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It is a fine remark of Lord Bacon, that “ As wines which, “ at first pressing, run gently, yield a more pleasant taste “ than those, where the wine-press is hard wrought, be
those somewhat relish of the stone and skin of the grape; so those observations are most wholesome and sweet, which flow from Scriptures gently expressed and
naturally expounded, and are not wrested or drawn aside “ to common places or controversiesa.”
Observations of this kind may certainly be made to great advantage, on historical portions of Scripture more especially, since, as the same incomparable author tells us elsewhere, “ Knowledge drawn freshly, and as it were in our 66 view, out of particulars, knows the way best to particu“ lars again: and it hath much greater life for practice, “ when the discourse attends upon the example, than when “ the example attends upon the discourse; as Machiavel “ handled matters of policy and government, by discourses “ of history and example taken from Livyb.” The doctrines and duties of Christianity are, in like manner, best deduced from the facts on which it is founded. The narration furnisheth both matter and method for the discourse, which is read with pleasure and remembered with ease.
History and biography are frequently employed in the service of error and vice. They may operate as effectually in the recommendation of truth and virtue. Example shows truth as it were embodied; and, while it displays the excellency of virtue, demonstrates its practicability. The contemplation of faith, as it discovereth itself in the lives of patriarchs and prophets, apostles and saints, inclineth us to believe as they did; and the sight of frail mortals, like ourselves, who, by the divine assistance, surmounted all obstructions, and continued to walk in the paths of righteousness, naturally suggesteth to every beholder the question- What should hinder me from doing the same?
* Advancement of Learning, Book IX.
* Ibid. Book VIII.
Opportunities for such exercises are continually afforded by the return of those days whereon we commemorate the heroic piety of ancient worthies, distinguished in the annals of religion; whose story presenteth us with occurrences, not like those related in secular histories, of use only to politicians and generals, but universally interesting; instructing us in the art of governing the little kingdom within; of achieving the greatest conquests, and gaining the most glorious victories; since “ Better is he that ruleth his spirit, than he that taketh a city;” teaching us how to live the life, and die the death of the righteous-a twofold task, which every man hath upon his hands, and in the performance of which he cannot fail, but at the hazard of something more valuable than crowns and sceptres.
The author of the following Considerations was directed, in the choice of his subject, by the circumstances of his situation; some parts of them having been delivered from the pulpit, as occasion called for them, in the chapel of St. Mary Magdalen College, upon the anniversary of the nativity of St. John the Baptist, before a learned and most respectable audience. The favourable manner in which they were then heard, hath encouraged him to revise, enlarge, and digest them into their present form. The reader hath now before him a complete history of the Baptist, extracted from the Evangelists, and methodized according to the order of time, in which the events appear to have
happened; with such observations and reflections as the several parts of it seemed to suggest, for the confirmation of faith, and the advancement of holiness.
An attentive perusal of the subsequent pages may, it is hoped, be of service to the younger students in theology with a view to whom, and to those more particularly of the Society whose welfare and prosperity the author is bound by every tie to consult and promote, as they were at first composed, so they are now published; that, beholding the glories which display themselves in the exalted character here offered to their inspection, they may be fired with a noble ambition to bear their testimony to the best of masters, and, from a well-spent retirement, come forth bright examples of temperance and purity, zeal and knowledge, integrity and constancy, to preach repentance and proclaim salvation.
Considerations on the Nativity of St. John, and the
Circumstances that attended it.
The lights of the intellectual, like those of the natural system, are not all of equal magnitude and lustre. In the church, as in the firmament, “one
star differeth from another star in glory.” Each contributeth its share towards dissipating the darkness with which we are surrounded ; but some, by their superior splendour, immediately attract and dazzle the eye of the beholder. Conspicuous, above others, is the character of St. John the Baptist, that bright precursor of the sun and harbinger of the morning, who arose to give notice of Messiah's
approach, and to prepare the world for his reception. Burning and shining, he ran bis course, proclaiming to the inhabitants of the earth, “Repent, for " the kingdom of heaven is at hand;" in other words, “ The night is far spent, the day is at hand ; cast off
therefore the works of darkness, and put on the armour of lighta.” “Awake, thou that sleepest, and
a Rom, xiii. 12.