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Salem, the prophecy of Simeon, the discourses of Anna, the perplexity of Jerusalem, and the cruelty of Herod, were fresh in the minds of the people, and by them applied to the Baptist. They were ready to acknowledge him the Redeemer of Israel; and put the question plainly to him, Whether he were the Christ? A deputation of priests and Levites was sent from Jerusalem, to ask him the question in form ; to which he abruptly replied, I am not the Christ. They then proceeded to enquire whether he were the prophet Elijah; to which he answered, I am not. They then enquired whether he were one of the ancient prophets; to which he replied in the negative. Who then art thou, they enquired,
and what answer may we give to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? To which he replied, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. The priests and Levites then enquired, why baptizest thou then, if thou be neither Christ, nor Elias, nor one of the ancient prophets ? to this the baptist answered, I baptize with water, but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not : he it is, who coming after me, is preferred before ine, whose shoes latchet I am not worthy to unloose : he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire; whose fan is in his hand, and he riill thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the reheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
While John remained at Bethabara, beyond Jordan, our great Redeemer thought proper to leave his retirement at Nazareth, and repairing to his forerunner, who was baptizing in the river, he proposed himself a candidate for his baptism. He, who was perfectly pure and holy, could not stand in need of the baptism of repentance, but being willing to honor the institution, he offered himself to John, proposing to be baptized. John, by a prophetic spirit, knew the Lamb of God, acknowledged his superiority and
would have declined the task. I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me! cried the holy man. Jesus calmly replied, Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Our great Redeemer did not think proper to explain the case, and lay down the reasons why it was necessary for him to submit to that institution ; but, by this reply, gave the Baptist to understand, that the divine will required it to be done; it having a tendency to promote the great end-for which they both came into the world. The good man's scruples being removed, the Son of God descended into the stream, and received the sacred rite at the hands of the holy prophet. The exalted Redeemer ascending from the water, kneeled down on the banks of Jordan, and prayed with great fervency to his heavenly Father. As this holy rite was preparatory to his entering on his public ministry, no doubt he prayed for the assistance of the Holy Spirit, in the great work which lay before him. His prayers were heard : a flood of heavenly glory immediately illuminated the whole concave of the sky, and the Eternal Spirit, arrayed in beamy light, whose whiteness exceeded the new fallen snow, appeared in the shape of a dove, hovering over the head of the Saviour of mankind : at the same time, a voice, awful as the thunders of heaven, yet soft and pleasing as the most delightful music, proclaimed to the wondering multitude. This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. This manifest testimony from heaven, of the divinity of Jesus, was received with wonder and joy by the Baptist: For he that sent him to baptize with water, the same had said unto him, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he that baptizeih with the Holy Ghost. And, confirmed by this appearance and heavenly voice, beyond all possibility of a doubt, he immediately cried out to the astonished beholders, This is he of whom I spake. He that cometh
after: me, is preferred before me, for he was before me ; rand of his fulness have we all received grace for grace:
for the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time : the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
John continued baptizing and preaching at Bethabara, near the banks of the river Jordan, at which place Jesus came to him, whom when the .prophet saw, he cried out, Behold the Lamb of God who taketh areay the sin of the world ; and on every occasion and opportunity that offered, the holy man pointed out the Redeemer of Israel, and proclaimed him to mankind.
John, after this, continued preaching and baptizing: his discourses were delivered with such freedom and plainness, and at the same time with such energy and spirit, as gave him a commanding influence over the minds of his hearers. Full of the Spirit of God, he regarded not the frowns of the mighty, nor sought the praises of man. With holy boldness, impartial freedom of speech, and the high authority of a teacher sent from God, he reproved the vices and miscarriages of all orders of men. He spared not the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, the profanenes of the Sadducees, the extortion of the publicans, the rapine of the soldiers, nor the lewdness and incest of Herod himself. That prince, who was tetrarch of Galilee, had taken to wife a princess, whose name was Herodias ; she was daughter of Aristobulus, one of the sons of Herod the Great, by his queen Mariamne. Her father was put to death by the old tyrant, when he was in so much perplexity and distress, on account of the troubles and quarrels in his family. This princess was afterwards married to Herod Philip, tetrarch of Iturea, her father's brother; she had now eloped from her husband, and lived with Herod Antipas." This prince was affected with the powerful plainness, and authoritative simplicity of the preaching of the Baptist, and frequently attended on his ministry. The prophet, as he
spared no vice, nor man who was guilty of it, howerer esteemed or exalted, warmly expostulated with him on the wickedness and lewdness of his life, and sharply reproved him for his incestuous marriage. The haughty queen was so offended at the boldness of the prophet, that she demanded his death. The 'king would have complied with her request but was afraid of an insurrection amongst the people; for John was highly esteemed and reverenced by all men : Herod therefore endeavoured to gratify her revenge, by casting the Baptist into prison. Here the holy man remained several months, and his public ministry ceased.
While he was thus in confinement, he heard of the miracles which Jesus daily wrought, and his public ministry and preaching. But our Redeemer not having taken such steps as the Jewish nation expected from the Messiah, (for the prevailing notion was, that this great person, whenever he appeared, would set up a temporal kingdom, and reign over all the earth) the Baptist seemed not to be thoroughly satisfied with his proceeding. His chusing a company of illiterate fishermen to be bis disciples, and avoiding all popularity and applause, seemed not to promise the rising of his kingdom. The good man therefore sent two of his disciples to the Son of God, to inquire into the meaning of these things, not directly, but rather seeming to hesitate whether he were the Messiah or not: Art thou he that should come, or look we for unother? It happened when these disciples came to our Lord, he was employed in publishing his gospel, healing the sick, casting out devils, and restoring sight to the blind. He did not therefore think fit to return a direct answer to the question of John, but referred him to the works he performed, and the miracles he wrought: Go and tell John, said he, rohat things you have seen and heard ; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the deud are raised, and the poor have the gospel preuched wito them.
John continued long in prison, and was mortally hated by the incestuous queen': but it was not in the power of the enraged princess to procure his death. At length an opportunity offered, and the prophet fell a victim to her vengeance. Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, with whom she lived in adultery and incest, made a great feast for the celebrating his birthday, to which he invited his courtiers, the chief officers of his army, and the nobles and great men of the country. At this entertainment a young damsel, named Salome, the daughter of the queen Herodias, by her former husband Philip, entertained the noble company, and dignified the royal feast by her skill and graceful dexterity in dancing. This gave so much satisfaction and pleasure to the company, especially to the king, that he promised with an oath, to give her whatever she desired: and assured her, that her request should not be denied, were it for half of his kingdom. The young damsel was not willing to make so important a demand without the advice of her mother. The.enraged princess, having now an opportunity to accomplish her revenge on the prophet, to whom she bore a mortal hatred, commanded her daughter to demand the head of John the Baptist. This request the damsel soon presented at the throne. The king, as he little expected such a demand, was very much concerned; yet, as he had given his oath, and was not willing to seem little in the eyes of his guests, he gave immediate orders that John should be beheaded in private, in the castle where he was confined. The orders were immediately executed, and the bloody head of the prophet was brought into the banqueting room, and given to the damsel. She took the cruel present to her mother, who beheld, with much satisfaction, the full gratification of her great revenge. Thus fell this great and illustrious person. His disciples hearing of his death, came to Herod, and begged the body of their master: they buried it in a decent sepulchre, and knowing that John had always esteemed Jesus to be the Messiah, they came and informed him of this mournful event.