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And he saith, I am not.” Though he did come in the spirit and power of Elijah, yet as he was aware that they intended to inquire whether he was Elijah himself, according to their notions, restored to earth to precede the Messiah, he was too honest to reply except in the negative. They pursued their interrogatories. “ Art thou that prophet?” They asked him, in the pertinacity of their opinion that some one or another of the ancient prophets was to reappear in person, whether he was such a prophet. And he still answered, “No.” Then, having exhausted their suppositions, and unwilling to go back to Jerusalem without some satisfactory answer, they said unto him, “ Who art thou ? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself ?” The look of the Baptist, the humble and yet rapt and holy expression of his countenance, may be imagined, but not described, with which he said, in the sublime words of Isaiah, and standing in that forest by the flowing waters of Jordan, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.” It was immaterial what he was in per. son, or in name; he was only a voice, a voice in the wilderness, — but yet a voice proclaiming to the world, and proclaiming truly and solemnly, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
As John had denied being either of the persons suggested, the deputation asked, in surprise, and perhaps with anger, why then he undertook to perform the important office of baptism. In answer, John declared, as he had before, that his baptism was but outward and introductory, whereas his successor and superior would baptize with a holier and mightier baptism. He intimated, moreover, that this exalted personage, though they knew him not, was even then among them. And thus he publicly declared to this official deputation the actual arrival of the Messiah.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and made him known to the people who were then assembled, by that memorable exclamation, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world !”* He then went on to say, that this was he who, coming after him, was yet before him ; that he did not at first know 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
* John i. 29.
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 continued to baptize. Jesus also, or rather his disciples, began to baptize in Judæa; and this seems to have excited the jealousy of the disciples of John, who came and reported it to him. I 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."
* John i. 33.
† When John speaks of a disciple, without mentioning his name, he is supposed to intend himself.
1 John iii. 22; iv. 2.
“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. · 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 appertain 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 Machærus, 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.