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mountain and hill shall be brought low; the crooked [places] shall be made straight; the rough ways smooth; and all Flesh shall see the Salvation of God!"
These words allude to a known custom of great kings, who, when they undertook any long journey, were wont to send forth their messengers before them; proclaiming to the people to make their way plain. Now, as the Jews, at this time daily looked for the coming of their King, or promised Messiah, such a proclamation, from so extraordinary a person, crying out to clear the way, " for that the Salvation of God was at hand," could not fail to excite their curiosity, and interest their affections!
Every heart was accordingly seized with an instant hope of beholding the Desire of Nations; with whom they expected to share crowns and empire and temporal glory. Nay, they began "to muse in their hearts whether John himself were the Christ,"* or only his fore-runner. In either case, they were eager to embrace the baptism which he preached; as artful courtiers will strive to recommend themseves to the graces of an expected Master. Hence, "a multitude of them came forth, to be baptised of him."
John, who saw their carnal views, is not too forward in conferring his baptism upon them, without duly instructing them in the nature and conditions of it. "O generation of vipers! says he; who hath warned you to flee from the wrath which is to come?"
• They were, no doubt, sometime in this suspense, before John resolves them, by telling them that he was not the Christ, nor even worthy to unloose the latchet of his shoes; but that the Christ was quickly to follow
Nevertheless, if you are really desirous to escape it, and to be admitted to the blessings promised in the Messiah, do not deceive yourselves in thinking that those blessings may be derived to you by inheritance. They are not of a carnal but of a spritual nature. Nor will it avail you any thing to say, "we have Abraham to our father;" and are thereby the children of promise. For I say unto you, that unless you bring forth fruits meet for repentance, you can by no means inherit those promises-" For God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham; and in them shall his promises be made good, if not in you. And you must now, without delay, make your choice."* "For the axe is already laid to the root of the trees; and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is to be hewn down and cast into the fire."
Such an alarming denunciation struck the people with double astonishment; and they pressed still more eagerly about John, crying-t "what shall we do then;" to escape this ruin and obtain this salvation?"He answered and said unto them, he that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none. And he that hath meat let him do likewise;" herein strenuously recommending the universal practice of that diffusive charity and benevolence, which are a main foundation of moral virtue, and the most acceptable service we can render to our adorable Creator!
Among others who pressed forward, on this occasion, came the Publicans, a set of men infamous for
* V. 7, 8, 9.
† V. 10, 11, 12, 13.
their illegal exactions upon the people, crying-"Master, what shall we do?" John, who knew their character, strikes boldly at their capital vice; charging them by their hope of salvation and their dread of ruin,— "exact no more than what is appointed you" by law; for how shall you begin to be good, till you cease to be unjust?
Last of all came the soldiers,* "demanding of him likewise, saying-and what shall we do? He said unto them do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages."
Such are the words which were recommended to me as the subject of this discourse. And had I been left to my own choice, I could not have selected any more suitable to my purpose. For being delivered by divine inspiration, on a most important occasion; namely, when the soldiers themselves earnestly requested to know, by what means they might escape the threatened fire of God's wrath, and obtain salvation through the Messiah, we may be sure they imply in them the fundamental parts of the Christian Soldier's Duty; so far at least as relates to that 'particular character.
I shall therefore proceed upon them, in their natural order. With diffidence, however, I enter upon my subject. I know many of you to be men of distinguished understanding; conscious of the dignity of your own character, and of the glorious cause wherein you are engaged. And nothing but your own express desire, could give me courage to offer
• V. 14.
my thoughts concerning any part of your duty. But, being invited thereto, I shall proceed to the utmost of my abilities, as far as the time will permit. And, whatever may be the execution, I can safely say that I bring with me a heart zealous for the public-and regardful of you!
First, then, the Christian-Soldier is to "do violence to no man."
There are two sorts of violence which a soldier may be guilty of. One is against those who are lawfully vested with command over him. This is commonly stiled Mutiny, and is a crime of the most atrocious nature; seldom to be expiated but by the Death of the offender. And as God is a God of order, it must be peculiarly odious to him.
Another sort of violence, which a soldier may be guilty of, is against his fellow-subjects. This is that violence more immediately meant in the text; the original word there, signifying the shaking or terrifying a man, so as to force money from him through fear. This we find expressly forbid by the spirit of Christianity, under pain of forfeiting the Salvation of God. And we may glory to say, that it is also forbid by the mild spirit of the British constitution!
Our Soldiery are armed by the laws of their country, and supported by the community; not to command, but to serve it; not to oppress, but to protect it. Should they, therefore, turn their sword against those from whom they derive their authority, and thus violate the just rights even but of one Freeman, who contributes to their support-what a complica
tion of guilt would it imply? It would be treachery! It would be ingratitude! Nay, it would be parricide!
As for the tyrants of mankind, let them (belying heaven and pretending an authority from God) lead forth their armed slaves to plunder, to harass and to destroy those to whom they owe protection! Let them fill those lands with violence and blood, which they ought to fill with blessing and joy! "Verily I say unto you they shall have their reward." For, believe me, such actions are odious to heaven, repugnant to the gospel; and God will certainly avenge his own cause!
Happy for us, we rejoice under milder influences! Our gracious Sovereign, through a long and prosperous reign, has never in any instance, offered violence to the rights of his subjects; nor permitted it in his servants. The commanders placed over us, in our present distress, have signalized themselves as patrons of justice and lovers of Liberty. Though appointed over great armies, among a people long accustomed to profound peace, jealous of their privileges, and some of them even unreasonably prejudiced against all force and arms; yet they have happily reconciled jarring interests, and, with all possible care, supported the military, without violating the civil, power.
As a signal instance of the harmony arising from this conduct, it will be but justice to mention you, gentlemen, whom I have now the honour to address. You have been among us for many months. Most of you were at first but a raw unformed corps; and, from the manner of your being quartered out in small parties among the inhabitants of this city, distur