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outward privileges to be of no value at all. “* Think not,” said he to the Jews, “to say within yourselves, “We have Abraham to our father, and are therefore sure of God's favour, be our conduct what it may:’ for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham; ” is able to make the most stupid and ignorant of these heathens, whom you so utterly despise, converts to true religion, and heirs of the promises. Such were the doctrines which John preached to his disciples, and the success which attended him was equal to their magnitude and importance. This was plainly foretold by the angel that announced his birth to his father Zacharias. “T. Many of the children of Israel (said he) shall he turn to the Lord their God.” Which in fact he did. For the evangelists tell us that “there went out unto him into the wilderness Jerusalem and
and all Judea, and all the region about Jordan, and were baptized of him *.” The truth of this is amply confirmed by Josephus, who informs us, that multitudes flocked to him, for they were greatly
delighted with his discourses+.” It might naturally be expected that such extraordinary popularity and applause as this would fill him with conceit and vanity, and inspire him with a most exalted opinion of his own abilities, and a sovereign contempt for any rival teacher of religion. But so far from this, the most prominent feature of his character was an unexampled modesty and humi-lity. Though he had been styled by Malachi the messenger of the Lord, and even Elias (the chief prophet of the Jews next to Moses) he never assumed any higher title than that very humble one given him by Isaiah ; the voice of one crying in the wilderness. Far from desiring or attempting to fix the admiration of the multitude multitude on his own person, he gave notice from his first appearance of another immediately to follow him, for whom he was unworthy to perform the most servile offices. He made a scruple, till expressly commanded, of baptising one so infinitely purer than himself, as he knew the holy Jesus to be. And when his disciples complained that all men deserted him to follow Christ (a most mortifying circumstance, had worldly applause, or interest or power, been his point) nothing could be more ingenuously self-denying than his answer; “Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but am sent before him. He that hath the bride, is the bridegroom ; but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease. He that is of the earth is earthy; he that cometh from heaven is above all*.”
* Matt. iii. 5, 6. + Joseph. Antiq. Jud. xviii. 2. Edit. Huds.
Of such unaffected and disinterested humility as this, where shall we find, except in Christ, another instance? Yet with this was by no means united what we are too apt to associate with our idea of humility, meanness and timidity of spirit; on the contrary, the whole conduct of the Baptist was marked throughout with the most intrepid courage and magnanimity in the discharge of his duty. Instead of paying any court either to the great men of his nation on the one hand, or to the multitude on the other, he reproved the former for their hypocrisy in the strongest terms; “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come *P” and he required the latter to renounce every one of those favourite sins which they had long indulged, and were most unwilling to part with. But what is still more, he reproved without fear and without reserve the abandoned and ferocious Herod, for injuriously taking away Herodias his brother's wife, and afterwards incestuously marrying her, and for all the other evil that he had done. He well knew the savage and unrelenting temper of that sanguinary tyrant; he knew that this boldness of expostulation would sooner or later bring down upon him the whole weight of his resentment. But knowing also that he was sent into the world to preach repentance to all, and feeling it his duty to cry aloud and spare not, to spare not even the greatest and most exalted of sinners, he determined not to shrink from that duty, but to obey his conscience, and take the consequences. Those consequences were exactly what he must have foreseen. He was first shut up in prison; and not long afterwards, as you all know, the life of this great and innocent man was wantonly sacrificed in the midst of conviviality and mirth, to the rash oath of a worthless and a merciless prince, to the licentious fascinations of a young woman, and the implacable ven
wife, * Matt. iii. 7.