitum, to his election and purpose, before the beginning of the world, and are the children of it. So Tolet most ingeniously, on earth peace of good will towards men, Hoc est, Page 78 ex Dei beneplacito, & gratuita voluntate, non ex eorum meritis, in the Jewish salutation peace was as much as health and salvation; and God grants peace and salvation of good will to men out of his free love, and the eternal counsel of his own will, and out of no merits of ours. Sponte & gratis nullis praecedentibus meritis voluit mundum salvare, says Nyssen upon it. Of his own accord, of his gratuitous goodness Christ came to save mankind, and for no preceding good works, or good will of ours.
And then the most common reading of the Greek Church is coincident with that true Orthodox sense, and good will towards men; that is, and Gods free grace and kind acceptation towards them with whom he was offended. So St. Chrysost. conceives it, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, and reconciliation to men. So the Syrian Para∣phrast, Et bonum nuntium or Evangelium hominibus, and good tidings towards men: a happy chearful message to all that will believe in the name of the Lord Jesus; for Christ is our glorifier in heaven, our pacifier on earth, and our reconciler to God. Indeed as there is no difference in the Text between earth and men, so there is as little between peace and good will: peace were rather a captious advantage than a true peace, unless benevolence and good will did follow it. Let God the Father have his glory to himself alone, and to no other; then God the Son will be our peace, our peace that shall have no end, Isa. ix. 7. and God the Holy Ghost, who is the essen∣tial love of the Godhead, will seal a pledge and earnest of the Divine Love unto our hearts, and will breath into us the Spirit of love and good will one to another. Amen.