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3 For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one
OBSERVE, here, this requisition of repentance and a holy life, enforced at the commencement of Christianity, is still made of all who would enjoy
crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
dom of God, used by the other evangelists. The meaning of this phrase must be gathered from the language of prophecy respecting the Messiah, and from some of the views which the Jews were entertaining in regard to him. He was spoken of by the prophets as a king, who was to have a glorious and everlasting dominion. Micah 5: 2. Dan. 7: 13, 14. Is. 9: 6, 7. His administration was to be singularly equitable and prosperIs. 11: 1-9. Micah 4: 1-4. So different from the administration of ordinary kings was to be his reign, and so eminently distinguished above them, that, in a peculiar sense, his reign was to be a reign of God; during his administration it might well be said, that God reigns upon earth. The expression, then, reign of heaven, or reign of God, or, as our version translates, kingdom of heaven, would at once be understood by the Jews as meaning the Messiah's administration, the glorious times in which the long-expected personage would appear and assume his royal authori-plied to John the Baptist, is also ty. They had, indeed, mistaken the applied, in a similar manner, by true nature of this authority, and Mark (1: 3); and by Luke (3:4—6); were not expecting a spiritual reign, also by John the Baptist himself a reign, in their hearts, of the princi- (John 1: 23). The passage, however, ples of piety and integrity. Still, when read in its original connection, they would regard this language as appears to be a prediction of Jehoan announcement of the Messiah's vah's coming to deliver his people, approach; and John's official object the Jews, from their captivity in was, to draw their attention to their Babylon. It is probable that the pro
The language of Isaiah, here ap
spiritual state, to lead them to repent-phetic view of the future, which Isaiah ance, and thus to effect a true prepa- enjoyed, included a series of events ration for his coming. Such is the embracing the temporal deliverance of very usual meaning of the phrase the Lord's people from captivity, and kingdom of heaven. It has, also, other the spiritual deliverance of his true meanings, intimately connected, how- people by the coming of the Messian. ever, with this; and these meanings The language, which was appropriate are, in general, sufficiently well point- to the whole series thus presented to ed out by the connection in which the the prophet's mind, was also approphrase occurs. priate to the different parts of the series; and hence, in the progress of fulfilment, it was applicable to the appearing of John the Baptist as the forerunner of the Messiah.
the spiritual benefits which the Messiah bestows. This requisition results from the very nature of the gospel, and can never cease.
3. Ergias; the Greek method of expressing the name Isaiah. The passage referred to in this verse, occurs in Is. 40: 3. The imagery employed is drawn from the practice of ancient Oriental monarchs, who, when on a march, sent before them suitable persons to put the roads and all things in readiness, so that their progress might not be impeded. Thus John the Baptist went before the Messiah, to announce his coming, and to lead the people to a suitable preparation for receiving him. In the case of the Eastern monarchs, preparation consisted in levelling hills, and filling valleys, and removing all obstructions to their march. The preparation for the Messiah must be, of course, adapted to his character and object; and it would consist in obeying the call to repentance.
rusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan,
6 And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many
5 Then went out to him Je- of the Pharisees and Sadducees
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.
4. Camel's hair. The hair of the Judea. || Judea. See on 3: 1. || Jorcamel, which was shed every year, dan; the river so named. By inspectwas manufactured into a coarse cloth, ing the Map, it will be seen that the which constituted the clothing of the Jordan is the principal river of Palespoorer class of people. In Zech. 13: tine. It rises in the northern part of 4, there seems to be an intimation that the country, and pursues a southerly dress of an inferior quality was usual course, with various windings, till it among the ancient prophets. || Leath- empties into the Dead Sea. || The ern girdle. Such a girdle Elijah region round about Jordan; the counwore. 2 Kings 1: 8. The dress worn try lying along the Jordan, on each at that time was loose and flowing; side. The meaning of the sacred and when persons went abroad, they writer, in the whole verse, is, that used a girdle, which was bound great multitudes from the several around the loins. The girdle made places mentioned, repaired to John; of leather was an ordinary one. It not that every individual from all was sometimes made of cotton, some- these places went; just as we say, times of silk. Meat. This word, the whole world knows some particunow applied solely to animal food, lar thing, when we mean that it is a was formerly of more general signifi- matter of common notoriety; or, the cation, like the word food. || Locusts. whole city was in commotion, when In Eastern countries, locusts are roast- we mean that multitudes of the citied, and sometimes boiled, for the use zens were excited. of the common people. They are salted and preserved, and used as occasion requires. The inhabitants of Palestine, as well as the other Orientals, have always been accustomed to make several species of the locust an article of food. See Lev. 11: 22. Wild honey. This was probably not the honey of bees, but what is called honey-dew - a sweet substance, found very plentifully on the leaves of trees in some Oriental countries.
Thus, both in regard to clothing and to food, John lived in an austere and self-denying manner; using such food and clothing as were comparatively mean and easily procured. Compare Matt. 11: 8-18. NOTICE here, that an exterior garb of poverty may be consistent with rare excellence in the sight of God. Compare v. 4 with Matt. 11: 11.
5. Jerusalem; the metropolis of the Jewish nation, situated, as the Map shows, in that part of the land called
6. In Jordan; that is, more properly, and more strictly in accordance with the original, in the Jordan. || Confessing their sins. John required repentance in those who would be baptized by him. See v. 8. Hence, in Mark 1: 4, he is said to have preached "the baptism of repentance," that is, baptism, which implied repentance on the part of the persons baptized, and which was a special method of acknowledging their repentance. Consequently, confession of sin was required. Those who were baptized by John, were understood, by that act, to indicate themselves as penitents, professing to enter on a new life, and thus to be preparing for the Messiah.
7. Pharisees and Sadducees. These were the two principal sects among the Jews in the time of John and of Jesus. For an account of them, see the INTRODUCTORY EXPLANATIONS, at the beginning of this work, III. 1
come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance :
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.
8. Fruits. This word, as applied to men, is equivalent to the term conduct or course of life. Mect for repentance; consistent with repentance, or suited to repentance. Let your lives henceforth be such as will be consistent with repentance, and suitable for persons who profess reformation of heart and life. John prescribes the same rule which the Saviour afterwards so distinctly maintained (Matt. 7: 20)-By their fruits ye shall know them. Let us never forget, that a merely external profession of piety is utterly valueless.
and 2. page xv. It may here be obed that a messenger would precede served, that they were men of dis- the Messiah, in order to effect a gentinction, expecting the Messiah, in eral reformation, he made it distinctly common with the great body of the known, that, unless such a reformation nation. As the people in general as was adapted to the Messiah's obwere attracted towards John, and ject should take place, God would many were receiving baptism from smite the people with a curse. him in reference to the coming of the Messiah, they too, doubtless from wrong motives, such as a love of popularity, and a wish not to lose their hold upon the people, requested baptism. John, discerning their duplicity, and struck with the inconsistency of such men as they, who prided themselves upon their superior sanctity, seeking admission to an ordinance which spoke of sin, and repentance, and confession, promptly declined their request. || Generation of vipers; offspring of vipers. The viper was a figure of a hypocritical and injurious man. See Matt. 12: 34. 23:33. These men made great pretensions to piety, but they were really destitute of piety, and were injurious to the people. || Who hath warned you? You, who make such profes- in Matt. 20: 25, by the term "the sions of strict piety, and so rigidly princes," that is, those who rule. enforce obedience upon others, who | || Abraham to our father; Abraham for, has undertaken to warn you? Have or as, our father. The Jews, espeyou come hither, under the influence cially the Pharisees, placed great reof such warning, to amend your lives, liance on their being descended from and to seek deliverance from the pun- Abraham. They regarded it as alishment due to sinners? Or have most a matter of course, that they, as you come in a hypocritical manner, children of Abraham, possessed the seeking to maintain your reputation favor of God, and would enjoy the among the people, while yet you blessings of the Messiah's administra feel not your need of repentance? tion. The ground of acceptance they The wrath to come; the punishment considered to be, the merits of Abra with which the sins of the people ham, circumcision, and the offering were to be visited. The expression of sacrifices. Of these stones. John is general, and includes whatever endeavored to correct the erroneous miseries should befall the people in notions which were so current, and consequence of their sins, both in to show that natural descent does this world and in the world to come. not communicate good desert, and When Malachi (4: 5, 6) had predict- cannot be of avail as to acquiring an 4
9. Think not to say; that is, Say not. A similar manner of speaking is found, in the original, in Mark 10: 42-"they which are accounted to rule;" which thought is expressed
10 And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bring
interest in the blessings of the new dispensation. Descent from Abraham was hereafter to be regarded as of little importance; personal repentance was demanded. God was not dependent on the Jews for acquiring suitable subjects for the Messiah's reign; the most unlikely materials he could mould, so as to answer his purposes. The very stones on the Jordan's bank, he could transform, if he saw fit, into human beings, possessing characters like Abraham's.
10. Is laid unto the root; lies at the root, ready for use. In the Messiah's reign, regard is paid to the real characters of men, not to outward distinctions. The same principles which an owner of trees applies to them, are applied to men. Trees which produce not good fruit, and are, therefore, useless to the proprietor, are cut down and burnt up. So, in the Messiah's dispensation, there is a discrimination according to character. To belong to this dispensation, in respect to its distinguishing benefits, is an individual matter, not a national matter. Decisions are made now according to personal character. The allusion to useless fruit-trees being cut down and used for fuel, would be strongly felt in Palestine, where was very little spare land, and every foot was needed for profitable cultivation. See Luke 13: 6-9. || Cast into the fire. As applied to men, this expression necessarily denotes rejection and being doomed to misery. Let the solemn admonition of John impress us deeply with the sentiment, that the piety of our ancestors, or of our relatives, will not avail for our salvation. Personal piety is required.
11. With water. The translation
eth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
11 I indeed baptize you with
tize in water, as in the phrase They were baptized in the Jordan; and the same impropriety in saying baptize with water, as in saying baptize with the Jordan. Unto repentance; as if he had said, The baptism which I administer, implies a profession of repentance, an acknowledgment of your being sinners, and of your obligation and determination to reform your hearts and lives. Those who receive baptism from me, are, by that act, marked as persons professing hearty reformation, and thus waiting for the coming Messiah. Such is the nature of my office.-A proper view of John's office must at once have shown these impenitent Pharisees and Sadducees, that they were not fit subjects for his baptism. The language of John, I baptize You, does not imply that he had baptized the Pharisees, and all others whom he was addressing. Indeed his remarks clearly imply the contrary; this also appears from Luke 7:30. His use of the word you must be explained by referring to the language of ordinary life. In addressing a collection of people, such an expression would be understood as meaning, those of you whom I baptize, &c. Unto repentance; that is, in reference to repentance, as professing the obligation to repentance and the exercise of it.
John, having thus explicitly declared the nature and extent of his office, proceeds to make known, with equal explicitness, the superior dignity of the great Lord of the new dispensation, whose servant he did not feel himself worthy to be. || He that cometh after me; that is, the Messiah, whose approach John announced. The whole of John's teach
in water would be more in accord-ing, and his proclaiming of "the ance with the original. The prepo- kingdom of heaven," or the reign of sition employed is precisely the same the Messiah, would make this exas is used in the sixth verse, and pression well understood. || Mightier there translated in. There is the than I; of greater authority and pow. same propriety in the phrase I bap-er.
Whose shoes, &c.; sandals,
water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am
not worthy to bear he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire:
probably, coverings for the bottom of the Holy Spirit. By the Holy Spirit,
ing I am not worthy to bear [to carry
In Acts 11: 16, again occurs the same declaration of Jesus as we find in Acts 1: 5-" Then remembered I the word of the Lord, how that he said, John indeed baptized with [in] water; but ye shall be baptized with [immersed in] the Holy Spirit.' Immediately before this declaration, and as reminding of what the Lord had said, it is stated, that when Peter began to speak to Cornelius and his company, "the Holy Spirit fell on them as on us at the beginning." The imparting, then, of the Holy Spirit, on this occasion, was the same as baptizing in the Holy Spirit.