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The accomplishment of this part of Isaiah's prophecy is exactly related by St. John the Evangelist, in the following terms; "The word was made flesh, "and dwelt among us, and we beheld his GLORY, "the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, "full of grace and truth."
Thus we have seen under what character the Baptist is held forth to us in the predictions of the prophets concerning him, as one who should go before Messiah in the spirit and power of Elias, to proclaim and prepare the way for the advent of God incarnate. How perfectly, during the course of his ministry, he filled up this character, will appear in the subsequent sections.
Considerations on the Appearance, Doctrine, and Baptism of St. John.
THE days of St. John's retirement were now ended, and he was to exchange the pleasures of contemplation for the far different scenes of an active life; to behold, with grief and indignation, the sins and follies of mankind, the sight of which must needs. be more grating and afflicting to his righteous soul, than a garment of camel's hair could be to his body; to encounter the opposition of a world that would be
© John, i. 14.
sure to take arms against him, from the moment in which he stood forth a preacher of repentance and reformation. But no good could be done to others in solitude, no converts could be made in the deserts; and he must therefore quit even the most refined and exalted of intellectual enjoyments, as every minister of Christ should be ready to do, when charity dictates an attendance on the necessities of his fellow-creatures.
Yet let it be observed, that St. John was thirty years of age, when "the word of God came to him "in the wilderness "," and commissioned him to enter upon his ministry; and the holy Jesus likewise was of the same age, when inaugurated to his office by the visible descent of the Spirit upon him at his baptism to intimate, perhaps, that neither the exigencies of mankind, nor a consciousness of abilities for the work, can be pleaded as a sufficient warrant for a man to run before he is sent, and take the sacred office upon himself, without a regular and lawful call. The institutions of God are not without a reason; and he will not be served by the breach of his commandments.
The place to which the Baptist first repaired is styled "the wilderness of Judea," a country not
like the vast and uninhabited deserts in which he was educated, but one thinly peopled, a comparative wilderness, chosen by him on account of its bordering on the river. Hither the inhabitants of the neighbouring cities and villages presently flocked in great
d Luke, iii. 2.
Matt. iii. 1. Luke, iii. 3.
numbers, attracted by the uncommon sanctity of the new preacher, who thus came forth, on a sudden, from the deserts, like one from another world, without any connexions in this, that no attachment might take him off from the duties of his high calling, or any way impede him in the exercise of it; since a man's worst foes have often been those of his own household, and the ties of flesh and blood have been known to prevail, where tyrants have threatened and inflicted tortures without effect. And as there is nothing so directly opposite to the profession of a prophet, nothing which so soon or so effectually sullies his reputation, as a tendency to indulgence and sensuality; in him, who was "more than a pro
phet'," we must expect to find a perfect crucifixion of the flesh, with its affections and lusts. “ What "went ye out in the wilderness to see? A man "clothed in soft raiments? No, the very reverse; a man, like his predecessor Elijah, coarsely attired; "his raiment of camel's hair, with a leathern girdle "about his loins ;" and content with the plainest food that nature could provide for him; "his meat "locusts and wild honey";" a man, whose person, habit, and manner of life, were themselves a sermon, and the best illustration of the doctrine he was about to teach; a proper person to prepare the way for Christ, and introduce the law to the Gospel; to show men what effect the one ought to have upon them, in order to dispose them for the blessings of the other; that mercy might save from the wrath
f Matt. xi. 9.
Ibid. xi. 8.
h Ibid. iii. 4.
which justice had denounced, and Jesus comfort those whom Moses had caused to mourn.
The actions of a prophet, who appears, like the Baptist, with an extraordinary mission, though they are not to be imitated by us according to the letter, may yet convey a moral of general use. There is no obligation upon us to be clothed with camel's hair, and to eat locusts and wild honey, nor are we commanded to abstain wholly from wine, as St. John did, according to the prediction of the angel concerning him, delivered at the annunciation of his birth, "He "shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, and shall "be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mo"ther's womb'." But who doth not here perceive, evidently marked out, the opposition between sensuality and the spirit of holiness, and the impossibility of their dwelling together under the same roof? "Into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter, nor "dwell in a body that is subject to sin. For the "holy spirit of discipline will flee deceit, and remove from thoughts that are without understanding, and will not abide when unrighteousness "cometh in *.' k As, therefore, "no man can say "that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost'," who speaks in the Scriptures, who enlightens our understandings to interpret them, and who gives authority as well as ability to preach that great truth revealed in them, every minister of Christ, who succeeds the Baptist in the blessed work of calling men to salvation, should mortify the lusts of the flesh,
i Luke, i. 15.
k Wisd. i. 4.
11 Cor. xii. 3.
that the graces of the Spirit may live and grow in him.
By a thorough mortification of the flesh, St. John had gained a complete victory over the world, which had nothing in it that he wanted. And herein consisted that greatness of his character foretold by the angel; "He shall be great in the sight of the "Lord." Earthly pageantry engages not the attention of the spirits above, unless it be to pity such as set their hearts upon it. They discerned something more truly great in the person of the Baptist, when he came forth from the deserts, than in that of a triumphant monarch at the head of his victorious army. "Behold," saith our Lord, "they that wear "soft clothing are in kings' houses";" look for them among the attendants upon the princes of this world, and not among my servants. They who thirst after temporal honours and advantages, must go where such things are to be had. And let them go any where, rather than come into the church with these dispositions. For he who would persuade others to despise the world, while the love of it appears to direct and govern all his own actions, can expect no better success than it may be supposed St. Peter would have met with, had he invited those who stood with him round the fire in the high priest's hall, into the service of that master whom they had just before heard him deny. "When thou art con"verted, strengthen thy brethren :" attempt not to do it till then, lest thou not only fall into condemna
in Luke, i. 15.
" Matt. xi. 8.
Luke, xxii. 32.