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Julian Period, 4739. Vulgarðra, 26.
Commencement of the Ministry of John the Baptist.
Luke iii. 1.
MATT. iii. 1-12. MARK i. 2-8. LUKE iii. 1-18.
Annas and Caiaphas being the High Priests, the word
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa.
Matt. iii. 1.
43 Tho spirit of prophecy came upon John when he was thirty years of age : this was the time appointed in the law for the commencement of their ministry by the Priests and Levites. He preached in the desart, where the greatest multitudes passed—be wore a garment of camel's hair, the most coarse and common garment, similar to that worn by the prophets of old, to express his contempt for the vanities and ostentations of life. His food was the spontaneous produce of the country, shewing his self-denial, and subjection of all his appetites-his days were passed in the wilderness, far removed from the world, preparing and preaching the way of the Lord. He avoided wine and strong drink, like a Nazarite, being separated and holy to the Lord, Numb. vi. 2, 3. He was to others the example of all that he taught. Whether the locusts he ate were the animal so called, prepared in the manner usual among the Jews, or whether it was a peculiar herb growing about that country, which seems most probable, is uncertain. Many have conjectured that the wild honey, the μέλι άγριον, ought to be read μελιαγρίαν, which they imagine to be likewise a species of herb, indigenous in Judæa. Witsius, however, cousiders this opinion as quite unfounded (a).
Had any other Messenger of a different character been chosen as the forerunner of the Messiah, the Jews would indeed bave been confirmed in their preconceived ideas of a temporal prince; but the austerity of the Baptist's habits, his seclusion from the world, and his contempt of all its pleasures and distinctions, were in direct opposition to all those opinions, and ought to have contradicted them :-Had he been the ambassador of any worldly sovereign he must have been invested with all the external splendonr and pomp which bo was appointed to repre. sent—but as the ambassador of a spiritual Lord, and a spiritual kingdom, all these things were laid aside-his robe of state was of camel's hair-the luxuries of his table were the honey of the wilderness and the message that he brought from his sovereign was an invitation to repentance and faith.
(a) On the locasts eaten by John, see a curious criticism in verse, by Dr. Byrom, of Manchester-Byron's Poems, in Chalmers' edition of the poets, p. 231, vol. xv.
Mark i. 4.
John did baptize in the wilderness“,
The wilderAnd he came into all the country about Jordan, preach-ness of ing the baptism of repentance *s, for the remission of Judea. sins,
* The desart in which St. John preached was not a barren and desolate wilderness (a). According to Lightfoot, he first taught in the wilderness near Hebron (b), but afterwards removed towards Jordan, probably near Jericho; a tract of country which was wild and desart, yet having in it several large cities. Jericho itself contained twelve thousand men, of the courses of the Priests; and the road from Jerusalem to that city, and to Peræa, especially near the time of the passover, was frequented by great multitudes, about which time, it is supposed, John began bis ministry; The country was very convenient for food, and its vallies abounded in palm trees, which trees, if we may credit Diodorus Siculus (c), yield much wild honey.
(a) Fuit enim in desertis, hoc est rari, procul publicis scholis, procul aula, procul Hierosolyma, procul seducentium in frequentibus urbibus voluptatum lenociniis. Witsius Miscell. Sacr. de vita Johannis Bapt. p. 501. (6) Lightfoot, chorog.dec. to Mark, Works, vol. ii. p. 294, dislinguishes between the wilderness of Juda, and that of Judea (0) Φυέται αυτούς από των δένδρων, μέλι πολύ το καλέμενον άγριον, ώ χρώντα ποτά μεν ύδατος-they have much honey from the trees, which they call wild honey, which they drink with water, Diod. Sic. lib. 19. ap Lightfoot.
45 Lightfoot ascribes the first use of baptism to Jacob, when he admitted into his family and the Church of God the proselytes of Shechem, and other Heathens. Put away your strange gods, and be ye clean, and change your garments. Aben Ezra in. terprets the word 17007, Gen. xxxv. 2. and be ye clean, to be mun aynqv, the washing of the body, or baptism-but this would, not prove that the rite of baptism was then used as the commencement of a permanent institution. It might have been an useful and expressive ordinance of Jacob, but no more.
The Israelites assert, that all Gentile proselytes were brought into their Church by baptism. The question is whether they were so initiated before the time of John, by a customary rite, which might be dispensed with at pleasure, or by a positive law. Lightfoot quotes Maimonides, who lived only in the fourteenth century, and whose authority, in the absence of other proofs, is not therefore decisive. Lightfoot's Works, vol. ii. p. 117.
We bave no evidence to prove that baptism, among the Jews, was of divine appointment. It was principally administered to the Gentiles, who were considered after that ceremony as new creatures, and worthy of admission into the Chureh. A Jew, if he had lived as a Gentile, even for a day, would undergo thisceremony, which makes it appear more like a legal washing, or purification, than an ordinance divinely instituted. The Jews inust have well understood this ceremony as emblematical of a change of religion, which acquired the greatest purity of beart and life. When the Jews baptized the Heathens, they admitted them into their own Church-into a new religion; and John now calls upon the Jews themselves to be baptized, and to become members of another Church, under another dispensation, different from that of Moses.
In this then consisted, in some measure, the essential difference betwoen the baptism of John, and that of any other
Matt, üi. 2. And saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is The wilderat hand.
ness of Mark i. 2.
Judea. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way
before thee 46 :
prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilder-
shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made
straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth ;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
and a leathern girdle about his loins : and his meat was
locusts and wild honey. Mark i. 5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judæa, and
they of Jerusalem, Matt.iii. 5. and all the region round about Jordan,
teacher. The law required the washing of polluted persons,
46 Malachi predicted of the Elias who was to come, That he
(a) The passage in Malachi, ch. iii. 1. is supposed by Dr. Owen to have been both corrupted and altered by the Jews, both in the Hebrew copies, and in the copies of the Septuagint, and to have been originally exactly as three of the Evangelists have delivered the citation of it to us. Owen's Inquiry into the State of the Septuagint Version, p. 54.
Mark i. 5. all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their The wildersins
Judea. Matt, üi. 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Saddu
cees come to his baptismLake iii. 7. Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be bap
tized of him-
warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
And think not to say within yourselves, We have
able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
trees : therefore every tree, which bringeth not forth
47 The different addresses of St. John to those who came to him, given in this section, cannot have been delivered at one time. They may be supposed to contain the sum and substance of his general preaching.
We may observe, that all the exhortations of John 'refer to the spiritual kingdom of the Messiah, over the hearts and consciences of men. He never once speaks of it as a temporal or earthly power. He exhorts to repentance and confession of sin, pétávoia, a total renewing of the spirit of the mind-a change of the whole man. In the same way all those of the present day, who have lived unmindful of their spiritual covenant with God, are called upon by the ministers of God's word to adopt that mode of returning to their Almighty Father pointed out by the Baptist: and by a true repentance and confession of sins, to renew their baptismal vow, and become the spiritual members of his spiritual Church.
In Like iii. 14. we read that certain soldier3 came to John the Baptist, while he was preaching in all the country about Jordan, and demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? An important question in Christian morality. It has been asked who these soldiers were? For it does not appear that the Roman soldiers then stationed in Judea were engaged in any war. Now it happens that the expression used by the evangelical historian is not sρατιώται, or soldiers, but σρατευόμενοι, that is, men who were actually under arms, or marching to battle.
It is not to be supposed that he would use this word without
(a) Josephus, Ant. Jud. lib. 18. c. 5. sect. 1, 2. (b) For the above
Lake iii. 10. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do the wilderthen ?
Judoa, 11. He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two
coats, let him impart unto him that hath none: and he
that hath meat, let him do likewise.
unto him, Master, what shall we do?
which is appointed you.
And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do vio-
tent with your wages.
mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ,
whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose ; Matt. iii. 11. whose shoes I am not worthy to bear : he shall baptize
you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire. 12.
Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner ; but he
will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
MATT. iii. 3. 5, 6. ll.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea,
11 I indeed baptize you with water-He that cometh after me
MARK i, 3–8.
4 And preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of
5 And were
6 And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle
7 And preached, saying,
LUIE jij. 16, 17.
17 Whose fan is in bis hand, and he will throughly purge bis