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much stronger objection. He lived on locusts and wild honey, and his way of life is represented, by our Lord, as the very reverse of the way of those who dwell in king's courts, nay, as very different from his own; consequently, honey and locusts must be thought to have been then reckoned very coarse sort of food, whatever honey may now be among the Arabs. But the force of this difficulty lies in taking for granted what is not to be admitted, that the management of John was like the affected rigour and pompous abstinence of some superstitious hermits; whereas, the account we have of him only expresses great simplicity, that he contented himself with what nature offered him in those retreats. This, to those that expected the Messiah's should be an earthly kingdom, and those that were concerned in introducing into it, great men, after the manner of this world, might well be pointed out, by our Lord, as a thing extremely observable."
There is a passage in Rauwolff that greatly illustrates this explanation, in which, speaking of his passing through the Arabian deserts, he says, "We were necessitated to be contented with some slight food or other, and make a shift with curds, cheese, fruits, honey, &c.; and to take any of these, with bread, for a good entertainment. The honey, in these parts, is very good, and of a whitish colour, whereof they take, in their caravans and navigations, great leather bottles full, along with them; this they bring you in small cups, and put a little butter to it, and so you eat it with biscuits. By this dish I often remembered St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord, how he also did eat honey in the deserts, together with other food. Besides this, when we had a mind to feast ourselves, some rau, as soon as our master had landed at night, to fetch some wood, and others, in the mean time, made an hole in the ground on the shore, in the nature of a furnace, to boil our meat. So every company dressed, accordingly, what they had a mind, or what they had laid up in store; some boiled rice, others ground corn, &c. And when they had a mind to eat new bread instead, or, for want of biscuits, they made a paste of flour and water, &c." Rauwolff speaks of honey, fruits, curds, and cheese, as sorts of food that they were obliged to make a shift with, and he opposes them to those eatables on which they sometimes feasted, but, certainly, not because these things were in themselves coarse and mortifying, for he tells us the honey was very good, and, elsewhere, speaks of the bringing some of these things to the eastern tables of delicacies, at the close of their entertainments: but he considers them, when alone, as being a slight sort of food, and which people are not wont to be pleased with without something of a more solid kind. "Such, doubtless, was the character of the Baptist's abstemiousness; not pompous, affected, and brutal, like that of the hermits of superstition, (who more resemble Nebuchadnezzar in his distraction than the forerunner of our Lord) but perfectly natural, as living among the people of the wilderness, contenting himself, therefore, with a way of life sparing as theirs, and, perhaps, more visibly dependant on what providence presented than even they; instead of living in abundance and profusion, after the manner of those that dweit in king's palaces, or eating bread and meat, and drinking wine, as our Lord did."
"This explanation will, at the same time, remove a difficulty that might otherwise arise from what modern authors have told us of the agreeableness of the taste of locusts, and their being frequently used for food in the east. Dr. Shaw observing, that, when they are sprinkled with salt, and fried, they are not unlike, in taste, to our fresh water cray-fish; and Russel saying, the Arabs salt them up, and eat them as cacy."
Even his clothing of hair is mentioned by Rauwolff as in common use in those deserts; and he says, that he himself, in his travels among that people, put on a
frock of this kind. There was nothing, then, in John, of excessive rigour, nothing of an ostentatious departure from common forms of living in order to indulge in delicacies, like those St. Jerom blames in the letter to Nepotian; but, retiring into the deserts for meditation and prayer, he lived, with great simplicity, after the manner of the inhabitants of those places, both with respect to dress and food."
To some writers, however, these reasons are not quite satisfactory. John resembled, say they, the old prophets, particularly Elijah, in the coarseness of his clothing, [2 Kings i. 8.] and in the abstemiousness of his diet. He wore a rough kind of garment made of camels' hair, probably, the sackcloth with which penitents and mourners used to cover their loins, and, sometimes, their whole bodies. [1 Chron. xxi. 16.] His extraordinary mortification, by which he acquired the air of an old prophet, was intended to make the people reverence him. Besides, such a course of life was suitable to the doctrine of repentance which he preached. Accordingly, the public attention being turned towards him, the inhabitants of the country, who were all now expecting the Messiah, went out to him in multitudes. And, because he preached the necessity of repentance, from the consideration that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, many of all ranks, sects, and characters, submitted to confession of sins, baptism in Jordan, and whatever else the prophet was pleased to prescribe as preparations for that kingdom; so eagerly desirous were all the Jews to have it erected among them without delay. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan: And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
The great employment of John was preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, i. e. explaining the nature, and declaring the necessity of baptism, as a testimony, on the part of those who submitted to it, of the sincerity of their repontance, and on the part of him who administered it by the commandment of God, as a scal or token of the remission of their sins:"Perhaps, also, as the Jews themselves were required, by John, to submit to baptism, it signified, that, together with their sins, they were to renounce the institutions of Moses, just as the Gentile proselytes, by their baptism, were understood to renounce, not their sins only, but the profession of heathenism also. Wherefore, if this opinion may be admitted in every view of this rite, the Baptist, by preaching it as necessary, and by administering it to all who were willing to receive it, prepared the people for the coming of Messiah.
As the chief subject of the Baptist's preaching was repentance, i. e. a complete change of principles, and, consequently, of practice, it surprised him, not a little, to find among those who came confessing their sins, and desiring baptism, many of the Pharisees, a sect generally puffed up with an high opinion of their own sanctity. He was equally astonished at the Sadducees, who, though they did not believe any thing at all of a future state, expressed the greatest earnestness to obtain remission. In a word, he wondered to see the whole people so much moved with his threatenings, especially as he knew that they confidently expected salvation on account of their being Abraham's children, a conceit of which they were extremely fond, and which they seem to have derived from a misinterpretation of Jeremiah xxxi. 35, 37. Wherefore, as a rebuke of their presumption on this head, he called them, in his exhortation, the offspring of vipers, instead of the children of Abraham, plainly alluding to Gen. iii. 15, where wicked men are called the seed of the serpent. Who hath warned you, he asks, to flee from the wrath to come? By what means have you been awakened to a sense of the danger you are in from the impending judgment of God? Or his questions may imply a strong negation, as if he had said, I have not shewed you that you can flee from the wrath to come merely by baptism without repentance. It seems the Pharisees and Sadducees desired his baptism only as the ceremony of admission into the
Messiah's kingdom, not as an obligation to amendment. Moreover, because reason
The more clearly to illustrate the force and simplicity of John the Baptist's teaching, Luke has informed us of the answers which he gave to different descriptions of persons who requested the privilege of his baptism. The Jewish nation was become, at this time, so exceedingly depraved, that many of those who made pretensions to religion supposed that sacrifice would be accepted instead of obedience, and that they should be perfectly justified in neglecting the duties which they owed to their neighbours, or even to their parents, if they were but liberal in subscribing to the sacred treasury. When, therefore, the people inquired what they should do to avoid the judgments of God, he exhorted such of them as had two coats to impart to them that had none, and they that had meat to pursue similar conduct. The publicans, who are mentioned in the New Testament, were inferior Jewish tax-gatherers, who collected, at discretion, the taxes of small districts, and paid certain stipulated sums to the Roman knights, who were appointed to receive the revenue of the provinces. They were infamous for their habits of oppression, and greatly detested by their countrymen in general. They, therefore, were commanded to content themselves with the reasonable profits of their office, and exact no more than they were required to repay into the Roman treasury. The Jews who had entered into the military service of the Komans were enjoined to abstain from all acts of violence on the persons and pro
perties of their neighbours, from all attempts to enrich themselves by false information, or by manifesting a mutinous disposition to compel their officers to purchase their services by donations. Thus the Baptist, in his exhortation to penitents who asked his advice, did not follow the example of the Jewish teachers, for he was far from recommending the observation of ceremonic and precepts of men's invention. He attended to the character of the persons, reproved the vices to which they were most addicted, and he strenuously enjoined the great duties of justice, charity, moderafion, and contentment, according as he found those who applied to bim had failed in them. And so, by giving Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans, soldiers, and all sorts of persons, instructions adapted to their circumstances and capacities, he prepared them for receiving the Messiah, of whose approach he was informed by divine inspiration, though he was yet ignorant of the particular person who was prepared to sustain that exalted character.
Thus John the Baptist acquired an extraordinary reputation by the austerity of his life, the subject of his sermons, the fervency of his exhortations, and the freedom, impartiality, and courage, with which he rebuked his hearers. Yet his fame received no small addition from the various rumours current in the country at that time. For the vision which his father Zacharias had seen in the temple, the coming of the eastern philosophers to Jerusalem, the prophecies of Simeon, the discourses of Anna, the perplexity of Jerusalem, and Herod's cruelty, though they had happened full thirty years before this, must still have been fresh in the memories of the people, who, no doubt, applied them all to John. Their expectations, therefore, being raised to a very high pitch, they began to think he might be the Christ, and were ready to acknowledge him as such; so that, had he aspired after grandeur, he might, at least for a while, have possessed honours greater than the sons of men could justly claim. But the Baptist was too strictly virtuous to assume what he had no title to, and, therefore, he declared plainly that he was not the Messiah, but the lowest of his servants, one sent to prepare his way before him. At the same time, to give his hearers a just idea of his master's dignity, he described the authority and efficacy of his ministry. [Luke'iii. 15.]And as all the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their Rearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not. John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water. I am sent from God, and the message I bring is, that all ranks and orders of persons must repent. Withal, to impress this doctrine the more deeply upon their minds, I address their senses by washing all my disciples with water-but one mightier than I cometh; there is an infinitely greater than I ready to appear, viz. the Messiah, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose, (Matt. whose shoes I am not worthy to bear away,) i. e. to whom I am not worthy to perform the meanest servile office: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire his baptism shall be unspeakably more efficacious than mine, for he will bestow on you the gifts of the spirit. Perhaps the Baptist had, likewise, in view here, Mal. iii. 2, where Messiah is compared to a refiner's fire, on account of the judgments he was to infiict on the Jews for their unbelief. Moreover, as the efficacy of his baptism will be much greater than mine, so will his authority be greater; for he will bring all men before his tribunal, to receive sentence according to their deeds. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. The Baptist here has the forecited passage of Malachi plainly in his eye, and, by applying it to Jesus, he intimated to the people that he was the refiner spoken of by that prophet.
While John was thus employed at Bethabara in baptizing the multitudes, our blessed Redeemer was spending his life in retirement at Nazareth. The greater part