« PreviousContinue »
their administration. They were the counsellors, the judges, the priests, the princes, from the be. in a word, the oracles of the eastern countries; [and the prophet Daniel was, by Nebu of the chadnezzar, made president of all the wise men, (a) i. e. Archimagus of Babylon.] But as . 8. the best arts are sometimes perverted to ill purposes, so it happened to these, that, Makii. 33. 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. 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 moment, 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 reserved but the book of Moses, which the people of Mesopotamia neither read nor lieved ; 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 (f), (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
Wol. III. I
& * : standing over the very place where the child was, (which the height and distance of - 0 - It
A. B. common stars make it impossible for them to do) are a sufficient demonstration.
vios seems not improbable therefore, that what the evangelist calls a star, was only that glo
** rious light (a) which shone upon the Bethlehem shepherds, when the angel came to impart unto them the tidings of our Saviour's birth; for that this light was exceedin 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 phaenomenon 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 2 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. (l) 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 *.
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
(b) Luke ii. 9. (d) Emicuit ex alto.
(f) Tacit. Hist. lib. v. Suet. de Vita Vesp. c. 4.
the sceptre from Israel, foretold by the celebrated Chaldean Diviner, and probably their ancestor Balaam s 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 te 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 (&ore &rare»ay,) to go to Jerusalem for further intelligence respecting the birth-place, or residence, of the true born (; razoli.) KING of the Jews, whose star they saw at its rising (i, to &raroah), 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, (**** 6:vrio), not to return Herod to on their way home.] Hales's Analysis, &c. vol. ii. p. 712.
Not long after the departure of these eastern sages from Bethlehem, we find a prodigious multitude of innocent babes inhumanly put to death upon the account of him whom these wise men came to adore. But to vindicate the justice and goodness of Providence in this proceeding, we need not appeal to God's universal dominion over all 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:
From the beginning of the Gospels to Matth. ix. 8, Mark ii. 23. Luke vi. 1.
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
(a) Wisdom iii. 2, &c. (b) Stanhope on the Epistles and Gospels, vol. i. (c) Rev. xiv. 4. (d) Ibid. ver, 3, 4, 5. (e) Mark viii. 29. (f) Matth. xvii. 9. (g) Whitby's Annotations on Matth, ix. 30. (h) John x. 24, &c. (i) Matth. xxvi. 68, 64. (k) Chap. xiv. 62.
*...* : sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Nay, there or 5439. - - - - - ... [..." are some instances wherein, of his own accord, and without any provocation of this vo: 28 kind, he freely discovers who he was: For, having cured the man that was born blind, * * * 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, tuat I may believe on him P” 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 say, that the incarnation of Christ, the Son of God, is no more than (d) what the Greeks, as Julian avers, affirm both of Æsculapius 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”]: That the birth of our Blessed Jesus of a virgin immaculate, is no
(a) John ix. 35, &c.
** [“Mattra, the Methora of Pliny, is situated a-
pose that the Brahmins had, in the early ages of Christianity, seen or heard recited to them some of the spurious gospels (why not some of the genuine gospels?) which in those ages so numerously abounded, and had ingrafted the wildest parts of them upon the old fable of this Indian Apollo. The birth of this Divine infant was predicted, and a reigning tyrant in India, by name Cansa, learning from the prediction that he should be destroyed by this wonderful child, ordered all the male children, born at that period, to be slain; but Creeshna was preserved by biting the breast, instead of sucking the poisoned nipple, of the nurse commissioned to destroy him. From fear of this tyrant he was fostered in Methor.A by an honest herdsman, and passed his innocent hours in rural diversions in his foster-father's farm. Repeated miracles, however, soon discovered his celestial origin. He preached to the Brahmins the doctrines of meekness and benevolence; he even condescended to wash their Jeet, as a proof of his own meekness; and he raised the dead by descending for that purpose to the lowest region.” Maurice's Indian Antiquities, vol. 3. p. 45. See, likewise the Asiatic Researches passim, but especially vol. i. article ix. - The learned president seems to suppose that the Brahmins had seen only the spurious gospels. That they had seen such gospels is indeed very probable; but it is likewise probable that they had heard the genuine Gospel at least recited. All Christian antiquity represents the apostle St Thomas as having preached in India, and the traditions of that country at present corroborate that representation He would, or course, preach the truth as it was in Jesus , and when we consider the corruptions that have crept into different churches in Eumore than (a) what the ancient Jewish doctors expected in their Messiah; and therefore Simon Magus, who greatly affected that character, pretended that his mother Rachel bore him without the loss of her virginity: That the new star, or body of light, which upon our Saviour's birth conducted the wise men to him, (b) is acknowledged by
Julian, though he would gladly ascribe it to natural causes; is set off with great elo-
quence by Chalcidius * in his comment upon Plato's Timaeus; and perhaps might be
rope, we need not be surprised that the Brahmins,
Dei effigiem in se ostendentem.” Quaest. Almet. 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. ii. c. 6.
** The words of Minutius are worth observing :“ impuri spiritus vitam turbant, somnos inquietant, irrepunt etiam corporibus occultè, ut spiritus tenues; morbos fingunt, terrent mentes, membra distorquent, et ad cultum sul cogunt. In Octavo.”
(g) Huetil Demons, prop. iii.
From the be.
So prevalent is the force of truth, that it seldom fails to draw confessions from