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tions, it is because I am emboldened thereto by the knowledge which the gospels have given us, in the public life of Jesus, of true, genuine, God-ordained miracles. The works which he did are strange and unprecedented, lying far beyond the boundaries of human experience. Still they are broad noon-day facts, standing in the eye of the sun and the world, and invested, by his manner and the circumstances in which they occurred, with a moral light, commending them intuitively to our full convictions. With these divine models before us, we may be qualified to decide upon all other miracles; and we cannot help thinking that dreams prefer but a doubtful claim to be ranked with those great facts.
The laws by which dreams are produced are wrapt in darkness. That the visions of sleep are for the most part traceable to foregone states of mind, none will dispute. Yet it may be that the constitution of our nature is such as to allow of direct communications in dreams from the Father of spirits and the world of spirits. In all times dreams have been a startling mystery; and they have discharged high offices in the various courses of providence, by the impressions they have made, the energy they have inspired or repressed, changing the whole order of affairs. If they have sprung out of the mind, they have wrought upon it in return; and we cannot but account them among the veiled ministrants of the Invisible, obeying his word.
That Mary and Joseph and Zacharias should have had remarkable dreams or visions, making powerful impressions on their devout minds, is altogether probable. Consider what a time it was, and how the human mind was heaving in mysterious anticipation of a coming angel from Heaven in the shape of a man. The birth of a consecrated One, the anointed of God, was
THE VISION OF MARY.
the glad tidings which all were breathless to hear. Did not many a mother's heart beat quick and swell high at the thought that she might be the chosen one, the Mother of mothers, blessed to the last generation? If not a word about the mother of Jesus were to be found in the Christian Records, we should infer from the character of her son that she was no ordinary womanthat she must have been possessed of a holy sensibility, of a high religious character. Jewish wives deemed it a sore affliction to be childless. Consequently the prospect of becoming mothers was hailed by them with a sacred joy. There was every thing in the sentiments of the time and country, and in the probable character of the mother of Jesus, to exalt her imagination; and, in view of her approaching marriage, to cause her to dwell upon the idea of the Messiah, until the thought wove itself into her nightly visions, and she dreamed that she was the destined mother of that divine personage, and even that she had conceived before her espousals. That a woman of the devout old Hebrew lineage, related to the priesthood, of the loftiest religious character, betrothed, and to an individual who traced his descent to that illustrious line of David which was expected to produce the Messiah, and at a period when the whole nation was waiting eagerly for the birth of the heaven-sent deliverer, should have been visited with vivid dreams-that she should have a vision of an angel hailing her as the favoured mother of the Messiah, and even that she should dream that she already bore that Holy One within her-all this is very natural; and, so far from breathing a breath against the virgin purity of her spirit, such a dream we may regard as a touching indication of a spotless mind, of that "saintly chastity, so dear to heaven,"
THE SUM OF THE FOREGOING REMARKS.
"That when a soul is found sincerely so,
The influence of the mother upon her child before it has seen the light will not be questioned. If her frame is often agitated by violent emotions, heating the current of her blood and unstringing the nerves, the delicate organization of her child must be disturbed in the still process of formation. On the other hand, the maternal mind, inhaling ever the serene air of religious thought, daily exalted by holy aspirations, and visited nightly by the celestial visions of a tender and innocent imagination, must exercise an informing power upon the babe which she bears,
"In the deare closet of her painefull side."
We know not the mode nor the extent of the influence. It is a divine mystery. Still we must believe that the angel-thoughts and dreams of the blessed Mother of our Lord must have ministered, a part of the grand discipline whereby he was prepared and sanctified, even in her sacred womb, to be the Son of God and Redeemer of man.
The sum of the foregoing observations is simply this. When that extraordinary succession of events which begun with the thirtieth year of the life of Christ was terminated, there naturally arose a desire for information concerning the birth and early circumstances of the Wonderful Man of Nazareth, and certain incidents pertaining to that period, certain remarkable experiences of his mother and others connected with him, came to be published abroad. Viewed through the magnifying medium of the faith, veneration, and enthu
siasm, which the remarkable life that was just closed had produced, they were shaped and exaggerated thereby. In a little while they assumed a written form, and were, without doubt, among those many fragmentary accounts, more or less imperfect, of the life of Jesus, of the existence of which Luke informs us in the commencement of his Gospel. When the Evangelists undertook their histories, they selected from the generally received relations concerning the nativity, such as appeared to them, consistently with all that they knew and felt, to be nearest to the truth. They entered into no laborious investigation of the truth of these accounts, oral or written, pertaining to the birth of Jesus, because they were comparatively of little moment, and the minds of the historians were principally bent upon relating what they themselves knew, and what was of the greatest value and importance.
I have thus hinted at what appears to me to have been the most probable state of the case. The supposition of a natural and common degree of exaggeration, the consequence of the miraculous career of Jesus, accounts without violence for the difference between the representations given in the records, and the view which I have suggested of this portion of the history. I have said nothing inconsistent with the belief that his birth was miraculous. Nor am I prepared to say that he was not created in an extraordinary way. That he was inspired and endowed as no other man ever was, his words and works bear witness. He stands at so unapproachable a height above the rest of the children of men, that, supposing not a word were extant respecting his birth, one could scarcely help feeling that there must have been something very peculiar in the mode of his introduction into the world.
THE EXACT TRUTH, NOT ASCERTAINED.
His life and death and resurrection speak the divinity of his mission. And were there any evidence of the divinity of his person, it would be furnished rather by his public life than by the history of his birth. Neither the authority which he claimed as the Son of God, nor the doctrine of his supreme divinity, is affected by the foregoing views.
In these remarks upon the history of the Nativity, I have not professed to say precisely where the fact ends. and the exaggeration begins, to separate from the tissue of the narrative the filaments of truth. I have sought only to set forth certain considerations of indispensable importance to a right approach to this interesting portion of the history. They may not assist us to form a distinct picture of the Nativity, but may tend only to make us feel that this part of the record is imperfect, more or less a misstatement of the truth. Still, so far from weakening our faith in the divine authority of Christ, the reality of the subsequent events of his life, they tend incidentally, and, therefore, all the more powerfully, to its confirmation. The views now suggested have force only as his public ministry, the history of his manhood and of the close of his career, is felt to be true. It is the clear light, which this, confessedly the important period, pours forth, that casts all that goes before it in the shade. If the account of his origin is unsatisfactory, it is because the narrative of what afterwards occurred, when he appeared renovating the world, is so lucid and decisive, so copiously marked with the signatures of reality.
Finally, admitting the notices of his birth upon this view of the case to be distorted and exaggerated statements, in which it is hardly possible to ascertain the exact amount of truth, it does not follow that they lose all value and interest. On the contrary, they are in