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"the blood of sprinkling ;" and how willing God is to wash away the sins of those who repent and believe in His dear Son.
But to return to the preaching of John, which is called by the evangelist "the preaching of the baptism of repentance, for the remission of sins." To such an office as this the habits of the Baptist were strikingly fitted. From his very childhood he had passed his time in the deserts, or less frequented parts of the country, far from the towns, and where there were but few inhabitants. There, in silence and solitude, he grew up under the watchful providence of God, without any earthly parents indeed to care for him, for they are said to have died when he was quite a child; but waxing strong in spirit, being filled with the Holy Ghost, whose gracious influences were now preparing him for the great duties of his future office. Nor did this holy man content himself with retiring from the abodes of men; his whole manner of living was plain and simple. He deprived himself indeed, not only of all the luxuries of life, but even of its most common comforts and conveniences. His clothing—what was it but a rough garb, made of the long shaggy hair of the camel, and fastened round His body with a coarse, leathern girdle?
E. I think that was something like what Elijah wore, Mamma?
M. It was very much the same; for Elijah is said in Scripture to have been a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. This kind of dress afterwards became somewhat common among the prophets, in imitation most likely of Elijah; and many of the false prophets, as Zechariah tells us, put on
the like appearance of mortification and self-denial, "wearing a garment of rough hair to deceive the people,” and make them think that, like Elijah, they were particularly holy.
E. But John did not make any false pretences, Mamma?
M. Oh! no: he, you know, was filled with the Holy Ghost; and where the Spirit of God dwells, there will always be a dread and abhorrence of lying, for He is the Spirit of Truth, as well as of holiness. If John dressed in so coarse and rude a manner, it was because, like his Lord, he was poor in the things of this world, and had perhaps no better clothing to put on, even if he wished it. Then he led a severe life, as one, whose great business it was to call upon men to mourn for their sins and to subdue their corruptions, by denying those appetites and desires, in the indulgence of which they had been led into sin. Therefore, though John was himself a very holy man as compared with his countrymen, he was directed by the Holy Spirit to set them an example in his own person of even greater self-denial than he expected from his hearers. We can have no doubt that whatever John did in his public character, as a chosen messenger of God, he did it by divine direction; and as it had been foretold that he should come like another Elijah, to call the Jews to repentance as Elijah did, it was but reasonable that his outward habits and appearance should be like Elijah's; so as more strongly to remind his countrymen, that the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord, spoken of by the prophet Malachi, was now at hand.
The food of St. John, like his clothing, was of the
simplest and coarsest kind; being such alone as the deserts afforded,-wild honey, with which the woods of Canaan abounded, and locusts, which are a kind of insect like a grasshopper, that is commonly eaten to this day in different parts of Asia and Africa, being first stripped of its wings, and then hung up in the air to dry. These insects abound on the banks of the Jordan, where John lived, and would furnish an easy supply of food to one whose taste was so simple, and whose wants so very few.
E. Did the Jews like the preaching of John the Baptist, Mamma?
M. The interest which it excited among them was very great; and great too the respect, with which he was received. Crowds of persons, of all ranks and descriptions, flocked into the wilderness to see him. Even from Jerusalem did they come and all Judea, as well as from the country round about Jordan; and all of them, without any difference, did John call upon to repent and bring forth fruits worthy of repentance. The Pharisees and Sadducees for instance, who came not so much to learn, but rather like vipers to do him some secret hurt, he rebuked openly for their hypocrisy, and false pretences of piety; and reminded them of God's approaching vengeance if they did not repent, and speedily change their ways. The people in general he entreated to be kind one to another; the publicans or collectors of the public taxes, he called upon to do their duty without injustice or hardness of heart, these being the sins into which they were most tempted to fall. The soldiers likewise, when they asked him what they were to do, were instructed to show violence to no man, neither to bring
false charges against any, in the hope of being gainers themselves, but to be content with their regular pay and allowances.
Thus did John solemnly call upon all to repent; thus did he faithfully instruct all in their duty, not allowing himself to keep back the truth from the fear of any, or to smooth matters with the view of pleasing any amongst his hearers, however great or powerful some of them might happen to be, but suiting his directions simply to the case of all, so as to meet the various circumstances of the different persons who gathered thickly around him. Such teaching, supported as it was by his own holy example and extraordinary indifference to the things of this world, had great weight with the people; they saw plainly that he asked nothing of them, but what he was ready to do himself; and they all "counted John as a prophet," and "were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." Shall we not receive instruction from this, my child? Shall we not learn, that if we would persuade others to know and love God, we must let them see that we do so ourselves; that we earnestly strive to obey His laws, and submit to His will in all things, remembering always that actions speak much more loudly than words, and will have much more influence in those around us. By our holy lives we must convince men that we are the servants of Christ; then we may hope to find them willing to listen to our words.
So great, indeed, was the respect which the Baptist excited in the minds of the people, that they began to wonder whether he was not the Christ, their long expected Messiah, the promised Deliverer of Is
rael. But not for a moment would John allow them to fall into so serious a mistake: not for a moment would he take his Master's place. His desire was by his preaching to lead his poor sinful hearers to Christ, by whose help alone they could really obtain that remission of sin, and those fruits of righteousness which he had been urging upon them. Not for worlds would he have allowed his followers to depend upon any human being for salvation; no, not even upon himself, though he had been set apart to God from his very birth. He told them that he did indeed baptize them unto repentance; he sprinkled them with water, to show how much they were defiled with sin, and how much they needed washing; but he did it in expectation of One, and in dependance upon One, far greater than himself, in comparison of whom he indeed was nothing. Yea so great was John's humility, so deep his sense of his own sinfulness, that he declared to all the people, that he was not worthy even to stoop down to unloose the sandal of the expected Saviour, not meet to perform for Him the very meanest office. Hear his own words, for they are indeed well worth hearing: "I indeed have baptized you with water; but there cometh One mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." To Him at once the Baptist directed the thoughts of his hearers, as the proper object of their hopes and of their faith, yea, and if they would not believe, of their terror too, and in the plainest language did he declare this to the people. "I, indeed," said he, “baptize you with water, but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his