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The John Newton Project

Messiah No. 10


[1] [though unexpectedly split into two sermons for lack of time when preached, this only counted as one in the printed version]
 
No 10 col

Luke 2:8-14

[There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them,
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying,
Glory be to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will towards men
.] [2]
 
10 melody harmony
The entertainment of the great, the wealthy and the gay, was chiefly consulted in the late exhibitions at the Abbey. But not withstanding the greatness of the preparations, and the splendid appearance of the auditory, I think I may take it for granted, that the poor shepherds had at free cost, a still more sublime and delightful entertainment. The performers upon this occasion were a multitude of the heavenly host. It is not necessary to suppose that the angel delivered his message in the cadence which we call recitative – but we are assured that it closed with singing - sweetly melodious as from blest voices, and we are made acquainted with the subject, yea with the very words of the song. The Melody and Harmony of heaven are far beyond our conception. The music of that happy land has no dependence upon the vibrations of the air, [3] or the admirable structure of the ear – but we have reason to conceive there is something analogous to what we call music – different from but superior to whatever the human ear is capable of receiving, as we readily judge the glory of an angel, is unspeakably more excellent both in kind and degree, than anything that is deemed glorious upon earth.
1.
The circumstances
Suddenly, unexpectedly by them, without anything that might previously engage their attention – like a flash of lightening, a glory shone around them, an angel appeared and spoke. We do not wonder that they were impressed with fear. We live near, perhaps in the midst of, an invisible world, full of great and wonderful realities, which yet are by many accounted non-entities because not perceived by our bodily senses. The barriers are too strong to be passed either by the inhabitants of that world or of ours, for the will of God seems to be this barrier. Otherwise it is possible they could easily surprise us. We have a natural dread of such visitants, even though they should appear to us as they did to the shepherds, messengers of divine mercy. Yet we must shortly mingle with them, death will introduce us into the world of spirits, and what we shall meet with, what beings will be ready to accost us upon our entrance, who can say. Happy they who like Stephen are able at the hour of death to commend their departing spirit into the hands of Jesus!  
10 Gospel angel
The angel spoke. It seems the only time the Gospel was preached by an angel. The angel that appeared to Cornelius, said nothing to him of Jesus, only directed him to Peter. In one sense the Gospel seems a fitter theme for the tongue of an angel than of a man. But angels never sinned – they could not speak from experience. In this respect poor sinful worms are better qualified to proclaim him to others by whom they have been saved and healed themselves. Their weakness likewise, is better suited to show that the efficacy of the Gospel is wholly owing to the power of God. He has therefore been pleased to put this treasure in earthen vessels and to commit the ministry of his word not to angels but to men.
 
The angel was sent with the most important news that could be made known, not to Caesar or Herod, or to the High Priest, but to poor shepherds. The Lord seeth not as man seeth. The petty distinctions among men are not regarded by him. But rank, wealth and wisdom usually add to the idea of self importance, and feeds those tempers which are most displeasing to him, and which indispose us for the reception of the Gospel. And in fact it is still hid generally from the wise and great, and revealed unto babes. The magi or wise men of the east were guided to the Messiah by the appearance of a new star or meteor. The shepherds who were acquainted with the prophecies concerning the Messiah, were informed of their accomplishment by an angel. Thus the Lord suited the different manner of intimating his will, to the previous situation of the persons.
2. The message Unto you…etc, expressly declared the office of the Messiah: a Saviour; his name, honour and character: Christ, the anointed – Jesus the name given him by the angel's direction. The Lord – the Head, the King of Israel, and of the church, the Lord of all – the place of his birth, Bethlehem, as had been foretold by Micah. [4] The description of the state in which they would find, and might be sure that it was he, was such as could only be reconciled to his truths and honours, by that simple faith which without vain reasoning acquiesces in the declaration of God’s word. For how unlikely would it seem to a merely human judgement, that the Saviour of sinners, the promised Messiah – the Lord of all – should be a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger. Yet thus it was – thus he emptied himself – and thus it was foretold of him, that he should be despised for the poverty of his appearance. Thus though rich in himself, he became poor for our sakes, and therefore though he came to his own as a Master or Lord to his own house, [5] yet coming in this manner his own servants, his professed people, who pretended they were longing, waiting for him and expecting him, received him not, but rejected him, preferred a robber to him, and nailed him to the Cross.
 
Observe:
The seeming repugnance between the Messiah's claim, and his humiliation – was the great stumbling block in the days of his flesh, and is so at this day. [6] Because he stooped so low, and made himself of no reputation; too many still refuse to acknowledge his divine character.
10 beheld
But his believing people can say now with those of old, We beheld his glory, through the veil of his poverty and humiliation, as the glory of the only begotten of the Father – but they are only those who believe – who feel the necessity of a Saviour, and understand the necessity of his thus becoming poor to make us rich. [7]
 
But though this subject is received with disgust by many upon earth, and with indifference by more; it is otherwise thought of in yonder world of light. For we read that when the angel had declared the glad tidings, a multitude of the heavenly host expressed their joy and admiration.
 
We have:
3. Their song
Their highest praise was excited on a twofold account:
  3.1
Glory to God in the highest. In the highest heavens, in the highest degree, for this highest instance of his goodness. At the creation these morning stars sung for joy. But redemption was a greater work than they had yet seen. The glory of all his divine perfections is transcendently manifested, in the gift and actual appearance of the Messiah. The dignity of his person, the greatness of his undertaking, his unexampled love, his sufferings, and the glory that should follow, these are the themes of the songs of heaven.
10 themes
Mercy and truth meeting together, the righteousness of God coinciding with the peace of sinners –holiness and justice displayed more clearly, by pardoning than by punishing, the honour of God and the salvation of men eternally secured – a sight of these wonderful provisions, cause angels as well as saints, to cry out, Who is a God like unto thee! [8]
  3.2 On earth peace. God reconciled to man, and means and motives vouchsafed sufficient to reconcile the hard and alienated hearts of men to God. Poor sinners admitted to a throne of grace, to communion with the majesty of the Most High – favoured with a liberty both by promise, and in their own minds of casting all their cares upon him. A league of friendship established thus between the Law-giver and the transgressors of the law. What things are these!
    10 what things
Great indeed is this good will to men. Great the happiness of the men of his good will, of those who are accepted in the Beloved, whose sins are pardoned through faith in the name of this Saviour. Their sins are removed, their debts paid – their natures changed, their hopes secured. The sting of death is overcome for them. The kingdom of heaven is opened unto them.

Certainly this song is not the language of our hearts by nature. We once sought our joy and pleasure in very different things. Probably some of us do this day. But we must not expect to sing with the great numbers before the throne of glory – unless we learn their song and love it in this world. They who will attain to the inheritance of the saints in light, are first made meet for it here, and in this way. Heaven itself could be no state of happiness, to those who are not of the Apostle’s mind, to account all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord.

NB. I found this subject too copious for one discourse and must therefore preach a second from the song – taking the exordium I have already written. I introduced the discourse on the angel’s message, with speaking not as men might conceive – not as on Sinai – not as Solomon – of the divine majesty and condescension – and something as in p73 latter part [9]. The song will now need some larger explanation.
1. [10] Glory to God – wisdom, power and goodness in the works of creation. In redemption more displayed.
  Goodness: considering the objects: sinners; the design: happiness and honour, how great! The means – the gift of the Messiah.
  Wisdom: in adjusting the demands of his holiness, justice and truth with the purposes of his mercy,
in bestowing pardon of sin in such a way, as shall make sin hateful, though loved before,
in abasing the sinner’s pride, by the very considerations which inspire his confidence,
in proposing motives sufficient to influence the heart, when all other means had proved ineffectual.
  Power: in making all the acts of free agents subservient to this purpose, even of those who most opposed it,
in changing the sinner’s disposition, though obstinate,
in carrying on the work of grace in such feeble creatures, notwithstanding the opposition raised against it.
2. [11] On earth peace. Man in a state of war and rebellion against his Maker. What the honour of God’s government seemed to require in such a case. But now his part. Reconciliation. On our parts, enmity removed – arms laid down, submission, surrender, confidence, love, willing obedience.
3. [12] More than peace: good will. Acceptance, adoption, heaven. The Lord’s astonishing condescension expressing his satisfaction in this, as the greatest of all his works. Zephaniah 3:17. [13]
Close as before. [14]
 


Endnotes:
 
[1] No. 10 extended into a second sermon – see Newton’s ‘NB’ towards the end of this sermon for his explanation. His numbering goes awry after this.
[2] KJV verse 14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
[3] Charles Burney reported in his Account: “The pulsations in every limb, and ramifications of veins and arteries in an animal, could not be more reciprocal, isochronous, and under the regulation of the heart, than the members of this body of Musicians under that of the conductor and leader. The totality of sound seemed to proceed from one voice and one instrument, and its powers produced not only new and exquisite sensations in judges and lovers of the art, but were felt by those who never receive pleasure from Music before.”
[4] Michah 5:2 But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.
[5] Although there is a hole in the page between this and the next word, from the printed version of this sermon, no word seems missing, as also confirmed on the reverse of this page
[6] ms: ‘at that this day’ – redundant use of ‘that’
[7] The notes for the whole sermon uncharacteristically have repetitions of words and crossings out, suggesting much interruption. Additionally, this was preached over two services, requiring some amendments.
[8] Micah 7:18 Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy.
[9] ‘P73 latter part’ refers to the paragraph immediately above point 2 in this sermon ‘The angel was sent…’
[10] This refers back to 3.1 above, under ‘3. Their Song’
[11] This refers back to 3.2 above
[12] This extends the paragraph immediately following 3.2 above
[13] Zephaniah 3:17  The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.
[14] This refers back to the last paragraph above his ‘NB’, beginning ‘Certainly this song…’


Acknowledgements:
Cowper & Newton Museum, John Newton's Messiah notebook
 

Marylynn Rouse, 07/01/2015


Article printed from johnnewton.org at 11:33 on 12 December 2019