John the Baptist
by John MacDuff

"So JOHN was beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a tray and given to the girl, who took it to her mother. John's disciples came for his body and buried it. Then they told Jesus what had happened. As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area to be alone." Matthew 14:10-13

What an affecting scene is the burial of John the Baptist--the first martyr of the gospel age! A handful of attached disciples have taken up the headless body of their Master, and consigned it to its last earthly resting-place. And, most touching of all--when they had completed these sad offices of affection--returning the dust to its kindred dust--they hastened away to unburden their sorrows to One who, they knew, was in all cases, but would be pre-eminently in the present--a "Brother born for adversity." "Then they told Jesus what had happened!"

With all the deep and intense sympathies of His holy human nature, and in the true spirit of a mourner, that gracious Redeemer seeks, in this hour of bitter sorrow, the sacredness of retirement. "As soon as Jesus heard the news, he went off by himself in a boat to a remote area to be alone." The cruel blow seems to have been inflicted in the castle or fort of Machaerus, on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea, where Herod (on his way to settle a feud with King Aretas) was holding a court festival. The faithful reprover of his lusts was pining in a dungeon under the banqueting hall; and the rash oath that had escaped the royal lips, enables his paramour to accomplish her deep-laid plot of revenge and blood.

The mourning disciples of the murdered prophet had traversed a long and weary distance, all the way from Judea to Galilee, to pour their sorrows into the ear of the Great Sympathizer. After mingling His grief with theirs, and imparting, doubtless, some sublime though unrecorded solaces, that Divine Redeemer, leaving the mourners to their tears, crosses the lake of Tiberias to a sequestered spot, where He may muse in silence over the terrible bereavement, and give vent in solitude to His grief at the loss of His earliest human companion and friend.

If we hear of no eulogy pronounced by the Savior over the Baptist's tomb, or in the ears of his disciples after his burial; that verdict and eulogy was anticipated at an earlier period, to which we shall presently advert, when He, who "spoke as never man spoke," declared, "I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist." There is something unique and picturesque about the whole history and character of this singular man. Travelers at this day, in the little-frequented gorges, the rugged ravines around the Jordan rapids--describe the remarkable dress and appearance of the Bedouins or Dervishes, with their bronzed skins, and the striped Bedouin cloak or blanket, crudely woven of camel's hair, fastened with a leathern belt round their naked bodies. Their homes either the caves and grottoes of the wilderness, or a rustic arbor or canopy formed of branches stripped from the abundant trees around. Their food the wild fruits of the mountain, the honey found in the rocks, or the nutritious manna exuding from the tamarisk tree.

We cannot wonder that these modern pictures should be suggestive of the olden scene which attracted wondering thousands to those inaccessible glens of eastern Palestine, in the dawn of the Christian era.

The voice of prophecy had been silent for four hundred ears. God had sealed up the vision since the days of Malachi. With the exception of a few devout souls, who, like Simeon and Anna, "waited for the consolation of Israel," the spiritual life of Judah was well-near extinct--religion had degenerated into a round of empty forms and worthless routines. Its truthful type and delineation was that of Ezekiel's Valley, filled with bones and skeletons, from which all animation had departed. But the long night of darkness has at last spent itself--there are indications of coming dawn. Tidings spread that the prophetic spirit has again revived--that a seer in the spirit of Elijah, if not the great Tishbite himself, had appeared in the remoter wilds of Judea! At, all events, One had risen, bold enough to make his voice heard, summoning, like the old prophets, the degenerate nation to repentance.

The desert was alive with crowds hurrying to listen to his message. They formed a strange and heterogeneous assemblage. There were rough laborers, unlettered peasants, and fishermen from northern Galilee. There were stern Roman soldiers from the barracks of Herod Antipas; others from Damascus, on their way to measure swords with a lawless Arabian chieftain. These stood, with sheathed weapons, to listen to one as heroic as their bravest. There were grasping, avaricious tax-gatherers, from Jericho and Tiberias, who came, either wearied of their corrupt life, or incited by the novelty of the occasion, to listen to the scourger of their vices. And, stranger than all; Jerusalem, from its Sanhedrin, pours forth its phylacteried representatives--the Pharisee, (the high churchman of his day,) the stickler for forms and ritual observances, rubric and ceremony, going to hear this unconsecrated man in an unconsecrated place; the Sadducee, the cold, scoffing infidel of the age, who looked on the world to come as a devout myth--forth they go, many of them, perhaps, with a sneer on their lips; but others also, impelled by a nobler and truer motive--by the deep-felt needs of their souls. Onward flow these crowds; the diverse streams all meeting and mingling around this strange, eccentric man. Yes, and more than all, and what stamps a surpassing interest on the scene, there is a Divine Personage, then unknown and unrecognized--who has come also, from far north Galilee, to listen to His great forerunner, and, in these rapids of the Jordan, to partake of the mysterious baptism.

There must have been a grand, rough eloquence in the preaching of this child of nature. No labored sentences, no artificial oratory, no metaphysical distinctions. They were short, abrupt, emphatic, stirring aphorisms--like the call of the prophet of Nineveh, when he rushed through that heathen capital, with his one solemn announcement of its impending doom. Such were John's exhortations. "Repent!"--Soldiers, Repent!--Publicans, Repent!--Pharisees, and Sadducees, generation of vipers, Repent! "flee from the wrath to come!" His illustrations are borrowed from the scenes among which he stood. The masses of rock that had tumbled from the heights of the gorge were strewed, in wild confusion, on the banks of Jordan--the river fretting its way between them. The woodman's axe may have been ringing in the boundless forests around! "Men of form and routine!" he says, addressing the Pharisee group; "entrench not yourselves behind these your ancestral and hereditary prerogatives, apart from holiness of character and life. God is able, if He sees fit, from these rough stones, these rugged rocks, to raise up children unto Abraham." "Lose no time, any of you, in listening to my trumpet summons! Let these forest echoes sound a warning, Behold, now also the axe is laid to the root of the trees--therefore every tree which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire," (Matt. 3:10)

Even the locality which this brave preacher of righteousness selected, had its solemn associations. It could not be very far from the spot--(perhaps a little higher up the stream)--where the thousands of Israel had crossed the Jordan when in full flood. If so, this modern Elijah must have been near also to the place at which his illustrious predecessor had divided the torrent with his mantle, when on his way to the solitudes beyond, which were to witness his glorious departure.

This hallowed ground--the great Temple of nature--was a fit sanctuary surely, for the thunder-voice of the new prophet; its walls, the precipices of the Jordan--its canopy, the sky--the worshipers, a mingled congregation of earnest souls--brave men in tears--hard men softened--careless men arrested--men of business--men of learning--men of public life--all coming forth to hear a preacher of the wilderness, a Bedouin of his day--a man with no priestly consecration--claiming no prophetical succession--his vestments from the desert--the rough covering of camel's hair--and his watchword the rallying-cry that brought these many sick hearts around him--"REPENT, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

Alas! that so bright a meteor-light should have been so suddenly quenched in the darkness of death!--that at the age of thirty-four, weeping mourners should be gathered round his bloody tomb! But he had accomplished his work. Gloriously and faithfully had he fulfilled his special mission, and doubtless he now rejoices that he was honored to be the first to inscribe his name in the yet unwritten page of the gospel book of martyrs--the "noble army" that were in after ages "to praise God."

Let us gather round the early grave of the Baptist, and seek to analyze, for our profit and imitation, the leading elements in his character.

The first element in John's character we may notice, is his BOLDNESS AND FIDELITY. It was indeed a noble thing to see a man come forth, with heroic heart, to unmask hypocrisy in all its forms and phases, and lash unsparingly the conventional follies, and sins, and vices of the times. We require to put ourselves in the place of his contemporaries, rightly to estimate his moral courage and fearlessness. It was no small matter, surely, for a Jew to say boldly to an excited crowd of Hebrews, that descent from Abraham was nothing; to turn to numbers of grumbling, mutinous soldiers and say, "Be content with your wages"--to turn to the fraudulent publicans and say, "Forsake your impious gains, and be honest men"--no, more--giving forth the unmistakable warning to all, that if the covenant nation were unfaithful, some other would supersede it; for out of barren Gentile rocks, God could raise up true "children unto Abraham."

Nor was his the mere momentary impulsive boldness that rose suddenly to its climax and then collapsed--sustained by the excitement of the thousands gathering around him, but which dwindled and dwarfed into imbecility whenever the tide of popularity and power had turned. He was no Peter, with brave hero-speeches one day, and coward and craven fears the next. He was not even like his great but more impetuous prototype--the reprover of Ahab one day, and the next plunging into the wilderness--forsaking his post of duty. His dauntlessness is noblest in adversity.

He who could best read his character, bears emphatic attestation to his indomitable boldness to the last. When John's disciples, who still seem to have had access to him in his imprisonment--saw their noble-hearted master apparently thus hopelessly immured, their courage began to droop, their faith to stagger. "Could he not have been mistaken, after all, in the testimony he bore to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth? If Jesus were indeed the Christ, why did He not come, in the might of His divine omnipotence, to the rescue of His innocent forerunner--rending these cruel bars asunder, and letting the wilderness' voice, so unjustly stifled, be once more heard?"

John saw their incipient misgivings. Strong in faith himself, he desires to have their wavering minds confirmed. For this purpose he selects two of their number, and sends them directly to the Savior, with the question, "Are you he that should come? or look we for another?" Christ, in reply, points them to His miracles, enumerating them in detail, and then adding, "Blessed is he whoever shall not be offended by me."' And when these messengers have departed, Jesus turns to the multitude that were present, and delivers to them a very noble vindication of his servant's character. In most of the utterances of Christ, there is a grand and serious simplicity--the calm statements of a Being of meek majesty--who had come "to bear witness to the truth," and scorned any unnecessary drapery of 'fine language'. But this occasion seems an exception. In vindicating His beloved friend from any unworthy aspersions, He rises to fervor--His words glow with a lofty energy, beauty, and power. Fearful lest the people might have misunderstood and misinterpreted the motive of John in sending these delegates from prison, He impresses upon them that it was from no doubt that existed in the mind of the sender, who had ever been "strong in faith, giving glory to God." "What," says He, "did you go out into the wilderness to see? a reed shaken by the wind?" Was John's a character whose fitting type was one of those trembling, shaking, brittle reeds rustling amid the jungles of the Jordan? Is he likely now to lapse into infidelity--to droop, a withered flower, in that dungeon--his sun going down gloomily amid clouds of unbelief? No; he is too much the hero, the true, the brave, for that. His whole life gives the lie to the insinuation. He will prove no renegade, who had the boldness, at the opening of his ministry, to denounce Pharisee and Sadducee--and at the close of it to rebuke the royal adulterer--though in so doing, he could calculate too well on the penalty he would be called to pay for his outspoken fidelity.

Would that there were among all of us (and especially among God's ministers) more of this bold, uncompromising statement of truth! in rousing from their false dream--like those John addressed--many who are content to rest in mere outward privileges--as if stated attendance on ordinances were enough--the skeleton form without the living spirit--church going and church worship severed from holiness of heart and life. Evangelical preaching, in these our days, is not only tolerated, but sought, so long as it adheres to doctrinal statement, and keeps clear of the call to special duties, or the rebuke of special sins. But we oftentimes need men in the spirit and power of the Baptist, who have the moral courage to stand up in the pulpit as the reprovers and denouncers of sins which have become fashionable--glossed over--palliated--excused--yes, to the reality of which, through the deadening influence of habit, conscience may have become insensible.

The Baptist's was no mere indefinite homily about "the evil of sin" in general. He spoke pointedly and personally, to every class and every individual, of their dominant passion or lust, whatever it was. He spoke to the Pharisee of the day of his resting in forms. He spoke to the soldier of the day of his spirit of insubordination. He spoke to the publican of the day of his dishonesty and grasping avarice; He spoke to the court of the day of their dissoluteness, and to the head of that court of his special sin--"It is not lawful for you to have her." Nor was there any ambiguity or indefiniteness employed regarding a state of coming retribution. The solemn reality was not mystified, and explained away, and blunted by hazy figures of speech--honeyed words. It was no shadowy vision that dark futurity. He gave things their right names--"Wrath to come." "The chaff shall be burnt with unquenchable fire!"

Shall we summon in, this great preacher of the olden time, and imagine what personal sins he would unmask and condemn among ourselves? Shall we try to imagine how this prophet of the wilderness would speak, were he either to enter the sacred enclosures of social life, or stand in the streets of our cities, and, with scrutinizing gaze, mark their eager crowds hurrying along! What would be the special sin or sins, his eagle eye would detect, and against which his trumpet tongue would declaim?

Would it not be our varying phases of intense worldliness--at one time manifesting itself in public, in the eager, all-engrossing scramble in the race for riches, as if money were the chief and only good, the old philosopher's summum bonum (highest good)--as if gold could dispel care, and solace sorrow, and soothe suffering, and bribe death? Or, this same master sin, manifesting itself in another form, in private--the feverish and absorbing money-chase, only exchanged for an endless, exhausting round of artificial excitements to close the day. Family duties guiltily curtailed, and in many instances sacrificed, parental responsibilities neglected--the great "end of being," in this whirlpool of excitement, often thoroughly ignored--the foot-road to the family altar, or even to the closet, covered over and hidden with the noxious weeds of forgetfulness and neglect. What religion remains is shoved into the Sabbath-corner. Mammon, the most exacting of charioteers, giving his steeds breath once only in seven days, and, ready, as Monday returns, for the fresh run of the week!

But mistake us not. Be assured, if John were thus to speak out his honest convictions, in the midst of us, he would combine sagacity with boldness. His would be no mystical and unnatural disseverance of man from his work-day world; as if business and religion were antagonistic and incompatible. Do you not observe, in the narrative of Luke, how he enjoins all the classes that came (just as he would enjoin each class among ourselves) to go back to their ordinary occupations, but only imbued with a new heaven-born spirit; seeking that religion would moderate worldly cares, engrossments, employments, and enjoyments, and leave its sanctifying influence upon all?

To the common people he said--"Go back to the world and your work, and manifest a spirit of brotherly kindness--'He that has two coats, let him impart to him that has none; and he that has food, let him do likewise,'" (Luke 3:11) To the publicans, he did not say--"Leave your irreligious toll and custom-houses--give up your gains at Tiberias and Jericho." No! but "Return home! Be tax-gatherers still; but hold the balance of truth in your hand. Scorn all that is base and dishonest! 'Exact no more than that which is appointed you,'" (Luke 3:13) To the soldiers, he did not say--"Leave that horrid trade of war--throw down your commissions--cast sword and scabbard into the depths of Jordan, and live lives of hermit seclusion on its banks." No; but--"Go forward in your present warlike mission against the desert chief of Petra. Be brave, and good, and true. Temper your heroic deeds with mercy to the vanquished! Set a noble example of obedience and subordination to your superior officers--Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and be content with your wages," (Luke 3:14)

Yes, here is the honest, outspoken boldness of a man of God; and yet one who took broad and noble and generous views of existence and its duties. Would that we thus sought more thoroughly to incorporate religion with every-day life, and have all interfused with the fear and love and favor of God. Would that we felt more, that the grand problem which we, as Christians have to solve, is "to be in the world, and not of it"--that thousands on thousands in our thoroughfares would listen to his monitory voice, expressed in the words of a kindred spirit--"Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world. And this world is fading away, along with everything it craves. But if you do the will of God, you will live forever." 1 John 2:15-17

A second notable element in the character of John is his SELF-DENIAL. Weary and sick at heart with the corruptions of the times, the Baptist, at or before the age of thirty, just at the period of existence when the world--"the pride of life"--wears most attractions, retired to the solitude of the desert for meditation and prayer, until "the time of his showing unto Israel."

We have no reason to suppose that, like his Lord and master, his early home was one of poverty. His father was a priest; and alike from the social status of his parents, and from the education he would receive as a priest's son, we infer he must have occupied no low position in Hebron, the probable place of his birth and boyhood. But any thoughts regarding mere earthly well-being and advancement were, in his own mind, superseded and expelled by a higher principle, and the consciousness of a nobler mission. He willingly forfeits the prizes which the mere natural man would have coveted; the pride of family--the love of the world--the distinctions of learning. Assuming a poor man's garb, he secludes himself among the Judean mountains and by the shores of the Jordan, that he might attune and tutor his soul for his appointed work. "What did you go out to see?" says Christ, in the same impassioned appeal to which we have already referred. "A man clothed in soft clothing? Behold! those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces." He was no candidate for earthly honors. The sackcloth and the leathern belt excluded him from court life. If he had been the devotee of the world or of fashion, he would have clad himself in different attire. But he was one of these lofty spirits to whom the world and all its tinsel glitter was nothing--a star dwelling apart--shining not for itself, but for others--a grand and rare example of self-sacrifice and self-surrender to God.

Noble pattern, surely, to us in this selfish age and this selfish world, is this self-denying man! Not that the rough garb and crude attire--the uncostly and undainty fare and lodging of the desert, are in themselves either proof of self-denial, or an example for us to follow. Many a time has a proud, selfish, unloving heart lurked under an affectation, either in dress, or living, or unworldliness. Christianity is as opposed to all this morbid and vain singularity, as it is to ostentation and pride. Let none, therefore, imagine that, for the exercise of John's spirit, it requires the monkish garb and the hermit's cell--the leathern belt and the meal of locusts and wild honey. All these are but incidental accompaniments--no more necessary to self-denial, than standing in the corners of the streets would be necessary to prayer. They were perhaps required in John's case, to rouse the slumbering multitudes, and attract attention to his great theme. If this burning and shining light had come with the silence and stillness of the dawning day, the benighted world might have slept on, disregarding his message; and therefore he had to flash upon it with the glare of the meteor. Moreover, we know, that He who must ever hold an infinitely higher place than the Baptist, and yet who honored him and his pure life--He, the infinitely pure and holy ONE--lived no such hermit existence, and was sustained on no such ascetic fare--"The Son of man came eating and drinking," and was on that account falsely stigmatized as "a gluttonous man and a wine-bibber;" and yet, in the case of both--John, the man of the desert, and Jesus, mingling in social life--there was the manifestation, though in different phases, of the great principle of self-denial. The saying was appropriate in the case of either--"He pleased not himself."

How much room is there, in these our times, for the exercise of this noble grace! How many there are, who from year's end to years end--know not what it is to be swayed by its generous impulse--whose thoughts, feelings, deeds, aspirations, are centered all on self. If they be happy and prosperous--if their purses be full--if their business thrive, and their families be well provided for--what do they care for anything else? The poor are (with them) a sort of myth. They can devour books describing fictitious sorrows. They can weep over the hard struggle of poverty pictured in sentimental novels; but as for clothing an orphan, or helping a struggling widow, or denying themselves some luxury or comfort, which might easily be spared, that the hungry might be fed or the naked be clothed--they have never dreamt of that.

If we be Christians indeed, we must manifest more or less of this spirit of self-denial for the good of others--this abnegation of self. John by his example, and John's Master, alike by His example and His words, have left us the sacred command--the solemn legacy--"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself," (Matt. 16:24). "See that you abound in THIS grace also--For you know"--(oh! matchless example of self-denial)--"you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich," (2 Cor. 8:9).

A third element in John's character was his EARNESTNESS. The phrase is familiar to us all--it has passed into a proverbial saying--"an earnest ministry." Here was a living exemplification of it; and its earnestness was the secret of its power. John (so far as we know) was neither polished, nor learned, nor eloquent. Judging from the brief recorded specimen of his preaching, he had nothing of the logical acumen and intellectual grasp of the great scholar of Gamaliel. His sentences, as we have already said, are strong--pointed--vigorous--the sharp, arrowy words of a bold, outspoken man--no more.

But--mightier than all eloquence, and than all the logic and learning of the schools--his winged appeals went forth from his inmost heart. The words were those of one who deeply felt all he said--whose every utterance came welling forth from the depths of an earnest soul.

After all, this is what the world, what the Church, needs--a living earnestness. It is the earnest man who alone can stand the test, and shall alone be honored in his work. Have we not manifold instances in proof of this in our own times? Look at those places where there has been manifested a deep and growing interest in divine things--and where hundreds, before in a state of utter indifference and death, have been brought to a knowledge of the truth. What is the instrumentality that has been employed? Often the very weakest. Ministers of little intellectual energy--devoid of all the arts of oratory--who can clothe their utterance only in the simplest and rudest garb--but they are men in earnest--men who have their work at heart--who go to it in the spirit of believing prayer--animated by one predominating motive--love for souls and the glory of God. And where there is this earnestness and heart-work, it is pleasing to see those of cultivated minds, and who may even be called fastidious hearers and worshipers, many among them far superior to their instructors in natural and acquired gifts and knowledge of life, sitting and listening with docility to the "simplicity of the truth." It is the old scene witnessed in the Jordan wilderness--those of strong and vigorous intellect--learned men of the world--polished Pharisees--subtle Sadducees--soldiers with Roman blood in their veins--officers trained in all court etiquette--wily, far-seeing tax-gatherers--in one word, hundreds skilled in the world's logic--shrewd, knowledgeable men of business--coming and sitting at the feet of this half-savage-looking hermit--a man all unschooled in worldly art and courtly manners and the business of life--and asking him, "What shall we do?"

And the same characteristic which gave him access to the hearts of the people, opened his way to the heart of the Tetrarch. When no other power could have reached the polluted soul of Herod Antipas, the earnest truth of the wilderness messenger enabled him to confront, face to face, the royal debauchee. He honored his earnestness, though he hated his piety. "Herod heard him gladly." Why? "because he knew that he was a just man and a holy."

God grant us ever an earnest ministry! It will be the mighty lever for a revival in its noblest sense. Here is the grand theme for the prayers of our people, that among ministers and students there may be the infusion of "the earnest life." It is this alone which will confound the reasoning and surmises of a semi-infidel world. The world is keen in perceiving motives--the world is discerning (severely so sometimes,) in estimating character; and many draw the conclusion, (alas! too often with good reason!) "These men, preach as they may, are not in earnest--they are only skillful players on an instrument. These pulpit orations are shams, ideal pictures, not countersigned by living earnestness." Hundreds go away from the house of God with the smile on their face, and Ezekiel's words on their lips, "Ah, Lord God, does he not speak parables?" (Ezek. 20:49.)

One other trait in John's character was his HUMILITY. This outshines all the others, and indeed embraces and implies them all. If ever a man could have risen to power and position by his popularity, it was the Baptist. The great preacher of the day; the idol of the people; the first to resume and renew the long-interrupted voice of the old prophets, "The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ." Others took a more modified view of his pretensions, but still abundantly flattering, if he had been susceptible of vain-glory. Yielding to the popular belief current at that time as to the transmigration of souls, some seemed to conjecture (from dim and shadowy intimations in the sacred writings) that the soul of Elijah, or of Jeremiah, may have reappeared in the person of John. "Are you Elijah? and he said, I am not. Are you that prophet?" (Jeremiah) "and he answered, No."

How many would have been unduly elated by this formal mission of delegates sent from the great ecclesiastical council of the nation to interrogate him as to his claims to the Messiahship--for "the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you?" What a grand opportunity was here for an ambitious impostor, or an elated fanatic! The throne of David might have been, without difficulty, won for him by these excited crowds; or, at all events, the hermit's brow might have been encircled by the halo of homage with which they invested the name and memory of one of their greatest prophets.

But what did this humble man say? He repels and rejects the offered incense. "I am none of these; I am but the feeble echo of a Greater far--the pioneer and herald of a Mightier--'the voice of one crying in the wilderness.' I am not that Light, but am sent to bear witness of that Light. The latchet of His shoes (the work of the humblest menial) I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." And when the brighter Light, the Sun of Righteousness, had arisen--when Jesus began to baptize in the Jordan, the disciples of John, in a spirit of unworthy jealousy, came complaining of the crowds that were deserting John's teaching, and following that of Him they regarded as a rival "Rabbi," said they, "he that was with you beyond Jordan, to whom you bore witness," is unfairly superseding you, "all men come to Him!" John calmly rebukes the unworthy spirit. Under a beautiful figure, he tells those who he is only "the friend of the Bridegroom"--not the Bridegroom Himself--that his joy is fulfilled and complete, by "standing and hearing the Bridegroom's voice"--adding, in a beautiful spirit of self-renouncing humility, the prophetic words, "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Ah, how unwilling men generally are, thus to take the shade and make way for another. How unwilling, especially (as in John's case) when but in the dawn of aspiring manhood--when their eye is undimmed, and their natural force unabated--when, with strong arm and vigorous intellect, they have been swaying the minds of a generation--whether it be in the councils of the state, or the councils of the church, or in public citizenship, or even private society--how unwilling all at once to be set aside and superseded. But so it was with this great and good man. As spring melts into the tints of full-blown summer--as the morning star melts into the sky before the brighter radiance of the sun--so this lesser light--the morning star of the gospel dispensation--after shedding his mellowed radiance, is content to be "swallowed up in the glory that excels." This is his comfort under the thought of his extinguished luster, but he needs no more--"HE must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less."

Let us close the chapter with one or two PRACTICAL LESSONS from this review of the character of the Baptist.

1st, Learn from his example, what is THE GREAT THEME AND OBJECT OF THE MINISTRY. It is the exaltation of Christ! When men, like the people in John's time, are "thinking in their hearts"--when the soul is open to conviction, sighing to have its great unsated longings met--with what are we to fill that heart, and meet these aspirations? It is not by discourses on philosophy--or by homilies on virtue--but by telling of ONE mightier, who "baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire." Let the faithful servants of a 'Greater than John' have one ambition, one cause of joy--that Christ their Lord be exalted. Let them take as their motto and watchword the ever-memorable words with which the Baptist pointed his disciples to the great Being approaching them--"BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD!"--words probably suggested by the scene and circumstances of the spot--the sheep and lambs passing by the fords of the Jordan to the impending passover. As such, the reference is interesting and impressive. "Look no longer," says John, at these bleating types--look no longer on ME. I am myself, like these dumb animals, only appointed to prepare the world for a grander Advent. That advent so fondly waited for is now accomplished. The types may now vanish away. These flocks need no more be driven to the city of solemnities. See Him to whom they have for four thousand years pointed--"Behold the Lamb of God, that takes away the sin of the world!"

Learn, 2d, That GOD'S SERVANTS MUST NOT ALWAYS LOOK FOR THEIR REWARD IN THIS WORLD. The faith of many would have sunk altogether under the successive reverses experienced by the Baptist--the decline of his popularity, his own disciples and followers grieving his spirit by the manifestation of base feelings of envy and jealousy--and, worse than all, his own brave spirit, burning eager as ever, with desire to glorify his great Lord, chafed and buffeted by the tyrant of Galilee; he himself cast, at the age of thirty-four, into a dungeon, and made the victim of bloodthirsty revenge--the morning star not only quenched by the sun and hidden from view, but blotted out altogether from the earthly skies!

Let God's servants learn from this, not to be dependent either on the praise or censure of man, or to look for earthly recompense. Let them seek to have their record on high--to have their own motives lofty and pure, so that they may be able to say, in the spirit of the great apostle, "It is a small thing for me to be judged by you or by man's judgment." When their influence is on the wane, be this their comfort, that "their decrease is not Christ's decrease"--that His great cause is not jeopardized by wayward human feeling and caprice. The meteor may flash its little moment and then die; but the bright and morning Star is a fixed orb, shining far above in changeless and undying glory.


It was when that lonely captive was in his prison among the mountains, near the shores of the Dead Sea, that his Lord uttered that beautiful and touching eulogy on his character to which we have more than once adverted. John might have appeared to men, at that time, a brittle, broken reed; but the lips of infallible truth said of him, "He is a prophet, yes, I say unto you, and more than a prophet." The humble, lowly-minded man may have thought that not only his work was closed, but his influence gone. But hear, from the lips of his great Lord, how he truly lived. How his saintly life was pointed to, for the example and encouragement of the people of Israel; yes, and when he died, how that heart of more than human love sought "a solitary place," that He might mourn the bright and shining Light which had been so early extinguished!

May we not further add that, on that coming day, when all the inequalities in providence shall be adjusted, and all mysteries explained and vindicated, these same lips of infinite truth and love will be ready with the verdict, "Well done, good and faithful servant;" "you have been faithful unto DEATH, I will give you a crown of life."

From all this, let the lowliest, and humblest, and most despised believer take comfort. Unknown and unacknowledged by men, they are not forgotten by Jesus! A sick-bed, a home of sorrow, a season of bereavement or temporal loss--any one of these, may be to you like the prison of John--the confine where you are shut up--with pining heart--some sea of death rolling its gloomy waves around you.

Be comforted! Christ is thinking upon you. Glorify Him by passive suffering and endurance, if unable to do it by active labor. "God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love," (Heb. 6:10). He will be with you, as with John, in life--appointing all its circumstances and "accidents." He will be with you in your hour of trouble--His loving eye will never more lovingly focus on you, than when your soul is "in prison," and the chains of adversity are around you. As He spoke to the multitude in vindication of His captive servant, though at a distance from his place of imprisonment, so will He speak for you, and plead for you, now that He is on His distant throne in the skies! And when you come to die--though He is no longer visibly present, as He was on earth, to stand by your grave--yet He marks the going down of every sun, He appoints the hour of its setting, and "precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints," (Ps. 116:15).

And if we would gather yet one other lesson from the tomb of this great and good prophet, it is by pointing to the example of those who bore him to his last resting-place, indicating, as it did, the true refuge and solace of every afflicted one in their season of BEREAVEMENT. The burial scene is over; the body has been transferred to its rocky vault; the tearful lament has died into solemn silence; the stone is rolled to the mouth of the cave; and the mourners, with drooping hearts, are wending their way along from the hallowed spot. But where? "The disciples took up the body and buried it; and THEY WENT AND TOLD JESUS!"

Oh, blessed resort in the hour of deepest affliction! Go, child of sadness and desolation; go, with your breaking heart, with your aching life-sorrow, too great for utterance or for tears--"Go and tell Jesus!" Others may give you a false panacea for your grief--others may counsel you to go and bury your woes in the grave--to stifle your tears--to put on counterfeit smiles, to hide the yawning chasm in your heart of hearts--others may tell you to go and feed your grief--to sit in your silent chamber, and mope and pine over your blighted happiness in morbid and unavailing sadness. But let these mourners over their "loved and lost," teach you a nobler philosophy, and dictate a surer ground of comfort and solace and strength. Go, and though all others should be cold and unpitying and unsympathizing, there is One ear, at least, that is lovingly open to the story of your tears--remembering that Friend in heaven--"GO AND TELL JESUS."