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Messiah's kingdom, not as an obligation to amendment. Moreover, because reason and experience prove that confession of sins, a present sorrow for them, and warm resolutions of forsaking them, neither necessarily, nor always, are attended with reformation, the Baptist insisted on the fruits of repentance, as well as on repentance itself. Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance: do the works that should proceed from a penitent disposition. And, that his doctrine might take the faster hold of them, he shewed them the folly of expecting salvation merely on account of their descent, assuring them that their being Abraham's children would be no protec tion to them if they continued in their sins. He enquired, earnestly, who could have warned such unlikely people as they were to receive his instructions of their neces sity of fleeing from the impending wrath of God, and exhorted them not to rest satisfied with their professions of sorrow for sin, but to bring forth fruits meet for repentance; to do such works as would evidently prove that their professions were sincere, and their motives essentially different from those by which they had been hitherto actuated. Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father, for 1 say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. God, who formed Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth, and gave Abraham a son by Sarah, when she was past the age of child-bearing, can raise up children unto that patriarch, even out of the stones under your feet: or, as others interpret the word, can give him children from among the Gentiles, who, by imitating his piety and holiness, shall partake with him in the blessing. Thus the Baptist took from those presumptuous men the ground of their confidence, by affirming that God could perform his promises to Abraham, though the whole Jewish nation were rejected by him, and excluded from heaven, the seed, like stars in the heavens for multitude, that was principally intended in the promise, being a spiritual progeny. To enforce his exhortation, he told them they had no time to delay their repentance, because the patience of God was very nearly core to an end with respect to them. His judgments were at hand, and ready to be inflicted; so that if they continued unfruitful, notwithstanding the extraordinary means that were now to be tried with them, destruction would speedily overtake them. And now, also, the ax is laid to the root of the trees; therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
The more clearly to illustrate the force and simplicity of John the Baptist's teaching, Luke has informed us of the answers which he gave to different descriptions of per-sons who requested the privilege of his baptism. The Jewish nation was become, at this time, so exceedingly depraved, that many of those who made pretensions to religion supposed that sacrifice would be accepted instead of obedience, and that they should be perfectly justified in neglecting the duties which they owed to their neighbours, or even to their parents, if they were but liberal in subscribing to the sacred treasury. When, therefore, the people inquired what they should do to avoid the judgments of God, he exhorted such of them as had two coats to impart to them that had none, and they that had meat to pursue similar conduct. The publicans, who are mentioned in the New Testament, were inferior Jewish tax-gatherers, who collected, at discretion, the taxes of small districts, and paid certain stipulated sums to the Roman knights, who were appointed to receive the revenue of the provinces. They were infamous for their habits of oppression, and greatly detested by their countrymen in general. They, therefore, were commanded to content themselves with the reasonable profits of their office, and exact no more than they were required to repay into the Roman treasury. The Jews who had entered into the military service of the Komans were enjoined to abstain from all acts of violence on the persons and pro
perties of their neighbours, from all attempts to enrich themselves by false information, or by manifesting a mutinous disposition to compel their officers to purchase their services by donations. Thus the Baptist, in his exhortation to penitents who asked his advice, did not follow the example of the Jewish teachers, for he was far from recommending the observation of ceremonies and precepts of men's invention. He attended to the character of the persons, reproved the vices to which they were most addicted, and he strenuously enjoined the great duties of justice, charity, moderation, and contentment, according as he found those who applied to him had failed in them. And so, by giving Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans, soldiers, and all sorts of persons, instructions adapted to their circumstances and capacities, he prepared them for receiving the Messiah, of whose approach he was informed by divine inspiration, though he was yet ignorant of the particular person who was prepared to sustain that ́exalted character.
Thus John the Baptist acquired an extraordinary reputation by the austerity of his life, the subject of his sermons, the fervency of his exhortations, and the freedom, impartiality, and courage, with which he rebuked his hearers. Yet his fame received no small addition from the various rumours current in the country at that time. For the vision which his father Zacharias had seen in the temple, the coming of the eastern philosophers to Jerusalem, the prophecies of Simeon, the discourses of Anna, the perplexity of Jerusalem, and Herod's cruelty, though they had happened full thirty years before this, must still have been fresh in the memories of the people, who, no doubt, applied them all to John. Their expectations, therefore, being raised to a very high pitch, they began to think he might be the Christ, and were ready to acknowledge him as such; so that, had he aspired after grandeur, he might, at least for a while, have possessed honours greater than the sons of men could justly claim. But the Baptist was too strictly virtuous to assume what he had no title to, and, therefore, he declared plainly that he was not the Messiah, but the lowest of his servants, one sent to prepare his way before him. At the same time, to give his hearers a just idea of his master's dignity, he described the authority and efficacy of his ministry. [Luke iii. 15.]And as all 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 with water. I am sent from God, and the message I bring is, that all ranks and orders of persons must repent. Withal, to impress this doctrine the more deeply upon their minds, I address their senses by washing all my disciples with water :-but one mightier than I cometh; there is an infinitely greater than I ready to appear, viz. the Messiah, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose, (Matt. whose shoes I am not worthy to bear away,) i. e. to whom I am not worthy to perform the meanest servile office: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire his baptism shall be unspeakably more efficacious than mine, for he will bestow on you the gifts of the spirit. Perhaps the Baptist had, likewise, in view here, Mal. iii. 2, where Messiah is compared to a refiner's fire, on account of the judgments he was to infiict on the Jews for their unbelief. Moreover, as the efficacy of his baptism will be much greater than mine, so will his authority be greater; for he will bring all men before his tribunal, to receive sentence according to their deeds. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner, but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable. The Baptist here has the forecited passage of Malachi plainly in his eye, and, by applying it to Jesus, he intimated to the people that he was the refiner spoken of by that prophet.
While John was thus employed at Bethabara in baptizing the multitudes, our blessed Redeemer was spending his life in retirement at Nazareth. The greater part
of that generation which had witnessed the miracuicus circumstance of his infancy, had sunk into the grave; and most of those who remained had been, probably, so far disappointed by his not earlier assuming his extraordinary character, that they either had almost forgotten the predictions of Simeon and Anna, or supposed them to have some other meaning than what the words appeared to convey. So little was the expectations of the public directed to Jesus, that John the Baptist himself, though a near relation, declared himself ignorant that he was the Messiah. John, however, was so well acquainted with our Lord's superior piety and holiness of life, that he conceived it absolutely improper that Jesus should mingle with the crowd of abandoned characters who had offered themselves to baptism, and refused to wash him with water in whom no impurity could be discovered. Our Lord did not sustain John's excuse, 'but insisted upon being baptized, because it became them to fulfil all righteousness. This expression might, perhaps, mean, in general, that it became the faithful to conform to every divine appointment; or he may have had the Levitical law in view, [Exod. xxix. 4, xl. 12.] which ordained that the priests, at their consecration, should be purified by washing; and desired to obey the letter, as well as the spirit of that law, before he entered on his ministry, wherem he discharged the office of high-priest for all the nations of the world. Christ's baptism being proper on these accounts, he urged it, and John, at length, complied, baptizing him in Jordan before a multitude of spectators. But as he had no need of the instructions that were given after baptism, he came straightway out of the water; and, kneeling down on the banks of the river, prayed, probably, for the influences of the Spirit, whereby his future ministry would be rendered acceptable to God, and effectual unto the salvation of men. And Jesus when he was baptized went up straightway out of the water. Luke iii. 22. And, praying, the heaven was opened ( Mark, to him); and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape, like a dove, upon him. Mat iii. 17. And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is ( Mark, thou art) my beloved son in whom (Mark, in theej I am well pleased. The epithet beloved, given to the son on this occasion, marks the greatness of his Father's affection for him, and distinguishes him from all others to whom the title of God's son had formerly been given. Accordingly we find our Lord alluding to it, with peculiar pleasure, in his intercessory prayer. John xvii. 26, "And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it, that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them." It was, therefore, the voice of God the Father that was heard at Christ's baptism, probably, loud like thunder, as in the instance recorded, John xii. 29, making a sound which no human organ of speech was able to form, and, consequently, could not be mistaken for the whispering voice of any one present. See Prov. viii. 30, to which, it is thought, the voice alluded.
The Son of God was one of the Messiah's known characters, [Mat. xvi. 16. Mark xiv. 61. John i. 49.] founded on Psalm ii. 7, Isa. vii. 14, where it is expressly attributed to him. And, therefore, according to the received language of the Jews, Jesus was, on this occasion, declared from heaven to be their long expected deliverer; and his mission received a most illustrious confirmation from the Father Almighty, a confirmation on which Jesus himself laid great stress, as absolutely decisive. John v. 37. For, lest the people might have applied the words of the voice of the Baptist, the Holy Spirit alighted upon Jesus, and remained visible for some time in the before mentioned sensible symbol, [John i. 33.] which, probably, surrounded his head in the form of a large glory, and pointed him out as God's beloved son in whom the richest gifts and graces resided. Thus all present had an opportunity to hear and see the miraculous testimony, particularly the Baptist, who, as soon as he beheld the Spirit remaining