As John was completing his course, he said, 'Who do you suppose I am? I am not that One. But He is coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.'
2. His conciliatory introductions: he always strives first to be sure of a common platform with his audience.
3. His skill in dealing with the early histories; which served his purposes in two ways -
(1) by securing the attention of his Jewish audiences, which are to this day always pleased with reviews of the national history; and
(2) by bringing out the preparatory character of the earlier dispensation, and fitting his gospel message to it as a completion.
4. His firm handling of the facts connected with the mission of Jesus of Nazareth: his innocence; his death as a victim of ecclesiastical enmity; his resurrection.
5. His simple offer of pardon and life in the name of the glorified, living Savior. It is not conceivable that the gospel, in its very essence, can be more succinctly expressed than it has been by the Apostle Paul, in his missionary speeches (see especially here vers. 26, 32, 38, 39).
6. His force of passionate pleading and application of the truth to individuals, as shown in vers. 40, 41. It is to be noted that St. Paul always makes his appeal to both the intelligence and the heart, and the verses now before us for consideration show how he offered proofs of his statements which were well within the comprehension of his audience. A sentiment prevailed generally among the Jewish race concerning John the Baptist. St. Paul takes advantage of it, and shows how John gave his indirect and direct witness to the Messiahship of Jesus of Nazareth. It may be true that John's testimony to Jesus was of more value to a Jewish than to a Christian audience, but we question whether sufficient has ever yet been made of it as one of our best evidences to the truth of Christianity. Three things require careful study and efficient illustration.
I. JOHN'S PROPHET-CHARACTER. In fixing attention on John the Baptizer, men have lost sight of his more important relations as John the Prophet. "All men counted John as a prophet," the last of the line of men whom God was pleased to raise up, for a time, as the expounders to men of his will - the voices that spoke to men his message. It was the very essence of the prophet that he had a message from God to deliver, and a right to arrest men and compel them to listen to it. John's message was his mission, and his baptizing rite was but an accident or mode of expressing and sealing his message. We should ask - What did John say to men in the Name of God? not, What rite did John perform?
II. JOHN'S PREPARATORY WORK. This St. Paul dwells on. John never assumed that he had a message complete in itself, or that what he demanded was all, or even, the greatest thing, men needed. He was a herald, but his heralding assumed the close approach of the King. He was a mender of ways, but only to get ready for the royal progress. He demanded repentance, but only that men might be ready to receive the forgiveness and life which the King was coming to bestow. To stop with John is on the face of it absurd. There is no going on from John save to Christ.
III. JOHN'S DIRECT TESTIMONY. There should have been no need for this. And yet it forms a most valuable link, especially to Jews. John witnessed plainly that he had prepared the way for Jesus of Nazareth, that he was the Lamb of God to take away sins, and that God had given to him visible and audible testimony that Jesus was the expected Messiah and Savior. Accept John as prophet, we must accept Jesus as Messiah. - R.T.
John fulfilled his course.
I. THAT THERE IS A PRESCRIBED COURSE OR SPHERE OF ACTION APPOINTED TO EVERY INDIVIDUAL BY THE AUTHOR OF OUR NATURE.
1. We are not a race of independent creatures sent into the world to follow the dictates of our own will. We are not our own; we belong to another. To do God's will, to serve the end of His government, and to promote His glory; these are the great ends of our existence. Thus our Saviour Himself when in this world was devoted to His Father's will. "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me," etc. And we live to no purpose, or to a bad one, but as we conform to this.
2. But, although this is the universal principle by which all are to be actuated, yet it admits of great and numerous variations in its practical application. The manner in which an apostle, for instance, was called upon to do this, is not that in which an ordinary teacher is to do it; nor the manner of an ordinary teacher that of a private Christian. The duties of a sovereign are different from those of his ministers; and those again, from the duties of inferior magistrates; and of magistrates, from those of private subjects. Of the rich it is required "to do good and to communicate"; of the poor, to be prudent, diligent, careful; and so on. Although the end is the same in all, yet the manner in which this end is viewed will be various: the rays of light, when blended in day, are simple and of a uniform colour; but when they are refracted through a prism, they exhibit all the colours of the rainbow.
II. THAT THERE IS A SET AND LIMITED TIME ALLOTTED TO THAT SPHERE AND COURSE OF ACTION: "There is an appointed time to man upon the earth."
1. The course of man is not indeterminate, but has its limits. If "a sparrow falleth not to the ground without His knowledge," much less can the death of a human creature take place without His interposition. Whether we fall premature victims to disease, or perish by what men call accident, or sink under the burdens of age, still it is according to the will of God, "whose counsels shall stand, and who will do all His pleasure."
2. It is short. "Thou hast made my days as an handbreadth." Whether we drop in infancy, from the cradle to the grave, or are cut off in youth; whether we attain to manhood, or even to old age; still, we soon reach the end of our course, and often without passing through its intermediate stages.
3. It is rapid and impetuous; its waves follow each other in quick succession, and many are engulfed almost as soon as they appear. Early in infancy the stream glides away like a summer brook, and leaves the fond parent mournfully to recall the pleasure he received in contemplating its unsullied purity and its playful meanders. Of those who set out with us in this journey of life, how many have disappeared from our side!
III. OUR HAPPINESS AND OUR HONOUR CONSIST ENTIRELY IN COMPLETING THE COURSE WHICH GOD HAS ASSIGNED TO US. Here we are liable to fall into two great mistakes.
1. That there is some other happiness and honour than that which is to be found in fulfilling our course, in occupying that sphere of duty which God hath been pleased to assign us. Some are looking, for their satisfaction, to the pleasures of sin; others to the gratification which the world affords; some attach their notion of happiness to some external situation not yet found, and imagine it is to be met with there. Settle it in your minds that the only happiness worth seeking — that which will live in all circumstances, and abide the vicissitudes of life, consists in fulfilling our course, conforming to the Divine will, and this fountain of water flows for the refreshment of the meanest peasant, as well as of the greatest monarch.
2. That we should be able to conform ourselves to the will of God, and to our own sphere of action, better in some other state; and being therefore dissatisfied with that precise state in which His providence has placed us. The wisdom of each consists in fulfilling His own course. The course of John the Baptist was difficult, obstructed with afflictions, and beset with dangers: but he fulfilled it. How many objections might he have formed against the precise course assigned him! The poor may easily imagine how amiably and liberally they should have acted if their lot had been cast among the rich; and the rich, on the other hand, how safely they should have been preserved from a variety of snares, if they had been screened by the privacy of the poor. The young will ascribe their errors to the impetuosity so natural to their age; and the aged wish for the energy which belongs to youth: their time, they plead, is passed; it is too late for them to change. But all these are great mistakes. It is not a change of state that we want, but a change of heart. The grace of God will keep us humble in prosperity, cheer us in adversity, sustain and direct us in life, support us in death, and go with us into eternity. Finally, let each of us attach himself with more seriousness, alacrity, and fervour than ever, to the proper duties of his station; let each consider in what instances he fails to fulfil his course. The memory of John the Baptist is perpetuated with honour, because he "fulfilled his course"; while that of Herod and Pontius Pilate are covered with infamy. Which of these characters will you imitate? Whenever the gospel is preached, this alternative is presented of "shining like the sun forever; or of awaking to shame and everlasting contempt."
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