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“ spirit made diligent search°." Then silence and solitude afforded him au opportunity of scrutinizing the tempers of his soul, of discovering the maladies to which he was inclined, and of applying the proper remedies to each.
That medicines may be administered with success, it is necessary to cut off the provisions, which nourish and increase the disorder. The world, in the case before us, is full of such provisions; and therefore the patient must withdraw, for a while, from the influence of its temptations. " Where no wood is, " the fire goeth out'.” Remove the object, and the passion will by degrees die away. In solitude, the pleasures and glories of the world no longer strike upon the senses, and solicit the affections. The soul, therefore, in this situation, like one escaped out of a battle to a place of security, hath leisure to reflect upon her condítion, and to provide for her future safety. By looking into herself, she perceiveth how much she standeth in need of mercy and grace; and then she is naturally led to look up to heaven, as the only place from whence they are to be obtained, The former of these prospects filleth her with compunction, and causeth her to mourn for her sins with that godly sorrow which worketh a repentance never to be repented of; the latter encourageth her to pour forth herself in continual prayer to the God of her salvation, until he have mercy upon her. St. Peter, when reminded of his offence by the crowing of the cock, and the affectionate look of an abjured Master,
. Psal. lxxvii. 6.
P Prov. xxvi. 20.
went out from the high priest's hall where he was, and in solitude, with strong crying and tears, made supplication for pardon and peace. In retirement it is, that we find ourselves best able to practise all the holy arts of abstinence and self-denial, so needful for the perfecting repentance by mortifying the whole body of sin.
When men cannot be induced voluntarily to take this course, they are often forced into it by Providence visiting them with some heavy calamity, which by a stroke, like the amputation of a limb, severe but salutary, separating them at once from the world, shall oblige them to converse first with themselves, and then with God. Thus was Babylon's haughty monarch driven, in an extraordinary manner, from society, to learn humility in the fields and woods, until he acknowledged the power and the righteousness of the King of heaven. And thus the idolatrous and superlatively wicked Manasseh became a sincere and hearty penitent in the solitude of a Chaldean prison. Nor can we but admire, upon this occasion, the wisdom and goodness of God in sending sickness, as a preparative for death. Sickness takes a man, as it were, out of this scene of things, to fit him for another. It draws the curtain between him and the world, shutting out all its cares, and all its pleasures. It puts away his idle and noisy acquaintance far from him; and having thus secured his attention to the one thing needful, gives him ideas of the nature of sin, and the importance of death, the vanities of time, and the glories of eternity, to which he was before an utter stranger. Now appear to him, in their proper colours and natural deformity, the diabolical nature of pride and envy, the brutality of intemperance, the folly and torment of lasciviousness, the wretchedness of avarice, and the stupidity of sloth. Now he hath no longer any unlawful desires, and grieves that he ever had such. Now he is what he always ought to have been, and what retirement, at proper seasons, should and would have made him.
In morality, as in husbandry, the preparation of the soil is a great step towards the production of a plentiful harvest.
If carnal desires are dead in us, all things belonging to the Spirit, will live and grow in us. If the affections are disengaged from things on earth, the difficulty of the work is over ; they will readily and eagerly lay hold on things above, when proposed to them. If the snare of concupiscence be broken, and the soul be delivered out of it, she will presently fly away, on the wings of faith and charity, towards heaven. They who have duly practised mortification in the school of retirement, will, at their appearance in the world, afford it the brightest examples of every thing that is “honest, just, pure, “ lovely, and of good report.
We may, therefore, conclude, that he who desires to undertake the office of guiding others in the ways of wisdom and holiness, will best qualify himself for that purpose by first passing some time in a state of sequestration from the world; where anxious cares and delusive pleasures may not break in upon him, to dissipate his attention ; where no sceptical or sectarian spirit may blind his understanding, and nothing may obstruct the illumination from above; where every vicious inclination may be mortified through grace, by a prudent application of the proper means; and every fresh bud of virtue, sheltered from noxious blasts, may be gradually reared up into strength, beauty, and fragrance; where, in a word,
grow and wax strong in spirit, until the day of his "showing unto Israel."
- he may
Considerations on the Prophecies relative to St. John
in the Old Testament.
BEFORE we proceed to view the Baptist in the exercise of his ministry, it will be proper to look back to the predictions in the Scriptures of the Old Testament, concerning his office and character. We shall begin with that remarkable one, “Behold, I “ will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming " of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And “ he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest “ I come and smite the earth with a curse ?."
As there was amongst the Jews a general expectation of Messiah's appearance, at the time when he did appear, so an opinion likewise prevailed, that the world should be first prepared for his reception,
9 Mal. iv. 5,
in some extraordinary manner. But wrong ideas of his appearance and kingdom introduced mistakes with regard to the person who should precede and proclaim him. According to the notions then current, occasioned by applying to his first advent the prophecies which belonged to his second, Messiah was to come in power and majesty, to confer on the sons of Jacob dominion over the Gentiles, and make Jerusalem the metropolis of the world. And by misunderstanding this prediction of Malachi, they had imagined, that Elijah the Tishbite should return from heaven, as his precursor. For this reason it was, that when the sanhedrim sent a message to St. John, desiring to know whether he were Elias ? he answered, “I am not:" not the Elias by them in. tended and expected. But that St. John was the person foretold by Malachi under the name of Elias, we have the declarations of our Lord himself to his own disciples, “Elias is indeed come';" and to the Jews, “If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was " for to come.
He that hath ears to hear, let him “ hear.” By these expressions it was evidently Christ's intention to put his hearers upon the search after something more than the words, in the bare letter of them, might seem to contain. He directed them to go deeper into things, to study with attention the mission of the Baptist, his office and character; to compare together persons, times, and events; and so to discover, in what sense Jobn was Elias, and why Malachi had given him that appellation.