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Jerusalem, which now might hope for a relaxation of her bonds, for a recovery of her liberty and right! Jerusalem, which now only had cause to lift up her drooping head, in the joy and happiness of a Redeemer ! Yet not Herod's court, but even Jerusalem was troubled. So had this miserable city been over-toiled with change, that now they were settled in a condition quietly evil, they are troubled with the news of better. They had now got a habit of servility, and now they are so acquainted with the yoke, that the very noise of liberty, which they supposed would not come with ease, began to be unwelcome.
To turn the causes of joy into sorrow argues extreme dejectedness, and a distemper of judgment no less than desperate. Fear puts on a vizard of devotion. Herod calls his learned counsel, and, as not doubting whether the Messiah should be born, he asks where he shall be born. In the disparition of that other light, there is a perpetually fixed star, shining in the writings of the prophets, that guides the chief priests and scribes directly unto Bethlehem. As yet envy and prejudice had not blinded the eyes, and perverted the hearts of the Jewish teachers, so as now they clearly justify that Christ whom they afterwards condemn, and, by thus justifying him, condemn themselves in rejecting him. The water that is untroubled yields the visage perfectly. If God had no more witness but from his enemies, we have ground enough of our faith.
Herod feared, but dissembled his fear, as thinking it a shame that strangers should see there could any power arise, under him, worthy of his respect or awe. Out of an unwillingness therefore to discover the impotency of his passion, he makes little ado of the matter, but only, after a privy inquisition into the time, employs the informers in the search of the person; "Go and search diligently for the Babe, &c." It was no great journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem: how easily might Herod's cruelty have secretly suborned some of bis bloody courtiers to this inquiry and execution! If God had not meant to mock him, before he found himself mocked of the wise men, he had rather sent before their journey than after their disappointment. But that God, in whose hands all hearts are, did purposely besot him, that he might not find the way to so horrible a mischief.
There is no villany so great, but it will mask itself under a shew of piety. Herod will also worship the Babe. The
courtesy of a false tyrant is death. A crafty hypocrite never means so ill, as when he speaketh fairest. The wise men are upon their way full of expectation, full of desire: I see not man either of the city or court to accompany them. Whether distrust or fear hindered them, I inquire not: but, of so many thousand Jews, no one stirs his foot to see that King of theirs, which strangers came so far to visit. Yet were not these resolute sages discouraged with this solitariness and small respect, nor drawn to repent of their journey, as thinking, What, do we come so far to honour a King whom no man will acknowledge? what mean we to travel so many hundred miles to see that which the inhabitants will not look out to behold? but cheerfully renew their journey to that place, which the ancient light of prophecy had designed. And now, behold, God encourages their holy forwardness from heaven, by sending them their first guide; as if he had said, What need ye care for the neglect of men, when ye see heaven honours the King whom ye seek? What joy these sages conceived, when their eyes first beheld the re-appearance of that happy star, they only can tell, that, after a long and sad night of temptation, have seen the loving countenance of God shining forth upon their souls. If with obedience and courage we can follow the calling of God, in difficult enterprises, we shall not want supplies of comfort. Let not us be wanting to God, we shall be sure he cannot be wanting to us.
He, that led Israel by a pillar of fire into the land of promise, leads the wise men by a star to the promised seed. All his directions partake of that light which is in him: for God is light. This star moves both slowly and low, as might be fittest for the pace, for the purpose of these pilgrims. It is the goodness of God, that, in those means wherein we cannot reach him, he descends unto us. Surely when the wise men saw the star stand still, they looked about to see what palace there might be near unto that station, fit for the birth of a king; neither could they think that sorry shed was it which the star meant to point out; but finding their guide settled over that base roof, they go in to see what guest it held. They enter, and, O God, what a king do they find! how poor! how contemptible! wrapt in clouts, laid in straw, cradled in the manger, attended with beasts! What a sight was this, after all the glorious promises of that star, after the predictions of prophets, after the magnificence of expectations!
All their way afforded nothing so despicable as that Babe whom they came to worship. But as those which could not have been wise men, unless they had known that the greatest glories have arisen from mean beginnings, they fall down and worship that hidden Majesty. This baseness hath bred wonder in them, not contempt: they well knew the star could not lie. They, which saw his star afar off in the east, when he lay swaddled in Bethlehem, do also see his royalty further off, in the despised state of his infancy; a royalty more than human. They well knew, that stars did not use to attend earthly kings; and if their aim had not been higher, what was a Jewish king to Persian strangers? Answerable therefore hereunto was their adoration. Neither did they lift up empty hands to him whom they worshipped, but presented him with the most precious commodities of their country, gold, incense, myrrh; not as thinking to enrich him with these, but, by way of homage, acknowledging him the Lord of these. If these sages had been kings, and had offered a princely weight of gold, the blessed virgin had not needed, in her purification, to have offered two young pigeons, as the sign of her penury. As God loves not empty hands, so he measures fulness by the affection. Let it be gold, or incense, or myrrh, that we offer him, it cannot but please him, who doth not use to ask how much, but how good.
THERE could be no impurity in the Son of God; and if the best substance of a pure virgin carried in it any taint of Adam, that was scoured away by sanctification in the womb; and yet the Son would be circumcised, and the mother purified. He, that came to be sin for us, would, in our persons, be legally unclean, that, by satisfying the law, he might take away our uncleanness. Though he were exempted from the common condition of our birth, yet he would not deliver himself from those ordinary rites that implied the weakness and blemishes of humanity. He would fulfil one law to abrogate it, another to satisfy it. He, that was above the law, would come under the law to free us from the law. Not a day would be changed, either in the circumcision of Christ, or the purification of Mary. Here
was neither convenience of place, nor of necessaries, for so painful a work, in the stable of Bethlehem; yet, he that made and gave the law, will rather keep it with difficulty, than transgress it with ease.
Why wouldst thou, O blessed Saviour, suffer that sacred foreskin to be cut off, but that, by the power of thy circumcision, the same might be done to our souls that was done to thy body? We cannot be therefore thine, if our hearts be uncircumcised. Do thou that in us, which was done to thee for us; cut off the superfluity of our maliciousness, that we may be holy in and by thee, which for us wert content to be legally impure.
There was shame in thy birth, there was pain in thy circumcision. After a contemptible welcome into the world, that a sharp razor should pass through thy skin for our sakes, which can hardly endure to bleed for our own, it was the praise of thy wonderful mercy in so early humiliation. What pain or contempt should we refuse for thee, that hast no spare of thyself for us! Now is Bethlehem left with too much. honour; there is Christ born, adored, circumcised. No sooner is the blessed virgin either able or allowed to walk, than she travels to Jerusalem, to perform her holy rites for herself, for her son; to purify herself, to present her son. She goes not to her own house at Nazareth, she goes to God's house at Jerusalem. If purifying were a shadow, yet thanksgiving is substance. Those whom God hath blessed with fruit of body and safety of deliverance, if they make not their first journey to the temple of God, they partake more of the unthankfulness of Eve, than Mary's devotion.
Her forty days therefore were no sooner out than Mary comes up to the holy city. The rumour of a new king, born at Bethlehem, was yet fresh at Jerusalem, since the report of the wise men and what good news had this been for any pickthank to carry to the court? Here is the Babe whom the star signified, whom the sages inquired for, whom the angels proclaimed, whom the shepherds talked of, whom the scribes and high-priests notified, whom Herod seeks after. Yet, unto that Jerusalem, which was troubled at the report of his birth, is Christ come; and all tongues are so locked that up, he, which sent from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to seek him, finds him not, who, as to countermine Herod, is come from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. Dangers that are aloof off, and
but possible, may not hinder us from the duty of our devotion. God saw it not yet time to let loose the fury of his adversaries, whom he holds up like some eager mastiffs, and then only lets go, when they shall most shame themselves, and glorify him.
Well might the blessed virgin have wrangled with the law, and challenged an immunity from all ceremonies of purification. What, should I need purging, which did not conceive in sin? This is for those mothers whose births are unclean; mine is from God, which is purity itself. The law of Moses reaches only to those women which have conceived seed; I conceived not this seed, but the Holy Ghost in me. The law extends to the mothers of those sons which are under the law; mine is above it. But as one that cared more for her peace than her privilege, and more desired to be free from offence than from labour and charge, she dutifully fulfils the law of that God whom she carried in her womb, and in her arms: like the mother of him, who, though he knew the children of the kingdom free, yet would pay tribute unto Cæsar; like the mother of him, whom it behoved to fulfil all righteousness. And if she were so officious in ceremonies, as not to admit of any excuse in the very circumstance of her obedience, how much more strict was she in the main duties of morality! That soul is fit for the spiritual conception of Christ, that is conscionably scrupulous in observing all God's commandments; whereas, he hates all alliance to a negligent or froward heart.
The law of purification proclaims our uncleanness. The mother is not allowed, after her child-birth, to come unto the sanctuary, or to touch any hallowed thing, till her set time be expired. What are we whose very birth infects the mother that bears us! At last she comes to the temple; but with sacrifices, either a lamb and a pigeon, or turtle, or (in the meaner estate) two turtle-doves, or young pigeons, whereof one is for a burnt-offering, the other for a sin-offering; the one for thanksgiving, the other for expiation: for expiation of a double sin, of the mother that conceived, of the child that was conceived. We are all born sinners, and it is a just question, whether we do more infect the world, or the world us. They are gross flatterers of nature that tell her she is clean. If our lives had no sin, we bring enough with us: the very infant that lives not to sin as Adam, yet he sinned in Adam, and is sinful in himself. But, the unspeakable