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PREACHING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST.

PREACHING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST.

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Published by GLENN DALE PEASE

St. John i. 20.
He confessed and denied not, but confessed "I am not the Christ "


St. John i. 20.
He confessed and denied not, but confessed "I am not the Christ "

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jan 30, 2013
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PREACHING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST.
BY R. HEBER
St. John i. 20.He confessed and denied not, but confessed "I am not the Christ "About the middle of the long reign of the RomanEmperor Tiberius, when all mankind were inhushed and anxious expectation of that Great De-liverer whom both Jewish and Pagan prophecieshad foretold as about this time to make his ap-pearance upon earth ; a new and mighty teacherof morahty appeared in the wilderness of Jud^a.His dress, his voice, his aspect, were the image of austere holiness, and of the then almost forgot-ten severities of the ancient prophets and penitents.His hair and beard, unshorn, after the pattern of the Nazarites, hung wildly over his breast andshoulders ; his half-naked body was macerated withfrequent fasting ; his raiment was the coarse haircloth which covered the Arab's tent ; his food, theinsects of the air and of the field ; and his 'luxury,the honey left by wild bees in the sun-burnt rocksof Arabia Petraea.34 S E R M O N I.He was recognized as John, the son of a Jewishpriest, whose birth had, some thirty years before,been announced by repeated miracles ; foretold byan angel, preceded by a miraculous dumbness andfollowed by a miraculous cure ; whose boyhood andyouth had, from the first, been strange and soHtary,and who had fled from the amusements natural tohis age, and the pursuits appropriate to his station,to the dismal and dangerous retreat of the wasteand howhng wilderness : till now, in the full vigourof his mind, and sublimed and purified by a life of meditation, he took his station at the ford of Betha-bara, and, in words full of power and dignity,called on his countrymen to escape from the wrathto come.The ford of Bethabara, which he selected forthis first appearance, was a place of all others bestcalculated for the double purpose of a popidarteacher and a severe and habitual ascetic. Onlysix miles from Jericho, and in the high road fromJerusalem and the sea coast to the wealthy citiesof Gadara and Arseopolis, a celebrated prophetwas, in such a situation, seldom likely to want anaudience ; while the waters of Jordan, its marshes,and the adjacent wilderness, not only suited Tiis
 
mission as a Baptist, but were favourable also tothe austerities and occasional secessions from theworld which became the character of one whomourned for the world's transgi'essions.Nor was the ford of Bethabara recommended bysuch considerations only. With St. John and with7PREACHING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST. 35the Jews it might, probably, weigh still more, thatit was by this very passage, which was regarded asa figurative baptism, that their ancestors underJoshua, (himself, both in name and office, the typeof a more illustrious Teacher,) had gone throughthe stream of Jordan, and, not without a miracle,had entered into their promised Canaan. And, asthe scene of Elijah's occasional residence and mi-racles, as the visible instrument in the cleansing of Naaman, and as the favourite retreat, dm'ing theindependence of the Israelitish state, of the mostpopular prophets and their scholars, there is rea-son to believe that both the river and the lake of Tiberias had acquired a sort of sacred character, andthat the pilgrimages which Christians make thitherare little more than the relics of a similar practiceamong the Jews.The time, moreover, of St. John's appearance wasno less favourable to his renown than the stationwhich he had chosen. I have said that all man-kind, and not the Jews alone, were at this periodin still and anxious expectation of a mighty sove-reign and conqueror to be born in the land of Judah ; and I repeat the observation, because thereare few facts in history more certain (though manyof much less consequence are far more generallyattended to,) than that amongst the heathen also,and more particularly in the Roman world, therewere extant books of supposed divine authority,and which, so far as we have any account of them,gave an almost similar description of the futureD 236 SERMON I.Messiah with that which is read to the presentday in the prophetic writings of the Old Testa-ment.I am well aware, indeed, that the work whichnow bears the name of the Sibylline prophecies, ismarked by many strong internal proofs as a forgery
 
of far later date than the reign of Augustus orTiberius, and composed when the worship of thecross and the other superstitions of the middleages, had already made considerable progress. Butthat books were in existence, under the name of the Sibylline Oracles and the Prophecies of Hy-daspes, which spoke many strange and many truethings of Christ and of His kingdom, is proved, bythe testimony of the most ancient apologists forChristianity, as allowed by the heathen themselvesto be ancient and inspired documents, and yet infavour of the Christians. It is in part confirmedby Cicero, who, when, for a political purpose, de-preciating the authority of the Sibylline books, ob-serves as a reason why they were not to be fol-lowed, that they contained doctrines contrary tothe estabhshed systems of idolatry and polytheism \ And it is still more confirmed by that well knownand remarkable Eclogue of Virgil, which sostrangely corresponds with the leading chapters of Isaiah, and which, whatever its immediate occasionmay have been, and however the flattery of thepoet may have led him to apply to one of the Cs-' Cic. de Div. lib. ii, s. 54.PREACHING OF ST. JOHN THE BAPTIST. 37sarean family expressions of a nobler import, hasavowedly borrowed its ornaments and metaphorsfrom traditions or prophecies then actually currentamong his countrjinen ^The subject is one not easily exhausted, and itis one to which I may hereafter recur. It is im-portant in many respects, not only as, so far as itextends, a confirmation of Christianity, but as pre-sumptive evidence, (when coupled with the pro-phecy of Balaam, the Epiphany of the PersianMagi, and the many circumstances in the Brahmi-nical creed, which strangely border on our own,)that the coming of Christ was more widely madeknown, and the manifestation of the Spirit lesslimited in ancient times than Jews and Christiansare apt to believe, and that the mercies of Godthrough His Son, as they were intended for all, sothey were made effectual to many, for whom, in themidst of their heathen darkness, our human wis-dom would be at a loss to provide security.But my present reason for mentioning the fact,is to point out the advantages with which the sonof Zacharias began his mission, and the facihtieswhich he possessed (had he thought fit to employthose facihties) for assuming any title or characterwhich the wildest ambition might have dictated.

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