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LECTURE II.

MATTHEW ii.

JL AVING in the preceding Lecture taken a short comprehensive view of the several books of the sacred volume, I now proceed to the Gofpel of St. Matthew; and (hall in this Lecture consine myself to the two siist chapter* pf that book.*

The history of our Saviour's birth, lise, doctrines, precepts, and miracles, is contained in four books or narratives called Gofpels, written at different times, and by four different persons, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who were among the sirst converts to Christianity, and persectly well acquainted with the sacts they relate; to which two of them were eye-witnesses, and the other two constant companions of thofe who were so, from whom they received immediately every thing they relate, This is better authority for the truth of these histories than we have for the greater part of the histories now extant, the sidelity of which we do not in the least question. For sew of our best histories, either ancient or modern, were written by persons who were eyewitnesses of all the transactions which they relate ; and there is scarce any instance of the history of the same person being written by four different contemporary historians, all persectly agreeing in the main articles, and differing only in a sew minute particulars of no moment. This however we sind actually done in the lise of Jesus, which has been written by each of the four evangelists, and it is a very strong proof of their veracity. For let us consider what the case is, at this very day, in the affairs of common lise. When four different persons are called upon in a court of justice to prove the

* For some very valuable observations In some parts of this, and the third and thirteenth Lecture, I am indebted to my late excellent sriend pid patron, Arch-bisliop Seeker.

reality of any particular sact that happened twenty or thirty years ago, what is the sort of evidence which they usually give? Why, in all the great leading circumstances which tend to establish the sact in question, they in general persectly agree. In a sew other points perhaps they differ. But then these are points which do not at all affect the main question, which were too trissing to make much impression at the time on the memory of the observers, and which therefore they would all relate with some little variation in their account. This is precisely the case with the writers of the four Gospels; and this substantial coincidence and accidental variation has much more the air and garb of truth, than where there is a persect agreement in every the minutest article $ which has too much the appearance of a concerted story.

That the books which we now have under the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, were written by the persons whofe names they bear, cannot admit the smallest doubt with any unprejudiced mind. They have been acknowledged as such by every Christian church in every age, from the time of our Saviour to this moment. There are allusions to them, or quotations from them, in the earliest writers, as sar back as the age of the apostles, and continued down in a regular succession to the present hour; a proof of authenticity, which scarce any other ancient book in the world can produce. They were received as genuine histories, not only by the sirst Christians, but by the sirst enemies of Christianity, and their authority was never questioned either by the ancient heathens or Jews.*

The sirst of these Gofpels is that of St. Matthew. It was written probably at the latest not more than sifteen years, some think only eight years, after our Lord's ascension. The author of it was an apostle and constant companion of Jesus, and of course an eye-witness of every thing he relates. He was called by our blessed Lord from a most lucrative occupation, that of a collector of the public revenue, to be one of his disciples and friends: a call which he immediately

* Whoever wishes for further satissaction on tills most important fub« ject,.will not sail of finding it in Dr. Lardner's learned work, Tie Credibility of tbi Gospel History, where this question has been very ably treated, an4 the authenticity of the Gospels established on the most solid grounds.

obeyed, relinquishing every thing that was dear and valuable to him in the present lise« This is a sacrisice which sew people have made for the sake of religion, and had St. Matthew's object been the applause of men, he might have displayed the merits of this sacrisice in a light very savorable to himself. But the apostle, conscious of much nobler views, describes this transaction in the simplest and most artless words. "As Jesus," says he, "pasted forth from thencei he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom, and he saith unto him, Follow me: and he arofe and followed him."

The sirst thing that Occurs in the Gofpel of St. Matthew, is the genealogy of Christ, in order to prove that he was descended from the house and samily of David, as the prophets foretold he should be.

In this genealogy there are consessedly some dissiculties, at which we cannot be much surprised, when we consider of what prodigious antiquity this genealogy is, going back some thousands of years ; and when we know too that several Jewish persons had the same name, and that the same person had different names, (especially under the Babylonish captivity) which is still the case in India, and other parts of Asia. This must necessarily create some perplexity, especially at such a distance as we are from the sirst sources of insormation. But to the Jews themselves at the time, there were probably no dissiculties at all; and it does not appear that they (who were certainly the best judges of the question) made any objection to this genealogy of Christ, or denied him to be descended from the samily of David. We may therefore reasonably conclude, that his descent was originally admitted to be sairly made out by the evangelists, whatever obscurities may have arisen since. Indeed it is highly probable, that this genealogy was taken from some public records or registers of the ancient Jewish samilies, which is very evident from Josephus that the Jews had, especially with regard to the lineage of David, and which were universally known and acknowledged to be authentic documents. I shall therefore only observe surther on this head, that St. Matthew gives the pedigree of Joseph, and St. Luks that of Mary. But they both come to the same thing, because among the Jews the pedigree of the husband was considered as the legal pedigree of the wise; and as Mary and Jofeph were nearly related, and were of the same tribe and samily, their genealogies of course must run nearly in the same line.

After the genealogy of Christ, follows an account of his birth, which, as we may easily suppose of so extraordinary a person, had something in it very extraordinary. Accordingly the evangelist tells us, "'that the angel of the Lord appeared unto Jofeph in a dream," saying, "Jofeph, thou son of David, sear not to take unto thee Mary thy wise, for that whicli is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost: and she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus {that is a Saviour;) for he shall save his people from their sins."* .

This undoubtedly was a most wondersul, and singular, and unexampled event. But it was natural to imagine, that when the Son of God was to appear upon the scene, he Would enter upon it in a way somewhat different from the sons of men; And in sact we sind him appearing upon earth in a manner persectly new, and peculiar to himself; in * manner which united in itself at once the evidence of prophecy and of miracle. He was born of a virgin, and what is no less wondersul, it was predicted of him seven hundred years before that he should be so born. "Behold," sap Isaiah, "a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel ;"f a Hebrew word, signisying, God with us. What man, but a prophet, inspired of God, could have foreseen an'event so completely improbably and apparently impossible? What impostor would have hazarded such a prediction as this? and, what is still of moreimportance, what impostor could have sulsilled it? What less than the power of God could have enabled Jesus to sulsil it? By that power he did sulsil it. He only, of the whole human race, did sulsil it, and thus proved himself to be at the very moment of his birth, what the whole course of his suture lise, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension int» heaven, surther declared him to be, The Son Of God.

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And as such he was soon acknowledged, and due homage paid to his divinity by a very singular embassy, and in a very singular manner. For the evangelist proceeds to tell us in the beginning of the second chapter, that " when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, where is he that is bom King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him-" As this is a very remarkable, and very important event, I shall employ the remaining part of this lecture in explaining it to you at large, subjoining such reflections as naturally arise from it.

The name of these persons, whom our translation calls vife men, is in the original magoi, in the Latin language, magi, from whence is derived our English word, magicians. The magi were a set of ancient philofophers, living in the eastern part of the world, collected together in colleges, addicted to the study of astronomy, and other parts of natural philofophy, and highly esteemed throughout the east, having juster sentiments of God and his worship than any of the ancient heathens: for they abhorred the adoration of images made In the form of men and animals, and though they did represent the Deity under the symbol of sire (the purest and most active of all material substances) yet they worshipped ««e only God; and so blameless did their studies and their religion appear to be, that the prophet Daniel, scrupulous as he was to the hazard of his lise, with respect to the Jewish religion, did not resuse to accept the ossice which Nebuchadnezzar gave him, of being master of the magi, and chief governor over all the wise men of Babylon.* They were therefore evidently the sittest of all the ancient heathens to have the sirst knowledge of the Son of God, and of salvation by him imparted to them.

The country from whence they came is only described in St. Matthew as lying east from Judea, and therefore might be either Persia, where .the principal residence of the magi was, or else Arabia, to which ancient authors say they did, and undoubtedly they easily might extend themselves; which it is well known abounded in the valuable things that their

» Vid. Dan, v, 11.

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