Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
There is considerable difference of opinion as to what is the best reading and the best rendering of this passage. According to Dean Alford and the Revised Version, we should understand it to mean, "Peace among men towards whom God has a good-will" — that is, in whom He is well pleased. According to the Vulgate the meaning should be, peace to men who exhibit a good-will. This is the sense adopted by Keble in his Christmas hymn. The reading of the Authorised Version is not, perhaps, the best; but, as being more familiar, and at the same time so thoroughly in harmony with the spirit of the day, I will venture to take it as a motto.
1. It must be confessed that the conduct of professing Christians has often been such as to make the angels' song sound like an ironical sarcasm, rather than an eulogy. Church history, for example, to a passionate lover of peace and good-will, must be very melancholy reading.
2. But I hear some one say," things are improved now-a-days." Well, yes, I suppose they are a little. Still many of those who call themselves Christians seem to be characterized by the very opposites of peace and good-will. I remember that in the preface to the second edition of his Belfast Address, Professor Tyndall said he was not surprised at the bitter things which had been uttered against him by Christians, when he remembered how bitterly they were in the habit of recriminating one another. "'Tis true, 'tis pity; pity 'tis, 'tis true." Peace and good-will — peace, or the absence of quarrelsomeness; good-will, or the actual performance of deeds of kindness, are essential characteristics of genuine discipleship.
3. Let us, today, apply this test of discipleship to ourselves. Of all the provisions made for our spiritual welfare, nothing, perhaps, more helpful than the periodical recurrence of days like the present.
4. But it was Christ's aim that every day should be in this respect a Christmas Day. Is that the case with us? There was a curious institution in the Middle Ages called the ecclesiastical truce or peace of God. Feuds legally stopped for four days a week. The bell tolled on a Wednesday. All hostilities were to cease till the following Monday. And until the Monday they were suspended; but then they were always faithfully resumed. Shall it be so with us? After mani-resting peace and good-will on the 25th of December, must we relapse again into practical paganism on the 26th? We cannot be always making presents, but we may be always doing good.
5. When peace and good-will are universal, human society will be, as Christ wished to make it, a heaven upon earth.
For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet-bands foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes back the age of gold —
When peace shall over all the earth
Its blessed banner fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.
(Professor A. W. Momerie.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
WEB: "Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good will toward men."