WHICH SHALL BE TO ALL PEOPLE.
LORD BISHOP OF NATAL.
CAMBRIDGE: MACMILLAN & CO.
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, Good-Will towards men."
The words of our text will suggest, I trust, some thoughts specially suited for our consideration this day. They are, as we all well know, the words of the angels' song--of that strain which once broke upon the stillness of the midnight hour, while the shepherds watched their flocks upon the hills of Judea, and which should ever still be ringing, as it were, sweet music in the Christian's ear, and making melody within his heart, as he walks the daily path of life, and follows onward in the service of his Lord. But, more especially, should they be the very watchword of a Christian Missionary, and teach him that lesson of God's Love to man, which he must study deeply for himself, until it penetrate thoroughly his heart and imbue his whole being, before he can manfully tell forth that Love to others. He must learn this lesson, Brethren: it is true he can never master it--it is enough that it should master him.
For in these words, Christian Brethren, we have, we may be sure, the very essence of the Gospel. We cannot better attain to the very spirit of that heavenly word--that full declaration of the Love of the Almighty Father to His poor, fallen creatures upon earth--than by giving close heed to the language in which it was first conveyed to us, when the Son of Man was born, and the Day-star of hope shone forth at length, after many weary ages of waiting and obscurity, upon the eyes of human-kind: "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth Peace, Good-Will towards men."
I desire, on this solemn occasion, to draw your attention, Brethren, to the meaning of these words. I do not intend to enter this morning into the details of the Zulu Mission, on behalf of which I am pleading with you this day. You will be best able to gather information on that point, by reading the papers which have been distributed about the church,' and which I shall be glad to supply to any who may desire more of them. But, on this occasion of ordaining and sending forth one, who shall labour in that field, I think it right to set before you from God's Word those principles, upon which that Mission will, I trust, be conducted, and that Missionary go forth.
"Glory be to God in the Highest!" We are reminded here, my Brethren, of those first words of our Saviour's prayer, in which He Himself has taught us, before we utter our requests for the supply of our own necessities, for the gift of daily bread, nay, even for the grant of daily forgiveness, of spiritual guidance, help, and deliverance, to begin with ascribing Glory to our Father in Heaven, and asking that His "Name may be hallowed." His "Kingdom come," His "Will be done." O what a meaning is there in that fact! What a precious lesson is thus conveyed to us by the very teaching of our Lord! For do not those words speak to us, Brethren, of a quiet confidence in God,--of a calm repose in Him, as our own great Father and Friend,--of a childlike delight and satisfaction in the progress of His glorious designs, and the triumph of His wise and gracious purposes?
And so, too, is it here. Before the angels' tongues could tell forth the glad tidings of "Peace on earth, and Good-Will to men," and while yet, as it were, their wondering eyes were gazing upon the fresh-revealed mystery of Wisdom and Love, they must fall back once more in thought upon the Glory and Greatness of their God,--they must utter aloud once more that song of adoration, which is ever resounding around the Throne in Heaven. "Glory be to God in the Highest!" Glorious, indeed, is He in His Holiness--"fearful in praises--doing wonders!"--but even yet more glorious in the wondrous scheme He hath devised and accomplished, to make that awful holiness no longer an object of terror and dismay, but one of delight and devout contemplation, through the power of the great Atonement, to poor sinful creatures such as we are, and to make those fearful praises resound from our lips, as the happy, habitual utterances of our hearts--of human hearts--fallen, indeed, and sin-defiled, but cleansed and sanctified by the Spirit of Grace.
Yes! "Glory be to God in the Highest!" "For all things are of God, Who hath reconciled us to Himself by the Son of His Love." Let us never lose sight of this, my Brethren, that the Father hath sent His Son to be the Saviour of the world. Indeed, that Blessed One was of Himself most ready to come. But He came not in His own Name, but in the Name of Him Who sent Him; Who so loved this poor lost world of ours, that He gave His only-begotten Son, to take our nature upon Him, and be manifested in our flesh, that "He might destroy the works of the devil, and make us the sons of God, and heirs of eternal life."
"Glory, then, to God in the Highest, and on earth Peace!"--Peace--Peace for the children of men--Peace for the sons and daughters of a fallen race, who, conscious in themselves of so much in their nature, that bears the stamp of that terrible fall,--of so much that is defiling and impure in the sight of the Holy One of Israel,--can scarcely venture to believe that they are really objects of their great Creator's Love--can scarcely dare to take courage and lift up their eyes, amidst the daily bounties and blessings of His Hand, and open their lips in prayer and say, "Our Father, which art in Heaven!" Yes! Peace for such troubled souls as these! For here we have the proof, which is above all others, that God is indeed reconciled to man, when He spared not His own dear Son, but gave Him freely up for us all. "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulders; and He shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!"
O surely, Brethren, there is Peace now for man with His Creator. There is enough, indeed, in our natural state, to make us tremble at the thought of God's perfect righteousness, and of our own manifold iniquities. The burden of guilt lies heavy, by nature, upon the heart of every one of us. We need no sentence of God's Book to tell us of it. Our own consciences by sin are accused. We bear about within ourselves a sentence of condemnation. We know that our lives, at the very best, have been defiled with very much of corruption--perhaps with gross outward acts of wickedness--but too surely with inward evil. And we feel in ourselves that, as unholy creatures, we cannot be pleasing in the eyes of the Holy and Blessed God; we cannot even be pleasing in the sight of those innocent and happy beings that surround His Throne. But now the Eternal Son hath come in our nature to be our Great High Priest--to make atonement for sin--to reconcile our sinful race to God--to make for us all a way of access to His presence without fear, the fear that bringeth torment, but with a filial confidence and joyful hope. He hath come, in the fulness of time, to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself,--to bring back a world of sinners to their Father and God.
But further, Brethren, there is "Peace" also "upon earth" for man's heart, in its immortal desires, as well as in its sinful fears and guilty forebodings. We all well know that we have that within us, which yearns after higher, better joys, than the things of this pre sent life can furnish. We cannot be content, my Brethren, with the miserable passing pleasures of time. For we are not like the brutes that perish; but, being made first in the image of our God, there are yet within us signs and evidences of our Great Original--breathings, at times, of heavenly life and pure desire, which God's own Breath has kindled. It is too true, indeed, that a long-continued course of wilful folly and sin will, by degrees, wear out and waste this life of the spirit, and leave it at last in the cold and cheerless desolation of a sensual old age. But in earlier life it is far otherwise with all of us. There are, from time to time, in the experience of each of us, awakenings of the soul--flashes, as it were, of a pure divine light, which gleam in upon the inward eye, and make us aware of our awful connexion with the unseen spiritual world. At such times as these, my Brethren, we know and feel within ourselves that the Law of God is good--most good, and excellent, and loveable. We often long that we could love it, and cling to it, and keep it with our whole heart. But the dark cloud again comes over us. There springs up a bitter strife and conflict within us. We find that, when we would be doing good, evil is present with us. We find that there is an accursed law in our members, warring against the law of our mind, which is beginning to rejoice in the consciousness of its happy freedom, because in harmony with the blessed Law of its God, and bringing us back again into captivity under the law of sin and corruption. And oh! we are ready to exclaim, each one for himself, in the very words of the Apostle of old, "Who shall deliver me from this body of death?"
Thanks be unto God, my Brethren, for the message of the text, which tells us of "Peace" for such conflict and strife as this. For He, Who came forth from the bosom of His Father, to make the Great Sacrifice for sin, and become the High Priest of the children of men, came also to be our Prophet--to tell us plainly of our own condition--that we are, in ourselves, poor, sick, and needy, help less, and dying creatures; and therefore we must not be distressed or discouraged to find all these signs of our corruption--these tokens of our fall--too surely appearing in the daily life of each of us. But He came to tell us also of our Father's Will, of His own loving purpose towards us; that we should, by His Grace enabling us--by the help and teaching of His own Holy Spirit, which is promised and pledged to us in our Baptism--be raised up daily more and more completely out of this state of wretchedness, and brought into conformity with His own most Blessed Will, yea, into the very likeness of our Lord.
For, Brethren, He came, we know, not only to be our Priest and Prophet, but also our King. He came to be the Lord of all our being--to have and to keep under His sole government all the powers of our minds and bodies, working joyfully together, in union and harmony, the work of Him "for Whose pleasure we are and were created." What variance and strife is here, too, to be found in the plans and purposes of men, when left without the knowledge of that truth, of which this glorious text is telling, or when living without the realization of that faith, into which they have been baptized! Verily, there are gods many and lords many--false principles and evil passions--ruling the hearts of many, and often distracting, with warring and contending influences, the heart of a single individual. Truly, there is no peace here. Love of money, power, or pleasure, pride and vain-glory, lust and covetousness--these, and other such, are the evil demons which rule the daily lives of many--the various forms of selfishness, which take possession of the soul, and urge it on still with yet more restless cravings and unsatisfied desires.
How different, Brethren, is, or ought to be, the daily spirit of a Christian's life! To have One only Lord and Master--the true and loving One--who hath paid Himself the price of our redemption, and bought us for His own, by His own most precious Blood! To care for nothing daily, but how we may best please Him, live to His Glory, and finish His Work! To take our daily duties as from Him, whatever they may be, and look for the advancement of His Kingdom as the great end, and the enjoyment of His Blessing as the great reward, of all our labours! To let Him appoint our trials, measure out our successes or disappointments, fill up our daily cup with gladness, or, if He sees it best, pour into it the bitter medicine of affliction!--O Brethren! this, and this only, is to have for our own souls "Peace upon earth"--Peace amidst outward troubles and inward perplexities--the Peace of Him, Who, though He came into this world to be "the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief," yet "was anointed also with the oil of gladness above His fellows," and has left us the express promise of His Word, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you."
But, hitherto, I have been speaking of this second portion of my text, as it bears upon the case of each individual Christian. There is yet a wider sense in which we must understand these words, and in which they stand closely connected with the third and concluding strain of the angelic song, "Peace on earth, Good-Will towards men." These words remind us, Christian Brethren, that the tidings of great joy were not meant for us only--for us, who have heard the glad sounds, and are rejoicing already in the Light of our Saviour's Coming. But they are meant for all mankind. They are meant for all, who, in every tribe and nation, are suffering the con sequences of their first parents' fall. There is life and hope for all, through the Mercy of their God, in the coming of the second Adam, the second Head of our race, the Saviour of the World, Who (as the Prayer-book teaches us) "hath redeemed us and all mankind." And therefore, on that blessed night, it was uttered loud by angels' lips, "Peace on earth, Good-Will towards men."
It is very needful to remember this, my Brethren--both that we may have the full joy in our own hearts, which the Goodness of our God hath laid up for us in the Gospel, and also that we may learn to walk hopefully, charitably, and lovingly, among our fellow-men, as being fellow-sharers with us in the care and love of their Almighty Father, and in the glorious coming of the Eternal Son of God. I say it is needful, first, that we may have a full enjoyment ourselves of the blessed hope of the Gospel, when we know that God's Love is not confined to a few, here and there, of His creatures, but extends, like the light and warmth of His glorious sun, to all. That sun, it is true, shines with a different strength, and in different measure, on some places than on others, according to the wise contrivances and the sovereign will of Him, Who gave the great globe of the earth its form and its motion. But it is given, in some measure, to all; and with a gracious, life-sustaining power, it ministers to the earthly welfare and enjoyment of all. And so, too, is it with the rays of the Sun of Righteousness, of whose first rising upon a dark benighted world this text was the announcement. Even before it rose, its blessed influence was felt upon the nations. Yea, ever since the fall of the first man, from the shining of that Sun has come every ray of Mercy, whether temporal or spiritual, which has brightened the dim eyes, or gladdened the weary hearts, of sorrowful and sinful men. But now the Sun is risen indeed--and risen for all. There is "Good-Will towards men"--as a race, who once fell in Adam, but are now restored again to God's favour, and reconciled in Christ. So that none need doubt of finding acceptance with God, who come in that Saviour's Name to seek His Mercy. The fountains of His Love are opened freely unto all. The declarations of His Word, no less than the bounties of His daily Providence, are proclaiming loudly and plainly to each of us, "The Lord is loving unto every man, and His tender Mercies are over all His works."
But there is also another reason why we should bear in mind the full force and meaning of these latter words of our text--and that is, that we may think rightly of our fellow-men, and walk in hopefulness and love among them. As baptized Christians, we are sure that we are all dear in the sight of Him Who made us--of Him Who shed His blood to save us--of Him Who is ever striving with our spirits, and seeking by His gracious operations to bring us near to God. And this being so, how can we dare to think harshly of our fellow-Christian, to speak uncharitably, or to deal unkindly with him? Doubtless, there are "open sins," as the Bible says. "going beforehand to judgment," which at times we are called to notice--which we dare not pass by--which a very sense of faithfulness to him and to others will compel us to reprove. Yet then--even then--we must see that we refrain from harsh and hasty judgment; we must pass censure, if need be, with fear and trembling for ourselves, and with prayer and hope for our fallen brother; we must be careful still to speak the Truth in love. But in other cases--in the general intercourse of life--we are bound to look around upon our fellow-Christians with the remembrance that every one of them is baptized into the Body of Christ--is an object, therefore, of special interest and care to the Father of spirits, to the Great Head of the Church, and to the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, Who giveth life to all its members. We are to bear in mind, that, with each one of these our brethren, there is a Mighty Power at work in the secrets of his inner being, of which the result will be seen in eternity, whether of life unto life, or of death unto death. Oh, surely, this will keep us from harsh, evil, uncharitable judgments. This will make us serious, thoughtful, patient, and pitiful, in our converse with those whom we believe--yea, rather, whom we know, by what we experience daily in ourselves--to be the subjects of such a teaching. This will make us hope for them even to the end--anxious, by any means within our power, to be ministers, if it may be, in helping forward God's work within them--but, above all, fearful of incurring the terrible guilt and danger of those, who put a stumbling-block in their brother's way, hinder the progress of God's Truth in his heart, and tempt him aside to his ruin.
For, Brethren, while we rejoice so freely in the tidings of God's redeeming Love, we dare not forget what a dreadful thing it would be for any one of us Christians, to have received this gracious message, and to have received it in vain--to have despised and disregarded it--yea, to have trampled it, as it were, under foot, and chosen wilfully the service of the Evil Master, with his work of shame and his wages of death, instead of the glorious liberty of God's service, the high and holy duties, and happy privileges, of the children of Light. O blessed joy of that service, to be fellow-workers with God--the great and glorious God--in extending the Kingdom of His own dear Son! To be ranged upon His side, with all that is true, and good, and lovely, and excellent, and of good report, and taking our part with our Heavenly Master, in the mighty conflict He is waging with all the powers of sin and darkness, assured of the constant presence of our Lord, and of gaining at last in His strength a glorious victory! To be able to look around upon the splendour and beauty of God's works, and know that they are ours--ours richly to enjoy--if not in this world, yet surely in the world to come, when we are brought into the presence of our Father in Heaven, and admitted to the full enjoyment of the sons of God! And to know, meanwhile, that all things are ours--for we are Christ's, and Christ is God's--and that nothing shall be wanting, which His Grace can give, and which His Wisdom and Love know to be needful for us, so that, having finished our course, and, done faithfully our Master's work on earth, we may come to share at last His Glorious Home! O, Brethren, this is indeed Life. It gives a meaning and a joy to our commonest daily duties--a gladness and freshness to our very existence--which nothing else can give, but which enables us to realize, in part, the words of our gracious Lord Himself, "This is Eternal Life, that they should know Thee, the only True God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent."
I might go on to speak of the bearing of these words of the text upon our intercourse with others, whether as individuals in private life, or, in a national point of view, as a Christian people. "Peace on earth, Good-Will towards men." If this be indeed the word in heaven, and should, therefore, be the ruling principle of men's hearts on earth, how should we feel constrained at all times, and, in all right ways, to "seek peace and ensue it!" And, if the Law of Righteousness itself, which, in fact, is the Law of Peace, should demand, as it sometimes does, that our peace should be broken, whether by private difference or public war, yet how earnestly should we desire, and strive, and pray, that the breach may be soon healed, and love and unity again prevail among the creatures of One God, the fellow-servants of One Lord, Whose Name is Love!
But I would rather now urge upon your minds, in conclusion, the duty which this knowledge of our Heavenly Father's loving purpose to us all--His "Good-Will to men"--has laid upon us, to tell out that Love to all around, and to "preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ." O let us remember, Brethren, that we have all of us to preach this Gospel, not by our lips only, but by our lives. Not only those who are ordained, and sent forth for this express purpose, of publishing God's message of life, but every English Christian is, in an especial sense, a Missionary, and bound by every means within his power to make known the glad tidings--"Glory be to God in the Highest, and on earth Peace, Good-Will towards men." Brethren, we are all vowed in our Baptism to be soldiers and servants of our Lord, and to take part together in this great work of advancing His Kingdom. It is the end, we are sure, to which all other things are tending; for that Kingdom shall stand, when all others shall have passed away and be forgotten. Christians of other nations have, doubtless, their share in this mighty enterprise; but we, sons and daughters of England, have a far higher calling than others, the first and foremost post of duty. For who can doubt, that, if our country has been suffered, and strengthened, in the Providence of God, to girdle the earth with her might--if her merchant-flag is floating in every harbour, and her standard of victory waving in triumph on many a shore--it is in order that God's Name may be glorified, and the Gospel of His Son proclaimed, by our means, and the lands, which our warriors have conquered, become the fair possessions of the Prince of Peace?
Bear you this in mind, my Brother, when you land upon a heathen soil, and stand for the first time confronted, as it were, with the very power of Satan, in the midst of his strong-holds. Remember you this, when you look upon the thousands of dark creatures, by whom you will there be surrounded, that these are they for whom Christ died--for whom the Saviour came into the world to bless them--to raise them from being bondslaves of Satan, to be numbered with us among the Family of God. Think it your highest honour, to be now called in a special manner to this work; and remember that the mighty strength of God's Love is with you, to help you in all your labours. You will pity, I am sure, my Brother--you will tenderly compassionate, and love, and cherish, the poor dark souls, among whom, henceforward, your lot will be cast. Think, then, how infinitely God loves them, Who taught you thus to pity and to love them--Who sent His Son to die for them, and of Whose tender Mercy towards them the strongest feelings of our hearts are but the very faintest forth-shadowing.
And let us bear in mind, my Brethren, that we have all received the same high calling to further this work; and that woe will be to us--awful, unutterable woe--if we neglect this duty, and by our own sins and wickedness--yes, by our godless lives, without faith, without prayer, without love--be ourselves a check to the spread of our Saviour's Name, and the extension of His Kingdom! O! rather let each one here present, each in his own appointed path of duty, wherein the Providence of God has placed him, count it his highest honour and joy to be a minister of God's Grace to others, and a helper in this great work, which our Lord has committed to us all. Do it, Brethren, by your alms this day; do it by your prayers continually; do it by deeds of daily faithfulness, and purity, and love. Seek to be bringing Glory to the Name of God most High, and spreading Peace upon the troubled streams of earth, and witnessing to all around of the Good-Will of Him, Who is the common Friend and Father of all.
And now, Christian Brethren, to you I speak, who will remain behind, to assist with your prayers in ordaining and sending forth this Missionary. We are called to partake together in that holy Feast, which our Lord in His loving wisdom has provided for us, as a means whereby we shall be bound more closely as fellow-workers in His Service, and shall be strengthened at the same time with inward spiritual life for the various duties of life. Let us draw near in faith this day; and, while we mingle, in our prayers, thoughts and requests for those we love at home and abroad, let us lift up a meek petition also to the Throne of Grace for the poor dark tribes of Africa, and for those who shall minister the message of our God among them. Let us pray that in God's due time, even in some measure, if it may so please Him, by our feeble ministry, those wide-spread lands, which now sit in darkness, may see the great Light, and Ethiopia at length lift up her hands unto God. O! hasten, Lord, the glorious day, when it shall be said in truth, "Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our God and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever. Amen."