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them; and they questioned his authority to baptise the Jews at all, unless one of these characters belonged to him. And indeed, if he had not been Elias which was for to come, he would not have had any authority for baptising them ; since a general invitation to circumcised persons to partake of baptism was a thing entirely new, and before unheard of; and denoted the introduction of a new dispensation among them.
. As these men did not find himn to be the person whom they expected to answer their purpose
of worldly aggrandisement, they rejected his baptism altogether. So it is said by our Saviour, The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptised of him.19 He gave them, however, a satisfactory reply in the words of the text. John answered them, saying, I baptise with water; but there standeth One among you, whom ye know not; He it is, who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose shoes' latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These words may lead us to consider
First, The account which John the Baptist gives of his own office; And
Secondly, The testimony which he bore to our Lord Jesus Christ.
First, With regard to his own office, he said, I baptise with water. He did not mean by this declaration,
19 Luke vii. 30.
that a compliance with an outward ceremony was all that was required, or that the mere administration of it was the sole object of his office. St. Matthew represents him as saying, I indeed baptise you with water unto repentance.20 And St. Mark observes, John did baptise in the wilderness and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; and the people who went out unto him, were all baptised of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins;el and it is also intimated that they expressed their desire to flee from the wrath to
When therefore John declared, I baptise with water, he showed the necessity of being cleansed from sin. And the reception of his baptism was considered to be a token that the persons who came to it were desirous of being cleansed from their sins, and of escaping the wrath of God which was denounced against the transgressors of His holy law. Otherwise there would have been no propriety in his asking the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to his baptism, Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? or in exhorting them as baptised persons, Bring forth therefore
fruits meet for repentance.20 Those then who came to the baptism of John, by so doing avowed their desire of escaping from the wrath to come. They professed to be labouring under conviction of sin; for they confessed their sins, and thus declared their need of pardon, and their anxiety to obtain it. They appeared to have that godly sorrow, which worketh repentance unto salvation not to be repented of. And they were told that baptism with water would avail them nothing, unless they brought forth fruits meet for, or suitable to true repentance; such fruit in their life and conduct as would evince that a real change of mind had taken place in them, producing a desire to be no longer the servants of sin, but to be in heart and life the servants of God, and to live thenceforward in obedience to His holy will and commandments.
20 Matthew iii. 11, 7, 8.
21 Mark i. 24.
John the Baptist informed the people that he could administer only the outward ordinance, by means of which those who were baptised with water were admitted into the visible church. He could not know the hearts, nor change the minds of those who applied to him for baptism. He presumed that when they came to him, their profession was sincere ; that they would not apply to him for baptism unless they were really desirous of receiving the blessings of which baptism was a token and pledge. In his character as the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, he had faithfully proclaimed to them their unfitness, on account of their transgressions, to stand in the presence of the Lord who was about to appear among them; and had therefore exhorted them to repentance, and invited the truly penitent to come and be baptised; that they might be accepted in the presence of the Messiah, whose kingdom was at hand. But he told them that he could do nothing more than administer the baptism of water, the outward sign of regeneration; he referred them to another, who was to come after him, as the Giver of the thing signified, He shall baptise you with the Holy Ghost and with
22 2 Corinthians vii. 10.
fire.23 He will separate the wheat from the chaff, the true disciple from the hypocritical professor. To humbled penitents He will vouchsafe the gift of the Holy Ghost, in His sanctifying and comforting influences, to deliver them from the dominion of sin, and comfort them with an assurance of pardoning mercy; but ungodly professors will find that their having partaken of the outward rite will not avail for their acceptance in the presence of the Mighty One, who shall appear for the salvation of His people ; for He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
This account which John the Baptist gave of his office, is one which the ministers of Christ may adopt for themselves. We also administer the ordinance of baptism. But we can only baptise with water. We can admit only into the outward and visible church of Christ. The inward and spiritual grace must be given from above by Him who alone has access to the hearts of the children of men.
23 Matthew iii, 11, 12.
It becomes those persons therefore who dedicate their children to God in baptism, to make use of the appointed means for obtaining the spiritual blessings connected with it; to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” and to pray earnestly to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family of God in heaven and earth is named, 25 to endue them with His Holy Spirit, and enrich them with His heavenly grace, that they may be in heart and life devoted to the service of God, and be made partakers of His great salvation in eternity. And it becomes us all, who have been baptised with water, to seek earnestly, each for himself, that the blessing of which baptism is the token and pledge may be our portion; that we may be baptised with the Holy Ghost; that we may be delivered from the love and the practice of iniquity, and may manifest ourselves in our whole conduct to be indeed the children of our heavenly Father, by our conformity to His word and will in all things. Without this, the circumstance of our
24 Ephesians vi. 4.
25 Ephesians iii. 15.