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great king was to be born to the Jews, who would be worthy to be worshipped : which is manifest from the wise men coming to Jerusalem, to enquire after this glorious person, having seen his star in the East, and being desirous not only to see the young king, but to present their offerings before him. Nor must it be omitted, that amongst the oracles of the Sibyls; at the time of our Saviour's birth, in such high repute at Rome, are various predictions of the times of the Messiah ; and the poet Virgil, who wrote in the beginning of the reign of Augustus, composed his Pollio, which contains the predictions of a heavenly child soon to be born, whom he calls the Son of God, and describes his kingdom in a manner which is similar to several sublime passages in the prophet Isaiah, descriptive of the glorious Redeemer of mankind.
The Angel appears to Zacharias in the Temple, and foretells the Birth of John the Baptist, the Forerunner of our Great REDEEMER. Zacharias doubting, is struck dumb for a Sign. The salutation 'of the Virgin Mary. Her visit to her Relation Elizabeth, the Wife of Zacharias. The Birth and Circumcision of John the Baptist. Zacharias's
mouth is opened ; his prophecy. THE
happy time being near at hand, fixed by the Triune God, for our great Redeemer to make his appearance in the world, called in Scripture, The fullness of time, it pleased the Eternal King of heaven and earth, to give notice to mankind, that this exalted person would soon be manifested, and the benefits arising from his mission obtained. God had declared by his prophets, that before his Son appeared in the world, a messenger should go before his face to prepare his way. This
messenger was further described under the character of the prophet Elijah ; and in another place he was called The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make straight, in the desert, a high way for our God. In the accomplishment of those prophecies, it was necessary that John the Baptist, the forerunner of our great Redeemer, should first be born; and, accordingly, the Angel Gabriel was sent from heaven to give notice of the birth of this great herald of the Lord of Life.The persons destined to be parents to this extraordinary man, were Zacharias, a pious priest, and his wife Elizabeth ; who were both of the family of Aaron, and blameless in the observance of the law. But, though they had lived from their youth in the married state, they were not blessed with any offspring, and were both so far advanced in years, that according to the course of nature, no issue could be expected from them. The priests that officiated in the temple
of Solomon, were divided into twenty-four courses ; every course began its service on the Sabbath-day, and continued all the week. Only four of these courses returned from the Babylonish captivity ; the rest were either extinct, or tarried behind. But, that the number of twenty-four might still subsist, cach course divided itself into six; the new ones taking upon themselves the names of those who were wanting. Zacharias was of the course of Abia, one of the new ones in this sub-division, and the eighth in the order of the twenty-four. It was the lot of this ageri priest to burn incense in the holy place, and while the smoke of the incense ascended, the people according to custom, were praying in the outward court.As the good priest stood by the altar of incense, the angel appeared in view, all bright and glorious, as a native of the sky. Zacharias, at the sight of the heavenly messenger, was filled with terror and dismay; but the angel, with condescending goodness, thus addressed him: Fear not, Zacharias, for. thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth: for he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall neither drink wine nor strong drink ; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn unto the Lord their God. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. As Zacharias was one of the pious Jews who waited for the consolation of Israel, doubtless he had often prayed that he might live to see the Messiah come, which was the prayer that the angel assured him was heard; but that his wife Elizabeth should bear a son, who should be the forerunner of the Redeemer of Israel, seemed a thing so extraordirary, and out of the course of nature, that the priest could not believe it, though as
serted by an angel ; and therefore replied to the hea: venly messenger: Whereby shall I know this ? For I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. The bright commander of the angelic squadrons, seemed displeased that Zacharias should question the truth of his prediction ; and therefore proceeded to let him know his dignity, and the high place he occupied in the heavenly world; and the consequential impossibility that he should deceive him. Know, said he, that I ain Gabriel that stand in the Presence of God, and am sent from heaven, to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings. But, as thou hast presumed to call in question the truth of the heavenly message, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until these things shall be performed: for though thou hast not believed my words, they nevertheless are true, and shall be performed in their season. The priest, astonished at the vision, stayed longer in the holy place than usual; at which the people, who waited without for his benediction, were much surprised : at last he came to them, but found the prediction of the angel awfully fulfilled; for when, according to the course of his office, he was to bless the people, he could not speak : but signified to them by signs, that he had seen a vision, which was the cause of his dumbness: and, the week of his administration being accomplished, he returned to his house. Soon after this, his wife Elizabeth found herself with child, but made a secret of her conception for the first five months, contenting herself with giving God thanks in private, for his great goodness in taking away the reproach of her barrenness; and revolving in her mind, with wonder and praise, the unsearchable counsels of God, and his great good. ness to the children of men.
Six months after this, the angel Gabriel, the same who had appeared to the prophet Daniel, and foretold the very time of our Redeemer's birth, and had lately predicted to Zacharias the birth of his forerunner, was sent from the heavenly regions, to the city of
Nazareth, to an amiable and virtuous virgin, named Mary, supposed to be about fifteen years of was of the house and lineage of David, and was espoused to a good man, supposed to be a widower, and pretty far advanced in years, named Joseph, who was also of the royal line of David. The husband had not taken home his wife, but she remained a virgin at her father's house; and while, as supposed, at her private devotions, the angel appeared to her arrayed in heavenly brightness; and, with a condescending smile, saluted her in terms of the highest respect: Hail, Mary, he cried, thou art highly favoured; the Lord is with thee : blessed art thou amongst women. The pious maid was not more surprised at the blaze of heavenly glory which shone around her, that at the salutation of the celestial messenger, to whom she knew not how to reply. When the angel rejoined, with looks and accents of such kindness, and heavenly goodness, as dissipated every fearful apprehension. Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour with God. And behold thou shalt conceive and bring forth a Son, and shall call his name Jesus : he shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Highest ; and the Lord God shall give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever ; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. The holy maid, not immediately recollecting that the prophet Isaiah had, in his predictions of the Messiah said, Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son: and being conscious of her purity, did not, like Zacharias, require a sign; but modestly inquired how her pregnancy could be effected in her virgin state. How, said she, can this be, seeing I know not a man? To which the angel, with condescending goodness, replied, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also, that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the son of God. And though the holy maid had not required a sign, whereby she might be assured of the certainty of an event so wonderful, and contrary to the estab