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unusual star, and believing, as was a common
idea in ancient times, that it intimated the birth
of an extraordinary person, followed it till they
arrived at Jerusalem. There had long prevailed
an expectation in that part of the world, that a
great prince should arise in Judea and obtain
the empire of the world. These philosophers did
not doubt that this star was sent to proclaim his
coming. And they accordingly inquired on their
arrival, '* Where is he that is born king of the
Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and

Matthew ii.


are come to worship him." In former days the
word worship expressed the homage paid to prin-
ces and great men, as well as that paid to God.
They seem to have made this inquiry of king
Herod himself; as was very natural they should
do, for they would readily suppose that the new-
born prince would be one of the royal family.
But no. Herod knew nothing of it; and not
only so, but he was greatly troubled to hear it.
He was aware that the Messiah was expected;
he thought that this might be he, and he feared
therefore for his own power and authority. He
seems to have resolved at once on the course to
be taken. He accordingly summoned a meeting
of the chief priests and scribes. This was pro^
bably the great council of the Sanhedrim. He
inquired of them, at what place the Messiah was
to be born. They referred him to a passage of
the prophet Micah, [v. 2.] in proof that he would
be born at Bethlehem of Judea. To Bethlehem
therefore he sent the inquiring strangers; direct-
ing them to return to him when they had found
the child, that he too might go and show him

To Bethlehem accordingly they went. There
they prostrated themselves in the oriental fashion
before the infant, and agreeably to the customs
of the world, laid before him their presents of
gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But they were


not permitted to return to Herod, for that crafty
tyrant meditated the death of the infant. They
were directed in a dream to avoid Jerusalem, and
return to their country by another route. At the
same time, Joseph was warned in a dream of the
danger to which the infant was exposed, and
directed to quit the country, and take refuge in
Egypt. Thus he escaped the murderous jeal-
ousy of the king. But Herod was exceedingly
exasperated; and resolving to be sure that the
dreaded infant did not escape, caused all tlie in-
fant children of about the age of Jesus, in Beth-
lehem and its neighborhood, to be put to death.
This cruel act has seemed to some persons too
savage to be true. But Herod was a monster
of cruelty, and is well known to have done other
acts as horrible as this.

But it was in vain that the angry king raged
against the anointed of the Lord. He could not
thwart the purposes of God. The infant, whom
he thought to destroy, was destined to accomplish
great purposes in the kingdom of divine grace,
and therefore a way was made for his escape
from the danger which threatened him. While
Herod pleased himself with thinking him slain, he
was safely conveyed into Egypt. His parents
departed with him by night, and travelled over
a portion of the desert which the Israelites cross-
ed under the guidance of Moses. The distance
2* B


v/as not far from two hundred miles; — a weary
and painful journey for a young mother with an
infant babe. It must have been, also, no small
trial to her faith. Is it thus, she might say, that
the visions of the night, the promise of the angel,
and the prophecies in the temple are to be ac-
compHshed.'' Are we thus to be compelled to flee
for our lives, to endure the perils of the desert,
and the want and anxiety of a strange land?
Would God thus deal with his Messiah.^ Is it
not possible that, after all, I have been deceived.'*
We may conceive that mom^ents of despondency
like this must have sometimes beset her. Her
case was not unlike that of Abraham, v/hen trav-
elling for three days to sacrifice his only son
Isaac, — that son to whom God had made great
promises, which it seemed as if his death must
defeat. But as Abraham, though he might have
been amazed and have experienced momentary
misgivings, yet went steadfastly on, unshaken in
his faith; so Mary, however strange she might
think this dispensation, and however inconsistent
with the promises made to the young Messiah,
undoubtedly kept her faith strong, and trusted in
the Lord.

Of their residence in Egypt, we know nothing,
except that it continued till the death of Herod,
which took place within three years. Upon the
tidings of that event reaching him, Joseph felt


that all danger was over. He therefore returned
to his own country, and took up his abode once
more at Nazareth. This was a small town in
Galilee, about seventy-five miles north of Jeru-
salem. Its inhabitants were not in very good re-
pute through the country, and such a prejudice
existed against the place, that a Nazarene had
become a term of contempt. It is important to
remark this, because we see frequent intimations
of it in the course of our Lord's subsequent life;
and the evangelist Matthew, when he would say
that the prophecies concerning the Messiah's hu-
miliation were fulfilled, sums them all up in one
word, " He shall be called a Nazarene." We
know too that when Nathaniel first heard of
Jesus, he thought it impossible he should be the
Messiah, because he came from this despised
place, "Can any good thing," said he, "come
out of Nazareth?"

It was undoubtedly a part of the plan of Provi-
dence to draw the Saviour from humble human
circumstances, in order to render his divine au-
thority the more conspicuous and unquestionable.
It was thus made to appear that his words of wis-
dom could not have been learned from man, and
that he must have been from God. He probably
received little or no education during his early
years; for the Jews asked, "How knoweth this
man letters, having never learned.'*" Schools and


instruction were not then universal as they are
now, and Joseph was probably too poor to afford
to his children a privilege which could be pur-
chased only by the rich.

This however is not stated in the New Testa-
ment. There is far less there respecting his early
years than we should be glad to find. We only
read in general terms, that " the child grew and
waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and
the grace of God was upon him. He increased
in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and
man." Of particular incidents only one is re-
corded. When he was twelve years of age, he
accompanied his parents to Jerusalem, when they
went up, in obedience to the law, to keep the
passover. The seven days of the feast were over,
and they set out on their return. They had pro-
ceeded a whole day's journey, before they discov-
ered that Jesus was not accompanying them. We
may easily understand how this could happen,
when we remember, that the law commanded all
the men, from all parts of the land, to go up and
keep this feast at Jerusalem. Consequently, there
must have been great throngs on the road, both in
going and returning. The people naturally trav-
elled in parties. The inliabitants of a village made
one company. Families, in all their branches,
went together. The parents of Jesus, therefore,

Luke ii. 40.


being in company with a vast number of relatives
and neighbors, did not think it strange that they
did not see him during the day's march. They
*' supposed him to have been in the company,"
says Luke; and it was only after seeking for him
*' among their kinsfolk and their acquaintance,"
•that they discovered he had been left behind.
They returned to Jerusalem, and found him in the
Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both
hearing them and asking them questions. And all
that heard him, were astonished at his understand-
ing and his answers. So absorbed was he in this
employment, as if it were his proper concern, that
when his mother complained of the uneasiness
they had suffered on his account, he expressed
surprise that they should have spent any time in
searching for him; they should have come direct-
ly to the temple; for they might know that he
would be engaged in his Father's business. Yet
at their command he immediately left the place,
and went with them to Galilee, and there remain-
ed subject to them as a dutiful son.

We are often reminded that Jesus set an ex-
ample for our imitation. This is true of his child-
hood as well as of his age. He seems to have
been conscious of his greatness, yet he did not
presume upon it. He was docile and humble,
reverent and obedient to his parents. It would
be well if many young persons, who treat their


parents with disrespect, and show that they feel
themselves superior to their authority, would copy
the meekness and submission which Jesus exhib-
ited. They might learn from him, how becoming
in the young is respect to their elders, and that
true greatness is not inconsistent with humility.
How many there are, who feel above the business
which their fathers follow, and would think them-
selves demeaned by engaging in it! Yet Jesus
wrought in the workshop with Joseph and his sons,
made himself of no reputation, took the form of a
servant, and thought it not at all inconsistent with
the honors to which he was appointed.

How interesting to think of him during those
years of his childhood and youth! What must
have been his thoughts and emotions, the visions
that occupied his young mind, the contemplations
and anticipations that filled and agitated his bo-
som, as he quietly moved on like other men, and
yet knew himself to be so different from them;
among them, but not of them; not understood by
them, nor enjoying any sympathy with them on the
great subject that occupied his whole soul Even
his brethren did not feel with him, nor perceive in
him any thing uncommon. They did not believe
in him. Perhaps with his mother he communed
of all that was within him; but excepting her,
who was there to share or comprehend his feel-
ings, except his Father in heaven } With Him his


communion must have been near and precious;
and he undoubtedly felt then, what he afterwards
expressed, " I am not alone, for the Father is with

But we cannot hope to enter fully into this por-
tion of our Lord's life, because no trust-worthy
history of it remains to us. The evangelists tell
us nothing concerning it; and the book called The
Infancy of Jesus, which pretends to instruct on this
subject, is without authority, and altogether unde-
serving of credit. It was written by some super-
stitious person of an early age, who thought to
gratify the natural curiosity of Christians respect-
ing their Master, by recording wonderful stories
of his childhood. But nothing can be more puerile
and worthless than most of them are. It is amaz-
ing that they could have been for a moment cred-
ited. The person who invented or recorded them,
had no true understanding of what constitutes the
glory and beauty of our Lord's character, and did
not perceive how totally inconsistent with it are
the foolish tales he recited. They are wanton
and useless; they have nothing of dignity or di-
vinity in them. When we turn from them to the
narratives of the scripture history, we find our-
selves in a different world; we feel that all is di-
vine and worthy the son of God ; we are sure that
no man could have done his works except God
were with him, and no man could have imagined


them except they were really done. Amongst all
the books in the world we can find no such striking
instance of the difference between truth and false-
hood, as we find here. And Providence seems to
have permitted those miserable fables to descend;
to our time, for the purpose of showing us this dif-
ference, and convincing us more satisfactorily of
the absolute divinity and truth of the real gospels;.




In order to understand aright the circumstances
and spirit of our Saviour's ministry, it is necessary
to know many things respecting the state of the
country and the history of the times in which he
Hved. There was much in them that was pceu-
Har; and the knowledge of which will aid us to in-
terpret our Lord's character, works, and manner
of t%iching, as well as his reception and success.

I have already said that the Jewish nation was
in a state of degeneracy and decay. It was now
just about a thousand years, since it was at its
height of prosperity in the glorious reign of Solo-
mon. The period of its greatness had been brief,
for it was abused. Corruption of morals and of
religion came in with prosperity. Immediately
upon Solomon's death, ten of the tribes revolted,
and set up a separate government under a sepa-
rate king. From that day we read of two king-
doms — that of Judah, comprehending only the two
tribes of Judah and Benjamin, whose capital was
Jerusalem, and that of Israel, which comprized
the ojther ten tribes, and whose capital was Sama-
ria. These two nations continued to exist by the
side of each other, sometimes at war, sometimes


at peace, for two hundred and fifty-four years.
The kingdom of the ten tribes was then conquered
by Shahnanezer, king of Assyria, and the people
were carried into captivity. Here their history
ends. What became of them, never has been
discovered. Some suppose that they were utterly
destroyed, some that they were scattered over the
various countries of Assyria, and many have fan-
cied that their descendants still exist in Asia,
Africa, or America. But this is all uncertain.
It is more important to observe, that their country
was not wholly depopulated; some of the people
were left in the land; and Shalmanezer planted
among them colonies of idolaters, who mixed with
them, and formed a new nation. This was the
nation of the Samaritans, of which we read in the
New Testament; a nation hateful to the Jews,
because it was descended in part from heathen
ancestors, and yet professed to hold the law of
Moses in a purer form than the Jews. Such was
the fate of the kingdom of Israel.

The kingdom of Judah continued to flourish for
one hundred and thirty-four years after the captiv-
ity of Israel. It was then overthrown by Nebu-
chadnezzar, king of Babylon, and the people
were carried into captivity for seventy years. At
the end of this period they were restored to their
country; but they never recovered their former
greatness. They were sometimes tributary to


other nations, and sometimes governed by their
own rulers ; sometimes favored and sometimes
oppressed by the powerful princes around them.
On the whole, their condition was far from pros-
perous. Even the voice of prophecy ceased to be
heard, and God withdrew the signs of his special
interposition. No prophet appeared among them
after they had been one hundred years returned
from Babylon. They seemed to be given up to
darkness, both political and religious. The family
of the Maccabees at one period arose, and by its
patriotism and talents cast a temporary brightness
on the condition of the country. But this soon
passed away. The people were too corrupt and
too weak to maintain their rights against other
nations, or to remain united among themselves.
They divided into parties under two brothers, Ar-
istobulus and Hyrcanus, who contended for the
power. The quarrel was decided by an appeal to
Pompey, the Roman general, who espoused the
party of Hyrcanus, marched his legions to Jeru-
salem, besieged and took it, and subjected the
whole country to the Roman government. This
was sixty-three years before the birth of our Sa-

But though the independence of the country
was gone, the people were still allowed the
exercise of their former customs and of their
peculiar religious institutions and laws. The gov-


ernment was for a long time unsettled, until He-
rod, surnamed the Great, was made king by the
Romans about thirty years before Christ. He
was a courageous and cunning man; a brave
soldier, a good general, a lover of magnificence
and pomp, but ambitious, deceitful, and cruel
He did much for the prosperity of the nation,
ornamented Jerusalem in various ways, and re-
built the temple at great expense and with great
splendor. But his jealousy and cruelty caused
him to be detested by the people. He put to
death his own wife and children, and many other
members of his family. No one could feel safe
from his capricious cruelty. When about to di^,
he assembled the chief men of the nation at
Jericho, and shut them up in the circus. Then
he gave orders, that, at the moment of his death,
the soldiers should be let in upon them, and put
them all to the sword. For, he said, he knew
that the Jews would rejoice at his death, and he
was resolved to make them mourn. Happily
these horrible orders were not executed, and

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Online LibraryHenry WareThe life of the saviour → online text (page 2 of 15)