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was true, without concluding that the mission of Jesus was divine.—
-Communibus inter se radicibus haerent
Nee sine pernicie divelli posse videntur1.
They must be received or rejected together. To divide them is to pretend, that a true prophet would have abetted a false Messiah; or, a true Messiah have countenanced a false prophet. Both were impostors, or both were from God. It will be our attempt to prove that John was not an impostor, and the inference will be obvious and undeniable, that Jesus was in truth the Son of God. We shall endeavour, therefore, in the first place to establish the truth of John's mission from external and internal evidence; the former derived from the miraculous circumstances at his birth, and the application of prophecies respecting the forerunner of the Messiah; the latter arising from the improbability of imposture and collusion between John and Jesus. We shall next prove the utility and necessity of his mission, by shewing the peculiar nature of his office, and his manner of discharging it. In the course of our enquiry, we shall have occasion to observe, how complete is the harmony which pervades the Christian scheme; how the chain of auxiliary evidence continues to lengthen, as our investigation advances; how the right interpretation of one point throws light on another, and the comparison of passages dispels their supposed contradictions. For, as in a diligent examination
1 Lucret. iii. 326.
of the works of nature1, new wonders arise at every step, and new beauties unfold themselves at every turn, and our admiration increases as our knowledge extends; so in a calm survey of the structure of revelation, the strength, the multiplicity, and the exact correspondence of its parts become more and more developed; numerous latent coincidences are gradually discovered; passages, which were dark and difficult, when glanced at through the hazy medium of prejudice, grow clearer and plainer on a -more enlarged contemplation; and we learn to acknowledge that each appearance of weakness arose from the imperfection, not of its great Author, but of our frail and limited faculties.
1 Naturae vero rerum vis atque majestas in omnibus momentis fide caret; si quis modd partes ejus ac non totam complectatur animo. Plin. Nat. Hist. lib. vii. c. 1.
ON THE MISSION OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
I He Evangelists, as we have already remarked, commence their history with a short description of John the Baptist, that, by drawing the attention to the testimony of his repeated declarations, they might the more clearly introduce, and the more fully confirm, the mission of their divine Master. St. Luke2, in particular, has given a detailed account of the miraculous circumstances of his conception and birth; probably because the Gentiles, to whom his Gospel was especially addressed, might otherwise be unacquainted with the grounds on which the Baptist, who himself performed no miracles, established his claims to the character of the inspired forerunner of the Messiah. We are informed, that, at a time when the influence of true religion had been superseded by a strange contrast of paralyzing indifference for essential duties, and scrupulous attachment to empty ceremonies, there were still some, who cherished with unabated anxiety the expectation of the promised deliverance, and qualified themselves for its reception by a devout and comprehensive observance of all religious duties. Such were Zacharias and Elizabeth. We see them, at an advanced age, without children, and destined, in all human probability, to continue in the same condition. But we are told that an angel announced to Zacharias the glad tidings, that they should have a son, and this annunciation was made at the remarkable season, when, in the discharge of the priest's office, it was his lot "to burn incense,"—a service so particular, that the same priest seldom exercised it more than once in the whole course of his life1. Credulity, however, seems to have formed no part of the character of Zacharias. The sight of the heavenly messenger, and the assurance of his sacred promises, were sufficient to excite the mingled emotions of amazement and apprehension, but not to remove the distrustful struggles of imperfect conviction. A sudden dumbness was inflicted on him by the angel as a punishment of his doubts, and perhaps as an intimation of the future silence of the Jewish priesthood2. He was thus prevented from pronouncing over the people, before they departed, that solemn benediction, which constituted the most striking part of his office, and which, being regarded by the Jews as the only means of obtaining the divine blessing, commanded the highest degree of veneration3. The whole multitude, who had been
* Luke i.
1 See Lightfoot's Temple-worship, c. ix. &c.
2 " Conticescere paulatim oportuit omne Levitici apparatus Choragium, quod ominoso hoc sacerdotis silentio praefiguratum est; ut sola Messise docentis et benedicentis vox in Ecclesia audiretur." Witsius Miscell. Sacr. II. 494. Isidore says, that the silence of Zacharias was a sign of the silence of the
3 The divine blessing was always supposed to depend upon
"praying without/' astonished at his delay, and still more, at his extraordinary privation of speech, were naturally led to ascribe it to the effects of a divine visitation. It is evident, that events, calculated to excite the liveliest interest, and to produce the deepest impression, must have been anxiously observed, and extensively reported by a great number and variety of witnesses. Nor was their notoriety likely to decrease, since Zacharias continued speechless for many months. The facts, however, which he had doubted, took place; the prophecy of the angel was accomplished; Elizabeth brought forth a son, and Zacharias, now repentant and convinced, "staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief4," but, contrary to the expectation and wishes of his kindred, directed that the child should be called by that name, which was chosen by God himself, and expressive of his peculiar favour. It was then, that "his mouth was opened," and "his tongue loosed," and that he burst forth into that sublime strain of rapture and gratitude, in which he hailed the approaching dawn of salvation,—the light arising on those who sat 'in darkness, and in the shadow of death;'—and concluded by a prophetic description of the future character and ministry of his infant son. These occurrences took place at the ceremony of John's circumcision, on which occasion ten relations at
the blessing of the priest, which they thought so necessary, that such priests as were admitted to no other service might perform this, lest the people should at any time want it. Lewis. Heb. Antiq. lib. ii. 74 Rom. iv. 20.