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B.APTISM OF JESUS CHRIST-HIS ABODE IN THE DESERT
COMMENCEMENT OF HIS PREACHING AND MIRACLES
MARRIAGE AT CANA.
FROM the time the Romans subdued Judea, the superstitious inhabitants of that country, impatient to see the arrival of the Messiah or Deliverer, so often promised to their fathers, seemed inclined to quicken the slowness of the Eternal by the ardour of their desires. This disposition of mind gave birth to impostures, revolts, and disturbances; the authors of which the Ro. man power punished in such a manner as to discourage their adherents, or at least quickly to disperse them. Down to the era we are about to speak of, (which the gospel of St. Luke fixes at the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius), none of those who bad attempted to pass for the Messiah had been able to succeed. To have acted that part well, there was need of forces more considerable than those which all Judea could oppose to the conquerors of the world. It was therefore necessary to have recourse to craft, and to employ delusions and trick in place of force. For this purpose, it was of importance to be well acquainted with the disposition of the Jewish nation; to
affect a great respect for its laws and usages, for which it entertained the most profound veneration ; to profit ingeniously by the predictions with which they were imbued ; to move the passions, and warm the imaginations of that fanatical and credulous people. But all this beloved to be silently effected; it was necessary for him who attempted it to avoid rendering himself suspected by the Romans; it was necessary to be on his guard against the priests, doctors, and persons of edncation, capable of penetrating and thwarting his designs. It was therefore essential to commence with gaining adherents and co-operators, and thereafter a party among the people, to support him against the grandees of the nation. Policy required to shew himself rarely in the capital, to preach in the country, and render odious to the populace, priests who devoured the nation, nobles who oppressed it, and rich people of whom it ought to be naturally jealous. Not to alarm minds too much, prudence demanded that he should speak in ambiguous language and parables. Neither could le dispense with working miracles, which much more than all the harangues in the world were at all times calculated to seduce ignorant devotees, disposed to see the finger of God in every act, the true causes of which they were unable to de. velope.*
* Miracles, says Boulanger, appear to have been invented to supply the want of good reasons. Truth and evidence have no need of miracles to ensure their reception. Is it not very as tonishing that God Almighty should find it easier to derange the order of Nature, than to convince mankind of truths the most evident, and calculated to foree their assent? Miracles were in. troduced to prove things which it is impossible to believe ; for tbere is no need of miracles when we talk of reason. Things
Such was the conduct of the personage whose life we examine. Whether we suppose that he had been in Egypt, for the purpose of acquiring the talents necessary to his views, or that he had always resided at Nazareth, Jesus was not ignorant of the dispositions of his countrymen. As he knew how much predictions were indispensably requisite to work upon the minds of the Jews, he made choice of a prophet and a forerunner in the person of his cousin John Baptist. The latter, evidently in concert with Jesus, preached repentance, baptized on the banks of the Jordan, and announced the coming of a personage greater than himself. He said to those who gave ear to him, “I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance : but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose : he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire."
Jesus accordingly repaired to John on purpose to arrange matters with him, and to receive baptism from bis hands. According to the report of St. Matthew, John, at first, made some difficulty, affirming, that so far from being worthy to baptize Jesus, it was from him
incredible are here adduced in proof of incredible things. Almost all impostors who have fabricated religions, have announced incredibilities to mankind. They have afterwards fabricated miracles in proof of those incredibilities.
** You cannot (they said) comprehend what I tell you ; but I will clearly prove that I tell the truth, by doing things that you cannot comprehend.” Truth is simple and evident; the marvellous is ever to be suspected. Nature is always true to herself; she acts by invarying laws. To say that God performis miracles, is to say that he contradicts himself, and violates the laws which he has prescribed to nature; it is to say, that he readers useless human reason, of which he is the author.
that he himself ought to receive baptism. At last, however, he yielded to the orders of Christ, and administered to him the sacrament of which the inpocent son of God could not stand in need. *
There is reason to believe, that in this interview the two kinsmen settled their plans, and took the necessary measures for making them succeed. They both had ambition, and shared the mission between them :-St. John yielded the first character to Jesus, whom he judged better qualified to play it with success, and contented himself with being his precursor, preaching in the desert, beating up for followers, and preparing the ways for him-all in consequence of a prophecy of Isaiah, who had said,“ Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God"-an obscure and vague prediction, in which, however, Christians believe they see clearly designed the Messiah and his holy precursor.
The arrangemeuts being once settled by our two missionaries, John took care to tell those who came to to hear him, that, to pacify Heaven, it was tiine to repent;* that the arrival of the Messiah was not far off; and that he had seen him. The sermons of John having made considerable noise, the priests of Jerusalem, vigilant as to what might interest religion, and wishing to be informed of his views, and acquainted with his person, they dispatched emissaries after him ; these men put some questions to him, and asked if he was the Christ, or Elias, or a prophet.t John answered, that he was none of these. But when he was asked by what authority he baptized and preached, he declared, that he was the forerunner of the Messiah.. This proceeding of the priests only tended to give
* St. Matthew, chap. iii. 14. The Jews were in the use of baptizing all the proselytes they made. Baptism was, according to them, a regeneration, calculated to render the baptized quite a new man, in so far as to be then entitled to marry his own mother. But John and Jesus wished to baptize, or regenerate, the Jews themselves, pretending that regeneration was as necessary for them as for the proselytes. See Bernard in Nouvelles de la Republ. des Lettres, tome. 31. page 566,
The ceremony of baptism was practised in the mysteries of Mythias, and those initiated were thereby regenerated. Mythias was also a mediator. Though Christian divines consider bape tism necessary to salvation, we find Paul would not suffer the Corinthians to be ed. We also learn that he circumcised Timothy.--Christianity Unveiled, p. 114.
* The superstitious man, if he be wicked, gives himself up to crime with remorse ; but his religion quickly furnishes him with the means of getting rid of it. His life is generally a long series of error and grief; of sin and expiation. Still he frequently commits crimes of greater magnitude in order to expiate the former. Destitute of any permanent ideas of morality, he accustoins himself to look on nothing as a crime, but that which the ministers and interpreters of heaven forbid him to commit. He thus considers actions of the blackest dye, which are held out to him as agreeable to God, as the means of effacing his transgressions. History affords numerous
pus examples of fanatics expiating, by the most atrocious persecutions, their adulteries, infamy, unjust wars, and usurpations ; and, to wash away their iniquities, bathe themselves in the blood of those superstitious beings, whose infatuation made them martyrs.
+ It was an opinion received by several Jews, that Elias must come before the Messiah. A great number of Christians believe also, in our days, that the coining of Elias ought to precede the advent of Jesus Christ, in order to judge the world. See the sentiments of the fathers on the return of Elias. It is also the opinion of the Jansenists at this day, who, like the first Christians, have their heads filled with fanatical and woeful ideas of the near end of the world.