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"Jeremias, or one of the prophets," whom as it appears by Matt. xvi. 14. the Jews looked for to arise from the dead. "And he answered, No."
To all these inquiries, made by the priests and Levites deputed from the Sanhedrim, St. John returned answers which were true, but concise as possible, that they might take no advantage of his words, being aware that they grew envious of his fame, jealous for their own authority, and fearful of a Messiah, who would not answer their hopes, by gratifying their avarice and ambition. "Then said "they to him, Who art thou, that we may give an "answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in "the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.' This was informing them plainly enough, that the prophecies were soon to be accomplished by the manifestation of Messiah; and that repentance, according to his doctrine, and baptism, was the only preparation fit and necessary to be made for the reception of their King.
They who were sent were of the Pharisees,' and consequently could not relish tidings which put an end to all their schemes of temporal dominion. and earthly grandeur, inculcating, instead of them, the duties of mortification and self-denial. This was not their system; and many, in every age since, have been of the same opinion, not caring to receive Christ, unless he came to them with the world in his hand. Finding, therefore, that John had no vanity to be worked upon, they had recourse to other
measures, and began to dispute his commission to baptize; "They asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?"
St. John's reply shows his own humility, and, at the same time, bears testimony to the dignity of Jesus. "I indeed baptize you with water;" my baptism, like my preaching, is preparatory only, leading to another baptism of the Spirit, which shall cleanse the souls of penitents from every thing that defileth, through faith in Messiah and his heavenly doctrine. And this Messiah is not afar off, as you may imagine him to be; "there standeth one among 66 you, whom ye know not;" he appears like other men, lowly, unattended, undistinguished; he doth not, as yet, think proper to manifest his power and glory; but hereafter you will find him to be far other than he seems. As to myself, of whom some are pleased to entertain a high opinion, I am nothing: "This is "he, who, coming after me, is preferred before me," as much as the greatest master is preferred before the meanest of his servants, who is deemed unworthy to perform the least office about his person; "latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to un
loose." This testimony did St. John give to the Saviour of the world, in the audience of the priests, and Levites, and the people, "at Bethabara beyond Jordan, where he was baptizing." Intent upon humbling himself, that his great Lord and Master might be exalted, he declared himself a messenger only, sent to prepare his way; and every thing in him, and about him, spoke the same language.
"The next day," an opportunity offered itself of pointing out the person of Jesus to the people; "John seeth Jesus coming unto him," probably to acknowledge him as his friend, relation, and precursor; "and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, "which taketh away the sin of the world:" Behold that blessed person prefigured in the law, and foretold by the prophets; one that is all meekness and innocence, patience and resignation, without offence in his mouth, without guile or malice in his heart, without spot or blemish in soul or body; the Lamb, which Abraham told his son Isaac, that God would in time provide; the Lamb, by the sprinkling of whose blood, true Israelites are preserved from the destroyer; the sacrifice, on which are laid the iniquities of us all; the Saviour, who, by expiating, taketh away the sin of the world, and conferreth righteousness on them that will believe in him, and accept it from him, being conformed to his example of meekness and lowliness. This, O all ye that behold him, "this is he of whom I said, After me "cometh a man which is preferred before me, for "he was," he existed, "ages before me," even from the beginning; he is fairer than the children of men, full of grace and truth; of divine glory, and celestial beauty.
To guard against any suspicion of collusion" between two persons, who, as relations, might be
See the impossibility of any such collusion fully demonstrated by the reverend Mr. Bell, in his exact and elaborate Inquiry into the Divine Missions of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ.
supposed to act in concert, and favour each other's pretensions, St. John adds, "And I knew him not, "but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see "the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." From this passage we learn, that the visible descent of the Spirit was the sign given to St. John, whereby he was to know the Messiah. Jesus was brought up at Nazareth; St. John was educated in the deserts; and it seems to have been so ordered by Providence, that no interview had passed between them, after they had arrived at years of maturity. When Jesus, therefore, came to be baptized, St. John had no knowledge of his person. But, probably, on making the inquiries, usual at baptism, into his profession, name, and place of abode, and finding likewise, that he had no sins to confess', as all others had, he saw reason sufficient to conclude that this was the Christ; which might occasion his apology, "I have need to be baptized of thee," &c. And then, when Jesus came up out of the water, the Spirit descended, and put the matter beyond all doubt. "I saw, and bare record that this is the "Son of God." So little account did these two wonderful personages make of their relation according to the flesh. From their infancy they had not conversed together; and when they met, it was in
i See Annotations on St. John's Gospel, by the Rev. Mr. Merrick, Part II. p. 50. and the Works of Dr. Jackson, by him referred to, Vol. II. p. 518.
public, that John might bear his testimony; soon after which he was cast into prison, and saw Jesus A higher, more important, and durable connexion, than any formed by consanguinity, engaged his attention, as it should do that of all Christ's disciples, according to those deep and divine strains of St. Paul; "The love of Christ constraineth us, "because we thus judge, that if one died for all, "then were all dead; and that he died for all, that "they which live should not henceforth live unto CC themselves, but unto him which died for them, "and rose again. Wherefore henceforth know we
no man after the flesh : yea, though we have known "Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we "him no more. Therefore if any man be in Christ, "he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new*."
The Baptist, having now lived to see the Lord's Christ, and show him to the world, was ready, like old Simeon, to depart in peace, and to make over his disciples to a better Master, who would never leave them nor forsake them. 66 Again, the next
day after, John stood, and two of his disciples; "and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Be"hold the Lamb of God." Happy the Christian minister, who, like St. John, lives only to point out the Saviour to his people. And happy the people, who, like the two disciples, thereupon follow Jesus, inquire where he dwelleth, enter in, and abide with him.
k 2 Cor. v. 14.