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Let the young be instructed how to rise into eminence and distinction. Covet not, pursue not premature honour and applause. Extorted praise is gratifying neither to the giver nor the receiver; a free-will offering of approbation is "twice blest; it blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” Meditate on the familiar image, which, no doubt, has frequently been suggested to you : honour, like the shadow, pursues the flyer, and flies from the pursuer. Demand less than your due, and men will be disposed to give you the more. My young friends, " be not children in understanding : howbeit, in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men."
Now, when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying,
the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, which was the son of Heli.
The declared purpose of our Evangelist, in undertaking to write this history, is that his most excellent friend Theophilus, and with him every lover of God and truth, "might know the certainty of those things wherein he bad been instructed." This “ certainty” is demonstrable from the spirit which Christianity breathes, and from the external evidence by which its divine original was confirmed. The religion of Jesus Christ proves that it came down from heaven, from the Father of lights, by the character of the great Author and Finisher of our Faith, by the example of all righteousness which he set, by the purity and heavenly-mindedness which he displayed and recommended, by the labours of mercy and love which he performed, by the sufferings which he patiently underwent, and by “the glory that followed.” To these Providence was pleased to superadd proofs that reach the understanding through the medium of sense ; namely signal, supernatural and frequently-repeated testimonies, exhibited in the presence of a cloud of witnesses, who produced a clear, concurring, consistent mass of evidence, respecting facts which fell under the personal observation of their own eyes and ears and which were never contradicted nor even called in question.
At this distance of time and place, the last mentioned species of evidence, that of external circumstances, must of necessity be transmitted to us through the channel of history, and its validity must rest on the veracity of the historian. The other sort of evidence is the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.
This counsel approves itself to be of God, to the conviction of every one who seriously examines it, at whatever distance of time and place, from its indelible characters, from the universality of the field which it embraces, and from the glorious and godlike end at which it aims : in a word, from its
congeniality to the feelings, to the wishes, and to the wants of human nature. Had no prediction taught the world to expect a Deliverer ; had no miracle declared Him the great Lord of the Universe; had no voice from Heaven proclaimed Him the beloved Son of God, He must have stood confessed, the predicted Emanuel, God with us, in his compassion to the miserable, in his patience with the froward, in his forbearance toward the evil and unthankful, in his clemency to the guilty. The gospel breathes “ peace on earth and good will to men ;' its unbounded liberality diffuses its influence over the whole world of mankind; its professed aim and end are to confer all possibly attainable happiness on every human being in the life which now is, and perfect and everlasting felicity in that which is to come. The object wbich Christianity proposes to itself is to reform, to purify, to exalt our fallen nature, by inaking us partakers of a divine nature; it is to rear the fabric of present and everlasting blessedness on the solid foundation of wisdom, truth and virtue. It penetrates and pervades every principle of our nature, and enters completely into the detail of human life and conduct: it informs the understanding, melts the heart, overawes the conscience, and brings the trembling, guilty, helpless, desponding creature unto God. If these are not the characters of a Revelation from the God and Father of all men, What characters are sufficient to produce belief? If the spirit and tendency of the Gospel work not conviction, the descent of an angel from heaven, or the return of one from the regions of the dead would be equally inefficacious.
In this “ doctrine according to godliness," Men and Brethren, we behold genuine philosophy, not carelessly slumbering over fancied plans of improvement, not coldly suggesting ideas of reform, not bewildering herself in the peradventures of doubtful disputation, but philosophy alive, awake and in action ; philosophy doing good and diffusing happiness, the divine philosophy which brings God down to dwell with men upon earth, and which raises men from earth to heaven. In its great Author we behold not the sullen, supercilious recluse, looking with affected contempt on the weakness and ignorance of mankind, talking and arguing sagely, and effecting nothing, but the beneficent friend of man, mixing with society, looking with complacency on harmless enjoyment, stretching forth the hand to relieve distress, with patience and condescension instructing the ignorant, outrunning the expectations and even the desires of the humble, and overcoming evil with good. At every period, and in every condition of life, we behold Him a perfect pattern of every possible excellence.
We have already contemplated the blessed Jesus in his original glory, before the world was, and in all the wonders of his humiliation to the level of humanity: we have beheld Him in all the affecting interest of infancy and childhood, born in a stable, laid in a manger, aimed at by the dagger of a ruffian, driven into exile, meekly retiring into obscurity, silently increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. From the age of twelve to thirty years, that is for more than half the period which He tabernacled among men, Providence has seen meet to withhold all traces of his history. Within the short space of about three years is comprized the detail of all the things which Jesus did, and taught, and suffered as the Saviour of mankind. To this eventful era we are now rought forward, and we enter on the contemplation of it with mixed emotions of wonder, reverence and joy.
Stand by, ye princes and potentates of the earth; the King of kings is about to make his public entry. What is the consecration of a prelate, the coronation of an emperor, the voice of a trumpet, the anointing with oil, compared to the majesty, solemnity and importance of the scene displayed on the banks of the Jordan! Bend your heads and cover your faces, “ye angels that excel in strength,” He whom you are all commanded to worship is here.
Behold he cometh from Nazareth of Galilee, to the baptism of John; the greater to be baptized by the less. Eighteen years hast thou now passed, Jesus of Nazareth! unseen, unknown, unregarded; under the humble appellation of the carpenter's son, partaking perhaps of the labours of his occupation, faring simply, submitting to authority, unmortified by subjection to porerty, neglect and reproach ; and thus hast thou become a gentle and silent, but a severe reprover of the restlessness of ambition, of the thirst of distinczion, of the impetuosity of appetite, of impatience of restraint. The Saviour of the world, my friends, was pleased to pass through the successive stages of human life, that he might sanctify and instruct every age of man.
He became an infant of days, that He might sanctify infancy, and stamp importance and respect upon it; he shewed himself in the temple at the age of twelve, that he mighi sanctify, and instruct that more advanced period of life in the duty of frequenting the house of God, and of resorting to age, office and experience for the lessons of wisdom. He advanced to maturity to sanctify, and instruct grown men to practice self-denial, self-government, to be content with their lot, io repress inordinate desire, to aim at eminence by learning to become useful. “ He that believeth shall not make haste."? He remained thus long in the shade, that He might teach bis disciples to bear obscurity and retirement, and to cease from premature aspiring. He emerges at length into the light, the season of open and beneficial exertion being come, that he might correct a spirit of indolence, irresolution and affected humility; and to tell every man, that he is sent into the world to act an important part, that he is entrusted with talents for the employment of which he is accountable, that God and his fellow-creatures have claims upon him, which he must satisfy at his peril.
The approach of Jesus to Jordan is perceived and announced by the Baptist. The spirit which enabled Simeon to discern the Saviour in the person of a little child, when presented in the temple, now discloses to the eye of the Prophet, who came in the spirit and power of Elias, the same divine Person on ihe eve of entering upon his public ministry. He suspends for a moment the employment of teaching and baptizing the multitude, in which he was engaged, to point out to them "the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the World." “ As the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not; John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water ; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose : he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire."
John, at first, modestly declines the exercise of his office in a case so very extraordinary. Hitherto he had taught only the ignorant and vicious, and baptized only the impure, in the view of preparing them to receive the blessings of the approaching kingdom of heaven; self-righteous Pharisees unbeliering, profligate Sadducees, rapacious publicans, seditious, violent and discontented soldiers, such were the men who came to his baptism. But here the application is made by Him “who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his lips.” This, prophet as he was, confonds all the Baptist's ideas of propriety, and he exclaims: “ I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" The reply of Christ unfolds his spirit, and conveys to us many a useful lesson: “ Suffer it to be so now; for this it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Perfect purity can suffer no contamination from intercourse with the unclean ; the impure pollute each other, and the contagion spreads. Conformity in things įnnocent and lawful is a duty imposed by decency, kindness and regard to peace; dissent merely for the sake of dissent is a mixture of pride and bignkry. That may be admitted under peculiar circumstances, which is not to be
drawn into a precedent, nor established as a general rule. A public character is concerned to study his own dignity, and the propriety and consistency of his conduct. The question is not what he may do, but what it becomes him to
" Things lovely and of good report” must be thought of together with things that are "true, honest, just and pure.” It became Him to give public testimony to the baptism of John, the baptism of repentance, because it led directly to bis own mission, and to the kirigdom which He was about to establish in the world. It became him to put respect on every institution, ceremonial as well as moral, that had the sanction of divine authority, of general use, or of obvious utility. The ceremonial law required “divers washings," and the immersion of the body in water was by no means a novel practice introduced by John, but transmitted through the succeeding ages of the legal dispensation, and compliance with it our Lord considers as part of “the fulfilling of all righteousness," and therefore as incumbent on himself, being the great pattern of propriety. We find him, on another occasion, submitting to an arbitrary imposition, that he might not seem to give offence, in the matter of the tribute money, and performing a miracle rathe than shew disrespect to government. " Lest we should offend them,” says he lo Peter, "go thou to the sea, and cast an hook, and take up the fish that first cometh up; and when thou hast opened his mouth thou shalt find a piece of money : that take, and give unto them for me and thee.” Thus he not only “fulfilled," to an iota, "all righteousness," prescribed by the law, but submitted himself to the "ordinance of man, for the Lord's sake."
But there was a farther view in this solemn transaction. The Messiah must be publicly set apart to the execution of his high prophetic office, and He prefers the baptism of John as the mode of performing that august ceremony. He passes through the water into the reign of Grace; the kingdom of heaven was now come, and such was his humble entry into it. But this voluntary descent is to be immediately followed by a rise into glory which eclipses all the glory of this world. Samuel anointed Saul with a vial, and afterwards David with a horn of material oil ; the Prince “ upon the throne of David, of the increase of whose government and peace there should be no end,” is anointed with the Holy Spirit. The numerous and sounding titles of earthly potentates are at their inauguration, proclaimed by sound of trumpet; the simple title of the King of kings, and Lord of lords is proclaimed by a voice from heaven. The eyes and ears of the spectators at once bear witness to the declaration of the Son of God. “It came to pass, that Jesus also being bantized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, upon him, and a voice came from heaven which said, thou art my beloved Son ; in thee I am well pleased.” Painters have presumed to represent this descent of the Holy Ghost under the form of a material dove." The descending, hovering motion, not the bodily shape of that bird, is surely all that the expression in the Evangelists conveys to the mind. As well might art attempt to paint the dazzling lustre of flaming fire, or the sound of the voice that spake, or the motion of the splendid appearance which then filled the sky, as pretend to give precise and permanent form to an apparition of Deity, which, having fulfilled its purpose, passed
Thus, Christians, was consecrated to the noblest work ever undertaken, the great “ Prophet that should come into the world,". -- The Prince of the kings of the earth,”" The Apostle and High Priest of our profession," God “ also boaring witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.”. And thus was fulfilled the Scripture which saith : “ There shall come forih a rod out of the stem of Sesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots : and the Spirit of the Lord
shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his cars: but with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth : and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.” And thus is the church of Christ founded upon a rock, "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Is it unworthy of remark, that this testimony to the Son of God, from “the excellent glory," was given while he was praying? “As He prayed” also, on the mount of transfiguration, a similar testimony was exhibited, “ There came a cloud, and overshadowed them : and there came a voice out of the cloud saying, This is my beloved Son; hear Him." Again, while Jesus prayed, " Father, glorify thy name;" the testimony from on high was repeateds * Then came there a voice from heaven saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.” Such is the promptitude of intercommunication between earth and heaven. So rapidly ascend the breathings of a devout spirit to the throne of God; so swifily descend the tokens of “good-will to men.” “ The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." And if the earnest prayer of an Elias had power to bind up the clouds of heaven for years together, and to smite a guilty land with thirst and famine ; how much more powerful must be the prayer of the great Intercessor, that “in the wilderness waters may break out, and streams in the desert;" that“ the parched ground may become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water !” Therefore also “men ought always to pray, and not to faint.”
Here are the “ Three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost : and these three are one." · Who can by searching find out God: Who can find out the Almighty unto perfection ?"
" Who is able to comprehend what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge ?"
We have made no remark on the mode of baptism which John employed, because it might lead to controversy, which is unprofitable, to the neglect of practical “goodness," which " is profitable unto all things.” “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.”
Why dost thou judge thy brother ? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother ?” " Who art thou that judgest another man's servant ? to his own master he standeth or falleth." Let the spirit of the ordinance be chiefly attended to : wise and good men may very innocently differ about the form. " It is the spirit that quickeneth," the outward form is of secondary importance.
Parents, have ye devoted your infant offspring to God, by the sprinkling with water ? Remember the solemn engagements which you then voluntarily undertook to bring them up in the fear, “ nurture and admonition of the Lord.” Meditate frequently and seriously on the responsibility under which you are laid, to God, to your children, to the world. Your fellow-worshippers will witness against you, if you trifle with, if you neglect, if you corrupt your sacred charge. These young ones look up to you for protection, for instruction, for an example; they call upon you to fulfil your promise in their behalf. They ask bread of you ; will you give them a stone ? "They ask a fish; will you give them a serpent? They look to you for the portion of goods that falleth to their share ; not only “the meat which perisheth, but the meat which endureth unto everlasting life.” If you are unfaithful they are undone. On the other hand,"great is your reward" on earth, and still greater “your reward in heaven," if you are honoured to become their spiritual parents, as