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that he was the expected Redeemer, but that it was to make him manifest to Israel, that he himself had come baptizing with water; and that on the day when he baptized him, he saw and heard those heavenly signs, which convinced him that he was the Christ, for they were signs which he had been taught to look for. " He that sent me to baptize with water," said he, “the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he who baptizeth with the Holy Ghost." * He then adds, “ And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God.”.
Again, the next day after, as he was standing _with two of his disciples, he looked on Jesus as he walked by, and said, « Behold the Lamb of God !” One of these disciples was Andrew, and the other probably was John the evangelist;† and these two disciples of the forerunner of Christ, were among the first disciples of Christ himself.
As Jesus was now manifested to Israel, and had begun his work, the ministry of John may be said to have closed. Still, however, he cooperated as he was able with his Master, and
* John i. 33.
| When John speaks of a disciple, without mentioning his name, he is supposed to intend himself.
continued to baptize. Jesus also, or rather his disciples, began to baptize in Judea ; and this seems to have excited the jealousy of the disciples of John, who came and reported it to him.* The Baptist at this time had moved higher up the river, and “was baptizing in Enon, near to Salim, because there was much water there." His reply to his disciples hushed their murmurings, and was another humble, affectionate, and manly testimony to the superior dignity of Jesus. He told them, that they themselves would bear him witness, that he said he was not the Christ, but was sent before him. He declared that as the friend of the bridegroom rejoiced to hear the bridegroom's voice, so his joy was fulfilled. He added those affecting and prophetic words, “ He must increase, but I must decrease.” He then spoke at large of the divine truth and glory of the mission of Christ, concluding, “ He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life;
and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
“ He must increase, but I must decrease." Perhaps John did not himself know, how soon and how fearfully those words were to be fulfilled. He could not have known it; because though content to occupy an inferior station, he yet looked for some signal and outward display of the Messiah's kingdom, to be manifested, however, with accompanying holiness, in which he might participate, or at least rejoice. But this was not to be granted him. His work and his life were soon to be ended.
* John iii. 22; iv. 2.
The popularity of John had attracted the notice of Herod the tetrarch, surnamed Antipas, who was the son of that Herod who had thirty years ago commanded the slaughter of the infants of Bethlehem. He had sent for the Baptist and conversed with him; not that he was desirous of hearing truth, but he was anxious to see so celebrated a person; and celebrity was, in his eyes, as it is in the eyes of many, the great thing, whether it appertained to a buffoon or a saint. But John reproved him for his marriage with Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, which so incensed that bad woman, that she caused her infatuated husband to throw him into prison; which prison, according to the historian Josephus, was the fortress of Macherus, on the northern border of the Dead Sea. Here John was doomed to lie inactive — another proof of the proverbial fickleness of the favor of great men and princes- but still retaining the respect of Herod on account of his integrity and wisdom, and causing him to fear on account of his favor with the people. Herodias would have killed him at first; “ but she could not; for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him.”
But she was revengeful as she was licentious, and she did not forget the Baptist's offence, nor her own deadly purpose.
While John was lying thus in prison, in the power of a weak prince, who was under the influence of a wicked and dangerous woman, he heard of the works of Christ, but heard 'nothing which promised deliverance. Either suffering himself to become impatient, at which we need not wonder, or desiring to obtain the most definite information regarding the proceedings and designs of Jesus, he sent unto him two of his disciples, who adhered to him in all his troubles, to inquire of him, “ Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” The answer which Jesus returned, while it reminded him of the continued testimonials of the Spirit to his mission by miracles, directed him to the spiritual nature of his kingdom, which was evinced by his preaching its glad tidings to the poor. And this answer probably calmed the troubled though strong mind of John, and satisfied him, that he must now look for deliverance to that kingdom alone, " where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest.”
As the messengers of John departed, Jesus began to speak concerning him to the surrounding multitude, and rendered a testimony to his prophetic mission, which proves his own unshaken confidence in the Baptist's integrity. What — he asked them - did they go out into the deserts of Judea to see? Not surely the wind-shaken reeds on the banks of the Jordan; not a man clothed in fine and costly raiment, for men thus clothed were to be found in palaces, not deserts; but they went for the purpose of seeing a prophet. And he was indeed more than a common pro phet. . He had more than a common mission, and he had faithfully discharged it. He was sent to prepare the way of the Messiah, and he had prepared it.
Of those who had hitherto been raised up for important purposes by the Almighty, none had been greater than John the Baptist ;- and yet even he entertained so inadequate notions of the entire spirituality of the Messiah's kingdom, that the least among those who should truly receive it, in its pure separateness from the world, would be greater than he.