The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
The gospel is a revelation of the Divine love; the "beginning" of it is therefore hidden in the depths of the eternal love of God. The whole gospel was buried, the end from the beginning, in the Divine purpose; and it was contained seminally in the first promise. Every Divine promise is equal to the event. But the manifestation of the gospel in time, or the historic "beginning of the gospel," is the theme of this prologue. Thought of within the limits of history, the "beginning" is a preparation. The messenger is sent to "prepare the way of the Lord." This preparation is twofold - historical and personal.
I. THE HISTORICAL PREPARATION IS A PREPARATION FOR THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE GOSPEL. The historic preparation must be traced from the moment when the first gentle word of promise mingled, half unheard, with the first words of judgment and condemnation, forwards to that moment in which "the time" was "fulfilled," and the word was heard, "The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel." The true disciple, always a listener and a learner, whose eyes are not holden, and who is not "slow of heart to believe," will gladly learn that "from Moses and from all the prophets, the things concerning" his Lord may be "interpreted;" and he will search "in all the Scriptures" for the hidden or open references to him. The preparation by the prophets was not the mere utterance of the word, "Make ye ready the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Their denunciations of sin, their preaching of righteousness, their promises of forgiveness tea repentant Israel, their assurances of a restored prosperity rising into the delineation of a kingdom of holiness and peace, were elements of preparation. And the unique history of the holy nation, "beginning at Moses," and the concurrent histories of surrounding kingdoms, were parts of the same great preparation. And even before Moses, Abraham, through all the gloomy mist and the confusion of wild times, saw a day of peace and gladness and health, and, with largeness of heart and noble unselfishness, "rejoiced to see it," though he knew his sun would long have set ere that bright day arose. Yea, "he saw it and was glad," and by his testimony against idolatry, by his avowal of the one true and living God, and by his sacrifice and obedience, he helped to "prepare the way," as did every seer and believer and righteous man, each in his measure, as far back as Abel. Thus "all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John," in whom the historic preparation was completed. He, than whom there had not "arisen a greater," cried," Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." So we humbly trace the Divine preparation by means of prophets and seers and righteous men, and also by a Divine overruling of the works of the wicked. The voice of the herald being ever sounded, if not ever heard, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." But the gospel, which came to men by a prepared way, must be received by men in a prepared spirit.
II. THE PERSONAL PREPARATION IS A PREPARATION FOR THE RECEPTION OF THE GOSPEL. The external, historical preparation terminated in a word, a cry, a gracious preaching, "the voice of one" to whom "the Word of God came." Amid the dreary waste of the wilderness, where the signs of natural convulsion typified the needed moral upheaving, this man, rugged in speech as in dress, of few but earnest words, his tongue a burning flame, his fingers wetted for baptizing with the cooling waters of the brook, lifted up his voice and cried aloud his one message. It was a clear and definite cry, contained in the one word, "Repent." This was his one great demand of the ungodly around him, It is the one word now to be uttered in the bearing of all who have not entered the heavenly kingdom. It is the word which follows the awakening judgment, and precedes the comforting gospel.
1. Repentance, a change of mind leading to a change of life, follows upon reflection, and the deep Spirit-wrought conviction of the sinfulness and wrong of the past. St. Paul describes it as "toward God." No two words could better describe it. If the heart, the thoughts, the steps, have been toward evil, in repentance they turn "toward God."
2. Repentance is declared by confession of sins, a voluntary acknowledgment that the deeds of the past life have been evil. Of that past it is an open repudiation; it is a self-condemnation.
3. Repentance is attested by the beginning of a new life, by "the fruit worthy of repentance."
4. Repentance is sealed in baptism, This is a profession, a promise and pledge, of entering upon a new path. It is also the authorized seal and surety or earnest of the blessing the repentant one seeks. It is not that blessing, but it is the pledge and seal of it. Baptism is "unto repentance;" repentance is "unto remission of sins." When baptism is the true sign of the one, it is the certain pledge of the other; but it is not to be confounded with either, nor with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which a mightier One will impart. Baptism does not bestow remission of sins or the baptism of fire, but it pledges the bestowment of both. So does John " prepare the way" for his Lord.
(1) Let every one who is living in sin hear the authoritative cry, "Repent ye;" and know that if the fire of the Spirit burn not up repented sins as chaff, it will burn into the conscience with its unquenchable flame.
(2) And let every truly repentant one know that the outer sign is the indubitable pledge of admission into "the kingdom of God," and of participation in all the blessings of that kingdom. It is the seal of the Christian covenant. Then in him the gospel has had its true beginning.
(3) The next duty for the repentant one, for which he by repentance is truly prepared, is to "believe the gospel," when he shall be baptized "with the Holy Ghost." But for this John must give place to Jesus, for whom he prepares the way in the hearts of his people. The preparation then, without and within, is complete. This is the true "beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ." It is begun historically; it is begun personally. - G.
Parallel VersesKJV: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;