Of all the works of God towards man, certainly there is none hath so much wonder in it, as the sending of his Son to become man; and so it requires the exactest attention in us. Let us gather our spirits to consider of this mystery, -- not to pry into the secrets of it curiously, as if we had no more to do but to satisfy our understandings; but rather that we may see what this concerns us, and what instruction or advantage we may have by it, that so it may ravish our affections. I believe there is very palpable and gross ignorance in thousands of the very thing itself. Many who profess Jesus Christ, know not his natures, or his glorious person, -- do not apprehend either his highness as God, or his lowness as man. But truly, the thing that I do most admire, is, that those who pretend to more knowledge of this mystery, yet few of them do enter upon any serious consideration about it, -- for what use and purpose it is; though it be the foundation of our salvation, the chief ground of our faith, and the great spring of our consolation. Yet to improve the knowledge of it to any purpose of that kind, is a thing so rare, even among true Christians, that it is little the subject of their meditation. I think, indeed, the lively improvement of this mystery of godliness would be very effectual to make us really what we are said to be, that is, Christians. There is something to this purpose, 1 John iv.2, 3, 15, and v.1. The confessing and knowing that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, and is the Son of God, before his taking on flesh, is made a character of a spiritual man that dwelleth in God. Not that a bare external confession, or internal opinion and assent to such a truth, is of so much value, -- which yet is the height that many attain unto; but it is such a soul acknowledgment, such an heart approbation of this mystery, as draws alongst the admiration and affection after it, as fixeth the heart upon this object alone, for life and salvation. The devils confessed and believed, but they trembled at it, Luke iv.34, 41. He was afraid of what he knew, but Peter confessed and loved what he knew; yea, he did cast his soul upon that Lord whom he confessed. It is such an acknowledgment of Christ, as draweth the soul, and unites it to him, by a serious and living embracement. Such a sight of Jesus Christ, hath both truth and goodness in it, in the highest measure; and so doth not only constrain the assent of the mind, but is a powerful attractive to the heart, to come to him, and live in him. I pray you consider then what moment is in this truth, that you may indeed apply your souls to the consideration of what is in Jesus Christ thus revealed, not simply to know it, but for a further improvement of it, to seek life in him, that the stamp and impression of this Saviour may be set so deeply on your souls, as that you may express this in a real confession of him in your words and works, Tit. i.16; Matt. vii.21. This is indeed to know and confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, to fetch thence the ground of all our hope and consolation, and to draw thence the most powerful motives to walking "even as he walked," to improve it for confidence in him, and obedience to him.
I shall speak then a word of these two great ends and purposes, -- of God's sending his own Son, in the likeness of sinful flesh, his own glory and man's good. The song of angels at his birth shows this, -- "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, and good will toward men." His glory is manifested in it in an eminent manner. The glory of his wisdom, -- that found out a remedy. What a deep contrivance was it! How infinitely beyond all creature inventions! Truly there are riches of wisdom, depths of wisdom in it. I think it could never have entered the thought of men or angels; -- all men once to be drowned under a deluge of sin and misery, and made subjects to God's righteous judgment, and then to find out a way how to deliver and save so many! All the wisdom that shines in the order and beauty of the world seems to be but a rude draught to this. Then, herein doth the glory of his mercy and grace shine most brightly, that he transfers the punishment due to man's sin upon his own Son, that when no ransom could be found by man, he finds it out, how to satisfy his own justice, and save us. Truly, this is the most shining jewel in the crown of God's glory, -- so much mercy towards so miserable sinners, so much grace towards the rebellious. If he had pardoned sin, without any satisfaction, what rich grace had it been! But truly, to provide the Lamb and sacrifice himself, to find out the ransom, and to exact it of his own Son, in our name, is a testimony of mercy and grace far beyond that. But then, his justice is very conspicuous in this work. And indeed these two do illustrate one another; the justice of God, in taking and exacting the punishment of sin upon his own well-beloved Son, doth most eminently heighten the mercy and grace of God towards us; and his grace and mercy in passing by us, doth most marvellously illustrate the righteousness of God, in making his own Son a curse for us. What testimony can be given in the world, of God's displeasure at sin, of his righteousness in punishing sin, like this! There was no such testimony of love to sinners and no such demonstration of hatred at sin imaginable. That he did not punish sin in us, but transfer it over on his most beloved Son, O what love and grace! And that he did punish his own Son, when standing in the place of sinners, O what righteousness and justice! This is that glorious mystery, the conjunction of these two resplendent jewels, justice and mercy, of love and displeasure, in one chain of Christ's incarnation, into which the angels desire to look, 1 Pet. i.12. And truly they do wonder at it, and praise from wonder. This is it, that the praises of men and angels shall roll about eternally. David, (Ps. ciii.20,) foreseeing this day, foretold that angels should praise him, and now it is fulfilled, when all these glorious companies of holy, powerful spirits, welcome the Son of God into the world, by that heavenly harmony of praise. Luke ii.14.
What lumpishness and earthliness is in us, that we do not rise up above, to this melody in our spirits, to join with angels in this song, we, I say, whom it most concerns! The angels wonder, and praise and wonder at this, because the glory of God shines so brightly in it, as if there were many suns in one firmament, as the light of seven days in one. These three especially, -- wisdom, mercy and grace, justice and righteousness, every one of them looks like the sun in its strength, carried about in this orb of the redemption of man, to the ravishing of the hearts of all the honourable and glorious companies above, and making them cheerfully and willingly to contribute all their service to this work, to be ministering spirits to wait on the heirs of salvation!
Now, when the glory of the highest raiseth up such a melodious song above, among angels, O what should both the glory of the highest God, and the highest good of man do to us! When the greatest glory of God, and the chiefest advantage of man are linked together in this chain, what should we do but admire and adore, adore and admire, and, while we are in this earth, send up our consent to that harmony in heaven!
In relation to our good, much might be said, but we shall briefly show unto you, that it is the greatest confirmation of our faith, and the strongest motive to humility, that can be afforded. Now, if we could be composed thus unto confidence and reverence, to glorify him by believing and to abase ourselves, to believe in him, and walk humbly with him, upon the meditation of Christ's coming in the flesh, this would make us true Christians indeed.
There is nothing, I know more powerful to persuade us of the reality of God's invitations and promises to us than this. We are still seeking signs and tokens of God's love, something to warrant us to come to God in Christ, and to persuade us that we shall be welcome, and many Christians puddle themselves in the mire of their own darkness and discouragement, because they cannot find any thing in themselves that can give but the least probable conjecture, that he will admit and welcome them to come to him, or that such precious promises, and sweet invitations, can belong to such sinners as they conceive themselves to be. Truly, my beloved, I think, while we exercise ourselves thus, we are seeking the sun with a candle, making that which is in itself as bright as the light to be more dark. The evidence of God's reality in offering life to you in Christ, and his willingness to receive you is not without the compass of his invitation, and yet you seek it where it is least to be found, that is, in yourselves. But indeed, his invitations in the gospel carry the evidence in their bosom, -- that which is above all other signs and evidences that he did even send his own Son in the flesh for this purpose. Is there any thing besides this, either greater or clearer? I think we are like those who, when they had seen many signs and wonders done by Christ, which did bear testimony to all the world of his divine nature, yet they would not be satisfied, but sought out another sign, tempting him, Matt. xvi.1. And truly, he might return this answer to us, "O wicked and adulterous generation, that seeketh after a sign, there shall no sign be given to thee, but the sign of the prophet Jonas." The greatest testimony that can be imagined, is given already, -- that the Father should send his only begotten and well beloved Son into the state of a servant for man. If this do not satisfy, I know not what will. I see not how any work of his Spirit in us, can make so much evidence of his reality and faithfulness in the gospel, and of his willingness to welcome sinners. All the works of the creation, all the works of grace, are nothing to this, to manifest his love to men; and therefore there is a singular note upon it, "God so loved the world, that he gave his Son," John iii.16. And in this was his love manifested, that he sent his Son, 1 John iv.9. If men and angels had set themselves to devise and find out a pledge or confirmation of the love of God, they would have fallen upon some revelation unto, or some operation upon their spirits. But, alas, this is infinitely above that. His own express image, and the brightness of his glory, is come down to hear witness of his love, nay, he who is equal with himself in glory, is given as a gift to men; and is not he infinitely more than created gifts or graces, who is the very spring and fountain of them all? "God so loved the world," that truly he gave no such gift besides, to testify such a love. Therefore, when all that he hath done in this kind cannot satisfy thy scrupulous mind, but thou wilt still go on, to seek more confirmation of his readiness to receive thee, I think it is a tempting of the Holy One, which may draw such an answer from him, O wicked and adulterous person, there shall no sign be given thee, but that which is darker than the former, that which thou shalt understand less. Thou mayest get what thou seekest, perhaps some more satisfaction in thy own condition, but it shall plunge thee more in the issue. Thou shalt always be unsettled, and "unconstant as water, thou shalt not excel." I confess indeed, if we speak of the manifestation of one's particular interest in these promises, and of an evidence of the love of God to thee, in particular, then there must needs be something wrought by the Holy Spirit on thy soul, to draw down the general testimony of God's love to mankind into a particular application to thyself. But that I do not speak of now, because that is the sealing of the Spirit after believing, and because you are always unsettled in the first and main point, of flying unto the Son, and waiting on him for life, therefore have you so much inevidence and weakness in that which follows. That which I now speak of is, that if this were cordially believed, and seriously considered, that God sent his own Son in the flesh, to save sinners, you could not readily have any doubt, but that your coming to him for salvation would be welcome. You could not say, that such precious invitations could not belong to sinners, or that he could not love the like of you. Truly, I think, if the general were laid to heart, that God hath so loved mankind, that he gave such a gift unto them, there is none could make any more question of his reality, when that gift is tendered to any in particular. Nay, I think it is the inconsideration of this general evidence and manifestation of love to the world, that makes you so perplexed in particulars. Could you have so much difficulty to believe his love to you, if you indeed believe that he hath loved the world, that is, so many thousands like you? Is there so much distance, I pray you, between you and another, as between him and all? If, then, he loves so many miserable sinners, is there any impossibility in it, but he may love you? For what is in them that might conciliate his love? I tell you why I think the right apprehension of the general truths of the gospel would be able, like the sun in its strength, to scatter all the clouds and mists of our particular interest-debates, because I find, that those very grounds, upon which you call in question your own particular interest, if you did consider them, you would find they go a further length, to conclude against all others, and either they have no strength in your case, or they will be of equal force to batter down the confidence of all the saints, and the certainty of all the promises. What is it that troubles you, but that you are sinners, and such sinners, so vile and loathsome? From whence you do conclude, not only that you have no present assurance of his love, but that he cannot love such a one as you are. Now, I say, if this hold good, in reference to you, take heed that you condemn not yourselves in that which you approve, -- that is, that you do not dispute against the interest of all the saints, who were such as you are, and the tenth of those fundamental positions of the gospel. "God so loved the world," &c. And so you do not only wrong yourselves, but all others, and not only so, but you offer the greatest indignity to him that out of love sent his Son, and to him who, out of love, came and laid down his life. O consider how you indignify(172) and set at nought that great manifestation of God's love, "God manifested in the flesh," how you despise his love pledge to sinners, a greater than which he could not give you, because as great as himself! O that you could see the consequence of your anxious and perplexing doubts, -- that they do not only an injury to your own souls, but that they are of a more bloody nature! If they held good, they would cut off the life and salvation of all believers, and, which is worse, they would, by an unavoidable consequence, conclude an antichristian point, that Christ is not come in the flesh. I beseech you, unbowel your evils, that you may abhor them.
This may strengthen our faith, and minister much consolation, in another consideration too, that which is laid down, Heb. ii.17, and iv.15, that he was partaker of our nature and in all things like unto his brethren, that so he might be a merciful High Priest, able to succour us and touched with the feeling of our infirmities. What strong consolation may be sucked out of these breasts! When it was impossible that man could rise up to God, because of his infinite highness and holiness, behold, God hath come down to man, in his lowness and baseness. He hath sent down this ladder from heaven to the earth, that poor wretched sinners may ascend upon it. It is come down as low as our infirm, weak, and frail nature, that we may have easy coming up to it, and going up upon it to heaven. Therefore his flesh is called a "new and living way," because a poor sinner may be assured of welcome and acceptation with one of his own kind, his brother, -- (he was not ashamed to call us brethren,) -- flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone. This may make boldness of access, that we have not God to speak to, or come to immediately, as he is clothed with glory and majesty, and as the Jews heard him on mount Sinai, and desired a mediator between him and them, but that great prophet promised to them hath come, and we have him between us and God, -- as low as we, that we may speak to him, "riding upon an ass," a low ass, that every one may whisper their desires in his ear -- and yet as high as God, that he may speak to God, and have power with him. Truly, this is a sweet trysting place to meet God in, that no sinner may have any fear to come to it, to this treaty of peace and reconciliation. How may it persuade us of that great privilege that we may "become the sons of God," when the Son of God is become the Son of man, John i.11, 12. Truly, though it be hard to be believed, that such as we should become the sons of the great King, yet it is nothing so strange as this, that the eternal and only begotten Son of the great God, should become the Son of wretched man. That highness will be easily believed, if we consider this lowness. It will not be so hard to persuade a soul that there is a way of union and reconciliation to God, of being yet at peace with him, if this be pondered, -- that God hath married his own nature with ours, -- in one person, to be a pledge of that union and peace. And then how much quickening and comfort may it yield us, that he was not only a man, but a miserable man, and that not through any necessity, but only the necessity of love and compassion. He had enough of mercy to save us as God, he had enough of love and compassion as man, but he would take on misery too in his own person, that he might be experimentally merciful to us. Certainly, the experience of misery and infirmity must superadd some tenderness to the heart of our High Priest. But though it did not help him to be more pitiful, yet it was done for us, to help us to have more confidence in him, and boldness to come unto him. What an encouragement is it for a poor man to come unto the once poor Jesus Christ, who "had not where to lay his head?" He knows the evil of poverty, and he chose to know it, that he might have compassion on thee. With what boldness may poor afflicted and despised believers come to him! Why? Because himself had experience of all that, and he was familiarly acquainted with grief and sorrow, therefore he can sympathize best with thee. Let us speak even of the sinful infirmities thou art subject to. That there might be a suitableness in him to help thee, he came as nigh as might be, -- he was willing to be tempted to sin, and so he knows the power that temptations must have over weak and frail natures, but sin he could not, for that had been evil for us. Let this, then, give us boldness to come to him.
I would desire to persuade you to humility from this, according to the lesson Christ gives us, Matt. xi.29, "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly." And the apostle makes singular use of this mystery of the abasement of the Majesty, to abate from our high esteem of ourselves, Phil. ii.3-6. O should not the same mind be in us that was in Christ! God abased, man exalted, -- how unsuitable are these, think you! God lowly in condition and disposition, and man, though base in condition, yet high in his deposition and in his own estimation! What more mysterious than God humbled? And what more monstrous than man proud? Truly, pride is the most deformed thing in a man, but in a Christian it is monstrous and prodigious. If he did humble himself out of charity and love, who was so high and glorious, how should we humble ourselves out of necessity, who are so low and base? And out of charity and love too, to be conformed and like unto him! Nature may persuade the one, but Christianity teacheth the other, -- to be lowly in mind, and esteem every one better than ourselves. To be meek, patient, long-suffering, reason may persuade it, upon the consideration of our own baseness, emptiness, frailty, and nothingness. But this lesson is taught in Christ's school, not from that motive only, -- the force of necessity, but from a higher motive, -- the constraint of love to Jesus Christ, -- "learn of me." Suppose there were no necessity of reason in it, yet affection might be a stronger necessity to persuade conformity to him, and following his example, who became so low, and humbled himself to the death even for us.