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this power was then silently advancing from conquest to conquest, and the Roman eagle was by degrees strengthening her wing, and preparing to take her flight round half the globe. The succession of those great monarchies, those shakings of the heavens and the earth, this shaking of all nations, led gradually and imperceptibly to that happy conjuncture, that fulness of time, that maturity of divine counsel which suited the introduction of Christianity. They arose one after another, they enlarged one upon another, till at lengih the genius of Rome, under the permission of heaven, triumphed over and swallowed up all others, and expanded, opened, united, consolidated, that wide-extended, well-informed, civilized empire, through which the gospel of Christ was destined to make a progress so rapid and so successful. To favour this great event, to procure attention to the Author and finisher of our faith, and to render the first appearance of our holy religion at once more august and more secure, the struggles of ambition which had so long shaken the world, those restless contests for superiority, subsided at last, suddenly and unexpectedly, into universal peace. That stormy ocean, which had been for ages and generations in continual agitation, now all at once sunk into a surprising calm; the bloody portal of Janus, which had so long emitted unrelenting destruction to mankind, was shut, and the globe was instantly overspread with tranquillity, relieved from the din of arms, from the confused noise of the warrior, and the horrid sight of garments rolled in blood, in order to receive the Prince of Peace.
The shaking of the nations, as paving the way for the desire of all nations, is striking to the contemplative mind in another point of view. Philosophy rode triumphant, every question relating to physics, morals, politics, science, religion, was freely canvassed ; and the noise of the schools in many instances drowned that of the ensanguined plain. The introduction of Christianity was preceded by a remarkable diffusion of knowledge, and the radiance of science ushered in the gospel day, as Aurora announces the approach of the sun, and prepares the world for it. Egypt, Persia, Greece, and Rome, poured from their separate urns, those distinct rills of science, which meeting in one great channel, became a mighty flood, and overspread the vast Roman empire. And thus was Revelation enabled to give a most illustrious proof of its coming down from above, by diffusing over the world, all at once, a light superiour to all collected human wisdom in its brightest glory. And need we ask who it was that thus shook and settled the sea and the dry land, who regulated the vast engine, who conducted all these great events, and brought them to one issue, concurrence and conclusion ? At the same period of time the promised Messiah came: the greatest empire that ever existed was at the height of its glory : learning flourished beyond what it had done in any former age: and the world was blessed with universal peace. A coincidence of facts, every one of which is in itself so extraordinary that it cannot be paralleled by any pther times, clearly points out the hand of that supreme, overruling power, who from eternity beheld the great plan of his providence through its whole extent, who alone “can declare the end from the beginning and from ancient times the things which are not yet done,” saying, “ My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Το
put this beyond all doubt, let it be observed, that these events took their rise in remotest ages, and were prepared in times and countries far distant from and unknown to each other. Empire which sprang up amidst the seven hills of Rome; Science nurst in the academic groves of Greece; and religion from the obscure vales of Judea, all met at one grand crisis. To one another unknown, they must have been conducted by the land of Providence. But meet they did, and peace from heaven crowned them with her olive. And thus were the nations shaken, to prepare the way of the Lord; thus " the
valleys were exalted, and the mountains and hills laid low, the crooked made straight, and the rough places plain," and the high and aspiring thoughts of men were brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.
But the heavens and the earth were literally shaken, at the coming of “the desire of all nations.” Witness that new created star which conducted the eastern Magi to the place where the Saviour was born ; witness the descent of Gabriel and a multitude of the heavenly host, to announce his arrival; and witness the other appearances of celestial spirits to minister to the Lord of Glory in his temptation and agony, at his resurrection and ascension into heaven ; witness the descent of Moses and Elias to ihe mount of transfiguration; witness too the eclipse of the sun beyond the course of naturë, which marked the hour of his death, the quaking of the earth, the rending of the rocks, the rising of the dead : witness the voice from heaven which, like thunder, oftener than once, shook the echoing air, while God himself declared his well beloved Son, and demanded attention for him. All these confirm the testimony of the Prophet, they point it to the Lord Jesus, and inspire joy onspeakable and full of glory, on discovering the perfect coincidence between prediction and event. To this auspicious, this all important era we are now brought; and the next Lecture, with the divine permission, will detail the remarkable circumstances which immediately preceded, or which accompanied the birth of Christ.
And was all this mighty preparation made to introduce a mere man of like passions with ourselves? Were the heavens from above and the earth beneath stirred to meet him at his coming? Did flaming ministers descend singly and in bands, did departed prophets revisit the earth, and the dead bodies of saints arise to do homage to a creature, their equal, their fellow? It is not to be believed. But surely this is the Son of God; and to receive him, coming for our salvation, what solemnity of preparation was too great, what homage of angels and men too submissive, what testimony of created Nature too ample ? “ Hosanna to the son of David, blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest."
Is his name and description " the desire of all nations ?" how fitly applied ! Is light desirable to the benighted, bewildered traveller in a land of snares and of the shadow of death? Is pardon desirable to a wretch condemned ? Is the cooling stream desirable to the parched pilgrim, and bread to the hungry perishing wretch ? Is the friendly haven desirable to the tempest-tossed mariner, and liberty to the languishing captive? What then to an ignorant, guilty, perishing world, must that wonderful man be whom Providence has raised up to be “ a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest ; as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”
But what if when he shall appear, desirable as he is, a blind world shall see "no form or comliness in him, no beauty why he should be ésired ?" Afflicting thought! " He was despised and rejected of men !" " He came to his own and his own received him not.' They " denied the holy one, and the just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto them.” “ away with him, crucify him;" his “ blood be upon us and upon our children!" O Lord, remove the film from the eyes of those prejudiced Jews; dispose them to receive " The Prince of Peace,” let him be all their salvation and all their desire. Lord, remove the film from my eyes that I may see in him, whom God the Father hath sent and sealed, one 6 fairer than the children of men ; into whose lips grace is poured :” that though he may be " unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness, He may be unto us who believe, Christ, the power of God, and the wisdom of God." Amen.
The cry was,
HISTORY OF JESUS CHRIST.
LUKE I. 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.
And there appeared unto him an Angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incenses
And when Zacharias saw bim he was troubled and fear seli upou him. But the Angel said unto him, Fear not Zacharias: For thy prayer is heard; and thy wile Elizabeth shall bear thee a sen, and thou shall cail his name John. . And thou shall have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his biru 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 be 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 wisdo:n or the just; 10 mahe 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 uno thee, and io shew thee ibese glad tidings. And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these inings shall be performed, because theu believest noi my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.
“ The prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Being determined through the course of these exercises to avoid every thing that has the appearance of controversy, I take it for granted that you believe and receive the bistory of our blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as delivered in the four gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as of divine inspiration and authority. Of the four Evangelists two were of the number of the twelve whom Christ called to the office of apostleship, and who recorded events of which they were witnesses and partakers, and transcribed discourses which they heard and well remembered. The other two derived their information iminediately from those "who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word.” Their harmony, in every particular of any importance, is a proof of the truth and certainty of each individually, and of the wbole. John, as one borne aloft on the wings of an eagle, ascends into the heaven of heavens, and begins his account of his beloved Master with a sublime and interesting representation of his divine nature ; for which we refer you to Lecture I.
Mark introduces "the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God," with the voice of a lion “ crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Luke ushers in the great Prophet, " the desire of all nations," with an account of the conception and birth of his forerunner John the Baptist, and is of course led to extract the commencement of the evangelical, out of the legal dispensation: and he sets out with exhibiting Zacharias in the exercise of the priest's office. Matthew commences at once with the history of Christ's humanity, as the son of David, the son of Abraham. For these reasons, the four sacred historians of the New Testament dispensation have been distinguished by corresponding symbolicai representations, analogous to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel,
Matthew by the face of a man, Mark by that of a lion, Luke by that of an ox, and John by that of an eagle.
St. Luke was by profession a physician; he became early a proselyte to the Jewish religion, and he is generally supposed to have been one of Christ's first disciples, and of the number of the seventy whom " He sent out two and two into every city and place, whither he himself would come.” After he had concluded the bistory of our Lord himself, at the period of his ascension into heaven, he undertook that of the acts of the Apostles, and he addresses both his books to a person of amiable character and exalted rank, named Theophilus, and in him, to every lover of God, in every age of the Church, who is desirous to know “ the certainty of the things wherein he has been instructed.” On the conversion of St. Paul to the Christian faith, he seems to have attached himself with much zeal and affection to that great Apostle of the Gentiles, he became voluntarily the companion of his travels and afflictions, and brought down his history to his arrival at Rome as a prisoner, on an appeal to the Emperor Nero. His gospel and bistory of the acts were probably submitted to the inspection of his illustrious fellow-traveller, and received the seal of his approbation. In the preface to the gospel inscribed with his name, he modestly, yet with firmness, lays claim to the great, the essential qualification of a historian, nainely, accurate and complete information respecting his subject," having" says he, had perfect understanding of all things, from the very first :” and the professed end which he had in view is no less worthy of a great and enlightened mind, that a respected friend might be established in the knowledge, faith and hope of the gospel. The tongue of prophecy had now been silent for more than four hundred years. The last word which it bad spoken announced the sending of Elijah the prophet, to precede the great and notable day of the Lord, to work a remarkable change in the temper and character of mankind, to prevent the earth from being "smitten with a curse.”
A period of darkness and disorder succeeded. The land which had been for ages so renowned in history seems as if blotted out of the globe; the people, which had been hung up as a sign before the eyes of so many successive generations, seems to be extinguished and lost; the predictions and promises which conferred upon them such high importance, and duration so extended seem to have been defeated and rendered of no effect. The throne of David whose permanency was so often, and so solemnly declared, has sunk into the earth and disappeared. The representative of the royal line of Judah is sunk into an humble carpenter : and all hope of revival is at an end. But the Lord hath spoken and shall he not do it, he hath promised and shall he not bring it to pass ? Yes, but not at the season, nor in the way which human wisdom would have prescribed, nor by means which human wisdom would have employed. Behold light once more, and suddenly, shines out of darkness: the land of Israel rises once more into importance ; Jerusalem rears her head among the nations, the star of Jacob arises, “ a rod springs out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots ;” and the glory of the latter temple eclipses that of the former.
The Evangelist informs us that at this eventful period Herod was King of Judea. Princes are often among the inferiour actors in the great drama of Providence. Their will shakes the nations of the earth, but the hearts and arms of Kings themselves are in the hands of the Lord, to be by him turned which way soever he will. This man has by some been dignified with the addition of “the great :" an appellation more frequently bestowed as a reward to splendid vice, than as a tribute to modest merit. Herod the great! and yet a paltry substitute of a Roman Emperor, an habitual slave to the vilest of human passions, envy, lust, jealousy, cruelty, revenge. The inspired penman
gives him no names, either good or bad, but simply tells his story as far as it is connected with that of Him by whom “ Kings reign and Princes decree judgement.” The reign of Herod to us serves merely as a prologue to introduce the more important name and history of an ancient, obscure priest called Zacharias, and our attention is instantly called away from the splendour, noise and intrigue of a busy, vainglorious, debauched court, to contemplate the humble concerns of a private family, and the noiseless performance of a religious service.
How different are the ideas affixed to the terms great and little by sober reason and popular opinion, by the wisdom of God and the folly of man! Weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, Herod fawning on Augustus, or on one of his favourites, dissolved in luxury, stained with blood, inflamed with resentment, is little and contemptible; while the aged priest, reconciled to the will of God, who had written him childless, pursuing the calm tenor of his way, fulfilling the unostentatious duties of his place and station, “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless," commands affection, esteem and respect. This venerable pair, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were both of the tribe of Levi, on which the office of priesthood was entailed. Both nature and religion taught them to consider the gift of children as a blessing; but the hope of that blessing they seem now calmly to have resigned, and they are quietly sinking into the decline of life, if not with the consolation of leaving their name and office to their children, possessing nevertheless that of mutual affection, of a devout spirit and a conscience void of offence. The midnight of nature is the dawning of the day of grace; and he who in wisdom and justice brings to nought the wisdom of the worldly prudent,“ raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill, that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of bis people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children.”
The Prince of Peace is ready to make his public entrance on the grand theatre, and it is time for his harbinger to prepare the way, and for the herald to announce his approach. And where shall we look for him ? eyes to Judea, to Jerusalem, to the temple. See, the lot is prepared, to determine whose turn it should be to burn incense before the Lord in the holy place. Providence presides over it, and Zacharias is taken. Behold him, with joy accepting the sacred task of paying a grateful tribute of praise to God, and of assisting the prayers of the people without, with the commanded perfume of the altar of incense. Behold him entering within the veil, under the mixed emotions of godly fear, and exalted delight, to worship that God who once resided there in sensible glory, but from which the glory had long departed. All is solitude and silence; the unextinguished light that burnt continually before Jehovah lends its flame to set on fire the incense, when lo, the lustre of material fire is lost in the brighter glory of the great Archangel, and the solemn silence is broken by the melodious accents of a celestial voice. Gabriel, who five hundred and forty years before, announced to the prophet Daniel the commencement of the determined weeks which should precede the Messiah's day, now announces to Zachariah their consummation. He opens the sealed book of prophecy, and to his astonishment informs him that the promised coming of Elias, with which the ancient canon closed, was near at hand; that this great prophet should appear in the person of a son of his own, whom God by a special dispensation of his providence was raising up to fulfil the Scriptures, to turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, “ to go before the Saviour in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” How is the pride of