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ON REPENTANCE. Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptised
of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath lo come ? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of 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. And now also the axe is laid at the root of the trees, every tree
therefore, that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.
[Luke, 3d Chapter. John, the forerunner of our blessed Lord, by the providence of God, was born some months prior to the Prince of life, and like him, his parents had to leave Judea to save his life in consequence of the decree of King Herod, for the destruction of all the male population of two years and under. After his parent's death he continued his sojourn in the desert, subsisting upon locusts and wild honey, his rainient being of camel's hair with a leathern girdle ahout his loins accord. ing to custom-some writers, however, affirm that he was miraculously fed and clothed by the angels of the Lord, that they were his companions and administered unto him. Be - that as it may, the blessed God supported and matured him, by his divine providence, for a great work and to suffer in his cause; and we also know, because the word of the God of truth informs us—“That the Holy Angels are ministering spirits sent forth to minister unto them that shall be heirs of salvation:" and that they personally, visibly and visionarily appeared to some of the patriarchs, prophets and apostles, and many holy men of the true church of Christ, and
those that were earnestly and faithfully seeking to become such; and we know that they befriend in errands of mercy, if not visibly, invisibly, those who truly seek conversion, and every one walking already in the path of holiness.
God in due time sent this burning and shining light to preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and to inform the people that the kingdom of heaven was at hand. He came forth as one fully vested with power and authority from the Majesty on High, but in humility, and as a light shining in darkness, and as Isaiah saith, “ The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
The Baptist, although a pilgrim and instructed in the wil. derness, was well aware of the utter neglect and abuse of vital christianity among his countrymen, and particularly among certain sects that pervaded the land, which were inflated with pride, and self-conceit of their superior holiness, when at the same time they were destitute of the saving grace and influences of the Hoy Spirit, alienated from, and without a knowledge of God in their hearts. Multitudes from Jerusalem, Judea and the surrounding country, went to the preaching of John and to be baptised of him, and he exhorted the people to righteousness, mercy, and judgment; to be good citizens, contented in their several callings, and to contribute to the poor according to their respective abilities; and many were also baptised by him. But when many of the Pharisees and Sadducees came to his baptism -- as St. Luke relates il-he said “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" It appears, therefore, that he applied our text more particularly to these self-righteous and austere combinations, who knew not God, but were full of mischief and subtlety, given to adultery and their slavish passions; in fact the devil was their
father, and they were his children, their hearts were therefore full of filthy qualities of the old serpent, which was a deceive er, liar, and murderer from the beginning. Such being their disposition they went in and out in their own righteousness, and would have the world believe they were the peculiar few;" they seated themselves into Moses' seat, and there. fore presumptiously laid heavy burdens-too heavy to bearupon men's shoulders, when they themselves would not touch them with one of their fingers. Thus they pretended to lead the blind while they themselves were far from the true way, bewildered in darkness, and therefore justly called "blind leaders of the blind."
John, through the infallible spirit of God, could see into their hearts, and from their high pretensions to holiness and teachers in Israel knew them to be hypocrites, which induced him to exclaim, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" He well knew that our blessed Lord had not yet entered upon his ministry, and that no prophet of the Lord had preached unto them, he therefore asked them "who had warned them;"> because they came not to him with the necessary preperation for baptism, a broken heart and contrite spirit; sorrow on account of their sins, a loathing of themselves and a desire after the righteousness which is from above, and to be "washed and made clean," and freed from an evil heart of unbelief, and be inured in the paths of holiness and godliness—but they came just as they were, in their self-righteous state; with all the pollution and leprosy of sin upon them, delighting in iniquity, and as swine to wallow in the mire, and about as fit to be baptised; therefore the Baptist, instead of washing them, commanded them to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance, sueh we presume as we have stated they were destitute of when they presented themselves; an upbraiding of heart with "unclean, unclean,” an utter abhorrence of their former course of iniquity, a knowledge of being altogether polluted and sick and in want of a physician. Had they come thus prepared to receive the blessing of salvation, the balm might have been applied by the agent of the great physician of souls and bodies, and they might have been cleansed, as Naaman the Syrian, from their sin and uprighteousness.
Their glorying in Abraham and thinking within themselves “We have Abraham for our Father," was to be an antidote to the words of John, and a balm to heal their wounded pride and self-conceit, but he soon stript them of this resource and exposed them in their filthiness and of their unfitness of the privilege which they claimed, and to shelter under his wing, by saying, "God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” 'Their claim of being kindred to Abraham was fallaceous and of no avail to their proud hearts, for they knew him not, were entirely destitute of the living faith, the faith working by love, which Abraham so eminently possessed, and also of his long suffering, humility, and heavenly-mindedness; consequently they could not be his children; none can claim kindred to Abraham or any other member of Christ's church, without being in the same faith and holiness, and through the spirit of Christ in him, in one allied. They were therefore as far from being the children of faithful Abraham, as heaven is from hell, because through Christ was his life hid in God; he dwelled in God and God in him; and they were vipers, and the devil was their father.
Dreadfully hardened and corrupt were the hearts of the Pharisees; full of hypocrisy and deception, making broad their phylacteries and long prayers at the corners of the streets and in the markets, to be seen and heard of men, as our blessed Saviour assures them—whose coming, John, in the spirit of Elijah was sent to announce to them. As it is written in the prophets, " Behold I send my messenger before thy face which shall prepare thy way before thee; he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a ped. ple prepared for the Lord.” But notwithstanding this prophecy, and the preaching of John the Baptist, they remained in their old state of unbelief and self-righteousness, yea if anything they grew worse and became more hardened, and began with more zeal to persecute the holy messengers of the Lord; particularly the Messiah, who soon after entered on his ministry. They would not recognize him as the an
• nointed of the Lord, sent to deliver them that sat in darkness and in the shadow of death; to set the captives free, and preach the acceptable year of the Lord; to accomplish salvation, to become the Saviour of the world; him they followed from place to place, not indeed to become convinced of the error of their ways and converted through faith in him, as tlie Messiah, unto God, but with all hatred, malice, and revenge; full of subtlety to ensnare him in his preaching and conversation, to have wherewith lo accuse him before the civil tribunal.
While the blessed Jesus endeavored to liberate them from the bondage of sin and death, they trampled all his holy efforts under their feet and boasted in having Abraham for their father, and of never having been in bondage to any man; and yet he said "ye shall be made free.” Jesus replied sverily, verily I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin," and that the servant could not abide in the house forever, but that the Son abideth forever. He admitted that they were the seed of Abraham, but that they sought to kill him because his words had no place in them. What he meant by saying they were the seed of Abraham must be considered in a natural way; they were his children by nature; as God had told Abraham “from thy loins shall come forth a people, in multitude as sand on the sea-shore, innumerable.” They thus had a claim to Abraham as their father, but in the spiritual way they were of the bond-woman; were altogether estranged from him, they know him not as a spiritual father, as all the faithful do who are set at