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He was to be the immediate forerunner of the Messiah. The respect which his future office bore to the Saviour, marked him out as the most proper person for a sign of his miraculous conception. Was John to " be filled with the Holy “ Ghost from his mother's womb?” The early appearances of extraordinary wisdom and sanctity, would be a permanent atteftation of the truth of the miracles preceding his birth. Such circumstances attended this fign, that although the parents had been capable of imposture, no room was left for it. Zacharias was at Jerusalem, in the temple, engaged in his ministration, in the very act of burning incense, while “ the whole multitude of “ the people were praying without," at the time that he was visited by the angel. Zacharias did not believe his teftimony, and having demanded a sign of the truth of it, himself became a lign to all who saw him, both of the reality of the vision, and of the danger of incredulity. For he was “dumb, and not able to speak, un“ til the day that these things were performed." The people at first “ perceived that he had seen a " vision :" and as he continued in the same state till “ the days of his ministration were accom
plished," and for several months afterwards; this well-known and extraordinary fact must have excited the wonder and expectation of the great body of the nation. The season in which this sign was given, was the most proper that could have been selected. At this time the people in general “ looked for redemption in Israel.” It
was also only a few months before the appearance of that hgn which Jehovah himself was to give i. As it prepared the minds of believers, and tended to arouse the body of the nation ; it was especially a mean of confirmation to the faith of Mary. Hence the angel Gabriel, when removing her objection as to the possibility of the fact predicted, refers her to Elisabeth, as a living testimony of the power of God, in removing every natural obstruction to the fulfilment of his
promise,-of his power in circumstances that bore the greatest resemblance of her own : “ And be“ hold thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also concei“ ved a son in her old age; and this is the fixth “ month with her that was called barren. For “ with God nothing shall be impossible k.”
III. The laws, given to the Israelites, concerning virginity, seem to have had a special respect to the conception and birth of our Saviour. They were of such a nature as powerfully to interest, not only young women themselves in the preservation of their chastity, but also their parents. When a woman was married, if it was found that she had formerly been seduced ; she was not only to be put to death, but to suffer at “ the door of “ her father's house !.” The whole family were thus partly involved in her punishment; because they were all bound to watch over her conduct. This was especially incumbent on her father, in whose house she resided till the removed to that
į Isa, vii. 14.
k Luke i. 5.-37.
I Dert. xxii. 20, 21.
of her husband. If a damsel was defiled, after being betrothed, before the consummation of her marriage, both she and the man who defiled her were to be put to deathm. That there might be no impofition, certain tokens were to be produced, attested and examined. The trial by the waters of jealousy, by means of which the truth was miraculously discovered, was another inftitution which must have had great influence in deterring women from a breach of chastity'. They were also subjected to a periodical separation, as unclean. This prevented their being married at this season, and put it out of their power to impose false tokens, in consequence of their fituation 1.
These ordinances were indeed meant for the preservation of chastity in general. But they feem to have been designed to guard the state of virginity, in relation to the miraculous concep'tion of the Saviour. Had the flightest ground of suspicion remained with Joseph, he had different ways of putting Mary to trial, and of obtaining satisfaction to his own mind. From his character
a just man,”? we may be assured that he would by no means have retained her, had he not been fully convinced that she was with child in a fupernatural way. All that the promise, or the Deceílity of the case, expressly required, was, that Jesus Mould be born of a virgin. This indeed
m Deut. xxii. 23, 24.
n Ver. 15.
o Num. v. 11,p See this subject treated at large in Allix's Reflexions on the four laft Books of Moses, chap. 20.
was necessary ; for, as we have formerly seen, he could not otherwise have been free from original depravity. But it was the will of God, that he should be born, not merely of a virgin, but of “a “ virgin espoused.” In this, divine wisdom eminently appears. For thus God provided means for authenticating the genealogy of Christ. Being born, after Mary was betrothed, he was legally the child of Joseph ; and among the Jews, the genealogy was especially reckoned by the father. Thus also, a guardian was provided for Mary and her child, during the persecution of Herod. Befides, the circumstance of her being espoused, together with that of Joseph's taking her to his house, preserved her from being treated by others as a woman lost to virtue. While, on the one hand, her espousals subjected her conduct to the most rigid scrutiny, the reception given her by Joseph, on the other, was a public attestation of her innocence.
We perceive the blessed concurrence of all the Persons of the adorable Trinity in the work of our redemption. It appears with the fullest evidence in the very manner in which Christ received our nature. The Father “ sent forth his Son, made 66 of a woman.' The Son himself “ took on him ď the form of a fervant.” The Holy Ghost“ pre
pared a body” for him, by fanctifying part of the substance of a virgin. What a wonderful display of love to loft man! How ardently ought we to love that adorable Father who sent his Son; this co-equal Son, who cheerfully came, who said, “ In the volume of thy book it is written of me;" that blessed Spirit, who as it were anew began the work of creation for our fakes!
On Substitution and Atonement.-The Doctrine of
Substitution known to the Church from the beginning.--Imposition of Hands on the Head of the Victim.—The Victim legally subjected to the Curse.--Atonement made by Blood.—The Govenant confirmed by Sacrifice.--In this the Worship of the Church especially consisted.—The Ceremonial Institute, even by its Defects, directed to a better Atonement.—This prefigured by the Mercy-feat.-The History of the true Expiation con, tained in the New Testament.
To proclaim the incarnation of a Divine Perfon, is only part of the design of the Spirit of inspiration. It was a principal branch of his work, to“ teftify beforehand the sufferings of Christ." All that is written, with respect to his assumption of our nature, relates to the work of redemption, which from eternity he had engaged to accomplish. The Holy Scriptures, as to their great de