Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

Female Scripture Biographies, Vol. II by Francis Augustus Cox

Part 1 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

´╗┐Female Scripture Biography:

Including an Essay on What Christianity Has Done for Women.

By Francis Augustus Cox, A.M.

"It is a necessary charity to the (female) sex to acquaint them with their
own value, to animate them to some higher thoughts of themselves, not to
yield their suffrage to those injurious estimates the world hath made of
them, and from a supposed incapacity of noble things, to neglect the
pursuit of them, from which God and nature have no more precluded the
feminine than the masculine part of mankind."

The Ladies' Calling, Pref.



Contents of Vol. I.


The Virgin Mary--Chapter I.

Section I.

Congratulation of the angel Gabriel--advantages of the Christian
dispensation--Eve and Mary compared--state of Mary's family at the
incarnation--she receives an angelic visit--his promise to her of a son,
and prediction of his future greatness--Mary goes to Elizabeth, their
meeting--Mary's holy enthusiasm and remarkable language--Joseph informed
of the miraculous conception by an angel--general remarks

Section II.

Nothing happens by chance--dispensations preparatory to the coming of
Christ--prophecy of Micah accomplished by means of the decree of
Augustus--Mary supernaturally strengthened to attend upon her new-born
infant--visit of the shepherds Mary's reflections--circumcision of the
child--taken to the temple--Simeon's rapture and prediction--visit and
offerings of the Arabian philosophers--general considerations

Section III.

The flight into Egypt--Herod's cruel proceedings and death--Mary goes to
Jerusalem with Joseph--on their return their Child is missing--they find
him among the doctors--he returns with them, the feast of Cana--Christ's
treatment of his mother when she desired to speak to him--her behaviour
at the crucifixion--she is committed to the care of John--valuable
lessons to be derived from this touching scene

Section IV.

Brief account of the extravagant regard which has been paid to the
Virgin Mary at different periods--the names by which she has been
addressed, and the festivals instituted to honour her memory--general
remarks on the nature and character of superstition, particularly that
of the Catholics

Elizabeth--Chapter II.

The angelic appearance to Zacharias--birth of John characters of
Elizabeth and Zacharias--importance of domestic union being founded on
religion, shown in them--their venerable age--the characteristic
features of their piety--the happiness of a life like theirs--the effect
it is calculated to produce on others--the perpetuation of holy
friendship through immortal ages--the miserable condition of the

Anna--Chapter III.

Introduction of Anna into the sacred story--inspired description of
her--the aged apt to be unduly attached to life--Anna probably religious
at an early period--Religion the most substantial support amidst the
infirmities of age--the most effectual guard against its vices--and the
best preparation for its end

The Woman of Samaria--Chapter IV.

Account of Christ's journey through Samaria--he arrives at Jacob's
well--enters into conversation with a woman of the country--her
misapprehensions--the discovery of his character to her as a prophet her
convictions--her admission of his claim as the true Messiah, which she
reports in the city--the great and good effect--reflections

The Woman Who Was a Sinner--Chapter V.

Jesus and John contrasted--the former goes to dine at the house of a
Pharisee--a notorious woman introduces herself, and weeps at his
feet--remarks on true repentance and faith, as exemplified in her
conduct--surmises of Simon the Pharisee--the answer of Jesus the woman
assured of forgiveness--instructions deducible from the parable

The Syrophenician--Chapter VI.

Introductory observations--Christ could not be concealed the
Syrophenician woman goes to him on account of her daughter--her
humility--earnestness--faith--the silence of Christ upon her application
to him--the disciples repulsed--the woman's renewed importunity--the
apparent scorn with which it is treated--her admission of the
contemptuous insinuation--her persevering ardour--her ultimate
success--the necessity of being importunate in prayer--remarks on the
woman's national character--present state of the Jews: the hope of their
final restoration,

Martha and Mary--Chapter VII.

Bethany distinguished as the residence of a pious family, which
consisted of Lazarus and his two sisters--their diversity of
character--the faults of Martha, domestic vanity and fretfulness of
temper--her counterbalancing excellencies--Mary's choice and Christ's
commendation--decease of Lazarus--his restoration to life at the voice
of Jesus--remarks on death being inflicted upon the people of God as
well as others--the triumph which Christianity affords over this
terrible evil--account of Mary's annointing the feet of Jesus, and his
vindication of her conduct,

The Poor Widow--Chapter VIII.

Account of Christ's sitting over against the treasury--he particularly
notices the conduct of an obscure individual--she casts in two mites--it
is to be viewed as a religious offering--the ground on which it is
eulogized by Christ--the example honorable to the female sex--people
charitable from different motives--two reasons which might have been
pleaded as an apology for withholding this donation she was poor and a
widow--her pious liberality notwithstanding--all have something to
give--the most trifling sum of importance--the habit of bestowing in
pious charity beneficial motives to gratitude deduced from the
wretchedness of others, the promises of God, and the cross of Jesus,

Sapphira--Chapter IX.

Mixed constitution of the church of Christ--benevolent spirit of the
primitive believers at Jerusalem--anxiety of Ananias and Sapphira to
appear as zealous and liberal as others--Ananias repairs to the apostles
to deposit the price of his possessions--is detected in deception and
dies--similar deceit and death of Sapphira--nature and progress of
apostasy--peculiar guilt of Sapphira--agency of Satan distinctly
marked--diabolical influence ascertained--consolatory sentiments
suggested to Christians,

Dorcas--Chapter X.

Joppa illustrious on many accounts, particularly as the residence of
Dorcas--she was a disciple of Christ--faith described as the principle
of discipleship--the inspired testimony to the character of Dorcas--she
was probably a widow or an aged maiden--remarks on reproaches commonly
cast upon the latter class of women--Dorcas exhibited as a pattern of
liberality, being prompt in the relief she afforded--her charities
abundant--and personally bestowed: observations on the propriety of
visiting the poor--the charities of Dorcas often free and
unsolicited--wise and conducted upon a plan--the pretences of the
uncharitable stated and confuted--riches only valuable as they are used
in bountiful distribution,

Lydia--Chapter XI.

Account of Paul and his companions meeting with Lydia by the river-side
at Philippi--the impression produced upon her heart by the preaching of
Paul--the remarks on conversion, as exemplified in the case of this
disciple--its seat the heart--its accomplishment the result of divine
agency--the manner of it noticed: the effects of a divine influence upon
the human mind, namely, attention to the word of God and the ordinances
of the Gospel, and affectionate regard to the servants of
Christ--remarks on the paucity of real Christians--the multiplying power
of Christianity--its present state in Britain--efforts of the
Bible Society

Female Scripture Biography

Vol. II

The Virgin Mary.

Chapter I.

Section I.

Congratulation of the Angel Gabriel--Advantages of the Christian
Dispensation--Eve and Mary compared--State of Mary's Family at the
Incarnation--she receives an angelic Visit--his Promise to her of a Son,
and Prediction of his future Greatness--Mary goes to Elizabeth--their
Meeting--Mary's holy Enthusiasm and remarkable Language--Joseph informed
of the miraculous Conception by an Angel--general Remarks.


Such was the congratulatory language in which the commissioned angel
addressed the virgin of Nazareth, when about to announce the intention of
Heaven, that she should become the mother of Jesus; and such the strain
which we cannot help feeling disposed to adopt, while recording her
illustrious name, and contemplating this wonderful transaction.

On Mary devolved the blessing which the most pious of women had for a
long succession of ages so eagerly desired, and which had often created
such an impatience for the birth of children, in some of whom they
indulged the sublime hope of seeing the promised Messiah. In her offspring
was accomplished the long series of prophecy which commenced even at the
moment when the justice of God pronounced a sentence of condemnation upon
rebellious man; and which, like a bright track extending through the moral
night, and shining amidst the typical shadows of the Mosaic dispensation,
fixed the attention of patriarchs, and prophets, and saints, for four
thousand years:--and upon this otherwise obscure and insignificant female
beamed the first ray of that evangelical morning which rose upon the world
with such blissful radiance, and is increasing to the "perfect day."

Infidels may contemplate the manifestation with unholy ridicule or vain
indifference; but we will neither consent to renounce the evidence
afforded to the historic fact, nor cease to celebrate the mysterious
miracle. We will unite with the impassioned angel, at least in the
sentiment and spirit of his address; and join the high praises of the
midnight anthem, sung by descending spirits in the fields of Bethlehem:

In the course of Scripture history, we are now advanced to that period
which the apostle emphatically denominates "the last days," in which "God,
who at sundry times and in divers manners, spake in time past, unto the
fathers by the prophets," speaks to us "by his Son, whom he hath appointed
heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." Let us hear his
voice, admit his claims, and bow to his dictates. As truth arises upon us
with greater splendour, we shall find that character is formed to greater
maturity under the immediate influence of "the ministration of
righteousness" which "exceeds in glory." By the unparalleled transactions
of this age we shall see the whole energy of the human mind drawn forth,
and furnished with ample scope for exercise; all the faculties become
ennobled and purified; and the female sex especially, from the days of
Elizabeth and Mary to the close of the sacred record, becomes marked with
a holy singularity. By the starlight of the former dispensation, we have
discovered many women of superior excellence, availing themselves of all
the means they enjoyed, and presenting a pre-eminence of character
proportioned to their comparatively few advantages and imperfect
revelation; but amidst the splendours of the "Sun of Righteousness" we
shall witness, in the females who adorned this new era, a greater
elevation of mind and advancement in knowledge.

Still it must be recollected, that the day only dawned, the shadows were
not at first entirely dispersed; and although the favoured inhabitants of
Judea and its vicinity saw the age of Christ, not like Abraham, "afar
off," but in its commencing glory, their prejudices and prepossessions did
but slowly melt away. Some degree of dimness remained upon the moral
sight; and we are called to observe, not so much the accuracy of their
conceptions as the fervour of their love.

The two most extraordinary women that ever appeared in this world were
unquestionably EVE, "the mother of all living," and MARY, "the mother of
Jesus Christ." They occupied respectively the highest stations and the
most critical points of time that ever fell to the lot of mortals; and
they exhibit an instructive contrast. EVE lived at the beginning, and
MARY at the "fulness of time."--EVE saw the glories of the new made world
after creative Wisdom had pronounced it all "very good," and before sin
had tarnished its beauty and disarranged its harmonies.--MARY beheld it
rising from the ruins of the fall, at the moment of its renovation and in
the dawn of its happiest day.--EVE was placed in the most glorious and
conspicuous situation, and fell into a state of meanness and
degradation.--MARY was of obscure origin and lowly station, but was
raised, by a signal appointment of Providence, to the highest
eminence.--EVE was accessary to the ruin of man--MARY instrumental in the
birth of him who came as the Restorer and Saviour of mankind--EVE beheld
the fatal curse first take effect, in overcasting the heavens with clouds,
in withering the blossoms of paradise, envenoming the spirit of the animal
creation, disordering the human frame, and ultimately destroying it, and
introducing all the nameless diversities of wo which fill up the tragedy
of human life.--MARY witnessed the beginning of that long series of
blessings which divine love has for ages dispensed to man "through the
redemption that is in Christ Jesus," and which will eventually replenish
the cup of existence with unmingled sweetness and perfect joy.--EVE
witnessed, with a trembling consciousness of guilt, the awful descent of
those mighty "cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to
keep the way of the tree of life," and which were placed "at the east end
of the garden of Eden." MARY, with feelings of ecstatic rapture, beheld
the angel Gabriel standing before her, with the smiles of heaven upon his
countenance, heard his benedictions, and held "communion sweet" with the
holy messenger. Wretched, wretched Eve! Happy, happy MARY!

The Jews have been always celebrated for their care in preserving their
genealogies: in consequence of which it providentially happened, that the
evangelists were able from their own authenticated records, to verify the
ancient predictions of the birth of Jesus Christ. Two of the inspired
historians have given a statement of his ancestry; the one tracing it from
Abraham, and the other ascending to Adam; the one pursuing the line of
Joseph, his reputed father, the other the line of Mary, his real mother;
both concurring in the most decisive evidence of his being the Son of
David and of Abraham, and the true Messiah of the prophets. [1]

Although in her distant ancestry Mary may justly be considered as of an
illustrious descent, yet at the period of the incarnation, this family was
in a very reduced state: the genealogical tree of David was cut down to
its very roots, when the ancient prediction was accomplished respecting
that great Personage who is represented "as a slender twig shooting out
from the trunk of an old tree, cut down, lopped to the very root, and
decayed; which tender plant, so weak in appearance, should nevertheless
become fruitful and prosper."

"But there shall spring forth from the trunk of Jesse,
And a cion from his roots shall become fruitful.
And the spirit of JEHOVAH shall rest upon him:
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge, and the fear of JEHOVAH." [2]

But vain is the "boast of heraldry." It can avail nothing to elevate an
insignificant character to eminence, or screen a guilty one from contempt.
The evangelists have not recorded the lineage of Joseph and of Mary for
the purpose of emblazoning their names, but solely to authenticate the
prophetic declarations respecting Christ, to be connected with whom is
real honour and solid glory. Of past generations, how many names, great in
human estimation, have descended into oblivion, while those only will
obtain an imperishable memorial, who are "written in the Lamb's book
of life."

It must ever be deemed a noble distinction to have stood related to Christ
"according to the flesh;" more so than to have been the sons and daughters
of the mighty princes of mankind: but to have been his MOTHER was the sole
honour of one happy female; still, however, less happy on this account,
than because of the genuine humility with which she adorned her lowly
sphere, and the lively faith with which she recognized the character
of her Son.

In reference to the genealogical tables of Matthew and Luke, it has been
admirably remarked, "We observe among these ancestors of Christ, some that
were _heathens_; and others that, on different accounts, were of _infamous
character_: and perhaps it might be the design of Providence that we
should learn from it, or at least should on reading it take occasion to
reflect, that persons of all nations, and even the _chief of sinners_
amongst them, are encouraged to trust in him as their Saviour. To him,
therefore, let us look even from the ends of the earth; yea, from the
depths of guilt and distress; and the consequence will be happy beyond all
expression or conception." [3]

In the apostolic epistle to the Hebrews, it is intimated as a fact, of
pleasing notoriety, in the history of the church of God, that angels are
"ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs
of salvation." When appointed by the great Supreme to this service, they
usually adopted a human form and appearance, probably for the purpose of
securing that degree of familiarity which the nature of their
communications required, and which a more splendid manifestation would
have precluded; in the scriptural accounts, however, of these remarkable
visits to eminent saints in early ages, whether they appeared in numbers,
as to Abraham, or individually, as on other occasions, no distinct mention
is made of their names or order. But to impress a character of majesty and
dignity upon the message, and upon all the circumstances of the divine
communication to Mary, when an angel is commissioned to announce that she
was selected by the wonderful providence of God as the mother of the
Messiah, the name of the celestial messenger is recorded by the evangelist
in a marked and solemn manner. It was the angel GABRIEL [4] one, as we may
infer, of the highest order of those intelligences that "circle the throne
rejoicing;" and the same glorious spirit who so many ages before had been
sent to Daniel, to specify, in a prophetic enigma, the time of "MESSIAH
THE PRINCE," which he now came to announce as having actually arrived.

Never did even an angel before convey so important a message, or descend
to this earth with such rapturous sensations. It must ever, indeed, be
considered the felicity of an angel, as well as of a man, to do the will
of God, whether this obedience involve personal difficulty, or be
accompanied with circumstances of peculiar delight. It must have afforded
satisfaction to the mighty spirit who was despatched from heaven to eject
the first parents of our race from the bowers of Eden, and to stretch his
flaming sword across the path of access to the tree of life, as well as to
that favoured angel who now hastened to the cottage of the virgin of
Nazareth; because each was accomplishing a purpose in which he knew that
the divine perfections were pre-eminently displayed; but as, in executing
the will of God, the holiest of men must necessarily experience a
different kind and degree of satisfaction, according to the nature of the
service itself to which they are called; and as we have scriptural
evidence that the inhabitants of the invisible world have peculiar
sensations when sinners of the fallen race are converted to God; it is not
surely an inadmissible sentiment, that, as never spirit was honoured
before with such a message, Gabriel must have felt unusual joy upon
announcing the incarnation of the Son of God. His very language expresses
it. His address is full of pathos and congratulation. It breathes angelic
rapture. With it we commenced this subject, and in some measure
participating the bliss, we cite it again: "Hail, thou that art highly
favoured, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!"

There is nothing in the narrative to induce us to think that the angel
assumed any extraordinary splendour of appearance on this occasion; and
judging from the usual mode in which blessed spirits visited the sons of
men in former times, as well as from a consideration of the tender age and
lowly station of Mary, it is probable that he entered the room where she
was, as an ordinary stranger. It is besides stated, that she was troubled
at his _saying_, not at his _appearance_.

This salutation excited in the virgin's breast a sensation of astonishment
mingled with apprehension. Among the Jews it was not lawful for a man to
use any salutation to a woman, not even by a messenger, or her own
husband; in addition to which, the panegyrical and congratulatory terms in
which she was addressed, might well lead her to "cast in her mind what
manner of salutation this should be."

The benevolent messenger at once relieved her from the embarrassment into
which he perceived she had been thrown, by familiarly calling her by name,
renewing the solemn assurances of divine favour, and predicting the future
glory of that illustrious Son whom she should bear, and whose description,
being, like all the Jews, well instructed in the prophetic Scriptures, she
would immediately recognize. These were his remarkable words: "Fear not,
Mary; for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shall
conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call his name
JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and
the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David. And he
shall reign over the house of Jacob forever: and of his kingdom there
shall be no end."

Her surprise was now raised to the highest pitch; and, incapable of
comprehending by what means such a declaration could be fulfilled in her
who was at present a virgin, she ventured to inquire of the angel, "How
shall this be?" It is worthy of observation, that she did not instantly
reject the testimony of her illustrious visiter as manifestly absurd and
impossible, but modestly requested an explanation of the mysterious
assurance. She was evidently one of those who "waited for salvation" in
Israel; and who well knew that it was the province of human reason to
submit, with implicit confidence, even to the most inexplicable statements
of revelation.

It is true, she could not conjecture by what miraculous conception the
angelic prediction would be verified; but she did not hesitate a moment to
allow the apparently incongruous facts of his being her son, and yet the
Son of the Highest, who should rise to the throne of David, and possess an
everlasting kingdom. Her reason was confounded, but her faith triumphed;
and though she knew not the _manner_, this was no sufficient evidence with
her against the probability of the declared fact. Upon how many inferior
occasions, and under far less mysterious circumstances have we been
incredulous, deeming even the plainest declarations improbable, because
they were unaccountable; and presuming to introduce some arbitrary
alteration into the record of heaven, or some far-fetched comment, rather
than humbly bow to supreme authority.

If, however, it were admitted that the question of Mary betrays at least a
momentary incredulity, this was soon dispersed by the angel's reply: "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, behold, 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."
In the exercise of lively faith and joy she answered, "Behold the handmaid
of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed
from her."

Let us endeavour to imitate the spirit of Mary. She acknowledged the
power of God to accomplish the greatest, and, to her, the most
inconceivable designs; and with unaffected simplicity, blended with humble
and holy satisfaction, she received the divine word. Thus let us resign
ourselves to the will of God, and confide in his most wonderful
declarations. It is for mortals to believe, and not to cavil; when Jehovah
speaks, to hear and to obey. Let us beware of stumbling at the promises
through unbelief; and cherish increasing pleasure in the conviction, that
he who sent his Son into the world to be the Saviour of men, will freely
bestow upon his redeemed people all the blessings of time, and all the
riches of eternity.

It is observable, that on this occasion a young woman, though at first
overawed by the heavenly manifestation, at length displayed a faith which
shines with peculiar brightness, when brought into comparison with the
sentiments of the aged priest Zacharias, when the same angel appeared to
him a few months before, to communicate a prediction of far less apparent

When this venerable man was burning incense on the golden altar before the
Lord, and therefore in circumstances peculiarly favourable to the most
elevated exercises of faith and devotion, Gabriel appeared to him, and gave
him assurance that his frequent prayer for the redemption of Israel was
heard, and that his aged partner should become in due time, the mother of
a distinguished son, to be named John, who should be "great in the sight
of the Lord," eminently useful in converting many of the children of
Israel, and preparing their minds for the speedy approach of the Messiah;
and yet it is stated, that Zacharias "believed not his words," in
consequence of which he was smitten with dumbness till the birth of the
child. But Mary, though so inferior in age, in situation, and in spiritual
advantages, glorified God by a full acquiescence in his declarations;
thus exemplifying what the grace of God can accomplish, even in the
youngest persons, and the weakest sex. It must not indeed, be overlooked,
that _at first_ the language of Mary indicated a certain degree of
hesitation and doubt, somewhat allied to the unbelief of Zacharias,
although she _eventually_ triumphed over every feeling of fear or of
unbelief; and yet no sign of divine displeasure was given. May we not,
therefore, take occasion to admire the discriminating goodness of God,
who, while he does not "willingly afflict or grieve the children of men,"
proportions his chastisements to the demerit of the individual, and the
circumstances of the case? The omniscience of the Searcher of hearts is
perfectly acquainted with the secret workings of the mind, and measures
with perfect discernment the exact delinquency of every thought and deed,
when we can judge only by the appearance or the words of the individual.

It is peculiarly gratifying to witness the beginnings of faith in the
young, and especially in young females. It becomes their age and sex. It
constitutes their best accomplishment, and their most shining ornament.
Beauty is a fading flower, wealth a perishable treasure, and admiration "a
puff of air;" but religion in the heart is an unfading inheritance. While
so many vain and inconsiderate young women value themselves upon exterior
charms and unmeaning flatteries, upon the symmetry of a face, the elegance
of a form, and the decoration of a ribbon, may every female reader of
these pages aspire after the nobler distinction of Mary, and by her
undissembled piety afford pleasure to her parents, to her friends, to the
church of God, and to those witnessing spirits, "in whose presence there
is joy at the repentance of a sinner!"

Immediately after the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, perhaps on the
same day [5], she hastened to her cousin Elizabeth, the wife of Zacharias,
who resided in that part of Judea called the hill-country, which extended
from Bethoron to Emmaus. The purpose of this visit was to congratulate her
pious relative on the singular mercy which she was informed by the angel
she had experienced, in the promise of a son at her advanced period of
life, and to communicate an account of the heavenly intercourse with which
she had herself been favoured.

"Now theirs was converse such as it behoves
Man to maintain, and such as God approves"--

worthy of the excellent characters who met, and calculated to confirm each
other's hopes, and awaken mutual gratitude:

"Christ and his character their only scope,
Their object, and their subject, and their hope."

If, when pious persons associate together, they have not to relate the
visits of angels, or the miraculous interferences of Providence, it is
surely in their power to diversify, enliven, and improve their social
interviews, by some allusions to experimental religion, and some
interchange of pious sentiment. The Christian world suffers incalculable
loss by neglecting suitable opportunities for such communications, which
might be eminently conducive to the great purposes of mutual comfort and
instruction; for

"------What are ages and the lapse of time,
Match'd against truths, as lasting as sublime?
Hearts may be found, that harbour at this hour
That love to Christ, and all its quickening power;
And lips unstain'd by folly or by strife,
Whose wisdom, drawn from the deep well of life,
Tastes of its healthful origin, and flows
A Jordan for the ablation of our woes.
Oh days of heaven, and nights of equal praise.
Serene and peaceful as those heavenly days,
When souls drawn upwards, in communion sweet,
Enjoy the stillness of some close retreat,
Discourse, as if releas'd and safe at home,
Of dangers past and WONDERS YET TO COME,
And spread the sacred treasures of the breast
Upon the lap of covenanted rest."


As soon as Mary had reached the residence of Elizabeth, and saluted her,
the babe, which the latter had conceived, leaped with unusual and
supernatural emotion; and she became so filled with the Holy Spirit, as
instantly to burst out in the most impassioned language, indicative of the
glorious discovery, that Mary was the long predestined mother of Messiah.
Although it seems probable that her husband, upon his return home, had
informed Elizabeth (perhaps by means of writing, for he was still
suffering that temporary dumbness which his unbelief had occasioned) of
the vision he had seen at Jerusalem, and of the promise of the angel that
he should have a son remarkably distinguished, especially as the precursor
of the Saviour; yet till this moment she had no suspicion that her beloved
relative was to be that illustrious mother, who should inherit the
blessing of all future ages. Now a ray from heaven breaks upon the
mysterious subject, and "the glory of the Lord" is risen upon this
venerable matron. She pours forth unusual benedictions upon Mary, and
congratulates herself upon the felicity of her own circumstances.

The generous nature of this joy is truly admirable, and worthy of
imitation. Exempt from that envious spirit which is so predominant in the
world, and so utterly subversive of the real interests and happiness of
those who cherish it, Elizabeth congratulated her young relative upon the
superior favour which Heaven had conferred upon her; and murmured not at
the will of Providence, in assigning her so unexpected a pre-eminence. Her
words were as follows: "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the
fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord
should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded
in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that
believed; for there shall be a performance of those things which were told
her from the Lord."

The same spirit which dictated the language of Elizabeth, animated the
bosom of Mary with inspirations of a still higher order. Unable to
restrain the vehement enthusiasm of her mind, she thus began:--


The mother of Jesus here adopts the prophetic style, speaking of the
future character of her illustrious Son as though he were already born,
and had attained to that eminency to which he was predestined. She extols
him as "God her Saviour," more enraptured with the hope of salvation
through his name, than with the honour of her maternal connexion with him.
We need feel no surprise at her assigning this title to her anticipated
offspring, when we recollect that she was at the moment divinely inspired,
and that she had been previously informed by the angel Gabriel of his
being "the Son of the Highest." This was no doubt understood by the Virgin
Mary as expressive of his divine personality. He did not, indeed,
_become_ the Son of God by his miraculous conception; but it was the
reason of his being called so. Thus he is _called_ the Son of God as
raised from the dead, no more to return to corruption, but he was not
_constituted_ such by these events. It was a _declaration_ of what he was
antecedently to his conception by the overshadowing influence of the
Holy Spirit.

In Mary's exclamation, "magnifying the Lord," and "rejoicing in God her
Saviour," are used as convertible terms, denoting the same sentiment and
source of joy. And how rational and noble was this feeling! Where should
an immortal creature seek happiness, but in God the Saviour? What are all
the fleeting possessions and enjoyments of time, in comparison with the
"pleasures" which are at his "right hand for evermore?" How awfully
infatuated are those who aim to attain real felicity independently of the
sovereign good!--Mary continues,


This is the language both of piety and inspiration. It implies that sense
of the divine condescension which characterizes humility, intimating the
unmerited nature of the mercy she had experienced, as well as her
unexpected elevation from the lowest condition. She states, that it is her
_happiness_, and not her _excellences_, for which she anticipated the
congratulations of succeeding times. She was conscious that the honour and
the glory belonged to God, and that the felicity of her circumstances, not
the merit of her character, deserved admiration. It was neither the glory
of her descent, nor the multitude or splendour of her virtues, that
attracted the regards of Heaven, and influenced the movements of
Providence in passing by the palaces of greatness to the cottage of Mary:
but "so it seemed good in his sight:" and while, with impious vanity of
spirit, many are flattering themselves that their imaginary virtue will
recommend them to the notice, and secure the favour of Omniscience, it
will be found, to their ultimate confusion, that "this" only "is life
eternal, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou
hast sent."


There is a singular propriety, in thus introducing the sanctity of the
divine nature and character. In the production of that body which was
"prepared" for the Son of God, nothing of the infection of sin, which
attaches to the corrupt nature of man, was suffered to stain "the holy
child Jesus." He was, indeed, "in all things made like unto his brethren,
yet without _sin_." Although his miraculous conception did not exempt him
from human infirmities, it prevented the possibility of his being
contaminated by human guilt.

The _name_ of God is frequently mentioned in Scripture; and, in general,
we are to understand by it the revelation of his character, by whatever
methods, to his intelligent creation; and to _hallow_ or pronounce it
holy, is devoutly to adore every such discovery. His name is written on
the works of nature, but shines with pre-eminent lustre in the wonders of
redemption; and the spirit of ardent devotion traces all these
manifestations in order to pay a suitable homage to them. To pronounce the
name of God _holy_, is then virtually to attribute to the Supreme Being a
grandeur and a majesty perfectly unique, and which distinguishes him from
all other beings in the universe.


The spirit of Mary takes an elevated station, looking back upon past ages,
and anticipating the glory of future times. The incarnation of Christ is
represented as an act and an evidence of divine mercy, not only to her,
but to all who by the fear of God are interested in this new dispensation.
The promise of a Saviour was almost coeval with the world; and during the
long succession of ages which had since elapsed, and the infinite
diversity of events, so perplexing to the human eye and so apparently
fortuitous, the love of God was pursuing its high purpose. The frequent
intimations given to the ancient patriarchs, and to the prophets of
Israel, proved that the eternal Ruler of the universe was producing, by a
vast series of preparatory means, the last and best days of time, when the
"Sun of Righteousness" should rise upon the world "with healing beneath
his wings." An omnipotent arm was incessantly accomplishing the
determinations of an omniscient mind. No power could impede the march of
his mercy to the predestined point; no casualties defeat his great design;
and no lapse of years, or revolution of centuries, diminish the ardour of
infinite love, to secure the felicity of his people. The Lord was never
"slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness;" for it must
never he forgotten, in estimating the movements of eternal Providence,
that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years
as one day."

But this language is not merely, nor, perhaps, chiefly retrospective.
Those who fear God in all ages, participate the mercies dispensed to man
through an incarnate Redeemer. Under the Christian dispensation in
particular, they are fully communicated, and will enrich the people of
God to the end of time. The thousands and myriads of the human race, that
apply to "the fountain opened for sin and uncleanness," cannot diminish
its efficacy or exhaust its fulness; but the last preacher that exists
upon the earth previous to that final hour, when "the trumpet shall sound
and the dead shall be raised incorruptible," will be able to proclaim the
blood of Jesus Christ the Son of God, as cleansing "from all sin," with
equal confidence to that which inspired the first herald of these "glad
tidings to perishing sinners."


The omnipotence of God has been manifested in many remarkable instances
during past ages, but in no case so illustriously as in the birth of
Christ. All the other mighty operations of Jehovah are surpassed in this
unparelleled event. The haughty Jews, who fondly but foolishly cherished
the expectation, that the Messiah would be born of some one of the most
opulent families in Judea, and conduct them to conquest and dominion, will
be inexpressibly disappointed to find him the child of an obscure virgin,
betrothed to a carpenter, and an inhabitant of the contemptible town of
Nazareth in Galilee. So wonderfully "are the ways of God above our ways,
and his thoughts above our thoughts!"


The providence of God has been often displayed in the depression of the
most distinguished from their temporal elevations, and in the advancement
of the most despised to dignity and renown. The necessitous have been
liberally supplied: while those who have been possessed of the most ample
and enviable abundance, have sometimes, by unexpected reverses, become
destitute. This sovereign disposal of human affairs has been apparent,
both in temporal and spiritual concerns. The Virgin Mary was herself, as
she intimates a remarkable exemplification of such an interposal; while
those who in Israel were "hungering and thirsting after righteousness,"
beheld in her infant son, that child whose name was to be called
"Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, and the
Prince of Peace," and whose manifestation in the flesh afforded the
sublimest satisfaction to their waiting spirits.


All the true Israel of God are now admitted into his paternal protection,
whether Jews or Gentiles; for the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and
Jacob, and to David, of whose family was Mary, could never be forgotten by
him who "rejoiced in the habitable parts of his earth, and his delights
were with the sons of men." Never can the pious mind recur, without
emotions of the liveliest gratitude, to such predictions as the following,
which now seem to approach their glorious accomplishments; "I will make of
thee (Abraham) a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name
great; and thou shalt be a blessing. And I will bless them that bless
thee, and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all families of
the earth be blessed.... And I will establish my covenant, between me and
thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting
covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee."

Mary prolonged her visit to her aged friend and relative, three months; a
period of their lives to which, no doubt, each would ever after recur with
peculiar satisfaction. The family of Zacharias was not dulled by the
formalities of ceremony, or disturbed by the riot of folly, but
delightfully animated by the cheerfulness of religion. Their time, we may
readily admit, was wisely employed; and their daily converse such as
befitted those favourites of Providence, who knew the truth of God, and
had enjoyed the honour of angelic visitations.

The improvement of time ought to be our great and immediate concern. To
this important duty we are urged by a consideration of the rapidity of its
flight--the impossibility of its return--the bright examples of its proper
use, which the records of inspiration furnish--the fatal consequences of
squandering it away in useless, frivolous and criminal pursuits--the voice
of reason--of conscience--of Providence--of Scripture--of disappointed
infidelity and of triumphant faith--and the vast interests of eternity,
with which the use of it is essentially connected. "Lord, so teach us to
number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."

During all this time, Mary was only the betrothed wife of an obscure but
conscientious person, named Joseph. This was a circumstance which
occasioned _him_ extreme perplexity, but tended to exhibit the strength of
_her_ faith. Joseph was fearful of her reputation, and meditated some plan
of concealing what he supposed would be deemed the disgrace of his beloved
partner; for the Jews, whose laws of marriage were very precise,
considered infidelity to a betrothed husband in the light of adultery, and
as therefore subjecting the person to its usual punishment. [6]

It does not appear that Mary explained to him the manner or occasion of
her mysterious conception; but judging, perhaps, that it would seem
incredible, she leaves the whole affair in the hands of Divine Providence.
"Thus," as archbishop Leighton excellently remarks, "silent innocency
rests satisfied in itself, when it may be inconvenient or fruitless to
plead for itself, and loses nothing by doing so, for it is always in due
season vindicated and cleared by a better hand. And thus it was here; she
is silent, and God speaks for her."

This inexplicable mystery was revealed to Joseph in a dream. He was
assured by an angel, that Mary should bring forth a son, and commanded to
call his name JESUS, for he was to "save his people from their sins." His
apprehensions being immediately dispersed, he obeyed the heavenly
intimation, "to take unto him Mary his wife."

This miraculous conception has ever proved the stumbling-block of
infidelity; while, in the just convictions of Christians, it is to be
regarded as one of the most glorious and indispensable peculiarities of
our faith. Christianity is not answerable for those misrepresentations of
this doctrine which result from the weakness or the wickedness of mankind,
and which have so often exposed it to ridicule; but let the statement of
Scripture be taken simply as it is--plain, perspicuous, untangled with the
perplexities of controversy--and it will approve itself to the pious mind,
not only as a fact, but as one of prime importance and obvious utility.

In demanding an explication of the manner in which the divine and human
natures became united, or continue to subsist in indissoluble connexion in
person of the Son of God, reason claims a prerogative to which she is by
no means entitled; especially if the alternative be, either that reason
shall be satisfied, or the statements of Scripture rejected. There exist
facts relative to our own constitution as incomprehensible and
contradictory to what, independently of experience, we should be induced
to believe, as the miraculous conception and mysterious nature of Jesus
Christ. The soul and body, distinguished for properties not only peculiar
to each, but dissimilar, heterogeneous, and seemingly inconsistent, yet
constitute one person. A man is at once material and immaterial, mortal
and immortal.

It was expedient that the Son of God should become man, that he might set
us an example, sympathize with our griefs, vanquish our enemies, and
abolish death: and equally so that he should be coequal with God in order
to procure salvation for the lost world by the merit of his atonement;
otherwise his obedience must have been imperfect, his sufferings
unsatisfactory, and his mediatorial character, by which he was allied to
both parties, incomplete.

This doctrine is practical, and not an abstract speculation, or an article
of faith intended merely to fill up the outline of a system, and
unconnected with any moral results. It is calculated to awaken our
gratitude and kindle our love, by showing us the infinite goodness of God,
who "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all"--"who made
him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the
righteousness of God in him." It should further engage us to cultivate
humility and patience. A view of the abasement of the Son of God should
impress upon us a sense of the insignificance of all earthly glory, and
the propriety of sustaining all the trials and deprivations of life with
unrepining fortitude. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ
Jesus; who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal
with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of
a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion
as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the
death of the cross."

This view of the incarnation of Christ is adapted also to promote charity;
for, "though he _was_ rich, yet for our sakes he _became_ poor; that we,
through his poverty, might be rich;" and it tends to elevate us above the
meanness of temporal compliances, and the degradation of worldly lusts, by
pointing out the dignity to which our nature is advanced, through having
been assumed, and still being retained in its purified state by the Son of
God. Let a holy ambition prevail, to live as those who possess such a
relationship; and who, though at present disguised in the dress of
poverty, are born to an inheritance of which no enemy can prevent your
possession--"an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled, and that fadeth
not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God
through faith unto salvation."

Section II.

Nothing happens by Chance--Dispensations preparatory to the Coming of
Christ--Prophecy of Micah accomplished by Means of the Decree of
Augustus--Mary supernaturally strengthened to attend upon her new-born
Infant--Visit of the Shepherds--Mary's Reflections--Circumcision of the
Child--taken to the Temple--Simeon's Rapture and Prediction--Visit and
Offerings of the Arabian Philosophers--general Considerations.

Chance is a word which ought to be banished from the Christian vocabulary.
It is utterly contradictory to reason, opposed to experience, and
subversive of revelation. To suppose that he who created the world has
wholly and forever abandoned it, is improbable; and to imagine that the
regular movements of nature, and the course of events--the whole train of
causes, and the incalculable variety of dependent consequences, are merely
fortuitous, seems absurd as well as impious. Uncertain and confused as
were the opinions of the pagan nations of antiquity, few of them totally
denied some kind of superintending providence; and many of their ablest
writers reasoned in defence of it in the most forcible manner. "What,"
said the emperor Marcus Antoninus, "would it concern me to live in a world
void of God and without Providence?"

In order to form clear conceptions of this, and of every other subject
connected with the peace of our minds and the immortal interests of man,
we must apply to the Scriptures for information. Hope, conjecture,
plausibility--all became pleasingly absorbed in the splendour of truth;
which, with the brightness of a sun beam, writes upon the inspired page
the doctrine of an universal and particular providence. It appears,
indeed, so fundamental to the system of Christianity, and so consonant to
the wisdom and goodness of God, that if it were possible to adduce "solid
objections against its reality, one of the richest sources of consolation
to the human race would be forever lost--some of our dearest hopes would
be undermined, and despondency shed disastrous gloom over the whole scene
of life. It is the happiness of Christians to know, that nothing can
escape the eye, nothing can disarrange the schemes, or thwart the
purposes, of the eternal mind; and that the same general law which
regulates the flight of an angel, or the affairs of an empire, connects
even the fall of a sparrow with the plans of heaven. It is their privilege
to feel assured, that the events which appear contingent or accidental to
us, are equally ordained with those which seem the most orderly and
regular. The arrow may be shot at a venture, but the Supreme Ruler guides
it through the air. So sings the poet;

"Through all the various shifting scene
Of life's mistaken ill or good,
Thy hand, O God, conducts unseen
The beautiful vicissitude.

All things on earth, and all in heaven,
On thy eternal will depend;
And all for greater good were given,
And all shall in thy glory end."

These sentiments will receive additional illustration from the remarkable
facts respecting the birth of Christ, which it will be now proper to
notice. He who can imagine the correspondence observable between ancient
predictions and the occurrences which mark the singular history before us
to be mere casual or undesigned coincidences, must possess a mind
strangely perverted by prejudice or mean in its conceptions--he must in
reality believe greater miracles than he denies, and, in his zeal to be
thought rational, become enthusiastic and fanatical, in admitting the most
inconceivable absurdities. We hesitate not to say, that even upon the
principles of reason there are more difficulties in denying a providence
in all the circumstances connected with our Saviour's incarnation, than in
allowing its active agency; and that here, the doctrine which is most
consolatory is most true. Sophistry may attempt to poison or to stop the
streams of spiritual comfort, but they will nevertheless flow with
undiminished sweetness and abundance.

The whole period of the past time ought to be considered as a vast
preparatory dispensation; every circumstance in the history of the people
of Israel essentially depended on each previous occurrence, and stood
connected with each succeeding one. We perceive sometimes more distinctly
by a prophetic light, sometimes more obscurely through the hieroglyphical
characters of the Mosaic economy of types and shadows, a wonderful series
of events, that guides the devout inquirer to "God manifest in the flesh;"
and, if human penetration cannot always discover the bright concatenation,
we feel assured that it exists, and is regularly maintained by supreme
wisdom; as we infer from observing the commencement, or discovering some
parts of the course, which a mighty river pursues through provinces and
empires, that, although the whole may not be accurately ascertained, yet
each part, whether it traverses subterraneous passages or pathless
forests, is certainly and necessarily connected.

The links of this marvellous chain of providence become more distinctly
visible as we approach the last, and witness its glorious termination.
Amongst other ancient prophecies, we have this very express declaration of
Micah respecting the birth of Christ--a declaration which, after the lapse
of seven hundred years, we are now to see verified: "Thou, _Bethlehem
Ephratah_, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet _out of
thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel_, whose
goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting."

It has been related, that at the time of the miraculous conception, Joseph
and Mary lived at Nazareth in Galilee, and still continued this residence.
If the predicted child had been born in Nazareth, it is obvious that
either he could not be the Messiah, or the prophet was not correct. The
virgin mother, however, neither disbelieved the communications of Heaven,
nor took any extraordinary measures, by a removal of her dwelling-place,
to aid the accomplishment of a divine oracle. How she, an inhabitant of
_Nazareth_ was to be the mother of him whom so many ages had expected in
_Bethlehem_, was indeed mysterious; and yet like Abraham, she hoped
against hope; allied in faith, as well as by descent, to that eminent
patriarch. Nothing could be more contradictory, to her anticipations than
external appearances; but nothing could be more humble, more patient, or
more indicative of lively faith in God, than her spirit and conduct. She
believed the angel, and she left the event. What an illustrious example to
her sex! what confidence in Providence! what trust in God! what a
resignation of reason to revelation!

Mark the event. Augustus, at this time emperor of Rome, suddenly published
an edict for the registry, or enrolment of the empire; probably with a
view to ascertain the state of his dependencies, to exact an oath of
fidelity, and perhaps, to determine the amount of money which might be
reasonably expected from each province in case of any future taxation. The
whole empire being included in this decree, all the families were required
immediately to repair to their respective cities, for the purpose of
having their names distinctly recorded; and, as Joseph was lineally
descended from David, he, with his espoused wife, went into Judea to
Bethlehem, because it was the birth place and residence of their
illustrious ancestor.

At this remarkable crisis Mary was detained by the full accomplishment of
the time for her delivery; "and she brought forth her first born Son, and
wrapped him in swaddling-clothes, and laid him in a manger, because there
was no room for them in the inn." Here then were fulfilled the prophetic
descriptions of the place and circumstances of the Redeemer's incarnation.
A virgin produces a son--a son who, by the exclusion of his parents from
the accommodation of the inn, already began to realize the inspired
declaration, "he is despised and rejected of men"--a son identified as the
promised Messiah by every thing connected with his birth. Augustus issues
a decree which brings Mary to Bethlehem at the precise moment when this
removal was requisite; and yet Augustus, ignorant of the designs of Heaven
or the condition of Mary, considers only his personal glory and the
security of the imperial dominions. He has one purpose, and Providence
another; but they both concur to the predestined end. Augustus knew not
that his edict was to prove the appointed means of accomplishing the most
important event that had ever transpired since the commencement of time,
and was, in fact, the wonderful hinge upon which the numerous and
concurring prophecies of past centuries were destined to turn. He knew not
that his imperial edict for an universal enrolment, was the last of a
series of preparatory means by which the great purposes of infinite mercy
were to be developed and displayed. Why was not the same policy pursued by
the emperor, when it was determined upon seven-and-twenty years before at
Taracon in Spain? and why, if he were diverted at that period from the
immediate execution of this project by some disturbances in the empire,
was it forgotten or neglected for so many years, and revived at so
critical a moment? Let infidelity stand abashed, and listen to the voice
of revelation: "He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will."

How often has the supreme Disposer made use of those agents to accomplish
his purposes, who were themselves the last to acknowledge his
superintendence, or perhaps the first to oppose his will! How consolatory
to the Christian to reflect, that the passions of the human mind, the
madness of ambition, the rage of envy, the misrule of tyrannic power, the
animosity of persecution, the decrees of princes, the events of war and of
peace, the elements of nature, and the powers of the invisible worlds, are
under the perfect control of God! A Pharaoh shall cause his "name to be
declared throughout all the earth," by giving occasion to the most
transcendent miracles, and the most direct and indisputable interference
of Omnipotence--a Cyrus shall pursue a wonderful career of conquest;
victory after victory shall enhance his fame; nations shall be subdued,
and gates of brass broken before him, for the sake of Israel the elect of
God, and Jacob his servant--an Augustus shall unconsciously fulfil a
divine decree by means of an edict of his own--the Roman empire shall be
enrolled, that Jesus may he born in Bethlehem.

It appears that Mary was supernaturally strengthened to perform the
necessary duties to her infant charge, in the cold and comfortless
situation in which she was thrown. No one seemed at hand to commiserate
her sufferings, to supply her wants, or to assist her weakness. Her own
life was endangered; but maternal tenderness struggled for the life of her
firstborn, and a divine faith in God and his promises sustained her amidst
the privations of her desolate abode. Let not his people permit
despondency to becloud their days or extinguish their hopes; but, relying
on his assurance, "As thy day is, so thy strength shall be"--an assurance
so remarkably verified in the mother of Jesus, and so often corroborated
by the experience of Christians--let them imitate the patience and faith
of this illustrious woman, who was at once the ornament of religion and
the glory of her sex.

Every thing is marvellous in this sacred story. No sooner was this child
introduced into the world, than his virgin mother received an unexpected
visit in her lonely dwelling. A company of shepherds came, with
unceremonious eagerness, to her asylum. Mary and Joseph were together in
the stable, conversing doubtless, upon this astonishing birth; and
probably might have been alarmed at the intrusion of strangers. Were they
come to remove them from this poor lodging, as they had been already
excluded from the inn, and occupy their places?--were other barbarians
come to pour the last drop into the cup of maternal wo, by expelling Mary,
her husband, and her offspring, from their wretched, but still acceptable
shelter? If this were the case--if, when the strangers obtruded, these had
been the just apprehensions of the afflicted family, they knew where to
find consolation; and she who held the babe in her arms, and pressed it
to her bosom, was no doubt prepared to adopt a similar strain with that by
which Simeon afterward proclaimed his ecstasy--"Lord, now lettest thou
thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation." But
fear not, Mary! It is no ruffian band that approaches thee! These are no
idle strangers, impelled by a vague curiosity; but they are the
commissioned messengers of Providence and the ambassadors of peace! They
have heard "glad tidings," and they are come to verify the visions they
have seen, and to renew the joys they have felt!

In the neighbouring fields these shepherds were watching their flocks by
night; when suddenly an angelic messenger made his appearance in a blaze
of celestial light. They were of course astonished and alarmed; but, from
the first, perceived it was no illusion of the senses, since all
distinctly saw, and were equally affected by the splendid reality. The
benevolent spirit bade them dismiss every apprehension, and proceeded to
open his glorious commission. It consisted of an assurance, that in the
city of David the long-predicted Messiah was actually born, and on that
very day; [7] and that this was the sign by which they should discover the
truth of this revelation, that if they went immediately to Bethlehem they
should find the Babe wrapped in swaddling-clothes, lying in a manger. This
angel, probably Gabriel, who had already appeared to Zacharias and Mary,
was in a moment joined by a multitude of the heavenly host, whose
enraptured bosoms could no longer repress the intensity of joy, and who
were permitted to strike their golden harps and unite their angelic voices
in those ever memorable strains, "GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON

The shepherds instantly hastened to Bethlehem. They beheld the heaven-born
Babe. They explained to Joseph and the virgin what they had seen and
heard; and then circulated the wonderful news in every direction.
Astonishment filled the whole vicinity; but it is probable a great
diversity of opinion prevailed respecting the degree of credit due to the
testimony of these witnesses; and the impression would soon vanish from
those whose prejudices, whose ignorance, or whose temporal interests,
prevented their immediate acknowledgment of the mighty fact. And must we
not deeply lament, that to this hour similar reasons operate to produce a
similar infidelity or rejection of the well-substantiated claims of the
Son of God upon the affections and obedience of mankind?

In the mean time, as the evangelist states, "Mary kept all these things,
and pondered them in her heart." With a modesty and a piety so truly
characteristic of this eminent woman, she left it to others to publish to
the world the extraordinary manifestations of divine favour which she had
received, content to observe in silence the movements of Providence, and
to allow the mysterious fact to be gradually developed. As she took no
measures at first to screen herself from reproach, but left the defence of
her integrity to him whose wisdom was working all these wonders; so she
did not avail herself of the present opportunity to extend her fame. From
the astonishment or the applauses of the multitude she willingly retired
into the shades; and instead of indulging vanity, gave herself to solemn
meditation. Connecting together the vision of Zacharias, the language of
Elizabeth, the visitation of the celestial spirit to herself, the
miraculous conception, the unexpected occasion of her removal at this
crisis to Bethlehem, the recent account of the shepherds, the language of
ancient prophecy respecting the lowly birthplace of the Saviour of
mankind, and the peculiar accordance of its minute descriptions with her
present circumstances; she perceived the amazing conclusion to be drawn,
and humbly adored the God of her salvation.

We must pronounce Mary, then, a thoughtful observer and a humble inquirer,
free from the levity of her age, and superior in mental character to the
poverty of her condition. She had, indeed, superior advantages, and was in
a sense placed under divine discipline and instruction: but she possessed
a docility of spirit which rendered these singular means so conducive to
her rapid improvement in knowledge and piety. Happy for us if we make a
proper use of whatever religious privileges we enjoy, so that the
spiritual opportunities and blessings which enhance our responsibility, do
not, by our negligence, aggravate our condemnation!

It is probable that we forfeit much enjoyment, and lose much attainable
wisdom, by suffering the events of providence to pass unnoticed. The habit
of investigating their connections, and tracing their consequences, would
no doubt both improve the faculty of observation, and spare us many
perplexities. Diligence in this sacred study would be repaid by pleasure
and profit. We should "know," if we "followed on to know the Lord." The
deep shadows which overcast the scenes of life, and are so impervious to
the human sight, would be easily penetrated by the eye of faith; a new and
glorious scene would present itself; objects and arrangements, before
unseen, would gradually become visible; what was previously obscure in
form and shape, would appear in just proportions; and many of the sources
of our present anxiety might become the means of our richest
satisfaction. Let us imitate the noble examples upon record; remembering
that no place or time is unsuitable to a devout temper, or impossible to
be improved to pious purposes. Isaac meditated in the _fields_, and Mary
in the _stable_; and a devout spirit will transform either into a temple
of praise and prayer.

On the eighth day after his birth, this immaculate Child was circumcised,
both because he was a Jew, and the predicted Messiah. All the descendants
of Abraham were required to submit to this institution; and, therefore,
the parents of JESUS, for so he was named on this occasion, according to
the previous intimation of the angel, could not omit this service without
forfeiting their privileges; and as he was afterward to become the great
preacher of righteousness to his own nation, it was necessary that he
should not be exposed to the punishment of excommunication as a stranger.
Thus, according to the apostle's allusion, he was "made under the law,"
and evidently partook of flesh and blood.

At the expiration of forty days, the parents of Jesus went up to
Jerusalem, to present their Infant before the Lord in the temple,
conformably to the Mosaic law, to offer the sacrifices required upon such
an occasion, and to pay the stipulated sum of five shekels for the eldest
son. [8] Led by a divine impulse, a certain venerable saint, named Simeon,
came into the temple at this moment; and taking the wondrous Child into
his aged arms, exclaimed, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in
peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which
thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the
Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel!" Some have, with useless
curiosity, inquired into the birth, parentage, and station of this
enraptured believer; and with that mistaken prejudice so common to the
world, by which greatness of character is perpetually associated with
eminence of rank, and nobility of birth, they have endeavoured to prove
him to have been a priest, or the son of Hillel, who was chief of the sect
of the Pharisees, and president of the sanhedrim forty years; and he has
even been represented as the father of that Gamaliel who brought up the
apostle Paul. Whereas the narrative of Luke introduces him as a person of
no considerable notoriety, but as one who possessed an infinitely greater
claim to distinction in the inspired page, a man of exemplary conduct and
piety, who was waiting for him who was so long expected as 'the
consolation of Israel.' He was not the favourite of princes, but the
servant of God; and this was his best distinction, that "the Holy Ghost
was upon him; and it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he
should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ." Growing
infirmities might have awakened, in an ordinary mind, some suspicion of
the reality of that assurance which he had received. Delay seemed to mock
his patience, time dimmed his eyes, and suspense might well have sickened
his heart--but at last the hour arrives, the ancient oracles are
fulfilled--celestial revelations, after the lapse of four hundred years
from the days of Malachi, relume a benighted world--Zacharias, Mary,
Simeon, received the prophetic spirit; and death becomes disarmed of his
terrors, amidst the bright gleamings of approaching day.

Turning to the astonished parents, and addressing himself particularly to
his virgin mother, he said, "Behold, this child is set for the fall and
rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign, which shall be spoken
against, (yea, and a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that
the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed." Anna, an aged prophetess, at
the same instant joined this happy group, and "gave thanks, likewise, unto
the Lord:" the glad tidings were circulated, and the parents returned
into Galilee.

The _accomplishment_ of that event, which in former ages was only the
subject of _prediction_, constitutes part of the happiness of gospel
times. True, indeed, as those predictions proceeded from God, there
existed from the beginning a certainty of their being fulfilled. It was as
impossible that God should lie, as that he should cease to exist; and
having declared the decree, that his Son should "sit upon his holy hill of
Zion," no human violence, no providential vicissitudes, no Satanic
devices, could prevent it. No one of them, nor all of them combined, could
effectually obstruct the march of omnipotent goodness to the completion of
its purposes. But the saints of old suffered a material disadvantage from
"his day" being as yet "afar off;" a disadvantage which could not possibly
be remedied. It is evident that, except in cases of immediate inspiration,
a suspicion might exist in the pious mind, that the prophecy might be
partially, if not entirely misunderstood, as the most penetrating mind
cannot, at this day, with the longest line of research, fathom the deeps
of futurity. Time alone can, with perfect certainty, interpret the visions
of prophecy.

It is also plain that no description, however minute and glowing, could
perfectly represent the life and love of the Redeemer, as displayed in his
own person. The imperfection of language rendered it impossible to portray
the glorious reality. What inspired or seraphic pen, though dipped in
heaven, could display all that was seen when they "beheld his glory?" Had
Omnipotence remanded back the flood of ages, and recalled from the
invisible state the illustrious saints that had been carried down the
stream, from the time of Adam, in order to have witnessed the incarnation,
the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus; with one voice they
would have exclaimed, "The half was not told me."

In proportion to the approach of the Messiah, hope glowed with increasing
ardour. Standing on the mount of prophecy, the pious Jews eagerly waited,
and triumphantly hailed the rising of this bright day of grace. How many
"prophets and righteous men" desired to behold this eventful period, but
"died without the sight!" With what sacred pleasure did Moses record the
first promise, though at the distance of many centuries! What rapture
thrilled through the patriarch's veins, when he spake of the coming of
_Shiloh_, "unto whom the gathering of the people should be;" and how did
his languid eyes brighten with new lustre in the dying hour, when he
exclaimed, "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord!" In what strains of
holy joy did the "sweet singer of Israel" declare, "My heart is inditing a
good matter; I speak of the things which I have made touching the King; my
tongue is the pen of a ready writer. Thou art fairer than the children of
men; grace is poured into thy lips; therefore God hath blessed thee for
ever!" How did Isaiah's heart glow with transport, while his lips were
touched with inspiration, and triumph played on his prophetic harp, "Unto
us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be
upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the
mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase
of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of
David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with
judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the
Lord of hosts will perform this!" But neither the sacred pleasure of
Moses, when he recorded the first promise, nor the rapture that thrilled
through the patriarch's veins, nor the holy joy of the sweet singer of
Israel, nor the glow of transport that animated the heart of Isaiah, and
inspired his lays, can equal the joy of the Christian church. Hope,
indeed, presented to the early ages a lively _picture_ of future times,
and prophecy described them; but "blessed are our eyes, for they see; and
our ears, for they hear ... many prophets and righteous men have desired
to see those things which we see, and have not seen them; and to hear
those things which we hear, and have not heard them."

The visit of the shepherds to Mary, already recited, was succeeded by
another, perhaps equally remarkable. A company of Magi, or Magians, [9]
probably from Arabia, having seen a remarkable light, resembling a star,
suspended over Bethlehem, hastened to pay suitable homage to the
illustrious personage whose birth it indicated. These philosophers, who
were particularly addicted to the study of astronomy, being doubtless
incited by a divine influence to repair to the country over which this new
star or meteor seemed to shed its glory, immediately went to Jerusalem,
where they began to make the most anxious inquiries. The news of their
arrival soon reached the ears of Herod, a man whose cruelties had often
exasperated his subjects, and kept him in a state of constant suspicion;
so that he naturally apprehended fatal consequences to his crown, from
this report of the birth of a king. Having first consulted the priests
and scribes respecting the birthplace of Christ, he procured a private
interview with the Magians, for the purpose of ascertaining the time of
the meteoric appearance; and, with all the policy of all experienced
statesman, requested them to go and find out the extraordinary Child, then
return to bring him word, that he might come and worship him. This was a
contrivance, by which he expected to accomplish, with greater certainty,
the destruction of Jesus.

The Arabian philosophers instantly proceeded on their journey--the star
moved before them, as the cloudy pillar once guided the marches of Israel
in the wilderness; till at length it became stationary over the place
where the Infant lay: then, having fulfilled the design of its creation,
totally and forever disappeared.

Is it for us to question the wisdom of God in any of the productions of
nature, because _we_ do not perceive their utility? Shall we venture to
arraign his goodness, because he has not only supplied the necessities of
man, but filled the caves of ocean, and spread the pathless wilderness
with a rich variety of existence, the specific purposes of which the
researches of man have hitherto failed to discover? Shall we dare to say
that the impenetrable forest, or the untenanted island, was made in vain?
or that the grass grows, in the valley, the shrub sprouts on the
inaccessible height, or the flower expands its beauties and diffuses its
fragrance over the desert uselessly, because _we_ have not discovered the
reasons of their formation? Who, excepting the philosophers of Arabia,
that had seen the new luminary shine for a few days and expire, but would
have disputed the necessity or questioned the design of such a phenomenon?
The ignorant, vulgar, and even the rest of the sages of Arabia, might
have surveyed it with idle wonder or incurious eye; very few followed the
splendour, or knew the intention of its appearance. And may not other
beings be acquainted with many of those mysteries of nature which we fail
to penetrate? or may not secret connexions and combinations, both in the
animate and inanimate creation, exist, which, however important, it is not
necessary for us to know? In reference both to nature and providence--

"One part, one _little_ part, we dimly scan,
Through the dark medium of life's feverish dream;
Yet dare arraign the whole stupendous plan,
If but that little part incongruous seem."


The figure of Balaam, in predicting the birth of a Saviour, probably
contained a prophetic allusion to the phenomenon in question; "There shall
come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel;" and
with similar reference, we read in the apocalyptic vision, "I am the
bright and morning star."

As soon as the Magians saw the young Child, with Mary his mother, they
"fell down and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures,
they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And
being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they
departed into their own country another way."

This narrative suggests many instructive considerations, some of which we
shall briefly notice.

1. Many of those who have possessed the fewest means of moral and
spiritual improvement, will appear in judgment against multitudes who
enjoy the greatest variety of religious advantages. These Arabian sages
acted up to what they knew, and followed the light which was afforded
them; in consequence of which they made discoveries of the most valuable
description, such as could have been attained by no other proceeding, and
such as were totally concealed from the unobservant mass of mankind. It
was indeed a small "star" that first attracted their notice, but it led to
the "Sun of Righteousness." O that we were equally wise and diligent in
the use of our opportunities and privileges--we should then be equally

2. A specimen is here presented to us of the discriminating proceedings of
the grace of God. Those who were "far off" were "brought nigh," while
those who were "nigh" really, were placed "far off." These Pagans were
conducted to Jesus; while the infatuated Jews, unaffected by his
appearance and subsequent miracles, opposed his influence, and gloried in
their shame. Thus was fulfilled the ancient oracle, "I am found of them
that sought me not." The star which failed to excite attention in Judea,
darted an attractive and effectual splendour into Arabia.

3. It is truly deplorable, that those signs and wonders of Almighty mercy,
which will fill eternity with praise, should be so little observed or
appreciated by the great proportion of mankind. How different were the
engagements that occupied the inhabitants of Jerusalem, from those of the
Arabian philosophers! The star of Bethlehem excited the respectful
attention only of a few strangers, who saw and followed it, and "found the
Messiah." The Saviour they sought was despised and rejected of men, when
emerging from the obscurity of his early life, he dwelt amongst them,
distributing blessings, and imparting salvation.

Is not this the case to the present hour? Where are the travellers to
Zion? Where are the followers of Christ? Where are those happy individuals
to be found, who, renouncing the speculations of philosophy, and the
suggestions of a depraved and perverted mind, are led by the star of
divine revelation to Jesus? Where are those who forsake ALL for him? Where
the company of inquirers, whom no frowns and no flatteries can induce to
relinquish the pursuit? Alas, how thinly scattered! The multitude,
attracted by the glare of worldly glory, can see, indeed, the glitter of
gold, and hear with approving readiness the accents of pleasure; but are
unable to discern the excellencies of Christ, and will not listen to his
voice! They are enchanted by other charms, and lulled into dangerous
repose by other music!

4. Though the star of Bethlehem, which guided the Arabian sages to the Son
of God, be extinguished, the clear light of truth still shines as in a
dark place, and points us to the same object. "Thy word is a lamp unto my
feet, and a light unto my path." Whoever follows this light, will be led
to Jesus; whoever neglects it must wander in the wilderness of error and
perplexity. It sheds the clearest radiance on the path of the traveller,
who is pressing to the "Prince of Peace." Let us not pay attention to
those deceptive lights which the world holds out to allure and destroy.
This only is from heaven, and will guide the inquirer thither, where the
illumination it has diffused over the path of life, will be lost amidst
the splendours of eternal day.

Section III.

The Flight into Egypt--Herod's cruel Proceedings--and Death--Mary goes
to Jerusalem with Joseph--on their Return their Child is missing--they
find him among the Doctors--he returns with them--the Feast of
Cana--Christ's treatment of his Mother when she desired to speak to
him--her Behaviour at the Crucifixion--she is committed to the care of
John--valuable Lessons to be derived from this touching Scene.

Christians, in their times of trial, are usually favoured with adequate
supplies from heaven; so that if they have been overtaken suddenly, or
attacked fiercely, their afflictions have neither found them unprepared,
nor left them overwhelmed. It seems to have been the design of God, in
some of his most painful dispensations, not only to purify the individual
character, but to evince in general, by means of the sufferer's patience,
humility, and other virtues, the reality of religion, and the power of
faith; and thus to furnish an example for the imitation of mankind. This
consideration may serve to explain a part of that _mysteriousness_ which
has characterized many instances of remarkable tribulation, and to prevent
those hasty decisions upon the conduct of Providence which we are too apt
to adopt. On all occasions, we may safely conclude, that whatever be the
nature of our affliction, the goodness of our Father in heaven will both
proportion it to the necessity of the case, and enable us to sustain it,
by preparatory consolations.

The story of Mary and her family illustrates this representation. The
balance of her lot, so to speak, was poised by a divine hand; and the
equilibrium was mercifully and almost constantly preserved, by a
proportionate share of joy and sorrow. The danger of reproach and
proscription by the Jewish law, was compensated by the circumstances of
the miraculous conception; the meanness and misery of her condition in the
stable at Bethlehem, were counterbalanced by the visit of the shepherds,
and the equally wonderful journey of the eastern Magi; and the whole
train of previous manifestations, tended to prepare her for the new
distresses which were destined to attend the flight into Egypt.

Herod was arranging his plans with malicious skill, and as he imagined,
with secrecy; but there was an eye that watched his movements with
unsleeping vigilance, and a wisdom invisibly operating to counteract his
purposes. The Magi were forewarned, by a heavenly vision, not to return to
this foe of the holy Jesus; and an angel appeared to Joseph, directing him
to escape with the mother and child into Egypt; and thus did Herod himself
unconsciously fulfil the ancient oracle; "Out of Egypt have I called my
Son." The cruel archer shot at the Saviour's life, but the arrow rebounded
and took his own.

Behold, then, Mary and Joseph, with their infant charge, hastening, in
obedience to the divine command, to a distance from the persecutor's fury!
See them under the covert of darkness, and amidst the silence of night,
flying to their appointed place of exile; still under the guidance of that
hand which regulated all the events of their lives, with no less wisdom
and constancy than it directed the movements and fixed the positions of
the planetary and starry orbs, which glittered upon their adventurous
path. Observe them trembling with human fears, but sustained by spiritual
consolations! Mary presses the infant fugitive to her maternal breast,
still "keeping all these things, and pondering them in her heart;"
incapable of fully penetrating the cloud that obscures their present
destiny, but looking through the tears of anguish to her divine Protector
and Guide, believing that the light of Israel cannot be extinguished. In
some respects, they "knew not whither they went;" but each was, no doubt,
inspired by the devout sentiment of the poet:

"I hold by nothing here below,
Appoint my journey and I go;
Though pierced by scorn, oppress'd by pride,
I feel thee good--feel nought beside.

No frowns of men can hurtful prove
To souls on fire with heav'nly love;
Though men and devils both condemn,
No gloomy days arise for them.

While place we seek, or place we shun,
The soul finds happiness in none;
But with a God to guide our way,
'Tis equal joy to go or stay.

Could I be cast where thou art not,
That were indeed a dreadful lot:
But regions none remote I call,
Secure of finding God in all." _Mad. Guion_.

Herod, whose cruelty and duplicity were equally conspicuous, finding that
the young child had by some means eluded his grasp, meditated the deepest
revenge, which, like a smothered flame, the longer it is confined, the
more violently at last it blazes.

For a time he concealed his feelings, with a view of the better securing
ultimate success; but, on perceiving that his secret intentions were
frustrated, he resolved on open war. Animated with a tyrant's spirit and a
demon's rage he determined on the destruction of Jesus, though the
accomplishment of his purpose should deluge Judea with blood. He issued
his murderous decree, and despatched his executioners to Bethlehem and
"all the coasts thereof," to slay "all the children from two years old and
under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the
wise men."

What language can express the barbarity of this conduct! The most savage
of mankind have spared children, even when their parents have been guilty.
The innocence and weakness of their age have preserved them from the
sword, even of a victorious and exasperated enemy; and yet these little
innocents, whose parents were not implicated in any plot to deceive the
tyrant, whose yoke was endured with extraordinary patience, were given to
the murderous sword, and Bethlehem suddenly converted into one vast
slaughter-house. "Then," remarks the evangelist, "was fulfilled that which
was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, In Rama was there a voice heard,
lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her
children, and would not be comforted, because they are not."

"The innocents were martyrs indeed, but not in will, by reason of their
tender age. Of these, however, it pleased the Prince of martyrs to have
his train composed, when he made his entry into the world, as at this
season; a train of infants, suited to an infant Saviour; a train of
innocents, meet to follow the spotless Lamb, who came to convince the
world of sin, and to redeem it in righteousness. They were the
first-fruits offered to the Son of God after his incarnation, and their
blood the first that flowed on his account. They appeared as so many
champions in the field, clad in the King's coat of armour, to intercept
the blows directed against him.

"The Christian Poet, PRUDENTIUS, in one of his hymns, has an elegant and
beautiful address to these young sufferers for their Redeemer [10]; Hail,
ye first flowers of the evangelical spring, cut off by the sword of
persecution, ere yet you had unfolded your leaves to the morning, as the
early rose droops before the withering blast. Driven, like a flock of
lambs to the slaughter, you have the honour to compose the first sacrifice
offered at the altar of Christ; before which methinks I see your innocent
simplicity sporting with the palms and the crowns held out to you from
above." [11]

The parents of the infant Saviour remained in Egypt until the death of
Herod [12], an event which was announced to Joseph in a dream, who was
directed to return with Mary and her child into the land of Israel. When
he heard that Archelaus, a prince no less sanguinary in his disposition
than his infamous predecessor, reigned over Judah in the room of his
father, he was afraid of returning; but being again divinely admonished,
withdrew into Galilee, under the government of Herod Antipas. He took up
his residence at Nazareth, a small city where he had formerly lived; by
which the ancient oracle was fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene."

We may he allowed a momentary interruption of the narrative, by one
observation on the death of Herod. How easily God can remove out of the
way whatever opposes the designs of his wisdom! He lays his finger on the
tyrant's head, and he sinks into the dust! Thus it has been, and thus it
ever must be, with the adversaries of Christ. Every Herod must die. On the
banners of the church is inscribed, "If God be for us, who can be against
us?" Where are the Neros, and Domitians, and Caligulas, that have sought
the life of Christianity?--They are _dead_! but his cause survives. "He
must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet." The Gospel, in
pursuing its course through the world, resembles a mighty river, here and
there meeting with powerful obstructions; but not prevented by these, it
takes a circuitous course, and leaves them to be gradually overflowed or
undermined, and buried in the stream. Thus superstition, idolatry,
infidelity, Popery, Mahometanism, constitute so many obstructions to this
celestial stream; but while it makes glad the city of God, it is gradually
diffusing itself around, and sapping by degrees the foundation of these
impediments, till being broken down and forgotten, an angel shall
proclaim, "Babylon is fallen, is fallen!" Then shall "the kingdoms of this
world become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall
reign for ever and ever." Then all that "sought the young child's life,"
all that opposed the interests of Jesus, being dead and vanquished, "the
whole earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord,
as the waters cover the sea."

The law of Moses commanded all the adult males of Israel to go up to
Jerusalem three times in a year, to celebrate the feasts of the passover,
pentecost, and tabernacles. Women were under no obligation to undertake
these journeys; [13] but it was not unusual for such as were eminent for
piety, to accompany their husbands and friends upon annual occasions.
Mary, who set the highest value upon the ordinances of God, and who would
not be disparaged by a comparison with the greatest characters of Israel,
went up with Joseph year after year. In the exemption by which the law
permitted females to remain at home, the weakness of their sex was
regarded; but the strength of Mary's piety surmounted every obstacle, and,
like her illustrious ancestor, she was "glad when they said, Let us go up
to the house of the Lord." How dissimilar was her spirit to that of
multitudes, whose reluctance renders religious duties so irksome and so
formal; who call the Sabbath a weariness; and who, instead of hailing the
hour of sacred solemnities, are eager to escape from spiritual restraints
to replunge into the cares,--perhaps into the dissipations, of the world!

The original constitution of the woman was that of a help meet for man;
and it should be her pleasure to prompt to holy duties, and to associate
with her beloved partner and children in them. Never does she appear so
lovely, as when occupied in this pious service, avoiding all those
needless cares which might preclude her own attendance upon
appointed means.

The passover was intended as a commemoration of the deliverance wrought
for the people of Israel when they were brought out of Egyptian slavery,
and the destroying angel, who inflicted death upon the first born of their
oppressors, passed over untouched the blood-besprinkled doors of the
people of God: but, under the Christian dispensation, we are invited with
our households to celebrate a more glorious release from a more tremendous
bondage. The sacramental festival of the church of Christ records our
emancipation from sin, both from its consequences and its dominion,
through the atoning blood of the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the
world," sprinkled upon the consciences of all believers. Mary, while
keeping the typical feast, embraced the real Lamb, and devoutly enjoyed
the festival of faith. So let us hasten to this institution, and
participate this divine joy.

It is probable that the parents of Jesus were in the habit of taking their
son with them every year to Jerusalem, that they might, as it became
religious characters, "train him up in the nurture and admonition of the
Lord;" we are at least certain that he accompanied them at the age of
twelve, when a memorable and instructive incident occurred.

At the expiration of the seven days of unleavened bread, they began their
return homeward; but the child Jesus staid behind in Jerusalem, to make
inquiries, and to listen to the instructions of those who publicly
explained the sense of Scripture, and the traditions of the elders. His
mother and Joseph were ignorant of this delay, till the end of the first
day's journey; for as it was customary on these occasions to travel in
very large companies, and these perhaps often separated into groups at
considerable intervals, they took it for granted that he was with some of
his friends or kindred, who were no doubt often charmed with his lovely
company, and expected him to rejoin them in the evening. The day closed,
the different parties assembled--but, to the inexpressible concern of Mary
and Joseph, Jesus was not to be found! They searched and searched again,
but in vain! The anxious father, but the still more anxious mother, flew
to every friend, to every fellow traveller--no tidings were to be heard!
Ah, Simeon, thy sword is beginning to pierce this maternal breast! What a
night of sleepless anxiety passed, and with what haste did they retrace
their steps to Jerusalem! What could they imagine, but that some evil
beast had taken their Joseph! The weeping mother chides her negligence,
stops every passing stranger, fancies perhaps that some emissary of
persecution had seized him, and that Archelaus had accomplished what Herod
had begun, searches every house where they had visited or lodged--O what
must the mother feel--such a mother--and of such a child!

But--he is found! On the third day, he was seen in one of the courts of
the temple appropriated to the Jewish doctors, where they were accustomed
to lecture to their disciples. It might be, perhaps, in the room of the
great sanhedrim, where they assembled in a semi-circular form. In front of
them were three rows of the scholars, containing each three-and-twenty. It
is probable, that Christ sat in one of these rows; and, perhaps, the
questions he put, and the answers he gave, excited so much notice amongst
the doctors, that they called him into the midst of them, which was
occasionally done. Thus the Jews state, that "if one of the disciples or
scholars say, I have something to say in favour of him (one that is put on
his trial) they bring him up and _cause him to sit in the midst of them_;
and he does not go down from thence the whole day." [14]

At the moment when his parents discovered the holy child Jesus, he was
hearing and asking questions of the doctors, in which he displayed so much
understanding, that they and their disciples were astonished. This is a
lesson to youth, who should, gladly and submissively receive instruction,
and may with respectful eagerness question their superiors. Let them avoid
all offensive forwardness and conceit of their knowledge and attainments;
remembering that he who could have taught the wisest of the Jewish
doctors, sat at their feet _listening_ and _asking them questions_!

Feeling as a mother, but ignorant of the cause of this singular
proceeding, Mary ventured, as soon as opportunity permitted, to
remonstrate in these words, "Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us?
Behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing!" We are to consider
this language as rather expressive of anxiety, that of anger; yet,
perhaps, it may be admitted to contain a mixture of both. His mysterious
and unauthorized disappearance might seem to her contrary to the obedience
he owed, and was so uniformly accustomed to manifest to his parents. Why
did he tarry? Why did he not, at least, _inform them_ of his wishes to
remain, and thus spare them the wretchedness which they had suffered
during the past three days? Did he not know the tender love of his
maternal parent? Did he not know the bitter tears she would shed, and the
agonies she would suffer? Did he not feel the claim which she had upon his
early years, and the reverence due to her character and piety?

Yes: these were considerations which he never overlooked; but he was
absorbed in sublimer thoughts. Jesus was an extraordinary being, and the
whole of this transaction ought to be viewed in connexion with the
subsequent development of his designs, and the glory of his future
actions. In it we have a glimpse of his superiority as the Son of God, and
it was, doubtless, intended to attract the attention of his thoughtful
mother, and to renew those meditations in which she had formerly exercised
her mind, during the miracles of his nativity. His reply, "How is it that
ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business," or,
at my Father's? [15] would upon any other supposition, seem strange and
unintelligible; and, accordingly, his parents did not comprehend him,
being at present imperfectly versed in the mysteries of his kingdom. It
was, however, perfectly in point, and full of meaning. Mary complained of
having been so troubled to find him, and at the same time called Joseph
his father. To which he replies, that she might surely have recollected
that the temple was the most proper place to inquire for him, who, she
knew, though a child, was already consecrated to so divine a work; that he
was, in fact, where he ought to be, and about the proper business to which
his life was to be devoted; and that, although Joseph were his reputed
father, he possessed a higher relationship, and a nobler character than
could distinguish mere mortals. God was his father--this was his
house--and nothing must impede his purposes. Still, however, he instantly
complied with the wishes of his parents, went with them to Nazareth, and
during many succeeding years veiled the splendours of his character in the
obedience and concealment of his childhood. Mary, in the mean time, "kept
all these sayings in her heart."

In detailing the life of Christ, the inspired evangelists do not often
introduce his mother; and whenever she is mentioned, it is rather to
illustrate _his_ character than _hers_; but we feel pleasure in collecting
even the smallest fragments of this divine record, that nothing may be
lost; and while searching for MARY, let us rejoice that we are, at the
same time, conducted to JESUS.

The next circumstance that demands our notice, is the history of the
wedding-feast at Cana in Galilee. Here the Saviour and his mother appear
as the most conspicuous characters. These, with the disciples of Christ,
at present few in number, were expressly invited; whence it has, with
sufficient probability, been thought that it was the marriage of one of
his own relations.

It seems highly becoming the dignity of the Saviour to sanction, by his
holy presence, the institution of marriage in general, and to sanctify its
observance on the present occasion in particular. Its utility, in
reference to individual comfort and to the interests of society at large,
renders "marriage honourable in all;" and while it would be ungrateful to
Providence, not to accept with suitable emotions of cheerfulness the
blessing which has been so long and so eagerly sought, it must always be
injurious to character to indulge in extravagant merriment or indecorous
festivity. Let persons forming such a connection aim to chastise their
mirth with a solid piety, recollecting that while they are allowed to be
cheerful, they must not be intemperate.

At the feast of Cana, the wine failed. The poverty of the family might not
admit of a very liberal supply, or a larger number of visiters might come
than had been expected. Mary immediately informed her Son. She saw that
this circumstance occasioned confusion, she knew the power of Jesus, and
she wished to spare the feelings of the new-married pair, who might have
been exposed to censure for the scantiness of the supply. If these were
her real sentiments, they were worthy of her character and sex. Let this
example of amiable concern for the reputation of another, and the general
comfort of the guests at this nuptial feast, stimulate us to an imitation
of her kindness. How common is it for persons to depreciate and ridicule
each other, availing themselves of trifling mistakes or unimportant
oversights, to awaken prejudices and to exasperate dislikes! Envy is so
prevalent in the world, so natural to the human heart, and so
inconceivably diversified in its methods of operation, that we cannot be
too much warned against it, especially as its venom lies concealed, hut
often works effectually.

The female sex, of which we have before us so fine a specimen, are
naturally attentive and kind, skilful to discern, quick to feel, and
prompt to relieve the wants of others. They seem endowed with a
generosity, in which it is their honour to excel, while it is their duty
to cultivate and indulge it. Are comforts needed? Their ready hands will
supply them. Is pain suffered? Their tender hearts will sympathize and aim
to alleviate it. They are officious to replenish the cup of joy, and no
less prompt to sweeten and mitigate the bitter draughts of sorrow. To them
we look to increase our pleasures in the days of prosperity--for them we
do not ask in vain to sustain our aching head, and to smooth the pillow of
sickness and of death!

But if the views we have imputed to Mary really dictated the intimation
which she gave to Jesus, respecting the deficiency of wine, it may be
asked, how came she to meet with so austere a reply, as "Woman, what have
I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come." This requires some

In the first place, notwithstanding the feeling of kindness which dictated
this interference, Christ might have thought it necessary to assert his
divine prerogative. It is evident, from her immediately directing the
servants to do whatever he commanded them, she expected some miracle; for
she was, no doubt, fully persuaded by this time of his being the Messiah.
But, though endowed with maternal authority, it was not her province to
point out the course of his proceeding as Lord of all. He was willing,
however, to grant her wishes; but, by this language, imposed secrecy. He
would choose the moment and the proper manner of imparting the necessary
supply. One would almost infer from the injunction of Mary to the
servants, that he had informed her of his intentions; and that while he
felt no displeasure at her request, it was necessary to wait his
divine will.

In the next place, the words were, probably, not so disrespectful as they
at first appear. Some have thought the original phrase might be rendered,
"What is that to thee and me?" meaning, "What concern have we in this want
of wine? it is the duty of others to provide, and not ours." It must be
admitted, however, that this interpretation is not so honourable to the
benevolent character of Christ, nor so natural, under all the
circumstances, since Mary was evidently and properly concerning herself,
as a relative in this affair, and the use of similar expressions in other
parts of Scripture imply some degree of reproof. [16] Considering the
divine character of our Lord, this phraseology was not improper, because
in what concerned his office she had no authority over him; and Mary,
impressed with a sense of his extraordinary character, which was every day
increasingly developing himself, withdrew in reverential silence to enjoin
the necessary obedience upon the servants. She felt, and let us never
forget, that the endearments of friendship and the tender ties of
consanguinity must not interfere with the superior claims of religion and
of Christ.

The greatest objection seems to attach to the use of the abrupt and
disrespectful term "woman;" but the usages of antiquity prove that this
mode of address was quite different in meaning from what it appears in
English. The politest writers, and most accomplished princes, adopted it
in addressing ladies of quality; and even servants sometimes spoke to
their mistresses in this manner. [17] In the last and tender scene of the
cross, it is not to be imagined that the dying Son should intentionally,
or even inadvertently, wound the feelings of a weeping mother, and at the
very moment too when affectionately commending her to the care of his
surviving friend and disciple; and yet his address is precisely similar:
"_woman_, behold thy Son!"

Jesus soon issued his orders to the servants to fill six water-pots of
stone, which were at hand, and were commonly used for washing cups and
other vessels, and the hands and feet of the guests, according to the
Jewish custom of purifying. [18] The water, to the astonishment of all
present, be turned into wine of so excellent a flavour as to excite
particular notice. This was the beginning of his public miracles, a
wonderful display of his glory, and a means of confirming the minds of his

"There is a marriage whereto we are invited; yea, wherein we are already
interested; not as the guests only, but as the bride; in which there shall
be no want of the wine of gladness. It is marvel if in these earthly
banquets there be not some lack. 'In thy presence, O Saviour, there is
fulness of joy, and at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.'
Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb." [19]

As the extraordinary character of Christ became from this moment
increasingly apparent, it is easy to believe that the strong feelings of
maternal tenderness in the bosom of Mary blended themselves more and more
with a spiritual affection. She was indeed, in one sense, the mother of
our Lord, but she was also his disciple--she had been guide of his
childhood, but she sat at the feet of his maturity. As he ascended to an
immeasurable elevation above every other being of the human race, she must
feel that the authority of the earthly parent, although it were never
disregarded or disavowed, but, on the contrary, must have impressed a
peculiarity both upon his affection and hers, was, however, absorbed in
the superiority of his heavenly commission. He obeyed her as a child, but
she submitted to him as the Lord.

Does the observant eye of a mother watch with unutterable solicitude the
progress of her beloved offspring, tracing the improvement of his mind,
the development of his faculties, the career of his life, sympathizing
with his sorrows and participating with his joys, taking a fond share in
all that concerns him--his prospects, his pursuits, his whole
character;--does the maternal heart, even in ordinary cases, feel so much
and so long, cherishing such undiminished interest in every vicissitude
that affects the son of her love? With what lively sensibility must Mary
have contemplated the rising glory of the inimitable Jesus! What a track
of majesty must have marked his footsteps! What a winning singularity must
have distinguished his actions! What purity must have adorned his conduct!
What "grace was poured into his lips!" Who can express the deep interest
that his thoughtful mother must have felt in the discourses she heard, the
wisdom with which he silenced gainsayers, penetrated human hearts, exposed
secret motives and purposes, confounded the most wise and artful, and
communicated the sublimest truths in the most commanding and lucid manner!
How must she have felt to have been the witness of his astonishing
miracles, to have seen the flashes of unearthly dignity breaking through
the concealment of a human exterior, and to have traced the accomplishment
of all that prophets had foretold and angels announced! O, what an honour
to have been the _mother_, but still more so to be the _disciple_ of him
who was predicted by prophets, prefigured by types, attended by
ministering angels, celebrated by the most eminent of the Jewish church,
obeyed by all the elements of nature, the principalities of darkness, and
the powers of heaven;--who, "being in the form of God, thought it not
robbery to be equal with God; but made himself of no reputation, and took
upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men!"

The sacred history, which is chiefly occupied in the life of Christ
himself, and the detail of his actions, does not explain how often his
mother accompanied him. The incidental mention of her and his brethren
upon one occasion shows, however, what we cannot but infer, that she was
one of his frequent attendants. He was talking "to the people" in a
private house, with the instructive familiarity for which he was so
remarkable, when "his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to
speak with him." They had something of importance to communicate,
otherwise it cannot be supposed they would have interrupted his
conversation; but, being unable to reach him on account of the multitude,
their wishes were conveyed from one to another, till the person who stood
by him intimated that his mother and brethren were waiting to speak with
him. Availing himself of the circumstance to impress his admonition upon
the assembled crowd, he said to the person who informed, "Who is my
mother? and who are my brethren?" Then addressing the people as he pointed
to the disciples, he exclaimed, "Behold my mother, and my brethren! For
whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is
my brother and sister and mother."

Did he then intend to pour contempt upon these near relatives? Did he
disclaim the ties of kindred? Did he exclude Mary, James, and Joses,
Simeon and Judas, from the honour and the happiness of participating those
spiritual blessings which he so liberally dispensed to others?--Surely
not. Applying to this the same principle of interpretation which was
adopted in explaining his words at the feast of Cana, we infer that he
meant to intimate that they who called him brother according to the flesh,
and even she who bore him, need not be envied by those whom he admitted to
the intimacy and happiness of a spiritual relationship; and that whatever
of love and kindness could be supposed to arise from the natural
connexion, was enjoyed in a nobler sense by virtue of a spiritual union.
Every thing that can consummate the happiness of man, every thing that can
secure the most glorious and permanent distinction, arises from being the
disciple of the blessed Jesus, and "doing the will of his Father." Let
such an one envy no more the possessions of time, for he is heir to the
inheritance of heaven; let him not value at too high a price any human
honour, title, or relationship, for he is a member of the "household
of God."

We now hasten to a scene calculated at once to excite our liveliest
sensibilities and our warmest gratitude--a scene upon which the eyes of
the remotest ages were fixed with holy anticipation, and which all future
generations will contemplate with retrospective joy--a scene distinguished
by the most affecting incidents--in one of which, not the least
remarkable, the mother of our Lord appears conspicuous.

It is observable, that whenever he alluded to the circumstances of his own
death, Christ adopted a mode of speaking which is expressive of the most
dignified composure of mind, united with an irresistible firmness of
purpose. He advanced to the cross of martyrdom like one who, "for the joy
that was set before him, despised the shame." His love to man annihilated
the terror of death, and rendered him solicitous to shed his blood. "I
have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be
accomplished." In the hour of previous conflict he intimated that this was
the tragical but necessary design of his coming into the world. From his
radiant throne in glory, he saw, in awful perspective, the afflictions
which were destined for his incarnate state; and, instead of a train of
angels, he prepared to be attended by a retinue of sorrows, during his
abode in the world. Above all, he beheld the CROSS, surrounded with awful
clouds, raised amidst the scorn of human and the triumph of infernal
enemies. He saw the full tide of misery set in against him; but, with
unabating love to man, and perfect obedience of spirit to the
Father--melting with pity and glowing with zeal--he prepared to encounter
the billows and the storms of death. He was not overtaken by a calamity
which he neither foresaw nor could prevent, for ten thousand angels at his
word would have hastened to pluck him from the waves; but in fulfilment of
the everlasting covenant, to glorify the Father and to redeem a perishing
world, he was "led to the slaughter."

At this period all Judea was present to celebrate the paschal festival;
the great council of the nation was convened; Herod, the governor of
Judea, and Pilate, the tetrarch of Galilee, with their attending armies,
displayed the grandeur of the empire; and on the mount of crucifixion a
vast concourse of people assembled to witness this tragical scene. What
must have been their sensations when nature became convulsed--when
darkness veiled the sun--and the inhabitants of the invisible world burst
through the trembling earth, and reappeared to many in Jerusalem! Never
did an hour revolve since the beginning of time that laboured with such
great events. The fate of the moral creation was now weighing in the
scales--the happiness of millions was at stake--the interests of eternity
were deciding--and the victory over sin, death, and hell, was proclaimed
by the expiring Redeemer, when he said, "IT IS FINISHED."

Amidst this scene of wonders, behold a group of females, no less similar
in character than in name; Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary the wife
Cleopas, and Mary Magdalene. Many women are honourably conspicuous in the
records of the New Testament, but never did they appear with greater
advantage than at this moment. All the disciples were fled, with the
single exception of John, who had overcome his temporary apprehensions,
and was returned to the field of danger. These pious heroines, although
incapable of affording the glorious Sufferer any assistance, and although
surrounded by an infuriated enemy, rose superior to the fears of their
sex, and pierced through the crowd, to testify their sympathy, to listen
to his dying words, and to watch the expiring flame of life to the moment
of its extinction.

What a scene was this for his MOTHER! How could she sustain the horrible
spectacle? How could she survive this fiery trial? What inconceivable
anguish must it have occasioned to witness the death of her _Son_! Say, ye
mothers who have watched the infant days and progressive maturity of a
firstborn, what distress ye have felt at his early loss! The flower
perhaps had just expanded to the day, when the pestilential wind blew from
the desert of death and withered its beauties! It is gone--but has left
behind a sense of unspeakable desolation. How were your most delightful
hopes annihilated in a moment, and ye were ready to adopt the language of
David in his agony, "O my son Absalom! my son, my son Absalom! would God I
had died for thee, O Absalom! my son, my son!"

But this was a death of the most ignominious and painful description. Mary
beheld her Son suffering the shame of a _public execution_ and the torment
of _a cross_. She saw him suspended between heaven and earth, as if
unworthy of either, crucified between two malefactors, and insulted by an
outrageous mob. She heard the revengeful speeches of that infatuated
multitude, and the mutual congratulations of those by whom they were
instigated, and who ridiculously imagined they had obtained a decisive
victory! The terror of this hour and power of darkness pervaded her own
spirit, and she lived to feel a greater horror than it is in the power
even of the king of terrors himself to inflict.

This was the crucifixion of an _innocent Son_! He had experienced indeed
the mockery of a judicial proceeding, but had been sacrificed to the
ravings of a despicable and infatuated mob, the asseverations of perjured
witnesses, the timidity of Pilate, and the hatred of every class of Jews.
No guile was found in his mouth, no recrimination in his language, no
impatience in his conduct. Conscious of perfect innocency, he yet
submitted to condemnation and death as a notorious offender; and, with all
things under his control, he did not lift a finger to stop the career of
injustice, or arrest the course of infernal rage. If the mothers of his
two associates in suffering were present on this occasion, whatever
bitterness of anguish they had felt to see the mournful end of their own
offspring, they could not but admit that public crime demanded public
punishment, and sentiments of commiseration must have blended themselves
with those of censure when they viewed their fate. But the mother of Jesus
saw her beloved Son condemned without reason, and suffering in defiance of
justice. In proportion as she knew his innocency she must have felt
his loss.

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest