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THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT.
PREPARING CHRIST's way.
ST. LUKE iii. 4.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.
THESE words are quoted by St. Luke from the prophecy of Isaiah; and they describe the office and mission of John the Baptist. The collect of to-day makes mention of John being sent as the Lord's messenger to prepare His way before Him. And in the Gospel we hear from Christ's own lips a further word concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see ? a reed shaken by the wind; a light wavering character, moved with every wind of opinion; but what went ye out for to see 2 a man clothed in Soft raiment 2 if so, that was not the place in which to find such an one; behold they that wear soft clothing are in king's houses. But what went ge out for to See? a prophet 2 yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold I send my messenger before Thy face, which shall prepare the way before Thee. With our minds thus turned by the order of our service on this Sunday, to the person and office of John the Baptist, I would propose that we consider two things.
I. How John fulfilled his ministry: in what sort he prepared the Lord’s way.
II. How far we, as ministers or people, might imitate his example, what we surely ought to do in these days, to prepare the Lord’s way, and to make His path straight among our brethren.
I. Of John the Baptist. How did he proceed in his divinely appointed work of preparing Christ's way? He went, we are told, before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah: i. e., he resembled in his preaching and in his austere life, that boldest and most outspoken of the old Jewish prophets. He had, what Elijah also had, great boldness in rebuking vice. There was one word oftenest . in his mouth, which contained the sum and substance of his teaching, “Repent.” He preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Without repentance, God’s pardon, and the renewal of His forfeited favour, would be impossible. He preached this doctrine to all alike, without distinction of class or person. For all who flocked to him, and they were a great multitude, learned Pharisee, intellectual Sadducee, degraded publican, common soldier, he had one and the same word:— Repent ye. Flee from the wrath to come. Bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
And what did John the Baptist mean by repentance?
He meant, what the word always means in the Bible, an entire change of heart and life—a giving up of evil and following after good. He meant that those who listened to him by the Jordan's bank should go back and begin at home a new and better life; following the commandments of God, and walking henceforth in His holy ways. Those who had this world's goods, and had hitherto kept them to themselves, were now to impart liberally to their needy brethren. The publicans, and such as had dealings with money, were to be strict and scrupulous—exacting no more than was appointed them. The soldiers, notorious for acts of pillage and rapine, were charged to do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely, and to be content with their wages. In short, John required of all who asked him what shall we do 2 this proof of their sincerity—an altered and amended life, fruits meet for repentance. . So did the Baptist fulfil his ministry, so did he go about the work for which he was wonderfully born. All his mind was turned to this one thing, to bring men to repentance; to make them ashamed of their sins, afraid of the consequence, quick and anxious to flee from the wrath to come. And in so preaching John prepared his Master's way. When Christ came, He found among His countrymen, hearts—not indeed many, but some hearts, ready to receive Him. He found a welcome hearing among the lost and wretched. His gracious words, Come unto Me and I will give you rest, were not always spoken in vain. They struck home to the wounded spirit: they served
to undo many a heavy burden, and to break many a sinfastened yoke. And in all these cases—wherever Christ healed an afflicted soul, or made a sure disciple, there the Baptist's work had been done beforehand: there a conviction of sin had been wrought: there, if I may so speak, the Lord's way had been made easy to Him—prepared before Him. And what is the lesson for us to learn from this? Surely it is this great one—that the foundation of a religious life must be laid in repentance—that it is useless to preach Jesus as the Saviour, till men have been awakened to their need of such a Deliverer—that the first step in dealing with a careless soul, is to show it its danger, to convince the sinner of his sins. Only when this has been brought about, will there be any earnestness in seeking Christ. Only when we see the water-flood of God's wrath because of sin, drowning us, and the stream going over our souls, only then shall we really desire to be rescued, and cry with any heartiness Jesus, Master, save us, we perish. Do not wonder, then, if, in the discharge of our office as ministers of Christ, you hear from us again and again the same words. Do not wonder if, at this season, and at other times as well, we take up John the Baptist's cry, andsay “Repent, turn from your evil ways, so iniquity shall not be your ruin.” But again—The preaching of repentance is but part of our message. It must ever be accompanied by the preaching of reconciliation. And so while we warn you against sin, while we declare that no man who nourishes and cherishes one bosom sin, can hope to be saved, we must not keep back from any penitent soul among you— any really contrite heart—the great distinctive promise of the Gospel. We must point, and point continually, to Jesus Christ, as the Lamb of God that alone taketh away man's sin. We must bid you go to Him that you may have life. We must guard against the self-righteous spirit which is apt to spring up in a man who is leading an orderly life, and which asks What lack I yet 2 We must never leave it doubtful for a moment that God's mercy, and no righteousness of ours, is from first to last the effectual cause of our salvation. By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. For so it is, by joining together in our teaching these two—repentance, and forgiveness through the blood of Jesus, and keeping them both continually in view, we may hope to discharge our ministry, and to prepare our Lord's way before Him. So may we hope to speak words that will be wholesome for you to hear, good to your souls, such as shall help and not hinder you in running the race that is set before you. So when we come to stand in the latter day before our common Judge, may we not be confounded, not condemned for a partial dealing with our Master's message, not be found to have preached an imperfect Gospel, not to have kept back any vital portion of the counsel of God!