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Herod have expected that the Messiah would arise from that place, since he assembled his council to ask them—" where Christ should be born." To what purpose then were pretenders sent to ask Herod, “where is he that is born king of the Jews ?”'-It is manifest that if the Sanhedrim had fixed on any other place but Bethlehem, the people would have submitted with respect and veneration to their opinion, and the plot must have been considerably impeded: it is also clear that, if they were impostors, their object must have been to communicate, not to enquire after the place of the Messiah's birth. In every light, therefore, that we view the subject, we must infer that Zacharias and the principal contrivers, if they were impostors, acted differently from all other known impostors : that they imparted their secret to many accomplices, when it was their obvious interest to disclose them to as few as possible'; and yet, that a strange concurrence of fortuitous circumstances effected an extravagant design, which they themselves took the most probable method to destroy.
“O magna vis veritatis, quæ contra hominum ingenia, calliditatem, sollertiam, contraque fictas omnium insidias, facilè se per se ipsam defendat?!”
i We may apply to them, as well as to the Apostles, the words of Lactantius : “ Hæc est mendaciorum natura, ut cohærere non possint-Illorum autem traditio, quia vera est, quadrat undique, ac sibi tota consentit, et ideo persuadet, quia constanti ratione suffulta est.” Div. Inst. lib. v.
? Cicer. Or. pro M. Cælio.-Chrysostom has eloquently expressed the same sentiment. « Ovòèv this aandeias pavepure
We have now gone through every supposition that could possibly be formed, and we have shewn its glaring absurdity and impossibility: it is just, therefore, to conclude that the miraculous events recorded of the birth and circumcision of St. John, the Baptist were real facts, and it cannot but be allowed, that they form a corroborative proof of his divine commission '. - We proceed to establish it on another and equally solid foundation :-the fulfilment of the Prophecies, recorded in the Old Testament, which relate to the Precursor of Christ.
That there was a general expectation of the advent of the Messiah about the time when our Saviour appeared, is evident from the concurrent testimony of heathen and of sacred writers. We are also informed by Sallust, Cicero, Appian, and Plutarch”, that there was a prevalent persuasion
ρον ουδε ισχυρότερον γένοιτ' άν, ώσπερ ψεύδους ουδεν ασθενέστερον, κάν μυρίοις παραπετάσμασι συσκιάζηται· ευφώματόν τε γαρ και ούτω γίγνεται και καταρρεί ραδίως: η δε αλήθεια, γυμνή πρόκειται πάσι τοις βουλομένοις αυτης την ώραν περισκοπεϊν" και, ούτε λανθάνειν βούλεται, ούτε κίνδυνον δέδοικεν, ουκ επιβουλας τρέμει, ου δόξης εφίεται της παρα των πολλών, ούκ άλλα τινί των ανθρωπίνων εστίν υπεύθυνος: αλλά πάντων έστηκεν ανωτέρω, δεχομένη μεν μυρίας επιβουλας, μένουσα δε ακαταγώνιστος.In Joan. Hom. xxix. Also Hom. lviii. Oper. tom. viii. p. 337. See Bell's Divine Missions of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
1 « Cælestem ipsius missionem satis comprobant miracula, quæ conceptionem et nativitatem ipsius antegressa et consecuta sunt; non in obscuro angulo sed partim in ipso templo, partim in hominum fide dignissimorum præsentiâ, cum spectatium stupore animadversa."-Witsius. Miscell. Sacr. Vol. ii. p. 522. 2 Cicero Οrat. ΙΙΙ. in Catilinam. Sallust. Bell. Catilinar.
that a monarch, successful in establishing universal dominion, would appear; and we know that the Jews supposed the Messiah would be invested with regal authority, and transfer the chains of servitude from Israel to the Gentile world. It was natural, therefore, to expect that he would be preceded by a forerunner,--similar to those which were sent before the Eastern Monarchs, whose office it would be to throw open the gates of deliverance, and to proclaim the march of triumph 4. It was even imagined, that Elias himself would arise from the dead to be the harbinger of salvation ; and, in consequence of this opinion, his approach was made the subject of their most earnest and
public entreaties'. It is impossible to account for the circumstance, that they should have specified Elias, otherwise than by a reference to those prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi, which mutually confirm and explain one another?:-" Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. . The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together : for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it3."-"O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain ; 0 Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength ; lift it up, be not afraid, say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God 4!”—Parallel to these passages from that
It is well known that the modern Jews still continue this custom. See Allen's Mod. Judaism, where a poem, expressive of their wishes, is quoted from the concluding service for the Sabbath, in one of their prayer-books.
2 “ The Jews acknowledge that this chapter speaks of the comfort the Messiah was to procure for his people, and that the voice here refers to those who were to declare and prepare his coming.” P. Allix. Reflexions upon the Books of the Holy Scripture to establish the Truth of Revelation. 5 Isai. xl. 14-5.
it Id. xl. 9.
Prophet, who has been called with great propriety · The Evangelical Prophet,' from the number and clearness of his predictions relative to Christ, - is another from the third chapter of Malachi, in which he speaks with the utmost precision of the approach of the Messiah, and of his precursor.--" Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in : behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts 5."
The volume of the Old Testament concludes with a solemn injunction to a steady observance of the Mosaic law, till the forerunner should appear, and introduce the Christian dispensation." Remember ye the law of Moses my servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. Behold, I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord : and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse 6."
Such are the prophecies which are in part re
5 Mal. iii. 1.-See also 2, 3. and chap. iv. 1, 2. where the prophet describes in forcible language the vehement zeal of the forerunner, and the remarkable reformation it would effect ;reproves the blasphemy and rebellion of the Jewish nation ; and announces approaching wrath and destruction to “all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly,” but to the faithful, the rise of the “Sun of righteousness,” “with healing in his „wings.”
6 Mal. iv. 4-6. pis