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He only tells us that Joseph saw an angel in a dream, and was told that the child which Mary (to whom he was only betrothed as yet) hoped soon to bear was miraculously conceived, would be Israel's redeemer, and must be called Jesus, that is deliverer, bringer of salvation. The scruples which Joseph had previously felt were now removed, and in obedience to the divine command he took Mary as his wife, and soon afterwards called her first-born son by the name which the angel had given him.

In taking our leave for the present of Matthew, we must not fail to notice that though these stories of the Davidic origin of Jesus and his birth of the virgin Mary at Bethlehem spring from the religious prejudices of the early Christians, yet they bear witness also to the deep impression which Jesus made upon them, and their intense and unreserved devotion to him personally. Regarded from this point of view, the stories still retain their value for us, though we cannot help feeling that after all their authors never really understood the Master.

In this first sketch explanations, arguments, and refutations have taken the place of regular narrative, but all that has now been said will be an immense help to us in future. We have been breaking a pathway, as it were, through brushwood and jungle, and when we meet with such obstructions again they will hardly delay our progress at all. Once convinced that our knowledge of the apostolic age throws light upon the narratives of the Gospels, we may henceforth make free use of the key we have discovered.

CHAPTER II.

THE BIRTH AND YOUTH OF JOHN.

Luke I. 5-25, 57-80.

THE
THE Gospel history does not begin, as we might have

expected, with its great hero, Jesus. But to prepare us, as it were, for his appearance, it associates with him another prophet, who was to proclaim his coming, as a herald announces the approach of his king. There is some reason in this, for the vew day that breaks upon the religious life of the world when the sun of truth rises above the horizon, io Jesus, was indeed heralded by its morning star. On the threshold of this new course of spiritual development we see the mighty form of one who belonged to the old period himself and stood upon the soil of Israel's religion, but who points with outstretched hand to the great salvation that is drawing near, though he himself has not as yet formed any true conception of its nature and extent. His name is John. The position in which he stands towards the Messianic kingdom reminds us of the fortunes of that other man of God, Moses, who led the children of Israel towards the promised land, brought them up to its very boundaries, but might not set his own foot upon its soil; for he breathed his last on Mount Nebo, so near to the goal he had passionately longed to reach, and the purpose to which he had devoted his life.

The preaching of the Apostles themselves and the earliest Gospel tradition appear to have opened with the work of John. We need not wonder, therefore, that when the Christians of a later time endeavored to mount up to the origin of their religion, and prefaced their account of the public life of Jesus by stories about his birth and childhood, Luke should have tried to go te the very root of the whole matter by opening his work with a similar account of the birth of John. After what has been said already, we shall see that from the very nature of the case this story must be a legend of :ater origin, but it is none the less interesting on that account. Here it is :

Under the reign of King Herod there dwelt in the mountain districts of southern Palestine, in a city of JudahHebron it has been supposed

--- a devout and virtuous couple. Both man and wife were of noble and priestly blood, but that did not make them proud and worldly Sadducees like the magnates of Jerusalem. On the contrary, Zachariah and Elizabeth, for so they were called, were simple people, who preferred to keep away from the court and from the turmoil of the capital. Not only were they strict in their observance of all the precepts of the Law and the tradition, and irreproachable in their lives, but they looked forward with eager expectation to the founding of the Messianic kingdom. The rule of the Idumæan Herod, the minion of the Romans, grew still heavier and more hateful as his age advanced, and made them, together with so many pious Israelites besides, long all the more passionately that God would now be gracious to his 1 Acts i. 22, x. 37.

2 Mark i. 1-4.

And so,

people, would fulfil the promises he had given by the prophıets, restore the throne of David, and enrich Israel with all spiritual and temporal blessings.

In their domestic life they felt a grievous want, for they were childless; and since they had both reached a great age they could hardly hope that the wish of their hearts would yet be fulfilled, and their disgrace removed.

For among the Jews it was reckoned a disgrace to be childless, and these people knew not how they had deserved it. old as they were, they could not give up praying that this curse might be removed ; and as Zachariah offered his constant prayers for the deliverance and glory of Israel, he could not help adding his supplication that, as in ancient days to Sarah and Manoah's wife and Hannah, so now to his Elizabeth, God would give a son after long and almost hopeless waiting

Now the priests were divided into four-and-twenty classes or families, called after the two sons of Aaron, Eleazer and Ithamar, and each class in turn conducted the services of the temple for a week. About twice in the year, therefore, when the time came round for the eighth class, to which lie belonged, Zachariah would journey to Jerusalem to acquit himself of his official duties. It was the custom to decide by lot which member of the class on duty should have the privilege of burning the incense on the golden altar in the Holy Place. It was a great privilege, for it brought the offerer as near to the face of the Lord as it was ever possible or allowable for even a priest to go, except, indeed, the high priest himself. Once on a time the lot fell to Zachariah. He laid the incense and the aromatic spices reverently in the scale, and entered the sanctuary. When he came to the altar of incense, he poured out the glowing coals which another priest had carried in after him, and then strewed the incense over them. The cloud of fragrance rose — a symbol of the

prayers of the saints 1 - and filled the chamber. But what is this? Great terror has laid hold of Zachariah. At the right of the altar, the place of propitious omens, by the glimmer of the lamps upon the golden candlestick, he discerns through the thick clouds of vapor a heavenly form. It was an angel of the Lord that stood before him! But he must overcome the fear that possessed him; for it was a messenger of goou, who came to promise him that God would grant his prayer. He should have a son, and was to call him.

i Re relation v. 8.

John (Johanan), that is, God is propitious. His birth would give great joy to many, to his parents first of all; he would be a great religious hero, a Nazarite all his life long, and a prophet like Elijah of old. He would prepare for the Messianic kingdom by restoring piety and virtue to honor in Israel. Zachariah could hardly believe the message. He and his wife were now so old! Then the angel made himselt known as Gabriel, one of the seven spirits of the throne, or augel-princes, and punished Zacharial for his want of faith by making him dumb. He was not to recover speech until the promise was fulfilled.

Meanwhile the people were standing in the fore-courts and muttering their prayers, as they waited for Zachariah to return from the sanctuary and give them the priestly blessing. What could have happened to him that he stayed so long? At last he came out, but, though he stretched out his arins and motioned with his hand. he could not utter a sound. Then they understood that he had seen a vision.

When his week of duty was over, he returned at once to his dwelling-place. What joy to Elizabeth that the shame of her childlessness would be removed ! But for a long time she kept the secret that she hoped to be a mother carefully to herself; and when in the course of time she actually give birth to a male infant, her fellow townspeople and relatives rejoiced with all their hearts in the blessing that God hid given her. Eight days after the child's birth, they all crime up to the ceremony of circumcision and naming. They wanted the child to be called Zachariah, after his father, but Elizabeth herself said it must be John. As no one in the family had ever had this name, they referred to the father, who was still speechless, for his decision. He took the writing tool, and scratched on a wax tablet, “ His name is John." As soon as he had thus fulfilled what Gabriel had enjoined, his powers of speech were given him again, and to the amazement of all present he poured out his heart in a lofty song of praise to God. This wondrous child was a pledge to him that God's great promise, the coming of the Messiah, would soon be fulfilled ; and in his sacred joy the happy father felt as though the deliverance of Israel from the hated yoke of the tyrant and shameful dependence upon heathen Rome were already accomplished, and the illustrious son of David were already come. All that the prophets had predicted would now come to pass; the covenant that the Lord had made with the generations of old, and his oath to

Abraham, would be confirmed, and his people would worship him unmolested, in freedom and in might. Well might Zachariah utter the rapturous prophecy, that his new-born son would prepare the great deliverance of God's mercy, and be a prophet in Israel !

Of course these strange events produced a deep impression. The tale was passed from mouth to mouth through the whole country round, and every one questioned and wondered what the boy would turn out to be. Evidently he was no ordinary child.

Nor did he grow up as ordinary children do. For while his body and soul developed freely, he spent the years of childhood and youth far from the tumult and uncleanness of the world, in the wilderness hard by his native place, till the moment came for him to appear in Israel as a prophet.

This story bears every mark of being a pure invention. It carries us right to the centre of the religious ideas and conceptions of the Jews, and with them it stands or falls. If we cannot accept these beliefs, we cannot for a moment regard the narrative as trustworthy. Only consider! An angel comes upon the scene ; but is it not remarkable that bis name is as good Hebrew as though he were a Jew? Might we not just as well suppose the inhabitants of heaven to speak Greek or English as llebrew? The angel makes himself known as Gabriel, “ who stands before God;” but this idea that there were different ranks of angels, and that the seven highest chiefs, Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and the rest, surrounded God's throne as his first ministers of state, is of course a mere figment of the imagination. It is not even an originally Jewish belief, for though the Jews themselves had long thought of God as though he were an Eastern monarch, and had imagined heaven, his abode and that of the angels, to be arranged like a royal court, yet the details of their angelology were for the most part borrowed from the Persians. Then, again, nothing could be more pardonable than the doubts entertained by Zachariah, for he did not even know with what an exalted being he was conversing. Abraham and Sarah had laughed on hearing a similar announcement from the lips of God himself, and had escaped with a simple reprimand; but later Jewish superstition would not tolerate a moment's questioning of any thing that was held to be, or claimed to be, a supernatural revelation, and this is why the priest has such a heavy punishment

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