Imatges de pÓgina

boasting in being descended from their father Abraham.

This baptism of John seems, however, to have been little more than a symbolical act, by which the purity of the mind is indicated by external ablution; and resembled the mode, or ceremonial of purification, observed by the Jews on various occasions; but more especially, when they admitted proselytes to their religion. The Baptist, indeed, appears to have been anxious, lest the people should misunderstand the nature of his office, or magnify its importance beyond its just limits. He said of himself, simply, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness;' and the chief objects of his ministry were, to preach repentance, and to baptise the numerous multitudes that "went to hear him from Jerusalem, Judea, and all the region round about Jordan confessing their sins." On his first appearance, he endeavoured to impress the people with a due sense of his humble and subordinate character. He had, indeed, the distinguished honor of being the forerunner of the heavenly Messiah, and of announcing his immediate appearance to the world; but he frankly told those who wondered what he could be, and contemplated his sanctity and virtues with re



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and admiration, that he was not the Messiah; and instantly contrasted his baptism with the holy sacrament of our initiation into the Church of Christ, in these remarkable words "I indeed baptise you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. By which is meant, that the baptism of Christ, during his divine ministry, and that of his apostles, would be accompanied with a copious effusion of the Holy Spirit; which, if not quenched, would purify the soul from sin, as effectually as fire fluxes the ores of precious metals, and refines them from dross: but, that this divine influence was not irresistible, nor meant to controul the free agency of man, we are sufficiently assured, from the lamentable frailties of Peter, and the deplorable fall of Judas. Or, "the baptising with fire" may have a particular reference to the miraculous descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; when, we read, it communicated the gift of foreign languages, and assumed the form of

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"cloven tongues, like as of fire."

With regard to the manner of the Baptist's appearance in the wilderness, we may observe,

that the hairy mantle, and the leathern girdle, formed the peculiar dress of the ancient prophets; and, as John was to go before the Saviour "in the spirit and power of Elias," or Elijah, it was proper that, with the sanctity and austere principles of that venerable personage, he should assume his dress and manner of life. Besides, both were suited to the sacred office of a man, called on by "the word of God," to announce the speedy advent of the Messiah's kingdom, and "to preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The success of his ministry may be inferred from the multitudes that thronged to his baptism from distant parts, as recorded by St. Matthew; whose narrative is fully confirmed by the Jewish historian and such were his virtues and his piety, that all men mused in their hearts," says St. Luke, "whether he were the Christ or not :" but when asked the question, he instantly said, "I am not." Here, the frankness, candor, and humility of the holy Baptist claim our reverence and imitation; more especially, when we contemplate in the character and conduct of men, in general, the many foolish pretensions of vanity and pride. No desire of popularity, no ambition of founding a sect, and no inordinate love

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of power, could make him, for a moment, transgress the limits of his office, to think more highly of himself than he ought, or induce him to forget that " Holy One of God," whose advent it was his duty to announce, with suitable admonitions, to the world.

Of the fame and influence of his preaching. we may form some idea, from the circumstance of the Jews sending out a deputation of priests and Levites from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, to inquire who he was, and what character he assumed. In the dialogue that passed between them, there are a few particulars, that deserve notice. Having confessed to them, also, that he was not the Christ, they proceeded to ask him, "What then? Art thou Elias ?" This question, which admits the possibility of John being, with regard to personal identity, the very same venerable prophet that had lived and died some centuries before, might appear very strange; to us; but it arose from a superstitious notion, which the Jewish Rabbis entertained, respecting transmigration, and the re-appearance of men on the earth, who had long since been dead. Thus, they believed that the old prophets, and particularly Elias, would assume the form of men still living, and perform the office

of something like that of a guardian Angel to his afflicted countrymen, or of an avenging Spirit to the sinful, rebellious, and corrupt.

It was upon this principle, that Simon Magus pretended to be Christ appearing to the world again, many years after his crucifixion, in his person, and he was believed by the credulous Samaritans, and some others. Hence, also, Herod, laboring under the terrors of a guilty conscience, thought that Christ was John the Baptist risen from the dead; and we learn from St. Matthew, that some imagined that " he was Elias, and others Jeremias, or one of the prophets." Now, the venerable Baptist entertaining no such silly, unfounded, and unscriptural notions, answered to the question, "Art thou Elias ?" "I am not ;" meaning, undoubtedly, in the sense which they annexed to the inquiry.

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But, as it was foretold by the prophet Malachi, that the Messiah's kingdom should be ushered in by God sending Elijah the prophet;-that is, one, who may be said to be another Elijah, from his resemblance to him in manners, character, and conduct;-farther, as he reproved Herod, in the same manner that Elijah had reproved Ahab;-as he preached the great doctrine of repentance like him, to a sinful and corrupt na

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