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Commencement of the Ministry of John the Baptist.
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.
43 The 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 ἄγριον, ought to be read μελιαγρίαν, which they imagine to be likewise a species of herb, indigenous in Judæa. Witsius, however, considers 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 have 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 splendour and pomp which he was appointed to represent-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 locusts eaten by John, see a curious criticism in verse, by Dr. Byrom, of Manchester-Byrom's Poems, in Chalmers' edition of the poets, p. 231, vol. xv.
Mark i. 4.
John did baptize in the wilderness",
And he came into all the country about Jordan, preach-ness of ing the baptism of repentance 5, for the remission of 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 his 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 ruri, procul publicis scholis, procul aula, procul Hierosolyma, procul seducentium in frequentibus urbibus voluptatum lenociniis. Witsius Miscell. Sacr. de vitâ Johannis Bapt. p. 501. (b) Lightfoot, chorog. dec. to Mark, Works, vol. ii. 294, distinguishes between the wilderness of Juda, and that of Judea. (c) Φυέται αυτοῖς ἀπὸ τῶν δένδρων, μέλι πολὺ τὸ καλέμενον ἄγριον, ὦ χρῶντα ποτῷ μὲν ὕδατος—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 interprets the word 1, Gen. xxxv. 2. and be ye clean, to be mann, 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 po sitive 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 have 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 Church. A Jew, if he had lived as a Gentile, even for a day, would undergo this ceremony, which makes it appear more like a legal washing, or purification, than an ordinance divinely instituted. The Jews must have well understood this ceremony as emblematical of a change of religion, which acquired the greatest purity of heart 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 between the baptism of John, and that of any other
Matt. iii. 2.
Mark i. 2.
Luke iii. 4.
Matt. iii. 4.
Mark i. 5.
And saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is The wilderat hand.
As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee 6:
As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill
And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair,
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 47.
Matt. iii. 7.
Luke iii. 7.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism
Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be baptized of him
Matt. iii. 7. he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have
And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees therefore every tree, which bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
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, μɛrávola, 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 Luke iii. 14. we read that certain soldiers 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 sρατιῶται, or soldiers, but τρατευόμενοι, 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 sufficient reason, and what that reason is we may readily discover, on consulting Josephus's account of the reign of Herod the Tetrarch of Galilee. He tells us (a), that Herod was at that very time engaged in a war with his father-in-law, Aretas, a petty king of Arabia Petræa, whose daughter he had married, but who had returned to her father in consequence of Herod's ill-treatment. The army of Herod, then on its march from Galilee, passed of necessity through the country where John was baptizing; and the military men, who questioned him, were a part of that army. So minute, so perfect, and so latent a coincidence, was never discovered in a forgery of this or any other age (b).
(a) Josephus, Ant. Jud. lib. 18. c. 5. sect. 1, 2. (b) For the above illustrative coincidence we are indebted to Michaelis (vol. i. ch. ii. sect. 11. p. 51.)
ness of Judea.
Luke iii. 10.
And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do The wilder then?
11. He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two
Then came also Publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man; neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ, or not,
John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you
Mark i. 8. have baptized you with water,
Matt. Hi.11. unto repentance, but
Mark. i. 7. there cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of 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.
Lake iii. 18.
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.
And many other things in his exhortation preached he unto the people.
MATT. iii. 3. 5, 6. 11.
8 For this is He that was spoken of by the Prophet Esaias,
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea,
11 I indeed baptize you with water-He that cometh after mễ
MARK i. 3-8.
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
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 of a skin about his loins: and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7 And preached, saying,
8 I indeed-but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.
LUKE iii. 16, 17.
16 with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
17 Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.
ness of Judea.