Matthew 3:1
It was no accident that brought about the conjunction of the mission of John the Baptist with the advent of our Lord. A Divine providence, the purpose of which was declared in an ancient prophecy, connected the two events. The conjunction is shown by that prophecy not to be like one of binary stars. The work of Christ is not associated with that of John. The Baptist is but the forerunner - the pioneer opening up the way for the glorious King.

I. PREPARATION FOR CHRIST IS NEEDED. The Jews were not fit to receive their Messiah; they needed the preliminary work of the prophet of the wilderness to make them rightly susceptible to the new influences of the kingdom. The world will not welcome its Saviour till the way has been made ready for his approach. Individual men and women are far from the kingdom of heaven, and the intervening district is wild and impassable till God makes a providential path across it. The ploughman must precede the sower. It is the work of John the Baptists to break up the fallow ground. Sometimes the messenger comes in the form of a great sorrow. Men are arrested and aroused, made to feel their helplessness and their need. Then, but not till then, they may receive the kingdom.

II. THE METHOD OF PREPARATION MAY BE VERY UNLIKE THE METHOD OF SALVATION. John the Baptist is very different from Jesus Christ. The one is a recluse, the other a brotherly, sociable Man; the one lives in a wild, antique fashion, the other quite simply and naturally; the one speaks in thunder, the other in the still, small voice of sympathy and "sweet reasonableness." Nevertheless, John prepares for Jesus. The furnace that melts out the ore is harsh and fierce, yet it is making the metal ready for the goldsmith to work up into his beautiful design. Most un-Christlike experiences may bring us near to Christ.

III. THE ESSENTIAL PRELIMINARY TO THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST IS REPENTANCE. The burden of the Baptist's message was "Repent!" It is not to be supposed that he only preached the word. He must have laboured to produce the thing; he must have made it his aim to lead his hearers to a deep sense of their sin. Until a man owns his guilt he will not seek pardon. The reason of this is obvious directly it is perceived that salvation is just deliverance from sin; for who would wish for such a salvation while still clinging to his evil habits? To such a person Christ would appear not at all as a deliverer, but rather as an invader, as a robber who came to steal the choice treasures of the heart.

IV. REPENTANCE IS ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. That kingdom is near at hand; therefore the Baptist urges his hearers to lose no time in making themselves ready for it. The vision of the better life reveals the shame and horror of the life of sin. If there were no hope there would be no repentance; in such a state the awakened conscience could only plunge the soul into remorse - which is hell. Therefore the message of the Baptist must be twofold. It is not right or wise to preach of sin by itself, nor to try to induce repentance chiefly by painting the guilt of the past in the blackest colours. The anticipation of Christ is the best inducement to repentance. - W.F.A.







John the Baptist.
1. His work.

2. His qualifications.

3. His message.

4. His Divine appointment.

5. His un-worldliness.

6. His popularity.

7. His courageous utterances.

(D. C. Hughes,M. A.)

I. IN HIS SOLITUDE HE DID BREATHE MORE PURE INSPIRATION.

1. Heaven was more open.

2. God was more familiar and frequent in His visitations.

3. In the wilderness his company was angels.

4. His employment, meditation and prayer.

5. His temptations, simple and from within.

6. His occasions of sin as few as his examples.

7. His condition such, that if his soul were at all busy, his life could not easily be other than the life of angels.

II. IN SOLITUDE PIOUS PERSONS MAY GO TO HEAVEN BY THE WAY OF PRAYERS AND DEVOTION'.

1. In society, by the way of mercy, charity, and dispensations to others.

2. In solitude there are fewer occasions of vices.

3. But also the exercise of fewer virtues.

4. Temptations though they be not from many objects, yet are in some circumstances more dangerous.

5. Because the worst of evils, spiritual pride seldom misses to creep upon those goodly oaks, like ivy, and suck their heart out.

6. As they communicate less with the world, so they do less charity and fewer offices of mercy.

III. MANY HOLY PERSONS HAVE LEFT THEIR WILDERNESS AND SWEETNESSES OF DEVOTION IN RETIREMENT TO SERVE GOD IN PUBLIC, by the ways of charity and exterior offices.

IV. John the Baptist UNITED BOTH THESE LIVES; and our blessed Saviour... for He lived a life:

(1)common;

(2)sociable;

(3)humane;

(4)charitable;

(5)and public.From both we are taught that —

I. Solitude is a good school.

II. The world is the best theatre.

III. The institution is best there, but the practice here.

IV. The wilderness hath one advantage of discipline.

V. Society hath opportunities of perfection.

VI. Privacy is best for devotion.

VII. Publicity for charity.

(Jeremy Taylor.)

Everything in this desert is of one colour — a tawny yellow. The rocks, the partridges, the camels, the foxes, the ibex, are all of this shade, and only the dark Bedawin and their black tents are distinguishable in the general glare From a very early period this horrible wilderness appears to have had an attraction for ascetics, who sought a retreat from the busy world of their fellowmen, and who thought to please God by torturing the bodies which He had given them. Thus the Essenes, the Jewish sect whose habits and tenets resembled so closely those of the first Christians, retired into this wilderness and lived in caves. Christian hermits, from the earliest period, were also numerous in all the country between Jerusalem and Jericho, and the rocks are riddled with caves in inaccessible places where they lived Lifeless and treeless though it be, nature prepares every day a glorious picture, quickly-fading but matchless in brilliance of colour; the distant ranges seem stained with purple and pink; in autumn the great bands of cloud sweep over the mountains with long bars of gleaming light between; and for a few minutes, as the sun sets, the deep crimson blush comes over the rocks and glorifies the whole landscape with an indescribable glow.

(Lieut. Condor, R. E.)

The Baptist did not rush from the society of his species into the solitudes of Judaea to hide his candle for ever under a bushel, as modern and ancient asceticism has done; but he resorted thither only from an unselfish and most expanded motive, namely, in order that his candle alight all the more brightly, and widely, and publicly shine, when he issued forth at length to preach, in the midst of mixed crowds, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

(B. Jones.)

Only in quiet, in solitude with God, in unbroken questioning with his own soul, can a prophet of God discover what God is saying to his spirit.

(S. Brooke, M. A.)

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