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HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
LECTURE CXI. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense
And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias : for thy prayer is heard ; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of ihe just ; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. And the angel answering, said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. Luke i. 11-20.
“ The prophecy came not in old time by gous to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel, the will of man; but holy men of God spake Matthew by the face of a man, Mark by that as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” of a lion, Luke by that of an ox, and John by Being determined through the course of that of an eagle. these exercises to avoid every thing that has St. Luke was by profession a physician; the appearance of controversy, I take it for he became early a proselyte to the Jewishi granted that you believe and receive the his- religion, and he is generally supposed to tory of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus have been one of Christ's first disciples, and Christ, as delivered in the four gospels ac- of the number of the seventy whom "He cording to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, sent out two and two into every city and as of divine inspiration and authority. Of place, whither he himself would come.” the four evangelists two were of the number After he had concluded the history of our of the twelve whom Christ called to the office Lord himself, at the period of his ascension of apostleship, and who recorded events of into heaven, he undertook that of the Acts of which they were witnesses and partakers, the Apostles, and he addresses both his books and transcribed discourses which they heard to a person of amiable character and exalted and well remembered. The other two de- rank, named Theophilus, and in him, to rived their information immediately from every lover of God, in every age of the those " who from the beginning were eye- Church, who is desirous to know the cerwitnesses and ministers of the word." Their tainty of the things wherein he has been harmony, in every particular of any import- instructed.” On the conversion of St. Paul ance, is a proof of the truth and certainty of to the Christian faith, he seems to have ateach individually, and of the whole. John, tached himself with much zeal and affection as one borne aloft on the wings of an eagle, to that great Apostle of the Gentiles, he beascends into the heaven of heavens, and became voluntarily the companion of his tra. gins his account of his beloved Master with vels and afflictions, and brought down his a sublime and interesting representation of history to his arrival at Rome as a prisoner, his divine nature; for which we refer you to on an appeal to the emperor Nero. His Lect.cviii. Mark introduces the beginning gospel and history of the acts were probably of the gospel of Jesus Chrisi the Son of God," submitted to the inspection of his illustrious with the voice of a lion “ crying in the wil. fellow-traveller, and received the seal of his derness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, approbation. In the preface to the gospel make his paths straight.” Luke ushers in inscribed with his name, he modestly, yet the great Prophet, “the desire of all nations," with firmness, lays claim to the great, the with an account of the conception and birth essential qualification of a historian, namely, of his forerunner John the Baptist, and is of accurate and complete information respectcourse led to extract the commencement of ing his subject, “having” says he,“ had the evangelical, out of the legal dispensation: perfect understanding of all things, from the and he sets out with exhibiting Zacharias in very first :” and the professed end which he the exercise of the priest's office. Matthew had in view is no less worthy of a great and commences at once with the history of enlightened mind, that a respected friend Christ's humanity, as the son of David, the might be established in the knowledge, faith, son of Abraham. For these reasons, the four and hope of the gospel. The tongue of prosacred historians of the New Testament dis- phecy had now been silent for more than four pensation have been distinguished by corres- hundred years. The last word which it had ponding symbolical representations, nalo spoken announced the sending of Elijah the
prophet, to precede the great and notable popular opinion, by the wisdom of God and day of the Lord, to work a remarkable change the folly of man! Weighed in the balance in the temper and character of mankind, to of the sanctuary, Herod fawning on Augusprevent the earth from being "smitten with tus, or on one of his favourites, dissolved in a curse."
luxury, stained with blood, inflamed with reA period of darkness and disorder succeed- sentment, is little and contemptible; while ed. The land which had been for ages so the aged priest, reconciled to the will of God, renowned in history seems as if blotted out who had written him childless, pursuing the of the globe; the people, which had been calm tenor of his way, fulfilling the unoshung up as a sign before the eyes of so many tentatious duties of his place and station, successive generations, seems to be extin-"righteous before God, walking in all the guished and lost; the predictions and pro- commandments and ordinances of the Lord, mises which conferred upon them such high blameless," commands affection, esteem, and importance, and duration so extended, seem respect. This venerable pair, Zacharias to have been defeated and rendered of no and Elisabeth, were both of the tribe of Levi, effect. The throne of David, whose 'per- on which the office of priesthood was entailmanency was so often, and so solemnly deed. Both nature and religion taught them clared, has sunk into the earth and disap- to consider the gift of children as a blessing; peared. The representative of the royal but the hope of that blessing they seem now line of Judah is sunk into a humble carpen-calmly to have resigned, and they are quietly ter: and all hope of revival is at an end. sinking into the decline of life, if not with But the Lord hath spoken and shall he not the consolation of leaving their name and do it, he hath promised and shall he not bring office to their children, possessing nevertheit to pass? Yes, but not at the season, nor less that of mutual affection, of a devout in the way which human wisdom would have spirit, and a conscience void of offence. The prescribed, nor by means which human wis- midnight of nature is the dawning of the day dom would have employed. Behold light of grace; and he who in wisdom and justice once more, and suddenly, shines out of dark- brings to nought the wisdom of the worldly ness: the land of Israel rises once more into prudent, “raiseth up the poor out of the dust, importance; Jerusalem rears her head among and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill, the nations, the star of Jacob arises, “a rod that he may set him with princes, even with springs out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch the princes of his people. He maketh the out of his roots ;” and the glory of the latter barren woman to keep house, and to be a joytemple eclipses that of the former.
ful mother of children." The evangelist informs us that at this The Prince of Peace is ready to make his eventful period Herod was king of Judea. public entrance on the grand theatre, and it Princes are often among the inferior actors is time for his harbinger to prepare the way, in the great drama of Providence. Their and for the herald to announce his approach. will shakes the nations of the earth, but the And where shall we look for him? Turn hearts and arms of kings themselves are in your eyes to Judea, to Jerusalem, to the temthe hands of the Lord, to be by him turned ple. See, the lot is prepared, to determine which way soever he will. This man has whose turn it should be to burn incense beby some been dignified with the addition of fore the Lord in the holy place. Providence " the great:" an appellation more frequently presides over it, and Zacharias is taken. Bebestowed as a reward to splendid vice, than hold him, with joy accepting the sacred task as a tribute to modest merit. Herod the of paying a grateful tribute of praise to God, great! and yet a paltry substitute of a Ro- and of assisting the prayers of the people man emperor, an habitual slave to the vilest without, with the commanded perfume of the of human passions, envy, lust, jealousy, cruel altar of incense. Behold him entering withty, revenge. The inspired penman gives in the veil, under the mixed emotions of godly him no names, either good or bad, but simply fear, and exalted delight, to worship that tells his story as far as it is connected with God who once resided there in sensible glory, that of Him by whom " kings reign and but from which the glory had long departed. princes decree judgment.” The reign of All is solitude and silence; the unextinguishHerod to us serves merely as a prologue to ed light that burnt continually before Jehointroduce the more important name and his- vah lends its flame to set on fire the incense tory of an ancient, obscure priest called Za- when lo, the lustre of material fire is lost charias, and our attention is instantly called in the brighter glory of the great Archaway from the splendour, noise, and intrigue angel, and the solemn silence is broken by of a busy, vainglorious, debauched court, to the melodious accents of a celestial voice, contemplate the humble concerns of a pri- Gabriel, who five hundred and forty years vate family, and the noiseless performance before announced to the prophet Daniel the of a religious service.
commencement of the determined weeks How different are the ideas affixed to the which should precede the Messiah's day, terms great and little by sober reason and now announces to Zachariah their consum
mation. He opens the sealed book of pro- his prayers are well known to him; he has phecy, and to his astonishment informs him all along been the sympathizing, though unthat the promised coming of Elias, with seen, unknown witness of his anxieties and which the ancient canon closed, was near at distresses, and he esteems it an honour and a hand; that this great prophet should appear happiness to be employed as the messenger in the person of a son of his own, whom God of glad tidings to a pious, sufiering human by a special dispensation of his Providence being. Zacharias had long ago ceased from was raising up to fulfil the Scriptures, to expecting, had ceased from praying for the turn many of the children of Israel to the building up of his own house, but he waited Lord their God, “ to go before the Saviour for the consolation of Israel, he continued in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the instant in prayer for the rebuilding of the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the tabernacle of David which was fallen down, disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make and lo, God at length bestows, as he did upon ready a people prepared for the Lord.” How Solomon, not only the blessing which he is the pride of kinys levelled to the dust be asked, but that also which he asked not: fore an appearance like this! llow many namely, a son to support the honour of his princes and potentates have arisen, and fallen, own name, and the promise of the Son that and sunk into oblivion since Gabriel last should be born, the Child that should be visited the earth! How have the kingdoms given, in whom all the families of the earth of this world been shaken during the course should be blessed. The injunctions of the of five centuries! How often has the seat law respecting Nazarites are repeated and of empire changed, and the globe changed applied to the present case, and the future its inhabitants ! but the heavenly messenger greatness and importance of this miraculous enjoys unfading lustre and undiminished chid, in the scale of Providence, are forestrength. The purpose of the Eternal has told; and Zacharias has the satisfaction of been proceeding all the while, and the con- hearing that he was to be the father of him vulsions and contention of the nations have who should be the accomplishment of ancient been working the righteousness of God, and prophecies, “The voice crying in the wil. preparing the way for the kingdom of peace derness,” the finger to point out to mankind and love.
“the Lamb of God, which taketh away the The appearance of an angel, however, sin of the world." though sent on an errand of mercy, though Terror gives way by degrees to feelings delivering a message of grace from on high, of a different kind, and, with tl.e glory of is an object of terror to frail mortality. the heavenly vision before his eyes, with the “When Zacharias saw him he was troubled, faith of father Abraham, in similar circumand fear fell upon him; and if the upright stances, as an encouragement to his own, and blameless man tremble at the presence and with the manifold instances which the of an angel, “ where shall the ungodly and history of his own country afforded of similar the sinner appear,” when “the Lord him- interposition, he converses with flesh and self shall be revealed from heaven in flaming blood, he staggers at the promise through fire, taking vengeance on all them that know unbelief, and for a moment forgets that with not God and obey not the gospel!” The tri- God all things are possible. The angel umph of goodness is the glory of a really su- vouchsafes to explain himself to the unbeperior being. The angel that “ stands in the liever; his incredulity shall not frustrate the presence of God," exults not in the confusion purpose of heaven, nor even divert into a of a frail inortal, but said to him “fear not, different channel the mercy which he doubtZacharias." The insolence of superiority, ed; but his frailty shall riot go wholly onand the delight of outshining, of dazzling, punished, he shall be wounded in those of distressing an inferior, are the character- faculties which he had so ill employed as istics of a little soul, of some angels falsely the avenues to his mind, the tongue which so called; those who are truly such conde- dared to express the langage of doubt and scendingly sink to the level of those who are suspicion must undergo a temporary silence, beneath them, or affectionately raise the ine ear whic' would not admit the commuhumble up to their own. In the presence of nications of an archangel, shall be shut for God all distinctions vanish; Gabriel and Za- a season against the delights of social intercharias are fellow-creatures, fellow-servants, course, and the sign which he unwisely fellow-dependants; the inferior being makes demanded shall bear upon it a mark of dishimself known by his timidity, the superior pleasure. Striking mixture of goodness and by his benevolence and love: this marks the severity, of goodness unbounded, and severity difference, the affecting difference which restrained! Striking view of the supreme purity and guilt have made.
power possessed and exercised by the great The flaming minister addresses the at- Lord of Nature, over all our powers and postendant on the earthly sanctuary, with all sessions. He who bestowed the gift of speech the familiarity and case of ancient friend-on man can withdraw it in a moment; or ship; the desires of his heart, the subject of Iconfound it so as to be no longer a medium
of communication between mankind; He 1. Angels, we perceive, take a lively, an can confer it on the dumb ass to reprove affectionate, and a compassionate interest in “the madness of the prophet;" or instanta- the affairs of men. “Are they not all minisneously coinmunicate it, in all its different tering spirits, sent forth to minister for them forms, to the ignorant and illiterate, for the who shall be heirs of salvation ?" The “litinstruction and salvation of the various na- tle ones” of Christ's family, the little in age tions of the earth. Let a gift so precious and stature, the little in condition, must not never be vilely profaned as an organ of be despised, " for I say unto you,” are his falsehood, pride, lust, or profanity.
emphatic words, “ that in heaven their anThe words of the angel all meet their gels do always behold the face of my Father accomplishment in their season. The
which is in heaven:” and “ There is joy in tended oracles of paganism were constrained the presence of the angels of God over one to veil their prophetic enunciations in terms sinner that repenteth.” What condescenof mystery and obscurity; they spake with sion on the part of beings so highly exalted! timidity and caution; they clothed their What a protection provided for the feeble ! responses and mandates in general and What encouragement proposed to the peniambiguous expressions, which superstition tent! "The angel of the Lord encampeth might interpret what way soever it would ; round about them that fear him, and deliverand which any event might be wrested to eth them." Pleasing, awful thought! The justify and support ; but the lively oracles of host of heaven guards my path and my bed, God are minute, distinct, intelligible, and watches over my lying down and rising up; pointed; he who runs may read them; they but their eyes are continually upon me, I clothe predictions with such an exactness of am "compassed about with a great cloud of circumstance: they appeal to events so near witnesses,” they bear testimony to what 1 at hand, so obvious to investigation, that it is am, whither I go, how I am employed. Is impossible to mistake one thing for another, the eye of a child a guard to virtue? What to confound one with another. Zacharias' holy circumspection and watchfulness, then, dumbness, the season of his being attacked what earnestness and perseverance in well with it, the unexpected, miraculous preg- doing, what abhorrence of that which is evil,. nancy of Elisabeth, the birth of the child ought the inspection of an angel, ought the according to the time of life, the sudden res- all-seeing eye of God to produce ? “He shall loration of the Father's hearing and speech, give his angels charge over thee, to keep at the very moment predicted, were all mat- thee in all thy ways;" “ keep,” therefore, ters of public notoriety; every one singular "thy heart with all diligence; for out of it in itself, the whole taken in connexion so are the issues of life.” singular, as to mark the interest which eter 2. From a preparation thus solemn and nal Providence took in an event, at first magnificent what are we not to expect? sight, of no great general importance, but in Four thousand years have been employed in its effects and consequences involving the making it; a procession of patriarchs, of fate of nations, the everlasting destination of prophets, of sages, of priests, of potentates, worlds.
has passed on before in uninterrupted sucWhat! all this state and magnificence; cession; angels have descended from heaven: the trumpet of prophecy resounding, the surely He who thus cometh is the Son of prince of angels descending, to proclaim the God. " When he bringeth in the first beadvent of merely a man with raiment of gotten into the world, He saith, “And let all camels' hair, with a leathern girdle about the angels of God worship Him:" And“ unhis loins! The Ruler of the universe, be to the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is assured, is not so lavish of extraordinary dis- for ever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness plays of his power and wisdom. If the true is the sceptre of thy kingdom :” for “ Thou, God appear, it is on an occasion worthy of a Lord, in the beginning, hast laid the foundaGod. And if this be the preparation made tion of the earth; and the heavens are the for the appearance of the servant, what state works of thine hands." “ His name shall shall precede the entrance of the Sovereign? endure for ever: his name shall be continued Gabriel, I foresee, has another message to as long as the sun : and men shall be blessed bring, a multitude of the heavenly host is on in him : all nations shall call him blessed. the wing, to announce a greater than John Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, Baptist, even him of whom John Baptist him- who only doth wondrous things: And bless
“ There standeth one among you, ed be his glorious name for ever and ever; whom ye know not; He it is who coming and let the whole earth be filled with his after me is preferred before me, whose shoes' glory, Amen, and amen." latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” This 3. Though predicted events are strictly solemn preparation for the manifestation of conformable to the word of prophecy, they God in the flesh, if God permit, will be the nevertheless, in many cases, contradict, disslibject of the next Lecture. I now conclude appoint, and far exceed human expectation. with the following reflections:
The prophets theinselves had not always a
distinct and complete perception of the ob- , established dogma. Study the ways of Project which they were commissioned to hold vidence; but dare not to interpret them acup to the eyes of the world. Those "holy cording as passion or prejudice may dictate. men of God spake as they were moved by " Thy way,” O God, " is in the sea, and thy the Holy Ghost.” The agents employed in path in the great waters, and thy footsteps the accomplishment of promise and predic- are not known.” Scripture is the best intion, little understood the part which they terpreter of Scripture, and Providence of acted. They thought of nothing less; they Providence; and “if any man will do his intended nothing less. They were uncon- will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether scious instruments in the hand of God to it be of God." Practical conformity to the execute a purpose, which had they known divine will is preferable to the highest atthey would have striven to defeat. “The tainments in knowledge, and it is the most heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain direct road to farther discovery. thing. The kings of the earth set themselves, 5. Superior beings are now an object of and the rulers take counsel together, against terror, and it is conscious guilt in man which the Lord, and against his anointed—He clothes them with that terror. They are our that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The friends, they take delight in ministering to Lord shall have them in derision." Were our necessities, they cherish the gracious af
Herodand Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, fections of elder to younger brethren, yet and the people of Israel, gathered together" the apparition is formidable even to a Zato promote the cause of Christianity? No, charias. But “ there is no fear in love; for they meant to destroy it. But“ of a truth,” perfect love casteth out fear: because fear Lord, they were constrained “ to do whatso-hath torment. He that feareth is not made ever thy hand and thy counsel determined perfect in love." To that glorious perfection before to be done.” Happy are they who, the Christian is encouraged to aspire. We with Gabriel and the other flaming 'minis- shrink from the idea of a visit from a departters who stand before God, are the conscious, ed friend arising out of the grave, but we the voluntary, the joyful agents under, and look with hope and desire to the day when together with God, in promoting the great we shall be added “ to the general assembly work of Salvation.
and church of the first-born, which are writ4. Let not man, then, presume to make ten in heaven—and to the spirits of just men his own understanding the measure of re-made perfect.” The vision of one angel, in vealed truth, or of divine conduct. “Who our present state of depression, strikes the hath directed the spirit of the Lord, or, Who mind with awe; but we hope to come “to being his counsellor hath taught him?" It an innumerable company of angels;" nay ill becomes a creature conscious to himself" to God the judge of all,” for we come of so much weakness, of so much ignorance, through “Jesus the Mediator of the new of such liableness to error, to erect himself covenant, and the blood of sprinkling, that into an infallible judge. “ Search the Scrip- speaketh better things than that of Abel.” tures,” but with reverence, with humility, Now we see through a glass, darkly; but with a desire to be instructed, not censori- then face to face: now I know in part; ously, self-sufficiently, not to wrest Scriptures but then shall know even as also I am in favour of a preconceived opinion, or long- / known.”
HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
to a virgin espoused to a man, whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thon that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And when she saw him, she was troubledat his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David : and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.-LUKE i. 26–33.
Every thing in nature, we have observed, mystery inexplicable. Every flower of the revelation and discovery, and yet all is field, every pebble in the brook, every leaf