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النشر الإلكتروني

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DISCOURSE XII.

THE EPIPHANY.

MATTHEW, II. 1, 2.

Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea,

in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews ? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

In this remarkable part of sacred story there are two particulars, on which, at the present season, we are called upon to employ our meditations. And as they will suggest ample matter for that purpose, I shall crave your leave to enter upon a discussion of them without any farther preface.

The particulars are these :
First, the persons here mentioned by St. Matthew.
Secondly, Their journey.

First, then, let us contemplate the persons here mentioned by St. Matthew, their country and condition.

With regard to their country, the text gives us no farther information, than that they came from the

east. Of the ancient expositors, some mention Chaldea, others Persia ; but others, among whom are Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Epiphanius, with more probability, perhaps, assign Arabia Felix, a country less distant from Judea, and lying to the south east of it; the same country pointed out by the Psalmist, when, predicting the accession of the Gentiles, he saith, “ The kings of Sheba and “ Seba shall offer gifts :” the country from whence, attended by a train of camels bearing spices, came the queen

of Sheba to the court of the temporary and representative Prince or PEACE; the country particularly specified in the 60th chapter of Isaiah ; All they from Shebao shall come; they shall bring

gold and incense, and they shall show forth the

praises of the Lord :” a country remarkable, by the testimony of historians, for plenty of gold and of the most precious aromatics: a country, in the neighbourhood of which Balaam uttered and left behind him his famous prophecy, concerning the “Star 6s that should arise out of Jacob.”.

As to the condition of these eastern travellers, it is said by the evangelist, they were Mayos; a term then applied, among all the nations of the east, in its primary and good sense, to those who gave themselves up to the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge, by all the means in their power. They were the great mathematicians, philosophers, and divines of the ages in which they lived, and had no other know

a Sabea-extrema Arabia Felicis regio, Persico sinui proxima. VITRINGA in loc.

ledge but that which by their own study, and the instructions of the ancients of their sect, they had attained unto. But as their credit in the world, on these accounts, was so great, that a learned man and a Magian became equivalent terms, the vulgar, looking on their knowledge to be more than natural, entertained an opinion of them as if they had been actuated and inspired by supernatural powers, in the same manner as has too frequently happened at other times and in other places. In the number of these Magi, or learned men, of old, persons not only of noble but of royal extraction often thought proper to enlist themselves. Many, therefore, have imagined these Magi to have been such ; and the supposition, all circumstances considered, is not improbable.

But the particular of which we are certain, in which we are chiefly interested, and which at this time claims our attention, is that they were Gentiles, aliens by nature, like ourselves, from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise.

In the family of Noah, the true religion was universal or catholic. It continued to be so till the days of Abraham, when the general apostasy of the nations to idolatry made it necessary that a family should be called forth, and separated from the pollution that was in the world, to be the happy instruments of preserving faith upon earth, “ till the seed should “come to whom the promise was made." By this step in the divine dispensations, it was never intended to.“ put the candle under a bushel, but to place it

on a candlestick," and there to keep it burning, that it might give light to those that were in the house, and to those who should enter into it. Many, from time to time, did enter into it; and therefore many more might have entered in, had it so pleased them. The transactions of God with his chosen people were not carried on in a corner; and there was no period in which he left himself without witness among the nations round about them. Let us take a cursory view of the divine proceedings in this light only.

Of Abraham's call, the inhabitants of the country from which he was called, and, in consequence of that call, departed for ever, could not have been ignorant; and as many as were disposed to obey the admonition of Heaven, might, doubtless, have had permission to attend him.

The patriarchal families, in their sojournings, travelled through many of the countries inhabited in those early ages. By the governors of those countries we find them treated with reverence, and acknowledged to be prophets, nay, "mighty princes of God.” The story of their divine call and destination must have been the subject of conversation wherever they came; nor would they be backward to make it so. They would, of course, communicate to others what Heaven had communicated to them. They would exhort men, as they went, to save themselves from that untoward generation. That such conversations and such exhortations were not without fruit, we may conclude from the mention that is made of “the souls which they had gotten in Haran," or the persons they had converted, and adopted into

the holy family. The behaviour of Abimelech and his subjects is very observable, and shows there was, even among them, a sense and fear of God, wbich, it is to be apprehended, we might now look for in vain in countries calling themselves Christian.

The deliverance of Abraham's brother Lot, and the unparalleled overthrow of the cities of the plain by fire from heaven, must have been a very awakening and affecting call to all within hearing.

In process of time, we find Egypt, then the most powerful and learned of nations, opening its hospitable arms to receive the family of Jacob, having owed its preservation, in the days of dearth, to one of that family, ordained, in a wonderful manner, to save much people alive. Here the church was settled, increased and fourished for inore than three hundred years, bearing testimony to the true religion in the eye of the world.

Let any one consider with himself the astonishing series of miracles wrought by Moses on a stage so public as this--the passage through the Red Sea ; the destruction of Pharaoh and his host; the march of the Israelitish army, with the divine Shechinah, or glory, in the midst of it; the awful and tremendous appearance on mount Sinai, at the promulgation of the law; their entrance into Canaan; the passage of Jordan; the fall of Jericho; the excision of the devoted nations could all these things be done, and the rumour of them not be spread in those days among the nations, both those that were near and those that were afar off?

The fame of this distinguished and extraordinary

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