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phets and Angels descends to be conceived in that Galilee, out of which no prophet ariseth. He, that filleth all places, makes no difference of places. It is the person, which gives honour and privilege to the place, not the place to the person : as the presence of God makes the heaven; the heaven doth not make the honour glorious. No blind corner of Nazareth can hide the Blessed Virgin from the angel. The favours of God will find out his children, whithersoever they are withdrawn.
It is the fashion of God to seek out the most despised, on whom to bestow his honours. We cannot run away, as from the judgments, so not from the mercies of our God. The cottages of Galilee are preferred by God, to the famous palaces of Jerusalem. He cares not how homely he converse with his own. Why should we be transported with the outward glory of places, while our God regards it not? We are not of the angel's diet, if we would not rather be with the blessed virgin at Nazareth, than with the proud dames in the Court of Jerusalem. It is a great vanity, to respect any thing above goodness, and to disesteem goodness for any want.
The angel salutes the virgin; he prays not to her. He salutes her, as a saint; he prays not to her as a goddess. For us to salute her as he did, were gross presumption ; for neither are we as he was, neither is she as she was. If he, that was a spirit, saluted her, that was flesh and blood here on earth, it is not for us, that are flesh and blood, to salute her, which is a glorious spirit in heaven. For us to pray to her in the angel's salutation, were to abuse the virgin, the angel, the salutation.
But, how gladly do we second the angel in the praise of her, which was more ours than his ! How justly do we bless her, whom the angel pronounceth blessed ! How worthily is she honoured of men, whom the angel proclaimeth beloved of God ! O blessed Mary, he cannot bless thee, he cannot honour thee, too much, that deifies thee not. That, which the angel said of thee, thou hast prophesied of thyself: we believe the angel, and thee. All generations shall call thee blessed, by the fruit of whose womb all generations are blessed.
If Zachary were amazed with the sight of this angel, much more the virgin. That very sex had more disadvantage of fear. If it had been but a man, that had come to her in that secrecy and suddenness, she could not but have been troubled ; how much more, when the shining glory of the person doubled the astonishment !
The troubles of holy minds end ever in comfort. Joy was the errand of the angel, and not terror. Fear (as all passions) disquiets the heart; and makes it, for the time, unfit to receive the messages of God. Soon hath the angel cleared these troublesome mists of passions, and sent out the beams of heavenly consolation, in the remotest corner of her soul, by the glad news of
her Saviour. How can joy but enter into her heart, out of whose womb shall come salvation? What room can fear find in that breast, that is assured of favour? “ Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. Let those fear who know they are in displeasure, or know not they are gracious. Thy happy estate calls for confidence, and that confidence for joy. What should, what can they fear, who are favoured of him, at whom the devils tremble?”
Not the presence of the good angels, but the temptations of evil, strike many terrors into our weakness. We could not be dismayed with them, if we did not forget our condition. We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. If that Spirit, ó God, witness with our spirits, that we are thine, how can we fear any of those spiritual wickednesses ? Give us assurance of thy favour, and let the powers of hell do their worst.
It was no ordinary favour that the virgin found in heaven. No mortal creature was ever thus graced, that He should take part of her nature, that was the God of Nature; that he, which made all things, should make his human body of hers; that her womb should yield that flesh, which was personally united to the Godhead; that she should bear him that upholds the world : Lo, thou shalt conceive and bear a Son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
It is a question, whether there be more wonder in the conception, or in the fruit; the conception of the Virgin, or Jesus conceived. Both are marvellous; but the former doth not more exceed all other wonders, than the latter exceedeth it: for the child of a virgin, is the reimprovement of that power which created the world, but that God should be incarnate of a virgin, was an abasement of his majesty, and an exaltation of the creature beyond all example.
Well was that child worthy to make the mother blessed. Here was a double conception; one in the womb of her body, the other of the soul. If that were more miraculous, this was more beneficial; that was her privilege, this was her happiness : if that were singular to her, this is common to all his chosen. There is no renewed heart, wherein thou, O Saviour, art not formed again. Blessed be thou, that hast herein made us blessed. For what womb can conceive thee, and not partake of thee? Who can partake of thee, and not be happy?
Doubtless, the Virgin understood the angel, as he meant, of a present conception; which made her so much more inquisitive, into the manner and means of this event: How shall this be, since I know not a man? That she should conceive a son, by the knowledge of man, after her marriage consummate, could have been no wonder : but how then should that son of hers be the Son of God? This demand was higher. How her present virginity should be instantly fruitful might be well worthy of ad
miration, of inquiry. Here was desire of information; not doubts of infidelity: yea rather, this question argues faith: it takes for granted that, which an unbelieving heart would have stuck at. She says not, “ Who, and whence art thou? What kingdom is this? Where, and when, shall it be erected ?” But, smoothly supposing all those strange things would be done, she insists only on that, which did necessarily require a farther intimation; and doth not distrust, but demand. Neither doth she say,
66 This cannot be ;” nor " How can this be?” but How shall this be? So doth the angel answer, as one that knew he needed not to satisfy curiosity, but to inform judgment and uphold faith. He doth not therefore tell her of the manner, but of the Author, of this act; The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. It is enough to know, who is the undertaker, and what he will do.
O God, what do we seek a clear light, where thou wilt have a shadow ? No mother knows the manner of her natural conception : what presumption shall it be for flesh and blood, to search how the Son of God took flesh and blood of his creature! It is for none, but the Almighty, to know those works, which he doth immediately concerning himself; those, that concern us, he hath revealed: secrets to God; things revealed to us.
The answer was not so full, but that a thousand difficulties might arise, out of the particularities of so strange a message ; yet, after the angel's solution, we hear of no more objections, no more interrogations. The faithful heart, when it once understands the good pleasure of God, argues no more; but sweetly rests itself in a quiet expectation : Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. There is not a more noble proof of our faith, than to captivate all the powers of our understanding and will to our Creator; and, without all sciscitations, to go blindfold whither he will lead us. All disputations with God, after his will known, arise from infidelity. Great is the mystery of godliness; and, if we will give nature leave to cavil, we cannot be Christians. O God, thou art faithful, thou art powerful. It is enough, that thou hast said it. In the humility of our obedience, we resign ourselves over to thee. Behold the servants of the Lord; be it unto us according to thy word.
How fit was her womb to conceive the flesh of the Son of God by the power of the Spirit of God, whose breast had so soon by the power of the same spirit conceived an assent to the will of God? And now, of a handmaid of God, she is adyanced to the Mother of God. No sooner hath she said, Be it done, than it is done: the Holy Ghost overshadows her, and forms her Saviour in her own body.
This very angel, that talks with the Blessed Virgin, could scarce have been able to express the joy of her heart, in the sense of this Divine burden. Never any mortal creature had so much cause of exultation. How could she, that was full of God, be other than full of joy in that God?
Grief grows greater by concealing ; joy, by expression. The Holy Virgin had understood by the angel
, how her cousin Elizabeth was no less of kin to her in condition; the fruitfulness of whose age did somewhat suit the fruitfulness of her virginity. Happiness communicated doubles itself. Here is no straining of courtesy: The Blessed Maid, whom vigour of age had more fitted for the way, hastens her journey into the hill country, to visit that gracious matron, whom God had made a sign of her miraculous conception. Only the meeting of saints in Heaven can parallel the meeting of these two cousins : the two wonders of the world are met under one roof, and congratulate their mutual happiness. When we have Christ spiritually conceived in us, we cannot be quiet, till we have imparted our joy.
Elizabeth, that holy matron, did no sooner welcome her blessed cousin, than her babe welcomes his Saviour. Both, in the retired closets of their mother's womb, are sensible of each other's
presence; the one by his omniscience, the other by instinct. He did not more forerun Christ, than overrun nature. How should our hearts leap within us, when the Son of God vouchsafes to come into the secret of our souls : not to visit us, but to dwell with us, to dwell in us!
CONTEMPLATION III.-THE BIRTH OF CHRIST.
As all the actions of men, so especially the public actions of public men, are ordered by God to other ends than their own. This edict went not so much out from Augustus, as from the court of heaven. What, did Cæsar know Joseph and Mary? His charge was universal, to a world of subjects through all the Roman empire. God intended this cension only for the Blessed Virgin and her Son, that Christ might be born where he should. Cæsar meant to fill his coffers : God meant to fulfil his prophecies; and so to fulfil them, that those whom it concerned might not feel the accomplishment. If God had directly commanded the Virgin to go up to Bethlehem, she had seen the intention, and expected the issue ; but that wise Moderator of all things, that works his will in us, loves so to do it as may be least with our foresight and aoquaintance, and would have us fall under his decrees unawares, that we may so much the more adore the depths of his Providence. Every creature walks blindfold: only he, that dwells in light, sees whither they go.
Doubtless, blessed Mary meant to have been delivered of her divine burden at home; and little thought of changing the place of conception, for another of her birth. That house was honoured by the angel, yea, by the over-shadowing of the Holy Ghost. None could equally satisfy her hopes or desires. It was fit, that he, which made choice of the womb wherein his Son should be conceived, should make choice of the place where his Son should be born. As the work is all his, so will he alone contrive all the circumstances to his own ends.
O the infinite wisdom of God, in casting all his designs ! There needs no other proof of Christ, than Cæsar and Bethlehem; and of Cæsars, than Augustus. His government, his edict, pleads the truth of the Messiah. His government: now was the deep peace of all the world, under that quiet sceptre, which made way for him, who was the Prince of Peace ; if wars be a sign of the time of his second coming, peace was a sign of his first. His edict : now was the sceptre departed from Judah; it was the time for Shiloh to come. No power was left in the Jews, but to obey. Augustus is the Emperor of the world ; under him, Herod is the king of Judea, Cyrenius is president of Syria. Jewry hath nothing of her own. For Herod, if he were a king, yet he was no Jew; and if he had been a Jew, yet he was no otherwise a king, than tributary and titular. The edict came out from Augustus, was executed by Cyrenius. He rod is no actor in this service. Gain and glory are the ends of this taxation. Each man professed himself a subject, and paid for the privilege of his servitude. Now, their very heads were not their own : but must be paid for, to the head of a foreign state. They, which before stood upon the terms of their immunity, stoop at the last. The proud suggestions of Judas, the Galilean, might shed their blood and swell their stomachs, but could not ease their yoke ; neither was it the meaning of God, that holiness, if they had been as they pretended, should shelter them from subjection.
A tribute is imposed upon God's free people. This act of bondage brings them liberty. Now, when they seemed most neglected of God, they are blessed with a Redeemer : when they are most pressed with foreign sovereignty, God sends them a King of their own, to whom Cæsar himself must be a subject. The goodness of our God picks out the most needful times of our relief and comfort. Our extremities give him the most glory.
Whither must Joseph and Mary come to be taxed, but unto Bethlehem, David's city? The very place proves their descent. He, that succeeded David in his throne, must succeed him in the place of his birth. So clearly was Bethlehem designed to this honour by the prophets, that even the priests and the scribes could point Herod unto it, and assured him the King of the