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him and lead to him; and by it wise men are led from far, to offer rich presents to a poor babe, and to do homage to him as a king, and to worship him !
Then, afterwards, he is put to flee for his life in his swaddling clothes. He who came to give life to dead man, is in hazard of a cruel death at the entry of his life, and escapes it by the obscure and hasty flight of his parents with him; yet, even in that flight there is a track of majesty, that they flee, stay, and return with him, all upon Divine warnings. Thus was this Sun of righteousness veiled and clouded in human flesh, and a low kind of human life, and yet, some rays of Deity are still breaking through and telling, Here dwells the Godhead bodily.
In this chapter, these two things of him are remarkable. First, He is marvellously witnessed and worshipped. Secondly, . persecuted and preserved.
He is witnessed, 1st, By a star stirring up strangers from far, to seek him, and leading them to find him.
2dly, By those strangers coming and declaring this to be their errand, and inquiring after the place of his birth.
3dly, By the chief priests and scribes, from a clear prophecy, resolving them.
Of these, and other like points in the following history, what questions are moved more curious than useful, I shall either pass wholly in silence, or only name them to pass them, to put them out of our way, that they may not stop us in what may be useful. And textual difficulties that call for clearing, I shall endeavour to open with as much briefness as may well consist with clearness, and to serve for that end of clearing them. For this star, what shall we see the better into the end and
person whom it served, by deciding, if we could, much less by debating what we cannot decide, whether it was a star or a comet ? Called a star for its resemblance, as the Scripture often gives things the vulgar names, it seems to have been temporary, and made for this singular service only. However, it was a star that led to the sun.
After men have pleased themselves in the employ of all their reading and wit, to find what the Magi were, further than the text comes, they can assuredly inform us nothing. They were Magi, (wise men,) and of the east; but whether from Chaldea, or Persia, or Arabia, neither that name they bear, nor the presents they bring, can certainly conclude. It cannot be denied, that all these nations called their astrologers, and generally their philosophers, by that name; and they might bring the same presents from any of those, and from divers other eastern countries: nor is there any more evidence that they were Balaam's posterity, or of his school, though the prophecy of a star arising in Jacob, seems to suit somewhat well with this kind of notice given them by a star, and with their observing it, and following it. And truly, besides the uncertainty, the inutility of this may save us a labour; for what shall we be really the wiser, to know particularly what these wise men were, or whence they were ? Sure I am, to make them three to fit their number to their presents, and to make kings of them, and give them names, and then to wrangle about their burial-place, is to play the fool about the wise men.
If you ask, how the star could speak this, that there was a great king born, and born in Judea, and speak it so as to persuade them to come and see; I conceive, all their skill in astronomy, and Balaam's prophecy of the star in Jacob, and the tradition of the Messiah, and his star, and Sibyl's prophesying of them, could not make the language of this star thus clear and intelligible to them. There was no doubt an extraordinary darting in of a higher light into their minds, clearer than that of the star, to make its meaning clear to them, and to draw them forth to this journey. The star appeared to them in the east, but it does not appear that it led them all the way, though commonly it be so conceived: on the contrary, after their setting forth, it seems not to have appeared to them till they came from Jerusalem, whither they went as likeliest either to find him they sought, or notice of him at least. And this likewise was by a Divine hand ordered, that both there they might give testimony of Christ, and likewise receive their further testimony of him and address to him, and be confirmed in their persuasion concerning him, and then seasonably the star appears to establish and lead them.
Ver. 3. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled.] The wise men's question occasions Herod's fear, and that, the meeting of the priests and scribes to resolve it. They do it from the prophet Micah, ch. v. ver. 2. The difference in the cited words is really none, Bethlehem Ephrata, and Bethlehem Judah, being all one. And the prophet's words, read interrogatively, (as well they may,) are clearly the same thing with the Evangelist's narrative. However the least of all in itself, yet, it was not the least, but the greatest, by this great King's being born in it. And so, David bears the type of his Son and Lord, for he was of obscure birth in this same city.
Ver. 712. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men-sent them to Bethlehem.] The wise men, thus answered and led, came to Bethlehem, and are now so confirmed of the royalty of this child, that they are not removed from that persuasion, nor at all staggered in it, by the sight of so much outward meanness as they found: a poor babe in a common inn; whether still in the manger or no, is not certain, so it may be ; however, doubtless in a very low condition, far from royal grandeur, but yet so high in his own dignity and in their thoughts, that they fell down and worshipped, and offered their present, which they did not to Herod in all his pomp.
This many ancient and modern are pleased to subtilize into mysteries, which, though I dare not confidently deny all, yet dare I aver nothing. He that brought them forth, directed them directly home, having no more business at Jerusalem. When they had found the King they came to seek, they left king Herod to seek his intelligence from others.
Ver. 13--23. But these were strange news to Herod, a born king of the Jews. The common fears that are of the ill genius of tyrants, and that are the fell revenge of the many fears they cause to so many others, are now raised, and rage within him upon this report. And for all his craft, and the growth of it for cruelties upon long practice, yet is he, as it were, so thunderstruck with this fear, that he cannot resolve on any sure way for this end, but inquires the age of the child, and, it seems, defers a good time, and smothers the intended massacre, (for that answers best the doubt about the
of two years,) and then sends and kills all the children of or under that
age: : that was the sacrifice which in his inquiry he meant to offer, instead of worshipping the child born. His Royal Father could have preserved him otherways than by the care and flight of his supposed father with him ; but thus He pleased, even in this, to carry on His Divine Son under the covert of such human and humble ways of preservation, to make him in all things like us, (sin excepted,) and to sweeten those things to us, when we are called to be like him in them, in being persecuted, and by persecution forced to flee.
That text, ver. 15, Out of Egypt have I called my Son, suits most fitly, the words having (as other such adapted places) their prophetical aspect to Jesus Christ, without any prejudice of their first proper sense, in persons or things typifying him. Israel is called the Lord's son and His first born, Exod. iv. 22. ; Jer. xxxi. 9.
The other text, He shall be called a Nazarite, I rather think signifies his singular holiness, which the name imports, and all the prophets foretold of him, and the legal Nazarites prefigured, than that it relates to any particular prophecy. Besides, it is in the text, the prophets, in general : Which was spoken by the prophets. Ver. 23.
Observe 1. The freedom of God's calling and drawing men unto His Son; that it follows not the track of human appearances and external engagements. Strangers are brought from far to worship Christ, and are glad at his birth. His own, amongst whom, and those particularly for whom, he was born, were not rejoiced, yea, were troubled at it; so far were they from receiving him as their king, and worshipping him. And strange, that having resolved the Magi's question, they all sit still, for any thing we find, and not one is so taken with it, as to take share of the small latter end of their long journey, and to go some miles off, to see so great and matchless a wonder! Thus, many who are far off in their ways, are humbled and brought to Christ, and those who in external profession seemed always near to him, are still far off: nearest the church, as ye say,) furthest from God. My brethren, rest not on your outward relations, your interest in the ordinances and profession of religion, but see how your hearts stand affected towards Jesus Christ. If you receive him as king, then shall ye partake of the sweet fruits of his kingdom.
Obs. 2. There was some appearance of reason, (though indeed reasonless,) that Herod should be stirred with the news of a new-born king ; for though Christ's office never wrongs the just power of kings, yet, the jealousy of it will never be out of their minds, while they are not acquainted with him : they will still think that his kingdom encroaches upon theirs ; and this is the ground of their almost general enmity against him. But why were the Jews troubled, who could not but apprehend, according to the very notion of the Messiah, that if this was he, he was come for their deliverance and release from the tyranny of foreign power ? Yet, they with Herod are troubled. The reason seems to be, they feared that trouble and war would arise by this appearing, and they might possibly foresee much in the way to the change, and therefore would rather have chosen to lie still under the burden of the Roman power. There is a natural prejudice in all against the kingdom of Christ, that it brings disturbance and disquiet with it, and therefore men would rather sleep in their chains than hear of a deliverance by him. Thus, the Jews in Egypt appear to have been prejudiced against the message of their going forth, which Moses brought them. Thus, a carnal heart would comply with its bondage, rather than be at any painş in the remove from it.