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that rumours respecting him reached the city; and there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptised of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.10 And St. Luke says, The people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not. 11

The rumours which were spread abroad respecting John, induced the rulers to inquire from himself what was the character to which he laid claim. Had he been an impostor, he would not have failed to turn such a circumstance to his own advantage. For he would at once have perceived, that, unless the rulers had entertained a very high opinion of him, they would not have thought of sending an honourable deputation so great a distance to make this inquiry. It was evident that they were willing to acknowledge him as the Messiah, if he had been disposed to lay claim to the title of the promised Deliverer of Israel. But John had no idea of taking any credit to himself; and therefore without hesitation, he confessed and denied not, but confessed, I am not the Christ. He saw the object of the question which was put to him, but he was by no means disposed to fall in with the views of the persons who addressed him. The ingenuousness of his answer is intimated by the manner in which it was given, for it is stated both affirmatively and negatively, that there might be no room whatever for misunderstanding it.

10 Matthew iii. 5, 6.

11 Luke iii. 15.

Surprised at this open and honest confession, they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias ? And he saith, I am not.

The last of the prophets, Malachi, had prophesied in the name of the Lord, Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord : and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse. 12 John the Baptist meant assuredly that he was not Elias in the sense in which the Jews usually understood the prophecy: for it seems they expected that Elijah the prophet would actually rise again from the dead in his own person. This we learn from its being said of some, when our Saviour's miracles were noised abroad, that Elias had appeared, or that one of the old prophets was risen again.13 The Baptist declared that he was not Elias in this sense. He did not desire to receive any worldly honour which might be given to him, in consequence of a false idea being entertained respecting his character. But he must have known the declaration of the angel Gabriel to his father Zacharias : Many of the children of Israel shall he turn

12 Malachi iv. 5, 6.

13 Luke ix. 8.

to the Lord their God; and he shall go before Him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. And that he was in reality the person prophesied of under the name of Elias, or Elijah the prophet, is evident from what our Saviour said of him to the multitudes, If ye will receive it, this is Elias which was for to come. 15 And again, I say unto you, That Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Then the disciples, it is added, understood that He spake unto them of John the Baptist.16 John refused, however, to claim this title, because he knew that it would be misinterpreted if he should acknowledge that it belonged to him.

They therefore proceeded to ask him, Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. It is said that the Jews expected one of the old prophets to rise from the dead before the coming of Elias. But it is more probable that they meant to ask if he was the prophet foretold by Moses : The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto Him ye shall hearken.17 It is reasonable to think that they referred to this prophecy, whether they understood it to

14 Lukei,16,17, 15 Mat.xi. 14. 16 Mat. xvii. 12,13. 17 Deut. xviii, 15.

relate to the Messiah or not. But as he had said before, I am not the Christ; so he again refused a title which belonged only to the Lord Jesus.

These being the most honourable titles they could apply to him ; when he had rejected them all, Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us; what sayest thou of thyself? They were disappointed at witnessing his unfeigned humility, and therefore desired him to give an account of himself in order that they might report it to the Sanhedrim, or Supreme Council.

Being thus called upon to describe his own character, 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 the most humble description that he could give of himself. He considered himself to be merely a voice, that which is of itself an empty sound. But by this description he showed that he was willing to be made use of by his Proprietor, as a man makes use of his voice at his pleasure, to utter such words as he may think proper. He thus expressed his desire to be exclusively employed in promoting the glory of God. At the same time, he declared himself to be entrusted with an important message. He was the voice of one crying, Make straight the way of the Lord. As the voice of the Lord, he announced that the Lord, the Messiah, was at hand; and he called on all who heard his voice, to prepare to meet Him, and welcome His appearance.

But as his office of making straight the way of the Lord implied an abasement of the proud, and an elevation of the humble, this was an object which the men who thus questioned him had no desire of accomplishing. For, as the Evangelist observes, They which were sent were of the Pharisees. The deputation consisted of persons who belonged to that sect of the Jews, the leaders of which were ambitious worldly-minded men, who were looking out for the temporal reign of the Messiah, with no other hope than that they might be thereby advanced to honour and wealth. They were therefore not at all satisfied with the Baptist's answer. It disappointed their expectations. They thought meanly of him, since he claimed no higher character than this for himself. They did not understand the prophecy of Isaiah,18 to which he referred them, that it was only another description of the forerunner of the Messiah.

And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptisest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? They repeated the honourable titles which they had been willing to give him, as if to tempt him to assume one of

18 Isaiah xl. 3.

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