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lovers of pleasure, too often either excite in them a spirit of presumptuous murmuring against the will of God, or sink them into despondency, and all the melancholy train of evils, attendant on those who languish and pine away under that depression of spirits, emphatically styled a broken heart.
3. To be capable of the comfort my text proposes, the mind must be in a suitable disposition. A free pardon is a comfort to a malefactor, but it implies guilt; and therefore they who have no apprehension that they have broken the laws, would be rather offended, than comforted, by an offer of pardon. This is one principal cause of that neglect, yea, contempt, which the Gospel of the grace of God meets with from the world.
. If we could suppose that a company of people who were all trembling under an apprehension of his displeasure, constrained to confess the justice of the sentence, but not as yet informed of any way to escape, were to hear this message for the first time, and to be fully assured of its truth and authority, they would receive it as life from the dead. But it is to be feared, that for want of knowing themselves, and their real state in the sight of him with whom they have to do, many persons, who have received pleasure from the music of the Messiah, have neither found, nor expected, nor desired to find, any comfort from the words.
ISAIAH xl. 35. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye
the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
THE general style of the prophecies is poetical. The inimitable simplicity which characterizes every part of divine Revelation, is diversified according to the nature of the subject; and the magnificence and variety of imagery which constitute the life and spirit of poetry, evidently distinguish the style of the Psalms, of Isaiah, and the other poetical books, from that of the historical, even in the common versions. The various rules and properties of Hebrew poetry are not, at this distance of time, certainly known. But the present bishop of London*, in his elegant and instructive lectures on the subject, and in the discourse prefixed to his translation of Isaiah, has fully demonstrated one property. It usually consists either of parallel or contrasted sentences. The parallel expressions, (excepting in the book of Proverbs,) are most prevalent. In these, the same thought, for substance, expressed in the first member, is repeated with some difference of phrase, in the following; which, if it enlarges or confirms the import of what went before, seldom varies the idea. Almost any passage I first cast my eye upon, will sufficiently ex; plain my meaning. For instance, in the fifty-ninth chapter of Isaiah :
* Dr. Lowth,
Ver 1. Behold the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot
Neither is his ear heavy, that it cannot hear.
Neither doth justice overtake us :
So in chap. lv.
And your labour for that which satisfieth not?
So likewise in Psalm ii.
Ver. 4. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall have them in derision.
And vex them in his sore displeasure.
These specimens may suffice for my present purpose. The knowledge of this peculiarity of the poetical idiom, may often save us the trouble of inquiring minutely into the meaning of every single word, when one plain and comprehensive sense arises from a view of the whole passage taken together. This observation applies to the first of the verses in my text. Though it be true that John the Baptist lived for a season retired and unnoticed in a wilderness, and began to preach in the wilderness of Judea, the expression, The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, does not merely foretell that VOL. IV.
circumstance. The verse consists of two parallels. The prophet, rapt into future times, hears a voice proclaiming the approach of MESSIAH, and this is the majestic language :
In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord;
The wilderness and the desert are the same here, as likewise in chap. xxxv. where the happy, the sudden, the unexpected effects of his appearance are described:
The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad,
Now to see, by the eye of faith, the glory of the Redeemer in his appearance; 'to see power divine preparing the way before him; to enter into the gracious and wonderful design of his salvation; to acknowledge, admire, and adore him as the Lord, and humbly to claim him as our God, must afford a pleasure very different from that which the most excellent music, however well adapted to the words, can possibly give. The latter may be relished by a worldly mind; the former is appropriate, and can only be enjoyed by those who are taught of God.
When the eastern monarchs travelled, harbingers went before to give notice that the king was upon the road, and likewise proper persons to prepare his way, and to remove obstacles. Some of them, (if we may depend upon history,) in the affectation of displaying their pomp and power, effected extraordinary things upon such occasions. For man, though vain, would appear wise ; though a sinful worm, he would fain be ac counted great. We read of their having actually filled up valleys, and levelled hills, to make a commodious road, for themselves or their armies, through places otherwise impassable. The prophet thus illustrates great things by small, and accommodates the language and usages of men to divine truth. MESSIAH is about to visit a wilderness world, and those parts of it which he blesses with his presence, shall become the garden of the Lord. Till then it is all desolate, rocky, and wild. But his way shall be prepared. Mountainous difficulties shall sink down before him into plains. In defiance of all obstacles, his glory shall be revealed in the wilderness, and all flesh shall see it, for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.
The leading ideas respecting Messiah's appearance, suggested by this sublime representation, are,
1. The state of the world at his coming-A wilder
II. The preparation of his way. Every valley “ shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall « be made low."
III. The manner and effects of his manifestation. “ And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all “ flesh shall see it."
I. The word wilderness, I suppose, generally excites the idea of an intricate, solitary, 'uncultivated, dangerous place. Such is the description Jeremiah gives of that wilderness through which the Lord led Israel, when he had delivered them from Egypt. “A land of deserts “ and of pits, a land of drought and of the shadow of death, a land that no man passeth through, and where
no man dwelt*.” The world in which we sojourn for a season, does not appear to us in this unpleasing view
* Jer. ü. 6.