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Female Scripture Biographies, Vol. II
by Francis Augustus Cox
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Female Scripture Biography:

Including an Essay on What Christianity Has Done for Women.

By Francis Augustus Cox, A.M.



"It is a necessary charity to the (female) sex to acquaint them with their own value, to animate them to some higher thoughts of themselves, not to yield their suffrage to those injurious estimates the world hath made of them, and from a supposed incapacity of noble things, to neglect the pursuit of them, from which God and nature have no more precluded the feminine than the masculine part of mankind."

The Ladies' Calling, Pref.



VOL. II.

BOSTON: LINCOLN & EDMANDS. 1831.



Contents of Vol. I.



Essay

The Virgin Mary—Chapter I.

Section I.

Congratulation of the angel Gabriel—advantages of the Christian dispensation—Eve and Mary compared—state of Mary's family at the incarnation—she receives an angelic visit—his promise to her of a son, and prediction of his future greatness—Mary goes to Elizabeth, their meeting—Mary's holy enthusiasm and remarkable language—Joseph informed of the miraculous conception by an angel—general remarks

Section II.

Nothing happens by chance—dispensations preparatory to the coming of Christ—prophecy of Micah accomplished by means of the decree of Augustus—Mary supernaturally strengthened to attend upon her new-born infant—visit of the shepherds Mary's reflections—circumcision of the child—taken to the temple—Simeon's rapture and prediction—visit and offerings of the Arabian philosophers—general considerations

Section III.

The flight into Egypt—Herod's cruel proceedings and death—Mary goes to Jerusalem with Joseph—on their return their Child is missing—they find him among the doctors—he returns with them, the feast of Cana—Christ's treatment of his mother when she desired to speak to him—her behaviour at the crucifixion—she is committed to the care of John—valuable lessons to be derived from this touching scene

Section IV.

Brief account of the extravagant regard which has been paid to the Virgin Mary at different periods—the names by which she has been addressed, and the festivals instituted to honour her memory—general remarks on the nature and character of superstition, particularly that of the Catholics

Elizabeth—Chapter II.

The angelic appearance to Zacharias—birth of John characters of Elizabeth and Zacharias—importance of domestic union being founded on religion, shown in them—their venerable age—the characteristic features of their piety—the happiness of a life like theirs—the effect it is calculated to produce on others—the perpetuation of holy friendship through immortal ages—the miserable condition of the irreligious

Anna—Chapter III.

Introduction of Anna into the sacred story—inspired description of her—the aged apt to be unduly attached to life—Anna probably religious at an early period—Religion the most substantial support amidst the infirmities of age—the most effectual guard against its vices—and the best preparation for its end

The Woman of Samaria—Chapter IV.

Account of Christ's journey through Samaria—he arrives at Jacob's well—enters into conversation with a woman of the country—her misapprehensions—the discovery of his character to her as a prophet her convictions—her admission of his claim as the true Messiah, which she reports in the city—the great and good effect—reflections

The Woman Who Was a Sinner—Chapter V.

Jesus and John contrasted—the former goes to dine at the house of a Pharisee—a notorious woman introduces herself, and weeps at his feet—remarks on true repentance and faith, as exemplified in her conduct—surmises of Simon the Pharisee—the answer of Jesus the woman assured of forgiveness—instructions deducible from the parable

The Syrophenician—Chapter VI.

Introductory observations—Christ could not be concealed the Syrophenician woman goes to him on account of her daughter—her humility—earnestness—faith—the silence of Christ upon her application to him—the disciples repulsed—the woman's renewed importunity—the apparent scorn with which it is treated—her admission of the contemptuous insinuation—her persevering ardour—her ultimate success—the necessity of being importunate in prayer—remarks on the woman's national character—present state of the Jews: the hope of their final restoration,

Martha and Mary—Chapter VII.

Bethany distinguished as the residence of a pious family, which consisted of Lazarus and his two sisters—their diversity of character—the faults of Martha, domestic vanity and fretfulness of temper—her counterbalancing excellencies—Mary's choice and Christ's commendation—decease of Lazarus—his restoration to life at the voice of Jesus—remarks on death being inflicted upon the people of God as well as others—the triumph which Christianity affords over this terrible evil—account of Mary's annointing the feet of Jesus, and his vindication of her conduct,

The Poor Widow—Chapter VIII.

Account of Christ's sitting over against the treasury—he particularly notices the conduct of an obscure individual—she casts in two mites—it is to be viewed as a religious offering—the ground on which it is eulogized by Christ—the example honorable to the female sex—people charitable from different motives—two reasons which might have been pleaded as an apology for withholding this donation she was poor and a widow—her pious liberality notwithstanding—all have something to give—the most trifling sum of importance—the habit of bestowing in pious charity beneficial motives to gratitude deduced from the wretchedness of others, the promises of God, and the cross of Jesus,

Sapphira—Chapter IX.

Mixed constitution of the church of Christ—benevolent spirit of the primitive believers at Jerusalem—anxiety of Ananias and Sapphira to appear as zealous and liberal as others—Ananias repairs to the apostles to deposit the price of his possessions—is detected in deception and dies—similar deceit and death of Sapphira—nature and progress of apostasy—peculiar guilt of Sapphira—agency of Satan distinctly marked—diabolical influence ascertained—consolatory sentiments suggested to Christians,

Dorcas—Chapter X.

Joppa illustrious on many accounts, particularly as the residence of Dorcas—she was a disciple of Christ—faith described as the principle of discipleship—the inspired testimony to the character of Dorcas—she was probably a widow or an aged maiden—remarks on reproaches commonly cast upon the latter class of women—Dorcas exhibited as a pattern of liberality, being prompt in the relief she afforded—her charities abundant—and personally bestowed: observations on the propriety of visiting the poor—the charities of Dorcas often free and unsolicited—wise and conducted upon a plan—the pretences of the uncharitable stated and confuted—riches only valuable as they are used in bountiful distribution,

Lydia—Chapter XI.

Account of Paul and his companions meeting with Lydia by the river-side at Philippi—the impression produced upon her heart by the preaching of Paul—the remarks on conversion, as exemplified in the case of this disciple—its seat the heart—its accomplishment the result of divine agency—the manner of it noticed: the effects of a divine influence upon the human mind, namely, attention to the word of God and the ordinances of the Gospel, and affectionate regard to the servants of Christ—remarks on the paucity of real Christians—the multiplying power of Christianity—its present state in Britain—efforts of the Bible Society



Female Scripture Biography

Vol. II



The Virgin Mary.

Chapter I.

Section I.

Congratulation of the Angel Gabriel—Advantages of the Christian Dispensation—Eve and Mary compared—State of Mary's Family at the Incarnation—she receives an angelic Visit—his Promise to her of a Son, and Prediction of his future Greatness—Mary goes to Elizabeth—their Meeting—Mary's holy Enthusiasm and remarkable Language—Joseph informed of the miraculous Conception by an Angel—general Remarks.

"HAIL, THOU THAT ART HIGHLY FAVOURED, THE LORD IS WITH THEE! BLESSED ART THOU AMONG WOMEN!"

Such was the congratulatory language in which the commissioned angel addressed the virgin of Nazareth, when about to announce the intention of Heaven, that she should become the mother of Jesus; and such the strain which we cannot help feeling disposed to adopt, while recording her illustrious name, and contemplating this wonderful transaction.

On Mary devolved the blessing which the most pious of women had for a long succession of ages so eagerly desired, and which had often created such an impatience for the birth of children, in some of whom they indulged the sublime hope of seeing the promised Messiah. In her offspring was accomplished the long series of prophecy which commenced even at the moment when the justice of God pronounced a sentence of condemnation upon rebellious man; and which, like a bright track extending through the moral night, and shining amidst the typical shadows of the Mosaic dispensation, fixed the attention of patriarchs, and prophets, and saints, for four thousand years:—and upon this otherwise obscure and insignificant female beamed the first ray of that evangelical morning which rose upon the world with such blissful radiance, and is increasing to the "perfect day."

Infidels may contemplate the manifestation with unholy ridicule or vain indifference; but we will neither consent to renounce the evidence afforded to the historic fact, nor cease to celebrate the mysterious miracle. We will unite with the impassioned angel, at least in the sentiment and spirit of his address; and join the high praises of the midnight anthem, sung by descending spirits in the fields of Bethlehem: "GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN!"

In the course of Scripture history, we are now advanced to that period which the apostle emphatically denominates "the last days," in which "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past, unto the fathers by the prophets," speaks to us "by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." Let us hear his voice, admit his claims, and bow to his dictates. As truth arises upon us with greater splendour, we shall find that character is formed to greater maturity under the immediate influence of "the ministration of righteousness" which "exceeds in glory." By the unparalleled transactions of this age we shall see the whole energy of the human mind drawn forth, and furnished with ample scope for exercise; all the faculties become ennobled and purified; and the female sex especially, from the days of Elizabeth and Mary to the close of the sacred record, becomes marked with a holy singularity. By the starlight of the former dispensation, we have discovered many women of superior excellence, availing themselves of all the means they enjoyed, and presenting a pre-eminence of character proportioned to their comparatively few advantages and imperfect revelation; but amidst the splendours of the "Sun of Righteousness" we shall witness, in the females who adorned this new era, a greater elevation of mind and advancement in knowledge.

Still it must be recollected, that the day only dawned, the shadows were not at first entirely dispersed; and although the favoured inhabitants of Judea and its vicinity saw the age of Christ, not like Abraham, "afar off," but in its commencing glory, their prejudices and prepossessions did but slowly melt away. Some degree of dimness remained upon the moral sight; and we are called to observe, not so much the accuracy of their conceptions as the fervour of their love.

The two most extraordinary women that ever appeared in this world were unquestionably EVE, "the mother of all living," and MARY, "the mother of Jesus Christ." They occupied respectively the highest stations and the most critical points of time that ever fell to the lot of mortals; and they exhibit an instructive contrast. EVE lived at the beginning, and MARY at the "fulness of time."—EVE saw the glories of the new made world after creative Wisdom had pronounced it all "very good," and before sin had tarnished its beauty and disarranged its harmonies.—MARY beheld it rising from the ruins of the fall, at the moment of its renovation and in the dawn of its happiest day.—EVE was placed in the most glorious and conspicuous situation, and fell into a state of meanness and degradation.—MARY was of obscure origin and lowly station, but was raised, by a signal appointment of Providence, to the highest eminence.—EVE was accessary to the ruin of man—MARY instrumental in the birth of him who came as the Restorer and Saviour of mankind—EVE beheld the fatal curse first take effect, in overcasting the heavens with clouds, in withering the blossoms of paradise, envenoming the spirit of the animal creation, disordering the human frame, and ultimately destroying it, and introducing all the nameless diversities of wo which fill up the tragedy of human life.—MARY witnessed the beginning of that long series of blessings which divine love has for ages dispensed to man "through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus," and which will eventually replenish the cup of existence with unmingled sweetness and perfect joy.—EVE witnessed, with a trembling consciousness of guilt, the awful descent of those mighty "cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life," and which were placed "at the east end of the garden of Eden." MARY, with feelings of ecstatic rapture, beheld the angel Gabriel standing before her, with the smiles of heaven upon his countenance, heard his benedictions, and held "communion sweet" with the holy messenger. Wretched, wretched Eve! Happy, happy MARY!

The Jews have been always celebrated for their care in preserving their genealogies: in consequence of which it providentially happened, that the evangelists were able from their own authenticated records, to verify the ancient predictions of the birth of Jesus Christ. Two of the inspired historians have given a statement of his ancestry; the one tracing it from Abraham, and the other ascending to Adam; the one pursuing the line of Joseph, his reputed father, the other the line of Mary, his real mother; both concurring in the most decisive evidence of his being the Son of David and of Abraham, and the true Messiah of the prophets. [1]

Although in her distant ancestry Mary may justly be considered as of an illustrious descent, yet at the period of the incarnation, this family was in a very reduced state: the genealogical tree of David was cut down to its very roots, when the ancient prediction was accomplished respecting that great Personage who is represented "as a slender twig shooting out from the trunk of an old tree, cut down, lopped to the very root, and decayed; which tender plant, so weak in appearance, should nevertheless become fruitful and prosper."

"But there shall spring forth from the trunk of Jesse, And a cion from his roots shall become fruitful. And the spirit of JEHOVAH shall rest upon him: The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge, and the fear of JEHOVAH." [2]

But vain is the "boast of heraldry." It can avail nothing to elevate an insignificant character to eminence, or screen a guilty one from contempt. The evangelists have not recorded the lineage of Joseph and of Mary for the purpose of emblazoning their names, but solely to authenticate the prophetic declarations respecting Christ, to be connected with whom is real honour and solid glory. Of past generations, how many names, great in human estimation, have descended into oblivion, while those only will obtain an imperishable memorial, who are "written in the Lamb's book of life."

It must ever be deemed a noble distinction to have stood related to Christ "according to the flesh;" more so than to have been the sons and daughters of the mighty princes of mankind: but to have been his MOTHER was the sole honour of one happy female; still, however, less happy on this account, than because of the genuine humility with which she adorned her lowly sphere, and the lively faith with which she recognized the character of her Son.

In reference to the genealogical tables of Matthew and Luke, it has been admirably remarked, "We observe among these ancestors of Christ, some that were heathens; and others that, on different accounts, were of infamous character: and perhaps it might be the design of Providence that we should learn from it, or at least should on reading it take occasion to reflect, that persons of all nations, and even the chief of sinners amongst them, are encouraged to trust in him as their Saviour. To him, therefore, let us look even from the ends of the earth; yea, from the depths of guilt and distress; and the consequence will be happy beyond all expression or conception." [3]

In the apostolic epistle to the Hebrews, it is intimated as a fact, of pleasing notoriety, in the history of the church of God, that angels are "ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation." When appointed by the great Supreme to this service, they usually adopted a human form and appearance, probably for the purpose of securing that degree of familiarity which the nature of their communications required, and which a more splendid manifestation would have precluded; in the scriptural accounts, however, of these remarkable visits to eminent saints in early ages, whether they appeared in numbers, as to Abraham, or individually, as on other occasions, no distinct mention is made of their names or order. But to impress a character of majesty and dignity upon the message, and upon all the circumstances of the divine communication to Mary, when an angel is commissioned to announce that she was selected by the wonderful providence of God as the mother of the Messiah, the name of the celestial messenger is recorded by the evangelist in a marked and solemn manner. It was the angel GABRIEL [4] one, as we may infer, of the highest order of those intelligences that "circle the throne rejoicing;" and the same glorious spirit who so many ages before had been sent to Daniel, to specify, in a prophetic enigma, the time of "MESSIAH THE PRINCE," which he now came to announce as having actually arrived.

Never did even an angel before convey so important a message, or descend to this earth with such rapturous sensations. It must ever, indeed, be considered the felicity of an angel, as well as of a man, to do the will of God, whether this obedience involve personal difficulty, or be accompanied with circumstances of peculiar delight. It must have afforded satisfaction to the mighty spirit who was despatched from heaven to eject the first parents of our race from the bowers of Eden, and to stretch his flaming sword across the path of access to the tree of life, as well as to that favoured angel who now hastened to the cottage of the virgin of Nazareth; because each was accomplishing a purpose in which he knew that the divine perfections were pre-eminently displayed; but as, in executing the will of God, the holiest of men must necessarily experience a different kind and degree of satisfaction, according to the nature of the service itself to which they are called; and as we have scriptural evidence that the inhabitants of the invisible world have peculiar sensations when sinners of the fallen race are converted to God; it is not surely an inadmissible sentiment, that, as never spirit was honoured before with such a message, Gabriel must have felt unusual joy upon announcing the incarnation of the Son of God. His very language expresses it. His address is full of pathos and congratulation. It breathes angelic rapture. With it we commenced this subject, and in some measure participating the bliss, we cite it again: "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!"

There is nothing in the narrative to induce us to think that the angel assumed any extraordinary splendour of appearance on this occasion; and judging from the usual mode in which blessed spirits visited the sons of men in former times, as well as from a consideration of the tender age and lowly station of Mary, it is probable that he entered the room where she was, as an ordinary stranger. It is besides stated, that she was troubled at his saying, not at his appearance.

This salutation excited in the virgin's breast a sensation of astonishment mingled with apprehension. Among the Jews it was not lawful for a man to use any salutation to a woman, not even by a messenger, or her own husband; in addition to which, the panegyrical and congratulatory terms in which she was addressed, might well lead her to "cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be."

The benevolent messenger at once relieved her from the embarrassment into which he perceived she had been thrown, by familiarly calling her by name, renewing the solemn assurances of divine favour, and predicting the future glory of that illustrious Son whom she should bear, and whose description, being, like all the Jews, well instructed in the prophetic Scriptures, she would immediately recognize. These were his remarkable words: "Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shall conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever: and of his kingdom there shall be no end."

Her surprise was now raised to the highest pitch; and, incapable of comprehending by what means such a declaration could be fulfilled in her who was at present a virgin, she ventured to inquire of the angel, "How shall this be?" It is worthy of observation, that she did not instantly reject the testimony of her illustrious visiter as manifestly absurd and impossible, but modestly requested an explanation of the mysterious assurance. She was evidently one of those who "waited for salvation" in Israel; and who well knew that it was the province of human reason to submit, with implicit confidence, even to the most inexplicable statements of revelation.

It is true, she could not conjecture by what miraculous conception the angelic prediction would be verified; but she did not hesitate a moment to allow the apparently incongruous facts of his being her son, and yet the Son of the Highest, who should rise to the throne of David, and possess an everlasting kingdom. Her reason was confounded, but her faith triumphed; and though she knew not the manner, this was no sufficient evidence with her against the probability of the declared fact. Upon how many inferior occasions, and under far less mysterious circumstances have we been incredulous, deeming even the plainest declarations improbable, because they were unaccountable; and presuming to introduce some arbitrary alteration into the record of heaven, or some far-fetched comment, rather than humbly bow to supreme authority.

If, however, it were admitted that the question of Mary betrays at least a momentary incredulity, this was soon dispersed by the angel's reply: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible." In the exercise of lively faith and joy she answered, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."

Let us endeavour to imitate the spirit of Mary. She acknowledged the power of God to accomplish the greatest, and, to her, the most inconceivable designs; and with unaffected simplicity, blended with humble and holy satisfaction, she received the divine word. Thus let us resign ourselves to the will of God, and confide in his most wonderful declarations. It is for mortals to believe, and not to cavil; when Jehovah speaks, to hear and to obey. Let us beware of stumbling at the promises through unbelief; and cherish increasing pleasure in the conviction, that he who sent his Son into the world to be the Saviour of men, will freely bestow upon his redeemed people all the blessings of time, and all the riches of eternity.

It is observable, that on this occasion a young woman, though at first overawed by the heavenly manifestation, at length displayed a faith which shines with peculiar brightness, when brought into comparison with the sentiments of the aged priest Zacharias, when the same angel appeared to him a few months before, to communicate a prediction of far less apparent improbability.

When this venerable man was burning incense on the golden altar before the Lord, and therefore in circumstances peculiarly favourable to the most elevated exercises of faith and devotion, Gabriel appeared to him, and gave him assurance that his frequent prayer for the redemption of Israel was heard, and that his aged partner should become in due time, the mother of a distinguished son, to be named John, who should be "great in the sight of the Lord," eminently useful in converting many of the children of Israel, and preparing their minds for the speedy approach of the Messiah; and yet it is stated, that Zacharias "believed not his words," in consequence of which he was smitten with dumbness till the birth of the child. But Mary, though so inferior in age, in situation, and in spiritual advantages, glorified God by a full acquiescence in his declarations; thus exemplifying what the grace of God can accomplish, even in the youngest persons, and the weakest sex. It must not indeed, be overlooked, that at first the language of Mary indicated a certain degree of hesitation and doubt, somewhat allied to the unbelief of Zacharias, although she eventually triumphed over every feeling of fear or of unbelief; and yet no sign of divine displeasure was given. May we not, therefore, take occasion to admire the discriminating goodness of God, who, while he does not "willingly afflict or grieve the children of men," proportions his chastisements to the demerit of the individual, and the circumstances of the case? The omniscience of the Searcher of hearts is perfectly acquainted with the secret workings of the mind, and measures with perfect discernment the exact delinquency of every thought and deed, when we can judge only by the appearance or the words of the individual.

It is peculiarly gratifying to witness the beginnings of faith in the young, and especially in young females. It becomes their age and sex. It constitutes their best accomplishment, and their most shining ornament. Beauty is a fading flower, wealth a perishable treasure, and admiration "a puff of air;" but religion in the heart is an unfading inheritance. While so many vain and inconsiderate young women value themselves upon exterior charms and unmeaning flatteries, upon the symmetry of a face, the elegance of a form, and the decoration of a ribbon, may every female reader of these pages aspire after the nobler distinction of Mary, and by her undissembled piety afford pleasure to her parents, to her friends, to the church of God, and to those witnessing spirits, "in whose presence there is joy at the repentance of a sinner!"

Immediately after the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, perhaps on the same day [5], she hastened to her cousin Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias, who resided in that part of Judea called the hill-country, which extended from Bethoron to Emmaus. The purpose of this visit was to congratulate her pious relative on the singular mercy which she was informed by the angel she had experienced, in the promise of a son at her advanced period of life, and to communicate an account of the heavenly intercourse with which she had herself been favoured.

"Now theirs was converse such as it behoves Man to maintain, and such as God approves"—

worthy of the excellent characters who met, and calculated to confirm each other's hopes, and awaken mutual gratitude:

"Christ and his character their only scope, Their object, and their subject, and their hope."

If, when pious persons associate together, they have not to relate the visits of angels, or the miraculous interferences of Providence, it is surely in their power to diversify, enliven, and improve their social interviews, by some allusions to experimental religion, and some interchange of pious sentiment. The Christian world suffers incalculable loss by neglecting suitable opportunities for such communications, which might be eminently conducive to the great purposes of mutual comfort and instruction; for

"———What are ages and the lapse of time, Match'd against truths, as lasting as sublime? Hearts may be found, that harbour at this hour That love to Christ, and all its quickening power; And lips unstain'd by folly or by strife, Whose wisdom, drawn from the deep well of life, Tastes of its healthful origin, and flows A Jordan for the ablation of our woes. Oh days of heaven, and nights of equal praise. Serene and peaceful as those heavenly days, When souls drawn upwards, in communion sweet, Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat, Discourse, as if releas'd and safe at home, Of dangers past and WONDERS YET TO COME, And spread the sacred treasures of the breast Upon the lap of covenanted rest."

COWPER.

As soon as Mary had reached the residence of Elizabeth, and saluted her, the babe, which the latter had conceived, leaped with unusual and supernatural emotion; and she became so filled with the Holy Spirit, as instantly to burst out in the most impassioned language, indicative of the glorious discovery, that Mary was the long predestined mother of Messiah. Although it seems probable that her husband, upon his return home, had informed Elizabeth (perhaps by means of writing, for he was still suffering that temporary dumbness which his unbelief had occasioned) of the vision he had seen at Jerusalem, and of the promise of the angel that he should have a son remarkably distinguished, especially as the precursor of the Saviour; yet till this moment she had no suspicion that her beloved relative was to be that illustrious mother, who should inherit the blessing of all future ages. Now a ray from heaven breaks upon the mysterious subject, and "the glory of the Lord" is risen upon this venerable matron. She pours forth unusual benedictions upon Mary, and congratulates herself upon the felicity of her own circumstances.

The generous nature of this joy is truly admirable, and worthy of imitation. Exempt from that envious spirit which is so predominant in the world, and so utterly subversive of the real interests and happiness of those who cherish it, Elizabeth congratulated her young relative upon the superior favour which Heaven had conferred upon her; and murmured not at the will of Providence, in assigning her so unexpected a pre-eminence. Her words were as follows: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord."

The same spirit which dictated the language of Elizabeth, animated the bosom of Mary with inspirations of a still higher order. Unable to restrain the vehement enthusiasm of her mind, she thus began:—

MY SOUL DOTH MAGNIFY THE LORD, AND MY SPIRIT HATH REJOICED IN GOD MY SAVIOUR.

The mother of Jesus here adopts the prophetic style, speaking of the future character of her illustrious Son as though he were already born, and had attained to that eminency to which he was predestined. She extols him as "God her Saviour," more enraptured with the hope of salvation through his name, than with the honour of her maternal connexion with him. We need feel no surprise at her assigning this title to her anticipated offspring, when we recollect that she was at the moment divinely inspired, and that she had been previously informed by the angel Gabriel of his being "the Son of the Highest." This was no doubt understood by the Virgin Mary as expressive of his divine personality. He did not, indeed, become the Son of God by his miraculous conception; but it was the reason of his being called so. Thus he is called the Son of God as raised from the dead, no more to return to corruption, but he was not constituted such by these events. It was a declaration of what he was antecedently to his conception by the overshadowing influence of the Holy Spirit.

In Mary's exclamation, "magnifying the Lord," and "rejoicing in God her Saviour," are used as convertible terms, denoting the same sentiment and source of joy. And how rational and noble was this feeling! Where should an immortal creature seek happiness, but in God the Saviour? What are all the fleeting possessions and enjoyments of time, in comparison with the "pleasures" which are at his "right hand for evermore?" How awfully infatuated are those who aim to attain real felicity independently of the sovereign good!—Mary continues,

FOR HE HATH REGARDED THE LOW ESTATE OF HIS HANDMAIDEN: FOR, BEHOLD, FROM HENCEFORTH ALL GENERATIONS SHALL CALL ME BLESSED.

This is the language both of piety and inspiration. It implies that sense of the divine condescension which characterizes humility, intimating the unmerited nature of the mercy she had experienced, as well as her unexpected elevation from the lowest condition. She states, that it is her happiness, and not her excellences, for which she anticipated the congratulations of succeeding times. She was conscious that the honour and the glory belonged to God, and that the felicity of her circumstances, not the merit of her character, deserved admiration. It was neither the glory of her descent, nor the multitude or splendour of her virtues, that attracted the regards of Heaven, and influenced the movements of Providence in passing by the palaces of greatness to the cottage of Mary: but "so it seemed good in his sight:" and while, with impious vanity of spirit, many are flattering themselves that their imaginary virtue will recommend them to the notice, and secure the favour of Omniscience, it will be found, to their ultimate confusion, that "this" only "is life eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."

FOR HE THAT IS MIGHTY HATH DONE TO ME GREAT THINGS; AND HOLY IS HIS NAME.

There is a singular propriety, in thus introducing the sanctity of the divine nature and character. In the production of that body which was "prepared" for the Son of God, nothing of the infection of sin, which attaches to the corrupt nature of man, was suffered to stain "the holy child Jesus." He was, indeed, "in all things made like unto his brethren, yet without sin." Although his miraculous conception did not exempt him from human infirmities, it prevented the possibility of his being contaminated by human guilt.

The name of God is frequently mentioned in Scripture; and, in general, we are to understand by it the revelation of his character, by whatever methods, to his intelligent creation; and to hallow or pronounce it holy, is devoutly to adore every such discovery. His name is written on the works of nature, but shines with pre-eminent lustre in the wonders of redemption; and the spirit of ardent devotion traces all these manifestations in order to pay a suitable homage to them. To pronounce the name of God holy, is then virtually to attribute to the Supreme Being a grandeur and a majesty perfectly unique, and which distinguishes him from all other beings in the universe.

AND HIS MERCY IS ON THEM THAT FEAR HIM, FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION.

The spirit of Mary takes an elevated station, looking back upon past ages, and anticipating the glory of future times. The incarnation of Christ is represented as an act and an evidence of divine mercy, not only to her, but to all who by the fear of God are interested in this new dispensation. The promise of a Saviour was almost coeval with the world; and during the long succession of ages which had since elapsed, and the infinite diversity of events, so perplexing to the human eye and so apparently fortuitous, the love of God was pursuing its high purpose. The frequent intimations given to the ancient patriarchs, and to the prophets of Israel, proved that the eternal Ruler of the universe was producing, by a vast series of preparatory means, the last and best days of time, when the "Sun of Righteousness" should rise upon the world "with healing beneath his wings." An omnipotent arm was incessantly accomplishing the determinations of an omniscient mind. No power could impede the march of his mercy to the predestined point; no casualties defeat his great design; and no lapse of years, or revolution of centuries, diminish the ardour of infinite love, to secure the felicity of his people. The Lord was never "slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness;" for it must never he forgotten, in estimating the movements of eternal Providence, that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."

But this language is not merely, nor, perhaps, chiefly retrospective. Those who fear God in all ages, participate the mercies dispensed to man through an incarnate Redeemer. Under the Christian dispensation in particular, they are fully communicated, and will enrich the people of God to the end of time. The thousands and myriads of the human race, that apply to "the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness," cannot diminish its efficacy or exhaust its fulness; but the last preacher that exists upon the earth previous to that final hour, when "the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible," will be able to proclaim the blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God, as cleansing "from all sin," with equal confidence to that which inspired the first herald of these "glad tidings to perishing sinners."

HE HATH SHOWED STRENGTH WITH HIS ARM; HE HATH SCATTERED THE PROUD IN THE IMAGINATION OF THEIR HEARTS.

The omnipotence of God has been manifested in many remarkable instances during past ages, but in no case so illustriously as in the birth of Christ. All the other mighty operations of Jehovah are surpassed in this unparelleled event. The haughty Jews, who fondly but foolishly cherished the expectation, that the Messiah would be born of some one of the most opulent families in Judea, and conduct them to conquest and dominion, will be inexpressibly disappointed to find him the child of an obscure virgin, betrothed to a carpenter, and an inhabitant of the contemptible town of Nazareth in Galilee. So wonderfully "are the ways of God above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts!"

HE HATH PUT DOWN THE MIGHTY FROM THEIR SEATS, AND EXALTED THEM OF LOW DEGREE. HE HATH FILLED THE HUNGRY WITH GOOD THINGS, AND THE RICH HE HATH SENT EMPTY AWAY.

The providence of God has been often displayed in the depression of the most distinguished from their temporal elevations, and in the advancement of the most despised to dignity and renown. The necessitous have been liberally supplied: while those who have been possessed of the most ample and enviable abundance, have sometimes, by unexpected reverses, become destitute. This sovereign disposal of human affairs has been apparent, both in temporal and spiritual concerns. The Virgin Mary was herself, as she intimates a remarkable exemplification of such an interposal; while those who in Israel were "hungering and thirsting after righteousness," beheld in her infant son, that child whose name was to be called "Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace," and whose manifestation in the flesh afforded the sublimest satisfaction to their waiting spirits.

HE HATH HOLPEN HIS SERVANT ISRAEL, IN REMEMBRANCE OF HIS MERCY; AS HE SPAKE TO OUR FATHERS, TO ABRAHAM, AND TO HIS SEED FOR EVER.

All the true Israel of God are now admitted into his paternal protection, whether Jews or Gentiles; for the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to David, of whose family was Mary, could never be forgotten by him who "rejoiced in the habitable parts of his earth, and his delights were with the sons of men." Never can the pious mind recur, without emotions of the liveliest gratitude, to such predictions as the following, which now seem to approach their glorious accomplishments; "I will make of thee (Abraham) a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.... And I will establish my covenant, between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."

Mary prolonged her visit to her aged friend and relative, three months; a period of their lives to which, no doubt, each would ever after recur with peculiar satisfaction. The family of Zacharias was not dulled by the formalities of ceremony, or disturbed by the riot of folly, but delightfully animated by the cheerfulness of religion. Their time, we may readily admit, was wisely employed; and their daily converse such as befitted those favourites of Providence, who knew the truth of God, and had enjoyed the honour of angelic visitations.

The improvement of time ought to be our great and immediate concern. To this important duty we are urged by a consideration of the rapidity of its flight—the impossibility of its return—the bright examples of its proper use, which the records of inspiration furnish—the fatal consequences of squandering it away in useless, frivolous and criminal pursuits—the voice of reason—of conscience—of Providence—of Scripture—of disappointed infidelity and of triumphant faith—and the vast interests of eternity, with which the use of it is essentially connected. "Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

During all this time, Mary was only the betrothed wife of an obscure but conscientious person, named Joseph. This was a circumstance which occasioned him extreme perplexity, but tended to exhibit the strength of her faith. Joseph was fearful of her reputation, and meditated some plan of concealing what he supposed would be deemed the disgrace of his beloved partner; for the Jews, whose laws of marriage were very precise, considered infidelity to a betrothed husband in the light of adultery, and as therefore subjecting the person to its usual punishment. [6]

It does not appear that Mary explained to him the manner or occasion of her mysterious conception; but judging, perhaps, that it would seem incredible, she leaves the whole affair in the hands of Divine Providence. "Thus," as archbishop Leighton excellently remarks, "silent innocency rests satisfied in itself, when it may be inconvenient or fruitless to plead for itself, and loses nothing by doing so, for it is always in due season vindicated and cleared by a better hand. And thus it was here; she is silent, and God speaks for her."

This inexplicable mystery was revealed to Joseph in a dream. He was assured by an angel, that Mary should bring forth a son, and commanded to call his name JESUS, for he was to "save his people from their sins." His apprehensions being immediately dispersed, he obeyed the heavenly intimation, "to take unto him Mary his wife."

This miraculous conception has ever proved the stumbling-block of infidelity; while, in the just convictions of Christians, it is to be regarded as one of the most glorious and indispensable peculiarities of our faith. Christianity is not answerable for those misrepresentations of this doctrine which result from the weakness or the wickedness of mankind, and which have so often exposed it to ridicule; but let the statement of Scripture be taken simply as it is—plain, perspicuous, untangled with the perplexities of controversy—and it will approve itself to the pious mind, not only as a fact, but as one of prime importance and obvious utility.

In demanding an explication of the manner in which the divine and human natures became united, or continue to subsist in indissoluble connexion in person of the Son of God, reason claims a prerogative to which she is by no means entitled; especially if the alternative be, either that reason shall be satisfied, or the statements of Scripture rejected. There exist facts relative to our own constitution as incomprehensible and contradictory to what, independently of experience, we should be induced to believe, as the miraculous conception and mysterious nature of Jesus Christ. The soul and body, distinguished for properties not only peculiar to each, but dissimilar, heterogeneous, and seemingly inconsistent, yet constitute one person. A man is at once material and immaterial, mortal and immortal.

It was expedient that the Son of God should become man, that he might set us an example, sympathize with our griefs, vanquish our enemies, and abolish death: and equally so that he should be coequal with God in order to procure salvation for the lost world by the merit of his atonement; otherwise his obedience must have been imperfect, his sufferings unsatisfactory, and his mediatorial character, by which he was allied to both parties, incomplete.

This doctrine is practical, and not an abstract speculation, or an article of faith intended merely to fill up the outline of a system, and unconnected with any moral results. It is calculated to awaken our gratitude and kindle our love, by showing us the infinite goodness of God, who "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all"—"who made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." It should further engage us to cultivate humility and patience. A view of the abasement of the Son of God should impress upon us a sense of the insignificance of all earthly glory, and the propriety of sustaining all the trials and deprivations of life with unrepining fortitude. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."

This view of the incarnation of Christ is adapted also to promote charity; for, "though he was rich, yet for our sakes he became poor; that we, through his poverty, might be rich;" and it tends to elevate us above the meanness of temporal compliances, and the degradation of worldly lusts, by pointing out the dignity to which our nature is advanced, through having been assumed, and still being retained in its purified state by the Son of God. Let a holy ambition prevail, to live as those who possess such a relationship; and who, though at present disguised in the dress of poverty, are born to an inheritance of which no enemy can prevent your possession—"an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."



Section II.

Nothing happens by Chance—Dispensations preparatory to the Coming of Christ—Prophecy of Micah accomplished by Means of the Decree of Augustus—Mary supernaturally strengthened to attend upon her new-born Infant—Visit of the Shepherds—Mary's Reflections—Circumcision of the Child—taken to the Temple—Simeon's Rapture and Prediction—Visit and Offerings of the Arabian Philosophers—general Considerations.

Chance is a word which ought to be banished from the Christian vocabulary. It is utterly contradictory to reason, opposed to experience, and subversive of revelation. To suppose that he who created the world has wholly and forever abandoned it, is improbable; and to imagine that the regular movements of nature, and the course of events—the whole train of causes, and the incalculable variety of dependent consequences, are merely fortuitous, seems absurd as well as impious. Uncertain and confused as were the opinions of the pagan nations of antiquity, few of them totally denied some kind of superintending providence; and many of their ablest writers reasoned in defence of it in the most forcible manner. "What," said the emperor Marcus Antoninus, "would it concern me to live in a world void of God and without Providence?"

In order to form clear conceptions of this, and of every other subject connected with the peace of our minds and the immortal interests of man, we must apply to the Scriptures for information. Hope, conjecture, plausibility—all became pleasingly absorbed in the splendour of truth; which, with the brightness of a sun beam, writes upon the inspired page the doctrine of an universal and particular providence. It appears, indeed, so fundamental to the system of Christianity, and so consonant to the wisdom and goodness of God, that if it were possible to adduce "solid objections against its reality, one of the richest sources of consolation to the human race would be forever lost—some of our dearest hopes would be undermined, and despondency shed disastrous gloom over the whole scene of life. It is the happiness of Christians to know, that nothing can escape the eye, nothing can disarrange the schemes, or thwart the purposes, of the eternal mind; and that the same general law which regulates the flight of an angel, or the affairs of an empire, connects even the fall of a sparrow with the plans of heaven. It is their privilege to feel assured, that the events which appear contingent or accidental to us, are equally ordained with those which seem the most orderly and regular. The arrow may be shot at a venture, but the Supreme Ruler guides it through the air. So sings the poet;

"Through all the various shifting scene Of life's mistaken ill or good, Thy hand, O God, conducts unseen The beautiful vicissitude.

All things on earth, and all in heaven, On thy eternal will depend; And all for greater good were given, And all shall in thy glory end."

These sentiments will receive additional illustration from the remarkable facts respecting the birth of Christ, which it will be now proper to notice. He who can imagine the correspondence observable between ancient predictions and the occurrences which mark the singular history before us to be mere casual or undesigned coincidences, must possess a mind strangely perverted by prejudice or mean in its conceptions—he must in reality believe greater miracles than he denies, and, in his zeal to be thought rational, become enthusiastic and fanatical, in admitting the most inconceivable absurdities. We hesitate not to say, that even upon the principles of reason there are more difficulties in denying a providence in all the circumstances connected with our Saviour's incarnation, than in allowing its active agency; and that here, the doctrine which is most consolatory is most true. Sophistry may attempt to poison or to stop the streams of spiritual comfort, but they will nevertheless flow with undiminished sweetness and abundance.

The whole period of the past time ought to be considered as a vast preparatory dispensation; every circumstance in the history of the people of Israel essentially depended on each previous occurrence, and stood connected with each succeeding one. We perceive sometimes more distinctly by a prophetic light, sometimes more obscurely through the hieroglyphical characters of the Mosaic economy of types and shadows, a wonderful series of events, that guides the devout inquirer to "God manifest in the flesh;" and, if human penetration cannot always discover the bright concatenation, we feel assured that it exists, and is regularly maintained by supreme wisdom; as we infer from observing the commencement, or discovering some parts of the course, which a mighty river pursues through provinces and empires, that, although the whole may not be accurately ascertained, yet each part, whether it traverses subterraneous passages or pathless forests, is certainly and necessarily connected.

The links of this marvellous chain of providence become more distinctly visible as we approach the last, and witness its glorious termination. Amongst other ancient prophecies, we have this very express declaration of Micah respecting the birth of Christ—a declaration which, after the lapse of seven hundred years, we are now to see verified: "Thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."

It has been related, that at the time of the miraculous conception, Joseph and Mary lived at Nazareth in Galilee, and still continued this residence. If the predicted child had been born in Nazareth, it is obvious that either he could not be the Messiah, or the prophet was not correct. The virgin mother, however, neither disbelieved the communications of Heaven, nor took any extraordinary measures, by a removal of her dwelling-place, to aid the accomplishment of a divine oracle. How she, an inhabitant of Nazareth was to be the mother of him whom so many ages had expected in Bethlehem, was indeed mysterious; and yet like Abraham, she hoped against hope; allied in faith, as well as by descent, to that eminent patriarch. Nothing could be more contradictory, to her anticipations than external appearances; but nothing could be more humble, more patient, or more indicative of lively faith in God, than her spirit and conduct. She believed the angel, and she left the event. What an illustrious example to her sex! what confidence in Providence! what trust in God! what a resignation of reason to revelation!

Mark the event. Augustus, at this time emperor of Rome, suddenly published an edict for the registry, or enrolment of the empire; probably with a view to ascertain the state of his dependencies, to exact an oath of fidelity, and perhaps, to determine the amount of money which might be reasonably expected from each province in case of any future taxation. The whole empire being included in this decree, all the families were required immediately to repair to their respective cities, for the purpose of having their names distinctly recorded; and, as Joseph was lineally descended from David, he, with his espoused wife, went into Judea to Bethlehem, because it was the birth place and residence of their illustrious ancestor.

At this remarkable crisis Mary was detained by the full accomplishment of the time for her delivery; "and she brought forth her first born Son, and wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." Here then were fulfilled the prophetic descriptions of the place and circumstances of the Redeemer's incarnation. A virgin produces a son—a son who, by the exclusion of his parents from the accommodation of the inn, already began to realize the inspired declaration, "he is despised and rejected of men"—a son identified as the promised Messiah by every thing connected with his birth. Augustus issues a decree which brings Mary to Bethlehem at the precise moment when this removal was requisite; and yet Augustus, ignorant of the designs of Heaven or the condition of Mary, considers only his personal glory and the security of the imperial dominions. He has one purpose, and Providence another; but they both concur to the predestined end. Augustus knew not that his edict was to prove the appointed means of accomplishing the most important event that had ever transpired since the commencement of time, and was, in fact, the wonderful hinge upon which the numerous and concurring prophecies of past centuries were destined to turn. He knew not that his imperial edict for an universal enrolment, was the last of a series of preparatory means by which the great purposes of infinite mercy were to be developed and displayed. Why was not the same policy pursued by the emperor, when it was determined upon seven-and-twenty years before at Taracon in Spain? and why, if he were diverted at that period from the immediate execution of this project by some disturbances in the empire, was it forgotten or neglected for so many years, and revived at so critical a moment? Let infidelity stand abashed, and listen to the voice of revelation: "He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."

How often has the supreme Disposer made use of those agents to accomplish his purposes, who were themselves the last to acknowledge his superintendence, or perhaps the first to oppose his will! How consolatory to the Christian to reflect, that the passions of the human mind, the madness of ambition, the rage of envy, the misrule of tyrannic power, the animosity of persecution, the decrees of princes, the events of war and of peace, the elements of nature, and the powers of the invisible worlds, are under the perfect control of God! A Pharaoh shall cause his "name to be declared throughout all the earth," by giving occasion to the most transcendent miracles, and the most direct and indisputable interference of Omnipotence—a Cyrus shall pursue a wonderful career of conquest; victory after victory shall enhance his fame; nations shall be subdued, and gates of brass broken before him, for the sake of Israel the elect of God, and Jacob his servant—an Augustus shall unconsciously fulfil a divine decree by means of an edict of his own—the Roman empire shall be enrolled, that Jesus may he born in Bethlehem.

It appears that Mary was supernaturally strengthened to perform the necessary duties to her infant charge, in the cold and comfortless situation in which she was thrown. No one seemed at hand to commiserate her sufferings, to supply her wants, or to assist her weakness. Her own life was endangered; but maternal tenderness struggled for the life of her firstborn, and a divine faith in God and his promises sustained her amidst the privations of her desolate abode. Let not his people permit despondency to becloud their days or extinguish their hopes; but, relying on his assurance, "As thy day is, so thy strength shall be"—an assurance so remarkably verified in the mother of Jesus, and so often corroborated by the experience of Christians—let them imitate the patience and faith of this illustrious woman, who was at once the ornament of religion and the glory of her sex.

Every thing is marvellous in this sacred story. No sooner was this child introduced into the world, than his virgin mother received an unexpected visit in her lonely dwelling. A company of shepherds came, with unceremonious eagerness, to her asylum. Mary and Joseph were together in the stable, conversing doubtless, upon this astonishing birth; and probably might have been alarmed at the intrusion of strangers. Were they come to remove them from this poor lodging, as they had been already excluded from the inn, and occupy their places?—were other barbarians come to pour the last drop into the cup of maternal wo, by expelling Mary, her husband, and her offspring, from their wretched, but still acceptable shelter? If this were the case—if, when the strangers obtruded, these had been the just apprehensions of the afflicted family, they knew where to find consolation; and she who held the babe in her arms, and pressed it to her bosom, was no doubt prepared to adopt a similar strain with that by which Simeon afterward proclaimed his ecstasy—"Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." But fear not, Mary! It is no ruffian band that approaches thee! These are no idle strangers, impelled by a vague curiosity; but they are the commissioned messengers of Providence and the ambassadors of peace! They have heard "glad tidings," and they are come to verify the visions they have seen, and to renew the joys they have felt!

In the neighbouring fields these shepherds were watching their flocks by night; when suddenly an angelic messenger made his appearance in a blaze of celestial light. They were of course astonished and alarmed; but, from the first, perceived it was no illusion of the senses, since all distinctly saw, and were equally affected by the splendid reality. The benevolent spirit bade them dismiss every apprehension, and proceeded to open his glorious commission. It consisted of an assurance, that in the city of David the long-predicted Messiah was actually born, and on that very day; [7] and that this was the sign by which they should discover the truth of this revelation, that if they went immediately to Bethlehem they should find the Babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger. This angel, probably Gabriel, who had already appeared to Zacharias and Mary, was in a moment joined by a multitude of the heavenly host, whose enraptured bosoms could no longer repress the intensity of joy, and who were permitted to strike their golden harps and unite their angelic voices in those ever memorable strains, "GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOOD WILL TOWARDS MEN."

The shepherds instantly hastened to Bethlehem. They beheld the heaven-born Babe. They explained to Joseph and the virgin what they had seen and heard; and then circulated the wonderful news in every direction. Astonishment filled the whole vicinity; but it is probable a great diversity of opinion prevailed respecting the degree of credit due to the testimony of these witnesses; and the impression would soon vanish from those whose prejudices, whose ignorance, or whose temporal interests, prevented their immediate acknowledgment of the mighty fact. And must we not deeply lament, that to this hour similar reasons operate to produce a similar infidelity or rejection of the well-substantiated claims of the Son of God upon the affections and obedience of mankind?

In the mean time, as the evangelist states, "Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." With a modesty and a piety so truly characteristic of this eminent woman, she left it to others to publish to the world the extraordinary manifestations of divine favour which she had received, content to observe in silence the movements of Providence, and to allow the mysterious fact to be gradually developed. As she took no measures at first to screen herself from reproach, but left the defence of her integrity to him whose wisdom was working all these wonders; so she did not avail herself of the present opportunity to extend her fame. From the astonishment or the applauses of the multitude she willingly retired into the shades; and instead of indulging vanity, gave herself to solemn meditation. Connecting together the vision of Zacharias, the language of Elizabeth, the visitation of the celestial spirit to herself, the miraculous conception, the unexpected occasion of her removal at this crisis to Bethlehem, the recent account of the shepherds, the language of ancient prophecy respecting the lowly birthplace of the Saviour of mankind, and the peculiar accordance of its minute descriptions with her present circumstances; she perceived the amazing conclusion to be drawn, and humbly adored the God of her salvation.

We must pronounce Mary, then, a thoughtful observer and a humble inquirer, free from the levity of her age, and superior in mental character to the poverty of her condition. She had, indeed, superior advantages, and was in a sense placed under divine discipline and instruction: but she possessed a docility of spirit which rendered these singular means so conducive to her rapid improvement in knowledge and piety. Happy for us if we make a proper use of whatever religious privileges we enjoy, so that the spiritual opportunities and blessings which enhance our responsibility, do not, by our negligence, aggravate our condemnation!

It is probable that we forfeit much enjoyment, and lose much attainable wisdom, by suffering the events of providence to pass unnoticed. The habit of investigating their connections, and tracing their consequences, would no doubt both improve the faculty of observation, and spare us many perplexities. Diligence in this sacred study would be repaid by pleasure and profit. We should "know," if we "followed on to know the Lord." The deep shadows which overcast the scenes of life, and are so impervious to the human sight, would be easily penetrated by the eye of faith; a new and glorious scene would present itself; objects and arrangements, before unseen, would gradually become visible; what was previously obscure in form and shape, would appear in just proportions; and many of the sources of our present anxiety might become the means of our richest satisfaction. Let us imitate the noble examples upon record; remembering that no place or time is unsuitable to a devout temper, or impossible to be improved to pious purposes. Isaac meditated in the fields, and Mary in the stable; and a devout spirit will transform either into a temple of praise and prayer.

On the eighth day after his birth, this immaculate Child was circumcised, both because he was a Jew, and the predicted Messiah. All the descendants of Abraham were required to submit to this institution; and, therefore, the parents of JESUS, for so he was named on this occasion, according to the previous intimation of the angel, could not omit this service without forfeiting their privileges; and as he was afterward to become the great preacher of righteousness to his own nation, it was necessary that he should not be exposed to the punishment of excommunication as a stranger. Thus, according to the apostle's allusion, he was "made under the law," and evidently partook of flesh and blood.

At the expiration of forty days, the parents of Jesus went up to Jerusalem, to present their Infant before the Lord in the temple, conformably to the Mosaic law, to offer the sacrifices required upon such an occasion, and to pay the stipulated sum of five shekels for the eldest son. [8] Led by a divine impulse, a certain venerable saint, named Simeon, came into the temple at this moment; and taking the wondrous Child into his aged arms, exclaimed, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel!" Some have, with useless curiosity, inquired into the birth, parentage, and station of this enraptured believer; and with that mistaken prejudice so common to the world, by which greatness of character is perpetually associated with eminence of rank, and nobility of birth, they have endeavoured to prove him to have been a priest, or the son of Hillel, who was chief of the sect of the Pharisees, and president of the sanhedrim forty years; and he has even been represented as the father of that Gamaliel who brought up the apostle Paul. Whereas the narrative of Luke introduces him as a person of no considerable notoriety, but as one who possessed an infinitely greater claim to distinction in the inspired page, a man of exemplary conduct and piety, who was waiting for him who was so long expected as 'the consolation of Israel.' He was not the favourite of princes, but the servant of God; and this was his best distinction, that "the Holy Ghost was upon him; and it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." Growing infirmities might have awakened, in an ordinary mind, some suspicion of the reality of that assurance which he had received. Delay seemed to mock his patience, time dimmed his eyes, and suspense might well have sickened his heart—but at last the hour arrives, the ancient oracles are fulfilled—celestial revelations, after the lapse of four hundred years from the days of Malachi, relume a benighted world—Zacharias, Mary, Simeon, received the prophetic spirit; and death becomes disarmed of his terrors, amidst the bright gleamings of approaching day.

Turning to the astonished parents, and addressing himself particularly to his virgin mother, he said, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign, which shall be spoken against, (yea, and a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Anna, an aged prophetess, at the same instant joined this happy group, and "gave thanks, likewise, unto the Lord:" the glad tidings were circulated, and the parents returned into Galilee.

The accomplishment of that event, which in former ages was only the subject of prediction, constitutes part of the happiness of gospel times. True, indeed, as those predictions proceeded from God, there existed from the beginning a certainty of their being fulfilled. It was as impossible that God should lie, as that he should cease to exist; and having declared the decree, that his Son should "sit upon his holy hill of Zion," no human violence, no providential vicissitudes, no Satanic devices, could prevent it. No one of them, nor all of them combined, could effectually obstruct the march of omnipotent goodness to the completion of its purposes. But the saints of old suffered a material disadvantage from "his day" being as yet "afar off;" a disadvantage which could not possibly be remedied. It is evident that, except in cases of immediate inspiration, a suspicion might exist in the pious mind, that the prophecy might be partially, if not entirely misunderstood, as the most penetrating mind cannot, at this day, with the longest line of research, fathom the deeps of futurity. Time alone can, with perfect certainty, interpret the visions of prophecy.

It is also plain that no description, however minute and glowing, could perfectly represent the life and love of the Redeemer, as displayed in his own person. The imperfection of language rendered it impossible to portray the glorious reality. What inspired or seraphic pen, though dipped in heaven, could display all that was seen when they "beheld his glory?" Had Omnipotence remanded back the flood of ages, and recalled from the invisible state the illustrious saints that had been carried down the stream, from the time of Adam, in order to have witnessed the incarnation, the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus; with one voice they would have exclaimed, "The half was not told me."

In proportion to the approach of the Messiah, hope glowed with increasing ardour. Standing on the mount of prophecy, the pious Jews eagerly waited, and triumphantly hailed the rising of this bright day of grace. How many "prophets and righteous men" desired to behold this eventful period, but "died without the sight!" With what sacred pleasure did Moses record the first promise, though at the distance of many centuries! What rapture thrilled through the patriarch's veins, when he spake of the coming of Shiloh, "unto whom the gathering of the people should be;" and how did his languid eyes brighten with new lustre in the dying hour, when he exclaimed, "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord!" In what strains of holy joy did the "sweet singer of Israel" declare, "My heart is inditing a good matter; I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of men; grace is poured into thy lips; therefore God hath blessed thee for ever!" How did Isaiah's heart glow with transport, while his lips were touched with inspiration, and triumph played on his prophetic harp, "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this!" But neither the sacred pleasure of Moses, when he recorded the first promise, nor the rapture that thrilled through the patriarch's veins, nor the holy joy of the sweet singer of Israel, nor the glow of transport that animated the heart of Isaiah, and inspired his lays, can equal the joy of the Christian church. Hope, indeed, presented to the early ages a lively picture of future times, and prophecy described them; but "blessed are our eyes, for they see; and our ears, for they hear ... many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which we see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which we hear, and have not heard them."

The visit of the shepherds to Mary, already recited, was succeeded by another, perhaps equally remarkable. A company of Magi, or Magians, [9] probably from Arabia, having seen a remarkable light, resembling a star, suspended over Bethlehem, hastened to pay suitable homage to the illustrious personage whose birth it indicated. These philosophers, who were particularly addicted to the study of astronomy, being doubtless incited by a divine influence to repair to the country over which this new star or meteor seemed to shed its glory, immediately went to Jerusalem, where they began to make the most anxious inquiries. The news of their arrival soon reached the ears of Herod, a man whose cruelties had often exasperated his subjects, and kept him in a state of constant suspicion; so that he naturally apprehended fatal consequences to his crown, from this report of the birth of a king. Having first consulted the priests and scribes respecting the birthplace of Christ, he procured a private interview with the Magians, for the purpose of ascertaining the time of the meteoric appearance; and, with all the policy of all experienced statesman, requested them to go and find out the extraordinary Child, then return to bring him word, that he might come and worship him. This was a contrivance, by which he expected to accomplish, with greater certainty, the destruction of Jesus.

The Arabian philosophers instantly proceeded on their journey—the star moved before them, as the cloudy pillar once guided the marches of Israel in the wilderness; till at length it became stationary over the place where the Infant lay: then, having fulfilled the design of its creation, totally and forever disappeared.

Is it for us to question the wisdom of God in any of the productions of nature, because we do not perceive their utility? Shall we venture to arraign his goodness, because he has not only supplied the necessities of man, but filled the caves of ocean, and spread the pathless wilderness with a rich variety of existence, the specific purposes of which the researches of man have hitherto failed to discover? Shall we dare to say that the impenetrable forest, or the untenanted island, was made in vain? or that the grass grows, in the valley, the shrub sprouts on the inaccessible height, or the flower expands its beauties and diffuses its fragrance over the desert uselessly, because we have not discovered the reasons of their formation? Who, excepting the philosophers of Arabia, that had seen the new luminary shine for a few days and expire, but would have disputed the necessity or questioned the design of such a phenomenon? The ignorant, vulgar, and even the rest of the sages of Arabia, might have surveyed it with idle wonder or incurious eye; very few followed the splendour, or knew the intention of its appearance. And may not other beings be acquainted with many of those mysteries of nature which we fail to penetrate? or may not secret connexions and combinations, both in the animate and inanimate creation, exist, which, however important, it is not necessary for us to know? In reference both to nature and providence—

"One part, one little part, we dimly scan, Through the dark medium of life's feverish dream; Yet dare arraign the whole stupendous plan, If but that little part incongruous seem."

BEATTIE.

The figure of Balaam, in predicting the birth of a Saviour, probably contained a prophetic allusion to the phenomenon in question; "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel;" and with similar reference, we read in the apocalyptic vision, "I am the bright and morning star."

As soon as the Magians saw the young Child, with Mary his mother, they "fell down and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way."

This narrative suggests many instructive considerations, some of which we shall briefly notice.

1. Many of those who have possessed the fewest means of moral and spiritual improvement, will appear in judgment against multitudes who enjoy the greatest variety of religious advantages. These Arabian sages acted up to what they knew, and followed the light which was afforded them; in consequence of which they made discoveries of the most valuable description, such as could have been attained by no other proceeding, and such as were totally concealed from the unobservant mass of mankind. It was indeed a small "star" that first attracted their notice, but it led to the "Sun of Righteousness." O that we were equally wise and diligent in the use of our opportunities and privileges—we should then be equally successful!

2. A specimen is here presented to us of the discriminating proceedings of the grace of God. Those who were "far off" were "brought nigh," while those who were "nigh" really, were placed "far off." These Pagans were conducted to Jesus; while the infatuated Jews, unaffected by his appearance and subsequent miracles, opposed his influence, and gloried in their shame. Thus was fulfilled the ancient oracle, "I am found of them that sought me not." The star which failed to excite attention in Judea, darted an attractive and effectual splendour into Arabia.

3. It is truly deplorable, that those signs and wonders of Almighty mercy, which will fill eternity with praise, should be so little observed or appreciated by the great proportion of mankind. How different were the engagements that occupied the inhabitants of Jerusalem, from those of the Arabian philosophers! The star of Bethlehem excited the respectful attention only of a few strangers, who saw and followed it, and "found the Messiah." The Saviour they sought was despised and rejected of men, when emerging from the obscurity of his early life, he dwelt amongst them, distributing blessings, and imparting salvation.

Is not this the case to the present hour? Where are the travellers to Zion? Where are the followers of Christ? Where are those happy individuals to be found, who, renouncing the speculations of philosophy, and the suggestions of a depraved and perverted mind, are led by the star of divine revelation to Jesus? Where are those who forsake ALL for him? Where the company of inquirers, whom no frowns and no flatteries can induce to relinquish the pursuit? Alas, how thinly scattered! The multitude, attracted by the glare of worldly glory, can see, indeed, the glitter of gold, and hear with approving readiness the accents of pleasure; but are unable to discern the excellencies of Christ, and will not listen to his voice! They are enchanted by other charms, and lulled into dangerous repose by other music!

4. Though the star of Bethlehem, which guided the Arabian sages to the Son of God, be extinguished, the clear light of truth still shines as in a dark place, and points us to the same object. "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path." Whoever follows this light, will be led to Jesus; whoever neglects it must wander in the wilderness of error and perplexity. It sheds the clearest radiance on the path of the traveller, who is pressing to the "Prince of Peace." Let us not pay attention to those deceptive lights which the world holds out to allure and destroy. This only is from heaven, and will guide the inquirer thither, where the illumination it has diffused over the path of life, will be lost amidst the splendours of eternal day.



Section III.

The Flight into Egypt—Herod's cruel Proceedings—and Death—Mary goes to Jerusalem with Joseph—on their Return their Child is missing—they find him among the Doctors—he returns with them—the Feast of Cana—Christ's treatment of his Mother when she desired to speak to him—her Behaviour at the Crucifixion—she is committed to the care of John—valuable Lessons to be derived from this touching Scene.

Christians, in their times of trial, are usually favoured with adequate supplies from heaven; so that if they have been overtaken suddenly, or attacked fiercely, their afflictions have neither found them unprepared, nor left them overwhelmed. It seems to have been the design of God, in some of his most painful dispensations, not only to purify the individual character, but to evince in general, by means of the sufferer's patience, humility, and other virtues, the reality of religion, and the power of faith; and thus to furnish an example for the imitation of mankind. This consideration may serve to explain a part of that mysteriousness which has characterized many instances of remarkable tribulation, and to prevent those hasty decisions upon the conduct of Providence which we are too apt to adopt. On all occasions, we may safely conclude, that whatever be the nature of our affliction, the goodness of our Father in heaven will both proportion it to the necessity of the case, and enable us to sustain it, by preparatory consolations.

The story of Mary and her family illustrates this representation. The balance of her lot, so to speak, was poised by a divine hand; and the equilibrium was mercifully and almost constantly preserved, by a proportionate share of joy and sorrow. The danger of reproach and proscription by the Jewish law, was compensated by the circumstances of the miraculous conception; the meanness and misery of her condition in the stable at Bethlehem, were counterbalanced by the visit of the shepherds, and the equally wonderful journey of the eastern Magi; and the whole train of previous manifestations, tended to prepare her for the new distresses which were destined to attend the flight into Egypt.

Herod was arranging his plans with malicious skill, and as he imagined, with secrecy; but there was an eye that watched his movements with unsleeping vigilance, and a wisdom invisibly operating to counteract his purposes. The Magi were forewarned, by a heavenly vision, not to return to this foe of the holy Jesus; and an angel appeared to Joseph, directing him to escape with the mother and child into Egypt; and thus did Herod himself unconsciously fulfil the ancient oracle; "Out of Egypt have I called my Son." The cruel archer shot at the Saviour's life, but the arrow rebounded and took his own.

Behold, then, Mary and Joseph, with their infant charge, hastening, in obedience to the divine command, to a distance from the persecutor's fury! See them under the covert of darkness, and amidst the silence of night, flying to their appointed place of exile; still under the guidance of that hand which regulated all the events of their lives, with no less wisdom and constancy than it directed the movements and fixed the positions of the planetary and starry orbs, which glittered upon their adventurous path. Observe them trembling with human fears, but sustained by spiritual consolations! Mary presses the infant fugitive to her maternal breast, still "keeping all these things, and pondering them in her heart;" incapable of fully penetrating the cloud that obscures their present destiny, but looking through the tears of anguish to her divine Protector and Guide, believing that the light of Israel cannot be extinguished. In some respects, they "knew not whither they went;" but each was, no doubt, inspired by the devout sentiment of the poet:

"I hold by nothing here below, Appoint my journey and I go; Though pierced by scorn, oppress'd by pride, I feel thee good—feel nought beside.

No frowns of men can hurtful prove To souls on fire with heav'nly love; Though men and devils both condemn, No gloomy days arise for them.

While place we seek, or place we shun, The soul finds happiness in none; But with a God to guide our way, 'Tis equal joy to go or stay.

Could I be cast where thou art not, That were indeed a dreadful lot: But regions none remote I call, Secure of finding God in all." Mad. Guion.

Herod, whose cruelty and duplicity were equally conspicuous, finding that the young child had by some means eluded his grasp, meditated the deepest revenge, which, like a smothered flame, the longer it is confined, the more violently at last it blazes.

For a time he concealed his feelings, with a view of the better securing ultimate success; but, on perceiving that his secret intentions were frustrated, he resolved on open war. Animated with a tyrant's spirit and a demon's rage he determined on the destruction of Jesus, though the accomplishment of his purpose should deluge Judea with blood. He issued his murderous decree, and despatched his executioners to Bethlehem and "all the coasts thereof," to slay "all the children from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men."

What language can express the barbarity of this conduct! The most savage of mankind have spared children, even when their parents have been guilty. The innocence and weakness of their age have preserved them from the sword, even of a victorious and exasperated enemy; and yet these little innocents, whose parents were not implicated in any plot to deceive the tyrant, whose yoke was endured with extraordinary patience, were given to the murderous sword, and Bethlehem suddenly converted into one vast slaughter-house. "Then," remarks the evangelist, "was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."

"The innocents were martyrs indeed, but not in will, by reason of their tender age. Of these, however, it pleased the Prince of martyrs to have his train composed, when he made his entry into the world, as at this season; a train of infants, suited to an infant Saviour; a train of innocents, meet to follow the spotless Lamb, who came to convince the world of sin, and to redeem it in righteousness. They were the first-fruits offered to the Son of God after his incarnation, and their blood the first that flowed on his account. They appeared as so many champions in the field, clad in the King's coat of armour, to intercept the blows directed against him.

"The Christian Poet, PRUDENTIUS, in one of his hymns, has an elegant and beautiful address to these young sufferers for their Redeemer [10]; Hail, ye first flowers of the evangelical spring, cut off by the sword of persecution, ere yet you had unfolded your leaves to the morning, as the early rose droops before the withering blast. Driven, like a flock of lambs to the slaughter, you have the honour to compose the first sacrifice offered at the altar of Christ; before which methinks I see your innocent simplicity sporting with the palms and the crowns held out to you from above." [11]

The parents of the infant Saviour remained in Egypt until the death of Herod [12], an event which was announced to Joseph in a dream, who was directed to return with Mary and her child into the land of Israel. When he heard that Archelaus, a prince no less sanguinary in his disposition than his infamous predecessor, reigned over Judah in the room of his father, he was afraid of returning; but being again divinely admonished, withdrew into Galilee, under the government of Herod Antipas. He took up his residence at Nazareth, a small city where he had formerly lived; by which the ancient oracle was fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

We may he allowed a momentary interruption of the narrative, by one observation on the death of Herod. How easily God can remove out of the way whatever opposes the designs of his wisdom! He lays his finger on the tyrant's head, and he sinks into the dust! Thus it has been, and thus it ever must be, with the adversaries of Christ. Every Herod must die. On the banners of the church is inscribed, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" Where are the Neros, and Domitians, and Caligulas, that have sought the life of Christianity?—They are dead! but his cause survives. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet." The Gospel, in pursuing its course through the world, resembles a mighty river, here and there meeting with powerful obstructions; but not prevented by these, it takes a circuitous course, and leaves them to be gradually overflowed or undermined, and buried in the stream. Thus superstition, idolatry, infidelity, Popery, Mahometanism, constitute so many obstructions to this celestial stream; but while it makes glad the city of God, it is gradually diffusing itself around, and sapping by degrees the foundation of these impediments, till being broken down and forgotten, an angel shall proclaim, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen!" Then shall "the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever." Then all that "sought the young child's life," all that opposed the interests of Jesus, being dead and vanquished, "the whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea."

The law of Moses commanded all the adult males of Israel to go up to Jerusalem three times in a year, to celebrate the feasts of the passover, pentecost, and tabernacles. Women were under no obligation to undertake these journeys; [13] but it was not unusual for such as were eminent for piety, to accompany their husbands and friends upon annual occasions. Mary, who set the highest value upon the ordinances of God, and who would not be disparaged by a comparison with the greatest characters of Israel, went up with Joseph year after year. In the exemption by which the law permitted females to remain at home, the weakness of their sex was regarded; but the strength of Mary's piety surmounted every obstacle, and, like her illustrious ancestor, she was "glad when they said, Let us go up to the house of the Lord." How dissimilar was her spirit to that of multitudes, whose reluctance renders religious duties so irksome and so formal; who call the Sabbath a weariness; and who, instead of hailing the hour of sacred solemnities, are eager to escape from spiritual restraints to replunge into the cares,—perhaps into the dissipations, of the world!

The original constitution of the woman was that of a help meet for man; and it should be her pleasure to prompt to holy duties, and to associate with her beloved partner and children in them. Never does she appear so lovely, as when occupied in this pious service, avoiding all those needless cares which might preclude her own attendance upon appointed means.

The passover was intended as a commemoration of the deliverance wrought for the people of Israel when they were brought out of Egyptian slavery, and the destroying angel, who inflicted death upon the first born of their oppressors, passed over untouched the blood-besprinkled doors of the people of God: but, under the Christian dispensation, we are invited with our households to celebrate a more glorious release from a more tremendous bondage. The sacramental festival of the church of Christ records our emancipation from sin, both from its consequences and its dominion, through the atoning blood of the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," sprinkled upon the consciences of all believers. Mary, while keeping the typical feast, embraced the real Lamb, and devoutly enjoyed the festival of faith. So let us hasten to this institution, and participate this divine joy.

It is probable that the parents of Jesus were in the habit of taking their son with them every year to Jerusalem, that they might, as it became religious characters, "train him up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord;" we are at least certain that he accompanied them at the age of twelve, when a memorable and instructive incident occurred.

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