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THE INNOCENTS' DAY.
O Almighty God, whò out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast ordained strength, and madest infants to glorify thee by their deaths ; mortify and kill all vices in us, and so strengthen us by thy grace, that by the innocency of our lives, and constàncy of our faith even unto death, we may glorify thy holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
VHE observation of this day in the church
of Christ is mentioned by Origen, who suffered martyrdom, A. D. 202.* It has, therefore, all the sanction which immemorial prescription can give it; for it is impossible to ascertain how early it commenced, since he only mentions it as an ordinance of the church then existing, and to be in force for ever. ; The propriety of this ordinance will be justified by a consideration of the event which is commemo. rated.
The collect for “the Innocents' day,” which for the most part was newly composed at the æra of the Reformation, consists of-A preface recording a very memorable event which succeeded our Saviour's nativity-And a prayer founded thereupon.
Orig. Hom. 3. de diversis, T. ii. p. 436. Horum memoria
semper ut dignum in ecclesiis celebratur, secundum integrum ordinem sanctorum, ut primorum martyrum pro Domino occisorum. See Bingham's Works, vol. ij. b. 20, cap. 7, sect. 12.
U VOL. I.
The event to which the preface of our collect refers, is of a very affecting and instructive nature. Soon after the birth of our Saviour, some wise men, called by the Evangelist Magi, came from the east, under the direction of a supernatural star, to worship Him. Their history we shall have occasion to consider, when we review the collect appointed for the Epiphany. We shall therefore only observe concerning them here, that, on their journey in search
of the new-born king of the Jews, they went first to Jerusalem, and made their inquiries there concerning the place where the Messiah was to be born; and received an answer from the chief Priests and Seribes, founded on a prophecy of Micah (chap. v. 2), that Bethlehem of Judea was the place destined to so high an honour. The inquiries of the Magi, rendered important and authenticated as they were by the miraculous circumstances of their jour, ney, together with the determinate reply of the chief Priests and Scribes, alarmed the jealous tyrant Herod, who was at that time the king of Judea, and produced a resolution in his ruthless bosom of destroying the royal infant, whom he viewed as his rival in the throne. For this
purpose he at first employed the engine of craft and subtlety, directing the Magi to return to him after they had discovered the object of their search, that he might also go and pay him that homage which was suited to his rank and dig, nity. This insidious scheme was frustrated by the interposition of Divine providence, which prevented the return of the Magi to Jerusalem. On this disappointment Herod became greatly enraged, Fear and pride co-operating in his breast, induced him to perpetrate one of the
most horrid and atrocious acts which history records. That he might make sure of the object of his vengeance, "He sent forth and "slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, "and in all the coasts thereof, from two years "old and under, according to the time which "he had diligently inquired of the wise men." Hereby he was the unconscious instrument of fulfilling a prophecy which had been delivered by Jeremiah six hundred years before its accomplishment, and of establishing what he meant to destroy: "In Rama was there a voice heard, "lamentation and weeping, and great mourn
ing, Rachel weeping for her children, and "would not be comforted, because they are "not.' "'* But God, whose plans neither fraud nor violence can counteract, had provided for the safety of Him on whose life the salvation of a lost world depended, by forewarning His parents of Herod's malicious intent, and directing them to carry Him into Egypt. Thus the wrath of man turns to the praise of God. The impious tyrant" conceived mischief, and brought forth "vanity." His cruel artifice proved a mean of confirming the Messiahship of Jesus, and of accomplishing those prophecies which exhibited Him as the promised Son of God. "The kings "of the earth stood up, and the rulers took "counsel together, against the Lord and against "His anointed, But He that sitteth in the
*The double sense which is often to be attributed to prophetic language, will account for the use which the Evangelist makes of this citation. See Bishop Hurd's Introduction to the Study of the Prophecies. It is a work of high value. "To such às consider the genius of the re"vealed system, the Old Testament must appear a conti"nued prophecy of the New." St, Austin, quoted by Bishop Hurd, vol. i. p. 64.
s heavens laughed them to scorn, the Lord had “ them in derision;" and made them the instruments of " setting His king upon His holy hill " of Sion.”
Having thus given a brief account of the event which our church commemorates, we return to the preface of our collect, which consists of two members. The former of these is a citation from the eighth Psalm, which citation is applied by the second member to the martyrdom of the Bethlehemitish infants.
The words of the Psalmist (Psalm viii. 2.) are quoted, with a slight variation, by our Lord (Matt, xxi. 9.) in vindication of the children who, on seeing the miracles which He wrought in the temple, cried, “ Hosanna to the son of “ David,” hailing Jesus as the promised Messiah. At this “ the chief priests and scribes “ were sore displeased," and said, addressing themselves to our Lord, “ Hearest thou what “ these say?" To which our Lord answered, “ Yea, have ye never read, Out of the mouths « of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected “ praise?" By this reply His enemies were confounded : and if the passage be considered as applicable to the purpose for which it was cited (and surely our Lord could not err in its interpretation) it is calculated also to confound some more modern enemies of the Son of God. For if it vindicates the children in their acclamations of Hosanna as addressed to Jesus from the accusation of blasphemy, that vindication must be built on His undoubted claim to Divinity.
Witli great propriety is the Psalmist's declaration introduced by our church in reference to the destruction of the Bethlehemitish children,
For a foundation was thereby laid' * for the manifestation of Divine strength in defeating and confounding the wicked designs of Herod and the Devil, who aimed at the destruction of the infant-Saviour; each of whom may be referred to by the Spirit of prophecy in the latter clause of the verse, and with the utmost propriety be styled “ the enemy and avenger, self-tormentor. † And if we adopt the variation
* 10' rendered to ordain, literally signifies to lay a foundation.
toping. Herod was in a very bad state of health at: the time when he massacred the children of Bethlehem. “ A report being shortly after spread that he was dead, some young people at noon-day beat down a golden eagle, which he had placed over the great portal of the temple, contrary to the law and customs of the Jews.. The authors of this exploit, with forty of their followers, were seized by Herod's order, and burned alive. Herod's diseases increased daily; his fever was not violent, but a slow internal heat wasted him. His hunger was so raging as to be insatiable. His bowels were ulcerated; he had continual pains in his, belly; his legs swelled like those of dropsical persons; certain parts were so rotten, that worms were seen to come out of them, and he had an intolerable itch over all his body.
- A little before his death, he sent for all who were considerable in Judea to Jericho, threatening them with death if they failed. When they were come, he ordered them to be confined in the circus, and with tears constrained his sister Salome and Alexas his brother-in-law to promise. him, that as soon as he was dead they should massacre all these persons; that so the Jews throughout the land might, at least in appearance, shed tears at his death. But this order was not executed.
66 Some time after he received letters from Rome, informe ing him that Augustus permitted him either to banish (bis son) Antipater, or to kill him. This news a little revived him; but his pains returning with great violence, he wished to deliver himself from them by death. He called for a knife to pare an apple, as he was used to do; but he attempted to plunge it into his body: his cousin Achiab held , his hand; at the same time making a loud exclamation, which disordered the whole palace, all supposing that the