I indeed baptize you with water to repentance. but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear…
The author of 'Ecce Homo' suggests the distinction between the baptism of John and the baptism of Jesus, which John himself puts in such strong contrast. "Christ was to baptize with a Holy Spirit' and with fire. John felt his own baptism to have something cold and negative about it. It was a renouncing of definite bad practices. The soldier bound himself to refrain from violence; the tax-gatherer, from extortion. But more than this was wanting. It was necessary that an enthusiasm should be kindled. The phrase, 'baptize with fire,' seems at first sight to contain a mixture of metaphors. Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can warmth cleanse? The answer is that moral warmth does cleanse. No heart is pure that is not passionate; no virtue is safe that is not enthusiastic. And such an enthusiastic virtue Christ was to introduce." This suggestion helps us to a more precise view of the distinction between the two baptisms, and the relation of one to the other.
I. WATER-BAPTISM IS THE TYPE OF PUTTING OFF SURFACE ACTS OF SIN. Attention should be fixed on the ministry of water. It washes off; it cleanses surfaces. "The result of John's baptism, even for those who received it faithfully, did not go beyond the change of character and life implied in repentance." Illustrate by the advice given to the different classes who came to John. They were to cease their wrong-doing, to put away their characteristic faults, to wash off their particular sins from the record of their lives. In a similar way Isaiah pleads, "Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil" (Isaiah 1:16). This is the proper beginning of moral reformation; but it is only a beginning.
II. FIRE-BAPTISM IS THE TYPE OF BURNING OUT THE SOUL OF SIN, THE LOVE OF SIN. Fire is a cleanser; it is, indeed, the supreme cleanser, because it searches into the very substance of a thing. So fire is applied to metals. The fire is to "try every man's work, of what sort it is." Christ is to deal with that spiritual condition out of which the acts of sin come. To put the matter sharply, John only dealt with actions and opinions. Christ deals with feelings, and will; cleansing the very thoughts of the heart. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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: