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where do we trace these strong temptations? Did he, like the arch impostor Mahomet, hold up to them the voluptuous cup of luxury ?—No: “ John came neither eating’, nor drinking," and his disciples fasted often*:-Did he flatter their fondest hopes, and assume the character of the promised Messiah ?-No: “He confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ 5." -Did he even affirm that he was Elijah the Tishbite, whom they expected, or “the prophet,” who was to arise from the dead ?-But “ he answered, No®.”—But, perhaps, he gratified the popular delusion, and assured them that the dark clouds of adversity, which hung round their country, would soon be gilded by the day-spring from on high, and dissolve in showers of joy and abundance :-On the contrary, he intimated to them that those clouds were pregnant with storms, and discord, and fearful commotions, which would blast their last hopes, and sweep with destruction over the fallen city, while its scattered remnant would be doomed to sit by foreign waters, and to weep at the remembrance of Sion and Jerusalem.He addressed the “generation of vipers","—and spoke of the “ wrath to come,”and the axe that “is laid unto the root of the trees,”and the chaff that should be burnt up "with unquenchable fire.” -To believe therefore, that John should have engaged so many men of advanced years and respectable situations in life, to be partners in an extensive and hazardous and uninviting plan of deception, ? 'O Bios aútou uía moteía hv. Isidor. 5 Matt. xi. 18. - Luke v. 33.
5 John i. 20. 6 John i. 21. ? See Matt. iii. 7, 10, 12.
without rewards, and without the slightest probability of advantage, is to believe in as great a deviation from the course of experience, as the miraculous events themselves were from the usual course of nature.—But let us imagine this strange infatuation : let us suppose that all the accomplices related many years after the birth of John, several preternatural circumstances said to have attended that event, which they had never before divulged ;-how could they have convinced their hearers, that neither that strong impulse of impatience, which urges us to communicate extraordinary news, nor the natural effect of amazement, nor the sense of divine favour, thus strikingly manifested, had ever induced them to publish the story at that early period, when the novelty of the fact, and the freshness of its impression on their mind, would have rendered their description vivid and persuasive, and exposed their views to no im- . mediate suspicion ?-Every person, to whom this story was related, would naturally have exclaimed: “ Why have they thus delayed to announce the “ approach of that event, we most eagerly de“ sired ?-Why have they kept secret from us these “ twenty years that the Elias, for whom we were “ praying daily, was already born ?-How can we " trust men, whose character is infamous, on the « supposition either of the truth or falsehood of " their narrative;-infamous, if true, for concealing “it so long; if false, for circulating it at any time?”
-Such observations would have been obvious to the plainest understanding. Their character, far from acquiring additional lustre, would have been tar
nished by the strongest suspicions : instead of being hailed as the heralds of good tidings, they would have been branded as the suppressors of truth. This would have been the case especially among the Jews, who, it has been justly observed, looked upon such as concealed any revelations that had been imparted to them, as one particular species of false prophets, and believed that God would visit them with the severest punishments. Common sense, then, rejects the supposition, that it was possible to execute the nefarious project, if the witnesses of John's circumcision were alive: —but we are at liberty to suppose they were all dead.—Yet the difficulty in this case is not solved, but doubled. Who would believe a long detail of miracles, relating to persons, who had never made the slightest mention of them, even at the hour of death ?-To whom could John appeal, when all his witnesses were no more?—The nearest dwellers would have contradicted, the furthest would have ridiculed, all would have rejected the incredible account. Yet we read of no such rejection. On the contrary, John was esteemed a true prophet : the people held his character in the highest veneration : the chiefs were unable to refute his claims and destroy his reputation. It is incredible that they should have been thus “ persuaded that John was a prophet?," unless these pretended revelations had been previously asserted, and publickly reported by Zacharias in concert with Elizabeth and with his friends.—That Zacharias could not have been the sole contriver is evident. The conduct of Elizabeth, at the circumcision, shows she must
certainly have been engaged in the design: the particulars, related by St. Luke, prove no less clearly that Joseph and Mary were necessarily connected with the whole scheme, and actively concerned in its prosecution.—Here then we have four persons jointly contriving this deep laid deception. If we prove from the characters and circumstances of the parties, and from the nature of the plot itself, that it was impossible these four persons should have been thus united, this supposition, the only remaining one, :must be abandoned, and the truth of the miraculous events incontestably established. Admitting, then, that persons of professed good character, and some of them arrived at that period of life, when scruples, hesitation, and fear rule over the mind, undertook a long, impious, unprofitable, and dangerous enterprise, and supported it by false visions, false prophecies, and a false appearance of dumbness, what was the manner in which this strangest of plots was conducted ?— It is pretended that an angel appeared to Zacharias to announce to him that his wife, who was hitherto childless, would bring forth a son, and that that son would be the forerunner of the Messiah ;-it is also pretended that Zacharias, having expressed doubts, was struck dumb by the angel as a punishment.-Now it is hardly credible that impostors would have asserted, that the doubts, which were punished in Zacharias, were left unpunished in Elizabeth. It is equally difficult to believe that Zacharias would have condemned himself to a voluntary silence of nine months,—for this was adopting that means of promoting his plan, which seems most
likely to obstruct it, since thus he exposed it to be betrayed by a single inadvertent and trivial word, and rendered communication with his accomplices extremely suspicious.-Nor is it easier to account for the circumstance, that he counterfeited dumbness on an occasion the most noticed,—the occasion of an office which had never happened to him before, and would never happen again,-and that he should have continued this counterfeit, though exposed to the observation of all the priests of his course, who were many in number, and performed constant worship in the temple.—But the incredibility of the plot does not end here. Zacharias must have forged a scheme, the whole success of which depended on Elizabeth's being with child, at a season of life, when it was in the highest degree improbable that she would ever have any children ;-it depended on the assumption, that this child would be a son ;-it depended too on the still more hazardous presumption, that this son would combine such consummate hypocrisy, and such uncommon abilities, as to be both able and willing to personate the forerunner of the Messiah, and to assume that peculiar character which his father had so fully and exactly described. Nor could the plot be set on foot without procuring, at the same time, some person to represent the Messiah himself, otherwise the supposed forerunner would have been inevitably detected, and as a false prophet punished, according to the Jewish law, with certain death. He must, therefore, have been engaged in another similar plot relating to Jesus. But, if the first scheme was