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remind us of Elijah (2 Kings i. 8); -and our blessed Lord said expressly, concerning John, "This is Elias which was to come." Mat. xi. 14.
Reader. You must not be surprised at reading that John ate locusts; for we are told by several authors, ancient and modern, that there is a kind of locust in the East which is used as an article of food, especially by poor people. Indeed, the permission anciently given to the Jews to adopt this kind of food proves that the use of it existed from very early times. Read Lev. xi. 22.
Mary. "Even these of them ye may eat; the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the beetle after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind."
tration of a proselyte by another person, had not previously existed, and that nothing more than ceremonial ablutions-the act of the individuals themselves-had been in use. -Perhaps there are no sufficient means of determining this question. -At all events, the baptism performed by John was not any arbitrary act, or one of his own invention; for he was "sent to baptize with water." John i. 33.
As the mention of Pharisees and Sadducees occurs for the first time in this passage, I will request Theophilus to read a page to which I point, containing an account of these two leading Jewish parties.
Theophilus. "THE PHARISEES derived their name from the Hebrew word Pharash, which signifies 'to set apart, or to separate,' because they separated themselves from the rest of their countrymen, to peculiar strictness in religion. Their leading tenets were the following:-that the
Reader. You can easily understand what the wild honey was, which the Baptist used. It was such as was found in the clefts of rocks, or in the hollow parts of trees; and in this, as some suppose, the dried lo-world is governed by fate, or by a custs were fried, when prepared for food.
Theophilus. I believe the ceremony of baptism was not entirely new and unknown at this time.
Reader. Some suppose that it had been already in use among the Jews on occasion of receiving proselytes, especially such proselytes as did not submit to circumcision. And therefore, say they, by baptizing Jews, and thus treating them as proselytes, John marked his ministry as the introduction of a new economy. Others, however, think that baptism, properly so called,—that is, the lus
fixed decree of God; that the souls of men were immortal, and were either eternally happy or miserable beyond the grave; that the dead would be raised; that there were angels, good and bad; that God was under obligation to bestow peculiar favour on the Jews; and that they were justified by the merits of Abra
dress; praying at the corners of the streets, and seeking publicity in the bestowment of alms. They sought principally external cleanness; and dealt much in ceremonial ablutions and washing.
"In addition to the written law, they adhered to the traditions of the elders, which they vainly supposed to have been handed down from Moses. They were, in general, a corrupt, hypocritical, office-seeking, haughty class of men. There were, however, some among them of a better character. See Acts v. 14.
"THE SADDUCEES are supposed to have taken their name from Sadoc, who flourished about 260 years before the Christian era. He was a pupil of Antigonus Sochæus, president of the Sanhedrim, or great council of the nation. He had taught the duty of serving God disinterestedly, without the hope of reward, or the fear of punishment. Hence Sadoc, incorrectly, drew the inference that there was no future state of rewards or punishments; and on this belief he founded the sect..... They held that there is no resurrection, neither angel nor spirit (Matt. xxii. 23; Acts xxiii. 8); and that the soul of man perishes with the body;..... and they rejected all traditions."
Reader. The Pharisees, as they appear before us in the New Testament, are to be regarded as representatives of superstition, hypocrisy, and self-righteous pride; the Sadducees, of worldliness, sensual indulgence, and unbelief." The Pharisees," says a judicious commentator,
were zealots for the ceremonies, for the power of the church, and the traditions of the elders; the Sadducees ran into the other extreme, and were little better than deists, denying the existence of spirits, and of a future state."
When St. John saw these men come to his baptism-(the Æthiopic version adds, privately)—he addressed them in language strongly expressive of his abhorrence of their character as the very personification of inveterate and malicious wickedness. And he inquired, with astonishment, who had warned them to flee from the impending wrath. Hence, then, it appears that neither of these parties came in a right disposition of mind, or with proper views. The Pharisees were proud of their supposed superiority in piety and virtue, and of their relation to Abraham; the Sadducees were vain of their fancied wisdom and philosophical attainments; and all were alike unprepared to become disciples of the uncompromising Baptist, or of the meek and lowly Jesus.
Theophilus. Did the Baptist allude to any particular stones or rocks, when he said what we read in the ninth verse?
Reader. Perhaps he then pointed to the stones which lay scattered about in the rough and rocky desert. Or, as he was baptizing at the ford of Jordan, where Israel passed over, some have thought that he alluded to the twelve stones which were set up as a memorial of that event. Josh. iv. 20. But before we could adopt the latter opinion, we should
require proof that the ancient monument had continued in its place until the Baptist's time. At all events, the meaning is clear and certain. St. John assured his hearers that, rather than that the promises of God should fail, and rather than that proud, impenitent, unbelieving sinners should partake of the blessings promised to the real, spiritual posterity of Abraham, God would raise up others who should tread in his footsteps, and thus become his children, even, if necessary, by the most unlikely means;-that He would raise up children to Abraham even from among the Gentiles, whom the Jews may have thought as unlikely to receive that privilege as the senseless rocks which they saw around them, or the stones beneath their feet.
The Jews falsely gloried in their descent from Abraham; regarding it as securing to them an immunity from punishment. That descent, however, rightly considered, ought not to have been regarded as a privilege, in and of itself; but rather as an obligation and excitement to a godly life and conversation.
Theophilus. By "the axe laid unto the root of the trees" we are to understand, I suppose, the Romans, whose power was ready to crush the guilty city and nation of the Jews.
Reader. Such seems to be the primary meaning of the expression; which may also be understood as referring to future and eternal judgments ready to fall upon the wicked. Mary. How long did St. John continue to preach?
Reader. The period of his ministry, probably, did not exceed six months,-which was the distance of time between the commencement of his preaching, and of that of our blessed Lord.-Can you explain that phrase, in the eleventh verse," whose shoes I am not worthy to bear?"
Mary. It is an allusion to the custom of slaves carrying their master's sandals. The sandal was a piece of wood or leather, fitted to the soles of the feet, and fastened by thongs of leather. And it was the business of certain slaves, of the lowest class, to remove these sandals from their masters' feet, and to take charge of them, while the wearers were reclining at table, or otherwise stationary in the house.
Theophilus. I am not sure that I rightly understand the meaning of that saying, "He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire."
Reader. Some suppose that this expression alludes to the gifts of the Holy Spirit which were poured out upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, and were afterwards imparted, through the instrumentality of the Apostles, to other believers. You remember the appearance of "tongues like as of fire" on the day of Pentecost, Acts ii. 3.-Others regard the words "with the Holy Ghost and fire" (for in the original the preposition is not repeated) as referring to the spiritual influences of the divine agent, set forth under the similitude of fire. "The Holy Spirit," say they, "is represented here under the image of fire, because he was to illuminate and invigorate
the soul, penetrate every part, and | cerning a fictitious purgatorial fire, which soon became a fashionable subject of belief in the corrupt churches of antiquity.
assimilate the whole to the image of the God of glory." Perhaps this interpretation is the most satisfactory. -Others explain the "fire" as relating to the threatened visitation of divine judgment;-a view which is supported, in some degree, by the mention of "unquenchable fire" in this connection, in the next verse. "He shall baptize, not only with water, but with the pouring out of his Spirit on believers, and with that fiery trial, which shall refine the gold, the faithful, but separate the dross, and destroy the rebellious unbelievers."-Some expositors combine all these ideas; supposing fire to be in this place an emblem both of the operations of the Holy Spirit, and of judgment upon the impenitent and unbelieving. "St. John," say they, "declares that Christ should plentifully pour down of the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit upon his proselytes, which, like fire in their operation, should purify their hearts from sin, consuming their lusts and corruptions; but that, at the same time, he has a fiery indignation, and flaming judgments, to destroy and burn up impenitent sinners like combustible stubble."
Theophilus. Do you remember what view of the matter is taken by early Christian writers?
Reader. Some of them take one or other of the views already mentioned; but the speculations of " the Fathers" on this passage are, in many instances, deplorably childish and frivolous. Nay, more; they contain the foundation of a doctrine con
Theophilus, How thankful we ought to be that we have been taught to interpret Scripture by itself, and by the rules of sound criticism,—and reverently to avoid attempting to explain it by the reveries of fancy, or by the light of a false philosophy!
READER. May we, by the divine blessing, learn much from this remarkable portion of sacred history!
Repent ye!-That was the substance of the Baptist's preaching. Turn from your evil thoughts, corrupt inclinations, and wicked ways, to the love and service of the holy and heart-searching God! Such s the nature of real repentance. "True penitents have other thoughts of God and Christ, of sin and holiness, of this world and the other, than they have had; and they stand otherwise affected towards them. The change of the mind produces a change of the way. This repentance is a necessary duty, in obedience to the command of God (Acts xvii. 30); and a necessary preparation and qualification for the comforts of the Gospel of Christ."
For the kingdom of heaven is at hand.-Time is short, the Judge is at the door,—and there is no room for delay. Besides this, encouraging motives to repentance are contained in the hopes of pardon and acceptance held out, through divine mercy and grace, under the gospel covenant. "The free and full tenders of grace in the gospel are most alluring argu
ments to move a sinner to repent and | repentance, i.e. suitable to it,—such to turn to God."
as may manifest the conversion and renovation of your hearts." As the body without the spirit, and as faith without works, is dead, so repentance without fruit is dead also." "Repentance is seated in the heart. There it is as a root; but in vain do we pretend to have it there, if we do not bring forth the fruits of it in a universal reformation, forsaking all sin, and cleaving to that which is good. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, and patient under the greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of sin and approaches towards it, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others." These are fruits worthy of repentance.
Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father.God observes what passes within men's hearts, their hidden principles, secret hopes, and matters of private confidence.-Here is a warning to us all not to rest satisfied with the mere possession of outward privileges, with bearing a religious name, or with the credit and advantages of church-membership. Our duty and happiness consist, not in the possession, but in the due use and improvement, of these blessings. Many, it is to be feared, who pride themselves upon belonging to this or that church, and who rest in the supposed benefit of their connection with a body of professing Christians, will come short of heaven.-Nor will the mere cir
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for cumstance of our connection with
Prepare ye the way of the Lord."There is a great deal to be done, to make way for the entrance of Christ into a soul, to bow the heart for the reception of the Son of David (2 Sam. xix. 14); and nothing is more needful, in order to this, than the discovery of sin, and a conviction of the insufficiency of our own righteousness. Prejudices must be removed, high thoughts brought down, and captivated to the obedience of Christ."
Prepare ye the way. This preparation must indeed be effected by the power of God;-but yet man, weak as he is, has his part to perform. "Though it be grace that prepareth for further grace, man's duty must be used thereunto; and the exalting work of grace presupposeth the humbling work of repentance, as a necessary preparation."
Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the regions round about Jordan.-The rejection of the Messiah by the great body of the Jews makes it appear to how little purpose they had heard the exhortations of his forerunner. So also, in the present day, "there may be a multitude of forward hearers, where there are but few true believers. Curiosity, and affectation of novelty and variety, may bring many to attend upon good preaching, and to be affected with it for awhile, who are yet never subject to the power of it (Ezek. xxxiii. 31, 32)."—May we, by God's grace, be not only hearers,
but also doers, of the word!