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Accordingly the evangelist tells us, that “the angel of the Lord appeared unto Joseph in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost: and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUs (that is, a Saviour,) for he shall save his people from their sins*.” This undoubtedly was a most wonderful and singular and unexampled event. But it was natural to imagine, that when the Son of God was to appear upon the scene, he would enter upon it in a way somewhat different from the sons of men. And in fact we find him appearing upon earth in a manner perfectly new and peculiar to himself; in a manner, which united in itself at once the evidence of prophecy and of miracle. He was born of a virgin, and, what is no less wonderful, it was predicted of him seven hundred years before, that he should be so born. “Behold,” says Isaiah, “a virgin shall eonceive and * Matt. i. 20. bear
bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”;” a Hebrew word, signifying God with us. What man, but a prophet, inspired of God, could have foreseen an event so completely improbable, and apparently impossible? What impostor would have hazarded such a prediction as this? and, what is of still more importance, what impostor could have fulfilled it? What less than the power of God could have enabled Jesus to fulfil it. By that power he did fulfil it. He only, of the whole human race, did fulfil it, and thus proved himself to be, at the very moment of his birth, what the whole course of his future life, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension into Heaven, further declared him to be, THE SoN of God. And as such he was soon acknowledged, and due homage paid to his divinity by a very singular embassy, and in a very singular manner. For the evangelist proceeds to tell us in the beginning of the - second * Isaiah vii. 14.
second chapter, that “ when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” As this is a very remarkable, and very important event, I shall employ the remaining part of this Lecture in explaining it to you at large, subjoining such reflections as
naturally arise from it. The name of these persons, whom our translation calls wise men, is in the original Fayol, in the Latin language, magi, from whence is derived our English word, magicians. The magi were a sect of ancient philosophers, living in the eastern part of the world, collected together in colleges, addicted to the study of astronomy, and other parts of natural philosophy, and highly esteemed throughout the east, having juster sentiments of God and his worship than any of the ancient heathens; for they abhorred the adoration of images made in the form of men and animals, D 4 and and though they did represent the Deity under the symbol of fire (the purest and most active of all material substances) yet they worshipped one only God: and so blameless did their studies and their religion appear to be, that the prophet Daniel, scrupulous as he was, to the hazard of his life, with respect to the Jewish religion, did not refuse to accept the office which Nebuchadnezzar gave him, of being master of the magi, and chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon". They were therefore evidently the fittest of all the ancient heathens to have the first knowledge of the Son of God, and of salvation by him imparted to them. The country from whence they came is only described in St. Matthew as lying east from Judea, and therefore might be either Persia, where the principal residence of the magi was, or else Arabia, to which ancient authors say they did, and undoubtedly they easily might, extend themselves, which, it is well known,
abounded in the valuable things that their presents consisted of; and concerning which the seventy-second Psalm (plainly speaking of the Messiah) says, “ The kings of Arabia and Saba (or Sabaea, an adjoining region) shall bring gifts;” and again, “ unto him shall be given of the gold of Arabia.” Supposing this prophecy of the Psalmist to point out the persons whose journey the evangelist relates, it will also determine what their station or rank in life was, namely, kings, “the kings of Arabia and Saba.” Of this circumstance St. Matthew says nothing directly, but their offerings are a sufficient evidence that their condition could not be a mean one: and though there is certainly no proof, there is on the other hand no improbability, of their being lords of small sovereignties, which might afford them a claim, according to the ancient usage of that part of the world, to the name of kings. For we read in Scripture not only of some small*
to WIlS * Josh. x. 5.