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LECTURE III.

Matth. Chap. iii.

Til E subject of this Lecture will be the third chapter of St. Matthew, in which we have the history of a very extraordinary person called John The Baptist; to distinguish him from another John mentioned in the New Testament, who was our Saviour's beloved disciple, and the author of the Gospel that bears his name; whence he is called John The Evangelist.

As the character of John the Baptist is in many respects a very remarkable one, and his appearance bears a strong testimony to the divine mission of Christ and the truth of his religion, I shall enter pretty much at large into the particulars of his history, as they are to be found not only in the Gospel of St. Matthew, but in the other three Evangelists; collecting from each all the material circumstances of his 9 life, life, from the time of his first appearance in the wilderness to his murder by Herod.

St. Matthew's account of him is as follows: * In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying,, repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his meat was locusts and wild honey. And there went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the regions round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins."

Here then we have a person, who appears to have been sent into the world, on purpose to be the precursor of our Lord, to prepare the way for him and his religion, here called the kingdom of heaven, and, as the prophet expresses it, to make his paths straight. This is a plain allusion to the custom that prevailed in eastern countries, of sending messengers and pioneers to make the ways level and straight * Matth. iii. i—6.

E 4 before before kings and princes and other great men, when they passed through the country with large retinues, and with great pomp and magnificence. They literally lowered mountains, they raised valleys, they cut down woods, they removed all obstacles, they cleared away all roughnesses and inequalities, and made every thing smooth and plain and commodious for the great personage whom they preceded.

In the same manner was John the Baptist in a spiritual sense to go before the Lord, before the Saviour of the world, to prepare his way, to make his paths straight, to remove out of the minds of men every thing that opposed itself to the admission of divine truth, all prejudice, blindness, pride, obstinacy, self-conceit, vanity, and vain philosophy; but above all, to subdue and regulate those depraved affections, appetites, passions, and inveterate habits of wickedness, which are the grand obstacles to conversion and the reception of the word of God.

His exhortation therefore was, "Repent ye;" renounce those vices and abominations which at present blind your eyes and cloud your understandings, and then you will be able

to. to see the truth and bear the light. This was the method which John took, the instrument he made use of 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 highway 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 ofGod, the Messiah, the Redeemer of mankind, and

* Ifaiah, xl. 3—5.

was 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,* "that he was in the wilderness till 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 travellers inform us, is common in the east to this day. The clothing 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 camel's hair was * Luke, i. 80.

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