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at first. The spirit, and the things of it, are congenial to our depraved inclinations; and especially in early life, our inexperienced hearts form high expectations from it; and we rather hope to find it a paradise than a wilderness. But when the convincing power of the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of the understanding, we awake as from a dream ; the enchantment by which we were deluded is broken, and we then begin to judge rightly of the world; that it is a wearisome wilderness indeed, and that our only important concern with it is to get happily out of it. In a spiritual view, a wilderness is a significant emblem of the state of mankind, both Jews and Heathens, at that period which the apostle calls the fulness of time, when God sent forth his Son*.

Israel, once the beloved people of God, was at that time so extremely degenerated, that, a few individuals excepted, the vineyard of the Lord, so highly cultivated, so signally protected, yielded only wild grapest. Though they were not addicted to imitate the idolatry of the Heathens, as their forefathers had been, they were no less alienated from the true God; and their wickedness was the more aggravated, for being practised under a professed attachment to the forms of his law. They drew nigh to God with their lips, but their hearts were far from him I. Their very worship profaned the temple in which they gloried, and the holy house of prayer, through their abominations, was become a den of thieves. They owned the divine authority of the Scriptures, and read them with seeming attention, but rendered them of none effect, through the greater attention they paid to the corrupt traditions of their elders. They boasted

Gal. iv. 4.

† Isa. V. 4.

# Mark vii. 6.

in their relation to Abraham as their father, but proved themselves to be indeed the children of those who had persecuted and murdered the prophets*. The Scribes and Pharisees, who sat in the chair of Moses, and were the public teachers of the people, under an exterior garb of sanctity, of prayer and fasting, were guilty of oppression, fraud, and uncleanness; and while they trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others, their real character was a combination of pride and hypocrisy. Therefore he who knew their hearts, and saw through all their disguises, compared them to painted sepulchres, fair to outward appearance, but within full of filth and impurity t. From the spirit of these blind guides, we may judge of the spirit of the blind people who held them in admiration, and were willingly directed and led by them. Thus was the faithful city become a harlot; it was once full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it, but now murdererst. Such a wilderness was Judea when MESSIAH condescended to visit it.

Among the Heathens, ignorance, idolatry, sensuality, and cruelty, universally prevailed. Their pretended wise men had, indeed, talked of wisdom and morality from age

but their speculations were no more than swelling words of vanity, cold, trifling, uncertain, and without any valuable influence, either upon themselves or upon others. They had philosophers, poets, orators, musicians, and artists, eininent in their way; but the nations reputed the most civilized, were overwhelmed with abominable wickedness equally with the rest. The shocking effect of their idolatry upon their moral principles and conduct, notwithstanding their at

to age;

* Matth. xxiii. 30, 31.

† Matth. xxiii. 27.

| Isa. i. 21.


tainments in arts and science, is described by the apostle in the close of the first chapter of his epistle to the Ro

With great propriety, therefore, the state of the world, both Jew and Gentile, considered in a moral view, is compared by the prophet to a wilderness barren and dreary waste. The pursuits and practices of the world were diametrically opposite to the spirit and design of that kingdom which MESSIAH was about to set up; and therefore, as the event proved, directly disposed to withstand his

progress. But, II. Before his appearance a way was prepared for him in the wilderness.

The providence of God, by a gradual train of dispensations, disposed the political state of mankind in a subserviency to this great event. All the commotions and revolutions which take place in the kingdoms of the earth are so many detached parts of a complicated but wisely determined plan, of which the establishment of Messiah's kingdom is the final cause. The kings and politicians of the world are not aware of this. God is not in their thoughts. But while they pursue their own ends, and make havock of the peace of mankind, to gratify their own interests and ambition, and look no higher, they are ignorantly, and without intention, acting as instruments of the will of God. The wrath of man is over-ruled to his praise and his purpose*, and succeeds so far as it is instrumental to the accomplishment of his designs, and no further. While they move in this line, their schemes, however injudiciously laid, and whatever disproportion there may seem between the means they are possessed of, and the vast objects they aim at, prosper beyond their own expectations, but the remainder of their wrath he

* Psal. lxxvi. 10.

will restrain. Their best projected and best supported enterprizes issue in shame and disappointment, if they are not necessary parts of that chain of causes and events which the Lord of all has appointed. Thus Sennacherib, when sent by the God whom he knew not, to execute his displeasure against the kingdom of Judah, had, for atime, a rapid and uninterrupted series of conquests* ; but his attempt upon Jerusalem was beyond the limits of his commission, and therefore failed. Among the principal instruments who were appointed to prepare a way in the wilderness for MESSIAH, and to facilitate the future spread of his kingdom, we may take notice of Alexander; and this designation secured his success, though the extravagancies, excesses, and rashness, which marked his character, were sufficient to have rendered his undertakings abortive, had he not been in the hand of the Lord of hosts, as an ax or a saw in the hand of the workman. By his conquests the knowledge of the Greek language was diffused among many nations; and the Hebrew Scriptures being soon afterwards translated into that language, an expectation of some great deliverer was raised far and wide, before MESSIAH appeared. When this service was fulfilled, the haughty presumptuous worm who had been employed in it, was no longer necessary, and therefore was soon laid aside; and all his proud designs, for the establishment of his own family and dominion, perished with him. His empire was divided towards the four winds of heaven, and this division likewise contributed to bring forward the purpose of Godt. For each of the four kingdoms, established by his successors, being thus separated, became a more easy prey to the Roman power. This

power, which had

* Isa. xxxvii. 26-29.

+ Dan. viii. 8.

been gradually increasing and extending in the course of several hundred years, was at the height about the time of our Lord's birth. The greatest part of the habitable earth which was at that time distinctly known, was united under one empire, composed of various kingdoms and governments, which, though once independent and considerable, were then no more than Roman provinces; and as all the provinces had an immediate connexion with Rome, a way was thus prepared, and an intercourse opened, on every side, for the promulgation of the Gospel. Among the Jews, the professing people of God,

of a way was prepared for Messiah by the ministry of his harbinger, John the Baptist, who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, (as had been foretold of him by the prophets, particularly by the last of the prophets, Malachi,) preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, and proclaiming that the Saviour and his kingdom were at hand. He who sent him accompanied his mission with a divine power. A multitude of persons, of various descriptions, were impressed by his message, insomuch that John himself seems to have been astonished at the numbers and characters of those who came to his baptism.

When the ministry of John had thus previously disposed the minds of many for the reception of MESSIAH, and engaged the attention of the people at large, MESsiah himself entered upon his public office, on the same scene and among the same people. As he increased, John willingly decreased. So the morning star ceases to be seen as the sun advances above the horizon. This distinguished servant of God having finished his work, was removed to a better world. Not in the triumphant manner in which Elijah was translated; but as he came to

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