by William Gurnall
"Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10, 11.
Incarnation. There is in Christ a foundation laid for greater familiarity with God, than Adam was at first capable of. He, indeed, was the son of God — yet he was kept at a further distance, and treated with more state and majesty from God, than now the reconciled soul is; for though he was the son of God by creation — yet the Son of God was not then the Son of man by incarnation; and at this door comes in the believer's sweetest familiarity with God. God does descend His throne, exchange His majestic robes of glory for man's frail flesh; He leaves His palace to live for a time in His creature's humble cottage, and there not only familiarly converses with him, but, which is stranger, ministers to him. Yes, which is more than all these, He surrenders Himself up to endure all manner of indignities from His sorry creature's hand. And when this coarse entertainment is done, back He posts to Heaven, not to complain to His Father, how He has been abused here below, and raise Heaven's power against those who had so ill-treated Him — but to make ready Heaven's palace for the reception of those who had thus abused Him, and now will accept of His grace. And lest these — yet left on earth, should fear His resumed royalty and majesty, in Heaven's glory, would make some alteration with their affairs in His heart; to give them therefore a constant demonstration that He would be the same in the height of His honor that He was in the depth of His abasement — He goes back in the same clothes, to wear them on the throne, in all His glory, only some princely cost bestowed, to put them into the fashion of that heavenly kingdom, and make them suit with His glorified state; giving them a pattern by this, what their own vile bodies, now so dishonorable, shall be made another day.
Redemption. Conscience requires as much to satisfy it as it does to satisfy the justice of God Himself. But in the gospel, joyful news is brought to the sinner's cars of a fountain of blood there opened, which for its preciousness is as far above the price that divine justice demands for man's sin, as the blood of bulls and beasts was beneath it; and that is, the blood of Jesus Christ, who freely poured it upon the cross, and by it "obtained eternal redemption for us" (Hebrews 9). This is the door by which all true peace and joy comes into the conscience.
The simplicity of the gospel. If bread were as hard to come by as sweetmeats, or water as scarce as wine — the greatest part of men must famish. Just so, if truths necessary to salvation were as hard to be understood, as some others, many poor weak-hearted Christians would certainly perish without a miracle to help them. But the saving truths of the gospel lie plain, and run clear to all but those who muddy the streams with their own corrupt minds.
The abiding truth of the gospel. Consider God's especial care to preserve His truth; whatever is lost, God looks to His truth. In all the great revolutions, changes, and overturning of kingdoms, and churches also, God has still preserved His truth. In a word, in that great and dismal conflagration of Heaven and earth, when the elements shall melt for heat, and the world come to its fatal period, then truth shall not suffer the least loss — but "the word of the Lord endures forever" (1 Peter 1:25).
The peace of the gospel. "Let him take hold of My strength, that He may make peace with Me; and he shall make peace with Me" (Isaiah 27:5). And where lies God's saving strength — but in Christ? He has laid strength upon this mighty One, able to save to the uttermost all that come to God by Him. Take hold of Christ, and you have hold of God's arm; He cannot strike the soul that holds thereby.
Where there is peace, such peace as peace with God and conscience, there can want no pleasure. David goes merry to bed, when he had nothing to supper but the gladness that God by this puts into his heart, and promises himself a better night's rest than any of them all, that are feasted with the world's cheer: "You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep" (Psalm 4:7, 8). This same peace with God, enjoyed in the conscience, redounds to the comfort of the body. Now David can sleep sweetly, when he lies on a hard bed; what here he says he would do, in Psalm 3:5, he says he has done, "I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the Lord sustained me." The title of the psalm tells us when David had this sweet night's rest; not when he lay on his bed of down in his stately palace at Jerusalem — but when he fled for his life from his unnatural son Absalom, and possibly was forced to lie in the open field, under the canopy of Heaven.
The great care which Christ took for His disciples, when He left the world, was not to leave them a quiet world to live in — but to arm them against a troublesome world: He bequeaths unto them His peace.
The rejection of the gospel. "Not one of those invited shall taste of my supper." God can least bear any contempt cast upon His grace. They would not come when the supper was on the table; and therefore the cloth was drawn, and they go supperless to bed, and die in their sins. Christ you will not, Christ therefore you shall not, have. None sink so deep in Hell as those that fall into it with stumbling at Christ.
The joy of the gospel. Your embracing Christ preached to you in the gospel, will be as welcome news to Heaven, I can tell you, as the tidings of Christ and salvation through Him can be to you. There is joy in Heaven at the conversion of a sinner. Those angels that sang Christ into the world, will not lack a song when He is received into your heart, for He came into the world for this end.
Rejoice at the news: glad tidings, and sad hearts, do not go well together. When we see one heavy and sorrowful, we ask him what ill news he has heard. Christian, what ill news has Christ brought from Heaven with Him that makes you walk with your folded arms and pensive countenance? "Saints shall shout aloud for joy" (Psalm 132:16).
To see a wicked man merry and jocund, or a Christian sad and dumpish, is alike unlovely. Truly, the saint's heaviness reflects unkindly upon God Himself: we do not commend His cheer, if it does not cheer us.
O Christians, let the world see you are not losers in your joy, since you have been acquainted with the gospel; give them not cause to think by your uncomfortable walking, that when they turn Christians, they must bid all joy farewell, and resolve to spend their days in a house of mourning.
Do not for shame, Christian, run on the world's score by taking up any of its carnal joy; you need not go out of God's house to be merry. A Christian should deny himself of the world's joy and delights, lest they say, "These Christians draw their joy out of our cistern!"
The saint's joy and peace is not such a light, frothy joy as the world's. The parlor wherein the Spirit of Christ entertains the Christian is an inner room, not next the street, for every one that goes by to smell the feast. "A stranger does not intermeddle with his joy" (Proverbs 14:10). Christ and the soul may be at supper within, and you not so much as see one dish go in, or hear the music that sounds so sweetly in the Christian's ears. Perhaps you think he lacks peace, because he does not hang out a sign in his countenance of the joy and peace he has within. Alas, poor wretch! may not the saint have a peaceful conscience, with a solemn, yes, sad countenance, as well as you and your companions have a sorrowful heart, when there is nothing but fair weather in your faces? "In laughter the heart is sorrowful" (Proverbs 14:13).
The mystery of the gospel. As the gospel is a mystery of faith, it enables the godly to believe strange mysteries; to believe that which they understand not, and hope for that which they do not see. It teaches them to believe that Christ was born in time, and that He was from everlasting; that He was comprehended in the Virgin's womb, and yet the Heaven of heavens not able to contain Him: to be the Son of Mary, and yet her Maker; to be born without sin, and yet justly to have died for sin.
They believe that God was just in punishing Christ, though innocent; and in justifying penitent believers, who are sinners; they believe themselves to be great sinners, and yet that God sees them in Christ without spot or wrinkle.
Again, as the gospel is a mystery of godliness, it enables the godly to do as strange things as they believe; to live by Another's spirit, to act from Another's strength, to live to Another's will, and aim at Another's glory; they live by the Spirit of Christ, act with His strength, are determined by His will, and aim at His glory: it makes them so gentle, that a child may lead them to anything that is good; yet so stout, that fire shall not frighten them into sin: they can love their enemies, and yet, for Christ's sake, can hate father and mother: it makes them diligent in their worldly calling — yet enables them to condemn the riches they have obtained by God's blessing on their labor; they are taught by it that all things are theirs — yet they dare not take a pin from the wicked by force or fraud: it makes them so humble as to prefer every one above themselves; yet so to value their own condition, that the poorest among them would not change his estate with the greatest monarch of the world: it makes them thank God for health, and for sickness also; to rejoice when exalted, and not to repine when made low; they can pray for life, and at the same time desire to die!
The gospel opens a mine of unsearchable riches — but in a mystery; it shows men a way how to be rich in faith, rich in God, rich for another world, while poor in this.
Again the professors of the gospel are hated, because they partake of its mysterious nature. They are high-born — but in a mystery; you cannot see their birth by their outward breeding; arms they bear, and revenues they have to live on — but not such as the world judges the greatness of persons and families by: no, their outside is mean, while their inside is glorious; and the world values them by what they know and see of their external part, and not by their inward graces; they pass as princes in the disguise of some poor man's clothes through the world, and their entertainment is accordingly.
Had Christ put on His robes of glory and majesty when He came into the world, surely He had not gone out of it with so shameful and cruel a death. The world would have trembled at His footstool, which some of them did, when but a beam of His deity looked forth upon them.
Did saints walk on earth in those robes which they shall wear in Heaven, then they would be feared and admired by those who now scorn and despise them. But as God's design in Christ's first coming would not have been fulfilled, had He so appeared; neither would His design in His saints, did the world know them as one day they shall; therefore He is pleased to let them lie hid under the mean coverings of poverty and infirmities, that so He may exercise their suffering graces, and also accomplish His wrath upon the wicked for theirs against them.
Is the gospel a mystery? then, Christian, long for Heaven, and only there shall this mystery be fully known. Here we learn our knowledge of it by little and little, like one that reads a book as it comes from the press, sheet by sheet — there we shall see it altogether: here we learn with much pain and difficulty, there without travail and trouble: glorified saints, though they cease not from work — yet rest from labor: here passion blinds our minds, that we mistake error for truth, and truth for error; but these clouds shall be scattered and gone: here the weakness of natural parts keeps many in the dark, and renders them incapable of apprehending some truths, which others are led into; but there the strong shall not prevent the weak, the scholar shall know as much as his master.
When that blessed hour comes, then lift up your heads with joy, for it will lead you into that blissful place where you will see Christ, not a great way off, not with the eye of faith — but with a glorified eye behold His very Person, never more to lose the sight of Him! You shall no more hear what a glorious place Heaven is, as you were accustomed to have it set forth by the poor rhetoric of mortal man, preaching to you of that with which he himself was little acquainted; but shall walk yourself in the streets of that glorious city, and bless yourself, to think what poor, low thoughts you had thereof, when on earth you meditated on this subject. One moment's sight of that glory, will inform you more than all the books written of it were ever able to do!
From The Christian in Complete Armour by William Gurnall