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to see the truth and bear the light. This was the method which John took, the instrument he made use o to extirpate out of the minds of his hearers all impediments to the march of the Gospel, or, as the prophetic language most sublimely expresses it, “ He* cried aloud to them, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight the high way for our God. Let every valley be exalted, and every mountain and hill be made low; let the crooked be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it."
What a magnificent preparation is this for the great founder of our religion? What an exalted idea' must it give us of his dignity and importance, to have a forerunner and a harbinger such as John to proclaim his approach to the world, and call upon all mankind to attend to him? It was a distinction peculiar and appropriate to him. Neither Moses nor any of the prophets can boast this mark of honour. It was reserved for the Son of God, the Messiah, the Redeemer of mankind, and
* Isaiah xl. 3—5.
was well suited to the transcendent dignity of his person, and the grandeur of his design. - The place which St. John chose for the exercise of his ministry was the wilderness of Judea, where he seems to have lived constantly from his birth to the time of his preaching; for St. Luke informs us,* 5 that he was in the wilderness from the time of his shewing unto Israel.” Here it appears he lived with great austerity. For he drank neither wine nor strong drink; a rule frequently observed by the Jews, when they devoted themselves to the stricter exercises of religion. And his meat was locusts and wild honey; such simple food as the desert afforded to the lowest of its inhabitants, For eating some sorts of locusts :was not only permitted by the law of Moses, but, as travel: lers inform us, is common in the east to this day. The cloathing of the Baptist was no less simple than his diet. His raiment, we are told, was of camel's hair, with a leathern girdle about his loins; the same coarse habit which the meaner people usually wore, and which sometimes even the rich assumed as a garb of mourning. For this raiment of camels hair was * Luke, i. 80.
nothing else than that sackcloth which we so often read of in Scripture. And as almost every thing of moment was, in those nations and those times, expressed by visible signs as well as by words, the prophets also were generally cloathed in this dress, because one principal branch of their office was to call upon men to mourn for their sins. And particularly Elias or Elijah is described in the second book of Kings as a hairy man*, that is a man cloathed in hair cloth, or sackcloth (as John was) with a leathern girdle about his loins. Even in outward appearance therefore John was another Elias; but' much more so as he was endued, according to the angel's prediction, with the spirit and power of Eliast. Both rose up among the Jews in times of universal corruption; both were authorized to denounce speedy vengeance from Heaven, unless they repented; both executed their commission with the same intrepid zeal; both were persecuted for it: yet nothing deterred either Elias from accusing Ahab to his face, or John from rebuking Herod in the same undaunted manner
* 2 Kings, i. 8. + Luke, i. 17.
But here an apparent difficulty occurs, and the sacred writers are charged with making our Lord and St. John flatly contradict each other.
When the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John who he was, and particularly whether he was Elias; his answer was, I am not * : But yet our Lord told the Jews that John was the Elias which was to comet. How is this contradiction to be rea' conciled? Without any kind of difficulty. The Jews had an expectation founded on a literal interpretation of the prophet Malachi , that before the Messiah came, that very same Eljas or Elijah, who lived and prophesied in the time of Ahab, would rise from the dead and appear upon earth again. John therefore might very truly say that he was not that Elias, But yet as we have seen that he resembled Elias in many striking particulars; as the angel told Zacharias that he should come in the spirit and power of Elias; and as he actually approv. ed himself, in the turn and manner of his life, in his doctrine and his conduct, the very same man to the latter Jews which the other
* John i. 21... + Matth. xi. 14.
had been to the former, our Saviour might with equal truth assure his disciples that John was that Elias, whose coming the prophet Malachi had in a figurative sense foretold. This difficulty we see is so easily removed, that I should not have thought it worth noticing in this place, had it not been very lately revived with much parade in one of those coarse and blasphemous publications which have been dispersed in this country with so much activity, in order to disseminate vulgar infidelity among the lower orders of people, but which are now sinking fast into oblivion and contempt. This is one specimen of what they call their arguments against Christianity, and from this specimen you will judge of all the rest. But to return.
The abstemiousness and rigour of the Baptist's life was calculated to produce very important effects. It was fitted to excite great attention and reverence in the minds of his hearers. It was well suited to the doctrine he was to preach, that of repentance and cona trition; to the seriousness he wished to inspire, and to the terror which he was áppointed to impress on impenitent offenders.