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a magnificent retinue, but the author of that salvation which God has prepared before the face of all people, Luke ii. 30, 31,
The Evangelist John, in giving the history of the Baptist's ministry, tells us that he had a special commission from God, being called to his office by inspiration, as the prophets were of old; and that he was sent to bear witness of the light, or to point out the Messiah, whom he had called in the preceding fourth verse, the light of men, because it was one of the principal prophetical characters of the Messiah, that he was to enlighten the world. Hence he is called by one prophet, the Sun of Righteousness; and by another, the light of Sion, and a light to lighten the Gentiles. John i. 6. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light; that all men through him might believe. 8. He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light: John, though sent from God, was not the Word of God, who has enlightened the world; but he came to point him out to men. 9. That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world: The person to whom John bare witness, was that great light which enlighteneth all men, both as he is their maker, (ver. 3.) who has put into their mind the light of reason; and as he is the Word of God and author of revelation. Here therefore the Evangelist asserts a truth of the greatest importance; namely, that the Son of God was sent to save, not the single nation of the Jews as they fondly imagined, but to enlighten and save all mankind. 10. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not: The Word and Son of God came down to earth; and though the world was made by him, yet that very world did not know and acknowledge him as the Word of God and maker of all things. 11. He came unto his own, and his own received him not: The Jewish nation are called Christ's own, because they had long enjoyed the benefit of those revelations which the Word of God anciently made to mankind; and because they had been from the beginning under the special protection of his providence. To this people the word of God came, because he had been promised to them, and they were in expectation of him. Yet even this people rejected him, when he appeared in person, and preached among them. But upon all the Gentiles who acknowledged him as the word of God, by believing on him, he conferred the power of becoming the sons of God equally with the Jews, and of obtaining a right to the inheritance of such. 12. But as mamy as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God; even to them that believe in his name. 13. Which were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of men, but of God. The Gentiles on whom the Word conferred the power of becoming the sons of God, obtained it neither by
circumcision and sacrifice, nor by marriage and natural descent, nor by any rite invented by men; but by the mere good pleasure of God, who for this purpose sent his Son, in the human nature, to dwell among men. 14. And the Word was made flesh, and davelt among us. In the human nature, the word of God hath taught mankind fully and powerfully the doctrines of salvation. And que beheld his glory, the glory as of the only be gotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. We, his disciples, beheld his glory with admiration, and knew it to be such as became the only begotten of the Father; for he was not decked with the glitter of worldly pomp and grandeur, but he shone most beautiful with the glory of the divine perfections; and withal he possessed the power of working the greatest and most beneficent miracles, expressly called by this evangelist, his glory, chap. ii. 11. Perhaps also there is an allusion here to the descent of the Holy Ghost upon Jesus at his baptism, to the glory with which his body was adorned in the transfiguration, and to the voice from heaven wherewith he was honoured a little before his crucifixion.
Johnt resembled the old prophets, particularly Elijah, in the coarseness of his clothing, 2 Kings i. 8. and in the abstemiousness of his diet. He wore a rough kind of garment made of camel's hair, probably the sickcloth with which penitents and mourners used to cover their loins, and sometimes their whole bodies, 1 Chron. xxi. 16. And for his food, it was such as the wilderness afforded. He lived on locusts and wild honey; and
The Jews were permitted to eat locusts, Lev. xi. 22. and if we may believe Pliny, they made a considerable part of the food of the Parthians and Ethiopians, B. II. 29. B. VI. 30. Dr Shaw in his Travels, after having described a plague of locusts which he himself saw in Barbary, tells us, pag. 258. "That this insect sprinkled with salt and fried, is in taste not much unlike a cray fish," and adds, "that the angis described by Aristotle, Histor. Anim. lib. v. cap. 28. and by other historians, are plainly the insect of which we are speaking, and not the locust tree, which seems to have had its name from the desire which this animal hath to feed upon it. Besides the LXX. always interpret na by angs; for which reason the writers of the New Testament may be supposed to have used the word in the same signification. Wherefore the angidis John Baptist fed upon in the wilderness were the insects so called. And provided the time of their appearance in the Holy Land was at the same time that I saw them in Barbary (first at the end of March, and from that time till July) it may be presumed that the Baptist entered upon his mission at that season. Wild honey, the other article of the Baptist's fare, is supposed by many to have been a kind of liquor which in those countries distilled from the trees. Pliny describes it, B. XXIII. 4. "Elacomeli in Syria ex ipsis oleis manare diximus, sapore melleo, non sine nausea alvum emollit." And again, XV. 7. Sponte nascitur (oleum) in Syriæ maritimis quod Elaeomeli vocant: manat ex ipsis arboribus, pingue, crassius melle, resina tenuis, sapore dulci." Josephus, Bell. V. 4. says, the palms were so rich in the VOL. I. 3 B
used neither wine nor strong drink, nor fermented liquor of any kind, Luke i. 15. but quenched his thirst with water only. Matt. iii. 4. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey. The reason why our Lord's forerunner led this austure kind of life is assigned, Matt. xi. 16. His extraordinary mortification, by which he acquired the air of an old prophet, was intended to make the people reverence him. Besides, such a course of life was suitable to the doctrine of repentance which he preached. Accordingly, the public attention being turned towards him, the inhabitants of the country, who were all now expecting the Messiah, went out to him in multitudes. And because he preached the necessity of repentance, from the consideration that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, many of all ranks, sects, and characters, submitted to confession of sins, baptism in Jordan, and whatever else the prophet was pleassed to prescribe as preparations for that kingdom; so eagerly desirous were all the Jews to have it erected among them without delay. 5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan: 6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
As the chief subject of the Baptist's sermons was repentance, it surprised him not a little to find among those who came confessing their sins and desiring baptism, many of the Pharisees, a sect generally puffed up with an high opinion of their own sanctity. He was equally astonished at the Sadducees, who, though they did not believe any thing at all of a future state, expressed the greatest earnestness to obtain remission. In a word, he wondered to see the whole people so much moved with his threatenings, especially as he knew that they confidently expected salvation on account of their being Abraham's children; a conceit which they were extremely fond of, and which they seem to have derived from a misinterpretation of Jer. xxxi. 35, 37. Wherefore, as a rebuke of their presumption on this head, he called them in his exhortation the offspring of vipers, instead of the children of Abraham, and commanded them to relinquish their notions, and to reform their manners, if they hoped for salvation from Messiah. It is more than probable that the Pharisees and Sadducees offered themselves to John's baptism, with a view to avoid the impending destruction which they supposed would fall on the enemies of the Messiah, whose kingdom, according to them,
territory of Jericho, that being squeezed, they yielded a honey not much inferior to that of bees. But because this kind of juice, when used as food, was sometimes attended with bad effects, others are of opinion, that the wild honey on which the Baptist fed, was that which bees deposite in the hollow trunks of trees, and of which there was great plenty in Palestine, 1 Sam. xiv. 25, -27.
them, was to be established by force of arms. Perhaps they proposed also to have a share in the pleasures and profits of his kingdom. But the Baptist, well acquainted with the hypocrisy, presumption, and wickedness of the men, sharply rebuked them. Matt. iii. 7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, or serpents, plainly alluding to Gen. iii. 15. where wicked men are called the seed of the serpent, ye wicked offspring of wicked parents, who hath warned you to flee from the aurath to come? By what means have you been awakened to a sense of the danger you are in from the impending judgments of God? Or his question may imply a strong negation; as if he had said, I have not shewed you that you can flee from the wrath to come, merely by baptism without repentance. It seems the Pharisees and Sadducees desired his baptism only as the ceremony of admission into the Messiah's kingdom, not as an obligation to amendment. Moreover, because reason and experience prove that confession of sins, a present sorrow for them, and warm resolutions of forsaking them, neither necessarily nor always are attended with reformation, the Baptist insisted on the fruits of repentance as well as on repentance itself. 8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance; do the works that should proceed from a penitent disposition. And that his doctrine might take the faster hold of them, he shewed them the folly of expecting salvation merely on account of their descent, assuring them that their being Abraham's children, would be no protection to them if they continued in their sins. 9. 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 to raise up children unto Abraham. God, who formed Adam and Eve out of the dust of the earth, and gave Abraham a son by Sarah when she was past the age of child-bearing, can raise up children to that patriarch even out of the stones under your feet; or, as others interpret the words, can give him children from among the Gentiles, who, by imitating his piety and holiness, shall partake with him in the blessing. Thus the Baptist took from those presumptuous men the ground of their confidence, by affirming that God could perform his promises to Abraham, though the whole Jewish nation were rejected by him, and excluded from heaven: the seed like the stars for multitude that was principally intended in the promise, being a spiritual progeny. To enforce his exhortation he told them, they had no time to delay their repentance, because the patience of God was very near come to an end with respect to them. His judgments were at hand and ready to be inflicted, so that if they continued unfruitful, notwithstanding the extraordinary means that were now to be tried with them, destruction would speedily overtake them. 10. And now also the 3 B 2
ax is laid unto the root of the trees, therefore, every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down and cast into the fire. In a word, the whole drift of his sermons was to root out their prejudices, and give them a sense of this important truth, that acceptance with God does not depend upon flowing garments, broad phylacteries, frequent ablutions, much fasting, and long prayers; but that good works proceeding from faith and love are necessary thereto. And therefore when (Luke iii. 10.) the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then to avoid the judgments of God? 11. He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none, and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. 12. Then came also publicans (See on Luke v. 27. § 34.) to be baptized; and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? The tax-gatherers, wishing by all means to keep their places under the Messiah, might be anxious to know what qualifications were necessary for that purpose. Or rather, since our Lord has declared elsewhere, that the tax-gatherers, with the rest of the people, were sincere in their professions of repentance, Matt. xxi. 32. we may believe the gravity of the Baptist's exhortations, the vehemence with which he delivered his threatenings, and his character for sanctity, affected them to such a degree, that many who till then had looked on ceremonial righteousness as the principal requisite to salvation, sensible of their error, came to him and said, If matters are so, auhat must the do?-Indeed the tax-gatherers and others who thus addressed the Baptist, were people of infamous characters; yet he did not, like the Pharisees, shun their company for that reason; on the contrary, he received them with great humanity, and recom mended to the equity in the exercise of their office: 13. And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you: in levying the taxes, compel no man to pay you more than his just proportion of the sum which you are allowed by the law to raise.-14. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? The Baptist's sermons were so affecting, that they impressed men even of the most abandoned characters, such as the private soldiers in all countries commonly are, and made them ask him with great earnestness, what was necessary for them to do?-And he said unto them, Do violence to no man; commit no violence on any man's person or proper
Ver. 14. And the soldiers.] It was the custom of the Romans to recruit their armies in the conquered provinces. Wherefore, as the Jews did not scruple to engage in a in itary life, many of them may now have been in the emperor's service. Or we may suppose that after Judea was made a province, the Romans took in their pay the Jewish troops, which Herod and his son Archelaus had maintained. For it is certain that the soldiers who now addressed the Baptist, were not heathens; otherwise his advice to them would have been, that they should relinquish idolatry, and embrace the worship of the true God.