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Part.cles, and of whom they knew nothing till
IV. that time; to see him, I say, coming out of una defart, and declaring at his first appearance,
that the promises were accomplished, that the kingdom of heaven was at hand; that the Deliverer, fo long expected, was coming to manifeft himself, and that he must hasten to make the ways plain, by removing all obstacles to his coming by repentance.
Let us examine this extraordinary man, and hear what he says. From whence has he his information? of whom has he taken counsel? what authority has he for what he afferts ? who would have expected such news a moment before his manifestation ? can it be doubtful whether it was the Spirit of God which sent and instructed him?
But let us ask him, where is the Meffiah ? I know, says he, that he is certainly come, and * that he is in the midst of his people. But I know him not, I never beheld him : I could not distinguish him from amongst the rest without a sign given me by God, and I have not as yet remarked him who agrees with that fign; when he shall exhibit him to me with this distinction, I will declare him to the world: but till that time I cannot.
Could **Thereftandeth one among you whom yeknow not. I knew as him not but that he should be made manifeft to Israel, there“ fore am I come baptizing with water. I knew him not: “ but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto
me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and " remaining on him, the fame is he, &c."John i. 26,-33.
Could a prudent man hear this with indif-CHAP. ference, if he had been present? could he de- V. spise news of such importance, affirmed by a man so visibly inspired ? could he suspect this prophet without giving up his reason? a prophet who actually came out of the defart, and had been invisible till that moment to all Israel? could he suspect him, I say, of having concerted every thing he says with some pretended Meffiah, with whose visage and name he affects to be unacquainted ? would not incredulity, in that case, be folly and weakness? and would a sensible man be willing to risk his salvation upon so irrational a supposition? and yet we must either fall into this excess, or acknowledge John Baptist to be a prophet, and Christ the Messiah and promised Saviour ;
which contains and decides the whole.
The personal character of Saint John,
and the idea which he entertained of
ET us, however, patiently bear with the
timidity and irresolution of a man, who would not refuse to believe, but would only take all possible precaution not to be deceived; and let us examine with him, the prophet who proclaims the coming of the Messiah.
Part If he is an impostor, he has doubtless the fame IV. ideas in common with the Jews. He would have
"hiin reign, and win the minds of the people, he would represent him as a man zealous for the glory of his nation, and its liberty, and afterwards partake with him the credit, authority, and other advantages attending the fupreme command.
But here 'tis the reverse: for this prophet not only carries the love of poverty and austerity even to an excess, but speaks of the Meffiah only as a severe judge of consciences, an enemy to false virtue, or pretended justice, and entirely opposite to the prejudiced notions of the Jews; yet entirely agreeable to the true idea which the ancient prophets had of him: " * () generation of vipers, he said to the pharisees and to all people who came to his baptism, “who hath warned you to flee from " the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore “ fruits meet for repentance. And think not “ to say within yourselves, We have Abraham
to our father: for I say unto you, that God is. " able of these stones to raise
children unto " Abraham. And now also the ax is laid un" to the root of the trees: therefore every
tree, which bringeth not forth good fruit, « is hewn down and caft into the fire. I in« deed baptize you with water unto repent
ance; but he that cometh after me is
mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes " I am not worthy to unloose. He shall bap" tize you with the Holy Ghost, and with
“ fire. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will CHAP. do
throughly purge his floor, and gather his V. “ wheat into the garner : but he will burn up " the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Can we perceive in a doctrine fo pure, so spiritual, so disinterested, and in fine fo contrary to the designs of an artful and popular man; can we, 1 say, perceive the false prophet of a false Christ? on the contrary, do not we discern in it, the fame Spirit who had foretold the fore-runner of the true Meffiah by the prophet Malachy, and both their characters? “* I will send my messenger, (he faith in the name of the Lord of Hosts) “he shall prepare
way before me, and the Lord “ whom ye seek' fhall suddenly come to his
temple: even the messenger of the covenant, “ behold he shall come, faith the Lord of Hofts. “ But who may abide the day of his coming? “ And who shall stand when he appeareth? " for he is like a refiner's fire: and he shall “ fit as a refiner, and purifier of silver. He “ shall purify the fons of Levi as gold and “ filver, &c.” that is to fay, those on whom the priesthood is conferred, and the ministry of the temple, who seeem the most upright in all Ifrael. + Behold, says he again, I will " send you Elijah the prophet, before the
coming of the great and terrible day of the « Lord. And he shall turn the heart of the “ children to their fathers, lest I come and “ smite the earth with a curse.”
* Mal. iii. 1, &c. † Ibid. iv. s.
The constant refusal of Saint John to
pass for the Messiah, is an incontest-
every thing agrees in a surprizing manner; yet what is subsequent appears still more convincing and cogent, and I beg the reader to examine, whether or no I reason right. John * the Baptist, without working miracles, appeared so great in the eyes of the people, that they were inclined to acknowledge him for the Meffiah; and the pharisees, themselves fent deputies to him, to ask him whether it was he. These deputies were chosen amongst the priests and levites, and might have greatly prevailed with the public, if John had been willing to avail himself of them, by giving an answer agreeable to their conception, or at least by replying mysteriously. But let us fee, whether humility land fincerity can give a clearer answer.
+ Who are you? they say unto him: I am not the Christ, he “ confessed; and upon this account my con“ fesfion is clear and precise, I declare, I am “ not he. What then they replied; art thou “ Elias ? and he says, I am not. Art thou a * prophet? and he answered, No.” He was Elias in spirit and Zeal. He was more than a
prophet. *“ And all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not." Luke iii. 15. + John i 19, &c.