corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.11.13
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Luke 3

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 3:1

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar

The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar

In this year, which fell between August, A.. 28, and August, A.D. 29, the Roman empire lay under the shadow of the darkest years of the tyrant, now an old man of seventy-one. Among those alive at the time, and remembered since, for good or for evil, the elder Pliny--afterwards, when a Roman admiral, killed at the first eruption, in historical times, of Mount Vesuvius--was a child of four; Vespasian, hereafter, with his son Titus, to crush Jerusalem, was full of the ambitions and dreams of a youth of nineteen; Caligula, one day to horrify the world by the spectacle of an insane despot at the head of the empire, was a lad of sixteen; Claudius, one day to be emperor, was a poor lame trembling man of thirty-eight; and among the marriages of the year was that of the daughter of the ill-fated Germanicus, from which, nine years later, was born Nero. Pontius Pilate had been two years procurator of Samaria, Judaea, and Idumea; Herod Antipas had been reigning for about thirty-two years over Galilee and Samaria, and was now a man of about fifty; and Philip, his brother, about the same age, and of the same standing as ruler, was still tetrarch of the rest of the land beyond the Jordan, living a quiet life, usefully and worthily. (Dr. C. Geikie.)

The date

Singularly enough this very exactness is a source of difficulty. Augustus Caesar died, and was succeeded by Tiberius in August, A.D. 14. Reckoning from this date, the fifteenth year of Tiberius was from August,

A.D. 28, to August, A.D. 29. But this does not fit with the date which, onother grounds, we are led to assign to the beginning of our Lord’s ministry, viz., A.D. 27. The solution, however, is simple and satisfactory. The reign of Tiberius as sole emperor began at the death of Augustus; but he had been joint emperor with Augustus--a sort of vice-emperor--for two years previously. The word used by St. Luke, translated “ reign,” by no means implies sole empire, but applies with perfect accuracy to this share in the government, which had special reference to the provinces. We therefore understand the fifteenth year of Tiberius to have begun in August, A.D. 26. (E. R. Condor, D. D.)

Lysanias

It has been said that St. Luke erred in stating that Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar. [Strauss, “Leben Jesu,” § 44.] Lysanias, it is said, died sixty years previously, and St. Luke has ignorantly made him alive, being deceived by the fact that Abilene continued to be called the Abilene of Lysanias, after its former ruler, for sixty or seventy years subsequently. Now, here it is in the first place assumed, without any word of proof, that the Lysanias who died B.C. 34, once ruled over Abilene. Secondly, it is assumed, also without any word of proof, that Abilene came to be known as the Abilene of Lysanias, from him. I venture to assert that there is absolutely no ground for believing that the old Lysanias was ever ruler of Abilene; and I venture to maintain that Abilene came to be called the Abilene of Lysanias from a second or later Lysanias, a son of the former one, who is the person intended by St. Luke. Till recently, Christian apologists were defied to show historically that there was ever more than one Lysanias, and were accused of inventing a second to escape a difficulty. But a few years since a discovery was made which must be regarded by all reasonable persons as having set the whole matter at rest. This was an inscription found near Baalbek, containing a dedication of a memorial tablet or statue to “Fenodorus, son of the tetrarch Lysanias, and to Lysanias, her children,” by (apparently) the widow of the first and the mother of the second Lysanias. Fenodorus was already known as having succeeded the first Lysanias in his government. It is thus clear that there were, as previously suspected, two persons of the name, a father and a son, and there is not the slightest reason for doubting that the latter was tetrareh of Abilene in the fifteenth of Tiberius. (Professor Rawlinson.)


Verses 1-38

Verse 2

Luke 3:2

Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests

Annas and Caiaphas

The way in which these two names occur in the New Testament has given some trouble to commentators.
They are found in St. Luke’s Gospel, mentioned both together at the commencement of the preaching of John the Baptist, and are there called “the high priests.” St. Matthew, in the narrative of our Lord’s trial, speaks only of Caiaphas, and calls him “the high priest.” But St. John, who also mentions Caiaphas as “the high priest,” tells us that Jesus, after His arrest, was first brought to Annas, as if he were of chief importance, and then was sent by him to Caiaphas, Lastly, in the Acts, we have Annas called the high priest, and the name of Caiaphas mentioned at the same time, but no title is given to the latter. But we know from Josephus that Annas (Ananus), who was father-in-law to Caiaphas, was made high priest by Quirinus (Cyrenius), A.D. 7, and continued in that office for seven years, when he was deprived of it by Valerius Gratus, and was never chosen to be high priest afterwards. It is clear, however, that from the earliest times down to a date after the composition of the Acts of the Apostles, there were often circumstances under which two men were called high priests at the same time. That one who had once been high priest, but had ceased to be in office, would still be called high priest, is evident from that principle which is laid down in several places in the Talmud, that “you may elevate in the matter of a sacred thing, or office, but you cannot bring down.” As with us, “once a bishop, always a bishop.” We see, therefore, that when Annas had been high priest, it was not only likely that he would continue to be so called, but that, according to Jewish usage, he could be called nothing else. The age of Annas, and the influential position naturally occupied by one who had been acting high priest himself, whose son had twice held the same office, and who was father-in-law to the present high priest, are sufficient to warrant the action of the crowd in taking Christ to Annas first; while in the passage of the Acts, the mention of Annas at the head of the list, with the title of high priest, was nothing more than was due to his years and to the relationship in which he stood to Caiaphas, while the omission of the high priest’s title after the name of Caiaphas is no more a proof that he was not also high priest than the language of St. Mark’s Gospel, where it is said, “Go your way, tell His disciples, and Peter,” is evidence that Peter was not one of the disciples
. (J. Rawson Lumby, D. D.)

The Word of God came unto John

An important statement

The events of the first verse, as compared with the events recorded in the second, are of the most trifling importance. In the first instance there is a list of govern mental personalities and districts, and in the second verse there is the solemn fact that the word of God came unto the forerunner of our Lord. This juxtaposition of events is remarkably suggestive as bearing upon what is current in our own day. The world has a large list of its own appointments, regulations, and authorities, which reads most imposingly: on the other hand there are single sentences bearing upon spiritual life and work which totally eclipse the pomp of royal nomenclature and dominion. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip, and Lysanias, are names which will perish from the roll of the highest factors of human history and service; but the name of John will be remembered and reverenced as the highest name known amongst men before the building up of the distinctive kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word of God came unto John. This is a most remarkable expression, showing that John did not run before he was sent, and showing also that God knows where to find men when He wants them for any work in the world. John in the wilderness is nobody, but the word of God entering into this same John kindles him into a light that is seen afar. The true minister of God is charged with the word of Heaven. That which he speaks he speaks not of himself, he simply pronounces and proclaims with earnestness and persistency the truth which has been breathed into his own heart by the Spirit of God. The sword in the scabbard is a useless weapon, but when grasped by the hand of the trained soldier carries with it alike death and victory. It is, indeed, possible to have received the word of God as a commandment to go forth, and yet to have stifled the great conviction. There are men who are silent to-day in the Church, who, if faithful to their convictions, would be heard in loud protest against evil, and vehement proclamations as the apostles of Christian truth. -Grieve not the Spirit! Quench not the Spirit! We do not begin by quenching the Spirit; the deadly work begins by grieving the sacred presence. It is to be noted that John was in the wilderness when the word of God came unto him. Time spent in solitude is not misspent if the ear be bent towards God, and our love be listening for the coming of His word. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Teachings of the wilderness

Few Bible characters are so strangely fascinating to the devout reader as that of John the Baptist. In the wilderness God came to him; in the wilderness he was equipped for public service; from the wilderness he began his missionary work. This fact suggests three ideas of practical importance.

I. THE NATURE OF WILDERNESS LIFE.

1. Solitude.

2. Abstemiousness.

3. Privation.

II. THE LESSONS OF WILDERNESS LIFE. What John was taught in the wilderness gave him his regal manhood, viz., the high moral lessons of--

1. Self-denial.

2. Humility.

3. Courage for what is true and holy.

“Separate from the world, his breast

Did deeply take and strongly keep

The print of heaven.”

III. THE REASON OF GOD’S VISITATION IN THE WILDERNESS. The “word” was a call to active endeavour in the busy world. The wilderness had done its work, that is, had made John a fit person in the sight of God to be called to the important work of heralding the ministry of Christ. That same “word of God “ is constantly coming to us all in all the great and little wildernesses of life. In all ages notable instances of such visitations have been recorded. Moses, Luther, Wordsworth, amongst the hills and vales of his native Westmoreland; Carlyle, who, in the wilderness of Craigenputtock, heard and obeyed a call to preach in his books repentance as the first and last need of his age. If we would be true to our higher nature we must cultivate the love of solitude.

“Morn is the time to act, noon to endure,

But O! if thou wouldst keep thy spirit pure,

Turn from the beaten path by worldlings trod,

Go forth at eventide in heart to walk with God.”

And if to solitude there be added suffering in our wilderness, let us despise it not. Though often dreary, it has its charms, its blessings. God may be found there. (J. McGavin Sloan.)

John in the wilderness

Wide as was the moral and spiritual difference between the two great prophets of the Jordan wilderness, and the wild ascetics of later times, it is for this very reason important to bear in mind the outward likeness which sets off this inward contrast. Travellers know well the startling appearance of the savage figures who, whether as Bedouins or Dervishes, still haunt the solitary places of the East, with a cloak--the usual striped Bedouin blanket--woven of camel’s hair thrown over the shoulders, and tied in front on the breast; naked except at the waist, round which is a girdle of skin, the hair flowing loose about the head. This was precisely the description of Elijah, whose last appearance had been on this very wilderness, before he finally vanished from the eyes of his disciple. This, too, was the aspect of his great representative, when he came, in the same place, dwelling, like the sons of the prophets, in a leafy covert, woven of the branches of the Jordan forest, preaching, in raiment of camel’s hair, with a leathern girdle round his loins, eating the locusts of the desert, and the wild honey or manna which dripped from the tamarisks of the desert region, or which distilled from the palm-groves of Jericho. To the same wilderness, probably that on the eastern side, Jesus is described as “led up” by the Spirit--up into the desert-hills whence Moses had seen the view of all the kingdom of Palestine--“with the wild beasts” which lurked in the bed of the Jordan, or in the caves of the hills, “where John was baptising, beyond Jordan.” (Dean Stanley.)

John’s life in the desert

A soul lost in the greatness of eternal truths, like that of John, may well have risen to an indifference to the comforts, or even ordinary wants of the body, otherwise almost impossible. We have no record of his daily life, but that of one who, in saintliness of spirit, trod in his steps, is still preserved. Saint Antony, in the deserts of Egypt, was wont to pass whole nights in prayer, and that not once, but often, to the astonishment of men. He ate once a day, after the setting of the sun; his food was bread with salt, his drink nothing but water. Flesh and wine he never tasted. When he slept, he was content with a rush mat, but mostly he lay on the bare ground. He would not anoint himself with oil, saying that it was more fit for young men to be earnest in subduing the body, than to seek things which softened it. Forgetting the past, he, daily, as if beginning afresh, took more pains to improve, saying over to himself, continually, the apostle’s words--“Forgetting what is behind, stretching forth to what is before”; and mindful, too, of Elijah’s saying, “the Lord liveth, before whom I stand”--he said, himself, that the ascetic ought ever to be learning his own life from that of the great Elias, as from a mirror. The picture may not suit in some particulars, but as a glimpse of the mortified life of the desert, in its best aspect, it may serve to realize that of John, in the loneliness of the rough wilderness of Judaea. (Dr. C. Geikie.)

John in the wilderness

Here St. John the Baptist spent long years of solitary musing on the things of God, till his soul kindled into irresistible ardour, which drove him forth among men to plead with them to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. During the hot months it is a land of scorpions, lizards, and snakes, Be that his experience readily supplied him with a comparison for his wicked contemporaries, whom he denounced as “a generation of vipers.” Wild bees make their combs in the hollows of the limestone rocks; the aromatic thymes, mints, and other labiate plants, sprinkled over the face of the wilderness, furnishing them with honey, which is more plentiful in the wilderness of Judaea than in any other part of Palestine. They thus provided for him a main article of his diet, while in one wady or another, or in soma cleft, there was always water enough to quench his thirst. Locusts, the other article of his food, are never wanting in this region, and, indeed, are to this day eaten by the Arabs in the southeast of Judaea, the very district where John lived; by those of the Jordan valley, and by some tribes in Gilead. They stew them with butter, and travellers say--for I myself have never tasted them--that they are very like shrimps in flavour. (Dr. C. Geikie.)


Verse 3

Luke 3:3

The country about Jordan--

The river Jordan

The river Jordan rises in the Anti-Lebanon, to the north of Jerusalem.
Imagine that you are looking, as your glance may be directed towards me, to Jerusalem; yonder on your right is Hermon. The river Jordan rises in the Anti-Lebanon range, 1,700 feet above the sea level. There are many streams that contribute to it in its first flow, it is disputed which of them is the real source. The streams gather; they enter the waters of Merom, the first little lake. From that they pass, and, after a course of a few miles, they enter a larger lake, and one more familiar to us all, and endeared to us all, the Lake of Gennesaret, the Sea of Galilee. They pass through this lake, which is itself between six and seven hundred feet below the sea level. It is said that their current may be traced through the lake. They pass from the Lake of Galilee and go down, and ever clown, until they enter into what we now call the Dead Sea, the Lake Asphaltites. Now, reading the Scripture, we cannot discover the wonder of this lake, and this itself is noticeable. The Scripture instructs us respecting the Jordan and the events that occurred on its sides, but modern travel tells us that in all the wonders of the world there is none, of its kind, comparable to the great chasm of the Jordan. It is the lowest of rivers. We go to the margin of the sea, and there we count ourselves indeed low. We descend from the mountains to the sea. Near the sea, as,
e.g., in Cornwall, there are sometimes mines; you descend those mines, and of course you are below the sea level. The Jordan is a river that flows down and down, till, when it enters the Dead Sea, it is 1,300 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, below our ordinary holiday seaside level, and if you try the depth of the water itself, you find there is another 1,300 feet before you reach the bottom. The waters of the Dead Sea are briny, sour, smarting; they hang about your skin like oil; they enter into any chaps of the skin and torment you. They are so heavy that if you go in and bathe you can, as it were, sit on the waters. Heavy, salt, sour, sharp, are these terrific waters--waters of death, flowing towards Jerusalem from the north, but lying far below Jerusalem, as they pass it on the east, for the mountain city is 2,600 feet above the level of the sea--the Mediterranean; and the river Jordan as it enters its lake of death is 1,300 feet below the level of that sea, or 4,000 feet below the level of Jerusalem; and again the bottom of that lake--the sunken sea-- is 1,300 feet below its surface. There is no parallel to this in the globe--none. You do not get a hint of it in the Bible. Does it mean anything? If I take a poker and dash a coal to pieces for the sake of feeding my fire, do I care how the fragments split? Not I. But I arrange the fragments presently that they may burn in the most agreeable manner. Does anybody suppose that Jehovah made the world as a man splits a coal for the Christmas fire, caring even less for the arranging of the parts or pieces; that He made a height here and a hollow there, and a broad river here and a comparatively narrow but foaming cataract there, without any purpose or meaning in His arrangements? Does any one suppose that in the placing of such a people as Israel there was no correspondence between the character and story of the people and the kind of country that they occupied? Do not think it. “Sodom” is a proverb of wickedness, and the Sodomites lived in the lowest place on the globe. “Jerusalem” is a name of glory, and Jerusalem is the mountain city of the world. Is there no meaning there? The one river, so called, of Palestine is as crooked as a serpent. It rushes on, muddy and foaming, like a maddened sinner, and it loses itself utterly in the sea of death, a sea without an outlet, a sea without a city on its shore, a sea without any animation of boats and traffic upon its surface, a sea without fish--not without its aspects of occasional loveliness though--and a sea that sends forth from its surface waters purified invisibly into the heavenly air. Wonderful seal Does this mean anything, or does it mean nothing?… The Jordan is the river of judgment. There is no such emblem of a sinner in the world as the river Jordan. There is no such emblem of the prohibitive law of Moses in its ultimate results as the Jordan and the lake into which it enters. The sinner goes down, down, and the end of his way is death. The prohibitive law drives us down, down, and the end of it is the sentence of death. Die we must if sin drive us on; dead we are if we understand not the law spiritually. But were we born to be destroyed? No; but to be saved. Were we born to be driven on by mere impulse? No; but to be rescued from such “driving.” Were we born to enter into and be lost in the deep, the to us, as it were, unfathomable brine? No; but to be raised from it, purified, exalted. There is the Dead Sea: here the living Jerusalem. You look up--the living Jerusalem: you look down--the Dead Sea. From the heights of Jerusalem we look down and think of the Dead Sea as the sea from which we are rescued. We think of the Jordan, muddy, swollen, rapid, and know that not such is now the course of our life; but that we are rescued from such a course, and that we are to enter into “life” itself by Jesus Christ, who died to become the rescuer. (T. T. Lynch.)

Symbolism of the Jordan

Pass from the thought of the Jordan to that “river of God which is full of water,” whatever river may be by this phrase specially denoted in the Psalms, and recall this fact, that Jerusalem is especially the city of waters. Springs of water and subterranean streams are there in so much that if you are on the site of the old temple of Jerusalem, you may lay your ear to the ground and hear water running underneath, running, running. It is a wonderful thing. In the Church when it is most desolate, lay but your ear to the ground and you shall hear the waters of God running, running. The earth shall not perish of thirst, then? No, it shall not. The river of God, it is full of water. Glorious river! Will He keep it full? He will. Has not He kept the Nile “in its courses” through these thousand, thousand years? Has not He kept all the great rivers in the world; and He will keep the river of His own truth, of His own love running, running. Fear not, then; deliver thyself up, as to the “flesh,” to Jordan. Let Jordan make away with thee, and the swellings of Jordan carry thee down, down. Let his twenty-seven cataracts, or some of them, sweep thee on. Care nothing for the descents of Jordan. God will make away with thee by the current of Jordan, and yet will give thee to dwell by the river of His love and mercy, the river of which He will make us to drink; the river beside which trees of life grow; the river about which the Beautiful City is builded, the City of God so glorious and so peaceful. Believe in this river and take the imagery of Scripture, and use it as you will, this way to-day and another way to-morrow, yet always so as to enable your heart to trust and love God more and more, and you will rejoice that Scripture, as it were, is written in cipher; not merely in English, or Latin, or Greek, or Hebrew, but in cipher; in the language of hieroglyph, so that the more a man has of the Holy Ghost in his heart, the more he finds the Holy Ghost’s meaning and comfort as he reads the ancient Word. (T. T. Lynch.)

Baptism in the Jordan

The Jordan was regarded by the Israelites as the glory of their country, for it is the only river in Palestine which always flows in a copious stream, though its sunken, tumultuous, twisted course, which, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, winds for some two hundred miles over a space only about sixty miles in direct length, has made it useless, for navigation, or as an attraction to human communities, except at the plain of Jericho. The great miracle when the Hebrews passed over made it sacred to them, so that its waters were already regarded with reverence when Elisha commanded Naaman to wash in them as a cure for his leprosy. Hallowed still more by the preaching of John and the baptism of Christ, the Jordan has been the favourite goal of all pilgrimages to the Holy Land in every age since the first Christian centuries. As early as the days of Constantine, to be baptized in its waters was deemed a great privilege, while in the sixth century Antoninus relates that marble steps led down into the water on both sides at the spot where it was believed our Lord had been baptized, while a wooden cross rose in the middle of the stream. Upon the eve of the Epiphany, he adds, “great vigils are held here, a vast crowd of people is collected, and after the cock has crowed for the fourth or fifth time, matins begin. Then, as the day commences to dawn, the deacons begin the holy mysteries, and celebrate them in the open air; the priest descends into the river, and all who are to be baptized go to him.” Holy water was even in that early age carried away by masters of vessels who visited it as pilgrims, to sprinkle their ships before a voyage; and we are told that all pilgrims alike went into the water wearing a linen garment, which they sacredly preserved as a winding-sheet to be wrapped round them at their death. The scene of the yearly bathing of pilgrims now is near the ford, about two miles above the Dead Sea, and each sect having its own particular spot which it fondly believes to be exactly that at which our Saviour was baptized. The season of baptism has been changed from the colder time of Epiphany to that of Easter, and as the date of the latter feast differs in the Roman and Greek Churches, no collisions take place. Each Easter Monday thousands of pilgrims start in a great caravan from Jerusalem under the protection of the Turkish government, a white flag and loud music going before them, while Turkish soldiers, with the green standard of the Prophet, close the long procession. On the Greek Easter Monday the same spectacle is repeated, four or five thousand pilgrims joining in this second caravan. The streets of Jerusalem are, for the time, deserted, to see the vast cavalcade set out: women in long white dresses and veils, men in flowing robes and turbans, covering the space outside the walls and the slopes and hollow of the Valley of Jehoshaphat in a particoloured crowd, eager to see the start. At last the procession streams from the gate and pours along the camel-track towards Bethany and the Jordan; some on foot, others on horseback, or on asses, mules, or camels The broad space between the Sultan’s Spring and Eriha is soon an extemporized town; tents of all sizes rising as by magic, while at night the plain is lighted up by the flames of countless fires, Next morning they start from this resting-place before sunrise, and march or ride by the light of the Passover moon towards the brink of the Jordan, but the pace of such a confused throng is slow. To help them on the first stages of their way multitudinous torches blaze in the van, and huge watchfires, kindled at the sides of the road, guard them past the worst places, till, as daylight breaks, the first of the throng reach the sacred river. Before long the high bank above the trees and reeds is crowded with horses, mules, asses, and camels in terrible confusion; old, young, men, women, and children, of many nationalities, all pressing together in seemingly inextricable disorder. Yet they manage to clear themselves after a time, and then, dismounting, rush into the water with the most business-like quiet, too earnest and practical to express much emotion. Some strip themselves naked, but most of them plunge in clad in a white gown, which is to serve hereafter as a shroud, consecrated by its present use. Families bathe together, the father immersing the infant and his other children that they may not need to make the pilgrimage in later life. Most of them keep near the shore, but some strike out boldly into the current; some choose one spot, some another, for their bath. In little more than two hours the banks are once more deserted, the pilgrims remounting their motley army of beasts with the same grave quiet as they had shown on leaving them for a time, and before noon they are back again at their encampment. They now sleep till the middle of the night, when, roused by the kettledrums of the Turks, they once more, by the light of the moon, torches, and bonfires, turn their faces to the steep pass up to Jerusalem in such silence that they might all be gone without waking you if you slept near them. It was thus with a great caravan of pilgrims who encamped a few yards from my tent near the Lake of Galilee. Noisy enough by night, with firing of pistols and guns, they struck their tents and moved off in the morning without breaking my sleep. (C. Geikie, D. D.)

Preaching the baptism of repentance

The preacher and his message

I. THE PREACHER. You can often guess a man’s style or the character of his message from his personal appearance and demeanour. I presume it is because of this that Scripture, a book intended for man’s salvation, should still find space here and there for notices of the personal appearance of some of its chief actors and characters. John Baptist, like Elijah, was a thorough man. We are told that his raiment was of camel’s hair, that he had a leathern girdle round his loins, and that he lived upon the poorest of food; but I wonder why all this is described, unless to show us that there are times and crises in the history of nations and of towns when a true man cannot live in society. God help the towns and communities that drive a John Baptist into the wilderness that he may there live and thrive and gather mental and spiritual strength.

II. HIS MESSAGE.

1. What he preached was a gospel of Divine origin. There can be no other. A human-made gospel is a self-condemned thing. You cannot manufacture a gospel--it comes like the grace of God; it comes like a breath of heaven filling the soul and commanding a rugged, rough man even in the very wilderness to cry out, “I am a preacher.” It is inspiration--“the word of the Lord came.” If the gospel be not Divine, it is nothing.

2. This gospel is an old-fashioned one. A recent writer has declared that the producers of truth are very few, that the jobbers in truth are many, and that the retailers of truth are numberless. I believe it is precisely the same with the gospel. The originators of the gospel are few--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I know none other. The jobbers in the gospel are many, alas; and the retailers of the gospel are numberless. But it is the one gospel, and it must be an old-fashioned one, because the thing that called it into existence is as old as tile history of mankind. What called the gospel into the world? Man’s helplessness and sin.

3. Notice, further, that the gospel according to John Baptist is a self-accredited thing. It has its credentials within itself. It does not need inspiration to tell me that such a verse as “God is love” is inspired: there is the fragrance of heaven upon that thought.

4. This gospel is a simple, intelligible gospel. It is said of Moliere that he would allow no play of his to be published in which there was a single word which his slave did not understand. Simpleness was the secret of his success, as it was of Shakspere, Milton, and John Bunyan. They don’t manufacture, as it were, long words, they speak in the language of nature, and that is pre-eminently the great qualification and sign of the gospel of God.

5. Now, let us notice the universal tone of John Baptist’s gospel. “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” How unlike a Jew is this style! Let us all--ministers, Sunday-school teachers, &c.

beware of preaching the gospel in a narrow way. Do not cramp it; give it free currency, and be sure that the gospel you preach is not your own, but God’s.

6. The subject-matter of the Baptist’s gospel is “Repent.” When a man’s heart is wrung with grief for sin there is not, and there never has been, any gospel that can be preached to him save this. Repentance means atonement; atonement demands love; and the harsh, brassy sound of the call to repentance may bring a man face to face with the more mellow, happier music of the spheres of glory--“God is love.” (J. B.Meharry, B. A.)

John Baptist’s preaching

The preaching of the Baptist was--

1. Stern, as was natural to an ascetic whose very aspect and mission were modelled on the example of Elijah. The particulars of his life, dress, food--the leathern girdle, mantle of camel’s hair, living on locusts and wild honey--are preserved for us by the other evangelists, and they gave him that power of mastery over others which always springs from perfect self-control, and absolute self-abnegation. Hence “in his manifestation and agency he was like a burning torch; his whole life was a very earthquake; the whole man was a sermon.”

2. Absolutely dauntless. The unlettered Prophet of the desert has not a particle of respect for the powerful Sadducees and long-robed, luxurious Rabbis, and disdains to be flattered by their coming to listen to his teaching. Having nothing to hope for from man’s favour, he has nothing to fear from man’s dislike.

3. It shows remarkable insight into human nature, and into the needs and temptations of every class which came to him--showing that his ascetic seclusion did not arise from any contempt of, or aversion to, his fellowmen.

4. It was intensely practical. Not only does it exclude all abstract and theological terms such as “justification,” &c., but it says nothing directly of even faith or love. In this respect it recalls the Old Testament, and might be summed up in the words of Balsam, preserved in Micah 6:8.

5. Yet, though it still belongs to the dispensation of the shadow, it prophesies of the dawn. His first message was “Repent”; his second, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

6. It does not claim the credentials of a single miracle. Without a “sign” it stirred to its depths the heart of a sign-demanding age. What enormous moral force, then, it must have possessed.

7. It had only a partial and temporary popularity. The lamp is laid aside when the sun has dawned. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Repentance the first thing

A ship’s company rise against their officers, put them in chains, and take the command of the ship upon themselves. They agree to set the officers ashore on some uninhabited island, to sail to some distant port, dispose of the cargo, and divide the amount. After parting with their officers they find it necessary, for the sake of self-preservation, to establish some kind of laws and order. To these they adhere with punctuality, act upon honour with respect to each other, and propose to be very impartial in the distribution of their plunder. But while they are on their voyage one of the company relents and becomes very unhappy. They inquire the reason. He answers, “We are engaged in a wicked cause.” They plead their justice, honour, and generosity to each other. He denies that there is any virtue in it. “Nay,” he declares, “all our equity, while it is exercised in pursuit of a scheme which violates the great law of justice, is in itself a species of iniquity.” “You talk extravagantly,” they reply; “surely we might be worse than we are if we were to destroy each other as well as our officers.” “Yes wickedness admits of degrees; but there is no virtue of goodness in all our doings; all has arisen from selfish motives. The same principles which led us to discard our officers would lead us, if it were not for our own sake, to destroy each other.” “But you speak so very discouragingly; you destroy all motives to good order in the ship; what would you have us do? Repent; return to our injured officers and owners, and submit to mercy.” “Oh, but this we cannot do: advise us to anything which concerns the good order of the ship, and we will hearken to you.” “I cannot bear to advise in these matters. Return, return, and submit to mercy!” (A. Fuller.)

The religion of penitence

The only religion possible to man is the religion of penitence. The righteousness of man cannot be the integrity of the virgin citadel which has never admitted the enemy; it can never be more than the integrity of the city which has been surprised and roused, and which, having expelled the invader with blood in the streets, has suffered great inward loss.

A true penitent’s feeling towards sin

I once walked into a garden with a lady to gather some flowers. There was one large bush whose branches were bending under the weight of the most beautiful roses. We both gazed upon it with admiration. There was one flower on it which seemed to shine above all the rest in beauty. This lady pressed forward into the thick bush, and reached far over to pluck it. As she did this, a black snake, which was hid in the bush, wrapped itself round her arm. She was alarmed beyond all description; and ran from the garden, screaming, and almost in convulsions. During all that day she suffered very much with fear; her whole body trembled, and it was a long time before she could be quieted. That lady is still alive. Such is her hatred now of the whole serpent race, that she has never since been able to look at a snake, even though it were dead. No one could ever persuade her to venture again into a cluster of bushes, even to pluck a beautiful rose. Now this is the way the sinner acts who truly repents of his sins. He thinks of sin as the serpent that once coiled itself round him. He hates it. He dreads it. He flies from it. He fears the places where it inhabits. He does not willingly go into the haunts. He will no more play with sin than this lady would afterwards have fondled snakes. (Bishop Merd.)


Verse 4

Luke 3:4

The voice of one crying in the wilderness

Self-effacement

John Baptist is a type of those who resolve, at all risks, to discharge their duty and to deliver the message entrusted to them by God, without one single thought of self, without one transient wish to appear themselves in the matter.
There is no indolence here, nor cowardice. There is simply an absence of any ambition to be prominent, and of any desire to hear their name whispered among the crowd. It is enough to be a “voice”--to preach God’s Word, and not their own; to pursue some truth which is not to enhance their own reputation; to advocate some cause which is not to redound to their own advantage. Alas 1 how few are such persons; but how precious in proportion to their rarity I If any of us, then, be on the way to the attainment of this high grace, let us be supremely careful that our own selfeffacement be both genuine in itself and be a sacrifice offered to a worthy cause. For if I merely surrender to the first comer, or abdicate in favour of some worse person than myself, the very humility that “ should have been for my wealth, becomes to me an occasion of falling.” Instances are not uncommon, in every one’s circle of acquaintance, where a man has surrendered not his pleasures, or his advantages, but his principles, to some other person’s opinion. But if a single person’s private opinion be sometimes thus overpowering, what must the combined force of a thousand people’s opinion, of “public opinion,” be! Every one, it is obvious, has a visual horizon of his own, in the centre of which he lives and moves and has his being; and just so every one has a social circle--“a world” (as the Bible calls it) of his own, amid which he lives, and which reacts too often with fatal influence upon his character. We must, by prayer and watchful circumspection, safeguard this precious grace of humble self-effacement, lest we expend it on unworthy objects
. (Canon G. H. Curteis.)

Admission to the kingdom

I. 1. The one thing that is essential in order that we may enter the kingdom of God is that we should be sincere. It was the evident sincerity of John the Baptist which drew around him the sinners of Judea, even rough soldiers and mercenary tax-gatherers. He demands sincerity in return. He could not do with professions unless they were accompanied by fruits worthy of repentance.

2. But there were those who came out to John’s baptism in insincerity.

II. It is not necessarily a proof of sincerity that we are keenly interested in the religious movements which are agitating men’s minds. It is a better test when we are willing, in all simplicity, to put away those special sins which are hindering us from surrendering ourselves to the rule of God. (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

The voice in the wilderness

“When the tale of bricks is doubled, then comes Moses”: this is an apothegm familiar among the Jews even to the present day, and rehearsed in their stories of the past. But Moses came twice; and, the first time, he was abruptly rejected. The “Prophet like unto Moses,” promised and at last announced to our sin-enslaved race as the Redeemer, was introduced by a forerunner, who was not accepted any more than his Master. John the Baptist was ultimately beheaded for his reward of fidelity; and the Lord Jesus was crucified. Thus it comes about that Christ’s sad history strikes back on John’s, and gives it an unexpected interpretation. Very true have proved those words of Heinrich Heine: “Wheresoever a great soul in this world has uttered its thoughts, there always has been Golgotha.” Affairs had now reached the last crisis. Pontius Pilate was misgoverning Judea, filling history with extortions and infamies of crime. A new Herod, worthy of the name, was shaming the people with villainous lusts and defections in faith, his desperate morals fitly keeping pace with his downward career in apostasy. Suddenly was heard a voice in the wilderness. There was singular pathos in it, as there is in all human tones that have power. But it had, besides that, a sort of vibrating ring in it which intimated a challenge. Experts say that idiots, even in the midst of a gibbering frolic, will pause abruptly to listen to the sound of a musical instrument; perhaps some vague recollection of primal harmonies in a healthy nature before it was shattered may be awakened at the stir near by; the soul seems seeking to render answer, but only succeeds in giving wistful attention. That was not a loud voice in those days down by the Dead Sea, but all Judea heard it, and up the Jordan it rushed with more than the usual celerity; it certainly in due time reached the villagers in the land of Gennesareth, for some of them journeyed at once towards it--notably, Simon son of Jonas, and John, and James, and Andrew, who were destined to figure in the train of Jesus Christ. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)

The reality of the Baptist

John the Baptist was a reality. This poor world of ours has been so often trifled with, that it has learned to be satisfied thoroughly only with what is honest and true. There could be no ordinary possibility of mistaking such a man; he was genuine. And he shook that miserable generation of hypocrites as might have been expected. Virgil tells us that when AEneas descended into Hades to visit his father, he came to Charon’s ferry across the dark river; as he stepped into the light boat, accustomed to carry only spirits, so heavy a burden of a real and living man made the craft tremble and creek dismally through all the length of its sewed seams. We can presume that the hollow forms of social life in those wretched days were writhed and strained, if not shattered, by an uncompromising reality of manhood like that of John the Baptist at the Jordan. He was a man among the shadows of men. He had an actual “idea.” He shook off the shams of religion, and told souls a great deal more about religion itself than they ever knew before. He put himself within the reach of living people, and down on their planes of existence. Only he shred away the veils and tinsels and mockeries of an outward show, and with an unsparing hand tore up the traditions and mere commandments of Pharisees. (C. S. Robinson, D. D. )

Repentance is not alike in all

Let every man come to God in his own way. God made you on purpose, and me on purpose, and He does not say to you, “Repent, and feel as Deacon A. feels,” or, “Repent, and feel as your minister feels,” but, “Come just as you are, with your mind and heart and education and circumstances.” You are too apt to feel that your religious experience must be the same as others have; but where will you find analogies for this? Certainly not in nature. God’s works do not come from His hand like coins from the mint. It seems as if it were a necessity that each one should be in some sort distinct from every other. No two leaves on the same tree are precisely alike; no two buds on one bush have the same unfolding, nor do they seek to have. (H. W. Beecher.)

The Baptist’s gospel

John, too, had a gospel to preach, though at the first sounding of it there was terribleness enough in the tone. John preached the baptism of repentance, but, behold, it was repentance with hope, repentance and the remission of sins. John the Baptist is not a mere historic figure; his ministry represents a great fact which has a prominent place in the spiritual transformation and progress of mankind; his voice of repentance must always be first heard; his call to humiliation must always, in the first instance, bow down the soul; and after the thunder and fire of his ministry will come the still small voice of redeeming and welcoming love. John did not appear before his contemporaries without connection with all the solemn and beautiful past of Jewish history. Though he came from the wilderness, yet, as to the spiritual aspects of his ministry, he came up from the region of holy prophecy, and upon him there rested the benediction of holy men of old. It is something, after all, to feel that, as preachers of repentance and grace, we are not speaking in our own name, or clothing our words with the petty authority of merely personal position; the ages repeat their demands in our voices; the prophets are heard again when we speak in the name of Jesus Christ. John’s speech seemed to be regulated by the music of prophecy. This quotation from the Book of Isaiah is like the sounding of a military march, the anthem of those who move on to momentary battle, followed by everlasting triumph. In this prophecy it will be observed that there is the same combination of the human and Divine which is found throughout the whole of the gospel scheme: men are called upon to make straight paths for the Lord, and they are also called upon to work out their own salvation; they are exhorted to prepare the way, as they were commanded to roll away the stone from the door of the sepulchre; and when they have done their little part, there comes the full outflow of the Divine sympathy, power, and love. Nothing can exceed in minuteness and completeness the description which is given in verses 5 and 6. The sixth verse contains the grandest utterance that can possibly be put into human words, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

Character and mission of the Baptist

These words, quoted by John the Baptist, had been spoken seven hundred years before by Isaiah. Nearly three hundred years after that, Malachi closed the course of Scripture with these remarkable words: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet,” &c. Then intervened a period of four hundred years, during which the voice of prophecy was mute, and all that was left to guide the Israelite was that of which Malachi reminded him in the previous verses: “Remember ye the law of Moses My servant.” And then, when these four hundred years were closed, suddenly, immediately before the Messiah’s advent, there appeared in the wilderness a wonderful man, living a life like that of Isaiah and Elias, applying to himself this prophecy of Isaiah, and having applied to him by Christ that of Malachi concerning Elijah. I propose to endeavour to answer these two questions.

1. By what right, and in what sense, are these two prophecies, the one originally spoken by Isaiah of himself, and the other distinctly marking out a particular man Elias, referred to John the Baptist? And--

2. In what sense was John the forerunner of the Redeemer, preparing His way before Him?

I. Now, to understand on what principle these words are applicable to John, we must carry along with us the leading principle of prophecy. It is not merely a prediction of separate events, but far rather an announcement of principles; through the interpretation of the present the prophets predicted the future; for the announcement of every principle connected with a fact is a prediction of all future events that shall occur under similar circumstances. For instance, the astronomer, in the announcement of the eclipse, has so plainly discovered the principles that regulate it as to be able to foretell without a doubt the very moment of its return. Thus it was that our Lord and the prophets applied their prophecy. The prophet Malachi uses the name of Elijah, and says, “Before another great and dreadful day come, another man shall rise up in the same spirit as Elijah.” Our blessed Lord applies this prophecy to John the Baptist. He told men that “Elias truly shall first come and restore all things,” but that the Elias that was to come was not the Elias they had expected, but one in the spirit and power of Elias, who should turn the hearts of the fathers, &c. He thus reminded them that what the prophet meant was not a resurrection of the man, but of his spirit.

II. In the next place we return an answer to the second question proposed--In what sense was John the forerunner, &c. The expression of theprophet a figurative one. In Eastern countries, when a monarch desired to pay a visit to a distant part of his dominions, he was accustomed to send his messengers before him to demand of the inhabitants of every part through which he was to pass that they should make his road easy by filling valleys and cutting through hills. Precisely in the same way was John the Baptist to prepare the way for Christ. He came proclaiming a King, declaring the conditions without which the kingdom could not come, and without which the King could not reign. The first of these conditions was this: he prepared the way for Christ by declaring private righteousness preparatory to public reformation. “Change yourselves, or to you at least no kingdom of God can come.”

2. John prepared the way for the advent of the Messiah by a simple assertion that right is right, and wrong, wrong.

3. The Baptist prepared the way for the Messiah by teaching simple truths, falling back upon first principles. Observe that all this was to prepare the way for Christ--it was not Christ. Yet in all ages the baptism of John in the laver of duty must precede the baptism of Christ in the laver of self-sacrifice. (F. W. Robertson, M. A)

JOHN THE BAPTIST.

“Also of John a calling and a crying

Rang in Bethabara till strength was spent,

Cared not for counsel, stayed not for replying,

John had one message for the world--REPENT.

John, than which man a sadder or a greater

Not till this day has been of woman born;

John, like some iron peak by the Creator

Fired with the red glow of the rushing morn.

Thus, when the sun shall rise and overcome it,

Stands in his shining desolate and bare,

Yet not the less the inexorable summit

Flamed him his signal to the upper air.”

(F. W. H. Myers.)

Preparing the way of the Lord in worship

The way of the Lord should be prepared in our hearts. If we would have the Lord come to us in our Sabbath worship, we must think of Him in our week-day work. As it often is now, when the Sabbath comes, the gathered rubbish of a whole week must be cleared away. The way of the Lord is blocked up by the remembrance of the week’s cares, h man brings his business right up to the borders of the Sabbath, and, of course, the Sabbath itself is full of it. Boxes and barrels, bales, dry goods, groceries and hardware, remain over in the mind from the week’s work and worry. Now, a man has no more right to take these things with him in his thoughts, than to leave his goods exposed for display and sale in his store. If it were not for disturbing others, he might just as well take his ledgers and invoices with him to church, and be making out his bills and checking off his goods while there, as to be doing these things in his thought all day. He might just as well wheel his boxes and bales right into the aisle, as to have them present to mental vision all the time. Jesus drove out the traders from the temple with a scourge of cords. But if He should come into our modern churches and drive out all who in their thoughts have brought money, and merchandise, and trade into the house of God, He would leave some very small congregations. If all the business that is planned in church were really transacted there, it would make that a busier place than ever the Jewish Temple was in the days of the Passover. If we would enjoy the Sabbath as a day of rest and communion with God, we must drive these money-changers of our thought out from the sacred temple of our hearts, and let those hearts be again the temples of the Holy Ghost. We must prepare for the day, not merely by laying aside our work, but by excluding it from our hearts, that God may come and dwell there. Thus, in all things, we must prepare for God’s work. We must lay our plans for it, and shape our affairs for it. The Lord comes to reign, if He comes at all. We must so prepare the way that He can come and can reign. There must be forethought as well as good will; preparation as well as diligence. It is true the Lord sometimes comes suddenly to His temple. But when He thus comes, “Who shall abide the day of His coming? for He shall be like a refiner’s fire.”

All may assist in preparing the way of the Lord

Not one little brown and withered leaf falls to the ground on one of the November days but the shape of the plant is changed; so there is not one little act of yours, one whispered prayer that His kingdom may come, but becomes a factor in the world’s redemption. If I can only place one little golden brick in the pavement of the Lord’s highway, I will place it there, that coming generations may walk thereon to the heavenly city. (Phillips Brooks, D. D.)

Various ways in which the way of the Lord has been prepared

Strangely, too, the movements of science, art, and commerce seem to wait on ministerial life. Printing had just been invented in time to give the Bible to the people in the period of the Reformation. The magnetic needle was applied to navigation to send that Bible and its preachers to all lands. The spirit of exploration, which has sought out every island, and is now engaged in revealing the character of Central Africa and the steppes of Asia; the study of all languages; the preparation of grammars and lexicons; the knowledge of the currents of the air and the water, of the powers of steam and electricity--all these are so many voices crying, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord!” They are so many indications that when man will carry God’s message all the power of Omnipotence waits on his service. (M. Simpson, D. D.)

St. John the Baptist

How shall we picture John the Baptist to ourselves? Great painters, greater than the world seems likely to see again, have exercised their fancy upon his face, his figure, his actions. We must put out of our minds, I fear, at once, many of the loveliest of them all; those in which Raffaelle and others have depicted the child John, in his camel’s hair raiments, with a child’s cross in his hand, worshipping the Infant Christ. There is also one exquisite picture, by Annibale Caracci, if I recollect rightly, in which the blessed Babe is lying asleep, and the blessed virgin signs to St. John, pressing forward to adore Him, not to waken his sleeping Lord and God. But such imaginations, beautiful as they are, and true in a heavenly and spiritual sense, are not historic fact. For St. John the Baptist said himself, “I knew Him not.” The best picture of him which I can recollect is the great one by Guido, of the magnificent lad sitting on the rock, half clad in his camel’s-hair robe, his stalwart hand lifted up to denounce he hardly knows what, save that things are going all wrong, utterly wrong to him; his beautiful mouth open to preach he hardly knows what, save that he has a message from God, of which he is half conscious as yet--that he is a forerunner, a prophet, a foreteller of something and some one which is to come, and which yet is very near at hand. The wild rocks are around him, the clear sky is over him, and nothing more. There, aloft and in the mountains, alone with nature and with God, he preaches to a generation sunk in covetousness, superstition, party-spirit, and the rest of the seven devils which brought on the fall of his native land, and which will bring on the fall of every land on earth, preaches to them, I say, what? The most common, let me say boldly, the most vulgar--in the good sense of the old word--the most vulgar morality. He tells them that an awful ruin was coming unless they repented and mended. How fearfully true his words were the next fifty years proved. The axe, he said, was laid to the root of the tree; and the axe was the heathen Roman, even them master of the land. But God, not the Roman Caesar only, was laying the axe. The people, the farming class, came to him with, “What shall we do? ‘: He has nothing but plain morality for them. The publicans, the renegades who were farming the taxes of the Roman conquerers, and making their base profit out of their countrymen’s slavery, came to him, “Master, what shall we do?” He does not tell them not to be publicans. He does not tell his countrymen to rebel, though he must have been sorely tempted to do it. All he says is, “Make the bad and base arrangement as good as you can; exact no more,” &c. The soldiers, poor fellows, came to him. Whether they were Herod’s mercenaries, or real gallant Roman soldiers, we are not told. Either had unlimited power under a military despotism, in an anarchic and half-enslaved country; but whichever they were, he has the same answer to them of common morality, “You are what you are; you are where you are.

Do what you have to do as well as you can. Do no violence to any man,” &c. Ah, wise politician, ah, clear and rational spirit, who knows and tells others to do the duty which lies nearest them; who sees (as old Greek Hesiod says) how much bigger the half is than the whole; who, in the hour of his country’s deepest degradation, had Divine courage to say, “ Our deliverance lies, not in rebellion, but in doing right.” But he has sterner words. Pharisees, the separatists, the religious men, who think themselves holier than any one else; and Sadducees, materialist men of the world, who sneer at the unseen, the unknown, the heroic, came to him. And for Pharisee and Sadducee--for the man who prides himself on believing more than his neighbours, and for the man who prides himself on believing less--he has the same answer. Both are exclusive, inhuman, while they are pretending to be more than human. He knew them well, for he was born and bred among them, and he forestalls our Lord’s words to them, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? “ (Charles Kingsley, M. A.)


Verse 5

Luke 3:5

Every valley shall be filled

The King’s highway

I.
VALLEYS MUST DE LEVELLED UP.

1. Inattention.

2. Apathy.

3. Despondency.

II. EMINENCES MUST BE LEVELLED DOWN.

1. The mountain of pride must be reduced.

2. The mountain of presumption must be depressed.

God to revive in the Church without exerting themselves to promote a revival.

3. The hills of ingratitude must be brought low.

III. THE CROOKED PLACES MUST BE STRAIGHTENED.

1. Prejudice.

2. Jealousy.

3. Censoriousness.

4. Covetousness.

IV. THE ROUGH PLACES MUST BE SMOOTHED.

1. The ugly rock of Sabbath desecration must be removed.

2. That rut of drunkenness must be filled up.

3. Those sinks of immorality must be filled--lying, cheating, oppression, uncleanness.

4. The rough places of instability must be smoothed. (Prof. F. W. Macdonald, M. A.)

Preparing the way of the Lord

Before John, the wilderness preacher, the mountains of Pharisaic pride were levelled, the valleys of Sadducean unbelief were filled up, the tortuous vices of the courtly Judean were corrected, and the rude ignorance of the Galilean smoothed and reformed. (Canon Liddon.)

Road-makers

(To children.) In ancient times, especially in Eastern lands, when an emperor or king was travelling through his dominions, men were sent before them to prepare the way. Sometimes they had to make a new road through pathless wildernesses and rocky passes, hewing down trees, cutting a level way along steep or rugged hill-sides, clearing away rocks, and making embankments across valleys, and bridges over streams. Or sometimes the old road was overgrown with bushes and brambles, or washed away by floods, or covered with rubbish which the winter storms and swollen torrents had brought down from the mountains. In some Eastern lands, even at this day, travellers tell us how the roads are often so destroyed in the rainy season, that before a governor or high officer of state makes a journey, the highways must be mended and made ready for him to travel speedily and safely. So when the prophet Isaiah was speaking of the coming of the Lord Jesus, he foretold that some one would be sent by God to “prepare the way,” &c. Look at the Gospels and you will see that the messenger whom God sent to prepare the way for His beloved Son was John the Baptist. Now, how did John prepare the way? There were four things which he taught the people, in order to make ready their hearts for the Lord Jesus.

I. TO EXPECT HIM.

II. TO FEEL THEIR NEED OF HIM TO SAVE THEM FROM THEIR SINS.

III. TO REPENT OF ALL SIN.

IV. TO HEARKEN TO HIM, AND BELIEVE, LOVE, AND OBEY HIM WHEN HE CAME. NOW, if the Lord Jesus were coming to the place where you live, would you not be glad if you were invited to help to prepare the way for Him? Would you not think it a great honour and happiness to take one stone out of His way? Oh yes! Your heart would dance for joy, and perhaps your feet too. Who would not like to be a pioneer for Jesus, the King of kings? Well, but don’t you know that He really wishes to come; not to pass along the streets, but to come into the homes and hearts of all the people, not to pay a visit, but to dwell there? Then what hinders His coming? Only that people arc not ready for Him. Do you know what God calls a heart that does not love and fear Him? He calls it “ a stony heart” Ezekiel 36:26). Well then, if you do not love and trust and try to obey the Lord Jesus as your own Saviour and King, don’t you see that there is one stone to be taken out of His way? How? Just by coming to Him in prayer to make you truly His. (E. R. Conder, D. D.)

Valley and mountain

Every valley shall be filled; that the people might know what our Lord would do, to exalt the mercy of God to undone sinners, who, like valleys, lay very low under despondency of spirit; John bid them repent, which the law did not admit of. This word repent is a most sweet word, and tends to advance mercy and God’s free grace, and so to fill up those valleys, I mean despairing and desponding sinners. When God sends a messenger to rebels, and commands them to repent and believe, a sweet pardon be sure is comprehended therein; and this tends to fill up or exalt two valleys.

1. The lowly and desponding soul.

2. The mercy of God is exalted, which was one grand design of God in sending His Son to satisfy Divine justice; for mercy and Divine goodness could not be raised to run level with justice, until our Saviour had made a complete satisfaction for our sins.

I. But before I proceed, let it be considered (as I conceive) that the grand obstructions or obstacles which lie in the way of God’s being reconciled to sinners, and of sinners’ reconciliation unto Him, are comprehended by these metaphorical expressions.

1. The haughty Jews and Pharisees, who were swelled with pride; yea, like lifted up high mountains and hills; how did the Pharisee glory, “God, I thank Thee I am not as other men, nor as this publican”?

2. They were like mountains, in respect had to their legal privileges, being God’s covenant people, boasting “They had Abraham to their father, and never were in bondage” (John 8:33). John Baptist in his ministry strove to level these mountains, when he saw them coming to his baptism, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

3. The Jews and Pharisees might be compared to mountains and hills, in that they boasted they had the key of knowledge, and were the only teachers and masters of Israel, and that all besides themselves were ignorant and foolish persons. Do but read what holy Paul speaketh of them, to bring them down level with the ground.

II. Sin (as Mr. Caryl notes, speaking of this very text) may be also meant by these mountains.

III. By mountains here also may be meant, or refer unto those great oppositions our Lord Jesus met withal, in His working out our salvation.

1. From men.

2. From the devil. These stood in His way like mighty mountains, like as Sanballet stood as a mountain in the way of Zerubbabel (a type of Christ): “And who art thou, great mountain? Before Zerubbabel, thou shalt become a plain” (Zechariah 4:7).

IV. As valleys may refer to despairing sinners, so mountains and hills may refer to haughty and presumptuous sinners; I speak not here of self-righteous persons.

V. Valleys may refer to the low estate of mankind, or of God’s elect, as considered dead in the first Adam, or as under the law and curse thereof. (B. Keach.)

The crooked shall be made straight

1. Crooked may refer to men’s crooked opinions; they speak not right of God; they do not judge according to the straight and equal glory of all the perfections of God’s holy nature; nor according to the straight rule of His holy law, but magnify the glory of His mercy, to the eclipsing the glory of His justice; and of this crooked opinion are the Socinians, and all that magnify the pardoning grace of God, without having respect to a plenary satisfaction, made to the justice and law of God by Jesus Christ.

2. Crooked things may refer to those false and crooked ways of worship which many walk in; ways which Christ never instituted or appointed: the Word of God is the only rule for worship, and administration of ordinances. Now all pretended ordinances and Divine worship, that doth not exactly agree with this rule, but vary in matter or manner from it, are crooked way.

3. Crooked may refer to the lives and conversations of men; the law of God (as it is in the hand of Jesus Christ) and the glorious gospel is the only rule of our lives; and all whose lives and conversations do not agree with that rule, are crooked ways.

4. Crooked may also refer unto men’s crooked spirits; how cross and uneven are some men’s hearts and spirits to the word and will of God. “The carnal mind is enmity against God, it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). (B. Keach.)


Verse 6

Luke 3:6

The salvation of God

Salvation all of God

We are to be saved, not by what we are worth ourselves; not by that which we have attained.
Looking at ourselves in some sense as a piece of art, a picture, a statue, or an exquisite piece of machinery, we are not worth saving. In and of ourselves, there is nothing worth preservation. And all the work that we have ever done on our own character and nature does not amount to any considerable value. If we are saved, it will not be because of that which we have succeeded in doing; it will be because of that which has been done upon us and in us by another and higher artist-hand. If we inherit salvation in the life which is to come, if we enter upon a life of immortality in blessedness, it will be because we are saved by grace
. (H. W. Beecher.)

God’s part and man’s part in salvation

A ship is stuck on a mudbank, and, the tide going out, it careens over, and there it lies, like many discouraged Christians. They do not need the anchor. The anchor is out, though. By and by the tide begins to come in, little by little. The captain calls up the crew, and orders them to hoist in the anchor. It is hoisted in and stowed away. “Trim the sails,” is the next command, and that is obeyed. The tide is still coming in, coming in, coming in; and by and by the vessel floats off; and the crew look up with admiration, and say, “What a captain we have! It was the hauling in of the anchor and the trimming of the sails that saved us. The captain gave his orders, they were obeyed, and then she floated.” No, it was not the captain’s doings. The Lord God, who swings the stars through the heavens and exerts His power upon the ocean, did it. The captain merely foresaw the coming of the tide, and adapted the circumstances of the vessel to influences which existed before. (H. W.Beecher.)

Christ the only way of salvation

Mrs. Bennet, wife of John Bennet, minister of an Independent Church in Cheshire, the day before she died, raised herself into a very solemn attitude, and with most striking emphasis delivered, in the following language, her dying testimony to the truth as it is in Jesus:--“I here declare it before you that I have looked on the right hand and on the left--I have cast my eyes before and behind--to see if there was any possible way of salvation but by the Son of God; and I am fully satisfied there is not. No 1 none on earth, nor all the angels in heaven, could have wrought out salvation for such a sinner. None but God Himself, taking our nature upon Him, and doing all that the holy law required, could have procured pardon for me, a sinner. He has wrought out salvation for me, and I know that I shall enjoy it for ever.” (Clerical Library.)

O that all flesh, that is, all men that believe, may

1. See the glory of God’s wisdom in His contriving the way of our salvation by Jesus Christ.

2. The glory of His infinite love, mercy, and Divine goodness.

3. The glory of His infinite justice and holiness, in that His justice is as much exalted in and by Christ, as His love and mercy.

Thus in respect of all the glorious attributes of God, the glory of God is in and by Jesus Christ revealed. Take the glory of God here, for His glory personally considered,

1. How doth the glory of God the Father shine forth herein, or what revelation is there of it in the gospel!

2. How is the glory of God the Son revealed also!

3. How is the glory of God the Holy Ghost likewise revealed and magnified! And all this is done and displayed in Jesus Christ the Mediator. And all flesh shall see it; that is, not the Jews only, but also the Gentiles, or all nations; i.e., some in all nations; nay, the whole world at last.


Verse 7-8

Luke 3:7-8

Then said he to the multitude that came forth

John and the populace

It is a matter of some interest, even as a memoir of ancient manners, to conceive the various and strikingly marked aspect of the multitude that now fled to John in the desert.
There stood the Pharisee, covered from head to heel with the emblems of his sanctity, the haughtiest and most scornful of men; but then, for once, divested of his spiritual influence, and asking, “What shall I dote be saved?” There stood the splendid and voluptuous scribe--the man of affected philosophy, for once feeling that he had a soul to be saved. There stood the grasping and the iron hand of the publican, the common tribute gatherer, laying his accumulated gains before the feet of the prophet, and bowing down to the dust. There stood the moldier, subdued and hardened by the barbarous habits of his life, until he became a merciless murderer, there he stood, flinging down his sword at the feet of the prophet, and imploring to be purified from blood by the waters of baptism. In the midst of these kneeling and humble thousands stood the prophet full of the Holy Ghost, in utter defiance of human power, undaunted by the voice of human authority, and undismayed by the barbarism of the multitude, tendering to all alike the words of judgment: “Ye men of sin, ye splendid voluptuaries, who now cry out for mercy, show not by your words but by your deeds that you have abjured sin; and you, ye haughty despisers of all men’s virtue, be ye holy. Ye jealous and persecuting Pharisees, cast off your self-righteous praises, rend the heart and not the garment, be humble, contrite, and holy.” (
G. Croby, M. A.)

Necessity of warning

A man left to himself will go to the devil. If he turns away from his sin, it is because of some outside pressure. The attraction of gravitation is seen in souls as well as in all material things. They fall by their own weight. If you see them going upwards, you may be sure that a strong hand or a strong wind has been under them to start them in that direction. Sinners need to be warned of their danger. The responsibility is on us to warn others, and to heed the warnings which come to us. Who has warned you? Whom have you warned? (H. C.Trumbull.)

Taking warning

Waldus, a rich merchant in Lyons, seeing one drop down dead in the streets, went home, and repented, changed his fife, and became a preacher, and was the father and founder of the people called Waldenses. ‘Tis good to take warning by others’ harms, and by the sight of their death, to look after our own life. (Venning.)

Warnings of God

As the mother bird shrieks when the hawk is in the sky, that her young ones may hide themselves under her wings, so God, the Father of men, utters His voice of warning against sinners, that they may rush to His mercy’s protection, before the devouring lion of hell overtake them in destruction. (John Bate.)

The Baptist’s heraldry

Nor is it difficult to account for this widespread and profound agitation. In the first place, the people were chafing under the yoke of pagan Rome. Remembering that they were Jehovah’s covenant-people, their yearning for deliverance naturally took on a religious form. Again, there was at this time among the Jews, and perhaps throughout the East, the expectation, more or less distinct, of one who was to be a heaven-sent deliverer. Hearing of the sanctity of Judea’s hermit, how natural that the Jews, weary of bondage and shame, should flock to John in the hope that he was the promised one. Again, there is in asceticism something which is fascinating. It betokens an exceptional, earnest, character; and men are ever moved by the exceptional, especially when it takes the form of terrible moral earnestness. And John was a terribly earnest ascetic. And therefore all Israel flocked to his preaching, feeling the thrall of his magnetism, even as idolatrous Israel centuries before had swayed under stormy Elijah, and as voluptuous Italy centuries afterward bowed before stern Savonarola, and frivolous France centuries still later grew solemn before saintly Lacordaire. Once more, John’s message was a message of terror. No soothing words were his, no soporific platitudes. So it was in Assyria when heathen Nineveh robed herself in sackcloth before the denunciation of Hebrew Jonah. So it was in France when awakened Europe wept and groaned before the Tartarean oratory of St. Bernard. So it was in New England when Northampton church-member and and Stockbridge Indian quailed and wailed before the wrathful eloquence of Edwards. How, then, came such persons to the Jordan to listen to the wrathful eloquence of the stern apostle of repentance? Ah, there are times when the proudest, most worldly of natures are stirred to their very depths. There are times when even the Pharisee finds that his rubric is too narrow and icy, and that he has been living a hollow life. There are times when even the Sadducee feels his moral nature asserting itself at cost of every barrier of unbelief and moral petrifaction. There are times when conscience speaks louder than will or passion. Thus did the desert-preacher rightly divide the word of truth, giving to each his appropriate share, not demanding of the publican repentance for the Pharisee’s self-righteousness, nor of the Sadducee penitence for the soldier’s crime. In this respect, at least, John of the desert was a model preacher. Would God, all the ministers of His word were as faithful! (G. D. Boardman.)

Insincere penitents

Fra Rocco, a Dominican, preached a celebrated penitential sermon on one occasion; when all the audience were in terror and fell on their knees, showing every sign of contrition. Then he cried,

“All who are truly penitent, hold up your hands!” Every man in the vast multitude held up his hand. Then he said, “Holy Archangel Michael, thou who standest with adamantine sword at the judgment-seat of God, cut me off every hand which has been held up hypocritically.” Every hand dropped. (E. P. Hood.)

Appropriate preaching

It is related of John Wesley that, preaching to an audience of courtiers and noblemen, he used the “generation of vipers” text, and flung denunciation right and left. “That sermon should have been preached at Newgate,” said a displeased courtier to Wesley on passing out.

“No,” said the fearless apostle; “my text there would have been, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!’”

(Baxendale’s “Anecdotes. ”)

Folly of arguing about instead of escaping from coming wrath

“Many have puzzled themselves,” says John Newton, “ about the origin of evil. I am content to observe that there is evil, and that there is a way of escape from it; and with that I begin and end.” One of the most exquisite mechanisms of torture devised, by the Hohenstaufen family, during the height of their despotic control, was a cell which gradually shrunk in upon itself, the walls day by day contracting, till the prisoner was finally crushed in the pressure of their embrace. For a day or so he would perceive no alteration--at first he would doubt the evidence of his senses; but at last the fearful truth would burst upon him that day after day the dimensions of his cell became smaller, and that in its slow but certain contraction he would, if he remained, be finally destroyed. Suppose that a door opened to him, and a voice said: “Escape for your life--now is the time. To-morrow will be too late.” Is it likely he would sit down and say, “I do not understand the principle of this complex piece of mechanism. I prefer investigating it, and will stay behind for the purpose”? And yet what does the man around whose heart sin is gradually winding itself closer and closer do but this when he rejects Christ’s gospel? Human reason alone tells him that a heart swathed in the bandages of wrath, or pleasure, or passion, can never, until released, be fit for the peace and love of heaven. Experience tells him that the terrible thraldom is every day becoming closer and closer, so that soon he must be crushed in its folds. The gospel tells him, escape for thy life! And why, oh, reader, when thy only thought should be about such escape, wilt thou sit down and speculate upon the causes of thy imprisonment?--causes unto which, when thus confined, thou canst never penetrate. Fly through the open door, and in the omniscience of the next world thou wilt know why sin was permitted for time. Take heed lest, by remaining where thou art, thou findest that for the impenitent sin is the portion for eternity.

Earnestness is needed in warning others

The energy of the manner of the late Rowland Hill and the power of his voice are said to have been at times overwhelming. While once preaching at Wotton-under-Edge, his country residence, he was carried away by the impetuous rush of his feelings, and raising himself to his full stature, be exclaimed, “Beware, I am in earnest; men call me an enthusiast, but I am not: mine are words of truth and soberness. When I first came into this part of the country, I was walking on yonder hill; I saw a gravel-pit fall in, and bury three human beings alive. I lifted up my voice for help, so loud, that I was heard in the town below, a distance of a mile: help came and rescued two of the poor sufferers. No one called me an enthusiast then--and when I see eternal destruction ready to fall upon poor sinners, and about to entomb them irrecoverably in an eternal mass of woe, and call on them to escape by repenting and fleeing to Christ, shall I be called an enthusiast? No, sinner, I am not an enthusiast in so doing.”


Verse 8

Luke 3:8

Fruits worthy of repentance

Fruitfulness

Every living fruit-tree is in some measure fruitful; though some bring forth more fruit, some less, yet all bring forth some.
All living Christians are thriving and bearing fruit; though some are more eminent for growth and proficiency in grace, yet all bring forth “fruits meet for repentance.” The hypocrite, like a dead stake in a hedge, continues at a stay, is without good fruit, nay, grows more rotten every month; but the true saint, like the living tree, the longer he continues rooted in Christ the more abundant he is in the work of the Lord
. (George Swinnock.)

Fruit-bearing the test of life

When we see the effigy or portraiture of any king stand still without motion, exquisitely graven in metal or painted out in lively colours, we know that, for all the eyes and mouth and nose it has, there is no life in it. So, when we see professors of religion without the powerful practice of godliness, and supreme officers of state without the administration of justice, we can safely conclude that the life of God is not in them; that they are not actuated by any Divine principle within, but are mere idols and images of vanity. (C. Leslie.)

Deceptive appearances

Those persons who practise devotion, and who fail to do works of faith and charity, are like trees in blossom. You think there will be as much fruit as flower, but there is a great difference. (Vianney.)

The life must accord with the profession

His religion is in vain whose profession brings not letters testimonial from a holy life. Sacrifice without obedience is sacrilege. (W. Gurnall.)

Thou callest thyself Christian; but we question whether thou hast a right to the title; thy conduct is too contrary to that sacred name, which is too holy to be written on a rotten post. (W. Gurnall.)

Repentance results in change of action

Just as the whole ship turns in obedience to the helm, so the change of mind produces a change of life. Here comes in the well-known story of the storekeeper who could not recollect the sermon; she only knew that after it she went straight home and destroyed all her light weights. A Hindu candidate for Christian baptism was asked what evidence he had to offer of his conversion. “Formerly,” he said, “I was proud, and delighted in evil, but since I heard the words of Jesus, I delight in these things no more.” (Sunday School Times.)

Repentance shows itself

The real thing always shows itself. Whether it is love, or friendship, or generosity, or gratitude, or trust, or repentance, it will evidence its genuineness in something more than profession. There are shams and there are realities in all these spheres, and the differences between them will stand out in the long run. There is a great deal of sorrow over sin and over sinning that is not repentance. The guilty prisoner is sorry that he got caught. The guilty man who has not got caught is sorry that so much of evil and trouble comes of his wrong doing. There is sorrow because of the results of sin, in every sinner’s soul. But that is not repentance, Repentance is the turning away of the soul from sin as sin; it is the turning toward something better than sin. This state of mind will show itself in conduct that gives proof of sincerity. Sinful courses will be abandoned. Reparation will be made. A new course of living will be adopted. In word and in action there will be fruits worthy of the name of true repentance. (H. C. Trumbull.)

Change of mind involves change of practice

The fruits worthy of repentance are the renunciation of formerly indulged sins, and the performance of formerly neglected duties. We, ourselves, would not give credit to a man who said he was sorry for having offended us, but who still went on repeating the same offence: as little need we suppose we are penitents if we persevere in our disobedience to God. Repentance begins, and chiefly consists in a change of mind; but that change must evidence itself, and if it be real it will evidence itself in outward reformation and in an exemplary life. John called on his hearers to let it be seen, by their subsequent conduct, that they were converts indeed. (James Foote, M. A.)

Motives to repentance

Motives to repentance are found in,

1. Divine precepts.

2. Penalty.

3. Promises.

4. The danger of delay.

Time may fail. The Spirit’s aid may be refused (John 3:27). Habits are formed (Jeremiah 13:23). The will is inefficient (John 6:44). The flower of existence spent in sin; blind and lame, a mere wreck brought at last to God. (W. H. Van Doren, D. D.)

Repentance is more than penance-doing

One of Luther’s happiest moments was when, reading in his Greek Testament, he found that repentance meant a change of mind rather than penance-doing. A captain at sea discovers that by some mistake the steersman is steering the ship directly for the rocks. How is the danger to be avoided? By scrubbing the decks or setting the men to the pumps? No I these things are good enough in their own time, but if the ship is to be saved, one thing must be done--her course must be changed. So the captain utters a few quick words, and the ship turns and speeds away from the hanger. John’s preaching was in like manner. A call to men to turn from the dangerous rocks of sin, and to make for the only safe haven. (Sunday School Times.)

Fruits meet for repentance

A coal merchant in one of our American cities was approached by a minister in regard to the salvation of his soul.

The merchant declared it an impossibility for him ever to become a Christian. He gave as a reason his mode of business. For a long term of years, he had, according to a too general custom, given short weight. He had thus grown rich, and now felt the inconsistency of seeking religion without restitution. This was impossible: many of his customers were dead, others beyond his knowledge. The thought of the poor who had paid for coal they never received rested heavily on him. He asked the minister if he thought the substitution of a gift to the poor would be acceptable to God. The minister advised him to try it. A large donation, more than equal in amount of his unjust gains, was accordingly made, and the merchant sought God in earnest. He was happily converted, and is to-day a prominent member of the Church.

Proof of turning from sin

One of two infidel companions was converted to God. He went to tell his sceptical friend, who was surprised, and sneered at him. “Well,” said the Christian, “I have a duty to do to you, and I have scarcely slept two nights for thinking of it. I have got four sheep in my flock that belong to you. They came into my field six years ago, and I marked them with my mark. They are in my field with the increase of them. I have laid awake, groaned over it, and I have come to get rid of it. I will do what you will, go to prison, pay the money, or restore the property.” The infidel began to tremble. “If you have got them sheep you are welcome to them; I don’t want nothing of you, if you will go away; something must have got hold of you I don’t understand I You may keep the sheep if you will only go away.” “No,” said the Christian, “I must settle this up.” He counted out the value of the four sheep, 6 per cent interest, and then put double the amount down. This was turning from sin. (G. Bowden.)

The necessity of penitence

I. PENITENCE IS NECESSARY FOR THE SINNER, in order to be reconciled to God.

1. According to the written Word of God (Luke 13:5; John 3:5).No excuse. No grace in case of negligence.

2. According to the example of all the saints. David. Magdalen. Peter.

3. Reason teaches its necessity.

II. PENITENCE IS NECESSARY TO THE JUST.

1. No one is sure of justification.

2. Every one offends daily in little things, and for every sin satisfaction must be made.

3. After the remission of guilt and eternal punishment, there remains yet temporal punishment to expiate. Call to mind the rigour of the ancient Church, of her penitential canons, etc.

4. Every one is liable to fall, while he lives. “Fruits worthy of repentance” are like a hedge of thorns around the paradise of virtues. (Valke.)

The ministry of John Baptist

1. Moral, not theological, in its aim.

2. Faithful, not temporizing in its appeal.

3. Symbolic, not superstitious, in its ritual.

4. Humble, not haughty in its spirit. (Dr. Thomas.)

A father brought to repentance

It pleased God to visit one of the daughters of a wicked father with mortal sickness; but before her death she was instrumental in exciting the attention of her parent to the concerns of his soul. “Father,” inquired the dying child, can you spell “repentance”? The artless question, through the blessing of God, was effectual to awaken concern. “Spell repentance!” repeated the astonished father; “why, what is repentance?” Thus he became desirous of knowing, and ultimately was taught its sacred meaning; and discovered that he had been a stranger to it, both in theory and experience. He also discovered that he needed repentance; that he was a guilty condemned sinner, deserving God’s wrath and everlasting misery; and repentance unto life was granted to him. He spelled out his Divine import; and obtained an acquaintance with that Saviour whom God has exalted to give repentance and remission of sins; and by bringing forth the fruits of righteousness, he in afterlife supported and adorned his Christian profession.

A call for John the Baptist

John had a word and a sign. The word was--Repent; and the sign was-Baptism. Word and sign were intimatelyrelated. His was the baptism of repentance. The word commanded. The sign accepted. A great moral and religious impulse swept wave-like over the people. The baptism of repentance became the order of the day. But, unfortunately, in the degree that the baptism became a fashion it also became a form. John’s soul was too upright to be blinded by what looked like success. His language, its directness, and the form with which he clothed his ideas, all showed how radical was the thing he aimed at. The axe, winnowing, uprooting, fire-cleansing, were the symbols that naturally expressed his violent and stormy thoughts and intents. What would John the Baptist say, if he were now to come into our churches and pulpits? He would fiercely denounce all shows and shams in religion. He would scathe and scatter with the lightnings of his indignation all moral delusions. He would demand the putting away of all unholiness. He would say, “ Let us have soundness and solidness, sincerity and spiritual mindedness, or nothing at all.” No doubt there would be a sensation. Well-bred people would be scandalized. Prudent men would say, “You must use milder language, sir, or we shall have the church empty.” And the prophet would reply, “Exactly; that is what I have come for. I have come to drive either the sinners or their sins out of the churches.” The great truth to be carried home is, that genuine repentance must always precede the kingdom of God. There is a repentance that is easy and cheap, and is worth as much as it costs or a little less. Repentance is--

The call to repent is a call to action. It means, change your mind about wrong-doing; change your whole course of moral thought, feeling, conduct. It must be personal and spring from a personal source. The kingdom of heaven is at hand, and it is as full of promise as of judgment. (W. Hubbard.)

Repentance

The word is often used for the compunction with which one may reflect on a particular sin. Whether such compunction procures the forgiveness of the sin, seems to me a question which it is rather too bold to ask, but which is quite unimportant to have answered, unless forgiveness of sins were the same thing as forgiveness of sin. They are entirely different, and there is an equal and exactly corresponding difference between repentance in the sense just mentioned, and in that signified by the word which in the New Testament expresses the condition to which forgiveness of sin is attached. The Greek word denotes a change of mind, heart, or disposition, which is equivalent to the cessation of sin as a habit or state. Sins may be repented of without any such annihilation of sin. And without such annihilation I venture to doubt whether God Himself could forgive sin, any more than He could make two contrary propositions identical, or the same thing to be and not to be at the same time. (Bishop Thirlwall.)

The ministry of John

An awful ministry truly! The gospel concludes with benediction but it invariably begins with sword and fire. One of the first things that a true minister has to do is to destroy false hopes. It is thus that John did when he broke in thus rudely upon the traditional hopes of those who heard him. They were living securely in the facts that Abraham was their father, and their reasoning was that if Abraham was their father they themselves were necessarily good, and their moral position was invincible. John takes the roof off this house of refuge, and pours the Divine storm upon their heads. He throws down the walls within which they had enclosed themselves, and sends the floods of Divine judgment along the courses of their foundations. But there is a word of hope even in this storm of vengeance. John declares the possibility of repentance even on the part of a generation of vipers. The Christian teacher ought not to content himself with mere denunciation. Let him be faithful in describing the real character of those who hear him; but when he has done so, let him see that they do not die of despair, for want of the hopeful word of repentance. A severe thing this to say about Abraham was it not? The meaning is that hereditary piety is of no use; that we are not good simply because we have a good ancestry; and that as for mere history, God is able to make it out of the very stones under our feet. (J. Parker, D. D.)

A parable of the fig-trees

What fruits arc meet for repentance? To that question let me reply with a parable. You remember that as our Lord went from Bethany to Jerusalem He saw a fig-tree by the wayside, full of leaves, and came to it that He might eat of its fruit. But when He reached it, He found nothing but leaves on it. The conscious tree withered beneath His rebuke. This story is familiar to you all: but perhaps you did not know that three other fig-trees were growing hard by, near enough to hear what passed between Christ and the fruitless tree, and to mark how it withered beneath His curse. Yet there were such trees, or we shall assume that there were. And being observant and reflective trees they were very much alarmed to see that “the axe was laid to the roots of the trees,” and that “ every tree which brought not forth good fruit would be hewn down and cast into the fire.” They said among themselves: “We, indeed, have some fruits; but, oh, how fowl We will do better next year, lest we should likewise perish.” The seasons passed; the winds blew, the rains fell, the sun shone; and now, at last, “the time of figs” has come round again. We take the road to Bethany, to see how these three trees have kept their purpose of amendment.

1. We approach the first tree; and looking at it attentively, we are surprised and grieved to find that, though it is thick with broad tender leaves, it has but little fruit, and that but poor. We say, “How is this?” And the tree replies, “I waited day after day, month after month, and no prophet passed this way. Why should I trouble myself? I have done more than last year. I have some fruits to show, and many leaves. Why should I not be content? No prophet will ever pass this way again; or if a prophet should come, I have done enough to save myself from his curse.” This tree has not brought forth fruits meet for repentance; for it has done nothing from love, and very little from fear.

2. We advance to the second tree; and on this also we find only a few figs: but they are very large and good. We do not for a moment mistake it for a cumberer of the ground; its few but large fruits show plainly through the leaves. Yet the tree wears an aspect of sadness, and waits with some apprehension to hear what we have to say to it. Noting its aspect of settled grief, we do not ask, “Why are your fruits so few when your purpose was so earnest? “ We say, “Be not sad and discouraged O tree, because you have borne but little fruit; rather be glad that your fruit is so fine and sweet. You will do more and better next year, if you hold fast to your purpose of amendment, and soon your fruit will be as abundant as it is good.” This tree has brought forth fruits meet for repentance; for it has done well, and is sorry that it has not done better.

3. We pass on to the third tree; and on this we find much fruit indeed, but its fruit is exceedingly various in quality; some of the figs are large and sweet, but some are so small and rude that there is little chance of their being brought to perfection. In haste to prevent us from giving it more than its due, it says, “It grieves me that my fruit, which is so abundant, is yet so poor. I have discovered in myself, since I resolved to amend, both a power that I knew not of, and an impotence which I did not suspect. I did not know I could do so much as I have done; but I did think that what I could do, that I should do well. Power is mine; alas, that I should so have wasted it! but, alas, weakness is also mine; and though I can do much, I do it but to little purpose!” This third tree, like the second, has brought forth fruits meet for repentance; for it has done much and would fain have done better: and, therefore, we bid it be of good heart, and leave it with good hope that, as it has already borne much fruit, so, in due time, all its fruit will become perfect.

4. But here some humble soul may cry out, “Alas, sir, I am no fruit-tree! I am but as a thorn or a brier. Have you no word of comfort, or promise for me?” Surely I have. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree,” &c. In the kingdom and garden of Christ strange transformations take place. However wild and barren your nature may be, if you crave comfort and promise, that is, if you honestly desire to amend, there is a power in Christ capable of making you better. You are repenting of the past; and He will show you how, in the future, even you may “ bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” (T. T. Lynch.)

Tests of religious life

I. FALSE TESTS ARE FOUND IN THE POSSESSION OF ADVANTAGES. “We have Abraham,” &c. This may be regarded--

1. As a sentimental advantage: related to the past. Their Church not a thing of yesterday.

2. As an ecclesiastical advantage: they were related to a privileged past.

3. As a moral advantage: they were related to a worthy past--had a noble ancestry.

II. THE TRUE TEST FOUND IN THE MANIFESTATION OF FRUITFULNESS. This--

1. The demand of Scripture. Insisted upon by--

2. The demand of society. In relation to--

III. HOW MAY FRUITFULNESS BE GAINED? Only by union with Christ. “Abide in Me,” &c. (John 15:4-5). (W. Glyde Tarbolton.)

We have Abraham to our father

Pride of ancestry

Pride of ancestry is a common evil, and it was very prevalent among the Jews.

I. LET US ATTEND TO A FEW GENERAL REMARKS ON THE PASSAGE,

1. It must be admitted that it was once a privilege to have Abraham for a father. It was in consequence of the Israelites being the children of Abraham, that unto them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. It was, therefore, one of the first honours, to belong to the family of Abraham (Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalms 105:42; Romans 9:4).

2. It was no unusual thing for the Jews, in their most degenerate state, to boast of their descent from this eminent patriarch.

3. To be descended from pious parents is still a privilege, which we should carefully improve. A heathen philosopher blessed God that he was born at Athens; and have we not greater reason to bless Him that we were born in a Christian country, and descended from godly ancestors. David mentions the piety of his mother as a motive for devoting himself to the service of God, and as a reason of his having obtained mercy. “Oh, Lord,” says he, “truly I am Thy servant; I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid; Thou hast loosed my bonds.” And in giving a solemn charge to his son, he uses similar language, “Thou Solomon, my son, know thou the God of thy father” (2 Timothy 1:5; Psalms 116:16).

4. Though it is an honour to be descended from pious ancestors, yet we are warned against trusting in it as a substitute for personal religion. “Think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father”; for so had Ishmael and Esau; and yet they were none the better for it. Do not imagine that this will be any excuse for sin, or a sufficient plea for mercy.

II. Consider THE REASONS THAT SHOULD CAUTION US AGAINST PLACING ANY DEPENDENCE ON NATURAL DESCENT, as giving us a title to eternal life, or rendering us more secure from the wrath to come.

1. The children of pious parents are defiled with original sin as well as others, and therefore have the same propensities to evil. Corruption runs in the blood, though grace does not. Though the Jews themselves were circumcised, their children were horn in uncircumcision; and were by nature children of wrath, even as others (Psalms 51:5; Ephesians 2:2-3).

2. In too many instances, the children of religious parents, like the prodigal son, have grown weary of restraint, and indulged in those criminal excesses which are common to the most abandoned characters. What were the sons of Eli, and the sons of Aaron; their conduct, and their end! Guilty of intemperance, impurity, and profaneness, they died under the visible marks of Divine displeasure. That excellent prince Josiah had four sons, and they all proved wicked. Benjamin was so called, to denote that he was the son of his father’s right hand; and yet most of the left-handed men we read of in Scripture were Benjamites, as if it were intended to show that the course of events and the formation of character are oftentimes the reverse of what we had reason to expect.

3. It is still more painful to observe, that some of the best of men have had the very worst of children, who have been a grief and a dishonour to their parents. The sweetest wine makes the sharpest vinegar, and the most promising children sometimes turn out the worst of characters. Nabal the churl was of the posterity of the noble and disinterested Caleb. Absalom who murdered Amnon, and Amnon who defiled his sister, were the sons of David, the man after God’s own heart.

4. Our being the children of pious parents merely can no more effect our salvation, than our being the children of wicked parents can effect our destruction; personal character being that alone by which our future state will be determined.

5. The futility of every plea arising from our connection with pious ancestors is also evinced in what is alleged by the sacred writer, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. He who gave Abraham a son when he was past age, and afterwards raised him up in a figure from the altar, can be at no loss to give him a spiritual seed as numerous as the stars of heaven. (B. Beddome, M. A.)

Regeneration

I. Now with regard to these stones. I shall pass Joshua by with his stones, and the heathen soldiers also, and give you a Scriptural proof that ruined sinners with stony hearts are the persons really meant--sinners that are like stones--and I will give you a passage of Scripture that confirms this statement without the possibility of contradiction, because it is God’s own. If you turn to the seventh chapter of the Prophet Zechariah you will find what God says about them, “They refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder and stopped their ears that they should not hear, yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone.” Why, they are as incapable of feeling as stones--they are as helpless as stones. But mark a little further, for I want you to have a right and an humbling view of the Fall, he is worse than a stone; find a stone where you will, it has got no enmity in it. I grant it is hard and helpless, and immoveable, but it has got no enmity in it. Now, my Bible tells me expressly that, “the carnal mind is enmity against God.”

II. But I am very anxious, having said thus much in as concise terms as I could, to lead on your attention to the almighty grace put forth, “God is able.” How does He manage to raise up children? Does He do as a mason would, hew out the stones and carve them, and shape them, and cut them? That is the way men make Christians. I know they get hold of these rough stones, and they say they are very rude and very ignorant, perhaps very licentious, perhaps very immoral, perhaps very unjust and dishonest, very ugly rough forbidding stones, such as one hardly likes to have in one’s sight; but forth comes one of these skilful masons, and cuts them, and carves them, and polishes them very nicely with the tools of education and superstition. Take your stone, and carve it as handsomely as you can, and work it into a statue as tall as any of you, and give the handsomest features that any of you possess, and throw the most graceful robes around it that can be worn, and paint it what colour you please, it is a stone after all--and that is a striking emblem of thousands who pass for Christians. But when God works, He puts the Spirit of life from God into a poor sinner’s heart; it is another and a new principle; a holy life that cannot sin. And observe here, that He invariably exercises His own absolute sovereignty. But just mark further. This new life which God Himself imparts and bestows, this quickening by the power of the Holy Ghost according to the sovereignty of His own will, is nourished and trained up by Him. I should like to detain you a moment longer here to mark, that when Jehovah thus exercises His absolute sovereignty, and quickens sinners to newness of life, He excludes all vain boasting, all creature pretensions.

III. Now let us, for a moment or two, glance at the nature thus bestowed. Peradventure you will say, “You have surely taken up this all along.” Well, I must say a little more about it. And, first of all, it is relative, and claims relationship with Abraham--“children unto Abraham.” Well, why not unto some Gentile parent? Why not relationship to some among the heathens that surrounded John while he was thus speaking? Why, beloved, if you will consult the statement of the Holy Ghost by the apostle, you will find what is really descriptive of all the children of Abraham, whether Jews or Gentiles. “So then,” he says, after a lengthened argument, “they that are of faith are the children of faithful Abraham.” Now this is the relationship that is bestowed upon them. Come a little closer into apprehension of it. Abraham’s faith “talked with God as a man talketh with his friend”; more than that,--Abraham’s faith pleaded with God, and even proposed terms and conditions for the saving of Sodom, because his brother Lot was there. Abraham’s faith was such as constituted him “the father of the faithful”; consequently, the sons must be something like him--they must be partakers of like precious faith.” (J. Irons.)

False reasoning

The Pharisees taught that no child of Abraham could perish. His name was thus used as a shield to turn aside the arrows of truth. But we must remember that ties of blood, ancestral piety, or rites of the Church, cannot save. Abraham’s blood, without Abraham’s faith, will avail only to condemn. The Church of saints and martyrs can give the unrenewed no passport to heaven. Paul in the pulpit would perish, if Paul were not in Christ. It is a terribly perilous doctrine among the Romanists, that a wicked “ Catholic” (so-called) is more certain of reaching heaven than the best Protestant who ever lived. (Various.)

False reliance

It was not that the Jews were to disown their descent from Abraham, but that they were not to rely on that descent as their means of salvation. There is a great deal of this looking to one’s stock or to one’s surroundings as a hope of heaven. One thinks that his mother’s prayers will save him. Another, that his Church-membership is a fair ground of confidence. Another, that his being included in a good congregation will sweep him over danger. Every expectation of this sort is even more foolish than the confidence of the Jews in their earthly parentage. Begin not to say anything of the kind in your heart as a source of hope; and if you have begun to say it, quit it forthwith, and find something to rest in that will stand the test to which your faith must finally be subjected. (H. C. Trubull.)


Verse 9

Luke 3:9

The axe is laid unto the root of the trees

Radical and seminal reform

It seems to me a total mistake to apply the words of the Baptist, “And now also the axe,” &c.
, to any work ordained for man. When the appointed time comes, God does indeed show forth His justice by sweeping away that which is utterly corrupt. Yet even the Son of God, in His human manifestation, came not to destroy, but to save. Assuredly this is the only part of His office which we are called to discharge. As His ministers, we are to be ministers of salvation, not of destruction. The evil in ourselves, indeed, we are to pluck up, branch and root; but in our dealings with others, unless we have a special office committed to us by the laws of family or national life, our task will mainly be to contend against evil by sowing the seeds of good, not by radical reforms, but by seminal. The satirist, the rhetorician, the moralist, will indeed try the former, and will therefore fail. The Christian has a higher power entrusted to him, the power of God’s goodness and mercy, the gospel of redemption and salvation; not the woes of the Trojan prophetess, who could gain no credence, but the glad tidings of the kingdom of heaven. And if he relies on this power, he will succeed where others must needs fail
. (A. W. Hare, in “Guesses at Truth. ”)

The axe lying at the root

We may learn from it, in the first place--

I. THE KIND OF FRUIT WHICH GOD REQUIRES FROM US. In our text it is called “good fruit”; and, in the eighth verse, “fruits meet for repentance.” With what propriety, my brethren, are fruits like these denominated “good.” They are the result of a good principle, even of that “godly sorrow” which worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; they proceed from a good source, for they are the fruits which the Holy Spirit Himself produces in the heart and life which He controls; and they accord with the Divine revelation and with the Divine will, “for He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”

II. THE MEANS WHICH GOD EMPLOYS TO RENDER US PRODUCTIVE OF THIS KIND OF FRUIT, AND WHICH SHOW HOW REASONABLE IT IS THAT HE SHOULD EXPECT IT FROM US. In the first place, God has endowed you with a capacity to produce this kind of fruit. A stone is not capable of producing the fruits of a tree, because it is destitute of vegetable life. A tree is not capable of producing the fruits of instinct and sagacity, because it is destitute of animal life. And the beasts of the field are not capable of producing the fruits of reason and of conscience, because they are destitute of intellectual and moral life. Nor are such fruits required from them. God never requires from His creatures any actions which they are naturally incapable of performing. “But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty hath given him understanding.” He has endowed us with reason and with affections. You retain the ability, but you have lost the disposition, to exercise the mind aright. You may destroy the eye by which you behold the surrounding universe; you may destroy the link that binds your spirit to your mortal flesh: but your responsibility to God, and your immortality of existence, you cannot destroy, you cannot touch. Secondly: In order to enable you to bring forth this good fruit, God has supplied you with the gospel of His Son. The gospel contains also the motives to fruitfulness; and these motives are the most powerful that can be presented to the mind. And the gospel contains also the promise of that Divine influence by which fruitfulness is infallibly secured! for “He giveth His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.” Thirdly: God has visited you with various dispensations of providence, and with various convictions of conscience, all of which have been intended to direct your attention to the gospel, that thereby you might bring forth fruits meet for repentance.

III. THE CONTINUED UNFRUITFULNESS OF SOME PERSONS, NOTWITHSTANDING ALL THE MEANS WHICH THE GOD OF MERCY HAS EMPLOYED.

1. Some of these unfruitful persons are sensual and profane. Their bodies and their souls are given to sin.

2. Some of these unfruitful persons are intellectual, and moral, and amiable.

3. Some of these unfruitful persons are professors of the gospel. They are branches in the vine, but they bear no fruit.

IV. THE AXE WINCH IS LYING AT THE ROOT OF SUCH UNFRUITFUL PERSONS. “And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees.” This “axe” may therefore be considered as emblematical of death, at which period the character and condition of the fruitless, as well as of others, will be decided and fixed for ever.

1. The axe which is lying at your root reminds you of the patience and long-suffering of God. If you had had a servant in your family who had cared as little for you as you have cared for God, would you have continued him in your house as long as God has continued you? No, my brethren, you would not. You would have cut down the tree, and you would have dismissed the servant.

2. The axe which is lying at your root reminds you of the critical circumstances in which you are placed. Remember that, though you have not yet been hewn down, the axe is actually lying at your root. The axe has not to be prepared; it has been prepared, and sharpened. The axe has not to be brought to you from a distance; it has been brought, and is now lying at your root.

3. The axe which is lying at your root has sometimes admonished you of its being there. You have seen others fall under its influence; but have you never felt it yourself? Has the cold iron never sent its chilling influence through your frame?

V. THE AWFUL CONDITION TO WHICH SUCH UNFRUITFUL PERSONS ARE DOOMED. “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” The nature of this condition is indescribably terrible. There is an awful peculiarity even in the death of a fruitless sinner. “He is hewn down.” And the language intimates at once his own unwillingness to die, and the determined and penal manner in which his death is inflicted. The certainty that this condition will be incurred by the finally impenitent is another sentiment which our text conveys--a certainty so sure and perfect, that the event is spoken of as having actually taken place. “He is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” If you die unfruitful, your destruction is as certain as your death. (J. Alexander, D. D.)

Little value set on trees in the East

The remarkably broad statement implied in this bold figure of speech must strike a European as somewhat extraordinary; and yet there is more of literal truth in it than one would at first thought be disposed to imagine. The fact is, in Western Asia trees, as trees, are but little valued. The fruit-trees are preserved and nourished with great care; but nearly all other trees are cut down for fuel, mineral fuel being exceedingly scarce. An exception is made in favour of poplars. These are permitted to grow to their full height for the sake of the long beams they supply. (Biblical Things, &c.)

The destructive axe

This is judgment--destruction. The axe is not for planting, or pruning, or dressing, or propping, or protecting, but for cutting down. The axe against Israel was the Roman host, and many such axes has God wielded, age after age. Every judgment is an axe: pestilence is God’s axe; famine God’s axe; adversity God’s axe. There is a great difference between the axe and the pruning-knife. Yet some of God’s judgments are both in one--an axe to the ungodly, a pruning-knife to the saint. It is God’s axe, not man’s; its edge is sharp; it is heavy; it will do its work well. (H. Bonar, D. D.)

The axe laid to the root of the tree

I. THE ROOT. That which bears up the branches, and on which the trees and branches stand and grow.

1. The root, then, was the covenant God made with Abraham and his natural seed or offspring, which covenant did, in a mystical sense, as clearly bear up the national church of Israel and all the trees (i.e., members or branches thereof)
as common natural root doth the tree or trees growing out of it.

2. By the root may also be intended the foundation of all the Jews’ hopes, confidence, and outward privileges.

3. By root, in a more remote sense, may be meant the state and standing of every ungodly, unbelieving, and impenitent person.

II. THE TREES. Men and women, but chiefly the seed of the stock of Abraham, according to the flesh, of whom the national church of the Jews was made up, and did consist; as also, all wicked and unbelieving persons whatsoever, who embrace not the offers of grace in the gospel, or believe not in Jesus Christ.

III. THE AXE.

1. The dispensation of God’s providence, or time. Time is pictured with a scythe, but then man is compared to grass; but it may be pictured with an axe, since men are compared to trees; a scythe is no fit instrument to cut down trees.

2. The axe also may refer to the gospel: the Word of God is an axe to hew and square some persons for God’s spiritual building, and to cut down others also, as trees that are rotten, and bear no good fruit; “Therefore,” saith the Lord, “I have hewn them by the prophets”; and what follows, mark it, “I have slain them by the words of My mouth” (Hosea 6:5).

3. The axe may refer to men, whom God makes use of, as instruments in His hand, to cut down and destroy a wicked and God-provoking people; hence wicked rulers and kings, whom God raises up, as instruments in His hand, to chastise and cut clown a rebellious people, are called “His sword, and the rod of His wrath and indignation” (Psalms 17:14).

4. By the axe may in general be meant God’s wrath; however it is, or may be executed, or upon whom, wrath will sooner or later cut down all the ungodly, both false Churches and tyrannical powers of the earth, and all who continue in unbelief and in rebellion against God. The laying the axe to the root discovers the final fall and ruin of sinners, whether considered as a Church or as particular persons; dig up or cut down the root, and down falls the body and all the branches of the tree. Or are you self-righteous persons? Do you build on your own righteousness, like the Jews and hypocritical Pharisees? If so, the axe will cut you down also. You must bring forth good fruit, every soul of you, or perish; and this you cannot do till your hearts are changed, and so you become good trees. Make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good; “an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit,” &c. All works of regenerate persons--yea, their religious duties--are but dead works, not good fruits; nor can they bring forth good fruits unless they are planted by faith into Jesus Christ. Nay, I must tell you that gospel-holiness will not save us; it must be the righteousness of God by faith. (Benjamin Keach.)

The discovery of hypocrisy

1. It cutteth the Sabbath-breaker to hear his profaneness still cried out upon; it cutteth the adulterer to hear his viciousness continually found fault with; it cutteth the drunkard to hear his excess so often threatened; it cutteth the rioter and voluptuous liver, that his course should ever and anon be so eagerly reproved. And so, in the other particulars, it doth even enrage men’s hearts that the Word of God cloth so meet with them, as it were, at every turn; and it causeth many to come to hear it no more than they needs must, because, though they set a face upon it, and would make themselves and others believe that it is not so; yet this same sharp axe of the Word, when the edge thereof is turned towards them, doth strike some wound or other into them almost at every sermon. So that as Scripture hath avouched it, so common use will not suffer it to be untrue, that the ministry of the Word is a sharp axe, which hath a biting edge, and cutteth and pierceth where it goeth. The use of it, in a word, is to justify and to maintain to the faces of all gainsayers that that very Word which they hear daily, and which they would fain make themselves and others believe is but an idle word, is indeed and in truth the very Word of God.

2. Another thing in the axe is, that as it cuts, so it frameth and fashioneth the hearers to a place in the spiritual building in God’s Church. And as a crooked and knobby tree must first be hewn and squared, and cut again and again, before it can sort with the rest of the building, so must we also be even cast, as it were, in a new mould, and transformed into a new shape, before we can have a place in God’s spiritual house. There is a great deal of crookedness and corruption must be pared from us; we must pass under the workman’s tool before we can be an habitation of God by His Spirit. Now, the means to frame us to become fit for the Lord’s building is the public ministry of His Word. By it the Lord cloth lop off the superfluity of our corruption; thereby He doth smooth us and make us plain and compact, and join us in, as it were, by certain mortices and joints with the rest of that holy frame, that being once fast coupled unto it, He may preserve us ever unto Himself. Therefore we find in Scripture that as the Church of God was never destitute of this workmanship, so likewise those whom His pleasure was to bring into the society of His chosen--they were framed thereby, and first felt the power and edge of the Word before they were linked together with God’s people.

3. It followeth, an axe put to the root of the trees; that is (as I have expounded it), urged and applied to men’s consciences, laid and pressed to the hearts of the hearers, For look what the root is unto the rest of the tree; the same is the heart to the whole man. Nathan the prophet laid the axe to the root when he told David, “Thou art the man.” So did Elias, when he said to Ahab, “It is thou and thy father’s house that have troubled Israel.” So did Amos, when he preached at Bethel, the king’s own chapel, the destruction of the king’s own house. So did Hanani, when he said plainly to the king that he had done foolishly not to rest upon the Lord. So did Zachariah, when he told Joash he should not prosper if he forsook the Lord. So did John the Baptist, when he spake directly to the Pharisees, and called them a viperous generation, and when he told Herod to his face he might not have his brother’s wife. So did Christ, when He preached woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, “Woe to Chorazin and Bethsaida.” So did Peter, when he told the Jews, “You, I say, have crucified and slain the Lord of life.” So did Paul, when he called them “foolish Galatians.” It is to no purpose, as it were, to stand hacking at the branches, and to strike here and there upon the outward rind; but a man must go to the root, and knock at the door of every man’s conscience, that every soul may tremble, and men at the least may be convinced against the day of reckoning. “If thou doest not well,” saith God unto Cain, “sin lieth at the door.” Sin is like a cruel beast, which lieth sleeping at the door of every man’s heart. It must be awaked and stirred up, that men may see their danger. (S. Hieron.)

Unfruitful trees cut down.

“The axe is laid unto the root of the trees” in the East with a significance which we can hardly understand in the West. It is not merely because the tree cumbers the ground in a physical sense; to even shade-trees-trees of any sort--are greatly to be desired throughout the Holy Land. But the fruit-trees are all taxed; and if unfruitful, they are a heavy incumbrance. If a tree bears no fruit, it brings its proprietor in debt, and that to the most merciless of creditors, a tax-farmer. Some four years ago, when the taxes were heavy and the olive product light, multitudes of olive-trees were cut down on the spurs of Lebanon. It was cutting off the owners’ means of support in the future; but that was still in the future, and uncertain. In the immediate present, all that the proprietor could see was cruelty, oppression, and taxes. Future starvation was not a heavier burden than present hunger, with debt as a load above it. It is probable that this is just the same sort of cumbering the ground which was the troublesome one in old times. Space could be spared in the ground for a tree whose only use was ornament; wild trees are still allowed for that purpose; but a fruit-tree which bore a tax is quite a different matter, and probably was so then. The fruit-trees paid a religious tithe; and the secular government could scarcely have been less exacting. The tax on fruit-trees, too, is a heavy one. Read any recent work on the political condition of Egypt, and see how much every palm must pay. Travellers are often surprised at the extra charges which they have to pay--more than the natives--for the use of a horse or a boat; but they forget that the Government is on the look-out for those who own the boat or the horse, and is apt to get the lion’s share of all such seeming extortions. (Professor Isaac H. Hall.)

Sternness necessary

When we lay the axe to the root of the tree--when we hew off men’s very members, when we snatch them like brands out of the fire, when we make them to see their own faces in the law of liberty, the face of a guilty, and therefore cursed, conscience--there will be need of much boldness. A surgeon who is to search an inveterate wound, and to cut off a putrified member, had not need to be faint-hearted, or bring a trembling hand to so great a work. (Bishop Reynolds.)


Verses 10-14

Luke 3:10-14

What shall we do then?

Common sense applied to everyday duties

I. JOHN DISCRIMINATES BETWEEN THE EASE-HARDENED, SELFISH, AND SCARCELY REACHABLE PHARISEES AND HIGH-PLACED REPRESENTATIVES OF OFFICIAL JUDAISM, AND “THE MULTITUDES” (Matthew 3:7).

II. HE RISES ABOVE THE PREJUDICES AND ANTIPATHIES OF THE PUBLIC OPINION OF HIS COUNTRYMEN IN A REMARKABLE WAY. Publicans. Soldiers.

III. HE IS EMINENTLY REASONABLE IN HIS REQUIREMENTS. Whilst he counsels the owner of “two coats” to show the reality of his avowed “change of character” and new-born life, of which repentance is the sign, he still leaves him “one”; and the man having food he would not have starve whilst he relieves, or that he may relieve the starving, but share only. There was no communism, no sinking of the individual in the mass, or rights of property in the properties of right. Simply a proof of unselfishness, of caring for others, is set before the first inquirers. He puts his finger unerringly on the besetting sin. When I was in Palestine and Syria, and Asia Minor, and the dominions of Turkey generally, I felt that if to-day a John the Baptist were to have the old question asked him by the pashas and other tax-farmers, his answer would go to the root of the evils that are bleeding to death the entire dominions of the sultan. One gets a glimpse herein of how far-reaching really, though local and personal seemingly, was the Baptist’s answer and counsel, “Extort no more,” etc. I can well conceive that some of those who had asked, “What shall we do?” must have winced under the plain-spoken answer. The answer must have darted like a lightning bolt across the inquirers’ lives, at once illumining specific acts, and by the immediate encompassing darkness and silence, as John passed to his next group of inquirers, shutting them up to self-examination and self-abasement. The same observation applies to the counsel addressed to the soldiers. They, too, had a “besetting sin.” The teacher warns them that he knows all about them, and their violent, outrageous, evil ways, when set free from discipline, and on semi-marauding expeditions. And so he sends home to their consciences the brave and needed counsel, “Do violence,” dec. The last thing demanded all John’s high-hearted courage and fidelity to the truth, to put it so unqualifiedly. Here again, in all probability, if not certainty, he spoke to men’s “businesses and bosoms.” There were secret or more audible complaints, murmurs, accusations. John has heard these, has inquired into them, has come to a conclusion on the matter: and so they get it articulately, and without touch of currying favour: “Your wages are sufficient--you are well paid for all that you do--be content.” Your mere enthusiast, your mystic, your man preoccupied about his functions and dignities, never would have been thus solid-sensed, thus practical, thus reasonable.

IV. HE IS CONVINCING IN HIS COUNSELS. AS with our Lord (generally) “the people,” and “the publicans,” and “the soldiers,” gave assent and consent by silence. To us, on the first blush of it, John’s advice has the look of a come-down from the molten warnings and accusations that immediately preceded, and out of which the inquiries were born. But their silence showed that to them the counsels were adequate, not trivial; wen to the root of their necessities. They recognized--and we shall do well to follow in their steps--that Christian life is not made up of so-called great things, or evidenced by ecstasies, and high and higher emotion, but is constituted of habitual putting into our “walk and conversation,” in DEEDS which we profess to know and believe. The most evangelical preacher and teacher may fearlessly answer, as John the Baptist did, every-day and ordinary inquirers, with no fear of not thereby “preaching” or “teaching” the gospel. For it was of these very exhortations that it is written, “With many other exhortations, therefore, preached he good tidings unto the people.” These answers enshrine living principles for all time. To-day, with so much giving out of what we can spare and never feel it, when the very thing is to feel it, we need to be recalled to the first answer, to the gospel fact that our generosity must be after this type, of taking the coat off our back (if need be) to let our brother-man have “one,” as we still have; and that we are to feed others, not with food different from our own, by paltry gradation of inferior, inferiorer, inferiorest, and a mocking thought, “It’s quite good enough for the like of them,” but with our very own food. It would again overturn tables, ay, in God’s own house, and all through the commercial world and the learned professions, if John’s second answer were but vitalized by present-day acceptance and influence, “Extort no more,” &c. In different ways and degrees extortion--taking advantage of opportunity and circumstance--is a still wide-reaching sin. You that call yourselves Christians, and haste to be rich, beware! Then, in conclusion, how burning and high-hearted was the third answer--to the soldiers. As Dr. Reynolds put it: “There is room to suppose that the answer previously given to the publicans might be regarded by the soldiers as some kind of justification for their own high-handed acts. John tore off the cloak which their professional position was drawing over their selfishness, and he bade them terrorize no one, and bring no vamped-up worthless accusation. The professional soldier of modern times might be offended by such plain speaking. Armed authority is always open to the temptation of working on the emotion of physical fear.” (Dr. A. B. Grosart.)

The questions of conscience and the answers of truth

The voice crying in the wilderness had awakened an answering echo in the breasts of the multitudes. The axe which God was already laying at the root of the tree was the Roman Conqueror of the land, and the tree fell when, with great slaughter, Jerusalem was taken, and of her goodly temple not one stone was left upon another. Well might the people tremble as their consciences, quickened from their long lethargy by the stern and powerful preaching of this Elijah of later days, awoke to the sense of their moral and spiritual degradation. For the moment, as often before in their history, this greatly-sinning, though highly-favoured people seemed ready to repent. They listened to John’s burning words, and cried out to him, “What shall we do then?” It was the right question to ask, if only they had been possessed of the abiding spiritual conviction and the strength of purpose which would have enabled them to turn John’s answers to good account. It was the question of Saul of Tarsus, of the Philippian jailor, of the multitude on the day of Pentecost. And it is the question which every awakened soul must ask, cannot help asking. Three classes came to John with this question. The answers which he returned to them were one and all directed against the vices and temptations peculiar to his questioners as respective classes. Doubtless from our Christian standpoint there is something defective in these utterances. To fulfil all these behests would not, it will be said, make any man a Christian. But it must be remembered that John himself was not a Christian. Great though he was, the least in the kingdom of heaven was greater than he. He was a preacher of righteousness. Upon him, last among men, the mantle of the old prophets had fallen. And his words are the echoes of those which had been spoken so long before: “Is not this the fast that I have chosen,” &c. (Isaiah 58:6-7). John’s preaching of repentance was intended to pave the way for the Christian doctrine of the righteousness which comes by faith. And when at length Christianity did come and preach to men, it had something more to say than either John or any of his predecessors, but not one word of that Old Testament inculcation did it unsay, for it had not come to destroy, but to fulfil. John’s words were true, though they were not the whole truth. And the world has not yet grown so wise, or generous, or honest, as to have risen above the need for such moral teaching as this. The answers of John to these conscience-stricken inquirers contain underlying principles suitable to men of all callings, and in all ages, who desire to lead sober, righteous, and godly lives.

I. THE PURSUIT OF ONE’S SECULAR CALLING AND DAILY OCCUPATION IS NOT INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE DESIRE TO LEAD A RELIGIOUS LIFE. John does not say to these questioners, “Quit your callings for others in which you will be less exposed to difficulty and danger”; but “Do the right thing in the situation in which you find yourselves.” Even as Paul wrote to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 7:24), “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” While there are some perhaps among the many employments which obtain amongst men, in which no Christian man can consistently engage, for most of us, and for ordinary circumstances, the advice is good and sound, “ Do not quit your occupation or grow restless and uneasy in it, as if you could not serve God honestly in it as in another. But see to it that you serve God in it, and that meanest duties are done from highest motives.”

II. OUR RELIGION OUGHT TO ENTER INTO AND FIND ONE OF ITS GREAT SPHERES OF ACTION IN OUR DAILY LIFE AND BUSINESS. If business is not incompatible with religion, it is only because it is possible for us, and demanded of us, that we infuse the spirit of religion into our businesses. The difference between our Sundays and our week-days to be done away, or at all events lessened, not by degrading Sunday to the level of other days, but by elevating them to its level, in regard to the spirit we breathe, and the principles that govern us, and the consciousness of God’s presence with us.

III. WE MUST BRING THE SPIRITUAL STRENGTH WHICH GOD GIVES US TO BEAR CHIEFLY AGAINST THE TEMPTATIONS TO WHICH WE ARE PECULIARLY EXPOSED. Some of our temptations arise out of our own evil hearts. Others are incidental to existence in a world like this. Against these general onslaughts we have all in common to strive. But there are temptations peculiar to us as individuals, or as members of a certain class--arising from the circumstances in which we are placed, and the positions we hold. It was so with the publicans and soldiers who came to John, and his advice to them was, “Oppose yourselves with all your might to the besetments which assail you in your respective callings.” And what is true of the peculiar dangers arising from position and circumstance is true also of those which have their origin in personal disposition and temperament. Let us all strive so to live that men shall not be able to point to glaring inconsistencies in our lives--that they may see that our religion is no mere profession, but a living power, which has all our life and thought and conduct under its sway, which can sanctify the trivial round and common task, and transmute the base metal of our ordinary acts and occasions and duties into the gold of the cheerful obedience of loving hearts and consecrated lives. (J. R. Bailey.)

Preaching producing discomfort

I remember one of my parishioners at Halesworth telling me that he thought “a person should not go to church to be made uncomfortable.” I replied that I thought so too; but whether it should be the sermon or the man’s life that should be altered so as to avoid the discomfort, must depend on whether the doctrine was right or wrong. (Archbishop Whately.)

The proof of effectual preaching

Do you not know that a man may be preached to liturgically and doctrinally, and never be touched by the truth, or understand that to which he listens? Suppose I were to preach to you in Hebrew, how much would you understand? Now, when I preach so that a banker, who has all along been sitting under the doctrinal preaching, but has never felt its application to his particular business, feels the next day, when counting his coin, a twinge of conscience, and says, “I wish I could either practise that sermon or forget it,” I have preached the gospel to him in such a way that he has understood it. I have applied it to the sphere of life in which he lives. When the gospel is preached so that a man feels that it is applied to his own life, he has it translated to him. And it needs to be translated to merchants and lawyers, and mechanics, and every other class in society, in order that all may receive their portion in due season. (H. W.Beecher.)

Powerful preaching

When Massillon preached at Versailles, Louis

XIV. paid the following most expressive tribute to the power of hiseloquence. “Father, when I hear others preach, I am very well pleased with them; when I hear you, I am dissatisfied with myself.” The first time he preached his sermon on the small number of the elect, the whole audience were, at a certain part of it, seized with such violent emotion, that almost every person half rose from his seat, as if to shake off the horror of being one of the cast-out into everlasting darkness. (Percy.)

Effect of true preaching

It was a beautiful criticism made by Longinus, upon the effect of the speaking of Cicero and Demosthenes. He says the people would go from one of Cicero’s orations, exclaiming, “What a beautiful speaker! What a rich fine voice! What an eloquent man Cicero is!” They talked of Cicero; but when they left Demosthenes, they said, “Let us fight Philip!” Losing sight of the speaker, they were all absorbed in the subject; they thought not of Demosthenes, but of their country. So, my brethren, let us endeavour to send away from our ministrations the Christian, with his month full of the praise--not of “our preacher,” but of God; and the sinner, not descanting upon the beautiful figures and well-turned periods of the discourse, but inquiring, with the brokenness of a penitent, “What shall I do to be saved?”

Giving to the needy

A man doesn’t need to be rich before he shows whether he is generous or not. Nor is a man’s generosity to be limited to one-tenth of his income. Dividing one’s scantiest store with others is a duty, quite as clearly as giving out of one’s abundance. A great many wish that they were rich, in order that they might be generous; but unless one gives freely while he has little, he could not give freely if he had much. Generosity often diminishes with one’s growing wealth; it never, never, never increases with one’s worldly accumulations. And mark you, the giving which tells in God’s ears is giving to the destitute; not giving to friends and relatives who already have something. Most of the holiday giving, and the birthday giving, and the free-hearted and open-handed giving, in this world, is to those who are already well-to-do in life. That is all very well in its way--as a means of pure personal enjoyment; but it is not charity, not any sign of a love toward God. If you would show that you are God’s children, and would do your duty as in God’s sight, let him that hath two coats give to him that hath none, and let him that hath meat do likewise. (H. C. Trumbull.)

Two coats

The Jews of the first century always wore the tunic and mantle or robe. These were the two indispensable garments. As a rule the Jew had at least two complete suits in his possession that he might be able to change often. A man must be very poor to have only one cloak; and yet this is what Christ enjoined on His disciples. According to Luke’s Gospel He said one day: “If any man would go to law with thee and take away thy cloak, let him have thy coat also.” This precept can be understood; a robber would naturally lay hold first of the outer garment. But Matthew puts it the other way: “If any man will take thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” Under this form it is harder to understand, and we may well suppose that in transcribing the copyists have misplaced the two words coat and cloak. (E. Stapler, D. D.)

A self-denying gift

People wondered why George Briggs, Governor of Massachusetts, wore a cravat but no collar. “Oh,” they said, “it is an absurd eccentricity,” and they said, “he does that just to show himself off.” Ah! no. That was not the character of George Briggs, Governor of Massachusetts, as I might intimate by a little incident which occurred at Pittsfield, Mass., just after a meeting of the American Board of Foreign Missions. My brother was walking on one side of the Governor, and on the other side of the Governor was a missionary who had just returned from India. The day was cold, and the Governor looked at the missionary and said, “Why, my friend, you don’t seem to have an overcoat.” “No,” said the missionary, “I haven’t been able to purchase an overcoat since I came to the country.” Then the Governor took off his great cloak and threw it around the missionary and said, “I can stand this climate better than you can.” Governor Briggs did not do anything just to show off. This was the history of the cravat without any collar. For many years before he had been talking with an inebriate, trying to persuade him to give up the habit of drinking, and he said to the inebriate, “Your habit is entirely unnecessary.” “Ah!” replied the inebriate, “we do a great many things that are not necessary. It isn’t necessary that you should have that collar.” “Well,” said Briggs, “I will never wear a collar again if you will stop drinking.” “Agreed,” said the other. They joined hands in a pledge that they kept for twenty years, kept until death. That is magnificent. That is gospel, practical gospel, worthy of George Briggs, worthy of you. Self-denial for others. Subtraction from our advantage that there may be an addition to somebody else’s advantage. (Dr. Talmage.)

Duty of helping the poor

When a Christian lady once came to Carlyle and asked what she should do to make her life more useful, he replied,” Seek out some poor friendless lassie and be kind to her.”

The blessedness of giving

One of the best things said by the late George Peabody is this, spoken at a reunion at his native town:--“It is sometimes hard for one who has devoted the best part of his life to the accumulation of money to spend it for others; but practise it, and keep on practising it, and I assure you it becomes a pleasure.”

The pulpit in politics

“What shall we do?” each asks in turn. Observe the Baptist’s method in reply. He was able to answer that question because he had a firm hold of a few fundamental principles--righteousness, equity, love. That was his charm, his power, his resource. He was not political, but he dealt with politicians; nor military, but he dealt with soldiers; nor mercantile, but he dealt with finance; hence we may learn, by the way, the relation of the pulpit to politics. Unless the preacher can raise politics out of the sphere of party spirit, let him keep silence; but when a Government policy infringes on the moral plane, when and where it can be tested by common principles of righteousness, equity, and love, then its policy is as much the preacher’s sphere of comment as murder, theft, or selfishness. If any Government, e.g., is culpably indifferent for years to the state of Ireland, and can only be roused to activity by Parnellism: when I observe that the Indian budget, upon which hangs the well-being of distant millions, is proverbially discussed by an apathetic group in an empty House: when I see the men of Parliamentary authority combine to crush out the risings of freedom in Egypt with brute force, simply because influential speculators want a high rate of interest for their money on an iniquitous loan--why, it is time to ask, “ought the pulpit to keep silence?” Certainly not. The policy infringes on the moral sphere, and has to be judged by the same Divine principles to which the Baptist invariably appealed. Aye, and I will go further and say that the temper of political debate is also a matter for pulpit comment. When public time is wasted, crises at home and abroad neglected, and the whole tone of the House lowered because two political gladiators want to have a stand-up fight, and the honourable members are content to form a ring, is such wanton fooling as that in high places not to be arraigned by those who profess to view party conduct by the light of a morality which seems unknown to party politics? (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)

John’s counsels to inquirers

John’s touch was throughout light but firm, and quite infallible in particulars, just because he appealed to simple and universally intelligible principles of right and wrong. Listen to his answer to the people generally. “You want to know what to do? Do the right thing now. There’s a man without a cloak, the sun’s going down, he’s over-heated, he’ll catch fever--you’ve got an extra wrap, give it him. That woman yonder is fainting for a little food, she was so eager to be baptized she forgot her provision basket--you have more than you want, give her some. To the publican, or portitor, who paid so much to the Government for the right of collecting the taxes, and then got as much more as he could by squeezing the people: “You tyrants, you extortioners, every one knows your trade, and is willing to give you your margin of profit; well, don’t exact more.” To the soldiers: “You Jacks-in-office, don’t levy blackmail by threatening to accuse innocent persons. Don’t use the prestige of the Roman arms to oppress the civilian in the provinces, and don’t mutiny and keep striking for higher pay; respect the people whom you ought to protect, and the master whom you profess to serve.” This was pretty smart and practical teaching. The man of the crowd could not go home and say that the man of the desert knew nothing about him. He could go home and “repent”! (H. R. Haweis, M. A. )

Do what you can

The Baptist’s answer to the question of the people, “What shall we do?” is exceedingly remarkable if we consider that John’s mission was to prepare the way for Christ. If this question were put to many amongst ourselves, who profess to lead men to Christ, they would answer--“You can do nothing. All works of men in your unreconciled state are displeasing to God. You can in no way, by any works of your own, further your own salvation. It is the worst of errors to think so.” But the Baptist, filled with the Holy Ghost from his mother’s womb, gives an answer implying the very reverse. It is--“You must do something. You must do what is in your power. You can, at least, give food and raiment to the poor starving creatures around you. Begin with this. If you begin thus with denying your selfishness, God will soon show you a more excellent way--the way of grace in His Son. But till that Son comes and reveals Himself to you, do what your hand finds to do. Do some good to your fellow-creatures. The way for you to obtain mercy is to be merciful.” Now, in saying this, did St. John in the least degree swerve from his mission of preparing the way for Christ by preaching of repentance? No, not for a moment. When the people asked him what they were to do to avoid the wrath to come, it was a plain sign that God had touched their hearts with some degree of repentance, and this repentance was no repentance at all unless it cut at the root of their selfishness, and every unselfish, self-denying act would deepen it. Notice, also, that St. John said this to the masses. Instead of saying to them, “You have little to give, and so God will excuse you from contributing,” he says to them, “Whatever you have that you do not absolutely need, give it.” Looked at in this light, the words are very strong, very searching. If they make such a demand on the crowds, what do they make on the few who have abundance of this world’s goods? Of course such words as these of the Baptist are to be understood in the light of common sense: men are not to give, to enable others to be idle. The best commentary on the passage, according to Jerome, is 2 Corinthians 8:13-14. (M. F. Sadler, M. A.)


Verse 13

Luke 3:13

Exact no more than that which is appointed you--

Oppressions and extortions of tax-gatherers

Present-day conditions of Eastern lands painfully illustrate the continuance of some of the most demoralizing customs of the past.
When the crop is reared, and while the winnowing is actually going on upon the threshing-floor, the tax-gatherer stands by and appropriates one-tenth as soon as the work is completed. The Mahommedan government adopts the oppressive system of the Romans, sells the tithes to the highest bidder, for a sum of money which he is ready enough to pay in advance. This purchaser, or farmer of the taxes, has then to make his profits on the transaction by forcing the most extravagant payments from the people, and in so doing he is armed with irresponsible authority. The tithe-gatherers go through the land, employing every device for the purpose of overreaching the cultivators of the soil, and obtaining from them more than their dues. The farmers are strictly ordered not to thresh their grain before the tax-gatherers are ready, which is the means of additional extortions. Crops, therefore, sometimes remain heaped upon the threshing-floors for many weeks, the distressed owners not daring to thresh and harvest them, and being compelled both to watch them by day and night, and to devise means to protect them from being wet with showers
. (Biblical Things not generally known.)

Exacting more than was just

In the Edinburgh Weekly Review we find some anecdotes relating to the Rev. William Anderson, D.D., more than fifty years pastor of the John Street United Presbyterian Church, of Glasgow, who died some time ago. He was one of the most eminent and beloved ministers of that city. He was once expounding the 15th Psalm, and had come to the word “usury”--“He putteth not out his money to usury.” “Does that mean,” he asked, “taking ten per cent or more? Not entirely. It means also the spirit in which the ten per cent is taken. There was once in this Church a poor widow, and she wanted twenty pounds to begin a small shop. Having no friends, she came to me, her minister. And I happened to know a man--not of this Church--who could advance the money to the poor widow. So we went to this man--the widow and I--and the man said he would be happy to help the widow. And he drew out a bill for £20, and the widow signed it, and I signed it too. Then he put the signed paper in his desk and took out the money and gave it to the widow. But the widow, counting it, said: ‘Sir, there is only £15 here.’ ‘It is all right,’ said the man; ‘that is the interest I charge.’ And, as we had no redress, we came away. But the widow prospered. And she brought the £20 to me, and I took it myself to the office of the man who lent it, and I said to him: ‘Sir, there is the £20 from the widow.’ And he said: ‘Here is the paper you signed, and if you know any other poor widow I will be happy to help her in the same way.’ I said to him: ‘You help the widow! Sir, you have robbed this widow, and you will be damned!’ And, my friends, I kept my eye on that man. And before six months were over, God smote him, and he died.” We can still recall, after many years, the creep of soul with which we listened to the closing sentences, and the vivid glimpse we got of a Divine retribution falling suddenly on a bad man.

The law of exaction

It gives us a fresh sense of the greatness of that reformer who makes this answer to see in it how free he was from the infirmities of his class. It is comparatively easy to see that things are wrong, and that they ought to be changed and righted. It is less easy, but still not uncommon, to have the courage that denounces wrong and that rebukes its perpetrators. It is quite another thing to have the practical insight and the patient determination that can discover a remedy for abuses and point the way to its successful application. There are wrongs that have been denounced and then forgotten, as though their denunciation and their repression were identical. And by such a course the moral sense of a community, of a man, becomes dulled, and at length slumbers and is inert. People see that behind the passionate voice there is wanting the guiding hand; that the scream of indignation somehow exhausts the impulse of reform, and that men who are eager in general terms to tell other men what they ought to do are quite powerless often to tell them how to do it. It explains the confidence with which men followed John the Baptist that he not only rebuked their vices, but that he showed them how to forsake them. “What shall we do?” “Do I” Bald John, “do something for your brother-man, Instead of hoarding, spend. Instead of accumulating, give. It is not much to do, but it is a beginning. Get your shrunken heart enlarged a little by making it sensible of the needs of others. Exact no more than that which is appointed. It is a law for all men, and of manifold application. Let us see this morning, as the preacher in the wilderness turns on it the strong, full light of this personal application, what that is which it has to say to us. At the base of every man’s consciousness is the sense of his relationship to God. While we are arguing about the existence of such a Being; the deepest convictions of men are more or less candidly owning it as beyond argument. Next to a man’s relations to his Maker are his relations to his fellows, and here the personal consciousness is far less certain or clear. What each one of us owes to our neighbour--in what spirit we shall maintain our business or social relations with our fellow-men--what is human brother hood, and how men shall practically illustrate it--these are questions concerning which many people are in frequent and serious perplexity. If you are a capitalist, and I am a tradesman, or a farmer, or a labourer, the time will almost inevitably come when in one way or another you will have me in your power. You are stronger than I am, like the Hebrew or Roman publicans. You may do with impunity things that I cannot. Above all, owing to my necessities, it may easily be that you have obtained a knowledge of my affairs, which gives you, in our business dealings, an overwhelming advantage. You can “freeze me out” after one fashion or another. You can foreclose on me, if I am a little behind in my interest. We read of men in civic place who, entrusted with the care of the stranger and the immigrant, make them welcome to these shores by robbing, and even ruining them. And our cheeks flush at an infamy so shameless and so inhuman. But here is some imposing personage to whom men bow obsequiously on ‘Change, and who finds a hospitable welcome at the tables of eminent Christian citizens, who only differs from the immigrant runner or a boarding-house striker in the bulk and the boldness of his transactions! In essence these are of precisely the same nature, for they are both trading upon the ignorance of the unsuspecting and wringing their profits out of the poverty of the poor and the weakness of the weak. To all such, and to you and me, just in so far as we are tempted by their success to descend to their methods, the gospel speaks in plain and stern rebuke, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you.” And no less does it say to that other life which most of us live in homes. Here, as between man and woman, parent and child, master and servant, there is a large field for undue and unwarrantable exactions. How many sweet and gracious relationships, begun in love, and cemented, it may be, by mutual sympathies, have been spoiled at length by a temper which was all the time throwing itself back upon its wifely or husbandly rights, and exacting not only these but more than these with a petulant impatience and peevish and fault-finding querulousness, a harsh imperiousness, which thought only of itself! In every such relation there is one who is stronger and one who is weaker. “I wish,” said a father to his son’s teacher, “that I could at least persuade my son to treat me like a gentleman.” “Suppose,” replied the other, “that you try the effect of treating him like a gentleman!” Does it ever occur to some of us that because God has constituted the family as a Divine institution in which the parent is king, it does not follow that our sovereignty is to be an absolute despotism. Few of us are in danger of working seven days in the week. Some of us would be happier if we did a little more work on the remaining six. But this at least we can do--we can protect on Sundays the rights of those who work for us. (Bishop H. C. Potter.)


Verse 14

Luke 3:14

And the soldiers likewise

The lawfulness of arms

The common argument, founded on this for the lawfulness of the military profession, seems unanswerable.
It is true that war is contrary to the mild spirit of Christianity, and that the guilt of it must be always chargeable, at least on one side. But there are several professions for which there would be no use, were it not for human depravity and injustice;
e.g., there would be no use for magistrates or for civil or criminal law at all, were it not for the lawless and disobedient. So, though it is often a delicate point to settle when war becomes just or necessary, its justice and necessity in some cases are beyond dispute, and therefore the employment of the soldier must, generally speaking, be a lawful one. But, to look no farther than to the authority before us, when soldiers under concern about salvation and the path of duty applied to John for direction, would that intrepid teacher have hesitated a moment, if their profession had been unlawful, to tell them so, and to exhort them to quit it immediately, whatever might have been the consequence? Instead of this, however, he tells them how to conduct themselves in it. (James Foote, M. A.)

Encouragement for soldiers

Notwithstanding the too general prevalence of impiety and immorality in the military life, there are many honourable exceptions. We read of the believing and humble centurion of Capernaum, who said that he was not worthy that Christ should come under his roof, and that if He would but speak the word his servant should be healed; which led our Lord to declare, that He had not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. We read, too, of Cornelius, a centurion of the Italian band, a devout man, who feared God with all his house, and gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always, and to whom Peter was sent, more fully to instruct him. There is something peculiarly interesting in almost every case in which genuine religion decidedly influences the mind and conduct of a soldier. These principles must be sincere, and of considerable strength, which enable him to overcome the varied temptations with which he is beset. The trials of his physical and mental courage have been severe, and his opportunities of observation have been extensive. The result of all this is the obvious, and, in the eye of the enlightened Christian, the very adorning and engaging, union of frankness with caution, of complaisance with faithfulness, of meekness with manliness, and of the knowledge of the world, from which, however, he is separated, with the knowledge of God, in which he continues to grow, and under the influence and in the comfort of which he is prepared, if it be the will of God, to live, and equally prepared, if it be the will of God, to die. Let no soldier be so infatuated as to imagine, that his profession will be sustained as a satisfactory excuse for his impiety, when he comes to stand before the judgment-seat of God: for whatever be the difficulties in his way, he is offered Divine aid in proportion to these difficulties, if he apply for it. Let no soldier imagine that, because he is a soldier, irreligion, or profane swearing, or violence, or intemperance, or licentiousness in him, can possibly be passed over, unless he exercise repentance towards God and faith towards the Lord Jesus Christ, unless he be actually reformed and converted. On the other hand, let no soldier who is in earnest about his salvation be discouraged. Let him be prepared to set at nought the profane and unhandsome sneers with which he may expect to meet. Let him study at once to live like a Christian, and to be exemplary in the duties of his profession, and then even those who affect to despise will inwardly respect him, and even in their own estimations appear small before him. (James Foote, M. A. )

Outrages by soldiers

The soldiers, so necessary as a class in all such civil constitutions as those of the East, receive advice of which the Zabtiehs, or Turkish soldier-police, of today stand in great need; especially in provinces more remote from the capital. The outrages they commit, in violence done to men and women; and the false accusations which they bring to ruin them, would scarcely be believed here; and indeed they are mostly too shocking to relate. The writer remembers a case which occurred in Cyprus while he was there, where the Zabtieh had been too brutal and fiendish in his behaviour in the house of a newly-married couple. But not daring to resist him openly, the wife had managed to cajole him into drinking heavily, and when drunk the husband stabbed him to the heart. The soldierpoliceman is an object of dread in every country village. His coming can scarcely be looked upon as anything but a calamity. In many cases--always, indeed, in actual service--it would be hard fare for him to be content with his wages, or rations. But the people with whom they are quartered, or whom they come to “protect,” would doubtless be glad to give peaceably out of their deep poverty enough to support the soldiers, if they might thus be relieved of their violence and false accusations. (Professor Isaac H. Hall.)

Disastrous result of a false report

I have read that a foolish young English clerk--fond of practical jokes--once said to a friend, “Have you heard that E & Co., the bankers, have stopped payment?” He merely meant that the banking-house had, as usual, closed up for the night. But he amused himself by seeing how he had startled his friend. He did not stop to explain his real meaning. His friend mentioned the alarming report to another: the rumour spread. Next day there was a “ run upon the bank,” and Messrs. E & Co., were obliged to suspend payment. The silly youth did not mean to burn down the commercial credit of a prosperous house: he only meant to amuse himself by playing with fire. And a kindred mischief to his is perpetrated by every one who retails contemptible gossip, or gives birth to a scurrilous slander. “An abomination to the Lord is the false witness who speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” (Dr. Cuyler.)

Refusing to act unjustly

While Athens was governed by the thirty tyrants, Socrates, the philosopher, was summoned to the senate-house, and ordered to go with some other persons, whom they named, to seize one Leon, a man of rank and fortune, whom they determined to put out of the way, that they might enjoy his estate. This commission Socrates positively refused. “I will not willingly,” said he, “assist in an unjust act.” Chericles sharply replied, “Dost thou think, Socrates, to talk in this high tone, and not to suffer?” “Far from it,” replied he: “I expect to suffer a thousand ills, but not so great as to do unjustly.”

Example of contentment

John Wesselus of Groningen, who was one of the most learned men in the fifteenth century, and was, on account of his extensive attainments, called “the light of the world,” having been once introduced into the presence of the pope, was requested by that pontiff to ask for some favour for himself. “Then,” said Wesselus, “I beg you to give me out of the Vatican Library a Greek and a Hebrew Bible.” “You shall have them,” said Sixtus; “but, foolish man, why don’t you ask for a bishopric, or something of that sort?” Said Wesselus, “Because I do not want such things.”

Cato and Marius Curius

Care, a pattern of moderation, was very early taught the happy art of contentment, by the following circumstance:--Near his country seat was a cottage, formerly belonging to Marius Curius, who was thrice honoured with a triumph. Care often walked thither, and reflecting on the smallness of the farm and the meanness of the dwelling, used to meditate on the peculiar virtues of the man, who, though he was the most illustrious character in Rome, had subdued the fiercest nations, and driven Pyrrhus out of Italy, cultivated this little spot of ground with his own hands, and, after three triumphs, retired to his own cottage. Here the ambassadors of the Samnites found him in the chimney-corner dressing turnips, and offered him a large present of gold; but he absolutely refused it, remarking, “A man who can be satisfied with such a supper, has no need of gold; and I think it more glorious to conquer the possessors of it, than to possess it myself.” Full of these thoughts, Cato returned home; and taking a view of his own estates, his servants, and his manner of life, increased his labour, and retrenched his expenses.

The secret of contentment

An Italian bishop struggled through great difficulties, without repining or betraying the least impatience. One of his intimate friends, who highly admired the virtues which he thought it impossible to imitate, one day asked the prelate if he could communicate the secret of being always easy. “Yes,” replied the old man; “I can teach you my secret with great facility; it consists in nothing more than making a right use of my eyes.” His friend begged of him to explain himself. “Most willingly,” replied the bishop. “In whatever state I am, I first of all look up to heaven, and remember that my principal business here is to get there; I then look down upon the earth, and call to mind how small a place I shall occupy in it when I die and am buried; I then look abroad into the world, and observe what multitudes there are who are in all respects more unhappy than myself. Thus I learn where true happiness is placed; where all our cares must end; and what little reason I have to repine or to complain.”

Two sorts of blessings

“It is a great blessing to possess what one wishes,” said some one to an ancient philosopher; to which the wise man immediately replied, “It is a greater blessing still, not to desire what one does not possess.”

Contentment

Those who preach contentment to all, do but teach some how to dwell in misery; unless you will grant content desire, and chide her but for murmuring. Let not man so sleep in content, as to neglect the means of making himself more happy and blessed; nor yet, when the contrary of what he looked for comes, let him murmur at that providence which disposed it to cross his expectation. I like the man who is never content with what he does enjoy; but by a calm and fair course, has a mind still rising to a higher happiness. But I like not him who is so dissatisfied as to repine at anything that does befall him. Let him take the present patiently, joyfully, thankfully; but let him still be soberly in quest of better; and indeed it is impossible to find a life so happy here, as that we shall not find something we would add to it, something we would take away from it. The world itself is not a garden, wherein all the flowers of joy are growing; nor can one man enjoy the whole of those that are there. There is no absolute contentment here below; nor can we in reason think there should be; since whatsoever is created, was created tending to some end, and till it arrives at that end, it cannot be fully at rest. (Owen Felltham.)

Content with his position

Joe Martin, an Indian chief, residing in New Brunswick, was interrogated by a professional gentleman who held an important office under Government, whether he would accept the commission of a captain among the Indians, which, he observed, it was in his power to procure for him; to which the Indian made the following reply:--“Now Joe Martin love God, pray to God; now Joe Martin humble; certain not good to make Indian proud; when Indian proud, him forget God: for this reason Joe Martin never must be captain!” He accordingly declined it.

Contentment

It is not so much the large stars shining on a dark night that makes the sky luminous, but the multitude of little ones, all doing their best in their separate places. There are comparatively few of the large ones--not enough by any means to light up the infinite reaches of spacebetween us and them--and so here is the need of the little ones. Are you pining in your place for the honour of a large star? Be content; your mission is just as high a one as that of the largest orb that shines. Though not equal in size, you may yet be in brightness. Keep steadily to your appointed place, making all the light you can, and you are the largest star in the eyes of the great God who ruleth over all.


Verse 15

Luke 3:15

Whether he were the Christ or not

The Baptist’s attitude towards Christ

Observe here--

1.
How the extraordinariness of the Baptist’s person, the earnestness of his preaching, the acceptableness of his doctrine, and the exemplariness of his conversation, drew all persons to an admiration of him; insomuch that they began to think within themselves, whether he were not the Messiah Himself. He plainly tells them he was not, but only His servant, His harbinger, and forerunner.

2. The high opinion which John had of Christ. “He is mightier than I”; i.e., a person of greater authority, dignity, and excellency, than myself.

3. The humble and low estimation that the Baptist had of himself. “The latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose”: a proverbial speech, implying that he was unworthy to do the lowest offices, and meanest services for Christ. How well does humility of mind, a humble estimate and low opinion of themselves, become the messengers and ministers of Christ.

4. John does not only declare the dignity of Christ’s person, but the excellency of His office. “He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” As if he had said, I only wash the body with water, but Christ cleanses the soul by the operation of His Holy Spirit, which is as fire in its effects, purifying the hearts of His people from sin, and consuming their lusts and corruptions; yet at the same time having fiery indignation, and flaming judgments, to destroy and burn up impenitent sinners like dry stubble. It is observable in Scripture, that Christ is represented by one and the same metaphor of fire, in a way of comfort to His children, and in a way of terror to His enemies; He is fire unto both. He sits in the hearts of His people as a refiner’s fire; He is amongst His enemies as a consuming fire: a fire for His Church to take comfort in, a fire for His enemies to perish by.

5. The Baptist compares Christ to a husbandman, and the Jewish Church to a barn-floor; the office of a husbandman is to thresh, fan, and winnow His corn, separating it from the chaff, preserving the one and consuming the other.

The Church is compared to a floor, because of the mixture of good and bad in it, saints and sinners, hypocrites and sincere Christians, just as in a threshing-floor there is straw as well as grain, chaff as well as corn, tares as well as wheat, cockle and darnel as well as good seed. But Christ will purge His Church; purge it of its corruptions, without destroying its essence or existence, by the fan of His Holy Word, accompanied by the wing of discipline. (W. Burkitt, M. A.)

No true teacher can suffer himself to live upon mistaken impressions

The people mused whether John were the Christ or not. An unreal and self-seeking man would have turned this doubtfulness to his own account. This was John’s temptation. Jesus was tempted in one direction and John in another; but in each case the temptation was direct and real. Every ministry must be tempted, as must every Christian. Have you ever been tempted to regard yourself as some great one? Have you not covered up your poor and withering name with the reputation of strong and brilliant men? Have you not received applause for originalities which you have but quoted from others? John’s declaration concerning Christ is most remarkable. He says nothing about preaching the gospel or dying for the sins of the world, nor about the great evangelical mission; the declaration relates solely to baptism, and to the discrimination of character. But what a baptism! and what a discrimination! There can be no mistake about any man who has received the baptism of fire; the fire will either illuminate or consume him, so that he will be either a light shining afar, or a scorched and barren soul that has quenched the Spirit. Baptism by water can only be initial or symbolical; baptism by fire is the great testimony of God to the soul’s purification and acceptance. John points to two distinct uses of fire: Jesus will baptize with fire, and with fire unquenchable will He burn the chaff.

This is precisely what the gospel does. It is a savour of life unto life, or of death unto death. (J. Parker, D. D.)


Verse 16

Luke 3:16

I indeed baptize you with water

Significance of John’s baptism

1.
John’s baptism was a carrying on of the office of the law. Neither repentance avails without grace, nor grace without repentance; for repentance must first condemn sin, that grace may blot it out. So then John, becoming a type of the law, baptized to repentance, Christ to grace.

2. John’s baptism was higher than Jewish rites, but imperfect. Moses baptized, but with water, and before this, in the cloud and in the sea; but this was typically, as St. Paul also pronounces the sea a type of the water, the cloud a type of the Spirit, the manna a type of the bread of life, the drink a type-of the heavenly draught. John also baptized, and he no longer Judaically, for he baptized not with water only, but to repentance; but not as yet altogether spiritually, for it is not added “with the Spirit.” The perfection of Christ’s Baptism, which John’s lacked, is that it is with the Spirit.

3. John’s baptism was preparatory and initiatory to the gospel. He baptized not with the Spirit, but with water; because, unable to remit sins, he washed the bodies of the baptized with water, but not their hearts with forgiveness. Why then did he baptize, since by baptism he did not free from sin, except that maintaining the order of his precursorial office, he, who by his birth had gone before His birth, should by baptizing also go before the Baptism of the Lord? And he who by preaching had been made the precursor of Christ, should by baptizing also be His precursor through the image of His Sacrament. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)

I indeed baptize you with water

The symbol must be interpreted by the circle of ideas in which John moved, and which he variously expressed. Its suggestive cause is as hard to determine as it is unimportant. The rite may have formal affinities with the lustrations of the Essenes or the ablutions of proselytes; but it has a material significance of its own. John placed it in a relation with confession of sin and repentance, that made it the symbol of certain spiritual realities--evil recognized and repudiated; good perceived and chosen. In this connection its use may have been suggested by such words as, “Wash you, make you clean,” or, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened,” &c. (Zechariah 13:1). But his baptism was the symbol of another and no less significant fact; the baptized were not simply the penitent, but the expectant, men consecrated to a great hope. And so John was but true to the best genius of his people when he made his baptism represent, not simply an individual change, but a social fact--entrance into a society prepared for the kingdom which was at hand. The “ baptism unto repentance “ was also a baptism unto hope: as the first, it was the sign of a renounced past; as the second, it was the symbol of a new future. The Baptist’s idea of this new future was embodied in the phrase, “the kingdom of heaven.” He could indifferently say, “ The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” and, “After me cometh One mightier than I.” He loved indeed to contrast his own meanness and the King’s greatness. He was not worthy to bear His sandals, to loose His shoe’s latchet. He was but the friend of the Bridegroom; the Bridegroom was to come. He only baptized with water, the mighty One who was coming would “baptize with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” (A. M. Fairbairn, D. D.)

Humility the test of a great man

I believe the first test of a truly great man is his humility. I do not mean by humility doubt of his own power, or hesitation of speaking his opinions; but a right understanding of the relation between what he can do and say, and the rest of the world’s sayings and doings. All great men act only know their business, but usually know that they know it; and are not only right in their main opinions, but they usually know that they are right in them, only they do not think much of themselves on that account. Arnolfo knows he can build a good dome at Florence; Albert Durer writes calmly to one who has found fault with his work, “It cannot be better done”; Sir Isaac Newton knows that he has worked out a problem or two that would have puzzled anybody else; only they do not expect their fellow-men, therefore, to fall down and worship them. They have a curious under-sense of powerlessness, feeling that the greatness is not in them, but through them; that they could not do or be anything else than God made them--and they see something Divine and God-made in every other man they meet, and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful. (John Ruskin.)

Humility beautifies

A just and reasonable modesty does not only recommend eloquence, but sets off every great talent which a man can be possessed of. It heightens all the virtues which it accompanies. Like the shades in paintings it raises and rounds every figure, and makes the colours more beautiful, though not so glaring as they would be without. (Addison.)

Adult and infant baptism

A river of baptism ought to be a river of death. You are baptized in the Jordan. How? Need we then care how? As antiquarians we would like to know how John the baptizer dealt with those who came to him: we would like to know whether they were dipped in the stream, or whether water was poured upon them from the stream. But now, ask your own conscientious affections whether the answer to this question, spiritually, is worth one sixpence to us, or, at any rate, of special importance? It is not. As antiquarians, it is very interesting to us, and we feel sure that if we knew the outward literal truth, we should get some suggestion from it. But we know at least this: the people that John baptized, and that disciples of Jesus baptized, were adults. That is clear enough. Well, then, if at that time adults were baptized, surely circumstances may occur again in which any rational person will allow that adults may again be baptized. The truth is, that it was not man that invented infant-baptism, but through the Lord God’s providence at, as we think, the suggestion of His Spirit, that it arose. When people had been baptized, and children were born to them, that they never would let grow up into the heathen state in which they themselves had been when they were baptized, how natural that they should, by a water-rite, adapted from the rite with which they were familiar, hallow these children to the Lord God! What are we baptized for, by the Holy Spirit, into a new life, but that our old life may perish? “I wish my old life,” a man may say,” to be taken from me by the Jordan and carried down to the Dead Sea as soon as possible. Oh, let me be utterly rid of it; let my God save me by the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new.” All that is outward is of value only for its significance and its suggestiveness. (T. T. Lynch.)

One mightier than I cometh

Expectation

And what is the man who, having no expectations, is always casting back his thoughts into a retrospect? Almost universally a melancholy man. And what is the man who sees nothing but the present? A drudge in his work, and a sensualist in his pleasures. But what is the man who throws himself into that which is beyond him? At least, an energetic man, and, if he be a Christian, a happy one. Have you never observed that every one’s character is determined by what he is living up to? Why is the Mahommedan an idle and self-indulgent man? Because he lives up to a corporeal, and indolent, and sensuous heaven. Why is the Brahmin a man of apathy? Because, after all his transmigrations, he has nothing to expect--according to his creed--but annihilation, absolute annihilation. Whydoes the believer grow holy and loving, but because he is always realizing in his mind the heaven of holiness and love to which he is going? Certainly, expectation is a duty. But God has done with this faculty of expectation, what He has done with all the natural powers and habits of the human mind--He has sanctified it, and elevated it. And this is the way God has done it--He has thrown into it first, truth, then affection, and then great delight,so He has made it hope. What is it? Expectation with desire. It is quite certain that God intended that man should be ruled by hope. “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” Observe, at once, the mind was sent off into the future for its comfort. It was the same with Abraham--he had nothing, he was to have everything. The Jews lived by their prophecies. Nor less, but rather more, it is the key of the New Testament. What the Messiah of Bethlehem was under the former dispensation, Christ made the Holy Ghost to His disciples. Wait, wait till you receive the promises. And now what is the aim, the consolation, the theme, the life of the whole Church, but the coming back of her dear Lord? But what I wish you to notice in this long line of expectation is, that the next thing in the succession is always greater and better than that which preceded it. David’s reign was one appointed in the prospective; but David’s reign was only the shadow of the higher empire of Christ. Zion’s power and beauty were predicted; but chiefly as the type of the Church of the gospel. The gospel itself was infinitely greater than all its foreshowing; Jesus was a greater prophet than Moses. And we have Christ’s own warrant to say that the Holy Ghost was a larger gift to the Church than even His own personal presence--more pervasive, more effective. And then higher and higher still, in ranges where the mind loses itself in floods of glory, the swelling tide rolls on and never stops. If you could read it so, brethren, whenever anything happy comes to you--an answered prayer, a gift of God--you may always hear it--saying, “I am only a pledge of something else; there is something better than I am behind.” “One mightier than I cometh.” Why it should have pleased God to place everything in such a scale of ever-ascending grandeur and goodness, we can only faintly glimpse. But, assuredly, it is always exalting Him in His unapproachable height, while it is always humbling us in our sense of ignorance and preparation. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The latchet of whose shoes

Loosing the shoe-latchet

I. NO FORM OF HOLY SERVICE IS TO BE LIGHTLY SET BY.

1. Little works for Christ, little shoe-bearings and latchet-loosings, often have more of the child’s spirit in them than greater works. Outside, in the streets, a man’s companion will do him a kindness, and the action performed is friendly; but for filial acts you must look inside the house. There the child does not lend money to its father, or negotiate business, yet in his little acts there is more sonship. Who is it that comes to meet father when the day is over? and what is the action which often indicates childhood’s love? See the little child come tottering forward with father’s slippers, and run away with his boots as he puts them off. The service is little, but it is loving and filial, and has more of filial affection in it than the servants bringing in the meal, or preparing the bed, or any other more essential service. It gives the little one great pleasure, and expresses his love. So also in little acts for Jesus.

2. In little acts for Christ it is always to be remembered that the little things are as necessary to be done as the greater acts. If Christ’s feet be not washed, if His sandals be not unloosed, He may suffer and His feet may be lamed, so that a journey may be shortened, and many villages may miss the blessing of His presence. So with other minor things. We remember the old story of the losing of the battle through the missing of a single nail in a horse-shoe, and peradventure up to this moment the Church may have lost her battle for Christ, because some minor work which ought to have been done for Jesus has been neglected. Many a cart comes to grief through inattention to the linch-pin. A very small matter turns an arrow aside from the target. Human destiny often turns upon a hinge so small as to be invisible. Never say within yourself, “ This is trivial.” Nothing is trivial for the Lord. Never say, “ But this surely might be omitted without much loss.” How knowest thou? If it be thy duty, He who allotted thee thy task knew what He did. Do not thou in any measure neglect any portion of His orders, for in all His commands there is consummate wisdom, and on thy part it will be wisdom to obey them, even to the jots and tittles.

3. Little things for Christ are often the best tests of the truth of our religion. Obedience in little things has much to do with the character of a servant. In small things lie the crucibles and the touchstones. The Goldsmiths’ Hall mark is a small affair, but you know true silver by 2:4. Mark also with regard to little works, that very often there is about them a degree of personal fellowship with Christ which is not seen in greater work. The smallest act of service done for Christ has an importance all its own.

5. God accepts our worship in little things. He cares no less for the turtledove offering than for the sacrifice of bullocks and rams.

II. OUR OWN UNWORTHINESS. We are sure to feel this when we come practically into contact with any real Christian service. Let a man begin earnestly to work for the Lord Jesus, and he will soon find out that he is unworthy of the meanest place in the employ of one so gracious.

1. When we recollect what we used to be.

2. When we recollect what we are.

3. Have we not to confess, in looking upon what we have done for Christ, that we have far too much eye to self in our conduct?

4. Because, when we have gone to the lowest, Jesus always goes lower down than we have done.

III. THIS OUGHT TO STIMULATE, NOT DISCOURAGE US. Since I do so badly when I do my best, I will always do my utmost. Since it comes to so little when the most is done, I will at least do the most. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Latchet

The sandals were of hard leather, and were fastened on with straps; the leather of which was doubtless then, as now, the skin of the camel or hyena. (E. Stapfer, D. D.)

He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire

The promise of a baptism of fire

When John the Baptist was going round Judaea, shaking the hearts of the people with a call to repent, they said, “Surely this must be the Messiah for whom we have waited so long.” “No,” said the strong-spoken man, “I am not; the Christ but One mightier than I cometh; He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.” This last expression might have conveyed some idea of material burning to any people but Jews; but in their minds it would awaken other thoughts. It would recall the scene when their father Abraham asked Him who promised that he should inherit the land, “Lord, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” The answer came thus: he was standing under the open sky at night, watching by chosen sacrifices, when, “Behold a smoking furnace,” &c. (Genesis 15:17). It would recall the fire which Moses saw in the bush; the fire which came in the day of Israel’s deliverance, as a light on their way; the fire which descended on the Tabernacle; which shone in the Shekinah; which touched the lips of Isaiah; which flamed in the visions of Ezekiel; and which was again promised to Zion, not only in her public, but in her family, shrines, when “the Lord will create upon every dwelling-place of Mount Zion, and upon all her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night.” In the promise of a baptism of fire they would at once recognize the approach of new manifestations of the power and presence of God; for that was ever the purport of this appearance in “the days of the right hand of the Most High.” (W. Arthur, M. A.)

The baptism of the Spirit

I. NATURE OF THE BAPTISM PROMISED. John’s baptism was introductory and transitional; Christ’s was to be spiritual, quickening, and searching. Apparent mixture of metaphors. “Baptism means cleansing, and fire means warmth. How can warmth cleanse? No heart is pure that is not passionate, no virtue safe that is not enthusiastic. And such an enthusiastic virtue (and much more) Christ came to introduce.” The baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire comes upon all--either for sanctification or destruction, according to the way in which it is received.

II. THE NEED OF SUCH A BAPTISM.

1. It was needed in the time of John. What was wanted was a moral power that should at once

2. Such a baptism is needed now.

III. THE ONLY SOURCE WHENCE SUCH A BAPTISM COULD COME.

1. From heaven.

2. Through Christ.

IV. THE BAPTISM BESTOWED. On the day of Pentecost there was the baptism of the Holy Ghost. The world received a new life. There was also the baptism of fire in the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overthrow of Rome. Every genuine revival a baptism of the Holy Ghost. Every time of sore national distress or humiliation a baptism of fire.

V. A PERSONAL QUESTION. Have we been baptized by the Spirit? Such a baptism is--

1. Needful.

2. Possible. Test: Are we bringing forth the fruits of the Spirit? Galatians 5:22-23.)

VI. A PRESSING DUTY. To pray for the baptism of the Spirit, on ourselves, on the whole Church of God, and on the world.

VII. A WORD OF WARNING. There will be a baptism of fire for individuals and nations that despise the warnings of the Spirit. (E. W. Wilson.)

The Spirit’s Baptism

Baptism of the Spirit.

Inward fire

For us to be baptized with the Holy Ghost is to be baptized with fire. The existence within us of false tendency and proclivity makes it a flame. Once let it fall on us, and straightway there is turmoil; straightway some hot work begins. Here is a man wholly at ease and quiet in a pleasant paradise--though it be a fool’s paradise of self-content and free self-gratification; but a breath from on high stirs in him at last, a breath of higher impulse and inspiration; and now a struggle sets in, in which the soul sways to and fro, and burnings of remorse and repentance are suffered, with daily self-reprovings and self-crucifixions. The man is no longer at peace with himself, but in a great heat of controversy; no longer a tranquil universe, but a troubled conjunction of antagonisms. His life becomes, as the Scripture represents it, “a battle,” “a warfare.” A fire of discontent is kindled within him; there rages in him the flame of a conflict between the Spirit and the flesh. When Christ began of old to baptize with the Holy Ghost, it was a baptism of fire. And even so is it still. The stirring within man of the better self, of the Spirit from above, is invariably more or less with “confused noise and garments rolled in blood.” Our God, when He touches us, is a “consuming fire.” Not out of Christ, as we have it explained sometimes, but in Christ; for from the God in Christ proceeds the Spirit; and where the Spirit breathes in human breasts there is burning. (S. A. Tipple.)

Fire purifies everything

Louis XIV. had granted a pardon to a nobleman who had committed some very great crime. M. Voisin, the Chancellor, ran to him in his closet, and exclaimed, “Sire, you cannot pardon a person in the situation of M--.” “I have promised him,” replied” the King, who was ever impatient of contradiction; “go and fetch the great seal.” “But, sire--.” “Pray, sir, do as I order you.” The Chancellor returns with the seals; Louis applies them himself to the instrument containing the pardon, and gives them again to the Chancellor. “They are polluted now, sire,” exclaims the intrepid and excellent magistrate, pushing them from him on the table; “I cannot take them again.” “What an impracticable man!” cries the monarch, and throws the pardon into the fire. “I will now, sire, take them again,” said the Chancellor; “ the fire, you know, purifies everything.” (Baxendale’s Anecdotes.)

John’s baptism inferior to Christ’s

The inferiority of the baptism of John to Christian baptism is declared by the holy Baptist himself. This difference (water … Holy Ghost) he alleges as the proof of his own inferiority to his Lord, and as resulting from it. This difference our Lord also inculcated (Acts 1:11), when He instituted His own baptism. The baptism of John was preparatory, the Baptism of Christ perfective; the baptism of John invited to repentance, the Baptism of Christ gave grace upon repentance; the baptism of John stood on the confines of the promised land, was allowed to see it, led men to the borders of it, guided them to it, but itself brought them not into it; higher than the law, as he whose baptism it was, was greater than any born of the sons of men, yet less also than the least in the kingdom of heaven; greater than the baptisms of the law, as being nearer to the Redeemer, but yet restrained within the precursorial office, still a shadow of the good things to come, not the reality itself, though brought so near to the Sun of Righteousness as all but to be kindled with His beams, as all but to convey that which could only be conveyed by Him in whom alone, as being God as well as man, we could be reborn as sons of God; who alone shed His precious blood for the sins of the whole world, and in baptism washes and cleanser His Church with it. (E. B.Pusey, D. D.)


Verse 17

Luke 3:17

Whose fan is in His hand--

Christ’s floor and fan

I. THE THRESHING-FLOOR MAY DE PROPERLY REGARDED AS THE CHURCH, INTO WHICH ALL PROFESSORS ARE GATHERED or, even in a wider sense still, it may include all those who, though they have made no public profession of faith in Christ, yet secretly hold some theory of Christianity which they deem sufficient for themselves; or, even a step further, it may and does include those who respect Christ and build their own schemes of salvation. Indeed it includes every man who says, “ By this creed, or by this philosophy, or by this life, I will abide the issue of eternity.” Thus we see how wide this threshing-floor is, and that in fact, while it is true that Christ came not to condemn the world, but to save it, the very salvation that He brings and so freely offers to all condemns and blows away the rejected as chaff.

II. THE FAN IN HIS HAND MAY SUGGEST TO US THE INSTRUMENT BY WHICH HE PURGES HIS FLOOR, SEPARATING THE CHAFF FROM THE WHEAT. Christ had no sooner come and entered upon His public ministry than He began to “purge His floor.”

1. His Word acts as a fan. Many of the multitudes that followed Jesus took offence at His words, as witness John 5:3-16. Many who approach the floor of Christ are swept away before they fairly come by His words; one cannot bear salvation by grace, another is blown away by the new birth, another by this and by that doctrine.

2. But there are others who are not blown away by the Word. When you hear them talk you wonder at their severe and unflinching orthodoxy. For such Christ has another fan. It is one that tests the character: the new birth. Many a chaffy professor of orthodoxy is blown away by this; for even if they do not recognize it themselves, others see how surely they are separated.

3. Still this is brought to another trial. Many say “Oh, yes; I know even the day and the hour of my regeneration.” Well! if it is so, the fruits of your new birth will be seen in a new life. Salvation means separation from sin. The demand for a holy life oftentimes proves too much for the chaffy professor who can relate a glowing experience, and he is swept from the floor and heaped up with the rest of the chaff.

4. Again, the Master comes with the fan of affliction, and tries His wheat, as He did Job. There is much meaning in the words, “He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”

III. THUS IT IS THAT THIS PURGING PROCESS IS GOING ON ALL THE TIME, AND CONSTANTLY WE FIND THE CHAFF BLOWN AWAY. HOW many drop out of our churches, and go we know not where I But still much chaff remains among the wheat, and doubtless will remain until He come again, and then the floor will be thoroughly purged; the hail of that day will sweep away every refuge of lies, every hypocrite’s cloak will be rent off, every self-deceived one will be undeceived, and the sheep shall be separated from the goats, the chaff from the wheat. “The wheat will He gather into His garner,” &c. Who shall abide the day of His coming? (G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

Judaism and Christianity

What were the characteristics of the revolution which Christianity wrought in the world?

I. IT WAS DESTRUCTIVE. It proclaimed war against the principles opposed to it. There are certain times in history when a great shock is necessary, and those are the greatest men who can see this and boldly risk the danger. There are times when it is too late to expect that the world can be saved by the instillation of good, times when the chaff is so multitudinous and so rotten that the wheat is in a double danger, the danger of being lost, the danger of being corrupted. The only thing then is to burn up the chaff at once with a fire which will not touch the wheat. Christ saw that the time had come, that the whole world of Jews and heathens was so choked up with chaff that a slow process would be ruin. He seized the moment, He accepted its dangers, and He sent forth ideas which flew along like flame, consuming, destroying, but also assimilating.

II. But if Christianity was destructive as a revolution IT was ALSO PRESERVATIVE. If Christ sent forth ideas which consumed the chaff, He sent them forth also to gather the wheat into the garner. No noble feeling, or true thought, either in Judaism, or heathenism, perished. They were taken up and woven into the new fabric, e.g., Roman law, culture, architecture--religion.

III. Its third element was A CIVILIZING POWER. Neither Greek science nor Roman culture had power to spread beyond themselves. It was of the first importance that some civilizing influence should arise which should permit of free development--which should save the world from the dilemma of being made altogether in the Roman pattern, or of remaining in barbarism. This was the work of Christianity, and it was done by its ministers, in the first place, not as apostles of culture, but as persons who spoke to the common wants of the spirit of man. The missionary spirit was the product of love to Christ. The civilization of the barbarians was the product of the missionary spirit. We also have our revolutions. That which is true about the great movements of the world is not without its personal interest to us, nor without its analogies in our life. The inner revolutions also, if it is towards God, is

(Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

Christ’s winnowing fan

Christ did not go out of His way to choose His followers; the call itself was the fan He bore in His hand. That call imposed upon men the necessity of making a great resolution, of sacrificing a good deal. On the other hand, what did it offer? What equivalent could be expected by those who made the sacrifice? The call, which had acted as a test upon some directly by requiring from them an effort which they were not prepared to make, would winnow away others more gradually as soon as it was understood to offer no prospects which could tempt a worldly mind. In this way, without excluding any, Christ suffered the unworthy to exclude themselves. He kept them aloof by offering them nothing which they could find attractive. And all those who found Christ’s call attractive were such as were worthy to receive it. Such a winnowing of men as He accomplished is not unique in its kind. Every high-minded leader who gathers followers round him for any great purpose, when he calls to selfsacrifice and has no worldly rewards to offer, does something similar. And, therefore, in tracing the history of many other movements which have agitated great numbers, we are often reminded of those parables of Christ that begin, “The kingdom of heaven is like ” The quality which carries a man through the ordeal is faith. Such then, is the new test, and it will be found the only one which could answer Christ’s purpose. Every other good quality which we may wish to make the test of a man implies either too little or too much. (Ecce Homo.)

The autumn-fire

A hidden fire burns perpetually upon the hearth of the world. Scientific men call it by the hard name of eremacausis, which means quiet, or slow burning. We see its effects in the fading of leaves, in the rusting of iron, and in the mantling of the rosy blush upon the cheek of youth. Every tree is a burning bush. In autumn this great conflagration becomes especially manifest. Every blade of grass in the fields and every leaf in the woodlands is cast into the great oven of nature; and the bright colours of their fading are literally the flames of their consuming. By this autumn-fire God every year purges the floor of nature. All effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up, and only what has the promise of life and usefulness passes scathless through the ordeal. The straw and the chaff are consumed, and the wheat remains. As God thus purges His floor in nature, so He does in grace. We have a striking example of the effect of this autumn-fire in the removal of the effete things of the Levitical institution. The Mosaic dispensation had become dead ripe. Jesus came in the autumn of the world, when all things had grown ripe and old, and all growth had closed. He came to gather in the harvest of all previous dispensations. He came to cast fire upon the earth, to burn up the chaff of withered and effete institutions. His was a fiery baptism, which thoroughly purged His floor--which consumed the stubble and the withered foliage of the old growth that had served its purpose in the religious culture of a former age, and prepared them for being worked up into the new developments of the springtime of grace. The baptism of John was a process at purification; but it was only a baptism of water. Water can only remove superficial impurities; it cannot take away what is ingrained; it can cleanse surface and accidental or temporary stains, but it cannot change the nature of anything. And so the baptism of John could produce ceremonial purity, but it could not cleanse the sinful heart, or transform the erring and polluted mind. The baptism of Jesus, on the other hand, was a baptism of fire, and fire penetrates every substance submitted to its action, and changes it into its own nature. The fire of life in nature burns up all its decay and prepares it for new growth. And so in the fulness of time Jesus passed like an autumn fire over all the dead products of human attainment, thoroughly purging His floor. He caused, by the same fire of grace, to grow in spring freshness and beauty that fruit which is unto holiness, and whose end is everlasting life. But not once only in the end of the world did Jesus come to purge His floor with this sacred fire. He is coming continually, and His fire of purification is unquenchable. In each of these partial and temporary consumings He anticipates and foreshadows what He will do in the great and final judgment. In each human heart this sacred autumn fire of purification is burning as a vestal flame. To each human being the apostolic precept is uttered, “Quench not the Spirit,” put not out the heavenly fire. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

Christ’s fan

A fan is a certain instrument which the husbandman uses to cleanse, or purge his corn from the chaff, evil seeds, and all filth whatsoever. Now John Baptist alludes to such an instrument as this.

1. By Christ’s fan is meant His Word, His holy gospel, especially the doctrine thereof; it is by this He cleanses and purges His floor. “Now you are clean through the word I have spoken unto you.”

2. The dispensation of God’s providence: for this was also a fan in Christ’s hand, by which He fanned away those unbelieving Jews, and so purged His floor; I mean, the time was now come that their national, legal, and external church-state must be pulled down and dissolved, the dispensation was changed, the priesthood changed, and right of Church membership changed. So that unless they receive Christ, believe in Christ, and are found gracious persons, fit wheat for Christ’s spiritual garner or gospel Church (which is built up of lively stones), as chaff the gospel dispensation like a fan purges them out.

3. Christ hath also another fan in His hand, viz., the fan of Church discipline. And many persons falling into sin, are purged like chaff out of His floor thereby.

4. Jesus Christ hath also another fan in His hand to purge His floor, or cleanse His wheat from the chaff, filth, and defilement of sin, namely the Holy Spirit; and by this means He cleanses and purifies, in a gracious manner, the souls of His own people: “Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). What filthy creatures wore those Corinthians, before the Lord Jesus by His Spirit had purged and sanctified them. Faith, of the operation of God, is a most excellent grace; it is by faith in the blood of Christ that we come to be purged from the guilt of sin; faith applying His merits and righteousness unto the soul in justification; and such is the nature thereof, that it makes holy the hearts and lives of all such persons in whom it is by the Spirit wrought or infused in sanctification; “And hath put no difference between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9). Yea, it cleanseth them “from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, that they may perfect holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). But let me tell you that the Spirit and grace of Christ, in this respect, is as a fan, and rather to cleanse the saints, by purging out the chaff of corruption, which naturally is in their hearts and lives, than to purge hypocrites and false professors out of the Church, and to that I principally refer here.

5. Moreover, Christ hath the fan of persecution, or the sufferings of the cross, and all other afflictions which He brings upon His people, which He uses to purge and purify their souls, and His Churches too. And from hence afflictions are compared to a refiner’s fire: “He shall sit as a refiner’s fire, and purifier of silver.” He, that is, the Messiah, i.e., our Lord Jesus Christ; this His work, viz., to purge His people, who in this place are compared to silver and gold, that is refined; as in my text they are likened unto wheat. In this He is compared to a refiner, and hath His furnace; in the other to a husbandman, and so hath His fan. Both these texts allude to the same thing, and doing the same work, namely, to sever and separate the clean from the unclean, the gold from the dross, the chaff from the wheat. (Benjamin Keach.)

The fan of separation

Scripture abounds with comparisons drawn from the various occupations of the husbandman, e.g., threshing and winnowing Isaiah 21:10; Jeremiah 15:7). The visible Church may be considered as Christ’s floor here On this floor, or in the visible Church, there is a mixture of wheat and chaff--of really believing and holy people, with hypocrites and ungodly persons. A separation, however, will be made between them. Christ is omniscient to discriminate character; and omnipotent to put His will into execution. He distinguishes and separates characters--

By these means, a considerable distinction and discovery of character is made even now, and it will be completed at the Judgment. (James Foote, M. A.)

Only Christ can use the fan

How well it fits Him, and He it!Could Satan’s clutches snatch the fan, what work would he make! He would winnow in a tempest, yea, in a whirlwind, and blow the best away. Had man the fan in his hand, especially in distracted times, out goes for chaff all opposite to the opinions of his party. But the fan is in so good a hand it cannot be mended. Only His hand who knows hearts is proper for that employment. (Thomas Fuller.)

The design of the gospel is to separate the good from the bad

I. ‘Tis supposed in the text, that good and evil are really different in kind, absolutely and intrinsically, essentially and in the nature of things. This appears in the similitude under which good and bad men are here represented, of wheat and chaff; which are not mere external arbitrary denominations, but things in their whole nature and kind really and essentially different. The whole foundation of religion, and of God’s governing the world at all, as a moral governor, relies entirely upon this principle--that every man is, as to his moral character, what his own behaviour and practice makes him, really and intrinsically, and by as certain and determinate a distinction; as wheat and chaff are, by their real and proper natures, different from each other.

II. A distinct declaration, that the great design of God, as in every dispensation of religion in general, so in the gospel more particularly, is to separate the evil from the good by proper trials; and that this design will be effectually accomplished by Christ--in the present life partly, and to certain degrees; in the future life perfectly, totally, and finally. By temptations, therefore, of all kinds, is the sincerity of men’s virtue distinguished in the present life.

III. From hence (I say) arises one obvious and general inference, of great extent and of the highest importance-that whatever doctrine in religion has any tendency to persuade men, or make them imagine that they can be in any degree the better for their profession of the gospel of Christ, any otherwise than as their knowledge of the gospel of Christ makes them to be better and more virtuous men: that is, in the language of my text, whatever tends to persuade men that chaff may pass for wheat, while it continues to be only chaff, is a direct mockery of God, and deceit upon themselves. “Little children,” says the apostle, “let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous.” (S. Clarke, D. D.)


Verse 18

Luke 3:18; Luk_3:20

He shut up John in prison

Herod Antipas

The view here given of the character, conduct, and history of Herod Antipas is full of matter for awful reflection and serious admonition.

1. The mysteriousness of the ways of Providence. That a man so worthless should be permitted to cut short the labours and the life of so holy and useful a character, and that, too, in order to gratify the revenge of an abandoned adulteress, and to reward the vain exhibition of a giddy damsel, must, no doubt, at first appear strange. Yet the anger of God overtook: he persecutors before they left this world; and as for the holy sufferer, his work was done; and it was easy for his Lord to recompense to him his temporal sorrows a hundredfold in the world of glory.

2. The danger of power without grace. It is common to wish for power, and to envy those in whose hands it is; but when it is held without principle, it is fraught with peril, not only to those over whom it is exercised, but to those by whom it is possessed. They are generally borne away by the temptations which it presents to the gratification of caprice, luxury, covetousness, oppression, revenge, and every evil passion; and however prosperous their career may seem for a season, their end is generally destruction, and their memory is abhorred.

3. What is sin in the meanest is also sin in the highest. The judgment of God is impartial, and in every case He will render to each according to his deeds.

4. An awful commentary on human depravity.

5. The dreadful consequences which often result from the violation of the seventh commandment, and from intemperance.

6. We should learn to take reproof in good part. Well had it been for Herod if he had submitted to John’s rebuke and acted on it.

7. Sin, when pointed out, must be renounced. This man reverenced John, and yet lived and died in sin. Let us not do as he did. (James Foote, M. A.)

John’s rebuke of Herod

The life of John the Baptist divides itself into three distinct periods. Of the first, we are told that he was in the deserts until his showing unto Israel. This period lasted thirty years. The second is a shorter one. It comprises the few months of his public ministry. In the third we are to consider him as the tenant of a compelled solitude, in the dungeon of a capricious tyrant. A rare man, one of God’s heroic ones, a true conqueror; one whose life and motives it is hard to understand without feeling warmly and enthusiastically about them. One of the very highest characters, rightly understood, of all the Bible. In the verse which is to serve us for our guidance on this subject there are two branches which will afford us fruit of contemplation.

I. THE TRUTHFULNESS OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. “Herod being reproved by John for Herodias.” There are three things we remark in this truthfulness of John.

1. Its straightforwardness.

2. Its unconsciousness.

3. Its unselfishness.

II. THE APPARENT FAILURE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. “Shut up John in prison.” The first thought which suggests itself is that a magnificent career is cut short too soon. At the very outset of ripe and experienced manhood the whole thing ends in failure. John’s day of active usefulness is over. The crowds that listened to his voice, we hear of them no more. Herod heard John gladly, did much good by reason of his influence. What was all that worth? The prophet comes to himself in a dungeon, and wakes to the conviction, that his influence had told much in the way of commanding attention, and even winning reverence, but very little in the way of gaining souls-the bitterest, the most crushing discovery in the whole circle of ministerial experience. All this was seeming failure. And this, brethren, is the picture of almost all human life. In the isolation of John’s dying hour there appears failure again. The martyr of truth dies privately in Herod’s dungeon. We have no record of his last words. There were no crowds to look on. We cannot describe how he received his sentence. Was he calm? Was he agitated? Did he bless his murderer? Did he give utterance to any deep reflections on human life? All that is shrouded in silence. He bowed his head, and the sharp stroke fell flashing down. We know that, we know no more--apparently a noble life abortive. And now--

III. Let us ask the question--WAS ALL THIS INDEED FAILURE? NO, it was sublimest victory. John’s work was no failure. He left behind him no sect to which he had given his name, but his disciples passed into the service of Christ, and were absorbed in the Christian Church. Words from John had made impressions, and men forgot in after years where the impressions first came from, but the day of judgment will not forget. John laid the foundations of a temple, and others built upon it. He laid it in struggle, in martyrdom. It was covered up like the rough masonry below ground, but when we look round on the vast Christian Church, we are looking at the superstructure of John’s toil. There is a lesson for us all in that, if we will learn it. Work, true work, done honestly and manfully for Christ, never can be a failure. We are treading upon a bridge of martyrs. The suffering was theirs--the victory is ours.

IV. In conclusion, we make three remarks.

1. Let young and ardent minds, under the first impressions of religion, beware how they pledge themselves by any open profession to more than they can perform.

2. We get from this subject the doctrine of a resurrection. John’s life was hardness, his end was agony. Be content to feel that this world is not your home. Homeless upon earth; try more and more to make your home in heaven, above with Christ.

3. Devotedness to Christ is our only blessedness. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

John Baptist’s imprisonment

Josephus gives some interesting particulars respecting the imprisonment and murder of the Baptist, which are not supplied in the gospel history. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was at that time tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and had married the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian king, whose territories abutted on his own. When he was at Rome, however, he stayed at the house of his half-brother Philip, whose wife Herodias he conceived a passion for. Antipas made known his passion, and Herodias readily enough consented to leave Philip and go with him. The daughter of Aretas was divorced, and Herodias duly installed in her place. John the Baptist had the courage to denounce this infamous marriage; and by and by Herod Antipas, under pretence that he feared John’s popularity with the multitude might lead to disturbances, apprehended and imprisoned him. John was sent to Machaerus, or M’Khaur, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, where Herod had both a city and fortress. The site and ruins of Machaerus were identified by Canon Tristram in his visit to the Land of Moab in 1872. It was from this spot, then, that John sent two of his disciples to Christ to ask, “Art Thou He that should come?” And it was here that Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced before Antipas, and won for her infamous mother the head of John the Baptist. (Biblical Things Not Generally Known.)

John like Elijah

As the first Elijah reproved King Ahab for the murder of Naboth and the seizure of his vineyard, so the second Elijah rebuked King Herod for his lust. (W. Bull.)

Reproving a king

Dr. Hickington, chaplain to Charles II., used to preach at the king’s vices. This the king took to himself; and so, one day, he said, “Doctor, you and I ought to be better friends; give up being so sharp on me, and see if I don’t mend on your hand.” “Well, well,” quoth the doctor, “I’ll make it up with your Majesty on these terms: as you mend, I’ll mend.”

The king reproved

It is said that Henry the Great of France took much pleasure in conversing with an honest and religious man of low situation in life, who used great freedom with his Majesty. One day he said to the king, “Sire, I always take your part when I hear any man speaking evil of you; I know that you excel in justice and generosity, and that many worthy things have been done by you. But you have one vice for which God will condemn you, if you do not repent--I mean the unlawful love of women.” The king, it is said, was too magnanimous to resent this reproof, but he long felt it like an arrow in his bosom; and sometimes said that the most eloquent discourses of the doctors of the Sorbonne had never made such an impression on his soul as this honest reproof from his humble friend.

Excommunicating a prince

William IX., Duke of Aquitaine and Earl of Polctiers, was a violent and dissolute prince, and often indulged himself in improper behaviour at the expense of religion. Though he had contracted a very suitable marriage, and one with which he was satisfied for some time, he parted from his wife without reason, to marry another who pleased him better. The Bishop of Polctiers, by name Peter, could not brook so great a scandal; and having employed all other means in vain, he thought it his duty to excommunicate the duke. As he began to pronounce the anathema, William furiously advanced, sword in hand, saying, “Thou art dead if thou proceedest.” The bishop, as if afraid, required a few moments to consider what was most expedient. The duke granted it, and the bishop courageously finished the rest of the formula of excommunication. After which, extending his neck, “Now, strike,” said he, “I am quite ready.” The astonishment which this intrepid conduct produced in the duke disarmed his fury, and saying, ironically, “I don’t like you well enough to send you to heaven,” he contented himself with banishing him.

Moral courage

Dr. Harris, the minister of Hanwell, during the Civil Wars, frequently had military officers quartered at his house. A party of them, being unmindful of the reverence due to the holy name of God, indulged themselves in swearing. The doctor noticed this, and on the following Sunday preached from these words--“Above all things, my brethren, swear not.” This so enraged the soldiers, who judged the sermon was intended for them, that they swore they would shoot him if he preached on the subject again. He was not, however, to be intimidated; and, on the following Sunday, he not only preached from the same text, but inveighed in still stronger terms against the vice of swearing. As he was preaching a soldier levelled his carabine at him; but he went on to the conclusion of his sermon, without the slightest fear or hesitation.


Verse 20

Luke 3:18; Luk_3:20

He shut up John in prison

Herod Antipas

The view here given of the character, conduct, and history of Herod Antipas is full of matter for awful reflection and serious admonition.

1. The mysteriousness of the ways of Providence. That a man so worthless should be permitted to cut short the labours and the life of so holy and useful a character, and that, too, in order to gratify the revenge of an abandoned adulteress, and to reward the vain exhibition of a giddy damsel, must, no doubt, at first appear strange. Yet the anger of God overtook: he persecutors before they left this world; and as for the holy sufferer, his work was done; and it was easy for his Lord to recompense to him his temporal sorrows a hundredfold in the world of glory.

2. The danger of power without grace. It is common to wish for power, and to envy those in whose hands it is; but when it is held without principle, it is fraught with peril, not only to those over whom it is exercised, but to those by whom it is possessed. They are generally borne away by the temptations which it presents to the gratification of caprice, luxury, covetousness, oppression, revenge, and every evil passion; and however prosperous their career may seem for a season, their end is generally destruction, and their memory is abhorred.

3. What is sin in the meanest is also sin in the highest. The judgment of God is impartial, and in every case He will render to each according to his deeds.

4. An awful commentary on human depravity.

5. The dreadful consequences which often result from the violation of the seventh commandment, and from intemperance.

6. We should learn to take reproof in good part. Well had it been for Herod if he had submitted to John’s rebuke and acted on it.

7. Sin, when pointed out, must be renounced. This man reverenced John, and yet lived and died in sin. Let us not do as he did. (James Foote, M. A.)

John’s rebuke of Herod

The life of John the Baptist divides itself into three distinct periods. Of the first, we are told that he was in the deserts until his showing unto Israel. This period lasted thirty years. The second is a shorter one. It comprises the few months of his public ministry. In the third we are to consider him as the tenant of a compelled solitude, in the dungeon of a capricious tyrant. A rare man, one of God’s heroic ones, a true conqueror; one whose life and motives it is hard to understand without feeling warmly and enthusiastically about them. One of the very highest characters, rightly understood, of all the Bible. In the verse which is to serve us for our guidance on this subject there are two branches which will afford us fruit of contemplation.

I. THE TRUTHFULNESS OF CHRISTIAN CHARACTER. “Herod being reproved by John for Herodias.” There are three things we remark in this truthfulness of John.

1. Its straightforwardness.

2. Its unconsciousness.

3. Its unselfishness.

II. THE APPARENT FAILURE OF CHRISTIAN LIFE. “Shut up John in prison.” The first thought which suggests itself is that a magnificent career is cut short too soon. At the very outset of ripe and experienced manhood the whole thing ends in failure. John’s day of active usefulness is over. The crowds that listened to his voice, we hear of them no more. Herod heard John gladly, did much good by reason of his influence. What was all that worth? The prophet comes to himself in a dungeon, and wakes to the conviction, that his influence had told much in the way of commanding attention, and even winning reverence, but very little in the way of gaining souls-the bitterest, the most crushing discovery in the whole circle of ministerial experience. All this was seeming failure. And this, brethren, is the picture of almost all human life. In the isolation of John’s dying hour there appears failure again. The martyr of truth dies privately in Herod’s dungeon. We have no record of his last words. There were no crowds to look on. We cannot describe how he received his sentence. Was he calm? Was he agitated? Did he bless his murderer? Did he give utterance to any deep reflections on human life? All that is shrouded in silence. He bowed his head, and the sharp stroke fell flashing down. We know that, we know no more--apparently a noble life abortive. And now--

III. Let us ask the question--WAS ALL THIS INDEED FAILURE? NO, it was sublimest victory. John’s work was no failure. He left behind him no sect to which he had given his name, but his disciples passed into the service of Christ, and were absorbed in the Christian Church. Words from John had made impressions, and men forgot in after years where the impressions first came from, but the day of judgment will not forget. John laid the foundations of a temple, and others built upon it. He laid it in struggle, in martyrdom. It was covered up like the rough masonry below ground, but when we look round on the vast Christian Church, we are looking at the superstructure of John’s toil. There is a lesson for us all in that, if we will learn it. Work, true work, done honestly and manfully for Christ, never can be a failure. We are treading upon a bridge of martyrs. The suffering was theirs--the victory is ours.

IV. In conclusion, we make three remarks.

1. Let young and ardent minds, under the first impressions of religion, beware how they pledge themselves by any open profession to more than they can perform.

2. We get from this subject the doctrine of a resurrection. John’s life was hardness, his end was agony. Be content to feel that this world is not your home. Homeless upon earth; try more and more to make your home in heaven, above with Christ.

3. Devotedness to Christ is our only blessedness. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

John Baptist’s imprisonment

Josephus gives some interesting particulars respecting the imprisonment and murder of the Baptist, which are not supplied in the gospel history. Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was at that time tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea, and had married the daughter of Aretas, an Arabian king, whose territories abutted on his own. When he was at Rome, however, he stayed at the house of his half-brother Philip, whose wife Herodias he conceived a passion for. Antipas made known his passion, and Herodias readily enough consented to leave Philip and go with him. The daughter of Aretas was divorced, and Herodias duly installed in her place. John the Baptist had the courage to denounce this infamous marriage; and by and by Herod Antipas, under pretence that he feared John’s popularity with the multitude might lead to disturbances, apprehended and imprisoned him. John was sent to Machaerus, or M’Khaur, on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, where Herod had both a city and fortress. The site and ruins of Machaerus were identified by Canon Tristram in his visit to the Land of Moab in 1872. It was from this spot, then, that John sent two of his disciples to Christ to ask, “Art Thou He that should come?” And it was here that Salome, the daughter of Herodias, danced before Antipas, and won for her infamous mother the head of John the Baptist. (Biblical Things Not Generally Known.)

John like Elijah

As the first Elijah reproved King Ahab for the murder of Naboth and the seizure of his vineyard, so the second Elijah rebuked King Herod for his lust. (W. Bull.)

Reproving a king

Dr. Hickington, chaplain to Charles II., used to preach at the king’s vices. This the king took to himself; and so, one day, he said, “Doctor, you and I ought to be better friends; give up being so sharp on me, and see if I don’t mend on your hand.” “Well, well,” quoth the doctor, “I’ll make it up with your Majesty on these terms: as you mend, I’ll mend.”

The king reproved

It is said that Henry the Great of France took much pleasure in conversing with an honest and religious man of low situation in life, who used great freedom with his Majesty. One day he said to the king, “Sire, I always take your part when I hear any man speaking evil of you; I know that you excel in justice and generosity, and that many worthy things have been done by you. But you have one vice for which God will condemn you, if you do not repent--I mean the unlawful love of women.” The king, it is said, was too magnanimous to resent this reproof, but he long felt it like an arrow in his bosom; and sometimes said that the most eloquent discourses of the doctors of the Sorbonne had never made such an impression on his soul as this honest reproof from his humble friend.

Excommunicating a prince

William IX., Duke of Aquitaine and Earl of Polctiers, was a violent and dissolute prince, and often indulged himself in improper behaviour at the expense of religion. Though he had contracted a very suitable marriage, and one with which he was satisfied for some time, he parted from his wife without reason, to marry another who pleased him better. The Bishop of Polctiers, by name Peter, could not brook so great a scandal; and having employed all other means in vain, he thought it his duty to excommunicate the duke. As he began to pronounce the anathema, William furiously advanced, sword in hand, saying, “Thou art dead if thou proceedest.” The bishop, as if afraid, required a few moments to consider what was most expedient. The duke granted it, and the bishop courageously finished the rest of the formula of excommunication. After which, extending his neck, “Now, strike,” said he, “I am quite ready.” The astonishment which this intrepid conduct produced in the duke disarmed his fury, and saying, ironically, “I don’t like you well enough to send you to heaven,” he contented himself with banishing him.

Moral courage

Dr. Harris, the minister of Hanwell, during the Civil Wars, frequently had military officers quartered at his house. A party of them, being unmindful of the reverence due to the holy name of God, indulged themselves in swearing. The doctor noticed this, and on the following Sunday preached from these words--“Above all things, my brethren, swear not.” This so enraged the soldiers, who judged the sermon was intended for them, that they swore they would shoot him if he preached on the subject again. He was not, however, to be intimidated; and, on the following Sunday, he not only preached from the same text, but inveighed in still stronger terms against the vice of swearing. As he was preaching a soldier levelled his carabine at him; but he went on to the conclusion of his sermon, without the slightest fear or hesitation.


Verse 21

Luke 3:21

Jesus also being baptized--

Meeting of Jesus with John

The people, I read, “mused,” wondering if John were the expected Messiah.
John, too, mused, we may be sure. “Words! words! words!” at the end of each long sultry day, as he laid him down in some rocky cave what time the sun sank suddenly and the stars hung like balls of fire in the purple sky, and the cry of the wild beast was heard as he stole forth to drink at the fords of the Jordan. ‘ I can baptize them with water. I can tell them to repent. Poor forlorn sheep upon the mountains--where shall they find their shepherd? I am the voice crying in the wilderness--where is the Divine Prophet? I baptize with water--who will give them the fiery baptism of the soul? Who will help them to seek, and nerve them to act? “And then came One on a certain still morn, early, it may be, before the heat of the day, with only a few zealous stragglers about, waiting for baptism, and John met Him by the Jordan river. Needless to explain. Soul met soul. John knew his Master as surely as did frail Peter when he cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”; or doubting Thomas when, heart-struck, he murmered, “My Lord, and my God!” “I have need,” were John’s first words--yea, we all have need face to face with Jesus--“I have need to be baptized of Thee.” And then came the first words of Christ’s ministry, they struck the keynote of the gospel, “Suffer it to be so now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” The heart of Christianity lies there; Christ the Companion of man, the Example of man. The Saviour, because the revelator of a Divine union between God and man, a spiritual life in man. And on the morrow the Baptist saw Him walking by the river, and pointing Him out, exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God!” &c. Message to the Ages! Call to every Pilgrim of the night! Be of good cheer, thy help is nigh. God in Christ is your Saviour, because Christ in human nature means Christ in you, the Divine power revealed in every man, as he is able to receive and use it. Let that vision remain with us. Blessed gleam of the morning light I Behold Jesus going down into the Jordan to be baptized, one with us, never more to be separated from us--Great Elder Brother, dear Friend! Close to us in the waters of purification, close to us in the burden and heat of the day, close to us in the shadow of our Gethsemane, close to us in the Calvary of our pain, the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world
. (H. R. Haweis, M. A.)

Christ and John

The relation between Jesus and John resembles two stars following each other at a short distance, both passing through similar circumstances. The announcement of the appearing of the one follows close upon that of the appearing of the other, it is the same with their two births. This relation repeats itself in the commencement of their respective ministries; and lastly, in the catastrophes which terminate their lives. And yet, in the whole course of the career of these two, there was but one personal meeting--at the baptism of Jesus. After this moment, when one of these stars rapidly crossed the orbit of the ether, they separated, each to follow the path that was marked out for him. (F. Godet, D. D.)

Jesus baptized

I. 1. The preaching of John the Baptist was the sign that the active ministry of the Messiah was now to begin. The Incarnate Word had been hidden among men. His presence must now be manifested and His kingdom set up.

2. His first act in passing from His hidden to His active life, is to identify Himself with that sinning race in whose likeness He had come.

3. This humiliation was temporary and voluntary--“Suffer it to be so now,” i.e., “for the present time”; “for thus it becometh us”--not “it is necessary”--“to fulfil all righteousness.”

4. Notice how He who in His boyhood “must be about His Father’s business,” in His manhood must “fulfil all righteousness.”

II. 1. There is a deep sense in which this undergoing the baptism of John was a fulfilling all righteousness. It was a revelation that man’s nature needs not merely improvement but renewal. Baptism represents the death of the old man and the resurrection of the new.

2. It is that He who thus humiliated Himself for us may fulfil all righteousness in us that we pray, “By Thy baptism,… good Lord, deliver us.” (Canon Vernon Hutton, M. A.)

The significance of Christ’s baptism

One purpose of His baptism our Lord Himself mentions, in order to satisfy the scruples of the reluctant Baptist; “Suffer now, for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” The first and obvious sense of this is, that since the baptism of John was of God, it became Him, as being born in the people to whom God had given it, to submit Himself to it as the ordinance of God. But then, other grounds might be included in this, as involved in the character and person of Him who thus submitted Himself. The words may have been left, on purpose, undefined, in order to comprehend the more. “He added not,” says St. Jerome, “the righteousness of the law, or of nature, that we might understand both.” The righteousness fulfilled was in Him humility surpassing all thought, in that while God He received the baptism of the sinners whose nature He had taken; in Him it was love, which is the fulfilling of the law, in that He received that which He needed not, that they who need it might the more gladly receive it; and so it may be also that He was baptized, not only to give an example of obedience, or healthfully to shame those who to their destruction would have disdained it, but in it to fulfil all righteousness by cleansing the sinful nature in the likeness whereof He had come, and to impart to it as a whole the righteousness which He should afterwards communicate, one by one, to those who came to the baptism which He had thus consecrated. And again, all righteousness may thereby have been fulfilled in it, in that an everlasting righteousness was thereby brought in, and the element consecrated whereby the justifying efficacy of His meritorious Cross and Passion were to be conveyed to all believers. The one sense will not exclude the other; as of all our blessed Saviour’s actions and words, it is to be believed that they have a manifold depth and meaning, of which each application brings out but one portion; these gifts are a “precious stone,” “whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.” (E. B.Pusey, D. D.)

Christ submitting to baptism

In presenting Himself for baptism, Jesus had to make, as others did (Matthew 3:6; Mark 1:7), His confession of sins. Of what sins, if not of those of His people and of the world in general? He placed before John a striking picture of them, not with that pride and scorn with which the Jews spoke of the sins of the heathen, and the Pharisees of the sins of the publicans, but with the humble and compassionate tones of an Isaiah (chap. 63.), a Daniel (chap. 9.), or a Nehemiah (chap. 9.), when they confessed the miseries of their people, as it the burden were their own. He could not have gone down into the water after such an act of communion with our misery, unless resolved to give Himself up entirely to the work of putting an end to the reign of sin. He did not content Himself with making a vow. He prayed, the text tells us; He besought God for all that He needed for the accomplishment of this great task, to take away the sin of the world. He asked for wisdom, for spiritual strength, and particularly for the solution of the mystery which family records, the Scriptures, and His own holiness had created about His person. We can understand how John, after hearing Him confess and pray thus, should say, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!(F. Godet, D. D.)

Christ’s baptism gives virtue to ours

His last action, or rather passion, was His baptizing with blood; His first was His baptization with water: both of them wash the world from their sins. Yea, this latter did not only wash the souls of men, but washeth that very water by which we are washed; from hence is that made both clean and holy, and can both cleanse and hallow us. (Bishop Hall.)

The scene of Christ’s baptism

A river that had never been navigable, flowing into a sea that had never known a port? A river almost equal in length to our own Thames, but with no great city gathered upon its banks, and winding through no grand or picturesque scenery Such was the river of God, of which the Hebrew psalmist sung; the sacred river of Old Testament story, upon which Lot, the wandering emigrant, once lifted up his eyes; which Jacob, returning from exile, crossed with his staff, and over which had passed the descendants of the patriarch’s twelve sons--a mighty nation, emancipated, and brought from afar, to inherit the land. Since then, along its shores, the tide of many a momentous battle had rolled; its waters had washed the leper clean; and among its pink oleanders and yellow marigolds, prophets had lingered in meditation, or listened at midnight to messages from heaven that made their skin creep. It was while standing on its brink that Elijah, the chief of an illustrious line, had been swept up in the chariot of the whirlwind; and by the sound of its waves, David, the prince of kings, had both thundered in victorious fight, and wept in misery. But now, at last, there is a new thing--a surprising thing. At one of the upper fords of this ancient river, the Redeemer of the world appears: not working marvellous works, or drawing crowds around Him by the magic of His gracious words, but meekly applying to receive at the hands of the reforming preacher of the day, who had been pronouncing the nation morally unclean, and calling it to repentance--a most humiliating rite; a rite which was understood to express the recipient’s conviction of sin, and his need of purification. (N. R. Wood.)

The baptism of Christ

There is one thing for us to remember, in conclusion: namely, that the baptism which St. John preached, but which he hesitated to administer to the spotless and holy Jesus, had its meaning most fully expressed only when it became administered to Him; for what was it intended to set forth? The nation’s conscious burthen of sin! And who, of all the multitudes that flocked to be baptized, felt that burthen as Christ did? Some there were, doubt less, among the throng, who mourned truly and deeply their transgressions and the transgressions of the time; devout men, like the greyhaired Simeon, who had long been dissatisfied with themselves and with the existing state of things; but not one, even of the most profoundly stirred and quickened of these, felt the ugliness and horror of their sins, and of Israel’s corruption, as He felt it. He not only confessed and repented with the people, but for them; suffering in His righteous soul what they ought to have suffered, and did not, nay, could not; offering to God what they ought to have offered, and failed to offer, nay, were unable to offer--an adequate feeling of sin, an adequate sorrow and atonement for it. They truly confessed and repented only in Him; in Him was presented the perfect confession and repentance, of which, at their very best, they fell far short. (N. R. Wood.)

John’s baptism reached its fullest expression in Christ’s submission to it

See the mother, in the midst of a group of little ones, mingling her tearswith theirs, at the father’s grave. They feel that they have lost something precious; but it is she alone who feels, as she stands bowed among them, how much they have lost. They all kneel together on the sod, and the eyes of all are alike swimming with grief: but what is their impression of the bereavement they have sustained, in comparison with hers? What is their anguish for themselves, compared with her anguish for the fatherless ones? Weep as the children may, the full bitterness of their loss is borne, not by the children, but by the mother who weeps with them. So when Christ joined with the multitude in their baptism of contrition, to none of them were their sins half so burdensome and oppressive as they were to Him; none of them endured, under their deepest convictions, the half of that which He endured for them. The meaning of St. John’s baptism reached its fullest expression in His submission to it, upon whom there was laid the iniquity of all; who, being at once the sinless one and the loving one, saw sins and sinners with God’s eyes, and felt, in reference to them, with God’s heart. (N. R. Wood.)

The baptism of Jesus

The cry of John the Baptist was: Repent; and his baptism was that of repentance. What, then, was the meaning of our Lord’s baptism? It could not signify that He repented. It was a symbolical act followed by that of which it was the symbol--the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Learn--

I. THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ORDINANCE OF BAPTISM. That to which our Lord submitted cannot be considered indifferent by any of His disciples.

II. ORDINANCES OF GOD’S APPOINTING, REVERENTLY AND INTELLIGENTLY SUBMITTED TO, ARE OFTEN THE CHANNELS OF BLESSING. “Being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened,” &c. Rites unintelligently or superstitiously performed often hide the truth and lead into dangerous error; but when understood as symbolizing or declaring a living truth they are often important aids in teaching truth, and in stimulating to the acquiring of spiritual blessing. (D. Longwill.)

The baptism of Christ

It was--

I. THE PROCLAMATION OF HIS HUMAN RELATIONSHIP TO MAN AND TO GOD.

II. By this act tie bound together in submission to His Father’s WILL THE OLD AND NEW DISPENSATIONS, AND RECOGNIZED HIMSELF AS THE CENTRAL POINT OF HISTORY.

III. IT CONSECRATED HIM KING OF THE THEOCRATIC KINGDOM, AND PROCLAIMED TO ALL MEN THAT HIS ORGANIZATION OF THAT KINGDOM HAD BEGUN.

IV. HOW DOES CHRIST’S BAPTISM SPEAK TO US? We have rites of consecration, but these are not the parallels in our lives to this moment in the life of Jesus. There are hours of consecration in our lives of which none know but God and ourselves. (Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

The inauguration

Christ’s example shows that obedience to the Divine Spirit of the time ever brings fuller disclosures and attestations of the Divine blessing. The heavens are opened to every obedient man, and the Spirit of God descends on the last as on the first. John’s baptism had gone no further than repentance; but Christ, standing with the dove resting upon Him, showed that there was a baptism unto holiness. By John’s baptism men were put into a right relation to the past: but as they followed Christ they were put into a right relation to the future; from the negative condition of repentance they passed to the affirmative attitude of holiness. This is the culmination of human history. We have come through man, servant, prophet, messenger, up to Son. The very nomenclature is pregnant with sublime moral significance. We pass from “made,” to “begotten,” from “upright” to “beloved,” from the “us” of the creating Trinity to the “my” of the benignant Father, from the “very good” of the first Adam to the “well-pleased” of the second. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The inauguration of Christ

The baptism of Christ was, first of all, the public announcement and inauguration of Christ to His work. John the Baptist had conic “to bear witness of the Light,” and now his work was nearly done. One last act remained to be done, the solemn setting apart of the Christ to His redeeming work. The baptism closed our Lord’s private life and began His public ministry. He who had gone down into the water known to men as “the Son of Mary,” came up thence declared to be “the Son of God,”

The baptism, with the opened heavens, and the Spirit descending like a dove, and abiding on Jesus, and the witness borne by the voice of God Himself, was the sublime inauguration of the Saviour of the world to His great mission. From that hour John’s prophetic work was done. It expired, to use Davison’s beautiful image, as Old Testament prophecy had expired, with “the gospel upon its tongue.” (G. S. Barrett, B. A.)

The people were baptized

There are many of every sort of people--as we may read--saved in the gospel, but of Pharisees we find none but one, namely, Nicodemus; no sort of men are further from the kingdom of God than proud justiciars. For as a vessel full of one liquor is not capable of another, so the soul which is filled with a vain conceit of her own righteousness, is not capable of the grace of Christ. Grace entereth not into such a soul, because it is full, neither doth grace find any place to dwell therein. There is no place for grace to enter in, where merit hath possession: what thou attributest to merits, is wanting to grace. I will none of that merit which excludes grace. (Bishop Cowper.)

The Baptism of Christ

1. He would hereby honour the ministry of man, in that He submits Himself unto it, and seeketh to it with much pains and labour.

2. As He was baptized, not by an angel or prince, but by a homely man that lived like an hermit in an austere manner of life for diet and clothing; so must not we account baser of the sacraments for the meanness of the man, if a lawful minister, seeing Christ refused not the sacrament at John’s hands; neither must we from the meanest minister, seeing the least in the kingdom of God is greater than John.

3. Christ was content to wash in a common water, in the flood Jordan; He feared no infection from it, though Naaman the leper were washed there; though the Pharisees and hypocrites washed there: yet He takes no exception, contracts no uncleanness; so the wickedness of another communicant doth not prejudice him that is rightly prepared, though he communicate with him in the sacrament, yet not in his sin. Although He undertook not the sacrament as a sacrament of regeneration, or as a symbol of new life, yet He did--

(3) Christ would be baptized, not to wash Himself, but us; not to put off sin as we, but to put on our sin, that so our sin in Him might be washed away, that He might sanctify this sacrament. Again, this is for our instruction, to note the excellency and dignity of this sacrament, and what esteem we ought to have it in; the Lord comes to the servant a tedious journey to seek it; yet many of us, when it is brought to us, turn our backs upon it. What price set they upon it who flee forth of the Church when this sacrament is to be administered? Shall Christ that needed it not, come to it, and shall we that need it run from it? This I will add to what I have elsewhere largely delivered, that whosoever do not present themselves with due reverence and meditation, but run out carelessly and profanely when baptism is administered, they be far from Christ’s example, and little comfort can they have of their baptism, but may well fear, lest those mysteries and benefits offered and sealed to a member of the congregation belong not to them; for if they did they would own them, and not run contemptuously from them; as good never baptized, as never meditate on it. But, were thyself to take no good by the sacrament, in calling to mind thine own covenant made in baptism, with the fruit in thyself, yet good order requires thy presence.

1. Because the ordinance belongs not only to the infants’ parents and sureties, but to the whole congregation, as the entering of a free man into a corporation is by the whole.

2. God looks it should be graced, and not scorned by turning thy back upon it. Were it not a most irreverent contempt to run out from the Word? and is it not also to run from the seal? especially the blessed Trinity being met to such a purpose, to seal such benefits to a member of that congregation?

3. Thy presence is requisite to help the infant by prayer, to join with the congregation in prayer and in praise for the ingrafting of a member into Christ’s body. But what law or ordinance was there for baptism, to which Christ must be subjected?

It was decreed by the whole Trinity.

1. That Christ should be initiated by this ceremony, wherein also He must manifest Himself the Author of all purity and cleanness.

2. John had preached it, and showed the necessity of it by Divine authority.

3. He would not only subject Himself to His Father’s ordination, but also for our sakes, the virtue of whose baptism depends upon His, as also give us help by His example, and therefore would Himself do that which He commanded others to do.

4. Christ as Mediator, and in our stead, was to be made our righteousness 1 Corinthians 1:30); three ways:

The baptism of Christ

I. St. Matthew gives us THE REASON WHY THIS BAPTISM TOOK PLACE. “Suffer it to be so now,” He said to John, “for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” He was anxious to obey every Divine law, to conform to every Divine institution, to work out and complete a righteousness extensive as the Divine commands. And this answer exhibits the Saviour to us in two characters, each illustrating the propriety of His baptism.

1. He stands here as the Representative of His people. Now they are an unclean people. We argue from His appearing in their form, that He was the Representative of His sinful people; and then we argue from His being their Representative, that it became Him to be baptized.

2. He was also their Head; standing in the relation to them of a Leader or Chief. The Captain of our salvation puts on Himself the garb in which He arrays His soldiers. The Commander submits first to the oath that He enjoins on His followers.

II. Let us look now at His BAPTISM ITSELF.

1. The first circumstance that strikes us in it, is His simple obedience to the Divine law. It bids you obey the Divine law, not scan it. It bids you do the will of God, not criticise it. The will of God must be done, and every command of God obeyed.

2. And notice the humility manifested here, the amazing condescension of Christ. He was now coming forth among men to make known His high pretensions. And how does He appear? Working miracles and doing wonders? Bursting forth like the sun in his brightness, “glorious in his apparel, travelling in the greatness of his strength”? No; “He cometh from Galilee to Jordan unto John to be baptized of him.” We can hardly form one faint idea of the extent of this degradation. Not indeed a sinner, but appearing as one, assuming a character He had bidden angels and archangels loathe. The manger, the stable, the carpenter’s hut and the carpenter’s toil--they were all as nothing; no word of His had poured contempt on any one of them: but to be the thing He had branded; to come forth into sight as though He were the character He abhorred; verily, brethren, this was the infinite abasement of an infinite God.

3. And mark also the devotion the Saviour manifested on this occasion.

III. We come now to our third subject--THE WONDERFUL EVENT WHICH ATTENDED THE SCENE OF HUMILIATION WE HAVE BEEN CONTEMPLATING. “It came to pass,” says the evangelist, “that Jesus also being baptized and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art My beloved Son; in Thee I am well pleased.”

1. Observe here the greatness of Christ; His dignity. And it is a remarkable fact that throughout His life, whenever we see Him signally abased, we generally see His Father putting on Him signal honour. He is born in a manger, but a star in the heavens proclaims His advent, and over Him are ringing the songs of angels.

2. We see here also the Messiahship of Christ. First comes the voice of prophecy, marking out the future Messiah as one on whom the Spirit of the Lord was to descend and rest; one who, at His entrance on His office, was to be anointed with the spirit, just as earthly monarchs and priests were anointed with the holy oil. Besides, in all this there was a special reference to John himself.

3. But this event establishes another point. While it proves the reality of our Lord’s Messiahship, it declares His qualifications for the discharge of this office. The Spirit descended on Him in Jordan to qualify Him for what we may call the moral part of His great work; to enable Him to reach the mind of man, and influence and rule it. He Himself tells us so. Led by the Spirit He had received, He first goes into the wilderness to have His own faith and obedience put to the test; and when He had been taught there by His own experience, what this Spirit could do for the suffering and tempted, He begins His public ministry at Nazareth by declaring the qualifications bestowed on Him for the discharge of His office. “The Spirit of the Lord,” He says, “is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind; to set at liberty them that are bruised.” And this Spirit abode on Him. St.

Matthew informs us that the dove “rested,” as well as descended on Him; and St. Luke speaks of Him as going up from the river into the wilderness, “full of the Holy Ghost.” His blessed gifts are made over to Him, placed at His disposal; and for this purpose, that He may communicate them to whomsoever He will.

4. We are taught also here the high estimation in which the anointed Saviour is held by His Father; the complacency and delight with which He regards Him. From a review of this history we learn, first, the importance which God attaches to His own ordinances, the honour He puts on them. “We see here also the insufficiency of ordinances. Baptism, though administered by a prophet and received by Christ, was powerless; or if it had any efficacy, that efficacy was limited; it evidently left much undone. It could not touch the soul of Jesus; it did not qualify Him for His mediatorial work. To accomplish these ends, the Holy Ghost comes down from on high, rests and abides on Him. (C. Bradley, M. A.)

And praying.

Christ praying

To most, if not to all of us, the fact that our Saviour prayed is in itself a wonder. This does not, however, seem to have struck the gospel-writers. Prayers of Christ precious, as showing how completely human He became, living like ourselves, a life of dependence, of communion, and of submission.

I. THE OCCASION ON WHICH THE SAVIOUR IS HAS SAID TO HAVE PRAYED. AS undergone by Christ, the rite of baptism would seem to have had a twofold meaning.

1. It was intended to be symbolic of His entire oneness with the race He came to save.

2. It was intended to be emblematic of His complete consecration to the salvation of the race to which He came.

II. THE REASONS WHICH LED HIM TO PRAY.

1. We are not to suppose that Christ’s praying on this occasion

(a) arose from any doubt in His mind as to the propriety of the work on which He was entering;

(b) sprang out of any misgiving as to His own appointment to it;

(c) was due to any uncertainty as to His personal fitness for it. No, but--

2. Bearing in mind the meaning of the baptism with which His prayer was associated, we may imagine that His prayer on this occasion would spring--

(a) from His pure passion for the glorification of the Father;

(b) from His intense longing for the salvation of the world;

(c) from His vivid anticipation of the difficulties which lay before Him;

(d) from His keen prevision of the sorrows that awaited Him.

III. THE RESPONSE WHICH CAME TO OUR SAVIOUR’S PRAYER.

1. There was a special communication of the Divine Spirit.

2. There was a special assurance of the Divine complacency. Practical lesson: PRAYER A PREPARATION FOR SERVICE. (B. Wilkinson, F. G. S.)

For the first, He was now baptized, and in regard of that He prayed, and teacheth us--

1. In that He first was baptized, and then prayed, that we must be first cleansed and sanctified, and then pray: men must lift pure hands with pure hearts in every place (Isaiah 1:16). In receiving the sacrament a holy heart knows that he hath to do with God, and lifteth itself above sensible elements; it labours to approve itself to God, and looks not at men, but at God and His covenant, and renews itself with faith, repentance, and invocation.

2. In that Christ goeth to God for a blessing upon the sacrament received, we learn that all the grace, holiness, and efficacy of any sacrament is to be obtained, continued and increased by the means of prayer.

For the second, Christ prayed in respect of that He was to do.

1. He was now to be declared that great Prophet of His Church Deuteronomy 18:18). And the whole ministry of the New Testament was now to be delivered and consecrated in Him, and therefore undertaking this great work, He goeth to His Father for blessing and success in it.

2. He was now in a solemn manner by sundry testimonies from heaven to be set apart for the work of redemption, and the salvation of man being lost: a ministry which men and angels were all too weak for; and no marvel, if He pray to His Father for sufficient strength and grace to undergo the same.

3. He knew that the heavens were to be opened, and therefore He will be in prayer, to show the power of prayer, that it pierceth the heavens, and entereth the presence of God, and prevaileth for a blessing.

4. The Spirit was to descend upon Him, and therefore He would be in prayer to teach us that the prayers of God’s children are of that force that they bring down the Holy Ghost with all graces upon earth.

5. That faithful prayer doth cause God to give some evident testimony upon those with whom He is well pleased.

6. That whatever we take in hand, we must reverently undertake it with prayer, but especially two things above others.

2. Such is our weakness, as when we do anything the best we can, we had need to pray to do it better, and for pardon that we have done it no better: which if it be true in external things and duties, wherein we are better acquainted; much more in spiritual, wherein our ability is much less.

3. We never receive so much favour from God, but we still stand in need to crave more; nor never so little, but that we have much to be thankful for. This doctrine serves to reprove such as content themselves with the work of God’s worship; that come to the word and sacraments, but beg not a blessing of God beforehand; whereas Christ Himself contented not Himself with the outward means, but prayed for a blessing. And this is the very cause why men find so little taste, strength, and power in these ordinances, because God’s blessing goes not with the means; and therefore it is sundered from His own ordinances, because it is not asked. Is it any marvel, that when men come carelessly, carnally, and profanely, without reverence and religion to the exercises of religion, that they go away as brutishly as they come; and the longer they thus profane God’s holy things, the more senseless and incurable they grow by them, more hardened and hopeless. What good hath many a man gotten by customable coming to the word and sacraments many years together? for their knowledge, babes may pose them in principles; for their conscience, we may as soon prevail with children of three years old, to sit reverently and attentively, as some of three or fourscore, who in the morning are so sleepy, as it were fitter they were at home in their beds, or take order to bring their beds with them: and for their profitableness in their places, or reformation of anything in public, or in their private families, or their own person, God nor man can see no such thing. Now would I ask these men as old as they be, how often they can remember they have humbled themselves before God, that He would bless the Word unto them, and them to understand it, and make conscience of it, to reform their ways, to comfort their consciences? Alas, dead men! this is a strange motion to them; and now we conclude, no blessing asked, none obtained, but a curse accompanied them further to harden them: whereas humble and feeling prayer would have opened the heavens and fetched down the Spirit to have accompanied the ordinance; and so some testimony would have been seen, that God had been better pleased with them and their work.

3. It is a notable fence against sin: for, as the more sin prevails, the less can a man pray; for the more he prays, the less is he overtaken with sin. When the true man is assaulted, if he cry for help, the thief runs away; and so doth sin (a thief which ever doggeth and besetteth us to rob us and steal away grace) if we can cry mightily to God.

4. Acquaint thyself with God; for the times come when nothing will stand by thee but His help; and therefore use prayer, to be familiarly acquainted with Him: know Him now in the time of thy prayer, that He may know thee in the day of thy distress. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

Conduct without prayer

He knoweth truly how to live well, who knoweth how to pray well. But best actions without prayer, which obtain grace to them, are like bodies without spirits: yea, as the body without breathing cannot live to do any work competent to a natural life: so the soul, without prayer, can do no work that truly is spiritual. (Bishop Cowper.)

The heaven was opened.

No wit followeth, that we speak of those three admirable events, which followed the prayer of Christ.

1. The sensible opening of the heavens.

2. The visible descending of the Holy Ghost.

3. The audible voice of God the Father, witnessing to many both eye and ear-witnesses the solemn instalment and induction of Christ into His office and work of mediation and ministry. Wherein we must know, that as there never was in all the world so high and excellent an office as Christ’s was (for the greatest of kings, and the high priest, who yet were with great state and observation anointed and deputed to their offices, were but shadows of this), even so God would have Christ entered into it with such magnificence and glory as never man was, nor creature is capable of. At the coronation of a prince, with what glory, pomp, and sumptuousness, even to admiration, is he brought forth with his nobles and subjects! But all this is but earthly glory, from earthly men to an earthly king. But now at the coronation of the Prince of Peace, God sets Himself from heaven to honour it; and for this purpose He doth more familiarly, and yet more gloriously reveal Himself unto all mankind, than He had ever before done from the creation of the world; and never was any ceremony in all the world so honoured as this baptism of Christ was. The ancient sacrifices of God’s institution were honoured by- manifest signs of His gracious presence, as by the fire which came from heaven continually to consume them: the Ark was honoured with special signs of His glorious presence, sitting between the cherubims, answering by oracle and voice unto cases propounded: the Temple itself at Jerusalem, at Solomon’s prayer and dedication, was filled with the glory of God, manifested in that cloud that filled the House of the Lord (1 Kings 8:10), and this cloud still watched over the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). But these were all but shadows to this, wherein the Lord did not cloud and vail His presence, or reveal His presence in some sign; but the Divine Majesty manifested itself distinctly, as we may say, in person, yea, in the distinction of all the three Persons, the Father testifying His delight in His dear Son, the Son standing in Jordan, and receiving His Father’s testimony; and the Holy Ghost descending in the visible shape of a dove. It seemeth therefore to be true, that the heaven was sensibly divided and rent in twain, even as the earth was when Korah and his company were swallowed up.

Now the reasons why the heavens were opened were sundry.

1. To manifest the truth and certainty of the other signs which followed, that seeing the heavens opened, they might not conceive that either the dove or the voice came from any other place.

2. To show that howsoever Christ stood there as a weak man, and in similitude of sinful flesh, yet He was the Lord from heaven heavenly, of whom was verified (John 3:31) “ He that is come from heaven is above all.”

3. That as His person, so likewise His doctrine was Divine and heavenly (Luke 3:34). He whom God hath sent, speaketh the words of God: and this was the special work of His doctoral office, to reveal the will of His Father. “No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, hath declared Him” (John 1:18). The power also and grace, whereby He wrought miracles, was not from Beelzebub, but from heaven.

4. To show that His office, into which He was now entered, was and is to open heaven again for us, who by sin had shut it against ourselves; He hath made our way unto the throne of grace. And thus this second Adam standeth in opposition with the first; He shut us out of paradise, a token that we were shut out of heaven: but this lets us into the paradise of God again. The heavens are opened by His passion, not by His baptism Hebrews 10:19). They are opened by His death as by a common cause, which must be specially and singularly applied, and that is by baptism: therefore it is said, “We are baptised into His death “ (Romans 6:3-4), that is, to have benefit by His death. Note hence, that Christ by fulfilling all righteousness, hath set heaven open unto us, and consequently the justification of a sinner is not only by the obedience of His passion, but also by His active obedience in fulfilling the law. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

Like a dove upon Him

The dove-like descent of the Spirit on Christ

Hence then, we may observe, that the religion of Jesus consists in a dove-like temper. This observation we will endeavour to illustrate. That we may proceed with safety, we will give no indulgence to imagination, but will strictly follow the allusions which we find in Scripture.

1. The dove is an emblem of purity. In the law of Moses this was reckoned a clean bird, and it was selected for an offering in the ceremony of purification. His precepts, His doctrines, His example teach us to be holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners.

2. Christ directs His disciples to be harmless as doves. The same meek and inoffensive spirit which was in Him must also be in us.

3. The dove, in the book of Canticles, is an emblem of cheerfulness and joy. “Lo, the winter is past and gone, the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come: the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.” The dove-like temper of the gospel is sweet, serene, and pleasant.

4. Doves are distinguished by their mutual fidelity and love. To this social and affectionate property there are frequent allusions in Scripture. The bridegroom, in the book of Canticles, calls the bride by this, among other endearing names: “O my dove, let me see thy face, and hear thy voice, for thy voice is sweet, and thy face is comely.” People in affliction are described as “mourning like doves” who have lost their companions. Mutual love is the temper of the gospel.

5. The dove is a defenceless bird. Hence she is described as “dwelling in the clefts of the rocks, and in the secret places of the stairs”; and as “flying to her windows” in times of danger. In this view she is an emblem of Christian faith and humility. True believers, sensible of their weakness, and of the dangers which attend them, trust not in themselves, but in the power and grace of their Saviour.

6. The excellent glory, which descended like a dove and rested on Jesus, might be intended to represent the beauties of His Church, adorned and dignified by the graces of His Spirit. The dove, which is a beautiful bird, is a natural emblem of the virtuous and good works which distinguish the Christian character. “Though ye have lien among the pots, yet ye shall be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold.”

7. The dove, which is a fruitful bird, is, by Isaiah, made an emblem of the increase of the Church in her happy and prosperous periods. Then converts shall fly unto God’s altar, “ as doves to their windows.” (J. Lathrop. D. D.)

The Spirit likened to a dove

1. Our subject suggests to us that the Spirit of Christ usually comes to the soul in a mild and gentle manner. His operations are as His fruits, dovelike, sweet, and kind. The benevolent and friendly nature of the dispensation which Christ was about to introduce, was intimated in the manner of the Spirit’s descent. The law, which was a ministration of death and condemnation, was delivered to the people with circumstances of terror and amazement. As His manner of teaching, so the doctrines which He taught were kind and gracious.

2. Our subject farther teaches us, that they only are led by the Spirit of God, who are of a dove-like temper. It is absurd then to impute to an uncommon influence of the Spirit any error of conduct, excess of passion, extravagance of zeal, or bitterness of censure; for the Spirit comes like the dove.

3. Our subject reminds us of our obligation to adorn with good works our Christian character, and to recommend to the choice of others the religion which we profess. We should resemble the dove, whose wings are covered with silver, and her feathers with yellow gold. The beauty of religion much depends on our maintaining the more amiable and engaging virtues; such as charity, peaceableness, humility, and meekness.

4. Our subject teaches us our obligation to labor for the increase of Christ’s Church--not only to enter into it ourselves, but also to encourage others to come and join themselves to it. (J. Lathrop. D. D. )

In semblance of a dove

I. The Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape LIKE A bow.

1. The dove was a bird of purity. You know it was used by the poor in sacrifices, and therefore was considered clean.

2. The Holy Spirit is like a dove because it is a harmless creature. The dove never hurts the tiniest bird with which it comes into contact. The Holy Spirit is not compared to the eagle, nor to the hawk, nor to the vulture--birds of prey; but to the dove--a harmless creature.

3. The Holy Ghost is like a dove because the dove is such a gentle creature. His influences are most benign.

4. The Holy Spirit is like the dove, too, because the dove has very keen eyesight. In the Book of Canticles we read, “Thou hast dove’s eyes.” Doves are remarkable for great keenness of vision. The Holy Spirit “searcheth all things.”

5. The Holy Spirit is like the dove because the dove was an emblem of peace and of spring. The dove brought the olive leaf back in her mouth, indicating to Noah that the waters had subsided, and that the deluge of wrath would soon be gone. The dove, too, is mentioned in the Canticles as being a herald of spring: “The time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land.” And whenever the Holy Spirit comes to a man’s heart, there is a sign that that heart will be at peace with God.

6. The Holy Ghost, lastly, is like a dove because the dove was given to mourning. “I did mourn as a dove,” says Isaiah. “The Spirit also helpeth our infirmities”--takes our infirmities upon Himself. His work is of a loving nature.

II. Secondly, we have THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHRIST. Much is taught in the connection of the text concerning the mission of Christ, while our text itself gives the chief elements of His character. First of all, we have something concerning His mission. It was divinely ordained, for God sent the Holy Spirit to testify to the world that He was commissioned by Him to undertake man’s redemption. We have here the purpose of His mission. Heaven was opened, and the Holy Ghost descended. It was the purpose of Christ to open heaven. The first Adam closed heaven against us. But the character of Christ was developed by the influence of the Holy Ghost. Jesus did not achieve His work by virtue of the divinity that was in Him only, but by virtue of the Spirit’s graces upon Him. The dove was harmless. Christ said, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” The dove was given to mourning. Jesus was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” The dove wag innocent. Jesus Christ was purity personified. “Which of you convinceth Me of sin?” said He. He was holy, harmless, undefiled, and in an emphatic sense, the dove was emblematic of Him.

III. IT is so ALSO WITH A CHRISTIAN. There is no true character which is not built up by the influence of the Holy Spirit. The dove is defenceless. It has nothing to protect it except the rocks, and when pursued its only refuge is to fly thither. The Christian has nothing to protect himself against the wiles of the devil and the allurements of the world, except “the Rock of Ages.” The dove keeps to its own company. It is delighted when it is with its fellows. So the Christian feels at home when he gets among characters of like nature. The dove mourns in the absence of its mate; and the character which the Holy Spirit gives to us is such as to make us mourn when our Lord Jesus is away, so that we have no rest if we be separated from Him. You cannot have this character except by the personal application of the Holy Spirit to your heart. (T. Gamble.)

The Holy Spirit descending like a dove

I. First, as the brooding of the Spirit of God upon the face of the deep produced order and life in the beginning, so does He impart new life to the soul, and open the eyes of the understanding, that we may behold the wonders of God’s law.

II. Again: In the fact that the Holy Ghost descended upon the Lord Jesus in the form of a dove, we are reminded that quietness is often essential to many of the operations of grace. “A very restless person Will never be very godly, and a very godly one will never be very restless. ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’”

III. Another point suggested by the text is, that as the dove is an appropriate emblem of love, so the soul which is influenced by the blessed Spirit will abound in love to God, and love to His people. The steeple of an old village church was to be pulled down, in order to prepare the way for some modern improvements, and a long rope was fastened near the top of it, that it might be kept from crushing the building in its fall. Soon everything was ready, and the master-carpenter shouted aloud to the men to pull. As the old steeple began to tremble, and sway from side to side, a beautiful white dove was observed to fly round and round, not daring to go in at its accustomed place, and yet evidently unwilling to depart. She seemed to be aware that a great calamity was about to happen, while a hundred voices shouted, “See that dove!” “Poor thing!” the head carpenter observed, “she must have young ones up in the steeple.” Again the workmen gave a vigorous tug at the rope, and the old steeple reeled and tottered. The distress of the poor dove became so great, that every one felt sorry for her, and not a word was spoken. The bird hovered a moment on her wings, and at the instant that the creaking timbers began to topple over, she darted into the steeple and was hid from view. When the rubbish was cleared away, she was found lying between her two young ones--all three crushed to death I The devoted bird was willing to die with and for them, but she could not save them. There was a spectacle of devoted love--love even unto death!

IV.

I remark, in the fourth place, that the descent of the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove, should remind us that gentleness is a distinguishing mark of Christian character in which most of us have very much to learn.

Audubon, the ornithologist, relates this incident in his autobiography: “A man, who was once a pirate, assured me that several times, while at certain wells dug in the burning, shelly sands, the soft and melancholy notes of the doves awoke in his heart feelings which had long slumberbed, melting his heart to repentance.

So deeply was he moved by them--the only soothing sounds he had ever heard during his life of horrors--that through them he was induced to escape from his vessel, abandon his turbulent companions, and return to a family deploring his absence, and he now lives in peace in the midst of his friends.

” “I beseech you by the gentleness of Christ,” was St. Paul’s exhortation to the Christians of Corinth (2 Corinthians 10:1); and, “Gentleness,” he assures the Galatians (v. 22), is one of the prominent fruits of the Spirit. Henry Martyn, whose temper was naturally not the gentlest, wrote in his journal, “I walked into the village where the boat stopped for the night, and found the worshippers of Call by the Sound of their drums and cymbals. I did not speak to them on account of their being Bangalees; but being invited to walk in by the Brahmins, I went within the railings, and asked a few questions about the idol. The Brahmin, who spoke bad Hindostanee, disputed with great heat, and his tongue ran faster than I could follow, and the people shouted applause. I continued to ask my questions, without making any remarks upon the answers … The man grew quite mild, and said it was “good words,” and asked me seriously, at last, was idol-worship true or false? I felt it a matter of thankfulness that I could make known the truth of God, though but a stammerer; and this I also learned, that the power of gentleness is irresistible. Once more: the dove has always been the type of purity, and the Holy Spirit is the purifier of the heart. When He gains an entrance into it, sin and uncleanness must depart. (J. N. Norton, D. D.)

The Holy Spirit like a dove

So here the Spirit would appear in the shape of a dove, to note--

1. What kind of Spirit Christ’s was.

2. What kind of gifts they were which were collated and bestowed upon Him: and--

3. What was the fruit of those gifts. (J. Taylor, D. D.)

The Divine Spirit in the ministry

Note, as Christ was set apart both by the ministry of man, and by the Spirit, by the visible appearance of which God would manifest that He was fitted thereunto; so in all those that are set apart by man to the ministry, must be an apparent descending of the Spirit though not in visible shape, yet in evident gifts and graces. (J. Taylor, D. D.)

The Spirit of God like unto Himself

The Spirit of God is everywhere like to Himself, both in the head and members, as the same juice is in the root and branches, in the tree and fruits. Look what were the fruits of the Spirit in Christ, the same also are in the members (Galatians 5:23). (J. Taylor, D. D.)

The Divine Trinity engaged in redemption

Here, then, for our further comfort, we have to consider how the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity concur together to work the great work of our redemption; for here is the Father designing, ordaining, proclaiming; here is the Son accepting, and the Holy Ghost anointing. (Bishop Cowper.)

The Holy Ghost as dove

The Spirit that descended on Jesus like a dove was to become, and became, when breathed abroad by Him, a consuming fire (Luke 3:16). Why, in its descent upon Him, was it the gentle brooding of a dove? May we not answer with a word, that in Him it encountered no sinful force, no mass of evil passion or unworthy disposition, to contend with; but only beautiful germs to develope, only rights, sympathies, and aspirations to encourage, and direct, and intensify? Yes; it found in Him only that which was accordant and congenial; the Holy Child to be expanded into the Holy Man; nothing contrary to it, the withstanding of which would have struck out a flame; nothing to burn against and burn up, in order to His perfecting; no false will of affections to be resisted by and to resist, until it was conquered. The Spirit from above just lighted and spread its wings, and sat brooding upon the Divine simplicity of the wholehearted Nazarene. True, He had to endure in Himself a fiery baptism, as the result of the descent upon Him from above. But it was through His contact, thus Spirit-charged, with the bad element surrounding Him, that He suffered what He suffered; not through the contact of the Spirit with any bad element in Him. It met with nothing in Him to cause a painful flame; touching which it had to become a purging devouring fire. It abode upon Him like a dove brooding over its nest. (S. A. Tipple.)

Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well pleased

The voice from heaven

I. THE PERSON WHOSE VOICE IT WAS IS GOD THE FATHER for He saith, “Thou art My beloved Son.” Every testimony receives validity and authority from the testator, therefore this must needs be sound and good. God had given testimony to Christ by many famous men, even all the prophets, and now lately by John Baptist, who was greater than a prophet, that Christ was greater than he; yea, more, had given testimony of Him by a multitude of heavenly angels (Luke 1:30; Luk_13:1-35). But not content with all this, He gives from heaven His own testimony of Him.

1. To strike us with reverence in receiving this testimony, which hath this privilege above other parts of Scripture, that it was uttered by God’s own mouth, not by men or angels.

2. To confirm us in the truth of the testimony, proceeding from Him who is prima veritas, truth itself (not only true) in His essence, and much more in His words and works, who cannot be deceived, nor deceive us.

3. To show the necessity of believing this testimony, being the first and only principle in Christian religion, without which foundation laid can be no religion nor salvation, as we see in the Jews and Turks. That we might more firmly believe in the Son of God for life, God’s own mouth testifieth so honourably of Him.

4. That such a glorious commendation of this testimony might stir up our best attention and affections in the unfolding of it, we have here the word of a King which was never stained, and that not uttered by any herald or a lord chancellor, but from His own mouth, which carrieth more weight with it. If God speak, woe to him that hears not.

II. THE PLACE WHENCE--FROM HEAVEN. For these reasons:

1. For more authority to the person of Christ, whom God from heaven doth honour. And if God thus honour Him, how ought we to honour Him? 2 Peter 1:17.) He received of God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the excellent glory, “This is My beloved Son”; which was verified not only in the time of His Transfiguration, but here also.

2. Because the testimony contains the sum of the whole gospel, to declare that the doctrine of the gospel, which Christ delivered to the world, was from heaven, because God from heaven so testifieth it to be. Wherein it differs from the doctrine of the Law, which, although God renewed from heaven in the tables of stone, yet was it written in the heart of man by nature. So was not the gospel. But as after the Fall it was immediately delivered by God to Adam in the promise, so here by the same voice from heaven confirmed to be Divine and heavenly.

3. In respect of us, that we should more carefully attend to the testimony itself proceeding from the excellent glory, and that from the mouth of the God of glory sitting in His chair of estate, seeing the word of a King in that place is more regarded. The contempt of the Law given upon Mount Sinai, in the hand of angels, was required at their hands; how shall they then escape that despise Him that speaketh from heaven? (Hebrews 2:2-3.) The Law being transgressed, the gospel from heaven moderateth and pardoneth a man; but the gospel from heaven being despised, what can plead for him?

4. To show the extent of the gospel, that it is to be preached, and binds to the faith of it all the people under heaven. And herein it was not to be inferior to the Law, which God would have acknowledged His own by uttering it from heaven, and that not before He had sent Moses down, lest it should have been thought to be His, although it was so loud and piercing, as it could not possibly be but Divine, not human.

III. THE MANNER OF THE TESTIMONY--BY AN AUDIBLE AND SENSIBLE VOICE. HOW the Father uttereth this voice it is needless to inquire, seeing we know that He who made the tongue can either speak without a tongue or by secret inspiration and revelation, as to Isaiah (2 Kings 20:4). or frame a tongue and organs of voice at His pleasure, to utter and make known His will and good pleasure to His creatures, or speak by creatures, as angels in human shape, or other creatures--sensible, as Balaam’s ass; or insensible, as the bush of fire. It is much more material to inquire into the end and use of it, which was to make the Son of God known unto the world, that the faith of men might be fixed on Him for salvation.

1. Hence, note, in that the Lord from heaven teacheth by voice His wonderful care, that will not suffer us to want any means to help us in the knowledge of the means of salvation. He had taught them and us before, by the sense of sight, seeing the heavens opened, and the Spirit visibly descending; and now He teacheth the ear by a voice, for He knows our dulness, security, slow ness of heart to believe, and applies Himself every way to help us. He setteth out His glory by His works and creatures; He addeth His Word confirmed by many powerful miracles; to his audible Word He hath annexed His visible Word, the sacraments; He hath set up a constant ministry in His Church, and every way fitted it to the edification of His people, as so He may now say, What could I do more for thee, O Israel? Is God thus careful of our profiting every way? Then how damnable and excuseless shall the carelessness of the most be in the matter of their salvation I In which regard it had been good for many a man that God had never made His will known to him, that he never had heard the Word, or received the sacraments, for all but tend to his deeper condemnation, because of his neglect and formal use. When our Saviour said of Judas, “It had been good for him he had never been born,” did not He in effect say the same, It bad been good for him he had never been a disciple of Christ, never had heard Christ, or preached Christ, because the more excellent means he had, the greater was his sin and judgment. Again, hereby God cleareth His righteous judgment in the just damnation of the wicked and unbelievers. O Israel, thy destruction is of thyself. Say not, What can I remedy it, if God will not save me? Nay, what can God do more than He hath done? He hath given thee strong and excellent means, and preached the gospel from heaven by His own mouth, and sent it to all nations under heaven in their own language in an audible and intelligible voice. If thou wilt now wilfully refuse the means, thy blood be upon thy own head; that which will die, let it die. Thou art in the sea of thy sins, ready to be drowned, good help is offered, but thou refusest it, and must die in thy sin. Thy case is that of Jerusalem: “How often would I have gathered thee, and thou wouldst not!”

2. Note, that it is God’s pleasure that we should be taught the matter of salvation by voice, and attend to that. Here was a visible opening of the heavens, a glorious presence of the Spirit in the shape of a dove resting on Christ; but when the Lord will have Christ published and proclaimed the Messiah, this must be done by voice.

“Thou heardest a voice, but sawest no image, therefore take heed to thyself, and corrupt not thyself by any image” (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deu_4:14).

1. Herein His mercy hath appointed a familiar and fit instruction, meet for our weakness, not coming to His Church in His own Majesty.

2. Herein He advanced our nature, teaching us great mysteries by such as ourselves, sanctifying the tongues of men, and not angels.

3. Herein He magnifies His power, who by so weak means worketh salvation. Earthen vessels are used, that the power may be seen to be of 2 Corinthians 4:7). The voice of men by God’s power conquers the world.

4. Hereby He tries our obedience, whether we will yield to a weak voice, whereas He might force us by power. Reasons: If God look on us in our selves, and in the common mass, we are so covered over with sin, as He must needs pronounce of us as once He did of mankind, “It repenteth Me that I have made man.” He must needs bring the curse of the Law on our necks. But looking on us through Christ, He changeth His voice, that as when we behold a thing through a red, or green, or coloured glass, everything looks as the colour of the glass. So God beholding us through Christ, we receive the dye and tincture of His blood and obedience, and so are justified and accounted innocent and pure. And thus, as it is said of the Church (Ezekiel 16:14),we recover our former beauty, which is made perfect through His beauty. (T. Taylor, D. D.)

Thirty years of age

Years of silence and preparation

In the humble home at Nazareth Jesus spent thirty years; most marvellous in this, that nothing marvellous is recorded of them. Goodness was so perfect, duty so evenly performed, the lustre of holiness so mild and steady, that brothers and sisters and rude Nazarene neighbours came to take all this as a matter of course, saw in it nothing superhuman; and when at last the disguise was laid aside, and the prophet-king of Israel, the promised Messiah, stood unveiled, they could still only stupidly ask, “Is not this Jesus, the carpenter?” Imagination may strive to withdraw the veil which inspiration has left drawn over these thirty years--the precious episode of the visit to Jerusalem. For some minds the attempt will have an irresistible fascination, to others it will be utterly distasteful; and neither may judge the other. But faith and love should never lose sight of the lessons which speak in the very silence of those years. Ten times as much of life as our Lord Jesus occupied in public ministry He spent in private life, preaching no sermon, initiating no public movement, working no miracle. The Divine ideal of perfect holiness in childhood, youth, and manhood was realized during thirty years in a life of obscure privacy, mechanical toil, and home affection and duty. (E. R.Conder, D. D.)

Thirty years of preparation, and about three years of work I how contrary to our notions of a wise economy of the working powers of a human life! There may possibly be a reference to the age at which, according to the law, the Levites were to enter upon their ministrations; but when we consider the short time during which the actual ministry lasted, we may certainly draw the conclusion that in order to do a great work in a short time long and patient preparation is necessary; and that they who would be useful ministers of the Church of Christ should grudge no time and no amount of labour to fit themselves for the great work committed to them. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)

The author of the “New Phoedo” considers thirty years of age the epoch for the departure of youth; by which he does not, of course, intend to signify incipient decay, our frames being as young as they were five years before, while the mind has been ripening; by youth he means the growing and progressive season, the departure of it being visible only inasmuch as we have become, as it were, fixed and stationary. The qualities that peculiarly belong to youth, its quick, throbbing fancies, its exuberance of energy and feeling, cease, by his reckoning, to be our distinctions at thirty.

Maynard, in the play, speaks of himself as almost thirty--“warning thirty.” “Warning thirty?” repeats his companion, half-mockingly, half-inquiringly. The other explains, “‘Tis half the journey, Tom. Depend on it, after thirty, ‘tis time to count the milestones.” At the age of thirty, according to Lord Lytton, the characters of most men pass through a revolution; we have reduced to the sober test of reality the visions of youth; we no longer chase frivolities or hope for chimeras; and we may now come with better success than Rasselas to the Choice of Life. Ever to be noted is the pregnant fact that when our Lord began to be about thirty years of age, then began His work in earnest, His ministry in public. To many that age is the signal for selfish indulgence in regrets. To Him it struck the hour of hard work--work that should cease but in death. (F. Jacox.)

The achievements of youth

Almost everything that is great has been done by youth. For life in general there is but one decree. Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret. Do not suppose that I hold that youth is genius; all that is genius, when young, is Divine. Why, the greatest captains of ancient and modern times both conquered Italy at five-and-twenty! Youth, extreme youth, overthrew the Persian empire. Don John of Austria won Lepanto at twenty-five--the greatest battle of modern times. Had it not been for the jealousy of Philip, the next year he would have been Emperor of Mauritania. Gaston de Foix was only twenty-two when he stood a victor on the plain of Ravenna. Every one remembers Conde and Rocroy at the same age. Gustavus Adolphus died at thirty-eight. Look at his captains: that wonderful Duke of Weimar, only thirty-six when he died; Banter himself, after all his miracles, died at forty-five. Cortes was little more than thirty when he gazed upon the golden cupolas of Mexico. When Maurice of Saxony died at thirty-two all Europe acknowledged the loss of the greatest captain and the profoundest statesman of the age. Then there is Nelson, Clive--but these are warriors, and perhaps you may think there are greater things than war. I do not; I worship the Lord of hosts. But take the most illustrious achievements of civil prudence. Innocent III., the greatest of the Popes, was the despot of Christendom at thirty-seven. John de Medici was a cardinal at fifteen, and, Guicciardini tells us, baffled with his statecraft Ferdinand of Arragon himself; he was Pope as Leo X. at thirty-seven. Luther robbed even him of his richest province at thirty-five. Take Ignatius Loyola and John Wesley; they worked with young brains. Ignatius was only thirty when he made his pilgrimage and wrote the “Spiritual Exercises.” Pascal wrote a great work at sixteen, the greatest of Frenchmen, and died at thirty-seven. Ah, that fatal thirty-seven! Was it experience that guided the pencil of Raphael when he painted the palaces of Rome? He died at thirty-seven. Richelieu was Secretary of State at thirty-one. Then there were Bolingbroke and Pitt, both Ministers before other men leave cricket. Grotius was in great practice at seventeen, and Attorney-General at twenty-four. And Acquaviva--Acquaviva was general of the Jesuits, ruled every Cabinet in Europe, and colonized America before he was thirty-seven. What a career I It is needless to multiply instances. The history of heroes is the history of youth. (Lord Beaconsfield.)


Verse 23

Luke 3:23; Luk_3:38

Which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God

Genealogies

As we glance through the list of names given in these chapters (Matthew 1:1-25.
and
Luke 3:1-38.), we see that few could claim a higher descent than could the carpenter Joseph and the gentle woman to whom he was espoused. They were both lineally descended from the ancient kings of the proud tribe of Judah--from Solomon and David--and, going further back, from the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--from Shorn, from Seth, from Adam. Their family tree in one place covered a space of 2,000 years; in another of more than 4,000 years. Yet they were poor, humble, unrecognized. In the lapse of time there are fluctuations and undulations. While some families have their flows, others have their ebbs. While some rise in wealth and consequent honour, others glide into poverty and insignificance. The old stock wears out, the new tree takes its place. The world, constituted as it is, recognizes lineage only when it is accompanied by wealth. By itself it is a voice from the past, and nothing more. Could we read the history of men’s lives, and trace their descent, we should have plenty of examples of this. We see it in our own times. Examples crowd on us without difficulty. It is not long since the gallant son of an emperor died as a simple soldier in the British uniform. It is asserted that the last scion of a kingly race, sprung from the warrior Cid, eked out a miserable existence--neglected, half-starved--in London, where he died a few years ago.The descendants of one of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century are a poor peasant family in a Midland County to-day--decent folk enough, but certainly “unhonoured and unsung.” Such was the case with the gentle Mary of Nazareth. Some people boast of their patrician birth. The boasting, at least, confers no merit upon them. If Mary wished, she might with reason have boasted too. Though a peasant, she sprang from kings; though poor, her ancestors were wealthy; though humble, one of her forefathers was the wisest of men. But her claim to honour came not from the past--it was reflected back from the future. It was not due to the long line of an unbroken pedigree, but from Him she was to bear … With the exception of the two of our Lord, there are no genealogies in the New Testament, whereas there are several in the Old Testament. Moreover, St. Paul, himself descended from Jacob’s youngest son, wrote this counsel to Timothy, “Neither give heed to endless genealogies,” and to Titus, “Avoid foolish question and genealogies … for they are unprofitable and vain.” Is there no significance in this? Family records were scrupulously guarded under Judaism; they were ignored, even condemned, under Christianity. Why so? Because Christianity’s principle sweeps away all walls of partition, blots out all records, tears down all red lines which may separate man from man. Christianity teaches that each and every man, whoever he be, is a brother; and each and every woman a sister. Christianity abrogates and denounces whatever tends to pride, or assumption, or superciliousness, or self-conceit. It teaches that in God’s sight, prince and beggar, patrician and peasant, are on the same level. It teaches gentleness and thoughtfulness and politeness towards all. It teaches that the highest claim to descent is to be a true child of God; the highest society, true membership with Christ; the highest inheritance, that which we have if we only keep it--the kingdom of heaven. (C. E. Drought, M. A.)

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke

In the first Gospel the genealogy of Jesus is placed at the very beginning of the narrative. This is easily explained. From the point of view indicated by theocratic forms, scriptural antecedents, and, if we may so express it, Jewish etiquette, the Messiah was to be a descendant of David and Abraham (Matthew 1:1.) This relationship was the sine qua non of His civil status. It is not so easy to understand why Luke thought he must give the genealogy of Jesus, and why he places it just here, between the baptism and the temptation. Perhaps, if we bear in mind the obscurity in which, to the Greeks, the origin of mankind was hidden, and the absurd fables current among them about autochthonic nations, we shall see how interesting any document would be to them, which, following the track of actual names, went back to the first father of the race. Luke’s intention would thus be very nearly the same as Paul’s, when he said at Athens (Acts 17:26), “God hath made of one blood the whole human race.” But from a strictly religious point of view, this genealogy possessed still greater importance. In carrying it back not only, as Matthew does, as far as Abraham, but even to Adam, Luke lays the foundation of that universality of redemption which is to be one of the characteristic features of the picture he is about to draw. In this way he places in close and indissoluble connection the imperfect image created in Adam which reappears in every man, and his perfect image realized in Christ which is to be reproduced in all men. But why does Luke place this document here? Because now Jesus enters personally on the scene to commence His proper work. With the baptism, the obscurity in which He has lived until now passes away; He now appears detached from the circle of persons who have hitherto surrounded Him and acted as His patrons--viz., His parents and the forerunner. He henceforth becomes the He (verse 23), the principal personage of the narrative. This is the moment which very properly appears to the author most suitable for giving His genealogy. The genealogy of Moses, in the Exodus, is placed in the same way, not at the opening of his biography, but at the moment when he appears on the stage of history, when he presents himself before Pharaoh. In crossing the threshold of this new era, the sacred historian casts a general glance over the period which thus reaches its close, and sums it up in this document, which might be called the mortuary register of the earlier humanity. There is, further, a difference of form between the two genealogies. Matthew comes down, while Luke ascends the stream of generations. Perhaps this difference of method depends on the difference of religious position between the Jews and the Greeks. The Jew, finding the basis of his thought in a revelation, proceeds synthetically from cause to effect; the Greek, possessing nothing beyond the fact, analyzes it, that he may proceed from effect to cause. But this difference depends more probably still on another circumstance. Every official genealogical register must present the descending form; for individuals are only inscribed in it as they are born. The ascending form of genealogy can only he that of a private instrument, drawn up from the public document with a view to the particular individual whose name serves as the starting-point of the whole list. It follows that in Matthew we have the exact copy of the official register; while Luke gives us a document extracted from the public records, and compiled with a view to the person with whom the genealogy commences. (F. Godet, D. D.)

The double genealogies of Christ as the Son of David

The general facts are these--

1. The genealogy in St. Matthew descends from Abraham to Jesus, in accordance with his object in writing mainly for the Jews; whereas St. Luke’s ascends from Jesus to Adam, and to God, in accordance with his object in writing for the world in general.

2. The generations are introduced in St. Matthew by the word “begat”; in St. Luke by the genitive with the ellipse of “son.”

3. Between David and Zerubbabel St. Matthew gives only fifteen names, but St. Luke twenty-one; and they are all different except that of Shealtiel (Salathiel).

4. Between Zerubbabel and Joseph St. Matthew gives only nine generations, but St. Luke seventeen; and all the names are different. The difficulty as to the number of the generations is not serious. It is a matter of daily experience that the number of generations in one line often increases far more rapidly than that in another. Moreover the discrepancies in these two lists may all be accounted for by noticing that Matthew adopts the common Jewish plan of an arbitrary numerical division into tesseradecads. When this system was adopted, whole’ generations were freely omitted, for the sake of preserving the symmetry, provided that the fact of the succession remained undoubted (cf. Ezra 7:1-5 with 1 Chronicles 6:3-15). The difficulty as to the dissimilarity of names will of course only affect the two steps of the genealogies at which they begin to diverge, before they again coalesce in the names of Shealtiel and of Joseph. A single adoption, and a single levirate marriage, account for the apparent discrepancies. St. Matthew gives the legal descent through a line of kings descended from Solomon--the jus successionis; St. Luke the natural descent--the jus sanguinis. St. Matthew’s is a royal, St. Luke’s a natural pedigree. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Our Lord’s descent

1. These verses completely establish that essential point in the evidence of the Messiahship of Jesus, viz., His descent from David, Judah, and Abraham. Let this confirm our faith in His Divine mission; let us give our careful attention and firm adherence to the exact and particular doctrines which He teaches; and show a ready obedience to the precepts which He enjoins.

2. Among the ancestors of our Lord, there are found persons of various descriptions and characters.

3. A glance at these generations which have passed away, naturally suggests a variety of reflections--plaintive, humble, and instructive.

A binding corner-stone

See what a binding corner-stone the Lord Jesus is, knitting together not man to man only, Gentiles with Jews, but man with God also; and that not by a personal union only, which He hath perfected in Himself, but by a spiritual union also by which He unites all the members of His mystical body in a blessed peace and fellowship with God; and this hath He now begun, and shall perfect in the end. (Bishop Cowper.)

From Christ according to the Spirit

Then our instruction is, that though neither our names nor our fathers, be in the catalogue of Christ’s progenitors; yet if we be in the roll of His children and brethren, we shall have comfort sufficient: though He be not come of us according to the flesh, if we be come from Him, according to the Spirit, as His sons and daughters by regeneration, we shall be blessed in Him, even as they were. (Bishop Cowper.)

The genealogical table

A mournful yet instructive study. Take a few of the reflections arising from such a study.

1. Every individual life belongs to the great whole--the solemn ever-rolling stream of human being. No man liveth unto himself; we transmit power, weakness, even depravity.

2. Though the individual dies, the race moves on; no one being is essential to the continuance of the world; the greatest dies, yet the world hardly misses the service of his industrious hand; the most eloquent ceases his speech, yet the roar in the living air is none the less.

3. How few men of surpassing reputation there have ever been, considering the innumerable hosts of human generations; how few of these names do we know anything about--only one here and there, as David, Abraham, Enoch; but of the mass, who knows anything?

4. Yet there may be great usefulness where there is no renown; our names will perish when we cease to live, yet within the limits of our day, how much good may we do!

5. Even though a great succession may seem to be interrupted, or to have died cut, it may revive again. In this table we come to very low points, yet how the life rises, how the glory returns! “Cast down, but not destroyed.” It is often thus with the spiritual seed of the Messiah, yet there has ever been a seed to serve Him, and a remnant to uphold the honour of His name. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The genealogy of Christ

We learn:

I. GOD’S FIDELITY TO HIS PROMISE.

II. THE ETERNAL NEVER WORKS HURRIEDLY.

III. THE HUMAN RACE IS VERY CLOSELY INTERRELATED.

IV. THE UNIVERSALITY OF DEATH.

V. THE ALL-INCLUSIVENESS OF CHRIST’S MISSION.

VI. CHRIST THE APEX OF THIS PYRAMID AND THE CROWN AND GLORY OF THE RACE. (J. Ossian Davies.)

Sacred and secular Jewish names

The following possible explanation of the divergencies between the two genealogies of our Lord is deserving of consideration. The Jews, like other nations, gave more than one name to each individual. The life of a Jew was essentially twofold: he was a member of a civil state, and he was at the same time a member of a theocracy; his life was both political and religious. This distinction seems to have been preserved in the giving of names. Traces of the double name are found throughout the course of Scripture history. It is highly probable that the sacred name imposed at birth would be entered in a different list from the common name by which a man was known in his civil relationships. The conclusion to which we are brought is that we have before us two such registers, one drawn from public, and the other from private sources; or, as is conjectured above, one from a civil genealogy, the other from writings laid up in the Temple. In support of this view, we may note that in the genealogy in Luke--the evangelist whose opening chapters show a close familiarity with the interior of the Temple, and what took place there--the names appear to have a sacred character. Even an English reader may remark at a glance the different aspect of the two lists. That in Luke contains, with striking frequency, the familiar names of distinguished patriarchs, prophets, and priests, and thus confirms the impression that his genealogy, rather than that of a Matthew, is of a purely religious character. This hypothesis receives a remarkable confirmation by a comparison of the dates of the two lists with the dates of the first building, the destruction, and the second building of the Temple. What, then, is the relation between the two genealogies before Solomon’s time, when there was no Temple? and during the lives of Salathiel and Zorobabel, who flourished at the time of the Babylonish captivity, when again, for seventy years, there was no Temple? It is precisely at these periods that only one list exists. The divergence in Luke’s genealogy from that of Matthew is exactly coincident with the periods during which the Temple was standing. What explanation of this striking fact can be more natural than that at the point where the two genealogies unite there was but one list to refer to, and that the absence of entries in the sacred register required it to be supplemented by a reference to the state chronicles? (Biblical things not generally known.)

Luke carefully guards against the notion of this being the real descent, by introducing the words “as was supposed”; it was the legal descent, Joseph being legally the Lord’s father; and from Joseph as the supposed father, St. Luke carries up the pedigree to the commencement of all things, that is, the creation of the man. Matthew brings down the descent from Abraham; Luke carries it up to Adam and so to God; and as the descent from Abraham was the most important for those children of Abraham who were looking for the fulfilment of the promises made to their forefathers, so the possibility of ascending to Adam and to God was the most important fact for the race of mankind at large, who had all fallen in Adam, and all looked for redemption through Christ. Dry as the long list of names in Luke may seem, it may truly be said that no passage of Scripture contains more of the essence of the gospel; Jesus is the true second Adam, because He is linked with the first; Jesus and Adam are the two heads of the human race, and they are both of them sons of God, Adam by creation, Jesus Christ by eternal generation; and so it may be said that the genealogical chain, by which Luke linked the first Adam and the second Adam together, is that chain upon which the redemption of mankind and all human hopes depend. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)

Why have we Joseph’s genealogy, not Mary’s?

If Joseph’s genealogy, as presented in either of the Gospels, determines our Lord’s birth as the lineal descendant of David, and the legal heir to the throne, his genealogy is all-important; while that of Mary, as it would not, according to Hebrew law, have decided the question of descent, would have been invalid as a document. “Familia matris nonfamilia” is an ancient maxim among the Jews, and it has Divine sanction (see Numbers 1:26). The law that descent is reckoned on the father’s side only, “Filius sequitur patrem”--a law recognized by all civilized nations--is not contradicted by the one or two exceptional instances in which the name of a woman’s ancestor was adopted by her husband and transmitted to her offspring (Numbers 32:41; comp. 1 Chronicles 2:21-23; Ezra 2:61). A descent of this kind was not counted a true descent in any case in which the genealogy was sought (see Ezra 2:62), and gave no legal claim. Joseph is distinctly honoured, in the Scripture, with the recognition of his legal parentage of Jesus. (G. W. Butler, D. D.)

The Divine root of the human pedigree

The pedigree of our Lord, as given by the Evangelist of the Gentiles, ends with a wonderful leap, a leap from earth to heaven. Noah was the son of Lamech, &c., &e. Enos was the son of Seth, Seth was the son of Adam, Adam was the son of--God. There is no bolder word in Scripture, none that strikes us with a deeper surprise and awe. Most of us have, doubtless, wondered at times why, when space was so valuable, Luke should have inserted in his Gospel “this barren list of names.” But the pedigree is of immense value, if for nothing else, yet for this, that it connects the second Adam with the first, that it places a son of God at either end of the list; that it makes us out to be the children of God both by nature and by grace, by birth and by second birth. For, of course, if Adam was the son of God, we are all the children of God, since we are all children of Adam; there is a Divine element in our nature as well as a human element, a capacity for life and holiness as well as a liability to sin and death. In the light of our text--

I. EVEN THE MOST PERPLEXING FACTS OF OUR INWARD EXPERIENCE GROW A LITTLE MORE CLEAR TO US. Double or divided nature of which every man is conscious. In worst of men something good; something bad even in best. That which is good we derive from God, our true Father, the sole source and fountain of good; that which is evil in us we inherit not from Adam only, but from all our earthly parents.

II. SO DOES THE DEEPEST TEACHING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT BECOME CLEARER TO US: the philosophy which underlies the teaching of our Lord and of the two greatest of His interpreters, St. Paul and St. John. That teaching may be briefly summed up thus: Christ is the Eternal Word by whom all things were created, by whom therefore Adam, or man, was created. Hence Christ is, as St. Paul calls Him, the Head of every man. It is in Him that we live and move and have our being. Then, too, we begin to understand all those difficult and perplexing passages in the writings of St. Paul, which declare our essential oneness with Christ. The second Adam was before the first Adam, and called Him into being. Hence He could die for all. Hence He lives for all, and we all live in and by Him. In short, all the sentences of the New Testament, which have sounded most mystical and obscure, and which may have seemed too good to be literally true, become true and plain to us so soon as we understand that Adam was the son of God, and that Adam was made by Him without whom nothing was made, and apart from whom nothing can subsist.

III. THE PRACTICAL OUTCOME OF THESE THOUGHTS IS MOST WELCOME AND MOST PRECIOUS to as many of us as love life and desire to see good. For, however weak and sinful we may be, we have not, as we sometimes fear, to persuade God to enter into a fatherly relation to us, and to begin to love us. He is our Father; He does love us. Nor have we, as we still oftener fear, to ask Him to redeem us from the yoke and tyranny of our sins. He has redeemed both us and all men, once for all, by the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Maker, our Head, and therefore our Representative. We have only to recognize existing and accomplished facts. We bare only to believe that He is our Father, has been our Father ever since we had any being, and can never cease to be our Father. We have only to accept the salvation He has wrought, and which stands waiting for us and urging itself upon us. There need be, there can be, no change in God, or in the Son of God; it is we in whom a change is wanted. They are, they have done, they are doing, all that we can desire them to be or do. And so soon as we know that, and believe it, we shall become all that we desire to be, and receive all that we long to enjoy. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The two genealogies of Jesus Christ

And yet in these very genealogies of Jesus Christ there are hinted profound truths well worthy of our most serious consideration. Let us rapidly glance at some of them.

I. And, first, THE FACT THAT THERE IS ANY GENEALOGY AT ALL IS SIGNIFICANT. For it is conceivable that the Son of God might have descended into the world an unborn Gabriel, or a full-grown, unmothered Adam. The Word has indeed become flesh, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.

II. Again, observe THE PEDIGREE ITSELF. How many and striking its vicissitudes! How thrilling some of its names! How momentous some of the events it recalls! Glance for a moment at some of these peculiarities. For example, how profound the obscurity and hinted shame which rested over Bethlehem’s manger, as suggested by the evangelist’s comment: “Being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph.” How homely His descent, as indicated by the fact that eighteen of His immediate ancestors are unknown except by name! How illustrious His descent, as indicated in such names as Zerubbabel, Josiah, Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat, Solomon, David, Boaz, Jacob, Abraham, Noab, Enoch, Seth, Adam! What dark scenes in Hebrew history are recalled by such names as Jehoiachin, Amon, Manasseh, Ahaz, Jehoram, Rehoboam, Bathsheba, Tamar! How thrilling the vicissitudes of David’s line, as vibrating in the stories of Rehoboam, Joash, Esther, the Maccabees, the Virgin Mary! Verily, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is a book of startling providences. And it is a significant fact that, since the birth of the Divine Man, the Davidic pedigree has been hopelessly lost, so that none but Jesus of Bethlehem can claim from the Hebrew genealogical tables to be David’s promised Son, and so David’s Lord, even Jehovah’s very Christ. But Jesus Christ was not only the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, He was also the Son of Adam even that seed of the woman who, as had been foretold by the gates of Eden, would crush the serpent’s head. Thus, the genealogy of Jesus Christ includes all extremes and all vicissitudes, so that he is in very truth the Son of man. And not only is He the Son of man, He is also the Son of God.

III. Lastly, THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE OLDEST IN THE WORLD. Men think it a great thing to have an ancient lineage. But here is a lineage which is older than that of William of Normandy, or Romulus, or Priam, or Nimrod, or Adam. Verily, His goings forth have been from of old--from the days of eternity. Verily, here is the Ancient of Days. Ah! the true heraldry is the device of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; the true shield is the crimson escutcheon of the Cross. Dost thou, O friend, belong to the lineage of Jesus Christ? If so, thy name has already been entered in the heavenly register, even the Lamb’s roll of life. Live, then, worthily of thy sonship. (G. D. Beardman.)

Thoughts

I. THERE IS MUCH IN GOOD LINEAGE. Virtues and vices are borne along on the current of blood from generation to generation. Such is the energy of moral qualities that they may be modified but rarely eradicated by transmission from parent to child. As surely as the blood of the racer tells in its fleet-footed offspring, the virtues and vices of David are felt down the line of his generation.

II. SIN HAS TAINTED THE BLOOD OF THE BEST RACES OF MEN, and frequently makes itself manifest. All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God. There is no exception.

III. GOD’S GRACE CAN FLOW THROUGH VERY CROOKED HUMAN CHANNELS. Men who are spiritually dwarfed and ill-shaped can be made, in God’s providence, to help along very strait principles and policies. God makes manifest His great wisdom and power by the vastness of the results He works out through weak human instrumentalities. What could be meaner and more cruel than the murder of Uriah by David? Yet God made the wife of this murdered man the channel through which the blood of Abraham flowed into the veins of Joseph.

IV. No MAN STANDS ALONE. We are all parts of a vast organism. Asa and Jothan and Solomon each saw the life which he lived from his birth to his grave; but this was not the most important part of his life. That which followed his death, that which he lived in his descendants, was more far-reaching and wrought still greater results. (American Homiletic Review.)
.


Verse 38

Luke 3:23; Luk_3:38

Which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God

Genealogies

As we glance through the list of names given in these chapters (Matthew 1:1-25.
and
Luke 3:1-38.), we see that few could claim a higher descent than could the carpenter Joseph and the gentle woman to whom he was espoused. They were both lineally descended from the ancient kings of the proud tribe of Judah--from Solomon and David--and, going further back, from the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob--from Shorn, from Seth, from Adam. Their family tree in one place covered a space of 2,000 years; in another of more than 4,000 years. Yet they were poor, humble, unrecognized. In the lapse of time there are fluctuations and undulations. While some families have their flows, others have their ebbs. While some rise in wealth and consequent honour, others glide into poverty and insignificance. The old stock wears out, the new tree takes its place. The world, constituted as it is, recognizes lineage only when it is accompanied by wealth. By itself it is a voice from the past, and nothing more. Could we read the history of men’s lives, and trace their descent, we should have plenty of examples of this. We see it in our own times. Examples crowd on us without difficulty. It is not long since the gallant son of an emperor died as a simple soldier in the British uniform. It is asserted that the last scion of a kingly race, sprung from the warrior Cid, eked out a miserable existence--neglected, half-starved--in London, where he died a few years ago.The descendants of one of the most remarkable men of the sixteenth century are a poor peasant family in a Midland County to-day--decent folk enough, but certainly “unhonoured and unsung.” Such was the case with the gentle Mary of Nazareth. Some people boast of their patrician birth. The boasting, at least, confers no merit upon them. If Mary wished, she might with reason have boasted too. Though a peasant, she sprang from kings; though poor, her ancestors were wealthy; though humble, one of her forefathers was the wisest of men. But her claim to honour came not from the past--it was reflected back from the future. It was not due to the long line of an unbroken pedigree, but from Him she was to bear … With the exception of the two of our Lord, there are no genealogies in the New Testament, whereas there are several in the Old Testament. Moreover, St. Paul, himself descended from Jacob’s youngest son, wrote this counsel to Timothy, “Neither give heed to endless genealogies,” and to Titus, “Avoid foolish question and genealogies … for they are unprofitable and vain.” Is there no significance in this? Family records were scrupulously guarded under Judaism; they were ignored, even condemned, under Christianity. Why so? Because Christianity’s principle sweeps away all walls of partition, blots out all records, tears down all red lines which may separate man from man. Christianity teaches that each and every man, whoever he be, is a brother; and each and every woman a sister. Christianity abrogates and denounces whatever tends to pride, or assumption, or superciliousness, or self-conceit. It teaches that in God’s sight, prince and beggar, patrician and peasant, are on the same level. It teaches gentleness and thoughtfulness and politeness towards all. It teaches that the highest claim to descent is to be a true child of God; the highest society, true membership with Christ; the highest inheritance, that which we have if we only keep it--the kingdom of heaven. (C. E. Drought, M. A.)

The genealogies in Matthew and Luke

In the first Gospel the genealogy of Jesus is placed at the very beginning of the narrative. This is easily explained. From the point of view indicated by theocratic forms, scriptural antecedents, and, if we may so express it, Jewish etiquette, the Messiah was to be a descendant of David and Abraham (Matthew 1:1.) This relationship was the sine qua non of His civil status. It is not so easy to understand why Luke thought he must give the genealogy of Jesus, and why he places it just here, between the baptism and the temptation. Perhaps, if we bear in mind the obscurity in which, to the Greeks, the origin of mankind was hidden, and the absurd fables current among them about autochthonic nations, we shall see how interesting any document would be to them, which, following the track of actual names, went back to the first father of the race. Luke’s intention would thus be very nearly the same as Paul’s, when he said at Athens (Acts 17:26), “God hath made of one blood the whole human race.” But from a strictly religious point of view, this genealogy possessed still greater importance. In carrying it back not only, as Matthew does, as far as Abraham, but even to Adam, Luke lays the foundation of that universality of redemption which is to be one of the characteristic features of the picture he is about to draw. In this way he places in close and indissoluble connection the imperfect image created in Adam which reappears in every man, and his perfect image realized in Christ which is to be reproduced in all men. But why does Luke place this document here? Because now Jesus enters personally on the scene to commence His proper work. With the baptism, the obscurity in which He has lived until now passes away; He now appears detached from the circle of persons who have hitherto surrounded Him and acted as His patrons--viz., His parents and the forerunner. He henceforth becomes the He (verse 23), the principal personage of the narrative. This is the moment which very properly appears to the author most suitable for giving His genealogy. The genealogy of Moses, in the Exodus, is placed in the same way, not at the opening of his biography, but at the moment when he appears on the stage of history, when he presents himself before Pharaoh. In crossing the threshold of this new era, the sacred historian casts a general glance over the period which thus reaches its close, and sums it up in this document, which might be called the mortuary register of the earlier humanity. There is, further, a difference of form between the two genealogies. Matthew comes down, while Luke ascends the stream of generations. Perhaps this difference of method depends on the difference of religious position between the Jews and the Greeks. The Jew, finding the basis of his thought in a revelation, proceeds synthetically from cause to effect; the Greek, possessing nothing beyond the fact, analyzes it, that he may proceed from effect to cause. But this difference depends more probably still on another circumstance. Every official genealogical register must present the descending form; for individuals are only inscribed in it as they are born. The ascending form of genealogy can only he that of a private instrument, drawn up from the public document with a view to the particular individual whose name serves as the starting-point of the whole list. It follows that in Matthew we have the exact copy of the official register; while Luke gives us a document extracted from the public records, and compiled with a view to the person with whom the genealogy commences. (F. Godet, D. D.)

The double genealogies of Christ as the Son of David

The general facts are these--

1. The genealogy in St. Matthew descends from Abraham to Jesus, in accordance with his object in writing mainly for the Jews; whereas St. Luke’s ascends from Jesus to Adam, and to God, in accordance with his object in writing for the world in general.

2. The generations are introduced in St. Matthew by the word “begat”; in St. Luke by the genitive with the ellipse of “son.”

3. Between David and Zerubbabel St. Matthew gives only fifteen names, but St. Luke twenty-one; and they are all different except that of Shealtiel (Salathiel).

4. Between Zerubbabel and Joseph St. Matthew gives only nine generations, but St. Luke seventeen; and all the names are different. The difficulty as to the number of the generations is not serious. It is a matter of daily experience that the number of generations in one line often increases far more rapidly than that in another. Moreover the discrepancies in these two lists may all be accounted for by noticing that Matthew adopts the common Jewish plan of an arbitrary numerical division into tesseradecads. When this system was adopted, whole’ generations were freely omitted, for the sake of preserving the symmetry, provided that the fact of the succession remained undoubted (cf. Ezra 7:1-5 with 1 Chronicles 6:3-15). The difficulty as to the dissimilarity of names will of course only affect the two steps of the genealogies at which they begin to diverge, before they again coalesce in the names of Shealtiel and of Joseph. A single adoption, and a single levirate marriage, account for the apparent discrepancies. St. Matthew gives the legal descent through a line of kings descended from Solomon--the jus successionis; St. Luke the natural descent--the jus sanguinis. St. Matthew’s is a royal, St. Luke’s a natural pedigree. (Archdeacon Farrar.)

Our Lord’s descent

1. These verses completely establish that essential point in the evidence of the Messiahship of Jesus, viz., His descent from David, Judah, and Abraham. Let this confirm our faith in His Divine mission; let us give our careful attention and firm adherence to the exact and particular doctrines which He teaches; and show a ready obedience to the precepts which He enjoins.

2. Among the ancestors of our Lord, there are found persons of various descriptions and characters.

3. A glance at these generations which have passed away, naturally suggests a variety of reflections--plaintive, humble, and instructive.

A binding corner-stone

See what a binding corner-stone the Lord Jesus is, knitting together not man to man only, Gentiles with Jews, but man with God also; and that not by a personal union only, which He hath perfected in Himself, but by a spiritual union also by which He unites all the members of His mystical body in a blessed peace and fellowship with God; and this hath He now begun, and shall perfect in the end. (Bishop Cowper.)

From Christ according to the Spirit

Then our instruction is, that though neither our names nor our fathers, be in the catalogue of Christ’s progenitors; yet if we be in the roll of His children and brethren, we shall have comfort sufficient: though He be not come of us according to the flesh, if we be come from Him, according to the Spirit, as His sons and daughters by regeneration, we shall be blessed in Him, even as they were. (Bishop Cowper.)

The genealogical table

A mournful yet instructive study. Take a few of the reflections arising from such a study.

1. Every individual life belongs to the great whole--the solemn ever-rolling stream of human being. No man liveth unto himself; we transmit power, weakness, even depravity.

2. Though the individual dies, the race moves on; no one being is essential to the continuance of the world; the greatest dies, yet the world hardly misses the service of his industrious hand; the most eloquent ceases his speech, yet the roar in the living air is none the less.

3. How few men of surpassing reputation there have ever been, considering the innumerable hosts of human generations; how few of these names do we know anything about--only one here and there, as David, Abraham, Enoch; but of the mass, who knows anything?

4. Yet there may be great usefulness where there is no renown; our names will perish when we cease to live, yet within the limits of our day, how much good may we do!

5. Even though a great succession may seem to be interrupted, or to have died cut, it may revive again. In this table we come to very low points, yet how the life rises, how the glory returns! “Cast down, but not destroyed.” It is often thus with the spiritual seed of the Messiah, yet there has ever been a seed to serve Him, and a remnant to uphold the honour of His name. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The genealogy of Christ

We learn:

I. GOD’S FIDELITY TO HIS PROMISE.

II. THE ETERNAL NEVER WORKS HURRIEDLY.

III. THE HUMAN RACE IS VERY CLOSELY INTERRELATED.

IV. THE UNIVERSALITY OF DEATH.

V. THE ALL-INCLUSIVENESS OF CHRIST’S MISSION.

VI. CHRIST THE APEX OF THIS PYRAMID AND THE CROWN AND GLORY OF THE RACE. (J. Ossian Davies.)

Sacred and secular Jewish names

The following possible explanation of the divergencies between the two genealogies of our Lord is deserving of consideration. The Jews, like other nations, gave more than one name to each individual. The life of a Jew was essentially twofold: he was a member of a civil state, and he was at the same time a member of a theocracy; his life was both political and religious. This distinction seems to have been preserved in the giving of names. Traces of the double name are found throughout the course of Scripture history. It is highly probable that the sacred name imposed at birth would be entered in a different list from the common name by which a man was known in his civil relationships. The conclusion to which we are brought is that we have before us two such registers, one drawn from public, and the other from private sources; or, as is conjectured above, one from a civil genealogy, the other from writings laid up in the Temple. In support of this view, we may note that in the genealogy in Luke--the evangelist whose opening chapters show a close familiarity with the interior of the Temple, and what took place there--the names appear to have a sacred character. Even an English reader may remark at a glance the different aspect of the two lists. That in Luke contains, with striking frequency, the familiar names of distinguished patriarchs, prophets, and priests, and thus confirms the impression that his genealogy, rather than that of a Matthew, is of a purely religious character. This hypothesis receives a remarkable confirmation by a comparison of the dates of the two lists with the dates of the first building, the destruction, and the second building of the Temple. What, then, is the relation between the two genealogies before Solomon’s time, when there was no Temple? and during the lives of Salathiel and Zorobabel, who flourished at the time of the Babylonish captivity, when again, for seventy years, there was no Temple? It is precisely at these periods that only one list exists. The divergence in Luke’s genealogy from that of Matthew is exactly coincident with the periods during which the Temple was standing. What explanation of this striking fact can be more natural than that at the point where the two genealogies unite there was but one list to refer to, and that the absence of entries in the sacred register required it to be supplemented by a reference to the state chronicles? (Biblical things not generally known.)

Luke carefully guards against the notion of this being the real descent, by introducing the words “as was supposed”; it was the legal descent, Joseph being legally the Lord’s father; and from Joseph as the supposed father, St. Luke carries up the pedigree to the commencement of all things, that is, the creation of the man. Matthew brings down the descent from Abraham; Luke carries it up to Adam and so to God; and as the descent from Abraham was the most important for those children of Abraham who were looking for the fulfilment of the promises made to their forefathers, so the possibility of ascending to Adam and to God was the most important fact for the race of mankind at large, who had all fallen in Adam, and all looked for redemption through Christ. Dry as the long list of names in Luke may seem, it may truly be said that no passage of Scripture contains more of the essence of the gospel; Jesus is the true second Adam, because He is linked with the first; Jesus and Adam are the two heads of the human race, and they are both of them sons of God, Adam by creation, Jesus Christ by eternal generation; and so it may be said that the genealogical chain, by which Luke linked the first Adam and the second Adam together, is that chain upon which the redemption of mankind and all human hopes depend. (Bishop Harvey Goodwin.)

Why have we Joseph’s genealogy, not Mary’s?

If Joseph’s genealogy, as presented in either of the Gospels, determines our Lord’s birth as the lineal descendant of David, and the legal heir to the throne, his genealogy is all-important; while that of Mary, as it would not, according to Hebrew law, have decided the question of descent, would have been invalid as a document. “Familia matris nonfamilia” is an ancient maxim among the Jews, and it has Divine sanction (see Numbers 1:26). The law that descent is reckoned on the father’s side only, “Filius sequitur patrem”--a law recognized by all civilized nations--is not contradicted by the one or two exceptional instances in which the name of a woman’s ancestor was adopted by her husband and transmitted to her offspring (Numbers 32:41; comp. 1 Chronicles 2:21-23; Ezra 2:61). A descent of this kind was not counted a true descent in any case in which the genealogy was sought (see Ezra 2:62), and gave no legal claim. Joseph is distinctly honoured, in the Scripture, with the recognition of his legal parentage of Jesus. (G. W. Butler, D. D.)

The Divine root of the human pedigree

The pedigree of our Lord, as given by the Evangelist of the Gentiles, ends with a wonderful leap, a leap from earth to heaven. Noah was the son of Lamech, &c., &e. Enos was the son of Seth, Seth was the son of Adam, Adam was the son of--God. There is no bolder word in Scripture, none that strikes us with a deeper surprise and awe. Most of us have, doubtless, wondered at times why, when space was so valuable, Luke should have inserted in his Gospel “this barren list of names.” But the pedigree is of immense value, if for nothing else, yet for this, that it connects the second Adam with the first, that it places a son of God at either end of the list; that it makes us out to be the children of God both by nature and by grace, by birth and by second birth. For, of course, if Adam was the son of God, we are all the children of God, since we are all children of Adam; there is a Divine element in our nature as well as a human element, a capacity for life and holiness as well as a liability to sin and death. In the light of our text--

I. EVEN THE MOST PERPLEXING FACTS OF OUR INWARD EXPERIENCE GROW A LITTLE MORE CLEAR TO US. Double or divided nature of which every man is conscious. In worst of men something good; something bad even in best. That which is good we derive from God, our true Father, the sole source and fountain of good; that which is evil in us we inherit not from Adam only, but from all our earthly parents.

II. SO DOES THE DEEPEST TEACHING OF THE NEW TESTAMENT BECOME CLEARER TO US: the philosophy which underlies the teaching of our Lord and of the two greatest of His interpreters, St. Paul and St. John. That teaching may be briefly summed up thus: Christ is the Eternal Word by whom all things were created, by whom therefore Adam, or man, was created. Hence Christ is, as St. Paul calls Him, the Head of every man. It is in Him that we live and move and have our being. Then, too, we begin to understand all those difficult and perplexing passages in the writings of St. Paul, which declare our essential oneness with Christ. The second Adam was before the first Adam, and called Him into being. Hence He could die for all. Hence He lives for all, and we all live in and by Him. In short, all the sentences of the New Testament, which have sounded most mystical and obscure, and which may have seemed too good to be literally true, become true and plain to us so soon as we understand that Adam was the son of God, and that Adam was made by Him without whom nothing was made, and apart from whom nothing can subsist.

III. THE PRACTICAL OUTCOME OF THESE THOUGHTS IS MOST WELCOME AND MOST PRECIOUS to as many of us as love life and desire to see good. For, however weak and sinful we may be, we have not, as we sometimes fear, to persuade God to enter into a fatherly relation to us, and to begin to love us. He is our Father; He does love us. Nor have we, as we still oftener fear, to ask Him to redeem us from the yoke and tyranny of our sins. He has redeemed both us and all men, once for all, by the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Maker, our Head, and therefore our Representative. We have only to recognize existing and accomplished facts. We bare only to believe that He is our Father, has been our Father ever since we had any being, and can never cease to be our Father. We have only to accept the salvation He has wrought, and which stands waiting for us and urging itself upon us. There need be, there can be, no change in God, or in the Son of God; it is we in whom a change is wanted. They are, they have done, they are doing, all that we can desire them to be or do. And so soon as we know that, and believe it, we shall become all that we desire to be, and receive all that we long to enjoy. (S. Cox, D. D.)

The two genealogies of Jesus Christ

And yet in these very genealogies of Jesus Christ there are hinted profound truths well worthy of our most serious consideration. Let us rapidly glance at some of them.

I. And, first, THE FACT THAT THERE IS ANY GENEALOGY AT ALL IS SIGNIFICANT. For it is conceivable that the Son of God might have descended into the world an unborn Gabriel, or a full-grown, unmothered Adam. The Word has indeed become flesh, bone of our bones and flesh of our flesh.

II. Again, observe THE PEDIGREE ITSELF. How many and striking its vicissitudes! How thrilling some of its names! How momentous some of the events it recalls! Glance for a moment at some of these peculiarities. For example, how profound the obscurity and hinted shame which rested over Bethlehem’s manger, as suggested by the evangelist’s comment: “Being, as was supposed, the son of Joseph.” How homely His descent, as indicated by the fact that eighteen of His immediate ancestors are unknown except by name! How illustrious His descent, as indicated in such names as Zerubbabel, Josiah, Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat, Solomon, David, Boaz, Jacob, Abraham, Noab, Enoch, Seth, Adam! What dark scenes in Hebrew history are recalled by such names as Jehoiachin, Amon, Manasseh, Ahaz, Jehoram, Rehoboam, Bathsheba, Tamar! How thrilling the vicissitudes of David’s line, as vibrating in the stories of Rehoboam, Joash, Esther, the Maccabees, the Virgin Mary! Verily, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is a book of startling providences. And it is a significant fact that, since the birth of the Divine Man, the Davidic pedigree has been hopelessly lost, so that none but Jesus of Bethlehem can claim from the Hebrew genealogical tables to be David’s promised Son, and so David’s Lord, even Jehovah’s very Christ. But Jesus Christ was not only the Son of David and the Son of Abraham, He was also the Son of Adam even that seed of the woman who, as had been foretold by the gates of Eden, would crush the serpent’s head. Thus, the genealogy of Jesus Christ includes all extremes and all vicissitudes, so that he is in very truth the Son of man. And not only is He the Son of man, He is also the Son of God.

III. Lastly, THE GENEALOGY OF JESUS CHRIST IS THE OLDEST IN THE WORLD. Men think it a great thing to have an ancient lineage. But here is a lineage which is older than that of William of Normandy, or Romulus, or Priam, or Nimrod, or Adam. Verily, His goings forth have been from of old--from the days of eternity. Verily, here is the Ancient of Days. Ah! the true heraldry is the device of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; the true shield is the crimson escutcheon of the Cross. Dost thou, O friend, belong to the lineage of Jesus Christ? If so, thy name has already been entered in the heavenly register, even the Lamb’s roll of life. Live, then, worthily of thy sonship. (G. D. Beardman.)

Thoughts

I. THERE IS MUCH IN GOOD LINEAGE. Virtues and vices are borne along on the current of blood from generation to generation. Such is the energy of moral qualities that they may be modified but rarely eradicated by transmission from parent to child. As surely as the blood of the racer tells in its fleet-footed offspring, the virtues and vices of David are felt down the line of his generation.

II. SIN HAS TAINTED THE BLOOD OF THE BEST RACES OF MEN, and frequently makes itself manifest. All have sinned and have come short of the glory of God. There is no exception.

III. GOD’S GRACE CAN FLOW THROUGH VERY CROOKED HUMAN CHANNELS. Men who are spiritually dwarfed and ill-shaped can be made, in God’s providence, to help along very strait principles and policies. God makes manifest His great wisdom and power by the vastness of the results He works out through weak human instrumentalities. What could be meaner and more cruel than the murder of Uriah by David? Yet God made the wife of this murdered man the channel through which the blood of Abraham flowed into the veins of Joseph.

IV. No MAN STANDS ALONE. We are all parts of a vast organism. Asa and Jothan and Solomon each saw the life which he lived from his birth to his grave; but this was not the most important part of his life. That which followed his death, that which he lived in his descendants, was more far-reaching and wrought still greater results. (American Homiletic Review.)
.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Luke 3:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/luke-3.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology