Imágenes de páginas


The Victor, in the Times of Preparation.

ISAIAH xl. 3.

"The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God."


LL the four Evangelists refer these words to the ministry of St. John the Baptist; in St. John they received their highest and complete fulfilment. But their first and historical reference is to the return of the Jewish captives from Babylon. The Lord was the King of the chosen people; and in the vision of the Prophet the promised return to home and freedom was to be a triumphant procession across the desert, headed by Israel's invisible Monarch. The cause of the holy people was the cause of God; their bondage and shame in Babylon, although a heaven-sent punishment, had been a humiliation for the majesty of Jehovah before the face of the scoffing heathen; their triumphant return would be the work of God, it would also be the manifestation of His glory. No obstacle should stop the path of His resistless advance: "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and

all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."

Clearly, my brethren, there is here a wider reach of meaning than any which can be satisfied by the actual prospect or history of the return from Babylon. Say what you will about the highly poetical form into which the Prophet has undoubtedly thrown his fervid thought, still there is the thought beneath the form which clothes it. If it would be a degrading mistake to resolve this passage into a mere description of some vast engineering operations; if valleys were not literally to be filled up, and mountains were not literally to be levelled, something, at any rate, was to take place in the moral, social, or political world which should correspond to this vigorous imagery. And that something was to interest, not merely the Jewish race and their heathen neighbours, but the whole human family: "All flesh shall see it together." It is clear that the particular, local, temporal deliverance melts before the eye of the Prophet— as, gazing on it, he describes it—into a deliverance, general and world-wide in its significance, extending in its effects far beyond the limits of time. The Deliverance of deliverances is before him. He sees the great escape from bondage, of which all earlier efforts at freedom were but shadows; he sees it afar off, the pathway of mankind across the desert of time from the city of chains and sorrow, whereof Babylon was the earthly type, to the city of freedom and glory imaged in Jerusalem. And thus it is that the Evangelists so unhesitatingly apply the passage to St. John the Baptist. St. John was, as we Christians. know, the immediate forerunner of the Deliverer of humanity; St. John, as a hermit of the desert and preacher of repentance, supplied, by his life, the connecting link between the literal and spiritual senses of the prophecy;

St. John, gathered up in himself, embodied and represented the ages of prediction and expectation; he was the mind of the Old Testament in a concrete form, laying down its office and proclaiming its work of preparation finished, when the Reality Which it foreshadowed had come.

Now although, as we were reminded by our Bishop on Ash-Wednesday, it is a fatal error to speak as if the providences and the Being of God were a mere reflection of the wants and thoughts of man; although Redemption is an objective fact, the primary motive of which we may reverently but surely say was the setting forth before the moral universe the glory of the divine Redeemer; yet still it is true that the Only-begotten Son of God, "for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven." It was not that He modified His original plan by adapting His Incarnation to the necessities of a fallen race. These necessities were foreseen; they entered into, they determined the form of His advent, which thus combined our dearest interests with His highest honour. He came indeed that, even by His deepest humiliations, He might set forth God's attributes of righteousness and love. But He came also at the voice and pleading of our deep necessity; He came to die for all, because, as His Apostle says, all were dead; He came for His own glory indeed, but also because if He had not come, we must have perished irretrievably.

Accordingly, the preparation for His advent was rather of a character required by our need than essential to His glory or to His personal triumph. It has indeed been said by a great military leader of modern days that the first condition of success in a campaign is the possession of accurate information as to the strength and move

ments of the enemy. Certainly, the Captain of our salvation was already furnished with all necessary information; He had measured from the depths of His eternity. the foe whom He would conquer, and the shame and penalty to which He would submit. But, if man is to share in His Victory, man must be prepared for His advent, man must be educated for the blessing in store for him. Unless man is to be redeemed as he was created, without any consent or co-operation of his will; unless he is to be saved as if, instead of being a moral agent, he were a tree or a stone, man must enter in some measure into the designs of his Benefactor; the way of the Lord must be prepared, the highway of our God must be laid down in the desert of man's moral and intellectual wanderings.

I. It is plain, my Brethren, that our subject is too wide to admit of any but a very partial treatment. Let us then observe that the most necessary element of this preparation for the Victor was to convince man that he needed redemption by a heavenly friend and conqueror. We know that in this country no political measure that really touches the interests of the people can receive the sanction and the force of law, unless the people themselves are convinced that the evils which the measure purposes to remedy are substantial and not fancy evils. No legislative genius on the part of the minister can dispense with this condition of success. If the country is not convinced that the measure is necessary, the minister must take measures that will produce this conviction. He must hold meetings; he must make speeches; he must write dissertations; he must deal in dry statistical demonstrations and in vehemently passionate appeals; he must set in motion all the complicated machinery of political agitation and enterprise which may be at his

disposal. Supposing him to be himself satisfied of the necessity of the measure in contemplation, this is nothing more than his duty to his country: he would fail of that duty if he could neglect to diffuse, according to the best of his power, that amount of political information which is necessary to his success.

You will not understand me to be saying that here we have a strict and absolute analogy to the sacred matter immediately before us; because it is plain that the correspondence fails in a most vital particular. We all know that the enactment of a new law in a free country is, in reality, the act not of the legislature but of the people the legislature is only the instrument of the popular will. But the Redemption of the world is in no wise the work of redeemed man: Christ is the One Redeemer in Whose redemptive triumph man could have no part save that of accepting and sharing its blessings. Yet this deliberate acceptance of Christ's Redemption by man is of vital necessity to man; man is not saved against or without his will to be saved; and it is therefore of the last importance that he should understand his need of the salvation, which he must desire and accept.

Now what was the evil which Christ was to conquer, in man and for man? It was sin. Sin is the one real evil. It is certainly worse than pain; since pain may become a good. It is certainly worse than death; since death is only the effect of sin and may be the gate of freedom. It is worse even than the devil; since it makes the devil to be what he is. The devil would be powerless, and death would have no sting, and pain would be unknown, if it were not for sin. But sin is not a thing always palpable to and recognised by the sinner. It is like the peculiar atmosphere in which


« AnteriorContinuar »