« AnteriorContinuar »
But besides bearing this honest and disinterested tes timony to Christ, the Baptist hazarded a measure which no impostor or enthusiast ever ventured upon, without being immediately detected and exposed. He ventured to deliver two prophecies concerning Christ; prophecies too which were to be completed, not at some distant period, when both he and his hearers might be in their graves, and the prophecy itself forgot, but within a very short space of time, when every one who heard the prediction might be a witness to its accomplishment or its failure. He foretold, that Jesus should baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire, and that he should be offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.*These were very singular things for a man to foretel åt hazard and from conjecture, because nothing could be more remote from the ideas of a Jew, or more unlikely to happen in the common course of things. They were moreover of that peculiar nature, that it was utterly impossible for John and Jesus to concert the matter between themselves; for the completion of the prophecies did not depend solely on them, but required the concurrence of other agents, of the Holy Ghost in the first instance, and of the Jews and the Roman governor in the other; and unless these had entered into a confede racy with the Baptist and with Christ, to fulfil what John foretold, it was not in the power of either to secure the completion of it. Yet both these prophecies were, we know, actually accomplished within a very few years after they were delivered; for our Lord suffered death upon the cross for the redemption of the world; and the Holy Ghost descended visibly upon the apostles in the semblance of fire on the day of Pentecost.†
It is evident then that the Baptist was not only a good man but a true prophet; and for both reasons, his testimony in favor of Christ, that he was the Son of God, affords an incontestible proof that both he and his religion came from heaven.
2. The history of the Baptist affords a proof also of another point of no small importance. It gives a
† Acts ii. 2.
*Matth. iii. 11. John i. 29.
strong confirmation to that great evangelical doctrine, the doctrine of atonement; the expiation of our sins by the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.
We are often told that there was no need for this expiation. That repentance and reformation are fully sufficient to restore the most abandoned sinners to the favor of a just and merciful God, and to avert the punishment due to their offences.
But what does the great herald and forerunner of Christ say to this? He came professedly as a preacher of repentance. This was his peculiar office, the great object of his mission, the constant topic of his exhortations. "Repent ye, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance." This was the unceasing language of "the voice crying in the wilderness."
If then repentance alone had sufficient efficacy for the expiation of sin, surely we should have heard of this from him who came on purpose to preach repentance. But what is the case? Does he tell us that repentance alone will take away the guilt of our transgressions, and justify us in the eyes of our Maker? Quite the contrary. Notwithstanding the great stress he justly lays on the indispensable necessity of repentance, yet he tells his followers at the same time, that it was to Christ only, and to his death, that they were to look for the pardon of their sins. "Behold," says he, "the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!" And again," he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the son hath not life, but the wrath of God abideth on him." Since then the expiation of sin by the sacrifice of Christ is a doctrine not only taught 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 apprize 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
* Matth, iii. 2. 8.
† Luke i. 29.
John iii. 36.
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 saducees 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 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 * Matth. iii. 7, 8.
† Rom. x. 10.
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 honor, 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 evil,* 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, love of singularity, a disdain to think with the vulgar, and an ambition to be considered as superior to the * Jolin iii. 19.
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 HIGH WAY 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 hungered. 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