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the preacher of repentance, John the Baptist ; while, combined with these, the two lessons from the book of Samuel present us with the two extremes of human nature in the cases of Samuel and the sons of Eli; the last so hardened in sin that they were beyond repentance; the other so early led to God, and so constant in His service, that in the common sense of the term he had no need of it. While again the second lesson for this evening reminds us, that in the higher and Christian sense we all need it: that by the deeds of the law will no flesh be justified; for that cursed is he who continueth not in all things that are written in the book of the law to do them.
From out all these parts of Scripture so bearing upon the same subject, I have taken for my text the words of Isaiah, by which John the Baptist described himself. He said, “ I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And so he has been commonly called the forerunner of Jesus Christ. But it may be that many have never clearly understood what was meant by John being Christ's forerunner, why any forerunner was needed, and what truth is declared to us in this part of God's dispensations, which showed that he was needed. The subject is very vast, and might be illustrated
by many examples, taken either from history or from private life. And the truth contained in it is this, that Christ's work has never been done effectually in men's hearts, except so far as the work of His forerunner has been done beforehand; that the baptism of the Holy Spirit requires the previous baptism of water; or in other words, that no man can profitably receive the truths of the Gospel, unless they find his heart made ready by repentance, unless they find him in that state that he knows the evil of his heart, and hates it, and longs to be delivered from it.
I shall not dwell long upon the examples from history, but one or two may be mentioned to show what is meant. When St. Paul dwells upon the advantage which Timothy had had in having been taught the Scriptures from his childhood, and adds that they are able to make him wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus, inasmuch as they were profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God might be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works; he was comparing with this case of Timothy that of those who bad been brought up in heathenism, with nothing that could be called instruction in holiness, with little or no notion of what was meant by sin and repentance. These persons, when they grew up, seeing the folly of the religion of their fathers, and
hearing Christ preached as one who revealed the truth concerning God, came over readily to the profession of Christianity. But they had not known Christ's forerunner, they had not been baptized with the baptism of repentance. Therefore they often turned the grace of God into lasciviousness : they caught hold of the promises of the Gospel without having ever dreaded the threats of the law; and therefore they naturally enough lowered the standard of Christian holiness, and instead of overcoming sin, were driven to that grievous state of denying sin to be sin, because they the children of God, as they boasted, had committed it; and the children of God, they said, could not sin.
Another example occurred, somewhat later, and was followed by consequences more widely mischievous. When the northern nations came down upon the Roman empire, their kings and great men were soon persuaded to become Christians, as it was called; that is, to acknowledge Christ to be their God, and to worship Him instead of idols. In one instance we are told, that one of these chiefs became a Christian, because he ascribed a victory which he had won over his enemies to the power of Christ in his behalf, exerted in answer to a prayer which his wife had persuaded him to offer. We can see that here Christ's forerunner had been little known ; that no repentance had prepared the way for the word of life; that Christ was re
ceived, not as a new principle of life into a new creature, but rather as an old principle suited to the old nature, and only presenting itself under another name. And therefore Christ's Gospel grew mighty in word, but not in
power ; converts, as they were called, kept their old superstitions under new names, and indulged all their old passions; and thus it came to pass that the history of modern times has in so many points exactly resembled that of ancient times; that wars, and cruelties, and covetousness, and injustice of every kind, prevailed as much under what was in name the kingdom of Christ, as it had done in the days of heathenism.
These are the examples of history, but those of private life will come nearer to the matter. Why is it, that within our own knowledge, where all profess to believe in Christ, the work of His Spirit is yet wrought so imperfectly? Why are not our lives and thoughts Christian, as well as our outward profession? Is it not because with us too, in so many instances, Christ has been preached to us without His forerunner; because we have never been prepared by repentance to receive His salvation aright? And is not this apt to be the case where our instruction in religion is given us so often as a matter of course along with instruction in other matters, that we hear of Christ, and learn to call ourselves Christians, without connecting that name
with any change in our own hearts and lives, or understanding any thing of the necessity of a previous preparation for it. So with us the old nature, and the old notions, and the old practice, often remain unaltered; and we offer the strange spectacle of persons calling themselves Christians, yet neither speaking the language, and much less adopting the practice, of that kingdom of which they profess to be members.
And this will account for the marked difference which sometimes takes place at a later period in life, when a person receives a strong religious impression. If we examine, we shall find that in such cases Christ's forerunner has done his work ; repentance has prepared the way of the Lord, and made His paths straight. For a religious impression, I suppose, means always this, that something or other has put us in mind of God's judgment, and our danger from it has made us think of death, and how little prepared we are to meet it. The impression, in short, is one leading directly to repentance, to serious thoughts about good and evil, to a turning from the latter, and seeking the former with all earnestness; and so it puts us in a disposition to receive Christ's Gospel aright. For if we receive Christ as a Saviour from an evil which we had learned to dread and to hate -I mean sin, then we shall avail ourselves gladly of His aid to conquer this evil, and Christ will be truly our