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put such a question as this to our Saviour,' Art thou He that should come? or do we look for another?' for could John be ignorant of our Saviour's character? He, who had formerly baptized Christ, had seen the Spirit descend on him in the form of a dove, and heard the voice from heaven thus testifying concerning him, 'This is my well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased?' He, who had borne record of our Lord more than once, that he was 'the Son of God, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world?' We mu3t therefore look out for some other reason of his sending this message, besides the desire of satisfying himself:—and that plainly was the procuring satisfaction to those by whom the message was sent, his disciples and followers, who, notwithstanding all the asseverations of John to this purpose, continued still incredulous;—we may suppose, for these reasons:
1. Because they saw their Master imprisoned, and now likely to be put to death, for preaching up the kingdom of God, and the coming of the Messiah; and could not apprehend that, had Jesus been that Messiah, he should have wanted power or will to employ that power, for the Baptises deliverance.
2. They might have observed, that our Saviour had declined all occasions of directly and openly owning himself to be the Messiah; which conduct, though necessary, in order to carry on, and complete his ministry, without interruption from the Roman powers, was yet what the disciples of John, who had heard their master preaching up the kingdom of the Messiah without any disguise, could not understand; nor account for any otherwise, than by supposing that Jesus arrogated not that honour to himself, as being conscious that it did not belong to him. And these suspicions might be raised, by their observing,—
3. The manner of our Saviours life and conversation, which was so very different from that of their masters. The * one came neither eating nor drinking,' delighted in solitude, and lived in the practice of the highest rigours and austerities: the other 'came eating and drinking,' lived in the world, and according to all the innocent customs of it; conversing freely and promiscuously with all sorts of men, even with publicans and sinners. And therefore they were tempted to think, that He, who was so far beneath their Master in what they called perfection and holiness, could not be so far above him in his character and office, as, if he were the Messiah, he must have been.
. Thus much concerning the enquiry: we are now to consider,—
II. Secondly, the reply which our Saviour made to it. In which reply there are two things observable; the manner and the matter of it.
II. 1. As to the mannerof it, we seeit is not direct and positive; but so ordered only, as to give them an occasion of answering that question themselves, which they had proposed to our blessed Saviour. This method, as it was agreeable to his conduct in other cases, and requisite to secure him from the accusations of those who watched his words, whenever he taught in public; so had it this further use in it, that it imprinted a conviction on the enquirers, after the most gentle, reasonable, and winning way, without commanding and extorting their assent by an authoritative declaration of the truth, which he thus invited them to receive. The proper motives and evidences only were laid before them; and they afterwards were left to frame the conclusion from thence; that so their faith, which was to entitle them to such glorious privileges, might be a free and voluntary act, and the test of an ingenuous and welldisposed mind.
As to the matter of our Saviour's answer, three things there are, which deserve to be weighed by us:—The remarkable gradation and rise there is in the particulars there mentioned; the appositeness of it in relation to the enquirers; and the general force and evidence of the argument contained in it.
II. 2.1. To begin with the first of these: ' Go and show John again,' says our Saviour, • those things which ye do hear and see:' and then he particularly mentions the bodily cures he wrought on the deaf and blind, the lame and the lepers. He adds beyond this a yet plainer instance of a miraculous and divine power,—'the dead are raised up;' and he seems to advance still somewhat further, when he says, that even ' the poor have the Gospel preached unto them:' an instance of goodness and condescension, with which the Jews had before been but little acquainted! The prophets of that nation had been sent always to great and mighty persons, to reclaim their princes and rulers, and to reprove exemplary wickedness in high places; and, to manifest the authority of their commission to them, were sometimes armed with the power of miracles. But not hi up could be more wonderful, than to see a prophet in Jewry preaching to the poor and meek; addressmg himself to the lowest and meanest of men; exhorting them to virtue, removing their prejudices, and rectifying their errors! Such applications amidst that people were so unusual, and exceeding rare, that our Saviour thought fit to conclude the enumeration of the several proofs of his mission with these two particulars, * The dead are raised up,' (says he,) 'and the poorjiave the Gospel preached unto them.
II. 2. 2. The appositeness of our Saviour's answer, in relation to the persons who made the enquiry, is what we are next to consider. And here,
First, we may observe, what a natural occasion he takes of resolving their doubts, from what he was even then saying and doing in their presence: * Go, and show John again, those things which ye do hear and see:' That is, "You come to learn of me, whether I am the Messiah: your Master hath often told you, that I am; but ye will not believe him. To Him you should have given ear, who is my professed harbinger and herald; to me it belongs not so properly to proclaim my own titles mid assert my own authority. For • if I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.' It is liable to suspicion, and likely to be of little weight and authority with you. If ye suspect your Master's testimony of me, much more will ye suspect that which I give of myself. Behold therefore the testimony of God! * For the works which I do,' which yc now see done before your eyes, they * bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.' If ye still doubt who I am, why ask ye me? ask the works, which you cannot doubt whether I do or not; and they shall tell you."
Secondly, Nothing could be better contrived to satisfy these enquirers, of our Saviour's pre-eminence over the Baptist, than these wonders which they saw him perform, and heard him now appeal to; since they knew very well, that their Master had not the gift of miracles, nor pretended to the power of doing them; and could not therefore but see, that his ministry was inferior to that of Christ, and subordinate to it; especially since from the Baptist's own mouth they had learnt, that the 'doing of miracles' should be one illustrious and discriminating mark of the Messiah; for so much, I think, that passage in the Gospel of St. John sufficiently implies,— 'Many who resorted unto Jesus, said, John did no miracles; but all things which John spake of this man, were true;' that is, though he did none himself, yet he prophesied that Jesus should do them: and when his disciples therefore saw that prediction fulfilled, they were able themselves to answer their own question.—' Art thou He that should come? or do we look for another?' further,—
Thirdly, The particular facts, which our Saviour here mentions, in order to insinuate his pre-eminence over the Baptist, are extremely well suited to that purpose. They are all acts of beneficence and kindness, wrought for the service and benefit of men, either for the instruction of their minds, or the healing of their bodies. And this, he tacitly suggests to them, was a far nobler employment, and carried in it a much greater degree of perfection and use, than the solitary life and rigid austerities of the Baptist, for which his disciples held him in such high veneration. He hints to them the reasons, for which he lived and conversed thus publickly and familiarly, and applied himself to men in the most humane, easy, and affable manner, without distinguishing himself from others by any rough and frightening appearances, anything extraordinary and singular, either in his look, attire, or behaviour (for which the Baptist was remarkable); and he leaves them (even in this respect) to consider, whether his character was not superior to that of their Master, and his administration ordained to more excellent purposes; and therefore he concludes his reply with words, which have an eye to those prejudices they had entertained against him on this account; 'Blessed are they, who are not offended in me!'
Beyond all this, it is, in the
Fourth place, extremely remarkable, that the answer of our Lord to these enquiring disciples is expressed in words, taken from a prophecy of Isaiah concerning the Messiah. And Isaiah was, of all the prophets, he, in whose writings the Baptist's followers were the most conversant, and for whom they had the greatest esteem and reverence; inasmuch as their Master was there more particularly pointed out; the person and office of this cryer in the wilderness were there more exactly described, than in any other part of the sacred volume. And therefore what this Prophet testified concerning the Messiah, was best suited to work those into a reception of him, who had been led by his testimony to discern even their master himself, and to become his followers.
Now the places here referred to in Isaiah are these, [chap. Ixi. 1.] 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord hath appointed me to preach good tidings to the meek.' And the very same phrase is employed here in the text, 'The poor have the Gospel preached unto them.' The rest of the particulars may be almost entirely supplied from another passage in the xxxvth of the same prophet, [ver. 4, 5, 6'.] 'Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense: he will come and save you.' 'Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped: then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.'
It is very probable that the Baptist himself might have an eye to this passage, when he sent his doubting disciples with this question to our Saviour, 'Art thou he that should comer' since we find there a promise, within the compass of a few words, twice repeated, ' that God would come, would come to save his people:' and therefore our Saviour, very appositely, sent them back again to the same Prophet in his reply; and taught them by that means to understand the true meaning of their master's question. It is as if lie had said, "You believe not the Baptist's testimony, that I am 'He who should come'; yet surely Isaiah, upon whose authority ye have received the Baptist himself, will find credit with you; and /ie hath thus prophesied of me."
II. 2. 3. Nav, these words carry in them (as I in the third place observed) an argument of more general use and influence, and propose to us all the chief marks and characters of such miracles, as are sufficient to confirm the authority of any person pretending to be sent by God; and all of which concurred in the miracles done by our Messiah; as any unprejudiced person, who compares them together, may easily perceive.
1. Now the character of such miracles, as can be the proper evidence of a Divine mission, is, that they be above the known powers of all natural causes: and such were all the instantaneous cures here mentioned; and particularly the raising men from the dead.