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fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for unclean
" * ness.
The character of John's preaching and instructions is set forth with a great degree of particularity, in the account which is given by Luke of his exhortations and advice to various classes of persons; from which it plainly appears that his doctrine was of a direct and practical kind, and that the preparation which he inculcated was of a moral nature entirely. He warned the people not to rely with their wonted pride on their being the children of Abraham, but to “bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.” He was surprised to see the Pharisees and Sadducees resorting to him; because they were so filled with this pride, and so confident in the merit of their ceremonial righteousness. He was surprised that they should come to his baptism, which was one of real and practical, not formal or mystical repentance. “O generation of vipers!” he exclaimed, “ children of deceit and hypocrisy! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
When “the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then ?” he indicated by his answer what was the nature of those fruits which were
* Zech. xiii. 1.
worthy of repentance, those deeds which proved a true change of heart and mind;-—he said unto
“ He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” The great duty of benevolence is here enforced, and illustrated by one of its simple modes, and exalted in clear superiority above the works of the law.
And when the publicans, or tax-gatherers, came to be baptized, “ and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” He knew their peculiar temptations, and their besetting sin, arising from the circumstances of their situation, and he therefore warned them against the spirit of extortion, and exhorted them to honesty, moderation and mercy.
66 And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.”
This is all quite practical and plain, and shows that the eremitical Baptist, severe as he was in his manners, solitary in his haunts, and striking in his whole appearance and deportment, was yet simple and direct in his teaching, and did not affect to move in a cloud of mysticism. It denotes also, that though he may have had, on some points, mistaken views of the Messiah's kingdom, and did not embrace the whole extent of its spirituality, yet he was well aware that it was to be a moral reformation, without which there could be no national deliverance, and that all who would be its subjects and partake of its blessings, could secure their place only by repentance and righteousness of life. This was one proof of the . truth and divinity of his mission. Excited as the people were by the mere proclamation of the coming deliverer, he made no further use of the excitement than to direct it to moral ends. He knew that this was the limit of his commission. He said and did nothing to rouse the minds of his hearers to any hostile manifestations; but whether they were Pharisees, Sadducees, publicans or soldiers, he only exhorted them to true repentance and the performance of the charitable and peaceful duties. Here also we may observe a remarkable, 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 Judea; 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 unlose; he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire." * John allowed that he performed the office of baptism, as a 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 granery, and burning the latter with fire. .
* Luke iii. 15.