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JOHN'S MESSAGE TO JESUS.
Matthew, xi. 2, 3. Now when John had heard in prison the works of
Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? These words state a transaction, to say the least of it, of a singular kind, and well entitled to observation. Some time before our Lord's appearance, John the Baptist had produced himself to the country, as a messenger of God, and as a public preacher. The
, principal thing which he taught was, that a greater and more extraordinary person than himself, that is to say, no other than the long-foretold and longexpected Messiah, was about shortly to appear in the world; that, for the appearance of this person, which would be the setting up of the kingdom of God upon earth, all men were to prepare themselves by repentance and reformation. Thus did John preach, before it was known or declared, and before he (John himself) knew or declared, who this extraordinary person
It was, as it should seem, upon our Lord's offering himself to John to be baptized of him in Jordan that John, for the first time, knew and published him to be that person. This testimony and record John afterward repeated concerning him in this man. ner, and it is remarkable : “ The next day John seeth
, Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.
This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man, which is preferred before me, for he was before me, and I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upom him: and I knew him not, but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record, that this is the Son of God.”
It came to pass that, soon after our Lord's public appearance, John was cast into prison, and there remained, till, by a barbarous order from Herod, in wicked compliance with a wicked vow, this good and courageous servant of God was beheaded. It does not seem quite certain whether he was not imprisoned twice. In prison, however, his disciples, as was natural, came to him, and related to him the great things which Jesus had lately been doing; and it appears, from the accounts of the different evangelists, and by laying these accounts together in order of time, that Jesus, a little before this, amongst other miracles, had cured the centurion's servant, without coming near him; and had also raised the young man at Nain to life, when they were carrying him out to his funeral : miracles which, it may be supposed, were much noised abroad in the country. What then did John the Baptist do upon receiving this intelligence ? He sent to Jesus two of his disciples, saying, “ Art thou he that should come, or look we for another?”
It will appear odd that John should entertain any doubt, or require any satisfaction, about this matter. He who had himself publicly announced Jesus to be the Messiah looked for, and that also upon the most undeniable grounds, because he saw the Spirit descending and remaining upon him ; the token which had been given him, whereby this person was to be distinguished by him.
This was a difficulty which interpreters of Scripture, in very early times, saw: and the answer which they gave to it I believe to be the true one ; namely, that John sent this message, not from any doubt which he himself entertained of the matter, but in order that the doubts which his disciples had conceived about it might receive an answer and satisfaction at the fountain head; from Jesus himself, who was best
1 able to give it.
You will, therefore, now observe what this answer was, and how, and under what circumstances, it was given. If you turn to Saint Luke's statement of the transaction, chap. vii. verse 20th, you will there find it expressly asserted, what is only implied and tacitly referred to by Saint Matthew (and this is one instance, amongst many, of the advantage of bringing the accounts of the different evangelists together): you will find, I say, that it so happened, I ought to have said that it was so ordered by Providence, that at the time, the precise hour, when these messengers from John arrived, our Lord was in the very act of working miracles. In that same hour, says Luke, he cured many of infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits, and unto many that were blind he gave sight: so that the messengers themselves were eye-witnesses of his powers, and his gifts, and of his mighty works; and to this evidence he refers them; and a more decisive or dig. nified answer could not possibly have been given. He neither says he was nor he was not the person they inquired after, but bids them take notice and tell John of what they saw, and make their own conclusion from it. “ Go your way, and tell John what things
ye have seen and heard, how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the Gospel is preached.” It does not, I think, appear, nor is it necessary to suppose, that all these species of miracles were performed then, or before their eyes. It is specifically mentioned that he then cured many of plagues and infirmities, cast out evil spirits, and restored sight to the blind : but it is not mentioned, for instance, that he then raised the dead, though that miracle be referred to in his answer. After having wrought, whilst they were present, many and various species of decisive miracles, he was well entitled to demand their credit and assent to others upon his own testimony and assertion.
Now, from this answer of our Lord's, we are entitled to infer (and this I think is the useful inference to be drawn from it) that the faith which he required, the assent which he demanded, was a rational assent and faith founded upon proof and evidence. His exhortation was, “ Believe me for the very works' sake." He did not bid Philip, upon that occasion, or the disciples of John upon this, believe him, because he was the Son of God, because he came down from heaven, because he was in the Father and the Father in him, because he was with God and from God, because the Father had given unto him the Spirit without measure, because he was inspired in the fullest and largest sense of the word; for all these characters and
pretensions, though the highest that could belong to any being whatsoever, to a prophet, or to more than a prophet, were nevertheless to be ascertained by facts; when ascertained, they were grounds of the most absolute confidence in his word, of the most implicit and unlimited reliance upon his authority ; but they were to be ascertained by facts. To facts, therefore, our Lord appeals; to facts he refers them, and to the de
monstration which they afforded of his power and truth; for shutting their eyes against faith, or, more properly speaking, for shutting their hearts and understandings against the proof and conclusion which facts afforded, he pronounces them liable to condemnation. They were to believe his word, because of his works : that was exactly what he required. “The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me; and the Father himself who hath sent me, beareth witness of me.” (John, v. 36.) It is
( remarkable that John the Baptist wrought no miracle ; therefore the authority and confirming proof of his mission rested very much upon the evidences which were exhibited, not by himself, but by the person whose appearance he professed to foretell ; and undoubtedly the miracles of our Lord did, by a reflected operation, establish the preaching of John. For if a person in these days should appear, not working any miracle himself, but declaring that another and greater person was soon to follow, and if that other and greater person did accordingly soon follow, and show forth mighty deeds, the authority of the first person's mission would be ratified by the second person's works. They who might doubt, nay reasonably doubt, concerning the first person's truth and pretensions before, would be fully satisfied of them afterward; and this was exactly the turn which some rational and considerate Jews gave to the matter. “ And many resorted to him, and said, John did no miracle : but all things that John spake of this man were true;" the effect of this observ. ation was, what it ought to be,“
believed on him there." John, x. 41, 42.
This distinction between our Lord and his forerunner, in one working miracles, and the other not, fur. nishes an account for two things which we meet with