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within the veil. He that sowed, and we who are reaping, may in this hope rejoice together. And if I have said, as I think Christ's word allows us to say, that there are passages in the writings of the old prophets in which the mind of the Spirit who gave them utterance is more truly discerned by us than by them, if the truth of God has to us shaken off some part of the veil which in ancient times disguised its import, and stands before us more nearly in its own perfect nature, yet God forbid that this confession of God's grace to us should lead us to be high-minded, or to think that, because of the greater abundance of our revelations, we are nearer to Christ than His holy prophets. If any such feeling does arise within us, let us turn to such Psalms as the twenty-third, and our boasting must surely be changed into the deepest humiliation. For of the faith which worketh by love, and which alone justifies, can we dare to think that we have a larger, nay, that we have in any degree so large a portion, as lived within the heart of the Psalmist? Is his language of faith too hesitating for our full assurance? Is his devotion too cold for our perfect love ? Alas! alas ! is it not rather the very reverse ? that his is the full assurance of faith, the love that casteth out fear ; ours the faith as the grain of mustard seed, the love which iniquity has made to wax cold?
And then our boasting of superior knowledge may well be changed for fear, when we think of his portion who knew His Lord's will and did it not: and we may remember that it was to those who possessed greater light than had been vouchsafed to the old prophets, that Christ said, “ There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves cast out.'
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
As the lessons which are read from the New Testament are not chosen for the particular Sunday, but are taken in their order according to the day of the month and year, so we cannot expect that there should be any particular harmony between them and the fixed parts of the service, such as the lessons from the Old Testament, and the Epistle and Gospel. But when we do find such a harmony, and can thus connect together all the portions of the Scripture which are read on the same day, the effect is particularly striking. Now this is in a great measure the case with the parts of this day's service. The Gospel speaks of the blessing upon true repentance; and the second lesson for the
morning describes the ministry of 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 repentauce; 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
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 had been brought up in heathenisin, 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,