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MATTHEW iii. 3.
For this is be that was spoken of by the prophet
Isaiah, saying; “ The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare 'ye the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”
The passage is found in Isaiah xl. 4. He had immediately before, in the preceding chapter, been foretelling the Babylonian captivity. When, upon the prospect of their deliverance from that calamity, instead of dwelling upon it, the prophet is carried out by a divine inspiration to foretell a deliverance from a much greater calamity, from the dominion of sin and death, to be accomplished for them by Almighty God, who would appoint a messenger, a herald to proclaiın his coming amongst them, and to prepare all things for it.
We have the authority of our Saviour and of John the Baptist for applying this prophecy to the first opening of the Gospel by the preaching of John, and the introduction of the kingdom of God amongst men.
The passage is quoted more fully by St. Luke, iii. 4, 5, 6, and stands thus in the prophet: “ The voice of one crying in the wilderness;" or, “A voice crieth : In the wilderness prepare ye
of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see together the salvation of our God : for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
Before we proceed further, it may be proper to explain some of the language here made use of;- why, for instance, it is said of John the Baptist, that he prepared the way of Jehovah ; or, as it is otherwise expressed, in another prophecy of this event, when near its accomplishment, (Luke i. 76.) “ that John should be the prophet of the Highest, to go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways?"
Did then Jehovah, or the most high God, indeed come upon earth, upon
appearance of John?
I answer ; That it is a way of speaking generally used and well understood, to say that what is done in the name or by the command of another, is done by the person
himself. Thus (Acts xii. 1, 2.) you read that “Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword;" — killed him, not himself, but by the hands of the executioner.
So John the Baptist, in preparing the way for Christ, prepared it for God himself, because Christ acted in the name and by the authority of God, and was sent by him.
And God might be said to come to men by Christ, his messenger and great prophet sent by him. This
way of speaking was familiar to the Jews, and they found no difficulty in comprehending, that when God sent a prophet or especial messenger to them, it was in some measure as if he visited and ca meto them himself.
So (in Luke vii. 16.) after our Saviour had by a word speaking raised a dead person to life, it is said ; “There came a fear upon all: and they glorified God, saying ; that a great prophet is risen up among us; and, that God hath visited his people.”
It is in the same way, that our Saviour says, that those who kindly entertained him entertained God who sent him, and that seeing him was seeing the Father, who manifested himself by him.
Matt. x. 40; “He that receiveth you, receiveth me, and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me." John xiv. 9; “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father.”
So the Apostle says, (2 Cor. v. 19.) “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself;" i.e. he appeared and acted by Christ.
This brief explanation shows how intelligible the Scriptural language is concerning Christ, and concerning God coming and dwelling with his people, when Christ appeared; and may enable us to read those sacred books with more satisfaction and benefit, and without that embarrassinent and confusion of making to themselves more Gods than one, which many Christians have fallen into.
I now proceed to lay before you one or two practical reflections which arise from it, and from the passage before us. And
1. It was great benignity and condescension in
God thus to come to men, to let hiniself down to the level of his creatures, to dwell with them, and to speak to them, by his servants the prophets ; more especially in the manner he has done by his most chosen and beloved servant and messenger the holy Jesus.
“God,” says the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, (i: 12.) “who in several parts, in a more partial manner, and at sundry times, spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son," and delivered unto us by him his whole will for our salvation and happiness
There have been many false prophets in the world; many who have pretended to come from God, and speak in his name. And hence some have hastily concluded, that all claims to a divine communication have been the fiction of weak or designing heads. But there are marks by which it may
be infallibly known, “ whether a doctrine be of God, or whether a man speak of himself.” Where many
and mighty miracles are openly wrought to give credit to a person taking upon him to be sent from God, such as healing the sick, giving sight to the blind,