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ed against those errors, which have since been built
upon the Gospel-that, before one doctrine of revealed truth had been explained, he proclaimed the eternal doctrine of the necessity of moral goodness, · and assured his followers that, if they were not prepared to enter upon the path of duty, they could never find “the
way 66 of the Lord.”
While the preaching of John thus opposed that vulgar corruption of Religion, by which an inexplicable principle of faith is substituted for morality,-it no less opposed the prejudice of Philosophy, which supposes that the efforts of man are sufficient for himself. This great Teacher, whose office it was to fix deep in: the human heart the principles of virtue,-to shew that no other principles of action were from that hour to be tolerated,—that “the axe was now laid “ unto the root of the trees, and that
every tree which brought not forth good “ fruit, was to be hewn down and cast into “ the fire,"this high and holy Preacher, at the same moment, affirmed, that one was coming after him, “ mightier than he, “ the latchet of whose shoes he was not “ worthy to stoop down and unloose;" and that, while he was able only to make men feel the wretchedness and degradation of sin, and to give them hope of forgiveness, if they strove to return into the paths of duty, another doctrine was about to be proclaimed, which would inspire them with the utmost faith and confidence, when they were anxious to regain the way which they had lost, and would animate all their virtuous efforts with the fire of a celestial spirit.-“ Behold," said he, “the Lamb of God, which taketh away “the sins of the world,”-and, “I indeed “ baptize you with water unto repentance, but he shall baptize you with the “ Holy Ghost and with fire."
The defects which John here professes to be inherent in his baptism are, that it was not sufficiently powerful to bring the repentant sinner a perfect assurance of the divine forgiveness--and that it could never give the requisite energy to the exertions of virtue. It was the duty of man, he could shew, to repent of his offences—but could he shew that repentance “ would take away the sins of the “world?” It was the duty ofman to "bring “ forth fruits meet for repentance”-but where was that fire and that breath of Heaven, which could alone support the principle of life in the decaying tree ?
If we will candidly examine, my brethren, we shall find that all the views of mortal wisdom on this great subject, alike labour under these deficiencies. They either confine themselves solely to the
obvious duties between man and man, without
any reference to the purity of religious obedience; or, if they establish a high scale of perfection to be aimed at, they leave man afflicted with the consciousness of his many failures, and uncertain whether he will be forgiven by one who is “of purer eyes than to be
holdiniquity”—hopeless, too, of any better success in his future exertions :or, on the contrary, they render him
presumptuous, by inspiring him with the notion, that he has already attained that excellence which they require. There is thus, in every attempt of mere human instruction, something incomplete or disspiriting, or overweening; and the discovery of truths, which God alone can reveal, is necessary for supplying the defects of all such schemes.
The Baptist felt, and confessed this necessity; and it would have been wise if,
in imitation of his humility, the moral instructors of mankind had everywhere been equally candid,—if they had everywhere acknowledged, that all the covering which they could provide against the storm, was only the coarse “ camels' “ hair,” and “the leathern girdle” of human imperfection ; and that all the food of wisdom with which they could nourish the soul, was only the rude production of the wilderness of nature.
Many of them, indeed, have felt the sublimity of Virtue, and have gloried in the thought that she could exalt man above the stars ; but few have anticipated the far more glorious discovery that, if Virtue were feeble, “ Heaven itself would “ stoop to her.”
It is our blessedness to know, my brethren, that Heaven has stooped to her ; and not only to the feebleness of virtue, but to the faint and trembling hopes of penitent sin! It is