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thought of what they have been redeemed from, (of which they will then have a much clearer perception than at present,) will add to their joys in heaven, and inspire such a song of praise as will be peculiar to themselves, and in which the holy angels, who never felt the stings of guilt, nor tasted the sweetness of pardoning mercy, will not be able to join them. They are accordingly represented, in the prophetical vision, as standing nearest to the throne, and uniting in the noblest strains of praise to him who sitteth upon it ;* while the surrounding angels can only take part in the chorus, and admire and adore, when they behold the brightest displays of the glory of the wonder-working God, manifested in his love to worthless, helpless sinners.
These opposite ideas are joined in my text. The people who are spoken of as rejoicing in a great light, were, till this light arose and shone upon them, in darkness ; walking, sitting, living in darkness, and in the land of the shadow of death. That this passage refers to Messiah, we have a direct proof. The evangelistt refers it expressly to him, and points out the time and manner of its literal accomplishment. I shall first consider the literal sense and completion of the prophecy, and then sbow how fitly it applies to the state of mankind at large, and to the happy effects of the Gospel of salvation, which, by the blessing of God, has been the instrument of bringing multitudes of many nations, peoples, and languages, out of a state of gross darkness, into mavellous light.'I
I. Hebrew words (like many in our own language) have often more than one signification. But only one sense can be expressed in a version. And therefore interpreters and translators frequent
a ly differ. Which of the different words, used to express the meaning of the same original term, is most happily chosen, may be sometimes decided by the context.
The two words in the first verse of this chapter, rendered lightly afflicted,' and 'grievously af
" flicted,' signify, likewise, the one, to think lightly of, to account vile; and the other, to honour, to render honourable and glorious. Both these words occur in one verse, and are used in these senses. in the Lord's message to Eli, Them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed.'s Had the same words been thus rendered in the passage before us, the sense of both verses would, I think, have been more plain, connected, and consistent, to the following purport, agreeable to the translation given by Vitringa, und the present bishop of London. * Nevertheless, there shall not be dimness (or darkness) as in the time of her vexation or distress. He formerly debased [made
* Rev. v. 9-12.
+ Mattb. iv. 15, 16.
1. Pet. jj. 9.
$ 1 Sam. ii. So
light or vile) the land of Zebulon and Naphtali, but in the latter time he hath made it glorious, even [the land] by the way of the sea, beyond Jordon, Galilee of the gentiles. [For] The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light,' &c. Such was the afflicted and low state of Galilee previous to the coming of MESSIAH ; such was the exaltation and honour it derived from his appearance.
1. The land allotted to the tribes of Issachar, Zebulon, and Naphtali, was chiefly included in the province, which upon a subsequent division of the country, obtained the name of Galilee. The northern part of it, the inheritance of Naphtali, was the boundary or fontier towards Syria, and had been frequently vexed and afflicted when the sins of Israel brought the armies of their enemies upon them, as frontier countries usually suffer most in times of invasion and war. Particularly this part of the land, called Galilee of the Gentiles, was the first and most immediately exposed to the ravages of Tiglath-Pileser, and Sennachrib. And as the people there were likewise more mixed with foreigners, and at the greatest distance from the capital, Jerusalem, on these accounts Galilee was lightly esteemed by the Jews themselves. They thought ó no prophet could arise in Galilee.'* It even pre
6 judiced Nathaniel against the first report he received of Jesus as Messiah, that he lived, and was generally supposed (by those who were content to be governed by popular rumour, without inquiring attentively for themselves) to have been born in Galilee. He asked, with an appearance of surprise, . Can any good thing come out of Nazareth ?'t They were accounted a rude, unpolished, provincial people. And therefore, when Peter would have denied any acquaintance with his Lord, he was discovered to be a Galilean I by his dialect and manner of speech.
2. The despised and least valued part of the land of Israel was the principal scene of Messiah's life and ministry, insomuch, that, as I have observed, he was supposed to have been born there; a mistake, which his enemies industriously supported and made the most of ; for those who could persuade themselves that it was so in fact, would think themselves justified in rejecting his claim ; it being one undeniable mark of Messiah, given by the prophet Micah, that he was to be born in Bethlehem of Judah.'s He was, however, brought up at Nazareth, and lived, for a time, in Capernaum, towns in Galilee ; but both of so little repute, that, had they not been connected with his history, it is not probable that their name would have been transmitted to posterity.
* John, vii 52. John, i. 46. | Mark, xiv. 70. Micah, v. 2.
3. But by his residence there, Galilee was honoured and ennobled. He himself declared, that, on this account, Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum,' (though probably none of them were more than inconsiderable fishing towns,) were exalted even to heaven.'* Those were highly privileged places which our Lord condescended to visit in person ; so, likewise, are those places where he is pleased to send his Gospel. I have observed formerly, and make no apology for repeating a truth so very important, and so little attended to, that the glorious Gospel of the blessed God,'† when faithfully preached and thankfully received and improved, renders an obscure village more honourable, and of more real consequence, than the metropolis of a great empire, where this light shineth not. For wbat are the dark places of
' the earth,'I however celebrated for numbers and opulence, for the monuments of ambition and arts, but habitations of cruelty, infatuation, aud misery !
4. Though Galilee was favoured with the Scripture, and with Synagogue-worship, and the inhabitants were a people who professed to know the God of Israel, it was a land of darkness at the time of Messiah's appearance. Though they were not idolaters, ignorance prevailed among them. The law and the prophets were read in the synagogues; but we may believe to little good purpose, while they were under the direction of perverse teachers, who substituted the traditions of men for the commands of God. The single circumstance of keeping herds of swine,
. as the Gaderenes did, seems a proof that the law of Moses was but little regarded by them. They, as well as the people of Judea, were under the guidance of the Scribes and Pharisees in their religious concerns, who were, if I may use a modern phrase, the clergy of that time; and these, we are assured by bim who knew their hearts, were generally corrupted, blind leaders of the blind. Yet, they were held in ignorant admiration, and implicitly submitted to. From the character of the public ministers of religion, we may, without great danger of mistake, infer the character of the people, who are pleased and satisfied with their ministrations. As the disciple cannot,' ordinarily, be expected to be superior to his Master ;'S the religion of the Scribes may be taken as a standard of that of the Galileans, who were instructed by them; yet these were the people among whom MesSIAH chiefly conversed ; so that his enemies styled him a Galilean, and a Nazarene, as a mark of reproach and contempt. Many of his apostles, perhaps the most of them, were Galileans likewise. • He seeth not as man seeth.'|| The most of his imme
* Mattb. xi. 21-23. † 1 Tim. i. 11. | Psalm 1xxiv. 20. Luke, vj. 40. ! 1 Sam svi. 7. 1
diate followers, while upon earth, were such as men despised, on account of their situations, rank, or callings ; publicans, and sinners,
fishermen and Galileaps. This was, among other reasons, for the encouragement of the poor, the destitute, the despised, the miserable, and guilty, in succeeding ages, who should desire to put their trust in his name, and to implore his mercy. To those who received him, he was the light, the true light; he relieved them from the ignorance, wickedness, and distress in which be found them. They, on their parts, bore testimony to him. They, saw and acknowledged his glory. They felt bis power, and devoted themselves to his service. Thus much for the literal sense.
II. But this prophecy is not to be restrained to the first and more immediate season of its accomplishment. The Lord speaks thus of Messiah in another place, It is a light thing that thou shouldst be my servant, to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation to the ends of the earth.'* And there are many declarations of a like import. He is still the light of the world,'t though no longer visible and conversant with men. By the influence and power of his Spirit, he is still present wherever his Gospel is known. This his word of grace and truth be sends where he pleases, and with a discrimination not unlike that which be observed when he was upou earth. The Gospel is preached to the poor.
Courts and palaces are seldom favoured with it. While he passes by many great cities, many habitations of the wise and wealthy, he is known in villages and cottages. His condescension and favour to those who are unnoticed by the world cannot be too highly extolled. That the others are excluded from the same benefits, is more properly to be ascribed to their obstinacy than to his will. They exclude themselves. He stands at the door and knocks.'I His word is within their reach ; his ministers are within their call. They might easily enjoy every means and help which the Gospel provides for sinners, if they pleased ; but they do not please. They are either engaged in a round of sensual pleasure, or engrossed by studies and pursuits, which possess their hearts, and fill up their thoughts and time, so that they have neither leisure nor inclination to attend to the things which pertain to their peace. Instead of inviting his Gospel to them, they too frequently employ their power and influence to discountenance, and, if possible, to suppress it. They have their choice. The great and the gay
. will not receive his message ; it is therefore sent to the poor, and to the wretched, and they will hear it. Yet as he visited * Isa. xlix. 6.
John, viii. 12. Rev. iii. 20.
Jerusalem in person, and taught there, so London, likewise is favoured with the light of his Gospel. But, alas ! how few believe the report ! They who do experience the change described in my text. Their darkness is changed into marvellous light.
Mankind, till enlightened by the word and spirit of grace, are truly in a state of darkness. Thick darkness is a vail which conceals from us, not only distant, but the nearest objects. A man in the dark cannot perceive either friend or enemy; he may be in great danger, yet think himself in safety, or, if he thinks himself in danger, be unable to take any step for his preservation, from a want of light. Thus, though God be our maker and preserver, though in him we live, move, and have our being,' though we are surrounded with his presence, and proofs of his wisdom and goodness are before us wherever we turn our eyes, yet we live without him in the world. Equally ignorant we are of ourselves, of the proper happiness of our nature, or how it is to be attained. We know neither the cause, nor the cure, nor the consequences of our proneness to cleave to the dust, and of placing our affection on inadequate and unsatisfying objects.
And if we suppose a person awakened to a conviction of the evil of sin, and to understand that nothing less than the favour of God can make a rational and immortal creature happy, still without the Gospel he would be in darkness and the shadow of death. His case may be compared to that of a person shipwrecked upon some desert, inhospitable coast, suffering great horrors and anxiety, from his exposedness to perish by hunger, by enemies, or wild beasts—who, if he saw, at no very great distance, an island, and was, by some means, informed and assured that island was the seat of safety, plenty and pleasure ; and that if he was once there his dangers would all cease, and his utmost wishes be satisfied ; still, if there were neither bridge, nor boat, nor any means by which he might arrive thither ; to know that happiness was so near him, yet inaccessible to him, would but aggravate his misery, and make his despair more emphatically pungent. Miserable, indeed, must we be, if we clearly perceived that only He whose creatures we are, can make us happy; and that, as sinners, we have forfeited his favour, and are utterly incapable of regaining it, if we were left under these views without any hope of relief. Such must have been our situation sooner or later, if God, who is rich in mercy,' had not himself provided the means of reconciliation. For though a hope of pardon is easily taken up by those who are ignorant of the holiness of God, and the malignity of sin ; yet nothing but a declaration from himself, that there is forgiveness with him, can give peace to a