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The Proclamation of John the Baptist

 3

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.’ ”

4 Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.


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Matthew 3:1 Now in those days Luke 3:1. And in the fifteenth year It could not be gathered from Matthew and Mark in what year of his age John began to preach: but Luke shows sufficiently, that he was about thirty years of age. The ancient writers of the Church are almost unanimously agreed, that he was born fifteen years before the death of Augustus. His successor Tiberius had held the government of the Roman Empire for fifteen years, when the same John began to preach. In this way are made up the thirty years which I have mentioned. Hence it follows, that he did not long discharge the office of teacher, but, in a short time, gave way to Christ; for we shall soon find, that Christ also was baptized in the thirtieth year of his age, when he was immediately installed into the discharge of his public office. Now as John, the morning-star, or dawn, was immediately followed by Christ, “the Sun of Righteousness,” (Malachi 4:2,) there is no reason to wonder, that John disappeared, in order that Christ might shine alone in greater brightness.

Matthew 3:2. Repent ye Matthew differs from the other two Evangelists in this respect, that he relates the substance of John’s doctrine, as uttered by John himself, while they relate it in their own words; though Mark has one word more than Luke: for he says, he came Baptizing, and preaching the baptism of repentance But in substance there is the most perfect agreement: for they all connect repentance with the forgiveness of sins. The kingdom of God among men is nothing else than a restoration to a happy life; or, in other words, it is true and everlasting happiness. When John says, that the kingdom of God is at hand, his meaning is, that men, who were alienated from the righteousness of God, and banished from the kingdom of heaven, must be again gathered to God, and live under his guidance. This is accomplished by a free adoption and the forgiveness of sins, by which he reconciles to himself those who were unworthy. In a word, the kingdom of heaven is nothing else than “newness of life,” (Romans 6:4,) by which God restores us to the hope of a blessed immortality. Having rescued us from the bondage of sin and death, he claims us as his own; that, even while our pilgrimage on earth continues, we may enjoy the heavenly life by faith: for he

“hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ,”
(Ephesians 1:3.)

Though we are like dead men, yet we know that our life is secure; for it “is hid with Christ in God,” (Colossians 3:3.)

From this doctrine, as its source, is drawn the exhortation to repentance. For John does not say, “Repent ye, and in this way the kingdom of heaven will afterwards be at hand;” but first brings forward the grace of God, and then exhorts men to repent Hence it is evident, that the foundation of repentance is the mercy of God, by which he restores the lost. In no other sense is it stated by Mark and Luke, that he preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins Repentance is not placed first, as some ignorantly suppose, as if it were the ground of the forgiveness of sins, or as if it induced God to begin to be gracious to us; but men are commanded to repent, that they may receive the reconciliation which is offered to them. Now, as the undeserved love of God — by which he receives into his favor wretched men, “not imputing their trespasses unto them,” (2 Corinthians 5:19) — is first in order; so it must be observed, that pardon of sins is bestowed upon us in Christ, not that God may treat them with indulgence, but that he may heal us from our sins. And, indeed, without hatred of sin and remorse for transgressions, no man will taste the grace of God. But a definition of repentance and faith may explain more fully the manner in which both are connected; which leads me to handle this doctrine more sparingly.

With regard to the meaning of the present passage, it is proper to observe, that the whole Gospel consists of two parts, — forgiveness of sins, and repentance Now, as Matthew denominates the first of these the kingdom of heaven, we may conclude, that men are in a state of deadly enmity with God, and altogether shut out from the heavenly kingdom, till God receives them into favor. Though John, when he introduces the mention of the grace of God, exhorts men to repentance, yet it must not be forgotten that repentance, not less than the inheritance of the heavenly kingdom, is the gift of God. As he freely pardons our sins, and delivers us, by his mercy, from the condemnation of eternal death, so also does he form us anew to his image, that we may live unto righteousness. As he freely adopts us for his sons, so he regenerates us by his Spirit, that our life may testify, that we do not falsely,245245     “Ce n'est pas a fausses enseignes ni par feintise.” — “It is not with false colors, nor by hypocrisy.” address him as our Father. In like manner, Christ washes away our sins by his blood, and reconciles our Heavenly Father to us by the sacrifice of his death; but, at the same time, in consequence of

“our old man being crucified with him, and the body of sin destroyed,”
(Romans 6:6)

he makes us “alive” unto righteousness. The sum of the Gospel is, that God, through his Son, takes away our sins, and admits us to fellowship with him, that we, “denying ourselves” and our own nature, may “live soberly, righteously, and godly,” and thus may exercise ourselves on earth in meditating on the heavenly life.

Matthew 3:3. The yoke of one crying in the wilderness Though this passage of the prophet Isaiah (40:3) ought not to be limited exclusively to John, yet he is one of the number of those to whom it certainly refers. After having spoken of the destruction of the city, and of the awful calamities that would befall the people, he promises a restoration that would follow. His words are,

“Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God,”
(Isaiah 40:1.)

When the temple had been thrown down, and sacrifices abolished, and the people led away into captivity, their affairs seemed to be desperate. And as their ears had been deaf to the uninterrupted voice of the prophets, the Lord kept silence for a time.247247     “Et pource qu'ils avoyent auparavant ferme leurs aureilles a la voix des prophetes, qui journellement et sans cesse, parloyent a eux, le Seigneur se teut, et laissa de parler a eux pour un temps.” — “And because they had formerly shut their ears to the voice of the prophets, who daily and unceasingly spoke to them, the Lord was silent, and ceased to speak to them for a time.” That pious minds may not be cast down during this melancholy silence, the prophet announces, that other preachers of grace will yet arise, to awaken in the people a hope of salvation. Such were Zechariah, Haggai, Malachi, and the like.248248     “Malachie, Esdras, et autres semblables personnages.” — “Malachi, Ezra, and other similar characters.” But as the restoration promised is perpetual, and not for a time only, and as Isaiah refers chiefly to the redemption, which was to be expressed at the coming of Christ, John the Baptist is justly considered the chief minister of consolation.

Next follows in the words of the prophet, The voice of one crying That voice is contrasted with the temporary silence,249249     “Anquel il n'y avoit personne qui parlast au nom de Dieu;” — “in which there was nobody who spoke in the name of God.” which I have just mentioned: for the Jews were to be deprived, for a time, of the instruction, which they had wickedly despised. The word wilderness is here used metaphorically for desolation, or the frightful ruin of the nation, such as existed in the time of the captivity. It was so dismally shattered, that it might well be compared to a wilderness The prophet magnifies the grace of God. “Though the people,” says he, “have been driven far from their country, and even excluded from the society of men, yet the voice of God will yet be heard in the wilderness, to revive the dead with joyful consolation.” When John began to preach, Jerusalem was in this sense a wilderness: for all had been reduced to wild and frightful confusion. But the very sight of a visible wilderness must have had a powerful effect on stupid and hardened men, leading them to perceive that they were in a state of death, and to accept the promise of salvation, which had been held out to them. We now see, that this prediction actually relates to John, and is most properly applied to him.

Prepare the way of the Lord The prophet undoubtedly addresses Cyrus and the Persians, whose agency the Lord employed in this matter. The meaning is: by his wonderful power, God will open a way to his people through impassable forests, through broken rocks, through a sandy desert; for he will have at hand the ministers of his grace, to remove all hindrances out of the way. But that was a shadowy anticipation of redemption. When the spiritual truth is about to appear, John is sent to remove obstacles. And even now the same voice sounds in our ears, that we may prepare the way of the Lord: that is, that we may take out of the way those sins which obstruct the kingdom of Christ, and thus may give access to his grace. To the same purpose are the following words of the prophet: the crooked shall be made straight, (Isaiah 40:4.) All that they mean is: there are intricate and crooked windings in the world, but through such appalling difficulties the Lord makes a way for himself, and breaks through, by incredible means, to accomplish our salvation.

Matthew 3:4. And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair The Evangelist does not desire us to reckon it as one of John’s chief excellencies, that he followed a rough and austere way of living, or even that he avoided a moderate and ordinary degree of elegance: but, having already stated that he was an inhabitant of the mountains, he now adds, that his food and clothing were adapted to his residence. And he mentions this, not only to inform us, that John was satisfied with the food and dress of the peasants, and partook of no delicacies; but that, under a mean and contemptible garb, he was held in high estimation by men of rank and splendor. Superstitious persons look upon righteousness as consisting almost entirely of outward appearances, and have commonly thought, that abstinence of this kind was the perfection of holiness. Nearly akin to this is the error, of supposing him to be a man who lived in solitude, and who disdained the ordinary way of living; as the only superiority of hermits and monks is, that they differ from other people. Nay, gross ignorance has gone so far that, out of camel’s hair they have made an entire skin.

Now, there can be no doubt, that the Evangelist here describes a man of the mountains,252252     “Montanum hominem;” — “un homme suivant les montagnes.” widely distant from all the refinement and delicacies of towns,—not only satisfied with such food as could be procured, but eating only what was fit to be used in its natural state, such as wild honey, which is supplied by that region in great abundance, and locusts, with which it also abounds. Or he may have intended to point out that, when a man of mean aspect, and without any polite accomplishments, appeared in public life, it was attended by this advantage, that the majesty of God shone alone in him, and yet struck all with admiration. For we must observe what is added, that there was a great concourse of people from all directions; from which we infer, that his fame was very widely spread.253253     “Qu il a ete merveilleusement grand bruit de luy par tout le pays.” — “That there was an astonishingly great noise about him through all the country.” Or the Evangelist may have signified the design of God, to present, in the person of John, a singular instance of frugality, and, in this manner, to fill the Jews with reverence for his doctrine, or at least to convince them of ingratitude, according to that saying of our Lord, John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, (Luke 7:33.)

Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:5. And were baptized, confessing their sins This confession was a testimony of repentance: for, as the Lord, in the sacraments, brings himself under obligation to us, as if he had given his own hand-writing, so it is our duty, on the other hand, to reply to him. In Baptism, he declares that our sins are forgiven, and calls us to repentance. That men may come forward, in a right manner, to be baptized, confession of sins is demanded from them: otherwise the whole performance would be nothing but an idle mockery254254     “Autrement, tout ce sainct mystere seroit tournee en mines et bas-tellerie.” — “Otherwise, all this holy mystery would be turned into grimaces and buffoonery.” Let it be observed, that we are here speaking of adults, who ought not, we. are aware, to be admitted indiscriminately into the Church, or introduced by Baptism into the body of Christ,255255     “En la communion de Christ;” — “into communion or fellowship with Christ.” till an examination has been previously made.256256     “Devant qu'ils n'ayent este examinez et interroguez de leur foy;” —”before they have been examined and interrogated as to their faith.”

Hence it is obvious, how absurdly this passage has been tortured by the Papists, to support auricular confession. There were no priests at hand, in whose ears each individual might privately mutter257257     “Il n'y avoit point 1a de prestres, devant lequel un chacun eust peu s'a genouiller l'un apres l'autre, pourbarboter ses pechez en leurs aureilles.” — “There were no priests there, before whom each individual might kneel down, one after another, to mutter his sins in their ears.” his sins; nor is it said that they enumerated all their sins; nor are we told that John left in charge to his disciples an ordinary rule for confession. Even granting to Papists all that they ask, confession will belong to Catechumens alone,258258     “Ceste confession n'appartient droit qu'a ceux qui de nouveau se convertissent a la foy.” — “That confession would only belong to those who are recently converted to the faith.” and will have no place after Baptism. At all events, the law which they lay down for confession after Baptism, derives no countenance from John’s example.259259     “Pour le moins, quand ils commandent par leur loy de se confesser depuis le Baptesme, ils ne peuvent pas dire qu’ils ensuivent Jean, ny l’alleguer pour autheur.” — “At least, when they enjoin, by their law, to make confession after Baptism, they cannot say that they follow John, nor produce him as their author.”




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