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JOHN THE BAPTIST.
As John the Baptist presented himself to his countrymen as the herald and precursor of Jesus, and was acknowledged by Jesus to be so, and as his history is remarkably connected with the early part of the history of our Lord, the notices which are given of him in the Scriptures possess unusual interest. It is my purpose to examine these notices in their order, so as to present, as far as the materials will permit, a continuous view of his life. This life will naturally precede the lives of those who were afterwards sent by the Messiah to publish his laws and doctrines, as John was sent from above to be his harbinger.
In the first chapter of Luke's gospel, we have an account of the particulars attending the birth of the Baptist. His father was a priest by the name of Zacharias; and his mother, whose name was Elizabeth," was of the daughters of Aaron;"
so that he was by birth of the order of priesthood, and on the side of both father and mother, of sacerdotal descent. He was the child of their old age. His father Zacharias was, as is said by the evangelist, "of the course of Abia." To understand this expression, we must recur to the fact, stated in the First book of Chronicles, that David divided the descendants of Aaron into twenty-four orders, named after the chief men among them, who should attend to the service of the temple in rotation. The eighth of these orders, or courses, was that of Abijah, or Abia, and the one to which Zacharias belonged.
What was more honorable to the parents of John than their official and hereditary sanctity, they were really holy and virtuous people. "They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord, blameless." No parentage could be more fit for
the forerunner of the holy Jesus.
As Zacharias was officiating in the temple in his turn, or "in the order of his course," an angel appeared to him, predicted the birth of his son, and declared that his name should be John, which means, in the Hebrew language, the gift or grace of God. He added that his birth would be the cause of rejoicing to many; that he would
be " great in the sight of the Lord;" that he would be singularly abstemious, and "filled with the holy spirit;" and that he should go before the Lord "in the spirit and power of Elias." It was a general expectation among the Jews, that the prophet Elias, or Elijah, was to reappear on earth in person, to announce the arrival of the Messiah; and this expectation was founded on one or two passages of the book of Malachi, such as, “Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me;" and still more explicitly, "Behold I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord." The words of the angel evidently refer to this prophecy, and at the same time imply that the messenger of the Lord, who was to precede and announce the Messiah, was not to be Elijah himself, according to common expectation, but one who should “ go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah;" one who, like Elijah, should be endowed with a perception of God's purposes towards mankind, and with power to operate on their minds, to persuade them to repentance, and thus "to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."
In due time John was born; and his birth took place six months before that of Jesus, whose