Matthew 3* John the Baptist, His preaching, manner of life, and baptism.(1-6) John reproves the Pharisees and Sadducees. (7-12) Thebaptism of Jesus. (13-17)1-6 After Malachi there was no prophet until John the Baptistcame. He appeared first in the wilderness of Judea. This was notan uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not thicklypeopled, nor much enclosed. No place is so remote as to shut usout from the visits of Divine grace. The doctrine he preachedwas repentance; "Repent ye." The word here used, implies a totalalteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition,and affections, another and a better bias of the soul. Consideryour ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; thinkagain, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts ofGod and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other,than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of theway. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight ofChrist, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon andforgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us torepent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon yourrepentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, throughChrist, return unto you in the way of mercy. It is still asnecessary to repent and humble ourselves, to prepare the way ofthe Lord, as it then was. There is a great deal to be done, tomake way for Christ into a soul, and nothing is more needfulthan the discovery of sin, and a conviction that we cannot besaved by our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan is acrooked way; but to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must bemade straight, #Heb 12:13|. Those whose business it is to callothers to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves tolive a serious life, a life of self-denial, and contempt of theworld. By giving others this example, John made way for Christ.Many came to John's baptism, but few kept to the profession theymade. There may be many forward hearers, where there are fewtrue believers. Curiosity, and love for novelty and variety, maybring many to attend on good preaching, and to be affected for awhile, who never are subject to the power of it. Those whoreceived John's doctrine, testified their repentance byconfessing their sins. Those only are ready to receive JesusChrist as their righteousness, who are brought with sorrow andshame to own their guilt. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven,now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. Johnwashed them with water, in token that God would cleanse themfrom all their iniquities, thereby intimating, that by natureand practice all were polluted, and could not be admitted amongthe people of God, unless washed from their sins in the fountainChrist was to open, #Zec 13:1|. 7-12 To make application to the souls of the hearers, is thelife of preaching; so it was of John's preaching. The Phariseeslaid their chief stress on outward observances, neglecting theweightier matters of the moral law, and the spiritual meaning oftheir legal ceremonies. Others of them were detestablehypocrites, making their pretences to holiness a cloak foriniquity. The Sadducees ran into the opposite extreme, denyingthe existence of spirits, and a future state. They were thescornful infidels of that time and country. There is a wrath tocome. It is the great concern of every one to flee from thatwrath. God, who delights not in our ruin, has warned us; hewarns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. Andthose are not worthy of the name of penitents, or theirprivileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, yet persistin them. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their owneyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under thegreatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances ofsin, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judgingothers. Here is a word of caution, not to trust in outwardprivileges. There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt tosay within themselves, to put aside the convincing, commandingpower of the word of God. Multitudes, by resting in the honoursand mere advantages of their being members of an outward church,come short of heaven. Here is a word of terror to the carelessand secure. Our corrupt hearts cannot be made to produce goodfruit, unless the regenerating Spirit of Christ graft the goodword of God upon them. And every tree, however high in gifts andhonours, however green in outward professions and performances,if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet forrepentance, is hewn down and cast into the fire of God's wrath,the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for?If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel. John shows thedesign and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were nowspeedily to expect. No outward forms can make us clean. Noordinances, by whomsoever administered, or after whatever mode,can supply the want of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and offire. The purifying and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit alonecan produce that purity of heart, and those holy affections,which accompany salvation. It is Christ who baptizes with theHoly Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spiritsent upon the apostles, #Ac 2:4|. This he does in the graces andcomforts of the Spirit, given to those that ask him, #Lu 11:13;Joh 7:38,39|; see #Ac 11:16|. Observe here, the outward churchis Christ's floor, #Isa 21:10|. True believers are as wheat,substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff,light and empty, useless and worthless, carried about with everywind; these are mixed, good and bad, in the same outwardcommunion. There is a day coming when the wheat and chaff shallbe separated. The last judgment will be the distinguishing day,when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. In heaven thesaints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they aresafe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbourswithout, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaffamong them. Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will certainlybe the portion and punishment of hypocrites and unbelievers.Here life and death, good and evil, are set before us: accordingas we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor. 13-17 Christ's gracious condescensions are so surprising, thateven the strongest believers at first can hardly believe them;so deep and mysterious, that even those who know his mind well,are apt to start objections against the will of Christ. Andthose who have much of the Spirit of God while here, see thatthey need to apply to Christ for more. Christ does not deny thatJohn had need to be baptized of him, yet declares he will now bebaptized of John. Christ is now in a state of humiliation. OurLord Jesus looked upon it as well becoming him to fulfil allrighteousness, to own every Divine institution, and to show hisreadiness to comply with all God's righteous precepts. In andthrough Christ, the heavens are opened to the children of men.This descent of the Spirit upon Christ, showed that he wasendued with his sacred influences without measure. The fruit ofthe Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. At Christ's baptism therewas a manifestation of the three Persons in the sacred Trinity.The Father confirming the Son to be Mediator; the Son solemnlyentering upon the work; the Holy Spirit descending on him, to bethrough his mediation communicated to his people. In Him ourspiritual sacrifices are acceptable, for He is the altar thatsanctifies every gift, #1Pe 2:5|. Out of Christ, God is aconsuming fire, but in Christ, a reconciled Father. This is thesum of the gospel, which we must by faith cheerfully embrace.
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