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the passions and frailties, the sufferings and mortality, of his own creature; should begin to live, should grow, and be nourished, and hunger, and thirst, and be weary and sleep, and be grieved, and weep, and bleed, and die, and in all points be tempted and afflicted, like unto us; this is somewhat so exceedingly foreign to the manifestations God hath used to make of himself, that it quite crosses our common apprehensions of him. That God could exalt himself beyond all imagination, men, who knew anything at all of him, made no difficulty to believe ; but, that he could to such a degree abase himself, they never knew before. But when this act had taught them it, they needs must see, that nothing less than omnipotence could bring about the miracles of this mysterious condescension. And we may say with great truth, that the divinity of the Word' is at least equally evident, in his own being made flesh,' as in his making all things :' for, could a power which is infinite, admit of difficulties and degrees, we must conceive it harder for God to appear in the form of weakness, than to exert himself in the utmost' activity and strength; to make himself of no reputation, and be found in fashion as a man,' than to glorify himself by the producing a whole world out of nothing; to become obedient to the death of the cross,' and be murdered by his enemies, than to blast' all that hate him, with the breath of his displeasure,' and command that whole world back to nothing in a moment. With so stupendous, so unparalleled, an example of the divine power does the incarnation of the Son of God present us, above any work of creation, or providence, or the most distinguishing miracles, that ever were made use of, to prove it to mankind.
2. Let us, in the second place, turn our thoughts upon the adorable wisdom of God, in this wonderful mystery of his blessed Son's incarnation. A depth, into which, St. Peter acquaints us, “ the angels continually desire to look," and in the contemplation of which they take unspeakable delight. How then can we sufficiently admire the management of our God! Of him, who, when mankind had estranged themselves from him, found out a method of uniting them to him again, by condescending to unite himself to them, in so close a manner, as that of taking the manhood into God; who, when they had defeated all the means, formerly used for their instruction, by the ministry of his servants best qualified for that purpose, did not disdain this last and most powerful experiment of teaching them by himself :-of him who considered their weakness, and his own transcendent greatness, so kindly, as to lay aside the terrors of his majesty, and the brightness of that glory, which rendered him inaccessible; and to make it practicable for poor feeble mortals to see, and approach, and converse familiarly with him ;-who thus found out the most effectual way of quickening us in our duty, at once informing us by his doctrine, and leading us by his example ;--of him, who debased himself to a participation of our infirmities, that he might sanctify them to us, support us under them, and prove that, all these notwithstanding, we are capable of being exalted to a participation of the divine excellencies; who, by this noblest of all stratagems, enabled that nature to gain a full and fair conquest over the enemy of souls, which had been so long and mercilessly trampled under by that enemy before ; of him, who, by being born of a woman, hath begotten mankind again to a lively hope, and forbidden us to distrust, that God and man may be made one in peace and affection, whom we have seen already made one in the same person : in short, who hath offered an atonement, which cannot but be sufficient and effectual to satisfy for sin, since the victim, the sacrificer, and the deity appeased, are one. These and a great many other instances will occur to men, who set themselves to meditate on this subject as they ought; illustrious instances all, of the wonderful wisdom of God, manifested in this scheme of our redemption. But the last does not only represent to us the wisdom; it leads us to observe withal,
3. Thirdly, the justice of God, so very conspicuous upon this occasion. Justice to his own honour and truth; who, after having denounced misery and death, as the deserved wages of wickedness, had thereby concluded all mankind under the fatal sentence, in that all had sinned.' Justice to his holiness; which, being such as cannot but hold all iniquity in the utmost detestation, he hath thus declared how irreconcilable his hatred to it is, by refusing to accept any satisfaction, of less value, than that of the blood, and bitter sufferings, of his own blessed and co-eternal Son. Justice to the authority of his own most righteous laws; by representing to all the world, how highly they are concerned to obey them, and what
unspeakable torments they must expect, who are themselves wilful and impenitent offenders ; since it cost him so dear to redeem their souls, who himself knew no sin, but only sustained the person, and vouchsafed to stand in the place, of sin
Justice, lastly, even to the author and promoter of all wickedness and injustice, the tempter and destroyer of souls; who, by contriving the wrongful death of him, in whom he found nothing, is thus most equitably ejected out of all that pretended right, which the guilt of human nature might seem to have given him, over the polluted rest, that partake of it. Thus did it please God to proceed with this basest of all enemies: not by a stretch of arbitrary power and violence; but, in a method of judgement, and equity, overthrowing his tyranny, and rescuing his captives; giving this, before wretched and conquered nature, an opportunity of retrieving, in the second Adam, what it had lost in the first; and carrying the influence of Christ's righteousness, as far as that of our first parent's transgression. Most justly,-in regard each was the representative of all mankind. As therefore the guilt and punishment of the former descends upon the whole offspring, who, by a natural and carnal birth, were in him; so does the obedience of the latter, upon as many as are conformed with the likeness of Christ, and so are in him too by a second and spiritual birth. All which contributes more than can be expressed or imagined, to the magnifying another of the divine excellencies; I mean,
4. Fourthly, his goodness and mercy. Of which, though every event, each design and act of providence, be so many fresh instances, yet never was there any fit to be named ;any did I say ? no, not all taken together, are worthy to be put into the balance, with this before us. It was indeed the effect of infinite goodness, that the world was made in such wonderful beauty and order ; but how much of the benefit, intended by this creation, had been lost, if, when sin had brought in mortality and misery, one of its chiefest inhabitants, to whose comfort and convenience so many parts of it were designed to minister, had been left to perish; if he must find his state in this dwelling, converted into not only a dismal, black scene of present and grievous, but a certain passage to eternal and unspeakably more grievous, sufferings and sorrows ? No.man of sense, who believes reyealed religion, can not
suppose it infinitely better for mankind never to have been at all
, than to have been upon such terms as these. Our creation, therefore, as matters quickly stood with us, was a blessing in no degree comparable to our redemption,-our second and so much better creation. It deserves also to be acknowledged as a distinguishing mark of the divine favour, that we should be at first created in the likeness of God; but what proportion is there between that, and the restoring to us that likeness, when most unhappily lost, by a kindness so amazing, as that of God being made in the likeness of man ! That he should put on our passions and frailties, that we might rise to his perfections; subject himself to our necessities and wants, that we might receive of his fulness ; promote us to honour, by suffering indignities ; and open to us a way to happiness, and life, and a kingdom everlasting, by a life of afflictions, a death of exquisite torture, and the voluntary scandal of an ignomini. ous cross! That all this should be done for creatures, who, as such, could add nothing to their Creator's honour; for sinners, who, as such, had done their utmost to dishonour him ; for rebels and traitors, false to all their obligations of duty, unthankful to their only benefactor, disloyal to the best of Lords, and wilful destroyers of their ownselves; wretches, who had deserved the hottest of his indignation, and the most dire effects of his hatred irreconcileable! In short, this is a subject, which the further we enter into the consideration of, the less we shall find ourselves able to speak of as we ought. It is a blessing better felt than expressed. For, though its copiousness be such, as to furnish matter for endless enlargement, yet to them, who have attained to any tolerable sense of what, for whom, and especially by whom, this miracle of mercy hath been wrought, it will be regarded as a mystery of love, for which the tongues of men and angels are insufficient. A mystery: -none but he, who wrought, can fully know; and a nearer and more distinct view whereof is reserved for one principal ingredient of that happy state hereafter, to which it was intended to advance us.
How then ought we to approach our new-born Saviour, and what is the welcome proper to be given to the returns of this most happy day? The day that begat us to life immortal, the birth-day of our happiness, and all our hopes; the day that brought light to them that sat in darkness, comfort to them
who lay grovelling in despair, mercy to the penitent, and pardon to the condemned ?
1. Surely, we should now endeavour to raise our souls by a lively faith in the promises of the gospel. For, how glorious soever these may be, or how unworthy of them soever our sinful selves; yet can they not possibly be so far above our meanness, as that human nature, taken to assure them to us, is below the majesty of the God, who took it. Well may we then cry out with the Psalmist, · Lord, what is man that thou makest such account of him, or the son of man that thou shouldest,' in so amazing a manner, vouchsafe to visit him?" Since, therefore, that hath been done already, which so far exceeds the utmost we durst hope, all we could ask or think,—what can there be yet bebind, which God will esteem too good for us? Or, how • shall he not freely give us all things,'who hath loved us so tenderly, as not to spare his own Son, but give' the most precious of all gifts for us? [Rom. viii. 32.]
2. Surely, we are of all creatures most cold, if we do not, this day especially, feel our hearts enflamed with a most ardent love ;---a love, that shall carry us entirely to the object so highly deserving it; and dispose us to hate every thing in comparison of him, who hath set us this unparalleled example of kindness ;-a love that shall think no return of service or hardships grievous; but cheerfully sacrifice every darling lust, consecrate every affection of our souls, devote every action of our lives, nay even those lives themselves, if need require, to him.--To him, who, to make us all his own, doubly his own, after having made did not disdain to be made, and born, and live, as one of us, that he might be capable of dying to redeem us.
3. Surely, we are not the disciples of him, whose birth we celebrate, if our charity to men be not likewise as sincere, as universal, as our love to this God and Saviour is fervent and entire. For how shall we dare to exclude those, whom God hath not excluded? How deny our prayers and good wishes, our best endeavours and kindest offices, where he hath extended his mercy, in the highest instance, that he was capable of showing, or they of receiving? Are they strangers and aliens? he bath united us all to each other; and, from the instance of God and man becoming one person, hath made all mankind one body in himself.- Are they enemies, who have provoked and unjustly offended us? Such, and much worse, was every