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15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. 19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
The Testimony of John the Baptist
15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
The Lamb of God
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’
15. John testifieth. He now relates what was the preaching of John. By using the verb testifieth (μαρτυρεῖ) in the present tense, 2727 “En usant du verbe du temps present, a scavoir, Rend tesmoignage, et on pas, Rendoit;” — “by using the verb in the present tense, giveth testimony, and not gave testimony.” he denotes a continued act, and certainly this doctrine must be continually in force, as if the voice of John were continually resounding in the ears of men. In the same manner he afterwards uses the word cry, to intimate that the doctrine of John was in no degree obscure or ambiguous, and that he did not mutter among a few men, 2828 “Qu’il n’a point parle entre ses dents, et communique la chose comme en secret a peu de gens;” — “that he did not speak between his teeth, and communicate the matter, as it were secretly, to a few persons.” but openly, and with a loud voice, preached Christ. The first sentence is intended to convey the statement, that he was sent for the sake of Christ, and therefore that it would have been unreasonable that he should be exalted, while Christ was lying low.
This is he of whom I spoke. By these words he means that his intention was, from the beginning, to make Christ known, and that this was the design of his public discourses; as, indeed, there was no other way in which he could discharge his office as ambassador than by calling his disciples to Christ.
Who, coming after me. Though John the Baptist was older than Christ by a few months, yet he does not now speak of age; but as he had discharged the office of prophet for a short period before Christ appeared in public, so he makes himself the predecessor with respect to time. With respect, therefore, to public manifestation, Christ came after John the Baptist. The words which follow might be literally rendered, he was made before me, for he was before me; but the meaning is, that Christ was justly preferred to John, because he was more excellent. He therefore surrenders his office to Christ and — as the proverb runs — “delivers to him the torch,” or gives way to him as his successor. But as he arose later in the order of time, John reminds his hearers that this is no reason why he should not be preferred to himself, as his rank deserved. Thus, all who are superior to others, either in the gifts of God or in any degree of honor, must remain in their own rank, so as to be placed below Christ.
16. And out of his fullness. He begins now to preach about the office of Christ, that it contains within itself an abundance of all blessings, so that no part of salvation must be sought anywhere else. True, indeed, the fountain of life, righteousness, virtue, and wisdom, is with God, but to us it is a hidden and inaccessible fountain. But an abundance of those things is exhibited to us in Christ, that we may be permitted to have recourse to him; for he is ready to flow to us, provided that we open up a channel by faith. He declares in general, that out of Christ we ought not to seek any thing good, though this sentence consists of several clauses. First, he shows that we are all utterly destitute and empty of spiritual blessings; for the abundance which exists in Christ is intended to supply our deficiency, to relieve our poverty, to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Secondly, he warns us that, as soon as we have departed from Christ, it is ill vain for us to seek a single drop of happiness, because God hath determined that whatever is good shall reside in him alone. Accordingly, we shall find angels and men to be dry, heaven to be empty, the earth to be unproductive, and, in short, all things to be of no value, if we wish to be partakers of the gifts of God in any other way than through Christ. Thirdly, he assures us that we shall have no reason to fear the want of any thing, provided that we draw from the fullness of Christ, which is in every respect; so complete, that we shall experience it to be a truly inexhaustible fountain; and John classes himself with the rest, not for the sake of modesty, but to make it more evident that no man whatever is excepted.
It is indeed uncertain whether he speaks generally of the whole human race, or means only those who, subsequently to the manifestation of Christ in the flesh, have been made more fully partakers of his blessings. All the godly, no doubt, who lived under the law, drew out of the same fullness; but as John immediately afterwards distinguishes between different periods, it is more probable that here he especially recommends that rich abundance of blessings which Christ displayed at his coming. For we know that under the Law the gifts of God were more sparingly tasted, but that when Christ was manifested in flesh, they were poured out, as it were, with a full hand, even to satiety. Not that any of us has obtained a greater abundance of the grace of the Spirit than Abraham did, but I speak of God’s ordinary dispensation, and of the way and manner of dispensing. John the Baptist, that he may the more freely invite his disciples to come to Christ, declares that in him is laid up for all an abundance of the blessings of which they are destitute. And yet if any one choose to extend the meaning farther, there will be no absurdity in doing so; or rather, it will agree well with the strain of the discourse, that all the fathers, from the beginning of the world, drew from Christ all the gifts which they possessed; for though the law was given by Moses, yet they did not obtain grace by it. But I have already stated what appears to me to be the preferable view; namely, that John here compares us with the fathers, so as to magnify, by means of that comparison, what has been given to us.
And, grace for grace. In what manner Augustine explains this passage is well known - that all the blessings which God bestows upon us from time to time, and at length life everlasting, are not granted as the reward due to our merits, but that it proceeds from pure liberality that God thus rewards former grace, and crowns his own gifts in us. This is piously and judiciously said, but has nothing to do with the present passage. The meaning would be more simple if you were to take the word for (ἀντὶ) comparatively, as meaning, that whatever graces God bestows on us, proceed equally from the same source. It might also be taken as pointing out the final cause, that we now receive grace, that God may one day fulfill the work of our salvation, which will be the fulfillment of grace. For my own part, I agree with the opinion of those who say that we are watered with the graces which were poured out on Christ; for what we receive from Christ he does not bestow upon us as being God, but the Father communicated to him what would flow to us as through a channel. This is the anointing with which he was anointed, that he might anoint us all along with him. Hence, too, he is called Christ, (the Anointed,) and we are called Christians.
17. For the Law was given by Moses. This is an anticipation, by which he meets an objection that was likely to arise; for so highly was Moses esteemed by the Jews that they could hardly receive anything that differed from him. The Evangelist therefore shows how far inferior the ministry of Moses was to the power of Christ. At the same time, this comparison sheds no small luster on the power of Christ; for while the utmost possible deference was rendered to Moses by the Jews, the Evangelist reminds them that what he brought was exceedingly small, when compared with the grace of Christ. It would otherwise have been a great hindrance, that they expected to receive from the Law what we can only obtain through Christ.
But we must attend to the antithesis, when he contrasts the law with grace and truth; for his meaning is, that the law wanted both of them. 2929 “Que la Loy n’a eu ne l’un ne l’autre;” — “that the Law had neither the one nor the other.” The word Truth denotes, in my opinion, a fixed and permanent state of things. By the word Grace I understand the spiritual fulfillment of those things, the bare letter of which was contained in the Law. And those two words may be supposed to refer to the same thing, by a well-known figure of speech, (hypallage;) as if he had said, that grace, in which the truth of the Law consists, was at length exhibited in Christ. But as the meaning will be in no degree affected, it is of no importance whether you view them as united or as distinguished. This at least is certain, that the Evangelist means, that in the Law there was nothing more than a shadowy image of spiritual blessings, but that they are actually found in Christ; whence it follows, that if you separate the Law from Christ, there remains nothing in it but empty figures. For this reason Paul says that
the shadows were in the law, but the body is in Christ,
And yet it must not be supposed that anything was exhibited by the Law in a manner fitted to deceive; for Christ is the soul which gives life to that which would otherwise have been dead under the law. But here a totally different question meets us, namely, what the law could do by itself and without Christ; and the Evangelist maintains that nothing permanently valuable is found in it until we come to Christ. This truth consists in our obtaining through Christ that grace which the law could not at all bestow; and therefore I take the word grace in a general sense, as denoting both the unconditional forgiveness of sins, and the renewal of the heart. For while the Evangelist points out briefly the distinction between the Old and New Testaments, 3030 The points of agreement and of difference between the Old and New Testaments are copiously illustrated by our Author in the Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book II. chap. 10.11 — Ed. (which is more fully described in Jeremiah 31:31,) he includes in this word all that relates to spiritual righteousness. Now this righteousness consists of two parts; first, that God is reconciled to us by free grace, in not imputing to us our sins; and, secondly, that he has engraven his law in our hearts, and, by his Spirit, renews men within to obedience to it; from which it is evident that the Law is incorrectly and falsely expounded, if there are any whose attention it fixes on itself, or whom it hinders from coming to Christ
18. No man hath ever seen God. Most appropriately is this added to confirm the preceding statement; for the knowledge of God is the door by which we enter into the enjoyment of all blessings; and as it is by Christ alone that God makes himself known to us, hence too it follows that we ought to seek all things from Christ. This order of doctrine ought to be carefully observed. No remark appears to be more common than this, that each of us receives, according to the measure of his faith, what God offers to us; but there are few who think that we must bring the vessel of faith and of the knowledge of God with which we draw.
When he says that no man hath seen God, we must not understand him to refer to the outward perception of the bodily eye; for he means generally, that as God dwells in inaccessible light, (1 Timothy 6:16,) he cannot be known but in Christ, who is his lively image. This passage is usually explained thus that as the naked majesty of God is concealed within himself, he never could be comprehended, except so far as he revealed himself in Christ; and therefore that it was only in Christ that God was formerly known to the fathers. But I rather think that the Evangelist here abides by the comparison already stated, namely, how much better our condition is than that of the fathers, because God, who was formerly concealed in his secret glory, may now be said to have rendered himself visible; for certainly when Christ is called the lively image of God, (Hebrews 1:3,) this refers to the peculiar privilege of the New Testament. In like manner, the Evangelist describes, in this passage, something new and uncommon, when he says that the only-begotten Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, hath made known to us what was formerly concealed. He therefore magnifies the manifestation of God, which has been brought to us by the gospel, in which he distinguishes us from the fathers, and shows that we are superior to them; as also Paul explains more fully in the Third and Fourth chapters of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. For he maintains that there is now no longer any veil, such as existed under the Law, but that God is openly beheld in the face of Christ.
If it be thought unreasonable that the fathers are deprived of the knowledge of God, who have the prophets daily going before them and holding out the torch, I reply, that what is ascribed to us is not simply or absolutely denied to them, but that a comparison is made between the less and the greater, as we say; because they had nothing more than little sparks of the true light, the full brightness of which daily shines around us. If it be objected, that at that time also God was seen face to face, (Genesis 32:30; Deuteronomy 34:10,) I maintain that that sight is not at all to be compared with ours; but as God was accustomed at that time to exhibit himself obscurely, and, as it were, from a distance, those to whom he was more clearly revealed say that they saw him face to face. They say so with reference to their own time; but they did not see God in any other way than wrapped up in many folds of figures and ceremonies. 3131 “Enveloppemens de figures et ceremonies.” That vision which Moses obtained on the mountain was remarkable and more excellent than almost all the rest; and yet God expressly declares,
thou shalt not be able to see my face, only thou shalt see my back, (Exodus 33:23;)
by which metaphor he shows that the time for a full and clear revelation had not yet come. It must also be observed that, when the fathers wished to behold God, they always turned their eyes towards Christ. I do not only mean that they beheld God in his eternal Speech, but also that they attended, with their whole mind and with their whole heart, to the promised manifestation of Christ. For this reason we shall find that Christ afterwards said, Abraham saw my day, (John 8:56;) and that which is subordinate is not contradictory. It is therefore a fixed principle, that God, who was formerly invisible, hath now made himself visible in Christ.
When he says that the Son was in the bosom of the Father, the metaphor is borrowed from men, who are said to receive into their bosom those to whom they communicate all their secrets. The breast is the seat of counsel. He therefore shows that the Son was acquainted with the most hidden secrets of his Father, in order to inform us that we have the breast of God, as it were, laid open to us in the Gospel.
19. And this is the testimony. Hitherto the Evangelist has related the preaching of John about Christ; he now comes down to a more illustrious testimony, which was delivered to the ambassadors of the Priests, that they might convey it to Jerusalem. He says, therefore, that John openly confessed for what purpose he was sent by God. The first inquiry here is, for what purpose the Priests put questions to him. It is generally believed that, out of hatred to Christ, they gave to John an honor which did not belong to him; but this could not be the reason, for Christ was not yet known to them. Others say that they were better pleased with John, because he was of the lineage and order of the priesthood; but neither do I think that this is probable; for since they expected from Christ all prosperity, why did they voluntarily contrive a false Christ? I think, therefore, that there was another reason that induced them. It was now a long time since they had the Prophets; John came suddenly and contrary to expectation; and the minds of all were aroused to expect the Messiah. Besides, all entertained the belief that the coining of the Messiah was at hand.
That they may not appear to be careless about their duty, if they neglect or disguise a matter of so great importance, they ask John, Who art thou? At first, therefore, they did not act from malice, but, on the contrary, actuated by the desire of redemption, they wish to know if John be the Christ, because he begins to change the order which had been customary in the Church. And yet I do not deny that ambition, and a wish to retain their authority, had some influence over them; but nothing certainly was farther from their intention than to transfer the honor of Christ to another. Nor is their conduct in this matter inconsistent with the office which they sustain; for since they held the government of the Church of God, it was their duty to take care that no one rashly obtruded himself, that no founder of a new sect should arise, that the unity of faith should not be broken in the Church, and that none should introduce new and foreign ceremonies. It is evident, therefore, that a report about John was widely spread and aroused the minds of all; and this was arranged by the wonderful Providence of God, that this testimony might be more strikingly complete.
20. And he confessed, and denied not. That is, he confessed openly, and without any ambiguity or hypocrisy. The word confess, in the first instance, means generally, that he stated the fact as it really was. In the second instance, it is repeated in order to express the form of the confession. He replied expressly, that he was not the Christ
21. Art thou Elijah? Why do they name Elijah rather than Moses? It was because they learned from the prediction of Malachi 4:2, 5, that when the Messiah, the Sun of Righteousness, should arise, Elijah would be the morning star to announce his approach. But the question is founded on a false opinion which they had long held; for, holding the opinion that the soul of a man departs out of one body into another, when the Prophet Malachi announced that Elijah would be sent, they imagined that the same Elijah, who lived under the reign of king Ahab, (1 Kings 17:1,) was to come. It is therefore a just and true reply which John makes, that he is not Elijah; for he speaks according to the opinion which they attached to the words; but Christ, giving the true interpretation of the Prophet, affirms that John is Elijah, (Matthew 11:14; Mark 9:13.)
Art thou a Prophet? Erasmus gives an inaccurate explanation of these words by limiting them to Christ; for the addition of the article (ὁ προφήτης, the prophet) carries no emphasis in this passage; and the messengers afterwards declare plainly enough, that they meant a different prophet from Christ; for they sum up the whole: by saying, (verse 25,) if thou art neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor a Prophet. Thus we see that they intended to point out different persons. Others think that they inquired if he was one of the ancient prophets; but neither do I approve of that exposition. Rather do they by this term point out the office of John, and ask if God had appointed him to be a prophet. When he replies, I am not, he does not for the sake of modesty tell a lie, but honestly and sincerely detaches himself from the company of the prophets. And yet this reply is not inconsistent with the honorable attestation which Christ gives him. Christ bestows on John the designation of prophet, and even adds that he is more than a prophet, (Matthew 11:9;) but by these words he does nothing more than demand credit and authority for his doctrine, and at the same time describes, in lofty terms, the excellence of the office which had been conferred on him. But in this passage John has a different object in view, which is, to show that he has no special message, as was usually the case with the prophets, but that he was merely appointed to be the herald of Christ.
This will be made still more clear by a comparison. All ambassadors — even those who are not sent on matters of great importance — obtain the name and authority of ambassadors, because they hold special commissions. Such were all the Prophets who, having been enjoined to deliver certain predictions, discharged the prophetic office. But if some weighty matter come to be transacted, and if two ambassadors are sent, one of whom announces the speedy arrival of another who possesses full power to transact the whole matter, and if this latter has received injunctions to bring it to a conclusion, will not the former embassy be reckoned a part and appendage of the latter, which is the principal? Such was the case with John the Baptist, to whom God had given no other injunction than to prepare the Jews for listening to Christ, and becoming his disciples. 3535 “Sinon de preparer les Juifs a donner audience a Christ, et estre ses disciples.” That this is the meaning, will still more fully appear from the context; for we must investigate the opposite clause, which immediately follows. I am not a prophet, says he, but a voice crying in the wilderness. The distinction lies in this, that the voice crying, that a way may be prepared for the Lord, is not a prophet, but merely a subordinate minister, so to speak; and his doctrine is only a sort of preparation for listening to another Teacher. In this way John, though he is more excellent than all the prophets, still is not a prophet
23. The voice of him who crieth. As he would have been chargeable with rashness in undertaking the office of teaching, if he had not received a commission, he shows what was the duty which he had to perform, and proves it by a quotation from the Prophet Isaiah 60:3. Hence it follows that he does nothing but what God commanded him to do. Isaiah does not, indeed, speak there of John alone, but, promising the restoration of the Church, he predicts that there will yet be heard joyful voices, commanding to prepare the way for the Lord. Though he points out the coming of God, when he brought back the people from their captivity in Babylon, yet the true accomplishment was the manifestation of Christ in flesh. Among the heralds who announced that the Lord was at hand, John held the chief place.
To enter into ingenious inquiries, as some have done, into the meaning of the word Voice, would be frivolous. John is called a Voice, because he was enjoined to cry. It is in a figurative sense, undoubtedly, that Isaiah gives the name wilderness to the miserable desolation of the Church, which seemed to preclude the return of the people; as if he had said, that a passage would indeed be opened up for the captive people, but that the Lord would find a road through regions in which there was no road. But that visible wilderness, in which John preached, was a figure or image of the awful desolation which took away all hope of deliverance. If this comparison be considered, it will be easily seen that no torture has been given to the words of the prophet in this application of them; for God arranged everything in such a manner, as to place before the eyes of his people, who were overwhelmed with their calamities, a mirror of this prediction.
24. Were of the Pharisees. He says that they were Pharisees, who at that time held the highest rank in the Church; and he says so in order to inform us, that they were not some contemptible persons of the order of the Levites, but men clothed with authority. This is the reason why they raise a question about his baptism. Ordinary ministers would have been satisfied with any kind of answer; but those men, because they cannot draw from John what they desired, accuse him of rashness for venturing to introduce a new religious observance.
25. Why then dost thou baptize? By laying down those three degrees, they appear to form a very conclusive argument: if thou art not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor a prophet; for it does not belong to every man to institute the practice of baptism. The Messiah was to be one who possessed all authority. Of Elijah who was to come, they had formed this opinion, that he would commence the restoration both of the royal authority and of the Church. The prophets of God, they readily grant, have a right to discharge the office committed to them. They conclude, therefore, that for John to baptize is an unlawful novelty, since he has received from God no public station. But they are wrong in not acknowledging him to be that Elijah who is mentioned by Malachi 4:5; though he denies that he is that Elijah of whom they foolishly dreamed.
26. I baptize with water. This ought to have been abundantly sufficient for the correction of their mistake, but a reproof otherwise clear is of no advantage to the deaf; for, when he sends them to Christ, and declares that Christ is present, this is a clear proof not only that he was divinely appointed to be a minister of Christ, but that he is the true Elijah, who is sent to testify that the time is come 3636 “Que le temps estoit venu.” for the renovation of the Church. There is a contrast here which is not fully stated; for the spiritual baptism of Christ is not expressly contrasted with the external baptism of John, but that latter clause about the baptism of the Spirit might easily be supplied, and shortly afterwards both are set down by the Evangelist.
This answer may be reduced to two heads: first, that John claims nothing for himself but what he has a right to claim, because he has Christ for the Author of his baptism, in which consists the truth of the sign; and, secondly, that he has nothing but the administration of the outward sign, while the whole power and efficacy is in the hands of Christ alone. Thus he defends his baptism so far as its truth depends on anything else; but, at the same time, by declaring that he has not the power of the Spirit, he exalts the dignity of Christ, that the eyes of men may be fixed on him alone. This is the highest and best regulated moderation, when a minister borrows from Christ whatever authority he claims for himself, in such a manner as to trace it to him, ascribing to him alone all that he possesses.
It is a foolish mistake, however, into which some people have been led, of supposing that John’s baptism was different from ours; for John does not argue here about the advantage and usefulness of his baptism, but merely compares his own person with the person of Christ. In like manner, if we were inquiring, at the present day, what part belongs to us, and what belongs to Christ, in baptism, we must acknowledge that Christ alone performs what baptism figuratively represents, and that we have nothing beyond the bare administration of the sign. There is a twofold way of speaking in Scripture about the sacraments; for sometimes it tells us that they are the laver of regeneration, (Titus 3:5;) that by them our sins are washed away, (1 Peter 3:21;) that we
are in-grafted into the body of Christ, that our old man is crucified, and that we rise again to newness of life, (Romans 6:4, 5, 6;)
and, in those cases, Scripture joins the power of Christ with the ministry of man; as, indeed, man is nothing else than the hand of Christ. Such modes of expression show, not what man can of himself accomplish, but what Christ performs by man, and by the sign, as his instruments. But as there is a strong tendency to fall into superstition, and as men, through the pride which is natural to them, take from God the honor due to him, and basely appropriate it to themselves; so Scripture, in order to restrain this blasphemous arrogance, sometimes distinguishes ministers from Christ, as in this passage, that we may learn that ministers are nothing and can do nothing.
One standeth in the midst of you. He indirectly charges them with stupidity, in not knowing Christ, to whom their minds ought to have been earnestly directed; and he always insists earnestly on this point, that nothing can be known about his ministry, until men have come to him who is the Author of it. When he says that Christ standeth in the midst of, them, it is that he may excite their desire and their exertion to know him. The amount of what he says is, that he wishes to place himself as low as possible, lest any degree of honor improperly bestowed on him might obscure the excellence of Christ. It is probable that he had these sentences frequently in his mouth, when he saw himself immoderately extolled by the perverse opinions of men.
27. Who coming after me. Here he says two things; first, that Christ was behind him in the order of time; but, secondly, that he was far before him in rank and dignity, because the rather preferred him to all. Soon after he will add a third statement, that Christ was preferred to all others, because he is in reality more exalted than all others.
28. These things were done in Bethabara. The place is mentioned, not only to authenticate the narrative, but also to inform us that this answer was given amidst a numerous assembly of people; for there were many who flocked to John’s baptism, and this was his ordinary place for baptizing. It is likewise supposed by some to be a passage across Jordan, and, from this circumstance, they derive the name, for they interpret it the house of passage; unless, perhaps, some may prefer the opinion of those who refer to the memorable passage of the people, (Joshua 3:13,) when God opened up a way for them in the midst of the waters, under the direction of Joshua. Others say that it ought rather to be read Betharaba. Instead of Bethabara, some have inserted here the name Bethany, but this is a mistake; for we shall afterwards see how near Bethany was to Jerusalem. The situation of Bethabara, as laid down by those who have described the country, agrees best with the words of the Evangelist; though I have no wish to dispute about the pronunciation of the word.
29. The next day. There can be no doubt that John had already spoken about the manifestation of the Messiah; but when Christ began to appear, he wished that his announcement of him should quickly become known, and the time was now at hand when Christ would put an end to John’s ministry, as, when the sun is risen, the dawn suddenly disappears. After having testified to the priests who were sent to him, that he from whom they ought to seek the truth and power of baptism was already present, and was conversing in the midst of the people, the next day he pointed him out to the view of all. For these two acts, following each other in close succession, must have powerfully affected their minds. This too is the reason why Christ appeared in the presence of John.
Behold the Lamb of God. The principal office of Christ is briefly but clearly stated; that he takes away the sins of the world by the sacrifice of his death, and reconciles men to God. There are other favors, indeed, which Christ bestows upon us, but this is the chief favor, and the rest depend on it; that, by appeasing the wrath of God, he makes us to be reckoned holy and righteous. For from this source flow all the streams of blessings, that, by not imputing our sins, he receives us into favor. Accordingly, John, in order to conduct us to Christ, commences with the gratuitous forgiveness of sins which we obtain through him.
By the word Lamb he alludes to the ancient sacrifices of the Law. He had to do with Jews who, having been accustomed to sacrifices, could not be instructed about atonement for sins in any other way than by holding out to them a sacrifice. As there were various kinds of them, he makes one, by a figure of speech, to stand for the whole; and it is probable that John alluded to the paschal lamb. It must be observed, in general, that John employed this mode of expression, which was better adapted to instruct the Jews, and possessed greater force; as in our own day, in consequence of baptism being generally practiced, we understand better what is meant by obtaining forgiveness of sins through the blood of Christ, when we are told that we are washed and cleansed by it from our pollutions. At the same time, as the Jews commonly held superstitious notions about sacrifices, he corrects this fault in passing, by reminding them of the object to which all the sacrifices were directed. It was a very wicked abuse of the institution of sacrifice, that they had their confidence fixed on the outward signs; and therefore John, holding out Christ, testifies that he is the Lamb of God; by which he means that all the sacrifices, which the Jews were accustomed to offer under the Law, had no power whatever to atone for sins, but that they were only figures, the truth of which was manifested in Christ himself.
Who taketh away the sin of the world. He uses the word sin in the singular number, for any kind of iniquity; as if he had said, that every kind of unrighteousness which alienates men from God is taken away by Christ. And when he says, the sin Of The World, he extends this favor indiscriminately to the whole human race; that the Jews might not think that he had been sent to them alone. But hence we infer that the whole world is involved in the same condemnation; and that as all men without exception are guilty of unrighteousness before God, they need to be reconciled to him. John the Baptist, therefore, by speaking generally of the sin of the world, intended to impress upon us the conviction of our own misery, and to exhort us to seek the remedy. Now our duty is, to embrace the benefit which is offered to all, that each of us may be convinced that there is nothing to hinder him from obtaining reconciliation in Christ, provided that he comes to him by the guidance of faith.
Besides, he lays down but one method of taking away sins We know that from the beginning of the world, when their own consciences held them convinced, men labored anxiously to procure forgiveness. Hence the vast number of propitiatory offerings, by which they falsely imagined that they appeased God. I own, indeed, that all the spurious rites of a propitiatory nature drew their existence from a holy origin, which was, that God had appointed the sacrifices which directed men to Christ; but yet every man contrived for himself his own method of appeasing God. But John leads us back to Christ alone, and informs us that there is no other way in which God is reconciled to us than through his agency, because he alone takes away sin. He therefore leaves no other refuge for sinners than to flee to Christ; by which he overturns all satisfactions, and purifications, and redemptions, that are invented by men; as, indeed, they are nothing else than base inventions framed by the subtlety of the devil.
The verb αἴρειν (to take away) may be explained in two ways; either that Christ took upon himself the load which weighed us down, as it is said that he carried our sins on the tree, (1 Peter 2:24;) and Isaiah says that
the chastisement of our peace was laid on him, (Isaiah 53:5;)
or that he blots out sins. But as the latter statement depends on the former, I gladly embrace both; namely, that Christ, by bearing our sins, takes them away. Although, therefore, sin continually dwells in us, yet there is none in the judgment of God, because when it has been annulled by the grace of Christ, it is not imputed to us. Nor do I dislike the remark of Chrysostom, that the verb in the present tense — ὁ αἴρων, who taketh away, denotes a continued act; for the satisfaction which Christ once made is always in full vigor. But he does not merely teach us that Christ takes away sin, but points out also the method, namely, that he hath reconciled the Father to us by means of his death; for this is what he means by the word Lamb. Let us therefore learn that we become reconciled to God by the grace of Christ, if we go straight to his death, and when we believe that he who was nailed to the cross is the only propitiatory sacrifice, by which all our guilt is removed.
30. This is he of whom I said. He comprehends every thing in a few words, when he declares that Christ is the person who, he said, was to be preferred to him; for hence it follows that John is nothing more than a herald sent on his account; and hence again it is evident that Christ is the Messiah. Three things are here stated; for when he says that a man cometh after him, he means that he himself was before him in the order of time, to prepare the way for Christ, according to the testimony of Malachi,
Behold, I send my messenger before my face, (Malachi 3:1.)
Again, when he says that he was preferred to himself, this relates to the glory with which God adorned his Son, when he came into the world to fulfill the office of a Redeemer. At last, the reason is added, which is, that Christ is far superior in dignity to John the Baptist. That honor, therefore, which the Father bestowed upon him was not accidental, but was due to his eternal majesty. But of this expression, he was preferred to me, because he was before me, I have already Spoken. 3737 See page 49.