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Jesus was exposed to the reproach, so often thrown out,—" Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary1?"—John was distinguished in his raiment, peculiar in his diet, secluded in his habits:—but Jesus was conspicuous neither in dress, nor food, nor society. John was no less illustrious for the place of his birth :—but against Jesus the objection was immediately urged, —" Can any good thing come out of Nazareth 1"— Such is the train of improbabilities, that attends the hypothesis of collusion: such the strange variety of gross discrepancies and palpable absurdities which it involves :—artifice exposing itself to suspicion, hastening into unnecessary dangers, gathering round it a crowd of obstacles, meeting discovery in every shape,—yet undiscovered, taking every means to frustrate success,—yet always successful.—Who can be so blinded by the infatuation of error, as not to perceive the finger of mysterious providence conducting its designs to accomplishment by paths, which, to our weak and finite minds, seem, as they wind their progress through the mazes of intricacy, to terminate in confusion and ruin?—"My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord2."—
1 Matt. xiii. 55. * Isai. \v. 8.
ON THE OFFICE OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
We have now examined the grounds, on which the truth of John's mission is established, and we have endeavoured to demonstrate, that the supposition of its falsehood is repugnant to every principle of right reasoning, that it contains a perplexing variety of difficulties entangled with difficulties, and that it vanishes before the steady pursuit of dispassionate inquiry;—it remains, that we should consider the nature and the utility of his office of forerunner.
It were needless to dwell on its evident fitness. The distinction of a precursor had been allowed to none of the Prophets: it was the peculiar privilege of monarchs, and most suitably reserved for the Messiah,—the 'anointed of the Lord,'—the 'Prince of the kings of the earth/ whose 'dominion is an everlasting dominion.'— As it announced the approach, it displayed the greatness of his kingdom, and the exalted majesty of his character.—
Nor will its utility be less apparent, if we reflect on the state of the Jewish nation at that particular period. It was an age of the most extensive and the most deplorable depravity.—The traces of devotion were nearly effaced; the restraints of true religion were broken down, and pride, cruelty, violence, baseness, treachery,— the collected evils of mental degradation,—rushed in, till iniquity seemed almost to have reached its ultimate point.—The chief priests and leaders, as well as the inferior ministers, combined the follies of ignorance with the ferocity of intolerance; and the multitude indulged with eagerness in those vices, which were fostered under the wide patronage of ruling corruption.—They were a nation of hypocrites. —Their sanctimonious exterior, and their ostentatious affectation of the most fervent piety, were accompanied by despicable subtilty, by hardened indifference, and by absorbing avarice. Jerusalem,—the ancient sanctuary of holiness,— was become the nurse of arrogance, exasperated by contempt, and of fanaticism, inflamed by disappointment.—Her own historian has depicted her fallen state in the darkest colours: he has displayed a melancholy scene of the last stage of degeneracy,—a hideous mixture of the semblance of virtue with the reality of vice,—of the highest self-estimation with the lowest moral debasement; —a disgusting picture of the rancour and the imbecility of factions, struggling for the miserable privilege of momentary superiority, lighting the flames of persecution at the altars of religion, breathing more deadly hatred against each other, than against the hostile armies that surrounded them, and disagreeing in all things, but the infatuated hope of transferring the yoke of oppression to the neck of the oppressor.—"This was,
of every instance of their villainy, is impossible: but, in a word, never did any city suffer such calamities; nor was there ever a generation more fruitful in wickedness than this was, from the beginning of the world1."
Nor were their opinions on religious subjects less erroneous than their practice was detestable2. Their own desires were the mould in which they formed the image of the expected Deliverer, and their own devices were the interpreters of the prophecies which described his character. Before persons, whose minds were thus alternately irritated by long discontent, and blinded by brilliant hopes, could be so softened and regulated as to receive, in humbleness of heart, him that should be "despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,"—it was necessary, by some powerful means, to remove the mass of prejudice and vice, that obstructed the passage of a pure and spiritual religion, and to infuse that spirit of placid resignation, which raises the im
vvo ^aoyiaTos, tj KaTaK\v<rdijvai Ttjv iro\iv, tj Tovs Ttji 'S.ocoji.tjvtjt peTa\afieiv KepavvoW iro\i yap Twi / TavTa iradovrwv ijveyKi yevedv d&ewTepav. De Bell. Jud. lib. v. xiii. §. 6. And again:—
Hav KUKiat epyov ijjeptptjoai/TO, nrfS' el Ti irpoTepov irpov-napydev' tj nvtjptj irapaieSwKev avTo\ irapa\iir6vT€i djjj\wTov. K. T. A.—Ibid. lib. vii. cap. 8. §. 1.
1 T£.adeKa<rrov pev ovv iirejjtevat Tiji/ irapavopiav avTwv, aovvaTov <rvve\ovra o ci^reTi', wre iro\iv aWtjv TOiavTa ireirov0(t>ui, ptjTe yevedv ef altevos yeyovevat Kukiui yovtpwTepav. Ibid. lib. v. cap. ] 0. §. 5.
* See also Matt. iii. 7- xii. 3£). xxiii. 5—23. John iii. 19v. 44, viii. 40—44. &c. Lardner's Credibility, &c. Vol. I. Pt. I. B. 1.