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Art thou that prophet?? And he answered, No. He was not the Christ. He would not take
upon himself the name of Elijah, that great and honoured name, though he was acting “ in the spirit and power of Elijah, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." Nor was he a prophet, commissioned of God to declare things future. But he was one in whom prophecy was accomplished :
" 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."*
24. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees.
25. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
26. John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not ;
27. He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose.
28. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
The Evangelist here speaks of BAPTISM, as of a practice familiarly known. And so the question of the Pharisees, is not, why baptizest thou at all? but why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? Yet if the word were not in constant use amongst ourselves, we should see that it needed explanation. John was baptizing, i. e. immersing in water, those who came to him for this purpose,
2 Or a prophet, ó apopórns el ov. 3 Luke i. 17.
4 Isaiah xl. 3.
confessing their sins.” To what end ?
The oldest Jewish writers acquaint us that baptism had been practised as an ordinary rite, when a heathen became a proselyte to the truth revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures, and turned from his national “ vanities to serve the living and true God.” “ In all ages,” they say,
" when a Gentile is willing to enter into the covenant, and gather himself under the wings of the majesty of God, and take upon him the yoke of the law, he must be circumcised, and baptized, and bring a sacrifice.”5
Certain rules were observed, both of time and place. It was done—not on the sabbath, not by night-at a confluence of waters, with two or three reputable persons as witnesses.
The meaning must have been this : — The convert had been polluted by idolatry, and all its attendant wickedness. From this he must be purified. And his immersion in the water into which he was plunged, was an emblem of the purification which he required and received. It did not purify, but it prefigured and betokened purification. As was said afterwards of christian baptism, “ Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling upon the name of the Lord ;" so would the Jewish teacher say, Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thine idolatry :- -as the water cleanses the defilement of the body, so let the corruption which has defiled the soul be purged and cleansed.
5 Maimonides. Quoted by Wall.
Still it might be asked, Why baptizest thou, when those whom John was baptizing were not heathens, but belonged to the chosen nation, and acknowledged the God of their fathers. He acquaints us, that he baptized with water “unto repentance.”
6. The multitude who came forth to be baptized of him," confessed that they as much required to be cleansed from the corruption of wilful sin, as the heathens from their ignorant superstitions. Each were to become new creatures, being “ purged from their old sins.”6
The meaning of the ordinance remained unchanged, when our Lord saw fit to sanction it as the entrance into his religion, the token of his faith : and taught his apostles to “ go into all the world, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
The convert to the Hebrew faith washed away his idolatry : the convert to the Christian faith washes away his corrupt nature, in whatever way it
have polluted him : the prayer for him is, that the water in which he is baptized, may be " sanctified to the mystical washing away of sin,” and be attended by
The ordinance, it is true, is not now commonly performed by the immersion, but by the sprinkling of the body. But this does not affect its nature. In whatever way it is performed, it is figurative. The putting away of the defilement of the flesh, is 6 See 2 Pet. i. 9.
7 See Baptismal Service.
nothing except as it indicates the heart renewed,
believing unto righteousness.” All the waters of Jordan can be no more effectual than the smallest drop, to confer grace which God does not bestow, or wash away sin which God does not forgive. And therefore we bring our children to the font, in humble hope and earnest prayer, that as the body is sprinkled with water, so the heart
may be “sprinkled from an evil conscience, “ sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ," and renewed by the Spirit unto righteousness and true holiness: and thus the words of the prophet may be accomplished, “ Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you,
shall be clean."9 In regard to ourselves, we have all been baptized with water unto" repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” We do not rest upon the formal ceremony, though we do not undervalue it, as that which was appointed of our Lord himself, and dignified by his own example. But as the body without the soul is dead, so the form without the spirit is dead also. The outward purification must be answered by inward purity : and baptism must“ save us, not,” as it is “the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but,” as it is “ the answer of a good conscience towards God.”1
9 Ezek. xxxvi. 25.
8 See Heb. x. 22. 1 Pet. i. 2.
11 Pet. iii. 21.
JOHN DESCRIBES JESUS AS THE LAMB OF GOD.
John i. 29–34.
29. The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
30. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me : for he was before me.
31. And I knew him not : but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water.
32. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit de scending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him.
33. And I knew him not : but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.
34. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God.
Jesus had been living in retirement while the Baptist was fulfilling his public ministry. Therefore John knew him not: yet he knew the purpose for which he came. The Spirit had revealed this to him; and therefore he is able to bear record to him as the Son of God: as him, whose ministry was to set aside his own, as him who was to complete, by the gift of the Holy Ghost, that baptism of repentance which he had himself been hitherto