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to confer an honour upon the place of his nativity, and not the place of his nativity upon him.
2. He said, Go and search diligently for the young child: an excellent employment indeed. A better direction he could not give to the wise men; a better direction I cannot give to you, my hearers, whatever be your characters. Go, and search diligently after Christ: go to his ministers, go to those who have a spiritual acquaintance with him, and say as the Greeks to Philip, Sirs, we would see Jesus! Seek him as his parents did, sorrowing; seek him as the spouse did, both privately and publicly, in your closet, and places of secret retirement; in his house and ordinances. Seek him with the greatest earnestness, the most unwearied diligence, and application. Let the lost sin ner seek the Saviour, as the Saviour seeks the lost sinner, till he has found him!
3. And when ye have found him, bring me word, says Herod. Observe, that those who seek Christ early, nay, all that seek him aright, shall find him; for he has never said to the seed of Jacob, seek ye me in vain. It is true, they may be disappointed for a time, but they shall be gratified at last. They may wait, and wait long, as the women did at the sepulchre; but their labour shall not be lost, nor their expectation frustrated. Herod took it for granted that the wise men would find Christ; and so may we, when we see a soul earnestly and industriously seeking after him; for if he is found of them that seek him not, which has been the happy experience of many, surely he will be found of them that seek him. We have found him, says Philip to Nathaniel, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. He speaks of it with an air of triumph, and well he might; for they that find Christ, find every thing worth having. They find the pearl of great price, which will richly compen
sate all their pains, supply all their wants, and satisfy all their wishes.
4. It is added, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him. These are fair words, but designed to cover foul intentions. Here was the wisdom of the serpent, but not the innocence of the dove. Had he been upright and honest, his language would have been somewhat like that of the daughters of Jerusalem: Whither is thy Beloved gone, oh thou fairest among women? Whither is thy Beloved turned aside, that we may seek him with thee? But though he speak fair, yet there were seven abominations in his heart. His pretences were all a cheat. He come to Christ! Yes: he wanted nothing so much. But for what? To fall down at his feet, as he pretended, and adore him? No: but to murder and destroy him! His wisdom was from beneath. He acted a very subtle part; and no doubt he promised himself success. He thought to be too hard for the wise men; nay, for the fountain of wisdom itself: but God taketh the wise in their own craftiness, and turneth the counsel of the froward headlong. No sooner was the man-child born into the world, but the dragon cast out a flood to destroy him. But he cannot be destroyed whom God designs to save.
Herod pretended, that if he were admitted into the gracious presence of Christ, he would worship him. This is what all who know and love him would do; for he is thy Lord, therefore worship thou him. Chris', as mediator, is the medium of worship; but as God, he is the object of it. All judgment is committed to him, that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. We have many instances of divine worship being paid to him when he was upon earth, without his shewing the least dislike, which he certainly would have done, had he not had an incontestible claim thereto. (John ix. 38. Luke xxiv. 56.) But this was far from being the design of Herod.
It might be said of him, as of the Assyrian monarch, He meant not so, neither did his heart think so: his object was to destroy. What he aimed at was, to gratify his cruelty and ambition.
From hence we may derive an observation, which will serve as the ground of the following part of this discourse-That religion is often made use of as a cloak and as means to subserve the basest of purposes.
1. Religion is sometimes used as a cover for undutifulness and uncharitableness. We have a flagrant instance of this among the Jews, when their parents were advanced in years, and reduced to a state of poverty and dependance. Their children, if unwilling to supply them out of their abundance, and which abundance might perhaps proceed from the imprudent liberality of those very parents, were taught to say, that the thing requested was "Corban;" that is, a gift devoted to God, and therefore not to be alienated, or applied to any other purpose. (Mark vii. 10.) This was setting piety and charity, the duties of the first and second table, at variance one with another; and was a manifest breach of the fourth commandment, which says, Honour thy father and thy mother. It is something of a similar instance when persons bequeath in charitable legacies what they should have given to the poor in their life time.
2. It is used to patronize acts of cruelty, malice, and revenge. Thus the sons of Jacob pretended a great regard to religion in their conference with Hamor and Shechem, whereby they prevailed upon. them to be circumcised: but whilst they were thus disabled, they came upon them, and destroyed the whole city. (Gen. xxxiv. 25.) For this instance of barbarity, Simeon and Levi, the two chief actors, were divided in Jacob, and scattered in Israel. Thus Abner pleaded God's promise concerning David, when he only meditated revenge for an affront offered him by Ishbosheth. (2 Sam. iii. 17.) And even those who
hated their brethren, and cast them out, said, Let the Lord be glorified! Thus also, worship was Herod's pretence; but murder his design.
3. As a cloak for ambition and rebellion. When Absalom wanted to grasp his father's sceptre, and usurp his throne, that he might with less suspicion and more success, accomplish his treacherous designs, he pretended to pay a vow in Hebron. (2 Sam. xv. 8.) Corah also, and his company, rose up in a tumultuous manner against Moses, and endeavoured to sow the seeds of sedition among the people, under a pretence that the king in Jeshurun usurped too much authority, and that they were as highly favoured of God as their leader. And it is easy to recollect, that even in later times, two nations have hardly ever engaged in war, but on both sides they have appealed to heaven for the justice of their cause; and consequently, implored from thence a blessing upon their arms; whereas justice could not be on both sides, and perhaps sometimes it was on neither.
4. The same may be said with respect to covetousness and oppression. How often have men endea-` voured to embalm, as it were, these putrid vices with the venerable name of religion. When Ahab was sick for Naboth's vineyard, Jezebel, his wife, proclaimed a fast. When the humble sinner poured her precious ointment on the feet of her Saviour, Judas exclaimed against the waste, and said, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor! Not because he cared for the poor, as it was afterwards said, but was a thief, and had the bag-By this craft we get our wealth, says Demetrius the silversmith, when he cried, Great is Diana of the EphesiIt was the gold dug out of the earth, and not the goddess who fell from heaven, that inflamed his zeal. Felix, the Roman governor, frequently sent for Paul, not because he loved his doctrine, but because he hoped to receive a bribe. (Acts xxiv. 20.)
And is it not to be feared, that some ministers now, like the priests of old, preach for handfuls of barley, and morsels of bread; seeking the fleece, and not the flock; making merchandise of the souls of men, but who will be no gainers in the end by their wicked practices; for the apostle tells us that their damnation is just. 2 Pet. ii. 3.
5. Even hatred of holiness is often covered with a pretence of holiness. Sanballat and Tobiah, who were bitter enemies both to the nation and religion of the jews, pretended to assist them in building the temple; for, say they, we seek your God. Yet their design was only to weaken their hands, and overthrow the work. Jehu was also a wicked man, and an eneiny to vital godliness; yet he says, Come, see my zeal for the Lord of hosts, when he drove on furiously to obtain the kingdom! This is the case of all hypocrites: they pray, read, hear, and abstain from gross acts of wickedness; but love the sins which they do not commit, and have no love to the duties which they do perform. Thus the pharisees professed the greatest regard to God and his ways, and were by much. the strictest sect among the jews; and yet Christ told them that they hated both him and his Father. And it is to be feared, that though the sect is extinguished, the character still remains.
I shall conclude with some practical directions.
(1.) Let me say to you, as Herod to the wise men, Go to Bethlehem. See the place where the infant Jesus lay. See the Ancient of days become a helpless babe: He who spread forth the heavens like a curtain, lying in a manger. Seek to be conformed to him in this instance of his humiliation; for unless ye drink into the spirit of his infancy, or as he expresses it, become as little children, ye cannot enter into his kingdom.
(2.) Let those who want a Saviour, go and search diligently for him. Some search after riches, honour,