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15. For he shall be great He confirms what he said about joy, for John had been selected for a great and extraordinary purpose. These words are not so much intended to extol his eminent virtues as to proclaim his great and glorious office; as Christ, when he declares that among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist, (Matthew 11:11,) refers less to the holiness of his life than to his ministry. What follows immediately afterwards, he shall drink neither wine nor strong drink, must not be understood to mean that John’s abstemiousness was a singular virtue, but that God was pleased to distinguish his servant by this visible token, by which the world would acknowledge him to be a continual Nazarite. The priests too abstained from wine and strong drink, while they were performing their duties in the temple, (Leviticus 10:9.) The same abstinence was enjoined on the Nazarites, (Numbers 6:3,) until their vow should be fulfilled. By a striking mark God showed that John was dedicated to him to be a Nazarite for his whole life, as we learn was also the case with Samson, (Judges 13:3, 4.) But we must not on this ground imagine that the worship of God consists in abstinence from wine, as apish copyists select some part of the actions of the fathers for an object of imitation. Only let all practice temperance, let those who conceive it to be injurious to drink wine abstain of their own accord, and let those who have it not endure the want with contentment. As to the word σίκερα, I fully agree with those who think that, like the Hebrew word שכר, it denotes any sort of manufactured wine.
He shall be filled with the Holy Ghost These words, I think, convey nothing more than that John would manifest such a disposition as would hold out the hope of future greatness. By disposition I mean not such as is found even in ungodly men, but what corresponds to the excellence of his office. The meaning is, the power and grace of the Spirit will appear in him not only when he shall enter upon his public employment, but even from the womb he shall excel in the gifts of the Spirit, which will be a token and pledge of his future character. From the womb, means from his earliest infancy. The power of the Spirit, I acknowledge, did operate in John, while he was yet in his mother’s womb; but here, in my opinion, the angel meant something else, that John, even when a child, would be brought forward to the public gaze, accompanied by extraordinary commendation of the grace of God. As to fullness, there is no occasion for entering into the subtle disputations, or rather the trifling, of the sophists; for Scripture conveys nothing more by this word than the pre-eminent and very uncommon abundance of the gifts of the Spirit. We know, that to Christ alone the Spirit was given without measure, (John 3:34,) that we may draw out of his fullness, (John 1:16;) while to others it is distributed according to a fixed measure, (1 Corinthians 12:11; Ephesians 4:7.) But those who are more plentifully endued with grace beyond the ordinary capacity, are said to be full of the Holy Ghost. Now, as the more plentiful influence of the Spirit was in John an extraordinary gift of God, it ought to be observed that the Spirit is not bestowed on all from their very infancy, but only when it pleases God. John bore from the womb a token of future rank. Saul, while tending the herd, remained long without any mark of royalty, and, when at length chosen to be king, was suddenly turned into another man, (1 Samuel 10:6.) Let us learn by this example that, from the earliest infancy to the latest old age, the operation of the Spirit in men is free.