Saturday, June 10th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible Coke's Commentary
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tcc/ matthew-3.html. 1801-1803.
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Matthew 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
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John preacheth: his office, life, and baptism: he reprehendeth the Pharisees, and baptizeth Christ in Jordan.
Anno Domini 26.
Matthew 3:1. In those days— That is, while Jesus was yet at Nazareth, where he dwelt till he entered on his public ministry, in the thirtieth year of his age. It is usual with authors to denote the times they are speaking of in an indeterminate manner. St. Luke, chap. Mat 3:2 has specified this period very particularly; and as he has given us a morefull and exact account of John the Baptist than St. Matthew, we shall refer our readers to the notes on his Gospel. The wilderness of Judea was not a place wholly void of inhabitants; but hilly, and not so fruitful or so well inhabited as the rest of Judaea; though there were several cities in it. Joshua reckons six. See Joshua 15:61-62. St John was born and had been brought up in this wilderness. Compare Luke 1:39-40.
Matthew 3:2. Repent ye— This was only the substance and result of his preaching. The kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God, are but two phrases for the same thing, agreeably to the style of the Hebrews; who frequently used the word heaven to denote God himself who dwells there. Hence what is here called by St. Matthew the kingdom of heaven, is by St. Mark and St. Luke called the kingdom of God; Mark 1:15.Luke 6:20; Luke 6:20. The kingdom of heaven, therefore, signifies here the kingdom of God, which was founded and established by the Lord Jesus Christ,—the kingdom of grace here, introductory to the kingdom of glory hereafter; and this expression is founded on Daniel 2:44; Daniel 7:13-14. Now, as the kingdom of heaven was to be opened by the preaching of the Gospel, John the Baptist rightly says, that it was at hand; since the Lord Jesus Christ entered on his public ministry about six months after. See Luke 3:2-3. The demand of repentance shewed that this was a spiritual kingdom, and that no wicked man, how politic or brave, how learned or renowned soever, could possibly be a genuine member of it. See Whitby, Beausobre and Lenfant, Doddridge, and Heylin, p. 19. For the next verse we refer to the notes on Isaiah 40:3.
Matthew 3:4. His raiment of camel's hair— The Jews used to wear hairy or coarse garments in time of sorrow and humiliation. See Matthew 11:21. The Nazarites did the same till they had fulfilled their vow. It was also a dress sometimes worn by the prophets; Zechariah 13:4. 2 Kings 1:8. Revelation 6:12; Revelation 11:3. In all these respects it suited John the Baptist, as he preached repentance, as he was a prophet, and as he imitated the austerity which was practised by the Nazarites. He wore too a leathern girdle, as did some of the old prophets, and in particular Elijah, whom John the Baptist represented in habit, as well as in spirit and office. See 2Ki 1:8 and compare Hebrews 11:37. Matthew 11:14. His food was locusts, the eating of which was allowed by the law, and customary in the eastern parts of the world, as we have shewn in our note on Leviticus 11:22. Sir Norton Knatchbull, and some others, not attending to this particular, have supposed that the original word ακριδες implies not locusts, but a plant, the buds of which in some degree resemble asparagus. But itis undeniable, that the word both in the LXX, and elsewhere, generally signifies the animal which we call a locust. See Mintert on the word. The wild honey was such as he found in the holes of rocks and trees; for bees were very numerous in Palestine. Josephus, speaking of the fountain by Jericho, says, "There are by it, many sorts of palm-trees, the better sort of which, when they are pressed, yield an excellent kind of honey, not much inferior in sweetness to other honey. The country also produces honey from bees." See Jewish War, book 4: chap. 8 sect. 3. Hence some have conceived, that the honey whereupon St. John fed, was of that kind which is found upon and pressed from the leaves of trees in Syria. St. John made use of clothing and food which were mean and easily procured, not through poverty, (for he was the only son of a priest,) but of his own free choice, that the severity of his manners might correspond with his doctrine, which enjoined frequent fastings and abstinence on his disciples, ch. Mat 9:14 and also that by this means he might strengthen both his body and mind, and prepare himself to meet, with intrepidity, dangers, and death at the last. See Wetstein, Beausobre and Lenfant.
The camel's hair spoken of in this verse was not of the fine hair of that animal, whereof an elegant kind of cloth is made, which is thence called camlet, (in imitation of which, though made of wool, is the English camlet,) but of the long and shaggy hair of camels, which is in the east manufactured into a coarse stuff. It is only when understood in this way that the words suit the descriptionhere given of John's manner of life.
Matthew 3:5. And all the region round about Jordan— As the river Jordan runs through a vast tract of land, it cannot be supposed that all they who lived nearest it came to John's baptism. By all the region, &c. St. Matthew therefore must mean some of those countries near Jordan, which bordered upon Judaea; as the plain of Jordan, which is by the LXX called the country about Jordan. The novelty of a prophet's appearance in Israel, the family of John, the circumstances of his birth, the extraordinarycharacter which he had maintained for strict and undissembled piety, all concurred, no doubt, with the time of his appearance, and the people's impatient desire of the Messiah's arrival, and uneasiness under the Roman yoke, to draw such vast multitudes after him. See Calmet, and Doddridge.
Matthew 3:6. Were baptized of him— There were two kinds of baptism in use among the Jews; one was that of the priests at their consecration, Leviticus 8:6.; the other was that of the heathens proselyted to the Jewish religion. It was therefore no unheard-of rite which the Messiah's harbinger made use of. His countrymen were well acquainted both with the thing itself, and with its signification: they knew that it denoted some great change, either in the opinions or practices of those who submitted to it, and implied a promise of acceptance with God, on the part of him who administered it. They had also been led by a passage in their sacred books, Zec 13:1 to expect that either the Messiah himself, or some of his attendants, would baptize; as is evident from the question which the messengers of the Sanhedrim put to the Baptist, John 1:25. Why baptizest thou, then, if thou be not that Christ? &c. They must have known, therefore, that John's baptism represented purification both of heart and life as necessary even to Jews themselves, before they could become the subjects of so holya prince as the Messiah; and that it was a solemn obligation, binding those who received it to lead such lives. Hence, as Dr. Whitby observes, they are mistaken who think John's baptism the same in kind with that which Christ afterwards instituted for the admission of disciples into his church. The difference between the two was considerable: First, John did not baptize either in the name of Christ, or of the Holy Ghost. Secondly, They who were baptized with John's baptism, did not profess their faith in the Messiah, as actually come, neither did they receive his baptism in testimony of their entertaining that belief; for, after having administered it, he exhorted his disciples to believe on him who was tocome. Therefore his baptism could not initiate men into the Christian church. See Acts 19:4-5. Thirdly, John's was the baptism of repentance, whereby all who had a sense of their sins, and professed repentance, were promised pardon, and exhorted to believe in the Messiah, who was soon to appear; or it was a washing with water, to shew the Jews that they might be cleansed both from their prejudices and vices, in order to their becoming fit members of the Messiah's kingdom. Accordingly we read, that they who were baptized, confessed their sins. If those who were baptized had committed any great crime or scandalous offence, they were to make a public and open confession of it, as appears from Acts 19:18. Otherwise this confession implies only a general acknowledgement that they were sinners; that they repented of their sins, and were resolved to forsake them. See Whitby, Macknight, and Beausobre and Lenfant.
Matthew 3:7. Pharisees— A Jewish sect so called from a Hebrew word signifying separated, or set apart, because they distinguished themselves from the rest of the Jews, by pretending to a greater degree of holiness and piety than the generality of them did; and by some particular observances. The Sadducees were another Jewish sect, so named from Sadoc, the founder of it. The most authentic account of these sects may be seen in Josephus, Antiq. b. xviii. c. 1. and Jewish War, b. ii. c. 8. All writers of Jewish antiquities describe them largely, but none better than Dr. Prideaux, Connect. vol. 2: p. 335 and the editors of the Prussian Testament, in their excellent introduction, which is translated into English, and well deserves the perusal of all who would thoroughly understand the New Testament. It is manifest from St. John's reproof of these Pharisees and Sadducees, that they did not come to his baptism with true faith; or else that they fancied that baptism could procure them the remission of their sins. See Luke 7:29. Matthew 21:25; from which passages it appears, that the Pharisees in general did not receive the baptism of John. it is also evident, from Luk 3:7 that there were among the multitude some personsof no better dispositions than the Pharisees, since the Baptist gives them the same reproof, calling them, ye brood of vipers, as the words may be rendered. "As to this term of reproach, I take the reason of it," says Dr. Heylin, "to be as follows:—Itis a probable conjecture, that men (quatenus animals) have each a peculiar resemblance to some peculiar species of animals; which may be the reason why Jesus is called the Lamb of God, or the Divine Lamb; and his disciples, or those who are in such a state as renders them capable of becoming such, are named sheep; as on the other hand, the politic Herod is called a fox; and persons noted for an insidious, ravenous, profane, or sensual disposition, are called respectively, serpents, dogs, wolves, and swine; which terms, when they occur in the Gospel, are not the random language of passion, and 'calling names,' as we speak; but a judicious designation of the persons meant by them; for it was fitting that such men should be denoted by their proper signature, either for a caution to others, or a warning to themselves. The Baptist had probably both these ends in view, when he called these Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers. As they were persons of a public character, it was proper that the world should be informed what kind of men they were, to prevent the infection of their bad example; and upon their own account, it was proper to describe them to themselves, and denominate them (mere animal-men as they were, 1 Corinthians 2:14.) by their animal properties; because, being already hardened in the use of religious ordinances, if they were not thus roughly dealt with, and alarmed by a true sense of their dangerous condition, they would probably abuse baptism, as theyhad other holy institutions, to quiet their consciences, which were now somewhat awakened, and struck as with a panic fear, upon the general concourse to the preaching of St. John."—From the wrath to come, means not only from the Gehenna, chap. Mat 5:29 but also from the dreadful calamities which were ready to fall on the Jewish nation.
Matthew 3:8. Fruits meet for repentance— That is, "Do such works as may manifest the truth and sincerity of your repentance." See Acts 26:20.
Matthew 3:9. Think not to say, &c.— Dr. Whitby has shewn fully how great was the presumption of the Jews, on their relationship to Abraham. Munster upon this text quotes a remarkable passage from the Talmud, wherein it is said, "That Abraham sits next the gates of hell, and does not permit any wicked Israelite to go down into it." These Jews might perhaps pervert the promise in Jer 31:35-36 to support this vain and dangerous confidence, in opposition to the most express and awful warnings; particularly Deuteronomy 30:19-20. The Baptist, taking his ideas from the objects before him, (as we shall find, in the course of this work, was familiar with our blessed Saviour,) intended to say thus much only to the Pharisees: "I declare it unto you, as a certain and solemn truth, that God is able, of these very stones, here before your eyes, which he can animate and sanctify whenever he sees fit, to raise up those, who, though not descended from human parents, shall be,in a much nobler sense than you, children of Abraham, as being made the heirs of his faith and obedience; and he would sooner work such a miracle as this, than suffer hispromise to fail, or admit you to the blessings of his approaching kingdom, merely because you have the abused honour to descend from that holy and favoured patriarch." See Doddridge.
Matthew 3:10. And now also the axe, &c.— The axe is already laid to the root of the trees: every tree then, &c. "There is now no more time for delay: God is going to offer the last dispensation of repentance and mercy; which if you accept not, his vengeance hangs over you; destruction will speedily overtake you." See Isaiah 10:33-34. It may be proper to observe, once for all, that in Scripture language, what is very sure and very near is spoken of as if it were already done; accordingly, the Baptist speaks here in the present sense. So Christ speaks of himself, as if as man he were already in possession of his glory while upon earth; John 17:24. See also Ephesians 2:16. Beausobre and Lenfant observe, that this verse contains a prophesy of the total ruin and destruction of the temple, the city, and the nation of the Jews, which happened forty years after the death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Matthew 3:11. I indeed baptize you— This is the answer which John made to the question put to him, Joh 1:19-27 in which he shews what difference there was between him and the Messiah. "I indeed, says he, baptize you with water, to bring you to repentance; for they who were baptized, not only declared that they had repented of their sins, but they bound themselves never to commit the like again, and to lead a life of holiness and virtue;" which is the meaning of the Baptist in this place. He that cometh after me, says he, (namely, the Lord Jesus Christ, who entered on his ministry about six months after John, and was about six months younger; see Luke 1:36.) is mightier than I; whose shoes, &c. a proverbial and humiliating expression, meaning, "whose lowest servant I am not worthy to be," and denoting the great superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ above John. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost; the effusion of which on the day of Pentecost, St. John styles a baptism; shewing thereby the copiousness and abundance of it: and indeed it was a glorious effusion over the church, of which the Lord JesusChrist in this peculiar sense was the author; Acts 2:2; Acts 2:33. He adds, and with fire; because the Holy Ghost descended on the apostles in the shape of fire, and had the same power and virtue as that element, of purifying, enlivening, &c.
Matthew 3:12. Whose fan is in his hand, &c.— This expression is taken from the prophetical writings. See Isaiah 41:16; Isaiah 41:29. Dr. Shaw observes, that in the eastern countries, after the grain is trodden out, they winnow it, by throwing it up against the wind with a shovel, answering the original word το πτυον here, and Luk 3:17 rendered a fan, or van, too cumbersome a machine to be thought of. The text should rather run; whose shovel or fork is in his hand; for this is a portable instrument, and is agreeable to the practice recorded, Isa 30:24 where both the shovel and the van are mentioned, as the chaff which is thereby carried away before the wind, is often alluded to in Scripture. See Travels, p. 139. To understand the Baptist's meaning right, we should observe, that in this verse he describes the authority of Christ's ministry, as in that preceding he had described the efficacy of it. "The Messiah is infinitely mightier thanI; not only as he will bestow on you the miraculous gifts of the Spirit, will purify and enliven your souls, and kindle in your hearts pious and devout affections; but also as he has power to reward those who obey him with eternal life, and to punish such as reject him with everlasting destruction." See Macknight. There is, in what the Baptist here declares, as Dr. Doddridge remarks, an evident allusion to the custom of burning the chaff after winnowing, that it might not be blown back again, and so be mingled with the wheat: and though it may in part refer to the calamities to come upon the Jewish nation for rejecting Christ, as Bishop Chandler, Beausobre and Lenfant, and others, have observed; yet it seems chiefly to intend the final destruction of sinners in hell; which alone is properly opposed to the gathering the wheat into the garner. Dr. Heylin understands the passage in a very different sense, as implying the total purificationof our sinful nature, through the grace of Christ; and, to keep up the metaphor he reads, He shall baptize you with holy wind and fire. Though I have no doubt that the exposition above given is the true one, yet there is something so ingenious as well as instructive in that of Dr. Heylin, that I cannot help referring my reader to it, assured that he will find great satisfaction in the perusal. See his Lectures, vol. 1: p. 24. Dr. Campbell renders the verse, His winnowing shovel is in his hand, and he will thoroughly cleanse his grain; he will gather his wheat into the granary, and consume the chaff in unquenchable fire.
Matthew 3:13. To be baptized him— By this he intended to do an honour to John's ministry, and to conform himself to what he appointed for his followers. It was for this last reason, that he drank of the sacramental cup. See Diodati. And certainly our Lord's baptism tended to promote the ends both of his own mission and of his forerunner's, as it established the authority of both. It established John'smission; great honour being done him by the Messiah's receiving his baptism. It established our Lord's mission also; for after he was baptized, the testimonies of the Spirit and voice from heaven, were given him in the presence of the multitude assembled at Jordan. That these testimonies should have been given him on this occasion, rather than on any other, was fit, because it was an august manner of opening our Lord's ministry; was the most public occasion which could be found; and pointed him out as the Messiah to the Baptist, who was thereby qualified for the principal duty of his mission. See Macknight.
Matthew 3:14-15. But John forbad him, &c.— But John excused himself. See the note on John 1:31. Doddridge and others have it, Would have hindered or prevented him, saying, I have need to be baptized of you, and do you come to me? But Jesus was, in his own person, to pass through and sanctify all states; and, although the last stage wherein holiness and virtue attain their higher purity was his reserved province with regard to others, yet he himself began in the first; so that there was no kind or degree of moral goodness wherein he did not excel. He was, if I may so speak, at the heart of every form in the school of holiness and virtue. He had in all things the pre-eminence, as his apostle declares. To this end he practised the virtues of every rank and condition. He accordingly appeared among the penitents at Jordan; and when John objected to his superior character, incompatible, as he thought, with such condescension, Jesus replied, Let it be so for the present, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness; δικαιοσυνη justice; which, taken in general, as it commonly is in Scripture, signifies a combination of all the virtues, and is used as a compendious name for all duty; because, to give each thing its due, and treat it according to its desert, which is the office of justice, comprehends the whole of religion and morality. All justice is a Graecism for "all kinds of justice." So we have in the next chapter all sickness and all disease, according to the original; that is to say, all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease. See more in Dr. Heylin's Discourse concerning Justice, p. 31. The editors of the Prussian Testament define all righteousness by "whatever befits us, and is suitable to our employment and profession." To fulfil righteousness, and to fulfil the law, says Wetstein, is "to fulfil those things which the law enjoins, and which are esteemed just and laudable.
Matthew 3:16. The heavens were opened unto him— That is to say, to John; to whose view, as well as to that of the Saviour, this wonderful vision was presented. St. Mark has so expressed it, as plainly to refer the seeing it to Christ; and John the Baptist has in another place assured us, that he saw it, and took particular notice of it, as the sign he was directed to observe, as the distinguishing characteristic of the Messiah. See John 1:32; John 1:34. The Greek word ευθυς, rendered straightway in our version, denotes the immediate opening of the heavens after our Lord's baptism. See Blackwall's Sacred Classics, vol. 1: p. 89. The Spirit of God is said here to have descended like a dove: in St. Luke it is added, σωματικω ειδει, in a corporeal form; a phrase which might have been used with propriety, though there had not been, as is generally supposed, any appearance of the shape of the animal here mentioned, but only a lambent flame falling from heaven, with a hovering, dove-like motion, which Dr. Scott and others suppose to have been all. But Justin Martyr says expressly, that it was in the form of a dove; adding that all Jordan shone with the reflection of the light; and Jerome calls it, the appearance of a dove. It resembled a dove, says Wetstein, both in appearance and flight. See Hammond, and Whit
Matthew 3:17. This is my beloved Son— As both St. Mark and St. Luke have it, Thou art my beloved Son, one would be inclined to follow those copies of St. Matthew which agree with them, rather than the more common reading. See Mills and Wetstein. Chemnitz, however, and some others, imagine that both sentences were pronounced, the voice uttering the words, Thou art my beloved Son, &c. while the Spirit was descending, as if they had been directed to Jesus alone; and that after the Spirit rested on Jesus, the voice, speaking to the Baptist and the multitude, said, This is my beloved Son, &c. On this supposition, which, without doubt, renders the miracle very remarkable, the words of the preceding verse may be well referred to the Baptist, as we have there observed. The Greek word 'Αγαπητος is frequently used by authors to denote an only Son, and the LXX make use of it when the word in the Hebrew signifies only, Genesis 22:12. Zec 12:10 and elsewhere. The original word ευδοκησα, expresses an entire acquiescence in what we love and approve. This passage is taken from Isa 42:1 with very little variation. See Psalms 2:7; Psa 43:3 and Psalms 44:4. Wetstein, and Beausobre and Lenfant; and for more in the Inferences. It may be proper just to observe, that we have here a glorious manifestation of the ever-blessed Trinity; the Father speaking from heaven, the Son spoken to, and the Holy Ghost descending upon him.
Inferences.—It is surely matter of unspeakable thankfulness, that the kingdom of heaven should be erected among men, and that the only-begotten Son of God is the king and governor of that kingdom: how happy are we that it is preached among us, and we are called to it! It should be our great care to become not only nominal, but real members of it.
Repentance is the true preparation for the kingdom of heaven. We should therefore every moment be prepared for it, because this kingdom is every moment approaching nearer to us. If this kingdom be a kingdom of love, the repentance which prepares us for it must likewise be a repentance of love; that is, evangelical repentance, which flows from a sight of Christ, from a sense of his love, and the hope of forgiveness through him. Kindness is conquering; abused kindness is humbling and melting. The language of the truly penitent heart is, "What a wretch was I, to sin against such grace! against the law and love of such a kingdom!"
He who preaches repentance, ought to perform it himself, and to join the outward part to the inward: this persuades more than words. All is singular in St. John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4.), not to attract the esteem and praises of men, but to awaken their attention: with an awful severity of manners and of doctrine, he was sent before Christ to prepare his way. It is necessary that the law should introduce the Gospel; but the terrors of Moses and Elijah should render the mild and blessed Redeemer so much the more welcome to our souls. St. John the Baptist preaches in the wilderness: no place is so remote as to exclude us from the visits of divine grace; nay, commonly the sweetest intercourse which believers enjoy with heaven, is when they are withdrawn farthest from the noise and distractions of the world.
Behold the dreadful danger of all hypocrites, and unfruitful hearers of the word, whatever their pretences or their external privileges may be! Miserable they who shall be found in their sins! Their covenant relation to Abraham, their baptism with water, their mere external professions, will avail them nothing: God will abandon them to unquenchable flames.
Warned by this awful notice, may we forsake our sins, and bring forth the proper fruits of repentance: and that we may be prepared for the great and final trial, let us be earnest in our applications to our gracious Redeemer, that as we are baptized with water in his name, he would also baptize us with the Holy Ghost and with fire! That by the operations of his blessed Spirit, he would enkindle and quicken that divine life, that sacred love, that flaming yet well governed zeal for his glory, which distinguishes the true Christian from the hypocritical professor, and is indeed the real of God set upon the heart.
Our Lord's submitting himself to baptism, Mat 3:13 should teach us a holy exactness and care in the observance of those positive institutions, which owe their obligation merely to a divine command; for thus also it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness, "every thing just and needful in itself, as well as every thing meet, decent, regular, exemplary, and of good report."
We behold at this baptism, the sacred Three, distinctly appearing in characters of personal and divine glory, and concurring in the great design of salvation! How inconsiderable and unworthy are the best of men, compared with Christ! And what exalted and endearing thoughts should we have of him, as the Son of God, and a Saviour of sinners; and as the Beloved of the Father, who makes us accepted in him!
The heavens were opened when Christ was baptized; to teach us, that when we duly attend on God's ordinances, we may expect communion with him, and communications from him. What an encomium was that which was heard from the opening heavens: This is my beloved Son, in whom I delight! How poor are all other kinds of praise! To be the delight and joy of God, this is praise indeed; this is true glory; this is the highest, brightest light that holiness and virtue can appear in.
That holiness, and the virtues which flow from that blessed source, are objects of divine complacence, as it is a most important truth, so it is obvious to every pious soul: Christ is the foundation; holiness with all its concomitant virtues is the superstructure; and therefore what the poet says of virtue, when built on this foundation, and flowing from this source, is both beautiful and true:
If there's a Pow'r above us, (And that there is, all nature cries aloud Through all her works,) he must delight in virtue; And that which he delights in, must be happy.
God must delight in holiness and its concomitant virtues, for the same reason that he delights in himself: for holiness is his own image and likeness, which, extinct in the first Adam, and revived in the second, even Jesus Christ our Lord, began her mysterious course at his incarnation, producing every virtuous fruit, and went on gradually through all her process, with the highest perfection in each degree; till she had finished the first stage, which is called the justice of the law, at his baptism by John, when the Almighty Father pronounced audibly to the lower world his approbation.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Prophesy under the Old Testament closed with the promise of the coming of Elijah, that is, of one in his spirit and temper; and here we find that prophesy accomplished in John the Baptist, so called from the ordinance of baptism which he administered to his disciples; who appeared in those days, not immediately after the events related in the preceding chapter, but at about twenty-seven or twenty-eight years distance, during which time we never but once hear any thing of our blessed Lord, who lived in obscurity, and not improbably maintained himself by manual labour. We have,
1. The place where John opened his ministry, in the wilderness of Judaea; not a place literally uninhabited, but not so populous as the other parts of the country.
2. The doctrine he preached: repentance; a change of mind and principles, and of manners and practice, in both which respects the Jewish people were exceedingly corrupt: and this he urges on that evangelical consideration, that the kingdom of heaven is at hand; the kingdom of the Messiah, the Gospel dispensation, which affords the strongest engagements to draw the minds of sinners to return to God, from the views of the riches of his grace therein revealed.
3. Herein John fulfilled the prophesy delivered concerning him, Isaiah 40:3-4.—the voice of one crying, intimating the fervour and vehemence with which John preached, Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make his paths straight. As the harbinger, or herald, he goes before to clear the way for the King of glory, preaching that repentance which was so peculiarly needful at a time when the traditions of men had made God's word of no effect, and the corruption of the general practice was the natural effect of their corrupt principles; and pointing them from their sinful courses to him who was the way, the truth, and the life, by whom alone they could be saved. Note; (1.) The ways of sin are crooked ways, which lead down to death and hell. (2.) Nothing can save us from them, but repentance towards God, and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4. His garb and diet were austere, as his word was piercing. He seemed an uncouth courtier to prepare the way of the eternal King. A rough garment, girt with a leathern girdle, was his clothing, as being the promised Elias; and his meat was plain and abstemious, such as the wilderness afforded, locusts and wild honey. Note; They who preach mortification and repentance to others, should themselves show a becoming indifference to this world, and the gratifications of it.
5. A numerous auditory attended his ministry, struck by the singularity of his appearance and manners, and, above all, by the power of the word he preached. Multitudes from Jerusalem, Judaea, and the country beyond Jordan, resorted to him, a general expectation of the Messiah being now raised through the land; and so far were many affected with his discourses, that they made profession of repentance, confessed their sins, and were baptized in Jordan. But among the multitude of professors, the sequel shewed there were few real penitents. Uncommon zeal and striking delivery will often collect an audience, and excite curiosity; but we must sincerely yield to the power of divine grace, before we can be really converted.
It has been a much-disputed point, respecting the manner of administering the ordinance of baptism, whether by immersion or sprinkling; and where the form is rested upon, instead of the power of godliness, there is room open for abundant debate. I must confess, for my own part, I see no reason to suppose such immense multitudes were all dipped in Jordan, nor how it would be practicable to provide dipping garments for them; nor does the word βαπτιζω (baptizo) convey the same meaning as βαπτω (bapto), but rather seems to intimate sprinkling or pouring water upon them; and the baptism of the Holy Ghost, which this baptism of John's prefigured, would lead us strongly to that meaning of the word. But while we should avoid all rigid censures on those who differ from us in these ceremonials, and see that, in whatever manner baptism be administered, we do not rest upon the ordinance, it is an essential concern, that our souls be really partakers of the thing signified, even sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, and saved by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.
2nd, The Pharisees and Sadducees were men of very different characters; the one pretended uncommon sanctity, and were rigid observers of the rituals of religion, deriving their name from that separation of themselves from other men in which they gloried. The Sadducees, on the other hand, so denominated from their master Sadok, were the very reverse; avowedly infidel in their principles, and, it is to be feared, as licentious in their practice. Yet many of both these sects, either struck with John's preaching, or more probably to gain the higher veneration with the people, who were strongly engaged in John's favour as a prophet sent from God, applied to him for baptism; and to them he addresses his discourse.
1. He opens with a most severe reproof, and mortifying appellation: O generation of vipers, specious, yet venomous as a serpent, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? either from their temporal calamities which were approaching, and which their repentance might have averted; or from the eternal ruin which they had provoked by their pride, hypocrisy, infidelity, and wickedness. Note; (1.) To fly from the wrath to come, is every sinner's great concern; but none will take the warning, till they see and feel the imminence of their danger. (2.) Ministers must deal plainly and freely with men's consciences; nor must the self-righteous formalist be addressed with less severity than the abandoned sinner.
2. He admonishes them of their duty. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: without which all the water in the river would never profit them any thing; for all who are baptized unto repentance must see, that in all humility and lowliness of mind, in all patience and perseverance in well-doing, in all holy conversation and godliness, they prove the truth of the grace which is in them; else shall the baptized sinner be as the heathen man and the publican.
3. He cautions them against trusting on their external privileges, on which he knew they depended for acceptance before God. Because they were Abraham's children they flattered themselves with safety, and thought repentance in their case unnecessary: but John would undeceive them; and pointing perhaps to those stones which Joshua set up in Jordan, Jos 4:20 assured them that God could from these raise up children to Abraham, and needed not his descendants after the flesh to compose his church. Note; (1.) Many flatter themselves, that their being members of the visible church, and having partaken of baptism and the Lord's supper, will stand them in stead in the day of God, who will find themselves woefully disappointed. (2.) Ministers must lay open those refuges of lies to which the self-righteous and the sinner betake themselves, and rouse those to a sense of their danger, who rock themselves asleep in vain imaginations. (3.) The nearer we are related to great and good men, so far from being a protection to us, it will but aggravate our guilt if we degenerate from their piety.
4. He gives them fair warning. The time was short ere judgment would begin at the house of God; the axe was now laid to the root of the tree, by the preaching of the Gospel. If they rejected the counsel of God, and refused to repent and amend their ways, then they were marked for ruin, as trees which bear no fruit, fit only for fuel. The temporal judgments of God shall consume them with their city; or, worse, the eternal wrath of God shall overwhelm them in hell, Note; The day of grace is a precious season not to be trifled with; our eternity of happiness or misery depends on our neglect or improvement of it.
5. He directs them to that glorious Personage whose forerunner he was, acknowledging his pre-eminence in all things. He could indeed call them to repentance, and administer baptism to those who made profession of it; but from a greater than himself the grace of repentance flows; concerning whom he owns that he was not worthy to perform the meanest offices to him, even to carry his shoes after him: so lowly are the saints of God in their own eyes. He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire; either at the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:3; Act 2:47 or his influences, like fire, should purify, warm, and enliven their souls. Or, as some suggest, this baptism may refer to the judgments that he would pour out on the impenitent, when having, like the husbandman, separated the wheat, his faithful people, from the chaff of hypocrites and unfaithful professors, he would burn up the latter with unquenchable fire. Note; (1.) The operations of God's Spirit in the believer's heart, like fire, illuminate his understanding, consume his vile affections, and raise him, as the flame mounts upwards, to high and heavenly things. (2.) The church is Christ's floor; in it there is a mixed multitude of good and bad, faithful and hypocrites, as the chaff and wheat lying together: but the day is near when the separation shall be made; sometimes even here by the divine word and providence; assuredly at Christ's appearing, when the eternal state of men shall be determined. The faithful saints of God shall then be gathered as the wheat into God's garner in heaven, separated from all chaff for ever; and the impenitent be consigned to the everlasting burnings.
3rdly, Christ, who had hitherto lived in obscurity, began now to enter upon his glorious work; and, in order thereto, comes to John to be baptized, whose preaching had raised men's expectations concerning the glorious Person of whom he spake. Not that Christ needed this baptism; but he would shew his approbation of it, as well as receive that public testimony which John on this occasion was appointed to bear to him.
1. John, who knew Jesus by divine revelation, Joh 1:33 appears unwilling to admit his Master to the ordinance of baptism which he administered. He who had no sin, could surely need no repentance. Besides, counting himself unworthy of pouring water upon him, from whom himself needed the greater baptism of the Spirit, he would humbly have excused himself from the office. I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? Note; (1.) The most holy souls are ever the most humble. (2.) Christ's condescensions are so amazing, that our faith is sometimes ready to stagger at the view of them. (3.) The greatest saints and prophets have need of the baptism of Jesus; both of the sprinkling of his blood, and of the influences of his Spirit to purify their hearts, or to preserve them pure; and they are always most sensible of their wants. (4.) They who preach repentance to others, had need be deeply concerned to be baptized with the Holy Ghost themselves, lest, after having been the means of saving others, they themselves should be cast away.
2. The Lord over-rules John's objection. In his present state of humiliation it became him to submit to this among other divine institutions, that he might in all things be a pattern of righteousness; and therefore John must for the present comply. Nor does he any longer hesitate, but admitted him to baptism accordingly, fully satisfied in the will and wisdom of his Lord. Note; (1.) It is becoming to countenance and encourage every good work; and those who may be higher in wisdom and grace than their teachers, are bound nevertheless to attend their ministry, and let an example to others. (2.) Christ fulfilled all righteousness, ceremonial as well as moral; and by his obedience to the death of the cross, is become the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (3.) There are often reasons for the divine procedure, concerning which we must be content to be ignorant. Thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.
3. God is pleased to bear a signal attestation to the glory of the Redeemer on this occasion. Immediately as he went up from the river's brink, or from the water, where he had been baptized, the heavens were opened, a chasm being made in the firmament, as if the everlasting doors were wide unfolded; and John, as well as Jesus, beheld the visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon him, in a hovering, dove-like motion; and it rested upon or over his head. He being constituted the great prophet of his people, as the man Christ Jesus, had the Spirit without measure, bestowed upon him, to enable him for the discharge of his office; and in him, as the head of his church, all fulness dwells, that he may thence communicate both gifts and graces to his faithful members according to their wants. And besides the visible appearance here described, an audible voice was heard from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; God's Son, not by creation as angels, or by adoption as the saints, but by a filiation peculiar to himself, being eternal as the Father, yet standing in this relation towards him;—beloved, because the express image of his person, and now become incarnate for our redemption: therefore God the Father delighted in him, expressing his intire satisfaction in his undertaking: in whom I am well pleased; which he could never say in this high sense of any of the sons of men beside, all having sinned and come short of the glory of God. Jesus alone is the one glorious character on which God can look with intire approbation; and for whose sake it is, as having made the atonement, that any of the sons of men can find acceptance before God. Because he is well-pleased with Jesus, he has now opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers in him; and whosoever cometh to God by him shall be in no wise cast out. Thus, while every other character, considered in a state of nature, from the first man to the last, must be God's abhorrence, since altogether born in sin, we may notwithstanding be sure of acceptance in this Beloved, when we by faith receive him as God hath sent him forth to us, as our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption; our all in all.