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lished order of nature, the heavenly guest was pleased to give her this satisfaction: And behold, said he, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month with her who was colled barren: for with God nothing shall be impossible. This reply was accompanied with such a manifestation of the Divine Presence, that it removed every fear, and filled the wondering maid with heavenly gladness, which she had not known before. The expectation of the Messiah was general at this time throughout the Jewish nation, and strong were the desires of Judah's daughters for the honor and happiness of being the Mother of the Redeemer of Israel; and the holy maid, it may be expected had ardently wished for this great blessing ; so that, with growing joy and exultation, she immediately replied to the bright arch-angel, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word.
Soon after the departure of the angel, the holy virgin, regarding with joy of heart what the heavenly messenger had related concerning her relation and friend, went to the hill country of Judea, to pay a visit to her cousin Elizabeth. It is supposed that Zacharias lived at Hebron, the city of David, before he went to Jerusalem, formerly inhabited by giants, but taken by Joshua; and, when the land was divided, given to the tribe of Judah; which city was about seventy miles from Nazareth. The joy that inspired the blessed virgin, gave her such a flow of spirits, that she lightly tripped over the mountains; and as soon as she arrived at the house of her dear relative, the pious matron was filled with divine illuminations, and so affected at the sound of the maiden's voice, that the evangelist informs us, the babe leaped in her womb. And, being filled with heavenly rapture, she addressed the wondering maid in the same language which she had lately heard from the angel. Blessed art thou amongst women ; to which she added, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb; and still continuing full of hea
venly ardour, she exclaimed, And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me ! she then proceeded immediately to inform her of her happpy pregnancy, For, said she, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And then, in full assurance of the fulfilment of the divine predictions respecting them both, she added, And blessed is she that believeth, for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord. The divine flame of holy love and joy, which glowed in the heart of the pious matron, soon catched in the bosom of the holy virgin; who, confirmed beyond all possibility of a doubt, in the truth of the angel's prediction, by what she had now heard from her dear relation, proceeded with a heart full of gratitude and holy joy, to bless, and praise, and magnify the name of the Lord, for his great goodness to her, in appointing her to be the mother of the Messiah.
After three months stay with her dear relative, the virgin Mary returned to her own city Nazareth ; and being now the fourth month, her pregnancy plainly appeared ; which gave great concern to Joseph, her espoused husband. But though he apprehended she had been seduced, yet having a sincere affection for her, and being of a kind and compassionate disposition, he was not willing to proceed to the severity of the law; which in this case was no less than her being stoned to death at the door of her father's house. But as he had just reason to suppose that her honor could not be vindicated, and being a strict observer of the law, he was not willing to take her to his bed; but stood determined to break the marriage contract as privately as possible. While with great vexation and trouble, he was ruminating on these things, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and informed him of the nature of his wife's pregnancy; giving him, at the same time, full satisfaction concerning her innocency. Fear not, said the heavenly vision, Joseph thou son of David, to take unto thee Mary thy wife ; for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a Son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. It was with unspeakable joy, that the good man received this information; and, not hesitating a moment respecting the truth of the heavenly message, he took the lovely maid home to his house. But the evangelist informs us, that he knew her not, till she had brought forth her first born Son.
While these things were in agitation at Nazareth, Elizabeth the wife of Zacharias the priest, and relative of the favoured virgin, having completed the full time of her pregnancy, was delivered of a son. The reproach of her barrenness being thus removed, her neighbours and friends rejoiced with her; the whole family smiled at the event, and every heart was glad. On the eighth day, when they attended on the sacred rite of circumcision, the relations proposed that he should be named Zacharias, after his father; but the mother informed them that his name must be John. All the guests wondered at this, because it was a name never known in the family, and for the decision of the affair, they applied to the father. The good man being dumb since the appearance of the angel who predicted the birth of the child, could not inform them, but made signs for a writing table, and wrote, His name is John. The relations wondered at this, but more at observing the old man's dumbness to cease from that moment, whose voice, rising clearer and stronger for having been so long suppressed, raised loud strains of joy and gladness, and lofty praises to the God of Israel, for his great goodness, in remembering and visiting his people; and, full of prophetic rapture, turning to his infant son, And thou child, said he, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord, to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people; by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of dçath, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Such were the circumstances which attended the birth of the forerunner of our great Redeemer; the report of which soon spread through the hill country of Judea, and various were the conceptions of the people concerning the future greatness of the child. The infant soon grew strong and robust, he was remarkably simple and abstemious in his diet, plain and careless in his dress, and addicted to solitude and contemplation. Sacred history gives us no information what afterwards became of his parents; but there is a tradition that the mother fled into the deserts with her infant son to preserve him from the rage of Herod; and that the father was slain in the outer court of the temple, by the orders of that tyrant; and is that Zacharias which Christ mentions, whose blood was shed between the temple and the altar.
The Birth of Christ, with all the various Circum.stances that attended it, viz. An angel bringing the Neros thereof to the Shepherds; the heavenly Host praise God; the Shepherds, finding it to be as the Angel had said, glorify God; and the Circumcision
of CHRIST. THE great King of the creation and righteous Governor of the universe, having fixed in his eternal counsels, both the time and the place where his only son was to be born; so ordered the affairs of the world, as to bring his great predictions and gracious designs to pass. And as he over-rules the counsels of princes, and determines the actions of men, so as to answer the wise ends of his government, and accomplish the designs of his grace; so in this present instance, there is a remarkable manifestation of divine wisdom and power co-operating to bring about this great event, The holy Virgin and her husband dwelt at Nazareth; and, according to the prophet's prediction, the Messiah was to be born at Bethlehem, which was at a considerable distance; but to bring the great prediction to pass, Divine Providence so ordered it, that about three years before the time of our Redeemer's birth, a decree passed at Rome, by the order of the emperor Augustus, that a survey should be taken, and a register made, of the persons, estates, and wealth, contained in his vast empire. This survey seems not to have been taken with an immediate design of taxation, but rather from views of ambition, or that the emperor might know the number and riches of his subjects; for there were no taxes gathered by the Romans till eleven or twelve years after this, when Archeláus the son of Herod, was deposed for his tyranny and oppression, and Judea reduced into the form of a Roman province; for Herod, and the rest of the tributary kings, received the taxes of their subjects, and