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disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing, ye might have life through his name."
5. There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia:5 and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.
6. And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
7. And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years.
We learn, from all the histories of that age, that at the period of Christ's appearance, the Jewish nation, as a body, were living unworthily of their privileges were degraded by wickedness and error. Still it was not in vain that God had revealed himself to that people, had given them a holy law, had instructed them in his will. There was still a remnant, whose blessed character it was that they walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. Such is the description given of Simeon, "a man just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him." Such was "Anna, a prophetess, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fasting and prayers night and day." And such were Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth. And these are the characters which
5 David divided the family of Aaron into twenty-four courses, or orders, that the regular duty of the temple might be performed by them in weekly succession. 1 Chron. xxiv. 10.
God approves. To such he sends his messengers. In the opening of that dispensation, which was now about to be fulfilled, he distinguished Abraham, because he knew him, that he would command his children and his household after him, that they should keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment." So He now honoured, with an especial mark of favour, two persons who were described by that noblest characteristic, that they walked in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
Blameless, speaking after the manner of men ; blameless, compared with others; blameless, as far as man has a right to judge. Weighed indeed in the strict balance of the sanctuary, we know that they would not have been found blameless. They had surely "done those things which they ought not to have done, and had left undone those things which they ought to have done." In this they had been like the other children of a sinful race. But unlike too many others of that race, who paid no heed to the law which was intended to reclaim them, they had made it the business of their lives to serve God, and to follow his commandments: to "do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with their God."
Let such be the prayer, and the desire, and the endeavour of all. Still, if thou, Lord, shouldest be extreme to mark what is done amiss, who may abide it? "We do not presume to come before thee, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy mani
4 Gen. xviii. 18, 19.
fold and great mercies." Our first and latest prayer must be, "Hide thou thy face from our sins, and blot out all our iniquities."
The character of Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth has been already described. They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
Such are they whom God delights to honour. He does not indeed confine his mercies to such characters. He called Matthew from the "receipt of custom," from the temptations, and perhaps the sins, of a dangerous vocation, and showed that there is a "victory which overcometh the world, even our faith." He summoned Saul to leave a career of violence and cruelty; and showed the power of divine truth over prejudice and error. But his ordinary rule is, "Them that honour me, I will honour:" "Draw nigh unto God, and he will draw nigh unto thee."
So, at least, it proved in the case of Zacharias, who was selected to be the father of that messenger
which should prepare the way before the Messiah. Such a forerunner had been predicted. And we
cannot be surprised that something unusual, and contrary to the common course of events, should attend the birth of a person so remarkable, commissioned for a purpose so peculiar.
8. And it came to pass, that while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course,
9. According to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord.
10. And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the time of incense.
11. And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense.
12. And when Zacharias saw him, he was troubled, and fear fell upon him.
13. But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias, for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.
14. And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth.
15. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.
16. And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God,
17. And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people for the Lord.
Thus is described that prophet, who should fulfil the promise of Malachi, (iv. 5,) "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children,
and the heart of the children to the fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse." to be separated, dedicated to God, after the manner of the Nazarites, (Num. vi. 2,) concerning whom it was ordained, "When either man or woman shall separate themselves to vow a vow of a Nazarite, to separate themselves unto the Lord: he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink all the days of his separation." So should that messenger be distinguished, who was to go before the Lord God, the Incarnate Word, in the spirit and power of Elias: who was to derive his boldness and energy, not from earthly aids, but from God, being filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother's womb. And thus his power should be employed in the purpose for which it was given; to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
This character of the Baptist's mission has an interest beyond the immediate purpose for which John was ordained. It shows us what the will of God is in respect to men at all times. It specifies three points to which we are bound especially to attend.
1. The Baptist was to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children; to restore natural affection,
1 The interpretations of this passage are various. Some change the Hebrew particle, and render it, the heart of the fathers with the children;' i. e. that all may serve God. Some make the words allude to the calling of the Gentiles; shall turn the hearts of the Jews, as fathers, to the Gentiles as their children. Others, departing more widely from the letter of the