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of that persuasion, founded on predictions of the clearest import. I need produce but one, from the above-mentioned seventy-second Psalm, which, as I observed before, plainly relates to Christ. "All kings shall fall down before him; all nations shall do him service." There were Jews enough even in Persia, and much more in Arabia, to propagate this doctrine, and shew it to be contained in their sacred books; from whence therefore the wise men may well be supposed to have received it.

But their knowledge that he was actually born, must stand on some other foundation; and what that was, themselves declare, “We have seen his star in the east."* This must plainly mean some new appearance in the sky, which they, whose profession (as is well known) led them peculiarly to the study of astronomy, had observed in the heavens. Now any appearance of a body of light in the air, is called by the Greek and Latin authors a star, though it be only a meteor, that is, a transient accidental luminous vapour, neither of considerable height, nor long continuance; in which sense also the Scripture speaks of stars falling from heaven.† And such was that which the wise men saw, as will appear from a circumstance to be mentioned hereafter. Possibly indeed the first light which surprised them, might be that mentioned by St. Luke, when the glory of the Lord descending from Heaven, shone round about the shepherds, and his angel came upon them, to bring them the news of our Saviour's nativity. For that glory, seen at a distance, might have the appearance of a star; and their seeing the star in the east, is not to be understood as if they saw it to the eastward of themselves; but means, that they being eastward of Judea, saw the star, seeming probably to hang over that country.

Now such an uncommon sight alone, supposing their expectation of him raised (as there was then a general expectation of him) might naturally incline them to think he was come; and especially as it was a current opinion amongst persons professing skill in these matters, that the shining forth of a new star denoted the rise of a new kingdom, or of a great and extraordinary prince; whence, as Pliny relates, Augustus the Roman emperor said, that the comet which appeared on Cæsar's death, whom he succeeded, was born for him, and that he was born in that comet; for so it seems he expressed himself.

*Matt. ii. 2.
‡ Luke ii. 9,

+ Matt. xxiv. 29. Mark xiii. 25.
Vid. Plin. Nat. Hist. L. ii. Ch. 25,

This, I say, being a current opinion, the wise men would be apt enough to conclude, that the present star betokened the birth of that prince, of whom (as they might easily have heard) it had been so very long foretold, "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel."* And it is a very remarkable circumstance, that one of the ancient commentators on the Timæus of Plato, alluding to this very star, expresses himself in these words: "There is a still more venerable and sacred tradition, which relates, that by the rising of a certain uncommon star, was foretold, not diseases or deaths, but the descent of an adorable God for the salvation of the human race, and the melioration of human affairs; which star, they say, was observed by the Chaldeans, who came to present their offerings to the new-born God."‡

On their arrival at Jerusalem, and making the enquiry they come for, Herod, we find, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. That so jealous a tyrant as Herod should be troubled at this event is no wonder; and it is no less natural that the people also should be disturbed and alarmed, not knowing what the consequences of so extraordinary a birth might be. Herod, therefore, calls the chief priests and scribes together, and demands of them, whether it were known where the Christ should be born; and having learnt from them, that, according to the prophet Micah, Bethlehem was the place appointed by Heaven, sends the wise men thither with a request that they would inform him when they had found the child, that he also might go and pay him due homage, intending all the while to destroy him, when he had obtained the requisite intelligence. Accordingly the wise men proceeded on their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem; when the same luminous appearance, which they had observed in their own country, now attended them again to their very great joy, and conducted them at length to the very house where the child was; which probably (as is common in villages) had no other house contiguous to it, and therefore might be easily marked by the situation of the meteor.

When the wise men came into the house and saw the child, they fell down and worshipped him, that is, bowed and prostrated themselves before hiin, in the eastern manner of doing obeisance to kings. Whether they designed also paying him religious adoration, or how distinct a knowledge had been given them of the nature and rank of the Saviour of the world,

* Numb. xxiv. 17.

+ Chalcidius.

See Brucker's History of Philosophy, v. iii. p. 472.

we cannot say; but may be sure, that what they believed and what they did, was at that time sufficient to procure them acceptance with God. Indeed, according to the opinion of some ancient fathers concerning their presents, their faith must have been very great. For they represent the incense, as offered to our Saviour as God; the gold to have been paid as tribute to a king; and the myrrh (a principal ingredient used in embalming) brought as an acknowledgment that he was to die for men. But others interpret the same gifts very differently, and take them to signify the three spiritual offerings, which we must all present to Heaven, through Jesus Christ; the incense to denote piety towards God; the gold, charity towards our fellowcreatures; and the myrrh, purity of soul and body; it being highly efficacious in preserving them from corruption. But though either or both these notions may be piously and innocently entertained, yet all we know with certainty is, that in those parts of the world no one did then or does now appear before a prince, without a suitable present, usually of the most valuable commodities of his country: and that three of the principal productions of the east, particularly of Arabia, were gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

How the wise men were affected with the sight of so unspeakably important a person, in such mean circumstances; or Joseph and Mary, and all that must flock around them, with so humble an address from strangers of such high dignity; and what further passed in consequence of this on either side, every one may in some degree imagine; but no one can undertake to 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 another way.'

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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

* Matth. ii. 12. + Vid. Tacit Hist. v. 12. Sueton. in vita Vesp. c. 4.

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 a 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 plannets 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.

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 reputation, 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 immovably 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 the 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.

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Not long after this, a new star or meteor appeared in the

*Luke ii. 14,

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