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These verses describe the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ: it is a ministry that deserves close attention. Few preachers ever produced such effects as John the Baptist: “There went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about Jordan.”None ever received such praise from the great head of the church: Jesus called him “a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35); the great Bishop of souls Himself declared, that “among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist.” Let us then study the leading features of his ministry.
John the Baptist spoke plainly about sin. He taught the absolute necessity of repentance before anyone can be saved; he preached that repentance must be proved by its “fruits”he warned men not to rest on outward privileges, or outward union with the church.
This is just the teaching that we all need. We are naturally dead, and blind, and asleep in spiritual things; we are ready to content ourselves with a mere formal religion and to flatter ourselves that if we go to church we shall be saved: we need to be told that, except we “repent and are converted” we shall all perish.
John the Baptist spoke plainly about our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught people that one “mightier than himself” was coming among them. He was nothing more than a servant: the coming one was the King. He himself could only baptize with water: the coming one could “baptize with the Holy Ghost,” take away sins, and would one day judge the world.
This again is the very teaching that human nature requires. We need to be sent direct to Christ: we are all ready to stop short of this; we want to rest in our union with the church, our regular use of the sacraments, and our diligent attendance on an established ministry. We need to be told the absolute necessity of union with Christ himself by faith. He is the appointed fountain of mercy, grace, life, and peace. We must each have personal dealings with him about our souls. What do we know of the Lord Jesus? What have we got from him? These are the questions on which our salvation hinges.
John the Baptist spoke plainly about the Holy Ghost. He preached that there was such a thing as the baptism of the Holy Ghost. He taught that it was the special office of the Lord Jesus to give this baptism to men.
This again is a teaching which we greatly require. We need to be told that forgiveness of sin is not the only thing necessary to salvation. There is another thing yet, and that is the baptizing of our hearts by the Holy Ghost. There must not only be the work of Christ for us but the work of the Holy Ghost in us; there must not only be a title to heaven purchased for us by the blood of Christ, but a preparedness for heaven wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ. Let us never rest till we know something by experience of the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of water is a great privilege: but let us see to it that we have also the baptism of the Holy Ghost.
John the Baptist spoke plainly about the awful danger of the impenitent and unbelieving. He told his hearers that there was a “wrath to come;” he preached of an “unquenchable fire” in which the “chaff” would one day be burned.
This again is a teaching which is deeply important. We need to be straightly warned that it is no light matter whether we repent or not; we need to be reminded that there is a hell as well as a heaven, and an everlasting punishment for the wicked as well as everlasting life for the godly. We are fearfully apt to forget this. We talk of the love and mercy of God, and we do not remember sufficiently his justice and holiness. Let us be very careful on this point. It is no real kindness to keep back the terrors of the Lord. It is good for us all to be taught that it is possible to be lost forever, and that all unconverted people are hanging over the brink of the pit.
In the last place, John the Baptist spoke plainly about the safety of true believers. He taught that there was “a garner” for all who are Christ’s “wheat” and that they would be gathered together there in the day of His appearing.
This again is a teaching which human nature greatly requires. The best of believers need much encouragement. They are yet in the body; they live in a wicked world; they are often tempted by the devil. They ought to be often reminded that Jesus will never leave them nor forsake them. He will guide them safely through this life, and at length give them eternal glory. They shall be hid in the day of wrath; they shall be as safe as Noah was in the ark.
Let these things sink down deeply into our hearts. We live in a day of much false teaching. Let us never forget the leading features of a faithful ministry. Happy would it have been for the church of Christ if all its ministers had been more like John the Baptist!
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