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§ 120. Jealousy of John’s Disciples.—Final Testimony of the Baptist.—His Imprisonment.

The rapid growth of Christ’s sphere of labour excited the jealousy of many of John’s disciples, who would hear of no other master but their own, and who had not imbibed enough of his spirit to know that he was to give way before the higher one. They had seen that Christ obtained his first disciples by John’s testimony in his favour. Having no desire themselves to go beyond John’s teaching, they did not strive to understand that testimony fully, and deemed it unreasonable that Christ, who owed his first followers to the recommendation of their own master, should exalt himself above the latter. But when they mentioned their surprise to John, he answered them, “Do not wonder at this; it had to be so. No man can usurp what Heaven has not granted him. (No man’s labours can transcend the limit appointed by God. Christ’s influence proclaims the Divinity of his calling. Men would not join him, if God did not give them, in him, what I could never bestow.)” He then calls them to witness that he had never announced himself to them as Messiah, but always, and only, as the Forerunner: “I said I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him.”

It is to be observed (and it confirms what we have said of the historical position of the Baptist) that he does not here appeal to his private declarations as to Christ’s Messiahship, made to individual susceptible disciples, but only to his continuous public testimony. The jealous 179spirits, therefore, may never have had, from the lips of their master, any Such special direction to Christ.

But he added, “My goal is reached; my joy is fulfilled. I have led the Bride (the Theocratic congregation) to the Bridegroom (the Messiah), to whom she belongs, who alone can fulfil her hopes. He must increase, but I must decrease.”290290   John, iii., 30. Thus far the words bear the stamp of the Baptist, their meaning being figuratively intimated rather than expressed. But those which follow (31-36) are totally different. The Evangelist, having in his own Christian experience so rich a commentary upon the words of his former Master, feels bound to apply it in explaining them. The relation of the Baptist to Christ sets aside all that has been said, in later times, about some imaginary person’s having invented this scene and tacked it on to John’s Gospel. Had such a one, as Strauss thinks, made the fiction in order to oppose the disciples of the Baptist (who kept aloof from Christianity) by the authority of their own master, he would have gone much further; it would have been just as easy, and far more effective, to invent a dialogue between Christ and the Baptist himself. The apocryphal writings of that period, manufactured to favour certain religious ideas, were not wont to confine their inventions within such narrow limits.

In uttering these words the Baptist probably had a presentiment that the end of his career was at hand. When he returned to the other side of the river, Herod Antipas, who ruled in Peraea, succeeded in laying hold of him. The rigid censor of morals, who had no respect for persons where the holy law of God was concerned, had offended the tetrarch;291291   Josephus differs from the Gospels (Matt., xiv., 3-5; Mark, vi., 17-20; Luke, iii., 19-20; as to Herod’s reasons for this act; according to the latter, it was done because John had reproved him for carrying off and marrying his brother Philip’s wife; according to the former, the tetrarch was induced by fear of political disturbances. “Δείσας τὸ ἐπὶ τοσόνδε πιθανὸν αὐτοῦ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις μὴ ἐπὶ ἀποστάσει τινὶ φέροι· πάντα γὰρ ἐώκεσαν συμβουλῇ τῇ ἐκείνου πράξοντες, πολὺ κρεῖττον ἡγεῖται πρίν τι νεώτερον ἐξ αὐτοῦ γενέσθαι, προλαβὼν ἀναίρειν ἤ μεταβολῆς γενομένης εἰς τὰ πράγματα ἐμπεσὼν μετανοεῖν.”—(Archaeol., xviii., v., § 2.) Now the character of the Evangelists, as historians, would not be affected, if we admit that they followed the popular report, even though incorrect, as the matter had no connexion with their immediate object. But the difficulty is cleared up, and a better insight into the nature of the case obtained. by the supposition that Josephus gave the ostensible, and the Evangelists the real and secret reason that impelled Herod. As the Baptist did not claim to be Messiah, and exhorted the people to fidelity in the several relations of life, Herod could have had no political fears except such, indeed, as might arise from John’s honest boldness in reproving his sins. It is a further proof of his personal hatred to John, that he not only imprisoned, but killed him. History affords many instances in which faithful witnesses to the truth have fallen victims to the craft of priests or women, and often of the two combined. and, by order of the latter, he was conveyed as a prisoner to the border fortress of Machaerus.292292   Supposing that John appeared in public about six months before Christ, and that ha was imprisoned about the same length of time after Christ’s first Passover, his whole public ministry lasted for about a year.

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