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them to have a king, but a king who was obliged to obey them. In this state the Jews were, Herod the Great as he is called being the king set over them by the Romans, when the time approached for the appearance among them of Christ the Saviour of men. E. And John the Baptist was the prophet I suppose of whom you were speaking just now?

M. You are quite right; John the Baptist is that distinguished messenger, whom God sent before the face of His Son to prepare His way: and before we enter upon the history of our Lord Himself, it will be necessary to give you some account of this extraordinary servant of God, who was chosen to be the herald or immediate forerunner of our great Redeemer. So important was the office of the Baptist, that we find him made directly a subject of prophecy. The prophet Malachi foretold his preaching, and an angel was sent from heaven to announce his birth.

E. Who were the parents of John the Baptist? M. The name of his father was Zacharias; his mother was called Elizabeth. We have a most interesting account of them in the Gospel by St. Luke. There we learn that Zacharias was one of the priests of the Temple, taking his turn among the rest in performing the different services of that holy place. His wife Elizabeth was also descended from the family of Aaron. But the parents of John were not only distinguished by their holy descent, born among those who were particularly set apart for the service of God; what was of far more importance, they were themselves eminently holy persons; and their names are highly honoured in the word of God; they are there recorded as having been "both righteous before God,

walking in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord blameless," remarkable before men for their pious and irreproachable lives-sincerely righteous in the sight of that God, who searches the inmost recesses of the heart.

E. Had they any children before John the Baptist?

M. No; they had lived long together childless, regretting perhaps that God had seen fit to withhold from them so great a blessing, though no doubt satisfied that what He did, was best. You may remember my telling you before, that religious persons among the Jews were always very anxious to have children of their own; because each had some faint expectation of being the earthly parent of the Redeemer of the world; all hoped that so high an honour might be intended either for them or for their children. Zacharias and Elizabeth, however, had grown old, and had ceased to be anxious upon the subject, little thinking that God intended to make their old age far more honoured and happy than their youth.

Zacharias was one day engaged as usual in his sacred business in the Temple, burning incense in the sanctuary or holy place, while the people were assembled in great numbers without, in what was called the court of Israel, each offering up their own prayers in silence to God. This was the moment which God had chosen for making known His gracious purpose to Zacharias. Behold! whilst he, as a priest, is offering incense before God, and interceding for the people, and praying perhaps for the speedy appearance of the Messiah, who was to be the consolation of Israel, "there appeared unto him an angel of the

Lord, standing on the right side of the altar of In


E. An angel! It is a long time since we have heard of an angel being sent to the Jews.

M. Yes; in those days such extraordinary messengers from God were not common. Many and many a year had passed since even a prophet had appeared; well then might Zacharias be uneasy at so strange a sight! We do not wonder when we are told that, "he was troubled and fear fell upon him." But this was no messenger of terror- it was a minister of mercy, sent with welcome news. The angel said unto him, "Fear not Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard, and thy wife Elizabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John, and thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth."

E. What delightful news for Zacharias! I suppose he made haste home to tell his wife?

M. You will be surprised to hear how he received the message. We should have expected that he would have fallen at the feet of the angel to acknowledge the great goodness of God towards him. Knowing that, from his holy character and office, he must have been well acquainted with the prophecies of Malachi respecting this very event, we are greatly surprised when we find that Zacharias could not believe the words of the angel. His only answer was, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man and my wife wellstricken in years." Had the angel merely told him that it had pleased God to give him a child in his old age, he might even then have been expected to believe; but when the heavenly messenger informed

him so clearly of the purpose for which this child was to be sent; that he was to be great in the sight of the Lord, and to be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his birth; that he was to turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and to be so excellent a prophet as to be compared to none but Elijah, and greater even than he, inasmuch as he was to be the immediate messenger of the Christ ;when the angel had condescended to tell all this, the sin of his unbelief became very great, and in a person like Zacharias very surprising. That it was offensive in the sight of God we have no doubt, from the punishment which immediately followed. For when the angel found that his words were not believed, he made Zacharias this solemn answer: "I am Gabriel that stand in the presence of God, and am sent to speak unto thee, and to show thee these glad tidings, and behold thou shalt be dumb and unable to speak until the day that these things shall be performed.” How great must have been the shame of Zacharias when he heard these words, in which his offence and its punishment were so plainly declared! Had the Almighty sent one of the meanest of His prophets or servants to make known His purpose, the message should have been received with reverence, humility, and faith. But it was no prophet that was now employed, nor yet a common angel; but one of the highest order of those glorious beings, even the angel Gabriel, whose place in heaven is among the most exalted of the angels, among them who stand the nearest to the throne of God. When Zacharias thought of all this, he must have been deeply humbled, and ready to acknowledge that he deserved the punish

ment which was to follow his unbelief. The guilty tongue, by which he had offended, was to lose its powers, until the event of which he had doubted should be brought to pass.

E. And did he really lose the power of speaking? M. Yes, he was struck dumb by the angel of the Lord, the very moment that the word was spoken ; and when he came out of the temple, he could not speak to the people, but remained speechless, until the time was come when the child of whom the angel had spoken was born. Month after month passed by, and still Zacharias was dumb; but at length the happy time arrived when Elizabeth became a mother. Her promised son was born: her neighbours and her friends came to rejoice with her at the goodness of the Lord, and the voice of joy and gladness was heard within that dwelling, where a sad silence had so long prevailed. But there was one sound still wanting to cemplete the happiness of that joyful party. father's voice did not yet mingle with the rest. The tedious time in which he had kept silence, was not yet completed. His tongue was not unloosed at the very moment of the birth; he saw and embraced his child, but he could not speak to welcome it. One more trial of his faith was he to bear, before his speech should be restored to him; that he might have an opportunity of showing that he had not suffered so much in vain.


Eight days passed by, and the relatives and friends of the family collected to be present at the circumcision and naming of the child, according to the custom of the Jews. Circumcision among the Jews was something like what baptism is to us: it was the

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