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Observe, 2. Herod calls him the young child, not the young king; that word was too big to come out of Herod's proud mouth; he could neither bear the thing, nor brook the title. A king 'tis true he is, but one that will never be thy rival; he has a kingdom, but it is not of this world. Observe, 3. How craftily Herod lays his plot: he desires the wise men to enquire thoroughly, and to inform him privately. To be wise in doing mischief, is the worst wisdom in the world: 'tis not the wisdom from above, but from hell beneath.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed: and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.
Observe here, 1. How the star, which for some time disappeared, now appears again, to their farther direction in finding Christ: teaching us, that God will not be wanting to such as are on the way to seek Christ, but will renew directions and encouragements to them, according as they stand in need; none ever sincerely sought Christ, but they certainly found him at the last Obs. 2. That the joy which ariseth in such a soul as has found Christ, is unutterable and unspeakable: the wise men here rejoiced -with joy, with great joy, with exceeding great joy. Obs. 3. The wise men have found this young king, they bring presents to him, according to the manner of the eastern countries; namely, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, which were the principal commodities of the east. But the best present we can make to Christ, is ourselves: lie seeks not ours, but us; and rather desires what we are than what we have. Yet the providence of God was wonderfully seen in these presents, for hereby provision was made for (he sustenance of Joseph and Mary, and the child Jesus, in their exile, or flight into Egypt, which they were shortly to undergo.
12 And being warned of God in a
dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
God having warned these wise men in a dream not to go back to Herod, they return home another way. But did these wise men play the parts of honest men, in that they returned not again to Herod? Answ. It appears not that they promised Herod to return, though he expected it; or if they did, it was in consideration that Herod should come and worship Christ, not murder and destroy him. But if they promised him never so positively, God Almighty gave them a dispensation from that promise, by commanding them to return home another way. Herod kept his design against Christ close from the wise men, but he could not conceal his intentions from the infmitely wise God; he knew the purposes of his heart, and, by his providence, kept Christ out of his hand. There is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child, to destroy him. 14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: 15 And was there until the death of Herod, that it might. be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.
Observe here, 1. Our Lord's humiliation, by persecution in the very morning of his life; he was banished almost as soon as bom. Flee into Egypt, for Herod will teek the young child to destroy him. Ungrateful Herod! Was this entertainment for a Saviour? What! raise tlie country upon Christ, as if a destroyer, rather than a Saviour, had landed upon thy coasts! Oh f barbarous injustice! to deny a subject the protection of those laws under which he was born: the child of a beggar might claim that as his birthright, which was here denied to the Son of God. Lord! how great an humiliation was this, not only to become an infant, but in thine infancy to be hurried up and down, and driven out of
thine own land as a vagabond 1 Obs. 2. How our Lord himself in a time of persecution flies for safety, who was able a thousand ways to have preserved himself from danger: teaching us that in times of difficulty and danger, 'tis neither unwarrantable nor unbecoming to preserve our lives by flight; surely 'tis no shame for us to fly, when our Captain doth both practise it, and command it also. Christ by his own example hath sanctified that state of life unto us, and by his command has made it lawful for us. Obs. 3. The place which Christ flies unto for safety, and that is Egypt: an unlikely place, considered in itself; who could expect liberty in that house of bondage? But any place is good, if God sends us thither, and Christ be in our company. His presence can make Egypt itself not only safe, but delightful also. Obs. 4. How readily Joseph complies with the divine command: instantly he arose, and took the young child, and fled. Faith gave wings to his obedience, and instantly vanquished all his fears, and afforded a fuller supply than all the treasures of the Arahian princes. Teaching us, That when our direction is clear, our compliance is speedy. We cannot be too forward and expeditious in the execution of divine commands. Obs. 5. Though Joseph at the divine command of God flies presently from Herod's rage, yet he flies privately, by night, and prudently begins his journey when least notice should be taken of his motion: teaching us, That although we have never so many promises of safety and deliverance, yet we must not put God upon working miracles for our preservation, when it may be obtained in the use of means.
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were tn Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
Observe here, How Herod, having played the fox before, acts the lion now; his secret policy not succeeding, he breaks out into open and inhuman cruelty. Learn, That when fraud and subtilty fail the enemies of the church, then they fall to open rage, and barbarous inhumanity. Thus here these holy innocents fell as a sacrifice to Herod's
rage, and die for Christ, who came to die for them; and so were martyrs in deed, though not in will. Some affirm that Herod did not spare his own child, then at nurse in the coasts of Bethlehem; which made Augustus say, He had rather be Herod's hog, than Herod's child; because the Jews did never eat swine's flesh. And Herod, in compliance with the Jews, abstained from it also.
17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, 18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
Observe here, The loud and hitter cry which the mothers of Bethlehem make for the death of their innocent children which were barbarously slain by the sword of Herod; here was lamentation, weeping, and great mourning made by Rachel, that is, by the women inhahiting in and about Bethlehem, where Rachel's sepulclire was: . for the land about Bethlehem was called Rachel, from her sepulchre, so famous in those parts. Rachel here is not the name of a person, but of a place. Observe, 2. The cause and reason of this cry and hitter lamentation: the mothers weep, not because the children are, but because they are not; they did not, with some wicked parents, repine because they had children, but because they had lost them: mothers have the sharpest throes both in their children's hirths and burials. As children in their hirths are their mothers' Benjamins; so in their burial they are their mothers' Benonis, sons of sorrow.
19 But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child's life.
Observe, 1. Herod's death: like a bloody persecutor, he is sent unlamented to his grave. Historians say, that out of his body issued forth such impure streams of blood, that the loathsomeness and pain made him attempt the killing of himself. God seldom suffers persecutors to pass in quiet to their graves; they rarely die the common death of all men, having no other balm at their funeral than their own blood. Observe, 2. The happy consequence of Herod's death. Christ is now called home without danger.: Herod being sent to his grave, the coast is clear for the return of the holy family. The death of persecutors is the delivery of the persecuted. Observe, 3. An angel is despatched to acquaint Joseph with Herod's death. O how cheerfully do those glorious spirits execute the commands of their sovereign Master! With what delight do they carry the message of God's kindness to their fellow-creatures! Lord, what an argument is this of thy love unto us, that in this our pilgrimage state thou allowest us thine own royal guard to attend and preserve us!
21 And he arose, and took the Young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. 22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
Observe here, 1. The just fear that Joseph has upon his mind, that Herod's son would be as bloody a tyrant as his flagitious father. No wonder that the children of cruel persecutors are suspected to tread in their bloody parents' steps. Observe, 2. How God's warrant and direction doth quiet Joseph's mind, resolve his doubts, and remove his fears, and make him readily comply with the command of God: Being warned of God, he removes out of Egypt into Galilee. O how safe and satisfactory is it in all our ways to follow the call and command of God! Joseph and Mary durst not move their feet, no not out of Egypt itself, till God gives them a warrant for their departure, and hids them go.
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Na
A threefold interpretation is given of these words, He shall be called a Nazarene. Some read the words, 1. He shall be called a Nazarite. The Nazarites were a religious and separate rank of persons among the Jews, who abstained from wine, and came not near the dead for fear of pol
lution. Christ was a holy person, but no Nazarite, in a stiict sense; for he drank wine, and touched the dead. 2. Others read the words, He shall be called a Netzer, a branch, in allusion to Tsa. xi. 1. where he is called a Branch of the root of Jesse. Christ was the true branch of which the prophets had so often spoken. 3. Others will have the word Nazarene refer to the city of Nazareth, where Christ was conceived, and lived most of his time: He shall be called a Nazarene, because he dwelt at Nazareth. Hence his disciples were called the sect of the Nazarenes; that is, the followers of him that dwelt at Nazareth: and Christ himself is pleased to own the title, Acts xxii. 8. / am Jesus of Nazareth, -whom thou persecutest. Learn from hence, the great humility of mind that was found in our Saviour. He was born at Bethlehem, a little city; he lives at Nazareth, a poor, contemptible place: he aspires not after the grandeur of the world, but is meek and lowly in spirit. May the same humble mind be in us, which was also in Christ Jesus!
This Evangelist having declared our Saviour's miraculous conception in the first chapter, aud recorded several remarkable circumstances relating to his hirth in the second chapter, in this chapter before us he passes over in silence the whole' course of our Saviour's life in private; taking no notice how he spent his minority whilst he dwelt at Nazareth, which was till he was thirty years old; at which time he entered upon his public ministry, having John the Baptist for his harhin
?er and forerunner, as this chapter fully inorms us.
TN those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Observe here, 1. The preacher sent by God, John the Baptist; a pattern of mortification, and a preacher of repentanceObserve, 2. The place he was sent to preach in, The wilderness of Judea; not in populous Jerusalem, but in a barren wilderness, where inhahitants are few, and probably very ignorant and rude. Learn hence, That it is God's prerogative to send forth the preachers of the gospel when, and whither, and to what people, he pleases; and none must assume the office before he be sent. Observe, 3. The doctrine that he preaches; namely, the doctrine of repentance, Repent ye. This was to prepare the people for the Messiah, and the grace of the gospel. Learn thence, That the preach
ing of the doctrine of repentance is absolutely necessary, in order to the preparing of the hearts of sinners for the receiving Christ Jesus and his holy doctrine. Observe, 4. The motives which St John uses to enforce the exhortation to repentance: The kingdom of heaven is at hand: that is, Now is the so much expected time of the appearing of the Messiah come; the Old-Testament dispensation is now to be abolished, and the mercy and grace of the gospel is now to be revealed: therefore repent, and amend your lives. Note thence, That the free and full tenders of grace and mercy in the gospel, are the most alluring arguments to move a sinner to repent, and to convert to God.
3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
The papists, from John Baptist's living in the wilderness, would make him the first founder of the order of the hermits, but very groundlessly. For, 1. What he did was by God's command; what they do, is by 'the dictates of their own fancy. He busied himself in preaching in the wilderness; they bury themselves alive, and do nothing. 2. Hehved in the wilderness but for a time, afterwards we find him at court, preaching a sermon to Herod, but they bind themselves by a vow to live and die hermits.
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins: and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
The plainness of John's habit and diet is here declared: He was habited in a plain suit of camel's hair, much as Elijah was before him: and as his habit was plain, so his diet was ordinary; feeding upon herbs, and such things as the wilderness affords. Hence it was that Nazianzen said, He was all voice; a voice, in his habit, a voice in his diet, and a voice in his whole convermrkm. His example teaches us, that the ministers of the gospel are not to affect bravery in apparel, or delicacy in diet, but having the necessary comforts and needmi conveniences of life, to be therewith content.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,
Observe here, The great encouragement which John had in Ins ministry, from^the people's attendance upon it: he was now fishing for souls, and God brought the people very thick about the net of the gospel, and multitudes were enclosed,nodoubt, to his joy and great satisfaction. For it is matter of great rejoicing to the ministers of Christ, when they find their people forward to encourage their ministry by a diligent attendance.
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
This place the papists bring to support their doctrine of auricular confession j but very groundlessly. For, 1. The confession of those converts was voluntary, and not constrained. 2. It was general, and not of every particular sin. 3. It was public and open, not in the ear of a priest. 4. It was a confession of sin committed before baptism, not after they were baptized: in all which circumstances it differs from the auricular confession of the church of Rbme very greatly. Note, The confession of sin past, together with a profession of faith in, and obedience to, Christ for the time to come, are necessary requisites and qualifications in all persons of riper years that are admitted to baptism. John admitted these persons to baptism, upon their confession of sin and promises of amendment. From whence we may learn, that such persons as have been very bad, upon a profession of their repentance, and promising to become better, may be admitted to the holy sacrament, provided that we warn them, as the Baptist did these, not only to make profession of repentance, but to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Here we have the entertainment which John gave to his unexpected auditors, the Pharisees and Sadducees, which came to hear him, and to-be baptized by him. He gives them first a quick and cutting compellation, O generation of vipers! next a sharp and severe reprehension, Who hath warned you tojieefrom the wrath to come? It was matter of wonder and admiration to see such men turn proselytes. Note thence, That the condition of proud Pharisees, pretending and false-hearted hypocrites, though it be very dangerous, yet is not hopeless and desperate; and their salvation, though very improbable, yet must not be despaired of as impossible: and accordingly the Baptist, having given them a smart reproof, subjoins a seasonable exhortation. Bring forth fruits meet for repentance; as if he had said, Do not satisfy yourselves with a bare profession of repentance, but let us see the fruits of repentance in your daily conversation. Learn thence, That sincere repentance is not a barren thing, but constantly brings forth the fruits of holiness answerable to its nature. As the body without the spirit, and as faith without works, is dead; so repentance without fruits is dead also. Observe farther, How he enforces his exhortation with a necessary caution: Think not to say within yourselves. We have Abraham to our father, c\c. As if he had said, Trust not to your outward privileges, and glory not in them; flatter not yourselves, that because you are Abraham's seed, and the only visible church, that therefore the judgments of God will not reach you; for God can, out of the obdurate Gentile world, who now worship stones, raise up a people to himself and take them into covenant with himself, and cast you all out, who have Abraham's blood running in your veins, but nothing of Abraham's faith in your hearts, nor of his obedience in your lives. Now from St. John's plain dealing with these hypocritical Pharisees, we learn, That it is the duty, and ought to be the endeavour, of the ministers of Christ, to drive hypocrites from their vain confidence, who do constantly bear up themselves upon their external privileges, in the enjoyment of which they promise themselves a freedom from the judgments of God. Think not to say within yourselves, We have, Src.
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth 1C001I fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
The Baptist having preached the doctrine of repentance in the former verses, he backs it with a powerful motive in this verse, drawn from the certainty, the severity, and
suddenness of that vengeance which would come upon them if they continued impenitent; Now is the axe laid to the root of the trees. Learn, 1. That those whose bearts are not pierced with the sword of God's word, shall certainly be cut down and destroyed by the axe of his judgments. Learn, 2. That it is not unsuitable for gospel-preachers to press repentance and holiness of life upon their hearers from arguments of terror; John does it here, and Christ elsewhere. Observe farther, That forasmuch as the sin here specified is a sin of omission, which brings this sore and severe judgment, Every tree that hringeth not forth good fruit, as well as that which bringeth forth evil fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire; we may gather, that sins of omission are certainly damning as well as sins of commission; the neglects of duty are as dangerous and damnable asthe acts of sin. Such trees as stand in God's orchard, and bring forth no good fruit, are marked out as fuel for the devil's fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: hut he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
In these words John declares the excellency of Christ's person and ministry above his own. As to his person, he owns that he was not worthy to carry his shoes after him, or to perform the lowest offices of service for him. And as to his office, he declares that Christ should net baptize as he did, with water, but with the Holy Ghost, and with fire; that is, should plentifully pour down of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit upon his proselytes, which, like fire, in their operation should purify their hearts from sin, consuming their lusts and corruptions; but at the same time he has a fiery indignation, and flaming judgments, to destroy and bum up impenitent sinners like combustible stubble. Where observe, How Christ is represented by one and the same metaphor of fire, in a way of comfort to his children, and in away of terror unto his enemies; he is a fire unto both: he sits in his church as a refiner's fire; he is amongst his enemies as a consuming fire; a fire for his church to take comfort in, a fire for his enemies to perish by.
12 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor.