« PreviousContinue »
reputation which till then he had preserved, and been the object of their contempt and hatred. Nothing can make us suspect that he would have acted a part so inconsistent and extravagant, or hinder us from believing that he spake as he was directed by the Spirit of God.
Nor is it less evident that he acted on this occasion by no motives of interest or partiality. It was of no advantage to him : on the contrary, he saw, what his disciples saw, that if Christ were acknowledged to be the Messias, he would be no longer followed and admired. Nor can we suppose him partial out of friendship; for there appears not to have been any intimacy between him and Christ. We may observe that John was a person of eminent virtue, that he had borne witness to Christ, that he was related to him, and that upon all these accounts he seemed to deserve distinguishing marks of his favour. Yet Christ, as far as we can learn from the evangelists, seldom conversed with him; the reason of which probably was, that the testimony of John might appear of the more weight, when none could suspect him prejudiced for his friend and his relation.
But still it may be alleged against his testimony, that he was an enthusiast. Some of the Jews in the days of our Saviour said, that John the Baptist had lost his senses, because they had nothing else to say against him. The accu. sation is groundless : his discourses and his reputation sufficiently confute it ; his prophetic character proves it to be false. He foretold the appearing of the Messias, the calamities which should befal the unconverted Jews, the death of Christ, and the descent of the Holy Ghost. Enthusiasm may make a man fancy extraordinary communications with the deity, and it may lead him to austerities and self-denial; but it will not enable him to declare future
IV. I shall, in the last place, endeavour to remove an objection which may be offered against the testimony of John.
It is related in the New Testament that John, when he was in prison, hearing of the miracles of Christ, sent two of his disciples to him, saying, “ Art thou he that should
come, or look we for another?” Hence it may be objected, that since John at the latter end of his life doubted whether Jesus were the Messias', the force of the testimony which he bare before is greatly weakened, and he may
be supposed to have changed his opinion, and, as far as we can find, to have died uncertain what to think upon this affair.
In answer to this objection I would observe;
First, that the evangelists, who have recorded the testimony which John bare of Jesus Christ, have also preserved the doubtful message which he sent to our Lord, and which may seem to lessen the strength of his former testimony. This is one instance, amongst many more, of their sincerity in representing the truth without disguise.
Secondly; John the Baptist, at the beginning of his ministry, declared that Christ was the Messias ; and afterwards, when he was in prison, he heard of the miraculous works done by Christ, which tended to confirm him in his first opinion. If at that time he began to grow doubtful, the only imaginable cause of his doubts must have been this, that Christ appeared not as a temporal prince, to free him from his bonds, and the Jews from their servitude. Since then his doubts, if he had any, must have arisen from his wrong apprehensions of the nature of Christ's kingdom, and of the happiness which the servants of the Messias should enjoy, they will never invalidate the testimony which he had so often borne to Christ, and the revelation made to him, upon which his testimony was founded.
1 Tertullian thinks that John really doubted, Advers. Marcion. iv. 18. De Præscr. Hæret. 8. and Le Clerc inclines to the same opinion.
Limborch offers an interpretation of John's message, which, though I cannot adopt it, deserves to be mentioned. He says;
• John did not doubt; for Christ himself says of him at that time, that he was not like a reed shaken with the wind. His words
be thus read and explained; Συ εί ο ερχόμενος. *Η έτερον προσδοκώμεν ; • Thou art (certainly) he that should come. Can we look for another?' (No.)'
• He therefore sent his disciples to testify that he was constant to his former declarations, though in prison, and expecting to die.' Theol. Christ. iii. 11. p. 219.
Thirdly; the words of John the Baptist, taken in their obvious sense, imply a doubt whether Christ were the Messias ; but almost all expositors agree in thinking that he had no doubts about it, and that he sent not this message for his own information, because John, as himself asserts, knew Christ to be the Messias by divine revelation, and because he heard that Christ manifested: his power by miracles, and had fulfilled that part of his character. They endeavour therefore to assign some other reason why he proposed this question to Christ.
The most common opinion is, that he proposed it for the information of his disciples, hoping that Christ would satisfy them by his answer, and perhaps by working miracles before them, and that they would at last lay aside their prejudices, and join themselves to Christ.
But there is another opinion, less followed indeed, and yet more probable ; which is, that as the Jews in general, and the disciples of Christ m, so also John and his disciples expected a temporal reign of the Messias, and that they wondered why Jesus, who at that time wrought many miracles, did not deliver John out of the hands of his enemies.
He, of all persons, seemed most to deserve such favour and protection.
He was separated from his mother's womb, and appointed by divine Providence to be the forerunner of the Messias, to be the last and the most honoured of all the prophets who came before Christ ; he was sent to bear testimony to him, and to prepare the world to receive him ; and this office he had faithfully fulfilled ; he was related to Christ, and in virtue had no superior amongst the Jews; he was now in bonds for the sake of righteousness, and his life depended upon the will of a wicked prince, who was exasperated against him. Being in these circumstances, and hearing of Christ's miracles, he sends two disciples to him, and bids them say, ' Art thou he that should come, or look we for another? In
m Some of them had been disciples of John, and had learned nothing from him concerning the spiritual nature of Christ's kingdom, as appears Acts i, 6.
which words we may suppose that he indirectly besought his assistance; as if he had said :
If thou art the Messias, why am I confined in prison ? why may I not enjoy, with thy disciples, the pleasure of seeing him, whose coming I proclaimed, appear in his glory? It will cast some reproach upon thee, if thy forerunner be left to perish. The miserable find daily relief from thy miracles ; add one in favour of me, and deliver me, for thou canst not want power.
John and his disciples might not judge it prudent and safe to ask the assistance of Christ more openly, lest it should provoke Herod, if it came to his knowledge.
It is true that John was filled with the Holy Ghost, and had better notions of Christ than perhaps any of Christ's disciples entertained before the resurrection of their master. This we may conclude from the things which he spake of Christ's power and dignity, and of the end for which he came into the world. He calls him the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world ;' which might incline us to imagine that he knew Christ should suffer and be a sacrifice for sin. But it is not improbable, that though by revelation he knew in general that Christ would save from their sins those who should believe in him, yet he knew not how he would effect it; that the particulars concerning the sufferings and death of Christ were not discovered to him, and that both he and the prophets before him might foretel things of the Messias which they did not fully understand.
The answer which Christ makes to John's disciples agrees very well with the exposition which is here given of John's message. · Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in me;' blessed are they who shall not be offended upon account of the low condition in which I appear, of the sufferings which I must endure, and of those which my servants shall undergo in this world.
Lastly; there remains another solution of this difficulty, to which some may perhaps give the preference ".
John, for the reasons already mentioned, could not wel doubt whether the person whom he had baptized, and to
* But I should prefer the former.
whom he had borne testimony, were the Messias; but being in prison, and hearing the fame of Christ's miracles, he wanted to be satisfied of two things, whether Jesus were that very person whom he had baptized and proclaimed, and whether the rumour concerning his miracles were true. He sends, therefore, his disciples, and bids them ask Christ if he were the expected Messias, and bring him an account of all that passed upon that occasion, that by Christ's answer, and their report, he might form a surer judgment.
But whether John had or had not any doubts at the time when he sent the message, thus much is highly probable, that after the return of his disciples, he and they were fully satisfied; first, because Christ's answer and miracles were sufficient to convince any wise and good man; and secondly, because St. Matthew relates, that when John was beheaded, ' his disciples came and took up the body and buried it, and went and told Jesus ;' which was plainly an act of respect and kindness, and the behaviour of men who entertained an honourable opinion of Christ.