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us—and darkness has reluctantly yielded, to the ris. ing radiance of that day, which is now hastening to its meridian. The subject of the present Lecture is, The Life, DEATH, RESURRection, AND Ascension of Jesus CHRIST, PRoved As MATTERs of FAct. We are not now to relate facts which took place at the infancy of time, in some remote empire, long since dismembered, and its very name consigned over to oblivion: but the events which we defend transpired under the immediate sway of imperial Rome, at the zenith of her power, and when her dominions comprehended half the globe. Her standard had been planted in remotest Asia: her emperors bestowed or displaced the diadems of neighboring states at their pleasure: her eagles had stretched their wings over the sea, and alighted upon the fields of Britain, then esteemed and denominated “the ends of the earth;” and while polished nations endured her yoke, the savage barbarian trembled at her name in the inaccessible wilds of his native forest, and the sons of the north fled to their cloud-encompassed mountains, and crouched concealed amid the mists which crept along their summits. It is singular that, at this period, the whole world were in expectation of some grand and impending event. Not only were the descendants of Abraham looking for the “Desire of all nations,” but a general tradition was in circulation, and a general impression prevailed, that some extraordinary personage was about to make his appearance. This is not hinted obscurely, but the expectation is stated openly and fairly, by many of the most considerable writers of that age, both poets and historians. Seutonius," and Tacitus,t had stated a common opinion that “the East should prevail.” To this extraordinary expectation, awakened and kept alive, we may reasonably impute the journey of the Magi, whosecuriosity had been excited by the appearance of an unknown star, differing in motion, and in all other respects, from the orbs which ordinarily revolve in the heavens. Of this, however, we shall feel it our duty to speak more at large hereafter. As a confirmation of our assertion, respecting the sentiments entertained at that singular period, we cannot resist the inclination which we feel, to translate a part of the most celebrated eclogue of Virgil, which he calls Pollio—beyond comparison the most elegant, and deservedly the most admired production of all antiquity. It was written about forty years before the birth of our Savior. It was composed probably to compliment Marcellus, the nephew of Augustus by Octavia; but we trust that you will perceive parts in it, which can be strictly applicable to no mortal reign, however glorious: you will deem it probable that he has borrowed his most sublime images from the prophecies, with which he might be acquainted through the medium of the Greek translation; and the whole is a specimen of the general expectation of the world, just previous to the advent of our Lord. “Sicilian Muses, let us attempt more exalted strains! The last era foretold in Cumaean verse is already arrived. The grand series of revolving ages commences anew. Now a new progeny is sent down from losty heaven. Be propitious, chaste Lucina, to the infant
boy—by him the iron years shall close, and the golden age shall arise upon all the world. Under thy consular sway, Pollio, shall this glory of the age make his entrance, and the great months begin their revolutions. Should any vestiges of guilt remain, swept away under thy direction, the earth shall be released from fear for ever; and with his Father's virtues shall he rule the tranquil world. The earth shall pour before thee, sweet boy, without culture, her smiling first fruits. The timid herds shall not be afraid of the large, fierce lions. The venomous asp shall expire, and the deadly, poisonous plant, shall wither. The fields shall become yellow with golden ears of corn: the blushing grape shall hang upon the wild bramble; and the stubborn oak shall distil soft, dewy honey.— Yet still shall some vestiges of pristine vice remain: which shall cause the sea to be ploughed with ships— towns to be besieged—and the face of the earth to be wounded with furrows. New wars shall arise—new heroes be sent to the battle—But when thy maturity is come, every land shall produce all necessary things, and commerce shall cease. The ground shall not endure the harrow, nor shall the vine need the pruning-hook. As they wove their thread, the Destinies sang this strain—‘Roll on, ye years of felicity'— Bright offspring of the gods' thou great increase of Jove! advance to thy distinguished honors! for now the time approaches! Behold, the vast globe, with its ponderous convexity, bows to thee!—the lands—the expansive seas—the sublime heavens! See, how all things rejoice in this advancing era! Oh! that the closing scenes of a long life may yet hold out, and so much fire remain, as shall enable me to celebrate thy deeds!”* * Virg. Ecl. iv. Pollic.
So sublimely sang the Roman bard: but Isaiah struck a deeper chord, and in strains still more elevated announced the coming Savior. “Righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins. The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf, and the young lion, and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed, their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice-den. They shall not hurt, nor destroy, in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing; and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree.”f
Nor was the state of the world at that period less singular, than were the expectations of the different nations. The bloody portal of war was closed: the gates of the temple of Janus, always open in a time of contest, were shut: the commotions of all empires had subsided; and the whole earth enjoyed a profound tranquillity, propitious to the Savior's mild and peaceful sway, and characteristic of it. This was the fifth time that these gates had been closed from the foundation of the city of Rome; and the peace, which was universal, continued without interruption for twelve years.
* Isaiah xi, 5–9. # Isaiah ly, 12, 13.
Augustus, at this time, had issued a decree, that all persons under the Roman dominion should be registered, according to their respective provinces, cities, and families. Joseph and Mary, on this occasion, ywere called to the city of David, from their obscure village, to which, as being of his lineage, they originally belonged, that they might be registered among those who were of the same family. And thus the mighty monarch of the Roman empire, was induced by an invisible power, whom he knew not, whom he served not, to enact a novel and general decree, to bring from their obscurity a poor, unknown family; that He who came too humbly to be acknowledged, might not lose an iota of evidence to his character and to his mission; and that the prophecies should be fulfilled, which had asserted that “the Ruler of Israel.” should come out of “Bethlehem!”
A variety of conjectures have been formed respecting this tax. Some have asserted," others have denied,f an universal enrolment. It is not necessary indeed that any other taxation than that of Judea, should be supposed, which will account for the silence of ancient historians upon the subject.—The original word; does not necessarily imply “all the world,” but may be rendered “all the land”—referring to the whole of Israel, and comprehending those parts which had been dismembered from the body, and distributed among the descendants of Herod the Great; and Galilee the country of Joseph among them. It may be necessary also to observe, that we are not to take the term “taa” in the sense usually affixed to it: a duty