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Obs. 3. Was the birth of Christ subject to accompanying trouble? Thus it is in the soul, a tumult, as it were, of Herod and the Jews. They that are without, viz., carnal friends, all in a rage at it: "What! turn a melancholy precise fool, go mad," &c. And within, like the tumultuous multitude, al the lusts of the heart are clamouring for their interest, noising to it, that it will suffer much in this change, that all wonted delights will be cut off, that there will arise much war and trouble by this new kingdom; besides many other doubts and fears that arise in this matter.
Think it not strange to find it thus, that the soul is tossed with disquiet at the birth of Christ in it; but let it rather rejoice in this trouble, as a sign of that blessed birth and that spiritual kingdom of Christ within it, which, however it occasion some present stir, shall sweetly compensate that, and compose the soul, and make it happy: for the Child born is the Prince of Peace, (Isa. ix. 6.) and the proper nature of His kingdom, that whereof it is made up, is, righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. Rom. xiv. 17.
Obs. 4. Herod's fear and anger against this news, gathers the priests and scribes together, to give clear testimony from the Scriptures of that very birth which was so hateful to him, and to verify it by the true designment of the place. Thus all His enemies' practices still prove, in the issue, of service to Him: all their stirrings against His kingdom and glory, make for it. When all is reckoned, it is found in effect that they undo themselves, and advance His end whom they oppose.
Obs. 5. Bring me word, that I may come and worship. him. Ver. 8. This is an old piece of king-craft, we see, older than Machiavel, to serve themselves of the shadow and mask of religion, in order to walk unseen in their atheism. The most of them in their wars and confederacies pretending religion, and intending the subversion of it, would seem to come to worship, and come indeed to worry. Cultum pretendit, cultrum intendit.
Obs. 6. Though Herod and the priests were both enemies,
yet they concur to this testimony, and furnish it to the inquiring strangers, but went not with them, nor so much as sent any. Thus many testify, yea, teach the truth of Christ in the general, yet go not to him, as signs in the way direct others, and stir not themselves. But, my brethren, think it not enough to give a general assent to divine truths, for unless the heart be warmed with them, and the soul stirred up to seek an interest in them, they save not, yea, they more deeply
Obs. 7. Divers readings of the Evangelists and Prophets, agreeing in one sense, are very useful. Bethlehem the least, yet, not the least; the least of thyself, but the greatest by the birth of the great King born in thee. Thus all are raised and ennobled by Christ. The poorest persons, and things in themselves most despicable, yet, through him, become most excellent. The simplicity of the ordinances, the word and sacraments, so far below the pomp of the world, and gaudy, false worship, in outward visage, yet are much further above them in inward dignity. Thus, the soul of a poor, simple, unlettered believer, that is the meanest and least in itself, far below the greatest persons and great wits of the world in naturals, yet, Jesus Christ being born in it, is not the least, but in spiritual excellency truly great, and far beyond all others void of Christ.
Obs. 8. Christ newly born, is hotly persecuted, put to flight, &c. This is a presage of his after condition and entertainment in the world in his own person, and still in his body, his Church, the saints. No sooner is Christ born in thee, than the wicked will be upon thee, seeking to kill him with persecuting malice, with scoffs and taunts at the least.
Obs. 9. All his motions are by divine direction. Thus, his saints in all times, particularly in times of straits and troubles, must still be depending on His pointing out of every step, and are safe in following that.
Further, we may observe, that they whom the Father intends to bring to the Son, shall not want means of their calling and leading to him. He will create a light in them, and cause
it to arise in their hearts to stir them up to inquire after him. And when they need direction and seek it, He will furnish it even where it would be least expected. If they be driven to attend it at their hands who go not to Christ themselves, even under a ministry that hath little life in it, that is formal and spiritless in itself, yet, if God hath cast thy lot there, even there, I say, shall a soul seeking after Jesus Christ find direction and confirmation, and the word shall be made lively to it by a higher Hand; and though they go not to Christ, yet shall they give thee His true address, and direct thee right to Him, as here the scribes and priests did these inquirers.
Again, observe, how God takes hold of men by suitable ways. His call does not lie wholly in the congruity of the means, but He makes it effectual; yet, He carries that efficacy so sweetly, that there is not any violence at all. Often in the means, that sweetness consists in the particular aptness of them. These were star-gazers, and He gives them notice according to their faculty by a star. Thus, some are taken with some accessary qualification of a minister, baited by this to give ear and take liking to his doctrine. Thus, St. Augustine confesses he was caught in hearing St. Ambrose, through delight in his eloquence; for though he looked no further, yet, together with the words he loved, the things that he loved not, did likewise slide in and gain upon him. Again, they undertake a long and hard journey, and resolve to go on, and, missing him at Jerusalem, they inquire there concerning him, and will not leave off till they find him. A soul that hath once seen a light pointing out Christ to it, and stirring it up to seek after him, will not be driven back, nor called off from going to him, by any discouragements and difficulties; yea, they sharpen it, and set an edge on it, and make them so much the more earnest. Others can speak of him, and lie still, and not stir to go to him, as here the priests; but such a soul must have him, and will not take rest without him; will still inquire where he is, where and how I may find my Christ. A man may possibly meet with some formal minister, that knows little of
Christ, and loves him less, who yet can tell such an inquirer, that by believing he shall find him, and instruct him somewhat about the notion of faith, and inseparable repentance, and leaving off sin, which things he himself who directs, makes no use of, hath no experience of at all; yet may his information be useful to the soul seeking Christ, and in following them it may find him. And as it is in the first inquiry and journey to Christ, so, in after seeking, upon his withdrawments: as Cant. iii. and v. Though the watchmen that should direct thee, deride and mock thee, yea, though they smite and wound thee, yet, if once thou hast found the sweetness of his love, or but heard his voice speaking to thy heart and desiring it to open to him, thou wilt not leave off thy search day nor night, till thou hast found him, in how mean a condition and outward appearance soever: thou wilt see through that, and behold him thy king, thy beloved Lord, and see him beautiful, all beauty and loveliness, and wilt be forced to declare him so, that he outvies all creature loves, as not worthy to be compared: yea, that their enjoyments have not near so much sweetness as the very seekings and mournings after Jesus Christ.
Ver. 11. Fell down and worshipped him.] When a soul is busy asking after Jesus Christ, if it be inquired what would you do with him, Why this is my purpose, will it say, I would worship him. I would not only be saved by him, but I would fall down and adore him, and acknowledge him my king; and if I had any thing better than another, I would offer it him. But what hast thou? Hast thou rich presents for him? Alas! no. These are called wise men, and were, it seems, rich; had rich gifts. I am a foolish and a poor creature, and I have nothing to offer.-Nothing. Hast thou a heart? Yes: a heart I have; but, alas! there can be nothing more unfit for him, and unworthy of him: it is dark, and foul, and hard, all disorder and filthiness. Yet, wilt thou give it him as it is, and be willing that he use and dispose of it as it pleases him? Oh, that he would accept of it, that he would take it upon any terms! Here it is: if it would fly out from this offer, I would
he would lay hold of it. Oh! that it were once received by him, that it were in his hand; and then let him do with it what seems him good. Sayest thou so? Then it is done. Give it really and freely, and he will take, and make it better at its worst, than all the gold, and frankincense, and myrrh of all those rich countries where they abound, and will purify, rectify, and make it quite another thing than it is. And it shall never repent thee to have made a gift of it to him. He shall frame it to his own likeness, and in return will give thee himself, and be thine for ever.
ALTHOUGH the enemies of Jesus Christ, and, for a time, even his friends and followers, mistook the nature of his kingdom, yet he is a king. This being questioned, he himself avowed it before the Roman judge; and even in his low estate on earth, yet were there intermixed signs and characters of royalty. To instance here no more, the former chapter hath the history of one of them, and this of another. In that was the hoinage done to him a little after his entering into the world by birth In this, we have his harbinger preparing his way a little before his coming forth into the world, to manifest himself in his words and works.
This chapter, you see, contains the history of John Baptist -1st. the nature of his office; 2dly. the exercise of his office; and that both generally to the multitude of the Jews that resorted to his baptism, and particularly, to some of more eminent note amongst them, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and singularly on the person of Jesus Christ.
Ver. 1. In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.] This relates not to the history that goes before, but to that which follows to be recorded, as the usual style of the Hebrew bears. It is clear that many