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heavens on purpose to announce his birth, which accordingly (as we have just seen) attracted the notice of those illustrious strangers, who came from a distant country to pay their homage to the infant Jesus ; whom, notwithstanding the humility of his condition and of his habitation, they hailed as king of the Jews. At his baptism, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him.* After his temptation, when he had vanquished the prince of darkness, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.t At his transfiguration, his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was bright as the light, and there appeared Moses and Elias talking with him, and from the cloud which overshadowed them, there came a voice, saying, “ This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased ; hear ye him.”I At his agony in the garden, there appeared an angel unto him, strengthening him. || At his crucifixion, all nature seemed to be thrown into convulsions : the sun was darkened; the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom; the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; the graves were opened, and gave up their dead; and even the heathen centurion, and those that were with him, were compelled to cry out, “ Truly this was the son of God."'Before his ascension, he said to his disciples, “All power is given to me in heaven and in earth; and while he yet blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven, and a cloud received him out of their sight.”** There we are told he sitteth at the right hand of God, making intercession for the sinful race of man, till he comes the second time in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels, to judge the world. There has God,
highly exalted him above all principalities and power, and might, and dominion, and given him a name, which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”ft
When all these circumstances are taken together, what a magnificent idea do they present to us of the
humble Jesus, and how does all earthly splendour fade and die away under this overbearing effulgence of celestial glory! We need not then be ashamed either of the birth, the life, or the death of Christ, “for they are the power of God unto salvation.” And if the great and the wise men, whose history we have been
*Matth. iii. 16. Matth. iv. 11. Matth. xvii. 5. Luke, xxii. 43. Matth. xxvii. 54. **Matth. xxviii, 18, Luke, xxiv. 51, ++Philip. ii. 9-11,
considering, were induced by the appearance of a new star, to search out, with no small labour and fatigue, the infant Saviour of the world ; if they, though philosophers and deists (far different from the philosophers and deists of the present day) disdained not to prostrate themselves before him, and present to him the richest and the choicest gifts they had to offer ;
well may we, when this child of the Most High is not only grown to maturity, but has lived, and died, and risen again for us, and is now set down at the right hand of God (angels, and principalities, and powers being made subject to him) well may we not only pay our homage, but our adoration to the Son of God, and offer to him oblations far more precious than gold, frankincense and myrrh ; namely, ourselves, our souls and our bodies, “ as a reasonable, holy and lively sacrifice unto him ;” well may we join with that innumerable multitude in heaven, which is continually praising him and saying; “ Blessing, and honour, and glory be unto him, that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever."*
* Rev. v, 13.
MATTHEW, CHAP. ïïi.
THE subject of this lecture will be the third chapter of Saint Matthew, in which we have the history of a very extraordinary person called John the Baptist; to distinguish him from another John mentioned in the New Testament, who was our Saviour's beloved disciple, and the author of the Gospel that bears his name ; whence he is called John the Evangelist.
As the character of John the Baptist is in many respects a very remarkable one, and his appearance bears a strong testimony to the divine mission of Christ and the truth of his religion, I shall enter pretty much at large into the particulars of his history, as they are to be found not only in the Gospel of St. Matthew, but in the other three Evangelists ; collecting from each all the material circumstances of his life, from the time of his first appearance in the wilderness to his murder by Herod.
St. Matthew's account of him is as follows: “ In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, • Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his meat was locusts and wild honey. And there went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the regions round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan confessing their sins."*
Here then we have a person, who appears to have 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
* Matth. iii, 1–6.
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 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, selfconceit, 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
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 forerunner 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 appropriate 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 Judea, where he seems to have lived constantly from his birth to the time of his preaching; for St. Luke informs us,t 6 that he was in the wilderness till the time of his shewing 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 sack-cloth 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 man,* that is, a man clothed in hair-cloth or sackcloth (as John was) with a leathern girdle about his loins. Even in outward appearance therefore John was another Elias ; but more so as he was endued, according to the angel's prediction, with the spirit and power of Elias.f 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 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 :I But yet our Lord told the Jews that John was the Elias which was to come.ll How is this contradiction to be reconciled ? Without any kind of difficulty. The Jews had an expectation founded on a literal interpretaiton of the prophet Malachi,ộ 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
* 2 Kings, i. 8.
+ Luke, i. 17. # John, i. 21.
Malachi, iv. 5.
| Matth. xi. 14.