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JOHN’S ADDRESS TO THOSE WHO CAME TO BE BAPTIZED OF HIM
Matthew 3:7-10. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them., O generation of vipers! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
WHEN a profession of religion is become fashionable, as it were, and common, it is necessary for ministers to be doubly careful that they do not sanction, much less promote, the delusions of hypocrites or impostors. At such seasons, peculiar faithfulness and discrimination will be wanted, that the upright may not be discountenanced, nor the vain pretenders to piety be encouraged.
The Baptist was signally successful in his ministrations, insomuch that Jerusalem, and all Judζa, and all the region round about Jordan, went to be baptized of him. Amongst this great multitude came many Pharisees and Sadducees, desiring to be numbered amongst his disciples. At this he was utterly astonished; because the Pharisees were so conceited of their own goodness as to think that they needed no better religion; and the Sadducees, the free-thinkers of the day, despised religion altogether. He would not immediately reject them, but, in a most faithful and energetic address, declared what they must be, if they would obtain happiness in the future world. He called them “a generation of vipers,” because of the poisonous and infectious nature of their principles, and the manifest relation which, both in sentiment and conduct, they bare to the old serpent the devil [Note: John 8:44.]. Such an address became him as a prophet [Note: Such were delivered by other prophets, Isaiah 1:10; and by Christ himself, Matthew 23:33.]; but it would not be suited to us who bear an inferior commission. Nevertheless the same fidelity should be found in all: and what he spake to them, we must declare to you; namely, that,
True religion must be judged of by its fruits—
As this is the only criterion whereby the excellence of a tree can be known, so is it the only true test of religion. There are “fruits meet for repentance;” fruits that manifest its existence, and denote its power. Let us inquire what they are: and, as they will be found in every part of our conduct, let us examine them in reference to,
[It will certainly shew itself in high thoughts of God’s unbounded goodness and mercy; in deep humiliation of our souls before him; in a joyful acceptance of his proffered salvation; and in love, ardent love, to the Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us; together with a simple reliance on his atoning sacrifice. It will stimulate the soul to fervent prayer for the continued influences of God’s Holy Spirit, and to a surrender of the soul, with all its faculties and powers, to his service. It will make the pleasing of God to be henceforth the great object of our lives; and will moderate all our regards to the creature, insomuch that, though we are in the world, we shall not be of it; and, though “we use it, we shall not abuse it.”]
[Repentance extends not to the sins of the first table only, but to those of the second table also. It will give a new principle to us in all our dealings with mankind. We shall be strictly just and honest in all our transactions, doing to others precisely as, in a change of circumstances, we should think it right for them to do to us. If a man be our superior, we shall be ready to pay him, for God’s sake, all that respect and obedience which the laws of God or man enjoin. If he be our inferior, we shall act towards him with all kindness and condescension, all tenderness and love. Whatever be his state and condition, we shall be cautious of grieving him by word or deed; we shall applaud his virtues, conceal his faults, and exercise towards him that forbearance and forgiveness which we ourselves desire to meet with at the hands of God. It will be the joy of our hearts to alleviate his troubles, to supply his necessities, and to seek his welfare, not only as well as, but even in preference to, our own [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Philippians 2:4. 1 Corinthians 10:24.].]
[The office of repentance in regulating the secret dispositions of our hearts, is by no means sufficiently considered: but, if it extend not to these, it is not genuine, nor will it ever prove “a repentance to salvation.” In the natural and unrenewed heart, pride, envy, malice, wrath, discontent, uncleanness, lasciviousness, and many other hateful evils, are harboured, even where the external and visible exercise of them is restrained. But the true penitent “puts away all these,” and and cultivates a spirit of meekness and gentleness, of love and kindness, of patience and thankfulness; and endeavours to guard against an impure thought or desire, no less than against the most criminal indulgence.
I do not say, that a penitent so attains all these graces as never to betray his weakness; but this I say, that these are the fruits of the Spirit which every penitent will produce [Note: Galatians 5:22-23.]; that they necessarily arise out of godly sorrow [Note: 2 Corinthians 7:10-11.]; and that every sincere penitent will advance in these attainments, so that they who are most conversant with him shall be constrained to bear testimony to the progressive amelioration of all his tempers.
O that there might be in all of us such an heart; and that all who profess repentance might thus make their profiting to appear!]
It is of infinite importance to ascertain in this way whether our religion be genuine; for,
Without it, all hopes of salvation are delusive—
The Jews were apt to found their hopes of mercy on their relation to Abraham—
[Many of them had a strange conceit that no child of Abraham could perish: and it is probable that they built that notion on the promise of God never to cast off the seed of Abraham [Note: Jeremiah 31:35-37.]. They had no idea that there was such a thing as a spiritual seed; and therefore they limited the promise to his descendants according to the flesh, and included all of them without any regard to their moral character. Against this erroneous notion the Baptist cautioned those whom he now addressed; and told them, that God would rather raise up a posterity to Abraham out of the very stones, (or perhaps from among the Gentile soldiers, many of whom might be present with them on that occasion,) than either suffer his promise to fail, or admit impenitent sinners to heaven.]
And similar to this are the delusions which obtain amongst us—
[Because men have been born of Christian parents, and educated in a Christian land, and have never formally renounced Christianity, they imagine that they are Christians, notwithstanding they havenever cordially embraced the doctrines of Christianity, nor obeyed its precepts. They have the same reason for being Christians that Mahometans have for being Mahometans, and no better. They have never seen the suitableness of Christianity to their wants, nor the sufficiency of it for their necessities: nor have they been concerned about it, any further than just to observe its outward forms. Yet on this the generality found their hopes of heaven. Whether they will express it in words or not, it is that which they “think to say within themselves.” But we must remind all such persons of the declaration of St. Paul, “that he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God [Note: Romans 2:28-29.].” It is not any external profession that will avail us in the day of judgment: we may have the sublimest knowledge, the strongest faith, the most ardent zeal, and the most unbounded liberality, and yet perish at last for want of that principle of love, which is the source and summit of all vital godliness [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.]. O that we may never deceive our own souls, nor rest in any thing short of “pure, practical, and undefiled religion!”]
Such indifference about true religion would not long exist, if men would but reflect, that,
There is a time shortly coming, when the want of it will be attended with the most bitter consequences.
God had determined to punish the Jewish nation for their unfruitfulness—
[Long had he waited to see whether the vines he had cultivated with so much care, would bring forth fruit: but they brought forth none but wild grapes: and therefore, though he had spared them long at the intercession of the vine-dresser, he determined speedily to cut them down, that they might cumber the ground no longer. Of this the Baptist warned his audience: he assured them, that God was ready to execute his purpose; that “the axe was even now lying at [Note: Κεῖται πρός.] their roots;” and that nothing but immediate and true repentance could avert their doom.]
The same awful judgment awaits every unfruitful soul—
[An unfruitful tree stands unconscious of the destiny that awaits it: but they who see the preparations made for cutting it down, anticipate its fate. Thus, if impenitent transgressors had eyes to see, they might see the axe lying at their root, and God giving his orders to him that is to use it. Disease or accident are just tarrying awhile, but coming at the appointed moment, to execute their commission.
And here let it be remembered, that it is not a mere negative goodness that will obtain a respite. It is not said, that every tree which brings forth peculiarly bad fruit, shall be cut down; but every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit. There must be such fruits as we have before spoken of; such as characterize a converted state; such as are “meet for” and “worthy of” true repentance. As the “unprofitable servant” is numbered with those who are positively “wicked,” so the unfruitful tree will receive the same doom as that which is laden with the most pernicious fruits. And happy would it be for such professors of religion, if they had only temporal judgments to expect: but there remains for them a fire, after they are cut down; a fire into which they will be cast, and which, though incessantly consuming them, will never be extinguished.]
Guard against delusive expectations—
[Every person, whatever may have been his life, hopes to be happy in a future world. The vanity of such hopes is in many cases so manifest, that we cannot but pity the selfdeluding people who cherish them. Yet, though we can see the delusions of others, we cannot see our own: we all hope that our own state is safe: “a deceived heart turns us aside, so that we cannot deliver our souls, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” The Pharisees had a high conceit of their own comparative sanctity, as the Sadducees had of their superior wisdom: and though each condemned the other, neither would condemn themselves. But John saw that neither the one nor the other would ultimately attain salvation, unless they experienced an entire change both of heart and life. They however would not believe him, and therefore rejected the counsel of God, which the more humble publicans thankfully embraced [Note: Luke 7:29-30.]. Let me guard you then against their mistakes; and entreat you all, however wise or good you may conceive yourselves to be, to entertain a godly jealousy respecting your state: and be fearful, lest by building your hopes upon the sand, you then begin to find your error when it is beyond a remedy.]
Be thankful to those who will shew you your true character.
[Those ministers who commend themselves most faithfully to your consciences, deserve your thanks. Many are the reproaches which they bear on account of their fidelity; but a hope of benefiting your souls emboldens them to proceed; and they account themselves richly recompensed, when they see you bringing forth fruits meet for repentance. Do not then be angry with them for speaking plainly and pointedly, as the Pharisees were when they saw that our Lord had spoken a parable against them [Note: Luke 20:19.]; but rather take occasion, from what they say, to search and examine your own hearts with sincerity and diligence, desiring and determining, with God’s help, to know the worst of yourselves.
You will do well also to encourage your friends to communicate to you freely what they see amiss. You cannot but know, that if a skilful lawyer were to point out to you a flaw in the title of an estate which you were about to purchase, you would feel greatly indebted to him: and why? Because you would save your money. And will you not be thankful to one who by his counsel endeavours to save your soul? Alas! alas! to flatterers we can listen without weariness; but to a faithful monitor we can scarcely for a few minutes lend an ear: what the one says is received gladly, even though we have every reason to believe that he goes beyond the truth; but what the other says, calls forth all our ingenuity to weaken its force, though we know every syllable of it to be true. Beloved, be on your guard against this self-love: you may easily deceive yourselves, but you cannot deceive your God.]
Let nothing retard you in fleeing from the wrath to come—
[There is no room to ask, “Who hath warned you?” for I have warned you; and God has warned you; and, I hope, your own consciences have warned you: or, if none of these have spoken yet so as to attract your attention, I now warn you, with all plainness and faithfulness, to “flee from the wrath to come.” Consider whose wrath it is: it is the wrath of Almighty God. Consider the description given of it: it is, and ever will be, the wrath to come: yes, many millions of years hence, it will be no nearer its termination than at this moment: to all eternity it will be the same, The wrath to come. Can you reflect on the greatness and duration of this wrath, and not be diligent in fleeing from it? What other work can you have to do that is of the least importance when compared with this? Would the man-slayer loiter, when he saw the pursuer of blood just ready to overtake him? Do ye then use all diligence: leave nothing till to-morrow that can be done to day. I would lay hold of your hand, as the angels did of Lot and his daughters, and hasten your steps. Stop not even to look behind you; but “what your hand findeth to do, do it with all your might.” The Saviour is ready to receive you: he will cast out none that come unto him: and the express promise of your God is this, “Repent, and turn from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin [Note: Ezekiel 18:30.].”]
THE BAPTISM OF THE SPIRIT
Matthew 3:11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire.
IT is ignorantly imagined, that they who are most enlightened with the knowledge of Christ, and are most zealous in bringing others to an acquaintance with him, must of necessity be puffed up with pride, and be filled with a high conceit of their superiority to others. But none ever surpassed the Apostle Paul either in zeal or knowledge; yet none ever manifested more deep humility, since language could not even afford him words whereby sufficiently to express the low sense he had of himself before God: he calls himself “less than the least of all saints.” Another eminent example of humility is exhibited in the conduct of John the Baptist, who, though faithful in the highest degree as a preacher of righteousness, never sought his own glory, but invariably directed the eyes of his followers to Christ, in comparison of whom he accounted himself unworthy of the smallest regard. His expressions before us lead us to consider,
The transcendent dignity of Christ—
Christ, in a civil view, was not at all superior to John, yea, perhaps inferior, inasmuch as the son of a carpenter might be reckoned inferior in rank to the son of a priest: nevertheless he was, in other points of view, infinitely superior:
In his person—
[The person of John might well be considered as dignified in no common degree. He was the subject of prophecy many hundred years before he came into the world [Note: Isaiah 40:3.Malachi 3:1; Malachi 3:1.]: his formation in the womb was announced by an angel from heaven, and that too at a period when his parents, according to the common course of nature, could entertain no hope of having any progeny. He was filled with the Holy Ghost even from his very birth; and was ushered into the world with the restoration of prophecy, after that gift had been withdrawn from the church almost four hundred years. But in all these respects Christ was far greater than he: Christ had been the subject of prophecy from the very foundation of the world: his work and offices had been exhibited to the world in numberless types and prophecies during the space of four thousand years. His body was formed, not merely in a preternatural, but in a supernatural way, by the immediate agency of the Holy Ghost, who created it in the womb of a virgin; by which means he was not merely holy, but spotless, without the smallest taint of that corruption, which every child of Adam inherits. Without noticing the songs with which the heavenly choir celebrated the tidings of his birth, or any of those miraculous circumstances which pointed him out to the Eastern Magi, we see already how far superior he was to John, even in those things wherein John surpassed all other men.
But what must we say, when to this we add, that he was God, “God manifest in the flesh,” “God over all, blessed for ever?” Then all comparison must cease: and the expressions used by John, instead of appearing exaggerated, will be acknowledged to be infinitely below the truth: though the loosing of the sandals, and carrying them to the bath, was deemed too mean an employment for a Hebrew servant, or for any but a slave [Note: See Gill on the place.], yet John accounted it far too high an honour for him to render such a service to that glorious person, whose advent he announced.]
In his office—
[John was a prophet of the most high God, yea, “more than a prophet.” He had the distinguished honour of being the forerunner of the Messiah, who should prepare his way, and point him out to the people, being himself divinely instructed how to distinguish him from all others who should attend his ministrations. Hence our Lord himself declares respecting him, that there “never had been a greater person born of woman than John the Baptist;” but glorious as he was, Jesus far excelled him in glory. Jesus was the great prophet, to whom Moses and all the prophets gave testimony, and to whose directions all were commanded to submit. He was the Messiah himself, the very “Lamb of God that was to take away the sins of the world,” of whom “John himself needed to be baptized,” and by whom alone John himself could be saved. Surely then the words of John respecting him were not an unmeaning hyperbole, the offspring of affectation and the footstool of vanity, but they were the words of truth and soberness; for though John was like the morning star, yet he was altogether eclipsed as soon as ever the Sun of Righteousness arose.]
The superiority of Jesus will still further appear while we consider,
The baptism he administered—
Jesus never administered the baptism of water to any: but to him was committed the work of baptizing with the Holy Ghost—
[Though the Church had from the beginning received, in some measure, the communications of God’s Spirit, yet, “till Christ was glorified, the Holy Ghost was not given” in a very genera or abundant manner: it was reserved for Christ to send him down, in order that, through the Spirit’s testimony, his own divine mission might be established beyond a possibility of doubt. Accordingly, a few days after his ascension, he fulfilled his promise, and sent down the Spirit upon his waiting disciples, causing it to rest upon them visibly, in the shape of cloven tongues of fire. And when, on another occasion, he poured out the Spirit upon Cornelius and his company, Peter particularly called to mind this declaration, which John the Baptist had made to the infant Church, and acknowledged it to be a glorious completion of his prophecy [Note: Acts 11:16.].]
This baptism infinitely surpassed that of John—
[John baptized with water those who were penitent, testifying to them that they should believe on him who was to come after him [Note: Acts 19:4.]: but Jesus, by the baptism which he administers, makes men both penitent and believing. John, in applying water to the body, even if he had immersed his followers ten thousand times, could do no more than cleanse the outward body; he could not reach the mind; he could not affect the soul; he could not in any degree change the character of his disciples. But the Spirit, with which Jesus baptized, acted with the powerful energy of “fire.” This was no sooner poured out than it penetrated the inmost recesses of the soul, and, like a furnace, purged away the dross which was there concealed. What a change it effected in the characters of men may be seen by its operations on the day of Pentecost: how was the lion instantly transformed into a lamb! and how did the noxious qualities, which had so lately rendered men like incarnate fiends, immediately subside and disappear! And such are the effects which it invariably produces wheresoever it is bestowed.]
How awfully are they mistaken who rest in the outward form of baptism!
[I would on no account depreciate baptism, or detract in the least from its importance. It is necessary for all who embrace the faith of Christ: and is replete with blessings to all who receive it aright. Even the outward ministration of it gives us a title to the blessings of the Christian covenant, exactly as circumcision gave to the Jews a title to “the adoption” of sons, and to “the promises” which God had made to his people [Note: Romans 9:4.]. But if we receive it not aright, we are still, like Simon Magus, “in the gall of bitterness and the bond of iniquity [Note: Acts 8:13; Acts 8:18-23.].” To receive any saving benefit (for, if it be rightly received, “baptism does save us [Note: 1 Peter 3:21.]”) we must have not only the sign, but the thing signified, a death unto sin, and a new birth unto righteousness; or, in other words, we must be “baptized with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” For the truth of this I will even appeal to the consciences of the ungodly themselves. Who does not feel at times that he needs somewhat more than he has ever yet received, in order to fit him for death and judgment? There is in every man at times, I say, this conviction: and this which is so wanted, is the very gift which Christ alone can bestow, namely, the baptism of the Spirit, as contrasted with, and superadded to, the baptism of water: it is “the renewing of the Holy Ghost” superadded to “the washing of regeneration [Note: Titus 3:5.].” If we have received this spiritual baptism, it will infallibly discover itself by its effects upon our heart and life. “As many as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ [Note: Galatians 3:27.],” seeking daily to be clothed with his righteousness, and to be transformed into his image. So also, if we have been “baptized by the Holy Spirit into one body,” with the holy Apostles and the primitive saints, we shall have been “made to drink into one spirit with them [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:13.].” “Now it is easy to see whether such a change have been wrought upon our heart and life, by our being altogether like-minded with them: and I wish you all to judge yourselves, that you may not be judged of the Lord.”
It is easy to put this off with a sneer: but we cannot change that declaration of God, that, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his [Note: Romans 8:9.];” or that, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God [Note: John 3:5.]: and, if we will brave those explicit declarations, we shall find ere long, “whose word shall stand, whether ours or God’s.”]
What rich encouragement does the Gospel afford to drooping contrite souls!
[It is by the Gospel that Christ communicates this blessing to mankind. See this exemplified in the instance of Cornelius. Peter, in preaching to him, said, “To Christ give all the prophets witness, that whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.” Then we are told, “While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them that heard the word [Note: Acts 10:43-44.].” Now to you also do I make the same blessed declaration, that “all who believe in Christ shall be justified from all things.” O that God might bear the same testimony to it at this time, by sending to you the Holy Ghost in rich abundance! What joy that event would occasion, you may see in the effect produced on all the college of Apostles at Jerusalem, at the recital of it in reference to Cornelius: “They glorified God, saying, Then hath God unto the Gentiles granted repentance unto life [Note: Acts 11:15-18.].” Yes, my dear brethren, “Repentance,” “repentance unto life,” would infallibly accompany the gift of the Holy Spirit to your souls. And is not that worth seeking? You are sure to repent sooner or later: and how much better is it to repent on earth, than to repent in hell; to have “repentance unto life,” than “repentance that shall be eternally to be repented of!” Go then to the Lord Jesus for this heavenly baptism. The baptism of water you are to receive but once: bat the baptism of the Spirit you are to be receiving every day and hour. St. Paul speaks of “supplies of the Spirit of Jesus Christ [Note: Philippians 1:19.],” which you are to be continually receiving: and it is the very office of Christ to impart them to you. The Lord grant, that you may all now “be filled with the Spirit [Note: Ephesians 5:19.],” and that, having him poured out abundantly upon you, you may possess also, in the richest abundance, all his attendant blessings both of grace and glory [Note: Titus 3:6-7.]!
THE ISSUE OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT
Matthew 3:12. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
THE great duty of a Christian Minister is, to set forth the Lord Jesus Christ in all his characters, and to impress on the minds of all the necessity of believing in him for the salvation of their souls. But the view which we give of the Saviour should be altogether such as is exhibited in the Holy Scriptures. If, at one time, we represent him as a propitiation for sin, saying, with the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world;” or, at another time, exalt him as the Head of his Church, ready to “baptize men with the Holy Ghost and with fire;” we must not fail to proclaim him also as the Judge of quick and dead; and to declare, with the Baptist, that “his fan is in his hand, and that he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner: but that he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
This is a subject to which we cannot too often call your attention, seeing how deeply we are interested in,
The discrimination which will be made at the last day—
Men are here divided into two classes, under the images of “wheat and chaff”—
[These images are just: for though all men spring from one common root, yet is there a great difference between them: some, as righteous, resembling wheat; and others, as wicked, answering rather to the chaff.
The righteous may fitly be considered as wheat: for they are solid in the whole of their experience: their repentance is deep and genuine: their faith is lively and operative: their self-dedication to God is uniform and entire. They have in themselves a real and intrinsic worth.
The wicked, on the contrary, whether they be merely nominal Christians or hypocritical professsors, may well be compared to chaff: for they are light, unsubstantial, worthless. They may, to a superficial observer, appear like solid grain: but they will not bear a scrutiny. Examine their repentance: it has no depth in it: they have never known what a broken and contrite spirit means. Examine their faith: it has nothing beyond a bare assent to certain truths: they have never fled to Christ, as the manslayer to a city of refuge: they have never been cut off from their old stock, and been grafted into Christ, as scions; and been made to live by him, as branches of the living vine: such “a life of faith on the Son of God” is altogether unknown to them. Examine their obedience too: it goes to externals only; whilst the heart, instead of being given to him, is set upon the things of time and sense. In a word, they may “have the form of godliness; but they have not the power:” they may “have a name to live; but they are really dead.”]
In this world, however, they lie in one promiscuous mass—
[After that the corn is threshed, it lies on the floor, mixed together in one indiscriminate heap. Thus, in the house of God, persons of every character are assembled: nor is any man such a discerner of spirits, as that he can separate the evil from the good. The two are united in the same works of charity and beneficence; yea, and compose the members of the same family: they even join frequently in the same religious society; and sit down together, like Judas with the eleven, at the same supper of the Lord. This we are taught by the Lord Jesus Christ to expect, as long as we continue in the world: “the tares and the wheat grow together in the field;” nor is it in the power of man to separate them.]
But the Lord Jesus Christ, in the day of judgment, will discriminate infallibly between them—
[The husbandman, by the simple process of winnowing the corn, makes the wished-for separation. Thus, at the last day, the Lord Jesus Christ will “purge his floor;” yea, already is the fan in his hand, prepared for the work: and so perfect will the operation be, that not a single grain of wheat will be found among the chaff; nor the smallest atom of chaff be left among the wheat. The least and weakest of God’s people are infallibly distinguished by him here; as it is said, “I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all nations, like as corn is sifted with a sieve: yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth [Note: Amos 9:9.].” And shall not the same care be taken by the Judge of quick and dead hereafter? On the other hand, “nothing that is unclean, or that defileth, shall enter into the mansions of bliss [Note: Revelation 21:27.]; and therefore we are sure that no hypocrite can find admittance there. The distinction between the wheat and the chaff will be unerring and complete.]
Let us proceed to contemplate,
The final issue of it to the souls of men—
“The wheat will be treasured up in his garner”—
[The husbandman regards the wheat as the object for which he has laboured, and as the recompence of all his toils; and he considers it as a treasure whereby he is enriched. It is in this light that the Lord Jesus Christ regards his faithful and obedient people. When the separation of them shall be made, and he shall behold them all assembled in one vast body, with what delight will he view them! How will he call to mind his own labours and sufferings in their behalf! and how will “he be satisfied, when he sees in them the travail of his soul [Note: Isaiah 53:11.].” It was with a view to this, that “he endured the cross, and despised the shame,” when he was in this lower world: to “this joy” he had then respect [Note: Hebrews 12:2.]: and no feeling of regret will occupy his mind, when he shall see their number, their safety, their felicity. And shall not the saints themselves rejoice, when they shall find themselves thus approved of their Lord, and have no more wintry blasts to menace, or noxious blights to endanger, their security? O, blessed day! The Lord prepare us for it, and grant us all to behold that day in peace!]
But “the chaff will be burned up with unquenchable fire”—
[The chaff, as being altogether worthless, was burned [Note: Isaiah 5:24.]. And what other end can the wicked hope for in that day? Can they suppose, that, after all the labour that has been bestowed upon them, and bestowed in vain, they shall meet with the same favour as the grain by which the labourer’s toil has been repaid? Can it be hoped that there shall be no “difference put between those who have served their God, and those who serve him not?” No: for them is a fire prepared; and happy would it be for them if they might be consumed by it speedily, like chaff! but, though ever burning, they will never be consumed: they themselves will be as imperishable, as “the fire is unquenchable;” and to all eternity will they endure the justly-merited wrath of an avenging God. Then shall be fulfilled in them the prediction of the Prophet Malachi, “Behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be as stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch [Note: Malachi 4:1.].” “The worm,” that is in their consciences, “shall never die; and the fire that shall torment them shall never be quenched [Note: Mark 9:43-48.].”]
See, then, Brethren,
What need there is to examine the real state of your souls—
[Nothing would be more easy than to ascertain this, if you would listen to the voice of conscience: but what a fearful thing will it be to dream of heaven, till you awake in hell! [Note: Unfold the idea contained in Matthew 7:22-23.]]
What need there is to live in a preparation for the eternal world—
[Whilst you are here, your character may be changed, and your bliss secured: but in the grave there is no work,” &c. As you are found in death, you will exist for ever.]
FULFILLING ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS
Matthew 3:15. Thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.
TO consult, in difficult circumstances, the judgment of wise and good men, is doubtless very advisable: but to place implicit confidence in any is not expedient; since even the best of men may err. We have a very remarkable instance of the fallacy of human judgment, in the case of the Apostle Peter; who would have dissuaded the Lord Jesus from subjecting himself to those sufferings which were about to come upon him; and who, on account of the carnality of his sentiments, incurred the marked displeasure of his Lord [Note: Matthew 16:21-23.]. We do not impute any measure of such blame to John the Baptist, for the unwillingness he expressed to comply with the wishes of our Lord: for he was evidently under the influence of a most becoming spirit, and had good grounds for the advice he offered: but still he erred; and our blessed Lord overruled his objections, declaring, that the administration of baptism to him at that time was a measure not only expedient, but necessary: for that “thus it became him to fulfil all righteousness.”
The precise force of our Lord’s assertion not being perfectly clear, I shall,
Confirm it as a truth, in relation to our Lord—
John, feeling his own utter unworthiness to administer baptism to our blessed Lord, and having in his mind a persuasion that, however needful baptism was for others, it could not be so for Jesus, declined to execute the office that was assigned him. And, so far as Jesus alone was concerned, the judgment of John was right: for the rite of baptism imported, that the person receiving that ordinance needed to be washed from sin, and to be regenerated by the Holy Spirit, and to be saved by the Messiah who should come. But Jesus had no sin to wash away, nor any need to be either regenerated or saved; and, consequently, he could have no need of this ordinance, which was intended to shadow forth, and to impart, those blessings unto men. Yet did our Lord say what was strictly true, when, in reference to this very ordinance, he spoke of the observance of it by himself as a necessary part of that righteousness which he had come to fulfil. It was so,
Because he stood in the place of sinners—
[The Lord Jesus Christ having undertaken the great work of our redemption, had “the iniquities of the whole world laid upon him; and therefore, as the representative of sinners, he needed all which was needed by those whom he undertook to save. Hence he had in his infancy submitted to circumcision, which was of precisely the same import as baptism. So, at the close of his ministry, he endured the full penalties of the broken law, suffering all that we deserved to suffer at the hands of a righteous and offended God. He needed not on his own account to drink this bitter cup: but, when he was found in the place of sinners, those sufferings could not be dispensed with. “Seeing, therefore, that the cup could not pass away from him,” he drank it to the very dregs. Every part of his humiliation, from the first to the last, was necessary, for the full attainment of his end: and therefore baptism, as an essential part of that humiliation, was required by him, in order to the completion of that righteousness which he had undertaken to fulfil.]
Because it became him to give his public attestation to the divine mission of John—
[John had been sent into the world as his forerunner, to announce his advent, and to call men’s attention to him as the true Messiah [Note: John 1:31.]. Moreover, John had been informed, that the person who was to sustain that high office should be made known to him by a visible descent of the Holy Ghost upon him [Note: John 1:29-33.]: and this descent was to be at the time of our Saviour’s baptism. Now, if Jesus had not submitted to the ordinance of baptism, the ends of John’s mission would have been defeated. For Jesus was not personally known to John: and it was only by this miraculous effusion of the Holy Ghost upon him that he was to be distinguished: and, consequently, the plan which Jehovah had adopted for the manifestation of his Son would, so far as the Baptist’s testimony was concerned, have been altogether frustrated. In order, therefore, that the mission of John might produce the effects proposed, Jesus overruled the objections of John, and received at his hands the ordinance which he was commissioned to administer.]
Because it was the appointed means of his own solemn consecration to God—
[There were two ways in which the Lord Jesus was to be consecrated to his office: the one was by an effusion of the Holy Ghost upon him (as the typical high priests were by a holy unction); and the other was by an audible voice from heaven, bearing testimony to him as the person sent of God to be the Saviour of the world. Now these two attestations from above were of vast importance, not only for the satisfaction of John, but also for the satisfaction of the whole world. Besides, this effusion of “the Spirit, which was given to him without measure [Note: John 3:34.],” was given in order to qualify him, as it were, for the discharge of his high office. It had been said by the prophet, that God would “anoint him” to his office [Note: Isaiah 61:1.]: and that there “should rest upon him a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of might, a Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; and that God would make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord.” Now though, as God, he possessed “all the fulness of the Godhead bodily [Note: Isaiah 11:2-3.],” yet, as man, and as Mediator, he needed to be thus qualified by the gifts of the Holy Spirit: and therefore on this account, as well as for the reasons before mentioned, it was necessary he should comply with the ordinance that had been enjoined, and not be diverted from his purpose by the well-meant, but mistaken, scruples of the Baptist. In truth, from the administration of this ordinance to him, and the consequent testimony borne to him by the Father and the Holy Spirit, we have an evidence of his Messiahship, which ought to carry conviction to every mind of man [Note: 2 Peter 1:16-18.].]
Having explained our Lord’s assertion, as referring personally to him, I shall,
Enforce it as a duty, in reference to ourselves—
When our Lord says, “It becometh us to fulfil all righteousness,” we must consider the obligation as extending, of course, to every child of man. And certainly this obligation does attach to us,
As creatures of God—
[The whole intelligent creation are under obligation to serve and obey the Lord. Whether the command given them be moral, and necessarily arising from their relation to him, or merely positive, arising from the arbitrary appointment of heaven, it makes no difference: they are equally bound to fulfil whatever they know to be his will. Adam was as much bound to abstain from eating the forbidden fruit, as he was to love his God. And so it is with us: we must fulfil all righteousness: however humiliating the command be, or whatever our obedience may expose us to, we have no alternative: we must yield a cheerful and determined obedience to it. It was beyond measure humiliating to the Lord Jesus Christ to submit to a rite which made him appear to be a sinner like unto us, and gave reason to all around him to suppose that he needed a Saviour like unto us. Yet he regarded not what men might say or think respecting him: he determined to submit to the ordinance, and would not be dissuaded from his purpose. Thus men may think and say of us, that we are weak, enthusiastic, absurd: but we must know no authority but God’s, and have no standard for our actions but his revealed will: and our determination, through grace, must be to “stand perfect and complete in all the will of God [Note: Colossians 4:12.].”]
As followers of Christ—
[Though the Lord Jesus Christ has purchased for us the remission of our sins, and we have been “baptized into his name for the remission of sins [Note: Luke 3:3. with Acts 22:16.];” yet we are in no respect absolved from our obedience to God, nor is any one duty we owe to him in any measure relaxed. On the contrary, our obligations to holiness are, if possible, increased; since the very end of Christ’s mediation was “to redeem us from all iniquity, and to purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works [Note: Titus 2:14.].” Besides, he came to “set us an example, that we should follow his steps [Note: 1 Peter 2:21.].” Was “he then without sin; and was he without guile [Note: 1 Peter 2:22.]?” We should, as far as possible, resemble him; and neither do any thing, nor forbear any thing, but in perfect accordance with the commands of God. If we profess to belong to him, we must “walk in all things as he walked [Note: 1 John 2:6.].”]
As hoping for a testimony from God in the last day—
[We all of us look for a future judgment, wherein “the inmost counsels of our hearts will be made manifest,” and “every man will be dealt with according to his works.” Then will God bear witness to his faithful and obedient servants; saying, “Well done, good and faithful servants; enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” But how can we hope for such a testimony from him, if we have any reserves in our obedience to him? How can he say, “This is a beloved son of mine, in whom I am well pleased,” if he has seen in us any wilful departure from his ways? How can he acknowledge us as “Israelites indeed, if we have not been without guile?” Know then, my brethren, what your duty is, and how it must be performed, if ever you would be approved of your God in that day. Verily, “it becometh every one of us to fulfil all righteousness:” and if there be any reserve whatever in our minds, instead of being approved of God as his children, we shall be condemned by him as hypocrites. “A right hand or a right eye” that is retained contrary to his command will inevitably subject us to his everlasting displeasure. It will be to no purpose to say, that, whilst following our superiors in rank and learning, we concluded we were acting right: for “the rulers of the Jewish nation rejected the counsel of God against themselves, by refusing the baptism of John;” whilst the publicans and harlots availed themselves thankfully of the proffered benefit [Note: Luke 7:29-30. Matthew 21:31-32.]. And, if Christ himself thus withstood the current of public example in his day; and sanctioned, by his conduct, the more duteous deportment of the lower classes; so should we, unawed and uninfluenced by the whole world, determine, with God’s help, to “follow the Lord fully,” and to sanction nothing which God himself will not approve. We should prefer entering heaven with publicans and harlots, to the being excluded from it with the great and mighty of the earth. To the approbation of God alone should we look; and with the prospect of that we should be content.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Matthew 3". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34