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One reason why his birth was accompanied with many extraordinary events, seems to have been this.
Our Lord hath given an illustrious testimony to his merit. He
He says that he was a burning and a shining light, that he was a prophet, and more than a prophet, that amongst those who were born of women there had not arisen a greater than he. Yet, great as he was, in this he was inferior to many of the prophets, and to the disciples of Christ, that he wrought no miracles. This power was withholden from him, that the difference between the Messias and his forerunner might manifestly appear, and Christ alone might possess that honour.
But that the Jews might not be tempted to entertain any prejudice against him, and to think him an inconsiderable person, because he wrought no miracles, other singular marks of divine favour were bestowed upon him: his coming was foretold by the antient prophets, and his birtla was promised by an angel, at a time when his parents were stricken in years; and other miraculous circumstances concurred to recommend him to the esteein of the people.
He dwelt in the hill-country of Judæa, in a place remote from the resort and the corruption of the world, till he ap-: peared in his ministry, and came near Jordan and Jerusalem, preaching the approach of the Messias. His lise was austere and mortified, as his food and dress showed; he came neither eating nor drinking, as Jesus said of him : upon which account some of the Pharisees, whom no beliaviour could please, said that he liad a devil. He flattered not the Jews, he spake to them as one having authority, he rebuked them for their faults; he exhorted them to the exercise of piety towards God, of justice and mercy in their dealings with each other. Great multitudes came to hiin, confessed their sins, and received baptism of him as a sign of their repentanceh; and such was the opinion
Though tlie success of the ministry of John had been less than it was, yet might he not improperly be said to turn the hearts,' &c. and TÁVTA dTonabiotõr, as he did all that was necessary for it.
Verbs active sometimes signify a design and endeavour to perform a thing, whether it be accomplished or not. See Le Clerc andi Whitby on Mark ix. 12, 13. and Grotius on 2 Thes. ii. 4.
which they had of him upon account of his sanctity and self-denial, that, though he wrought no miracles, they be. lieved and acknowledged him to be a prophet, and thought that possibly he might be the Messias.
There were some of the Jews who joined themselves to him, and became his disciples. We find them mentioned in the New Testament, their frequent fasts, the jealousy which they had of Christ, and their fears that he should lessen the reputation of their master.
The virtue of John, too great for the age in which he lived, and the esteem which the people had for him, were the occasion of his death. Herod, whom he had reproved, being offended at the freedom which he had taken, and probably suspecting him on account of his popularity, had thoughts of killing him ; but at the same time he feared that the people would resent it, and still retained some remains of respect for him. Whilst he was thus in sus pense, having promised the daughter of Herodias to give her any thing that she would ask, at her request he beheaded him. Thus the Baptist, having performed his office, died soon after Christ had begun his ministry. God took him then to himself, as an antient Christian writer
Non si trecenis, quotquot eunt dies,
Horat. Carm. ii. 14. That is, placare tentes.'
Talibus Æneas ardentem et torva tuentem
Virgil. Æn, vi. 467.
By the way, torva quentem lenibal animum’ is a strange expression. should be ' animam,' the shade or ghost of Dido.
"Ει τις σε τον δίκαιον αντίκ' ένθάδε
Πατήρ σ' ό καίνων, ή τίνοι' αν ευθέως και
Sophocles, Oed. Col. 1047. -έπειθεν αυτόν απολύειν τους Εβραίους. έπειθεν “ persuadere conabatur.' Josephus, Ant. ii. xiii. & 4. Δίκαια γαρ τόνδ' ευτυχεϊν κτείναντά με ;
Sophocles Ajac. 1145. • Who endeavoured to kill me, and thought that he had killed me.'
observed', that the people might no longer be divided between him and Christ, but might the more readily follow the Messias.
The reputation of this prophet ended not with his life ; the people continued to honour his memory, in so much that, when Herod had lost an arıny by a great overthrow, the Jews, as Josephus informs us k, said that it was a divine judgment, and a just punishment inflicted upon him for putting John to death.
III. I proceed to show, thirdly, that the testimony of John the Baptist ought to be received.
He afirms that he knew Jesus to be the Messias; and this knowledge he acquires, not by any observations which he had made upon the life and behaviour of Christ, nor from comparing his actions with the prophecies relating to the Messias : for, at the time that he first gave his testimony, Christ had not discovered his divine mission, and was j ist entering upon his office ; nor does it appear that Christ had declared any thing of it to him, or any way endeavoured to persuade him that he was the Messias. He is not guided by conjectures, but by sure and convincing evidence, by immediate divine revelation, and by a voice from heaven declaring Christ to be the Son of God. He assures us that God, who had separated him from his mother's womb for his own service, and who had sent him
before the Messias and prepare his way, had also discovered to him that Christ was that
person. His record therefore depends upon his veracity, and his veracity appears unquestionable. Many circumstances concur to add weight and authority to his testimony, and to remove all suspicion of enthusiasın and imposture.
For, from the observations which have been already made on John the Baptist, on the testimony which he gave, and on the manner in which he gave it, from these we may discover the character of a great and a good man. We
Oιμαι δε και δια τούτο συγχαρηβήναι την τελευτην 'Ιωάννου ταχίστην γενέσθαι, ώστε πάσαν του πλήθους την διαθεσιν επί τον Χριστόν μετελ. θεϊν, και μεκέτι ταϊς περί αμφοτέρων εαυτους σχεθαι γνωμαις. Chrysost. in Joan. Hom, xxviii.
Antiq. xviii. 7.
see in him austerity of life, self-denial, contempt of the pleasures and vanities of the world, an active yet discreet zeal, a courage and constancy arising from true piety, and a sincere modesty and humility. He flattered not the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism, but told them that they were great sinners; he assumed no honours which belonged not to him; he said less of himself than he might have said with truth, when the Jews sent messengers to ask him whether he were the Messias, or some prophet. His disciples were probably good men, but they had an imprudent regard for him, and for their own credit, as they were his followers, and therefore they feared that Christ would draw all men after him, and lessen the reputation of their master; but he was not to be moved by such improper motives, nor did he cease to bear testimony to Christ, and to acknowledge his own inferiority. He was appointed of God to exhort and reprove with all authority; and this office he performed towards Herod, though he could not be ignorant of the danger to which he exposed himself in telling disagreeable truths to a wicked prince. By his blameless and upright behaviour he gained the respect and esteem of the Jews, bad as they were; and after his death, the historian before named, who seems to have had no temptation to be partial to his memory, did justice to his character, and recorded his virtues, and the impression which they made on the minds of the people.
He was a man who practised the austerities of a mortified life, who rejected even innocent pleasures, and appeared severely virtuous; who exhorted all men to righteousness, and lived suitably to his own doctrines. He could not act this part with a view to any worldly profit, and to enrich himself: he sought no such advantages; and if he had sought them, he would never have obtained them by such methods, by pretending to slight them, by dwelling in the wilderness, and by exhorting men to virtues, of which if he had not set them an example, he would have been greatly despised. Nothing therefore can be thought to have influenced him unless religion, vanity and the love of fame. If he was guided by ambition, he had reason to be satisfied with his success :
Jerusalem was' moved at his preaching, and the people resorted to him, receiving his instructions and his baptism, and confessing their sins. They had so great an opinion of him, that they thought him certainly one sent from God; perhaps one of the old prophets returned into the world, perhaps the Messias himself. What use did he make of this favourable disposition of the people? He spake of himself with much lowliness and inodesty, and exhorted them to acknowledge Christ as the Messias. If he had been a proud and ambitious man, he would not have set Jesus above himself; he would at least have been silent, and have left the Jews to judge for themselves.
We may then affirm that he was, what he seemed to be, a good man, and a lover of truth; and that he would not have deceived the people in any case ; above all, not in a case so important. He decided a question not of small consequence, but concerning the Messias, whom the prophets had foretold, whose coming was then expected, to whom the nation was bound to pay obedience, who should in some sense be a ruler, and a deliverer, and the founder of an everlasting kingdom. If we suppose him capable of deceiving the Jews in this affair, we must suppose him wicked to the highest degree, one who feared not God nor regarded man; who endeavoured to lead into a fatal error his own nation, by which he was honoured and respected. But it is unreasonable to suppose him guilty of so foul a crime.
We may also conclude that he would not liave borne testimony to one whom he did not well know to be the Messias, because common prudence would have kept him from throwing away so foolishly his good name and reputation. The character of the Messias could not be long personated by the most artful impostor. He was to be a teacher of truth and righteousness, in him the prophecies were to be accomplished, by him many miracles were to be performed. If, therefore, John had directed the Jews to a false Messias, to one in whom none of these characters appeared, his fraud or his error would have been discovered, he would have exposed himself, to the punishment which a false prophet deserved ; at least he would have lost the esteem and favour of the Jews, and the fair and unblemished VOL. I.