24. After that John had preached, before the face of his entrance, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25. And when John fulfilled his course, he said, Whom do ye think me to be? I am not. But, behold, he cometh after me whose shoe latchets I am not worthy to loose. 26. Men and brethren, children of the generation of Abraham, and those who among you fear God, to you is the word of this salvation sent.
24. We know what office John had, to wit, to prepare the way of the Lord. Therefore Paul bringeth in his testimony, that he may prove to the Jews that he preached no false Christ, but the true Christ of God, whom that most famous forerunner had before commended; not that man's testimony is sufficient to prove so weighty a matter; but there was another respect to be had to John whom all men almost did think to be a prophet of God. Therefore hence cometh the authority of the testimony, that a crier sent from heaven, and no private man, speaketh of Christ. And Paul reciteth two things summarily concerning John, that he taught the baptism of repentance before Christ's coming. Secondly, that casting from him of his own accord the title and honor of the Messiah, he submitted himself to Christ.
The baptism of repentance. Baptism brought in contrary to the rite and custom of the law was a token of great alteration. For it was unlawful to renew anything before Christ's coming. The Jews had indeed in the law their baptisms or washings, which were also exercises of repentance, but John was the author of new and strange baptism, or rather the minister, who put them in hope of the restoring long looked-for and desired. When he calleth it the baptism of repentance he doth not exclude remission of sins, but he speaketh according to the circumstance of the place, because this baptism was a preparation unto the faith of Christ. And we must note the phrase, that he preached baptism. Whereby we are taught that the sacraments are then rightly administered, when doctrine is joined with the visible figure; for the mouth of the baptizer must not be dumb, because the sign is vain without doctrine.
25. When John fulfilled his course. The second member of the testimony, that when John drew near to the end of his course he sent his disciples to Christ; for he had fashioned them before with the rudiment of baptism, and then he sent them to Christ (as they say) from hand to hand. And this interrogation, Whom do ye think me to be? is not a question of one that doubteth. For John reproveth and chideth the Jews, because they did falsely give to him the honor of the Messiah. Though it may be read in one text, I am not he whom you take me to be; yet the other reading is more usual, as it hath also greater force to refute the error. Furthermore, his testimony doth deserve greater credit, in that he doth willingly refuse the honor offered him, (which he might have taken to himself, not without commendations) and doth submit himself to another. There cannot, assuredly, be any suspicion of ambition, or of seeking after honor here, which may discredit his words.
Behold, he cometh; that is, he is about to come, the Hebrew phrase, which is common enough in the New Testament. Whereas he confesseth that he is unworthy to loose the latchets of Christ's shoes, it is a proverbial figure, whereby he abaseth himself so much as he can, lest his greatness darken Christ's glory; for he meant to do that faithfully which was given him in charge, that Christ alone might have the preeminence. Therefore he saith, that how great soever he be, yet he is nothing in respect of Christ. For though God's servants have their dignity, yet being compared to Christ, they must all be as nothing, that he alone may excel; as we see all stars vanish away, that they may give place to the brightness of the sun.
26. Men and brethren. Paul doth again prick forward the Jews to embrace Christ; for this ought to have raised no small study and attentiveness in their minds, when as they saw [heard] their salvation handled, and that the message of salvation was appointed properly for them. He calleth them children of Abraham not only for honor's sake, but that they may know that they be heirs of eternal life; and he speaketh them so fair that it might not grieve them to depart from the scribes and priests whom they worshipped, because they must needs receive Christ. Furthermore, we must remember that which I said before, though the gate of the kingdom of heaven were set open to the Gentiles, yet were not the Jews thrown down from their estate; but were counted the first-begotten in God's family; therefore is it that he saith, that salvation was sent to them, because they were first in order; yet because the carnal kindred was of itself of no great importance, and the ungodliness of many brake out, Paul speaketh specially unto the true worshippers of God, signifying that words were but vain, unless the fear of God reign in their hearts, which may receive them, and, receiving them, may foster them. We must note this title of the gospel, that it is called the word of salvation. Wherefore, their hardness must needs be great 1 whom it doth not allure with the sweetness that is in it; but though it be such naturally, yet is it made accidentally "the savor of death unto death" to the reprobate, (2 Corinthians 2:1.6.)