The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,Chapter 7
The Continuousness of History—Repentance a Common Term—teaching Positive As Well As Negative—the True Baptism
Almighty God, our voice is lifted up to thee in praise and thanksgiving, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, because of all thy tender mercy and thy loving kindness shown unto us since we last assembled here. Thou dost lead us by ways that we know not, and unexpected answers dost thou give to our trouble and our want. We look back to behold a long line of light: that line is thy love, thy care, thy patience; and as we look forward we behold a long line of golden promise and tender assurance, so. that we have no fear clouding and darkening our hearts. This is the Lord's doing, this is the gift of heaven, this is the revelation of God's love to our life, though it be dark, dark with sin and vexed with many cares. What time we are afraid, we put our trust in God; when the sky is black, we know that the sun is still there, and that no force but thine can shake that source of light. Help us to know that the troubles of this life are for a moment, but as their season is short, so their visitation is often sharp. May we put our trust in thy love and righteousness and tender care, and be quiet, though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.
Thou hast written thy testimony in our life, thou hast proved thyself every day of our individual history. Thou hast made us and not we ourselves, we are the people of thy pasture and the sheep of thine hand. Thou knowest our frame, thou rememberest that we are dust; every bone thou didst fashion, our reason thou didst set upon its throne, our whole life is brightened by the light of thy presence, and as for the troubles which vex and divide us, behold thou dost so direct them as to bring joy out of our greatest sorrow. What shall we render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards us? We will take the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord, yea, with loudness as men call who are burning with the fire of earnestness. We will not restrain our song before God, but with loud hallelujahs will we praise thee for thy wonderful care, thy continual mercy.
We come always to Jesus, because he is the same yesterday, to-day, for ever,—always fall of love, full of pity, full of thought for our whole life. He died for us and rose again; he is our Saviour; and he is our intercessor; for us he shed his blood, for us he breathed away his heart in priestly prayer. We have no other Saviour; we need no other. His blood is our answer to thy law, his cross the sanctuary of the soul when pursued by its guilt.
We bless thee that we are in thine house, for it is good to be here. Thou dost cause a great calm to fill the sanctuary, and the spirit of peace speaks to the sons of peace, and having fellowship one with another, and with our common Father, great love floods the soul. Forgetting earth and time and dreary sense, we already claim the heritage bought for us by our Saviour Christ. Enjoying this opportunity of communion with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, may we return to the family, to the marketplace, to all the daily engagements of life, with renewed purity of soul, elevation of purpose, and breadth of charity, accepting our little life as a great opportunity, and diligently working with both hands, not as hired servants, but as loving sons.
Set up thy kingdom within our heart—call it kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, kingdom of light, kingdom of truth—we shall know it by what name soever it is called, for it will absorb all other masteries and rule us with infinite and gracious dominion. Help us to see the best of one another, teach us to read each other's life in the light of divine hope and redeeming love, fill our hearts with the very love of Christ, and may we prove discipleship by the cross.
Thou knowest the need of every heart, the pain of the wounded spirit, the joy of the delivered soul, the song of those who have great hope, and the purpose of those whose tomorrow is bright with great gladness. The Lord come to us according to our varied necessities, and according to the want or the joy of each heart, let thy blessing be measured unto us. When our purpose is evil, turn our counsel upside down with a ruthless hand; when our aim is good, help us to accomplish our whole purpose. Break the arm that is lifted in rebellion against light, truth, beauty, holiness, and all heavenliness of love and purpose.
The Lord give strength unto those whose desire it is to make the world gladder day by day. The Lord look upon the old man whose life is behind him and speak some gospel of hope to his waiting soul. The Lord speak to the young man that he may estimate the number of his days and their brevity, and work in the spirit of the solemn responsibility. The Lord look upon the missionary at home, the loving mother, the gracious parent, the one who sacrifices herself for her children, and loves them with unutterable affection. The Lord look into the nursery, into the cradle, into the school, among all our young and loved ones, and baptize them with the dew of the morning. The Lord be the physician in the sick chamber, and bear his own gospel to hearts that can listen to no human tongue. The Lord's light brighten over the whole heavens until there be no shadow left. Amen.
1. In those days (thirty years after the events of Chapter II.) came (cometh) John the Baptist, preaching (after the manner of a herald), in the wilderness of Judæa (bordering on the Jordan and the Dead Sea).
2. And saying, repent ye (change your mind and purpose): for the kingdom of heaven (a phrase used by Matthew about thirty times, and by him only in the New Testament) is at hand (has come nigh),
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
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.
5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan (the whole length of the river valley, including parts of Perea, Samaria, Galilee, and Gaulonitis).
6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
If you read the last verse of the second chapter—"And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, he shall be called a Nazarene"—and then read the first verse of the third chapter—"In those days came John the Baptist"—you might suppose that the two events followed one another within a very brief interval, whereas the fact is that thirty years intervened between the last verse of the second chapter and the first verse of the third. The heart is sad at that thought: we do not want the historian to take such wide leaps; we want him to take us down to Nazareth, and give us almost daily glimpses into that obscure but wondrous home. We long to overhear somewhat of the conversation that passes amongst its inmates; especially do we want to look at one with a human face, brightened often with divine flashes, and to listen to a voice like our own, yet much unlike it, so rich, so varied, so tender in pathos, so royal in command. Yet we stand here, at the opening of the third chapter (with one glimpse given by another writer) with thirty years overleaped in silence that is to the imagination provoking.
"In those days came"—literally "in those days cometh" as if all the movement were continuous, without break or gap, as if there were no past tense, as if we lived in a perpetual present, as if history were a continuous breathing, not a succession of shocks, but a perpetual outgo of the divine purpose and the heavenly will. We have broken up our grammar so that we now have present, past, perfect, pluperfect, and future, but there is another grammar in which there is but one mood and one tense, and it is Christ's purpose to draw us up into his own thinking, until all history and all developments, the whole sweep and current of things, shall be to us a living indicative. You go back to take up the past, you break life up into sections, you cut it up into parentheses, you vex the flowing narrative with foot-notes and marginalia, so that I am lost in this wondrous history of the race. He calms me by completing me, withdraws my attention from fractional times and momentary incidents, and fixes it upon the infinite oneness of the divine purpose and way.
In those days came John the Baptist. A transient name. The Baptist must die, the Congregationalism the Presbyterian, the Episcopalian must die—his very name is indicative of the transientness of his coming and purpose. No man can be known by any one little accent of his case throughout immortality. When a man is so specialized the meaning is that his mission is here and gone, whilst you are speaking about him—a breath, a shock, a voice, an echo, a vacancy. Do you still follow the Baptist? Poor laggard, what business hast thou, in this nineteenth century, with following the Baptist? He himself said his mission was introductory, symbolical, a plunge, and all was over. Why art thou still dogging his steps, as if he had aught to give thee? He has eaten up the locusts and wild honey, and his raiment and his leathern girdle are worn out and are not worth thy picking up. O haste thee to catch his Master.
Still, John had a mission, and a great one; and it will be our object to measure it in future expositions. John the Baptist came preaching—a term but little understood. There are few preachers, and ought to be few. There are too many who bear the name who do not understand the vocation. He is not a preacher who stands in one place year after year, talking to the same people, and overfeeding them with intellectual luxuries. Preaching, in the New Testament, is a term which means heralding, going up and down from east to west, crying, shouting, with a ringing voice, "Prepare!" He is the preacher who does so, who breathes through the herald's trumpet, and startles the stagnant air with shattering blasts and says, "The King! the King!" In our days we have degraded preaching into bending the head over a sheet of ill-written paper and mumbling it with very uncertain emphasis. In the New Testament the preacher is the shouting man. We do not like shouting; we object to exclamation; but the true preacher is the vox clamantis. "Prepare! look out! attention!" After the preacher of course will come the teacher, the pastor, the expositor, the man whose business it is to stand in one place and unfold the infinite riches of the divine wisdom; but the preacher—defining that term in the light of the New Testament—is a herald, a man who has a proclamation in his hands, whose sermon is brief because not a speech well composed and elaborate, but a cry, as of a man who should call "Fire" to a sleeping town.
"In those days came John the Baptist, saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The cry of all widening civilization has been Repent. Do not be startled with the word, as if it were a church term and a Bible word only; it is a word you cannot do without in the history of secular civilization. Do not sneer at the preacher when he says "Repent," as if he had picked up a fanatical word and were using it for fanatical purposes. What is the meaning of this word repent, as used in this connection? The meaning of it is, change your purpose, alter your mind, turn round, face about, you are on the wrong road, return! It is the utterance of men who have a new proposition to make in politics, in commerce, in engineering, in all the ways and processes of advancing life. He who corrects the thinking of his age, having verified his own conclusions in privacy, comes forth and says to his era, "Repent, you are wrong, change your mind, alter your standpoint." When the word is taken up into the religious sphere, and invested with its vital meanings, it still continues the first signification, and enhances that signification with other meanings deeper and grander still. When a man repents of his sin, he knows the bitterness of inward sorrow, his heart weeps blood, his soul is afflicted with grievous distress on account of sin. Then the repentance expresses itself in an outward change of standing, attitude and relationship, coming up out of an inward conviction wrought through infinite pain, and by ministries for which there are ho words.
John's, then, was not a very cheerful ministry, or a very popular or comfortable one. It is pleasanter for me to come down to any assembly and say, "I approve all your doings, I confirm your proceedings, I endorse your policies, Heaven's blessing shine upon you like a summer day!" He who comes with a speech of that kind to the populace, will for the time being be the popular idol. To come into the midst of a city, or to go up and down a land, crying "Repent," is to excite the most desperate prejudice. Who are you? Why this challenging tone? quo warranto? Prove your standing: whence came you, what is the measure of your responsibility? Then will come insinuations as to sinister motive, and implications of dishonest or selfish purpose. Then the tu quoque will be the weapon of the hour. The man whose little sermon is "Repent" sets himself against his age, and will for the time being be battered mercilessly by the age whose moral tone he challenges. There is but one end for such a man—"off with his head." You had better not try to preach repentance until you have pledged your head to Heaven.
The negativeness of this ministry accounts for what is popularly termed the want of success. John's ministry was to clear the ground; he was a pioneer, he was a herald, he was one whose work was more or less of the negative kind, or introductory at the best. Such men do not add up to much in the sum total of vulgar arithmetic. When they are added up into their total by God himself the sum is not inconsiderable. We have reformers amongst us whose business it is to get men into a state of mind to hear the gospel. Having heard the gospel and received it, the men who conducted the introductory ministry are too often forgotten, as though they had done next to nothing. Your business it may be, is to go out and persuade a man to alter his personal habits and his social relationships so as to bring himself within the sound of the Christian gospel. He comes to hear the minister; the minister, baptized with fire and clothed with zeal, arrests the man, and makes him a prisoner of the law. It may be that your outside and comparatively negative work is forgotten by men, but God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love. Yours is a preparational ministry; yours is introductory, and because introductory more or less transient in its public effects and fame. Nevertheless it is a ministry without which the Church cannot live. Persevere through good report and through evil report, and come not to Time's low counter for your pay, but to the judgment-seat of Christ.
Consider well what it is to preach the gospel of repentance. I would rather preach the gospel of comfort; it would suit me personally better to say to every man who hears me, "You are altogether right; all you need is comfort, the kiss and seal of holy peace. Cheer you; it will be well with you." To stand before any man, and say to him, "If we are to make solid work we must begin with the fact that you are as bad as you can be," is to excite prejudice and to create tremendous, if not insuperable, difficulty. Here is the disadvantage of the preacher; he has always to challenge his hearers, charge them with want of integrity; his indictment is heavy, every count of it rising above every other count before it in the gravity of its impeachment. The lecturer comes before you with his kid gloves and scented arrangements, and tells you how delighted he is to have the opportunity of speaking to so large, enlightened, and influential an assemblage. The preacher stands up and says, "Repent"; and who likes to listen to a man whose voice is a charge, whose sentences are thunderbolts? Yet through this ministry of repentance we must all pass ere we can enter into a ministry of reconciliation, and enjoy the infinite calm of God's own peace.
Yet John's ministry was not wholly negative. There is a positive element in it, that should be carefully noted. He said, indeed, "Repent ye," but his deliverance did not end there. He added a reason, "For, or because, the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Do not charge your hearer severely, so as to overwhelm him with intolerable sorrow. Having brought him to his knees in penitence, and broken his heart with contrition, and left him without a rag with which to cover the nakedness of his iniquity, tell him that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, intimating that his repentance is a sorrow that brings joy, that repentance is an introductory necessity, that it endures for a night, and joy cometh, bringing with it its own morning, a day that never dips into the darkness of eventide. So this heroic preacher, so severe, so terrible in aspect, so piercing and rending in voice, has a sweet, sweet tone—"The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The morning cometh, the summer dawns, the rain is over and gone, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land. Attend, repent, change, turn round—for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." A challenge of moral integrity should always be associated with the presentation of a great opportunity. Tell a man to repent only, and leave him there, and you put a dart into his breast. Tell him to repent, and add that the kingdom of heaven, with all its light and healing and redemption, is at hand, and you preach to him something like a complete gospel. The indictment associated with the word repentance must be followed with the inspiration connected with the term, the kingdom of heaven.
"This is he that was spoken of by the prophet." Every preacher who deeply moves his age, is a fulfilment of prophecy. The great man is always to come. History is a process of daily fulfilment of prophecy. We are always startled with conformations of the Divine Word, and when the right man comes, there is something about him which indicates his reality. My sheep know my voice. When a man hears the truth, there is something within him which says, "So it is." I may resent what you say to me, may put my imagination to great stress, for the purpose of getting up excuses and pleas in reply to your charges, when you accuse me of being guilty before God, yet all the while, deep down in my self-reproachful heart, I feel that you are right, and that my palliations do but add to my sin.
What was the result of this man's preaching, so far as this section of the history will enable us to judge? There went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan. See the power of one consecrated and burning heart. John was one—the whole valley of the river was shaken by his voice, and men poured around him from every quarter. Believe in individuality of labour, believe that you, solitary thinker, lonely teacher, preacher, reformer—that you in your solitariness may have the power given you of God, of moving a whole age and inspiring a whole nation. Take the large view of your mission; do not be behind the very chief of the apostles, not in your own conceit, but in your interpretation of the breadth and grandeur of the divine call. Everywhere do I read of great results attending one man's ministry. One man is sometimes an army, one man is sometimes a congregation. Despise not the two and the three; there is a religion which can condescend to bless meetings of twos and threes: consider that that condescension is a proof of the divinity of the doctrine. That which is artificial works for the artificial, that which is real works for the human, the vital, the image of God. To-day we call out for thousands to hear us, and if the thousands are not there, we think but little of the few who gather in the house of God. If we were in right mood of heart we should see in every little child an opportunity for preaching with all the fire that could burn in the heart of the most consecrated patriot or a twice-anointed minister of God.
Get away from the baptism of John as soon as you can. We are not always to be standing in introductory rites and ceremonial observances. Again and again would I say that the ministry of John was by its very constitution a temporary and not a permanent ministry. Is it possible that there are men and women amongst us to-day, squabbling with one another about the matter of baptism? With what baptism you have been baptized I care not—if you have been baptized with the dew of the morning, sprinkled with hands prelatic or archiepiscopal—care not if you have been plunged in the middle of all the great seas that roll round the earth. Such baptism is nothing if it has not been followed by the true baptism of blood and Fire. Into what baptism, then, have we been baptized? I believe that a sound argument can be set up in favour of the suggestion that in Christian baptism since the apostolic days there is no water at all. It does not follow that you must have water in order to have baptism, but, my friend, if you want the Atlantic have it: if the drop of dew trembling on the rosebud will suffice you, take it, but they are both nothing but ritualism, ceremonialism and superstition, If you do not seize the inner meaning, cry for the laver of blood, and mightily implore God to visit you with the baptism of fire.
See that the baptismal water does not freeze upon you, and encrust you as with ice, and make a bigot of you. The one baptism of which all other baptisms were indications, types and symbols, is the baptism of blood and the chrism of fire.
Review of the Whole Chapter
Now, looking at the third chapter as a whole, having already gone through it in detail, we seem to see in this brief chapter the history of a whole dispensation, the dispensation of John the Baptist. It begins and ends in these seventeen short verses. In this chapter I read, "Then cometh John," and I also read, "Then cometh JESUS." God thus condenses much into brief space. Sometimes he takes a long line, and we say he has gone into a far country, and we know not when he will return. Sometimes he seems to work with urgency and suddenness, and in a moment to begin and complete a whole dispensation. He is not to be measured by our lines or described by our terms: we cannot tell what he will do—he may take ages countless in which to build a rock, he may take a short night-time in which to begin and complete a whole dispensation of his providence. Thus he baffles all our statistical tables. We have no calculus by which we can tell when he will come, or where he will be at a given period; we cannot take him within our sweep and line. He loves to baffle the ingenuity of man. We have reduced everything now to a law of averages, but God stands out of our reckoning, and no man can say whether he will not come to-night to judge the world. Thus are we kept in continual expectation, thus there is ever near us a ghost that alarms or comforts, according to the mood of our heart. Let us learn that our business is to rest in the Lord and to wait patiently for him, so that whether he come to-night or do not come for long ages yet to elapse, we may be found doing our little best, cultivating our tiny corner, watching, waiting, praying, hoping, suffering with a hero's confidence, toiling with a son's delight, and then, come when he may, it will be summer for our souls, release and freedom for all that makes us mean.
Looking again at this chapter as a whole, we see that it introduces a new name into human history. May I pause a moment to ask you what that new name is? As we have read the chapter over several times together, did you hear one name that struck you as music strikes an attentive soul? It is a short name, it is—Son. "This is my beloved Son." We have made ourselves so familiar with that word that we read it as though it did not mark a new epoch in human history; but if we could have read the Bible through at one long sitting, we should have seen that the line of development moves in this form, Man—Servant—Prophet—Messenger—Son. Last of all he sent his Son also. It is infinitely exciting to see how these new words came into human speech. All the time we felt something was wanting: Man was a great name, Servant a high office, Prophet a marvellous function, Messenger a high ministry—SON takes them up and rounds them into completeness, and lights them with ineffable splendour.
The divine movement is always climacteric, the divine progress is an ascension. God does not begin with Son and work down to servant, nor with man and work down to some insignificant molecule: he begins at the other end, and always the better day is to come. Prophecy meant that the day of light was to dawn upon the hills and valleys of time, and that music was to take the place of groaning. That is the thread or line of the Bible, and because it is so I find in that very movement of ascension a confirmatory illustration, not to say an original and complete argument, on behalf of the divinity and authority of the Book which we worship as divinely inspired and final in its moral revelations.
Then, looking again at the chapter as a whole, we see that it completes what other dispensations only began. The proofs upon this, point are several and brilliant. What is the first word we hear in connection with human history, or with the formation of man? It is make. "Let us make man." In connection with Jesus Christ, "This is my only begotten Son." A Creator, a Father, an Artist, a God. Still the line heightens itself in the same direction. What is the description of the character of man in the first instance? Upright. God made man upright. What is the word used in connection with the Son? Beloved: See how God rises, and how his revelation brightens broadly. Upright—an experiment in moral mechanics: upright—an attitude: upright—negative. Beloved—kindred, sympathetic, approved, complete. It is thus that the Bible grows from root to flower; this is development. We claim that word as a Christian term, we cannot do without it in the church; the whole scheme of the divine administration of human affairs is a development, a progress, an upward marching: see it in the blade, the ear, the full corn in the ear: we would have God's Book judged by that law or science of development, and so judged we are brought from Make to Begotten, from Upright to Beloved, and from Very Good to Well Pleased. Hear ye not the same old, rich voice? "God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good." "Lo, a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." In both cases he sets himself in a relation of satisfaction to what is before him. Man, standing there, fashioned in his own image, upright, faultless, inexperienced, with a great destiny to work out—on him is written "Very good." The last outcome of this human growth and mystery stands before him on Jordan's banks, and a voice says "Well pleased," and when God is pleased law is satisfied and grace is triumphant.
Then we come further still, from the Us of the creating Trinity to the My of the approving Father. Thus in the creation of man we read, "Let us make man." In the inauguration of the Son we read, "This is my beloved Son." Examine still further, and in other fields and relationships, this suggestion of the continuous, ever-culminating development of the divine purpose, and say if there be not in it a rich fund of spiritual instruction and satisfaction. There has been a divine ideal in the rest towards which God has been slowly moving, through revolution, and war, and distress, and manifold experiences of every human kind, but never did he say "Well pleased" until there stood before him his only begotten Son. Five hundred years before he was not at rest. A century before, his purpose was still a hundred years ahead, but steadily, surely, grandly he moved on, the line now dipping into deep pits, now starting up high hills—still on he moved. You cannot turn God back, though now the ancestral line is lost in a harlot, and now it is put to risk in a wayward king. Still he moves on, and presently he says, "It is finished: this is my beloved SON."
So shall it be in the culmination and upgathering of all things. Jesus Christ must reign till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death, and when death lies below his feet, he will deliver up the kingdom to God and his Father, and God shall be all in all. Haste thee, calm morning—a flame with every colour of beauty, peaceful with the divine benediction—O, come. The old earth is torn with pain and distressed with intolerable pangs—but that morning cometh. Watchman, what of the night? The night cometh, and also the morning. We are in sad case just now. England was never baser in her morals in many public aspects of her history than she is at this moment. She never more foully debased her journalism, or poured out of her history streams more revolting and pestilential. But God is moving on; it is his old movement; he knows every knot in the line, every twist in the road, every difficulty in the path—but if you could see his eye, it never moves from the point he has set before him, and he will bring in all his purposes and decrees, his completed oaths and covenants fulfilled, for his own mouth hath spoken it.
Are we now to bid farewell to John the Baptist? Are you still in John's baptism? He was a burning and a shining light, but you ought to have left him long ago. Are you still down by Jordan's banks, wanting to take the plunge? Verily I say unto you, amongst them that are born of women there hath not appeared a greater than John the Baptist; nevertheless, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. You ought, therefore, to take the step from the initial baptism into the inner and Christian one. You ought to leave the letter and pass into the spirit. You ought now to be able to enjoy the large, calm, sweet liberty of the gospel, and not be bound by ordinances, and observances, and divers ceremonies. We have left these behind us: they were useful in their time, they were elements which God used for the further broadening and illumination of his righteousness, so far as our vision was concerned, but now I know nothing of any ceremony: I have outlived it; if I do anything, it is merely to remind me, merely as a suggestion; not as a necessity, but as a help to some higher spiritual blessing.
Do you say you have been baptized, and therefore you are all right? All the water in all the seas and firmaments of heaven would not cleanse you. Do you say you sit down regularly to the Lord's supper? All the wine in all the vineyards of creation would not contain one drop of blood to you, if you are not already hidden in the very heart of the Son of God. Do you say you regularly come to church and observe religious fasts and festivals? Away with all these externals, if they do not indicate contrition, self-renunciation, trust in a living Christ, identification with the Son of God. We are not saved by the outward, but by the inward. All the outward is but symbolical—the inward baptism is a shedding abroad in the heart of the Holy Ghost.
The Lord's peace be in our souls, and the Lord help us to see beyond the letter into all the brightness and beauty of the spirit.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?Chapter 8
John's Preaching—The Right Spirit of Hearing—the Old Grit Is Lost—a Kingdom Or a Wrath—Different Reports of Preaching
Almighty God, our mouth is filled with thanksgiving, because our heart is stirred with gratitude. Thou hast done great things for us, and most wonderful, therefore is our mouth opened in praise, therefore are our hands stretched out to thee in the offer of loving service. Thou hast beset us behind and before and laid thine hands upon us, and thine eye has gleamed from heaven like a great sun, shining upon all our way, bringing us continual light and hope. Thou hast lifted us above our fears, so that the clouds have rolled under our feet, and we have seen thy bright blue morning spreading over our whole destiny, like a father's blessing. Thou art great, thou art kind, thy name is mercy, thy ministry is love. These things have we, learned in our heart in its deep pain and want, and having learned them, we would turn them into religious hymns and continual and delightful service. Thou art our God, and we have none beside; thine hand is the treasury of our almightiness, and in thine heart is hidden the gospel of our salvation. We will look unto the hills whence cometh our help; we will repair to the Saviour's cross in the time, of infinite distress on account of sin, and through his most precious blood, shed for the sins of the whole World, our guilt shall receive the answer of thy forgiveness.
We bless thee for this uplifted cross, a tree higher than all forests, a spectacle that makes all other sights dull and poor—the great tragedy of thy love. To that tree we come: its leaves are for the healing of the nations, and other healing for the heart of man there is none. This is the Lord's doing; may we within its span be in the Lord's spirit, lifted up in heart, made ecstatic in joy, having around us all the sweet bright ministry of holy hope. Being delivered from every fear, freed from every snare, and delivered from every perplexity, may our souls become filled with thy joy and soothed and calmed by thy peace.
We mourn our sin: 'tis our daily cry; we have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things that we ought to have done—the Lord's mercy be multiplied unto us, and all the ministry of Christ be sent to our aid. Let us every one hear the utterance of thy forgiving love, let the most burdened conscience be delivered from its load, let the wounded and crying heart be healed of its pain, and over all the assembly may there pass the assurance of thy pardon, and may there return upon our life the lifting up of the light of thy countenance.
We bless thee for all thy blessings: they are in our individual life, for thou hast continued unto us health and strength and reasoning power and hope within the limits of this present scene. Thou hast blessed us in basket and in store, so that our trade has brought profit and our merchandise has yielded us a living. Thou hast given us favour in the sight of the people, so that our foothold in society is not lost, Thou hast saved us from many a temptation and delivered us from many a sin and snare, so that oar feet walk in the ways of freedom and we breathe the air of liberty. Thou hast blessed us in the family; the father and the mother and the child are here, reunited, returned to one another, in the grace and fulness of thy protection. The Lord continue all household mercies to us: spare the elder and the younger, may there be no vacant chair, no empty heart, no desolated spirit. Where thou hast sent thy bereaving providence send thine all-healing grace; where thou hast but now dug the deepest grave ever dug in the heart, the Lord fill it up with flowers, and so set upon it the sign and seal of a sure, glorious resurrection." Where the house is dark, do thou kindle an unexpected fire; where the life is impoverished, do thou come with all thy treasure about it.
The Lord heal the wounded, the Lord carry the tired in his arms, the Lord bless the unblest, and send dew upon the withering flower. Thou knowest us every one, our ancestry, our difficulties, our temptations, our temperaments—peculiarities which individualize us one from the other. Thou knowest all that is in us and about us—be the God of each life, the Saviour of each heart, the friend of each pilgrim.
Give thy word mighty wings to-day, that it may fly farther than ever: make the voices of thy servants sweeter than trumpets of silver and louder than shocks of thunder, and let thy word be heard everywhere, awakening and gladdening the hearts of men.
Pity us in our littleness and infirmity, make the way down to the grave as easy as thou canst, and may the farewells of earth have in them tones subtle and tender, suggesting reunion in heaven. Amen.
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation (brood) of vipers, who hath warned (taught) you to flee from the wrath (a kingdom to some, a wrath to others) to come?
8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
9. And think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to (as) our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. ("God is not tied to the law of succession in the church.")
10. And now (already) also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees (the Jews: the Gentiles were stones): therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.
11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, 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 thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
This is a wonderful, yet not difficult, change of tone in the speech of such a man as John the Baptist. His baptism was the sensation of the day. Everybody seemed to have more or less interest in it. Not to have heard it was to be misinformed or wanting in information, and not to have partaken of it was to have missed a great opportunity. All the valley of the Jordan was moved, people poured in from every centre, great and small, in order that they might hear this new prophet, for a prophet had not appeared in Israel for five hundred years. Curiosity was touched, wonder was on the alert, national pride was excited, and a great and hardly expressed hope was moving the ambition of the people.
For a long time John seems to have pursued his baptismal course without interruption, and indeed with some signs of satisfaction. There went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins—not, I imagine, confessing their sins in a minute and detailed manner, but generally acknowledging that they were not as good as they ought to have been, pleading guilty to a certain great, broad, general indictment, which all men probably over the civilized world are not unwilling to do. This was enough, as a starting point, in the case which John the Baptist represented. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, the great and leading men of the day, pure in their own estimation, not needing any such ministry as he came to conduct, except in an official and ceremonial manner, it changed his tone; he cried aloud with piercing and ringing voice, "O brood of vipers, progeny of serpents, deceitful, cunning, malignant, empoisoned, how do you account for being here? Who hath warned you, called you, who hath entitled you to avail yourselves of this opportunity?"
John was a man who recognised the possibility of people coming to religious ordinances from wrong motives. The people to whom he spake did not come for purely religious purposes at all. They thought it was something to be passed through in order to realize a great end. They accepted it as a little ceremonial, preceding some great national endowment or fulfilment of long delayed prophecy. John startled them, therefore, with the tidings that this was a religious ordinance, and that men can only avail themselves satisfactorily of religious ordinances in proportion as they come to them with religious motives.
Are the Pharisees and the Sadducees of the olden time the only people who have come to church through wrong motives? Is it possible that any of us can ever go to a holy place with unholy intent, or with a purpose infinitely below the grandeur of the opportunity? When I ask the questions I kill myself. Do I pierce any of your hearts, or wound, ever so slightly, any of your consciences? Whatever is religious must be touched religiously, or it will yield no true benefit or profit. You are not to touch the Bible as literary men, you are not to come to church as clever men, you are not to sit bolt upright as those who have a claim to judge in God's sanctuary. The attitude is abasement, the spirit is contrition, the desire is a yearning for a purer and broader life. "To this man will I look—the man that is of a humble and contrite heart, and that trembleth at my word." The haughty he will bow down, the wise he will confound and disappoint. He will look to the eager heart, the gentle, simple, yearning spirit whose one object is to know God's will and to try to do it.
When men come to religious ordinances, they should be warned of the meaning of the action which they wish to accomplish. They should have a clear and most intelligent conception of the whole purpose of religious worship. It is the business of the heralds of the cross and the ministers of the truth to give this warning, to keep back those who have not the right credentials. This is a kingdom that can only be entered by one right, the right of sin, avowed, confessed, deplored. Blind man, your blindness is your certificate, you want no other. Broken-hearted, wounded man, your contrition or your penitence is your credential; seek for none beside. Weary, tired soul, altogether overborne and distressed by the burdens and difficulties of life, your weariness is your claim. Do not try to get up your strength. When you lie flat in your weakness, your attitude is most acceptable to Heaven. To try to gain your breath that you may appear with some decorousness in his presence is to enhance your sin. To come panting, heaving, out of breath, gasping, dying—that is the guarantee of a good hearing in the presence of God.
How comes it that people so little profit by religious ordinances? Because they are too clever, too wise, too conceited, too good, in their own estimation. I never heard Pharisees and Sadducees praise with religious gratitude any service they ever attended. They, mighty men, confer an honour, they add lustre to the altar, they lift up the church in which their self-vaunting supplications are uttered. How then can they, who are so full of themselves, who are enriched with the emptiness of their own self-satisfaction, gain any spiritual advantage from any church they ever entered? They do not go to church to get benefit, but to give it. Their purpose is to lay a flattering hand upon the infinite, and to bless it with the paw of their consecration. We should have been richer men to-day, broader and more massive in all religious instruction, intelligence, and force, if we had come with a true humbleness and bent down before God with an utter, absolute sense of unworthiness in his sight.
Surely he was a wilderness-trained man who spake thus to the high citizens of the day. Look at him, with his camel's hair and the leathern girdle about his loins, fed with locusts and wild honey. When he speaks, he will speak honey, but only in his speech to self-satisfied men there will be less honey than locusts. Upon some men you cannot confer any social advantage. They do not want it. What can I do for you, poor Diogenes, living in your tub? Nothing, but stand out of the light. The religious man ought never to be one to whom no favour can be shown. A man who can live in the wilderness, read the literature of the everlasting hills, and decipher the poetry of the skies, asks for no favour, can stoop to receive none; his is a marvellous independence of all social patronage and help. "Do not offend the Pharisees and the Sadducees, conciliate them, conceal as much as you can: they have it in their power to do great things for you." Such might have been the speech spoken to this man with the camel's hair and the leathern girdle, fed on locusts and wild honey; but he would have hurled it back again in shattering accents of scorn. So the religious teacher has it in his power to lift himself high above the line of patronage and the line of obligation, for religious men should be able to live upon nothing. Every true teacher of God should have bread to eat that the world knoweth not of, so that when men who misunderstand his mission come to him and say, "Let us hear your sermon, and then you shall have the loaf," he should be able to decline the loaf, to preach his discourse, and to vanish into the wilderness.
This gospel of Christ, either in its prophetic outlines, or in this transient dispensation of the Baptist, or in its full revelation in Jesus Christ, has never sought to make itself a popular religion in the sense of bowing down hopefully before thrones on which were seated kings that could confer advantages upon it. Its fierce, all but savage, independence always strikes me with infinite force. When the Pharisees and the Sadducees came to the baptism of John, he said, "You are a brood of vipers." He called them by their right name. We dare not use such names now, because we do not live in the wilderness, we live in a city; we are not clothed with camel's hair and a leathern girdle about our loins, we have now gown and bands and a silken girdle, therefore we must be very complacent with the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and with people who are socially tall. I heard a fine and most prosperous gentleman say that he entered a London church once and only once because in the course of the service the minister called some person who had been acting vilely—a wretch. "For that reason I have shut up the Bible—I heard a man call the most respectable citizens of his day a brood of vipers, a progeny of serpents, a nest of evil things. And I heard another man call a king a fox, and others he called whited sepulchres, hidden graves, actors, masked men." The age of free, clear, grand speech is dead: we have come into the age of euphonism. He is the bold man who so utters his sentences that nobody can quote them, who so rounds and oils them that it is impossible to retain them in the grasp. The old grit is lost, the old free piercing speech is gone; we have alighted upon silken times, and hard words would not become the lips that cannot live but on the rich man's viands.
Though the gospel has never endeavoured to make itself popular in the sense of conciliating those who might confer patronage upon it, yet it has always welcomed with infinite pathos the hearts that felt their need of its redemption. No broken heart was ever turned away from the cross, no weary and overborne soul was ever discouraged by the Son of God. No poor bent woman, having nothing left but her touch of faith, was ever spurned by God's dear Son. He resents our fulness, not our poverty: it is when we are great he has nothing to say to us, not when we are little in our own esteem.
It is everywhere made clear in these Scriptures, that in coming for divine blessings we must renounce all human satisfactions. Nothing but emptiness can be heard at the divine bar. John gives a hint of this grand condition of entrance into the divine kingdom when he says, "Think not—literally plume not yourselves—by saying, We have Abraham for our father. This is a kingdom that knows nothing of these intermediate and transient relationship; this is not a kingdom of great families, it is a kingdom of humanity." Therefore, for John the Baptist, trained in the wilderness, to come up amid all these glittering things and to lay down this doctrine of the kingdom of Heaven being founded upon humanity, was a miracle then—it is a commonplace now, because we have had full instruction upon gospel principles and purposes. But in John the Baptist's day to lay down this grand doctrine—here is a kingdom not for special families and particular kindreds, but for all the wide world—that was a consummation of all the miracles as well as a fulfilment of all the prophecies.
How difficult it is to break a man's prejudice when it rests upon considerations of the kind which John refers to. A man had Abraham to his father, therefore, he. wildly reasons, it will be all right with him whatever may happen in the world. Christianity aims a destructive blow at all such pretences. This is the last fibre of badness. You cannot take out of some men a claim to God's favour, because of something ancestral or official represented by their individual life. Blessed are they who never heard of Abraham as compared with those who turn their Abrahamic ancestry into a prejudice against the divine kingdom or a condition of entering it. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are they who can say—
"Who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" This is the first time I have heard you say "wrath;" when you began to preach you said, "the kingdom of Heaven." How do you account for this change in your language and your tone? In reply to this inquiry John tells me that the Gospel of Christ is either a kingdom or a wrath. It is a saviour of life unto life, or a saviour of death unto death. It is a gospel or a judgment, a heaven or a hell, an eye turned towards the zenith of God's heart, bright as a morning, or the same eye turned in kindling wrath towards the Egyptians, troubling the camp, and striking off the chariot-wheels though they be made of solid iron. This book cannot occupy a middle place in society. It is either the Book or no Book, a gospel or a lie, a religion or a blasphemy. No man can entertain an opinion of indifference regarding Jesus Christ. If he has considered the subject at all, he must worship Christ or crucify Him. He cannot be allowed to live as an indifferent person, about whom any opinions may be formed you please. When there is earnestness in the inquiry and the criticism, that earnestness ends in homage or crucifixion.
This sermon by John the Baptist is not the kind of introduction one would have expected to the incoming of the Son of God. No gentle tone seems to escape the lips of this man: it is as if a stormy whirlwind had caught him and borne him on through the wilderness of Judea, and as if a great fire were behind him as he earnestly makes his way. Strange and terrible are these words—Repent, Prepare, Axe, Purge his floor, Burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. In all these there is not one tone of conciliation, one smile of amiability, one outflow of cordiality. Yet this man comes before the Prince of Peace. Nor does he allude in this report to the gentler aspects of the coming One. He is taken up with the idea of power; hence he says, "He that cometh after me is mightier than I." The preacher in the wilderness deals with the idea of strength; strength as a terror to evil, as a terrible judicial power. A melodious hymn, such as peace would sing in a garden of flowers, might have been expected, trembling, quivering with hopeful joy; but instead, there is a roar as of a sudden storm, and a cry as of unexpected terror. This is not the introduction I looked for, yet it is like the way of God in the making of human history. He is always setting aside human expectations, and building His temples in unlikely places and with unlikely material. God uses the storm. The ages are not all made up of long radiant summer days: night, and storm, and battle, as well as day, and calm, and peace, are God's servants. This age requires voices that can be heard: the world's vast wilderness is open, and the man that is needed now and in every age is the man who, with throat of brass, inspired with iron lungs, can cry, "Repent." The church is now in danger of overfeeding the few and forgetting the hungry many. There is a work to be done in the wilderness; the manner appropriate to the wilderness may not be appropriate to the church; what is wanted, therefore, is adaptation, the loud cry or the subdued tone—both are wanted, and always will be wanted, to meet the world's great want.
Yet how incomplete it would be to say that this report of John's ministry given in the gospel by Matthew fully represents the work done by the energetic Baptist. Supposing we had no other account but the one which is now immediately before us, we should have no conception approaching completeness of the work which John did in his short day. It is so that all preacher's suffer. Let us go and inquire of those who have heard John the Baptist preach, and listen what reports they give of this wonderful man. Have you heard this new preacher deliver a discourse—the man whose raiment is of camel's hair, with a leathern girdle about his loins? "Yes," is the reply, "we have heard him preach." What do you think of him? "He is a harsh man, his voice grates, he utters austere words." What did you hear him say? "We heard him call the Pharisees and the Sadducees a brood of vipers." He did not call the Pharisees and the Sadducees a brood of vipers to their faces, did he? "Yes." Then we do not care to hear so fierce a preacher.
Ask others. Have you heard John the Baptist preach? "Yes." What say you about him? "Savage, terrible; do not go near him, he will offend, he will affright you." Why? you say. Can you tell us anything you have heard him say? "Yes, we heard him say, The axe 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; and after that he said it was an unquenchable fire." Then he is not the kind of preacher that would suit us: we like the gentle and the quiet, the contemplative, the almost silent: above all things we love the pathetic and the soothing—so we shall not go to hear this Jordan-preacher.
But here are others coming from the sermon: have you heard him preach? "Yes." What said he? "He said there was One coming, whose fan was in his hand, and he would thoroughly purge his floor, and gather the wheat into the garner, but burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
All these three reports concur: they all represent John the Baptist as a fierce, objurgatory preacher. His lips are iron-bound, his voice is like a shock of tempest, and there is no gentleness in his heart. By these fierce utterances he disproves his claim to be the herald of the man you expect.
There the report of this great preacher might end. Would you have a true conception of his marvellous power from the report which Matthew gives in this chapter? You must collate the other evangelists and put the story together, piece by piece, until you get its wholeness. This same John the Baptist said the tenderest thing that ever fell from human lips. The man who said, "Vipers—axe—fire—fan" said the most touching words that ever fell on the bruised and expectant heart of men. I have noticed that to be the case so frequently—that the men who can denounce the age with so fierce an accent, can bless the age with its softest and sweetest benedictions. I have noticed that the humorist is the master of pathos. I have observed that the man who is most fierce against iniquity can also be the most sympathetic with weakness and sorrow.
Now having heard the three reports about John, let us wait a few days and then inquire again. Let us suppose those few days to have elapsed, and here is a party coming from listening to the Baptist. Let us inquire—have you heard the Baptist preach? "Yes." What think ye of him? "He hath broken our hearts." What, has he said anything about viper, and fire, and axe, and fan? "Nothing." What then did he say? He cannot have spoken any gentle thing: gentle things would not become that fierce mouth. What said he? Now listen to the reply, and tell me if this does not reveal the character of the Baptist in its roundness. He said, looking upon One who was within sight, and pointing to him, "Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world." What, did the man who said, "Viper, axe, fire, fan, purge the floor"—did he say, "Behold the Lamb of God"? "Yes." Then he preached the only sermon worth preaching.
Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.Chapter 9
Sympathy, Inauguration, and Sympathy—Providence Both Slow and Swift—Review of the Chapter—the True Law of Development—the True Baptism
Almighty God, since the darkness and the light are both alike unto thee, thou canst make it light in our hearts, even though they be under a great cloud and gloom. Thou delightest to come into the soul of man, and to shed upon it all the brightness and beauty of heavenly morning. So do thou now come unto our hearts and create all the peace of thy sacred Sabbath, and give thy pilgrims rest. Very good art thou, and as for thy truth, it is more sure than the sun. Very tender, beyond all we know of pity, is the Lord, and he is our Father, and on him do we rest in the time of sore trouble and great fear. For a long time we turned our eyes away from thee as though we knew thee not, and then suddenly coming upon great woe, behold our hearts turned their eyes towards the heavens to search for him who reigns and rules over all. Thou dost receive thy prodigals every day, yea, in the night time dost thou open the door of thy house to let thy wanderers in. We are all thine, though we have spoken against thee; we bear thine image, though our hand has been thrust into thy face: we are still thy children, though we have ruined every faculty and wasted our inheritance, and are no more worthy to be called thy sons. So great is thy love, so all-forgiving is thy spirit: we come to thee now without any defence or excuse, assured by the very breath of thy gospel that we shall be received, even with joyfulness, in the courts of our Father's house.
We have done wickedly: we bring back no commandment to thy throne that we have kept: we dare not stand upon our virtue and innocence and ask for thine inquiry. We are evil and we have done evil, and we are witnesses against ourselves, and the day is too short to hear the testimony of our self-accusation. But great is the mercy of the Lord, and full is his everlasting love, and ready to reply in his yielding and clement heart, seeing that we do come in the appointed way, and breathe our penitential prayer at the foot of the cross of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. We speak in his sweet great name, it is a name to sinners dear, it was created for the use of sinners—verily it is their name, a rock in which they hide, a sun from which they expect their light, a sanctuary of delight and a pledge of power.
We entreat thee to hear our praises when we bless thee for all thy loving care. The fire has not gone out at home, the sick one is still with us, and a new gleam of hope lights up the chamber of gloom. Thou hast kept our roof over our head, and the snow has melted without drenching us. Behold thou hast kept the winter outside, and on the hearthstone hast thou set the flower of summer. Our table thou dost spread with a liberal hand, thou dost make our bed, and soften our pillow, and send sweet sleep to give us renewal of strength. All our friends are with us still, cheerful and glad, and touching us with the contagion of a rich sympathy, blessing us with the comfort of high fellowship, and giving gladness to the earth. Our reasoning faculties thou hast spared unto us, we are men at liberty and not in prison, we are bound to one another by the bonds of love, no fetter falls upon our limbs. What, then, shall we render unto the Lord for all his personal and social blessings unto us? We will lift high our hymn of praise, and bless the Lord with a solemn psalm.
Beyond all this, thou hast made our hearts rich with grace: before our eyes thou hast set a bright hope, thou hast put into our souls the comfort of thy Son, thou hast given us a Saviour, name high above all others, sweet beyond all names we know. May he be unto us Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of peace, all and in all, what we need, what we cannot live without, assurance upon assurance, as grace upon grace, until our confidence becomes a high triumph.
We bless thee for thy written word, placed before us in our mother tongue: we thank thee for ability to read it, each man for himself. As we read, do thou explain: then shall thy word bo written upon the page before us, and upon the inner page of our loving hearts.
Hear all special praises and incline thine ear to all particular complaints. Do thou give rest unto the weary, and hope to the sad, and a new beginning to those who have spoiled all the past. Lift us into high ecstasy because of the renewal of our life and hope in Christ Jesus, and as the year closes around us, and bids us pensively Farewell, may we rise in the spirit of devotion and consecration, and attach ourselves to thy cause by broad and honourable vows.
Good Lord, hear us: let thy pity be greater than our sin, let the cross of Jesus Christ rise infinitely beyond the gloom of our distress, and give us assurance of pardon, purity, and heaven. Amen.
13. "Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him.
14. But John forbade (sought to hinder) him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?
15. And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now (for the present) for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him.
16. And Jesus when he was baptized went straightway out of the water, and lo the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting upon him:
17. And lo a voice from heaven saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
There is one point upon which we are all agreed—namely, that the baptism of Jesus Christ could not be a baptism unto repentance. "He did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." He was without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, the very Son of God, pure as the bosom on which he rested and out of which he came. We must, therefore, find other reasons than that of repentance for this baptism of the Saviour of the world. John must enlarge his own conception of the baptism which he came to administer. He had used the word Repent; now a new word was to be attached to his baptism, and an infinitely older and larger word. What man amongst us is there who knows the exact measure of his work? Yet, for the sake of convenience, every one of us has a name by which he designates his ministry. John, for example, called his service a baptism unto repentance. But there came one unto him who said, "The other word which enlarges your service to its true proportion, and indicates its high intent and purport, is—Righteousness." John thought his ministry a negative one: Jesus Christ taught him that his baptism was positive as well as negative, a baptism unto righteousness or in accordance with the spirit of righteousness, as well as a baptism unto repentance.
This baptism of Christ was a baptism of sympathy. Sympathy means feeling with, having a common pathos or feeling, emotion, or passion, and he, the Saviour, was in all points made like unto his brethren, that in all points he might have a fellow-feeling, a kindred passion: that there might be no tone in all the gamut of their life's utterance to which he could not respond, giving it a counterpart, a fulfilment, a higher emphasis, a keener and truer accent. Jesus Christ identified himself with all the dispensations of providence; he was the spirit of the prophets, and now he came into this baptism of John. When he expounded the Scriptures he began at Moses—he could not have begun earlier—and he expounded them to those who listened to him—what was written in Moses, in the prophets, and in the Psalms; and, having been present in all these dispensations or varieties of the divine mood in relation to the children of men, was he to be absent only from the baptism of John? So he accepted that baptism, not because the word Repentance was associated with it, but because it also extended itself by subtle processes wholly unknown to the Baptist himself—to Righteousness.
It was a baptism of inauguration and a baptism of approval; John was hereby sealed as a witness and messenger of God. By this act Jesus Christ said, "John is no adventurer, and his baptism is no mere sensation of the passing hour. It goes back to the decree and purpose of God, it looks forward to the infinite gospel which it holds," and thus John himself was sealed, approved, and crowned in this very act of humble service performed by the Son of God. It was, I repeat, a baptism of inauguration. Jesus Christ was not in the sacerdotal line, though in the line royal: he came to be the Priest of the universe, having from eternity been its King, now he was introduced or inaugurated into his high-priestly office.
How little we know what we are doing when we baptize any life. We speak of repentance and cleansing as the meaning and purport of baptism, and sometimes we are baptizing kings and priests, and we know it not. The possibility that we may be thus inaugurating to high office and noble position some human life should throw over our whole service a tender and hopeful solemnity. You cannot tell who is under your influence: it may be a king, a priest, a deliverer. You thought your work was a preliminary one, you called yourself an elementary teacher, you said, in humble self-deprecation, "I am but a pioneer, I am only a forerunner, my name is a herald and nothing more, and I give introductory lessons, and cannot proceed to the higher learning: I am only a precursor, and nothing more." You limited yourself too much, John thought he was a crying voice, whereas it was appointed of God that he should inaugurate to his priestly office the Saviour of the world.
Thus the lesser may be concerned in the service of the greater. "I have need to be baptized of thee." If a man does not feel his own need of baptism he is unworthy of administering the rite in any of its higher senses to the humblest creature that ever was presented at the altar. "I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me?" We know the meaning of this in other ranges of thinking. A minister sometimes sees before him persons to whom intellectually he is but slave and minister, and he says, "I have need to be intellectually elevated and illuminated by thee, and comest thou to me?" Yet the coming is perfectly right, for this kingdom of Christ is not a merely intellectual school, it is a school in which intellect has to sit down and humble itself, and patiently wait for the illumining revelation which is shed from Heaven. We do not sit here in our cleverness and grandeur and intellectual influence, but in our moral nakedness and necessity, in our spiritual simplicity and childlike-ness, waiting not for man but for God, and for man only in so far as he is the medium on which the infinite silence breaks into momentary speech for the teaching and comforting of the human heart.
Thus, too, God puts himself under his own laws. "The laws of nature" is a mood of God, is but another expression for God himself. Do not speak of laws of nature as if they were somewhat independent of God. They are God, they are God in motion, God made visible, God made audible, God coming down in wondrous condescension so far into our region, and thinking that we can in some degree trace him, and identify him, and judge him. Thus Jesus Christ came unto the baptism of John. It was to him a baptism of sympathy, a baptism of approval, a baptism of inauguration, a stooping of the divine so as to take up its own laws and exemplify its own purposes.