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Hence, our Saviour, in his answer to John's message, not only appeals to his wonderful works, but appeals to them as being the very works which Isaiah had foretold.—The same mode of argument, and for the same reasons, is employed by Justin Martyr, by Lactantius, and by Origen.-For the rejection of miracles was reserved for this late period of time, and never resorted to in those early ages, when their detection, if false, was easy; their denial, if true, was useless". This explanation may also throw some light on the circumstance we have already considered,—the message of John to Christ. It proceeded, not from his own doubts and uncertainty, but from his desire of removing the doubts and uncertainty of his disciples.—They had probably heard him repeat the prophecies which related to the miracles of the Messiah,he sent them, therefore, to Jesus, to be convinced themselves, that these predictions were confirmed, and to point out that confirmation to the rest of his followers?.-Nor was this method unattended
The learned Porphyry was unable to disprove the miraculous facts related by the Evangelists.—“ Nisi forte in morem Gentilium impiorumque Porphyrii et Eunomii, has præstigias dæmonum esse confingas.” Hieron. adv. Vigilant. T. IV. P. II. page 286.-Julian denied not the truth but the importance of our Saviour's miracles. See Cyril. cont. Jul. lib. vi. -Celsus seems to have attributed them to magic: “ Montakis δ' ο Κέλσος ήδη μη δυνάμενος αντιβλέπειν αίς αναγέγραπται πεποιηκέναι δυνάμεσιν ο Ιησούς, διαβάλλει αυτας ως γοητείας. Orig. cont. Celsum. lib. ii. 48.
? Our Saviour, therefore, after this message, declares to the multitude, that John was not a “reed shaken with the wind.”
with success: such of them as were not totally blinded by prejudice, became the disciples of our Lord, on the death of their former master.— Thus frequently the slight mists of obscurity, which seem to float over Scripture, serve only to reflect its varied beauty and brightness, and to spread them in every possible point of view. — Having thus shewn, that miracles were not a necessary part of John's ministry, we shall now examine it under the three heads of Baptism, Preaching, and Prophecies. : The object of John's mission, as we have before remarked, was to announce new laws, to proclaim a new King, and to require new dispositions.—Hence he employed the rite of Baptism : an initiatory ceremony, by which Gentile proselytes were admitted into the Jewish religion, and, as the Talmudists express it, born again of a second mother.'-By it, therefore, he demanded an entire change of life, and a complete regeneration of heart and spirit", equally with idolaters,
The argument drawn from prophecy seems always to have
Ibant renati, non secus quam si rudis
Aurel. Prudentius. Hym.
before they could enter into the pure profession of the Christian faith. His baptism was remarkable as a baptism of repentance, requiring a confession of sins. Superior to that of the Jews, which preceded, it was inferior to that of the Christians, which succeeded it, and was intended to lead, by an easy transition, from the one to the other1
Such was his first step in the arduous task of turning back the strong bent of inclinations long indulged, and destroying opinions firmly rooted.It was thus, that he struck at the root of the evil; that he studied to dissipate their false hopes, and to calm their vehement passions, and to efface their deepest prejudices, and to render their irritated minds so lowly and so pure, that the gentleness of the Christian spirit might silently glide into the inmost recesses.
We are also informed, that he taught his disciples a form of prayer, probably of a nature introductory to that which our Saviour enforced, and calculated to bring their minds, by a process
1 Το του Ιωάννου βάπτισμα του μεν Ιουδαϊκού σφόδρα υψηλότερον ήν, του δε ημετέρου ταπεινότερον, καθάπερ γέφυρα τις ον εκατέρων των βαπτισμάτων, απ' εκείνον προς τούτο Xerpaywyoùv. Chrysost. Hom. lxxiv. Tom. V. See also Dissertations par Calmet, Tom. III.
Έβάπτισε και Ιωάννης, ουκέτι μεν Ιουδαϊκώς: ου γαρ εν ύδατι μόνον, αλλά και εις μετάνοιαν ούπω δε όλον πνευματικώς: ου γαρ a pooridno, tò év avevmati. Greg. Naz. Orat. xxxix.
Purifications were very common in the Pagan world. See Virg. Æn. ii. 719.-vi. 229.-Dion. Halic. lib. 7.-Plin. Nat. Hist. lib. v.-Juv. Sat. ii. — Theocr. Idyll. xxiv.-Apoll. Rhod. lib. iv.-Macrob. Saturn. lib. ii. &c.
of gradual reflection, to a more distinct view of the new dispensation, and to a sincere acquiescence in the purity and the humility it was to demand.
Nor was his preaching less conducive to the great end of his office?. He laid the foundation of his doctrines in penitence.—“Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—He taught them, that his baptism was the “ baptism of repentance for the remission of sins?," and called on them to “ bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” — He then cautioned them not to destroy the effect of this solemn admonition by a blind reliance on their descent from Abraham :-“think not to say within yourselves : We have Abraham to our father," -as though he had said,-be not deluded by your teachers, who pretend, that God will not impute sin to the offspring of Abraham, even whilst it continues in sin: indulge not your ostentatious boast of being the only favourites of heaven, and your contempt and hatred for those, who participate not in the covenant of promise.—“For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham,”—by the power of his word he can soften the heart of flint, and impart the knowledge of his truth to the most obdurate of the Gentiles4.-Nor let the delay of danger induce you
2 "Ακουσον γούν πως μετ' επιεικείας τους εαυτού μαθηταίς διαλέγεται, πως μετα ανδρείας τω δήμω των Ιουδαίων, πως μετα mapinoias to Baoilei.”—S. Chrys. in Matt. Hom. xxxvii.
3 Matt. iii.
* That the words of John may refer to the Gentiles appears from Ignatius. Ep. ad Magnes.-Clemens Alexandrin. Protreptic. ad Gentes.-Cyril. Alex. Hom. Pasch. y. &c.
to pay less attention to these warnings : for “now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees;” even now, in the words of Isaiah," behold, the Lord, the Lord of Hosts, shall lop the bough with terror; and the high ones of stature shall be hewn down, and the haughty shall be humbled",” yea, “ every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit,” shall be cut down, and “ cast into the fire.”-Such was the discourse of John : in a few words he intimated the spirituality of the Christian religion,-the conversion of the Gentiles,—the destruction of Jerusalem.—The whole of his discourses, which the Evangelists have transmitted to us, are introductory to the doctrines of Christianity. They seem almost prefatory to the sermon on the mount. As it begins with blessings opposed to the particular vices which predominated among the Jews, so they were directed against those crimes and prejudices, to which his hearers were peculiarly subject”. They principally attack national pride, and hypocrisy ; — they especially inculcate humility, justice, charity, and moderation.—He teaches the people to love their neighbours, and to relieve their distresses :-“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.”—He teaches the Publicans to be rigidly just :-“ Exact no more than that which is appointed you.”—Lastly, he
1 Isaiah x. 33.
3 That the Publicans were notorious for rapine and exaction is evident from numerous passages. See the character given of them in Suidas.