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saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
b Isaiah xl. 3; Mark i. 3.
of the Lord;” and the passage which of persons who flocked to his baptism, St. Matthew quotes with brevity, declares confessing their sins, is a sufficient proof; that “the glory of the Lord should be that he was a successful one, in his special revealed, and that all flesh should see it.” office of“ preparing the way of the Lord,” It is clear, therefore, that it has no appli- appears from this, that several of the cation to the return of the Jews, and re- apostles, and others of the early disciples fers solely to those events to which the of Christ, had been previously the discievangelists so explicitly apply it. John ples of John ; and the effect of his preachthe Baptist was THE VOICE, or herald, ing was, no doubt, not only to prepare and Jesus was the Jehovah whose per- them, but multitudes of the Jews, to resonal appearance
“ God manifest in the ceive the gospel, both in Judea and in flesh,” and subsequent glorious manifes- other places into which his disciples cartation, he proclaimed and prepared. ried his doctrine ; for of this the evan
This mission of John, as the harbinger gelical history contains many indications. of our Lord, exhibits another instance There was also probably in this dispensaof the fulfilment of those prophecies to tion of John the Baptist, something of a which St. Matthew, as writing first espe- typical character. The way of Christ in all cially to the Jews, directed their attention ages is “ prepared” only by repentance; more frequently than the other evange- and wherever that is preached with power, lists. At the same time the accomplish- and under right views of the Lamb of ment of a prophecy which borrows its God, to which it is to point, as taking terms from the magnificence of east- away the sins of the world,” the valleys ern monarchs, who were preceded by are exalted, the mountains and hills are heralds, and before whom valleys were brought low, the crooked is made straight, exalted and hills levelled, in a manner so and the rough places plain ; and then manifestly spiritual, and turns the atten- comes the revelation of the Lord in partion so absolutely from external to moral doning mercy, and manifestation of Christ grandeur, sufficiently reproves those who “the salvation of God.” contend too strenuously for the literal The ministry of the Baptist was of accomplishment of the sayings of the a kind peculiar to itself. As a prophet, ancient prophets, and thereby often fall he not only spoke of the immediate apinto a Jewish mode of interpreting them. pearing of the Christ; but pointed him Prophecy has its peculiar imagery, its out to his disciples ; and his baptism was own appropriate dress of metaphor and in fact the token of initiation into a new allegory, which must not be overlooked. dispensation intermediate between that of Here, the monarch is Christ, but his Moses and fully revealed Christianity. majesty is in his doctrine, his character, It was a declaration of repentance and and his works. The herald, too, is a man renunciation of sin, and it was a profesin rough raiment, issuing from the wild sion of faith in the immediate revelation of solitudes in which he had been trained to the Messiah, and of trust in him to take converse with God, to rouse a slumbering away sin ; for to him as the Redeemer people by urging their immediate repent. John directed his converts. “I indeed ance upon pain of imminent judgments; baptize you with water unto repentance: and the levelling of hills and valleys, is but he that cometh after me is mightier that preparation of the heart for the doc- than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to trine of Christ which consists in contrition bear : he shall baptize you with the Holy and humility. That the Baptist was a Ghost, and with fire.” With baptisms powerful preacher, the immense number or washings, as emblems of the putting
4 And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
5 Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
away of sin, the Jews were familiar; and his common one; and that the chief end proselytes from Gentilism to the religion of the baptism of Christ was to attest his of the Jews were baptized as well as cir- Messiahship fully to John, by making cumcised in token of the same thing, and him the witness of the sign which God the renunciation of their old religion. All had previously appointed. Upon whom the Jews therefore who in truth, and with thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and a right understanding of the case, sub- remaining on him, the same is he that mitted to John's baptism, so far re- baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I nounced Judaism in its primitive form as saw, and bare record that this is the Son a ground of hope, as to wait for the of God.” remission of the sins they repented of and Verse 4. Garment of camel's hair, 8-c.confessed no longer from their accus- John wore the same dress as Elijah, or, tomed sacrifices, but immediately from as it is written in the New Testament, the Messiah: “Behold,” said John, “the Elias, in whose“ spirit and power” he Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin came, and whose name he figuratively of the world.” Lightfoot has showed bore. “ He was a hairy man, and girt from the Rabbinical writings, that the with a girdle of leather about his loins. Jews themselves have held, and still hold, And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite," that repentance should precede the 2 Kings i. 8. This garment was not of coming of Messiah. The circumstance the fine hair of the camel, spun and of our Lord's submission to John's bap- woven, of which a soft cloth was made, tism does not affect this view of its nature called 750n, from which our camblet is and design. That it was not necessary derived ; but either the skin of the camel for Christ, as a sign of repentance, and dressed with the hair, or a rough fabric passing into a new dispensation and bet- manufactured from the coarser pile. This ter hopes of salvation, is clear from the
was worn by the prophets, not for pur. objecting of John to administer the pecu- poses of bodily mortification, as some liar rite of his ministry to Christ until have dreamt; but yet in a spirit of selfurged by his authority; and also from the denial. ground on which our Lord puts his own Locusts and wild honey.-The latter, act, which he makes not an act of repent. Meli ayplov, was produced by bees which ance, but of fulfilling all “righteousness,” collected in trunks of trees and in rocks, that is, perfectly obeying the will of the throughout Palestine; thus (Psalm lxxxi. Father in every appointment laid upon 16) we read, “honey out of the stony him; and finally, from the baptism of rock.” The former, arpides, has been John as administered to Christ, rising made the subject of conjectural and into an entirely different and higher order emendatory criticism; but the real locust from his ordinary one ; for our Lord was dried is used as food throughout the east, then “ baptized with the Holy Ghost,” and some of the species were permitted to which it was no part of John's baptism to be eaten by the law, Leviticus xi. 22. impart. All these circumstances prove The Rabbins state that it was usual for the that John was, in the case of our Lord, Jews to hunt after locusts for food. employed in a ministry quite distinct from Verse 6. And were baptized.—That is,
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees
as John himself explains it, “with water of Pharisees is from wna, to separate, unto repentance." See note on verse 3. because they assumed to themselves a
In Jordan.—Water, for the baptism of superior sanctity. Josephus's account of such multitudes, could only be procured them is, that they valued themselves for from the river, in a part of the country their exactness in keeping, and their skill where springs and fountains were not in interpreting, the law, and seemed to found, or were private property. That the excel all others in the knowledge and people were immersed with their clothes observance of the customs of their fathers. on, it would be absurd to suppose ; that If they sprung from the Assideans, 5'700, they were baptized naked, would be an
or, the pious, described in the Maccabees indecent assumption; and that dresses
as, εκουσιαζομενοι το νομο, voluntarily should have been provided, is impossible. devoted to the law,” they had a good They, no doubt, went down to the wa- origin; and it is probable that the genuter's edge, and then the element was
ine and vigorous piety of the Jewish poured upon them; for the expression, church after the return from Babylon, " baptized in Jordan,” means no more was embodied in this sect, at least as far than within the banks of Jordan, that is, as respected the influential class of society. in the bed of the river, which had a doul. That they had generally degenerated into ble bank, because of its great overflow formality, superstition, and hypocrisy, at certain seasons.
though not without many individual Confessing their sins.-Not unto John, ceptions, is evident both from the writbut unto God; though, being powerfully ings of the evangelists, and from contemaffected by his awakening sermons, they porary history. On the doctrines of the probably did this audibly. Yet even this resurrection from the dead, and the imdoes not certainly appear; for the very na- materiality of the soul, they were more ture of the rite of baptism, as practised by orthodox than the Sadducees; but they John, implied confession of sin, a plead- interpreted the prophecies respecting ing guilty to his reproofs, and a resolı- Messiah in a gross and worldly sense ; tion to seek remission of sins from the placed religion in ceremonies ; turned it Messiah who was immediately to succeed into an instrument of gaining popular him. If there was more than this tacit applause; made a show of their prayers acknowledgment of sin, it was probably and alms ; affected not only to keep the like that mentioned in Ezra x. 1, where law, but to go beyond the requirements Ezra himself expressed the confession, of its ceremonial precepts, in their obediand the congregation “wept very sore.” ence ;—paying tithe of “anise, mint, and A similar scene is described in Nehemiah cummin,” practising more frequent abluix. The immense multitudes which came tions than the law required, fasting twice to John would necessarily prevent a parti- a week, and in some instances submitting cular confession being made to him by to painful austerities and mortifications ; each individual. Of these multitudes we but with all this outward show of strictmay infer, from singling out the hypo- ness, they neglected the purification of critical Pharisees and Sadducees for re
the heart, and the practice of moral virproof, that a great proportion were sin- They were proud, arrogating to cerely penitent. So powerful was the themselves the peculiar favour of heaven, ministry of this extraordinary messenger contemptuous of others, especially of the of God.
body of the people, from whoin they exVerse 7. But when he saw many of the acted an abject reverence; and covetous, Pharisees and Sadducees.—These sects
for under pretence of sanctity they made being now for the first time mentioned, a a prey of the ignorant and unwary. To short account of them is necessary. The colour all these evils, they had a delusive most satisfactory derivation of the name
system of casuistry, and pleaded in justia
come to his baptism, he said unto them, generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ?
c Matt. xii. 34.
fication traditions of the elders, to which istry; but afterwards many of them bethey not only gave equal authority with came Christians, and are supposed to the law of God, but often interpreted the have infected some of the early churches law by them, contrary to its true mean. with their doctrines of abstaining from ing, so that, as they were charged by our meats, the worshipping of angels, &c.; Lord, they made the commandments and they sowed the seeds of many sects of God of none effect by their traditions.” which, in various ways, adulterated Most of the Jews at present are Rabbin- Christianity. ists or Pharisees, that is, they believe in, Come to his baptism.—They wished to and observe, the traditions ; the remain- submit to this rite principally, no doubt, der are Karaites, who only regard the because it was administered by a prophet, law in its literal interpretation.
who brought them tidings of the immediThe SADDUCEES were coeval with the ate revelation of Messiah ; and they thus Pharisees, and probably, like the present professed their faith in John's mission as Karaites, originally owed their distinc- the Messiah's harbinger, and as such tion to their rejecting traditions, and ad- hoped to recommend themselves to him. hering to the text of the Pentateuch. This seems to have been their motive : The oriental and Greek philosophy, from self-confident as they were, they would the time of Alexander the Great, how scarcely have subinitted to a rite which ever, infected the learned among the implied some change of religious views; Jews, and gave rise to multifarious spe- for they were familiar with the practice of culations and theories. The Sadducees baptism, which was administered by them especially affected philosophy, openly pro- to Gentiles and their families when they fessed the tenet of materialism, denied the einbraced the Jewish religion. But of resurrection of the body, and the exist. John's baptism in its spiritual character, ence of angels and men departed. To the as baptism “ unto REPENTAnce," and to law of Moses they, however, professed the FAITH in the coming of Messiah to take strongest attachment, and were equally away or remit sin, they had no concepbigoted with the Pharisees, subjecting tion; for these self-righteous persons in it, however theologically, to a philoso- their own opinion had no sins to confess, phical interpretation. The men of rank and therefore we do not read that they and wealth, the court, and the nobles, came like the others,“ confessing their were chiefly of this sect. Thus, although sins.” To them, therefore, John appears the Jews at the coming of our Lord were to have refused the distinguishing rite free from the charge of idolatry, which of his dispensation, because of their miswas their ancient easily-besetting sin, conceptions of it, and their want of rethey had generally fallen, as a people, pentance. Bring forth therefore fruits meet into a state of awful declension from for repentance, was his address to them. truth and piety, more deeply so proba- Show that you truly repent, by your hubly in Judea than in the Greek cities, mility, broken-heartedness, self-renunciaand in Jerusalem most of all. There was tion, and self-abhorrence, by your acknowanother Jewish sect, not mentioned in ledgment of sin, and your renunciation of the Gospels, the Essenes. These were it; and then come and be baptized. Some abstemious and austere in their manners, indeed contend, that after this warning given up to mystical speculations, and they were baptized : but this question lived apart from cities, in communities of appears to be set at rest by Luke vii. 27 their own, and chiefly in Egypt, and in —30, where our Lord, having commend. the wilderness of Judea. None of these ed the character of John the Baptist, the appear to have attended our Lord's min- evangelist adds, “ and all the people that
8 Bring forth therefore fruits' meet for repentance :
9 And think not to say within yourselves, “We have Abraham to our father : for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
* Or, answerable lo amendment of life.
d John viii. 39.
heard him, and the publicans, justified Verse 9. And think not to say within God, being baptized with the baptism of yourselves, &c.—A common mode of exJohn; but the Pharisees and lawyers re- pression, says Lightfoot, in the Talmud. jected the counsel of God against them- Mn do&nte deyeu is equivalent to “be not selves, not being baptized of him.” They of opinion ;” ne lubeat vobis, “be not were offended and went away, denying disposed to say;" let not this delusive that mission of the Baptist which at first opinion have a place in your thoughts. they appeared to acknowledge.
We have Abraham to our father, a relation Generation of vipers, &c.—The offspring, which was the theme of their constant or children of vipers, in opposition to their boastings, and from which they expected boast of being the children of Abraham, salvation; merely by virtue of their flesh-men of subtle and malignant disposi- ly descent, though both the faith and the tions. The word exiðva is used in a meta- works of Abraham were wanting among phorical sense, closely analogous to this, them. There is no imputation of the hoby classic authors.
liness of pious ancestors to their children, Who hath warned you to flee from the and personal regeneration can alone quawrath to come ?-Some take this as an lify men for the kingdom of God. For expression of surprise. So Macknight:
So Macknight: God is able of these stones, &c. Perhaps “ Ye Pharisees form your righteousness John pointed to the rorks and stones in on the works of the law; ye Sadducees the bed of the Jordan. The meaning is, deny the doctrine of a resurrection ; how not that children to Abraham could be is it then that men of your principles raised up from stones in the sense of nacome to a baptism of repentance ?” It tural descent and relationship, which was is, however, better understood as imply- a thing impossible ; but that as children ing a negation,-no one hath warned you, to Abraham were at first raised up by a no one effectually : you are not penitently miracle in the birth of Isaac, so though apprehensive of the displeasure of God; God should destroy the then race of Jews, but either, as Pharisees, trust in yourselves no purpose of his would fall to the that you already possess the special fa- ground; because he was able to raise up vour of God, or, as Sadducees, reject the a people from the stones, to stand in the doctrine of future punishment entirely place of the natural descendants of AbraThe wrath to come is not to be understood ham, were that necessary to accomplish of the destruction of Judea ; for John dealt the purposes of his providence and grace. with his hearers as sinners before God, That there was also a tacit reference to and liable as such to the penalty of sin in the calling of the Gentiles, is very probaa future life. This was the wrath of ble. They were despised by the Jews as which he speaks; and it is a tremendous though they had been the stones under doctrine which he thus teaches in one their feet; and were as little likely to besentence: this wrath is always wrath to come the true church of God in the come ; that is, it is not only a future penal world, as stones were to become living visitation, but even when this visitation Yet God by his almighty grace has arrived, it will still be “ wrath to not only gave them spiritual life, and come ” for ever! “ Fools ” only adopted them as Abraham's believing make a mock at sin ” when these are its seed; but formed them into his church, consequences.
to the exclusion of the unbelieving Jews,