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And when Herod the king heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
THOUGH all the works of God, even the most common, and such as every day meet our senses in the ordinary course of nature, carry in them a grandeur and magnificence great enough to entertain the observation of the most curious, and to raise the admiration of the most knowing; yet it has still been the method of divine Providence to point out extraordinary events and passages with some peculiar characters of remark; such as may alarm the minds and engage the eyes of the world, in a more exact observance of, and attention to, the hand of God, in such great changes. And very observable it is, that the alteration of states and kingdoms, the rise and dissolution of governments, the birth and death of persons eminent in their generations, have for the most part been signalized with some unusual phenomena in nature; sometimes in the earth, sometimes in the sea, and sometimes in the heavens themselves: God thereby shewing that the great affairs of the world proceed not without his own particular notice; and therefore certainly ought much more to challenge ours. And of this method of Providence, as the reason on God’s part cannot but be most wise, so on man’s (the more is our just shame) 254it is no less than necessary: for that natural proneness in most men to irreligion seems to gather strength from nothing more than from an observation of the constant uninterrupted course of nature, from which some are but too ready to think, whatsoever they speak, that nature is its own god, because they never see it controlled; that things always were, and always will be, as now they are; and in a word, that the world is unchangeable, when they do not see it changed. God therefore is sometimes pleased to interpose with an high hand, and to vary the usual course of nature, thereby to convince mankind, that this great fabric is not an automaton, so as to move itself; nor yet unaccountable, so as to acknowledge no superior law: but that it acts, or is rather acted by that eternal Spirit, and governed by that almighty and all-wise Artificer, that can order, govern, transpose, and, if occasion requires, take asunder the parts of it, as in his infinite wisdom he shall judge fit.
But of all the strange passages and prodigies by which God introduced great persons into the world, none were so notable as those that ushered in the nativity of this glorious first-born of the creation, our blessed Saviour. And indeed great reason it was, that he that was Lord of heaven should have his descending into the flesh graced and owned with the testimonies of stars and angels, one shining and the other singing at so great a blessing coming upon mankind. Accordingly the evangelist in this chapter makes it his design and business to recount some of those notable circumstances that attended our Saviour’s birth, which we may reduce to these two heads.255
I. The solemn address and homage made to him by the wise men of the east.
II. Herod’s behaviour thereupon.
For the first of these, there are in this general passage these particulars considerable.
1. Who and what those wise men were.
2. From whence they came.
3. About what time they came to Jerusalem.
4. What that star was that appeared to them.
5. How they could collect our Saviour’s birth by that star.
Of each of which in their order.
1. And first for the first of these. The persons here rendered wise men (and that certainly with great truth and judgment) are in the Greek termed μάγοι, and in the Latin magi. The origination of which word some take from the Hebrew radix, signifying in the participle benoni in hiphil, one that meditates or mutters. Some from a Syro-Arabic word, signifying explorare or scrutari. Others from a Persian word, but what that word is none pretends to know: though since it is probable that these magi did first exist amongst the Persians, it is also not improbable but that both name and thing might have their original in the same place.
As for the use of the word, it is different. At first it was taken, doubtless, not only in an honest, but also in an honourable sense; and the magia of the ancients was nothing else but a profound insight into all truth, natural, political, and divine. So that Suidas gives this account of the word, μάγοι παρὰ Πέρσαις οἱ φιλόσοφοι, they were the Persian philosophers. And that they were divines also is clear; for Xenophon in his 8th book, περὶ Κύρπου παιδείας, 256 commends the piety of Cyrus and his care of religion, for his appointing magi to preside in their sacred choirs, and to manage the offering of sacrifices, τότε πρῶτον κατεστάθησαν οἱ μάγοι ὑμνεῖν τοὺς Θεοὺς, &c. And that this also was a name given to such as were skilled in politic matters is no less evident; for the great counsellors of the Persian kings were called magi; and Cicero affirms, in his 3d book De natura Deorum, that none was ever admitted to the Persian throne, but such as had been thoroughly instructed and trained up by these magi. For, as Plato says in his Alcibiades, it was their work, βασιλικὰ διδάσκειν, to teach and instil into them the arts of government.
Now this discourse is only to shew, that the acception of the word amongst the Greeks and Latins, and other modern languages that speak after them, by which magus signifies no better than a wizard or conjurer, is through abuse and degeneration: the ill practices of some who wore this name, having by little and little disgraced the name itself into a bad sense.
As for the acception of it here by our evangelist, I doubt not but it is in a good sense, and that the persons here spoken of were great scholars, men well studied in the works of nature, and probably most seen in the mysteries of astrology, the chief and principal part of the eastern learning, For the proof of which, this observation is very considerable, that the word μάγοι applied to the Latins, Greeks, or Egyptians themselves, is for the most part used in a bad sense; but the same authors applying it to the Chaldeans and Persians intend it in a good; and that these men mentioned by the evangelist were 257Persians, shall presently be made at least very probable.
As for the condition and quality of these magi, or wise men, some contend, though I think more eagerly than conclusively, that they were kings; and for the proof of it allege several places of scripture; as first, that of Psalm lxxii. 10, The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts. But what is this to those who came not from Tarshish nor from Sheba, but from Persia, as shall be made appear hereafter? Besides that those words are literally spoke of Solomon, in whom they were eminently fulfilled; for we know what commerce he had with those parts, and we have also a full rehearsal of the great visit and present made him by the queen of Sheba.
They allege also that place in Isaiah lx. 3, The gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the glory of thy rising; with other such texts, which they call proofs; though so unconclusive and impertinent to the matter in hand, that they prove nothing but the folly and absurdity of those that allege them.
To the whole matter therefore I answer, that it is most improbable that these men were kings; and that the behaviour of Herod and the Jews toward them seems clearly to evince so much. For there was no mention of any pompous, kingly reception, but on the contrary, he treats them as imperiously as he would have done his servants or his footmen, in ver. 8, And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go, search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again. Which surely sounds not like language fit to bespeak princes in. Those indeed whose chief religion is to 258rebel against princes might possibly talk to them also at this rate; but it is not to be imagined that the rest of the world were yet arrived to this perfection.
It is evident therefore that Herod received them not as kings, no, nor with that respect that is due to the ambassadors of kings; but rather as any of our inferior magistrates would nowadays receive some Polonian or Hungarian, that should come to him about a brief, or for a licence to shew some strange, outlandish feats upon a stage.
But lastly, this is an undeniable argument that they were not kings, that the evangelist is thus silent of it. For since it is manifest that his design was to set forth Christ’s birth, and to render it as notable and conspicuous as he could from those passages that did attend it; it is not imaginable that he would have omitted this, that would have added so much of lustre and credit to it in the eyes of the world. The omission of it is indeed so hugely improbable, that, all things considered, it may almost pass for impossible.
2. The second thing here proposed to our consideration was the place from whence these wise men came. The evangelist describes it only by a general term, ἀπ᾽ ἀνατολῶν, from the east. But the east is of a large compass, and therefore we may well direct our inquiries to something that is more particular.
Some therefore are of opinion, that these wise men came from Arabia, and that part of it that is called Arabia Felix, which lay eastward to Jerusalem; especially since their presents consisted of gold, myrrh, and frankincense, the proper commodities of those places: for Arabia afforded gold, and the adjoining 259 Sabea afforded plenty of all manner of spices and perfumes.
Others there are that affirm these wise men to have come from Chaldea or Assyria.
I shall not trouble myself to produce or confute the several reasons upon which either of these opinions are built; but briefly give my reasons why neither of them can be admitted.
For the first. They could not come from Arabia, because there never was in Arabia any sort or sect of men known or distinguished by the name of magi; and therefore to bring these men from Arabia were altogether as absurd, as if in story we should bring the Brachmans, or Indian philosophers, from the Orcades, or the Druids from America.
And as for that reason, that the materials of their presents were the native commodities of those regions, it proves nothing; since other countries afforded them besides, and however might have them otherwise by importation. And when men make presents, they do not always pitch upon such things as grow in their own countries, but upon the best and richest that they have in their possession.
In the next place for Assyria or Chaldea: they could not come from thence neither, forasmuch as they lay northwards to Jerusalem: so that frequently in the prophets, when God threatens the Jews with an invasion from the Assyrians, they are still called a nation or army coming from the north. But the evangelist expressly says, that these men came ἀπ᾽ ἀνατολῶν, from the east, to which words this opinion is utterly irreconcileable.
Having thus removed these two opinions, I judge it most probable that they came from Persia; which 260as it is confirmed by the concurrent testimonies of the most eminent divines, both ancient and modern, so there wants not also solid reasons to persuade the same.
(1.) The first of which shall be taken from this; that this sort of men most flourished in Persia: they were most famous there. And I believe there may be better arguments brought to prove that the magi had their first rise there, than any can be brought to the contrary.
(2.) The second reason shall be taken from the situation of the place, Persia being situate eastward to Judea; so that it exactly answers the words of the evangelist.
(3.) The third and last shall be taken from the manner of their doing homage to Christ, which was that used by the Persians in expressing their homage to kings, namely, by gifts and presents.
These reasons seem probably to evince that these magi, or wise men, came from Persia: and we must know, that in matters of this nature, where demonstrations are not to be had, probable conjectures, burdened with no inconvenient consequences, are the best arguments, and such as any rational mind may well acquiesce in. And thus much for the place from whence these wise men came.
3. The third thing proposed was, the time when they came to Jerusalem; for some affirm them not to have come to Jerusalem till two years after the birth of Christ, grounding this their assertion upon what is said in ver. 16, that Herod sent and slew all the children in and about Bethlehem, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. Whence they infer Christ to have been two years old at the 261 time of the wise men’s arrival at Jerusalem. But the words of the text import the time to have been but very small between the birth of one and the coming of the other; for it is said in ver. 1, that when Jesus was born, behold the wise men came; which word ἰδοὺ, behold, according to the phrase of scripture, is equivalent with forthwith, or presently, as might be made out by sundry parallel places. Besides, that the wise men at their coining found Christ in Bethlehem, where yet it is certain that Joseph and Mary tarried not above forty days, the time appointed by the law for her purification; from whence it follows, that the coming of the wise men must needs have been within the compass of those forty days. As for that argument grounded upon Herod’s killing the children of two years old and under, according to the time of his inquiring of the wise men, the solution of it is very easy, if we reckon those two years before the time of his inquiry, and not those two years that immediately followed it. The reason of which is manifest, forasmuch as the wise men spoke not of Christ as yet to be born, but of him as actually born; though the precise time when, they declared not, nor perhaps knew. And therefore Herod, whose design was to secure himself from a rival king, whom he heard was already born, killed all the children that were born within the space of two years before the coming of the wise men and his inquiring of them. From whence it follows, that the time of the wise men’s coming to Jerusalem was some few days after the birth of Christ, probably nine or ten, and that they worshipped him at Bethlehem about the twelfth, the day still observed by the church for its commemoration.262
And now, as we have here removed the opinion of those that state the time of the wise men’s coming to Jerusalem two years after the birth of Christ; so another opinion, that makes the star to have appeared two years before Christ’s birth, is no less to be rejected, since they gave it the appellation of his star upon this account, that it then declared him to have been born. And whereas some, in defence of this opinion, allege the improbability of their coming from Persia in so few days, I answer, that if they be allowed to have come from those parts of it that lay nearest to Jerusalem, (as well they may,) it is not improbable at all; since a very learned commentator upon this place says, that some parts of Persia were not distant from Jerusalem ultra ducentas leucas, which, reckoning five hundred paces to a leuca, as some do, amount to an hundred of our miles. If fifteen hundred, as Ammianus Marcellinus does, then they make three hundred of our miles. The former of which they might go in that time very easily, and the latter with no such extraordinary great difficulty; considering that camels, the beasts of travel in those countries, are said even with great burdens to despatch forty of those leucas, that is, according to the latter and greater computation, threescore of our miles in a day. And thus much for the third thing, viz. the time of these wise men’s coming to Jerusalem.
4. The fourth thing proposed to be considered was, what this star was. Where though some have affirmed it to have been of the same nature with those that have their proper place and motion in the celestial orbs, and though that omnipotent God, that made the sun stand still at one time, and go back at 263another, cannot be denied to have been able to have commanded any of the stars upon such a message and employment, yet that he actually did so is not necessary for us here to assert, there being otherwise sufficient reasons to persuade us that this was not a real star of the same kind with those heavenly bodies, but only a bright meteor formed by the immediate power of God into the resemblance and similitude of a star, and so by a singular act of his providence used and directed to this great purpose. For had it been indeed a real star, there can hardly any reason be assigned why it should not have appeared to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as well as to those wise men in their journey from thence to Bethlehem; which yet it is clear that it did not, from the evangelist’s being wholly silent of it; who otherwise would undoubtedly have recorded it as a passage, than which none could be more efficacious, to upbraid the Jews with the unreasonableness of their unbelief. Nor does its being called a star prove it to have been really so: it being so usual, both in scripture and common speech, to call the resemblances of things by the names of those things themselves, comets and falling stars still obtaining this appellation, which yet have nothing of stars in them but the name.
5. The fifth and last thing proposed to be discussed was, how these wise men could collect or come to know our Saviour’s birth by their seeing this star. Evident it is from the words that they had a full and clear knowledge of it: for they spake of it as of a thing granted; and therefore they ask not whether or no he was born, but where he was born. And they call it emphatically his star; We have seen his 264star in the east; implying that it pointed him out by a certain and peculiar designation.
To this I answer; that all knowledge must commence upon principles either natural or supernatural.
If they draw it from the former, it must have been either,
1. From the principles of astrology; and here, for the confutation of this, would the time and measure of this exercise permit, the vanity of this science might easily be shewn, from the weakness of its principles; the confessions of such as have been most reputed for their skill in it; and, what is stronger than their confessions, from their frequent mistakes and deceptions in their most confident predictions; which sufficiently prove the greatest pretenders to it to be indeed but mere planetaries; that is, as we may well interpret it from the force of the word, such as use to err and to be deceived, and consequently, that nothing certain can be concluded from their principles.
2. Or secondly, if these men’s knowledge of Christ’s birth by the star were natural, the former way being removed, it must needs have been from tradition. And as to this, some affirm that they gathered it from that prophecy of Balaam continued down to them by report from his time, which prophecy is recorded in Numb. xxiv. 17, that a star should rise out of Jacob; and also that they might learn it from several prophecies of the sibyls, one of which sibyls prophesied in Persia. But how much soever these prophecies of the sibyls may have obtained in the world, yet most of them relating to Christ are proved by the learned Casaubon to be spurious and supposititious, and by all wise men believed to be such.265
Others affirm, that this might have been first learned from the Jews, in the time of their dispersion. But especially from some remaining traditions of Daniel. And certainly, when we consider how much this prophet writes of the kingdom and coming of the Messiah, it is no ways improbable but that he might otherwise, both by writing and word of mouth, leave many things behind him concerning the same. All which, through the greatness of the place he held in the Persian court, and the vast repute that he had for his knowledge and learning, might easily find both a general and a lasting reception.
It cannot therefore be rationally denied, but that these wise men might be much directed by such helps as these. But yet I affirm that these were not sufficient; so that we must be forced to derive their knowledge of Christ by this star from a supernatural cause; that is, from the immediate revelation of God: how, or in what manner, that revelation was effected, it is not necessary for us to know; but that they were such persons, to whom God upon other occasions did vouchsafe extraordinary revelations, is clear from the twelfth verse, where it is said, that they were admonished by God in a dream not to return to Herod. Now it is very probable that the same God who warned them of their danger, first suggested to them this great discovery; especially since it was not so difficult to escape the one, as to find out the other. We must conclude therefore, that it was neither their own skill, nor yet the light of that star, that taught them the meaning of that star. But Leo states the matter rightly in his fourth sermon upon the Epiphany: Praeter illam stellae 266 speciem quae corporeum incitavit obtutum, fulgentior veritatis radius eorum corda perdocuit. Star-light is but a dim light to read the small characters of such mysteries by. He only that made the stars could discover it; even that God who rules their influences, and knows their significations.
And thus much for the first notable circumstance of our Saviour’s nativity, namely, the solemn address of the wise men to him from the east, upon the appearance of a star. I come now to the
Second, which was, Herod’s behaviour thereupon; who being a person so largely spoken of in the Jewish story, so particularly noted by the evangelist, and made yet more notable by having the birth of the great Saviour of the world fall in his reign, he may well deserve our particular consideration: accordingly we will consider him in these three respects.
1. In respect of his condition and temper in reference to his government of Judea.
2. Of his behaviour and deportment upon this particular accident.
3. Of the influence this his behaviour had upon those under his government.
And first for the first of these; we will take an account of his condition and temper in reference to the government held by him, by these three things recorded of him, both in sacred and profane story.
1st, His usurpation: 2dly, His cruelty: and 3dly, His magnificence.
1. And first for his usurpation. When the government of Judea was took from the Asmoneans, the last of which that reigned was Antigonus, this Herod, the youngest son of Antipater, an Idumean, (who had grown up under Hyrcanus, being by 267him employed in the chief management of the affairs of his kingdom,) through the favour of Marcus Antonius, was by the Roman senate declared king of the Jews; in which dignity, to the wonder of many, he was also confirmed afterwards by Augustus himself. But Herod had a good purse, and having also well experienced Jugurtha’s observation of Rome, that it was urbs venalis, knew how to open it for his advantage as well as any man living: which, together with his great courage and resolution, lifted him up to, and settled him in a royal throne, so much above the pitch of any thing that by his birth he could pretend to. But let men be usurpers, and as false and wicked as they will, yet God is still righteous, and will serve and bring about his righteous purposes, even by their wickedness. And I question not but the success of Herod’s projects was chiefly from the special providence of God, while the villainy of them was wholly from himself: for by this strange and unexpected translation of the Jewish government, in setting the crown of it upon a stranger’s head, was exactly fulfilled that eminent and most remarkable prophecy of the Messias, in Gen. xlix. 10, That the sceptre should not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.
2. The second thing observable of him was his cruelty. We have already seen him seated in the Jewish throne, though an usurper and an intruder, and one who had no other title to that sovereignty, but the gift of those who had no right to give it. However, being thus possessed of it, he must have recourse to the common method of usurpers, and maintain by blood what he had got by injustice. 268 Accordingly he assassinates all such as he could but suspect might be his competitors. Aristobulus, the last of the Asmonean race, and preferred by him at the instigation of his wife Mariamne to the high priesthood, because the affections of the people were towards him, was by his appointment treacherously drowned. Nor spares he Hyrcanus himself, his predecessor, though now in the extremity of old age, and the person who had raised his father Antipater to that pitch as to give him, his son, the possibilities of a kingdom, and consequently of doing all this mischief. Nay, and his beloved wife Mariamne also, and his own sons Alexander and Aristobulus, and, at length too, his base son Antipater; and, which was the most unparalleled piece of barbarity that ever was acted, last of all, those poor infants also, (which we shall presently speak of,) they must all fall a sacrifice to his remorseless cruelty: so that neither the innocence of infancy, the venerableness and impotence of old age, the sacred obligations of gratitude, the love of a wife, nor, lastly, the endearing relation of a son, could prevail any thing against the inhuman resolves of his base and cruel disposition; which gave occasion to that sarcastical speech of Caesar Augustus concerning him; “That it was better to be Herod’s hog, than his son.” For as a proselyted Jew, he would not meddle with the former; but as worse than a Jew, he barbarously procured the murder of the latter.
3. The third thing observable in the temper of this Herod was his magnificence. There was none that reigned over the Jews, Solomon only excepted, that left such glorious monuments of building behind them as did Herod. The temple, the arx Antonia, 269and his own houses, sufficiently declared his vast and boundless spirit: any one of which had been enough to have ennobled the reign of any one prince: but this was all for which he was laudable: God sometimes thinking it fit to give a man some one good quality to season his many bad ones; and so to keep him sweet above-ground. Herod did many things of public advantage, and yet he scarce deserved the reputation of a public spirit, when the end and design drove at by him in all he did was his own private glory, and the gratification of his ambition. The consideration of which may teach us how great a riddle the actions of most men are, even in their most specious and public undertakings. The action may be sometimes of a national emolument, and yet the spring and design that moves it be but personal. Few men know what disguises are worn upon the public face of things, and how much the world is beholding to some men’s pride and vain-glory, which often supply the office of charity in those worthy benefactions they pass upon the public; while, in the mean time, the good of those that are benefited by such works is the least thing in the thoughts of those that did them. So far from impossible or improper was that supposition made by the apostle Paul in 1 Cor. xiii. 3, of a man’s bestowing all his goods upon the poor, and yet not having charity. For it is not the bulk or outside of the action, but the mind and spirit directing it, that stamps it charitable. Men may give large sums, and do generous actions, upon as great designs of selfishness as ever the vilest miser or usurer entertained, when he amassed heaps upon heaps within his greedy coffers; only with this 270difference indeed, that one in all this feeds his pride, the other his covetousness. But surely pride is as much a vice as covetousness, though not always of so ill effect to those that are about it. It is not what a man does, but how, and why, that denominates his action good or evil before God. Herod may be Herod still, for all his building of a temple.
And thus much for the three qualifications observable in Herod’s person.
2. The second thing to be considered of him was, his behaviour upon this particular occasion of the wise men’s coming to Jerusalem from the east, to inquire after him that was born king of the Jews, at the nativity of our blessed Saviour; which behaviour of his shews itself in these two things.
1. In that trouble and anxiety of mind that he conceived upon this news. He was full of suspicious, misgiving, and perplexing thoughts, what the issue of things might be, and how he should be able to maintain himself in the throne, against the claim of the right owner, which he knew he held by no other title but that of injury and usurpation.
2. His behaviour shews itself in that wretched course he took to secure himself against his supposed competitor; which was by slaying all the children born in and near to Bethlehem, from two years old and under; the time within which he had learnt from the wise men that Christ must have been born.
It must be confessed here (which yet certainly is very strange) that Josephus, who is so particular in recording most things relating to Herod’s reign, yet speaks not a word either of the birth of Christ, or of the appearance of the star, or of the wise men’s coming to Herod thereupon; nor, lastly, of the massacre 271of these children. All of which (one would think) were too great and too considerable passages to be passed over in silence by such an historian as Josephus.
However, this ought not to shake our faith of these things at all; since if the evangelists had falsified in these narratives, it is infinitely improbable, that the enemies of the Christian religion, who could so easily have convinced them of such falsification, should not some time or other have objected it against the truth of our religion, which yet they never did; but on the other hand, it is hugely probable, that Josephus, a great zealot in the Jewish religion, and consequently a mortal hater of ours, might, out of his hatred of it, omit the relation of these passages which were likely to give it so much reputation in the world. But as for the passage of his murdering the infants, Ludovicus Capellus is of opinion, that in that place where Josephus says, that Herod, drawing near his death, summoned the noblest of the Jews by a menacing edict from all parts of Judea, and shutting them up, gave order to his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, to see them all put to the sword after his death; it was Josephus’s intent, by this device, to slubber over the massacre of these innocents; thus not wholly omitting it, and yet by so obscure a narrative not clearly and plainly discovering it. But whether this observation have any weight in it or no, I hope the testimony of those whose writings have been opposed, but never yet confuted, or convinced of falsity, will have more authority and credit with us, than the ambiguity and shuffling of a partial historian.
3. The third thing proposed to be considered by 272 us was, the influence that this behaviour of Herod had upon those under his government. For the text tells us, that not only he was troubled himself, but that all Jerusalem was also troubled with him: yet not for any love they bore him, we may be sure. But they were troubled and disturbed with the fears they had of what the rage and jealousy of such a tyrant might produce: for seldom does a tyrant confine his troubles within his own breast, but that those about him also go sharers in the smart of them. And what the prophet said of Ahab may be as truly said of Herod, and all such usurpers, that they are those that trouble Israel. For usually such persons neither rise nor fall, but at the cost of the people’s blood, and the expense of many innocent lives. When tyrants and victorious rebels invade the regal power of any nation, the people must not expect to rest quiet either in peace or war: nor were the Jews here deceived in their ill-boding presages of what mischief would ensue upon Herod’s discontents. Such a cloud could not gather over their heads for nothing. And long it was not before it broke out in that bloody shower that has been made mention of. From all which we may learn how much it concerns the tranquillity and happiness of a kingdom to stop the first pretences and encroaches of usurpers; and as much as in them lies to keep all Herods and Cromwells from getting into the supremacy. For as soon as their own guilt and suspicion shall alarm them with any fears of the right owner’s regaining his inheritance, then presently the whole nation is in danger of being forced to a war, to defend and fight for those whom they have more heart to fight against. Or in case Providence 273shall favour them so far as to enable them to turn, their swords against such domestic pests, yet they must still purchase their delivery by a war; that is, rid themselves of one calamity by another. So that we see, when Herods and usurpers once ravish the government into their hands, whether they stand or whether they fall, all Jerusalem is like to be troubled with them.
And thus I have finished what I proposed from the text, namely, the two grand circumstances of our Saviour’s nativity. I shall now close up all with a resolution of this short question, Why that Jesus Christ, being born the right and lawful king of the Jews, yet gave way to this bloody usurper, and did not, either in his or his successor’s time, assume the government himself?
In answer to which, though I think it a solid and satisfactory reason of all God’s actions to state them upon his mere will and pleasure; yet there are not wanting other reasons assignable for this.
I shall pitch upon two.
1. Christ balked the kingly government of the Jews, because his assuming it would have crossed the very design of that religion that he was then about to establish; which was, to unite both Jew and Gentile into one church or body. But this union could not possibly be effected till the politic economy of that nation, so interwoven with the ceremonial and religious, like the great partition-wall, was broken down. Upon good reason therefore did Christ refuse to undertake the kingly government, and therein the support of that nation, the politic constitution of which, through the special providence of God, in order to the propagation of the Christian 274religion, was now shortly to expire and to be done away.
2. Christ voluntarily waved the Jewish crown, that he might hereby declare to the world the nature of his proper kingdom; which was to be wholly without the grandeur of human sovereignty and the splendour of earthly courts. In Luke xvii. 20 it is said, that the kingdom of God cometh not with observation. So we read it. But the Greek is κατὰ φαντασίαν, that is, with pomp and gayety of outward appearance. For so the word signifies. Whereupon, in Acts xxv. 23, when Agrippa and Bernice came in much splendour and magnificence to visit Festus, it is said that they came μετὰ πολλῆς φαντασίας, which is there well rendered, with much pomp.
This being so, men may save themselves the labour of entering into covenants, raising armies, and cutting of throats, to advance the sceptre and kingdom of Jesus Christ: for Christ has no need of their forces: he came to cast out such legions, and not to employ them. Here in this world he owns no sword but that of his Spirit, no sceptre but his word, no kingdom but the heart. This is his prerogative royal, to govern our wills, to command our inclinations, and to reign and lord it over our most inward affections.
Which kingdom, God of his mercy daily propagate and increase within us.
To which God be rendered and ascribed., as is most due, all praise, might., majesty, and dominion., both now and for ever. Amen.275
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