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Pharisee and peasant, Sadducee and soldier, citizen and thief, priest and publican, and move in motley crowds toward the VOICE; for, however unwelcome be the searching truths proclaimed, men will gladly endure them, though sent home with tingling pungency of application, if for no other reason than the native love of excitement, and the universal admiration of oratorical eloquence.
At the root of an aged sycamore, at one horn of the crescent shore, where the eddying waters slowly circle upward against the stream, the herald Purifier stands, while far round the curving beach, crowding to the water's edge, and even climbing on the pendent branches, gather dense the listening crowd.
· Repent!” he cries, “and be purified, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand! Rend your hearts and not your garments, for thc sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart He will not despise. Enter, therefore, into the rock, and hide thee in the dust, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty when he ariseth to shake terribly the earth.
“But who,” he cries, suddenly confronting a party of supercilious Pharisees and Sadducees, " who hath warned you to flee from the wrath
to come? Generation of vipers! think not to say within yourselves, “We have Abraham to our father,' for I say unto you, God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
“ And lo! the Lord will enter into judgment with you, ye ancients of his people, and ye princes thereof, for ye have eaten up the vineyard, and the spoil of the poor is in your houses. Woo unto you that make a covenant with death, and a compact with Hades, saying, ' When the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come nigh us. The ax is laid at the root of the tree. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down and cast into the fire. The hail shall sweep away your refuges of lies. Your covenant with death shall be disannulled. Your compact with Hades shall not stand; and when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, ye shall be trodden down by it. Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance."
" And what shall we do to escape the coming wrath ?” exclaims a publican, aghast at such denunciation against those generally revered for highest holiness.
66 What can we do to escape the fearful judgment ?”
“Repent,” is the answer. 6 Exact from none more than is appointed you."
366 And what shall we do ?” cries a mail-clad veteran, more shaken in soul than by all the terrors of battle.
“Be gentle,” is the response; “put no man in terror, and be content with your wages. And come, confessing your guilt, be purified for the remission of sins." And now, while scowling Pharisee and scoffing Sadducee stand aloof, the speaker descends into the water, treading firm upon the sandy bottom, and there come in rapid succession the trembling hearers of that solemn address, and are purified of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
But now, through the vast multitude goes round a rising murmur, a kindling thought within their breasts. What if this were He? Our Messiah himself? Come in disguise?. Messiah, when he cometh, will he speak mightier words than these? Is not this the chosen of Israel? Shall we not lift the banner, and march with him to victory?
While such thoughts glow, and such murmurs pass from lip to lip, the quick ear of the herald catches the word, and in an instant the truth flashes on his mind. This fiery, this inflammable mass! Another hour, and they will blaze into open insurrection and revolt! He stops-ascends the bank-a sudden pallor on
his lip. The shore grows silent as the grave. That voice is heard, calm, low, but trembling.
“I indeed purify you with water unto repentance, but there cometh One mightier than I after me, the bands of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose! He shall purify you with the Holy Ghost and with fire! His fan is in his hand, and he shall thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn up with fire unquenchable !"
But at this moment, from the outer edge of the crowd, through the opening ranks, advance a body of priests and Levites from Jerusalem, a formal embassy from the Sanhedrim. Con. fronting the hermit of the desert, they demand,
66 Who art, thou? Art thou the Christ ?!!
“Who art thou, then, that we may give some answer to them that sent us?
What sayest thou of thyself ?”
“I am the Voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
“Wherefore PURIFIEST thou then, if thou be not the Christ, nor Elias, nor yet that prophet? Is it not written of Messiah that He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver ?
“I indeed purify you with water, but there standeth one among you whom ye know not. He it is who, coming after me, is preferred before me, the bands of whose sandals I am not worthy to unloose. He shall purify you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
“Repent, therefore, and flee from the wrath to come, for a fire is kindled in his anger that shall burn to the lowest Hades. Soon, coming in the clouds of heaven, shall appear One like unto the Son of Man. Then shall ye call to the rocks, Fall on us, and to the hills, Cover us; for the Heaven shall be rolled together as a scroll, and the stars fall down like figs from a fig-tree. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. A fiery stream shall issue and come forth before him, thousand thousands minister to him, ten thousand times ten thousand stand before him, the judgment sit, the books be opened. But which of us can dwell with the devouring fire, and who can lie down in everlasting burnings?