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THE PURIFICATION AND TEMPTATION
The purple dawn tinges the eastern mountains. A gradually increasing hum of renewed life echoes far and wide across the rapid river under its canopy of mist. Far out of the camp, shouts of huntsmen ring free and clear; hounds bay, and the chase spreads music through the woods.
While all is cool, and the sultry heats of the day are not begun, again is lifted up the clarion voice of the unwearied forerunner, summoning Israel's thousands to penitential purification. Again the leafy camp is deserted, and the living shore peopled with a dense throng, to which fresh accessions are continually arriving from all Judea and all the region beyond Jordan.
Behold now the Purifier in the grateful stream, his toga and girdle laid aside, waiting for the obedient confessors.
A person steps from the throng, and, laying aşide his outer garments, enters the laving tide. They meet, and the unknown stranger and the herald Purifier stand one moment confronted.
The clear keen glance of the prophet fathoms the profound abyss of the mild eye of the stranand his
very soul seems passing in that entranced vision of rapture.
What fascination do those gentle orbs, living fountains of light, exercise upon him? What celestial influence suspends his faculties in that absorbing thrill of emotions, unfelt before? Why stands he dumb, motionless, inert? Shall the mighty prophet of inspired energies quail before the gaze of a youthful artisan? With tremulous lip, at length, and suppressed tones of intense feeling, he murmurs,
“ Comest thou unto me? I have need to be cleansed of thee !"
Oh hallowed scene, oh precious words! The prophet himself, a lowly penitent, has recognized his Savior! And no more than these few stifled words can the ear discern of all his laboring soul strives to utter, while his lips move fruitlessly.
Then breathes the low melodious response, 66 Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness."
With these words, resigning himself to the hands of the agitated Purifier, he disappears beneath the wave, sad emblem of another burial in a colder Jordan stream, then rises to the light again, in blessed type of mightier birth from out
the womb of death. But as he wrings from his dark glossy locks the dripping element, no confession of sin breaks from his lips.
Alone, of all the thousands who there have stood before, he stands, and utters not a word of self-reproach. His hands are clasped, his eye upturned, his lips move, but silently, in prayer. With what surprise do all the people gaze, inquiring! What be the thoughts of the great forerunner himself, now likewise gazing to the sky? What sees he there? And why does one face after another turn upward, until now the whole shore is looking into the cloudless blue?
From the center of the parting empyrean darts · out a visible shape like a dove, hovering nearer
and nearer, rising, falling, waving, undulating, till at length the radiant bird, emblem of the Holy Ghost, alights upon him with caressing wing, while from on high peals out a thunder-tone,
6 THOU ART MY BELOVED SON, IN WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED."'.
Fixed in a stupor of wonder remains the herald Purifier, fixed the terror-stricken throng; no hand moves, no pulse seems to beat. Right forth from the water, through the thick throng, through the outermost trees, that silent stranger goes, and disappears upon the sandy verge of the valley.
Not till he is gone, and men have stood long gazing upon one another in suspense, do they seem to wake to the reality. And when, all at once, they begin to perceive that it was no dream, but a palpable transaction, what turbulent explosion ensues on every side !
A noise of the whole moving mass is heard, as, torrent-like, they sweep impetuous, breaking through the thickets, and, trampling upon one another, dash like a foamy billow out upon the sandy beach. In vain. Far as the eye can reach no living thing appears. There rise the gloomy mountains, there spread the solitary wastes, whilo above wheels undisturbed the poised bird of prey. What might have been the result of that first burst of popular enthusiasm we can not conjecture. But the wave is dashed, the refluent waters are absorbed by the earth again, and naught remains but here and there a flush of excited feeling, a gush of frothy declamation. The fickle crowd remain encamped, and, save in some deep hearts, the scene is soon remembered only as a dream.
But if it be comparatively easy to penetrate the workings of these vulgár minds, and see emotion undergo her chameleon transformations, if it be not impossible partly to conceive the reflections of the great Purifier himself, and in
some degree reproduce them in ourselves, how different when we follow on the swift wings of fancy the steps of the fugitive.
We see him gain the sand, and, treading rapidly southward a short distance, re-enter the glades below the camp, concealing himself from search. And now, as slowly with him we win the toilsome way through the pathless thicket, and view the total abstraction from all outward things that characterizes him, how do our minds shrink back hopelessly from the attempt to reproduce within ourselves the thoughts that must be his !
The sun gains the zenith, and the sultry air grows stifling. He heeds it not. - The sun goes down ; he marks it not. Mists rise murky; he is unconscious of the fact. Seemingly without fatigue, he plies the same measured tread.
A lion rushes out upon him, lashing his sides with his tail; he walks unmoved on, and the king of the forest slinks mute into cover. Close before the tiger, with his eye of fire, moves the heedless man, and the complaining brute shrinks deeper in his lair.
Leaving now the Jordan as it approaches Asphaltites, he crosses the westward sands toward the cliffs. What thoughts be these that do so exhaust from all outward manifestation the soul