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they came to circumcise the child. We find in scripture the ordinance appointed, and the time limited, but neither the person nor the place declared; Moses' wife circumcised the child, and that in an inn, Exod. iv. A duty is sometimes positively enjoined in the scripture, when the circumstances belonging to the duty arc undetermined. Thus the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is appointed by Christ; but the time, the place, the gesture, arc not positively commanded, but to be prudentially determined. Observe, 2. The name is given, or at least declared, at the time of the child's circumcising, and that by his parents: If is mother said, He shall be called John. But how did his mother know that, when her husband was dumb? Ant. 'Tis like her husband Zachary had by a writing informed his wife concerning the whole vision, and what name was imposed upon him by the angel; therefore she says, He shall be called John, and Zachary ratifies it, His name is John. The nomination was originally from the angel, the imposition of the name is now at circumcision from the parents. Observe, 3. How ancient a custom it has been to give names to children according to the names of their fathers or kindred: There is none of thy kindred of this name, say they. The Jews made it a part of religion to give suitable names to their children, and significant names. Accordingly they either gave them names to put them in remembrance of God's mercy to them, or of their duty to him. Thus Zachary signifies the remembrance of God; which name points at God's mercy in remembering him, and his duty in remembering God. Well then, it is usual and useful for parents to give significant names to their children: then let children have an holy amhition to make good the signification of their names. Thus, John signifies the grace of God; but how will that gracious name rise up in judgment against that child that is graceless! Observe, 4. How Zachary's speech is immediately restored to him upon the naming of his child. The angel, ver. 20. told him, he should be dumb, till the things that he had told him should be performed; and now that they were performed, his tongue is loosed, and he praised God in a most thankful manner. Observe, 5. The effect which all this had upon the neighbourhood: Fear came upon all them that dwelt round about them; that is, an awful and religious fear
of God, occasioned by these miraculous operations: and they laid up these sayings in their hearts; that is, considered of them, and pondered upon them. It argues a very vain spirit and temper of mind, when we pass over the observation of God's wonderful acts with a slight regard. The true reason why we do so little admire the wonderful works of God is, because we consider so little of them. Observe, 6. The special favour vouchsafed by God to this child John: The hand of the Lord was with him; that is, God was in a special manner present with him, to direct and assist him, to protect and prosper him. The hand of God, in scripture, signifies the help of God, the strength and assistance of God. The hand of man is a weak and impotent hand, a short and ineffectual hand: but the hand of God is a strong hand, an almighty hand, able to assist and help, able to protect and preserve: The hand of the Lord was with him: that is, the hand of God and the help of God; the love and favour of God, to support him, the power and providence of God to protect and preserve him. Lord, let our hearts be with thee, and then thy heart and thy helping hand will be with us.
67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying, 60 Messed be the Lord (iod of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, C9 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David ; 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began: 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us; 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant, 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham, 74 That he would grant unto us, that we, being delivered out of the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life. 76 And thou, child, shalt be called The Prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins, 78 Through the lender mercy of our God; whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us, 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Here observe, 1. That no sooner was Zachary recovered and restored to his speech, but lie sings the praises of his Redeemer, and offers up a thanksgiving to God. The best return we can make to God for the use of our tongue, for the giving or restoring of our speech, is to publish our Creator's praise, to plead his cause, and vindicate his honour. Observe, 2. What it is that Zachary makes the subjectmatter of his song: what is the particular and special mercy which he praises and blesses God for. It is not for his own particular and private mercy, namely, the recovery of his speech, though undoubtedly he was very thankful to God for that mercy; but he blesses and praises'God for catholic and universal mercies bestowed upon his church and people. He doth not say, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, that hath visited me in mercy, that hath once more loosed my tongue, and restored my speech; but, Blessed be the Lord that hath visited and redeemed his people. Whence learn, That it is both the duty and disposition of a gracious soul to abound in praise and thankfulness to God, more for catholic and universal mercies towards the church of God, than for any particular and private mercies how great soever, towards himself: Blessed be God for visiting and redeeming his people. Observe, 3. In this evangelical hymn there is a prophetical prediction, both concerning Christ and concerning John. Concerning Christ he declares, that God the Father had sent him of his free mercy and rich grace, yet in performance of his truth and faithfulness, and according to his promise and oath which he had made to Abraham and the fathers of the Old Testament. Where note, L He blesses God for the comprehensive blessing of the Messiah: Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who hath visited his people; namely, in his Son's incarnation. The Lord Jesus Christ, in the fulness of time, made such a visit to this sinful world, as men and angels admired at, and will
admire to all eternity. Note, 2. The special fruit and benefit of this gracious and merciful visitation, and that was the redemption of a lost world: He bath visited and redeemed his people. This implies that miserable thraldom and bondage which we were under to sin and Satan, and expresses the stupendous love of Christ, in buying our lives with his dearest blood; and both by price and power rescuing as out of the hands of our spiritual enemies. Note, 3. The character given of this Saviour and Redeemer: He is an horn of salvation; that is, a royal and glorious, a strong and powerful, Saviour to his church and people. The horn in scripture signifies glory and dignity, strength and power; as the beauty, so the strength of the beast lies in his horn: now Christ being styled an horn of salvation, intimates that be himself is a royal and princely Saviour, and that the salvation which he brings is great and plentiful, glorious and powerful: God hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David. Note, 4. The nature and quality of that salvation' and deliverance, which the Son of God came to accomplish for us. Not a temporal deliverance, as the Jews expected, from the power of the Romans; but spiritual, from the hands of sin and Satan, death and hell; his design was to purchase a spiritual freedom and liberty for us, that we might be enabled to serve him without fear; that is, without the servile and offending fear of a slave, but with the dutiful and ingenuous fear of a child: and this in holiness and righteousness; that is, in the duties of the first and second table, all the days of our life. Learn hence, That believers, who were slaves of Satan, are by Christ made God's free-men. 2dly, That as such, they owe God a service, a willmg, cheerful, and delightful, service, without fear; and a constant, persevering service all the days of their life: that, we being delivered out of the hands, eye. Note, 5. The source and fountain from which this glorious Saviour and gracious salvation did arise and spring; namely, from the mercy and faithfulness of God; To perform the mercy promised to our forefathers, and t* remember his holy covenant, the oath which he sware to our father Abraham. Learn hence, That the Lord Jesus Christ, the mercy of mercies, was graciously promised, and faithfully performed, by God to his church and people. Christ was a free and full mercy: a suitable, a seasooaMe, and a satisfying, mercy; an incomparable, unsearchable, and everlasting, mercy; which God graciously promised in the beginning of time, and faithfully performed' in the fulness of time. Thus far this hymn of Zachary respects the Messiah. Observe, 4. How he next turns himself to this child, and prophesies concerning him: And thou, child, shall be called the Prophet of the Highist, i\ c. Where note, 1. The nature of his office: Thou shall be a prophet; not a common and ordinary one, but a prophet of the highest rank; the messenger of the Lord of hosts. A prophet thou sbalt be, and more than a prophet. Note, 2. As the nature of his office, so the quality of his work: Thou shall go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his way; thou shalt be an herald and harhinger to the most High, thou shalt go before the face of tlie Messias, and by thy severe reproots, and powerful exhortations, shalt prepare his way before him, and make men fit and ready to receive this mighty Saviour. Thou, child, shalt be as the morning star, to foretell the glorious arising of this Sun of righteousness. Learn hence, 1. That it is the highest honour and dignity to serve Christ in the quality and relation of a prophet. 2. That it is the office and duty of the prophets of Christ to prepare and make fit the hearts of men to receive and embrace him. Observe, 5. That Zachary having spoken a few words concerning his son, he returns instantly to celebrate the praises of our Saviour, comparing him to the rising sun, which shined forth in the brightness of his gospel, to enlighten the dark corners of the world: Through the tender mercies of our God, whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness. Learn hence, 1. That Jesus Christ is that true Sun of righteousness, which in the fulness of time did spring from on high to visit a lost and undone world. 2. That the great errand of Christ's coming into the world, and the particular end of his appearing in the flesh, was to give light to them that sit in darkness. 3. That it was nothing less than infinite mercy, and bowels of compassion, in God and Christ, which inclined him to come from on high to visit them that sit in darkness. "Through the tender bowels of mercy in our God, whereby his own and only Son sprung from on high to visit us here below, who sat in darkness and Hit shadow of death; and to guide our feet
into the way that leads to everlasting peace."
80 And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was'in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
Here we have a short account of John's private life before he entered upon his public ministry, which was at thirty years of age: He grew, that is, in bodily stature, and -waxed strong in spirit: that is, in the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit, which increased with his age, and showed themselves in him every day more and more. And he was in the deserts; that is, the mountainous country of Judea, where he was born, till the time of his preaching to and amongst the Jews; not that he lived like an hermit, recluse from all society with men, but contented himself to continue in an obscure privacy, till called forth to prornulge and preach the gospel: and when that time was come, John leaves the hillcountry, and enters with resolution and unwearied diligence upon his public ministry ; teaching us, by his example, that when we are fit and ripe for public service, we should no less willingly leave our obscurity, than we took the benefit of it for our preparation. John abode in the deserts, till his showing unto Israel; that is, till the time of his setting forth to execute his office among the Jews.
A ND it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) 3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bcth-lehem, (because he was of the house and lineage of David,) 5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swad(Ding-clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The conclusion of the former chapter acquainted us with the hirth of John the Baptist; the beginning of this chapter relates the hirth of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and the remarkable circumstances which did attend it. And here we have observable, I. The place where he was born: not at Nazareth, but at Bethlehem, according to the prediction of the prophet Micah, chap. v. 2. And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, art not the least among the princes of Judah; for out of thee shall come a governor that shall rule my people Israel. We may suppose, that the Blessed Virgin little thought of changing her place, but to have been delivered of her holy burden at Nazareth, where it was conceived. Her house at Nazareth was honoured by the presence of the angel; yea, by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost: that house there, we may suppose, was most satisfactory to the Virgin's desire. But he that made choice of the womb where his Son should be conceived, it was fit he should also choose the place where his Son should be born. And this place, many hundred years before the nativity, was foretold should be Bethlehem. Observe, 2. How remarkable the providence of God was in bringing the Virgin up from Nazareth to Bethlehem, that Christ, as it was prophesied of him, might be born there. Augustus, the Roman emperor, to whom the nation of the Jews was now become tributary, puts forth adecreethat all the Roman empire should have their names and families enrolled, in order to their being taxed. This edict required, that every family should repair to that city to which they did belong, to be enrolled and taxed there. Accordingly Joseph and Mary, being of the house and lineage of David, have recourse to Bethlehem, the city of Davjd, where, according to the prophecy, the Messias was to be born. Here note, How the wisdom of God overrules the actions of men, for higher or nobler ends than what they aimed at. The emperor's aim by this edict was to fill his coffers; God's end was to fulfil his prophecies. Observe, 3. How readily Joseph and Mary yielded obedience to the edict and decree of this heathen emperor. It was no less than four days' journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem: how just an excuse might the Virgin have pleaded for her absence! What
woman ever undertook so hazardous a journey, that was so near her delivery? And Joseph, no doubt, was sufficiently unwilling to draw her forth into so manifest an hazard. But as the emperor's command was peremptory, so their obedience was exemplary. We must not plead difficulty for withdrawing our obedience to supreme commands. How did our Saviour, even in the womb of his mother, yield homage to civil rulers and governors! The first lesson which Christ's example taught the world, was loyalty and obedience to the supreme magistrate. Observe, 4. After many weary steps, the Holy Virgin comes to Bethlehem, where every house is taken up by reason of the great confluence of people that came to be taxed; and there is no room for Christ but in a stable: the stable is our Lord's palace, the manger is his cradle. Oh, how can we be abased low enough for him that thus neglected himself for us! What an early indication was this, that our Lord's kingdom was net of this world! Yet some observe a mystery in all this: An inn is domus publici juris, not a private house, but open and free for all passengers, and the stable is 'the commonest place in the inn; to mind us, that he who was bom there would be a common Saviour to high and low, noble and base, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile: called therefore so often, the Son of man; the design of his hirth being the benefit of mankind.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds ahiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto yon is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger.
Here we have the promulgation and first publishing of our Saviour's hirth to the world : The angel said unto the shepherds, I bring you glad tidings,a Saviour is born. Where observe, l.Themessengers employed by God to publish the joyful news of a Saviour's hirth: the holy angels heavenly messengers employed about an heavenly work. It is worth our notice, how serviceable the angels were to Christ upon all occasions, wlien he was here upon earth: an angel declares his conception; an host of angels publish his hirth; in his temptation an angel strengthens him; in his agony an angel comforts him; at his resurrection an angel rolls away the stone from the door of the sepulchre; at his ascension the angels attend him up to heaven ; and at his second coming to judge the world he shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. And great reason there is, that the angels should be thus officious in their attendance upon Christ, who is an head of confirmation to them, as he was an head of redemption to fallen man. Observe, 2. The persons to whom this joyful message of a Saviour's hirth is first brought, and they are the shepherds: The angel said unto the shepherds, Fear not. 1. Because Christ the great Shepherd of his church was now come into the world. 2. Because he was of old promised unto shepherds, the old patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who by their occupation were shepherds. Observe, 3. The lime when these shepherds had the honour of this revelation: it was not when they were asleep on their beds of idleness and sloth, but when they were lying abroad, and watching their flocks. The blessings of heaven usually meet us in the way of an honest and industrious diligence; whereas the idle are fit for nothing but temptation to work upon. If these shepherds had been snoring in their beds, they had no more seen angels, nor yet heard the news of a Saviour, than their neighbours. Observe, 4. The nature and quality of the message which the angel brought: it was a message of joy, a message of great joy, a message of great joy unto all people. For here was born a son, that son a prince, that prince a saviour, that saviour not a particular saviour of the Jews only, but an universal Saviour, whose salvation is to the ends of the earth. Well might the angel call it a message, or glad tidings, of great joy unto all people. Observe, 5. The ground and occasion of this joy, the foundation of all this good news which was proclaimed in the ears of a lost world; and that was, the hirth of a Saviour: Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, sshieh is Christ the Lord. Hence learn, I. That the incarnation and hirth of our Lord Jesus Christ, and his manifestation in
our flesh and nature, was and is matter of exceeding joy and rejoicing unto all people.
2. That the great end and design of our Lord's incarnation and coming into the world, was to be the Saviour of lost sinners:
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Although the hirth of our blessed Saviour was published by one angel, yet it is celebrated by an host of angels; a whole choir of angels chaunt forth the praises of Almighty God, upon this great and joyful occasion. Here observe, 1. The singers. 2. The song itself. The singers of this heavenly anthem are the holy angels; called an host, partly for their number, and partly for their order. Where learn, 1. The goodness and sweet disposition of these blessed spirits, in whose bosom that cankered passion of envy has no place; if it had, there was never such an occasion to stir it up as now: but heaven admits of no such passion ; envy is a native of hell, 'lis the smoke of the bottomless pit, the character and temper of the apostate spirits; these grieve at the happiness of man as much as the angels rejoice. O ye blessed angels, what did these tidings concern you, that ruined mankind should be taken again into favour? whereas those of your own host, which fell likewise, remained still in that gulph of perdition into vyhich their sin had plunged them, without either hope of mercy, or possihility of recovery! The less we repine at the good, and the more we rejoice at the happiness of others, the more like we are to the holy angels; yea, the more we resemble God himself. Learn, 2. Did the angels thus joy and rejoice for us? Then what joy ought we to express for ourselves? Had we the tongue of angels, we could not sufficiently chaunt forth the praises of our Redeemer. Eternity itself would be too short to spend in the rapturous contemplation of redeeming mercy. Observe,
3. The anthem or song itself, which begins with a doxology, Glory be to God in the highest; that is, Let God in the highest heavens be glorified by the angels that dwell on high. The angelical choir excite themselves, and all the host of angels, to give glory to God for these wonderful tidings; as if they had said, "Let the power, the wisdom, the goodness, and mercy of God,