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be disturbed and alarmed, not knowing what. the consequences of so extraordinary 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.
When the wise men came into the house and saw the child, they fell down and wor
shipped 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 sufficient to procure them acceptance with God. Indeed, according to the opinion of some ancient fathers concerning their presents, their faith must have been very great. For they represent the incense, as offered 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 interpret the same gifts very differently, 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 fellowcreatures; and the myrrh, purity of soul and body ; it being highly efficacious in preserving them from corruption. But though either
or both these notions may be piously and innocently entertained, yet all we know with certainty is, that in those 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 of 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 Joseph and Mary, and all that must flock around them, with so humble an address from strangers of such high dignity; and what further passed in consequence of this on either side, every one may in some degree imagine ; but no one can undertake to relate, since the Gospels do not. We are there only told, that 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.”
Thus ends this remarkable piece of history, . in which all the circumstances are so perfectly * Matth. ii. 12.
conformable to the manners, the customs, the prevailing opinions and notions of those times, in which the narrative is supposed to have been written, that they tend greatly to confirm the truth and credibility of the sacred history. I have already in going along touched slightly on some of these circumstances, but it may be useful here to draw them all into one point of view.
1. In the first 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 information given by several heathen authors *, that there was in those 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 marked by a new star or meteor in the heavens, it was very natural that it should first strike the observation of those called the wise men, who lived in a country where the
* Vid. Tacit. Hist. v. 13. Sueton. in Vita Vesp. c. 4.
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 profession of these very magi, or wise men, and where no remarkable appearance in the heavens could escape the many curious eyes that were constantly fixed upon them.
3. The manner in which these wise men approached our Lord, 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 presents 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 these, as we have before observed, were the natural productions of that country whence the wise men are supposed to have come, namely, Arabia or Sabæa.
Even that dreadful transaction, which was the unfortunate consequence of their journey,