Page images
PDF
EPUB

and bow before him. Then may we know from his own adorable lips all our souls can desire, all our finite powers can sustain, of his earthly history, and his immortal work of love.

“We'll gaze upon his beauteous face,
And tell the wonders of his grace;
Or, overwhelm’d with rapture sweet,
Sink down adoring at his feet.”

CHAPTER XV.

THE VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDER

NESS.

IT

T is the morning of a lovely day in March. The sun's rays are just glancing across the blue tops of the Arabian mountains, and gleaming upon the waves of Asphaltites, a sea as brilliant to the eye, and laughing as gladly in the sun, as though no doomed cities had ever been ingulfed in its abyss. And yet those sluggish waters answer not to the caresses of the wind, no ripple curls upon their silver mirror, no surf beats upon the shore; it is, in truth, a dead sea, whose slimy surges sleep, the melancholy pall of a fire-deluged vale.

A dark range of rocks rises frowning, not far from the sterile eastern sands, and girds the whole extent, and, save where far to the north numerous recent torrents are foaming down, the eye can discover no motion for miles of sav. age dreariness. No verdure, no sign of living thing. The petrel and the sea-gull fly not above those leafless crags. The beautiful white marine doves that swim all day long upon the Syr

ian wave, never dip their breast in that bituminous sea.

Nor upon the wide reach of the desolate shore can we discern even a skiff or hut of a lonely fisherman.

We ourselves are standing upon an eminence among the barren, cavernous mountains which descend from Jerusalem to the Salt Sea and the Jordan. The prospect furnishes little to cheer the eye, but much to awaken sentiments of gloom. A few trees here and there add a lonely beauty to the severe grandeur of the rocks, but almost every where we behold only somber and shattered masses of many-colored stone, or broad reaches of dull and fiery sand.

Emerging from a cavern above us, whose dark mouth our eye can not penetrate, we behold a tall and noble figure approaching, who, by the freedom of his tread, and the air of happy communion with nature with which he gazes abroad, appears to be no stranger to these wild abodes. . As he draws nearer, we scan his appearance more minutely, and discover in his face, his figure, and his garb the indications of no common presence.

Austere and resolute decision resides in the lines of that mouth, almost hidden though it be by the black untrimmed beard. In his eye burns a clear and steady beam like a lamp, and upon that pale brow is the

stamp of concentrated thought. Sandals of the coarsest skins protect his feet from the rock on which he treads. His shaggy upper garment, woven from the roughest hair of the camel, is confined with a broad leathern girdle about his loins, and as he walks he plucks from the rocks a piece of honey-comb, deposited in the clefts by the wild swarms of the desert. A few locusts, food of the humblest peasant of this barren domain, complete the frugal meal of a man apparently so lost in internal musings and undeveloped plans that external luxuries can find no hold upon him.

Ah, noble nature, born for great deeds, sent from God! nurtured apart from thy race in the gloomy recesses of a magnificent desert, habituated from childhood to such unlimited freedom from the shackles of social life and all sensual bonds; if such be now thy lofty soul, uncontaminate with a nation's profligate effeminacy, long wont to commune with the Spirit that made these stupendous scenes in the very spot where once blazed the terrific revelation of his wrath in a red deluge out of heaven; where now stagnates for ages the pool entombing those towers accursed; if such thine abode, such thy habits, and such thy mind, what message must that be which thou art bearing? What has such as

?

thou to say to a voluptuous, sensual, ambitious, distracted, formal, hypocritical generation ? and what must be that other man before whose advent such messenger prepares the way?

Art thou, oh wild and sacred hermit of these inhospitable realms, art thou the fit precursor of a kingdom of this world? And whither now, in the early spring, borne onward at length by the calling voice of thy divine inspiration, dost thou turn thy steps? now, when the great paschal festival, being ended, has dismissed the gathered thousands of Israel, and the whole nation seems in motion, and when, across even the deserts of the Jordan and Upper Asphaltites, multitudes are beginning to move in search of the far-famed son of Zacharias?

Northward he goes; and as he emerges from the more desolate parts toward the more traveled districts, and as his eye, taking in the whole landscape, begins to note one company after another of pilgrims, here on foot and there on mules, or perchance on camels, what new agitation appears to disturb the serenity of that face, what thoughts appear contending for utterance ?

Behold him, at length, yielding to some resistless impulse, and, feeling that the crisis has arrived, ascend yon commanding eminence over

« PreviousContinue »