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able, and I may say a miraculous, conformity between the spirit of the Baptist's preaching and the spirit of the Messiah's religion as it was afterwards developed. There is no appearance of any intimacy or collusion between them. They lived seventy miles apart from each other, — the one in Nazareth of Galilee, and the other in Hebron of Judæa, — and therefore, though related to each other, had probably met but seldom, up to the time of the public appearance of John as a preacher and prophet. There is evidently an unprepared and undesigned agreement between the introduction and the perfection of the new dispensation ; a spiritual agreement which could not have existed between two uninspired Jews, nurtured in the prejudices and traditions of their nation. The true light was preceded by the true witness. The dawning was a pure and correct, though faint, likeness of the day.
Distinguished, however, as John the Baptist had become by his austere mode of life, by his prophetic dress and bearing, by his bold, earnest, and authoritative teaching, by the crowds who appeared as his baptized disciples, and by his annunciation of the ardently longed-for Messiah, the people began to suppose that he might be the Messiah himself. If John had been only playing a part, and been under the influence of a worldly ambition, he might easily have turned
this idea to his own advantage and personal exaltation. But he maintained his own proper place and duty, humbly and strictly. “And as the people were in expectation, and all men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were the Christ or not, John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” * John allowed that he performed the office of baptism as teacher and reformer, but declared that it was only introductory and emblematic, only a baptism with water; while he who was soon to be manifested, the real Christ, to be whose servant he was himself unworthy, would baptize with a far more thorough, searching, and efficacious baptism, with a spiritual and purifying baptism, with the Holy Ghost and with fire. In using this latter expression, he perhaps had in his mind the passage of Malachi, which says, " And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness." John, however, changes the metaphor, and represents the Messiah as a husbandman, with his winnowing fan in his hand, thoroughly separating the wheat on his floor from the chaff, gathering the former into his granary, and burning the latter with fire.
* Luke iii. 15.
And now the time arrives when he who was to come appears.
“ Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan, unto John, to be baptized of him.” From the retirement of distant Galilee, where he had passėd his youth in study and labor, and in docile subservience to his parents, Jesus, having entered upon his thirtieth year, which was the age of induction into the priestly office among the Jews,* travelled to Bethabara, and presented himself to his relative to be baptized. How eventful was this meeting between the son of Elizabeth and the son of Mary! They whose births had been announced by the angel Gabriel, and who had since lived apart in holy seclusion and quiet duty for thirty years, were now brought together by the call of God in the presence of assembled multitudes, and this was the first public interview between the commissioned herald and the anointed prince, between the messenger and the Redeemer. When John heard the request of Jesus to be baptized, he at first forbade, or refused him; for though he was not yet certified of his being the Christ, yet he was probably acquainted with the wonders attending his birth, and with his life of entire purity and holi
Therefore he meekly remonstrated, “I
* Numbers iv.
have need to be baptized of thee, and comest
For those small pains obedient he had spent,
Through wonders when to Canaan Israel went;
Or Eastern floods, whose paths are paved with gems.”+
* Exodus xxix. 4.
† Joseph Beaumont.
| Luke iv. 1.
As we know that Jesus was thirty years of age when he began his ministry, and that this was the age prescribed by the Jewish law as the proper time for the commencement of sacred functions, it is probable that John began his ministry at the same age, and, being six months older than Jesus, we may draw the conclusion that he had been six months preaching and baptizing, when that manifestation of the Messiah took place which was the great end of his baptism.
At the expiration of our Saviour's sojourn in the wilderness, he returned to Bethabara, and took up his abode in that neighborhood. About the same time, the great council of the Jews, moved by the celebrity of John, and the surmises of the people concerning him, and being yet ignorant of the appearance and claims of Jesus, sent a formal deputation to the Baptist, to ascertain what he was, or assumed to be. this,” says the Evangelist John,* " is the record," or rather the testimony, or free profession, “ of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ." With decided and earnest reiteration he refused the kingly title. “And they asked him, What then ? Art thou Elias ?
* John i. 19.