« ПредишнаНапред »
the Son of God." The singularity of this wonderful conception and birth was greatly heightened by having been prefigured and foretold at sundry times, and in divers manners; such as the preternatural birth of Isaac, of Jacob, of Sampson, of John Baptist, and the express and pointed prediction of Isaiah, "the Lord himself shall give you a sign, behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emanuel," God with us. All these hold up to us, through a succession of ages, the substance of the first threatening to the serpent, which was at the same time the first promise of grace to mankind was made, that He, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed, and who should bruise the serpent's head should be in a proper and peculiar sense the seed of the woman. Astonishing and instructive view of the undeviating steadiness of the divine counsels! He willeth and none can let it; heaven and earth may pass away, but his word shall not pass away, but every one come to pass in his season.
Mary having been referred to her cousin Elizabeth, whose advanced state of pregnancy was to be an additional confirmation of her own faith in the promises of God, as soon as the angel departed from her, retired from Nazareth into the hill country of Juda to salute her kinswoman, and to confer with her on the several manifestations of divine favour to them. This interview produced another declaration of the interest that providence took in the event which was pressing to its accomplishment; Elizabeth is not only destined to be a mother in Israel, a mother of John the Baptist, but she becomes already a prophetess; she has a sign given her in her own person equivalent to the declaration of the archangel. "And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost and she spake out with a loud voice, and said, 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." This fills the virgin's mouth with a song of praise dictated by faith, piety, humility and gratitude; and these are the rapturous strains which flow from her lips. "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his hand-maiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him, from generation to generation. He hath shewed strength with his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 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. 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."
The course of nature now takes place, and he who made man, the first man Adam, perfect at once, from dust of the ground, and who is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham, raises up first John and then Jesus in a way at once miraculous, and natural, according to the way of sovereign, irresistible power, and according to the time of life. Glorious in establishing and supporting the laws of nature, glorious in suspending and dispensing with them, we behold thee, O God, subduing all things to the counsel of thy will, that all should be to the praise of thy glory. At the end of three months more, Elizabeth, as it was predicted of the angel, is delivered of a son: the name of John, as the heavenly messenger directed, was im
posed on him, the father's speech was suddenly restored, and the first use which he makes of it is to celebrate the high praises of that God, who had made him such an illustrious example of both mercy and judgment. He "was filled with the Holy Ghost and prophesied, saying, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people. And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David; as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began; that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, the oath which he swore to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God: whereby the day spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
And now the way is prepared, the voice is heard crying in the wilderness, the forerunner of the Lord has begun his course, the Saviour comes. But other messengers, of whom we have not yet heard, precede him. Behold yonder comet glare in the eastern sky, it performs a track untrodden before, the wise men of distant lands are summoned to meet him at his coming, to lay their gifts at his feet; Augustus Cæsar, the sole regent of half the globe, is pressed into the ministering train, an unconscious, unintentional servant to the prince of the kings of the earth.
But here we must once more pause and inquire, Is this a cunningly devised fable, or a real history? Is it a
fanciful representation, or the simple truth? If it be a fine tissue woven by a luxuriant imagination, say so at once, unbeliever, and renounce the fiction in whole, as a rule of faith, or as a ground of hope. Say unreservedly that the mission and message of the angel is merely a bold eastern metaphor: and the whole mere ordinary facts, related with somewhat more than the usual pomp of diction, but to set forth only a man of like passions with ourselves, whom the credulous, prejudiced and illiterate are disposed to receive as a superior being. In a word, give up the evangelists as plain men conveying, to plain men like themselves, simple matters of fact, and recur at once to unmixed, undisguised deism. But are these things indeed so? Were angels sent from God to declare the approach of what prophets had of old predicted? Did the Son of the Highest vouchsafe to be born of a Woman, and thereby become partaker of flesh and blood, David's son, yet David's Lord, then let earth prepare to receive its king. Lo, the angels of God worship him. He is the Son of God, he is our Lord, and let us worship him.
This history assists us in correcting the false scale of human greatness. Here we behold the princes and the potentates of this world sinking to their proper level; Herod, Augustus Cæsar, and persons of their character and station are thrown into the back ground of the piece, while Zacharias, Elizabeth and Mary are brought forward with honour, and to fill a higher destination than that of kings. Respect, by all means, the powers that are, as the ordinance of God, but respect with higher, with supreme veneration, Him who ordained them, to carry on the purposes of his wisdom and his love. Learn, christian, to make a just importance in the scale of being. of God, formed after his image, a tality, destined to glory and honour. nified confers true nobility; faculties so superior, pros
estimate of thy own Thou art a creature partaker of immorAn origin so dig
pects so extended, denote a being of high estimation in the sight of God, and who ought to be of high esti mation in his own eyes. Defile not that fair temple, discredit not that illustrious descent, dishonour not a father's name. But well does it become a creature so dependent, so frail, so fallen, so lost, to be clothed with humility. O man, thou standest in need of every thing; what possessest thou that thou didst not first receive? Thou hast been forgiven all; by the grace of God thou art what thou art. The religion of Jesus Christ alone effectually teaches a man to descend without degrada. tion, and to raise without pride; reduces him to the level of his natural guilt and misery, and exalts him to the glorious liberty, and the heavenly inheritance of the sons of God.
We have here a preternatural, a miraculous conception. It reminds us of our common origin, of our common feebleness, of our mutual connexion and dependence. God hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth," Every man therefore is a brother, and bound to entertain the affections, and to perform the part of a near kinsman to every man. This consideration I press upon you in the words and the spirit of the apostle of the Gentiles: "For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For, as we are many members in one body, and all members have not the same office so we being many are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophecy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation; he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; VOL. IV. I