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Title: John the Baptist
Author: Meyer, F. B. (Frederick Brotherton), 1847-1929
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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   In the original book, each right-hand page had its own header.
   In this e-book, each chapter's headers have been collected into
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   introductory poem.  (The left-hand pages' header was the
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Author of
Paul: A Servant of Jesus Christ
The Prophet of Hope
Saved and Kept
etc., etc

London: Morgan and Scott
Office of The Christian
12, Paternoster Buildings, E.C.
And may be Ordered of any Bookseller

By Rev. F. B. MEYER, B.A.


  ABRAHAM: Or, The Obedience of Faith.
  ISRAEL: A Prince with God.
  JOSEPH: Beloved--Hated--Exalted.
  MOSES: The Servant of God.
  JOSHUA: And the Land of Promise.
  DAVID: Shepherd, Psalmist, King.
  ELIJAH: And the Secret of his Power.
  JEREMIAH: Priest and Prophet.
  PAUL: A Servant of Jesus Christ.


The life and character of John the Baptist have always had a great
fascination for me; and I am thankful to have been permitted to write
this book.  But I am more thankful for the hours of absorbing interest
spent in the study of his portraiture as given in the Gospels.  I know
of nothing that makes so pleasant a respite from the pressure of life's
fret and strain, as to bathe mind and spirit in the translucent waters
of Scripture biography.

As the clasp between the Old Testament and the New--the close of the
one and the beginning of the other; as among the greatest of those born
of women; as the porter who opened the door to the True Shepherd; as
the fearless rebuker of royal and shameless sin--the Baptist must ever
compel the homage and admiration of mankind.

In many respects, such a life cannot be repeated.  But the spirit of
humility and courage; of devotion to God, and uncompromising loyalty to
truth, which was so conspicuous in him, may animate us.  We, also, may
be filled with the spirit and power of Elijah, as he was; and may
point, with lip and life, to the Saviour of the world, crying, "Behold
the Lamb of God."


   XI.  "ART THOU HE?"



The Interest of his Biography.

  "John, than which man a sadder or a greater
    Not till this day has been of woman born;
  John, like some iron peak by the Creator
    Fired with the red glow of the rushing morn.

  "This, when the sun shall rise and overcome it,
    Stands in his shining, desolate and bare;
  Yet not the less the inexorable summit
    Flamed him his signal to the happier air."
            F. W. H. MYERS.

John and Jesus--Contemporary History--Anticipation of the Advent.

The morning star, shining amid the brightening glow of dawn, is the
fittest emblem that Nature can supply of the herald who proclaimed the
rising of the Sun of Righteousness--answering across the gulf of three
hundred years to his brother prophet, Malachi, who had foretold that
Sunrise and the healing in His wings.

Every sign attests the unique and singular glory of the Baptist.  Not
that his career was signalized by the blaze of prodigy and wonder, like
the multiplication of the widow's meal or the descent of the fire of
heaven to consume the altar and the wood; for it is expressly said that
"John did no miracle."  Not that he owed anything to the adventitious
circumstances of wealth and rank; for he was not a place-loving
courtier, "clothed in soft raiment or found in kings' courts."  Not
that he was a master of a superb eloquence like that of Isaiah or
Ezekiel; for he was content to be only "a cry"--short, thrilling,
piercing through the darkness, ringing over the desert plains.  Yet,
his Master said of him that "among them that are born of women there
hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist"; and in six brief
months, as one has noticed, the young prophet of the wilderness had
become the centre to which all the land went forth.  We see Pharisees
and Sadducees, soldiers and publicans, enthralled by his ministry; the
Sanhedrim forced to investigate his claims; the petty potentates of
Palestine caused to tremble on their thrones; while he has left a name
and an influence that will never cease out of the world.

But there is a further feature which arrests us in the life and
ministry of the Baptist.  He was ordained to be "the clasp" of two
covenants.  In him Judaism reached its highest embodiment, and the Old
Testament found its noblest exponent.  It is significant, therefore,
that through his lips the law and the prophets should announce their
transitional purpose, and that he who caught up the torch of Hebrew
prophecy with a grasp and spirit unrivalled by any before him, should
have it in his power and in his heart to say: "The object of all
prophecy, the purpose of the Mosaic law, the end of all sacrifices, the
desire of all nations, is at hand."  And forthwith turning to the True
Shepherd, who stood at the door waiting to be admitted, to Him the
porter opened, bowing low as He passed, and crying: "This is He of whom
Moses in the law and the prophets did write, Jesus of Nazareth, who was
for to come."

Few studies can bring out to clearer demonstration the superlative
glory of Christ than a thoughtful consideration of the story of the
forerunner.  They were born at the same time; were surrounded from
their birth by similar circumstances; drank in from their earliest days
the same patriotic aspirations, the same sacred traditions, the same
glowing hopes.  But the parallel soon stops.  John the Baptist is
certainly a grand embodiment of the noblest characteristics of the
Jewish people.  We see in him a conspicuous example of what could be
developed out of eight hundred years of Divine revelation and
discipline.  But Jesus is the Son of Man: there is a width, a breadth,
a universality about Him which cannot be accounted for save on the
hypothesis which John himself declared, that "He who cometh from above
is above all."

In each case, life was strenuous and short--an epoch being inaugurated,
in the one case in about six months, in the other some three years.  In
each case, at first, there was abounding enthusiasm, bursting forth
around their persons as they announced the Kingdom of God, like the
flowers which carpet their own fair land after the rains; but side by
side the unconcealed hatred of the religious world of their time.  In
each case, the brief sunny hours of service were soon succeeded by the
rolling up of the thunderous clouds, and these by the murderous tempest
of deadly hatred, even unto death: "Their dead bodies lay in the street
of the great city, which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt."  In
each case, there was a little handful of detached disciples, who
bitterly mourned their master's death, and took up the desecrated
corpse to lay it in the tomb; whilst they that dwelt in the earth
rejoiced and made merry, and sent gifts to one another, because they
had been tormented by their words (Rev. xi. 10).

But there the parallel ends.  The life purpose of the one culminated in
his death; with the other, it only began.  In the case of John, death
was a martyrdom, which shines brilliantly amid the murky darkness of
his time; in the case of Jesus, death was a sacrifice which put away
the sin of the world.  For John there was no immediate resurrection,
save that which all good men have of their words and influence; but his
Master saw no corruption--it was not possible for Him to be holden by
it--and in his resurrection He commenced to wield his wide and mighty
supremacy over human hearts and wills.  When the axe of Herod's
executioner had done its deadly work in the dungeons of Machaerus, the
bond which knit the disciples of John was severed also, and they were
absorbed in the followers of Christ; but when the Roman soldiers
thought their work was done, and the cry "It is finished!" had escaped
the parched lips of the dying Lord, his disciples held together in the
upper room, and continued there for more than forty days, until the
descent of the Holy Spirit formed them into the strongest organization
that this world has ever beheld.

John's influence on the world has diminished as men have receded
further from his age; but Jesus is King of the ages.  He creates, He
fashions, He leads them forth; He is with us always, to the end of the
age.  We have not to go back through the centuries to find Him in the
cradle or in Mary's arms, in the fishing-boat or on the mountain, on
the cross or in the grave; He is _here_ beside us, with us, in us, "all
the days."  John, then, was "a burning and shining torch," lifted for a
moment aloft in the murky air; but Jesus was THAT LIGHT.  As the
star-light, which fails to illumine the page of your book or the
dial-plate of your watch, is to the sunlight, as the courier is to the
sovereign, as the streamlet is to the ocean--such was John as compared
with Him whose shoe-latchet he felt himself unworthy to stoop down and
unloose.  Greatest born of women he might be; "sent from God" he was:
but One came after him who bore upon his front the designation of his
Divine origin and mission, behind whom the gates of the past closed as
when a king has passed through, and at whose girdle hang the keys of
the doors and gates of the Ages.

To read the calm idyllic pages of the Gospels, apart from some
knowledge of contemporary history, is to miss one of their deepest
lessons--that such piety and beneficence were set in the midst of a
most tumultuous and perilous age.  Those times were by no means
favourable to the cultivation of the deepest life.  The flock of God
had long left the green pastures and still waters of outward peace, and
were passing through the valley of death-shadow, every step of the path
being infested by the enemies of their peace.  The wolf, indeed, was
coming.  The national life was already being rent by those throes of
agony which betokened the passing away of an age, and reached their
climax in the Fall of Jerusalem, of which Jesus said there had been
nothing, and would be nothing, like it in the history of the world.

Herod was on the throne--crafty, cruel, sensual, imperious, and
magnificent.  The gorgeous Temple which bore his name was the scene of
priestly service and sacramental rites.  The great national feasts of
the Passover, of Tabernacles, and of Pentecost, were celebrated with
solemn pomp, and attracted vast crowds from all the world.  In every
part of the land synagogues were maintained with punctilious care, and
crowds of scribes were perpetually engaged in a microscopic study of
the law, and in the instruction of the people.  In revenue, and popular
attention, and apparent devoutness, that period had not been excelled
in the most palmy days of Solomon or Hezekiah.  But beneath this
decorous surface the rankest, foulest, most desperate corruption throve.

To the aged couple in the hill-country of Judaea, as to Mary and Joseph
at Nazareth, must have come tidings of the murder of Aristobulus, of
the cruel death of Mariamne and her sons, and of the aged Hyrcanus.
They must have groaned beneath the grinding oppression by which Herod
extorted from the poorer classes the immense revenues which he
squandered on his palaces and fortresses and on the creation of new
cities.  That he was introducing everywhere Gentile customs and games;
that he had dared to place the Roman eagle on the main entrance of the
Temple; that he had pillaged David's tomb; that he had set aside the
great council of their nation, and blinded the saintly Jochanan; that
the religious leaders, men like Caiaphas and Annas, were quite willing
to wink at the crimes of the secular power, so long as their prestige
and emoluments were secured; that the national independence for which
Judas and his brothers had striven, during the Maccabean wars, was fast
being laid at the feet of Rome, which was only too willing to take
advantage of the chaos which followed immediately upon Herod's hideous
death--such tidings must have come, in successive shocks of anguish, to
those true hearts who were waiting for the redemption of Israel, with
all the more eagerness as it seemed so long delayed, so urgently
needed.  Still, they made their yearly journeys to Jerusalem, and
participated in the great convocations, which, in outward splendour,
eclipsed memories of the past; but they realized that the glory had
departed, and that the mere husk of externalism could not long resist
the incoming tides of militarism, of the love of display, and the
corrupting taint of the worst aspects of Roman civilization.  When the
feasts were over, these pious hearts turned back to their homes among
the hills, tearing themselves from the last glimpse of the beautiful
city, with the cry, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem!"

The darkest hour precedes the dawn, and it was just at this point that
Old Testament predictions must have been so eagerly scanned by those
that watched and waited.  That the Messiah was nigh, they could not
doubt.  The term of years foretold by Daniel had nearly expired.  The
sceptre had departed from Judah, and the lawgiver from between his
feet.  Even the Gentile world was penetrated with the expectation of a
King.  Sybils in their ancient writings, hermits in their secret cells,
Magi studying the dazzling glories of the eastern heavens, had come to
the conclusion that He was at hand who would bring again the Golden Age.

And so those loyal and loving souls that often spake together, while
the Lord hearkened and heard, must have felt that as the advent of the
Lord whom they sought was nigh, that of his messenger must be nearer
still.  They started at every footfall.  They listened for every voice.
They scanned the expression of every face.  "Behold, he shall come,"
rang in their hearts like a peal of silver bells.  At any moment might
a voice be heard crying, "Cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the
stones; lift up an ensign for the peoples.  Say ye to the daughter of
Sion, Behold, thy salvation cometh."  Those anticipations were realized
in the birth of John the Baptist.


The House of Zacharias.


    "There are in this loud stunning tide
      Of human care and crime,
    With whom the melodies abide
      Of the everlasting chime;
    Who carry music in their heart
    Through dusky lane and wrangling mart
  Plying their daily task with busier feet,
  Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat."

Early History of the Baptist--God's Hidden Ones--The Hill Country of
Judea--A Childless Home--The Forerunner Announced.

To the evangelist Luke we are indebted for details of those antecedent
circumstances that ushered John the Baptist into the world.  He tells
us that he had "traced the course of all things accurately from the
first."  And in those final words, "from the first," he suggests that
he had deliberately sought to examine into those striking events from
which, as from a wide-spreading root, the great growth of Christianity
had originated.  Who of us has not sometimes followed the roots of some
newly-discovered plant deep into the black mould, intent on pursuing
them to their furthest extremity, and extricating them from the
clinging earth without injuring one delicate radicle?  So this good
physician, accustomed by his training to accurate research and
experiment, went back to scenes and events anterior to any which his
brother Evangelists recorded.  He compensated for the authority of an
eye-witness by the thoroughness and care of his investigation.

What were the sources from which the third Evangelist drew his
information?  We cannot be sure, but may hazard a suggestion, which is
supported by the archaic simplicity, the indescribable grace, the
almost idyllic beauty of his two opening chapters.  Critics have
repeatedly drawn attention to their unique character, and insisted that
they are due to some other hand than that which has given us the rest
of the story of "the Son of Man."  And why should we not attribute them
to "the Mother" herself?  It has been truly said that mothers are the
natural historians of their children's early days--never tired of
observing them, they never tire of recounting their prodigies; and, in
an especial manner, Mary had kept all things, pondering in her heart
those wonderful circumstances which had left so indelible an impression
on her life.  She who, in her over-welling joy, uttered "the
Magnificat," was surely capable, even judging from a literary and human
standpoint, of the language in which the story is told; and the facts
themselves would only stand out the clearer in her closing years, as
many another memory faded from her mind.  The granite remains when the
floods have swept away the light soil that filled the interstices of
the rocks.

It were a theme worthy of a great artist to depict!  Mary's face,
furrowed by deep lines of anguish, yet glowing with sacred fire and
holy memory.  Luke, sitting at his manuscript, now letting her tell her
story without interruption, and again interpolating an inquiry, the
words growing on the page; while, nearer than each to either, making no
tremor in the hot summer air as He comes, casting no shadow in the
brilliant eastern light--He of whom they speak and write steals in to
stand beside them, bringing all things to their remembrance by the Holy
Spirit's agency, even as He had told them.

The story of John the Baptist was so clearly part of that of Jesus,
that Mary could hardly recall the one without the other.  And, besides,
Elisabeth, as the angel said, was her kinswoman--perhaps her cousin--to
whom she naturally turned in the hour of her maidenly astonishment and
rapture.  Though much younger, Mary was united to her relative by a
close and tender tie, and it was only natural that what had happened to
Elisabeth should have impressed her almost as deeply as her own
memorable experiences.  So it is possible that from the lips of the
mother of our Lord we obtain these details of the House of Zacharias.

I.  THE QUIET IN THE LAND.--God has always had his hidden ones; and,
while the world has been rent by faction and war, ravaged by fire and
sword, and drenched with the blood of her sons, these have heard his
call to enter their chamber, and shut themselves in until the storm had
spent its fury.  It was so during the days of Ahab, when the eye of
omniscience beheld at least seven thousand who had not bowed the knee
to Baal.  It was so in the awful days of the Civil War, when Puritan
and Royalist faced each other at Naseby and Marston Moor, and the land
seemed swept in a blinding storm.  Groups of ardent souls gathered to
spend their time in worship and acts of mercy--like those at Little
Gidding, in Huntingdonshire, under the direction of Mr. Nicholas
Ferrar.  It was so when the thirty years' war desolated Germany, and
"the quiet in the land" withdrew themselves from the agitated scene of
human affairs to wait on God, embalming their hearts in hymns and poems
which exhale a perfume as from crushed flowers.

It was eminently so in the days of which we write.  Darkness covered
the earth, and gross darkness the peoples.  Herod's infamous cruelties,
craft, and bloodshed were at their height.  The country questioned with
fear what new direction his crimes might take.  The priesthood was
obsequious to his whim; the bonds of society seemed dissolved.  Theudas
and Judas of Galilee, mentioned by Gamaliel, were but specimens of the
bandit leaders who broke into revolt and harried the country districts
for the maintenance of their followers.  Greed, peculation, and lawless
violence, had ample and undisputed opportunity to despoil the national
glory and corrupt the heart of the national life.

Is it to be wondered that the godly remnant would meet in little groups
and secluded hiding-places to comfort themselves in God?  We are told,
for instance, that Anna spake of the Babe, whom she had probably
embraced in her aged trembling arms, "to all them that were looking for
the redemption of Jerusalem" (Luke ii. 38, R.V.).  What would we not
give to know something more of the members of this sacred society,
which preserved the loftiest traditions, and embodied in their lives
some of the finest traits of the religion of their forefathers!  The
gloom of their times only led them more eagerly to con the predictions
of their Hebrew prophets, and desire their accomplishment.  Full often
they would climb the heights and look out over the desert wastes to
descry the advent of the Mighty One, coming from Edom, with his
garments stained with the blood of Israel's foes.  When they met, the
burden of conversation, which flowed under vine or fig-tree, by the
wayside or in humble homes, would be of their cherished hope.  And as
they beheld the hapless condition of their fatherland, the land of
Abraham, the city of David, the cry must often have been extorted; "How
long, O Lord, holy and true, will it be ere He shall come whose right
it is who shall sit on the throne of his father David, and of whose
kingdom there shall be no end?  Come forth out of thy royal chambers, O
Prince of all the kings of the earth!  Put on the visible robes of thy
imperial majesty; take up that unlimited sceptre which thy Almighty
Father hath bequeathed Thee; for now the voice of thy bride calls Thee,
and all creatures sigh to be renewed."  So our great Milton prayed in
more recent days.

We are not drawing on our imagination in describing these true-hearted
watchers for the rising of the Day-star.  They are fully indicated in
the Gospel story.  There was Simeon, righteous and devout, unto whom it
had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death
before he had seen the Lord's Christ; and Anna, the prophetess, who
departed not from the temple, worshipping with fastings and
supplications night and day; and the guileless Nathanael, an Israelite
indeed, who had perhaps already commenced to sit at the foot of the
ladder which bound his fig-tree to the highest heaven; and the peasant
maiden Mary, the descendant of a noble house, though with fallen
fortunes, who, like some vestal virgin, clad in snowy white, watched
through the dark hours beside the flickering flame; and last, but not
least, Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth, "who were both righteous
before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord

For us, too, the times are dark.  It is as though the shadows were
being thrown far across the fields, and the light were becoming dim.
Let the children of God draw together, to encourage each other in their
holy faith, and to speak of their great hopes; for He who appeared once
to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself shall appear a second time
without sin unto salvation.  We are, as the French version puts it,
_burgesses of the skies_, "whence we wait for a Saviour, the Lord Jesus
Christ, who shall fashion anew the body of our humiliation, that it may
be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working whereby
He is able even to subject all things unto Himself."

But this attitude of spirit, which dwells in the unseen and eternal,
which counts on the indwelling of the Son of God by faith, and which
ponders deeply over the sins and sorrows of the world around, is the
temper of mind out of which the greatest deeds are wrought for the
cause of God on the earth.  The Marys who sit at Christ's feet arise to
anoint Him for his burying.  Take, for instance, the Moravian Church,
born and cradled amid the pietism of which Spener of Berlin and Franke
of Halle were the acknowledged leaders; and it has given to the world a
far larger number of missionaries in proportion to its membership than
any church of the age.  Or take the followers of George Fox, who have
maintained through unparalleled suffering their testimony for
spirituality of worship; and it is undeniable that some of the greatest
reforms which have characterised the century recently closed have found
their foremost advocates and apologists from their somewhat meagre
ranks.  Those who wait on God renew their strength.  The world ignores
them, scorning to reckon their tears and toils amid its renovating
energies; but they refuse to abate their endeavours and sacrifices on
its behalf.  They repay its neglect by more assiduous exertions, its
ingratitude by more exhausting sacrifices; content if, from out their
ranks, there presently steps one who, like John the Baptist, opens a
new chapter in the history of the race, and accelerates the advent of
the Christ.

II.  THE PARENTAGE OF THE FORERUNNER.--As the traveller emerges from
the dreary wilderness that lies between Sinai and the southern frontier
of Palestine--a scorching desert, in which Elijah was glad to find
shelter from the sword-like rays in the shade of the retem shrub--he
sees before him a long line of hills, which is the beginning of "the
hill country of Judaea" (Luke i. 39).  In contrast with the sand wastes
which he has traversed, the valleys seem to laugh and sing.  Greener
and yet greener grow the pasture lands, till he can understand how
Nabal and other sheep-masters were able to find maintenance for vast
flocks of sheep.  Here and there are the crumbled ruins which mark the
site of ancient towns and villages tenanted now by the jackal or the
wandering Arab.  Amongst these, a modern traveller has identified the
site of Juttah, the village home of the priest Zacharias and his wife

To judge by their names, we may infer that their parents years before
had been godly people.  _Zacharias_ meant _God's remembrance_; as
though he were to be a perpetual reminder to his fellows of what God
had promised, and to God of what they were expecting from his hand.
_Elisabeth_ meant _God's oath_; as though her people were perpetually
appealing to those covenant promises in which, since He could swear by
no greater, God had sworn by Himself, that He would never leave nor
forsake, and that when the sceptre departed from Judah and the
law-giver from between his feet, Shiloh should come.

Zacharias was a priest, "of the course of Abijah," and twice a year he
journeyed to Jerusalem to fulfil his office, for a week of six days and
two Sabbaths.  There were, Josephus tells us, somewhat more than 20,000
priests settled in Judaea at this time; and very many of them were like
those whom Malachi denounced as degrading and depreciating the Temple
services.  The general character of the priesthood was deeply tainted
by the corruption of the times, and as a class they were blind leaders
of the blind.  Not a few, however, were evidently deeply religious men,
for we find that "a great number of the priests," after the
crucifixion, believed on Christ and joined his followers.  In this
class we must therefore place Zacharias, who, with his wife, herself of
the daughters of Aaron, is described as being "righteous before God."

The phrases are evidently selected with care.  Many are righteous
before men; but they were righteous _before God_.  Their daily life and
walk were regulated by a careful observance of the ordinances of the
ceremonial and the commandments of the moral law.  It is evident, from
the apt and plentiful quotations from Scripture with which the song of
Zacharias is replete, that the Scriptures were deeply pondered and
reverenced in that highland home; and we have the angel's testimony to
the prayers that ascended day and night.  In all these things they were
blameless--not faultless, as judged by God's infinite standard of
rectitude, but blameless--because they lived up to the fullest limit of
their knowledge of the will of God.  They were blameless and harmless,
the children of God, without blemish, in the midst of a crooked and
perverse generation, among whom they were seen as lights in the world,
holding forth amid neighbours and friends the Word of Truth.

But they lived under the shadow of a great sorrow.  "They had no child,
because Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in
years."  When the good priest put off his official dress of white
linen, and returned to his mountain home, there was no childish voice
to welcome him.  It seemed almost certain that their family would soon
die out and be forgotten; that no child would close their eyes in
death; and that by no link whatsoever could they be connected with the
Messiah, to be the progenitor of whom was the cherished longing of each
Hebrew parent.

"They had no child!"  They would, therefore, count themselves under the
frown of God; and the mother especially felt that a reproach lay on
her.  What a clue to the anguish of the soul is furnished by her own
reflection, when she recognised the glad divine interposition on her
behalf, and cried, "Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein
He looked upon me, to take away _my reproach among men_" (Luke i. 25).

But had it not been for this sorrow they might never have been
qualified to receive the first tidings of the near approach of the
Messiah.  _Sorrow_ opens our eyes, and bids us see visions within the
vail, which cannot be described by those who have not wept.  _Sorrow_
leads us up the steep mountain of vision, and opens the panorama which
lies beyond the view of those who dare not attempt the craggy steep.
_Sorrow_ prepares us to see angels standing beside the altar of incense
at the hour of prayer, and to hear words that mortal lips may not utter
until they are fulfilled.  _Sorrow_ leads us to open our house to those
who carry a great anguish in their hearts, who come to us needing
shelter and comfort; to discover finally that we have entertained an
angel unawares, and that in some trembling maiden, threatened by
divorce from her espoused, we have welcomed the mother of the Lord
(ver. 43).  Shrink not from sorrow.  It endures but for the brief
eastern night; joy cometh in the morning, to remain.  It may be caused
by long waiting and apparently fruitless prayer.  Beneath its pressure
heart and flesh may faint.  All natural hope may have become dead, and
the soul be plunged in hopeless despair.  "Yet the Lord will command
his loving-kindness in the morning;" and it will be seen that the dull
autumn sowings of tears and loneliness and pain were the necessary
preliminary for that heavenly messenger who, standing "on the right
side of the altar of incense," shall assure us that our prayer is heard.

III.  THE ANGEL'S ANNOUNCEMENT.--One memorable autumn, when the land
was full of the grape-harvest, Zacharias left his home, in the cradle
of the hills, some three thousand feet above the Mediterranean, for his
priestly service.  Reaching the temple he would lodge in the cloisters,
and spend his days in the innermost court, which none might enter save
priests in their sacred garments.  Among the various priestly duties,
none was held in such high esteem as the offering of incense, which was
presented morning and evening, on a special golden altar, in the Holy
Place at the time of prayer.  "The whole multitude of the people were
praying without at the time of incense."  So honourable was this office
that it was fixed by lot, and none was allowed to perform it twice.
Only once in a priest's life was he permitted to sprinkle the incense
on the burning coals, which an assistant had already brought from the
altar of burnt-sacrifice, and spread on the altar of incense before the

The silver trumpets had sounded.  The smoke of the evening sacrifice
was ascending.  The worshippers that thronged the different courts,
rising tier on tier, were engaged in silent prayer.  The assistant
priest had retired; and Zacharias, for the first and only time in his
life, stood alone in the holy shrine, while the incense which he had
strewn on the glowing embers arose in fragrant clouds, enveloping and
veiling the objects around, whilst it symbolized the ascent of prayers
and intercessions not only from his own heart, but from the hearts of
his people, into the presence of God.  "And their prayer came up to his
holy habitation, even unto heaven."

What a litany of prayer poured from his heart!  For Israel, that the
chosen people should be delivered from their low estate; for the cause
of religion, that it might be revived; for the crowds without, that God
would hear the prayers they were offering toward his holy sanctuary,
and, perhaps, for Elisabeth and himself, that, if possible, God would
hear their prayer, and, if not, that He would grant them to bear
patiently their heavy sorrow.

"And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right
side of the altar of incense."  Mark how circumstantial the narrative
is.  There could be no mistake.  He stood--and he stood on the right
side.  It was Gabriel who stands in the presence of God, who had been
sent to speak to him, and declare the good tidings that his prayer was
heard; that his wife should bear a son, who should be called John, that
the child should be welcomed with joy, should be a Nazarite from his
birth, should be filled with the Holy Spirit from his birth, should
inherit the spirit and power of Elias, and should go before the face of
Christ to prepare his way, by turning the hearts of the fathers to the
children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just.

He tarried long in the temple, and what wonder!  The people would have
ceased to marvel at the long suspense, could they have known the cause
of the delay.  Presently he came out; but when he essayed to pronounce
the customary blessing his lips were dumb.  He made signs as he reached
forth his hands in the attitude of benediction; but that day no
blessing fell on their upturned faces.  He continued making signs unto
them and remained dumb.  Dumb, because he questioned the likelihood of
so good and gracious an answer.  Dumb, because he believed not the
archangel's words.  Dumb, that he might learn in silence and solitude
the full purposes of God, to set them presently to song.  Dumb, that
the tidings might not spread as yet.  Dumb, as the representative of
that wonderful system, which for so long had spoken to mankind with
comparatively little result, but was now to be superseded by the Word
of God.

With the light of that glory on his face, and those sweet notes of
"Fear not" ringing in his heart, Zacharias continued to fulfil the
duties of his ministration, and, when his work was fulfilled, departed
unto his house.  But that day was long remembered by the people,
prelude as it was to the time when their blessings would no longer come
from Ebal or Gerizim, but from Calvary; and when the great High Priest
would utter from heaven the ancient words:

  The Lord bless thee and keep thee.
  The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee.
  The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.


His Schools and Schoolmasters.

(LUKE 1.)

  "Oh to have watched thee through the vineyards wander,
    Pluck the ripe ears, and into evening roam!--
  Followed, and known that in the twilight yonder
    Legions of angels shone about thy home!"
            F. W. H. MYERS.

Home-Life--Preparing for his Life-Work--The Vow of Separation--A Child of
the Desert

Zacharias and Elisabeth had probably almost ceased to pray for a child,
or to urge the matter.  It seemed useless to pray further.  There had
been no heaven-sent sign to assure them that there was any likelihood of
their prayer being answered, and nature seemed to utter a final No; when
suddenly the angel of God broke into the commonplace of their life, like
a meteorite into the unrippled water of a mountain-sheltered lake,
bringing the assurance that there was no need for fear, and the
announcement that their prayer was heard.  It must have been like hearing
news that a ship, long overdue and almost despaired of, has suddenly made

It is not impossible that prayers that we have ceased to pray, and are in
despair about, will yet return to us with the words, _Thy supplication is
heard_, endorsed on them in our Father's handwriting.  Not infrequently
dividends are paid on investments which we have given up as valueless.
Fruit that mellows longest in the sun is ripest.  Such things may
transcend altogether our philosophy of prayer; but we are prepared for
this, since God is accustomed to do exceeding abundantly above all that
we ask or think.

On his arrival in his home, the aged priest, by means of the
writing-table afterwards referred to, informed his wife, who apparently
had not accompanied him, of all that had happened, even to the name which
the child was to bear, She, at least, seems to have found no difficulty
in accepting the divine assurance, and during her five months of
seclusion she nursed great and mighty thoughts in her heart, in the
belief and prayer that her child would become all that his name is
supposed to signify, _the gift of Jehovah_.  It was Elisabeth also who
recognised in Mary the mother of her Lord, greeted her as blessed among
women, and assured her that there would be for her a fulfilment of the
things which had been promised her.

Month succeeded month, but Zacharias neither heard nor spoke.  His
friends had to make signs to him, for unbelief has the effect of shutting
man out of the enjoyment of life, and hindering his usefulness.  How
different this time of waiting from the blessedness it brought to his
wife's young relative, who believed the heavenly messenger.  He was
evidently a good man, and well versed in the history of his people.  His
soul, as we learn from his song, was full of noble pride in the great and
glorious past.  He could believe that when Abraham and Sarah were past
age, a child was born to _them_, who filled their tent with his merry
prattle and laughter; but he could not believe that such a blessing could
fall to his lot.  And is not that the point where our faith staggers
still?  We can believe in the wonder-working power of God on the distant
horizon of the past, or on the equally distant horizon of the future; but
that He should have a definite and particular care for _our_ life, that
_our_ prayers should touch Him, that He should give us the desire of our
heart--this staggers us, and we feel it is too good to be true.

During the whole period that the stricken but expectant priest spent in
his living tomb, shut off from communication with the outer world, his
spirit was becoming charged with holy emotion, that waited for the first
opportunity of expression.  Such an opportunity came at length.  His
lowly dwelling was one day crowded with an eager and enthusiastic throng
of relatives and friends.  They had gathered to congratulate the aged
pair, to perform the initial rite of Judaism, and to name the infant boy
that lay in his mother's arms.  Ah, what joy was hers when they came to
"magnify the Lord's mercy towards her, and to rejoice with her"!  As the
people passed in and out, there was a new glow in the brilliant eastern
sunlight, a new glory on the familiar hills.

In their perplexity at the mother's insistence that the babe's name
should be John--none of his kindred being known by that name--they
appealed to his father, who with trembling hand inscribed on the wax of
the writing tablet the verdict, "His name is John."  So soon as he had
broken the iron fetter of unbelief in thus acknowledging the fulfilment
of the angel's words, "his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue
loosed, and he spake, blessing God.  And fear came on all that dwelt
round about them."  All these sayings quickly became the staple theme of
conversation throughout all the hill-country of Judaea; and wherever they
came, they excited the profoundest expectation.  People laid them up in
their hearts, saying, "What, then, shall this child be?"

"And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit."  "And the hand of the
Lord was with him."

There were several remarkable formative influences operating on this
young life.

I.  THE SCHOOL OF HOME.--_His father was a priest_.  John's earliest
memories would register the frequent absence of his father in the
fulfilment of his course; and, on his return, with what eagerness would
the boy drink in a recital of all that had transpired in the Holy City!
We can imagine how the three would sit together beneath their trellised
vine, in the soft light of the fading sunset, and talk of Zion, their
chief joy.  No wonder that in after days, as he looked on Jesus as He
walked, he pointed to Him and said, "Behold the Lamb of God"; for, from
the earliest, his young mind had been saturated with thoughts of

When old enough his parents would take him with them to one of the great
festivals, where, amid the thronging crowds, his boyish eyes opened for
the first time upon the stately Temple, the order and vestments of the
priests, the solemn pomp of the Levitical ceremonial.  The young heart
dilated and expanded with wonder and pride; but how little he realized
that his ministry would be the first step to its entire subversal.

He would be also taught carefully in the _Holy Scriptures_.  Like the
young Timothy, he would know them from early childhood.  The song of
Zacharias reveals a vivid and realistic familiarity with the prophecies
and phraseology of the Scriptures; and as the happy parents recited them
to his infant mind, they would stay to emphasize them with impressive
personal references.  What would we not have given to hear Zacharias
quote Isaiah xl. or Malachi iii., and turn to the lad at his knee,
saying--"These words refer to thee".--

"Yea, and thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Most High; for
thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways."

Would not the aged priest speak to his son in thoughts and words like
those with which his song is so replete; might he not speak to him in
some such way as this: "My boy, God has fulfilled his holy covenant, the
oath which He sware unto Abraham, our father; because of the tender mercy
of our God, the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to shine upon them
that sit in darkness, and to guide our feet into the way of peace."  Then
he would proceed to tell him the marvellous story of his Kinsman's birth
in Bethlehem, and of his growing grace in Nazareth.  "Blessed be the
Lord, the God of Israel," the old man said; "for He hath visited and
redeemed his people, and hath raised up a horn of salvation for us in the
house of his servant David, as He spake by the mouth of his holy
prophets, which have been since the world began."  Next the father would
tell as much of the story of Herod's crimes, and of his oppressive rule,
as the lad could understand; and explain how there would soon be
"salvation from their enemies, and from the hand of all that hated them."
And his young soul would be thrilled by the hopes which were bursting in
the bud, and so near breaking into flower.

Sometimes when they were abroad together in the early dawn, and saw the
first peep of day, the father would say: "John, do you see that light
breaking over the hills?  What that day-spring is to the world, Jesus,
thy cousin at Nazareth, will be to the darkness of sin."  Then, turning
to the morning star, shining in the path of the dawn, and paling as they
gazed, he would say: "See thy destiny, my son: I am an old man, and shall
not live to see thee in thy meridian strength; but thou shalt shine for
only a brief space, and then decrease, whilst He shall increase from the
faint flush of day-spring to the perfect day."  And might not the child
reply, with a flash of intelligent appreciation?--"Yes, father, I
understand; but I shall be satisfied if only I have prepared the way of
the Lord."

_There were also the associations of the surrounding country_.  The story
of Abraham would often be recited in the proximity of Machpelah's sacred
cave.  The career of David could not be unfamiliar to a youth who was
within easy reach of the haunts of the shepherd-psalmist.  And the story
of the Maccabees would stir his soul, as his parents recounted the
exploits of Judas and his brethren, in which the ancient Hebrew faith and
prowess had revived in one last glorious outburst.

How ineffaceable are the impressions of the Home!  What the father is
when he comes back at night from his toils, and what the mother is all
day; what may be the staple of conversation in the home: whether the
father is willing to be the companion of his child, answering his
questions, and superintending the gradual unfolding of his mind; how
often the Bible is opened and explained; how the weekly rest-day is
spent; the attitude of the home towards strong drink in every shape and
form, and all else that might injure the young life, as gas does
plants--all these are vital to the right nurture and direction of boys
and girls who can only wax strong in spirit when all early influences
combine in the same direction.

II.  THERE WAS THE SCHOOL OF HIS NAZARITE-VOW.--The angel, who announced
his birth, foretold that he should drink neither wine nor strong drink
from his birth, but that he should be filled with the Holy Spirit.
"John," said our Lord, "came neither eating nor drinking."  This
abstinence from all stimulants was a distinct sign of the Nazarite,
together with the unshorn locks, and the care with which he abstained
from contact with death.  In some cases, the vow of the Nazarite might be
taken for a time, or, as in the case of Samson, Samuel, and John, it
might be for life.  But, whether for shorter or longer, the Nazarite held
himself as peculiarly given up to the service of God, pliant to the least
indication of his will, quick to catch the smallest whisper of his voice,
and mighty in his strength.

"Mother, why do I wear my hair so long?  You never cut it, as the mothers
of other boys do."

"No, my son," was the proud and glad reply; "you must never cut it as
long as you live: _you are a Nazarite_."

"Mother, why may I not taste the grapes?  The boys say they are so nice
and sweet.  May I not, next vintage?"

"No, never," his mother would reply; "you must never touch the fruit of
the vine: _you are a Nazarite_."

If, as they walked along the public way, they saw a bone left by some
hungry dog, or a little bird fallen to the earth to die, and the boy
would approach to touch either, the mother would call him back to her
side, saying, "Thou must never touch a dead thing.  If thy father were to
die, or I, beside thee, thou must not move us from the spot, but call for
help.  Remember always that thou art separated unto God; his vows are
upon thee, and thou must let nothing, either in symbol or reality, steal
away his power from thy young heart and life."

The effect of this would be excellent.  It would give a direction and
purpose to the lad's thoughts and anticipations.  He realized that he was
set apart for a great mission in life.  The brook heard the call of the
sea.  Besides which, he would acquire self-restraint, self-mastery.

What is it to be "strong in spirit"?  The man who carries everything
before him with the impetuous rush of his nature, before whose outbursts
men tremble, and who insists in all things on asserting his wild,
masterful will--is he the strong man?  Nay! most evidently he must be
classed among the weaklings.  The strength of a man is in proportion to
the feelings which he curbs and subdues, and not which subdue him.  The
man who receives a flagrant insult, and answers quietly; the man who
bears a hopeless daily trial, and remains silent; the man who with strong
passions remains chaste, or with a quick sense of injustice can refrain
himself and remain calm--these are strong men; and John waxed strong,
because, from the earliest dawn of thought, he was taught the necessity
of refusing things which in themselves might have been permissible, but
for him were impossible.

On each of us rests the vow of separation by right of our union with the
Son of God, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners.
Remember how He went without the camp, bearing our reproach; how they
cast Him forth to the death of the cross; and how He awaits us on the
Easter side of death--and surely we can find no pleasure in the world
where He found no place.  His death has made a lasting break between his
followers and the rest of men.  They are crucified to the world, and the
world to them.  Let us not taste of the intoxicating joys in which the
children of the present age indulge; let us allow no Delilah passion to
pass her scissors over our locks; and let us be very careful not to
receive contamination; to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of
darkness, but to come out and be separate, not touching the unclean thing.

But while we put away all that injures our own life or the lives of
others, let us be very careful to discriminate, to draw the line where
God would have it drawn, exaggerating and extenuating nothing.  It is
important to remember that while the motto of the old covenant was
Exclusion, even of innocent and natural things, that of the new is
Inclusion.  Moses, under the old, forbade the Jews having horses; but
Zechariah said that in the new they might own horses, only "Holiness to
the Lord" must be engraven on the bells of their harness.  Christ has
come to sanctify all life.  Whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do,
we are to do all to his glory.  Disciples are not to be taken out of the
world, but kept from its evil.  "Every creature of God is good, and
nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving; for it is
sanctified by the Word of God, and prayer."  Natural instincts are not to
be crushed, but transfigured.

This is the great contrast between the Baptist and the Son of Man.  The
Nazarite would have felt it a sin against the law of his vocation and
office to touch anything pertaining to the vine.  Christ began his signs
by changing water into wine, though of an innocuous kind, for the
peasants' wedding at Cana of Galilee.  John would have lost all sanctity
had he touched the bodies of the dead, or the flesh of a leper.  Christ
would touch a bier, pass his hands over the seared flesh of the leper,
and stand sympathetically beside the grave of his friend.  Thus we catch
a glimpse of our Lord's meaning when He affirms that, though John was the
greatest of women born, yet the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater
than he.

III.  THERE WAS THE SCHOOL OF THE DESERT.--"The child was in the deserts
till the day of his showing unto Israel."  Probably Zacharias, and
Elisabeth also, died when John was quite young.  But the boy had grown
into adolescence, was able to care for himself, and "the hand of the Lord
was with him."

Beneath the guidance and impulse of that hand he tore himself from the
little home where he had first seen the tender light of day, and spent
happy years, to go forth from the ordinary haunts of men, perhaps hardly
knowing whither.  There was a wild restlessness in his soul.  A young
man, pleading the other day with his father to be allowed to emigrate to
the West, urged that whereas there are _inches_ here there are _acres_
there; and something of this kind may have been in the heart of John.  He
desired to free himself from the conventionalities and restraints of the
society amid which he had been brought up, that he might develop after
his own fashion, with no laws but those he received from heaven.

Fatherless, motherless, brotherless, sisterless--a lone man, he passed
forth into the great and terrible wilderness of Judaea, which is so
desolate that the Jews called it the abomination of desolation.
Travellers who have passed over and through it say that it is destitute
of all animal life, save a chance vulture or fox.  For the most part, it
is a waste of sand, swept by wild winds.  When Jesus was there some two
or three years after, He found nothing to eat; the stones around mocked
his hunger; and there was no company save that of the wild beasts.

In this great and terrible wilderness, John supported himself by eating
locusts--the literal insect, which is still greatly esteemed by the
natives--and wild honey, which abounded in the crevices of the rocks;
while for clothing he was content with a coat of coarse camel's hair,
such as the Arab women make still; and a girdle of skin about his loins.
A cave, like that in which David and his men often found refuge, sufficed
him for a home, and the water of the streams that hurried to the Dead
Sea, for his beverage.

Can we wonder that under such a regimen he grew strong?  We become weak
by continual contact with our fellows.  We sink to their level, we
accommodate ourselves to their fashions and whims; we limit the natural
developments of character on God's plan; we take on the colour of the
bottom on which we lie.  But in loneliness and solitude, wherein we meet
God, we become strong.  God's strong men are rarely clothed in soft
raiment, or found in kings' courts.  Obadiah, who stood in awe of Ahab,
was a very different man from Elijah, who was of the inhabitants of
Gilead, and stood before the Lord.

Yes, and there is a source of strength beside.  He who is filled and
taught, as John was, by the Spirit, is strengthened by might in the inner
man.  All things are possible to him that believes.  Simon Bar-Jona
becomes Peter when he touches the Christ.  The youths faint and are
weary, and the young men utterly fall; but they that wait on the Lord
renew their strength: they who know God are strong and do exploits.


The Prophet of the Highest.


    "Ye hermits blest, ye holy maids,
      The nearest heaven on earth,
    Who talk with God in shadowy glades,
      Free from rude care and mirth;
  To whom some viewless Teacher brings
  The secret love of rural things,
  The moral of each fleeting cloud and gale,
  The whispers from above, that haunt the twilight vale."

Formative Influences--A Historical Parallel--The Burning of the
Vanities--"Sent from God"

"Thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Most High"--thus
Zacharias addressed his infant son, as he lay in the midst of that
group of wondering neighbours and friends.  What a thrill of ecstasy
quivered in the words!  A long period, computed at four hundred years,
had passed since the last great Hebrew prophet had uttered the words of
the Highest.  Reaching back from him to the days of Moses had been a
long line of prophets, who had passed down the lighted torch from hand
to hand.  And the fourteen generations, during which the prophetic
office had been discontinued, had gone wearily.  But now hope revived,
as the angel-voice proclaimed the advent of a prophet.  Our Lord
corroborated his words when, in after days, He said that John had been
a prophet, and something more.  "But what went ye out to see?" He
asked.  "A prophet?  Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet."

The Hebrew word that stands for _prophet_ is said to be derived from a
root signifying "to boil or bubble over," and suggests a fountain
bursting from the heart of the man into which God had poured it.  It is
a mistake to confine the word to the prediction of coming events; for
so employed it would hardly be applicable to men like Moses, Samuel,
and Elijah, in the Old Testament, or John the Baptist and the apostle
Paul, in the New, who were certainly prophets in the deepest
significance of that term.  Prophecy means the forth-telling of the
Divine message.  The prophet is borne along by the stream of Divine
indwelling and inflowing, whether he utters the truth for the moment or
anticipates the future.  "God spake _in_ the prophets" (Hebrews i. 1,
R.V.).  And when they were conscious of his mighty moving and stirring
within, woe to them if they did not utter it in burning words, fresh
minted from the heart.

With Malachi, the succession that had continued unbroken from the very
foundation of the Jewish commonwealth had terminated.  Pious Israelites
might have found befitting expression for that lament in the words, "We
see not our signs: there is no more any prophet" (Psa. lxxiv. 9).

But as the voice of Old Testament prophecy ceased, with its last breath
it foretold that it would be followed, in the after time, by a new and
glorious revival of the noblest traditions of the prophetic office.
"Behold," so God spake by Malachi, "I will send you Elijah the prophet
before the great and terrible day of the Lord come.  And he shall turn
the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children
to their fathers; lest I come and smite the earth with a curse" (Mal.
iv. 5, 6).

WAS MOULDED.--Amongst these we must place in the foremost rank _the
Prophecies_, which had given a forecast of his career.  From his
childhood and upwards they had been reiterated in his ear by his
parents, who would never weary of reciting them.

How often he would ponder the reference to himself in the great
Messianic prediction--"Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your
God....  The voice of one that crieth, Prepare ye the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God...."  There was no
doubt as to the relevance of those words to himself (Luke i. 76; Matt.
iii. 3).  And it must have unconsciously wrought mightily in the
influence it wielded over his character and ministry.

There was, also, that striking anticipation by Malachi which we have
already quoted, and which directly suggested Elijah as his model.  Had
not Gabriel himself alluded to it, when he foretold that the predicted
child would go before the Messiah, in the spirit and power of Elijah
(Luke i. 17)?  And again his statement was confirmed by our Lord in
after days (Matt. xi. 14).

Thus the great figure of Elijah was ever before the mind of the growing
youth, as his model and inspiration.  He found himself perpetually
asking, How did Elijah act, and what would he do here and now?  And
there is little doubt that his choice of the lonely wilderness, of the
rough mantle of camel's hair, of the abrupt and arousing form of
address, was suggested by that village of Thisbe in the land of Gilead,
and those personal characteristics which were so familiar in the
Prophet of Fire.

But the mind of the Forerunner must also have been greatly exercised by
_the lawlessness and crime_ which involved all classes of his
countrymen in a common condemnation.  The death of Herod, occurring
when John was yet a child, dependent on the care of the good Elisabeth,
had led to disturbances which afforded an excuse for the Roman
occupation of Jerusalem.  The sceptre had departed from Judah, and the
lawgiver from between his feet.  The high priesthood was a mere forfeit
in the deals of Idumaean tetrarchs and Roman governors.  The publicans
were notorious for their exactions, their covetousness, their cheating
and oppression of the people.  Soldiers filled the country with
violence, extortion, and discontent.  The priests were hirelings; the
Pharisees were hypocrites; the ruling classes had set aside their
primitive simplicity and purity, and were given up to the
voluptuousness and licence of the Empire.  "Brood of vipers" was
apparently not too strong a phrase to use of the foremost religious
leaders of the day--at least, when used, its relevance passed without

Tidings of the evil that was overflowing the land like a deluge of ink
were constantly coming to the ears of this eager soul, filling it with
horror and dismay; and to this must be traced much of the austerity
which arrested the attention of his contemporaries.  The idea which
lies beneath the fasting and privation of so many of God's servants,
has been that of an overwhelming sorrow, which has taken away all taste
for the pleasures and comforts of life.  And this was the thought by
which John was penetrated.  On the one hand, there was his deep and
agonizing conviction of the sin of Israel; and on the other, the belief
that the Messiah must be nigh, even at the doors.  Thus the pressure of
the burden increased on him till he was forced to give utterance to the
cry it extorted from his soul: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at

But in addition to these we must add _the vision of God_, which must
have been specially vouchsafed to him whilst he sojourned in those
lonely wilds.  He spoke once of Him "who sent him to baptize."
Evidently he had become accustomed to detect his presence and hear his
voice.  Those still small accents which had fallen on the ear of his
great prototype had thrilled his soul.  He, too, had seen the Lord high
and lifted up, had heard the chant of the seraphim, and had felt the
live coal touch his lips, as it had been caught from the altar by the
seraph's tongs.

This has ever been characteristic of the true prophet.  He has been a
seer.  He has spoken, because he has beheld with his eyes, looked upon,
and handled, the very Word of God.  The Divine Prophet, speaking for
all that had preceded Him, said: "We speak that which we know, and
testify that we have seen."

In this we may have some share.  It is permitted to us also to see; to
climb the Mount of Vision, and look on the glory of God in the face of
Jesus Christ; to have revealed to us things that eye hath not seen, nor
ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived.  Let us remember that we are
to be God's _witnesses_ in the Jerusalem of the home, the Judaea of our
immediate neighbours, and to the uttermost parts of the earth of our
profession or daily calling.  God demands not advocates, but witnesses;
and we must see for ourselves, before we can bear witness to others,
the glory of that light still flushing our faces, and the accent of
conviction minted in our speech.

These are the three signs of a prophet: vision, a deep conviction of
sin and impending judgment, and the gushing forth of moving and
eloquent speech; and each of these was apparent, in an exalted and
extreme degree, in John the son of Zacharias.

spirit and power of Elijah, so, four hundred years ago, in the lovely
city of Florence, a man was sent from God to testify against the sins
of his age, who in many particulars so exactly corresponds with our
Lord's forerunner that the one strongly recalls the other, and it may
help us to bring the circumstances of the Baptist's ministry within a
measurable distance of ourselves if we briefly compare them with the
career of Girolamo Savonarola.  It must, of course, be always borne in
mind that the great Florentine could lay no claim to the peculiar and
unique position and power of the Baptist.  But, in many respects, there
is a remarkable parallel and similarity between them, which will help
us to translate the old Hebrew conceptions into our modern life.

The physician's household at Ferrara, into which Savonarola was born on
September 21, 1452, was probably no more distinguished amid other
families of the town than that of Zacharias and Elisabeth in the hill
country of Judaea.

And as we read of the invincible love of truth which characterized the
keen and intelligent lad, we are forcibly reminded of the Baptist,
whose whole life was an eloquent protest on behalf of reality.  In one
of his greatest sermons Savonarola declared that he had always striven
after truth with all his might, and maintained a constant war against
falsehood.  "The more trouble"--they are his own words--"I bestowed
upon my quest, the greater became my longing, so that for it I was
prepared to abandon life itself.  When I was but a boy, I had such
thoughts; and from that time, the desire and longing after this good
has gone on increasing to the present day."

We cannot read of Savonarola's saintly life, over which even the breath
of calumny has never cast a stain--of his depriving himself of every
indulgence, content with the hardest couch and roughest clothing, and
just enough of the plainest food to support life--without remembering
the camel's cloth, the locusts and wild honey of the Baptist.

If John's lot was cast on evil days, when religion suffered most in the
house of her friends, so was it with Savonarola.  The fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries witnessed the increasing corruption and
licentiousness of popes and clergy.  The offices of cardinal and bishop
were put up to auction, and sold to the highest bidder.  The bishop
extorted money from the priests, and these robbed the people.  The
grossest immorality was prevalent in all ranks of the Church, and
without concealment.  Even the monasteries and convents were often dens
of vice.  "Italy," said Machiavelli, "has lost all piety and all
religion.  We have to thank the Church and the priests for our
abandoned wickedness."

As John beheld the fire and fan of impending judgment, so the burden of
Savonarola's preaching was that the Church was about to be chastised,
and afterwards renewed.  So powerful was this impression on the
preacher's mind that it can best be described in his own words as a
vision.  He tells us that on one occasion the heavens seemed to open
before him, and there appeared a representation of the calamities that
were coming on the Church; on another, he saw, in the middle of the
sky, a hand bearing a sword, on which words of doom were written.  He
described himself as one who looked into the invisible world.

The herald of Jesus possessed a marvellous eloquence, beneath which the
whole land was moved; and so it was with Savonarola.  During the eight
years that he preached in the cathedral, it was thronged with vast
crowds; and as he pleaded for purity of life and simplicity of manners,
"women threw aside jewels and finery, libertines were transformed into
sober citizens, bankers and tradesmen restored their ill-gotten gains."
In Lent, 1497, took place what is known as the Burning of the Vanities.
Bands of children were sent forth to collect from all parts of the
city, indecent books and pictures, carnival masks and costumes, cards,
dice, and all such things.  A pile was erected, sixty feet in height,
and fired amid the sound of trumpets and pealing bells.

What Herod was to John the Baptist, the Pope and the magnificent
Lorenzo di Medici were to Savonarola.  The latter seems to have felt a
strange fascination towards the eloquent preacher, tried to attach him
to his court, was frequent in his attendance at San Marco, and gave
largely to his offertories.  To use the words of the New Testament, he
feared him, "knowing that he was a righteous man, and a holy" (Mark vi.
20).  But Savonarola took care to avoid any sign of compliance or
compromise; declined to pay homage to Lorenzo for promotion to high
ecclesiastical functions; returned his gold from the offertories; and
when they ran to tell him that Lorenzo was walking in the convent
garden, answered, "If he has not asked for me, do not disturb his
meditations or mine."

Like John, Savonarola was unceasing in his denunciation of the
hypocritical religion which satisfied itself with outward observances.
"I tell you," he said, "that the Lord willeth not that ye fast on such
a day or at such an hour; but willeth that ye avoid sin all the days of
your life.  Observe how they go about--seeking indulgences and pardons,
ringing bells, decking altars, dressing churches.  God heedeth not your

John's exhortation to "Behold the Lamb of God" finds an echo in the
noble utterance of this illumined soul, who, be it remembered,
anticipated Luther's Reformation by a hundred years.  "If all the
ecclesiastical hierarchy be corrupt, the believer must turn to Christ,
who is the primary cause, and say: 'Thou art my Priest and my

The fate of martyrdom that befell John was awarded also to Savonarola.
Through the impetuosity of his followers, he was involved in a
challenge to ordeal by fire.  But by the manoeuvres of his foes, the
expectations of the populace in this direction were disappointed, and
their anger aroused.  "To San Marco!" shouted their leaders.  To San
Marco they went, fired the buildings, burst open the doors, fought
their way into the cloisters and church, dragged Savonarola from his
devotions, and thrust him into a loathsome dungeon.  After languishing
there, amid every indignity and torture, for some weeks, on May 23,
1498, he was led forth to die.  The bishop, whose duty it was to
pronounce his degradation, stumbled at the formula declaring--"I
separate thee from the Church, militant and triumphant."  "From the
militant thou mayest, but from the triumphant thou canst not," was the
martyr's calm reply.  He met his end with unflinching fortitude.  He
was strangled, his remains hung in chains, burned, and the ashes flung
into the river.  When the commissioners of the Pope arrived at his
trial, they brought with them express orders that he was to die, "even
though he were a _second John the Baptist_."  It is thus that the
apostate Church has always dealt with her noblest sons.  But Truth,
struck to the ground, revives.  Hers are the eternal years.  Within a
few years, Luther was nailing his theses at the door of the church at
Wittenberg, and the Reformation was on its way.

There is a legend, which at least contains a true suggestion, that when
Savonarola was on his way to Florence from Genoa, as a young man, his
strength failed him as he was crossing the Apennines, but that a
mysterious stranger appeared to him, restored his courage, led him to a
hospice, compelled him to take food, and afterwards accompanied him to
his destination; but on reaching the San Gallo gate he vanished, with
the words, _Remember to do that for which God hath sent thee!_

The story recalls forcibly the words with which the evangelist John
introduces his notice of the Forerunner--"There was a man sent from
God, whose name was John."  Men are always coming, sent from God,
specially adapted to their age, and entrusted with the message which
the times demand.  See to it that thou too realize thy divine mission;
for Jesus said, "As the Father hath sent Me, even so send I you."
Every true life is a mission from God.

And when we read the words of the apostle Paul about John "fulfilling
his course," we may well ask for grace that we may fill up to the brim
the measure of our opportunities, that we may realize to the full God's
meaning and intention in creating us: and so our lives shall mate with
the Divine Ideal, like sublime words with some heavenly strain, each
completing the other.


The First Ministry of the Baptist.


  "Hark, what a sound, and too divine for hearing,
    Stirs on the earth and trembles in the air!
  Is it the thunder of the Lord's appearing?
    Is it the music of his people's prayer?

  "Surely He cometh, and a thousand voices
    Shout to the saints, and to the deaf and dumb;
  Surely He cometh, and the earth rejoices,
    Glad in his coming who hath sworn, I come."
            F. W. H. MYERS.

The Preaching of Repentance--His Power as a Preacher--His
Message--Warning of Impending Judgment--The Wages of Sin

Thirty years had left their mark on the Forerunner.  The aged priest
and his wife Elisabeth had been carried to their grave by other hands
than those of the young Nazarite.  The story of his miraculous birth,
and the expectations it had aroused, had almost died out of the memory
of the countryside.  For many years John had been living in the caves
that indent the limestone rocks of the desolate wilderness which
extends from Hebron to the western shores of the Dead Sea.  By the use
of the scantiest fare, and roughest garb, he had brought his body under
complete mastery.  From nature, from the inspired page, and from direct
fellowship with God, he had received revelations which are only
vouchsafed to those who can stand the strain of discipline in the
school of solitude and privation.  He had carefully pondered also the
signs of the times, of which he received information from the Bedouin
and others with whom he came in contact.  Blended with all other
thoughts, John's heart was filled with the advent of Him, so near akin
to himself, who, to his certain knowledge, was growing up, a few months
his junior, in an obscure highland home, but who was speedily to be
manifested to Israel.

At last the moment arrived for him to utter the mighty burden that
pressed upon him; and "in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar,
Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee,
Annas and Caiaphas the high priests, the word of God came unto John,
the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness."  It may have befallen thus.
One day, as a caravan of pilgrims was slowly climbing the mountain
gorges threaded by the road between Jerusalem and Jericho, or halted
for a moment in the noontide heat, they were startled by the appearance
of a gaunt and sinewy man, with flowing raven locks, and a voice which
must have been as sonorous and penetrating as a clarion, who cried,
"Repent! the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."

It was as though a spark had fallen on dry tinder.  The tidings spread
with wonderful rapidity that in the wilderness of Judaea one was to be
met who recalled the memory of the great prophets, and whose burning
eloquence was of the same order as of Isaiah or Ezekiel.  Instantly
people began to flock to him from all sides.  "There went out to him
Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan."  The
neighbourhood suddenly became black with hurrying crowds--as Klondike,
when the news of the discovery of gold began to spread.  From lip to
lip the tidings sped of a great leader and preacher, who had suddenly

He seems finally to have taken his stand not far from the rose-clad
oasis of Jericho, on the banks of the Jordan; and men of every tribe,
class, and profession, gathered thither, listening eagerly, or
interrupting him with loud cries for help.  The population of the
metropolis, familiar with the Temple services, and accustomed to the
splendour of the palace; fishermen from the Lake of Gennesaret, dusky
sons of Ishmael from the desert of Gilead; the proud Pharisee; the
detested publican, who had fattened on the sorrows and burdens of the
people--were there, together with crowds of ordinary people that could
find no resting-place in the schools or systems of religious thought of
which Jerusalem was the centre.

of the prophet was almost obsolete_.  Several centuries, as we have
seen, had passed since the last great prophet had finished his
testimony.  The oldest man living at that time could not remember
having seen a man who had ever spoken to a prophet.  It seemed as
unlikely, to adopt the phrase of another, that another prophet should
arise in that formal, materialistic age, as that another cathedral
should be added to the splendid remains of Gothic glory which tell us
of those bygone days when there were giants in the land.

Moreover, _John gave such abundant evidence of sincerity--of reality_.
His independence of anything that this world could give made men feel
that whatever he said was inspired by his direct contact with things as
they literally are.  It was certain that his severe and lonely life had
rent the vail, and given him the knowledge of facts and realities,
which were as yet hidden from ordinary men, though waiting, soon to be
revealed; and it was equally certain that his words were a faithful and
adequate presentation of what he saw.  He spoke what he knew, and
testified what he had seen.  His accent of conviction was unmistakable.
When men see the professed prophet of the Unseen and Eternal as keen
after his own interests as any worldling, shrewd at a bargain,
captivated by show, obsequious to the titled and wealthy; when they
discover the man who predicts the dissolution of all things carefully
investing the proceeds of the books in which he publishes his
predictions--they are apt to reduce to a minimum their faith in his
words.  But there was no trace of this in the Baptist, and therefore
the people went forth to him.

_Above all, he appealed to their moral convictions, and, indeed,
expressed them_.  The people knew that they were not as they should be.
For a long time this consciousness had been gaining ground; and now
they flocked around the man who revealed themselves to themselves, and
indicated with unfaltering decision the course of action they should
adopt.  How marvellous is the fascination which he exerts over men who
will speak to their inner-most souls!  This has always been the source
of power to the great orators of the Romish Church--men like Massillon,
for instance--and to refuse to use this method of approach is to forego
one of the mightiest weapons in the repertory of Christian appeal.  If
we deal only with the intellect or imagination, the novelist or
essayist may successfully compete with us.  It is in his direct appeal
to the heart and conscience, that the servant of God exerts his supreme
and unrivalled power.  Though a man may shrink from the preaching of
repentance, yet, if it tell the truth about himself, he will be
irresistibly attracted to hear the voice that harrows his soul.  John
rebuked Herod for many things; but still the royal offender sent for
him again and again, and heard him gladly.

It is expressly said that John saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming
to his baptism (Matt. iii. 7).  Their advent appears to have caused him
some surprise.  "Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from
the wrath to come?"  The strong epithet he used of them suggests that
they came as critics, because they were unwilling to surrender the
leadership of the religious life of Israel, and were anxious to keep in
touch with the new movement, until they could sap its vitality, or
divert its force into the channels of their own influence.

But it is quite likely that in many cases there were deeper reasons.
_The Pharisees_ were the ritualists and formalists of their day, who
would wrangle about the breadth of a phylactery, and decide to an inch
how far a man might walk on the Sabbath day; but the mere externals of
religion will never permanently satisfy the soul made in the likeness
of God.  Ultimately it will turn from them with a great nausea and an
insatiable desire for the living God.  As for _the Sadducees_, they
were the materialists of their time.  The reaction of superstition, it
has been said, is to infidelity; and the reaction from Pharisaism was
to Sadduceeism.  Disgusted and outraged by the trifling of the
literalists of Scripture interpretation, the Sadducee denied that there
was an eternal world and a spiritual state, and asserted that "there is
no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit."  But mere negation can
never satisfy.  The heart still moans out its sorrow under the darkness
of agnosticism, as the ocean sighing under a starless midnight.
Nature's instincts are more cogent than reason.  It was hardly to be
wondered at, then, that these two great classes were largely
represented in the crowds that gathered on the banks of the Jordan.

PREACHING.--(1) "_The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand_."  To a Jew that
phrase meant the re-establishment of the Theocracy, and a return to
those great days in the history of his people when God Himself was
Lawgiver and King.  Had not Daniel predicted that in the days of the
last of the great empires, prefigured in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the
God of heaven would set up a kingdom which should never be
destroyed--which should break in pieces all other kingdoms and stand
for ever?  Had he not foreseen a time when One like unto a son of man
should come to the Ancient of Days to receive a dominion which should
not pass away, and a kingdom which should not be destroyed?  Had he not
foretold that the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven
should be given to the saints of the Most High?  Surely, then, all
these anticipations were on the eve of fulfilment.  The long-expected
Messiah was at hand; and here was the forerunner described by Isaiah,
the prophet, saying:--

  "The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
  Make ye ready the way of the Lord,
  Make his paths straight."

But some misgiving must have passed over the minds of his hearers when
they heard the young prophet's description of the conditions and
accompaniments of that long-looked-for reign.  Instead of dilating on
the material glory of the Messianic period, far surpassing the
magnificent splendour of Solomon, he insisted on the fulfilment of
certain necessary preliminary requirements, which lifted the whole
conception of the anticipated reign to a new level, in which the inward
and spiritual took precedence of the outward and material.  It was the
old lesson, which in every age requires repetition, that unless a man
is born again, and from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

Be sure of this, that no outward circumstances, however propitious and
favourable, can bring about true blessedness.  We might be put into the
midst of heaven itself, and be poor, and miserable, and blind, and
naked, unless the heart were in loving union with the Lamb, who is in
the midst of the throne.  He is the light of that city, his countenance
doth lighten it--from his throne the river of its pleasure flows, his
service is its delightful business; and to be out of fellowship with
Him would make us out of harmony with its joy.  Life must be centred in
Christ if it is to be concentric with all the circles of heaven's
bliss.  We can never be at rest or happy whilst we expect to find our
fresh springs in outward circumstances.  It is only when we are right
with God that we are blest and at rest.  Righteousness is blessedness.
Where the King is enthroned within the heart, the soul is in the
kingdom, which is righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost;
nay, perhaps more accurately, that kingdom is in the soul.  And when
all hearts are yielded to the King; when all gates lift up their heads,
and all everlasting doors are unfolded for his entrance--then the curse
which has so long brooded over the world shall be done away.  The whole
creation groaneth and travaileth for the manifestation of the sons of
God: but when they are revealed in all their beauty, then judgment
shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness shall abide in the
fruitful field, and the work of righteousness shall be peace, and the
effect of righteousness quietness and confidence for ever; and the
mirage shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water
(Isa. xxxii. 15, 16; xxxv. 7, R.V.).

(2) Alongside the proclamation of the kingdom was the uncompromising
insistence on "_the wrath to come_."  John saw that the Advent of the
King would bring inevitable suffering to those who were living in
self-indulgence and sin.

There would be careful discrimination.  He who was coming would
carefully discern between the righteous and the wicked; between those
who served God and those who served Him not: and the preacher enforced
his words by an image familiar to orientals.  When the wheat is reaped,
it is bound in sheaves and carted to the threshing-floor, which is
generally a circular spot of hard ground from fifty to one hundred feet
in diameter.  On this the wheat is threshed from the chaff by manual
labour, but the two lie intermingled till the evening, when the grain
is caught up in broad shovels or fans, and thrown against the evening
breeze, as it passes swiftly over the fevered land; thus the light
chaff is borne away, while the wheat falls heavily to the earth.
Likewise, cried the Baptist, there shall be a very careful process of
discrimination, before the unquenchable fires are lighted; so that none
but chaff shall be consigned to the flames--a prediction which was
faithfully fulfilled.  At first Christ drew all men to Himself; but, as
his ministry proceeded, He revealed their quality.  A few were
permanently attracted to Him; the majority were as definitely repelled.
There was no middle class.  Men were either for or against Him.  The
sheep on this side; the goats on that.  The five wise virgins, and the
five foolish.  Those who entered the strait gate, and those who flocked
down the broad way that leadeth to destruction.  So it has been in
every age.  Jesus Christ is the touchstone of trial.  Our attitude
towards Him reveals the true quality of the soul.

There would also be a period of probation.  "The axe laid to the root
of the trees" is familiar enough to those who know anything of
forestry.  The woodman barks some tree which seems to him to be
occupying space capable of being put to better use.  There is no undue
haste.  It is only after severe and searching scrutiny that the word
goes forth: "Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"  But when once
that word is spoken, there is no appeal.  The Jewish people had become
sadly unfruitful; but a definite period was to intervene--three years
of Christ's ministry and thirty years beside--before the threatened
judgment befell.  All this while the axe lay ready for its final
stroke; but only when all hope of reformation was abandoned was it
driven home, and the nation crashed to its doom.

Perhaps this may be the case with one of my readers.  You have been
planted on a favourable site, and have drunk in the dews and rain and
sunshine of God's providence; but what fruit have you yielded in
return?  How have you repaid the heavenly Husbandman?  May He not be
considering whether any result will accrue from prolonging your
opportunities for bearing fruit?  He has looked for grapes, and lo, you
have brought forth only wild grapes; He may well consider the
advisability of removing you from the stewardship, which you have used
for your own emolument, and not for his glory.

For all such there must be "wrath to come."  After there has been
searching scrutiny and investigation, and every reasonable chance has
been given for amendment, and still the soul is impenitent and
disobedient, there must be "a certain fearful looking for of judgment
and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries."

The fire of John's preaching had its primary fulfilment, probably, in
the awful disasters which befell the Jewish people, culminating in the
siege and fall of Jerusalem.  We know how marvellously the little
handful of believers which had been gathered out by the preaching of
Christ and his disciples were accounted worthy to escape all those
things that came to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.  But the
unbelieving mass of the Jewish people were discovered to be worthless
chaff and unfruitful trees, and assigned to those terrible fires which
have left a scar on Palestine to this day.

But there was a deeper meaning.  The wrath of God avenges itself, not
on nations but on individual sinners.  "He that believeth not the Son
shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him."  The penalty
of sin is inevitable.  The wages of sin is death.  The land which
beareth thorns and thistles, after having drunk of the rain which
cometh often upon it, is rejected and nigh unto a curse, its end is to
be burned; under the first covenant, every transgression and
disobedience received a just recompense of reward; the man that set at
nought Moses' law died without compassion, on the word of two or three
witnesses--of how much sorer punishment shall he be judged worthy who
hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of
the covenant a common thing, and hath done despite to the Spirit of

Even if we grant, as of course we must, that many of the expressions
referring to the ultimate fate of the ungodly are symbolical, yet it
must be granted also, that they have counterparts in the realm of soul
and spirit, which are as terrible to endure, as the nature of the soul
is more highly organized than that of the body.  Fire to the body is
easy to bear in comparison with certain forms of suffering to which the
heart and soul are sometimes exposed even in this life.  Have we not
sometimes said, "If physical suffering were concerned, we could bear
it; but oh, this pain which is gnawing at the heart--this awful inward
agony, which burns like fire!"  And if we are capable of suffering so
acutely from remorse and shame, from ingratitude and misrepresentation,
in this life where there are so many distractions and temporary
alleviations, what may not be the possibility of pain in that other
life, where there is no screen, no covering, no alleviation, no cup of
water to slake the thirst!  Believe me, when Jesus said, "These shall
go away into eternal punishment," He contemplated a retribution so
terrible, that it were good for the sufferers if they had never been

All the great preachers have seen and faithfully borne witness to the
fearful results of sin, as they take effect in this life and the next.
These threw Brainerd into a dripping sweat, whilst praying on a cool
day for his Indians in the woods; these drew John Welsh from his bed,
at all hours of the night, to plead for his people; these inspired
Baxter to write his _Call to the Unconverted_; these drew Henry Martyn
from his fellowship at Cambridge to the burning plains of India; these
forced tears from Whitefield as he preached to the crowding thousands;
these burn in the memorable sermon by Jonathan Edwards on "Sinners in
the hands of an angry God."  The notable revival which broke out at
Kirk o' Shotts was due, under God, to Livingston congratulating the
people that drops of rain alone were falling, and not the fire of
Divine wrath.  The sermons of Ralph Erskine, of McCheyne and W. C.
Burns, of Brownlow Northland Reginald Radcliffe, in the last
generation, were characterized by the same appeals.  Though, on the
other hand, because God is not confined to any one method, the
preaching of the late D. L. Moody was specially steeped in the love of
God.  It is for want of a vision of the inevitable fate of the godless
and disobedient, that much of our present-day preaching is so powerless
and ephemeral.  You cannot get crops out of the land merely by summer
showers and sunshine; there must be the subsoil ploughing, the
pulverizing frost, the wild March wind.  And only when we modern
preachers have seen sin as God sees it, and begin to apply the divine
standard to the human conscience; only when our eagerness and yearning
well over into our eyes and broken tones, only when we know the terror
of the Lord, and begin to persuade men as though we would pluck them
out of the fire, by our strenuous expostulation and entreaties--shall
we see the effects that followed the preaching of the Baptist when
soldiers, publicans, Pharisees, and scribes, crowded around him,
saying, "What shall we do?"

All John's preaching, therefore, led up to the demand for repentance.
The word which was oftenest on his lips was "Repent ye!"  It was not
enough to plead direct descent from Abraham, or outward conformity with
the Levitical and Temple rites.  God could raise up children to Abraham
from the stones of the river bank.  There must be the renunciation of
sin, the definite turning to God, the bringing forth of fruit meet for
an amended life.  In no other way could the people be prepared for the
coming of the Lord.


Baptism unto Repentance

(MARK I. 4.)

  "The last and greatest herald of heaven's King,
    Girt with rough skins, hies to the desert wild;
  Among that savage brood the woods doth bring,
    Which he more harmless found than man, and mild.

  "His food was locusts and what there doth spring,
    With honey that from virgin hives distill'd,
  Parch'd body, hollow eyes, some uncouth thing
    Made him appear, long since from earth exiled."
            W. DRUMMOND, of Hawthornden.

Repentance: its Nature--Repentance: how Produced--Repentance: its
Evidences--Repentance: its Results--John's Baptism: from Heaven

At the time of which we are speaking, an extraordinary sect, known as
the Essenes, was scattered throughout Palestine, but had its special
home in the oasis of Engedi; and with the adherents of this community
John must have been in frequent association.  They were the recluses or
hermits of their age.

The aim of the Essenes was moral and ceremonial purity.  They sought
after an ideal of holiness, which they thought could not be realized in
this world; and therefore, leaving villages and towns, they betook
themselves to the dens and caves of the earth, and gave themselves to
continence, abstinence, fastings, and prayers, supporting themselves by
some slight labours on the land.  Those who have investigated their
interesting history tell us that the cardinal point with them was faith
in the inspired Word of God.  By meditation, prayer, and mortification,
frequent ablutions, and strict attention to the laws of ceremonial
purity, they hoped to reach the highest stage of communion with God.
They agreed with the Pharisees in their extraordinary regard for the
Sabbath.  Their daily meal was of the simplest kind, and partaken of in
their house of religious assembly.  After bathing, with prayer and
exhortation they went, with veiled faces, to their dining-room, as to a
holy temple.  They abstained from oaths, despised riches, manifested
the greatest abhorrence of war and slavery, faced torture and death
with the utmost bravery, refused the indulgence of pleasure.

It is clear that John was not a member of this holy community, which
differed widely from the Pharisaism and Sadduceeism of the time.  The
Essenes wore white robes, emblematic of the purity they sought; whilst
he was content with his coat of camel's hair and leathern girdle.  They
seasoned their bread with hyssop, and he with honey.  They dwelt in
brotherhoods and societies; while he stood alone from the earliest days
of his career.  But it cannot be doubted that he was in deep accord
with much of the doctrine and practice of this sect.

John the Baptist, however, cannot be accounted for by any of the
pre-existing conditions of his time.  He stood alone in his God-given
might.  That he was conscious of this appears from his own declaration
when he said, "He that sent me to baptize in water, He said unto me."
And that Christ wished to convey the same impression is clear from his
question to the Pharisees: "The baptism of John, was it from heaven or
from men?"  Moreover, the distinct assertion of the Spirit of God,
through the fourth Evangelist, informs us: "There came a man, sent from
God, whose name was John, the same came for witness, that all might
believe through him."  "The Word of God came unto John, the son of
Zacharias, in the wilderness.  And he came."

I.  THE SUMMONS TO REPENT.--John has a ministry with all men.  In other
words, he represents a phase of teaching and influence through which we
must needs pass if we are properly to discover and appreciate the grace
of Christ.  With us, too, a preparatory work has to be done.  There are
mountains and hills of pride and self-will that have to be levelled;
crooked and devious ways that have to be straightened; ruggednesses
that have to be smoothed--before we can fully behold the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ.  In proportion to the thoroughness and
permanence of our repentance will be our glad realization of the
fulness and glory of the Lamb of God.

But we must guard ourselves here, lest it be supposed that repentance
is a species of good work which must be performed in order that we may
merit the grace of Christ.  It must be made equally clear, that
repentance must not be viewed apart from faith in the Saviour, which is
an integral part of it.  It is also certain that, though "God
commandeth all men everywhere to repent," yet Jesus is exalted "to give
repentance and the remission of sins."

Repentance, according to the literal rendering of the Greek word, is "a
change of mind."  Perhaps we should rather say, it is a change in the
attitude of the will.  The unrepentant soul chooses its own way and
will, regardless of the law of God.  "The mind of the flesh is enmity
against God, for it is not subject to the law of God, neither, indeed,
can it be; and they that are in the flesh cannot please God."  But in
repentance the soul changes its attitude.  It no longer refuses the
yoke of God's will, like a restive heifer, but yields to it, or is
willing to yield.  There is a compunction, a sense of the hollowness of
all created things, a relenting, a wistful yearning after the true
life, and ultimately a turning from darkness to light, and from the
power of Satan unto God.  The habits may rebel; the inclinations and
emotions may shrink back; the consciousness of peace and joy may yet be
far away--but the will has made its secret decision, and has begun to
turn to God: as, in the revolution of the earth, the place where we
live reaches its furthest point from the sunlight, passes it, and
begins slowly to return towards its warm smiles and embrace.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized that repentance is an act of the
_will_.  In its beginning there may be no sense of gladness or
reconciliation with God: but just the consciousness that certain ways
of life are wrong, mistaken, hurtful, and grieving to God; and the
desire, which becomes the determination, to turn from them, to seek Him
who formed the mountains and created the wind, that maketh the morning
darkness and treadeth upon the high places of the earth.

Repentance may be accounted as the other side of faith.  They are the
two sides of the same coin: the two aspects of the same act.  If the
act of the soul which brings it into right relation with God is
described as a turning round, to go in the reverse direction to that in
which it had been travelling, then _repentance_ stands for its desire
and choice to turn from sin, and _faith_ for its desire and choice to
turn to God.  We must be willing to turn from sin and our own
righteousness--that is _repentance_; we must be willing to be saved by
God, in his own way, and must come to Him for that purpose--that is

We need to turn from our own righteousnesses as well as from our sins.
Augustine spoke of his efforts after righteousness as splendid sins;
and Paul distinctly disavows all those attempts to stand right with God
which he made before he saw the face of the risen Christ looking out
from heaven upon his conscience-stricken spirit.  You must turn away
from your own efforts to save yourself.  These are, in the words of the
prophet, but "filthy rags."  Nothing, apart from the Saviour and his
work, can avail the soul, which must meet the scrutiny of eternal
justice and purity.

Repentance is produced sometimes and specially by the presentation of
the claims of Christ.  We suddenly awake to realize what He is, how He
loves, how much we are missing, the gross ingratitude with which we
respond to his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and suffering, the
beauty of his character, the strength of his claims.

At other times repentance is wrought by the preaching of John the
Baptist.  Then we hear of the axe laid at the root of the trees, and
the unquenchable fire for the consuming of the chaff: and the heart
trembles.  Then we are led to the brink of the precipice, and compelled
to see the point at which the primrose-path we are travelling ends in
the fatal abyss.  Then our faith in our hereditary position and
privilege is shattered by the iconoclasm of the preacher; and we are
levelled to the position of stones which are lapped by the Jordan, but
are insensible to its touch.  It is at such a time as this that the
soul sees the entire fabric of its vain confidences and hopes crumbling
like a cloud-palace, and turns from it all--as Mary from the sepulchre,
where her hopes lay entombed, to find Jesus standing with the
resurrection glory on his face and radiant love in his eyes.

For purposes of clear thinking it is well to discriminate in our use of
the words Repentance and Penitence, using the former of the first act
of the will, when, energized and quickened by the Spirit of God, it
turns from dead works to serve the living and true God; and the latter,
of the emotions which are powerfully wrought upon, as the years pass,
by the Spirit's presentation of all the pain and grief which our sin
has caused, and is causing, to our blessed Lord.  We repent once, but
are penitents always.  We repent in the will; we are penitent in the
heart.  We repent, and believe the Gospel; we believe the Gospel of the
Son of Man, and as we look on Him, whom our sins have pierced, we
mourn.  We repent when we obey his call to come unto Him and live; we
are penitent as we stand behind Him weeping, and begin to wash his feet
with our tears, and to wipe them with the hair of our head.

If John the Baptist has never wrought his work in you, be sure to open
your heart to his piercing voice.  Let him fulfil his ministry.  See
that you do not reject the counsel of God, as it proceeds from his
lips; but expose your soul to its searching scrutiny, and allow it to
have free and uninterrupted course.  He comes to prepare the way of the
Lord, and to make through the desert of our nature a highway for our
God.  Of course, if, from the earliest you have been under the nurture
of pious parents, and your young heart turned to God in the early dawn
of consciousness, you will not pass through these experiences as those
must who have spent years in the service of Satan.  For these there is
but one word--Repent!  They must, in a moment of time, take up an
entirely different attitude to God and holiness, to Christ and his

were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."  What
this precisely means it is not possible to say in detail; but it is not
improbable that beneath the strong pressure of inward remorse and
bitterness of spirit, men of notoriously bad life, as well as those who
had never abandoned themselves to the mad currents of temptation, but
were none the less conscious of heart and hidden sins, stood up,
"confessing and declaring their deeds," as in a memorable scene long
afterwards (Acts xix. 17-20).

The formalist confessed that the whited sepulchre of his religious
observances had concealed a mass of putrefaction.  The sceptic
confessed that his refusal of religion was largely due to his hatred of
the demands of God's holy law.  The multitudes confessed that they had
been selfish and sensual, shutting up their compassions, and refusing
clothing and food to the needy.  The publican confessed that he had
extorted by false accusation and oppression more than his due.  The
soldier confessed that his profession had often served as the cloak for
terrorizing the poor and vamping up worthless accusations.  The
notoriously evil liver confessed that he had lain in wait for blood,
and destroyed the innocent and helpless for gain or hate.  The air was
laden with the cries and sighs of the stricken multitudes, who beheld
their sin for the first time in the light of eternity and of its
inevitable doom.  The lurid flames of "the wrath to come" cast their
searching light on practices which, in the comparative twilight of
ignorance and neglect, had passed without special notice.

Upon that river's brink, men not only confessed to God, but probably
also to one another.  Life-long feuds were reconciled; old quarrels
were settled; frank words of apology and forgiveness were exchanged;
hands grasped hands for the first time after years of alienation and

Confession is an essential sign of a genuine repentance, and without it
forgiveness is impossible.  "He that covereth his transgressions shall
not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain
mercy."  "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us
our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."  So long as we
keep silence, our bones wax old through our inward anguish; we are
burnt by the fire of slow fever; we toss restlessly, though on a couch
of down.  But on confession there is immediate relief.  "I said, I will
confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and Thou forgavest me the
iniquity of my sin."

Confess your sin to God, O troubled soul, from whom the vision of
Christ is veiled.  It is more than likely that some undetected or
unconfessed sin is shutting out the rays of the true sun.  Excuse
nothing, extenuate nothing, omit nothing.  Do not speak of mistakes of
judgment, but of lapses of heart and will.  Do not be content with a
general confession; be particular and specific.  Drag each evil thing
forth before God's judgment bar; let the secrets be exposed, and the
dark, sad story told.  Begin at the beginning, and go steadily through.
Only be very careful to leave no trace of your experiences for human
eyes or ears.  To tell this story to another will rob it of its value
to yourself and its acceptableness to God.  It is enough for God to
know it; and to tell Him all is to receive at once his assurance of
forgiveness, for the sake of Him who loved us and gave Himself a
propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but for those of the
whole world.  Directly the confession leaves our heart, nay, whilst it
is in process, the Divine voice is heard assuring us that our sins,
which are many, are put away as far as the east is from the west, and
cast into the depths of the sea.

But such confession should not be made to God alone, when sins are in
question which have injured and alienated others.  If our brother has
aught against us, we must find him out, while our gift is left
unpresented at the altar, and first be reconciled to him.  We must
write the letter, or speak the word; we must make honourable reparation
and amends; we must not be behind the sinners under the old law, who
were bidden to add a fifth part to the loss their brother had sustained
through their wrong-doing, when they made it good.  The only sin we are
justified in confessing to our brother man is that we have committed
against him.  All else must be told in the ear of Jesus, that great
High Priest, whose confessional is always open, and whose pure ear can
receive our dark and sad stories without taint or soil.

(2) _Fruit worthy of Repentance_.  "Bring forth, therefore, fruit
worthy of repentance," said John, with some indignation, as he saw many
of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism.  He insisted that
practical and vital religion was not a rule, but a life; not outward
ritual, but a principle; not works, but fruit: and he demanded that the
genuineness of repentance should be attested by appropriate fruit.  "Do
men gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles?"

Probably that demand of the Baptist accounted for the alteration in his
life of which Zaccheus made confession to Christ, when He became his
guest.  The rich publican lived at Jericho, near which John was
baptizing, and he was probably amongst the publicans who were attracted
to his ministry.  How well we can imagine the comments that would be
passed on his presence, as each nudged his neighbour and whispered.
"Is not that Zaccheus?" said one.  "What is he doing here?" said
another.  "It is about time _he_ came to himself," muttered a third.
"I wish the Baptist could do something for him," said a fourth.

And something touched that hardened heart.  A great hope and a great
resolve sprang up in it.  He may have joined in the confessions of
which we have spoken, but he did more.  On his arrival at Jericho he
was a new man.  He gave the half of his goods to feed the poor; and if
he had wrongfully exacted aught of any man, he restored four-fold.  His
servant was often seen in the lowest and poorest parts of the old city,
hunting up cases of urgent distress, and bestowing anonymous alms, and
many a poor man was delighted to find a considerable sum of money
thrust into his hands, with a scrap of paper signed by the rich
tax-gatherer, saying, "I took so much from you, years ago, to which I
had no claim; kindly find it enclosed, with fourfold as amends."
Should any ask him the reason for it all, he would answer, "Ah, I have
been down to the Jordan and heard the Baptist; I believe the Kingdom is
coming, and the King is at hand; and I want to make ready for Him, so
that, when He comes, He may be able to abide at my house."

You will never get right with God till you are right with man.  It is
not enough to confess wrong-doing; you must be prepared to make amends
so far as lies in your power.  Sin is not a light thing, and it must be
dealt with, root and branch.

(3) _The baptism of repentance_.  "They were baptized ... confessing
their sins."  The cleansing property of water has given it a religious
significance from most remote antiquity  Men have conceived of sin as a
foul stain upon the heart, and have couched their petitions for its
removal in words derived from its use: "Purge me with hyssop, and I
shall be clean.  Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow."  They have
longed to feel that as the body was delivered from pollution, so the
soul was freed from stain.  In some cases this thought has assumed a
gross and material form; and men have attributed to the water of
certain rivers, such as the Ganges, the Nile, the Abana, the mysterious
power of cleansing away sin.

There was no trace of this, however, in John's teaching.  It was not
baptism _unto remission_, but _unto repentance_.  It was the expression
and symbol of the soul's desire and intention, so far as it knew, to
confess and renounce its sins, as the necessary condition of obtaining
the Divine forgiveness.

It is not necessary to discuss the much-vexed question of the source
from which the Baptist derived his baptism--some say it was from the
habits of the Essenes, or the practice of the Rabbis, who subjected to
this rite all proselytes to Judaism from the Gentile world.  It is
enough for us to remember that he was _sent_ to baptize; that the idea
of his baptism was "from heaven"; and that in his hands the rite
assumed altogether novel and important functions.  It meant death and
burial as far as the past was concerned; and resurrection to a new and
better future.  Forgetting and dying to the things that were behind,
the soul was urged to realize the meaning of this symbolic act, and to
press on and up to better things before; assured as it did so that God
had accepted its confession and choice, and was waiting to receive it
graciously and love it freely.

It is easy to see how all this appealed to the people, and specially
touched the hearts of young men.  At that time, by the blue waters of
the Lake of Galilee, there was a handful of ardent youths, deeply
stirred by the currents of thought around them, who resented the Roman
sway, and were on the tip-toe of expectation for the coming Kingdom.
How they spoke together, as they floated at night in their fisherman's
yawl over the dark waters of the Lake of Galilee, about God's ancient
covenant, and the advent of the Messiah, and the corruptions of their
beloved Temple service!  And when, one day, tidings reached them of
this strange new preacher, they left all and streamed with all the
world beside to the Jordan valley, and stood fascinated by the spell of
his words.

One by one, or all together, they made themselves known to him, and
became his loyal friends and disciples.  We are familiar with the names
of one or two of them, who afterwards left their earlier master to
follow Christ; but of the rest we know nothing, save that he taught
them to fast and pray, and that they clung to their great teacher,
until they bore his headless body to the grave.  After his death they
joined themselves with Him whom they had once regarded with some
suspicion as his rival and supplanter.

How much this meant to John!  He had never had a friend; and to have
the allegiance and love of these noble, ingenuous youths must have been
very grateful to his soul.  But from them all he repeatedly turned his
gaze, as though he were looking for some one who must presently emerge
from the crowd; and the sound of whose voice would give him the deepest
and richest fulfilment of his joy, because it would be the voice of the
Bridegroom Himself.


The Manifestation of the Messiah

(JOHN I. 31.)

    "Before me, as in darkening glass,
    Some glorious outlines pass,
  Of love, and truth, and holiness, and power--
    I own them thine, O Christ,
    And bless Thee in this hour."
            F. R. HAVERGAL.

The Herald's Proclamation--The Meeting of John and Jesus--Christ's
Baptism--"It Becometh Us."--"My Beloved Son."

John's life, at this period, was an extraordinary one.  By day he
preached to the teeming crowds, or baptized them; by night he would
sleep in some slight booth, or darksome cave.  But the conviction grew
always stronger in his soul, that the Messiah was near to come; and
this conviction became a revelation.  The Holy Spirit who filled him,
taught him.  He began to see the outlines of his Person and work.  As
he thought upon Him, beneath the gracious teaching of Him who had sent
him to baptize (John i. 33), the dim characteristics of his glorious
personality glimmered out on the sensitive plate of his inner
consciousness, and he could even describe Him to others, as well as
delineate Him for himself.

He conceived of the coming King, as we have seen, as the Woodman,
laying his axe at the root of the trees; as the Husbandman, fan in hand
to winnow the threshing-floor; as the Baptist, prepared to plunge all
faithful souls in his cleansing fires; as the Ancient of Days, who,
though coming after him in order of time, must be preferred before him
in order of precedence, because He was before him in the eternal glory
of his Being (John i. 15-30).

It was this vision of the Sun before the sunrise, as he viewed it from
the high peak of his own noble character, that induced in the herald
his conspicuous and beautiful humility.  He insisted that he was not
worthy to perform the most menial service for Him whose advent he
announced.  "I am content," he said in effect, "to be a voice, raised
for a moment to proclaim the King, and soon dying on the desert air,
whilst the person of the crier is unnoticed and unsought for; but I may
not presume to unloose the latchet of his shoes....  There cometh after
me He that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not
worthy to stoop down and unloose."

John was not only humble in his self-estimate, but also in his modest
appreciation of the results of his work.  It was only transient and
preparatory.  It was given him to do; but it would soon be done.  His
course was a short one, and it would soon be fulfilled (Acts xiii. 25).
His simple mission was to bid the people to believe on Him who should
come after him (xix. 4.) He was the morning star ushering in the day,
but destined to fade in the glory of ruddy dawn, flooding the eastern

But our impression of the sublime humility of this great soul will
become deeper, as we consider that marvellous scene in which he first
recognised the divine mission and claims of his Kinsman, Jesus of
Nazareth.  Consider the meeting between the Sun and the star, and take
it as indicating an experience which must always supervene on the
cleansed and holy soul, which desires and prepares for it.

I.  OUR LORD'S ADVENT TO THE JORDAN BANK.--For thirty years the Son of
Man had been about his Father's business in the ordinary routine of a
village carpenter's life.  He had found scope enough there for his
marvellously rich and deep nature; reminding us of the philosopher's
garden, which, though only a dingy court in a crowded city, reached
through to the other side of the world on the one hand, and up to the
heaven of God on the other.  Often He must have felt the strong
attraction of the great world of men, which He loved; and the wild
winds, as they careered over his village home, must have often borne to
Him the wail of broken hearts, asking Him to hasten to their relief.
On his ear must have struck the voices of Jairuses pleading for their
only daughters; of sisters interceding for their Lazaruses; of halt and
lame and blind entreating that He would come and heal them.  But He
waited still, his eye on the dial-plate of the clock, till the time was
fulfilled which had been fixed in the Eternal Council Chamber.

As soon, however, as the rumours of the Baptist's ministry reached Him,
and He knew that the porter had taken up his position at the door of
the sheepfold, ready to admit the true Shepherd (John x. 3), He could
hesitate no longer.  The Shechinah cloud was gathering up its fleecy
folds, and poising itself above Him, and moving slowly towards the
scene of the Baptist's ministry; and He had no alternative but to
follow.  He must tear Himself away from Nazareth, home, and mother, and
take the road which would end at Calvary.  "Then cometh Jesus from
Galilee to the Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him."

Tradition locates the scene of John's baptism as near Jericho, where
the water is shallow and the river opens out into large lagoons.  But
some, inferring that Nazareth was within a day's journey of this
notable spot, place it nearer the southern end of the Lake of Galilee.

It may have been in the late afternoon when Jesus arrived.  An
expression made use of by the evangelist Luke might seem to suggest
that all the people had been baptized for that day at least (Luke iii.
21); so that perhaps the crowds had dispersed, and the great prophet
was alone with one or two of those young disciples of whom we have
spoken.  Or, Jesus may have arrived when the Jordan banks were alive
with the eager multitudes.  But, in either case, a sudden and
remarkable change passed over the Baptist's face as he beheld his
Kinsman standing there.

Picture that remarkable scene.  The arrowy stream, rushing down from
the Lake of Galilee to the Dead Sea; the rugged banks; the shadowy
forests; the erect, sinewy form of the Baptist; and Jesus of Nazareth,
as depicted by the olden traditions, with auburn hair, searching blue
eye, strong, sweet face, and all the beauty of his young manhood.  At
the sight of Him, note how the high look on the Baptist's face lowers;
how his figure stoops in involuntary obeisance; how the voice that was
wont to ring out its messages in accents of uncompromising decision
falters and trembles!

John said, "I knew Him not" (John i. 31); but this need not be
interpreted as indicating that he had no acquaintance whatever with his
blameless relative.  Such may have been the case, of course, since
John's life had been spent apart from the haunts of men.  It is more
natural to suppose that the cousins had often met, as boys and
afterwards.  But the Baptist had never realized that Jesus was the
Messiah whose advent he was sent to announce.  He had not recognised
his high descent and claims.  It had never occurred to him that this
simple village Carpenter, so closely related to himself, whose course
of life was apparently so absolutely ordinary and commonplace, could be
He of whom Moses in the Law and the Prophets did write.  In this sense
John could truly say, "I knew Him not."

But John knew enough of Him to be aware of his guileless, blameless
life.  The story of his tender love for Mary; of his devotion to the
interests of his brothers and sisters; of his undefiled purity, of his
long vigils on the mountains till the morning called Him back to his
toils; of his deep acquaintance with Scripture; of his speech about the
Father--had reached the Baptist's ears.  He had come to entertain the
profoundest respect amounting to veneration for his Kinsman; and, as He
presented Himself for baptism, John felt that there was a whole heaven
of difference between Him and all others.  These publicans and sinners,
these Pharisees and scribes, these soldiers and common people--had
every need to repent, confess, and be forgiven; but there was surely no
such need for Him, who had been always, and by general acknowledgment,
"holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners."  "I have need,"
said he, "to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?" (Matt. iii.

There may have been, besides, an indescribable presentiment that stole
over that lofty nature--like that knowledge of good men and bad which
is often given to noble women.  He knew men; his eagle eye had searched
their hearts, as he had heard them confess their sins; and at a glance
he could tell what was in them.  A connoisseur of souls was he.  Among
all the pearls that had passed through his hands--some goodly ones
among them--none had seemed so rare and pure as this; it was a pearl of
great price, for which a man might be prepared to part with all he
possessed, if only to obtain it.  There was an indefinable majesty, a
moral glory, a tender grace, an ineffable attractiveness in this Man,
which was immediately appreciated by the greatest of woman-born,
because of his own intrinsic nobility and greatness of soul.  It needed
a Baptist to recognise the Christ.  He who had never quailed before
monarch or people, directly he came in contact with Christ, cast the
crown of his manhood at his feet, and shrank away.  The eagle that had
soared unhindered in mid-heaven seemed transfixed by a sudden dart, and
fell suddenly, with a strange, low cry, at the feet of its Creator.  "I
have need to be baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me?"

II.  THE SIGNIFICANCE OF CHRIST'S BAPTISM.--"Suffer it to be so now:
for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness"--with such words
our Lord overruled the objections of his loyal and faithful Forerunner.
This is the first recorded utterance of Christ, after a silence of more
than twenty years; the first also of his public ministry: it demands
our passing notice.  He does not say, "I have need to be baptized of
thee"; nor does He say, "Thou hast no need to be baptized of Me."  He
does not stay to explain why the greater should be baptized by the
less: or why a rite which confessed sin was required for one who was
absolutely sinless.  It is enough to appeal to the Baptist as his
associate in a joint necessary act, becoming to them both as part of
the Divine procedure, and therefore claiming their common obedience.
"Thus it becometh us (you and me) to fulfil all righteousness."

In his baptism, our Lord acknowledged the divine authority of the
Forerunner.  As the last and greatest of the prophets, who was to close
the Old Testament era, for "the law and the prophets prophesied until
John"; as the representative of Elijah the prophet, before the great
and notable day of the Lord could come; as the porter of the Jewish
fold--John occupied a unique position, and it was out of deference to
his appointment by the Father, and as an acknowledgment of his office,
that Jesus sought baptism at his hands.

John's baptism, moreover, was the inauguration of the Kingdom of
Heaven.  In it the material made way for the spiritual.  The old
system, which gave special privileges to the children of Abraham, was
in the act of passing away, confessing that God could raise up children
to Abraham from the stones at the water's edge; and demanding that
those who would enter the Kingdom must be born from above, of water and
of the Spirit.  It was the outward and visible sign that Judaism was
unavailing for the deepest needs of the spirit of man, and that a new
and more spiritual system was about to take its place, and Christ said,
in effect, "I, too, though King, obey the law of the Kingdom, and bow
my head, that, by the same sign as the smallest of my subjects, I may
pass forward to my throne."

There was probably a deeper reason still.  That Jordan water, flowing
downwards to the Dead Sea, was symbolical.  In the purity of its
origin, amid the snows of Hermon, and in the beauty of its earlier
course, it was an emblem of man's original constitution, when the
Creator made him in His own image and pronounced him very good; but in
these sullied and troubled waters hurrying on to the Sea of
Death--waters in which thousands of sinners had confessed their sins,
with tears and sighs--how apt an emblem was there of the history of our
race, contaminated by the evil that is in the world through lust, and
meriting the wages of sin--death!  With that race, in its sin and
degradation, our Lord now formally identified Himself.  His baptism was
his formal identification with our fallen and sinful race, though He
knew no sin for Himself, and could challenge the minutest inspection of
his enemies: "Which of you convinceth Me of sin?"

Was He baptized because He needed to repent, or to confess his sins?
Nay, verily!  He was as pure as the bosom of God, from which He came;
as pure as the fire that shone above them in the orb of day; as pure as
the snows on Mount Hermon, rearing itself like a vision of clouds on
the horizon: but He needed to be made sin, that we might be made the
righteousness of God in Him.  When the paschal lamb had been chosen by
the head of a Jewish household, it was customary to take it, three days
before it would be offered, to the priest, to have it sealed with the
Temple seal; so our Lord, three years before his death, must be set
apart and sealed by the direct act of the Holy Spirit, through the
mediation of John the Baptist.  "Him hath God the Father sealed."

"It becometh us"--I like that word, _becometh_.  If the Divine Lord
thought so much about what was becoming, surely we may.  It should
not be a question with us, merely as to what may be forbidden or
harmful, what may or may not be practised and permitted by our
fellow-Christians, or even whether there are distinct prohibitions in
the Bible that bar the way--but if a certain course is becoming.  "Need
I pass through that rite?"  _It is becoming_.  "Need I perform that
lowly act?" _It is becoming_.  "Need I renounce my liberty of action in
that respect?"  _It would be very becoming_.  And whenever some
hesitant soul, timid and nervous to the last degree, dares to step out,
and do what it believes to be the right thing because it is becoming,
Jesus comes to it, enlinks his arm, and says, "Thou art not alone in
this.  Thou and I stand together here.  It becomes us to fill up to its
full measure all righteousness."  Ah, soul, thou shalt never step forth
on a difficult and untrodden path without hearing his footfall behind
thee, and becoming aware that in every act of righteousness Christ
identifies Himself, saying, "Thus it becometh _us_ to fulfil all

A friend suggests that the Lord Jesus was here referring to the sublime
prophecy of Daniel ix. 24.  That He might make an end of sin and bring
in everlasting righteousness, it was essential that the Lamb of God
should confess the sins of the people as his own (see Psa. lxix. 5).
This was his first step on his journey to the Cross, every step of
which was in fulfilment of all righteousness, in order that He might
bring in everlasting righteousness.

"Then he suffered Him."  Some things we have to _do_ for Christ, and
some to _bear_ for Him.  Active virtues are great; but the passive ones
are rarer and cost more, especially for strong natures like the
Baptist's.  But, in all our human life, there is nothing more
attractive than when a strong man yields to another, accepts a deeper
interpretation of duty than he had perceived, and is prepared to set
aside his strong convictions of propriety before the tender pleadings
of a still, soft voice.  Yield to Christ, dear heart.  Suffer Him to
have his way.  Take his yoke, and be meek and lowly of heart--so shalt
thou find rest.

III.  THE DESIGNATION OF THE MESSIAH.--It is not to be supposed that
the designation of Jesus as the Christ was given to any but John.  It
was apparently a private sign given to him, as the Forerunner and
Herald, through which he might be authoritatively informed as to the
identity of the Messiah.  To say nothing of the impossibility of
ordinary and unanointed eyes beholding the descent of the Holy Spirit,
John's own statements seem to point clearly in this direction.  He
says, "I knew Him not" (_i.e._, as Son of God), "but He that sent me to
baptize with water, He said unto me, 'Upon whomsoever thou shalt see
the Spirit descending, and abiding upon Him, the same is He that
baptizeth with the Holy Spirit.'  And I have seen, and have borne
witness that this is the Son of God" (John i. 32-34).  The same thought
appears from putting a perfectly legitimate construction on the words
of the first evangelist: "Lo, the heavens were opened unto him"
(_i.e._, the Baptist), "and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a
dove, and coming upon Him" (Matt. iii. 16).

What a theophany was here!  As the Man of Nazareth emerged from the
water, the sign for which John had been eagerly waiting and looking was
granted.  He had believed he would see it, but had never thought to see
it granted to one so near akin to himself.  We never expect the great
God to come to us!  And the exclamation, Lo, indicates his startled
surprise.  He saw far away into the blue vault, which had opened into
depth after depth of golden glory.  The vail was rent to admit of the
coming forth of the Divine Spirit, who seemed to descend in visible
shape--as a dove might, with gentle, fluttering motion--and to alight
on the head of the Holy One, who stood there fresh from his baptism.
The stress of the narrator, as he told the story afterwards, was that
the Spirit not only came, but _abode_.  Here was the miracle of
miracles, that He should be willing to _abide_ in any human temple, who
for so many ages had wandered restlessly over the deluge of human sin,
seeking a resting-place, but finding none.  Here, at least, was an ark
into which this second Noah might pull in the fluttering dove, unable
to feed, like the raven, on corruption and death.

The voice of God from heaven proclaimed that Jesus of Nazareth was his
beloved Son, in whom He was well pleased; and the Baptist could have no
further doubt that the Desire of all Nations, the Lord whom his people
sought, the Messenger of the Covenant, had suddenly come to his temple
to act as a refiner's fire and as fullers' soap.  "John bare witness,
saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven;
and it abode upon Him."  "John beareth witness of Him and crieth" (John
i. 15, 32).

How much that designation meant to Christ!  It was his Pentecost, his
consecration and dedication to his life-work; from thenceforth, in a
new and special sense, the Spirit of the Lord was upon Him, and He was
anointed to preach.  But it was still more to the Baptist.  He knew
that his mission was nearly fulfilled, that his office was ended.  He
had opened the gate to the true Shepherd, and must now soon consign to
Him all charge of the flock.  Jesus must increase, while he decreased.
He that was from heaven was above all; as for himself, he was of the
earth, and spake of the earth.  The Sun had risen, and the day-star
began to wane.


Not that Light, but a Witness.

(John I. 8.)

  "Nothing resting in its own completeness
    Can have worth or beauty; but alone
  Because it leads and tends to farther sweetness,
    Fuller, higher, deeper than its own.

  "Spring's real glory dwells not in the meaning,
    Gracious though it be, of her blue hours;
  But is hidden in her tender leaning
    To the summer's richer wealth of flowers."
            A. A. PROCTOR.

Resentment of the Sanhedrim--The Baptist's Credentials--Spiritual
Vision--"Behold the Lamb of God"--The Baptism of the Spirit

The baptism and revelation of Christ had a marvellous effect on the
ministry of the Forerunner.  Previous to that memorable day, the burden
of his teaching had been in the direction of repentance and confession
of sin.  But afterwards, the whole force of his testimony was towards
the person and glory of the Shepherd of Israel.  He understood that for
the remainder of his brief ministry, which perhaps did not greatly
exceed six months, he must bend all his strength to announcing to the
people the prerogatives and claims of Him who stood amongst them,
though they knew Him not.  "There came a man, sent from God, whose name
was John.  The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the
Light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the Light, but
came that he might bear witness of the Light."

Our subject, therefore, naturally divides itself into two divisions:
John's admissions about himself, and his testimony to the Lord.  And it
is interesting to notice that they were given on three successive days,
as appears from the twofold use of the phrase, "On the morrow."  "On
the morrow" (_i.e._, after he had met and answered the deputation from
the Sanhedrim), "he seeth Jesus coming unto him..." (i. 29).  "Again,
on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples..." (35).

These events took place at Bethany, or Bethabara, on the eastern bank
of the Jordan.  The river there is one hundred feet in width, and,
except in flood, some five to seven feet deep.  It lies in a tropical
valley, the verdure of which is in striking contrast to the desolation
which reigns around.

uses the word _Jews_, he invariably means the Sanhedrim.  John had
become so famous, and his influence so commanding, that he could not be
ignored by the religious leaders of the time.  In their hearts they
derided him, and desired to do with him "whatsoever they listed."  His
preaching of repentance, and his unmeasured denunciation of themselves
as a brood of vipers, were not to be borne.  But they forbore to meet
him in the open field, and resolved to send a deputation, which might
extract some admission from his lips that would furnish them with
ground for subsequent action.  "The Jews sent unto him from Jerusalem
priests and Levites to ask him, 'Who art thou?' ... 'Why baptizest
thou?'"  The first question was universally interesting; the second
specially so to the Pharisee party, who were the high ritualists of
their day, and who were reluctant that a new rite, which they had not
sanctioned, should be added to the Jewish ecclesiastical system.

It is a striking scene.  The rushing river; the tropical gorge; the
dense crowds of people standing thick together; the Baptist in his
sinewy strength and uncouth attire, surrounded by the little group of
disciples; while through the throng a deputation of grey-beards, the
representatives of a decadent religion, makes its difficult way--these
are the principal features of a memorable incident.

There was a profound silence, and men craned their necks and strained
their ears to see and hear everything, as the deputation challenged the
prophet with the inquiry, "Who art thou?"  There was a great silence.
Men were prepared to believe anything of the eloquent young preacher.
"The people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts
concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ" (Luke iii. 15).  If
he had given the least encouragement to their dreams and hopes, they
would have unfurled again the tattered banner of the Maccabees; and
beneath his leadership would have swept, like a wild hurricane, against
the Roman occupation, gaining, perhaps, a momentary success, which
afterwards would have been wiped out in blood.  "And he confessed, and
denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ."

If a murmur of voices burst out in anger, disappointment, and chagrin,
as this answer spread from lip to lip, it was immediately hushed by the
second inquiry propounded, "What then?  Art thou Elijah?" (alluding to
the prediction of Malachi iv. 5).  If they had worded their question
rather differently, and put it thus, "Hast thou come in the power of
Elias?" John must have acknowledged that it was so; but if they meant
to inquire if he were literally Elijah returned again to this world, he
had no alternative but to say, decisively and laconically, "I am not."

There was a third arrow in their quiver, since the other two had missed
the mark: and amid the deepening attention of the listening multitudes,
and in allusion to Moses' prediction that God would raise up a Prophet
like to himself (Deut. xviii. 15; Acts iii. 22; vii. 37), they said,
"Art thou the Prophet?" and he answered, "No."

The deputation was nonplussed.  They had exhausted their repertory of
questions.  Their mission threatened to become abortive, unless they
could extract some positive admission.  They must put a leading
question; and their spokesman, for the fourth time, challenged the
strange being, whom they found it so hard to label and place on any
shelf of their ecclesiastical museum.  "They said therefore unto him,
'Who art thou?--that we may give an answer to them that sent us.'  What
sayest thou of thyself?"  "He said, 'I am the voice of one crying in
the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the

How infinitely noble!  How characteristic of strength!  A weak man
would have launched himself on the flowing tide of enthusiasm, and
allowed himself to be swept away by its impetuous rush.  What a
mingling of strength and humility!  When men suggested that he was the
Christ, he insisted that he was only a voice--the voice of the herald,
whom men hardly notice, because they strain their eyes in the direction
from which he has come, to behold the King Himself.  When they
complimented him on his teaching, he told them that He who would winnow
the wheat from the chaff was yet to appear.  And when they crowded to
his baptism, he reiterated that it was only the baptism of negation,
_of water_, but the Christ would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with

Why was this?  Ah, he knew his limitations!  He was the greatest-born
of woman, yet he knew that his bosom was not broad enough, nor his
heart tender enough, to justify him in bidding all weary and
heavy-laden ones to come to him for rest; he could not say that he and
God were one, and include himself with the Deity, in the majestic
pronoun, we; he never dared to ask men to believe in himself as they
believed in the Father: but there came after him One who dared to say
all these things; and this is the inevitable conclusion, that either
Jesus was inferior to John in all that goes to make a strong and noble
character, or that Jesus was all that John said He was, "The Son of
God, and King of Israel."  There is no third suggestion possible.  We
must either estimate Jesus as immeasurably inferior, or incomparably
superior, to the strong, sane, Spirit-filled prophet, who never wearied
in declaring the impassable chasm that yawned between them.

Such humility always accompanies a true vision of Christ.  If we view
it from the low ground, the mountain may appear to reach into the sky;
but when we reach the mountain-top, we are immediately aware of the
infinite distance between the highest snow-peak and the nearest star.
To the crowds John may have seemed to fulfil all the essential
conditions of the prophetic portraiture of the Messiah; but _he_ stood
on the mountain, and knew how infinitely the Christ stood above him.
This is apparent in his reply to the final inquiry of the Sanhedrim,
"And they asked him, and said unto him, 'Why, then, baptizest thou, if
thou art not the Christ, neither Elijah, neither the Prophet?'"  And
John said in effect, "I baptize because I was sent to baptize, and I
know very well that my work in this respect is temporary and transient;
but what matters that?  In the midst of you standeth One whom ye know
not, even He that cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not
worthy to unloose.  The Christ is come.  Have not I seen Him, standing
amid your crowds, yea, descending these very banks?"

The people must have turned one to another, as he spoke.  What!  Had
the Messiah come!  It could hardly be.  There had been no prodigies in
earth or sky worthy of his advent.  How could He be amongst them, and
they unaware!  But it was even so, and it is so still.  The Christ is
in us, and with us still.  There may be no transcendent symptoms of his
blessed presence, as He stands in the little groups of two and three
gathered in his name; but the eye of faith detects Him.  Where others
see only the bare cliffs of Patmos, or the mines with their gangs of
convicts, the anointed gaze beholds a face brighter than the sun, the
purged ear catches the accents of a voice like the murmur of waters on
the still night air.  Remember how He said, "He that loveth Me shall be
loved of my Father; and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to
him."  As the Holy Spirit revealed Him to John, so He will reveal Him
to us, if only, like John, we will be content with nothing less, and
wait expectant with the heart on the outlook for the manifestation of
the Son of God; for so He promised, saying, "He shall take of mine, and
shall declare it unto you."  And when the child of faith speaks thus,
with the accent of conviction, of what he has seen, and tasted, and
handled, of the Word of life, it is not strange that the children of
this world, whose eyes are blinded, begin to question and deride.  What
is there to be seen that they cannot see?  What heard that they cannot
detect?  Ah, "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of
God, for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them,
because they are spiritually discerned."  "There standeth One among
you," said the Baptist, "whom ye know not."

II.  THE BAPTIST'S WITNESS TO THE LORD.--Six weeks passed by from that
memorable vision of the opened heaven and the descending Spirit, and
John had eagerly scanned every comer to the river-bank to see again
that divinely beautiful face.  But in vain: for Jesus was in the
wilderness, being tempted of the devil, for forty days and nights, the
companion of wild beasts, and exposed to a very hurricane of temptation.

At the end of the six weeks, the interview with the deputation from the
Sanhedrim took place, which we have already described; and on the day
after, when his confession of inferiority was still fresh in the minds
of his hearers, when some were criticising and others pitying, when
symptoms that the autumn of his influence had set in were in the air,
his eye flashed, his face lit up, and he cried, saying: "This is He of
whom I said, 'After me cometh a man who is become before me, for He was
before me.'  Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the

Did all eyes turn towards the Christ?  Was there a ripple of interest
and expectancy through the crowd?  Did any realize the unearthly beauty
and spiritual power of his presence?  We know not.  Scripture is
silent, only telling us that on the following day, when, with two
disciples, he looked on Jesus as He walked, and repeated his
affirmation, "Behold the Lamb of God," those two disciples followed
Him, never to return to their old master--who knew it must be so, and
was content to decrease if only _He_ might increase.

Let us notice the successive revelations which were made to John, and
through him to Israel, who, you remember, held him, as they had every
warrant for doing, to be in the deepest sense a prophet of the Lord.
This conviction has been definitely endorsed by succeeding ages, which
have classed him as one of the six greatest men that ever left their
mark on the world.

(1) _He rightly conceived of Christ's pre-existence_.  "He was before
me" (John i. 30).  The phrase resembles Christ's own words, when He
said: "Before Abraham was, I am."  In John's case it developed soon
after into another and kindred expression: "He that cometh from above,
is above all" (John iii. 31).  With such words the Baptist taught his
disciples.  He insisted that Jesus of Nazareth had an existence
anterior to Nazareth, and previous to his birth of the village maiden.
He recognised that his goings had been of old, even from everlasting,
that He was the mighty God, the Father of the Ages, and the Prince of
Peace.  As for himself, he was of the earth, and of the earth he spoke;
as for this One, He came from above, and was above all.  It is not
surprising, therefore, that one of his disciples, catching his Master's
spirit, wrote: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.
All things were made by Him."

(2) _He rightly apprehended the sacrificial aspect of Christ's work_.
"Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world."  Was
it that his priestly lineage gave Him a special right to coin and use
this appellation?  It was, without doubt, breathed into his heart by
the Holy Spirit; but his whole previous training, as the son of a
priest, fitted him to receive and transmit it.  An attempt has been
made to limit the meaning of these words to the personal character of
Jesus, his purity, and gentleness; but, to the Jews who listened, the
latter part of his exclamation could have but one significance.  They
would at once connect with his words, those of the Law, the Prophets,
and the Psalms.  "The goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities
unto a solitary land."  "He bare the sin of many."  "He is led as a
lamb to the slaughter."

From the slopes of Mount Moriah, a young voice has expressed the
longing of the ages, "Behold the fire and the wood; but where is the
lamb?"  This has been the cry of the human heart in all generations.
From the days of Abel men have brought the firstlings of their flocks,
laying them on the altar, and consuming them with fire; but there was
always a sense of failure and insufficiency.  Through the ages, and in
every clime, priest after priest offered the lamb upon the altar, but
by the very fact of continual repetition, bore witness to the
insufficiency of its propitiation.  "Every priest, indeed," is the
comment of inspiration, "standeth day by day ministering and offering
oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins."
Must not the hearts of hundreds of saintly priests have been filled
with the same inquiry, Where is the lamb?  As the prophets understood
more clearly the nature of God's dealing with man--as, for instance,
Micah saw that even the offering of the first-born could never atone
for the sin of the soul--may we not suppose that from their lips also
the same inquiry was elicited, Where is the lamb?  Nature cannot answer
that cry.  She is fascinating, especially when she dimples with the
smile of spring, and unveils her face in summer to receive the caresses
of the sun.  But with all her beauty and fascination she cannot answer
the entreaty of the conscience that the penalty of sin may be removed,
its power broken, so that man may walk with God with a fearless heart.
Animals at the best are only symbols of the complete solution to the
ever-recurring problem of human sin: thus from all the ages goes forth
the cry, Where is the lamb?  Then from his heaven God sends forth his
Son to be the sufficient answer to the universal appeal: and the
heaven-sent messenger, from his rocky pulpit, as he sees Jesus coming
to him, cries, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of
the world."

Dear soul, thou mayest venture on Him.  He is God's Lamb; on Him the
sin of our race has been laid, and He stood before God with the
accumulated load--"made sin"; the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him;
wounded for our transgressions; bruised for our iniquities; chastised
for our peace; stricken for our transgression; bearing the sin of many.
As the first Adam brought sin on the race, the second Adam has put it
away by the sacrifice of Himself.  Men are lost now, not because of
Adam's sin, nor because they were born into a race of sinners, but for
the sin which they presumptuously and wilfully commit, or because by
unbelief they contract themselves out of the benefits of Christ's
death.  The servant who had been forgiven by his king, but took his
brother by the throat, brought back upon himself the full penalty from
which the royal warrant had freed him; and if any one of us cling to
sin, rejecting and trampling under foot the Saviour's work on our
behalf, we cancel so far all those benefits of our Saviour's passion
which otherwise would accrue, and bring back upon ourselves the
penalties from which He would fain have delivered us.

(3) _He understood the baptism of the Holy Spirit_.  "The same is He
that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit."  As Son of God, our Saviour from
all eternity was one with the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the blessed
Trinity; but as "the one Man," He received in his human nature the
fulness of the Divine Spirit.  It pleased the Father that in Him should
all the fulness of the Godhead dwell, that He might be able to
communicate Him to all the sons of men who were united to Him by a
living faith.  Thus it fell that He was able to assure his disciples
that if they waited in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, as John
baptized with water, they should be baptized with the Holy Spirit (Acts
i. 4, 5).

The term _baptism_, as applied to the Holy Spirit, had better be
confined to those marvellous manifestations of spiritual power which
are recorded in Acts ii., viii., x., xix., whilst the word _filling_
should be used of those experiences of the indwelling and anointing of
the Divine Spirit which are within the reach of us all.  Still, we may
all adopt the words of the Baptist, and tell our living Head that we
have need to be baptized of Him--need to be plunged into the fiery
baptism; need to be searched by the stinging flame; need to be cleansed
from dross and impurity; need to be caught in the transfiguring,
heaven-leaping energy of the Holy Spirit, borne upon his bosom into the
rare atmosphere where the seven lamps burn always before the throne of
God.  The blood of the Lamb and the fire of the Holy Spirit are thus
inextricably united.

(4) _He beheld the mystery of the Holy Trinity_.  For the first time
this was made manifest to man.  On the one hand there was the Father
speaking from heaven; on the other the Spirit descending as a dove--and
between them was the Son of Man who was proclaimed to be the Son of
God, the beloved Son.  Surely John might say that flesh and blood had
not revealed these things, but they had been made known to him by a
divine revelation.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a profound mystery, hidden from the
intellect, but revealed to the humble and reverent heart; hidden from
the wise and prudent, and revealed to babes.  Welcome Jesus Christ as
John did; and, as to John, so the whole wonder of the Godhead will be
made known to thy heart.  Thou wilt hear the Father bearing witness to
his Son; thou wilt see how clearly the Son reveals the Father, and
achieves redemption; thou shalt know what it is to stand beneath the
open heaven and behold and participate in the Divine anointing.  Of
what good is it to reason about the Trinity if thou hast no spiritual
appetite for the gifts of the Trinity?  But if this is thine, and thou
openest thine heart, thou wilt receive the gift and understand the

(5) _He appreciated the Divine Sonship of Christ_.  "I have seen and
have borne witness that this is the Son of God."  This witness counts
for much.  John knew men, knew himself, knew Christ.  He would not have
said so much unless he had been profoundly convinced; and he would not
have been profoundly convinced unless irrefragable evidence had been
presented to him.  What though, when on the following day he repeats
his exclamation, his whole congregation leaves him to follow the Man of
Nazareth to his home?  The heart of the Forerunner is satisfied, for he
has heard the Bridegroom's voice.  The Son of God has come, and has
given him an understanding that he might know Him that is true.


"We must increase, but I must decrease."

(JOHN III. 30.)

  "Where is the lore the Baptist taught,
    The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue?
  The much-enduring wisdom, sought
    By lonely prayer the haunted rocks among?
        Who counts it gain
        His light would wane,
    So the whole world to Jesus throng?"

The Moral Greatness of the Baptist--Thoughts on Envy--Christian
Consecration--The Baptist's Creed--The Voice of the Beloved

From the Jordan Valley our Lord returned to Galilee and Nazareth.  The
marriage feast of Cana, his return to Jerusalem, the cleansing of the
Temple, and the interview with Nicodemus, followed in rapid succession.
And when the crowds of Passover pilgrims were dispersing homewards, He
also left the city with his disciples, and began a missionary tour
throughout the land of Judaea.

This tour is not much dwelt upon in Scripture.  We only catch a glimpse
of it here in the 22nd verse, and again in the address of the apostle
Peter to Cornelius, where he speaks of Christ preaching good tidings of
peace throughout all Judaea (Acts x. 36, 37).  How long it lasted we
cannot tell; but it must have occupied some months, for He tarried from
time to time at different points.

It is not likely that our Lord unfolded his Messianic character, or
taught with the same clearness as in after days.  For the most part, He
would adopt the cry of the Baptist.  Of the commencement of his
ministry it is recorded: "Jesus came, ... preaching the Gospel of God,
and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand:
repent ye, and believe in the Gospel'" (Mark i. 14, 15).  But his deeds
declared his royalty.

Wherever He went He was welcomed with vast enthusiasm.  The scenes
which had occurred a few months before to inaugurate the Baptist's
ministry were re-enacted.  The progress of the heaven-sent Teacher
(John iii. 2) was accompanied by immense throngs of people, who,
wearied with the tiresome exactions of Pharisee and scribe, turned with
eagerness to the humanness and holiness of the True Shepherd.  It is
said that cattle, sick and harried with the voyage across the Atlantic,
will show signs of revival as they sniff the first land breezes laden
with the breath of the clover fields.

During all this time the Baptist was continuing his preparatory work in
the Jordan Valley, though now driven by persecution to leave the
western bank for Aenon and Salim on the eastern side, where a handful
of followers still clung to him.  "John was not yet cast into prison,"
but the shadow of his impending fate was already gathering over him;
and so he was baptizing in Aenon, near to Salim, where the Jordan
sweeps out into broad sheets of water, eminently suitable for his
purpose.  Thither they came and were baptized.  The morning star
lingers in the same heavens with the sun, whom it has announced; but
its lustre has paled, and its glories are shorn.

It would appear from the R.V. (ver. 25) that a Jew, probably an
emissary of the Sanhedrim, brought tidings to that little circle of
true-hearted disciples of the work that Jesus was doing in Judaea, and
drew them into a discussion as to the comparative value of the two
baptisms.  It was acknowledged that Jesus did not, with his own hands,
perform the rite of baptism, probably for reasons afterwards cited by
his great apostle (iv. 2; compare 1 Cor. i. 14-17): but it would be
administered by his disciples, at his direction, and with his
countenance, and therefore it could be reported to the Baptist by his
disciples, who came to him with eyes flashing with indignation, and
faces heated with the excitement of the discussion: "Rabbi, He that was
with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou hast borne witness, the same
baptizeth, and all men come to Him" (ver. 26).

It was as though they said, "Master, is it not too bad?  See how thy
generous testimony has been requited!  In the day of thy glory thou
wert too profuse in thy acknowledgments, too prodigal in thy
testimonials.  Now this new Teacher has taken a leaf out of thy
programme; He too is preaching, baptizing, and gathering a school of
disciples."  But there was no tinder in that noble breast which these
jealous sparks could kindle.  Nothing but love dwelt there.  He had
been plunged into the baptism of a holy love, which had burnt out the
selfishness and jealousy, which were as natural to him as to us all.
It was as when a spark falls into an ocean and is instantly
extinguished.  Thus his reply will ever rank among the greatest
utterances of mortal man.  The Lord said that of those born of woman
none was greater than John; and, if by nothing else, by these words his
moral stature and superlative excellence were vindicated.  He seemed
great when his voice rang like a clarion through Palestine, attracting
and thrilling the mighty throngs; great, when he dared to tell Herod
that it was unlawful for him to have his brother's wife, uttering words
which those palace walls must have been startled to hear; great, when
he baptized Him for whom the world was waiting, and who was declared to
be the Son of God with power; but he never seemed so great as when he
refused to enter into those acrimonious altercations and discussions,
and said simply, "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him
from heaven."

startling differences obtain among men--Peter and John, Calvin and
Melancthon, John Knox and Samuel Rutherford, Kingsley and Keble!  Each
of these has left his imprint on human history; each so needful to do
his own special work, but each so diverse from all others.  We are
sometimes tempted to attribute their special powers and success to
their circumstances, their times, their parents and teachers; but there
is a deeper and more satisfactory explanation.  Adopting the words of
the Forerunner, we may say--They had nothing that they had not received
from heaven, by the direct appointment and decree of God.

It was thus that the Baptist reasoned: "Whatever success and blessing I
had are due to the appointment of Him who sent me to preach his Gospel
and announce the advent of his Son.  Every man has his work and sphere
appointed him of God.  If this new Teacher meet with such success, we
have no right to be jealous of Him, lest we sin against God, who has
made Him what He is.  And if we have not the same crowds as once, let
us be content to take this, too, as the appointment of Heaven, glad to
do whatever is assigned to us, and to leave all results with God."

This is a golden sentence, indeed!--"A man can receive nothing, except
it be given him from heaven."  Hast thou great success in thy
life-work?  Do crowds gather around thy steps and throng thy
audience-chamber?  Do not attribute them to thyself.  They are all the
gifts of God's grace.  He raiseth up one and setteth down another.
Thou hast nothing that thou hast not received; and if thou hast
received it, see to it that thou exercise perpetually the faculty of
receptiveness, so that thou mayest receive more and more, grace on
grace.  The river in its flow should hollow out the channel-bed through
which it flows.  Be thankful, but never vain.  He who gave may take.
Great talents bestowed imply great responsibility in the day of
reckoning.  Be not high-minded, but fear.  Much success can only be
enjoyed without injury to the inner life by being considered as the
dear gift of Christ, to be used for Him.

Hast thou but one talent, and little success?--yet this is as God has
willed it.  He might have given more had He willed it so; be thankful
that He has given any.  Use what thou hast.  The five barley loaves and
two small fishes will so increase, as they are distributed, that they
will supply the want of thousands.  Do not dare to envy one more
successful and used than thyself, lest thou be convicted of murmuring
against the appointment of thy Lord.  Here, too, is the cure of
jealousy, which more than anything else blights the soul of the servant
of God.  To an older minister, who has passed the zenith of his
popularity and power, it is often a severe trial to see younger men
stepping into positions which he once held and has been compelled to
renounce.  He is mightily tempted to disparage their power, and condemn
them by faint praise; or, if he praise, to add one biting comment which
undoes the generosity and frankness of the eulogium.  Why should this
younger man, who was not born when his own ministry was at full tide,
now carry all before him, while the waves are quietly withdrawing from
the margin of seaweed they once cast up!  Thoughts like these corrode
and canker the soul; and there is no arrest to them, unless, by a
definite effort of the Spirit-energised will, the soul turns to God
with the words: "A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from
heaven.  I had my glad hours of meridian glory, and have still the
mellow light of a summer sunset.  It was God's gift to me, as rest is
now; and I will rejoice that He raises up others to do his work.  I
will rejoice that the Kingdom is coming, that Christ is satisfied, that
men are being saved; this shall be my joy, and it shall be fulfilled."

How much misery, heart-burning, and disappointment would be saved if,
at the beginning of life, each of us inquired seriously what that
special work in the world might be to which he was called, and for
which he is fitted.  Then, instead of being poor imitations, we might
be good originals.  Instead of spending our time in going off on side
issues, we might bend all our strength to the main purpose of our
existence.  God has meant each of us for something; incarnating in us
one of his own great thoughts, and equipping us with all material that
is necessary for its realization.  We may probably discover its meaning
by the peculiarities of our mental endowments or the advice of friends;
by the necessity of our circumstances or the prompting of the Holy
Spirit.  Otherwise we must be content to go on making each day
according to the pattern shown us--not as a whole, but in detail--sure
that some day each bit and scrap, each vail and hanging, will find its
place, and the tabernacle of our life stand complete.

Every name is historic in God's estimate.  The obscurest among us has
his place in the Divine plan, his lesson to learn, his work to do.  The
century opening before us can no more dispense with us than an
orchestra with the piccolo.  A pawn on God's chessboard may take a
knight, or give check to a king.  "We are his workmanship, created in
Christ Jesus unto good works which God has before prepared (R.V.), that
we should walk in them" (Eph. ii. 10).

OWN.--Tidings had, without doubt, been brought to him of our Lord's
first miracle in Cana of Galilee.  We know that it had made a great
impression on the little group of ardent souls, who had been called to
share the village festivities with their newly-found Master; and we
know that some of them were still deeply attached to their old friend
and leader.  From these he would learn the full details of that
remarkable inauguration of this long-expected ministry.  How startled
he must have been at the first hearing!  He had announced the
Husbandman with his fan to thoroughly winnow his floor; the Baptist
with his fire; the Lamb of God, holy, harmless, and separate from
sinners.  But the Messiah opens his ministry among men by mingling with
the simple villagers in their wedding joy, and actually ministers to
their innocent mirth, as He turns the water into wine!  The Son of Man
has come "eating and drinking"!  What a contrast was here to the
austerity of the desert, the coarse raiment, the hard fare!  "John the
Baptist came neither eating nor drinking."  Could this be He?  And yet
there was no doubt that the heaven had been opened above Him, that the
Dove had descended, and that God's voice had declared Him to be the
"Beloved Son."  But what a contrast to all that he had looked for!

Further reflection, however, on that incident, in which Jesus
manifested forth his glory, and the cleansing of the Temple which
immediately followed, must have convinced the Baptist that this
conception of holiness was the true one.  His own type could never be
universal or popular.  It was not to be expected that the mass of men
could be spared from the ordinary demands of daily life to spend their
days in the wilderness as he had done; and it would not have been for
their well-being, or that of the world, if his practice had become the
rule.  It would have been a practical admission that ordinary life was
common and unclean; and that there was no possibility of infusing it
with the high principles of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Consecration to God
would have become synonymous with the exclusion of wife and child, of
home and business, of music and poetry, from the soul of the saint;
whereas its true conception demands that nothing which God has created
can be accounted common or unclean, but all may be included within the
encircling precincts of the Redeemer's Kingdom.  The motto of Christian
consecration is, therefore, given in that remarkable assertion of the
apostle; "Every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be rejected,
if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified through the
Word of God and prayer" (1 Tim. iv. 4, 5).

John saw, beneath the illuminating ray of the Holy Spirit, that this
was the Divine Ideal; that the Redeemer could not contradict the
Creator; that the Kingdom was consistent with the home; and the
presence of the King with the caress of woman and the laughter of the
child, and the innocent mirth of the village feast.  This he saw, and
cried in effect: "That village scene is the key to the Messiah's
ministry to Israel.  He is not only Guest at a bridegroom's table, but
the Bridegroom Himself.  He has come to woo and win the chosen race.
Of old they were called Hephzibah and Beulah; and now those ancient
words come back to mind with newly-minted meaning, with the scent of
spring.  Our land, long bereaved and desolate, is to be married.  Joy,
joy to her!  The Bridegroom is here.  He that hath the bride is the
Bridegroom.  As for me, I am the Bridegroom's friend, sent to negotiate
the match, privileged to know and bring together the two parties in the
blessed nuptials--blessed with the unspeakable gladness of hearing the
Bridegroom's manly speech.  Do you tell me that He is preaching, and
that all come to Him?  That is what I have wanted most of all.  This my
joy, therefore, is fulfilled.  'He must increase, but I must decrease.'"

has been questioned whether the paragraph which follows (John iii.
31-36) was spoken by the Baptist, or is the comment of the Evangelist.
With many eminent commentators, I incline strongly to the former view.
The phraseology employed in this paragraph is closely similar to the
words addressed by Christ to Nicodemus, and often used by Himself, as
in John v.; and they may well have filtered through to the Baptist, by
the lips of Andrew, Peter, and John, who would often retail to their
venerated earliest teacher what they heard from Jesus.

Consider, then, the Baptist's creed at this point of his career.  He
_believed_ in the heavenly origin and divinity of the Son of Man--that
He was from heaven and above all.  He _believed_ in the unique and
divine source of his teaching--that He did not communicate what He had
learnt at second-hand, but stood forth as one speaking what He knows,
and testifying what He has seen--"For He whom God has sent, speaketh
the words of God."  He _believed_ in his copious enduement with the
Holy Spirit.  Knowing that human teachers, at the best, could only
receive the Spirit in a limited degree, he recognised that when God
anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit there was no limit, no
measuring metre, no stint.  It was copious, rich, unmeasured--so much
so that it ran down from his head, as Hermon's dews descend to the
lonely heights of Zion.  He _believed_ in his near relationship to God,
using the well-known Jewish phrase of sonship to describe his
possession of the Divine nature in a unique sense, and recalling the
utterance of the hour of baptism, to give weight to his assurance that
the Father loved Him as Son.  Lastly, He _believed_ in the mediatorial
function of the Man of Nazareth--that the Father had already given all
things into his hand; and that the day was coming when He would sit on
the throne of David, yea, on the mediatorial throne itself, King of
kings, and Lord of lords, the keys of Death and Hades, of the realms of
invisible existence and spiritual power, hanging at his girdle.

To that creed the Baptist added a testimony, which has been the means
of light and blessing to myriads.  Being dead, he yet has spoken
through the ages, assuring us that to believe on Jesus is to have, as a
present fact, eternal life, the life which fills the Being of God and
defies time and change.  Faith is the act by which we open our heart to
receive the gift of God; as earth bares her breast to sun and rain, and
as the good wife flings wide her doors and windows to let in the spring
sunshine and the summer air.  Ah, reader, I would that thou hadst this
faith!  The open heart towards Christ!  The yielded will!  Thou needst
only will to have Him, and He has already entered, though thou canst
not detect his footfall, or the chime of the bells around his garment's
hem.  And to shut thy heart against Him not only excludes the life
which might be thine, but incurs the wrath of God.

_There are two concluding thoughts_.  First: The only hope of a
decreasing self is an increasing Christ.  There is too much of the
self-life in us all, chafing against God's will, refusing God's gifts,
instigating the very services we render to God, simulating humility and
meekness for the praise of men.  But how can we be rid of this accursed
self-consciousness and pride?  Ah! we must turn our back on our shadow,
and our face towards Christ.  We must look at all things from his
standpoint, trying to realize always how they affect Him, and then
entering into his emotions.  It has been said that "the woman who loves
thinks with the brain of the man she loves", and surely if we love
Christ with a constraining passion, we shall think his thoughts and
feel his joys, and no longer live unto ourselves, but unto Him.

  "Love took up the Harp of Life
    And smote on all its chords with might;
  Smote the chord of self, that trembling,
    Passed in music out of sight."

Second: we must view our relationship to Christ as the betrothal and
marriage of our soul to our Maker and Redeemer, who is also our
Husband.  "Wherefore, my brethren," says the apostle, "ye also were
made dead to the law through the body of Christ; that ye should be
married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we
should bring forth fruit unto God" (Rom. vii. 4).

The Son of God is not content to love us.  He cannot rest till He has
all our love in return.  "He looketh in at the windows" of the soul,
"and showeth Himself through the lattice."  Our Beloved speaks, and
says unto us, "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away."  And, as
our response, He waits to hear us say:

  "My Beloved is mine, and I am his;
  He feedeth his flock among the lilies.
  Until the day break, and the shadows flee away,
  Turn, my Beloved!"


The King's Courts


  "The number of thine own complete,
    Sum up and make an end;
  Sift clean the chaff, and house the wheat;
    And then, O Lord, descend.

  "Descend, and solve by that descent
    This mystery of life;
  Where good and ill, together blent,
    Wage an undying strife."
            J. H. N.

Under Royal Surveillance--"It is not Lawful."--The Revenge of
Herodias--The Upbraidings of Conscience--Devotion to Truth--"A Sin unto

Our story brings us next to speak of the Baptist's relations with Herod
Antipas, son of the great Herod, a contemptible princeling who
inherited a fourth part of his father's dominions (hence known as the
Tetrarch), ruling over Galilee and part of Perea.  For the most part he
lived at Tiberias, in great state, which he had imported from Rome,
where he had spent part of his early life.  From an early age he had
been entrusted with despotic power, and, as the natural and inevitable
result, had become sensual, weak, capricious, and cruel.

It is of the collision between this man, whom our Lord compared to a
fox, and John the Baptist, that we have now to treat.  We need only
notice here that every great character on the page of history has had
his vehement antagonist.  Moses, Pharaoh; Elijah, Ahab; Jeremiah,
Jehoiakim; Paul, Nero; Savonarola, the Medici; Luther, the Emperor
Charles V.; John Knox, Queen Mary.

I.  THE CAUSE OF THE COLLISION.--All the world had flocked to see and
hear John the Baptist.  Every mouth was full of his eccentricities and
eloquence.  Marvellous stories were being told of the effect which he
had produced on the lives of those who had come under his influence.
All this was well known to Herod.  His spies were present in every
great gathering, and served the purpose of the newspaper of to-day; so
that he was well informed of all the topics that engaged the popular

For some months, also, Herod had watched the career of the preacher.
When he least expected it, he was under the surveillance of the closest
criticism.  A fierce light, like that which beats about a throne, fell
strongly on his most secret actions.  And the result had been perfectly
satisfactory.  Herod felt that John was a true man.  He observed him,
and was satisfied that he was a just man and a holy.  Reasons of state
forbade the king from going in person to the Jordan Valley; but he was
extremely eager to see and hear this mighty man of God: and so, one
day, at the close of a discourse, an argument with the Pharisees, or
the administration of the rite of baptism, John found himself accosted
by one of the court chamberlains, and summoned to deliver his message
before the court.  Herod "sent for him."

We might wonder how it could happen that a man like Herod, who
notoriously lived in a glass house, so far as character went, should be
so willing to call in so merciless a preacher of repentance as John the
Baptist was--before whose words, flung like stones, full many a glass
house had crashed to the ground, leaving its tenant unsheltered before
the storm.  But it must be remembered that most men, when they enter
the precincts of the court, are accustomed to put velvet in their
mouths; and, however vehement they may have been in denouncing the sins
of the lower classes, they change their tone when face to face with
sinners in high places.  Herod, therefore, had every reason to presume
that John would obey this unwritten law; and, whilst denouncing sin in
general, would refrain from anything savouring of the direct and

Another reason probably actuated Herod.  He knew that the land was
filled with the fame of the Baptist, and it seemed an easy path to
popularity, and likely to divert attention from his private sins, which
had made much scandal, to patronize the religion of the masses.  At
this point he probably entertained much the same feeling toward the
desert-prophet that led Simon the Pharisee to invite Jesus to eat with
him.  "Yes, let John the Baptist come.  Court life is dreary and
monotonous enough.  It will make a little diversion, like a breath of
fresh air on a sultry day.  It is worth risking a little roughness in
his speech, and uncouthness in his manner, if only he while away an
afternoon.  Besides, it will please his following, which is
considerable.  Let him come, by all means."

We are reminded of a similar scene in Old Testament history, when, at
the solicitation of Jehoshaphat, Ahab sent for Micaiah.  "The messenger
that went to call Micaiah spake unto him, saying, 'Behold, the words of
the prophets declare good to the king with one mouth; let thy word
therefore, I pray thee, be like one of theirs, and speak thou good.'"

One interpretation of Mark vi. 20 suggests that the Baptist's first
sermon before Herod was followed by another, and yet another.  The
Baptist dealt with general subjects, urged on the King's attention some
minor reforms, which were not too personal or drastic, and won his
genuine regard.  We are told that he used to hear (the _imperfect
tense_) him gladly, and "did many things."  It was a relief to Herod's
mind to feel that there were many things which he could do, many wrongs
which he could set right, while the main wrong of his life was left
untouched.  Ah! it is remarkable how much men will do in the direction
of amendment and reform, if only, by a tacit understanding, nothing is
said, or hinted at, which threatens the one sin in which the heart's
evil has concentrated itself.  But John knew that his duty to Herod, to
truth, to public morality, demanded that he should go further, and
pierce to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, of the joints and
marrow; and therefore on one memorable occasion he accosted the royal
criminal with the crime of which men were speaking secretly everywhere,
and uttered the memorable sentence which could not be forgiven: "It is
not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife."

We can imagine how some room in the palace, which had often been the
scene of wild riot, would be improvised as an audience chamber, filled
with seats, and crowded on each occasion of the Baptist's appearance
with a strange and brilliant throng.  In the midst, the king and the
woman with whom he was living in illicit union; next them her daughter,
Salome; around them courtiers and ladies, nobles and pages, soldiers
and servants.  On all sides splendid dresses, magnificent uniforms,
rare jewels, luxurious upholstery, added light and colour to the scene.

The sermon began.  As was John's wont, he arraigned the sin, the
formalism, the laxity of the times; he proclaimed the advent of the
Kingdom, the presence of the King; he demanded, in the name of God,
repentance and reform.  Herod was, as usual, impressed and convinced;
he assented to the preacher's propositions; already he had settled
himself into his usual posture for hearing gladly.  It was as when we
watch summer-lightning playing around the horizon; we have no fear so
long as it is not forked.

Presently, however, John becomes more personal and direct than ever
before.  He begins, in no measured terms, to denounce the sin of men in
high places, and holds up the dissoluteness which disgraced the court.
As he proceeds, a breathless silence falls on the crowd sitting, or
hanging around him, their dresses in curious contrast to his severe
garment of camel's hair, their nervous dread in as great contrast to
his incisive and searching eloquence.  Here were the people clothed in
soft raiment, and accustomed to sumptuous fare, bending as reeds before
the gusts of wind sweeping fiercely across the marsh.

Finally, the preacher comes closer still, and pointing to the princess
who sat beside Herod, looking Herod in the face, he exclaims: "It is
not lawful for thee to have thy brother's wife."

We need not dwell on all the terrible details of that disgraceful sin.
But every circumstance which could deepen its infamy was present.
Herod's wife, the daughter of Aretas, King of Arabia, was still living;
as was Philip, the husband of Herodias.  The _liaison_ commenced at
Rome, when Herod was the guest of his brother Philip, while apparently
engaged on a mission of holy devotion to the religious interests of the
Jewish nation.

The ground of John's accusation calls for a heavier emphasis than
appears in a superficial consideration of the words.  He might have
said: "It is not expedient; your wife's father will rise in arms
against you, and threaten the Eastern border of your kingdom.  It is
not expedient to run the risk of war, which may give Rome a further
excuse against you."  He might have said: "This is an unwise step, as
it will cut you off from your own family, and leave you exposed to the
brunt of popular hate."  He might have said: "It is impolitic and
incautious to risk the adverse judgment of the Emperor."  But he said
none of these things.  He took the matter to a higher court.  He
arraigned the guilty pair before God; and, laying his axe at the root
of the tree--calling on Herod's conscience, long gagged and silent, to
take part in the impeachment--he said, in effect: "I summon you before
the bar of God, and in the pure light which streams from his holy
Oracle, your consciences being witnesses against you, you know
perfectly well that it is not right for you to be living as you are
living.  'Thou shalt not commit adultery.'"

Every hearer stood aghast.  A death-like hush fell on the assembly,
which probably broke up in dismay.  So paralyzed was every one that no
hand was laid on the preacher.  We are expressly told that "Herod _sent
forth_ and laid hold upon John" (Mark vi. 17); from which we infer that
the fearless preacher passed out through the paralyzed and
conscience-stricken assemblage, leaving dismay, like that which befell
the roysterers in Belshazzar's court, when the hand of the Almighty
traced the mysterious characters on the palace wall in lines of fire.

The first feeling of awe and conscience-stricken remorse would,
however, soon pass off.  Some would hasten to condole with Herodias;
some to sympathize with Herod.  Herodias would retire to her
apartments, accompanied by her high ladies, vowing fiery vengeance on
the preacher--a very Jezebel, thirsting for the blood of another
Elijah.  Throughout Herod's court there would be an effort to dismiss
the allusion as "Altogether uncalled for;" as "What might have been
expected from such a man;" as "A gross breach of manners," as "An
affront against delicacy of taste."

But Herodias would give her paramour no rest; and, perhaps one evening,
when John had retired for meditation and prayer, his disciples being
off their guard and the people absent, a handful of soldiers arrested
him, bound him, and led him off to the strong castle of Machaerus.

Machaerus was known as "the diadem," or "the black tower."  It lay on
the east side of the Dead Sea, almost on a line with Bethlehem.  The
ruins of the castle are still to be seen, in great masses of squared
stone, on the top of a lofty hill, surrounded on three sides by
unscaleable precipices, descending to such depths that Josephus says
the eye could not reach their bottom.  The fourth side is described as
only a little less terrible.  Wild desolation reigned far and near.  A
German traveller mentions the masses of lava, brown, red, and black,
varied with pumice-stone, distributed in huge broken masses, or rising
in perpendicular cliffs; whilst the rushing stream, far below, is
overgrown with oleanders and date-palms, willows, poplars, and tall
reeds.  Here and there, thick mists of steam arise, where the hot
sulphur springs gush from the clefts of the rocks.

On this impregnable site, Dr. Geikie tells us that Herod had erected a
great wall, enclosing the summit of the hill, with towers two hundred
feet high at the corners, and in the space thus gained had built a
grand palace, with rows of columns of a single stone apiece, halls
lined with many-coloured marbles, magnificent baths, and all the
details of Roman luxury, not omitting huge cisterns, barracks, and
store-houses, with everything needed in case of a siege.  From the
windows there was a magnificent view of the Dead Sea, the whole course
of the Jordan, Jerusalem, Hebron, the frowning fortress of Marsaba, and
away to the north, the wild heights of Pisgah and Abarim.  Detached
from the palace was a stern and gloomy keep, with underground dungeons
still visible, hewn down into the solid rock.  This was the scene of
John's imprisonment.

The Evangelist says expressly that they _bound_ the child of the
desert-wastes, with his love for dear liberty--sensitive to the touch
of the sunshine and the breeze, to the beauty that lay over the hills,
accustomed to go and come at his will--as though it were the last
indignity and affront to fetter those lithe and supple limbs, and place
them under constraint.  Ah, it is little short of a sin to encage a
wild bird, beating its heart against the bars of its narrow cage, when
the sun calls it to mount up with quivering ecstasy to the gates of
day; but what a sin to bind the preacher of righteousness, and imprison
him in sunless vaults--what an agony!  What a contrast between the gay
revelry that reigned yonder within the palace, and the slow torture
which the noble spirit of the Baptist was doomed to suffer through
those weary months!

Is there anything like that in your life, my reader?  In many an old
castle the attention of the visitor is directed to a haunted room,
where ghosts are said to walk at night; but in how many hearts there
are dark subterranean apartments, where conscience, gagged and bound,
lies imprisoned!  Outwardly there is the gaiety and mirth as of a
palace; but inwardly there is remorse, misery, unrest.  In lonely hours
there is a voice which pierces the thickest walls of your assumed
indifference, and rings up into the house of your life, where the soul
seeks to close its ear in vain.  It is a sad, monotonous,
heart-piercing cry which that voice repeats: "It is not lawful, not
lawful, not lawful."  Whenever there is a moment of silence and
respite, you hear it--"Not lawful, not lawful."  And nothing can stay
it but repentance, confession, restitution, so far as may be, and the
blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, which cleanseth from all sin.

From time to time it would seem as though the strictness of John's
imprisonment was relaxed.  His disciples were permitted to see him, and
tell him of what was happening in the world without; but stranger than
all, he was summoned to have audiences with Herod himself.

Another rendering of Mark vi. 19, 20, which is perfectly legitimate,
and is favoured by the R.V., suggests that the king was ill at ease,
and swept to and fro by very different currents.

First, he was deeply incensed.  As he thought of the manner in which
the Baptist had treated him, denouncing him before his court, the fire
of anger burnt fiercely within his breast; and he had beside him a Lady
Macbeth, a beautiful fiend and temptress, who knew that while the
Baptist lived, and dared to speak as he had done, her position was not
safe.  She knew Herod well enough to dread the uprising of his
conscience at the appeals of truth.  And perpetually, when she saw her
chance, she whispered in Herod's ear, "The sooner you do away with that
man the better.  You don't love me perfectly, as long as you permit him
to breathe.  Unmannerly cur!"  "Herodias set herself against him, and
desired to kill him; but she could not."

On the other side, Herod was in fear.  He feared John, "knowing that he
was a righteous man and a holy."  He feared the people, because they
held him for a prophet.  And, beneath all, he feared God, lest he
should step in to avenge any wrong perpetrated against his servant.

Between these two influences he was "much perplexed" (Mark vi. 20,
R.V.).  When he was with Herodias, he thought as she did, and left her,
almost resolved to give the fatal order; but when he was alone, the
other influence made itself felt, and he would send for John:

"I would like to see him again, chamberlain--tell the gaoler to send
the Baptist hither; let his coming to my private room be, however, kept
secret.  I don't want all my court blabbing."

And the gaoler would come to the cell door, and call to his prisoner,
with a mixture of effrontery and obsequiousness, "Up, man; the king
wants you.  Put on your softest speech.  It will serve you better than
that rasping tongue of yours.  Why cannot you leave the king and his
private affairs alone?  They are no business of yours or mine."

And might not Herod attempt to induce the prophet to take back his
ruthless sentence?  "Come," he might say, "you remember what you said.
If you unsay that sentence, I will set you free.  I cannot, out of
respect for my consort, allow such words to remain unretracted.  There,
you have your freedom in your own hands.  One word of apology, and you
may go your way; and my solemn bond is yours, that you shall be kept
free from molestation."

If such an offer were made, it must have presented a strong temptation
to the emaciated captive, whose physique had already lost the
elasticity and vigour of his early manhood, and was showing signs of
his grievous privation.  But he had no alternative; and, however often
the ordeal was repeated, he met the royal solicitation with the same
unwavering reply: "I have no alternative.  It is not lawful for thee to
have thy brother's wife.  I should betray my God, and act treacherously
to thyself, if I were to take back one word which I have spoken; and
thou knowest that it is so."  And as he reasoned of righteousness,
temperance, and a judgment to come, the royal culprit trembled.

John could do no other; but it was a sublime act of devotion to God and
Truth.  He had no thought for himself at all, and thought only of the
choice and destiny of that guilty pair, from which he would warn and
save them, if he might.  Well might the Lord ask, in after days, if
John were a reed shaken with the wind.  Rather he resembled a forest
tree, whose deeply-struck and far-spreading roots secure it against the
attack of the hurricane; or a mighty Alp, which defies the tremor of
the earthquake, and rears its head above the thunder-storms, which
break upon its slopes, to hold fellowship with the skies.

How many men are like Herod!  They resemble the superficial ground, on
which the seed springs into rapid and unnatural growth; but the rock
lies close beneath the surface.  Now they are swayed by the voice of
the preacher, and moved by the pleadings of conscience, allowed for one
brief moment to utter its protests and remonstrances; and then they
feel the fascination of their sin, that unholy passion, that sinful
habit, that ill-gotten gain--and are sucked back from the beach, on
which they were almost free, into the sea of ink and death.

You may be trying, my reader, to steer a middle course between John the
Baptist and Herodias.  Now you resolve to get free of her guilty
charms, and break the spell that fascinates you.  Merlin will
emancipate himself from Vivien, before she learn his secret, and dance
with it down the wood, leaving him dishonoured and ashamed.  But,
within an hour, the Syren is again singing her dulcet notes, and
drawing the ship closer and closer to the rocks, with their black
teeth, waiting to grind it to splinters.  Oh that there might come to
you the voice that spoke with such power to Augustine, and that like
him you might now and here yield yourself to it; so that when the
temptress, whatever form she may assume, approaches you with the
whisper: "I am _she_, Augustine," you may answer: "But I am not _he_!"

So John was left in prison.  Month after month he languished in the
dark and stifling dungeon, wondering a little, now and again, why the
Master, if He were the Son of God, did not interpose to work his
deliverance.  But of that anon.

remanded to his cell.  Probably twelve months passed thus.  But each
time the king failed to act on the preacher's remonstrances; he became
more impervious to his appeals, more liable to the sway of passion.
Thus, when a supreme moment came, in which he was under the influence
of drink and unholy appetite, and the reign of such moral nature as
remained was greatly enfeebled, it is not to be wondered at that
Herodias had her way, and before her murderous request the last thin
fence of resistance broke down, and he gave orders that it should be as
she desired.

The story does not end here.  He not only murdered John the Baptist,
but he inflicted a deadly wound on his own moral nature, from which it
never recovered, as we shall see.  Ultimately he had no thought in the
presence of Christ other than to see Him work a miracle; and when his
desire was refused, set him at nought with his mighty men, mocked his
claims to be the King of Israel, did not scruple to treat Him with
indignity and violence, and so dismissed Him.

Is it wonderful that our Lord was speechless before such a man?  What
else could He be?  The deterioration had been so awful and complete.
For the love of God can say nothing to us, though it be prepared to die
on our behalf, so long as we refuse to repent of, and put away, our
sin.  We remember some solemn words, which may be applied in all their
fearful significance to that scene: "There is a sin unto death; not
concerning this do I say that he should make request."


"Art Thou He?"


  "He fought his doubts and gathered strength,
    He would not make his judgment blind,
    He faced the spectres of the mind
  And laid them;--thus he came, at length,

  "To find a stronger faith his own,
    And Power was with him in the night,
    Which makes the darkness and the light,
  And dwells not in the light alone."

John's Misgivings--Disappointed Hopes--Signs of the Christ--The
Discipline of Patience--A New Beatitude

It is very touching to remark the tenacity with which some few of
John's disciples clung to their great leader.  The majority had
dispersed: some to their homes; some to follow Jesus.  Only a handful
lingered still, not alienated by the storm of hate which had broken on
their master, but drawn nearer, with the unfaltering loyalty of
unchangeable affection.  They could not forget what he had been to
them--that he had first called them to the reality of living; that he
had taught them to pray; that he had led them to the Christ: and they
dare not desert him now, in the dark sad days of his imprisonment and

What an inestimable blessing to have friends like this, who will not
leave our side when the crowd ebbs, but draw closer as the shadows
darken over our path, and the prison damp wraps its chill mantle about
us!  To be loved like that is earth's deepest bliss!  These heroic
souls risked all the peril that might accrue to themselves from this
identification with their master; they did not hesitate to come to his
cell with tidings of the great outer world, and specially of what He
was doing and saying, whose life was so mysteriously bound up with his
own.  "The disciples of John told him of all these things" (Luke vii.
18, R.V.).

It was to two of these choice and steadfast friends that John confided
the question which had long been forming within his soul, and forcing
itself to the front.  "And John, calling unto him two of his disciples,
sent them to the Lord, saying, Art Thou He that cometh, or look we for

I.  JOHN'S MISGIVINGS.--Can this be he who, but a few months ago, had
stood in his rock-hewn pulpit, in radiant certainty?  The brilliant
eastern sunlight that bathed his figure, as he stood erect amid the
thronging crowds, was the emblem and symbol of the light that filled
his soul.  No misgiving crossed it.  He pointed to Christ with
unfaltering certitude, saying, This is He, the Lamb of God, the Son of
the Father, the Bridegroom of the soul.  How great the contrast between
that and this sorrowful cry, "Art Thou He?"

Some commentators, to save his credit, have supposed that the embassy
was sent to the Lord for the sake of the disciples, that their hearts
might be opened, their faith confirmed--and that they might have a head
and leader when he was gone.  But the narrative has to be greatly
strained and dragged out of its obvious course to make it cover the
necessities of such an hypothesis.  It is more natural to think that
John the Baptist was for a brief spell under a cloud, involved in
doubt, tempted to let go the confidence that had brought him such
ecstatic joy when he first saw the Dove descending and abiding.

The Bible does not scruple to tell us of the failures of its noblest
children: of Abram, thinking that the Egyptians would take his life; of
Elijah, stretching himself beneath the shadow of the desert bush, and
asking that he might die; of Thomas, who had been prepared to die with
his Lord, but could not believe that He was risen.  And in this the
Spirit of God has rendered us untold service, because we learn that the
material out of which He made the greatest saints was flesh and blood
like ourselves; and that it was by Divine grace, manifested very
conspicuously towards them, that they became what they were.  If only
the ladder rests on the low earth, where we live and move and have our
being, there is some hope of our climbing to stand with others who have
ascended its successive rungs and reached the starry heights.  Yes, let
us believe that, for some days at least, John's mind was overcast, his
faith lost its foothold, and he seemed to be falling into bottomless
depths.  _He sent them to Jesus, saying, Art Thou He that should come_?
We can easily trace this lapse of faith to three sources.

(1) _Depression_.  He was the child of the desert.  The winds that
swept across the waste were not freer.  The boundless spaces of the
Infinite had stretched above him, in vaulted immensity, when he slept
at night or wrought through the busy days; and as he found himself
cribbed, cabined, and confined in the narrow limits of his cell, his
spirits sank.  He pined with the hunger of a wild thing for liberty--to
move without the clanking fetters; to drink of the fresh water of the
Jordan, to breathe the morning air; to look on the expanse of nature.
Is it hard to understand how his deprivations reacted on his mental and
spiritual organization, or that his nervous system lost its elasticity
of tone, or that the depression of his physical life cast a shadow on
his soul?

We are all so highly strung, so delicately balanced.  Often the lack of
spiritual joy and peace and power in prayer is attributable to nothing
else than our confinement in the narrow limits of a tiny room; to the
foul, gaseous air we are compelled to breathe; to our inability to get
beyond the great city, with its wilderness of brick, into the country,
with its blossoms, fields, and woodland glades.  In a large number of
spiritual maladies the physician is more necessary than the minister of
religion; a holiday by the seaside or on the mountains, than a

What an infinite comfort it is to be told that God knows how easily our
nature may become jangled and out of tune.  He can attribute our doubts
and fears to their right source.  He knows the bow is bent to the point
of breaking, and the string strained to its utmost tension.  He does
not rebuke his servants when they cast themselves under juniper bushes,
and ask to die; but sends them food and sleep.  And when they send from
their prisons, saying, Art Thou He? there is no word of rebuke, but of
tender encouragement and instruction.

(2) _Disappointment_.  When first consigned to prison, he had expected
every day that Jesus would in some way deliver him.  Was He not the
opener of prison-doors?  Was not all power at his disposal?  Did He not
wield the sceptre of the house of David?  Surely He would not let his
faithful follower lie in the despair of that dark dungeon!  In that
first sermon at Nazareth, of which he had been informed, was it not
expressly stated to be part of the Divine programme, for which He had
been anointed, that He would open prison-doors, and proclaim liberty to
captives?  He would surely then send his angels to open his
prison-doors, and lead him forth into the light!

But the weeks grew to months, and still no help came.  It was
inexplicable to John's honest heart, and suggested the fear that he had
been mistaken after all.  We can sympathize in this also.  Often in our
lives we have counted on God's interfering to deliver us from some
intolerable sorrow.  With ears alert, and our heart throbbing with
expectancy, we have lain in our prison-cell listening for the first
faint footfall of the angel; but the weary hours have passed without
bringing him, and we have questioned whether God were mindful of his
own; whether prayer prevailed; whether the promises were to be
literally appropriated by us?

(3) _Partial views of Christ_.  "John heard in the prison the works of
Jesus."  They were wholly beneficent and gentle.

"What has He done since last you were here?"

"He has laid his hands on a few sick folk, and healed them; has
gathered a number of children to his arms, and blessed them; has sat on
the mountain, and spoken of rest and peace and blessedness."

"Yes; good.  But what more?"

"A woman touched the hem of his garment, and trembled, and confessed,
and went away healed."

"Good!  But what more?"

"Well, there were some blind men, and He laid his hands on them, and
they saw."

"Is that all?  Has He not used the fan to winnow the wheat, and the
fire to burn up the chaff?  This is what I was expecting, and what I
have been taught to expect by Isaiah and the rest of the prophets.  I
cannot understand it.  This quiet, gentle life of benevolence is
outside my calculations.  There must be some mistake.  Go and ask Him
whether we should expect _another_, made in a different mould, and who
shall be as the fire, the earthquake, the tempest, while He is as the
still small voice."

John had partial views of the Christ--he thought of Him only as the
Avenger of sin, the Maker of revolution, the dread Judge of all.  There
was apparently no room in his conception for the gentler, sweeter,
tenderer aspects of his Master's nature.  And for want of a clearer
understanding of what God by the mouth of his holy prophets had spoken
since the world began, he fell into this Slough of Despond.

It was a grievous pity; yet let us not blame him too vehemently, lest
we blame ourselves.  Is not this what we do?  We form a notion of God,
partly from what we think He ought to be, partly from some distorted
notions we have derived from others; and then because God fails to
realize our conception, we begin to doubt.  We think, for instance,
that if there be a righteous God, He will not permit wrong to triumph;
little children to suffer for the sins of their parents; the innocent
to be trodden beneath the foot of the oppressor and the proud; or the
dumb creatures to be tortured in the supposed interest of medical
science.  Surely God will step out of his hiding-place and open all
prisons, emancipate all captives, and wave a hand of benediction over
all creation.  Thus we think and say; and then, because the world still
groans and travails, we question whether God is in his high heaven.
Like John, men have a notion, founded on some faulty knowledge of
Scripture, that God will act in a certain preconceived way, in the
thunder, the whirlwind, and the fire; and when God does not, but
pursues his tender, gentle ministries, descending in summer showers,
speaking in soft, still tones, distilling in the dew-drops, winning his
empire over men by love, they say--"Is this He?"

II.  THE LORD'S REPLY.--"In that hour He cured many of diseases, and
plagues, and evil spirits; and on many that were blind He bestowed
sight."  Through the long hours of the day, the disciples stood in the
crowd, while the pitiable train of sick and demon-possessed passed
before the Saviour, coming in every stage of need, and going away
cleansed and saved.  Even the dead were raised.  And at the close the
Master turned to them, and with a deep significance in his tone, said,
"Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; the
blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and
the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good tidings
preached to them.  And blessed is he, whosoever shall find none
occasion of stumbling in Me."

(1) _It was Indirect_.  He did not say, I am He that was to come, and
there is no need to look for another.  Had He done so, He might have
answered John's intellect, but not his heart.  After a few hours the
assurance would have waxed dim, and he would have questioned again.  He
might have wondered whether Jesus were not Himself deceived.  One
question always leads to another, so long as the heart is unsatisfied;
hence the refusal on the part of our Lord to answer the question, and
his evident determination to allay the restlessness and disquietude of
the heart that throbbed beneath.

God might, had He so willed, have written in starry characters across
the sky the Divine words, "I am Jehovah, and ye shall have no other
gods beside Me"; or He might have flashed it, and obliterated it to
flash it again, as the electric cylinders which serve the purposes of
advertisements in our large cities by night.  This might have awed the
intellect, but it would not have convinced the heart.  Were this God's
method, we should miss the benediction on those who have not seen and
yet have believed.  We should miss the discipline of waiting until our
doubts are dissolved by the Spirit of God.  The intellect might be
temporarily overpowered with the evidence; but the soul, the heart, and
the spirit, would miss the true knowledge that comes through purity,
faith, and waiting upon God--the deepest knowledge of all.  Besides,
though one were to rise from the dead, and come to men with the awe of
the vision of the other world stamped on his face, they would not
believe.  The evidence of the unseen and eternal must be given, not to
the startled physical sense, but to the soul.  Some other deeper method
must be adopted; the heart must be taught to wait, trust, and accept
those deep intuitions and revelations which establish the being of God.

(2) _The Answer was Mysterious_.  Surely, if He were able to do so
much, He could do more.  The power that healed the sick and lame and
blind, and cast out demons, could surely deliver John.  It made his
heart the more wistful, to hear of these displays of power.  He had to
learn that the Lord healed these poor folks so easily because the light
soil of their nature could not bear the richer harvests; because their
soul could not stand the cutting through which alone the brilliant
facets which were possible to his could be secured.  It was because
John was a royal soul, the greatest of woman born, because his nature
was capable of yielding the best results to the Divine culture, that he
was kept waiting, whilst others caught up the blessing and went away
healed.  Only three months remained of life, and in these the
discipline of patience and doubt must do their perfect work.

That is where you have made a mistake.  You have thought God was hard
on you, that He would help everybody but you; but you have not
understood that your nature was so dear to God, and so precious in his
sight, and so capable of the greatest development, that God loved you
too much to let you off so lightly, and give you what you wanted, and
send you on your way.  God could have given you sight, made that lame
foot well, restored the child to health, and opened the iron prison
door of your circumstances.  _He could_; but for all eternity you will
thank Him He did not, because you are capable of something else.  We
are kept waiting through the long years--not that He loves us less, but
more; not that He refuses what we ask, but that in the long strain and
tension He is making us partakers of his blessedness.  John's nature
would presently yield a martyr and win a martyr's crown: was not that
reason enough for not giving him at once the deliverance he sought?

(3) _The Answer was Sufficient_.  Together with the works of
beneficence, the Lord drew John's attention to words he seemed in
danger of forgetting; "Strengthen ye the weak hands, and confirm the
feeble knees.  Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong; fear
not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of
God.  He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be
opened; and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped; then shall the
lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in
the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert."
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord hath anointed
Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the
broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of
the prison to them that are bound."  The Lord strove to convince the
questioner that his views were too partial and limited, and to send him
back to a more comprehensive study of the old Scriptures.  It was as
though Jesus said, "Go to your master, and tell him to take again the
ancient prophecy and study it.  He has taken the sterner predictions to
the neglect of the gentler, softer ones.  It is true that I am to
proclaim the day of vengeance; but first I must reveal the acceptable
year.  It is true that I am to come as a Mighty One, and my arm shall
rule for Me; but it is also true that I am to feed my flock like a
Shepherd, and gather the lambs in my arm."

We make the same mistake.  We have but a partial view of Christ, and
need to get back to the Bible afresh, and study anew its comprehensive
words; then we shall come to understand that the present is the time of
the hiding of his power, the time of waiting, the time of the gentler
ministries.  Some day He will gird on his sword; some day He will
winnow his floor; some day He will ride in a chariot of flame; some day
He will sit upon the throne and judge those who oppress the innocent
and take advantage of the poor.  We have not yet seen the end of the
Lord: we have not all the evidence.  This is our mistake.  But our
Saviour is offering us every day evidences of his Divine and loving
power.  Last week I saw Him raise the dead; yesterday, before my eyes,
He struck the chains from a prisoner; at this hour He is giving sight
to the blind; to-morrow He will cast out demons.  The world is full of
evidences of his gracious and Divine power.  They are not so striking
and masterful as deeds of judgment and wrath might be--they need a
quicker eye, a purer heart to discern; but they are not less
significant of the fact that He liveth who was dead, and that He is
alive for evermore.  And these are sufficient, not only because of the
transformations which are effected, but because of their moral quality,
to show that there is One within the vail who lives in the power of an
indissoluble life.

III.  A NEW BEATITUDE.--"Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended
in Me."  Our Lord put within the reach of his noble Forerunner the
blessedness of those who have not seen and yet have believed; of those
who trust though they are slain; of those who wait the Lord's leisure;
and of those who cannot understand his dealings, but rest in what they
know of his heart.  This is the beatitude of the unoffended, of those
who do not stumble over the mystery of God's dealings with their life.

This blessedness is within our reach also.  There are times when we are
overpowered with the mystery of life and nature.  The world is so full
of pain and sorrow, the litany of its need is so sad and pitiful,
strong hearts are breaking under an intolerable load; while the battle
seems only to the strong and the race to those who, by some mysterious
providence, come of a healthy, though not specially moral or religious,
stock.  And if the incidence of pain and sorrow on the world be
explained by its ungodliness, why does nature groan and travail? why
are the forest glades turned into a very shambles? why does creation
seem to achieve itself through the terrific struggle for survival?

God's children are sometimes the most bitterly tried.  For them the
fires are heated seven times; days of weariness and nights of pain are
appointed them; they suffer, not only at the hand of man, but it seems
as though God Himself were turned against them, to become their enemy.
The heavens seem as brass to their cries and tears, and the enemy has
reason to challenge them with the taunt, "Where is now your God!"  The
waters of a full cup are wrung out in days like these; and the cry is
extorted, "How long, O Lord, how long?"

You and I have been in this plight.  We have said, "Hath God forgotten
to be gracious?  Has He in anger shut up his tender mercies?"  From our
prison-cell we send up the appeal to our Brother in the glory: "Help
us; for if Thou leavest us to our fate, we shall question if Thou art
He."  We are tempted to stumbling.  We are like to fall over the
mysteries of God's dealings with us.  We are more able than ever before
to appreciate the standpoint occupied by Job's wife, when she said to
her husband, "Curse God, and die."

Then we have the chance of inheriting a new beatitude.  By refusing to
bend under the mighty hand of God--questioning, chafing, murmuring--we
miss the door which would admit us into rich and unalloyed happiness.
We fumble about the latch, but it is not lifted.  But if we will quiet
our souls like a weaned child, anointing our heads, and washing our
faces, light will break in on us as from the eternal morning; the peace
of God will keep our hearts and minds, and we shall enter on the
blessedness which our Lord unfolded before the gaze of his faithful


None greater than John the Baptist, yet...


  "Search thine own heart.  What paineth thee
  In others, in thyself may be;
  All dust is frail, all flesh is weak;
  Be thou the same man thou dost seek!

  "Where now with pain thou treadest, trod
  The whitest of the saints of God!
  To show thee where their feet were set,
  The light which led them shineth yet."

Christ's Appreciation--His Independence--The Simplicity of his
Life--His Place in the Devine Economy--The Spirit of Meekness--The
Greatness of Humility

While John's disciples were standing there, our Lord said nothing in
his praise, but as soon as they had departed, the flood-gates of his
heart were thrown wide open, and He began to speak to the multitudes
concerning his faithful servant.  It was as though He would give him no
cause for pride by what He said.  He desired to give his friend no
additional temptation during those lonely hours.  We say our kind
things before each other's faces; our hard things when the back is
turned.  It is not so with Christ.  He passes his most generous
encomiums when we are not there to hear them.  Christ may never tell
you how greatly He loves and values you; but while you lie there in
your prison, with sad and overcast heart, He is saying and thinking
great things about you yonder.

when John had fallen beneath his usual level, below high-water mark,
that Jesus uttered his warmest and most generous words of
appreciation--"Among them that are born of women, there hath not risen
a greater than John the Baptist."

"But, dost Thou really mean, most holy Lord, that this one is the
greatest born of woman?"

"Certainly," saith Christ, in effect.

"But he has asked if Thou art really the Messiah."

"I know it," saith the Lord.

"But how canst Thou say that he is to be compared with Moses, Isaiah,
or Daniel?  Did they doubt Thee thus?  And how canst Thou say that he
is not a reed shaken with the wind, when, but now, he gave patent
evidence that he was stooping beneath the hurrying tread of gales of
doubt and depression?"

"Ah," the Master seems to say, "Heaven judges, not by a passing mood,
but by the general tenor and trend of a man's life; not by the
expression of a doubt, caused by accidents which may be explained, but
by the soul of man within him, which is as much deeper than the
emotions as the heart of the ocean is deeper than the cloud-shadows
which hurry across its surface."

Yes, the Lord judges us by that which is deepest, most permanent, most
constant and prevalent with us; by the ideal we seek to apprehend; by
the decision and choice of our soul; by that bud of possibility which
lies as yet furled, and unrealized even by ourselves.

There is a remarkable parallel to this incident in the Old Testament.
When we are first introduced to Gideon, the youngest son of Joash the
Abi-ezrite, he is not in a very dignified position.  He is threshing
wheat by the wine-press, to hide it from the hosts of Midian, which
devoured the produce of the entire country.  There was no moral wrong
in eluding the vigilance of the Midian spies, in transporting the wheat
from the open country, where the wind might fan away the chaff, to the
comparative seclusion and unlikeliness of the wine-press; but there was
nothing specially heroic or inspiring in the spectacle.  Yet, when the
angel of the Lord appeared unto him, he said, "The Lord is with thee,
thou mighty man of valour."

"Mighty man of valour!"  At first there is an apparent incongruity
between this high-sounding salutation and the bearing of the man to
whom it was addressed.  Surely such an address is far-fetched and
fulsome; yet subsequent events prove that every syllable of it was
deservedly true.  Gideon was a mighty man of valour, and God was with
him.  The heavenly messenger read beneath the outward passing incident,
and saw under the clumsy letters of the palimpsest the deep and holy
characters which were awaiting the moment of complete discovery.

Is not this, in fact, the meaning of the apostle, when he says that
faith is reckoned to us for righteousness?  In the fullest sense, of
course, we know that to each believer in Jesus there is reckoned the
entire benefit of his glorious person and work, so that we are accepted
in the Beloved, and He is "made unto us ... Righteousness."  But there
is another sense in which faith is reckoned to us for righteousness,
because it contains within itself the power and potency of the perfect
life.  It is the seed-germ from which is developed in due course the
plant, the flower, the bud, the seed, and the reproduction of the plant
in unending succession.  God reckoned to Abraham all that his faith was
capable of producing, which it did produce, and which it would have
produced had he possessed all the advantages which pertain to our own
happy lot.  There is thus the objective and the subjective: in virtue
of the first, through faith in Jesus, all his righteousness is
accounted to us; in virtue of the second, God reckons to us all that
blessed flowering and fruitage of which our faith will be capable, when
patience has had its perfect work and we are perfect and entire,
wanting nothing.

OUR LORD DREW ATTENTION.--(1) _His Independence_.  "What went ye out
into the wilderness to behold?  A reed shaken with the wind?"  The
language of the Bible is so picturesque, so full of natural imagery,
that it appeals to every age, and speaks in every language of the
world.  If its descriptions of character had been given in the language
of the philosopher or academist, what was intelligible to one age would
have been perplexing or meaningless to the next.  Remember that the
long gallery in the Pyramids, which was directed to the pole-star when
they were constructed, is now hopelessly out of course, because the
position of the pole-star, in relation to the earth, has so entirely
altered; and what is true among the spheres is true in the use of
terms.  But the Word of God employs natural figures and parables, which
the wayfaring man, though a fool, comprehends at a glance.

Who, for instance, on a gusty March day, has not watched the wind
blowing lustily across a marsh or the reedy margin of a lake,
compelling all the reeds to stoop in the same direction?  Has one
resisted the current or stood stoutly forth in protesting
non-compliance?  Has one dared to adopt an unbending posture?  Not one.
They have been as obsequious as were all the king's servants that were
in the king's gate to the imperious Haman when he happened to enter the

Thus, when our Lord asked the people whether John resembled a reed
shaken by the wind, and implied their answer in the negative, could He
have more clearly indicated one of the most salient characteristics of
John's career--his daring singularity, his independence of mere custom
and fashion, his determination to follow out the pattern of his own
life as God revealed it to him?  In this he resembles the good
Nehemiah, when he refers to the usual practice of men of his position,
and says, "So did not I, because of the fear of the Lord"; or the three
young men who, when all the myriads fell down and worshipped
Nebuchadnezzar's golden image, remained erect.  In the singularity of
his dress and food; in the originality of his message and demand for
baptism; in his independence of the religious teachers and schools of
his time; in his refusal to countenance the flagrant sins of the
various classes of the community, and especially in his uncompromising
denunciation of Herod's sin--he proved himself to be as a sturdy oak in
the forest of Bashan, or a deeply-rooted cedar in Lebanon, and not as a
reed shaken by the wind.

Many a saintly soul has followed him since along this difficult and
lonely track.  Indeed, it is the ordinary path for most of the choicest
spirits of these Christian centuries.  I do not say of all, because the
great Gardener has his violets and lilies in sheltered spots; but
certainly most of the trees of his right-hand planting have not stood
thickly-planted in the sheltered woodland, but have braved the winds
sweeping in at the gates of the hills.

You, my reader, admire, but feel you cannot follow.  When your
companions and friends are speaking depreciating and ungenerous words
of some public man whom you love; when unkind and scandalous stories
are being passed from lip to lip; when a storm of execration and hatred
is being poured on a cause, which in your heart you favour and
espouse--you find it easier to bow before the gale, with all the other
reeds around you, than to enter your protest, even though you stand
alone.  Yet the reed thrust by the soldiers into the hands of Christ
may become the rod of iron with which He rules the nations.  He can
take the most pliant and yielding natures, and make them, as He made
Jeremiah, "a defenced city, and an iron pillar, and brazen walls,
against the whole land."  Thou canst not; but He can.  He will
strengthen thee; yea, He will help thee; yea, He will uphold thee with
the right hand of his righteousness.  Keep looking steadfastly up to
Him, that He may teach thy hands to war, and thy fingers to fight; for
thou shalt be able to do all things through Him that strengtheneth thee.

(2) _His simplicity_.  A second time the Master asked the people what
they went forth into the wilderness to behold; and by his question
implied that John was no Sybarite clothed in soft raiment, and feasting
in luxury, but a strong, pure soul, that had learnt the secret of
self-denial and self-control.  Too many of us are inclined to put on
the soft raiment of self-indulgence and luxury.  We are the slaves of
fashion, or we are perpetually considering what we shall eat, what we
shall drink, and with what we shall be clothed: or we act as though we
supposed that life consisted in the number of things we possessed, and
the variety of servants that waited upon us: whereas the exact contrary
is the case.  The real happiness of life consists not in increasing our
possessions, but in limiting our wants.

To all my young brothers and sisters who may read this page, and who
have yet the making of their lives in their own hands, I would say,
with all my heart, learn to do without the soft clothing and the many
servants which characterise kings' courts.  At table have your eye on
the simpler dishes, those which supply the maximum of nutriment and
strength, and do not allow your choice to be determined by what pleases
the palate or gratifies the taste.  A young friend stood me out the
other day against some article of diet, which was acknowledged to be
the more nutritious (it was whole-meal bread), because another was
sweeter and more palatable (some white, light French rolls, from which
all the nutriment had been extracted).  This is the deliberate
preference of the fare of kings' courts to Daniel's pulse and the
Baptist's locusts and wild honey.  Please note, here, that there was
nothing inconsistent in his taking honey.  We are not to refuse a
certain diet because it is pleasant; but we are not to choose it
because it is so.

So with dress.  Our Master does not require of us to dress grotesquely,
or to attract notice by the singularity and grotesqueness of our
attire.  We must dress suitably and in conformity with that station in
life to which He has called us.  But what a difference there is between
making our dress our main consideration, and considering first and
foremost the attire of the soul in meekness and truth, purity and
unselfishness.  They who are set upon these may be trusted to put the
other in the right place.  But, on the whole, the truly consecrated
soul should study simplicity.  It should not endeavour to attract
notice by glaring colours or extravagant display.  It ought not to seek
a large variety of dresses and costumes, but be satisfied with what may
be really needed for the exigencies of climate and health.  Let it take
no pleasure in vying with others, because dress is a question of
utility and not of pride.  On the whole, we should set our faces
against the soft raiment which enervates the health, and unfits us to
stretch out our hands in ready help to those who need assistance along
the highways of life.

So with service.  It is not well to depend on others.  If it is part of
our lot to be surrounded by servants, let us accept their offices with
grace and kindliness, but never allow ourselves to lean on them.  We
should know how to do everything for ourselves, and be prepared to do
it whenever it is necessary.  Of course, with some of us, it is
essential that we should have servants, that we may be set free to do
the special work of our lives.  Nothing would be more unfortunate than
that those who are highly gifted in some special direction should
fritter away their time and strength in doing trifles which others
could do for them equally well.  To think of a physician whose
consulting room was crowded with patients needing help which he alone,
of all men living, could give, spending the precious morning hours in
the minutiae of household arrangements, blacking his boots, or
preparing his food!  Let these things be left to those who cannot do
the higher work to which he is called.

This is the secret of making the best of your life.  Discover what you
can do best--the one thing which you are called to do for others, and
which probably no one else can do so well.  Set yourself to do this,
devolving on voluntary or paid helpers all that they can do as well as,
and perhaps better than, yourself.  It was in this spirit that the
apostles said, "It is not fit that we should forsake the Word of God
and serve tables.  Look ye out, therefore, men ... whom we may appoint
over this business; but we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in
the ministry of the Word."

It is specially the temptation of Eastern life, where the climate is
enervating and service is cheap and plentiful, to seek the soft raiment
and the large assistance of attendants, and it is almost impossible to
yield to one or the other without relaxing the fibre of the soul.  The
temptation is always around us; and it is well to look carefully into
our life from time to time, to be quite sure, lest almost insensibly
its strong energetic spirit may not be in process of deterioration--as
the soldiers of Hannibal in the plains of Capua.  If so, resolve to do
without, not for merit's sake, but to conserve the strength and
simplicity of your soul.

(3) _His noble office_.  "But wherefore went ye out?--to see a prophet?
Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet."  Nothing is more
difficult than to measure men while they are living.  Whilst the
fascination of their presence and the music of their voice are in the
air, we are apt to exaggerate their worth.  The mountain towers so far
above us that we are apt, in the absence of other mountains, or in our
too great proximity to it, to think of it as the greatest of all the
mountain-range.  But it is not so, as we discover when we remove
further.  But subsequent ages, so far from correcting, have only
confirmed our Saviour's estimate of his Forerunner.  We are able to
locate him in the Divine economy.  He was a prophet, yes, and much
more.  To employ the predictive words of Malachi, he was Jehovah's
messenger, the courier who announced the advent of the King, the last
of the prophets--for all the prophets and the law prophesied until
John--and the herald of that new and greater era, whose gates he
opened, but into which he was not permitted to enter.

But our Lord went further, and did not hesitate to class John with the
greatest of those born of woman.  He was absolutely in the front rank.
He may have had peers, but no superiors; equals, but no over-lords.
Who may be classed with him, we cannot, dare not, say.  But probably
Abraham, Moses, Paul.  "There hath not arisen a greater than John the
Baptist."  No brighter star shines in the celestial firmament than that
of this brief young life, which had only time enough to proclaim the
advent of the Lord, and after some brief six months of ministry by the
Jordan, followed by twelve months in the gaol, waned here to shine in
undimming brilliancy yonder.

There was a further tribute paid by our Lord to his noble servant.
Some two or three centuries before, Malachi had foretold that Elijah,
the prophet, would be sent before the great and terrible day of the
Lord came; and the Jews were always on the outlook for his coming.
Even to the present day a chair is set for him at their religious
feasts.  This is what was meant when they asked the Baptist, at the
commencement of his ministry, if he were Elijah.  He shrank, as we have
seen, from assuming so great a name, though he could not have refused
the challenge, had it been worded to include the spirit and power of
the great prophet of Thisbe.  But here our Lord went beyond John's own
modest, self-depreciating estimate, and declared, "If ye are willing to
receive it, this is Elijah which is to come."  As He descended from the
Mount of Transfiguration, He returned to the same subject: "And they
asked Him, saying, The scribes say that Elijah must first come.  And He
said unto them, Elijah indeed cometh first, and restoreth all
things....  But I say unto you that Elijah is come, and they have also
done unto him whatsoever they listed, even as it is written of him"
(Mark ix. 9-13).

III.  THE MASTER'S RESERVATION.  Let us again quote His memorable
words: "Among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a
greater than John the Baptist; yet he that is but little in the Kingdom
of heaven is greater than he" (Matt. xi. 11, R.V.).

The greatness of John the Baptist shone out in conspicuous beauty in
his meek confession of inferiority.  It is always a sign of the
greatest knowledge, when its possessor confesses himself to be as a
child picking up shells on the shores of a boundless ocean.  And the
Baptist's greatness was revealed in the lowliness of his self-estimate.

When the Lord Jesus summarized his own character He said, "I am meek
and lowly in heart."  In doing so He expressed the character of God;
for He was the Revealer of God, "the brightness of his glory, and the
express image of his person."  He was "God manifested in flesh."  He
was not only the Son of God, He was God the Son: "He that hath seen Me
hath seen the Father.  I and the Father are one."  The greatness of
John was proved in this, that like his Lord he was meek and lowly in
heart.  Neither before nor since has a son of Adam lived in whom these
divine qualities were more evident.  No sublimer, no more God-like
utterance ever passed the lips of man than John's answer to his
disciples: "A man can receive nothing except it have been given him
from heaven.  He must increase, but I must decrease" (see the whole
passage, John iii. 27-36).  The very same spirit of meekness was
speaking in John as acted in his Lord, when, knowing that the Pharisees
had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John
(though Jesus Himself baptized not, but his disciples), "He left Judea
and departed into Galilee."  What divisions might have been avoided in
the Church had his people followed his example!  But there was no man,
not even the apostle John or Paul, whose spirit accorded more exactly
with the Master's than his faithful and self-effacing herald and
forerunner, John the Baptist.  It might well be said, that of them that
were born of women there had not arisen a greater than he.

But what was in our Lord's thought when He made the reservation, "_Yet
he that is but little in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he_"?
It has been suggested that the Lord was speaking of John not only as a
man, but as a prophet, and that this declaration applies more
particularly to John as a prophet.  The words of the evangelist Luke
are noticeable--"There hath not risen a greater prophet than John the
Baptist": because to balance the sentence it seems needful to supply
the word _prophet_ in the second clause--"The least prophet in the
Kingdom of heaven is a greater prophet than he."  John could say,
"Behold the Lamb of God"; but the least of those who, being scattered
abroad, went everywhere proclaiming the word of the Kingdom, preached
"Jesus and the resurrection."

But there is another way of interpreting Christ's words.  John ushered
in the Kingdom, but was not in it.  He proclaimed a condition of
blessedness in which he was not permitted to have a part.  And the Lord
says that to be in that Kingdom gives the opportunity of attaining to a
greatness which the great souls outside its precincts cannot lay claim
to.  There is a greatness which comes from nature, and another
greatness from circumstances.  The child on the mountain is higher than
the giant in the valley.  The boy in our village schools knows more on
certain subjects than Socrates or Confucius, the greatest sages of the
world.  The least instructed in the Kingdom of heaven is privileged to
see and hear the things which prophets and kings longed and waited for
in vain.  The least in the higher dispensation may know and understand
more than the loftiest souls of the dispensations that have preceded.

And may there not be even more than this?  The character of John was
strong, grand in its wild magnificence--like some Alpine crag, with the
pines on its slopes and the deep dark lake at its foot; he had courage,
resolution, an iron will, a loftiness of soul that could hold commerce
with the unseen and eternal.  He was a man capable of vast heights and
depths.  He could hold fellowship with the eternal God as a man speaks
with his friend, and could suffer unutterable agonies in
self-questioning and depression.  But is this the loftiest ideal of
character?  Is it the most desirable and blessed?  Assuredly not; and
this may have been in the Saviour's mind when He made his notable
reservation.  To come neither eating nor drinking; to be stern,
reserved, and lonely; to live apart from the homes of men, to be the
severe and unflinching rebuker of other men's sins--this was not the
loftiest pattern of human character.

There was something better, as is manifest in our Lord's own perfect
manhood.  The balance of quality; the power to converse with God, mated
with the tenderness that enters the homes of men, wipes the tears of
those that mourn, and gathers little children to its side; that has an
ear for every complaint, and a balm of comfort for every heart-break;
that pities and soothes, teaches and leads; that is able not only to
commune with God alone in the desert, but brings Him into the lowliest
deeds and commonplaces of human life--this is the type of character
which is characteristic of the Kingdom of heaven.  It is described best
in those inimitable beatitudes which canonize, not the stern and
rugged, but the sweet and tender, the humble and meek; and stamp
Heaven's tenderest smile on virtues which had hardly found a place in
the strong and gritty character of the Baptist.

Yes, there is more to be had by the humble heart than John possessed or
taught.  The passive as well as the active; the glen equally with the
bare mountain peak; the feminine with the masculine; the power to wait
and be still, combined with the swift rush to capture the position; the
cross of shame as well as the throne of power.  And if thou art the
least in the Kingdom of God, all this may be thine, by the Holy Spirit,
who introduces the very nature of the Son of Man into the heart that
loves Him truly.  "He that is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater
than he."


A Burning and Shining Lamp.

(JOHN V. 35.)

            "Men as men
  Can reach no higher than the Son of God,
  The Perfect Head and Pattern of Mankind.
  The time is short, and thus sufficeth us
  To live and die by; and in Him again
  We see the same first starry attribute,
  '_Perfect through suffering_,' our salvation's seal,
  Set in the front of His humanity...."
            MRS. HAMILTON KING.

The Rest-Day--The Light of Life--Shining, because Burning--"Let your
Light Shine"--A Light in the Darkness

Our Master, Christ, was on his trial.  He was challenged by the
religious leaders of the people because He had dared to heal a man and
to command him to carry his bed--his straw pallet--on the Sabbath day.
He was therefore accused, and, so to speak, put in his defence.

Of course we must not for a moment think that our Lord was lax in his
observance of the Sabbath, but simply that He desired to emancipate the
day from the intolerable burdens and restrictions with which the Jewish
leaders had surrounded it.  It was his desire to show, for all after
time, that the Sabbath was made for useful purposes, and specially for
deeds of mercy, beneficence, and gentle kindness.  The Lord Jesus was
maligned and persecuted because He was the Emancipator of the Sabbath
day from foolish and mistaken notions of sanctity.

It is of the greatest importance that we should do what we may to
conserve one rest-day in seven to our country and our world; and I
cannot help noticing in the story of the life of the great statesman
and Christian, who recently passed from us, how careful he was to guard
the day from unnecessary intrusion.  It has been attested by those who
knew him well, that physically, intellectually, and spiritually, the
Lord's day to him was a priceless blessing.  Let your rest on the one
rest-day consist, not in lolling idly and carelessly, but in turning
your faculties in some other direction; because the truest rest is to
be found, not in luxurious ease, but in using the fresh vigour of your
life in other compartments of the brain than those which have been worn
by the demands of the six days.  Then, fresh from the Sunday-school
class, the worship of the church, and the sermon, you will return to
the desk or office, or whatever may be your toil, with new and
rejuvenated strength.

There is a great distinction between shining and burning: shining is
the light-giving, the illuminating, that comes forth from the enkindled
wick; but it cannot shine unless it burns.  The candle that gives light
wastes inch by inch as it gives it.  The very wick of your lamp, that
conducts the oil to the flame, chars, and you have to cut it off bit by
bit until the longest coil is at length exhausted.  We must never
forget that, if we would shine, we must burn.  Too many of us want to
shine, but are not prepared to pay the cost that must be faced by every
true man that wants to illuminate his time.  We must burn down until
there is but an eighth of an inch left in the candlestick, till the
light flickers a little and drops, makes one more eager effort, and
then ceases to shine--"a burning and shining light."

Obviously, then, we have first _the comparison between John and the
candle, or lamp_; then we have _the necessary expenditure, burning to
shine_; and, thirdly, we have _the misuse that people may make of their

I.  THE LORD'S COMPARISON.--"John was a burning and shining lamp."  In
the original a great contrast is suggested between _lamp_, as it is
given in the Revised Version, and _light_.  The Old Version put it
thus: "He was a burning and shining light"; but the Revised Version
puts it thus: "He was a burning and shining lamp"; and there is a
considerable difference between the two.  In the first chapter of the
Gospel, the apostle John tells us, speaking of the Baptist, that he was
not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light, that all
men through him [John] might believe.  "That was the True Light, which
lighteth every man coming into the world."

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World; and I believe that in every age
He has been waiting to illumine the hearts and spirits of men,
reminding us of the expression in the Book of Proverbs--and it is
wonderfully significant--"The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord."

Here is a candle, yonder is the wick; but it gives no light.  The air
may be full of luminousness, but as yet it has found no point on which
to kindle and from which to irradiate.  But, see, of a sudden the light
gathers to the candle-wick, which had stood helpless and useless,
touches it, and it begins to shine with a light not its own.  It is
borrowed light, caught from some burning cone of flame.

Men are born into the world like so many unlighted candles.  They may
stand in chaste candlesticks, all of gold or silver, of common tin or
porcelain.  But all are by nature unlit.  On the other hand, Jesus
Christ, the Light of men, waits with yearning desire, and, as each
successive generation passes across the stage of human life, He is
prepared to illumine the spirits which are intended to be the candles
of the Lord.  In these ages He illumines us with the Gospel; but I
believe that all moral intuitions, all instincts of immortality, all
cravings after God, all gropings in the dark for the true Light, all
helpful moral revolutions which have swept over mankind, have been the
result of his influence, who, as the true Light, lighteth every man
coming into the world.  Whenever and wherever a man has flamed up with
unusual fervour and spiritual power, with a desire to help his fellows,
and has shone like a torch, we must believe that he was illumined by
the Son of God, the Wisdom of the Book of Proverbs, whom he may not
have known, but whom he would recognise as soon as he crossed the
portal of the New Jerusalem.  He lighteth every man; He is willing to
illumine every man that comes into the world.

This conception casts a considerable light on some of the enigmas of
human experience.  We have known illiterate, uncultured men, without
many gifts of style or grace of speech, yet they have shone to such an
extent that every one in their neighbourhood has been lit by the
radiance that has streamed from them.  On the other hand, we have met
men who have passed through a college course and been carefully trained
for their life-work; important pulpits and opportunities of great
usefulness have been opened to them; but their lives have been a
disappointment.  Why?  Ah, the answer is easy.  The former class were
as candles, made of ordinary wax, and placed in inconspicuous
candle-sticks, which had been ignited by the fire of God through the
Holy Spirit; and the latter were like exquisitely prepared
candlesticks, the candles in which had never been kindled by the fire
of God.  There are hundreds of professing Christians, and some may read
these pages, who have never really been kindled; who have never been
touched by the Son of God; who do not know what it is to shine with his
light and to burn with his fire.

What is the process of lighting?  The wick of the candle is simply
brought into contact with the flame, and the flame leaps to it, kindles
on it, without parting with any of its vigour or heat, and continues to
burn, drawing to itself the nourishment which the candle supplies.  So
let Jesus Christ touch you.  Believe in the Light, that you may become
a child of the Light.  Take off the extinguisher; cast away your
prejudice; put off those misconceptions; have done with those unworthy
habits; putting them all aside, let Jesus kindle you.  "Arise, shine;
for thy light is come." "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the
dead, and Christ shall give thee light."

We were kindled that we might kindle others.  I would like, if I might
have my choice, to burn steadily down, with no guttering waste, and as
I do so to communicate God's fire to as many unlit candles as possible;
and to burn on steadily until the socket comes in view, then to light,
in the last flicker, twenty, thirty, or a hundred candles at once; so
that as one expires they may begin burning and spreading light which
shall shine till Jesus comes.  Get light from Christ, then share it;
and remember that it is the glory of fire that one little candle may go
on lighting hundreds of candles--one insignificant taper may light all
the lamps of a cathedral church, and yet not be robbed of its own
little glow of flame.  Andrew was lit by Christ Himself, and passed on
the flame to Simon Peter, and he to three thousand more on the Day of
Pentecost.  Every Christian soul illumined by the grace of God thus
becomes, as John the Baptist was, a lamp.  But there is always the same
impassable chasm between these and the Lord.  They are derived; He is
original.  They need to be sustained and fed; He is the fountain of
Light: because, as the Father hath life in Himself, He hath given to
Him also to have life in Himself, and his life is the light of men.

II.  THE INEVITABLE EXPENDITURE.--"He was a burning and shining lamp."
_If you would shine, you must burn_.  The ambition to shine is
universal; but all are not prepared to pay the price by which alone
they can acquire the right to give the true light of life.  There are
plenty of students who would win all the prizes, and wear all the
honours, apart from days and nights of toil; but they find it a vain
ambition.  Before a man can become Senior Wrangler he must have burnt,
not only the midnight oil, but some of the very fibre of his soul.
Conspicuous positions in the literary and scientific world are less the
reward of genius than of laborious, soul-consuming toil.  The great
chemist will work sixteen hours out of twenty-four.  The illustrious
author acquires, by profound research, the materials which he weaves
into his brilliant page.  Such men shine because they burn.

But this is pre-eminently the principle in the service of Christ.  It
was so with the Lord Himself.  He shone, and his beams have illumined
myriads of darkened souls, and shall yet bring dawn throughout the
world; but, ah, how He burned!  The disciples remembered that it was
written of Him: "The zeal of thy house hath eaten Me up."  He suffered,
that He might serve.  He would not save Himself, because He was bent on
saving others.  He ascended to the throne because He spared not Himself
from the cruel tree.  Pilate marvelled that his death came so soon, and
sent for the centurion to be certified that in so few hours He had
succumbed.  But he did not realize that in three short years He had
expended his vital strength so utterly, that there was no reserve to
fall back upon.  There had been an inward consumption, an exhaustion of
nervous power, a wearing down of the springs of vitality.  He shone
because of the fire that burned within Him.

It was so with the great apostle, who said that he filled up that which
was lacking in the afflictions of Christ, not of course that there was
any lack in the work of propitiation which required his further help,
but that the saints are called to share with their Lord his sorrows for
men, his tears, to lift the burdens and crosses of others, to give of
their very life-blood for the replenishing of the exhausted fountains
of human faith, and hope, and love.  Paul gave freely of his best.  He
shone because he never hesitated to burn.  Remember how he affirmed
that he was pressed down, perplexed, pursued, and always bore about in
his body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus might be
manifested in his mortal flesh.  The price paid for the life that
wrought in the hearts of his converts was that death should work in

All the saints have passed through similar experiences.  They knew, as
Cranmer said, that they could never hope to kindle a fire that should
never be put out, unless they were prepared to stand steadily at the
stake and give their bodies to be burned.  But they counted not their
lives dear unto them, if they might but finish their course with joy,
and the ministry which they had received of the Lord Jesus, to testify
the Gospel of the grace of God.  The men and women who shine as
beacon-lights across the centuries are those whose tears were their
meat day and night, whose prayers rose with strong cryings and tears;
while, as with Palissy, the Huguenot potter, the very furniture of the
house was brought out to feed the flame in which the precious glaze was
being precipitated.

If the Christian worker longs to benefit the poor slum district in
which he is located, he must be prepared to live amongst the people and
expend himself.  Presently, in his hollow cheeks, his sallow
complexion, his attenuated form, his diminishing strength, you will see
that he is paying the price for his 100-candle illuminating power,
because he is being consumed.  Every successful worker for God must
learn that lesson.  You must be prepared to suffer; you can only help
men when you die for them.  If you desire to save others you cannot
save yourself; you must be prepared to fall into the ground and die, if
you would not abide alone: there must be with you, as with Paul, the
decaying of the outward man, that the inward man may be renewed day by
day.  You must be prepared to say with him, "Death worketh in us, but
life in you."

_If you burn, you will shine_.  The burning and the shining do not
always go together; often the burning goes on a long time without much
illumination resulting from the expenditure.  Those who are rich in
gifts and natural endowments cast in much, and the poor cast in all
their living; this they continue to do, year after year, and none seems
to heed the awful cost at which their testimony is given.  Moreover, to
use a well-known phrase, the game hardly seems worth the candle.  The
area they influence is so limited, the souls affected so few, the
glimmer of their light, like a street-lamp in a fog, hardly reaches
across the street or to the ground.  Sometimes it appears only to make
the darkness denser and thicker.  In many cases, the saints of God have
burnt down to the last film of vital energy and expired, and there has
been no shining that the world has taken cognisance of.  Their bitter
complaint has been, "I have laboured in vain; I have spent my strength
for nought, and in vain."  But even these shall shine.  They shall
shine as the stars for ever and ever in that world where all holy and
faithful souls obtain their due.

Let us see to the burning; God will see to the shining.  It is ours to
feed the sacred heaven-enkindled flame with the daily fuel of the Word
of God and holy service; and God will see to it that no ray of power or
love is wasted.  He will place reflectors around us, to catch up and
repeat the influences that proceed from us.  "The Lord was with Samuel,
and did let none of his words fall to the ground."  It is ours to keep
in company with the risen Lord, listening to Him as He opens to us the
Scriptures, until our hearts burn within us; then, as we hasten to tell
what we have seen, tasted, and handled of the Word of Life, there will
be a glow on our faces, whether we know it or not; and men shall say of
us: "They have been with Jesus."  If we think only of the shining, we
shall probably miss both it and the burning.  But if we devote
ourselves to the burning, even though it involve the hidden work of the
mine, the stoke-hole, and the furnace-room, there will be the raying
forth of a light that cannot be hid.  Where there is the burning heat,
there must be the soft, gleaming light.  Let there be but summer, and
the flowers cover the land.

_For the burning and the shining, God will provide the fuel_.  The fire
which burnt in the bush needed no fuel; "the bush was not consumed."
With us there is perpetual need for the nourishment of the fire of love
and the light of life by the administration of appropriate fuel.  The
oil must be supplied to the lamp.  The fire cannot be kept burning on
the altar apart from the incessant care and attention of the priests.
But be of good cheer; He who hath begun a good work in you will perfect
it unto the day of Jesus Christ.  All grace will be made to abound
towards you, that you may have all sufficiency for all things, and
abound to every good work.  The Lord will give grace and glory; no good
thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.  God will supply
all your need, according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus.  It
is especially helpful to ponder the full import of the phrase--"the
supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ."  It is as though we had access
to one of those oil-wells of the west, which seem practically

It is a wonderful thing how often God puts his lighted candles in the
cellar.  We would have supposed that He would have placed a man like
John on a pedestal or a throne, that his influence might reach as far
as possible.  Instead of that He allowed him to spend the precious
months of his brief life in prison.  And the lamp flickered somewhat in
the pestilential damp.  It may be that this is your place also.  In the
silence of a sick chamber, in the obscurity of some country parish,
amid obloquy and hatred, you are doomed to spend your slowly-moving
years.  It seems such a waste.  Loneliness and depression are hard to
endure; but the consciousness of accomplishing so little, though at
such cost, is very painful.  This is your cellar-life, your dungeon
experience.  Remember that Joseph and Rutherford, John Bunyan and
Madame Guyon, have been there before you.  Probably, because the cellar
is so very dark, God wants to station a candle there, and has placed
you there because you can accomplish a work for Him, and for others, of
priceless importance.  Where is the light needed so much as on a dark
landing or a sunken reef?  Go on shining, and you will find some day
that God will make that cellar a pedestal out of which your light shall
stream over the world; for it was out of his prison cell that John
illuminated the age in which his lot was cast, quite as much as from
his rock-pulpit beside the Jordan.  "I would have you know, brethren,"
said the apostle, "that the things which happened unto me have fallen
out rather unto the progress of the Gospel, so that my bonds became
manifest in Christ throughout the Praetorian guard" (Phil. i. 12, 13,

willing for a season to rejoice in his light."  The Greek word rendered
_rejoice_ has in it the idea of moths playing around a candle, or of
children dancing around a torch-light, as it burns lower and lower.  It
is as though a light were given to men for an hour, for them to use for
some high and sacred purpose, but they employ it for dancing and
card-playing, instead of girding up their loins to serious tasks.  "You
were willing," says the Master, in effect, "to rejoice, to dance and
sing, in his light.  You treated his ministry as a pastime.  As long as
he spoke to you about the coming Kingdom, you listened and were glad;
but when he began to call you to repentance and warn you of wrath to
come, you left him."  He is now like an almost extinguished lamp.  His
hour is all but done.  The brief space he was sent to occupy has been
fulfilled.  "Behold, the night cometh, when no man can work."

The ministry of the Gospel is but for "an hour."  The story of man may
be compared to a brief day (1 Cor. iv. 3, _marg._, R.V.); and in that
day the proclamation of the good news from God occupies but a very
limited space.  The hour-glass was turned when Jesus ascended, and it
is more than likely that the last grains are running through; then the
cry of the herald shall be hushed, and the servants' voices will be no
more heard in the streets inviting to the marriage supper, and there
shall be none to break or distribute the bread of life.

With what eager care men should prize these fleeting opportunities, not
listening to the preacher's voice, as of one that can make a pleasant
sound from the harp or organ--not seeking merely the delight of the ear
or intellect; but taking heed to hear for eternity, receiving in meek
and retentive hearts the precious grain as it falls from the sower's
hand, and giving diligence that the best possible results may accrue.

Oh, children of the sunny market-place, playing giddily throughout the
long afternoon, take heed lest your opportunities of preparing for the
serious work of life slip away unimproved, and you find yourselves face
to face with death and judgment without a screen, without hope, and
without God.  John murdered in prison; Jesus nailed to the cross; the
apostles and martyrs done to death on the scaffold and at the
stake--and the ship drifting on the rocks, without a warning voice to
arouse the thoughtless crowd of dice-throwers and dancers to the
certainty and nearness of their doom!


Set at Liberty.

(MARK VI. 27.)

  "Hush my soul, and vain regrets be stilled;
  Now rest in Him who is the complement
  Of whatsoe'er transcends our mortal doom,
  Of baffled hope and unfulfilled intent;
  In the clear vision and aspect of whom
  All longings and all hopes shall be fulfilled."

The Genesis of a Great Crime--The Strength of Evil Influences--An
Accomplice of Satan--The Triumph of Hate--The Baptist Beheaded--A Place
of Repentance

The evangelist Mark tells us, in the twenty-first verse of this
chapter, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, and the
high captains, and the chief men of Galilee.  Now, of course, Galilee,
over which Herod had jurisdiction, and where, for the most part, he
dwelt, in the beautiful city of Tiberias, the ruins of which are still
washed by the blue waters of the lake, was a considerable distance from
the Castle of Machaerus, which, as we have seen, was situated in the
desolate region on the eastern side of the Dead Sea.  There would
probably, therefore, have been a martial and noble procession from
Galilee, which followed the course of the Jordan to the oasis of
Jericho, and then branched off to the old, grim fortress, which, like
one of those ruined castles on the Rhine, had been for many years the
scene of brigandage, pillage, and bloodshed.

It is not difficult to imagine that sumptuous and splendid retinue.
Roman soldiers and officials in all the splendour of their
accoutrements and mounting; carriages conveying the royal consort,
Herodias, Salome, and their ladies; large numbers of native soldiers;
swarthy Bedouin and Greek traders; priests and levites, who lived on
the smile of the Court; court officials, camp-bearers, a motley
following of servants and slaves.  In the front of the cavalcade,
Herod, on a magnificent steed.  The line of march, enlivened by the
sound of martial music, and the flaunting of innumerable banners.
Slowly they made their way through those desert solitudes, across the
pasture-lands, and finally swept up through the little village that lay
at the foot of the hill to the castellated fortress which covered the
summit, edging its mighty walls to the brink of the steep cliffs.  Soon
the last straggler would be lost to view, the heavy portcullis fall,
and the massive iron gate swing to, and the first step would be taken
towards the tragedy, which lay right before Herod's path.  One
sometimes wonders whether the whole of these circumstances had not been
planned by the cunning device of Herodias.  In any case, nothing could
have been arranged more exactly to suit her murderous schemes.

The days that preceded the celebration of Herod's birthday were
probably filled with merry-making and carouse.  Groups of nobles,
knights, and ladies, would gather on the terraces, looking out over the
Dead Sea, and away to Jerusalem, and in the far distance to the
gleaming waters of the Mediterranean.  Picnics and excursions would be
arranged into the neighbouring country.  Archery, jousts, and other
sports would beguile the slowly-moving hours.  Jests, light laughter,
and buffoonery would fill the air.  And all the while, in the dungeons
beneath the castle, lay that mighty preacher, the confessor,
forerunner, herald, and soon to be the martyr.

But this contrast was more than ever accentuated on the evening of
Herod's birthday, when the great banqueting-chamber was specially
illuminated; the tables decked with flowers and gold and silver plate;
laughter and mirth echoing through the vaulted roof from the splendid
company that lay, after the Eastern mode, on sumptuous couches,
strewing the floor from one end to the other of the spacious hall.
Servants, in costly liveries, passed to and fro, bearing the rich
dainties on massive salvers, one of which was to be presently
besprinkled with the martyr's blood.

In such a scene, I would have you study the genesis of a great crime,
because you must remember that in respect to sin, there is very little
to choose between the twentieth century and the first; between the sin
of that civilization and of ours.  This is why the Bible must always
command the profound interest of mankind--because it does not concern
itself with the outward circumstances and setting of the scenes and
characters it describes, but with those great common facts of
temptation, sin, and redemption, which have a meaning for us all.

This chapter is therefore written under more than usual solemnity,
because one is so sure that, in dealing with that scene and the
passions that met there in a foaming vortex, words may be penned that
will help souls which are caught in the drift of the same black
current, and are being swept down.  Perhaps this page shall utter a
warning voice to arrest them, ere it be too late, and be a life-buoy,
or rope, or brother's hand reached out to save them as they rush past
on the boiling waters.  For there is help and grace in God by which a
Herod and a Judas, a Jezebel and a Lady Macbeth, a royal criminal or an
ordinary one, may be arrested, redeemed, and saved.

In this, as in every sin, there were three forces at work:--First, the
predisposition of the soul, which the Bible calls "lust," and "the
desire of the mind."  "Among whom," says the apostle, "we also all once
lived in the lusts of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of
the mind, and were by nature children of wrath."  Second, the
suggestion of evil from without.  Finally, the act of the will by which
the suggestion was accepted and finally adopted.

It is, in this latter phase, that sin especially comes in.  There may
be sin in being able and disposed to sin.  The possession of a sinful
nature needs the atonement and propitiation of the precious blood.
There may be sin, also, in dallying with temptation, in not
anticipating its advent at a further distance.  But, after all, that
which is of the essence of sin is in the act of the will, which allows
itself to admit and entertain some foul suggestion, and ultimately
sends its executioner below to carry its sentence into effect.

universally employed and understood in one direction only.  It is a
pity and a mistake; because we fail to appreciate many of the warning
signals which the Spirit of God stations along our path.  Any
inordinate desire for sensual and pleasurable excitement, whether fixed
on a right object, or directed towards a wrong one, comes under the
denomination of "lust."  Strong and ill-regulated desire or passion, in
whatever direction it expresses itself, will work our ruin, and not
that alone of impurity, to which this old word is now specially

In dealing with temptation and sin, we must always take into account
the presence in the human heart of that sad relic of the Fall, which
biases men towards evil.  Every one that has handled bowls on the green
is familiar with the effect of the bias.  The bowls are not perfect
spheres, and are weighted on one side in such a way that, as they leave
the hand, they will inevitably turn off from a straight course; and on
this account the greater skill is required from the hands that
manipulate and impel them.  Such a bias has come to us all: first, from
our ancestor Adam; and, secondly, by that law of heredity which has
been accumulating its malign and sinister force through all the ages.
God alone can compute the respective strength of these forces; but He
can, and He will, as each separate soul stands before his judgment bar.

Herod was the son of the great Herod, a voluptuous, murderous tyrant;
and, from some source or other, he had inherited a very weak nature.
Perhaps, if he had come under strong, wholesome influences, he would
have lived a passably good life; but it was his misfortune to fall
under the influence of a beautiful fiend, who became his Lady Macbeth,
his Jezebel, and wrought the ruin of his soul.  It is a remarkable
thing, how strong an influence a beautiful and unscrupulous woman may
have over a weak man.  And for this reason, amongst others, weakness
becomes wickedness.  The man who allows himself to drift weakly before
the strongest influence is almost certain to discover that, in this
world, the strongest influences are those which make for sin; these
touch him most closely, and operate most continuously, and find in his
nature the best _nidus_, or nest, in which to breed.

The influences that suggest and make for sin in this world are so
persistent--at every street corner, in every daily newspaper, among
every gathering of well-dressed people, or ill--that if my readers have
no other failing than that they are weak, I am bound to warn them, in
God's name, that unless they succeed in some way, directly or
indirectly, in linking themselves to the strength of the Son of.  God,
they will inevitably become wicked.  Remember that the men, and
especially the women, who are filling our gaols as criminals, were, in
most cases, only weak, but they therefore drifted before the strong,
black current which flows through the world, and have become objects
against whom all parents warn their children.  With all my soul--and I
have had no small experience of myself and of others--I implore that if
you are conscious of your weakness, you shall do what the sea-anemone
and the limpet do, which cling to the rock when the storms darken the
sky.  "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might."

Herod was reluctant to take the course to which his evil genius urged
him.  He made a slight show of resistance, as we have seen--but he did
not break with her; and so she finally had her way, and dragged him to
her lowest level.  Here was the cause of his ruin, as it may be of
yours.  You, too, have become allied with one who is possessed by a
more imperious will, and dominated by a stronger passion, than yours.
You suppose, however, that you can act as a make-weight, a drag on the
chariot-wheel; that you will be able to keep and steady the pace; and
that, when you like, you may arrest the onward progress.  Ah, it is not
so!  Herodias will have her way with you.  You may be reluctant, will
falter and hesitate, will remonstrate, will resist, but ultimately you
will drift into doing the very sins, the mention of which in your
presence brings the red blood to your face.

Beware, then, of yourself.  If you are so impressible to John the
Baptist, remember that you may be equally so to evil suggestion: take
heed, therefore, to guard against anything in your life that may open
the gates of your sensitive nature to a temptation, which you may not
be able to withstand.  If you are weak in physical health, you guard
against draught and fatigue, against impure atmosphere and
contagion--how much more should you guard against the scenes and
company which may act prejudicially on the health of your soul?  Of all
our hours, none are so fraught with danger as those of recreation.  In
these we cast ourselves, with the majority of Gideon's men, on the bank
of the stream, with relaxed girdles, drinking at our ease, without a
thought of the proximity of the foe; and, therefore, in these we are
more likely to fall.  The Christian soldier is never off duty, never
out of the enemy's reach, never at liberty to relax his watch.  The
sentries must always be posted, and the pickets kept well out on the

It was the most perilous thing that Herod could do, to have that
banquet.  Lying back on his divan, lolling on his cushions, eating his
rich food, quaffing the sparkling wine, exchanging repartee with his
obsequious followers, it was as though the petals and calyx of his soul
were all open to receive the first insidious spore of evil that might
float past on the sultry air.  That is why some of us dare not enter
the theatre, or encourage others to enter.  This is not the place to
enter into a full discussion of the subject; but, even when a play may
be deemed inoffensive and harmless, the sensuous attractions of the
place, the glitter, the music, the slightly-dressed figures of the
actors and actresses, the entire atmosphere and environment, which
appeal so strongly to the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and
the pride of life, break down some of the fortifications, which would
otherwise resist the first incidence and assault of evil.  The air of
the theatre, the ball-room, the race-course, seem so impregnated with
the nocuous germs and microbes of evil, that it is perilous for the
soul to expose itself to them, conscious as it is of predisposing bias
and weakness.  It is this consciousness, also, which prompts the daily
prayer, "Lead us not into temptation."

II.  TEMPTATION.  In the genesis of a sin we must give due weight to
the power of the Tempter, whether by his direct suggestion to the soul
or by the instrumentality of men and women whom he uses for his fell
purpose.  In this case Satan's accomplice was the beautiful
Herodias--beautiful as a snake, but as deadly.  She knew the influence
that John the Baptist wielded over her weak paramour, that he was
accustomed to attach unmeasured importance to his words, and do "many
things."  She realized that his conscience was uneasy, and therefore
the more liable to be affected by his words when he reasoned of
righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.  She feared for the
consequences if the Baptist and Herod's conscience should make common
cause against her.  What if her power over the capricious tyrant were
to begin to wane, and the Baptist gain more and more influence, to her
discredit and undoing?  She was not safe so long as John the Baptist
breathed.  Herod feared him, and perhaps she feared him with more
abject terror, and was bent on delivering her life of his presence.

She watched her opportunity, and it came on the occasion we have
described.  The ungodly revel was at its height.  Such a banquet as
Herod had often witnessed in the shameless court of Tiberius, and in
which luxury and appetite reached their climax, was in mid-current.
The strong wines of Messina and Cyprus had already done their work.
The hall resounded with ribald joke and merriment.  Towards the end of
such a feast it was the custom for immodest women to be introduced,
who, by their gestures, imitated scenes in certain well-known
mythologies, and still further inflamed the passions of the banqueters.
But instead of the usual troupe, which Herod probably kept for such an
occasion, Salome herself came in and danced a wild nautch-dance.  What
shall we think of a mother who could expose her daughter to such a
scene, and suggest her taking a part in the half-drunken orgy?  To what
depths will not mad jealousy and passion urge us, apart from the
restraining grace of God!  The girl, alas, was as shameless as her

She pleased Herod, who was excited with the meeting of the two strong
passions, which have destroyed more victims than have fallen on all the
battlefields of the world; and in his frenzy, he promised to give her
whatever she might ask, though it were to cost half his kingdom.  She
rushed back to her mother with the story of her success.  "What shall I
ask?" she cried.  The mother had, perhaps, anticipated such a moment as
this, and had her answer ready.  "Ask," she replied instantly, "for
John the Baptist's head."  Back from her mother she tripped into the
banqueting-hall, her black eyes flashing with cruel hate, lighted from
her mother's fierceness.  A dead silence fell on the buzz of
conversation, and every ear strained for her reply.  "And she came in
straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that
thou forthwith give me in a charger the head of John the Baptist."

Mark that word, "forthwith."  Her mother and she were probably fearful
that the king's mood would change.  What was to be done must be done at
once, or it might not be done at all.  "Quick, quick," the girl seemed
to say, "the moments seem like hours; now, in this instant, give me
what I demand.  I want my banquet, too; let it be served up on one of
these golden chargers."  The imperious demand of the girl showed how
keenly she had entered into her mother's scheme.

It is thus that suggestions come to us; and, so far as I can
understand, we may expect them to come so long as we are in this world.
There seems to be a precise analogy between temptation and the microbes
of disease.  These are always in the air; but when we are in good
health they are absolutely innocuous, our nature offers no hold or
resting place for them.  The grouse disease only makes headway when
there has been a wet season, and the young birds are too weakened by
the damp to resist its attack.  The potato blight is always lying in
wait, till the potato plants are deteriorated by a long spell of rain
and damp; it is only then that it can effect its fell purpose.  The
microbes of consumption and cancer are probably never far away from us,
but are powerless to hurt us, till our system has become weakened by
other causes.  So temptation would have no power over us, if we were in
full vigour of soul.  It is only when the vitality of the inward man is
impaired, that we are unable to withstand the fiery darts of the wicked

This shows how greatly we need to be filled with the life of the Son of
God.  In his life and death, our Lord, in our human nature, met and
vanquished the power of sin and death; He bore that nature into the
heavenly places, whence He waits to impart it, by the Holy Spirit, to
those who are united with Him by a living faith.  Is not this what the
apostle John meant, when he said that his converts--his little
children--could overcome, because greater was He that was in them than
he that was in the world?  He who has the greatest and strongest nature
within him must overcome an inferior nature; and if you have the
victorious nature of the living Christ in you, you must be stronger
than the nature which He bruised beneath his feet.

III.  THE CONSENT OF THE WILL.--"The king was exceeding sorry."  The
girl's request sobered him.  His face turned pale, and he clutched
convulsively at the cushion on which he reclined.  On the one hand, his
conscience revolted from the deed, and he was more than fearful of the
consequences; on the other, he said to himself, "I am bound by my oath.
I have sworn; and my words were spoken in the audience of so many of my
chief men, I dare not go back, lest they lose faith in me."  "And
straightway the king sent forth a soldier of his guard and commanded to
bring the Baptist's head."

Is it not marvellous that a man who did not refrain from doing deeds of
incest and murder, should be so scrupulous about violating an oath that
ought never to have been sworn?  You have thought that you were bound
to go through with your engagement, because you had pledged yourself,
although you know that it would condemn you to lifelong misery and
disobedience to the law of Christ.  But stay for a moment, and tell me!
What was your state of mind when you pledged your word?  Were you not
under the influence of passion?  Did you not form your plan in the
twilight of misinformation, or beneath the spell of some malign and
unholy influence, that exerted a mesmeric power over you?  Looking back
on it, can you not see that you ought never to have bound yourself, and
do you not feel that if you had your time again you would not bind
yourself?  Then be sure that you are not bound by that "dead hand."
You must act in the clearer, better light, which God has communicated.
Even though you called on the sacred name of God, God cannot sanction
that which you now count mistaken, and wrong.  You had no right to
pledge half the kingdom of your nature.  It is not yours to give, it is
God's.  And if you have pledged it, through mistake, prejudice, or
passion, dare to believe that you are absolved from your vow, through
repentance and faith, and that the breach is better than the observance.

"And he went and beheaded John in prison."  Had the Baptist heard aught
of the unseemly revelry?  Had any strain of music been waited down to
him?  Perhaps so.  Those old castles are full of strange echoes.  His
cell was perfectly dark.  He might be lying bound on the bare ground,
or some poor bed of straw.  Was his mind glancing back on those
never-to-be-forgotten days, when the heaven was opened above him, and
he saw the descending Dove?  Was he wondering why he was allowed to lie
there month after month, silenced and suffering?  Ah, he did not know
how near he was to liberty!

There was a tread along the corridor.  It stopped outside his cell.
The light gleamed under the door; the heavy wards of the lock were
turned: in a moment more he saw the gleam of the naked sword, and
guessed the soldier's errand.  There was no time to spare; the royal
message was urgent.  Perhaps one last message was sent to his
disciples; then he bowed his head before the stroke; the body fell
helpless here, the head there, and the spirit was free, with the
freedom of the sons of God, in a world where such as he stand among
their peers.  Forerunner of the Bridegroom here, he was his forerunner
there also; and the Bridegroom's friend passed homeward to await the
Bridegroom's coming, where he ever hears the voice he loves.

"And the soldier brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the
damsel; and the damsel gave it to her mother."  There would not be so
much talking while the tragedy was being consummated.  The king and
courtiers must have been troubled under the spell of that horror, as
Belshazzar when the hand wrote in characters of mystery over against
the sacred candlestick.  And when the soldier entered, carrying in the
charger that ghastly burden, they beheld a sight which was to haunt
some of them to their dying day.  Often Herod would see it in his
dreams, and amid the light of setting suns.  It would haunt him, and
fill his days and nights with anguish that all the witchery of Herodias
could not dispel.

Months afterwards, when he heard of Jesus, the conscience-stricken
monarch said: "It is John the Baptist, whom I beheaded; he is risen
from the dead."  And still afterwards, when Jesus Himself stood before
him, and refused to speak one word, he must have associated that
silence and his deed together, as having a fatal and necessary

So the will, which had long paltered with the temptress, at last took
the fatal step, and perpetrated the crime which could never be undone.
There is always a space given, during which a tempted soul is allowed
time to withdraw from the meshes of the net of temptation.  Sudden
falls have always been preceded by long dallying with Delilah.  The
crashing of the tree to the earth has been prepared for by the ravages
of the borer-worm, which has eaten out its heart.

If you have taken the fatal step, and marred your life by some sad and
disastrous sin, dare to believe that there is forgiveness for you with
God.  Men may not forgive, but God will.  As far as the east is from
the west, so far will He remove our transgressions from us.  Perhaps we
can never again take up public Christian work; but we may walk humbly
and prayerfully with God, sure that we are accepted of Him, and
forgiven, though we can hardly forgive ourselves.

But if we have not yet come to this, let us devoutly thank God, and be
on the watch against any influences that may drift us thither.  We may
yet retreat.  We may yet disentangle ourselves.  We may yet receive
into our natures the living power of the Lord Jesus.  We may yet cut
off the right hand and right foot, and pluck out the right eye, which
is causing us to offend.  Better this, and go into life maimed, than be
cast, as Herod was, to the fire and worm of unquenchable remorse.


The Grave of John, and Another Grave


  "When some beloved voice, that was to you
  Both sound and sweetness, faileth suddenly,
  And silence, against which you dare not cry,
  Aches round you like a strong disease and new,--
  What hope, what help, what music will undo
  That silence to your sense?  Not friendship's sigh,
  Not reason's subtle count....  Nay, none of these!
  Speak, Thou availing Christ!--and fill this pause."
              E. B. BROWNING.

"Tell Jesus"--The Sin-Bearer--The Resurrection of Jesus--The Followers
of John, and of Jesus--"He is Risen!"

We have beheld the ghastly deed with which Herod's feast ended--the
golden charger, on which lay the freshly-dissevered head of the
Baptist, borne by Salome to her mother, that the two might gloat on it
together.  Josephus says that the body was cast over the castle wall,
and lay for a time unburied.  Whether that were so, we cannot tell;
but, in some way, John's disciples heard of the ghastly tragedy, which
had closed their master's life, and they came to the precincts of the
castle to gather up the body as it lay dishonoured on the ground, or
ventured into the very jaws of death to request that it might be given
to them.  In either case, it was a brave thing for them to do; an
altogether heroic exploit, which may be classed in the same category
with that of the men of Jabesh-Gilead, who travelled all night through
the country infested by the Philistines to rescue the bodies of Saul
and his sons from the temple of Bethshan.

The headless body was then borne to a grave, either in the grim, gaunt
hills of Moab, or in that little village, away on the southern slopes
of the Judaean hills, where, some thirty years before, the aged pair
had rejoiced over the growing lad.  God knows where that grave lies;
and some day it will yield up to honour and glory the body which was
sown in weakness and corruption.

Having performed the last sad rites, the disciples "went and told
Jesus."  Every mourner should go along the path they trod, to the same
gentle and tender Comforter; and if any who read these words have
placed within the narrow confines of a grave the precious remains of
those dearer than life, let them follow where John's disciples have
preceded them, to the one Heart of all others in the universe which is
able to sympathize and help; because it also has sorrowed unto tears at
the grave of its beloved, even though it throbbed with the fulness of
the mighty God.  Go, and tell Jesus!

The telling will bring relief.  Though the great High-Priest knows all
the story, He loves to hear it told, because of the relief which the
recital necessarily imparts to the surcharged soul.  He will tell you
that your brother shall rise again; that your child is safe in the
flowery meadows of Paradise; that those whom you have loved and lost
are engaged in high service amid the ministries of eternity; that every
time-beat is bringing nearer the moment of inseparable union.

It is not, however, on these details that we desire to dwell, but to
use the scenes before us as a background and contrast to magnify
certain features in the death, grave, and abiding influence of Jesus of

points of similarity between their careers.  These two rivers sprang
from the same source, in a quiet glen far up among the hills; lay in
deep lagoons during their earlier course; leapt down in the same mighty
torrent when their time had come; and for the first few miles watered
the same tract of country.

It would be possible to enumerate a large number of identical facts of
the life-courses of the two cousins.  Their births were announced, and
their ministries anticipated, under very special circumstances; Mary
was unmarried, and Elisabeth past age--and an angel of the Lord came to
each.  John seemed, to the superficial view, the stronger and mightier
of the two; but Jesus followed close behind and took up a similar
burden, as He bade the people repent and believe the Gospel.  They were
alike in attending no prophetic school, and avoiding each of the great
Jewish sects.  Neither Hillel nor Shammai could claim them.  They had
no ecclesiastical connections; they stood aloof from the Pharisees and
Sadducees, the Herodians and Essenes.  They attracted similar
attention, gathered the same crowds, and protested against the same
sins.  Rearing the same standard, they summoned men from formality and
hypocrisy to righteousness and reality.  They incurred the same hatred
on the part of the religious leaders of their nation, and suffered
violent deaths--the one beneath the headsman's blade in the dungeons of
Herod's castle, the other on the cross, at the hand of Pilate and the
Roman soldiers.  Each suffered a death of violence at the hand of men
whom he had lived to succour; each died when the life-blood throbbed
with young manhood's prime, and while there was sweet fragrance as of
early summer; each was loved and mourned by a little handful of devoted

But there the similarity ends, and the contrast begins.  With John, it
was the tragic close of a great and epoch-making career.  When he died
men said--Alas! a prophet's voice is silenced.  What a pity that in a
moment of passion the tyrant took his life!  Let him sleep!  Rest will
be sweet to one who expended his young strength with such spendthrift
extravagance!  Such men are rare!  Ages flower thus but once, and then
years of barrenness!  But as we turn to the death of Jesus, other
feelings than those of pity or regret master us.  We are neither
surprised, nor altogether sorry.  We do not recognise that there is in
any sense an end of his work--rather it is the beginning.  The corn of
wheat has fallen into the ground to die, that it may not abide alone,
but bear much fruit.  Here, at the Cross, is the head of waters, rising
from unknown depths, which are to heal the nations; here the sacrifice
is being offered which is to expiate the sin of man, and bring peace to
myriads of penitents; here the last Adam at the tree undoes the deadly
work wrought by the first at another tree.  This is no mere martyr's
last agony; but a sacrifice, premeditated, prearranged, the effects of
which have already been prevalent in securing the remission of sins
done aforetime.  This is an event for which millenniums have been
preparing, and to which millenniums shall look back.  John's death
affected no destiny but his own; the death of Jesus has affected the
destiny of our race.  As his forerunner explained, He was the Lamb of
God who bore away the sin of the world.  The Lord hath laid on Him the
iniquity of us all.

But there is another contrast.  In the case of John, the martyr had no
control on his destiny; he could not order the course of events; there
was no alternative but to submit.  When he opened his ministry, he had
no thought that such a fate would befall.  As he stood boldly forth
upon his rock-hewn pulpit, and preached to the eager crowds, do you
suppose that the idea ever flashed across his mind that his path,
carpeted with flowers and lined on either side with applause, could end
in the loneliness of a desert track, lying across a barren waste where
no man dwelt or came, and where the vast expanse engulphs the last cry
of the perishing?  But, from the first, Jesus meant to die.  If, eight
centuries ago, you had seen the first outlines drawn of the Cologne
Cathedral, whose noble structure has been brought to completion within
only the last decades, you would have been convinced that the completed
fabric would enclose a cross; so the life of Jesus, from the earliest,
portended Calvary.  He had received power and commandment from the
Father to lay down his life.  For this cause He was born, and for this
He came into the world.  Others die because they have been born: Jesus
was born that He might die.

In his great picture of the Carpenter's shop, Millais depicts the
shadow of the Cross, flung back by the growing lad, on the wall,
strongly-defined in the clear oriental light.  Mary beholds it with a
look of horror on her face.  The thought is a true one.  From the
earliest, the Cross cast its shadow over the life of the Son of Man.
He was never deceived as to his ultimate destiny.  He told Nicodemus
that He must be lifted up.  He knew that as the Good Shepherd He would
have to give his life for the sheep.  He assured his disciples that He
would be delivered up to the chief priests and scribes, who would
condemn Him to death, crucify, and slay.  Man does not need primarily
the teacher, the example, nor the miracle-worker; but the Saviour who
can stand in his stead, and put away his sin by the sacrifice of
Himself.  When the soul is burdened with the weight of its sins, and
the conscience is ill at ease, whither can we turn save to the Cross,
on which the Prince of Glory died!

What answer and explanation can be given to account for the marvellous
spell that the Cross of Christ exerts over the hearts of men?  You
cannot trace it to the influence of early association merely, or to the
effect of heredity, or to the fact of our having come of generations
which have turned to the green hill far away, in life and death;
because if you take the preaching of the Cross to savage and heathen
tribes, who have no advantage of Christian centuries behind them,
whenever you begin to explain its significance, the sob of the soul is
hushed, and its dread dissipated.  Tears of anguish are changed into
tears of penitence.  The shuttles of a new hope begin to weave the
garments of a new purity.  No other death affects us thus or effects so
immediate a transformation.  And may not this be cited as the proof
that the death of Jesus is unique; the supreme act of love; the gift of
that Father-heart which knew the need of the world, and the only way of
appeasing it?

that the Lord did not really rise from the dead, and that the tale of
his resurrection, if it were not a fabrication, was the elaboration of
a myth.  But neither of these alternatives will bear investigation.  On
the one hand, it is absurd to suppose that the temple of truth could be
erected on the quagmire and morass of falsehood--impossible to believe
that the one system in the world of mind which has attracted the true
to its allegiance, and been the stimulus of truth-seeking throughout
the ages, can have originated in a tissue of deliberate falsehoods.  On
the other hand, it is a demonstrated impossibility that a myth could
have found time to grow into the appearance of substantial fact during
the short interval which elapsed between the death of Christ and the
first historical traces of the Church.

In this connection, it is interesting to consider one sentence dropped
by the sacred chronicler.  He tells us, that when Herod heard of the
works of Jesus, he said immediately, "It is John the Baptist--he is
risen from the dead."  Herod could not believe that that mighty
personality was quenched, even for this life, by that one blow of the
executioner's sword.  Surely he had risen!  There was a feverish dread
that he would yet be confronted by the murdered man, whose face haunted
his dreams.  His courtiers, ready to take the monarch's cue, would be
equally credulous.  From one to another the surmise would pass--"John
the Baptist is risen from the dead."

Why, then, did that myth not spread, until it became universally
accredited?  Ah, there was no chance of such a thing, for the simple
reason that there was the grave of John the Baptist to disprove it.  If
Herod had seriously believed it, or the disciples of John attempted to
spread it, nothing would have been easier than to exhume the body from
its sepulture, and produce the ghastly but indubitable refutation of
the royal delusion.

When the statement began to spread and gain credence that Christ had
risen from the dead; when Peter and John stood up and affirmed that He
was living at the right hand of God; if it had been a mere surmise, the
fond delusion of loyal and faithful hearts, an hallucination of two or
three hysterical women--would it not have been easy for the enemies of
Christianity to go forthwith to the grave in the garden of Joseph, and
produce the body of the Crucified, with the marks of the nails in hands
and feet?  Why did they not do it?  If it be said that it could not be
produced, because it had been taken away, let this further question be
answered: Who had taken it away?  Not his friends; for they would have
taken the cerements and wrappings with which Joseph and Nicodemus had
enswathed it.  Not his enemies; for they would have been only too glad
to produce it.  What glee in the grim faces of Caiaphas and Annas, if
at the meeting of the Sanhedrim, called to deal with the new heresy,
there could have been given some irrefragable proof that the body of
Jesus was still sepulchred, if not in Joseph's tomb, yet somewhere
else, to which their emissaries had conveyed it!

It is difficult to exaggerate the significance and force of this
contrast.  And the devout soul cannot but derive comfort from comparing
the allegation of the superstitious king, which could have been so
easily refuted by the production of the Baptist's body, with that of
the disciples, which was confirmed and attested by the condition of the
grave which, in spite of the watch and ward of the Roman soldiers, had
been despoiled of its prey on the morning of the third day.  Herod
expected John to rise, and gave his royal authority to the rumour of
his resurrection; but it fell to the ground still-born.  The disciples
did not expect Jesus to rise.  They stoutly held that the women were
mistaken, when they brought to them the assurance that it was even so.
But as the hours passed, the tidings of the empty grave were
corroborated by the vision of the Risen Lord, and they were convinced
that He who was crucified in weakness was living by the power of God.
There could, henceforth, be no hesitation in their message to the
world.  "The God of our fathers hath glorified his Son Jesus, whom ye
denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him
go....  But ye killed the Prince of Life, whom God raised from the
dead."  Thank God, we have not followed cunningly-devised fables.  "Now
is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that
slept.  And as by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of
the dead."

picture for an artist of sacred subjects is presented by the
performance of the last rites to the remains of the great Forerunner!
There was probably neither a Joseph nor a Nicodemus among his
disciples; certainly no Magdalene nor mother.  Devout men bore him to
his grave, and made great lamentation over him.  He had taught them to
pray, to know God, to prepare for the Kingdom of God.  They had also
fasted oft beneath his suggestion; but they were destined to experience
what fasting meant, after a new fashion, now that their leader was
taken away from them.

The little band broke up at his grave.  Farewell! they said to him;
farewell to their ministry and mission; farewell to one another.  "I go
back to my boats and fishing-nets," said one; and "I to my farm," said
another; and "We shall go and join Jesus of Nazareth," said the rest.
"Good-bye!" "Good-bye!"  And so the little band separated, never to
meet in a common corporate existence again.

When Jesus lay in his grave, this process of disintegration began at
once among his followers also.  The women went to embalm Him; the men
were apart.  Peter and John broke off together--at least they ran
together to the sepulchre; but where were the rest?  Two walked to
Emmaus apart; whilst Thomas was not with them when Jesus came on the
evening of Easter Day.  As soon as the breath leaves the body
disintegration begins; and when Jesus was dead, as they supposed, the
same process began to show itself.  Soon Peter would have been back in
Gennesaret; Nathanael beneath his fig-tree, Luke in his dispensary, and
Matthew at his toll-booth.

What arrested that process and made it impossible?  Why did the day,
which began with a certain amount of separation and decay, end with a
closer consolidation than ever, so that they were, for the most part,
gathered in the upper room; and forty days after they were all with one
accord in one place?  Why was it that they who had been like timid
deer, before He died, became as lions against the storm of Pharisaic
hate, and stronger as the weeks passed?

There is only one answer to these questions.  The followers of Jesus
were convinced by irrefragable proofs that their Master was living at
the right hand of power; nay, that He was with them all the
days--nearer them than ever before, as much their Head and Leader as at
any previous moment.  When the shepherd is smitten, the flock is
scattered; and this flock was not scattered, because the Shepherd had
recovered from his mortal wound, and was alive for evermore.

And surely the evidence which sufficed for them is enough for us.
Again and again, in dark hours, when I have longed to have the
demonstration of sense added to that of faith, it has been an untold
comfort to feel that sufficient evidence was given to the Lord's
disciples to persuade them against their contrary expectations and
unbelief; to hold them together in spite of every possible inducement
to disperse, and to transform a number of units into the Church,
against which the gates of hell have not been able to prevail.  If they
were convinced, we may be.  If their eyes beheld and their hands
touched the body of the risen Lord, we may be of good cheer.  Their
behaviour proves that they were thoroughly convinced.  They acted as
only those can act whose feet are on a rock.  They knew whom they had
believed; and they had no doubt that He would perfect the work which He
had begun.  What He had begun in the flesh, He would perfect in the

In after days Peter spoke of Him as the Prince, or File-leader of Life;
and suggests the conception, that through all the ages He is marching
on through the gates of death and the grave, unlocking them for us, and
opening the pathway into the realms of more and more abundant life.
Let us follow Him.  It is not for us to linger around the grave: even
John's disciples forbore to do this.  But let us join ourselves by
faith with our Prince and Leader, our Head and Captain, as He waits to
succour us from the excellent glory, sure that where He is, we too
shall be; but in the meanwhile we are assured that He is not in the
grave, where loving hands laid Him, but risen, ascended, glorified--our
Emmanuel, our Bridegroom, our Love and Life.  "The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want: ...  He leadeth me, ...  He maketh me to lie down;
...  He restoreth my soul....  Though I walk through the valley of the
shadow of death, ...  Thou _art_ with me."


Yet Speaking.

(JOHN X. 40-42.)

  "Shine Thou upon us, Lord,
    True Light of men, to-day;
  And through the written Word
    Thy very self display;
  That so from hearts which burn
    With gazing on Thy face,
  Thy little ones may learn
    The wonders of Thy grace."
            J. ELLERTON.

Desert Solitudes--Modern Miracles--Our own Age--Nothing Common or
Unclean--How to Witness for Jesus--After Many Days

"Beyond Jordan!"  To the Jews that dwelt at Jerusalem that was
banishment indeed.  The tract of country beyond Jordan was known as
Perea, and was very sparsely populated.  There were some tracts of
fertile country, dotted by a few scattered villages, but no one of
repute lived there; and the refinement, religious advantages, and
social life of the metropolis, were altogether absent.  Perea was to
Jerusalem what the Highlands, a century ago, were to Edinburgh.  There
our Lord spent the last few months of his chequered career.

But why?  Why did the Son of Man banish Himself from the city He loved
so dearly?  Surely the home at Bethany would have welcomed Him?  Or,
failing this, for any reason over which the sisters had no control, He
might have found a temporary home at Nazareth, where He had been
brought up; or Capernaum, in which He had wrought so many of his mighty
works, might have provided Him a palace, whose white marble steps would
have been lapped by the blue waters of the lake!  Not so!  The Son of
Man had not where to lay his head.  The nation, whose white flower He
was, had rejected Him; and the world, for which He came to shed his
blood, knew Him not.  The religious leaders of the age were pursuing
Him with relentless malice, and would have taken his life before the
predestined hour had arrived, had He not escaped from their hands, and
gone away "beyond Jordan into the place where John was at the first
baptizing; and there He abode: and many came unto Him."

There was a peculiar fascination to the Lord Jesus in those solitudes,
because of their connection with the Forerunner.  Those desert
solitudes had been black with crowds of men.  Those hill-slopes had
been covered with booths and tents, in which the mighty congregations
tabernacled, whilst they waited on his words.  Those banks had
witnessed the baptism of thousands of people, who, in the symbolic act
of baptism, had put away their sins.  And the villagers, who lived
around, could tell wonderful tales of the radiant opening of that brief
but epoch-making ministry; they could speak for hours together about
the habits of the austere preacher, and the marvellous power of his

As Jesus and his disciples wandered from place to place, Andrew would
indicate the spot where he was baptized; and John and he would recall
together the place where they were standing when their great teacher
and master pointed to Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold the Lamb of
God."  Bartholomew would find again the spot where Jesus accosted him
as the guileless Israelite, a salutation for which also he had been
prepared by the preaching of the Forerunner.  Two or three could
localize the scene where the deputation from the Sanhedrim accosted the
Baptist with the enquiry, "Who art thou?"

It was as though, years after the Battle of Waterloo, some soldiers of
the Iron Duke had visited the historic cornfields, and had recited
their reminiscences of the memorable incidents of that memorable fight.
Here the long, thin red line stood during the whole day.  There
Napoleon waited to see the effect of the last charge of his cavalry.
Yonder, through the wood, Blucher's troops hurried to reinforce their
brothers in arms.  And down those slopes the old Guard broke with a
cheer, as the Duke gave the long-looked-for word.  It was in some such
spirit that our Lord and his apostles revisited those scenes, where
many of them had seen the gate of heaven opened for the first time.

Probably our Lord would resume his ministry of preaching the good
tidings.  He could not be in any place where the sins and sorrows of
men called for his gracious words, without speaking them; and to Him
they probably brought the lame, the blind, the sick, and paralyzed--and
He healed them all.  Many came to Him, and went away blessed and
helped.  So much so, that the people could not help contrasting the two
ministries.  There was a touch of disparagement in their comments on
the Baptist's ministry.  "They said, John indeed did no miracle."  No
lame man had leaped as an hart; the tongue of no dumb man had sung; no
widow had received her son raised to life from his hands; no leper's
flesh had come to him, as the flesh of a little child.  It was quite
true--John had done no miracle.

But with this slight disparagement, there was a generous tribute and
acknowledgment.  "But all things whatsoever John spake of this Man were
true."  He said that He was the Lamb of God, pure and gentle, holy,
harmless, and undefiled; _and it was true_.  He said that He would use
his fan, separating the wheat from the chaff; _and it was true_.  He
said that He would baptize with fire; _and it was true_.  He said that
He was the Bridegroom of Israel; _and it was true_.  He did no miracle,
but he spoke strong, true words of Jesus, and they have been abundantly
verified.  And these simple-hearted people of Perea did what the
Pharisees and scribes, with all their fancied wisdom, had failed to do:
they put the words of the Baptist and the life of Jesus together, and
reasoned that since this had fitted those, as a key fits the lock,
therefore Jesus was indeed the Son of God and the King of Israel; and
"many believed on Him there."

I.  LIFE WITHOUT MIRACLES.--The people were inclined to disparage the
life of John because there was no miracle in it.  But surely his whole
life was a miracle; from first to last it vibrated with Divine power.
And did he work no miracle?  If he did not open the eyes of the blind,
did not multitudes, beneath his words, come to see themselves sinners,
and the world a passing show, and the Eternal as alone enduring and
desirable?  If he did not lay his priestly hand on leprous flesh, as
Jesus did, did not many a moral leper go from the waters of his
baptism, with new resolves and purposes, to sin no more?  If he did not
raise dead bodies, did not many, who were immured in the graves of
pride, and lust, and worldliness, hear his voice, and come forth to the
life--which is life indeed?  No miracles!  Surely his life was one long
pathway of miracle, from the time of his birth of aged parents, to the
last moment of his protest against the crimes of Herod!

This is still the mistake of men.  They allege that the age of miracles
has passed.  If they admit that such prodigies may possibly have
happened once, they insist that the world has grown out of them, and
that with its arrival at maturity the race has put them away as
childish things.  God, they think, is either Absentee, or the Creature
of Laws, which He established, and which now hold Him, as the
graveclothes held Lazarus.  No miracles!  But last summer He made the
handfuls of grain, which the farmers cast on the fields, suffice to
feed all the population of the globe--as easily as He made five barley
loaves provide a full meal for more than ten thousand persons.  No
miracles!  But last autumn, in ten thousand vineyards, He turned the
dews of the night and the showers of the morning into the wine that
rejoices man's heart; as once, in Cana, He changed the water drawn from
the stone jars into the blushing wine.  No miracles!  Explain, then,
why it is, that though ice is of denser specific gravity than water, it
does not sink to the bottom of rivers and ponds, by which they would be
speedily transformed into masses of ice, but floats on the surface of
the water, affording a pathway across from bank to brae, as Jesus once
walked on the water from the shores of the Lake of Galilee!  No
miracles!  It was only yesterday that He cleansed a leper; and healed a
sin-sick soul; and raised from his bier a young man dead in trespasses
and sins; and took a maiden by the hand, saying, Talitha cumi, "Maid,
arise!"  As I passed by, I saw Him strike a rock, and torrents of tears
gushed out: I beheld a tree, with its sacred burden, and the
serpent-poison ceased to inflame: I saw the iron swim against its
natural bent, and the lion crouch as though it beheld an angel of God
with a flaming sword.  Again, the seas made a passage for the
sacramental hosts, and the waters shrank away before the touch of the
Priestly feet, making a passage through the depths.  No; it is still
the age of miracles.

_Let us not disparage the age in which we live_.  To look back on the
Day of Pentecost with a sigh, as though there were more of the Holy
Spirit on that day than to-day; and as though there were a larger
Presence of God in the upper room than in the room in which you sit, is
a distinct mistake and folly.  We may not have the sound as of a
rushing mighty wind, nor the crowns of fire; there is no miracle to
startle and arrest: but the Holy Spirit is with the Church in all the
old gracious and copious plenitude; the river is sweeping past in
undiminished fulness; though there may not be the flash of the electric
spark, the atmosphere is as heavily charged as ever with the presence
and power of the Divine Paraclete.  The Lord said of the
Baptist--though he wrought no miracle--that there was none greater of
those born of woman; and perchance He is pronouncing that this age is
greater than all preceding ages in its possibilities.  In His view, it
may be that greater deeds may be attempted and accomplished by the
Church of to-day than ever in that past age, when she grappled with and
vanquished the whole force of Paganism.

If there is any failure, it is with ourselves.  We have not believed in
the mighty power and presence of God, because we have missed the
outward and visible sign of his working.  We have thought that He was
not here, because He has not been in the fire, the earthquake, or the
mighty wind which rends the mountains.  We have become so accustomed to
associate the startling and spectacular with the Divine, that we fail
to discover God, when the heaven is begemmed with stars, and the earth
carpeted with flowers: as though the lightning were more to us than
starlight, and the destructive than the peaceful and patient
constructive forces, which are ever at work building up and repairing
the fabric of the universe.

Do not look back on the Incarnation, or forward to the Second Advent,
as though there were more of God in either one or the other than is
within our reach.  God is; God is here; God is indivisible: all of God
is present at any given point of time or place.  He may choose to
manifest Himself in outward signs, which impress the imagination more
at one time than another; the faith of the Church maybe quicker to
apprehend and receive in one century than the next: but all time is
great--every age is equally his workmanship, and equally full of his
wonder-working power.  Alas for us, that our eyes are holden!

_Let us not disparage the ordinary and commonplace_.  We are all taught
to run after the startling and extraordinary--the statesman who
accomplishes the _coup d'état_; the painter who covers a large canvas
with a view to scenic effects; the preacher who indulges in superficial
and showy rhetoric, the musician whose execution is brilliant and
astonishing.  We like miracles!  Whatever appeals to our love for the
sensational and unexpected is likely enough to displace our
appreciation of the simple and ordinary.  When the sun is eclipsed, we
all look heavenward; but the golden summer days may be filled with
sunlight, which is dismissed with a commonplace remark about the
weather.  A whole city will turn out to see the illuminations, whilst
the stars hardly attract a passing notice.  Let there be a show of
curiously-shaped orchids, and society is stirred; but who will travel
far to see a woodland glade blue with wild hyacinths, or a meadow-lawn
besprent with daisies.  Thus our tastes are vitiated and blinded.

It is good to cultivate simple tastes.  The pure and childlike heart
will find unspeakable enjoyment in all that God has made, though it be
as familiar as a lawn sparkling with dewdrops, a hay-field scented by
clover-blooms, a streamlet murmuring over the pebbles, or the drawl of
the shingle after a retreating wave.  It is a symptom of a weak and
unstable nature to be always in search for some new thing, for some
greater sensation, for some more startling sign.  "Show us a sign from
heaven," is the incessant cry of the Pharisee and Scribe: and when the
appetite has been once created, it can never be appeased, but is always
set on some novelty more marvellous and startling than anything which
has preceded.  Be content with a holy ministry which does not dazzle by
its fireworks, but sheds a steady sunshine on the sacred page.
Cultivate familiarity with the grand, solid works of our English
literature.  Avoid the use of extravagant adjectives.  Take an interest
in the games of children; in the common round and daily task of
servants and employés; in the toils and tears of working-girls; in the
struggling lot of the charwoman who scrubs your floors, and the lad who
cleans your boots.  Do not be always gaping at the window for bands to
come down the street; but be on the pavement before your house with a
helping-hand and kindly word for the ordinary folk that labour and are
heavy-laden.  It is remarkable that in all these there are tragedies
and comedies; the raw material for novels and romances; the characters
which fill the pages of a Shakespeare or George Eliot.  All life is so
interesting; but we need eyes to see, and hearts to understand.  There
has been no age greater than this; there is no part of the world more
full of God than yours; there is no reason why you should not see
Madonnas in the ordinary women, and Last Suppers in the ordinary meals,
and Holy Families in the ordinary groups around you--if only you have
the anointed eyes of a Raffaelle or a Leonardo de Vinci.  If the world
seems common or unclean to you, the fault lies in your eyes that have
made it so.

_Let us not disparage ourselves_.  We know our limitations; we are not
capable of working miracles--our best friends are well acquainted with
this, for no eyes are quicker than Love's.  We are sparrows, not larks;
clay, not alabaster; deal, not mahogany.  But if we cannot work
miracles, we can speak true, strong words about Jesus Christ; we can
bear witness to Him as the Lamb of God; we can urge men to repent and
believe the Gospel.  The world would have been in a sorry plight if it
had depended entirely on its geniuses and miracle-workers.  Probably it
owes less to them than to the untold myriads of simple, humble,
obscure, and commonplace people, whose names will never be recorded in
its roll-call, but whose lives have laid the foundations on which the
superstructure of good order, and government, and prosperity, has been

Remember that God made you what you are, and placed you.  Dare to be
yourself--a simple, humble, sincere follower of Jesus.  Do not seek to
imitate this or the other great speaker or leader.  Be content to find
out what God made you for, and be that at its best.  You will be a bad
copy, but a unique original; for the Almighty always breaks the pattern
from which He has made one vase.  Above all, speak out the truth, as
God has revealed it to you, distorting, exaggerating, omitting nothing;
and long after you have passed away, those who remember you will gather
at your grave and say, "he did no miracle--there was nothing
sensational or phenomenal in his life-work; but he spake true things
about Jesus Christ, which we have tested for ourselves, and are
undeniable.  Indeed, they led us to believe in Him for ourselves."

is no miracle in your life, my reader.  You are no genius; you do not
know what it is to have the rush of thought, the power of brilliant
speech, the burst of song.  You have no wealth, only just enough for
your bare sustenance, and nothing to spare.  You have no rich blood in
your veins, come of a line of heroes or saints.  As you look daily into
the common routine of your lot, it seems ordinary enough.  Be it so;
there is at least one thing you can do, as we have seen--like the
Baptist, you may witness for Jesus.

_Speak to others privately_.  When only two disciples were standing
beside him, John preached the same sermon as he had delivered to the
crowd the day before, and both of them went to the frail lodging where
Jesus was making his abode.  There is nothing that more deeply searches
a man than the habit of speaking to individuals about the love of God.
We cannot do it unless we are in living union with Himself.  Nothing so
tests the soul.  It is easy to preach a sermon, when the inner life is
out of fellowship with God, because you can preach your ideals, or
avenge on others the sins of which you are inwardly conscious; but to
speak to another about Christ involves that there should be an
absolutely clear sky between the speaker and the Lord of whom he
speaks.  But as this practice is the most difficult, it is the most
blessed in its reflex influence.  To lead another to Jesus is to get
nearer Him.  To chafe the limbs of some frozen companion is to send the
warm blood rushing through your own veins.  To go after one lost sheep
is to share the shepherd's joy.  Whether by letters addressed to
relatives or companions, or by personal and direct appeal, let each one
of us adopt the sacred practice, which Mr. Moody followed and
commended, of allowing no day to pass without seeking to use some
opportunity given by God for definite, personal dealings with others.

The apostle Andrew seems to have specially consecrated his life to
this.  On each of the occasions he is referred to in the Gospels he is
dealing with individuals.  He brought his own brother; was the first to
seek after a boy to bring to the Saviour's presence; and at the close
of our Lord's ministry he brings the seeking Greeks.  Did he not learn
this blessed art from his master, the Baptist?

It is requisite that there should be the deliberate resolution to
pursue this holy habit; definite prayer for guidance as one issues from
the morning hour of prayer; abiding fellowship with the Son of God,
that He may give the right word at the right moment; and a willingness
to open the conversation by some manifestation of the humble, loving
disposition begotten by the Holy Spirit, which is infinitely attractive
and beautiful to the most casual passer-by.

_Speak experimentally_.  "I saw and bare record."  John spoke of what
he had seen, and tasted, and handled.  Be content to say, "I was lost,
but Jesus found me, blind, and He gave me sight; unclean, and He
cleansed my heart." Nothing goes so far to convince another as to hear
the accent of conviction on the lips of one whose eyes survey the
landscape of truth to which he allures, and whose ears are open to the
eternal harmonies which he describes.

_Speak from a full heart_.  The lover cannot but speak about his love;
the painter can do no other than transfer to canvas the conceptions
that entrance his soul; the musician is constrained to give utterance
to the chords that pass in mighty procession through his brain.  "We
cannot but speak the things that we have seen and heard."

Does it seem difficult to have always a full heart?  Verily, it is
difficult, and impossible, unless the secret has been acquired of
abiding always in the love of God, of keeping the entire nature open to
the Holy Spirit, and of nourishing the inward strength by daily
meditation on the truth.  We must close our senses to the sounds and
sights around us, that our soul may open to the unseen and eternal.  We
must have deep and personal fellowship with the Father and the Son by
the Holy Ghost.  We must live at first-hand on the great essentials of
our faith.  Then, as the vine-sap arises from the root, its throb and
pulse will be irresistible in our behaviour and testimony.  We shall
speak true things about Jesus Christ.  Our theme will be evermore the
inexhaustible one of Christ--Christ, only Christ--not primarily the
doctrine about Him, or the benefits accruing from fellowship with Him,
but Himself.

Thus, some day, at your burying, as men turn homewards from the
new-made grave, and speak those final words of the departed, which
contain the most unerring verdict and summing-up of the life, they will
say, "He will be greatly missed.  He was no genius, not eloquent nor
profound; but he used to speak about Christ in such a way that he led
me to know Him for myself: I owe everything to him.  He did no miracle;
but whatever he said of Jesus was true."

III.  THE POWER OF POSTHUMOUS INFLUENCE.--John had been dead for many
months, but the stream he had set flowing continued to flow; the
harvests he sowed sprang into mature and abundant fruitage; the
wavelets of tremulous motion which he had started circled out and on.

How many voices are speaking still in our lives--voices from the grave!
voices from dying beds! voices from books and sermons! voices from
heaven!  "Being dead, they yet speak."  Let us live so that, when we
are gone, our influence shall tell, and the accents of our voice
linger.  No one lives or dies to himself.  Each grain on the
ocean-shore affects the position of every other.  Each star is needed
for the perfect balance of the spheres.  Each of us is affecting the
lives of all that are now existing with us in the world, or will exist.
To untold ages, what we have been and said will affect all other beings
for good or ill.  We may be forgiven for having missed our
opportunities, or started streams of poison instead of life; but the
ill effect can never be undone.

Parents, put your hands on those young childish heads, and say pure,
sweet words of Christ, which will return to memory and heart long after
you have gone to your reward!  Ministers of religion, and Sunday school
teachers, remember your tremendous responsibility to use to the
uttermost the opportunity of saying words which will never die!
Friend, be true and faithful with your friend; he may turn away in
apparent thoughtlessness or contempt, but no right word spoken for
Christ can ever really die.  It will live in the long after years, and
bear fruit, as the seeds hidden in the old Egyptian mummy-cases are
bearing fruit to-day in English soil.


The Spirit and Power of Elias.

(LUKE I. 17.)

  "Oh, may I join the choir invisible
  Of those immortal dead who live again
  In minds made better by their presence: live
  In pulses stirred to generosity;
  In deeds of daring rectitude; in scorn
  For miserable aims that end with self;
  In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
  And with their mild persistence urge man's search
  To vaster issues."

The Old Covenant and the New--Elijah and the Baptist--A Parallel--The
Servant inferior to the Lord--The Baptism of the Holy Ghost--The
Indwelling Spirit

Great men are God's greatest gifts to our race; and it is only by their
interposition that mankind is able to step up to higher and better
levels of life.  The doctrine of evolution is supposed to explain the
history of the universe.  Men would have us believe that certain forces
have been set in motion which have elaborated this great scheme of
which we are a part, and the evolutionist would go so far as to say
that man himself has been evolved from protoplasm, and that the brains
of a Socrates, of a Milton, or of any genius who has left his mark upon
the world, have simply emanated from the whole process which culminates
in them.  We believe, on the contrary, that at distinct points in the
history of the universe, there has been a direct interposition of the
will and hand of God; and it is remarkable that in the first chapter of
Genesis that august and majestic word _create_  is three times
introduced, as though the creation of matter, the creation of the
animal world, and the creation of man, were three distinct stages, at
which the direct interposition of the will and workmanship of the
Eternal was specially manifest.  Similarly, we believe that there have
been great epochs in human history, which cannot be accounted for by
the previous evolution of moral and religious thought, and which must
be due to the fact that God Himself stepped in, and by the direct
raising up of a man, who became the apostle of the new era, lifted the
race to new levels of thought and action.  It is in this light that we
view the two illustrious men who were, each in his own measure, the
apostles of new epochs in human history--Elijah in the old Covenant,
and John the Baptist in the new.

It is remarkable that the prophet Malachi tells us that the advent of
the Messiah should be preceded and heralded by Elijah the prophet; and
that Gabriel, four hundred years after, said that John the Baptist,
whose birth he announced, would come in the spirit and power of Elijah.
This double prediction was referred to by our Lord when, descending
from the Mount of Transfiguration, in conversation with the apostles,
He indicated John the Baptist as the Elijah who was to come.  And,
indeed, there was a marvellous similarity between these two men, though
each of them is dwarfed into insignificance by the unique and original
personality of the Son of Man, who towers in inaccessible glory above

THE BAPTIST.--They resembled each other in dress.  We are told that
Elijah was a hairy man--an expression which is quite as likely to refer
to the rough garb in which he was habited, as to the unshorn locks that
fell upon his shoulders.  And John the Baptist wore a coarse dress of
camel's hair.

Each of them sojourned in Gilead.  In the remarkable sentence, which,
for the first time, introduces Elijah to the Bible and the world, we
are told that he was one of the sojourners in Gilead, that great tract
of country, thinly populated, and largely given over to shepherds and
their flocks, which lay upon the eastern side of the Jordan.  And we
know that it was there amid the shaggy forests, and closely-set
mountains, with their rapid torrents, that John the Baptist waited,
fulfilled his ministry, preached to and baptized the teeming crowds.

Each of them learnt to make the body subservient to the spirit.  Elijah
was able to live on the sparse food brought by ravens, or provided from
the meal barrel of the widow, was able to outstrip the horses of Ahab's
chariot in their mad rush across the valley of Jezreel; and after a
brief respite, given to sleep and food, went in the strength of it for
forty days and nights, through the heart of the desert until he came to
Horeb, the Mount of God.  His body was but the vehicle of the fiery
spirit that dwelt within; he never studied its gratification and
pleasure, but always handled it as the weapon to be wielded by his
soul.  And what was true in his case, was so of John the Baptist, whose
food was locusts and wild honey.  The two remind us of St. Bernard, who
tells us that he never ate for the gratification of taking food, but
only that he might the better serve God and man.

We remember also that each of these heroic spirits was confronted by a
hostile court.  In the case of Elijah, Ahab and Jezebel, together with
the priests of Baal and Astarte, withstood every step of his career;
and in the case of John the Baptist, Herod, Herodias, and the whole
drift of religious opinion, with its repeated deputations to ask who he
might be, dogged his steps, and ultimately brought him to a martyr's

How distinctly, also, in each case there was the consciousness of the
presence of God.  One of the greatest words which man has ever uttered
was that in which Elijah affirmed, in the presence of king Ahab, that
he was conscious of standing at the same moment in the presence of the
Eternal: "And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the sojourners of Gilead,
said unto Ahab, 'As the Lord, the God of Israel, liveth, before whom I
stand'"--a phrase afterwards used by Gabriel himself when he told
Zacharias that he was one of the presence angels.  "And the angel
answering, said unto him, 'I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of
God.'"  This consciousness of the Divine presence in his life revealed
itself in his great humility, when he cast himself on the ground with
his face between his knees; and in the unflinching courage which
enabled him to stand like a rock on Mount Carmel, when king, and
priest, and people, were gathered in their vast multitudes around him,
sufficient to daunt the spirit that had not beheld a greater than any.
This God-consciousness was especially manifest in the Baptist, who
referred so frequently to the nearness of the kingdom of God.  "The
kingdom of heaven," he said, "is at hand."  And when Jesus came,
unrecognised by the crowds, his high spirit prostrated itself, and his
very visage was shadowed with the vail of intense modesty and humility,
as he cried; "In the midst of you standeth One whom ye know not, the
latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose."
Coupled with this sense of God, there was, in each case, a marvellous
fearlessness of man.  When Obadiah met Elijah, and was astonished to
hear that the prophet was about to show himself to Ahab, Elijah
overbore his attempts to dissuade him, saying: I will certainly show
myself to thy master: go, tell him Elijah is here.  And when afterwards
the heavenly fire had descended, and the prophets of Baal were standing
bewildered by their altar, he did not flinch from arresting the whole
crowd of them, leading them down to the valley of the Kishon brook
beneath and there slaying them, so that the waters ran crimson to the
sea.  This fearlessness was also conspicuous in the Forerunner, who
dared to beard the king in his palace, asserting that he must be judged
by the same standard as the meanest of his subjects, and that it was
not lawful for him to have his brother's wife.

To each there came moments of depression.  In the case of Elijah, the
glory of his victory on the brow of Carmel was succeeded by the weight
of dark soul-anguish.  Did he not cast himself, within twenty-four
hours, beneath the juniper tree of the desert, and pray that he might
die, because he was no better than his fathers--a mood which God, who
pities his children and remembers that they are dust, combated, not by
expostulation, but by sending him food and sleep, knowing that it was
the result of physical and nervous overstrain?  And did not John the
Baptist from his prison cell send the enquiry to Jesus, as to whether,
after all, his hopes had been too glad, his anticipations too great,
and that perhaps after all He was not the Messiah for whom the nation
was waiting?

Both Elijah and John the Baptist had the same faith in the baptism of
fire.  We never can forget the scene on Carmel when Elijah proposed the
test that the God who answered by fire should be recognised as God; nor
how he erected the altar, and laid the wood, and placed the bullock
there, and drenched the altar with water; and how, in answer to his
faith, at last the fire fell.  John the Baptist passed through no such
ordeal as that; but it was his steadfast faith that Christ should come
to baptize with the Holy Ghost and fire.

Each of them turned the hearts of the people back.  It was as though
the whole nation were rushing towards the edge of the precipice which
overhung the bottomless pit, like a herd of frightened horses on the
prairie, and these men with their unaided hands turned them back.  It
would be impossible for one man to turn back a whole army in mad
flight--he would necessarily be swept away in their rush; but this is
precisely what the expression attributes to the exertions of Elijah and
John.  The one turned Israel back to cry, Jehovah, He is God; the other
turned the whole land back to repentance and righteousness, so that
publicans and soldiers, Sadducees and Pharisees, began to confess their
sin, put away their evil courses, and return to the God of their

Each prophet was succeeded by a gentler ministry.  Elijah was sent from
Horeb to anoint Elisha, who, for the most part, passed through the land
like genial sunshine--a perpetual benediction to men, women, and
children; while John the Baptist opened the door for the Shepherd,
Christ, who went about doing good, and whose holy, tender ministry fell
on his times like rain on the mown grass.

From the solitudes beyond the Jordan, as he walked with Elisha, talking
as they went, the chariot and horses of fire which the Father had sent
for his illustrious servant from heaven bore him homeward, while his
friends and disciples stood with outstretched hands, crying: The
chariot and horses of Israel are leaving us, bearing away our most
treasured leader.  In those same solitudes, or within view of them, the
spirit of John the Baptist swept up in a similar chariot.  As the
headsman, with a flash of his sword, put an end to his mortal career,
though no mortal eyes beheld them, and no chronicler has told the
story, there must have been horses and chariots of fire waiting to
convey the noble martyr-spirit to its God.  The parallel is an
interesting one--it shows how God repeats Himself; and, if time and
space permitted, we might elaborate the repetition of a similar
conception, either in Savonarola of Florence, or in Martin Luther, or
in John Knox, who had been baptized into the same Spirit, and inspired
to perform the same ministry.  That Spirit is waiting still--waiting to
clothe Himself with our life; waiting to do in us, and through us,
similar work for the time in which we live.  What these men did far
back in the centuries, it is probable that others Will have to do
before this dispensation passes utterly away.  A man, or men, shall
again rise up, who will tower over their fellows, who will speak and
act in the spirit and power of Elijah--men like Edward Irving, but
without the mistakes that characterized his heroic life.  Perhaps some
young life may be inspired by this page to yield itself to God, so that
it may be sent forth to turn back the hearts and lives of vast
multitudes from their evil way, turning the heart of the fathers to
their children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, to make
ready a people prepared for the Lord.

Elisha, the disciple of Elijah, nor the eloquent Apollos, the disciple
of John the Baptist, would have dared to say of their respective
masters what Philip and Andrew, Peter and Thomas, habitually said of
Christ.  Greatly as they revered and loved their masters, they knew
that they were men like themselves; that their nature was made in the
same mould, though, perhaps, of finer clay; that there were limitations
beyond which they could not go, and qualities of mind and soul in which
they were not perfected.  They dared not say of them, "My Lord and my
God."  They never thought of prostrating themselves at their feet in
worship; they never appealed to them after their decease as able to
hear and answer prayer from the heaven into which they had passed.

Neither Elijah nor John had what Jesus asserted--the consciousness of
an unique union with God; neither of them dared to affirm, as Jesus
did, that he was the Son of God, in the sense that made other use of
that term blasphemy; neither of them thought of anticipating a moment
when he should be seen sitting at the right hand of power, and coming
in the clouds; neither of them dared to couple himself with Deity in
the sublime and significant pronoun _we_--"We will come and make our
abode with Him."  Neither of them would have dreamed of accepting the
homage which Jesus took quite naturally, when men worshipped Him, and
women washed and kissed his feet: and I ask how it could be that Jesus
Christ, so essentially meek and lowly, so humble and unwilling to
obtrude Himself, should have spoken and acted so differently, unless
his nature had been separated by an impassable gulf from that of other
men, however saintly and gifted?  The very fact that these men,
acknowledged amongst the greatest of our race, drew a line, and said:
Beyond that we cannot pass; we are conscious of defilement and need; we
require forgiveness and grace, equally with those to whom we minister.
And this compels on our part the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ was
all He claimed to be, and that He is worthy to receive glory, and
honour, and riches, and power, and blessing; for He is Man of men, the
second Man, the Lord from Heaven.

Neither of these dared to offer himself as the Comforter and Saviour of
men.  Elijah could only rebuke sin, which he did most strenuously; but
he had no panacea for the sin and sorrow of his countrymen.  He could
bid them turn to God; and he did.  But he could say nothing of any
inherent virtue, or power, which could proceed from him to save and
help.  It was never suggested for a moment that he could act as
mediator between God and men, though he might be an intercessor.  And
as for John the Baptist, though he deeply stirred the religious
convictions of his countrymen, he could only point to One who came
after him, and say: "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin
of the world."  But within six months after the commencement of his
ministry, Jesus says; "Son, thy sins are forgiven thee"; "The Son of
Man hath authority on earth to forgive sins"; "Daughter, thy sins,
which are many, are forgiven thee: go in peace"; and presently: "This
is the cup of the New Covenant in my blood, shed for many, for the
remission of sins", and again: "The Son of Man came to give his life a
ransom for many."  Tell me of any, either in the story of Elijah or of
John the Baptist, to compare with these words, spoken by the lowest and
humblest being that ever trod time's sands?  Does that not indicate
that He stood in a relationship to God and man which has never been
realized by another?

Besides, neither of them introduced a new type of living.  Their own
method of life seemed to indicate that there was sin in the body, or
sin in matter; and that the only way of holiness was by an austerity
that lived apart in the deserts, dreading and avoiding the presence of
men.  That was a type of holiness which every great religious teacher
has followed; for you remember that Buddha used to say that all the
present is an illusion and a dream, while the realities await us
beyond.  On the other hand, Jesus taught that the Redeemer was also the
Creator; that there was nothing common or unclean in man's original
constitution; that sin consisted not in certain actions, functions, or
duties--but in man's heart, and will, and choice; and that if a man
were only right there, all his nature and circumstances would become
illumined and transfigured by the indwelling Spirit.  Let it never be
forgotten that Christ taught that God is not going to cancel the nature
which He Himself has bestowed in all its human and innocent out-goings,
but only to eliminate the self-principle which has cursed it--as you
would wish to take small-pox from the body of the little child, or the
taint out of the rotting flesh of the leper.

O Christ, Thou standest pre-eminent in thy unparalleled glory!  Let
Elijah and John the Baptist withdraw, but oh, do Thou tarry!  To whom
shall we go?  Thou hast the words of eternal life.  All the prophets
and kings of men without Thee will not suffice; but to have Thee is to
have all that is strong, and wise, and good, gathered up into the
perfect beauty of a man, with the Divine glory of the Infinite God.

III.  HOW MAY WE HAVE THAT SAME SPIRIT?--John the Baptist came in the
spirit and power of Elijah: that spirit and power are for us too.  Just
as the dawn touches the highest peaks of the Alps, and afterwards, as
the morning hours creep on, the tide of light passes down into the
valley, so the Spirit that smote that glorious pinnacle Elijah, and
that nearer pinnacle the Baptist, is waiting to descend upon and
empower us.

We are all believers in Jesus, but did we receive the Holy Ghost when
we believed? (Acts xix. 2).  When the great apostle of the Gentiles met
the little handful of John's disciples, gathered in the great
idolatrous city of Ephesus, the first word he addressed to them was the
eager enquiry, "Did ye receive the Holy Ghost when ye believed?"  And
they replied, "Nay, we did not so much as hear whether the Holy Ghost
was given."  In other words: We heard from our master, John, that
Jesus, of whom he spake, would baptize with the Holy Ghost and with
fire; but we have never heard of the fulfilment of his prediction--we
only know of Him, concerning whom our great leader so often spake, as
the great Teacher, Miracle-worker, and Sacrifice for the sins of the
people--but what more there is to tell and know we wait to hear from

Then Paul explained that John's baptism had stood only for confession
and repentance: "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying
unto the people that they should believe on Him, which should come
after him, that is, on Jesus."  Those who descended the shelving banks
of Jordan to be plunged beneath its arrowy waters, declared their
discontent with the past, their desire to be free of it, and their
belief in the Messianic character of Jesus of Nazareth, who was to
introduce a new and better age.

But the apostle hastened to explain that this Jesus, whom the Jews had
delivered up and slain by wicked hands, was the Prince of Life; that
God had raised Him from the dead; and that being by the right hand of
God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy
Ghost, He had poured Him forth in mighty power on the waiting Church,
anointing it for its ministry to mankind.  It was as though he had
said: Our Lord, on his Ascension, baptized those that had believed with
the Spirit of which Joel spake.  The water of John's baptism symbolised
a negation, but this baptism is positive; it is as cleansing, purifying
flame; it was good to know Jesus after the flesh, it is a thousand
times better to know Him after the Spirit: and this gift is to us and
to our children, and to all that are far off, even as many as the Lord
our God shall call.

When they heard this they were baptized into the name of the Lord
Jesus.  They exalted Him to the throne of their hearts as the glorified
and ever-blessed Son of God.  They directed their longing eyes towards
Him in his risen glory, that He should do for them as He had already
done for so many.  And in answer to their expectant faith, the blessing
of Abraham came upon them--they received the promise of the Spirit by
faith; the Holy Ghost came upon them, and they were equipped for
witness-bearing in Ephesus by the very power which had rested once on
Elijah, and also on their first teacher and guide; and, as the result,
a revival broke out in that city of such magnitude that the magic books
were burned, and the trade of the silversmiths grievously injured.

This power of the Holy Spirit is for us all.  Of course we could not
believe in Jesus in the remission of sin, or the quickening of our
spiritual life, apart from the work of the Holy Spirit; but there is
something more than this, there is a power, an anointing, a gracious
endowment of fitness for service--which are the privilege of every
believer.  The Holy Spirit is prepared, not only to be within us for
the renewal and sanctification of character, but to anoint us as He did
the Lord at his baptism.  He waits to empower us to witness for Jesus,
to endure the persecution and trial which are inevitable to the
exercise of a God-given ministry, and to bring other men to God.  It
would be well to tarry to receive it.  It is better to wait for hours
for an express train than to start to walk the distance; the hours
spent in waiting will be more than compensated for by the rapidity with
which the traveller will be borne to his destination.  Stay from your
work for a little, and wait upon the ascended, glorified Redeemer, in
whom the Spirit of God dwells.  Ask Him to impart to you that which He
received on your behalf.  Never rest until you are sure that the Spirit
dwells in you fully, and exercises through you the plenitude of his
gracious power.  We cannot seek Him at the hand of Christ in vain.
Dare to believe this: dare to believe that if your heart is pure, and
your motives holy, and your whole desire fervent--and if you have dared
to breathe in a deep, long breath of the Holy Spirit--that according to
your faith so it has been done to you; and that you may go forth
enjoying the same power which rested on the Baptist, though you may not
be conscious of any Divine afflatus, though there may have been no
stroke of conscious power, no crown of flame, no rushing as of the
mighty wind.

God is still able to vouchsafe to us as large a portion of his Spirit
as to the disciples on the day of Pentecost.  We are not straitened in
Him, but in ourselves.  The power of his grace is not passed away with
the primitive times, as fond and faithless men imagine; but his Kingdom
is now at hand, and Christ, standing on the threshold of the century,
waits to lead his Church to greater triumphs than she has ever known.
Oh that He would hasten to come forth from his royal chambers!  Oh that
He would take his throne as Prince of the kings of the earth!  Oh that
He would put on the robe of his majesty, and assume the sceptre of his
unlimited and almighty reign.  Creation travails; the Spirit and the
Bride invoke; the mind of man has tried all possible combinations of
sovereignty, and in vain.

"O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger
to prepare the way before Thee; grant that the ministers and stewards
of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by
turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; that,
at thy second coming to judge the world, we may be found an acceptable
people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the
Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen."

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