Matthew 3:11
John here contrasts himself and his work with Christ and the work of Christ. We cannot but be struck with the humility and the discernment of the Baptist. Thus he reveals himself as true to his mission; he is but the forerunner, preparing the way of the Lord.

I. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE ADMINISTRATORS. John was regarded as the great prophet of his day; yet he considered himself to be infinitely inferior to the coming Christ. Wherein were the great differences between the Baptist and Jesus Christ?

1. In character. John was a holy man, but still a sinner. Christ was faultless, quite pure, and supreme in all goodness. Thus he was and is far above the best of men, as the stars are above the highest mountains; in comparison with the stars the distinction between mountain and plain sinks into insignificance.

2. In power. John was a strong and gifted man, yet how little could he do for the reformation of Israel, for the redemption of the world? He is but the labourer digging out the foundation; Christ is the Master-Builder who raises the great temple.

3. In office. John is the prophet, the messenger of God. Christ is the King. His office is regal, and his honour is the highest.

4. Its nature. John is but a man, though the greatest man of his day; Jesus is the very Son of God. This may not have been known to the Baptist, but an instinctive foreshadowing of the great mystery may have touched him with an awed perception of the wonderful greatness of the Coming One.

II. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE SACRAMENTS.

1. The water-baptism. This baptism of John's was a token of repentance. It seemed to express the desire of the penitent to wash away his past sin. It was concerned with his guilt and with the need of cleansing it. But it contained no power for the future. It did not regenerate; it did not quicken the dead soul. Thus it must be recognized that repentance by itself is not enough. The penitent still waits for his renewal.

2. The fire-baptism. It might have been thought that the consuming element of fire was better adapted to the ministration of the terrible prophet of the wilderness, while the gentler purifying water would be suitable for the milder methods of the Son of man. Yet the prophecy of the Baptist was fulfilled. We cannot confine his words to the second advent of Christ in judgment. Christ came in his first appearance with flames to burn the evil out of the hearts of men in the consuming power of the Holy Spirit. For here the fire seems to stand for the Holy Spirit, as it did on the Day of Pentecost, when the Gift came in cloven tongues of fire. When Christ enters the soul he both burns up the old evil and kindles the fire of a new life. All life is fire. Even applied physiologically this idea is true; we only live by burning up our own bodies, and that is why we need food, which is fuel. Christ's baptism is the gift of the Holy Spirit, and the coming of that Spirit is the lighting of a fire in a man's heart. Thus it is life. - W.F.A.







And with fire.
I. THE HOLY GHOST IS FIRE. Baptism with the Holy Ghost is not one thing and baptism with fire another, but the former is the reality of which the latter is the symbol.

II. CHRIST PLUNGES US INTO THIS FIRE. What a grand ideals conveyed by the metaphor of the completeness of the contact with the Spirit of God into which we are brought! How it represents all our being as flooded into that transforming power. Christ's personal agency in effecting this saturating of man's coldness with the fire from God.

III. THE FIERY BAPTISM QUICKENS AND CLEANSES.

1. Fire gives warmth. It comes to kindle in men's souls a blaze of enthusiastic Divine love, melting all the icy hardness of the heart, etc. For a Christian to be cold is sin. Marked absence of this " spirit of burning" in the Christian Church.

2. This baptism gives cleansing by warmth. Fire purifies. The Spirit produces holiness in heart and character. All other cleansing is superficial. The alternative for every man is to be baptized in fire or to be consumed by it.

(Dr. MacLaren.)

I. The NATURE of the promised baptism. John's baptism was introductory and transitory — Christ's was to be spiritual, quickening, searching. Analogy between water in the natural world and the Spirit's influence in the moral world. The baptism of the spirit includes all other blessings (Luke 11:13, with Matthew 7:11).

II. The PLENITUDE of the promise. A baptism, repletion, falness, etc. Like torrents of rain poured on the thirsty earth (Ezekiel 34:26; Joel 2:28; Hosea 14:5; Malachi 3:10). On the day of Pentecost there was THE baptism of the Holy Ghost. What abundant communications of Divine influence we should expect!

III. The NEED of the promised baptism.

1. In the time of John.

2. In our time — now. The low and languid piety of many. The comparatively small success of the various agencies for the conversion of sinners. Church agencies can only be spiritually useful as they are charged with Divine force. Have you received this baptism? "Ye must be born again."

(A. Tucker.)

John's baptism was outward washing merely, significant, but no inward grace. It was only a symbol. Christ's would be the same in outward appearance, as water was employed, but there shall be an inward reality, a living, glorious, inward grace in His baptism. "When was the Baptist's prediction fulfilled? Though Christ never baptized with His own hands, yet it is He who baptizeth when His authorized ministers baptize. Theirs are the hands, but His the grace. Like Elijah, they pour the water on the sacrifice, but He gives the fire. It refers to Pentecost, cloven tongues. It is important to realize the double aspects in the gifts of God. The Holy Ghost would be in every heart a Spirit of fire — fire for death or life, to purify or to destroy. God's presence in man's heart is His greatest gift; how truly it may be called a fire l It separates good from evil. It purifies. It tests. Our duty in life is to cherish and obey this awful fiery Spirit. To burn in the spirit, to have a glowing zeal for God. The spark is blown into a flame by prayer.

(G. Moberly, D. C. L.)

(1)softens;

(2)purifies;

(3)sanctifies;

(4)is a solace.The Holy Spirit is a Comforter through

(1)grief;

(2)sorrow;

(3)tribulation;

(4)poverty.

(H. T. Day.)

I. The NATURE and importance of this baptism.

II. The CHARACTER AND DIGNITY OF THE PERSON who baptizes. Not a mere man — the SON OF GOD. He dispenses this blessing as the fruit of His mediation.

III. The PERSONS WHO MAY PARTAKE of this baptism (Luke 3.).

IV. On what TENETS, or in what way they may have it conferred. Repentance towards God. Faith in Christ.

1. Consider the necessity of this baptism, etc.

2. If you have received it, "Quench not the Spirit," etc.

(Joseph Benson.)

To all, sooner or later, Christ comes to baptize them with fire. But do not think that the baptism of fire comes once for all to a man in some terrible affliction, some one awful conviction of his own sinfulness and nothingness. No; with many — and those, perhaps, the best people — it goes on month after month, and year after year. By secret trials, chastenings which none but they and God can understand, the Lord is cleansing them from their secret faults, and making them to understand wisdom secretly; burning out of them the chaff of self-will and self-conceit and vanity, and leaving only the pure gold of righteousness.

(Charles Kingsley.)

The manner in which the Holy Spirit enters the heart resembles the manner in which fire is kindled. This manner is not always uniform. Sometimes a spark lies smothered for a while, and only after a long interval bursts out and begins to burn. So with the Holy Spirit. The spark may have reached the heart, and may remain theres hut the deceitfulness of worldly cares or pleasures, or the remains of unsubdued sin, stifle it, till at length some providential circumstance occurs which fans the spark into a flame. Another effect of fire is, to communicate its warmth to all that come within its reach. And such is also, the effect of the Holy Spirit upon the soul. The heart of man is by nature cold — cold towards God, and cold towards his fellow-creatures. Not so the man whose heart has been touched by the Holy Spirit. I shall only carry this comparison one step further. We all understand the effect of fire in restoring comfort to the body. We approach closer to it when we have been made uneasy through the chilling influence of cold, and the genial feelings of health and warmth revive within us. So, likewise, the Holy Spirit cheers the heart and re-animates the languid feelings; gives new life to the zeal and piety, which, without it, would sicken and decay.

(J. B. Sumner, M. A.)

But there is also a fire that, like the genial heat in some greenhouse, makes even the barren tree glow with blossom, and bends its branches with precious fruit.

(Dr. Maclaren.)

Did you ever see a blast-furnace? How long would it take a man, think you, with hammer and chisel, or by chemical means, to get the bits of ore out from the stony matrix? But fling them into the great cylinder, and pile the fire, and let the strong draught roar through the burning mass, and by evening you can run off a glowing stream of pure and fluid metal, from which all the dross and rubbish is parted, which has been charmed out of all its sullen hardness, and will take the shape of any mould into which you like to run it. The fire has conquered, has melted, has purified. So with us. Love "shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us," love that answers to Christ's, love that is fixed upon Him who is pure and separate from sinners, will purify us and sever us from our sins. Nothing else will. All other cleansing is superficial, like the water of John's baptism. Moralities and the externals of religion will wash away the foulness which lies on the surface, but stains that have sunk deep into the very substance of the soul, and have dyed every thread in warp and woof to its centre, are not to be got rid of so.

(Dr. Maclaren.)

1. They are both sudden. Whitefield was once preaching on Blackheath, and a man and his wife coming from market saw the crowd, and went up to hear. Whitefield was saying something about what happened eighteen hundred years ago, and the man said to his wife: "Come, Mary, we will not stop any longer. He is talking about something that took place more than eighteen hundred years ago. What's that to us?" But they were fascinated. The truth of God came to their hearts. When they were home, they took down the Bible and said: "Is it possible that these old truths have been here so long, and we have not known it?" Ah! it was in the flash of God's Spirit on Blackheath that they were saved — the Spirit coming mightily, and suddenly, and overwhelmingly upon them. So it was that God's Spirit came to Andrew Fuller, and James Harvey, and the Earl of Rochester, and Bishop Latimer — suddenly.

2. They were both irresistible. Notwithstanding all our boasted machinery and organization for putting out fires, the efforts that were made did not repulse the flames last December one single instant. There was a great sound of fire-trumpets, and brave men walking on hot walls; but the flames were baulked not an instant. So it has been with the Holy Spirit moving through the hearts of this people. There have been men here who have sworn that the religion of Jesus Christ should never come into their households; they and their children kneel now at the same altar.

3. They are both consuming. Did you ever see any more thorough work than was done by that fire last December? The strongest beams turned to ashes. The iron cracked, curled up, destroyed. So the Holy Ghost has been a consuming fire amid the sins and habits of those who despise God.

4. They were both melting. If you examined the bars, and bolts, and plumbing work of the Tabernacle, after it went down, you know it was a melting process. The things that seemed to have no relation to each other adjoined — flowed together. So it has been with the Spirit of God, melting down all asperities and unbrotherliness. Heart has flowed out towards heart.

5. The fiery influence qualifying for work. — If God baptized us with fire, it is because He means to fit us for hot and, tremendous work.

(Dr. Talmage.)

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