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S E R M O N VI.
MATTH, ii. 16,
Then Herod, when he saw, that he was mocked
of the wise Men, was exceeding wroth; and sent forth, and sew all the Children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the Coasts thereof, from two Years old and under ; according to the Time, which be had diligently enquired of the wise Men.
HE piteous History, contained in these
Words, is the Sequel of that, immediately preceding, which informs us, that, on the Birth of our Saviour in Yudea, some Gentiles of Learning and Distinction came from the East to Jerusalem, by divine Direction, to pay him Homage: on which, Herod the King, understanding that the Meffah was to be born at Bethlehem, fent them thither to find him ; with a Charge to bring him Notice of the
Place where the Child was, that he also might do him the same Honour ; designing really to destroy him, instead of paying him Respect : but that, being warned of God, not to return to Herod, they departed into their own Country another Waya.
The sad Consequences which followed their Departure, are mentioned in the Words of the Text; and present to us a Transaction of so remarkable a Nature as well deserves a particular Examination into it, and an Explanation of the several Circumstances attending it. This is what I mean to give you in the following Discourse : and if, in doing it, I should be led to spend more Time, in Proportion, than usual, on Points not immediately belonging to the great Articles of Christian Faith or Practice ; you will remember, that we ought to understand, not only the Doctrines and Precepts, but the History of the Gospel : especially as in the present unbelieving Age, Objections are too frequently made against the several Parts of it, in their Turns; and as a due Confideration of every Part, will not only confirm us in the Truth of it, but furnish abundantly more Matter of pious and moral
a Ver. 12.
Reflection, than at the first View it
seem to afford.
The Text begins with acquainting us, that Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wife Men, was exceeding wroth. Not that they had any Design of provoking him,por exposing him to Contempt. That is not the Behaviour of good Persons to the very worst. He had commanded them indeed to bring him Word again, where the Child was : but probably had too haughtily presumed on their Compliance, though not his Subjects, to think of asking a Promise of them. Or, had they made one, as they naturally enough might, with a full Purpose of keeping it; the Warning, received from God, must entirely have superseded that Obligation : of which, other Things also might have hindered the Performance. But unreasonable and vehement Spirits hardly ever stay to inquire into fuch Matters : whatever disappoints them, appears to them an Indignity. And accordingly Herod was not only sorry, that his Intention was frustrated, but exceeding wroth: imagined it no Sin at all to contrive the Murder of the harmless Child whose Birth had been notified to him ; but an intolerable Offence, that the wise Men should, whatever VOL. V.
their Reason was, fail to be made his Instruments for accomplishing it.
And now, his Wickedness increasing as his Rage boiled within him, rather than miss of committing the one Crime, which alone he designed at first, he resolves to commit he knows not how many more of the like Sort, without
other Pretext for them : imagining that the Object of his Apprehensions continued still in the fame Place. On that Imagination folely, either having first inquired after him in vain, (for he was removed by the Direction of God) or conceiving, that no certain Information would be obtained by a Person so abhorred as he knew himself to be, and that taking Time for a Search was giving Time for an Escape ; he forms the shocking Resolution of killing all the Children of Bethlehem, and its Territory; unmoved by Conscience, or Compassion, or Fear of Revenge, or the Detestation of Mankind, in order to make sure of ķilling that Child, from which, of all others, he ought to have abstained, the long-expected Hope of Israel, the great promised Blessing to that Religion, which he himself professed. This direful Purpose he orders to be put in imb Acts xxviii. 20.
mediate Execution ; too many find their Inte: rest in obeying his Will: no one hath Power, or Courage, to resist it: the Deed is done : the
poor Infants miserably flain. No Wonder, that ther, as St. Matthew observes, was fulfilled, that is, verified anew, more eminently and literally, what was spoken originally on a different Occasion, by Jeremy the Prophet, saying : In Rama, a town of Benjamin, adjoining to Bethlehem of Judah, which Tribes were therefore probably mixed here, as well as at Jerusalem and other Places; In Rama, a Voice was heard, Lamentation and Weeping and great Mourning : Rachel, the Mother of Benjamin, weeping, that is, in the Persons of her female Descendants, for her Chilu dren and would not be comforted, because they are not : are not any longer in this World, for a Comfort and Joy to their Friends ; but taken away, to their inexpressible Affliction, by a Stroke of Violence, the most unexpected, the most afflicting and defolating, the most exquisitely painful and insupportable, that can be conceived.
Some perhaps may be tempted almost to doubt, whether a human Creature be capable of such Barbarity. But, alas, we cannot tell,