« AnteriorContinuar »
continued in Judea about eleven years, was recalled, and succeeded by Pontius Pilate, a man of a fierce, irreconcilable spirit, and of a cruel, covetous disposition, too much like his master Tiberius.
Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, was tetrarch of Galilee; which dignity he had enjoyed twenty-eight years. His brother Philip was tetrarch of Iturea; and Lysanias of Abilene. The dignity of the high-priesthood was vested in Caiphas, the son-inlaw of Annas, who formerly had held that high office, and now was reverenced by the people as high-priest, and probably assisted his son-in-law in the execution of the sacred duties of the priesthood.
Such was the state of the Jewish nation at the time of the opening of the glorious gospel; for in the first year of the government of Pontius Pilate, the word of God came unto John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. The sacred writings have been silent, with regard to the manner in which this extraordinary man passed the former time of his life; but there is an ancient tradition, that Elizabeth, hearing of the terrible slaughter which that execrable tyrant Herod made among the young children at Bethlehem, fled into the wilderness, to secure her child from his murdering cruelty and rage: and there attended him with all the care and tenderness of an affectionate mother. The child was about eighteen months old at the time of her fight, and about forty days after her abode in the desart, she died. His father Zacharias, next time he offciated in the temple, was slain by Herod, because he would not discover the place of his son's retreat. The helpless infant, being thus deprived of all assistance from his parents, the Lord, who had a great work for him to accomplish, had mercy on him; and sent an angel to be his defender and support, till he was able to provide for himself. Whether this tradition is true or false, cannot be ascertained; but it is a certain fact, asserted by the evangelists, that he abode in the desert till the day of his shewing unto Israel.
Some learned men, who have been at great pains in endeavouring to fix the precise time when the prophet John began his public ministry, have fixed it to the month of October, and at the time of the proclamation of a year of jubilee. They say, that his preaching began on the great day of atonement, when the high priest went into the holy of holies. This was a particular day of penitence, and, it is said in the law, whosoever did not affict his soul, should be cut off from the people. This day is supposed to answer to our nineteenth of October, and was the day whereon, by the solemn sounding of trumpets, the thirtieth jubilee of the Jews was proclaimed, which was the last they ever saw.
This extraordinary person, in his appearance, and his way of life, very much resembled the ancient prophets, particularly Elijah, to whom he had been compared in prophecy. The coarseness of his clothing, and the hardiness of his fare, were very remarkable: his garment was made of camel's hair, probably the sack-cloth so often mentioned in the sacred writings, to be worn by penitents and mourners; and his food, the wild productions of the wilderness: locusts and wild honey, were his only provisions, and his drink, the clear cold water which bubbled from the mossy spring. In this situation, he began the work of God, and preached in the wilderness of Judea, Repent! for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. The remarkable austerity of his life, and the air and appearance of the old prophets, which he assumed, commanded reverence from the people; and his whole demeanor, being so particularly adapted to the doctrine of repentance which he taught, engaged the attention of the public. Nor is it any wonder, that great notice should be taken of so remarkable a person, at a time when the whole nation earnestly expected the appearance
of the Messiah. And as he preached the necessity of repentance, because the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and had a commission from God, to baptize in water, those who confessed their sins, and adhered ta his ministry, great numbers of all ranks, sects, and characters, surrounded him in the desert, and confessing their unworthiness and sinfulness, were baptized by him in the river Jordan.
John, when he began his ministry, did not come to Jerusalem or the adjacent cities of Judea, but continued about the banks of the noted river Jordan, which, on many accounts, seemed proper to favour the designs of his preachings; for there had been so many wonderful things transacted near this sacred stream, that it naturally prepared the minds of the people to expect something extraordinary. Near the banks of this river it was that the prophet Elijah, who was the type of John the Baptist, was taken in a fiery chariot up to heaven; and what could be more natural, than to see the great person, who was the Elias spoken of by Malachi, discover the spirit and power of that great ancient prophet, near the stream which formerly was divided by the stroke of his mantle.
A circumstance which greatly surprised the Baptist, was the great number of Pharisees, and Sadducees who attended his ministry, and came to his baptism. The Pharisees he knew, pretended to the highest degree of sanctity and holiness of life ; and the Sadducees believed there would be no future state of rewards and punishments. It was therefore surprising, that either of these parties should seek after remission of sins, for the former pretended to have no sins that required pardon, and the other nothing to expect after death as the consequence of them. Nor can we suppose that John, when he began his ministry, expected to see the whole nation so much affected with his threatenings as was really the case ; for he knew that the common people had a great dependance on God's
covenant with Abraham, and expected to find favour. with the supreme Governor and Judge of the universe, on that account: to check their daring presumption, and discourage every hope of divine favour, while they lived ungodly and immoral lives, he addressed them in this alarming language, O generation of vipers! who hath warned you to flee from the rorath to come? Bring forth fruits therefore worthy of repentance, and begin not to say we have Abraham to our father : for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children to Abraham. And now the are is laid unto the root of the tree; every tree therefore, which bringeth not forth ·good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. The Baptist thus demolished every hope of divine acceptance arising from the covenant of God made with Abraham; and proclaimed to the world, that the glories of his kingdom would shortly be revealed, and a way of acceptance opened, to which a hearty and sincere repentance of sin was a necessary preparative.
The awful manner in which this great man pronounced these solemn truths, alarmed and terrified the nation ; and a mixt multitude crouded around him, full of anxiety and trouble, inquiring what they should do. In answer to this, he informed them, that an hearty and sincere repentance of their sins, should be accompanied with acts of mercy and benevolence. He that hath treo coats, said he, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Amongst the multitudes which surrounded this wonderful man, were numbers of publicans, who were collectors of the Roman taxes. They were, on that account, odious to the Jews, and had rendered themselves more so, by injustice and extortion. As theirs was a particular case they applied to him for particular advice, and his answer was, E.ract no more than that which is appointed you. Similar to their case, was that of the soldiers; who being men trained up to cruelty, slaughter, and all the terrors of war, and whose pay was so scanty, that they were very apt to plunder for subsistance; they were exceedingly terrified at the awful vengeance denounced by the prophet; and, with the utmost seriousness and concern, inquired of him what they should do; to which he replied, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages.
The Baptist commenced his preaching six months before Christ was baptized, and vast multitudes resorted to him from Jerusalem, from other parts of Judea, and even from Galilee, deeply affected with his discourses, dreading divine vengeance, and confessing their various vileness, they were baptized by the holy man in the river Jordan. He was now generally known and acknowledged for a prophet, and so universal was his reputation, that we read in the Acts of the Apostles, of some brethren at Ephesus, and Apollus of Alexandria, who had received the baptism of John; which proves, that he was resorted to from foreign countries; and the dawn of the Sun of righteousness was seen beyond the limits of the land of Israel.
Though John received his baptism from heaven, we are left in the dark concerning the name or names in which he baptized : the administration of that ordinance, in the sacred names of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, seems particular to the institution of it, by Jesus Christ himself.
This constant and unremitting course of preaching, delivered with holy vehemence, and the utmost force of expression, accompanied with a manifest innocence of life, and a noble zeal in the cause of God, which reproved vice and error, however flattered, or however highly exalted, so far prevailed on the people, that they would willingly have persuaded themselves tbat John was really the Messiah; for it is very probable, that the vision which Zacharias had seen in the temple, the coming of the Eastern sages to Jeru