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low the mountains and hills, making the crooked ways straight, and the rough smooth, which were duties belonging to the herald and forerunner of the anointed Prince of peace.
The appearance and habits of living which were assumed and practised by John, while he was preaching and baptizing, and to which he had no doubt accustomed himself from tender age, were consistent with his character as the representative of Elijah. His clothing was coarse, and his food such as the deserts yielded. the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey."* Compare this acount of Matthew, with the description given in the second book of Kings, of Elijah. “What manner of man,” inquired Ahaziah of his messengers, was he who came up to meet you, and told you these words? And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, it is Elijah the Tishbite.” † This was probably a usual kind of dress with the ancient prophets, especially in times of distress or great excitement. The insect called the locust was allowed as food by the Levitical law, 1 and travellers assure us that it is
* Matt. iii. 4.
2 Kings, i. 8.
| Lev. xi. 22.
eaten in eastern countries at the present day, and that the bees of Palestine still deposite their stores in the holes of the rocks in such abundance, that the honey is sometimes seen flowing down the surface.
Living in this severe manner, and proclaiming on the wild banks of the Jordan the approach of the Messiah's reign and Israel's redemption, John drew universal regard, and the desert became populous around him. “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." * I have already said that the ceremony of baptism, or washing with water, was not new among the Jews, as significant of change and renewal, on the reception of converts or disciples to proposed forms of faith or discipline. It may be added, that it was a current opinion among the Jews, founded as usual on prophecy, that the forerunner of the Messiah, or Messiah, himself, or both, would use the form of baptism, when the time of Israel's redemption should come. A passage in Zechariah which was thought to warrant this opinion, is at least poetically descriptive of the office of John at his station of Bethabara beyond Jordan. “In that day there shall be a
* Matt. iii. 5,
fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for unclean
The character of John's preaching and instructions is set forth with a great degree of particularity, in the account which is given by Luke of his exhortations and advice to various classes of persons; from which it plainly appears that his doctrine was of a direct and practical kind, and that the preparation which he inculcated was of a moral nature entirely. He warned the people not to rely with their wonted pride on their being the children of Abr but to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance."
ntance." He was surprised to see the Pharisees and Sadducees resorting to him; because they were so filled with this pride, and so confident in the merit of their ceremonial righteousness. He was surprised that they should come to his baptism, which was one of real and practical, not formal or mystical repentance. “O generation of vipers!” he exclaimed, “ children of deceit and hypocrisy! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
When “the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then ?” he indicated by his answer what was the nature of those fruits which were
* Zech, xiii. 1.
worthy of repentance, those deeds which proved a true change of heart and mind;-— he 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.” The great duty of benevolence is here enforced, and illustrated by one of its simple modes, and exalted in clear superiority above the works of the law.
And when the publicans, or tax-gatherers, came to be baptized, “and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” He knew their peculiar temptations, and their besetting sin, arising from the circumstances of their situation, and he therefore warned them against the spirit of extortion, and exhorted them to honesty, moderation and mercy.
. 5 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
This is all quite practical and plain, and shows that the eremitical Baptist, severe as he was in his manners, solitary in his haunts, and striking in his whole appearance and deportment, was yet simple and direct in his teaching, and did not affect to move in a cloud of mysticism. It denotes
also, that though he may have had, on some points, mistaken views of the Messiah's kingdom, and did not embrace the whole extent of its spirituality, yet he was well aware that it was to be a moral reformation, without which there could be no national deliverance, and that all who would be its subjects and partake of its blessings, could secure their place only by repentance and righteousness of life. This was one proof of the truth and divinity of his mission. Excited as the people were by the mere proclamation of the coming deliverer, he made no further use of the excitement than to direct it to moral ends. He knew that this was the limit of his commission. He said and did nothing to rouse the minds of his hearers to any hostile manifestations; but whether they were Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans or soldiers, he only exhorted them to true repentance and the performance of the charitable and peaceful duties. Here also we may observe a remarkable, and I may say a miraculous conformity between the spirit of the Baptist's preaching, and the spirit of the Messiah's religion as it was afterwards developed. There is no appearance of any intimacy or collusion between them. They lived seventy miles apart from each other, the one in Nazareth of Galilee, and the other in Hebron of