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presents consisted of; and concerning which the seventy* lecond Psalm (plainly speaking os" the Messiah) says, "'Ther kings of Arabia and Saba, or Sabæa (an adjoining region) shall bring gifts;" and again, "unto him shall be given of the gold of Arabia."
Suppofing this prophecy of the Psalmist to point out the persons whole journey the evangelist relates, it will also determine what their station or rank in lise was, namely kings, "the kings of Arabia and Saba." Of this circumstance St. Matthew says nothing directly, but their osserings are a sussicient evidence that their condition could not be a mean one: and though there is certainly no proof, there is, on the other band, no improbability, of their being lords of small sove-reignties, which might asford them a claim, according to the ancient usage of that part of the world, to the name of kings. For we read in Scripture not only of some small* towns or tracts that had each of them their king, but of fome als° which could not be very large, that had each of them several, f
What number of the wise men, or magi, came to our Lord, is entirely unknown, and perhaps that of three was imagined for no other reason, than because the gifts which they brought were of three sorts. The occasion of their coming is expressed by St. Matthew in their own words: "Where is He that is born king of the Jews ? for we are come to worship him."
That a Very extraordinary person was to appear under this character about that time, was a very general persuasion throughout the cast; as not only Jewish but heathen writers tell us, in consormity with the New Testament. And that this person was to have dominion over the whole earth, 'was part of that persuasion, founded on predictions of the clearest import. I need produce but one, from the abovementioned 72d Psalm, which, as I before observed, plainly relates to Christ. "All kings shall sall dovTn before him; all nations shall do him service." There were Jews enough even in Persia, and much more in Arabia, to propagate this doctrine, and shew it to be contained in their sacred books; * Josii. x. 5. •}• Jerem. Xst. So—»6.
from whence therefore the wise men may well be suppofed to have received it.
But their knowledge that he was actually born, must stand ion some other foundation; and what that was, themselves declare, "We have seen his star in the east."* This mult plainly mean some new appearance in the flcy, which they, whofe prosession (as is well known) led them peculiarly to the study of astronomy, had observed in the heavens. Now any appearance of a body of light in the air, is called by the Greek and Latin authors a Jlar, though it be only a meteor, that is, a transient accidental luminous vapor, neither of considerable height, nor long continuance; in which fense also the Scripture speaks of Jlars falling from tJecroen.\ And such was that which the wise men saw, as will appear from a circumstance to be mentioned hereaster. Possibly indeed the sirst light which surprized them, might be that mentioned by St. Luke, when the glory of the Lord descending from Heaven, shone round about the shepherds, and his angel came upon them, to bring them the news of our Saviour's nativity.J For that glory, seen at a distance, might have the appearance of a star; and their seeing the star in the east, is not to be understood as if they saw it to the eastward of themselves; but means, that they being eastward of Judea, saw the star, seeming probably to hang over that country.
Now such an uncommon sight alone, suppofing their expectation of him raised (as there was then a general expectation of him) might naturally incline them to think he was come; and especially as it was a current opinion amongst persons prosessing skill in these matters, that the shining forth of a new star denoted the rise of a new kingdom, or of a -great and extraordinary prince ; whence, as Pliny relates, || Augustus the Roman emperor said, that the comet which appeared on Cæsar's death, whom he succeeded, was born for him, and that he was born in that comet; for so it seems he expressed himself.
This, I say, being a current opinion, the wise men wouli be apt enough to conclude, that the present star betokened the birth of that prince, of whom (as they might easily have heard) it had been so very long foretold, "There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel."* And it is a very remarkable circumstance, that one of the ancient commentators on the Timxus of Plato,f alluding to this very star, expresses himself in these words: "There is a still more venerable and sacred tradition, which relates, that by the rising of a certain uncommon star, was foretold, not diseases or deaths, but the descent of an adorable God for the salvation of the human race, and the mellioration of human affairs; which star, they say, was observed by the Chaldæans, who came to present their offerings to the new-born Cod."j
On their arrival at Jerusalem, and making the enquiry they come for, Herod, we sind, was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. That so jealous a tyrant as Herod should be troubled at this event is no wonder; and it is no less natural that the people also should be disturbed and alarmed, not knowing what the consequences of so extraor iiinary a birth might be. Herod, therefore, calls the chief priests and scribes together, and demands of them, whether it were known where The Christ should be born; and having learnt from them, that, according to the prophet Micah, Bethlehem was the place appointed by Heaven, sends the wise men thither with a request that they would inform him when they had found the child, that he also might go and pay him due homage, intending all the while to destroy him, when he had obtained the requisite intelligence. Accordingly the wise men proceeded on their journey from Jerusalem to Bethlehem; when the same luminous appearance, which they had observed in their own country, now attended them again to their very great joy, and conducted them at length to the very house where the child was ; which probably (as is common in villages) had no other house contiguous to it, and therefore might be easily marked by the situation of the meteor.
* Numb xxiv 17. \ Chaloidins
i See Brucker's History of Philosophy, v. iii. p. 473
When the wise men came into the house and saw the'ehild, they sell down and worslripped him, that is, bowed and prostrated themselves before him, in the eastern manner of doing obeisance to kings. Whether they designed also paying him religious adoration, or how distinct a knowledge had been given them of the nature and rank of the Saviour of the world, we cannot say; but may be sure, that what they believed and what they did, was at that time sussicient to procure them acceptance with God. Indeed, according to the opinion of some ancient sathers concerning their presents, their saith must have been very great. For they re. present the incense, as ossered to our Saviour as God; the gold to have been paid as tribute to a king; and.the myrrh (a principal ingredient used in embalming) brought as an acknowledgment that he was to die for men. But others inter, pret the same gifts very disserently, and take them to signify the three spiritual offerings, which we must all present to Heaven, through Jesus Christ; the incense to denote piety towards God; the gold, charity towards our fellow-creatures; and the myrrh, purity of foul and body; it being highly essicacious in preserving them from corruption. But though either or both these notions may be piously and inno. cently entertained, yet all we know with certainty is, that in thofe parts of the world no one did then or does now appear before a prince, without a suitable present, usually of the most valuable commodities of his country; and that three of the principal productions cf the east, particularly of Arabia, were gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
How the wise men were affected with the sight of so unspeakably important a person, in such mean circumstances; or Jofeph and Mary, and all that must flock around them, with so humble an address from strangers of such high dignity; and what surther passed in consequence of this on either side, every one may in some degree imagine; but no one can undertake to relate, since the Gofpels do not. We are there only told, tsHtf these respectable visitors, having paid their duty in this manner, and being warned of God not to return to Herod,* "departed into their own country another way."
* Matth. ii. ix.
Thus ends this remarkable piece of history, in which all the circumstances are so persectly consormable to the manners, the customs, the prevailing opinions and notions of thofe times, in which the narrative is suppofed to have been written, that they tend greatly to consirm the truth and credibility of the sacred history. I have already in going along touched ssightly on some of these circumstances, but it may be usesul here to draw them all into one point of view.
1. In the sirst place, then, the journey of these wise men, and the object of it, namely, to find out him who was born king of the Jews, corresponds exactly to the insormation given by several heathen authors,* that there was in thofe days a general expectation of some very extraordinary personage, who was to make his appearance at that particular period of time, and in that particular part of the world.
2. If the birth of this extraordinary personage was marki ed by a new star or meteor in the heavens, it was very natural that it should sirst strike the observation of thofe called the wife men, who lived in a country where the stars and the planets shone with uncommon lustre, where the science of astronomy was (for that reason perhaps) particularly cultivated, where it was the peculiar prosession of these very magi, or wise men, and where no remarkable appearance in the heavens could escape the many curious eyes that were constantly sixed upon them.
3. The manner in which these wise men approached our £.ord, is precisely that in which the people always addressed themselves to men of high rank and dignity.
They worshipped him; that is, they prostrated themselves to the ground before him, which we know was then and still is the custom of those countries.
They offered prefents to him; and it is well known, that without a present no great man was at that time or is now approached.
These presents were gold, frankincense, and myrrh; and $iese, as we have before observed, were the natural produce
t \id. Tacit Hist. v. i3,..gufton. in vita Vesp. c. 4.