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in the Gospel itself, but enforced also by him, who came only to prepare the way for it; it is evident, from the care taken to apprise the world of it even before Christianity was promulgated, how important and essential a part this must be of that divine religion.

Lastly. It will be of use to observe, what the particular method was, which John made use of to prepare men for the reception and the belief of the Gospel; for whatever means he applied to the attainment of that end, the same probably we shall find the most efficacious for a similar purpose at this very day.

Now it is evident, that the Baptist addressed himself, in the first instance, not to the understanding, but to the heart. He did not attempt to convince his hearers, but to reform them; he did not say to them, Go and study the prophets, examine with care the pretensions of him, whom I announce, and weigh accurately all the evidences of his divine mission: he well knew how all this would end, in the then corrupt state of their minds. His exhortation was, therefore, "Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." It was on this principle he reproved with so much severity the Pharisees and Sadducees, who came to his baptism, whom one would think he should rather have encouraged and commended, and received with open arms. "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance*." Till you have done this, till you have purified your hearts and abandoned your sins, my baptism will be of no use to you, and all the reasoning in the world will have no effect upon you. In perfect conformity to this, Josephus informs us, that John exhorted the Jews not to come to his baptism, without first preparing themselves for it by the practice of virtue, by a strict adherence to the rules of equity and justice in their dealings with one another, and by manifesting a sincere piety towards God.

This is the preparation he required; and thus it is that we also must prepare men for the reception of divine truth. We must first reform, and then convince them. It is not in general the want of evidence, but the want of virtue, that makes men infidels; let them cease

* Matt. iii, 7, 8.

to be wicked, and they will soon cease to be unbelievers. "It is with the heart," says St. Paul (not with the head), "that man believeth unto righteousness." Correct the heart, and all will go right. Unless the soil is good, all the seed you cast upon it will be wasted in vain. In the parable of the sower we find, that the only seed, which came to perfection, was that which fell on good ground, on an honest and a good heart. This is the first and most essential requisite to belief. Unbelievers complain of the mysteries of revelation; but we have the highest authority for saying, that, in general, the only mystery, which prevents them from receiving it, is the mystery of iniquity.

We hear, indeed, a great deal of the good nature, the benevolence, the generosity, the humanity, the honour, and the other innumerable good qualities of those that reject the Gospel; and they may possibly possess some ostentatious and popular virtues, and may keep clear from flagrant and disreputable vices. But whether some gross depravity, some inveterate prejudice, or some leaven of vanity and self-conceit, does not commonly lurk in their hearts, and influence both their opinions and their practices, they, who have an extensive acquaintance with the writings and the conduct of that class of men, will find no difficulty in deciding. If, however, this was the decision of man only, the justness of it might be controverted, and the competency of the judge denied. It might be said, that it is unbecoming and presumptuous in any human being to pass severe censures on large bodies of men; and that, without being able to look into the heart of man, it is impossible to form a right judgment of his moral character. This we do not deny. But if he, who actually has that power of looking into the heart of man, if he, who is perfectly well acquainted with human nature, and all the various characters of men; if he has declared, that "men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evilt," who will controvert the truth of that decision? On this authority, then, we may securely rely, and may rest assured, that whatever pretences may be set up for rejecting revelation, the grand obstacles to it are indolence, indifference, vice, passion, prejudice, self-conceit, pride, vanity,

• Rom. x, 10.

+ John iii, 19.

love of singularity, a disdain to think with the vulgar, and an ambition to be considered as superior to the rest of mankind, in genius, penetration, and discernment. It is by removing these impediments in the first place, that we must prepare men, as St. John did, for embracing the religion of Christ. These (to make use of prophetic language) are the mountains, that must be made low; these the crooked paths, that must be made straight; these the rough places, that must be made plain. Then all difficulties will be removed, and there will be A HIGHWAY FOR OUR GOD. Then there will be a smooth and easy approach for the Gospel to the understanding, as well as to the heart; there will be nothing to oppose its conquest over the soul. THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHALL FULLY BE REVEALED, AND ALL FLESH SHALL SEE IT*

* Isaiah xl, 5.



THE fourth chapter of St. Matthew, at which we are now arrived, opens with an account of that most singular and extraordinary transaction, THE TEMPTATION OF CHRIST IN THE WILDERNESS. The detail of it is as follows:

"Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil; and when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterwards an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word, that proceedeth out of the mouth of God. Then the devil taketh him up into the holy city, and setteth him on a pinnacle of the temple, and saith unto him, If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee, and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God. Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; and saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him."

Such is the history given by the evangelists of our Lord's temptation, which has been a subject of much discussion among learned men. It is well known, in par

* Matt. iv, 1–11.

ticular, that several ancient commentators, as well as many able and pious men of our own times, have thought that this temptation was not a real transaction, but only a vision or prophetic trance, similar to that which Ezekiel describes in the eighth chapter of his prophecy, and to that which befel St. Peter, when he saw a vessel descending unto him from Heaven, and let down to the Earth. And it must be acknowledged, that this opinion is supported by many specious arguments, and seems to remove some considerable difficulties. But upon the whole there are, I think, stronger reasons for adhering to the literal interpretation, than for recurring to a visionary representation.

For, in the first place, it is a rule admitted and established by the best and most judicious interpreters, that, in explaining the sacred writings, we ought never, without the most apparent and most indispensable_necessity, to allow ourselves the liberty of departing from the plain, obvious, and literal meaning of the words. Now I conceive, that no such necessity can be alleged in the present instance. It is true, that there are in this narrative many difficulties, and many extraordinary, surprising, and miraculous incidents. But the whole history of our Saviour is wonderful and miraculous from beginning to end; and if, whenever we meet with a difficulty or a miracle, we may have recourse to figure, metaphor, or vision, we shall soon reduce a great part of the sacred writings to nothing else. Besides, these difficulties will several of them admit of a fair solution; and where they do not, as they affect no article of faith or practice, they must be left among those inscrutable mysteries, which it is natural to expect in a revelation from Heaven. This we must after all be content to do, even if we adopt the idea of vision; for even that does not remove every difficulty, and it creates some that do not attach to the literal interpretation.

2. In the next place, I cannot find, in any part of this narrative of the temptation, the slightest or most distant intimation, that it is nothing more than a vision. The very first words with which it commences seem to imply the direct contrary. "Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil." Does not this say, in the most express terms, that our

Acts x, 10-16.

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