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worthy of admiration, of enquiry. Here was desire of information, not doubts of infidelity; yea, rather, this question argues faith; it takes for granted that which an unbelieving heart would have stuck at. She says not, Who and whence art thou? what kingdom is this? where and when shall it be erected? But smoothly, supposing all those strange things would be done, she insists only on that which did necessarily require a further intimation, and doth not distrust, but demand. Neither doth she say, This cannot be, nor, How can this be? but, How shall this be? So doth the angel answer, as one that knew he needed not to satisfy curiosity, but to inform judgment and uphold faith. He doth not therefore tell her of the manner, but of the author of this act; “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” It is enough to know who is the undertaker, and what he will do. O God, what do we seek a clear light, where thou wilt have a shadow ? No mother knows the manner of her natural conception; what presumption shall it be, for flesh and blood, to search how the Son of God took flesh and blood of his creature! It is for none, but the Almighty, to know those works which he doth immediately concerning himself; those that concern us, he hath revealed : “Secrets to God, things revealed to us.
The answer was not so full, but that a thousand difficulties might arise out of the particulars of so strange a unessage ; yet, after the angel's solution, we hear of no more objections, no more interrogations. The faithful heart, when it once understands the good pleasure of God, argues no more, but sweetly rests itself in a quiet expectation :
“ Behold the servant of the Lord, be it to me according to thy word.” There is not a more noble proof of our faith, than to captivate all the powers of our understanding and will to our Creator, and without all sciscitation to go blindfold whither he will lead us. All disputations with God, after his will known, arise from infidelity. “Great is the mystery of godliness :” and if we will give nature leave to cavil, we cannot be christians. O God, thou art faithful, thou art powerful: it is enough that thou hast said it: in the humility of our obedience, we resign ourselves over to thee. “Behold the servants of the Lord, be it unto us according to thy word.”
How fit was her womb to conceive the flesh of the Son of God, by the power of the Spirit of God, whose breast had so
soon, by the power of the same Spirit, conceived an assent to the will of God! and now, of an handmaid of God, she is advanced to the mother of God. No sooner hath she said, “Be it done,” than it is done ; the Holy Ghost overshadows her, and forms her Saviour in her own body. This very angel, that talks with the blessed Virgin, could scarce have been able to express the joy of her heart in the sense of this divine burden. Never any mortal creature had so much cause of exultation. How could she, that was full of God, be other than full of joy in that God? Grief grows greater by concealing; joy, by expression. The holy Virgin had understood by the angel, how her cousin Elisabeth was no less of kin to her in condition; the fruitfulness of whose age did somewhat suit the fruitfulness of her virginity. Happiness communicated, doubles itself. Here is no straining of courtesy. The blessed maid, whom vigour of age had more fitted for the way, hastens her journey into the hillcountry to visit that gracious matron whom God bad made a sign of her miraculous conception. Only the meeting of saints in heaven can parallel the meeting of these two cousins: the two wonders of the world are met under one roof, and congratulate their mutual happiness. When we have Cbrist spiritually conceived in us, we cannot be quiet till we have imparted our joy. Elisabeth, that holy matron, did no sooner welcome her blessed cousin, than her babe welcomes his Saviour. Both, in the retired closets of their mother's womb, are sensible of each other's presence; the one by his omniscience, the other by instinct. He did not more forerun Christ than overrun nature. How should our hearts leap within us, when the Son of God vouchsafes to come into the secret of our souls, not to visit us, but to dwell with us, to dwell in us!
The Birth of Christ. As all the actions of men, so especially the public actions of public men, are ordered by God to other ends than their own. This edict went not so much out from Augustus, as from the court of heaven. What, did Cæsar know. Joseph and Mary? His charge was universal to a world of subjects through all the Roman empire. God intended this cension only for the blessed Virgin and her Son, that Christ might be born where he should. Cæsar meant to fill his coffers ; God meant to fulfil his prophecies; and so to fulfil them, that those whom it concerned might not feel the accomplishment. If God had directly commanded the Virgin to go up to Bethlehem, she had seen the intention, and expected the issue: but that wise Moderator of all things, that works his will in us, loves so to do it, as may be least with our foresight and acquaintance, and would have us fall under his decrees unawares, that we may so much the more adore the depths of his providence. Every creature walks blindfold, only he that dwells in light sees whither they go.
Doubtless, blessed Mary meant to have been delivered of her divine burden at home, and little thought of changing the place of conception for another of her birth. That house was honoured by the angel, yea, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost ; none could equally satisfy her hopes or desires ; it was fit that he, which made choice of the womb wherein his Son should be conceived, should make choice of the place where his Son should be born. As the work is all his, so will be alone contrive all the circumstances to his own ends. O the infinite wisdom of God in casting all his designs! There needs no other proof of Christ than Cæsar and Bethlehem; and of Cæsar's, than Augustus. His government, his edict pleads the truth of the Messias. His government: now was the deep peace of all the world, under that quiet sceptre which made way for him who was the Prince of Peace. If wars be a sign of the time of his second coming, peace was a sign of his first. His edict: now was the sceptre departed from Judah. It was the time for Shiloh to come. was left in the Jews, but to obey. Augustus is the emperor of the world; under biin Herod is the king of Judea, Cyrenius is president of Syria ; Jewry hath nothing of her own. For Herod, if he were a king, yet he was no Jew; and if he had been a Jew, yet he was no otherways a king, than tributary and titular. The edict came out from Augustus, was executed by Cyrenius ; Herod is no actor in this service. Gain and glory are the ends of this taxation : each man profest himself a subject, and paid for the privilege of his servitude. Now their very heads were not their own, but must be paid for to the head of a foreign state. They, which before stood upon the terms of their immunity, stoop at the last. The
proud suggestions of Judas the Galilean might shed their blood and swell their stomachs, but could not ease their yoke; neither was it the rneaning of God, that holiness (if they had been as they pretended) should shelter them from subjection. A tribute is imposed upon God's free people. This act of bondage brings them liberty. Now, when they seemed most neglected of God, they are blessed with a Redeemer; when they are most pressed with foreign sovereignty, God sends them a king of their own, to whom Cæsar himself must be a subject. The goodness of our God picks out the most needful times of our relief and comfort : our extremities give him the most glory. Whither must Joseph and Mary come to be taxed, but unto Bethlehem, David's city? The very place proves their descent: he, that succeeded David in his throne, must succeed him in the place of his birth. So clearly was Bethlehem designed to this honour by the prophets, that even the priests and the scribes could point Herod unto it, and assured him the King of the Jews could be no where else born. Bethlehem, justly, The house of bread; the bread that came down from heaven is there given to the world: whence should we have the bread of life, but from the house of bread? O holy David, was this the well of Bethlehem, whereof thou didst so thirst to drink of old, when thou saidst, “O that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem?" Surely that other water, when it was brought thee by thy worthies, thou pouredst it on the ground, and wouldst not drink of it. This was that living water for which thy soul longed, whereof thou saidst elsewhere, “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God: my
soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.”
It was no less than four days' journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem: how just an excuse might the blessed Virgin have pleaded for her absence! What woman did ever undertake such a journey, so near her delivery? And, doubtless, Joseph, which was now taught of God to love and honour her, was loath to draw forth a dear wife, in so unwieldy a case, into so manifest hazard. But the charge was peremptory, the obedience exemplary. The desire of an inoffensive observance even of heathenish authority, digests all difficulties. We may not take easy occasions to withdraw our obedience to supreme cominands. Yea, how didst thou, O Saviour, by whom Augustus reigned, in the womb of thy mother yield this
homage to Augustus! The first lesson that ever thy example taught us was obedience.
After many steps, are Joseph and Mary come to Bethlehem. The plight wherein she was, would not allow any speed, and the forced leisure of the journey causeth disappointment: the end was worse than the way; there was no rest in the way, there was no room in the inn. It could not be, but that there were many of the kindred of Joseph and Mary at that tiine in Bethlehem; for both there were their ancestors born, if not themselves, and thither came up all the cousins of their blood; yet there and then doth the holy Virgin want room to lay either her head or her burden! If the house of David had not lost all mercy and good nature, a daughter of David could not, so near the time of her travail, have been destitute of lodging in the city of David. Little did the Bethlehemites think what a guest they refused, else they would gladly have opened their doors to Hiin, which was able to open the gates of heaven to them. Now their inhospitality is punishment enough to itself: they have lost the honour and happiness of being host to their God. Even still, O blessed Saviour! thou standest at our doors and knockest; every motion of thy good Spirit tells us thou art there: now thou comest in thine own name, and there thou standest, while thy head is full of dew, and thy locks wet with the drops of the night. If we suffer carnal desires and worldly thoughts to take up the lodging of our heart, and revel within us, while thou waitest upon our admission, surely our judgment shall be so much the greater, by how much better we know whom we have excluded. What, do we cry shame on the Bethlehemites, whilst we are wilfully more churlish, more unthankful ? There is no room in my heart for the wonder at this humility. He, for whom heaven is too strait, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, lies in the strait cabin of the womb; and when he would enlarge himself for the world, is not allowed the room of an inn. The many mansions of heaven were at his disposing; the earth was his, and the fulness of it; yet he suffers himself to be refused of a base cottage, and complaineth not. What measure should discontent us wretched men, when thou, O God, farest thus from thy creatures ? How should we learn both to want and abound, from thee, which, abounding with the glory and riches of heaven, wouldst want a lodging in thy first welcome