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STATE OF THE BAPTIST'S MIND.

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miraculous spirit, the fullest effluence and the brightest reflexion of the Almighty. None born of woman have ever received such gifts as God hath endowed him with without measure. That eye penetrates into the heart of things; and to him the mystery of Being is an infinite harmony. A man all-divine. And how does the Baptist look upon him? With a quiet and composed countenance, as he would regard an ordinary person or thing? Had he not already conceived for Jesus the unspeakable reverence with which such a being must have inspired the high-souled Baptist? Did we not see him just now refuse to baptise one, before whom he felt himself as nothing, with the exclamation, "I have need to be baptised of thee, and comest thou to me!" Has he not again and again confessed the vast superiority of the man of Nazareth, saying, that he himself was 'not worthy even to unloose the latchets of his shoes?" The baptiser must have gazed upon Jesus with breathless awe, with eyes kindled with the deepest emotion. The moment must, then, have been to John, a moment of solemn, soul-thrilling excitement, one of those moments which seem, from the intensity of the feelings awakened, to be the concentration of ages.

And when we turn from the baptiser to the baptised, shall we imagine for a single instant that to Jesus himself the occasion was any other than one of transcendent, indescribable interest? Whatever it may have been to others, not to him was the rite of baptism a mere formality. His whole great soul was engaged in it. We cannot tell, nor scarcely in the faintest degree conceive, what at that instant must have been his feelings. Then it was, that, binding himself irrevocably and in spotless pureness of spirit to his own holy idea of duty, giving himself up without the slightest

152 THE BAPTISM OF JESUS, A GREAT SOLEMNITY.

reservation to the perfect will of God, he had, instantaneously formed within him, a perfect conviction of his great destiny. Then his self-knowledge was made entire. In coming to be baptised, to perform an outward and public act significant of inward self-consecration, he took the first step towards realising those feelings which had previously existed only in the silence of his own bosom. This was the first formal embodiment of the divine life which was in him. "Conviction, were it never so excellent, is worthless till it convert itself into conduct. Nay, properly speaking, conviction is not possible till then, inasmuch as all speculation is by nature endless, formless, a vortex amid vortices; only by a felt, indubitable certainty of experience, does it find any centre to revolve round, and so fashion itself into a system. Most true is it, as a wise man teaches us, that doubt of any sort cannot be removed except by action.' On which ground, too, let him who gropes painfully in darkness or uncertain light, and prays vehemently that the dawn may ripen into day, lay this other precept well to heart, which to me was of invaluable service: Do the duty which lies nearest thee,' which thou knowest to be a duty! Thy second duty will already have become clearer."* In quoting this passage as illustrative of the history of the mind of Jesus, let me not be supposed to imply that before his baptism, he was disturbed by doubts, or that he "groped painfully in darkness," but simply this, that the light which shone in him before that public act, mild, steady, and increasing as it was, was only less clear and strong than that which flowed in upon him, when he had performed that service, taken that one step forward. Then by

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* Carlyle.

THE DOVE, TRANSFIGURED.

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a felt, indubitable certainty of experience,' conviction, being converted into conduct, into an act, was transformed into knowledge. Now the slightest shadow of uncertainty was no longer possible. He had put his long cherished convictions to the last, infallible, only remaining test, and by the ineffable peace that filled all his soul, the divine assurance that he received of approbation and love, he knew himself to have been appointed from the foundation of the world to the most godlike of labours.

If such were the feelings of Jesus, they must have appeared in his whole mien and in his countenance. An illumination must have beamed from his features which no art could portray, no imagination conceive. And in the burning gaze of the fervid Baptist he must have been transfigured.

Suppose a dove at this moment to have appeared hovering over him and alighting on his person, how must it have startled John, seeming in his eyes nothing less than an apparition from heaven! A simple bird it was, but in the glow of the beholder's mind it was glorified. It lost its familiar appearance and seemed unearthly; and in the lofty state of his mind John could not say, nor could he have thought at such a moment, that it was only a common dove. He could only describe it as like a dove.' It had to the outward eye 'the bodily shape' of a dove, but to the eye of the soul gazing upon the spiritual lineaments, the heavenly glory of Jesus, it was irradiated by the halo which encircled him, and converted at once into a special apparition, the sacred symbol of the Holy Spirit, the present God.

Is there not here the divine touch of nature? How frequently do strong emotions invest with a character corresponding thereto, the most familiar objects, strip

THIS EXPLANATION, NATURAL.

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ping them of all meanness and converting them into spiritual significations! So it was, by the over-mastery of the mind, that reptiles and things without life became objects of religious fear, and man, in a passion of awe, ceased to see the world in its coarse work-day garb. It every where, through all its parts, even the lowest, became sacred to him, and the mind, exalted to bewilderment, 'darted out its forked flame on whatever came in its way, and kindling and melting it in its own fire,' moulded it into correspondence with its own emotions, until it saw itself surrounded by gods, moving in all motion, speaking through all sounds. But this, it will be urged, was superstition. It was human nature, and it reveals the principles of human nature, the spirit we are of. And what is more, there was truth in it, infinitely more of truth than there is in the sensual tendency of the present times, which gives a dead, mechanical, aspect to all nature. It is infinitely better that the solid universe should be fused into an ethereal spirit by the force of the imagination, than hardened by the understanding, compressing all things into logical forms, into a machine grinding steadily indeed, without derangement, but without life. But letting this go, the fact remains indisputable. Outward objects are continually receiving significance from the mind, and in the simplest movement an excited imagination may behold the very finger of God, and the most familiar thing may appear (what indeed it is) an angel from heaven.*

* To Lear the meanest things became conspirators in the great league in which all things, the very heavens themselves, had united against him. See Hazlitt's Plain Speaker. For a splendid and thrilling illustration of the power of the mind to give a meaning to outward nature correspondent to its own impressions at the moment, see " Nature," (page 24 et seq:) an extraordinary work, in the perusal of which it becomes the reader to remember Coleridge's rule, When you cannot understand an author's ignorance, account yourself ignorant of his understanding.'

THE DOVE, A HEAVEN-SENT WITNESS.

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These things being so, the account given above of the extraordinary appearance at the baptism of Jesus may not seem wholly improbable. Whence the dove came, and how it happened to alight on him, are questions that may be asked, but they are of very little interest comparatively. The simple fact of the appearance of the dove and the manner in which this appearance was interpreted, these alone are the points which rivet my attention, and it is interesting to take the view of the case now suggested, because it lets us into the spirit of the occasion, shows us how elevated the mind of John must have been at the moment, since he saw an awful significance in the appearance of a simple dove, and thus furnishes indirect testimony to the divine force of the character of Jesus which had produced that elevation. For my own part I find no insurmountable difficulty in the belief that the gentle creature was drawn, through that mysterious sympathy which pervades all things, towards Jesus, his countenance, as he ascended from the water, being upturned in prayer and glowing in every feature with infinite blessedness. We know that when men have visited newly discovered regions, never before tracked by human feet, birds and beasts, exhibiting no signs of fear or distrust, have regarded them not as foes but as friends. And if, as it is blessed to hope, this earth is destined to witness a holy era when men, at peace with themselves, shall return into full communion and fellowship with universal nature, why may we not suppose that the whole appearance of Jesus, his effulgent countenance especially, represented, at that elevated moment of baptism, this divine condition of humanity? He looked then as man is destined to look hereafter, when the inferior creatures shall confide in his innocence, and fly to him for protection. The dove then

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