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them; to the end that he may with thankfulness receive the benefit, and with humility give God the glory. And this may be a useful lesson to those who shall live in the latter days of the Gentile church, which are to precede the second advent of Christ; when they will behold the religion of Christians degenerated into an empty form, and their zeal and love frozen at the fountain; when daily multiplying heresies, like the frogs in Egypt, shall infest and contaminate all things; when infidelity shall rage and swell, and iniquity of every kind shall abound. Sights like these may confound and stagger those who shall then be ignorant of the Scriptures, and weak in faith. But an acquaintance with the divine dispensations will turn them into so many arguments for the truth of revelation, and the approach of the day of God. "When these things begin to come "to pass; then look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh':" then be found with Simeon and Anna, in the temple, waiting for the consolation of Israel.
When we read of men who have done good in their generations, and shone as lights in the world, curiosity naturally leads us to inquire after their connexions and relations, and especially after the happy persons chosen to be the instruments of conveying such blessings to the church. The Scripture account of Zacharias and Elizabeth is concise, but comprehensive." He was "a priest of the course of Abia," she was "of the daughters of Aaron," and "they "were both righteous before God, walking in all the Luke, xxi. 28.
"commandments and ordinances of the Lord blame"less." The course of Abia was the eighth in order of the twenty-four courses of priests appointed to relieve each other in the service of the temple, where, during their ministration, they resided in the chambers allotted them for that purpose; that so, being sequestered from the cares and pollutions of the world, they might "wait on the Lord without distraction," performing the outward ceremonies of the law, and exercising their faith in the contemplation of those heavenly things shadowed out by them. This holy office Zacharias, in the worst of times, adorned and beautified with a correspondent holiness of life. The spirit of the sanctuary rested upon him, and manifested itself in the fruit of righteousness; a righteousness, which exceeded that of the Scribes and Pharisees, approving itself in the sight of God, to whom are known the secrets of the hearts, as well as in that of men, who are witnesses only of the external deportment. T Through the strength of this spirit, he walked in the path of an uniform obedience, an invariable observer of those ordinances which were at that time the sacramental means and pledges of pardon and acceptance, through faith in Him of whose advent he was a devout expectant. From such a father, and a mother worthy of him, who graced the line of Aaron by a like inviolable sanctity of manners, was the Baptist to descend; that the Jews might have no possible objection against him; that he might be a proper forerunner of one who was to make all the world
Luke, i. 5, 6.
in love with the beauty of holiness; that it might appear wherein true nobility of birth consisteth, namely, in a descent from persons consecrated to the service. of God, and of an exemplary piety; and lastly, to assure us, that on the heads of those who, to a holy profession add a holy life, will, sooner or later, descend the choicest blessings which heaven hath to bestow on the sons of men.
But let not such be impatient because those blessings are for a while deferred. He who sends them, best knows the proper time of sending them; and often sees it necessary, for many reasons, to exercise the faith and patience of his servants; who may always rest satisfied, that in due season he will bring every thing to pass which will conduce to their true welfare. The Scripture, having witnessed of Zacharias and Elizabeth, that "they were both " righteous before God, walking in all the command"ments and ordinances of the Lord blameless," proceedeth in the very next words, to inform us, "that they had no child, because that Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well stricken in years' They who stand highest in the favour of God, may therefore, during the greatest part of their lives, want the external and visible marks of it, and lie under the burden of "reproach among men'," as was the case of childless women in Judea. But these two pious persons, when their condition, in this respect, seemed desperate, were upon the eve of felicity. For of parents at their time of life
John was to be born; that so the miraculous manner of his birth might excite the attention of mankind, and dispose them to listen to his voice when it should be heard in the wilderness; and also, that it might prepare them for that great event which was taking place, as the prophet Isaiah had foretold; "A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son." In circumstances parallel with those of St. John, were born, of old, Isaac, and Joseph, and Samson, and Samuel, all of them illustrious forerunners of Messiah, in one or other of his three characters, prophetical, sacerdotal, or regal. And did not God intend, by so often causing "the barren woman to
keep house, and to become a joyful mother of "children," to make that power known by which the incarnation of the Redeemer and the fruitfulness of his church were to be effected in the latter days, when, according to St. Paul, the prophetical injunction of Isaiah was obeyed," Sing, O barren, thou "that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and I cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child * k?”
He who is employed in discharging with fidelity the duties of his calling, takes the surest way to obtain the continuation and increase of his heavenly Master's favours. A son was promised to Zacharias "while he executed the priest's office before God," as the ritual of the church enjoined," in the order "of his course, and according to the custom"." The reflection of a pious writer upon this circumstance is no less just than beautiful. "One priest alone,"
* Isa. liv. 1. Gal. iv. 27.
1 Luke, i. 8, 9.
says he, "intent on his duty, who diffuses the sweet "" savour of Christ, and is constant in prayer, draws "down on the people more blessings than a great number of negligent priests. A man ought," continues he, "to discharge all the ecclesiastical func tions with the spirit of the sacred ministry, as be"fore God, and under his immediate inspection; to i perform them in order, in his proper station, with"out ambitiously seeking a higher; to do nothing merely of his own will, but to observe the well"established customs, as being the necessary secu"rities of peace. This is the truth which these "shadows prefigured, and these the dispositions worthy a minister of the true temple, which is the "church".
The annunciation of the Baptist's conception happened at the time of incense, when his father, having put on the robe of honour, and being clothed, like the great Mediator whom he personated, with the garments of glory and beauty, entered into the temple, while the whole congregation of the people, assembled without, sent up their united prayers to be accepted at the throne of grace, through the intercession which was then making for them by the Levitical priest, acting in the name of him who was to" arise after the order of Melchisedek, and not "to be called after the order of Aaron "." While the joint prayers of priest and people were thus offered up with the blood of sprinkling and the sweet
Father Quesnel's Moral Reflections on the New Testament. n Heb. vii. 11.