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The gospel is not a doctrine of licentiousness,, but the pure and sweet word of that new life, which is in Christ. And though in the notion of repentance, there is an aspect to and use of the law, convincing of sin and death, and working sense of misery and sorrrow from that sense, yet all this it works most sweetly and kindly, atempered with and adapted by the doctrine of the gospel; for in this they mix and agree, and throughout all the scriptures of both testaments, run combined as they do in the words of this sermon here; for this is the sum of the law and the gospel as they now stand to usward; Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Nothing so powerful as the doctrine of free grace to convert a soul, not excluding convincements of sin by the law, but so including them that that deadly killing sentence thus prepared, becomes excellently medicinal, as the treats that are made of vipers flesh. The law in regard of condemning power being now dead, and not only dead, but so qualified by the cordial promises of the gospel, that it does not really condemn, but only shews condemnation out of Christ, and so causes the soul close with Christ, and find salvation and life with him. As the dead viper's flesh so compounded hath a secret virtue to advance the working of these ingredients that are in the composition against poison.
For the kingdom, &c. This is the logic and rhetoric of the scripture to persuade holiness and repentance by the grace and pardon revealed in the gospel. Those beams of love and free mercy are most powerful to melt the heart. Now says he, the great Messias is at hand. He is come, whatsoever have been, men's ways before, now they may come home unto God in him, and will they not, seeing he is come from heaven to save? will not they come from the way of hell, from sin to be saved by him?-And thus the Lord Jesus is daily set before us, free forgiveness of all that is pastand if men will perish in multitudes, they must
perish, but you that have a mind to live come to him.
Ver. 3.-For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, &c.-His calling further expressed and confirmed by a prophecy of him, designing him by the nature of a voice, &c. and his cry is, Prepare ye the ways of the Lord, &c. which suits well with the foregoing suin of his preaching, is in effect the same with it. Repent is prepare the ways of the Lord and make his path straight. Repentance levels the heart to God, makes it a plain for Christ to walk in, casts down the mountains of pride, and raises the soul from base low earthly ways and affections, smooths the rugged passions and straights the crooked deceit of the heart, makes it sincere and straight both towards God and man; and then the reason, the kingdom of God is at hand, implied in that prepare his way, that says he is coming, is upon his way, and therefore sends his harbinger to make it fit for him-and this is our business to be dealing with our hearts, levelling, smoothing, and straightning them for our Lord, that he may take delight to dwell and walk in them, and refresh them with his presence; and certainly the more holy diligence used in suiting the heart to his holy will, the more of his sweet presence shall we enjoy.
Ver. 4. He is further described from his habit and course of life suiting the nature of his calling, and the strain of his preaching. A preacher of repentance, not willingly resorting to courts and cities, but keeping in the wilderness; that was, not a place altogether uninhabited, but a less peopled, mountainous soil, the very place of his birth; had his habit and diet like the place and like the employment. Though his solitude and rough garments are a slender hold for the hermitical way magnified in the Romish church, when that of Zachary fits better, and their cloaths soon shapedto that pattern, where he speaks of those false
tongues that wear a rough garment to deceive. Yet certainly besides somewhat extraordinary and singular in him and his calling, to which this was consonant, there is this for the example of all the messengers of God, to live as much as may be in their condition and station disengaged from the world, not following the vain delights and ways of it; not bathing in the solaces and pleasures of earth, and entangling themselves in the care of it, but sober and modest, and mortified in their way of living, making it their main business not to please the flesh, but to do service to their Lord, to walk in his ways, and prepare his way for him in the hearts of his people. Further, this was in this mean way of life, that the less of human grandeur, the more of divine power, and majesty of God might appear in his ministry.
Ver. 5. All came forth to him.-That is, great multitudes flocked to him, to hear him and be baptised, for though baptism in the way he used it, was not usual, yet their accustomed use of legal washing made it the less strange, and the more acceptable to them. And being accompanied with the doctrine of repentance, remission of sins, the news of the kingdom of heaven approaching, it could not chuse but find some reverence and attention; but certainly of multitudes that will run to the word, and possibly particularly flock after the ministry of some for a time, these may be many, as doubtless were there, that were but light stuff, carried with the stream as corks and straws are. Men should examine well even such things as seem to speak some love to religion in them, whether they be real or not. This John does not spare to tell home to the seemingly best of those that came to him, that esteemed themselves, and were esteemed by others, more religious than the multitude, yet the Spirit of God directed him to deal more sharply with them than with others that came to him. They being of all others commonly most confident
of self righteousness, and therefore furthest from the true work of repentance which humbles the soul to the dust, and lays it low in its own eyes. These sects being beyond the multitude swelled with conceit of their own estate, he spares the rest and pricks them sharply that the tumor may fail. It may seem somewhat strange that he entertains so roughly those that came respectfully to him, and with others were willing and desirous to hear his doctrine, and partake of his baptism. Was not this the way to beat them back, and make them distaste both?
There is indeed much prudence required in the ministers of the word, to know to attemper their admonitions and reproofs, that by too much rigor they discourage not weak beginners that are enquiring after the ways of God; but withal they should be no less wary that by too much credulity and lenity, they sooth not any in their formality and carnal confidence. And the most we have to deal withal, commonly are in most hazard upon this hard little heart humbling; and many are ready to take up some piece of reformation of their ways, and the externals of religion, and deem themselves presently good christians. Oh! the deceit and slothfulness of our hearts, how ready to lay hold upon an easy guise of our own, and think what some further press, is but melancholy and needless preciseness.
Ver. 8. Bring forth, &c.-Though he wonders at their coming, and fairly tells them so, yet rejects them not, despairs not of them; gives them sound advice, which implies always some hopes of prevailing. Give none up for desperate; catch hold of what they do to drive them to what further they ought to do. You profess, &c. bring forth fruits then. You say you are Christians and believers. Oh! let your ways and lives say so. Let Christ dwell in your hearts, and be shewn in your lives.
Ver. 9. Think not. The foolish heart is still lean
ing to this fancy of external relations and privi-, leges. Beware, rest not on these, the reformed religion, pure ordinances, or a place of esteem possibly amongst the strictest sort of reformed professors; and do not think you put an obligation, on: religion, and that it is indebted to you. But pray take heed, God can leave you, and deliver you up to these vain thoughts, and provide himself without you. He can draw the remotest and unlikeliest to himself, and let you go.
Ver. 10. And this is a sifting, trying time. He comes that will unmask your hypocrisies and search you to the bottom; will lay his ar to the root of the trees, and cut up the fruitless. Where the gospel comes in greatest power, there is the certainest and saddest weight of judgment on the unbelieving and impenitent, the formal and fruitless.
Ver. 11.--The true badge of a messenger of Jesus Christ is to abase himself and magnify his master. Baptism with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. Possibly some aspect to the singular sending of the Holy Ghost in fiery tongues. That purifying virtue, that flame of love, O that we found it! And only they, v. 12. the wheat for the garner, that are pure and spiritual: the chaff, light and vain hearts, fuel for the fire. No middle; either baptized in that fire, or burnt in this.
Ver. 13-15.—In the baptism of Christ observe the exemplary humility both of the master and servant of the master, in subjecting himself to this ordinance; of the servant in administering it. In his modest question and declining it. 2d. In his quiet yielding and obedience. He that was so pure and spotless, had no need of that nor any other washing; He the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, as this John testified. He the fountain opened for sin and iniquity, and therefore well says he, I have need of thy baptism. Yet here he humbles himself to be baptised. Oh! that we that are baptised, had more of his likeness in