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brought from an impure state into one that was pure and holy. By administering this ceremony to Jews, John intimated that they had departed as much from true piety as if they had been heathens, and that it was necessary that they should undergo the like change.
4. As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths strait.
5. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made strait, and the rough ways shall be made smooth.
In this language the prophet Isaiah had foretold the preaching of John, the design of it, and the effect which it should have upon men's minds, together with the place where he should make his appearance. There is an evident allusion in these words to the office of pioneers, who were sent before, to prepare the road for great monarchs, when they moved from one place to another: for, as these made the road smooth where it was rough, by removing obstacles, strait, where it was winding, and lowered hills where they were steep and difficult of ascent; so John, by his preaching and baptizing, should remove from the minds of many of the Jews those errors and prejudices which would have prevented the reception of the Messiah, and hereby should prepare the way for accomplishing the designs of God, whose messenger and representative he was.
6. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
That is, all men shall behold that scheme of salvation which God has provided for his people. The language
of the evangelist varies a little here from that of the prophet, being taken from the Greek translation, and not from the Hebrew.
7. Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him, O generation of vipers, or, as it would be better rendered, "O brood of vipers," who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Matthew tells us that this language was addressed by John to the Pharisees and Sadducees, to whose character the severity of it seems more suitable than to that of the people in general.
8. Bring forth, therefore, fruits worthy of repentance; that is, Since you have been warned, bring forth such good works as become a sincere repentance; and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
9. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees, rather, "at the root," being put there ready for use; every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire.
10. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then? What good works shall we perform to evidence the sincerity of our repentance, to save ourselves
from the impending calamities? He answereth, and saith unto them,
11. He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat let him do likewise.
He that hath a superfluity of the good things of this life, let him impart some portion of what he has to those who are destitute of them, and suffer much distress from their wants. He directs them to show the sincerity of their repentance by acts of beneficence, which are the great end of religion, and the most acceptable offering which we can present to the Divine Being. He instances in food and raiment, not because these are the only means of doing good, but because they comprise the principal wants of mankind, and because it is in food and dress that men are most apt to offend by their extravagance. The prophet Daniel gives similar advice to Nebuchadnezzar, in answer to a like question, saying, "Break off thy sins by repentance, and thine iniquities by showing mercy to the poor." When John directs the people to give away one out of two coats, he does not mean to prohibit them from keeping more than one, but to forbid retaining superfluities, when others want necessaries.
12. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, "Teacher," what shall we do?
13. And he said, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
The tax-gatherers, in the exercise of their office, fre quently compelled people to pay more than the law required, and were hereby guilty of great oppression.John warns them to beware of this crime, to which men of their profession were strongly tempted.
14. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall
we do? And And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
Commit violence on no man's person or property, without just authority; nor endeavour to secure that authority by accusing innocent persons. with your pay; and do not murmur or mutiny against your officers, if they do not bestow upon you largesses to procure your favour or good will.
1. From the passage of Scripture which has been explained, we learn that men in every situation of life bave peculiar temptations to guard against, and peculiar duties to perform: to each class of people John gives separate admonitions and cautions. The rich are apt to confine their whole attention to themselves, and forget or overlook the wants of their poorer brethren, although destitute of food and cloathing: while the poor are often discontented with their wages, and murmur against the rich, even when they grant them all the assistance which their circumstances will permit, and which they can equitably claim. Those who are in power are disposed to abuse it, and those who are subject to authority frequently resist it without occasion. Let every man, therefore, consider what temptations his situation in life exposes him to, and what duties it requires from him; and these let him be careful to perform. Let the rich have a due consideration of the wants of the poor, and be ready to relieve them, that in heaven they may have a more enduring substance. Let the poor be contented with their wages, remembering that it is what they have agreed to receive. Let those who are invested with civil authority of any kind recollect that it is given them for the benefit of those over whom it is
exercised, and not for the gratification of their own private passions or interests. Let those also who are subject to authority remember, that power, thus employed, is justly exercised, and that resistance to it is criminal. Let soldiers, in particular, remember that they are appointed to guard the persons and protect the property of individuals, and not to oppress and injure them; to defend the community against the unjust attacks of foreign nations, and not to invade the rights of unoffending people, or to vindicate the private quarrels of princes. Let parents remember the attention and tenderness which they owe to their children; and children, the gratitude and obedience which are due to parents. Let masters have a due consideration of the circumstances of their servants, and exact no more from them than their strength and comfort will allow them to perform. Let them exercise authority with mildness, excuse their involuntary offences, and show kindness to them in distress. Let servants also be faithful to their masters, not defrauding them of their property, nor destroying it by thoughtless extravagance or wasteful negligence. Let them be tender of the reputation and attentive to the wants of those whom they serve. We, learn,
2. That the practice of these duties by individuals, is the best evidence of the sincerity of their repentance; and the general performance of them by a community, the most effectual method of saving a nation from ruin. These are the fruits worthy of a profession of repentance, which John required from his disciples; and they are what God still requires from all those who profess sorrow for sin, and look for his favour. Without them, our prayers and fastings, our tears and confessions, are unmeaning forms and useless parade.— Creatures, indeed, weak and ignorant as ourselves, they may deceive; but with respect to God, they only serve to mark the hypocrisy of the mind, and to increase his displeasure.
Happy, on the contrary, are the individuals who accompany profession of sorrow for sin with reformation of manners, and with a faithful discharge of those duVol. 2.]