Angels' Acclamations
Luke 2:14
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

There never was such an apparition of angels as at this time; and there was great cause; for —

1. There was never such a ground for it, whether we regard the matter itself, the incarnation of Christ.

2. Or whether we regard the benefit that comes to us thereby. Christ by this means brings God and man together since the fall.I shall especially stand upon those words; but somewhat is to be touched concerning the apparition of these angels.

1. The circumstances of their apparition. They appear to poor shepherds. God respects no callings. He will confound the pride of men, that set so much by that that God so little respects, and to comfort men in all conditions.

2. Again, the angels appeared to them in the midst of their business and callings; and indeed God's people, as Moses and others, have had the sweetest intercourse with God in their affairs; and ofttimes it is the fittest way to hinder Satan's temptations, and to take him off, to be employed in business, rather than to struggle with temptations.

3. And then they appeared to them in the night. God discovers Himself in the night of affliction. Our sweetest and strongest comforts are in our greatest miseries. God's children find light in darkness; nay, God brings light out of darkness itself. We see the circumstances then of this apparition. He calls these angels "a heavenly host" in divers respects, especially in these:(1) An host for number. Here are a number set down. A multitude is distinct from an host; but in that they are an host, they are a multitude; as in Daniel 7:10. "Ten thousand times ten thousand angels attend upon God." And so, Revelation 5:11, there are a world of angels about the Church. In Hebrews 12:22, we are come to have communion with an "innumerable company of angels." Worldly, sottish men that live here below, they think there is no other state of things than they see. There is another manner of state and frame of things, if they had spiritual eyes to see the glory of God, and of Christ our Saviour, and their attendants there — an host, a multitude of heavenly angels.

(2) An host likewise implies order; or else it is a rout, not an host or army. "God is the God of order, not of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33). If you would see disorder, go to hell.

(3) Again, here is consent; an host all joining together in praising God: "Glory to God on high." Christ commends union and consent (Matthew 18:20). Agreement in good is a notable resemblance of that glorious condition we shall enjoy in heaven.

(4) An host of angels, it shows likewise their employment. But here is our comfort; we have a multitude, an host of angels, whose office is to defend the Church, and to offend the enemies of the Church, as we see in Scripture.

(5) Again, an host implies strength. We have a strong garrison and guard. Angels severally are strong creatures. We see one of them destroyed all the first-born in Egypt; one of them destroyed the host of Sennacherib the Assyrian in one night. "And suddenly there was," &c. "Suddenly," in an unperceivable time, yet in time; for there is no motion in a moment, no creature moves from place to place in a moment.God is everywhere. "Suddenly," it not only shows us —

1. Somewhat exemplary from the quick despatch of the angels in their business we pray to God in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven;" that is, willingly, "suddenly," cheerfully: —

2. But also it serves for comfort. If we be in any sudden danger, God can despatch an angel, "a multitude" of angels, to encamp about us "suddenly." What is the use and end of this glorious apparition? In regard of the poor shepherds, to confirm their faith, and in them. ours; for if one or two witnesses confirm a thing, what shall a multitude do? If one or two men confirm a truth, much more an host of heavenly angels. Therefore it is base infidelity to call this in question, that is confirmed by a multitude of angels. And to comfort them likewise in this apparition. We see by the way that for one Christian to confirm and comfort one another, it is the work of an angel, an angelical work; for one man to discourage another, it is the work of a devil. Thus much for the apparition.

3. Now the celebration is "a multitude of the heavenly host praising God." The word signifies "singing" as well as praise. It implies praise expressed in that manner; and indeed "praising God," it is the best expression of the affection of joy. The angels were joyful at the birth of Christ their Lord. Joy is no way better expressed than in "praising God;" and it is pity that such a sweet affection as joy should run in any other stream, if it were possible, than the "praising of God." God hath planted this affection of joy in the creature, and it is fit he should reap the fruit of his own garden. It is pity a clear stream should run into a puddle, it should rather run into a garden; and so sweet and excellent an affection as joy, it is pity it should be employed otherwise than "in praising God" and doing good to men. They express their joy in a suitable expression — "in praising God." The sweetest affection in man should have the sweetest employment. See here the pure nature of angels. They praise God for us. We have more good by the incarnation of Christ than they have; yet notwithstanding, such is their humility, that they come down with great delight from heaven, and praise and glorify God for the birth of Christ, who is not their, but our Redeemer. Some strength they have. There is no creature but hath some good by the incarnation of Christ; to the angels themselves, yet, however, they have some strength from Christ, in the increase of the number of the Church; yet He is not the Redeemer of angels. And yet see, their nature is so pure and so clear from envy and pride, that they even glorify God for the goodness showed to us — meaner creatures than themselves; and they envy not us, though we be advanced, by the incarnation of Christ, to a higher place than they. Let us labour therefore for dispositions angelical, that is, such as may delight in the good of others, and the good of other meaner than ourselves. And learn this also from them: shall they glorify God for our good especially, and shall we be dull and cold in praising God on our own behalf? There is some difference in the readings. Some copies have it, "On earth peace to men of goodwill," to men of God's goodwill; and so they would have it two branches, not three.If the word be rightly understood, it is no great matter.

1. First, the angels begin with the main and chief end of all. It is God's end; it was the angels' end, and it should be ours too, "Glory to God on high."

2. Then they wish the chief good of all, that whereby we are fitted for the main end, "peace." God cannot be glorified on earth unless there be peace wrought.

3. Then, thirdly, here is the ground of all happiness from whence this peace comes: from God's goodwill; from his good pleasure or free grace "to men of God's goodwill." To begin with the first: "Glory to God in the highest." The angels, those blessed and holy spirits, they begin with that which is the end of all. It is God's end in all things, His own glory. He hath none above Himself whose glory to aim at. And they wish "Glory to God in the highest heavens." Indeed, He is more glorified there than anywhere in the world. It is the place where His Majesty most appears; and the truth is, we cannot perfectly glorify God till we be in heaven. There is pure glory given to God in heaven. There is no corruption there in those perfect souls. There is perfect glory given to God in heaven. Here upon earth God is not glorified at all by many. In the mean time, let me add this by the way, that in some sort we may glorify God more on earth than in heaven. Here upon earth we glorify God in the midst of enemies; He hath no enemies in heaven; they are all of one spirit. In this respect, let us be encouraged to glorify God, what we can here: for if we begin to glorify God here, it is a sign we are of the number that He intends to glorify with Him for ever. The verb is not set down here; whether it should be, Glory is given to God; or whether, by way of wishing, "Let glory be given to God;" or by way of prediction or prophecy for the time to come, "Glory shall be to God," from hence to the end of the world. The verb being wanting, all have a truth. "Glory to God on high." Glory is excellency, greatness, and goodness, with the eminency of it, so as it may be discovered. There is a fundamental glory in things that are not discovered at all times. God is always glorious, but, alas! few have eyes to see it. In the former part of the chapter "light" is called the "glory of the Lord" (ver. 9). Light is a glorious creature. Nothing expresseth glory so much as light. It is a sweet creature, but it is a glorious creature. It carries its evidence in itself; it discovers all other things and itself too. So excellency and eminency will discover itself to those that have eyes to see it; and being manifested, and withal taken notice of, is glory. In that the angels begin with the glory of God, I might speak of this doctrine, that the glory of God, the setting forth of the excellencies and eminencies of the Lord, should be the end of our lives, the chief thing we should aim at. The angels here begin with it, and we begin with it in the Lord's Prayer, "hallowed be Thy name." It should be our main employment (Romans 11:36). "Well then, the incarnation of Christ, together with the benefits to us by it, that is, redemption, adoption, &c., it is that wherein God will show His glory most of all. That is the doctrinal truth. The glory and excellency of God doth most shine in His love and mercy in Christ. Every excellency of God hath its proper place or theatre where it is seen, as His power in the creation, his wisdom in His providence and ruling of the world, His justice in hell, His Majesty in heaven; but His mercy and kindness, His bowels of tender mercy, do most appear in His Church among His people. God shows the excellency of His goodness and mercy in the incarnation of Christ, and the benefits we have by it. Many attributes and excellencies of God shine in Christ, as — His truth: "All the promises of God are yea and amen in Christ" (2 Corinthians 1:20). And then His wisdom, that he could reconcile justice and mercy, by joining two natures together. Likewise here is justice, justice fully satisfied in Christ. And of His holiness, that He would be no otherwise satisfied for sin. Therefore "glory to God in the highest heavens," especially for His free grace and mercy in Christ.Now that you may understand this sweet point, which is very comfortable, and indeed the grand comfort to a Christian, do but compare the glory of God, that is, the excellency and eminency of God's mercy, and goodness, and greatness of this work of redemption by Christ, with other things.

1. God is glorious in the work of creation. "The heavens declare the glory of God," and the earth manifests the glory of God.

2. Nay, the glory of God's love and mercy shined not to us so, when we were in Adam; not in Adam, for there God did good to a good man: He created him good, and showed goodness to him. That was not so much wonder. But for God to show mercy to an enemy, to a creature that was in opposition to Him, that was in a state of rebellion against Him, it is a greater wonder and more glory. That which I shall next stand upon, shall be to show

(1)  how we may know whether we glorify God for Christ or no;

(2)  and then the hindrances that keep us from glorifying God for this excellent good;

(3)  and the means how we may come to glorify God.

1. For the first, of glorifying God in general, I will not speak much. It would be large; and the point of glorifying God is most sweetly considered, as invested in such a benefit as this, when we think of it, not as an idea only, but think of it in Christ, for whom we have cause to glorify God, and for all the good we have by Him.

(1) First, then, we hold tune with the blessed angels in giving glory to God, when we exalt God in our souls above all creatures and things in the world; when we lift Him up in His own place, and let Him be in our souls, as He is in Himself, in the most holy. God is glorious, especially in His mercy and goodness. Let Him be so in our hearts, in these sweet attributes, above all our unworthiness and sin. For God hath not glory from us till we give Him the highest place in our love and joy and delight, and a]l those affections that are set upon good, when they are set upon Him as the chief good; then we give Him His due place in our souls, we ascribe to Him that divinity, and excellency, and eminency that is due to Him.

(2) Then again, we give glory to God for Christ, when we take all the favours we have from God in Christ, when we see Christ in everything. "All things are ours because we are Christ's" (1 Corinthians 3:23).

(3) Then again, we give glory to God when we stir up others. All the angels consent. There was no discord in this harmony of the angels.

(4) Again, we glorify God in Christ, when we see such glory and mercy of Christ, as it doth transform us and change us, and from an inward change we have alway a blessed disposition to glorify God, as I showed out of 2 Corinthians 3:18. Therefore if we find that the knowledge of God in Christ hath changed our dispositions, it is a sign then we give glory to God indeed. For to glorify God is an action that cannot proceed but from a disposition of nature that is altered and changed. The instrument must be set in tune before it can yield this excellent music, to glorify God as the angels do; that is, all the powers of the soul must be set in order with grace by the Spirit of God.

(5) Again, we glorify God when we take to heart anything that may hinder, or stop, or eclipse God's truth, and obscure it; when it works zeal in us in our places as far as we can; when it affects us deeply to see the cause of religion hindered any way. If there be any desire of glorifying God, there will be zeal.

(6) Again, if we apprehend this glorious mystery of Christ in the gospel aright, it will work in us a glorious joy; for joy is a disposition especially that fits us to glorify God.

2. This being so excellent a duty, to which we are stirred by the angels, "Glory to God on high," &c., what are the main hindrances of it that we give not God more glory?

(1) The main hindrances are a double veil of ignorance and unbelief, that we do not see the glorious light of God shining in Jesus Christ; or else if we do not know it, we do not believe it; and thereupon, instead of that blessed disposition that should be in the soul, there comes an admiration of carnal excellencies, a delighting in base things.

(2) So likewise unbelief, when we hear and see and know the notion of mercy and of Christ, and can dispute of these things, like men that talk of that they never tasted of.

3. Now, the way to attain to this glorious duty, to glorify God.

(1) First, therefore, if we would glorify God, we must redeem some time to think of these things, and bestow the strength of our thoughts this way. The soul being the most excellent thing in the world, it is fit it should be set on the excellentest duty.

(2) Now, to help this, in the next place, beg of God the "Spirit of revelation" to discover to us these things in their own proper light, "for they are spiritually discerned."(3) And let us labour daily more and more to see the vanity of all things in the world. "Peace on earth." The same holy affection in the angels that moved them to wish God to have his due of glory from the creature, it moves them to wish peace to men likewise; to show this, by the way, that there can be no true zeal of God's glory but with love to mankind. They were not so ravished with the glory of God as to forget poor man on earth. Oh no! They have sweet, pure affections to man, a poorer creature than themselves. Therefore let them that are injurious and violent in their dispositions, and insolent in their carriage, never talk of glorifying God, when they despise and wrong men. There are some that overthrow all peace in the earth for their own glory, but he that seeks God's glory will procure peace what he can; for they go both together, as we see here, "Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth." Now, their end of wishing peace upon earth, it is that men might thereby glorify God, that God being reconciled, and peace being stablished in men's consciences, they might glorify God. Hence observe this likewise, that we cannot glorify God till we have some knowledge of our peace with him in Christ. The reason is, peace comes from righteousness. Christ is first the "King of righteousness," and then "King of peace;" righteousness causeth peace. Now, unless the soul be assured of righteousness in Christ, it can have no peace. For can we heartily wish for the manifestation of the glory of him that we think is our enemy, and him that we have no interest in his greatness and goodness? The heart of man will never do it, therefore God must first speak peace to the soul — the angels knew that well enough — and then we are fit to glorify God. "Peace on earth."What is peace? It is the best thing that man can attain unto, to have peace with his Maker and Creator. Peace, in general, is a harmony and an agreement of different things.

1. First, there is a scattering and a division from God, the fountain of good, with whom we had communion in our first creation, and His delight was in His creature.

2. Then there is a separation between the good angels and us; for they being good subjects, take part with their prince, and therefore join against rebels, as we are.

3. Then there is a division and scattering between man and man.

4. And then there is a division and separation between a man and the creature, which is ready to be in arms against any man that is in the state of nature, to take God's quarrel, as we see in the plagues of Egypt and other examples.

5. And they have no peace with themselves. Then if we be at peace with God, all other peace will follow; for good subjects will be at peace with rebels, when they are brought in subjection to their king, and all join in one obedience. Therefore the angels are brought to God again by Christ. And so for men, there is a spirit of union between them. The same Spirit that knits us to God by faith, knits us one to another by love. And we have peace with the creature, for when God, who is the Lord of hosts, is made peaceful to us, He makes all other things peaceable. All peace with God, with angels, and with creatures is stablished in Christ. And why in Christ? Christ is every way fitted for it, for He is the Mediator between God and man; therefore by office He is fit to make peace between God and man.He is Emmanuel, Himself God and man in one nature; therefore His office is to bring God and man together.

1. It is fit it should be so in regard of God, who being a "consuming fire," will no peace with the creature without a mediator. It stands not with His majesty, neither can there ever be peace with us otherwise.

2. It was also fit, in respect of us, it should be so. Alas! "who can dwell with everlasting burnings?" (Isaiah 33:14). Who can have communion with God, who is a "consuming fire?" No. We cannot endure the sight of an angel.

3. If we look to Christ Himself, He being God's Son, and the Son of His love, for Him to make us sons, and sons of God's love. Is it not most agreeable, that He that is the image of God, should again renew the image of God that we lost? "Peace upon earth." Why doth He say, "peace on earth"? Because peace was here wrought upon earth by Christ in the days of His flesh, when he offered Himself "a sacrifice of a sweet-smelling savour to His Father." Because here in earth we must be partakers of it. We ofttimes defer to make our peace with God from time to time, and think there will be peace made in another world. Oh, beloved, our peace must be made on earth.But to come to some trials, whether we have this peace made or no; whether we can say in spirit and truth, there is a peace established between God and us.

1. For a ground of this, that may lead us to further trial, know that Christ hath reconciled God and us together, not only by obtaining peace, by way of satisfaction, but by way of application also. He gives a spirit of application to improve that peace, to improve "Christ, the Prince of peace," as their own. To come to some more familiar evidences, whether we be at peace with God, and whether we have the comfort of this peace, established by Christ, or no.

2. Those that are reconciled one to another have common friends and common enemies.

3. Another evidence of "peace" made in Christ between God and us, is a boldness of spirit and acquaintance with God (Job 22:21).

4. A Christian that hath made his" peace" with God, will never allow himself in any sin against conscience.

5. Again, where there is a true peace established, there is a high esteem of the word of peace, the gospel of reconciliation, as St. Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:18).

6. Lastly, those that have found peace are peaceable.In the next place, to give a few directions to maintain this peace actually and continually every day.

1. To walk with God, and to keep our daily peace with God, it requires a great deal of watchfulness over our thoughts, — for He is a Spirit, over our words and actions. Watchfulness is the preserver of peace.

2. And because it is a difficult thing to maintain terms of peace with God, in regard of our indisposition, we fall into breaches with God daily, therefore we should often renew our covenants and purposes every day.

3. Again, if we would maintain this peace, let us be always doing somewhat that is good and pleasing to God. In the same chapter (Philippians 4:8), "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure," &c., "think of these things. Now, to stir us up more and more to search the grounds of our peace, I beseech you, let us consider the fearful estate of a man that hath not made his peace with God. "Goodwill towards men." Divers copies have it otherwise, "On earth peace to men of goodwill." Some have it, "Goodwill towards men." The sense is not much different. Peace on earth, "To men of God's goodwill, of God's good pleasure."That God hath a pleasure to save, or "goodwill towards men," of God's good pleasure; "Peace on earth," to men of God's goodwill and pleasure; or God's good pleasure towards men.

1. God shews now good pleasure towards men. The love that God bears towards man hath divers terms, from divers relations. Now this free goodwill and grace, it is towards men, towards mankind. He saith not, towards angels. And learn this for imitation, to love mankind. God loved mankind; and surely there is none that is born of God, but he loves the nature of man, wheresoever he finds it.

2. This ἐυδοκια, "goodwill of God," to restore lapsed man by the sending of His Son, is the ground of all good to man, and hath no ground but itself. I come to the last point, because I would end this text at this time.

3. This free love and grace of God is only in Christ.

(R. Sibbes.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: 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."

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