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and entreaty, persuading him to profess himself that which they so earnestly desired he might be found to be. "Who art thou? Art thou the Christ? Art thou Elias? Art thou that Prophet? Why baptisest thou then, if thou art not? Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us1?" Surely to the meaning of interrogatories like these, an imposter or a fanatic could hardly have remained insensible, any more than to the command of money and of men which the publicans and soldiers might have furnished, and the important position within his grasp, as occupying the ford of Jordan.

Place Mahomet in such a situation, and consider what answer he would have returned; contrast that answer with the answer sent by John, and enquire of your own hearts whether this last do not contain the words of truth and soberness. He describes himself not as the expected King of Israel, but as a harbinger sent before to smooth and prepare

prepare His way; he disclaims the title both of Elias and Jeremiah (the latter of whom was, by many of the Jews, expected to rise again), and instead of smooth and flattering language to those whose good will it was most necessary to conciliate, he exhorts his hearers, one and all, to practical holiness and individual amendment of life; reproving the pharisees for their hypocrisy, and Herod for his uncleanness; the soldiers for their rapine, and

1 St. John i. 19-22.

the publicans for their extortion; while, instead of warming the hearts of men with the hopes of national greatness and political freedom, he forewarns them that the axe was already laid to the root of their tree, and predicts, in no doubtful terms, the approaching rejection and ruin of their church and people'.

Is it urged that St. John was sensible of the dangers which might arise from assuming the foremost and most conspicuous place in a religious revolution; that he preferred the safer rank of vizier to the new Messiah, and was anxious, therefore, to point out to the curiosity and reverence of the multitude, some other head on which might rest the task of redeeming Israel from bondage, the splendours and the dangers of sovereignty?

On whom did his election fall? Did he fix on some well-known character, some powerful and popular leader, who was best qualified to promote his views and to ensure success to his predictions? Herod was at hand, corresponding to all these characters, and would no doubt have done many things, nay, every thing which a reputed prophet could have asked, who undertook to clothe him with the title of Messiah, and Son of David. The Parthian was on the frontier, with the gold and the horsemen of the east at his command, waiting only for such a demonstration on the part of the Jews to rush forward with all his archery. Ro

St. Luke iii. 7-20.

man generals might have been found (as Josephus afterwards found Vespasian) to listen with greediness to the tale that, from the east, a monarch of the world was, about this time, to issue'; or, if he preferred a native Jew, and a leader of humbler origin, the neighbouring mountains were filled with popular and warlike chieftains, who had resisted thus far the mandates of the Roman conqueror, and to whom, in their last unavailing struggle for liberty, the nation of Israel at length committed their cause.

But on none of these did the choice of the Baptist fall. He chose an unknown young man, of royal blood indeed, but of obscure and narrow circumstances; the reputed son of a carpenter in a provincial town of Galilee. Him he approaches with the reverence due to a superior being; in terms of the deepest abasement he describes his own inferiority to Him, and points Him out to the multitude of his disciples as the Son of God, the Saviour of the world, the Person who, though his junior by mortal birth, had, in Heaven, existed before him; the latchet of whose sandal he was himself unworthy to loose; but for the manifestation of whom to Israel he had been sent to baptise with water.

And, here again, the opponents of Christianity have no ground for objecting that our facts are taken from the Gospel alone. The disciples of St.

1 Jos. Bell. Jud. lib. III. c. 8.

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 true1:" 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

1 St. John x. 41.

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