Page images
PDF
EPUB

turn to the conduct of John, we find that it cor- . responded to the literal sense of the prophecies; that he drank neither wine nor strong drink ;--that he assumed even the garb of Elias ;-and that he preached, in exact conformity with the received opinions, the “Baptism of repentance'.”—Thus we see John and Jesus, pursuing lines of conduct diametrically opposite; the one apparently contradicting, the other minutely fulfilling the prophetic. revelations.—Surely such contrariety of manner in the teachers was not fitted, humanly speaking, to. produce unanimity of sentiments in the followers. The severe are averse from the cheerful, and the. favourite of the former is seldom the friend of the latter.—“'0. rò qaldpov atrodexóuevos év@pwrov kai άνειμένον, τον σκυθρωπον και βάρβαρον ούκ αποδέξεται ο τον σκυθρωπόν έπαινών, τον φαιδρόν ούκ έπαινέσει αμήχανον γαρ και ταύτην κακείνην τιθέναι την ψήφον 2Nor can it be supposed by the most uncandid objector, that the intention of the one was to allure. the people by an easy compliance with their relaxed habits, and the study of the other to gain over the leading sects by a rigid adherence to their formal superstitions. Whatever might be the dissimilitude in their manners, they were unanimous in

Mark i. 4. Luke iii. 3

· Chrysostom. 3 Bp. Porteus makes the following observations on this dissimilarity :: “ The abstemiousness and rigour of the Baptist's life was calculated to produce very important effects.—It was fitted to excite great attention and reverence in the minds of his hearers. It was well suited to the doctrine he was to preach, that of repentance and contrition ; to the seriousness he wished to inspire, and to the terror which he was ap

pointed

the most unsparing condemnation of baseness, though armed with power, and hypocrisy, though exalted by adulation. The Baptist, in his very first address, greeted the thronging Pharisees and Sadducees with a terrible cry of indignation, but little calculated to conciliate their favour; and, Jesus,-regardless of mistaken veneration and fearless of exasperated tyranny,—dragged to light those vices which sheltered themselves under the mask of superior virtues. In this point they perfectly agreed :—but this is the agreement of truth, not of fraud : it springs from the nature of sincerity, not from the machinations of profound artifice and matured villainy.-In all other points of conduct,—which, however indifferent to men who acted in an honest cause, were most likely to be valued and observed by persons who embarked in the perils of deliberate falsehood,--the difference is so singular and so complete, as to render the supposition of conspiracy, a tissue of absurdities and contradictions.

III. If we consider the prophecies of John pointed to impress on impenitent offenders. And perhaps it was further designed to intimate the need there often is of harsh restraints in the beginning of virtue, as the easy familiarity of our Lord's manner and behaviour exhibits the delightful freedom which attends the perfection of it. . At least, placing these two characters, in view of the world, so near to each other, 'must teach men this very instructive lesson ; that though severity of conduct may, in various cases, be both prudent and necessary, yet the mildest and cheerfullest goodness is the completest; and they the most useful to religion, who are able to converse among sinners without risking their innocence, as discreet physicians do among the sick without endangering their health.” Lecture on Matt, iii.

concerning Jesus, the conjecture that they acted in concert will assume still more numerous and unequivocal marks of impossibility.-If we admit that their measures were the result of settled deceit, we must allow that, in all probability, John would have foretold some action, which Jesus, in artful pursuance of previous arrangements, would publickly perform ; at least, it is certain, that, unless he were totally destitute of ordinary sagacity, he would not have predicted any thing, which there was no reason to expect that Jesus would undertake.--If it appear, therefore, that John had declared, that the only test to distinguish the Messiah from his forerunner would be a peculiar ceremony, which the former would introduce and practise ; and, if we find, that Jesus neither performed, nor alluded to such a ceremony,— we must acknowledge that the supposition of a preconcerted design is so extravagant as to confute itself.

- Now we read that, at the period when the Jews were in doubt whether he were the Christ or not, the Baptist pointed out to the people a clear and characteristic distinction.—" I indeed baptize with water, but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoe I am unworthy to unloose, he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire'."'-And, soon after this indication, he exclaimed, on the approach of Jesus;-" This was he of whom I spake.”—The manifest effect of a prophecy, so positive and so remarkable, was to induce a general belief, that Christ would be known by the institution and exercise of some new form of baptism. Yet Jesus, during the whole period of his ministry, neither discharged, nor enjoined, nor mentioned this new rite. The prophecy, it is true, was accomplished on the day of Pentecost, but this event took place after the death of Jesus, and is it, we ask, the custom of impostors to predict of one another events, which are to happen only when life is terminated ? Is it the practice of deceit, by involving itself in unnecessary difficulties, by heaping suspicion on suspicion, and by multiplying the means of discovery and destruction, to obstruct its own career, and to render its plans disjointed and ruinous ?

1 Luke iii. 16.

IV. Again, suppose their actions to have been framed on the principles of human policy,—and the baptism of Jesus by John must necessarily have resulted from prior agreement, and arisen from an opinion that it would extend the credit of their characters, and facilitate the reception of their claims. But it seems most unfit to produce this effect. It accorded neither with the submissive inferiority which John professed, nor with the faultless character to which Jesus was to lay claim. To the attentive and dispassionate enquirer, there are many ways of explaining the fact, that he,

? There would be no weight in the objection, that the whole scene was intended to fulfil a tradition of the Scribes, which was then generally prevalent—that Elias the forerunner would baptize the Messiah. For, if this were the fact, we should find constant references to this circumstance as to a convincing proof of their inspiration. Yet there is no appeal to this test, though opportunities of making it were innumerable.

who was without sin, came to the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins ;-—but to the Jews an immediate suspicion of the veracity of John, or of the purity of Jesus must naturally have occurred'. Without insisting, therefore, on the impossibility of contriving the miracles, which are said to have attended the ceremony ;-the opening of the heavens ;-the descent of something visible in motion, or in form, like a dove ;--and the voice from above, expressive of the divine approbation; we assert, that the apparent tendency of the transaction to raise doubts and cavils, furnishes us with another strong presumptive proof that they were not joint impostors.

V. The message of John, when in prison, to Jesus, forms another convincing argument of their honesty and truth.-If they were deceivers, it must have been a contrivance intended to establish their credit. But how was it adapted to the promotion of this object ?—The people were convinced that John was a prophet; attentive to his instruction, and submissive to his rebukes, they felt the deepest respect for his character and his office. What effect, then, would be produced on their minds by this public deputation ? If his influence continued

i Several reasons are given by Witsius, and the following among the rest :-"Ut auctoritatem conciliaret Baptismo Johannis; ut ostenderet se caput baptizatorum esse, æquè ac circumcisorum, et communionem habere cum utrisque, qui venit ut ex utrisque faceret unum ; ut exemplo suo et commendaret et sanctificaret baptismum nostrum, æquè ac sacramenta alia, quibus se subjecit, ne homines gravarentur venire ad Baptismum Domini, quum Dominus gravatus non fuerit venire ad Baptismum servi.” Misc. Sacr. Vol. II.

« PreviousContinue »