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land which had been for ages so renowned in history seems as if blotted out of the globe; the people, which had been hung up as a sign before the eyes of so many successive generations, seems to be extinguished and lost; the predictions and promises which conferred upon them such high importance, and duration so extended, seem to have been defeated and rendered of no effect. The throne of David, whose permanency was so often, and so solemnly declared, has sunk into the earth and disappeared. The representative of the royal line of Judah is sunk into an humble carpenter and all hope of revival is at an end. But the Lord hath spoken and shall he not do it, he hath promised and shall he not bring it to pass? Yes, but not at the season, nor in the way which human wisdom would have prescribed, nor by means which human wisdom would have employed. Behold, light once more, and suddenly, shines out of darkness; the land of Israel rises once more into importance; Jerusalem rears her head among the nations, the star of Jacob arises, “a rod springs out of the stem of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots ;" and the glory of the latter temple eclipses that of the former.

The evangelist informs us that at this eventful period, Herod was king of Judea. Princes are often among the inferiour actors in the great drama of Providence. Their will shakes the nations of the earth, but the hearts and arms of kings themselves are in the hands of the Lord, to be by him turned which way soever he will. This man has by some been dignified with the addition of "the great:" an appellation more frequently bestowed as a reward to splendid vice, than as a tribute to modest merit! Herod the great! and yet a paltry substitute of a Roman emperor, a habitual slave to the vilest of human passions, envy, lust, jealousy, cruelty, revenge. The inspired penman gives him no names, either good or bad, but simply tells his story as far as it is connected with that of Him by

whom " kings reign and princes decree judgment.' The reign of Herod to us serves merely as a prologue to introduce the more important name and history of an ancient, obscure priest called Zacharias, and our attention is instantly called away from the splendour, noise and intrigue of a busy, vain-glorious, debauched court, to contemplate the humble concerns of a private family, and the noiseless performance of a religious

service.

How different are the ideas affixed to the terms great and little, by sober reason and popular opinion, by the wisdom of God and the folly of man! Weighed in the balance of the sanctuary, Herod fawning on Augustus, or on one of his favourites, dissolved in luxury, stained with blood, inflamed with resentment, is little and contemptible; while the aged priest, reconciled to the will of God, who had written him childless, pursuing the calm tenour of his way, fulfilling the unostentatious duties of his place and station, "righteous before God, walking in the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless" commands affection, esteem and respect. This venerable pair, Zacharias and Elizabeth, were both of the tribe of Levi, on which the office of priesthood was entailed. Both nature and religion taught them to consider the gift of children as a blessing; but the hope of that blessing they seem now calmly to have resigned, and they are quietly sinking into the decline of life, if not with the consolation of leaving their name and office to their children, possessing nevertheless that of mutual affection, of a devout spirit and a conscience void of offence. The midnight of nature is the dawning of the day of grace; and he who in wisdom and justice brings to naught the wisdom of the worldly prudent, "raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill, that he may sit him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children.”

The prince of peace is ready to make his public entrance on the grand theatre, and it is time for his harbinger to prepare the way, and for the herald to announce his approach. And where shall we look for him? Turn your eyes to Judea, to Jerusalem, to the temple. See, the lot is prepared, to determine whose turn it should be to burn incense before the Lord in the holy place. Providence presides over it, and Zacharias is taken. Behold him, with joy, accepting the. sacred task of paying a grateful tribute of praise to God, and of assisting the prayers of the people without, with the commanded perfume of the altar of incense. Behold him entering within the veil, under the mixed emotions of godly fear, and exalted delight, to worship that God who once resided there in sensible glory, but from which the glory had long departed. All is solitude and silence; the unextinguished light that burnt continually before Jehovah lends its flame to set on fire the incense, when lo, the lustre of material fire is lost in the brighter glory of the great archangel, and the solemn silence is broken by the melodious accents of a celestial voice. Gabriel who, five hundred and forty years before, announced to the prophet Daniel the commencement of the determined weeks which should precede the Messiah's day, now announces to Zacharias their consummation. He opens the sealed book of prophecy, and to his astonishment informs him that the promised coming of Elias, with which the ancient canon closed, was near at hand: that this great prophet should appear in the person of the son of his own, whom God by a special dispensation of his providence was raising up to fulfil the Scriptures, to turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, 66 to go before the Saviour 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." How is the pride of kings levelled to the dust before an ap

pearance like this! How many princes and potentates have arisen, and fallen, and sunk into oblivion since Gabriel last visited the earth! How have the kingdoms of this world been shaken during the course of five centuries! How often has the seat of empire changed, and the globe changed its inhabitants! but the heavenly messenger enjoys unfading lustre and undiminished strength. The purpose of the eternal has been proceeding all the while, and the convulsions and contention of the nations have been working the righteousness of God, and preparing the way for the kingdom of peace and love.

The appearance of an angel, however, though sent on an errand of mercy, though delivering a message of grace from on high, is an object of terror to frail mortality. "When Zacharias saw him he was troubled, and fear fell upon him :" and if the upright and blameless man tremble at the presence of an angel, "where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear," when "the Lord himself shall be revealed from heaven in flaming fire, taking vengeance on all them that know not God and obey not the gospel!" The triumph of goodness is the glory of a really superior being. The angel that "stands in the presence of God," exults not in the confusion of a frail mortal, but said to him "fear not, Zacharias." The insolence of superiority, and the delight of outshining, of dazzling, of distressing an inferior, are the characteristics of a little soul, of some angels falsely so called; those who are truly such, condescendingly sink to the level of those who are beneath them, or affectionately raise the humble up to their own. In the presence of God all distinctions vanish, Gabriel and Zacharias are fellow creatures, fellow servants, fellow dependants; the inferior being makes himself known by his timidity, the superior by his benevolence and love: this marks the difference, the affecting difference which purity and guilt have made. The flaming minister addresses the attendant on the VOL. IV. G

earthly sanctuary, with all the familiarity and ease of ancient friendship; the desires of his heart, the subject of his prayers are well known to him; he has all along been the sympathizing, though unseen, unknown witness of his anxieties and distresses, and he esteems it an honour and a happiness to be employed as the messenger of glad tidings to a pious, suffering human being. Zacharias had long ago ceased from expecting, had ceased from praying for the building up of his own house, but he waited for the consolation of Israel, he continued instant in prayer for the rebuilding of the tabernacle of David which was fallen down, and lo, God at length bestows, as he did upon Solomon, not only the blessing which he asked, but that also which he asked not; namely, a son to support the honour of his own name, and the promise of the Son that should be born, the Child that should be given, in whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. The injunctions of the law respecting Nazarites are repeated and applied to the present case, and the future greatness and importance of this miraculous child, in the scale of Providence, are foretold; and Zacharias has the satisfaction of hearing that he was to be the father of him who should be the accomplishment of ancient prophecies, "The voice crying in the wilderness," the finger to point out to mankind "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.”

Terror gives way by degrees to feelings of a different kind, and, with the glory of the heavenly vision before his eyes, with the faith of father Abraham, in similar circumstances, as encouragement to his own, and with the manifold instances which the history of his own country afforded of similar interposition, he converses with flesh and blood, he staggers at the promise through unbelief, and for a moment forgets that with God all things are possible. The angel vouchsafes to explain himself to the unbeliever; his incredulity shall not frustrate the purpose of Heaven, nor

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