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But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees, among the higher orders and rulers of the people, coming to his baptism, not in sincerity, but in hypocrisy, (Luke vii. 30, John vii. 48,) he thus boldly rebuked them:
"O generation of vipers *, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father; for I say unto you, that GOD is able of these stones [the Gentiles, whom you despise as stupid and insensible] to raise up children to Abraham, [who shall be adopted as children of GOD in your room,"] Matt. iii. 5-9, Luke iii. 7, 8.
And he warned all of the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, threatened at the conclusion of the OLD TESTAMENT, as explained by our Lord's corresponding parable of the barren fig-tree, Luke xiii. 6-9.
"And now is the axe laid to the root of the trees; every tree, therefore, that beareth not good fruit, is to be hewed down, and cast into the fire," Matt. iii. 10, Luke iii. 9.
Alarmed by these awful denunciations of divine vengeance, the multitudes enquired, What then shall we do [to be saved?] In answer to which, this great preacher exhorted every class to forsake their ruling vices: he exhorted the hard-hearted and uncharitable Jews in general to be bountiful to the poor; "he that hath two coats, let him share with him that hath none, and he that hath food, let him do likewise;" the soldiers, on service (σтpatevoμevoi) prone to rapine, false information, and mutiny, "Neither plunder, nor inform falsely against any, and be content with your pay;" the publicans, or tax-gatherers, " Exact no more than what is appointed you," Luke iii. 10—14. And he did not spare the king himself, but reproved even Herod for his adultery, respecting his brother Philip's wife, Herodias: "It is not lawful for thee to have her," and " for all the wicked things that he had done," Luke iii. 19.
And he further warned all of the future judgment, at the general resurrection, to be held by CHRIST:
This expression is equivalent to “children of the devil,” as being “the seed of the old serpent," always ready to calumniate and persecute "the righteous seed of the woman," Gen. iii. 15, as they did both John and CHRIST, Luke vii. 31-35. Our Lord adopted it, Matt. xii. 34, xxiii. 33, as equivalent to a "wicked and adulterous generation," Matt. xii. 39.
"Whose [winnowing] fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his threshing floor, and gather the wheat (or good) into his granary (Heaven) but will burn up the chaff [or bad] with unquenchable fire (in Hell,") Matt. iii. 12, as explained by the similar parable of the wheat and the tares, Matt. xiii. 24-30; and the scenical representation of the last judgment, Matt. xxv.
Thus, when all the people were in expectation of CHRIST'S appearance, did the Baptist endeavour to correct the false notions they entertained of his temporal kingdom, and the worldly prosperity they imagined was to take place among themselves. Luke iii. 15.
"While all the people were baptizing, JESUS also came from Galilee to Bethabara, to be baptized; but John, knowing his superior purity and freedom from sin, forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me? But JESUS answering, said unto him, Permit it now; for so it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he permitted him." Matt. iii. 13-15, Luke iii. 21.
John indeed could have been no stranger to JESUS, from the relationship and friendship that subsisted between their families, and the frequent opportunities they had of meeting each other at the great festivals thrice a year, at Jerusalem. John, indeed, must have known him personally, and learned, from his righteous and enlightened parents, the miraculous and astonishing circumstances of his birth, the declarations of the angel Gabriel respecting his dignity, and the superior sanctity of his life and conversation; but John knew him not officially, as THE CHRIST, THE SON OF GOD, until it was signified to him by the HOLY SPIRIT, and by the HEAVENLY VOICE, at his baptism, as he informed his confidential disciples afterwards: "And I knew him not, but that he might be manifested to the Israel [of GOD] for this purpose came I, baptizing with water. And I knew him not; but HE that sent me to baptize with water, that same said unto me, upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining upon him, this is He that baptizeth with the HOLY SPIRIT," John i. 31-33. So careful was DIVINE WISDOM, that the evidences of the office and divinity of CHRIST, before he entered upon his mission, should
rest upon no former hearsay, or secondary testimony, but upon the immediate and original testimony of the Baptist, vouching what he himself saw and heard.
This distinction between knowing the person, and not knowing the office, of JESUS, easily and naturally reconciles an apparent dissonance between the evangelists Matthew and John, and is supported by the case of the Jews and their rulers. They knew Jesus personally, as the reputed son of Joseph, and whence he was, from Nazareth, but though he was in the midst of them, they knew him not as THE CHRIST +. Compare John i. 26, with John vi. 42, vii. 27, Matt. xiii. 55, Mark vi. 3.
Accordingly, the promised sign took place, for " JESUS having been baptized, and praying, the heavens were opened unto him, and the HOLY SPIRIT descended, and remained upon him, in a bodily form, [probably as of fire, Acts ii. 3,] like a dove, [or with a dove-like motion.] And a voice came from the heavens, saying, Thou art MY SON, THE BELOVED, in whom I am well pleased," Mark i. 11, Luke iii. 22; or, This is MY SON," &c. Matt. iii. 17.
The only witnesses of this stupendous scene appear to have been JESUS and the Baptist. To the former, perhaps, was directed, "Thou art MY SON," &c. to the latter, "This is MY SON," &c. And this seems to be confirmed by the Baptist's testimony: "I beheld THE SPIRIT descending, like a dove, from heaven, and it remained upon him ;—and I have seen, and do testify [what I also heard] that This is the SON OF GOD," John i. 32-34.
This voice from heaven was thrice repeated at different times; first, before JESUS entered upon his ministry, on the present occasion, when the Baptist was the single witness; afterwards more fully, and with more glorious circumstances, at his Transfiguration, before the chosen witnesses, Peter, James, and John: Thou art MY SON, THE BELOVED, in whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him," Matt. xvii. 5, Mark ix. 7, Luke
Some commentators endeavour to harmonize the Evangelists in this case, by supposing that John did not know JESUS even personally, until pointed out to him by the HOLY SPIRIT, as formerly the wife of Jeroboam, in disguise, was made known to the prophet Ahijah, 1 Kings xiv. 1-6. But this supposition is improbable in itself, and inconsistent with John's knowing and declining to baptize JESUS at first; after which, it appears, that the sign was proposed to him by THE Spirit.
†Thus JESUS himself said afterwards, "Philip, have I been so long a time with thee, and yet hast thou not known me?" John xiv. 9.
ix. 35, as the great prophet of the Church. And lastly, at the close of his ministry, after he had been proclaimed the CHRIST, or king of Israel, by the multitude, when our LORD, "for their sakes," to confirm their faith, prayed, in their hearing, "FATHER, glorify thy name," a voice came from heaven and said, "I have both glorified, and will glorify it again." And the people who stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered, the articulate voice being probably accompanied with thunder, as at the promulgation of the decalogue from Mount Sinai, Exod. xix. 19, xx. 18, 19. Others said "an angel spake unto him," John xii. 28-30. These latter occasions, the second more fully attested by three chosen witnesses, and the third by the multitude, reflect credit back again on the first, depending on the single testimony of John, while this, in turn, gives additional weight to them.
Altera poscit opem res, et conjurat amice. Hor.
The miraculous circumstances of OUR LORD's baptism were not only marks of Divine favour, the most distinguished, to the great Author and Finisher of our Faith, but they were also signal fulfilments of ancient prophecy, and derive from thence additional importance.
1. CHRIST was styled the peculiar "SON OF GOD," in Nathan's famous prophecy, 2 Sam. vii. 14; by David, Ps. ii. 7; by Agur, Prov. xxx. 4; and by Nebuchadnezzar, probably from the instructions of Daniel, Dan. iii. 25.
2. He was styled, TT, "David," not the proper name, but the appellative, ó aуaπηтоs, “the beloved," as it is correctly αγαπητος, rendered by the Sept. Isa. v. 1, and ought to be rendered in some most important prophecies descriptive of his future reign, Ps. lxxxix. 19, 20, Jer. xxx. 9, Ezek. xxxiv. 23, 24, xxxvii. 24, 25, Hosea iii. 5, &c. which are otherwise obscure or inconsistent, as usually applied to the former king, David.
Hence Ethan's prophecy, which is a commentary on Nathan's, and on David's, should be rendered thus:
"I have exalted THE CHOSEN out of the people; I have found my servant THE BELOVED; with my holy oil have I
"The name of THE LORD," signifies "the power of THE LORD," or his Majesty, Exod. xxxiii. 19, and sometimes perhaps CHRIST, Isa. xxx. 27, &c.
anointed him, [as THE MESSIAH, or CHRIST."] Ps. lxxxix. 19, 20 *.
And in the parallel prophecy of Isaiah, “ Behold my servant, whom I have CHOSEN; MY BELOVED, in whom I am well pleased; I have made MY SPIRIT rest upon Him," Isa. xlii. 1, as cited by the evangelist, Matt. xii. 18, more correctly + than in the present Hebrew text, or Sept. version, in the two first clauses; the last is the rendering of David Levi, Vol. I. p. 85, corresponding to Isa. xi. 2. In these two last prophecies, the Hebrew term, rendered "servant," is synonymous with "son." The Greek term, aç, also ambiguously denotes both, Luke vii. 3-7, &c.
Hence Peter declared, " How GOD anointed JESUS OF NAZARETH with the HOLY GHOST, and with power," at his baptism, Acts x. 38; and Paul," with oil of gladness above his fellows," [the angels] Heb. i. 9, citing David's prophecy of the MESSIAH, Ps. xlv. 7; and the Baptist, that "GOD gave him THE SPIRIT immeasurably, and all things into his hand, [or power] because THE FATHER loveth THE SON," John iii. 34, 35.
2. The nature and extent of this spiritual unction is finely foretold by the prophet Isaiah, concerning "the offspring of Jesse," (the father of David) THE MESSIAH.
XI. 1. "And a rod shall come forth from the stem of Jesse,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and fortitude,
The spirit of the knowledge and fear of THE LORD."
1. Hence OUR LORD was styled "the root of David," Rev. v. 5, "the root and the offspring of David;" Rev. xxii. 16; in his divine nature," the root," or foundation of "the sure mercies," or salvation" of David;" in his human nature," the offspring of David."
2. The fulness of THE SPIRIT, permanently granted to Him,
See the whole of the 89th Psalm, newly translated and explained, in a volume of Dissertations on the prophetic Character of CHRIST. 8vo. 1808. p. 86, &c. Rivingtons.
+ The Evangelist's version is supported by the Chaldee paraphrase, "Behold my servant the MESSIAH, I will choose (or adopt) him, my BELOVED, the ORACLE, in whom I am well pleased."