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even divert into a different channel the mercy which he doubted; but his frailty shall not go wholly unpunished, he shall be wounded in those faculties which he had so ill employed as the avenues to his mind, the tongue which dared to express the language of doubt and suspicion must undergo a temporary silence, the ear which would not admit the communications of an archangel, shall be shut for a season against the delights of social intercourse, and the sign which he unwisely demanded shall bear upon it a mark of displeasure. Striking mixture of goodness and severity, of goodness unbounded, and severity restrained! Striking view of the supreme power possessed and exercised by the great Lord of nature, over all our powers and possessions. He who bestowed the gift of speech on man can withdraw it in a moment; or confound it so as to be no longer a medium of communication between mankind: he can confer it on the dumb ass to reprove "the madness of the prophet;" or instantaneously communicate it, in all its different forms, to the ignorant and illiterate, for the instruction and salvation of the various nations of the earth. Let a gift so precious never be vilely profaned as an organ of falsehood, pride, lust, or profanity.
The words of the angel all meet their accomplishment in their season. The pretended oracles of paganism were constrained to veil their prophetic enunciations in terms of mystery and obscurity; they spake with timidity and caution; they clothed their responses and mandates in general and ambiguous expressions, which superstition might interpret what way soever it would; and which any event might be wrested to justify and support; but the lively oracles of God are minute, distinct, intelligible and pointed; he who runs may read them; they clothe predictions with such an exactness of circumstance: they appeal to events so near at hand, so obvious to investigation, that it is impossible to mistake one thing for another, to confound
one with another. Zacharias's dumbness, the season of his being attacked with it, the unexpected, miraculous pregnancy of Elizabeth, the birth of the child according to the time of life, the sudden restoration of the father's hearing and speech, at the very moment predicted, were all matters of public notoriety; every one singular in itself, the whole taken in connexion so singular, as to mark the interest which eternal Providence took in an event, at first sight, of no great general importance, but in its effects and consequences involving the fate of nations, the everlasting destination of worlds.
What! all this state and magnificence; the trumpet of prophecy resounding, the prince of angels descending, to proclaim the advent of merely a man with raiment of camels' hair, with a leathern girdle about his loins! The ruler of the universe, be assured, is not so lavish of extraordinary displays of his power and wisdom. If the true God appear, it is on an occasion worthy of a God. And if this be the preparation made for the appearance of the servant, what state shall precede the entrance of the sovereign? Gabriel, I foresee has another message to bring, a multitude of the heavenly host is on the wing, to announce a greater than John Baptist, even Him of whom John Baptist himself says, "There standeth one among you, whom ye know not? He it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose." This solemn preparation for the manifestation of God in the flesh, if God permit, will be the subject of the next lecture. I now conclude with the following reflection :
1. Angels, we perceive, take a lively, an affectionate, and a compassionate interest in the affairs of men. "Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation ?" The "little ones" of Christ's family, the little in age and stature, the little in condition, must not be despised, "for I say unto you," are his emphatic words, "that in
heaven their angels do always behold the face of my father which is in heaven :" and "There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." What condescension on the part of beings so highly exalted! What a protection provided for the feeble! What encouragement proposed to the penitent! "The angel of the Lord encamped round about them that fear him, and delivereth them." Pleasing, awful thought! The host of heaven guards my path and my bed, watches over my lying down and rising up; but their eyes are continually upon me, I am "compassed about with a great cloud of witnesses," they bear testimony to what I am, whither I go, how I am employed. Is the eye of a child a guard to virtue? What holy circumspection and watchfulness, then, what earnestness and perseverance in well doing, what abhorrence of that which is evil, ought the inspection of an angel, ought the all-seeing eye of God to produce? "He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways;” “ keep," therefore, thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are all the issues of life."
2. From a preparation thus solemn and magnificent what are we not to expect? Four thousand years have been employed in making it; a procession of patriarchs, of prophets, of sages, of priests, of potentates, has passed on before in uninterrupted succession; angels have descended from heaven: Surely He who thus cometh is the Son of God. "When he bringeth in the first begotten into the world, He saith, " And let all the angels of God worship Him:" And "unto the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom" for "Thou, Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.' "His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun and men shall be blessed in him : all nations shall call him blessed. Blessed be the Lord God, the
God of Israel, who only doth wondrous things: And blessed be his glorious name for ever and ever; and let the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen, and
3. Though predicted events are strictly conformable to the word of prophecy, they nevertheless, in many cases, contradict, disappoint and far exceed human expectation. The prophets themselves had not always a distinct and complete perception of the object which they were commissioned to hold up to the eyes of the world. Those "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The agents employed in the accomplishment of promise and prediction, little understood the part which they acted. They thought of nothing less; they intended nothing less. They were unconscious instruments in the hand of God to execute a purpose, which had they known they would have striven to defeat. "The heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing. The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against his anointed.He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision." Were "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, gathered together" to promote the cause of christianity? No, they meant to destroy it. But "of a truth" Lord, they were constrained "to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." Happy are they who, with Gabriel and the other flaming ministers who stand before God, are the conscious, the voluntary, the joyful agents under, and together with God, in promoting the great work of salvation.
4. Let not man, then, presume to make his own un derstanding the measure of revealed truth, or of divine conduct. "Who hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or who being his counsellor hath taught him?" It ill becomes a creature conscious to himself of so much weakness, of so much ignorance, of such liableness
to error, to erect himself into an infallible judge. "Search the Scriptures," but with reverence, with humility, with a desire to be instructed, not censoriously, self-sufficiently, not to wrest Scripture in favour of a preconceived opinion, or long established dogma. Study the ways of Providence; but dare not to interpret them according as passion or prejudice may dictate. "Thy ways," O God," is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known." Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, and Providence of Providence; and "if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God." Practical conformity to the divine will is preferable to the highest attainments in knowledge, and it is the most direct road to farther discovery.
5. Superior beings are now an object of terror, and it is conscious guilt in which man clothes them with that terror. They are our friends, they take delight in ministering to our necessities, they cherish the gracious affections of elder to younger brethren, yet the apparition is formidable even to a Zacharias. But "there is no fear in love; for perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." To that glorious perfection the christian is encouraged to aspire. We shrink from the idea of a visit from a departed friend arising out of the grave, but we look with hope and desire to the day when we shall be added " to the general assembly and church of the first born, which are written in heaven-and to the spirits of just men made perfect." The vision of one angel, in our present state of depression, strikes the mind with awe; but we hope to come "to an innumerable company of angels;" nay "to God the judge of all," for we come through "Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel." "Now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."