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MINISTRY OF JOHN THE BAPTIST.
MARK i. 1-3.
1. The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God;
2. As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
3. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'
“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and say unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
These words had been left written by Isaiah many hundred years before the birth of Jesus. To what did they apply? They speak of mercy and of pardon; we might suppose them uttered in the same spirit as St. Paul's words, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” ?
Accordingly the Jews interpreted this prophecy, as foretelling the advent of one “ who should redeem
1 Isa. xl. 1-3. Mal. iii. 1.
2 2 Cor. v. 19.
Israel;" before whom a messenger should come to prepare
his way. That messenger is described by the prophet Malachi as Elijah :' because he should resemble Elijah in spirit, and in character, and in the power of the Holy Ghost. So that it was commonly understood by the scribes and teachers of the Jewish law, that the Messialı was not to be expected till Elijah had first come. Jesus explained, that Elijah was come already: that the prophecy was fulfilled in him of whom we here read, John the son of Zacharias, who had about him all the signs of one appointed of God to bear an important part in his counsels towards man. His birth was extraordinary, from the age of his parents, out of due time: he was called a child of promise, as Isaac had been. And as he grew up, his life was no less remarkable than his birth: “his raiment was of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey:" 5 whilst be sojourned in the desert part of Judea, and proclaimed aloud, “ The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “The Lord whom ye seek,” whom ye profess to be expecting, “shall suddenly come to his temple: behold he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts." o “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel.”?
Thus John fulfilled his commission, and prepared the way of the Lord. The way is prepared for him, the hearts of men are disposed to receive him who comes as the Saviour of the world, when they are brought to acknowledge their sinfulness, to own their need of one who may reconcile them to God, and
3 Mal. iv. 5.
4 M xvii. 20.
7 Amos iv, 12.
enable them to serve him. And this was the voice which now sounded in the wilderness, and called upon all men to repent, and consider their ways.
Were these, then, heathens amongst whom John went, who now for the first time heard the name of God, or learnt the allegiance due to Him? On the contrary, he was addressing Jews, whose "advantage” had been “great every way:" who were acquainted with the will of God revealed in his word, whom God had avouched for his own, made “a holy nation, a peculiar people.” But they had lived un
. suitably to their privileges ; and now that they were led by a faithful teacher to reflect, they found much to repent of, and confessed their sins.
These things are written for our example; and warn us, that what has been may be again : that among those who are made the people of God by baptism, there may be those who act foolishly, though instructed in the lessons of heavenly wisdom: and when “a cry is made, The bridegroom cometh, go ye out to a meet him,” are forced to exclaim, “Our lamps are
Instead of being ready to give account of our lives, we find that we have a new life to begin.
It is a warning to all who profess and call themselves Christians, that they live in an habitual state of self-inquiry. They have the Scriptures of truth; but so the Jews “had Moses and the prophets. They have the covenant of baptism. And so the Jews had the covenant of circumcision. Therefore let them “examine themselves, whether they be in the faith ; prove their own selves :" and see how it
See Matt. xxv, 1-8.
gone out !"
might be found with them, if another prophet were commissioned as John was commissioned with authority to proclaim, “ Now is the axe laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire,” 9
THE BAPTISM OF REPENTANCE.
Mark i. 4, 5.
4. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.
5. And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
The purpose of the Baptist's ministry was to pre
for Him of whom he was the ordained forerunner. This purpose he fulfilled by preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins: i. e. he awakened men to a sense of their spiritual condition; he declared their need of a new life; of new thoughts, new intentions, new ways; (for this is repentance:) in order that their sins might be pardoned, and they received into the favour of God.
Accordingly, as we learn from the fuller account of his preaching given by St. Luke, they who had 9 Matt. üi. 10. PeTavoua, a change of thoughts or mind.
trusted in the promises belonging to their nation, were not to depend upon the covenant made with their forefather Abraham, but were to “do the works of Abraham,” if they hoped to share in his blessings. The people who had lived in selfish habits, looking to themselves and their own interests alone, were to lay aside their covetousness and assist the poor and needy. The publicans were to abstain from fraud and extortion, and exact no more than was due. The soldiers were to take no advantage of their power, by acts of violence or plunder. Each man in his station was to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking before him in righteousness and true holiness.
This was repentance. And that its nature and effects might be seen more clearly, those who came to him, confessing their sins, and declaring their purpose of such change, he baptized in the river of Jordan.
His meaning was understood. The Jewislı people were accustomed to connect the use of water with the idea of purification. “The Lord had spoken to Moses, saying, thou shalt bring Aaron and his sons unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and wash them with water,—that he may minister unto me in the priest's office.” Again, “the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and cleanse them." And thus shalt thou do unto them, to cleanse them : sprinkle water of purifying upon them, and let them shave all their flesh, and let them wash their clothes, and so make themselves clean. “ Thus shalt thou
Luke üi. 7-11.
3 Ex. xl. 12, 13. * Numb. viii. 5–7, 11-13.