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Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
Nativity of Christ
The birth of our Saviour was exactly as predicted by the prophecies of the Old Testament, Isaiah 7:14 . Jeremiah 31:22 . He was born of a virgin of the House of David, and of the tribe of Judah, Matthew 1:1-25 . Luke 1:27 . His coming into the world was after the manner of other men, though his generation and conception were extraordinary. The place of his birth was Bethlehem, Micah 5:2 . Matthew 2:4; Matthew 2:6 , where his parents were wonderfully conducted by providence, Luke 2:1; Luke 2:7 . The time of his birth was foretold by the prophets to be before the sceptre or civil government departed from Judah, Genesis 49:10 . Malachi 3:1 . Haggai 2:6-7; Haggai 2:9 . Daniel 9:24; but the exact year of his birth is not agreed on by chronologers, but it was about the four thousandth year of the world; nor can the season of the year, the month, and day in which he was born, be ascertained. The Egyptians placed it in January; Wagenseil, in February; Bochart, in March, some, mentioned by Clement of Alexandria, in April; others, in May; Epiphanius speaks of some who placed it in June, and of others who supposed it to have been in July; Wagenseil, who was not sure of February fixed it probably in August; Lightfoot, on the fifteenth of September; Scaliger, Casaubon, and Calvisius, in October; others, in November; and the Latin church in December.
It does not, however, appear probable that the vulgar account is right; the circumstance of the shepherds watching their flocks by night, agrees not with the winter season. Dr. Gill thinks it was more likely in autumn, in the month of September, at the feast of tabernacles, to which there seems some reference in John 1:14 . The Scripture, however, assures us that it was in the "fulness of time, " Galatians 4:4; and, indeed the wisdom of God is evidently displayed as to the time when, as well as the end for which Christ came. It was in a time when the world stood in need of such a Saviour, and was best prepared for receiving him. "About the time of Christ's appearance, " says Dr. Robertson, "there prevailed a general opinion that the Almighty would send forth some eminent messenger to communicate a more perfect discovery of his will to mankind. The dignity of Christ, the virtues of his character, the glory of his kingdom, and the signs of his coming, were described by the ancient prophets with the utmost perspicuity.
Guided by the sure word of prophecy, the Jews of that age concluded the period predetermined by God to be then completed, and that the promised Messiah would suddenly appear, Luke 2:25-38 . Nor were these expectations peculiar to the Jews. By their dispersions among so many nations, by their conversation with the learned men among the heathens and the translation of their inspired writings into a language almost universal, the principles of their religion were spread all over the East; and it became the common belief that a Prince would arise at that time in Judea, who should change the face of the world, and extend his empire from one end of the earth to the other. Now, had Christ been manifest at a more early period, the world would not have been prepared to meet him with the same fondness and zeal; had his appearance been put off for any considerable time, men's expectations would have begun to languish, and the warmth of desire, from a delay of gratification, might have cooled and died away. "The birth of Christ was also in the fulness of time, if we consider the then political state of the world. The world, in the most early ages, was divided into small independent states, differing from each other in language, manners, laws, and religion.
The shock of so many opposite interests, the interfering of so many contrary views, occasioned the most violent convulsions and disorders; perpetual discord subsisted between these rival states, and hostility and bloodshed never ceased. Commerce had not hitherto united mankind, and opened the communication of one nation with another: voyages into remote countries were very rare; men moved in a narrow circle, little acquainted with any thing beyond the limits of their own small territory. At last the Roman ambition undertook the arduous enterprise of conquering the world: They trod down the kingdoms, according to Daniel's prophetic description, by their exceeding strength; they devoured the whole earth, Daniel 7:7; Daniel 7:23 . However by enslaving the world, they civilized it, and while they oppressed mankind, they united them together: the same laws were every where established, and the same languages understood; men approached nearer to one another in sentiments and manners, and the intercourse between the most distant corners of the earth was rendered secure and agreeable. Satiated with victory, the first emperors abandoned all thoughts of new conquests; peace, an unknown blessing, was enjoyed through all that vast empire; or if a slight war was waged on an outlying and barbarous frontier, far from disturbing the tranquillity, it scarcely drew the attention of mankind. The disciples of Christ, thus favoured by the union and peace of the Roman empire, executed their commission with great advantage.
The success and rapidity with which they diffused the knowledge of his name over the world are astonishing. Nations were now accessible which formerly had been unknown. Under this situation, into which the providence of God had brought the world, the joyful sound in a few years reached those remote corners of the earth into which it could not otherwise have penetrated for many ages. Thus the Roman ambition and bravery paved the way, and prepared the world for the reception of the Christian doctrine." If we consider the state of the world with regard to morals, it evidently appears that the coming of Christ was at the most appropriate time. "The Romans, " continues our author, "by subduing the world, lost their own liberty. Many vices, engendered or nourished by prosperity, delivered them over to the vilest race of tyrants that ever afflicted or disgraced human nature. The colours are not too strong which the apostle employs in drawing the character of that age.
See Ephesians 4:17; Ephesians 4:19 . In this time of universal corruption did the wisdom of God manifest the Christian revelation to the world. What the wisdom of men could do for the encouragement of virtue in a corrupt world had been tried during several ages, and all human devices were found by experience to be of very small avail; so that no juncture could be more proper for publishing a religion, which, independent of human laws and institutions, explains the principles of morals with admirable perspicuity, and enforces the practice of them by most persuasive arguments."
The wisdom of God will still farther appear in the time of Christ's coming, if we consider the world with regard to its religious state. "The Jews seem to have been deeply tinctured with superstition. Delighted with the ceremonial prescriptions of the law, they utterly neglected the moral. While the Pharisees undermined religion, on the one hand, by their vain traditions and wretched interpretations of the law, the Sadducees denied the immortality of the soul, and overturned the doctrine of future rewards and punishments; so that between them the knowledge and power of true religion were entirely destroyed. But the deplorable situation of the heathen world called still more loudly for an immediate interposal of the divine hand. The characters of their heathen deities were infamous, and their religious worship consisted frequently in the vilest and most shameful rites. According to the apostle's observation, they were in all things too superstitious. Stately temples, expensive sacrifices, pompous ceremonies, magnificent festivals, with all the other circumstances of show and splendour, were the objects which false religion presented to its votaries; but just notions of God, obedience to his moral laws, purity of heart, and sanctity of life, were not once mentioned as ingredients in religious service. Rome adopted the gods of almost every nation whom she had conquered, and opened her temples to the grossest superstitions of the most barbarous people.
Her foolish heart being darkened, she changed the glory of the incorruptible God in to an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things, Romans 1:21; Romans 1:23 . No period, therefore, can be mentioned when instructions would have been more seasonable and necessary;" and no wonder that those who were looking for salvation should joyfully exclaim, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people." The nativity of Christ is celebrated among us on the twenty-fifth day of December, and divine service is performed in the church, and in many places of worship among dissenters; but, alas! the day, we fear, is more generally profaned than improved. Instead of being a season of real devotion, it is a season of great diversion. The luxury, extravagance, intemperance, obscene pleasures, and drunkeness that abound, are striking proofs of the immoralities of the age. "It is matter of just complaint, " says a divine, "that such irregular and extravagant things are at this time commonly done by many who call themselves Christians; as if, because the Son of God was at this time made man, it were fit for men to make themselves beasts." Manne's Dissertation on the Birth of Christ; Lardner's Cred. p. 1: vol. 2: p. 796, 963; Gill's Body of Divinity on Incarnation; Bishop Law's Theory of Religion; Dr. Robertson's admirable Sermon on the Situation of the World at Christ's appearance; Edwards's Redemption, 313, 316; Robinson's Claude, vol. 1: p. 176, 317; John Edwards's Survey of all the Dispensations and Methods of Religion chap. 13. vol. 1:
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Buck, Charles. Entry for 'Nativity of Christ'. Charles Buck Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/cbd/n/nativity-of-christ.html. 1802.