« הקודםהמשך »
they were to center all their hopes, was Jesus Christ. Is this now the language of a man who sought only for honour, emolument, or fame, or was actuated only by the fond ambition of being at the head of a sect? No one can think so. It is not very usual surely for men of any character, much less for men of the best character, to invent and to utter a string of falsehoods with the professed design of degrading themselves and exalting some other person. Yet this was the plain tendency and avowed object of John's declarations, and the effect was exactly what might be expected, and what he wished and intended, namely, that great numbers deserted him and followed Christ*.
But besides bearing this honest and disinterested testimony to Christ, the Baptist hazarded a measure which no impostor or ens thusiast ever ventured upon, without being immediately detected and exposed. He ventured to deliver two prophecies concerning Christ; prophecies too which were to be completed, not at some distant period, when both he and his hearers might be in their John iii. 26: 30; iv. 1..
graves, and the prophecy itself forgot, but within a very short space of time, when every one who heard the prediction might be a wit-* ness to its accomplishment or its failure. He foretold, that Jesus should baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire, and that he should be offered up as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind* These were very singular things for a man to foretel at hazard and from conjecture, because nothing could be more remote from the ideas of a Jew, or more unlikely to happen in the common course of things. They were moreover of that peculiar nature, that it was utterly impossible for John andjesus to concert the matter between themselves; for the completion of the prophecies did not , depend solely on them, but required the concurrence of other agents, of the Holy Ghost in the first instance, and of the Jews and the Roman governor in the other; and unless these had entered into a confederacy with the Baptist and with Christ, to fulfil what John foretold, it was not in the power of either to secure the completion of it. Yet both these * Matth, iii. i;. John i. 29.
prophecies were, we know, actually accomplished within a very few years after they were delivered; for our Lord suffered death upon the cross for the redemption of the world; and the Holy Ghost descended visibly upon the apostles in the semblance of fire on the day of Pentecost*.
It is evident then that the Baptist was not only a good man, but a true prophet; and for both reasons, his testimony in favour of Christ, that he was the Son of God, affords an incontestable proof that both he and his religion came from heaven.
2. The history of the Baptist affords a proof also of another point of no small importance. It gives a strong confirmation to that great; evangelical doctrine, the doctrine of atonement; the expiation of our sins by the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross.
We are often told, that there was no need for this expiation. That repentance and reformation are fully sufficient to restore the most abandoned sinners to the favour of a just and merciful God, and to avert the punislvment due to their offences.
* Acts ii. 2,
But what does the great herald and forerunner of Christ say to this ? He came professedly as a preacher of repentance. This was his peculiar office, the great object of his mission, the constant topic of his exhortations. “ Repent ye, and bring forth fruits meet for repentance*.” This was the unceasing language of “the voice crying in the wilderness.”
If then repentance alone had sufficient efficacy for the expiation of sin, surely we should have heard of this from him who came on purpose to preach repentance. But what is the case? Does he tell us that repentance alone will take away the guilt of our transgressions, and justify us in the eyes of our Maker? Quite the contrary. Notwithstanding the great stress he justly lays on the indispensable necessity of repentance, yet he tells his fol lowers at the same time, that it was to Christ only, and to his death, that they were to look for the pardon of their sins. « Behold," says he, “ the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world-f- !” And again“ he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life, but he that believeth not the Son hath not life, but
Matth. iii. 2. 8.
Luke i. 29.
. the the wrath of God abideth on him, *" Since then the expiation of sin by the sacrifice of Christ is a doctrine not only taught in the Gospel itself, but enforced also by him who came only to prepare the way for it ; it is evident, from the care taken to apprize the world of it even before Christianity was promulgated, how important and essential a part this must be of that divine religion,
Lastly, it will be of use to observe, what the particular method was which John made use of to prepare men for the reception and the belief of the Gospel ; for whatever means he applied to the attainment of that end, the same probably we shall find the most efficacious for a similar purpose at this very day, · Now it is evident that the Baptist addressed himself, in the first instance, not to the understanding, but to the heart. He did not attempt to convince his hearers, but to reform them; he did not say to them, go and study the prophets, examine with care the pretensions of him whom I announce, and weigh accurately all the evidences, of his divine misazon; he well knew how all this would end,
. * Joha üle 36 ; ;;