Page images
PDF
EPUB

SECTION XVIII.

Julian Period, 4739. VulgarÆra, 26.

Commencement of the Ministry of John the Baptist.

Luke iii. 1.

MATT. ii. 1-12. MARK i. 248. LUKE iii. 1-18.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius The wilder-
Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, and Dess of

Judea
Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip
tetrarch of Ituræa and of the region of Trachonitis, and
Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,

Annas and Caiaphas being the High Priests, the word of God came unto John 43, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness :

In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judæa.

2.

Matt, iii. 1.

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 passcd-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, 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 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 splendour and pomp which he 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 - Byrom's Poems, in Chalmers' edition of the poets, p. 231, vol. xv.

Mark i. 4.
Luke iii, 3.

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 sins,

Judea.

* 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 freqnented 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 (e), yield much wild honey.

(a) Fait enim in desertis, hoc est ruri, procul publicis scholis, procul aula, procul Hierosolyma, procul seducentium in frequentibus urbibus voluptatum lenociniis. Witaius Miscell. Sacr. de vita Johannis Bapt. p. 501. (6) Lightfoot, chorog.dec. to Mark, Works, vol. ii. p. 294, distinguishes between the wilderness of Juda, and that of Judea. (c) 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 pro. selytes of Shechem, and other Heathens. Put away your strange gods, and be ye clean, and change your garments. Aben Ezra in. terprets the word 177071, Gen. xxxv. 2. and be ye clean, to be man wnyv, 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 oply 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 thisceremony, which makes it appear more like a legal washing, or puri. fication, 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 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 anolber 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. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my

Judea. messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way

before thee 4:
Lake iii. 4. As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the

prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilder-
ness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths

straight.
5. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill

shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made

straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth ;

6. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God. Matt. iii. 4. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair,

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,

6.

And were

teacher. The law required the washing of polluted persons,
from legal uncleanness: the baptism of John required the puri-
fication of those who were legally clean. It exacted obedience
to the spirit, not to the letter of the law. If we consider the
Christian dispensation, therefore, as commencing with the
preaching of John, we shall find there were three forms of bap-
tism: that of John, who baptized in the name of the Messiah
about to come upon the earth. That of the disciples of Christ,
when he was incarnated and living among them. And that of the
Apostles and their disciples, who received at the ascension an
express command from Christ himself to proselytize all nations;
and to baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Ghost. · The Ministers of the Church of God
have ever since baptized in the same holy name, using the same
form of words.--Vide Lightfoot's Works, vol. i. p. 465, 466.

46 Malachi predicted of the Elias who was to comc, That he
should turn ēbe hearts of the fathers to the cbildren, and
the hearts of the children to the fathers (a). The Angel pre-
dicted of John the same things. The event corresponded to
the prediction. When Jobn began to preach to Israel, the
Jews were divided into three principal, and innumerable
smaller sects, differing both in religious opinions and cere-
monies. The Pharisees and Sadducees were agitated with the
most bitter hatred against each other. The expounders of the
law were at variance. The dissensions in the synagogues dis-
turbed the repose of families. Children and their parents dis-
puted: all was confusion. The ministry of the Baptist with-
drew the people from under the banners of the leaders of these
sects, and directed them to the One Great Teacher, who was
now at hand to decide all controversies, and unite them to him-
self. Witsius de vitâ Joban. Bap. Misc. Sacr. vol. ii. p. 518.

(a) The passage in Malachi, ch. iii. 1. is supposed 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 25. 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 7

ness of

Judea. Matt. iii. 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Saddu

cees come to his baptismLuke iii. 7. Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be bap

tized of him
Matt. iii. 7. he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath

warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet, for repentance :
9. And think not to say within yourselves, We have

Abraham to our father : for I say unto you, that God is

able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
10. 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, μετάνοια, total renewing of the spirit of the mind a change of the whole man. In the same way all those of the prosent 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 Luike 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 eyangelical historian is not sρατιώται, 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 suficient reason, and what that reason is we may readily dis-
cover, 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 bad 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 minuto, so perfect, and so latent a
coincidence, was never discovered in a forgery of this or any
other age (6).

(a) Josephus, Ant. Jud. lib. 18. c. 5. sect. 1, 2. (6) For the above
illustrative coincidence we are indebted to Michaelis (vol. i. ch. ii.
sect. 11. p. 51.)

Luke iï. 10. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do the wilder. then ?

ness of

Jadea, 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.
12. Then came also Publicans to be baptized, and said

unto him, Master, what shall we do?
13. And he said unto them, Exact no more than that

which is appointed you.
14. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying,

And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do vio-
lence to no man; neither accuse any falsely; and be con-

tent with your wages.
13. And as the people were in expectation, and all men

mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ,

or not,
16. John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize

you-
Mark i. 8. have baptized you

have baptized you with water, Matt. fi. 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.
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.
Lake iü. 18. And many other things in his exhortation preached he
unto the people.

MAT?. iii. 3. 5, 6. 11.
3 For this is He that was spoken of by the Prophet Esaias,
saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye
tbe way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea,
6 ---baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.

11 I indeed baptize you with water-He that cometh after me
is mightier than İ.

MARK I. 3–8.
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye tho
way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

4 And preach the baptism of repentanee for the remission of
sins.

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-bul' he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

LUKE jij. 16, 17.
16 — with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet
of whose shoes I am not worthy to pose: he shall baptize
you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:

17 Whose fan is in bis hand, and he will throughly purge bis
floor, and will gather the wheat into his garper; but the chall be
will burn with fire unqucnehable.

« PreviousContinue »