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4. For as the Baptist, while he was in the wilderness, became the pattern of solitary and contemplative life, a school of virtue, and example of sanctity and singular austerity; so, at his emigration from the places of his retirement, he seemed, what indeed he was, a rare and excellent personage: and the wonders, which were great at his birth, the prediction of his conception by an angel, which never had before happened but in the persons of Isaac and Sampson, the contempt of the world, which he bore about him, his mortified countenance and deportment, his austere and eremitical life, his vehement spirit and excellent zeal in preaching, created so great opinions of him among the people, that all held him for a prophet in his office, for a heavenly person in his own particular, and a rare example of sanctity and holy life to all others : and all this being made solemn and ceremonious by his baptism, he prevailed so, that he made excellent and apt preparations for the Lord's appearing; for “there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the regions round about Jordan, and were baptized of him, confessing their sins.”
5. The Baptist having, by so heavenly means, won upon the affections of all men, his sermons and his testimony concerning Christ were the more likely to be prevalent and accepted; and the sum of them was “repentance and dereliction of sins,” and “ bringing forth the fruits of good life;" in the promoting of which doctrine, he was a severe reprehender of the Pharisees and Sadducees; he exhorted the - people to works of mercy; the publicans to do justice and to decline oppression; the soldiers to abstain from plundering, and doing violence or rapine : and publishing, that “ he was not the Christ; that he only baptized with water, but the Messias should baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire;" he finally denounced judgment and great severities to all the world of impenitents, even abscission and fire unquenchable. And from this time forward, viz." From the days of John the Baptist, the kingdom of heaven suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” For now the Gospel began to dawn, and John was like the morning star, or the blushings springing from the windows of the East, foretelling the approach of the Sun of Righteousness :, and as St. John Baptist laid the first rough, hard, and unhewn stone of this building in mortification, self-denial, and doing violence to our natural affections ; so it was continued by the Masterbuilder himself, who propounded the glories of the crown of the heavenly kingdom to them only, who should climb the cross to reach it. Now it was, that multitudes should throng, and crowd to enter in at the strait gate, and press into the kingdom; and the younger brothers should snatch the inheritance from the elder, the unlikely from the more likely, the Gentiles from the Jews, the strangers from the natives, the publicans and harlots from the Scribes and Pharisees, who, like violent persons, shall, by their importunity, obedience, watchfulness, and diligence, snatch the kingdom from them, to whom it was first offered ; and “ Jacob shall be loyed, and Esau rejected.”
Ad SECTION VIII.
Considerations upon the Preaching of John the Baptist.
1. From the disputation of Jesus with the doctors to the time of his manifestation to Israel, which was eighteen years, the holy Child dwelt in Nazareth, in great obedience to his parents, in exemplar modesty, singular humility ; working with his hands in his supposed father's trade, for the support of his own and his mother's necessities, and that he might bear the curse of Adam, that, “ in the sweat of his brows he should eat his bread :" all the while," he increased in favour with God and man,” sending forth excellent testimonies of a rare spirit and a wise understanding in the temperate instances of such a conversation, to which his humility and great obedience had engaged him. But, all this while, the stream ran under ground: and though little bubblings were discerned in all the course, and all the way men looked upon him as upon an excellent person, diligent in his calling, wise and humble, temperate and just, pious and rarely tempered; yet, at the manifestation of John the Baptist, he brake forth like the stream from the bowels of the earth, or the sun from a cloud, and gave us a precedent, that we should not show our lights to minister to vanity, but then only, when God, and public order, and just dispositions of men, call for a manifestation: and yet the ages of men have been so forward in prophetical ministries, and to undertake ecclesiastical employment, that the viciousness, and indiscretions, and scandals, the church of God feels as great burdens upon the tenderness of her spirit, are, in great part, owing to the neglect of this instance of the prudence and modesty of the holy Jesus.
2. But now the time appointed was come; the Baptist comes forth upon the theatre of Palestine, a forerunner of the office and publication of Jesus, and, by the great reputation of his sanctity, prevailed upon the affections and judgment of the people, who, with much ease, believed his doctrine, when they had reason to approve his life ; for the good example of the preacher is always the most prevailing homily, his life is his best sermon. He, that will raise affections in his auditory, must affect their eyes, for we seldom see the people weep, if the orator laughs loud and loosely; and there is no reason to think, that his discourse should work more with me than himself. If his arguments be fair and specious, I shall think them fallacies, while they have not faith with him; and what necessity for me to be temperate, when he, that tells me so, sees no such need, but hopes to go to heaven without it? or, if the duty be necessary, I shall learn the definition of temperance, and the latitudes of my permission, and the bounds of lawful and unlawful, by the exposition of his practice; if he binds a burden upon my shoulders, it is but reason, I should look for him to bear his portion too.
« Good works convince more than miracles a,;" and the power of ejecting devils is not so great probation, that Christian religion came from God, as is the holiness of the doctrine, and its efficacy and productions upon the hearty professors of the institution. St. Pachomius, when he wore the military girdle under Constantine the emperor, came to a city of Christians, who, having heard, that the army, in which he then marched, was almost starved for want of necessary provisions, of their own charity relieved them speedily and freely. He, wondering at their so free and cheerful dispensation, inquired what kind of people these were, whom he saw so bountiful. It was answered, they were Christians, whose profession it is to hurt
a S. Chrys. Orat. de S. Babyla.
no man, and to do good to every man. The pleased soldier was convinced of the excellency of that religion, which brought forth men so good and so pious, and loved the mother for the children's sake; threw away his girdle, and became Christian, and religious, and a saint. And it was Tertullian's great argument in behalf of Christians,“ See how they love one another, how every man is ready to die for his brother :" it was a living argument, and a sensible demonstration, of the purity of the fountain, from whence such limpid waters did derive. But so John the Baptist made himself a fit instrument of preparation, and so must all the Christian clergy be fitted for the dissemination of the Gospel of Jesus.
3. The Baptist had, till this time, that is, about thirty years, lived in the wilderness under the discipline of the Holy Ghost, under the tuition of angels, in conversation with God, in great mortification and disaffections to the world, his garments rugged and uneasy, his meat plain, necessary, and without variety, his employment prayers and devotion, his company wild beasts, in ordinary, in extraordinary, messengers from heaven; and all this, not undertaken of necessity to subdue a bold lust, or to punish a loud crime, but to become more holy and pure from the lesser stains and insinuations of too free infirmities, and to prepare himself for the great ministry of serving the holy Jesus in his publication. Thirty years he lived in great austerity; and it was a rare patience and exemplar mortification : we use not to be so pertinacious in any pious resolutions, but our purposes disband upon the sense of the first violence; we are free and confident of resolving to fast, when our bellies are fullb; but, when we are called upon by the first necessities of nature, our zeal is cool, and dissoluble into air, upon the first temptation; and we are not upheld in the violences of a short austerity without faintings and repentances to be repented of, and “ inquirings after the vow is past, ” and searching for excuses and desires to reconcile our nature and our conscience; unless our necessity be great, and our sin clamorous, and our conscience laden, and no peace to be
b Satiatis et expletis jucundius est carere quàm frui. — Cicero de Senect. c. 47.
had without it; and it is well, if, upon any reasonable grounds, we can be brought to suffer contradictions of nature, for the advantages of grace. But it would be remembered, that the Baptist did more upon a less necessity; and, possibly, the greatness of the example may entice us on a little farther than the customs of the world, or our own indevotions, would engage us.
4. But, after the expiration of a definite time, John came forth from his solitude, and served God in societies. He served God, and the content of his own spirit, by his conversing with angels, and dialogues with God, so long as he was in the wilderness; and it might be some trouble to him to mingle with the impurities of men, amongst whom he was sure to observe sach recesses from perfection, such violation of all things sacred, so great despite done to all ministries of religion, that to him, who had no experience or neighbourhood of actions criminal, it must needs be to his sublimed and clarified spirit more punitive and afflictive, than his hairen shirt and his ascetic diet was to his body; but now himself, that tried both, was best able to judge, which state of life was of greatest advantage and perfection.
5. “ In his solitude he did breathe more pure inspiration; heaven was more open, God was more familiar," and frequent in his visitations. In the wilderness his company was angels, his employment meditations and prayer, his temptations simple and from within, from the impotent and lesser rebellions of a mortified body, his occasions of sin as few as his examples, his condition such, that, if his soul were at all busy, his life could not easily be other than the life of angels; for his work and recreation, and his visits, and his retirements, could be nothing but the variety and differing circumstances of his piety: his inclinations to society made it necessary for him to repeat his addresses to God; for his being a sociable creature, and yet in solitude, made that his conversing with God, and being partaker of Divine communications, should be the satisfaction of his natural desires, and the supply of his singularity and retirement; the discomforts of which made it natural for him to seek out for some refreshment, and, therefore, to go to heaven for it, he
c. In solitudine aër purior, cælum apertius, familiarior Deus. — Orig.