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Prepare ye the way of the Lord, &c., which suits well with the foregoing sum of his preaching, is in effect the same with it. Repent is, prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight. Repentance levels the heart to God, makes it a plain for Christ to walk in, casts down the mountains of pride, and raises the soul from base, low, earthly ways and affections, smooths, the rugged passions, and straights the crooked deceit of the heart, makes it sincere and straight both towards God and man. And then the reason, The kingdom of God is at hand, is implied in that, Prepare his way; that says, He is coming, is upon his way, and therefore sends his harbinger to make it fit for him. And this is our business, to be dealing with our hearts, levelling, smoothing, and straightening them for our Lord, that he may take delight to dwell and walk in them, and refresh them with his presence; and, certainly, the more holy diligence is used in suiting the heart to his holy will, the more of his sweet presence shall we enjoy.
Ver. 4. And the same John had his raiment of camels' hair.] He is further described from his habit and course of life, suiting the nature of his calling, and the strain of his preaching. A preacher of repentance, not willingly resorting to courts and cities, but keeping in the wilderness; that was not a place altogether uninhabited, but a less peopled, mountainous soil, the very place of his birth ; who had his habit and diet like the place, and like the employment. Though his solitude and rough garments are a slender hold for the hermetical way magnified in the Romish church, when that of Zechariah fits better, and their clothes are sooner shaped to that pattern, where he speaks of those false tongues that wear a rough garment to deceive, Zech. xii. 4;---yet, certainly, besides, somewhat extraordinary and singular in him and his calling, to which this was consonant, there is this for the example of all the messengers of God, to live as much as may be in their condition and station, disengaged from the world, not following the vain delights and ways of it; not bathing in the solaces
and pleasures of earth, and entangling themselves in the cares of it, but, sober, aad modest, and mortified in their way of living ; making it their main business not to please the flesh, but to do service to their Lord, to walk in his ways, and prepare his way for him in the hearts of his people. Further, this was implied in this mean way of life, that the less of human grandeur, the more of Divine power, and of the majesty of God, might appear in his ministry. : Ver. 5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan.] That is, great multitudes flocked to him, to hear him, and be baptized. For though Baptism, in the way he used it, was not usual, yet, their accustomed use of legal washing, made it the less strange, and the more acceptable to them. And being accompanied with the doctrine of repentance, remission of sins, and the news of the kingdom of heaven approaching, it could not choose but find some reverence and attention. But certainly, of multitudes that will run to the word, and, possibly, particularly flock after the ministry of some for a time, there may be many, as doubtless were there, that are but light stuff, carried with the stream as corks and straws are. Men should examine well even such things as seem to speak some love to religion in them, whether they be real or not. This, John does not spare to tell home to the seemingly best of those that came to him, that esteemed themselves, and were esteemed by others, more religious than the multitude. Yea, the Spirit of God directed him to deal more sharply with them than with others that came to him; they being of all others commonly most confident of self-righteousness, and therefore furthest from the true work of repentance, which humbles the soul to the dust, and lays it low in its own eyes: these sects being beyond the multitude, swelled with conceit of their own estate, he spares the rest, and pricks them sharply that the tumour may fall. It may seem somewhat strange that he entertains so roughly. those that came respectfully to him, and with others were willing and desirous to hear his doctrine, and partake of his bap
tism. Was not this the way to beat them back, and make them distaste both ?
There is indeed much prudence required in the ministers of the word, to know to attemper their admonitions and reproofs, that by too much rigour they discourage not weak beginners who are inquiring after the ways of God; but withal they should be no less wary that by too much credulity and lenity, they sooth not any in their formality and carnal confidence. And the most we have to deal withal, commonly are in most hazard upon this hand; there is too little heart humbling And many are ready to take up some piece of reformation of their ways, and the externals of religion, and deem themselves presently good Christians. Oh! the deceit and slothfulness of our hearts ! How ready are we to lay hold upon an easy guise of our own, and think what some further press, is but melancholy and needless preciseness !
Ver. 8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance.] Though he wonders at their coming, and fairly tells them so, yet, he rejects them not, despairs not of them ; he gives them sound advice, which implies always some hopes of prevailing. Give none up for desperate; catch hold of what they do, to drive them to what further they ought to do. You profess to flee from the wrath to come : bring forth fruits then. You say you are Christians and believers: Oh! let your ways and lives say so.
Let Christ dwell in your hearts, and be shewn in your lives. · Ver. 9. Think not to say, We have Abraham to our father.] The foolish heart is still leaning to this fancy of external relations and privileges. Beware; rest not on these,--the reformed religion, pure ordinances, or a place of esteem possibly amongst the strictest sort of reformed professors. And do not think you put an obligation on religion, and that it is indebted to you; but pray take heed. God can leave you, and deliver you up to these vain thoughts, and provide Himself without you.' He can draw the remotest and unlikeliest to Himself, and let you go
Ver. 10. And this is a sifting, trying time. He comes, who will unmask your hypocrisies and search you to the bottom; who will lay his axe to the root of the trees, and cut up the fruitless. Where the Gospel comes in greatest power, there is the certainest and saddest weight of judgment on the unbelieving and impenitent, the formal and fruitless.
Ver. 11. I indeed baptize you with water.] The true badge of a messenger of Jesus Christ, is, to abase himself and to magnify his master. Baptism with the Holy Ghost, and with fire, maý, possibly, have some aspect to the singular sending of the Holy Ghost in fiery tongues. That purifying virtue, that flame of love, Oh that we found it !
Ver. 12. And only they, the wheat, are for the garner, they that are pure and spiritual : the chaff, light and vain hearts, are fuel for the fire. No middle class : we must be either baptized in that fire, or burnt in this.
Ver. 13-15. In the baptism of Christ, observe the exemplary humility both of the master and of the servant: of the master, in subjecting himself to this ordinance; of the servant in administering it, first, in his modest question and declining it, and secondly, in his quiet yielding and obedience. He that was so pure and spotless, had no need of that, or any other washing; He, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, as this John testified; He, the fountain opened for sin and iniquity, and therefore, well says he, I have need of thy baptism. Yet here he humbles himself to be baptized. Oh! that we who are baptized, had more of his likeness in this humble reverence for Divine ordinances, looking on them as his in every warranted hand. What though he that teaches be less knowing and less spiritual than thou that hearest, one that might rather learn of thee, yet the appointment of God obliges thee to attend as humbly and regardfully to his ministry as if he were an angel.
John recoils a little. Thus, truly, as he in regard to the person, so will every humbled, self-knowing minister, even in reference to the ordinances themselves, wonder often, and be some
times at the point of forbearing. Oh! who am I, to handle such holy things, to stand in so high a service, to convey life, I that am dead; to administer so high, so pure and purifying ordinances, myself so impure! But again being commanded and engaged of God's own hand, that overcomes and silences; and in the continuing in the work upon that consideration, there is no less, yea, the greater humility, than in the other thoughts of unfitness; a submissive resignation of a man to his Lord. However the matter seem to me, and truly I deem myself unworthy of the lowest employment without thee, yet, Thou, appointing, I have no more to say: good reason Thy will stand, and not mine.
Ver. 16, 17. Now in the Baptism, the humility of both is richly rewarded with so glorious a vision and voice. The thing is mean and low in the common form of it; baptized in the common river. Oh! what transcendent glory in such a manifestation of that blessed Trinity on earth, that is the perpetual wonder and happiness of Heaven. Oh, that we had eyes to see it, and that our hearts were more taken with this glance here, and the hopes of full vision ere long! Like a dove. Oh! that that Spirit were more abundant in us, flowing from our Head, on whose head it here rested.
My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.] In this word lies all the comfort of a Christian. No pleasingness, nor acceptance, indeed, out of him; but in him, all acceptance of all who are in him. Nothing delights the Father but in this view. All the world is as nothing in his eye, and all men hateful and abominable by sin. Thou, with all thy goodnature, and good-breeding, and good-carriage, art vile and detestable out of Christ. But if thou get under the robe of Jesus, thou and all thy guiltiness and vileness, then art thou lovely in the Father's eye. Oh! that we could absolutely take up in him, whatsoever we are, yet shrouded under him! Constant, fixed believing is all. Let not the Father then see us but in the Son, and all is well.