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life. The persons destined to be parents to this extraordinary man, werd Zacharias, a pious priest, and his wife Elizabeth ; who were both of the family of Aaron, and blameless in the observance of the law. But, though they had lived from their youth in the married state, they were not blessed with any offspring, and were both so far advanced in years, that according to the course of natare, no issue could be expected from them. The priests that olliciated in the temple of Solomon, were divided into twentyfour courses; every course began its service on the Sabbath day, and continued all the week. Only four of these courses returned from the Babylonish captivity; the rest were either extinct, or tarried behind. But, that the number of twenty four might still subsist, each course divided itself Into six ; the new ones taking upon themselves the names of those who were wanting. Zacharias was of the course of Abia, one of the new ones in this sub division, and the eighth in the order of the twenty-four. It was the lot of this aged priest to burn incense in the holy place; and while the smoke of the incense ascended, the people, according to custom, were praying in the outward court. As the good priest stood by the altar of incense, the angel appeared in view, all bright and glorious, as a native of the sky. Zacharias, at the sight of the heavenly messenger, was filled with terror and dismay; but the angel, with condescending goodness, thus addressed him: Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wise Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. and thou shalt kave joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth : For he shall be great in the sight. of the Lord, and shall neither drink wine nor strong drink ; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, eden from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he Yurn unto 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 dis.bedient to the wisdorn of the just, to make ready a people prepared fir the Lord. As Zacharias was one of the pious Jews who waited for the consolation of Isreal, doubtless he had often prayed that he might Jive to see the Messiah come, which was the prayer that the angel assured him was heard; but that his wife Elizabeth should bear a son, who should be the forerunner of the Redeemer of Isreal, seemed a thing so extraordinary, and out of the course of nature, that the priest could not believe it, though asserted by an angel; and therefore replied to the heavenly mes senger: Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. The bright commander of the angelic squadrons seemed displeased that Zacharias should question the truth of his prediction; and therefore proceeded to let him know his dignity, and the high place he occupied in the heavenly world, and the consequential impossibility that he should deceive hin. Know, said be, that I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God, and am sent from heaven, to speal: unto thee and to shezo ihec these glad tidings. But, as thou hast presumed to call in question the truth of the beavenly message, thau shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until these things shall be performed : for though thou hast not believed my words, they nevertheless are true, and shall be performed in their seuson. The priest, astonished at the vision, stayed longer in the holy place than usual; at which the people who waited without for his benediction, were much surprised : at last he came to them, but found the prediction of the angel awfully fulfilled ; for when, according to the course of his office, he was to bless the people, he could not speak ; but signified to them by signs, that he had seen a vision, which was the cause of his dumbness; and, the week of his administration bei accompished, he returned to his house. Soon after this, his wife Elizabeth found herself with child, bat made a secret of her conception for the first tive months, contenting herse!f with giving God thanks in private, for his great goodneos in taking away the reproach of ker barrenness; ard revolving im ther mind, with wonder and praise, the unsearchable counsels of God, and his great goodness to the children of men.
Six months after this, the angel Gabriel, the same who had appeared to the prophet Daniel, and foretold the very time of our Redeemer's birth, and had lately predicted to Zacharias the birth of his forerunner, was sent from the heavenly regions, to the city of Nazareth, to an amiable and virtuous virgin, named Mary, supposed to be about fifteen years of age.-She was of the house and lineage of David, and was espoused to a good man, supposed to be a widower, and pretty far advanced in years, ramed Joseph, who was also of the royal line of David. The husband had not taken home his wife, but she remained a virgin at her father's house; and while, as supposed, at her private devotions, the angel appeared to her arrayed in heavenly brightness; and, with a condescending smile, saluted her in terms of the highest respect: Hail Mary, he cried, thou art highly favored ; the Lord is with thee : blessed art thou amongst women.The pious maid was not more surprised at the blaze of heavenly glory which shone around her, than at the salutation of the celestial messenger, to whom she knew not how to reply. When the angel rejoined, with looks and accents of such kindness, and heavenly goodness, as dissipated every fearful apprehension. Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour wiih God. And behold thou shalt conceive, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name JESUS ; he shalt be great and shall be the Son of the Highest : and the Lord God shall give him the thronee of his farther David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end. The holy maid, not immediately recollecting that the prophet Isaiah had, in his predictions of the Messiah said, “ Behold a vir: gin shall conceive and bear a son :") and being conscious of ber purity, did not, like Zacharias, require a sign; but modestly inquired how her pregnancy could be effected in her virgin state. “ How said she “ can this be, seeing I know not a man ?" To which the angel, with condescending: goodness, replied, “ 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called, the son of God.” And though the ho. ly maid had not required a sign, whereby she might be assured of the certainty of an event so wonderful, and contrary to the established order of nature, the heavenly guest was pleased to give her this' satisfaction : " And behold," said he, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren : for with God nothing shall be impossible.” This reply was accompanied with such a manifestation of Divine Presence, that it removed every fear, and filled the wondering maid with heavenly gladness, which she had not known before. The expectation of the MESSIAH was general at this time throughout the Jewish nation, and strong were the desires of Judah's daughters for the honor and happiness of being the mother of the Role deemer of Israel; and the holy maid, it may be expected, had ardently wished for this great blessing ; so that, with growing joy and exultation she immediately replied to the bright arch-angel, “ Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.”
Soon after the departure of the angel, the holy virgin, regarding with joy of heart what the heavenly messenger had related concerning her relation and friend, went to the bill country of Judea, to pay a visit to her cousin Elizabeth. It is supposed that Zacharias lived at Hebron, the city of David, before he went to Jerusalem, formerly inhabited by giants, but taken by Joshua ; and, when the land was divided, given to the tribe of Judah; which city was about seventy miles from Nazareth. The joy that inspired the blessed virgin, gave her such a flow of spirits, that she lightly tripped over the mountains; and as soon as she arrived at the house of her dear relative, the pious matron was filled with divine illumi.
nations, and so affected at the sound of the maiden's voice, that the evan-
After three months stay with her dear relative, the virgin Mary return-
While these things were in agitation at Nazareth, Elizabeth the wife of Zacharias the priest, and relative of the favoured virgin, having completed the full time of her pregoancy, was delivered of a son. The reproach of her barrenness being thus removed, her neighbours and friends rejoiced with her ; the whole family smiled at the event, and every heart was
; glad. On the eighth day, when they attended on the sacred rite of cir. cumcision, the relations proposed that he should be named Zacharias, after his father, but the mother informed them ihat his name must be John.
; All the guests wondered at this, because it was a name never known in the family, and for the decision of the affair, they applied to the father. The good man being dumb since the appearance of the angel who predicted the birth of the child, could not inform them, but made signs for a writing table, and wrote, " His name is John.” The relations wondered at this, but more at observing the old man's dumbness to cease from that moment, whose voice, rising clearer and stronger for having been so long suppres. sed, raised loud strains of joy and gladness,, and lofty praiacs, to the God
of Israel for his great goodness, in remembering and visiting his people ; and, full of prophetic rapture, turning to his infant son, ®* And thou child,” said he, * shalt be called the prophet of the highest : for thoa shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people ; by the remission of their sing, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Such were the circumstances which attended the birth of the forerunner of our great Redeemer; the report of which soon spread through the hill country of Judea, and varions were the conceptions of the people concerning the future greatness of the child. The infant soon grew strong and robust, he was remarkably simple and abstemious in his diet, plain and careless in his dress, and addicia ed io solitude and contemplation. Sacred history gives us no information what afterwards became of his parents ; but there is a tradition that the mother fled into the deserts with her infant son, to preserve him from the rage of Herod; and that the father was slain in the outer court of the temple, by the orders of that tyrant; and is that Zacharias which Christ men ·
whose blood was shed between the temple and the altar.
The Birth of CHRIST, with all the various Circumstances that allenů.
ed it, viz. An Angel bringeth the News thereof to the Shepherds; the heavenly Host praise God; the Shepherds, finding it to be as the Argel had said, glorify God; and the Circumcision of Christ.
THE great King of the creation and righteous Governor of the uni. verse, having fixed in his eternal counsels, both the time and the place where his only son was to be born ; 80 ordered the affairs of the world, as to bring his great predictions and gracious designs to pass. And as he over-roles the counsels of princes, and determines the actions of men, so as to answer the wise ends of his governemant, and accomplish the designs of his grace ; so in this present instance, there is a remarkable manifestation of divine wisdom and power co-operating to bring about this great event, The holy Virgin and her husband dwelt at Nazareth ; and, according to tr: prophet's prediction, the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem, which was at à considerable distance; bnt to bring the great prediction to pass, Divine Providence so ordered it, that about three years before the time of our Redeemer's birth, a decree passed at Rome, by the order of the emperor Augustus, that a survey should be taken, and a register made, of the persons, estates and wealth, contained in his vast empire. This survey seems not to have been taken with an immediate design of taxation, but rather from views of ambition, or that the emperor might know the number and riches of his subjects ; for there were no taxes gathered by the Romans till eleven or twelve years after this, when Archelius the son of Herod, was deposed for his tyranny and oppression, and Judea reduced into the form of a Roman province ; for Herod, and the rest of the tributary kings, received the taxes of their subjects, and paid such tribute to Rome as was stipulated between them and the emperor. This survey, baving been carried through various provinces and kingdoms which were suhject to Rome in the two years past, was now making in "udes; and every family received orders to repair té their own city, to give an accoeat of ibsir
real or personal estates, and there to be registered. Joseph and Mary hig wife, being both of the family of David, were obliged on this occasion to take a journey to the ancient city of Bethleham. The evangelists Matthew and Luke have each inserted in their gospels, the genealogy of Jesus Christ, in which there is so great a variation, that it is with reason concluded, that Matthew gives us the genealogy of Joseph, and Lake of the Virgin Mary; that it may appear they were both of the house and lineage of David; one rising through Solomon, and the other through Nathan, another son of that prince. Though the holy virgin was great with child, and near the time of her delivery, she could not be excused from this long journey. The town of Bethleham was crouded on this occasion ; every inn, & every house of hospitable entertainment was full: the extraordinary persons who are the subjects of our present attention, made no great appearance in the world, and could not command the best accommodations: and while those, whose superior aftuence commanded respect, took up the best apartments of the inns, the mother of the great Messiah was content to lodge in a stable ; & there, having accomplished the full time of her pregnancy, she was delivered of her heavenly son. Some have supposed, that, as she had conceived by the mighty power of God, she brought forth. her son without pain, or common assistance. The stable in which our great Redeemer was born, is said to be a cave cut out of a rock; and it is not unlikely that he was born in the night. In this situation the holy Virgin, having brought forth her son, wrapped the infant in swaddling clothes, and, having no better accomodations, laid him in a manger.what an amazing instance of condescension was this ! The son of the Eternal God! The Heir of all things! The Darling of the skies ! who was worshipped by angels, and held in veneration equal with heaven's Great Supreme ; to become man ; to take human nature upon him in iis most helpless and feeble state ; to lay aside his slarry crown, and all the glories of his heavenly dignity, and become a sackling child ; One would have thought, that when the Great King of the universe condescended to become man, and appear in this world ; that he would have been received by the inhabitants of the earth with tokens of the highest regard; and that every thing great and good, every thing grand and noble, would have been prepared to honour and accommodate the Mighty prince. It might have been particularly expected, that the nation which he chose for his residence, that, people whom he condescended to make his countrymen, would have re. ceived him with the highest acclamations, and warmest tokens of honour and respect. But how contrary to this were the councils of heaven! how opposite to this, the appearance of our great Redeemer! When great princes are born, the city of their birth rings with acclamations, and the illuminated night shines like the day. But when our exalted Redeemer was born, all was silent, all was still. Not the poor peasant, who first draws breath in the homely cottage, steals into the world less unobserved, than did the Son of God. He, in all probability was born in the night, perhaps without light, or by the gliminering of a winking taper. When great princes are born, they are wrapped in fine linnen, and adorned with mantles of purpie fringed with gold: the floors of their apartments are decorated with splendid carpets, the windows are adorned with noble hangings, and they Tie on a bed of state, which shines with criipson and with gold. But our great Redeemer, and Saviour of mankind, the greatest Prince that ever was bora into the world received no honour, no tokens of respect ; was received with no demonstrations of joy; had no splendid apartment, no rich decorations : but was brought forth in a stable, without any person to pat on the poor habit prepared for him, but his virgin mother, who herself wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger: but though our glorious Redeemer was received, by the inhabitants of the earth, with no tokens of respect, or demonstrationg of joy; though he was brought