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St. John's early life had effectually divided him from one who, till thirty years of age, had remained patiently subject to the domestic discipline and humble toils of His earthly parent. St. John himself declares, and there is every appearance of truth in the declaration, that he knew not the man, save by a miraculous and public sign, who was to baptise with the Holy Ghost and with fire. Instead of taking advantage of the zeal of the assembled multitude, which, hadany concert existed, the Messiah and His forerunner would scarcely have neglected to do, our Saviour wanders forth alone, without waiting to receive their homage, and lingers for six weeks in the depths of the adjoining wilderness. On His return, though again hailed by the Baptist as the Lamb of God, He resumes no intercourse with him; each proceeds on his course of laborious preaching, of painful wandering, but our Lord alone, of blessed and most mighty miracles; the one laying claim to an existence and authority eternal, supreme, and infinite; the other, even in bonds and death, rejoicing in the success of the younger prophet, and cheerfully sacrificing his own importance and supremacy to His superior claim on whom the hopes of Israel rested, and of whom all the prophets of ancient time had spoken.
It is plain that St. John, while acting thus, could have no motive for deceiving others. But might he be himself deceived ? was he an honest but visionary enthusiast ? Many reasons may be urged against our entertaining such an opinion of him.
In the first place, the character of an enthusiast is almost always strongly marked by pride. Such a person is extremely unlikely to descend, as St. John did, to take the second place, or to rejoice so consistently and unaffectedly in the decay of his own popularity.
Secondly, the practical tenour of John's preaching, the repentance which he inculcated, and which he made, as we see in his answers to the soldiers and publicans, to consist not in superstitious forms, not in abstraction and contemplation, but in the discharge by every man of the plain and appropriate duties of his condition, is of a character too honest, too sensible and sound, for a heated temper or a diseased imagination.
And, above all, the coincidence of his choice with the circumstances and character of Jesus, is a decisive proof that such a choice was not determined by chance, nor built on the dictates of a capricious and casual fancy. If men drew lots for a king, it would be strange indeed if, out of a mighty and promiscuous multitude, the lot should actually fall on one of royal blood, of unexceptionable character, with every private and every public quality which could fit him for a ruler or a conqueror. But what are the qualifications of an earthly king, to those marks which were to distinguish the Messiah, who was not only to be a descendant of David, but the son of a virgin ; who was not only to speak as never man spake, but to do the works which never man did; to heal the sick, to cleanse
the leper, to cast out devils, to preach the Gospel to the poor, to raise the dead, yea, and Himself to arise from the dead, having first poured forth His soul to death, and made His life an offering for many? Was it a casual or enthusiastic choice which rested on a Man, whose bidding the waves obeyed? Was the fig-tree in the plot, which dried up at the word of Jesus? or were the earth and moon and sun confederates in the forgery, which quaked, and became dim, and hid their glories in the hour when the Lord was crucified ? Verily “ John did no miracle; but all things that John spake of this Man were true":" and the truth and the life is in Him.
A confirmation, then, of our faith, is the first and most obvious lesson which we are to learn from the Baptist's history. But there are other circumstances in which the son of Zacharias was sent for the instruction of the world, and in which he was given as a sign for many. I say a sign and not a pattern, inasmuch as, for the particular austerities which he practised, we have no warrant in the example of our Lord, nor in the earlier days of the Church, nor could such austerities be usually practised without a neglect of more important duties. But when we see the son of Zacharias in the wilderness, a mournful solitary man, can we refrain from observing, how insignificant in the sight of God are the advantages of
i St. John x. 41.
worldly wealth and greatness, since the most illustrious of His saints and His only Son Himself, had of this world's goods so extremely small a pittance ? Or, can we avoid observing, that as St. John, the reprover of sin, preceded Jesus, the messenger of pardon; so Christ, it is plain, can be only effectually approached by the gate of repentance, while repentance is of no avail, unless, like St. John, it leads us to Christ?
Some days yet remain of that season which the Church has devoted to the consideration of our Saviour's advent, and a preparation for the feast of His nativity. In those days, let St. John be in your thoughts; during those days let the Son of God be the object of your devotions; and intreat His grace that you may be so prepared to partake in His sacraments, that at His second coming in might and majesty ye may be found fit to enter into His joy. Blessed is that servant whom his Lord when He returneth shall find thus doing !
OFFICE OF CHRIST.
[Preached at Trichinopoly, April 2, 1826.]
1 St. John v. 6—8. This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ ; not by water only, but by water and blood; and it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood, and these three agree in one.
To understand the meaning of these difficult words of St. John, it will be necessary to consider the tendency of his general argument, and for that purpose to go back to the former part of the chapter whence they are taken, in which he is at once enforcing the practical duties of a Christian, and the motives and principles and gracious aids from which those duties must proceed, and by which alone our weakness is enabled to perform them. We are called upon, he first tells us, to prove our love of God by the active discharge of our duty; and this duty is rendered easy to us by the change which is wrought by God's grace in every one who truly seeks His mercy through the merits of His Son, which, to express the total alteration caused by it in our desires and habits, is called regeneration, or