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been sent into the world on purpose to be the precursor of our Lord, to prepare the way for him and his religion, here called "the kingdom of heaven," and, as the prophet expresses it, to "make his paths straight." This is a plain allusion to the custom that prevailed in eastern countries, of sending messengers and pioneers to make the ways level and straight before kings and princes, and other great men, when they passed through the country with large retinues, and with great pomp and magnificence. They literally lowered mountains, they raised valleys, they cut down woods, they removed all obstacles, they cleared away all roughnesses and inequalities, and made every thing smooth, and plain, and commodious for the great personage whom they preceded.

In the same manner was John the Baptist in a spiritual sense to "go before the Lord," before the Saviour of the world, to prepare his way, to make his paths straight, to remove out of the minds of men every thing that opposed itself to the admission of divine truth, all prejudice, blindness, pride, obstinacy, self-conceit, vanity, and vain philosophy; but, above all, to subdue and regulate those depraved affections, appetites, passions, and inveterate habits of wickedness, which are the grand obstacles to conversion and the reception of the word of God.

His exhortation therefore was, "Repent ye :" renounce those vices and abominations, which at present blind your eyes and cloud your understandings, and then you will be able to see the truth and bear the light. This was the method which John took, the instrument he made use of to extirpate out of the minds of his hearers all impediments to the march of the Gospel, or, as the prophetic language most sublimely expresses it, "He cried aloud to them, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the highway for our God. Let every

valley be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low; let the crooked be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it *."

What a magnificent preparation is this for the great Founder of our religion! What an exalted idea must it give us of his dignity and importance, to have a fore

* Isaiah xl, 3-5.

runner and a harbinger, such as John, to proclaim his approach to the world, and call upon all mankind to attend to him! It was a distinction peculiar and appro priate to him. Neither Moses nor any of the prophets can boast this mark of honour. It was reserved for the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer of mankind, and was well suited to the transcendent dignity of his person, and the grandeur of his design.

The place which St. John chose for the exercise of his ministry was the wilderness of Judæa, where he seems to have lived constantly from his birth to the time of his preaching; for St. Luke informs us, that "he was in the wilderness till the time of his showing unto Israel *." Here it appears he lived with great austerity; for he drank neither wine nor strong drink; a rule frequently observed by the Jews, when they devoted themselves to the stricter exercises of religion: and his meat was locusts and wild honey; such simple food as the desert afforded to the lowest of its inhabitants: for eating some sorts of locusts was not only permitted by the law of Moses, but, as travellers inform us, is common in the East to this day. The clothing of the Baptist was no less simple than his diet. His raiment, we are told, was of camel's hair, with a leathern girdle about his loins; the same coarse habit which the meaner people usually wore, and which sometimes even the rich assumed as a garb of mourning. For this raiment of camel's hair was nothing else than that sackcloth which we so often read of in Scripture. And as almost every thing of moment was, in those nations and those times, expressed by visible signs as well as by words, the prophets also were generally clothed in this dress, because one principal branch of their office was to call upon men to mourn for their sins: and particularly Elias, or Elijah, is described in the Second Book of Kings as a hairy mant, that is, a man clothed in haircloth, or sackcloth (as John was), with a leathern girdle about his loins. Even in outward appearance, therefore, John was another Elias; but much more so as he was endued, according to the angel's prediction, with the spirit and power of Eliast. Both rose up among the Jews in times of universal corruption; both were authorized to denounce speedy vengeance from Heaven, unless they repented; both executed their

**Luke i, 80. + 2 Kings i, 8.

+ Luke i, 17.

commission with the same intrepid zeal; both were persecuted for it: yet nothing deterred either Elias from accusing Ahab to his face, or John from rebuking Herod in the same undaunted manner.

But here an apparent difficulty occurs, and the sacred writers are charged with making our Lord and St. John flatly contradict each other.

When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John who he was, and particularly whether he was Elias; his answer was, "I am not*:" but yet our Lord told the Jews, that John was the Elias which was to comet. How is this contradiction to be reconciled? Without any kind of difficulty. The Jews had an expectation, founded on a literal interpretation of the prophet Malachit, that, before the Messiah came, that very same Elias, or Elijah, who lived and prophesied in the time of Ahab, would rise from the dead and appear again upon Earth. John, therefore, might very truly say, that he was not that Elias. But yet, as we have seen that he resembled Elias in many striking particulars; as the angel told Zacharias, that he should come in the spirit and power of Elias; and as he actually approved himself, in the turn and manner of his life, in his doctrine, and his conduct, the very same man to the latter Jews, which the other had been to the former, our Saviour might with equal truth assure his disciples, that John was that Elias, whose coming the prophet Malachi had in a figurative sense foretold. This dif ficulty, we see, is so easily removed, that I should not have thought it worth noticing in this place, had it not been very lately revived, with much parade, in one of those coarse and blasphemous publications, which have been dispersed in this country with so much activity, in order to disseminate vulgar infidelity among the lower orders of the people, but which are now sinking fast into oblivion and contempt. This is one specimen of what they call their arguments against Christianity; and from this specimen you will judge of all the rest. But to return:

The abstemiousness and rigour of the Baptist's life was calculated to produce very important effects. It was fitted to excite great attention and reverence in the minds of his hearers. It was well suited to the doctrine + Matt. xi, 14. + Malachi iv, 5.

* John i, 21.

he was to preach, that of repentance and contrition; to the seriousness he wished to inspire, and to the terror which he was appointed to impress on impenitent offenders. And perhaps it was further designed to intimate the need there often is of harsh restraints in the beginning of virtue, as the easy familiarity of our Lord's manner and behaviour exhibits the delightful freedom which attends the perfection of it. At least, placing these two characters, in view of the world, so near to each other, must teach men this very instructive lesson; that though severity of conduct may, in various cases, be both prudent and necessary, yet the mildest and cheerfullest goodness is the completest; and they the most useful to religion, who are able to converse among sinners without risking their innocence, as discreet physicians do among the sick without endangering their health.

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It is remarkable, however, that whatever mortifications John practised himself, it does not appear that he prescribed any thing to others beyond the ordinary duties of a good life. His disciples, indeed, fasted often, and so did many of the Jews besides; probably, therefore, the former, as well as the latter, by their own choice. His general injunction was only, "bring forth fruits meet for repentance*." When more particular directions were desired, he commanded all sorts of men to avoid more especially the sins, to which their condition most exposed them. Thus, when the people asked him (the common people of that hard-hearted nation), "What shall we do?" John answered, He, that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he, that hath meat, let him do likewise t." That is, let every one of you, according to his abilities, exercise those duties of charity and kindness to his neighbour, which you are all of you but too apt to neglect. The publicans or farmers of the revenue came to him, and said, "Master, what shall we do?" And he said, "Exact no more than that which is appointed yout." Keep clear from that rapine and extortion, of which you are so often guilty in the collection of the revenue. The soldiers too demanded of him, "What shall we do?" His answer was, "Do violence to no

* Matt. iii, 8.
+ Luke iii, 12, 13.

+ Luke iii, 10, 11.

§ Luke iii, 14.

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man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.' That is, abstain from those acts of injustice, violence, and oppression, to which your profession too often leads you. Lewd and debauched people also applied to him, to whom, no doubt, he gave advice suited to their case. And therefore what he taught was, not ceremonial observances, but moral conduct on religious principle; and without this he pronounced (however disgusting the doctrine must be to a proud and superstitious people) the highest outward privileges to be of no value at all. "Think not," said he to the Jews, "to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father," and are therefore sure of God's favour, be our conduct what it may; "for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham *;" is able to make the most stupid and ignorant of these heathens, whom you so utterly despise, converts to true religion, and heirs of the promises.

Such were the doctrines which John preached to his disciples, and the success which attended him was equal to their magnitude and importance.

This was plainly foretold by the angel, that announced his birth to his father Zacharias. 66 Many of the children of Israel," said he, "shall he turn to the Lord their Godt." Which in fact he did for the evangelists tell us, that "there went out unto him into the wilderness, Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him." The truth of this is amply confirmed by Josephus, who informs us, that multitudes flocked to him, for they were greatly delighted with his discourses.

It might naturally be expected, that such extraordinary popularity and applause as this would fill him with conceit and vanity, and inspire him with a most exalted opinion of his own abilities, and a sovereign contempt for any rival teacher of religion. But so far from this, the most prominent feature of his character was an unexampled modesty and humility. Though he had been styled by Malachi the messenger of the Lord, and even Elias (the chief prophet of the Jews, next to Moses), he never assumed any higher title than that very humble one given him by Isaiah, "the

* Matt. iii, 9. Matt. iii, 5, 6.

+ Luke i, 16.

§ Joseph. Antiq. Jud. xviii, 2, ed. Huds.

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