1. That Christ's being born of a Virgin is no Impossible thing. 2. And not only so, but also Reasonable in reference to the Heroes of the Pagans. 3. And that this outward birth might be an emblem of his Eternal Sonship. 4. Thirdly in relation to the Sanctity of his own person, and for the recommendation of Continence and Chastity to the world. 5. And lastly for the completion of certain prophesies in the Scriptures that pointed at the Messias.
1. COncerning the Birth of Christ, or whatsoever else happened miraculously to him, or was done by him, I conceive I shall give a sufficient account, if I shew not only their Possibility, but their Reasonableness. And it is not at all Impossible that a Virgin should bring forth a Son, if we understand the meaning of that term aright, which signifies a Woman that never had any thing to doe with a Man. For it implies no Contradiction for her to conceive from some other hidden cause, and therefore at least the Omnipotent Power of God can bring it to pass. For whether is it easier to create all things of nothing, to make Plants and Animals to spring out of the Earth without the help of either Male or Female, or to prepare the wombe of a woman so, as to make her conceive without the help of a man? Wherefore to deny the Possibility thereof is to deny the Existence of God in the world.
2. But it is not only Possible, but Reasonable. For besides that in general it is fit that so extraordinary a person as our Saviour in his coming into the World should be accompanied with miraculous indications of his eminencie, there is a peculiar accommodation in this of his being conceived and born by a supernatural Power to those either true stories or strong suspicions of the Pagans, who did so easily believe that their famous Heroes, whose memory continued so long with them, and was so sacred, that they did divine honours to them, were not sprung of mortal race, but were ex stirpe Deorum, as you have already heard; which is in a most true and eminent manner accomplished in the Birth of our Saviour.
3. Again, Christ considered out of the body, he being not a mere humane Soul, but being truly, livingly and really united with the Λόγος, is by union the Eternal Son of God. Now that being to come to pass which S. John speaks of in the beginning of his Gospel, ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο, The word was made flesh; he that was to be born of Mary (the Spouse of Joseph) he being, I say, the true and genuine Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity, when he was to be born here into the world in time; who was so fit to be entitled to his procreation <100> as he that was the Author of his Eternal generation? and therefore he was to be born of a Virgin, and to be conceived by a supernatural way, that his visible Humanity as well as his inward Divinity might have a just occasion of being called the Son of God, and that the one might be the Emblem as it were of the other.
4. Thirdly, you have seen how full of abominable obscenity and uncleanness the Superstition of the Heathen was; to say nothing of the carnality and uxoriousness of the Jews, and of that impuritie which by almost all nations (unless where Superstition has emboldened them to Beastliness) is confessed to be in the acts of Venerie; they commonly concealing those parts which Nature ordained for such uses from the eyes of men, as being ashamed to acknowledge themselves subject to so low a kind of sense. It was therefore unfit that Christ should be born according to that common way of generation, that he might give no encouragement to that which men are so madly set upon, notwithstanding that bridle of shame that Nature would curb them in by; especially himself coming into the world to be the highest Pattern of Purity that can be exhibited to Mankind: for which reason he also abstained from Marriage, and commended the Virgin-life; which he might doe with better reason then any, he being a more certain pledge of those holy, heavenly and eternal joyes, then ever was yet manifested to the world. Wherefore partly in opposition to the uncleanness of Paganisme, and partly for an invitation to his followers to set a due price upon Continence and Chastity as great helps to the purifying of the Soul, and the making of her relish those delights which are truly divine, himself did not vouchsafe to take our flesh upon him in that way which is accompanied with the height of gross carnal pleasures; nor when he had taken our flesh, to reap the Joyes thereof, no not so much as upon those allowable terms of Marriage; he coming into the World on purpose to slight and slur that which is to the greatest esteem and sweetest relish with the Natural Man.
5. Fourthly and lastly, the being born of a Virgin being one of the notes of the Messias, as the very first prophesie of him in the more proper and emphatical sense thereof seems to imply, That the seed of the woman (in opposition or exclusion of the mans seed) should break the Serpents head, as also that more plain allusion and lively Type in the Prophet Isaiah of a Virgin conceiving of a Son whose name was Immanuel, does exquisitely prefigure; This, I say, adds also to the congruity of this miracle of Christ's conception in the Wombe of a Virgin. All which things put together are more then enough to sufflaminate those blasphemous suspicions of witless and ungodly men, and to convince them that it was not the colouring of some casuall miscarriage in the Mother of Christ, that he was said to be begotten of the Holy Ghost; but that it was so indeed, and so determined by the Wisdom and counsel of God. The greatest reason whereof was (as I conceive) the Sanctity of our Saviour's Soul, and his purpose of discountenancing of the pleasures and pollutions of the flesh, and the drawing of mens minds to the study of Purity, a very considerable branch of the divine life which he came to raise in the World.
1. That as the Virginity of Christ's Mother recommended Purity, so her Meanness recommends Humility to the world; as also other circumstances of Christ's Birth. 2. Of the Salutation of the Angel Gabriel, and of the Magi. 3. That the History of their Visit helps on also belief, and that it is not Reason but Sottishness that excepts against the ministery of Angels. 4. His design of continuing a Parallel betwixt the life of Christ and of Apollonius Tyaneus. 5. The Pedigree and Birth of Apollonius, how ranck they smell of the Animal life. 6. The Song of the Angels and the dance of the musical Swans at Apollonius's birth compared.
1. NOW as his being born of a Virgin is a recommendation of Purity, so his being born of so mean a Virgin as the Spouse of a Carpenter is a recommendation of Humility. For it is observable that Christ on set purpose vilified and slighted that which is most esteemed and most dear to the Animal life, and such are all those things that make for our honour and reputation amongst men; And Nobleness of parentage is not one of the meanest of them. Other circumstances of his Birth tend also to the same scope; for no sooner came he into the world, but he practised that which he after taught others, he took the meanest place in the Inne: and though he were heir of all things, and the designed Soveraign of Angels and Men; yet he was shouldered out from amongst them, and was fain to take his lodgings in the Stable amongst the brute beasts. But in this low condition while he is taken no notice of by supercilious mortals, yet the Angels celebrates his Nativity with an Heavenly carol, imparting the good news of his Birth not to the wise or noble of this World, not to the learned Rabbies or Rulers of the People, but to men of a lowly and innocent profession, to Shepheards attending their flocks by night. All which circumstances of his Birth you see how reasonable, how significant and decorous they are.
2. Nor is that Salutation of the Angel Gabriel concerning it, and his prediction to Mary, an useless and idle complement: but it was requisite that what was to happen to her should be foretold her, that the modest Virgin might not be abash'd to see her womb swell, she not knowing the cause of it. The same may be said also of the journey of the Magi, that it is not a thing vainly inserted into the History to make a show, but that the fame of the Jews expectation of their Messias about that time being spread all over the East, these Genethliaci that lov'd to busie themselves about Nativities and strange events in the World, amidst their viewing the Constellations, discovering a New star as it seem'd to them, and observing its motion, were led to the very place where the young King of the Jews lay, where they worshipped him, not as the Son of God, but as one that they expected would be a mighty secular Prince; and therefore to engage him to favour themselves and their Country, they did unto him this timely homage.
3. But though they intended no more then thus, yet it being so famous an accident could not but further the faith of those that were to be called in to the belief of the Gospel. Besides that, it was a prelusion to & prefiguration of the forwardness of the Gentiles above the Jews to receive Christ as their Soveraign and Redeemer, as also a prelibation of that glory that should at last accrew to Christ for the great debasement of himself and unparallel'd humiliation. So that nothing can make the circumstances of the History of his Birth incredible, unless it be the mention of the ministery of Angels in it, which none can cavil at but such as believe no Angels at all, neither good nor bad: nor can any be of this unbelief but such as prefer the sottish suggestions of their own dull temper before the perpetual testimonies of all Ages and all Nations of the World; who have ever and anon had new Instances of Apparitions and Communications with evil Spirits, and fresh occasions of executing the Laws they had made against Witches and wicked Magicians.
4. I should now pass to the second head I propounded, could I abstain from touching a little upon the circumstances of the Birth of that famous Corrival of our Saviour, Apollonius Tyaneus; whose story writ by Philostratus, though I look upon it as a mixt business partly true and partly false, yet, be it what it will be, seeing it is intended for the highest Example of Perfection, and that the Heathen did equalize him with Christ, you shall see how ranck his whole History smells of the Animal Life, and how hard a thing it is either in actions or writings to counterfeit that which is truly holy and divine. For which end I shall make a brief Parallelisme of the Histories of them both in the chief matters of either, that the Gravitie and Divinitie of the one and the Ridiculousness and Carnality of the other may the better be discerned.
5. As in this very First point is plain and manifest, which is dispatched in a word. For in that Philostratus writes how Apollonius was of an ancient and illustrious Pedigree, of rich Parents, and descended from the founders of the City Tyana, where he was born, is not this that which is as sweet as honey to the Natural man, and such as an holy and divine Soul would set no esteem upon? Like to this is his Mother's being waited upon by her Maidens into a Meadow, being directed thereto by a Vision, where while her servants were straying up and down making of posies and chaplets of flowers, (O what fine soft pompous doing is here!) and her self disporting her self in the grass, she at last falls into a slumber, the Swans in the mean time rangeing themselves in a row round about her, dancing and clapping their wings, and singing with such shrill and sweet accents that they filled the neighbouring places with their pleasant melody, they being as it were inspired and transported with joy by the gentle breathings of the fresh and cool Zephyrus; whereupon the Lady awaking is instantly delivered of a fair Child, who, after his Fathers name, was called Apollonius.
6. The amenity of the story how gratefull and agreeable it is to flesh and bloud! But how ridiculous is that dance and rountlelay of the musical Swans compared with that Heavenly Melody of the holy Angels at <103> the Nativity of Christ! For that, if it could be true, is but a ludicrous prodigie and presignification that Apollonius would prove a very odde fellow and of an extraordinary strein, and serves only for the magnifying of his person. But this is a grave and weighty indication of the Goodness of God and the Love of his holy Angels to men, and a prediction of that peace and grace which should be administred unto them through Jesus Christ that was then born. Behold, said the chief Angel whose glorious presence surrounded the shepheards with light, Behold, said he, I bring you good tidings of Great joy which shall be unto all people; For unto you is born this day a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord: whereupon there was suddenly with this Angel a multitude of the heavenly Hoast praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.
1. That whatever miraculously either happened to or was done by our Saviour till his Passion cannot seem impossible to him that holds there is a God and ministration of Angels. 2. Of the descending of the Holy Ghost, and the Voice from Heaven at his Baptisme. 3. Why Christ exposed himself to all manner of hardship and Temptations. 4. And particularly why he was tempted of the Devil, with an answer to an Objection touching the Devil's boldness in daring to tempt the Son of God. 5. How he could be said to shew him all the Kingdoms of the Earth. 6. The reason of his fourty daies fast, 7. And of his Transfiguration upon the Mount. The three first reasons. 8. The meaning of Moses and Elias his receding, and Christ's being left alone. 9. The last reason of his Transfiguration, That it was for the Confirmation of his Resurrection and the Immortality of the Soul. 10. Testimonies from Heaven of the Eminency of Christs person.
1. WE have done with the Birth of Christ, we proceed now to his Life: wherein we shall consider only those things that extraordinarily happened to him, or were miraculously done by him, till the time of his Passion; wherein nothing will be found impossible to them that acknowledge the Existence of God the active malice of Devils, and the Ministery of Angels. But that which I intend mainly to insinuate is, the comeliness and sutableness of all things to so Holy and Divine a person; which that it may the better appear, I shall after shew the difference of this true example of solid Perfection, Christ, and that false pattern of feigned holiness in that Impostour Apollonius, whom the later Heathen did so highly adore.
2. The chief things that happened in an extraordinary way to Christ before his Passion are these Three. 1. The descending of the Holy Ghost upon him in the shape of a Dove at his being baptized, and the emission of a Voice from Heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son in whom I am well <104> pleased. 2. The Temptation of the Devil upon his fasting: and 3. His Transfiguration upon the Mount.
Concerning the First, there is great reason for that Miracle. For God having a design to set on foot the Divine life in the World by his Son Jesus Christ, why should he not countenance the Beginning of his Ministery by some notable sign, by which men might take notice that he was the Messias, sent of God? And John the Baptist confesses himself assur'd thereof by this Indication. And being there was to be some extraordinary appearance, what could be more fit then this of a Dove, a known embleme of Meekness and Innocency, inseparable branches of the Divine life and Spirit? and at what better time then when Jesus gave so great a Specimen of his Meekness and Humility, as to condescend to be wash'd, as if he had been polluted, when he was more pure then light or snow; and to be in the form of a disciple to John, when he was able to teach him and all the world the Mysteries of God? Which may be noted to the eternal shame of our conceited Enthusiasts, who phansying they have got something extraordinary within, contemn and scorn the laudable Institutions of the Church; which is an infallible argument of their Pride, as this of our Saviour's Humility. But while he humbled himself thus, God did as highly advance him, adding to this silent show an articulate voice from Heaven, the better to assure the by-standers that he was the Messias, the Son of God.
3. As for his being tempted of the Devil, it has the same meaning that the hardship of his whole life. For being that the Kingdome of God on earth, which is the Church, was to overcome the kingdome of Satan by suffering; our Saviour Christ gives himself an example of all manner of trials and troubles, of the most tedious difficulties that could occurre: like a wise and couragious Commander animating his Souldiers by his own willingness to suffer as deeply as they that he commands. Which Polyænus relates to be the stratagem of Iphicrates, who when he saw it convenient to draw out his souldiers in a cold frosty night to assault the enemy, and observed their aversness by reason of the bitterness of the season, and the thinness of their clothing, he straitway clad himself more thin then the thinnest of them, and on his bare feet trudged from tent to tent to shew himself to his Camp: which did so encourage the souldiers, that they set upon the enterprize without delay under the conduct of so wise and valiant a Commander.
4. And therefore Christ in like manner for the incouragement of his followers went before in all manner of difficulties, not onely in poverty, in reproach, and in a constant refusal of all the pleasures, riches and honours of this present World, as being to establish the faith of a better; but he was given up also to be tempted of the Devil, that we may not be dismai'd by such encounters, and know how to behave our selves when we are ingaged in them. For his being transported thus securely in the aire by the hand of Satan, like some innocent bird in the talons of a rapacious Hawk, and yet not fainting under it, what can it be but an eminent effect of his Faith in the living God, which is the very Root and inmost original of the Divine life? The same may <105> be said of his miraculous Fast; For himself in answer to the Tempter did profess, man lived not onely by bread, but by Faith in that Word that sustaineth all things. That also is worth the noting that Grotius observes upon the place, That this Threefold temptation wherewith the Devil tempted Christ is the most usual and most prevalent that he assalts mankind withall, viz. Egestas, Confidentia Praedestinationis, & Spes splendoris humani, (especially those that have disentangled themselves from the more soft and sensual desires of the Flesh:) and the advantage of Christs Temptation is, that we are punctually instructed aforehand how we are to oppose. Wherefore this History of his Temptation is very decorous and agreeable to Reason. Nor does the relation of the Devil's assalting of the Son of God make it the less credible: for it is most likely that he was not sure yet he was such in that sense that we understand the Son of God; and a question whether all the Devils be yet convinced that he is what we rightly believe him to be. But for his own curiosity to try what he was, as well as out of a malicious design to pervert him, if he could, he assalted him after this manner in the Wilderness.
5. That of shewing him all the Kingdomes of the Earth from an exceeding high mountain, seems to have some difficulty in it. For if it was onely a prestigious representation of the glory of the Kingdomes of the Earth, what needed a transportation of him to the top of a mountain, or at least of a mountain so exceeding high? But if it was a real view of them, the highest mountain in the world will not enlarge our prospect so as to take in one ordinary Kingdome under our sight. But to this I answer, That this cunning Prestigiator took the advantage of so high a place to set off his Representations the more lively, and to make them the more probable to be true. For the Prospect seeming so great to the eye, and ruder phansies imagining the Earth a round flat, this old Jugler might easily hope that he might delude the Carpenters son with so large a show, and perswade him that what was so great, was all; especially perstringing his sight so, as that the whole Horizon should seem full of the pompous varieties of the Powers and Principalities of the world.
6. As for the long and solemn Fast of Christ and his retirement into solitude for fourty dayes, after notice was given from Heaven that he was the Messias the Son of God, this was very seemly and convenient to sharpen the desire of the people to receive him when he did return, and to gain more Authority to his doctrine which he was to teach them, and to inculcate to his successors by his Example how fit it is to starve the Animal Life, and quite vanquish all the pleasures of the Body, before they take upon them to be instructers in Divine matters, which are of eternal concernment to the Soul. When as now-a-daies by how much more a mans skin is full treg'd with flesh, blood and natural Spirits, and by how much the more eager appetite he has to the things of the World, by so much impatienter he is to get into the Pulpit to exercise his voice and lungs, and thereby to approve himself for a preferment: whenas Christ would not exercise this office of preaching the <106> Kingdome of Heaven, before he had at once despised all the riches, pomp and pleasures of the Earth. And as his Wisdome is discovered in undertaking this solemn Abstinence and Retirement; so is also his Humility in affecting no innovation therein, but he took up the example of Moses and Elias, who after conferr'd with him in the mount at his Transfiguration: which is the Third and last eminent accident which happen'd to our Saviour before his Passion, and which is not recited to fill up the Story, but is of very deep and weighty consequence.
7. Our Saviour takes unto him Peter, James and John, three of the prime of his Apostles, to be spectatours and witnesses of what they should see on the Mount, whither he carried them, where he was transfigured before them, his face shining like the Sun, and his raiment becoming as white as the light; where Moses also and Elias talked with him concerning his Death and glorious Resurrection. Which conference was First a great Cordial to animate our Saviour the better to go through his heavy sufferings; and Secondly a great Satisfaction to as many of the Jews as should be converted to Christianity, that Moses and Elias, that is, their Law-giver and ther chiefest of their Prophets, were abettours to Christ in this new Dispensation he was to set up in the World; and Thirdly, there was a particular injunction (even while Moses and Elias were present with him face to face) to hearken and yield obedience now to Christ as to the beloved Son of God, and to let Moses and Elias go, all things being compleated in him. For a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, saying, This is my wel-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him.
8. And the very Vision was a representation of what was to come to pass: For after this, Moses and Elias vanished, and his disciples, when he had raised them up from the ground, (for they had fallen flat on their faces out of fear) lifting up their eyes, saw no man save Jesus onely.
9. Fourthly and lastly, It was a very fit and powerful Instance to assure men of the Immortality of the Soul, and to beget a more unshaken belief of the Resurrection of Christ out of the grave: and therefore Christ bad his disciples tell no man of the Vision, but reserve it till its due use and time, that is, till Christ had risen from the dead, to be added as a further confirmation of that mystery of enjoying of Life and Immortality in a glorified Body, against that dull infidelity of Atheisticall men that think the Soul of man cannot act unless in the flesh.
10. In the First and Last of these memorable accidents we rehearsed, there is an eminent witness from Heaven of the Excellency of Christs person, to which that nothing remarkable may be omitted, we shall adde also that recorded in John 12. where Christ praying, Father, glorify thy name, there came a voice from Heaven saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorifie it again.
 John 1. v. 32.
 Need, Security or Confidence in Predestination or the Decrees of God, and Hope of worldly honour and preferment.
 Luk. 9.34.
Cite as: Henry More, An Explanation of the Grand Mystery of Godliness (1660), pp. 99-106, https://www.cambridge-platonism.divinity.cam.ac.uk/view/texts/diplomatic/More1660-excerpt002, accessed 2023-12-01.