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human nature, resisting the truth and living "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity," is a painful and an afflicting sight. It is the state of the drowning man casting from him the friendly hand of his preserver. But what a change takes place when the attempt has been successful, when the failing hand is grasped by the arm of salvation. It comes upon him as life from the dead. It is a voice from the clouds:"Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light'!” This is indeed a miracle-and what can be a greater miracle than a restoration from the death of sin to a life of righteousness? Sudden as the change may be, and as it is here represented, in fact, it is most frequently neither sudden nor easy. The time to accomplish such a change is only and wholly in the hand of God, and is the effect of his grace. " Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."
The case of the infidel, I do not now consider; yet what is the wicked man, but the infidel in disguise? "The approach of Christ!-Alas!" says he, "remove him from me. He knows my sin, and is come to punish me. I am not ignorant of Christ, as he has been revealed to me, but I have fled from him. I have eaten husks with swine. I have dissipated my all in
1 Acts viii. 23.
2 Eph. v. 14.
3 Phil. ii. 12, 13.
riotous living-take-take him hence-I cannot bear the sight of him that I have so much injured.”—The last acknowledgment is worth a treasure. God be merciful to me, a sinner, has saved many a man from everlasting destruction. The perverted, or long-forgotten faith is restored, the divine Physician bends over the patient; the cheering words operate as the most reviving cordial-my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found1.
See here, then, what it is to hail the approach of Christ. It is an advent of salvation; and encourages the poor in spirit to make their approaches to him!
When the voice of the virgin-mother saluted Elizabeth, the mother of the Baptist, the babe leaped in her womb for joy; a circumstance illustrated by his prophetic father: "Thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest; for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people, by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace 2."
May the signal of the approach of Messiah rouse us from the slumber of sin, and the deadness of an unsanctified spirit; let it exalt our minds with the high expectation of the coming Saviour!
V.-The Preparatory Mission of John the Baptist.
It is wonderful to contemplate the bearings of Divine Providence on almost every incident recorded in the book of revelation. It is a chain let down from heaven, of which every link in effect constitutes a whole. The student of God's word has this advantage over the cursory observer, that he sees a connection, a beautiful connection and agreement in all its parts, both in its doctrines and its duties, which are too much dispersed for common vision. Even the prospect of a land of promise in the distance, as that of Moses from the top of Nebo, will not make the same impression, nor so warmly influence the heart, as a deliberate and reflecting journey through that interesting country. The single branch of the vine-tree laden with its delicious fruits, will afford no adequate specimen of the land of Canaan.
This is clearly the case as we travel through the Christian year. Every stage has its peculiar graces: and if you remove from your contemplation any one step in the gradation of faith, not the symmetry only, but the value is destroyed. Every thing hangs together on its own center, and produces an uniformity, to which no earthly thing can form a parallel.
The point of union between the Law and the Gospel is distinguished by the mission of St. John the Baptist. There is a striking singularity in the
Baptist's character, in reference to the Advent of our Saviour, which attracts our attention, and evinces an originality of circumstances, which could only be derived from the Almighty Dispenser of all great events. Instances occur in Scripture of particular persons designated by the voice of prophecy: but no other instance occurs of one, who was not only the object of prophecy himself, but who became a living testimony to its truth--was not only the harbinger, or forerunner, as had been foretold, but the personal introducer of the Saviour to his countrymen. As Moses may be considered the last of the patriarchs and the first of the Jews, so John became the last of the Jews and the first of the Christians. "All the
prophets and the law," said our Saviour, "prophesied until John 1." Here the ceremonial law of Moses virtually terminated. But the Divine arrangement still continues; for our Lord adds-" and if ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come;"-and so important was the intimation, that he calls their attention in well-known words:- "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
There is also a peculiarity which distinctly marks the point of time when the Law and the Gospel meet. Our blessed Lord did not commence his preaching till John had concluded his. St. Mark says, "Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into
1 Matt. xi. 13.
Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom of God." St. Matthew gives the same account; and then follows," From that time Jesus began to preach'." And not only so, but the place is particularly noted, and joined with these circumstances. "Now when
Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee." That the circumstance of place, as well as time, was of high importance, is observable from St. Peter's remark, at a distant period, when he addressed Cornelius:-"That word, I say, ye know, which was published throughout all Judæa, and began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached." This, therefore, must be considered as one of the distinguishing marks of a true Messiah 3.
It is proper to remark in this place that there could be no personal collusion between our blessed Lord and the Baptist John. They had always lived asunder: our Lord with his reputed father, and John in the hill country of Judæa and in the wilderness. It was not till they were mature in age that their severally Divine missions publicly commenced. The visible attestation of the Spirit at the baptism of Jesus, placed the divinity of his character far above all suspicion : so much so, that John bare this testimony: when looking upon Jesus, as he walked, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God!" We cannot suppose the baptist ignorant of his own, or of the Saviour's character. He had read
2 Matt. iv. 17.
1 Mark i. 14.
4 Acts x. 37.
5 Mede's Works, p. 97.
3 Matt. iv. 12.
6 John i. 36.