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forth these good fruits, it ought to quicken our endear vours to produce them, to recollect that a period is approaching when there will be a more complete separation of the righteous from the wicked than any which can take place in the present world; when the one shall be taken into a place of everlasting security and rest, but the other be doomed to unquenchable fire. This solemn day may be nearer to some of us than we are aware: the axe is already laid at the root of the tree; God grant that the fatal blow may not be given before we are prepared!
Matthew, Chap. iii. 13. to the end. iv. I---- 11.
13. Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan, unto John, to be baptized of him.
Nazareth, where Jesus lived, was a city of Galilee, and at no great distance from Jordan: from this place he came to be baptized by John,
14. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee; and comest thou to me?
The unwillingness of John to baptize Jesus, on this occasion, did not arise from his knowing him, at this time, to be the Messiah, and from a consciousness of his own inferiority to him, in a public character; for we are told, by the evangelist of the same name, that he knew not who was to sustain that office, before the visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon him; (John j. 38.) “and I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost; and I saw and bare record that this is the Son of God." Until this time John knew not that Jesus was to be the Son of God: this was wisely kept secret from him, to prevent all suspicion of a combination between them: but he was well acquainted with his person and private character, in consequence of their being related, or of some other circumstance.
This was so ex: cellent and superior to his own, that he deemed it a kind of presumption in him to baptize a person far above himself in moral worth; he would therefore have excused himself, saying, “the baptism of repentance is unnecessary for thee; or, if either of us is to be bap. tized by the other, I ought to be baptized by thee; seeing thou art much better than I *.»
15. And Jesus, answering, said unto him, suffer it to be so now : for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
Jesus could not be diverted from his purpose by these honourable declarations of the Baptist's, but persisted in desiring to be baptized. “ If my character be so excellent as you have represented it, it is peculiarly becoming in me to fulfil every duty, and to do whatever is right and proper to be done, on all occasions. As the ordinance which you administer is of divine appointment, I wish to shew my respect for every institution of God by submitting to it; as you announce the approach of the Messiah's kingdom, I wish to bear a public testimony of my faith in your prophetic character, and to declare my expectation of that glorious event.”
With these reasons John was satisfied.
16. And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up strait-way out of the water; and lo, the heavens were opened, or “ heaven was opened,” unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descend
Theolog. Repos. Vol. v. p. 249.
ing like a dove, and lighting upon him.
We are to consider the opening of the heavens as an appearance rather than a reality: for a bright light descending from the sky would make it appear to open, as is observed when it lightens. The which followed was the Spirit of God manifested in a bright light, or glory; most probably the same with the Shechinah; descending like a dove; that is, not in the shape of a dove, but with the same tranquil and easy motion with which a dove descends to the earth: for although Luke (iii. 22.) appears to say. “ in a bodily shape like a dove,” his words would be more properly rendered bodily appearance, and will then correspond with the language of the other evangelists. The bright light or glory which led the children of Israel in the wilderness, and afterwards appeared in the temple, and which the Jews call the Shechinah, had a bodily appearance, but no shape: it was this appearance which now descended upon Christ. Of a like nature with what is said here concerning the Holy Spirit, is what we read, Luke x. 18. where, when it is said “I. beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven,” the meaning is not that Satan was like lightning, but that he fell from heaven as lightning, with the utmost swiftness and precipitation. The person who saw the Spi
upon Baptist, although it seems to be here referred to Jesus; for be says in the evangelist John (i. 32.) “ I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove." There is an evident resemblance between this miracle and that performed upon the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit descended upon the apostles in the form of cloven tongues of fire. They were both intended to shew that the persons thus honoured were qualified for their ollice by the communication of extraordinasy powers,
17. · And lo, a voice from heaven, saying, this is my beloved son, in whom, or 6 with whom," I am well pleased.
What we are to understand by Christ's being called the Son of God, seems to be explained by himself: for when the Jews charged him with blasphemy for saying that God was his father, he replied (Jolin x. S6.) “ say ve of him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, thou blasphemest, because I said I am the son of God?"---whence it is evident that the being sanctified, or set apart to a high office by miraculous powers, and being sent into the world with a divine commission, were, in our saviour's opinion, sufficient reasons for assuming the title of the son of God.---Christ is here called the beloved son of God: for while others were sons of God, Christ was his son in a peculiar and transcendent sense; as to him the spirit was not communicated in measure. The reason why Jesus was chosen to be distinguished by these peculiar honours, to have the wisdom and power of God residing m him, was his superior moral excellence, on which account his father was well pleased with him.
The next chapter commences with an account of an extraordinary divine vision, with which our Lord was favoured immediately after the descent of the Holy Spirit, which was intended to prepare him for the arduous office of the Messiah, by reminding him of the principal temptations to which he would be exposed in the exercise of his ministry. A vision is to be distinguished from a supernatural dream, in that certain scenes are presented to the imagination by the
power of God, while the person who beholes them is awake, which, however, appear to him to be real objects; and he speaks and reasons upon them accordingly: the intention of it is to make known the divine will by external symbols. We have several examples of these communications being made to prophets, both under the Old and New Testament. We are not therefore to be surprised that the great prophet of the Christian church should be instructed in the same manner. If it should be asked why we have recourse to a figura
tive explanation of transactions which are related as plain matters of fact?---it may be answered that there are sufficient intimations in the passage itself that it is to be understood as a divine vision; but that, if there were not the smallest hint to that purpose, it ought not to prevent us from considering it in this light; for many of those transactions which are recorded in the prophetic writings, or in the historical parts of the bible, as having actually taken place, had no other existence than in the mind of the prophet; and it is a maxim with all wise interpreters of scripture that it is right to depart from the literal meaning of the words, if, when so understood, they contain any thing which is absurd or impossible, dishonourable to God or inconsistent with the plain doctrines of revelation. Under some or other of these difficulties the present passage seems to labour, if it be taken in a literal sense: I shall therefore consider it as a symbolical vision intended to represent to Christ, under the image of the supposed great adversary of mankind suggesting temptations, the trials to which he would be exposed in his public ministry; and I shall explain, in as few words as possible, the design of every transaction, upon this supposition. Those who wish to have the subject more fully explained I must refer to an excellent piece upon Christ's temptation in the wilderness by the late Mr. Farmer
• In a posthumous work or pamphlet of Mr. Dixon of Bolton, pube lished in 1766, by Mr. Seddon of Manchester, it is supposed that the following part of the history was intended to represent the workings of our Lord's mind after his appointment to the office of Messiah, which, impelling him to evil, are attributed to the supposed author of all evil, the devil.
Rosenmüller, whether from his own authority or that of another person does not appear, supposes that the tempter might be a man, suggesting evil counsel, like the satan who advised David to number the children of Israel. í Chron. xxi. d. Scholia i. N. T. Tom. 1. pp. 69, 70. Ed. 5a.