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relate, since the Gospels do not. We are there only told, that these respectable visitors, having paid their duty in this manner, and being warned of God not to return to Herod,* “ departed into their own country
Thus ends this remarkable piece of history, in which all the circumstances are so perfectly conformable to the manners, the customs, the prevailing opinions and notions of those times, in which the narrative is supposed to have been written, that they tend greatly to confirm the truth and credibility of the sacred history. I have already in going along touched slightly on some of these circumstances, but it may be useful here to draw them all into one point of view.
1. In the first place, then, the journey of these wise men, and the object of it, namely, to find out him who was born king of the Jews, corresponds exactly to the information given by several heathen authors,† that there was in those days a general expectation of some very extraordinary personage, who was to make his appearance at that particular period of time, and in that particular part of the world.
2. If the birth of this extraordinary personage was marked by a new star or meteor in the heavens, it was very natural that it should first strike the observation of those called the wise men, who lived in a country where the stars and the planets shone with uncommon lustre, where the science of astronomy was (for that reason perhaps) particularly cultivated, where it was the peculiar profession of these very magi, or wise men, and where no remarkable appearance in the heavens could escape the many curious eyes that were constantly fixed upon them.
3. The manner in which these wise men approached our Lord, is precisely that in which the people always addressed themselves to men of high rank and dignity.
They worshipped him; that is, they prostrated themselves to the ground before him, which we know was then and still is the custom of those countries.
* Matth. ii. 12. † Vid. Tacit. Hist. v. 13. Sueton. in vita Vesp. c. 4.
They offered presents to him; and it is well known, that without a present no great man was at that time or is now approached.
These presents were gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and these, as we have before observed, were the natural productions of that country whence the wise men are supposed to have come, namely, Arabia or Sabæa.
Even that dreadful transaction, which was the unfortunate consequence of their journey, the murder of the innocents, exactly corresponds with the character of Herod, who was one of the most cruel and ferocious tyrants that ever disgraced a throne; and amongst other horrible barbarities had put to death a son of his own. No wonder then that his jealousy should prompt him to murder a number of infants, not at all related to him.
All these circumstances concur to prove that the sacred historians lived in the times and the countries in which they are supposed to have written the Gospels, and were perfectly well acquainted with every thing they relate. Had not this been the case, they must have been detected in an error, in some of the many incidents they touched upon, which yet has never happened.
4. It is also in the last place worthy of remark, that every thing is here related with the greatest plainness, brevity, and simplicity, without any of that ostentation and parade which we so often meet with in other authors. Thus, for instance, a heathen writer would have put a long and eloquent speech into the mouth of the wise men, and would have provided the parents of the infant with a suitable answer. He would have painted the massacre of the infants in the most dreadful colours, and would have drawn a most affecting picture of the distress and agony of their afflicted parents. But the Evangelists have not enlarged on these, or any other similar topics. They have contented themselves with telling their story concisely and coldly, with a bare simple recital of the facts, without attempting to work upon the passions, or excite the admiration of their readers.
In fact, it appears from this and a variety of other instances of the same nature, that neither fame nor repu tation, nor any other worldly advantage, had the least influence upon their hearts. Their sole object was the advancement of truth, of morality, of religion, of the eternal welfare and salvation of mankind. For these great objects they wrote, for these they lived, for these they suffered, and for these they died; on these their thoughts were entirely and immoveably fixed, and therefore their narratives justly claim the most implicit belief in every thing that relates to these great, and important, and interesting subjects.
Another observation which this part of Sacred History suggests to us, is this; that no person ever yet appeared in the world to whom such distinguished marks of honour were paid from his birth to his death, as our blessed Lord. We are often reproached with the mean condition of our Redeemer. We are often told, that He, whom we have chosen for our Lord and Master, who is the object of our adoration, and on whom all our hopes are fixed, was the reputed son of a carpenter, lived in penury and distress, and at last suffered the ignominious death of the cross. All this is true. But it is equally true, that this man of indigence and of sorrow appeared through his whole life to be the peculiar favourite of Heaven; and to have been considered, not indeed by his infatuated countrymen, but by beings of a far superior order, the most important personage that ever appeared on this earthly scene.. At his birth, we are told, that the glory of the Lord shone round about certain shepherds that were then keeping watch over their flocks by night; and there was a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will towards men."*
Not long after this, a new star or meteor appeared in the heavens on purpose to announce his birth, which accordingly (as we have just seen) attracted the notice of those illustrious strangers, who came from a distant
* Luke ii. 14.
country to pay their homage to the infant Jesus; whom, notwithstanding the humility of his condition and of his habitation, they hailed as king of the Jews. At his baptism, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. After his temptation, when he had vanquished the prince of darkness, behold, angels came and ministered unto him. At his transfiguration, his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was bright as the light, and there appeared Moses and Elias talking with him, and from the cloud which overshadowed them, there came a voice, saying, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him." At his agony in the garden, there appeared an angel unto him, strengthening him. At his crucifixion, all nature seemed to be thrown into convulsions: the sun was darkened; the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom; the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; the graves were opened and gave up 10 their dead; and even the heathen centurion, and those
that were with him, were compelled to cry out, "Truly E this was the son of God." Before his ascension, he said to his disciples, "All power is given to me in heaven and in earth; and while he yet blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven, and a cloud received him out of their sight."** There we are told he sitteth at the right hand of God, making intercession for the sinful race of man, till he comes a second time in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels, to judge the world. There has God "highly exalted him above all principalities and power, and might, and dominion, and given him a name, which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."††
* Matth. iii. 16. † Matth. iv. 11.
Matth. xvii. 5.
Luke, xxii. 43. || Matt. xxvii. 54. ** Matt. xxviii. 18, Luke xxiv. 51. †† Phillip ii. 9-11.
When all these circumstances are taken together, what a magnificent idea do they present to us of the humble Jesus, and how does all earthly splendour fade and die away under this overbearing effulgence of celestial glory! We need not then be ashamed either of the birth, the life, or the death of Christ," for they are the power of God unto salvation." And if the great and the wise men, whose history we have been considering, were induced by the appearance of a new star, to search out, with no small labour and fatigue, the infant: Saviour of the world; if they, though philosophers and deists (far different from the philosophers and deists of the present day) disdained not to prostrate themselves before him, and present to him the richest and the choicest gifts they had to offer; well may we, when this child of the Most High is not only grown to maturity, but has lived, and died, and risen again for us, and is now set down at the right hand of God (angels and principalities and powers being made subject to him) well may we not only pay our homage, but our adoration to the Son of God, and offer to him oblations far more precious than gold, frankincense and myrrh; namely, ourselves, our souls and our bodies, "as a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto him; well may we join with that innumerable multitude in hea ven, which is continually praising him and saying; Blessing, and honour, and glory be unto him, that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and
* Rev. v. 13.
MATTH. CHAP. iii.
THE subject of this lecture will be the third chapter of Saint Matthew, in which we have the histo