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Mornings In The College Chapel by Francis Greenwood Peabody


Luke iii.16.


Among the persons who group themselves about Jesus, the most dramatic and picturesque figure is certainly that of John the Baptist. There is in him a most extraordinary combination of audacity and humility. He is bold, denunciatory, confident; but at the same time he is self-effacing and preparatory in his work. He never thinks of his service as final; after him is to come a man who is preferred before him. There is always the larger work than his to follow. There are in him the most beautiful humility and the most absolute bravery, and this makes perhaps the rarest combination of traits which a character can show. It is all summed up in his doctrine of the two baptisms: the baptism by water, which John is to bring, and the baptism by the Holy Ghost and by fire, which is to be brought by Jesus. Water is, of course, the symbol of cleansing, the washing away of {72} one's old sins, an expulsive, negative work. Fire is the symbol of passion, enthusiasm, flame. It is illuminating, kindling, the work of the Holy Ghost. One of these baptisms prepares for the other. First a man must be clean and then he may be passionate. First, the fire of his base affections must be washed away and then the fire of a new enthusiasm may be lighted. And only that second step makes one a Christian. It is a great thing to have life cleansed, and its conceits and follies washed away. But that is not safety. The cleansing is for the moment only. It is like that house which was swept and garnished, but because it was empty was invaded by tenants worse than the first. The only salvation of the soul lies in the kindling of a new passion, the lighting of the fire of a new intention, the expulsive power, as it has been called, of a new affection.

So it is in our associated life. We need, God knows, the baptism of John, the purifying of conduct, the washing away of follies and sins; but what we need much more is the fire of a moral enthusiasm to burn up the refuse that lies in the malarious corners of our college life, and light up the whole of it {73} with moral earnestness and passionate desire for good. That is to pass from the discipleship of John to the discipleship of Jesus, from the baptism by water to the baptism by fire, from the spirit of the Advent season to the spirit of the Christmas time.

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