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Sr. John BAPTIST's Day, June 24,
Q. What do you remark concerning the lessons; epistle, and gospel for the day?
A. The lessons, epistle, and gospel for the day, record the prophecies concerning John Baptist, and the circumstances of his birth, his life, and death.
Q. Were there not some remarkable circumstances attending the birth of St. John Baptist ?
A. His birth was foretold by an angel, when his mother Elizabeth was barren, and both his parents "well stricken in years.” And his father Zacharias had the assurance of his birth confirmed to him by a miraculous dumbness. His birth was the occasion of great joy to all who expected the Messiah, of whom John was to be the forerunner.m.
Q. What was foretold of him by the angel? A. The angel foretold that he should be great in the sight of the Lord, and should neither drink wine nor strong drink;. that “ he should be filled with the Holy Ghost even from his mother's womb;" that he should convert many of the Jews, and prepare the way of the Lord; and, consequently, that he should be the forerunner of the Saviour, and the greatest of all the prophets."
Q. How did St. John execute the office of the forerunner of our Saviour ?
A. His whole ministry tended to prepare the way for the reception of our Saviour and his doctrines. He was emi'nently qualified for his ministry, by adding to the grace of his birth extraordinary innocence of life, which he preserved by withdrawing from all the temptations to sin, and by a strict and severe course of mortification and self-denial. In executing his ministry, he proclaimed to the Jews the approach of the Messiah; that he whom they had so long ex, pected was nigh at hand, and that his kingdom was ready to appear; and that, therefore, they should, by breaking off their sins by sincere repentance and reformation of life, prepare themselves to receive the glad tidings of the Gospel.
Luke ia 1, &c.
a Luke i. 15, &c.
o Max, üi.-2.
Q. Was not the coming and the office of St. John Baptist foretold by the prophets ?
A. Isaiah calls him “ the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”p. Malachi styles him “ the messenger that was to prepare the way of the Lord :"q and also describes him under the character of Elijah the prophet, who was to “ turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”
Q. But did not St. John the Baptist deny that he was Elias, who was to come ?s
A. When John the Baptist, in reply to the inquiries of the rulers of the Jews, who generally believed that Elias was to come again in his own person, denied that he was Elias, he only meant to declare that he was not that same Elias who had lived in the time of King Ahab. His afterwards declar. ing that he was " the voice of one crying in the wilderness," &c. as foretold by the prophet Esaias, proved that he was the Elias spoken of by Malachi, to whom the prophecy in Isaiah is acknowledged to have referred.u St. John the Baptist, therefore, though not Elias in person, came in the spirit and power of Elias," whom he resembled in character and in office. The business of both was to promote a general • reformation of manners. They were both eminent prophets, superior to those of the same character in their own age. They were both of singular abstinence and austerity, retired from the world, and distinguished from the fashions of it by a particular habit. They were both courageous and zealous in opposing the prevailing sins of their own times, though the great and powerful were the supporters of them."
Q. What was St. John's manner of living till he entered
upon his office ?
A. After he had providentially escaped the cruel designs of Herod, who sought to kill him, he retired early into the deserts, where he led a solitary and mortified life; his habit was a “rough garment made of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle;" his food were “ locusts and wild honey."x Locusts were a common food in the east, and the wild honey was such as the bees had stored up in hollow trees or caverns, and which was often found in the woods.
p Isa. xl.3.
s Mal. iv. 5, 6; Matt. xi. 14. s John i. 21. * John i. 23.
u Mark i. 1, 2, &c. v Luke i, 17. w 1 Kings xvii. 1: Macc. xi. 11: 1 Kings xvii. 4, 16; xix. 6, 7, 8: 2 Kings viž.: Luke 1.80: Mart. iü. 4; 1 Kings xviii.
a Mart. ii. 4
Q. What character did our Saviour give of St. John Baptist?
À Our Saviour testified that “ of them who are horn of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist;" and that he " came neither eating nor drinking;"'y implying that his way of living was more than ordinarily rigorous and austere.
Q. Wherein did St. John the Baptist exceed those prophets who went before him?
A. St. John the Baptist exceeded the rest of the prophets in the excellency of his office; which was to fit and prepare the minds of the people for the immediate reception of Christ and his doctrine, both which were attested by St. John in a plainer manner than by any of the old prophets.2 He was honoured also with more signal revelations; and his doctrine attended with greater success and efficacy, almost the whole nation coming to his baptism, confessing their sins.
Q. How was St. John the Baptist called to his office ?
A. “The word of God came to him ;" which phrase, as used in the Scriptures, implies the communication of the prophetic spirit to those who were to be extraordinary preachers to the people. The spirit of prophecy, which ceased among the Jews since the death of Malachi, was now revive:1 in John the Baptist, and was to be continued by the great prophet Jesus Christ and his apostles.
Q. What was the success of St. John's ministry?
A. The resolute preaching of St. John, together with the severity of his life, drew to him many hearers from Jerusalem and Judea, and from the region round about Jordan ;c and great was the number of his proselytes whom he baptized. In his preaching he resolutely condemned the views of all ranks and orders of men, and pressed upon them the duties of their particular stations and relations.d Q. Why was St. John called the Baptist ?
A. St. John was called the Baptist, because by baptism he imposed on his converts the obligations to repentance; and because he enjoyed the distinguished honour of baptizing the Saviour..
Q. Why was the baptism of St. John styled the baptism of repentance ?
A. The baptism of St. John was called the baptism of repentance, because he was the first who used baptism to
2 John i. 7, 29, 32, 33.
d Luke üi, 7, &c.
Y Matt. xi. 11.
a Matr. iii. 5, 6.
denote and to enforce repentance; which was the principal qualification required of those who became his diseiples, and which was necessary to dispose them to receive our Saviour, and to cntitle them to that pardon of sin which the Gospel brought along with it.
Q. How did St. John bear testimony of our Saviour ?
A. St. John ingenuously declared to the Jews who sup. posed him to be the promised Messiah, that he was not the Christ, but that there was one to come after him, “ the Jatchet of whose shoes he was not worthy to unloose."e John was eminently qualified to bear testimony to our Sa. viour, for God had revealed to him, in a miraculous manner, that Jesus was the Son of God.f
Q. What then led St. John to send two of his disciples to inquire, Whether our Saviour was he that should come, or whether they should look for another &
A. The disciples of St. John believed him to be a prophet sent from God; and they could not therefore bear his testimony of Christ, because it set him above their master. That they cherished this jealousy of Christ, is evident from the complaint which they made, “ He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest witness, behold the samne bap Lizeth, and all men come to bim." St. John, therefore, who could have no doubt in his own mind, sent his disciples to inquire of the Saviour, whether he was the Christ, in order that they might be satisfied by the declaration of the Saviour himself, and might be thus indụced to adhere to him.
Q. In what manner, and upon what occasion, was St. John the Baptist put to death?
A. St. John the Baptist was beheaded by the command of Herod, whom he had provoked by his freedom in reproving him for his illicit and incestuous connexion with Herodias, his brother Philip's wife. The daughter of Herodias, dancing before Herod on his birth-day, pleased him so much, that he promised her, with an oath, to give her whatsoever she should ask. Being instructed by Herodias, her mother, she demands the head of St. John the Baptist. Accordingly Herod, under pretence of reverence to his oath, ordered, though some what reluctantly, that Jolin the Baptist should be beheaded.
Q. Why did Herod yield with reluctance to the request that St. John the Baptist should be beheaded ? A. Herod somewhat reluctantly yielded to the request,
f John i. 31, 32, &c. 8 Mart, xi. 2, San Joha č. 26.
i Matt. xiv, 3, &c.
e Luke ii. 16.
that John the Baptist should be beheaded, not only because an execution was improper at so great a festival, but because he seems to have had some reverence for the character of St. John, esteeming him a just and holy person, and even “ hearing him gladly."j He was also fearful that the people might resent his death, as they counted hiin to be a prophet.k
Q. What instruction may we derive from the observation of this festival ?
A. The birth of a son to Zacharias and Elizabeth in their old age, should teach us the duty of a humble resignation to the will of God, who, when he sees best, will grant us whatsoever blessings are proper for us. The distrust which Zacharias discovered in the promise of God, should warn us against cherishing a spirit of unbelief, which is always most displeasing to God. The humble and mortified life of John the Baptist should teach us that true greatness consists in the contempt of the pleasures of the world, and in cherishing that humble and pious spirit which will set us above its highest enjoyments; that the best means to preserve our piety is to retire, as much as possible, from temptation; and that it is our duty, by setting a strict guard upon our sensual appetites, and by frequently mortifying them, to keep our bodies in subjection to our minds. From the conduct of Herod, who committed a crime in order to fulfil a rash oath, we should learn, that an unlawful oath is not binding upon him who takes it; on the contrary, the breaking of it is a duty, and a part of that repentance which is due for the former rashness in making it. Since the gr test of prophets suffered the indignities of a prison, and fell by the hands of a common executioner, we may leari), that the true worth of men is not to be estimated by their outward circumstances in this world. And the example of St. John should lead us. to take all prudent means to reprove the vices of others, when the providence of God gives us a suitable opportunity.
Q. Wherein consists the nature of reproof, and whence arises its obligation ?
A. The duty of reproof consists in putting others in mind of their duty, and in representing to them their faults. Christian charity, and compassion for the souls of men made after the image of God, and purchased by the blood of Christ, impose on us the duty of faithfully admonishing others. In
j Mark vi. 20.
* Matt. xxi. 26.