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The Holy Ghost descended, in a bodily shape, like a dove
HIS visible descent of the Holy Ghost on our divine Lord, was at the time of his baptism, when he was entering on his publick ministry. The priests under the law were inaugurated into office by the ceremony of anointing with oil, and washing with water. Jesus, that he might conform to every divine institution, chose to begin the execution of his sacred office, by the like solemn consecration. He therefore came to John to be baptised of him. Immediately after his baptism, while he was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended on him, and there issued from the sky a voice proclaiming him God's beloved son, and commanding the people to hear him.
This was a manifest fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah. “ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek.”', 'That his baptism was his unction to the
ministry, Peter expressly teaches, in the tenth chapter of the acts."The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ, that word ye know, which was published throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee, after the baptism, which John preached ; how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with
Jesus, being the divine mediator, and himself without sin, could not need baptism for the purposes, for which it is applied to us. The baptism which he received must, in its design, be a very different thing from that, which he afterward instituted, as a token of the remission of sin, and eternal life in a way of faith and repentance. Hence it appears, that all arguments drawn from his baptism, to determine the time, or manner in which others should be baptised, are wholly impertinent.
After Christ's baptism, “heaven was opened, and the holy Ghost descended in a visible form.” The appearance probably was a bright cloud, which, under the old testament, was the ordinary symbol of God's presence. When the voice, here mentioned, was uttered again at the transfiguration on the mount, it proceeded from a bright cloud, which overshad. owed him and his attending disciples. This cloud is called by Saint Peter, the excellent glory. When the holy Ghost fell on the disciples at the time of pentecost, there was the appearance of fire. Christ is said to baptise with the holy Ghost and with fire. In allusion to these representations, men's opposi. tion to the Spirit of grace, is called quenching the Spirit. The evangelist says, “ The holy Ghost descended, in a bodily shape as a dove.” It is not necessary to suppose, that here was the shape or figure of a dove ; nor indeed will the syntax of the greek words well admit this sense. The resem. blance was rather in the manner of descent. The
bright cloud, the excellent glory, descended, as a dove descends, gently hovering
around, and settling upon the head of Jesus.
By this symbol, and the voice attending it, he was manifestly declared to be the Son of God. Accordingly John says, “ I have seen the Spirit descending from heaven as a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not ; i. e. until this time, I had not so full and certain a knowledge of him : But he that sent me to baptise with water, the same had said to me, upon whom thou shalt see the spirit descending and remaining, the same is he who baptiseth with the holy Ghost. And I saw and bare record, that this is the Son of God.”
The descent of the Spirit on Christ as a dove, is a circumstance taken notice of by all the evangelists; and it deserves our particular attention.
This might be intended to point out Jesus, as the messenger of peace, to a guilty world.
Noah, in the time of the deluge, sent forth a dove out of the ark, to discover whether the waters were abated. In the evening she returned to him, with an olive leaf in her mouth. By this he knew, that the face of the earth began to be uncovered. This was to the patriarch welcome intelligence. More glorious news does Christ bring to our guilty race.
When Jesus preached in the synagogue of Nazareth, he applied to himself the words of the proph. etm“ The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to publish deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” He said to his hearers, “ This scripture is today fulfilled in your ears.”—“And all bare hiin witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth,”
The dovelike descent of the Spirit on Jesus, indicated him to the assembled multitude, as a pattern of meekness, innocence and love, of which virtues the dove is an emblem. And his subse. quent manners corresponded with the emblem. He was harmless and inoffensive in all his behaviour. Under injuries he was mild and gentle. In his pub. lick office he was tender and affectionate. He laboured to convince and reclaim sinners by the soft and winning arguments of goodness and compasa sion, rather than to terrify and amaze them by the awful displays of wrath and power. Thus was fulfilled in him the prediction of the prophethold my servant, whom I uphold ; my beloved, in whom my soul deligtheth. I will put my spirit upon him, and he shall shew judgment to the Gentiles. He shall not strive nor cry, nor shall any man hear his voice in the street; a bruised reed shall he not break, nor quench the smoaking fax, until he bring forth judgment unto victory."
This descent of the Spirit in the manner of a dove, may also be designed to signify to us the true genius of Christ's gospel, and the distinguishing character of his disciples.
Hence then we may observe, that the religion of Jesus consists in a dovelike temper. This observation we will endeavour to illustrate. · That we may proceed with safety we will give no indulgence to imagination, but will strictly follow ihe allusions which we find in scripture.
1. The dove is an emblem of purity...
In the law of Moses this was reckoned a clean bird ; and it was selected for an offering in the ceremony of purification. The dovelike descent of the Spirit on Christ reminds us, that, by his gospel we are called, not to uncleanness, but to sanctification. His precepts require the strictest purity of thought and intention.
His doctrines in their prop
er influence, raise our views above earthly interests, and direct them to things which are in heav. en. His example teaches us to be holy, undefiled and separate from sinners. His Spirit, in its operations and fruits, corresponds with his examples, doctrines and precepts. If then we profess to be christians, we acknowledge our obligation to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and piously in the world, looking unto Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from iniquity, and purify us to himself, a people zealous of good works.
2. Christ directs his disciples to be harmless as doves.
Of this dovelike temper he was himself an amiable pattern. The same meek and inoffensive spirit which was in him, must also be in us. We are to give no offence, but to please all men in all things, seeking the profit of many, that they may be saved. We are to condescend to men of low estate ; to bear the informities of the weak'; in matters of indiffer. ence to comply with the opinions of our brethren, and in matters of doubt to receive them without uncharitable disputation, always allowing them the lib. erty which we claim for ourselves, to follow the dictates of conscience. We are to be pitiful in our feelings, courteous in our language and gentle in our manners. We are to be peaceable when dif. ferences happen to arise, candid in our construction of men's doubtful actions, and ready to forgive when we meet with injuries. We are to be quiet and do our own business, to be tender of the reputation of our neighbours, to speak evil of no mang to render unto all the honour and respect which be. long to them, and treat them according to their condition and character in life. In a word, we are to follow Christ's steps, who was holy and harmless,