Matthew 3

* John the Baptist, His preaching, manner of life, and baptism.

(1-6) John reproves the Pharisees and Sadducees. (7-12) The

baptism of Jesus. (13-17)

1-6 After Malachi there was no prophet until John the Baptist

came. He appeared first in the wilderness of Judea. This was not

an uninhabited desert, but a part of the country not thickly

peopled, nor much enclosed. No place is so remote as to shut us

out from the visits of Divine grace. The doctrine he preached

was repentance; "Repent ye." The word here used, implies a total

alteration in the mind, a change in the judgment, disposition,

and affections, another and a better bias of the soul. Consider

your ways, change your minds: you have thought amiss; think

again, and think aright. True penitents have other thoughts of

God and Christ, sin and holiness, of this world and the other,

than they had. The change of the mind produces a change of the

way. That is gospel repentance, which flows from a sight of

Christ, from a sense of his love, and from hopes of pardon and

forgiveness through him. It is a great encouragement to us to

repent; repent, for your sins shall be pardoned upon your

repentance. Return to God in a way of duty, and he will, through

Christ, return unto you in the way of mercy. It is still as

necessary to repent and humble ourselves, to prepare the way of

the Lord, as it then was. There is a great deal to be done, to

make way for Christ into a soul, and nothing is more needful

than the discovery of sin, and a conviction that we cannot be

saved by our own righteousness. The way of sin and Satan is a

crooked way; but to prepare a way for Christ, the paths must be

made straight, #Heb 12:13|. Those whose business it is to call

others to mourn for sin, and to mortify it, ought themselves to

live a serious life, a life of self-denial, and contempt of the

world. By giving others this example, John made way for Christ.

Many came to John's baptism, but few kept to the profession they

made. There may be many forward hearers, where there are few

true believers. Curiosity, and love for novelty and variety, may

bring many to attend on good preaching, and to be affected for a

while, who never are subject to the power of it. Those who

received John's doctrine, testified their repentance by

confessing their sins. Those only are ready to receive Jesus

Christ as their righteousness, who are brought with sorrow and

shame to own their guilt. The benefits of the kingdom of heaven,

now at hand, were thereupon sealed to them by baptism. John

washed them with water, in token that God would cleanse them

from all their iniquities, thereby intimating, that by nature

and practice all were polluted, and could not be admitted among

the people of God, unless washed from their sins in the fountain

Christ was to open, #Zec 13:1|.
7-12 To make application to the souls of the hearers, is the

life of preaching; so it was of John's preaching. The Pharisees

laid their chief stress on outward observances, neglecting the

weightier matters of the moral law, and the spiritual meaning of

their legal ceremonies. Others of them were detestable

hypocrites, making their pretences to holiness a cloak for

iniquity. The Sadducees ran into the opposite extreme, denying

the existence of spirits, and a future state. They were the

scornful infidels of that time and country. There is a wrath to

come. It is the great concern of every one to flee from that

wrath. God, who delights not in our ruin, has warned us; he

warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. And

those are not worthy of the name of penitents, or their

privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, yet persist

in them. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own

eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under the

greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of

sin, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging

others. Here is a word of caution, not to trust in outward

privileges. There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt to

say within themselves, to put aside the convincing, commanding

power of the word of God. Multitudes, by resting in the honours

and mere advantages of their being members of an outward church,

come short of heaven. Here is a word of terror to the careless

and secure. Our corrupt hearts cannot be made to produce good

fruit, unless the regenerating Spirit of Christ graft the good

word of God upon them. And every tree, however high in gifts and

honours, however green in outward professions and performances,

if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for

repentance, 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 the

design and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were now

speedily to expect. No outward forms can make us clean. No

ordinances, by whomsoever administered, or after whatever mode,

can supply the want of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of

fire. The purifying and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit alone

can produce that purity of heart, and those holy affections,

which accompany salvation. It is Christ who baptizes with the

Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit

sent upon the apostles, #Ac 2:4|. This he does in the graces and

comforts of the Spirit, given to those that ask him, #Lu 11:13;

Joh 7:38,39|; see #Ac 11:16|. Observe here, the outward church

is 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 every

wind; these are mixed, good and bad, in the same outward

communion. There is a day coming when the wheat and chaff shall

be separated. The last judgment will be the distinguishing day,

when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. In heaven the

saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are

safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours

without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff

among them. Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will certainly

be the portion and punishment of hypocrites and unbelievers.

Here life and death, good and evil, are set before us: according

as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.
13-17 Christ's gracious condescensions are so surprising, that

even 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. And

those who have much of the Spirit of God while here, see that

they need to apply to Christ for more. Christ does not deny that

John had need to be baptized of him, yet declares he will now be

baptized of John. Christ is now in a state of humiliation. Our

Lord Jesus looked upon it as well becoming him to fulfil all

righteousness, to own every Divine institution, and to show his

readiness to comply with all God's righteous precepts. In and

through Christ, the heavens are opened to the children of men.

This descent of the Spirit upon Christ, showed that he was

endued with his sacred influences without measure. The fruit of

the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness,

goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. At Christ's baptism there

was a manifestation of the three Persons in the sacred Trinity.

The Father confirming the Son to be Mediator; the Son solemnly

entering upon the work; the Holy Spirit descending on him, to be

through his mediation communicated to his people. In Him our

spiritual sacrifices are acceptable, for He is the altar that

sanctifies every gift, #1Pe 2:5|. Out of Christ, God is a

consuming fire, but in Christ, a reconciled Father. This is the

sum of the gospel, which we must by faith cheerfully embrace.
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