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their administration. They were the counsellors, the judges, the priests, the princes, From the bein a word, the oracles of the eastern countries; [and the prophet Daniel was, by Nebu- ginning of the chadnezzar, made president of all the wise men, (a) i. e. Archimagus of Babylon.] But as Matth. ix. 8. the best arts are sometimes perverted to ill purposes, so it happened to these, that, Mark ii. 23. falling into the hands of bad men, who met with people ignorant and credulous, and not only easy, but even glad to be deluded, they degenerated into the cheats of judiciary astrology; and these abuses grew so general, as at last to fix an ill sense upon the word, and a scandal on the science itself.
Luke vi. 1.
It were a wrong and great indignity to the persons now before us, not to believe them of the nobler and better sort; but we can hardly be persuaded (though some would endeavour to do it) that they were persons of royal dignity, (b) because we cannot reasonably suppose, that the evangelists would have omitted a circumstance of so great mo ment, both for their honour and our Lord's. We can hardly think, but that some account would have been given of their royal train and equipage, and that all Jerusalem would have been moved as much to see their entry, as they were to hear their questions: nor can we imagine that it would have been decent in Herod to have received them with no more respect; to have dismissed them to Bethlehem without attendants; much less to have laid his commands upon them to return back, and bring him an account of the child as soon as they had found him, had they been persons of equal rank and dignity with himself. Upon these considerations, we may justly deny them the title of kings, though we cannot but allow them to be persons of great wisdom, learning, and integrity; of which ours, and some other translations of the Bible, have been so sensible, as very prudently to decline the odious name of magicians, and to call them the wise men of the East; but what part of the east it was that they came from, few interpreters have agreed.
(c) Some have imagined that these travellers came out of Persia; others from Caldea, others from Arabia, and others again from Mesopotamia. All these countries lay eastward from Jerusalem and the Holy Land; and in each of these some antecedant notions of the Messiah may be accounted for. in Chaldea and Persia, by the captivity of the Jews and the books of Daniel; in Arabia, by the nearness of their neighbourhood and frequent commerce; and in Mesopotamia, besides these common helps, they had the prophecy of their countryman Balaam, concerning a star (d) that should come out of Jacob to direct them. (e) But as we know of no record wherein this prophecy was preserved but the book of Moses, which the people of Mesopotamia neither read nor believed; so it seems evident, that Balaam's words do not refer to a star that should arise at any prince's birth, but to a certain king who should be as glorious and splendant in his dominions as the stars are in the firmament. Upon the whole, therefore, it seems most likely, that these wise men came out of Arabia (ƒ), (which, according to Tacitus, was the bound of Judea eastward) not only because the gifts which they presented were the natural products of that country, which was famous likewise for its magi, insomuch that Pythagoras (as Porphyry informs us) went into Arabia to acquire wisdom; but because its neighbourhood to Judea might give these wise men the advantage of discerning the star better than any more distant nation had.
For that this star was no celestial one, and such as might be seen at a vast distance, its motion contrary to the ordinary course of stars, its performing the part of a guide to the travellers, and that by day, very probably, as well as night, its accommodating itself to their necessities, and disappearing and returning as they could best, or least be without it, and (what is a circumstance as remarkable as any) its pointing out, and
(a) Dan. ii. 48.
(b) Whitby's Annotations on Matth. ii. 1, &c (c) Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. 1 [And Hales's Analysis, vol. i. and ii.] (d) Numb. xxiv. 17. (e) Whitby's Annotations. VOL. III.
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A. M. 4034, standing over the very place where the child was, (which the height and distance of common stars make it impossible for them to do) are a sufficient demonstration. It seems not improbable therefore, that what the evangelist calls a star, was only that gloVulg Ar. 28. rious light (a) which shone upon the Bethlehem shepherds, when the angel came to im
part unto them the tidings of our Saviour's birth; for that this light was exceeding great is clear from that expression which syles it the (b)" glory of the Lord;" and that it was a light from heaven hanging over their heads, the words in the (c) Greek, as well as (d) the Latin version, sufficiently inform us.
Now every one knows, that such a light at a great distance appears like a star; or at least after it had thus shone about the shepherds, it might be lifted up on high, and then formed into the likeness of a star; where standing vertically over Judea for some time, it might direct the Arabian astrologers (whom so strange a phænomenon could hardly escape) to the capital city, as the likeliest place to gain intelligence of the newborn king, whose "star they had seen in the East," i. e. from the place of their abode which was in the East: For, should we suppose that this light was placed in any part of the eastern hemisphere, it would have denoted something extraordinary among the Indians, or other eastern nations, rather than among the people of the Jews.
(e) But how came these eastern sages to know that this star, or luminous appearance in the heavens, (place it where we will) denoted the birth of a king? Now, for the resolution of this question, it must be observed, what (f) some heathen historians tell us, viz. "That through the whole East it was expected, that about this time a king was to arise out of Judea who should rule over all the world." Nor could it be well otherwise, since, from the time of the Babylonish captivity, we find the Jews dispersed (g) through all the provinces of the Persian monarchy, and that (h) in great numbers, and (i) many people of the land becoming Jews; and after their return home, increasing so mightily that they were dispersed through Africa, Asia, and many cities and islands of Europe, and (as Josephus (k) tells us) wherever they dwelt making many proselytes to their religion. (1) Now these wise men, living so near to Judea, the seat of this prophecy, and conversing with Jews, i. e. with those who every where expected the completion of it at that time, as soon as they came to see this extraordinary star, or body of light hovering over Judea, they might rationally conjecture, that it signified the completion of that celebrated prophecy concerning the king of Jewry, over the centre of which land they, being then in the East, might see this meteor hang *.
(a) Whitby's Annotations.
(2) Ibid chap. iii. 13.
(b) Luke ii. 9.
[This is certainly a very satisfactory account of the Eastern wise men, as well as of the star which guided them to Bethlehem; but the reader will probably be more pleased with the following, though the difference between the two accounts is small and of little consequence." The glory of the LORD, which shone round about the Jewish shepherds, and was therefore probably a miraculous fight of a globular form and considerable diameter, might have appeared on the same night, and at the same time, to some pious Magi of the Persian empire, diminished, at the distance of several hundred miles, to the size of a star, or uncommonly bright meteor, and rising, in its ascent from the shepherds, in the south-west quarter of the borizon-an unusual region, which must have strong
ly attracted their notice, and excited their attention. From its situation they might have been led to conceive, that this was the STAR to rise out of JACOB, and the SCEPTRE from ISRAEL, foretold by the celebrated Chaldean Diviner, and probably their ancestor Balaam; and that it denoted THE MESSIAH, whose coming was foretold, in the famous propecy of the seventy weeks, by Daniel their Archimagus. And besides these prophetical inducements, we have reason to think, that God, who never left himself without a witness in the heathen world, in a dream or vision induced these pious sages from the East (úño úvaτaar,) to go to Jerusalem for further intelligence respecting the birth-place, or residence, of the true born (ö Texsic) KING OF THE JEWs, whose star they saw at its rising (in ry dvaroλy), and whom they came to worship with royal and religious adoration. This may fairly be collected from the oracular warning which they afterwards received in a dream, (xenuatioéves), not to return Herod to on their way home.] Hales's Analysis, &c. vol. ii. p. 712,
Luke vi. 1.
Not long after the departure of these eastern sages from Bethlehem, we find a pro- From the bedigious multitude of innocent babes inhumanly put to death upon the account of him ginning of the whom these wise men came to adore. But to vindicate the justice and goodness of Matth. ix. 8. Providence in this proceeding, we need not appeal to God's universal dominion over all Mark ii. 23. his creatures, and the right he has to take away in what manner he pleases the being which he gives us; we need only consider the present life, not as our last and final state, but as one whose principal tendency is to another; and then it will appear that there is no certain measure to be taken of the Divine justice or goodness towards us, without taking in the distributions of that other life, which indeed is the main end of our living at all. What Solomon therefore, in his wisdom, says of the righteous in general, is much more verified in the case of these harmless babes: (a) " In the sight of the unwise they seem to die, and their departure is taken for misery; but they are in peace: for though they were punished in the sight of men, yet is their hope full of immortality." (b) For a frail, a short, a troublesome, a dangerous life, God gives them the recompence of an immortal, a securely happy, a completely glorious one; which not only vindicates but magnifies his goodness and liberality to them. He considers their infancy, and the noble fruit which might have sprung from these tender plants, had they been allowed to grow to full maturity, and accordingly rewards them: for though they wanted the will of martyrdom which riper years may have, yet it must be allowed that they were clear of that voluntary and actual sin which those riper years would have contracted : and therefore, as in the most literal sense (c) they were not defiled with sensual pleasures, but left the world in virgin innocence; as they were truly redeemed from among men, whose early translation to a state of bliss prevented the hazards and temptations of a wicked world; and as they were (strictly speaking) "the first fruits unto God and the Lamb," who began to shed their blood in the cause of a "new born Saviour;" so God hath been pleased to vouchsafe them a peculiar honour, (d)" to sing, as it were, a new song before the throne, and to follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth, because in their mouth was found no guile; for they were without fault before the throne of God."
We have but one objection more to answer, and that is a seeming inconsistency in our Saviour, in discovering to the Samaritan woman his Divine character, which he had so often desired his disciples to conceal. Our Saviour, it is true, was so far from making any unnecessary declarations of himself, that both upon (e) St Peter's confessing him to be the Christ, and (f) after his transfiguration, wherein he was declared to be the Son of God, we find him charging his disciples to say nothing of this, until his resurrection; (h) because their testimony in these points might not only be like a matter concerted between him and them, but because indeed they were not qualified to be his witnesses in these things, until they had received power from on high by the coming down of the Holy Ghost. It is to be observed, however, that when our Lord is himself fairly called upon, and especially by persons invested with authority, he never once conceals his Divine nature and commission.
When (h) "the Jews came round him in Solomon's porch, and said unto him, how long dost thou make us doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly;" his answer is express, "I told ye, and ye believed not: The works that I do in my Father's name they bear witness of me; for I and my Father are one." When he stood before the judgement seat, and the high priest demanded of him, (i) "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us, whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God;" his answer is, "Thou hast said:" Or (as St Mark (k) expresses it), "I am; and ye shall see the Son of Man
(a) Wisdom iii. 2, &c. (d) Ibid. ver. 3, 4, 5. on Matth. ix. 30.
(b) Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. i.
(e) Mark viii. 29. (h) John x. 24, &c.
(c) Rev. xiv. 4. Whitby's Annotations (k) Chap. xiv. 62.
A. M. 4034, sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven." Nay, there
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are some instances wherein, of his own accord, and without any provocation of this kind, he freely discovers who he was: For, having cured the man that was born blind, Vulg. Er. 28. and afterwards meeting him accidentally, (a) "Dost thou believe on the Son of God,"
says he? Whereupon the man asking, "Who is the Son of God, that I may believe on him?" Our Saviour replies, "Thou hast both seen him, and it is he who talketh with thee." And therefore we need less wonder that, when this Samaritan woman had first of all confessed him to be a prophet, and, as her words seem to imply, (b) was a little dubious whether he was not the Messiah, our Saviour should prevent her enquiry, and tell her voluntarily that he was. Especially considering, that (c) such a declaration might be a means to prepare her, and the rest of the Samaritans, whenever his apostles should come and preach the Gospel unto them, to receive their testimony, as we find, by the history of the apostolic Acts, that they did it with great gladness *.
Thus have we endeavoured to satisfy all the exceptions of any weight that the lovers of infidelity have hitherto made to this part of the evangelical history; and if Christianity stood in need either of the support or testimony of heathen authors, we might
that the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, is no more than (d) what the Greeks, as Julian avers, affirm both of Esculapius and Pythagoras, viz. that they were both the sons of Jupiter, though they appeared in human nature; which doctrine, in the evangelist St John, Amelius, the master of Porphyry, allows to be true: [That some notions of a Trinity of Divine Persons in the one Godhead, and of the incarnation, or rather repeated incarnations of one of them, have prevailed in the East from the remotest antiquity *5]: That the birth of our Blessed Jesus of a virgin immaculate, is no
(a) John ix. 35, &c.
(b) Ibid. ch. iv. 25.
[On this subject the reader will derive much in struction from Bishop Horsley's sermons on St John iv. 42. They are three in number, and published in the 2d volume of the general collection of his sermons.]
(d) Hurtii, Quæst. Alnet. lib ii. c. 13.
This Platonist, upon reading the beginning of St John's Gospel, swore by Jupiter, "That the barba"That the barba rian (as he called him) had hit upon the right notion, when he affirmed, that the Word which made all things, was in the beginning, in place of prime digni. ty and authority, with God, and was that God who created all things, and in whom every thing that was mad, had, according to its nature, its life and being; that he was incarnate, and clothed with a body, wherein he manifested the glory and magnificence of his nature; and that after his death, he returned to the repossession of his divinity, and became the same God which he was before his assuming a body, and taking the human nature and flesh upon him." Euseb. Præp. 9. Evang. lib xi.
*3 ["Mattra, the Methora of Pliny, is situated a-
not so much an incarnation of the Divine Veeshnu as
pose that the Brahmins had, in the early ages of
Luke vi. 1.
more than (a) what the ancient Jewish doctors expected in their Messiah; and there- From the be fore Simon Magus, who greatly affected that character, pretended that his mother Ra- ginning of the chel bore him without the loss of her virginity: That the new star, or body of light, Matth. ii. 8. which upon our Saviour's birth conducted the wise men to him, (b) is acknowledged by Mark xi. 23. Julian, though he would gladly ascribe it to natural causes; is set off with great eloquence by Chalcidius in his comment upon Plato's Timæus; and perhaps might be that very phenomenon *2 which Pliny (c) describes under the name of a comet: That our Lord's forerunner, John the Baptist, was such a person as the Gospel represents him, viz an exhorter of the "Jews to the love and practice of virtue, and to regeneration by baptism and newness of life," we have an ample testimony in Josephus (d): That our Lord himself was certainly a prophet, Phlegon, † who was the emperor Adrian's freed-man, acknowledges, and in his history has related several events which he foretold: That he was (e) a great worker of miracles, the authors of the Talmud own; nor can Celsus and Julian, his bitterest enemies, deny it, only they would gladly impute them to a wrong cause, his great skill in magical incantations: That human bodies were frequently possessed with devils, who afflicted them with grievous and tormenting diseases, is the joint concession both of (ƒ) Jamblicus and Minutius *3 Fœlix; and that our Blessed Lord had the power of curing these, (g) and of destroying the dominion of evil spirits wherever he came, is the great complaint of Porphyry, who makes it no wonder that their cities should be wasted with plagues, "since Esculapius, and the rest of the gods, ever since the admission of the Christian religion, were either become useless or fled. So prevalent is the force of truth, that it seldom fails to draw confessions from those who least of all intend them.
rope, we need not be surprised that the Brahmins,
In his relation of some portentous significations of stars, he adds: "Est quoque alia venerabilior, et sanctior historia, quæ perhibe ortu stellæ cujusdam insolitæ non morbos, mortesque prænunciatas, sed descensum Dei venerabilis, ad humanæ servationis, rerumque mortalium gratiam, quam à Chaloæis observatum fuisse testantur, qui deum nuper natum muneribus venerati sunt." Hammond's Annotations on Matth. ii. 2.
*The words of Huetius concerning this matter are these:-" Scribit Plinius exortum fuisse aliquando cometa candidum, argenteo crine ita fuigentem, ut vix contueri posset quisquam, specieque humanâ
Dei effigiem in se ostendentem." Quæst. Alnet. lib. ii
(c) Lib. ii. c. 25.
(d) Antiq. lib. xviii. c. 7. He composed an history, digested by Olympiads, as far as the year of Christ 140. In his history he takes notice, that in the Olympiad, which determines about the middle of the 33d year of the common era, there happened the greatest eclipse of the sun that ever had been seen, insomuch, that the stars were visible at noon-day, and that afterwards there was a great earthquake in Bithynia. Several critics believe, that this was the darkness which happened at the death of Jesus Christ, which is a matter we shall have occasion to enquire into when we come to that part of his history.
(e) Huetii Demons. prop. iii.
(f) De Myster. sect. i. c. 6.
#3 The words of Minutius are worth observing :-