Here the enquiry suggests itself whether the second testimony is concluded, and whether there is a third, addressed to those who were sent from the Pharisees. They wished to know why he baptized, if he was neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet; and he said:
I baptize with water; but there stands one among you whom you know not, He that comes after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. Is this a third testimony, or is this which they were to report to the Pharisees a part of the second? As far as the words allow me to conjecture I should say that the word to the emissaries of the Pharisees was a third testimony. It is to be observed, however, that the first testimony asserts the divinity of the Saviour, while the second disposes of the suspicion of those who were in doubt whether John could be the Christ, and the third declares one who was already present with men although they saw Him not, and whose coming was no longer in the future. Before going on to the subsequent testimonies in which he points out Christ and witnesses to Him, let us look at the second and third, word for word, and let us, in the first place, observe that there are two embassies to the Baptist, one
from Jerusalem from the Jews, who send priests and levites, to ask him,
Who are you? the second sent by the Pharisees, who were in doubt about the answer which had been made to the priests and levites. Observe how what is said by the first envoys is in keeping with the character of priests and levites, and shows gentleness and a willingness to learn.
Who are you? they say, and
What then? Are you Elijah? and
Are you that prophet? and then,
Who are you, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What do you say of yourself? There is nothing harsh or arrogant in the enquiries of these men; everything agrees well with the character of true and careful servants of God; and they raise no difficulties about the replies made to them. Those, on the contrary, who are sent from the Pharisees assail the Baptist, as it were, with arrogant and unsympathetic words:
Why then do you baptize if you be not the Christ nor Elijah nor the prophet? This mission is sent scarcely for the sake of information, as in the former case of the priests and levites, but rather to debar the Baptist from baptizing, as if it were thought that no one was entitled to baptize but Christ and Elijah and the prophet. The student who desires to understand the Scripture must always proceed in this careful way; he must ask with regard to each speech, who is the speaker and on what occasion it was spoken. Thus only can we discern how speech harmonizes with the character of the speaker, as it does all through the sacred books.
Then the Jews sent priests and levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who are you? And he confessed and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. John 1:19-20 What legates should have been sent from the Jews to John, and where should they have been sent from? Should they not have been men held to stand by the election of God above their fellows, and should they not have come from that place which was chosen out of the whole of the earth, though it is all called good, from Jerusalem where was the temple of God? With such honour, then, do they enquire of John. In the case of Christ nothing of this sort is reported to have been done by the Jews; but what the Jews do to John, John does to Christ, sending his own disciples to ask him, Matthew 11:3
Are you He that should come, or do we look for another? John confesses to those sent to him, and denies not, and he afterwards declares,
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness; but Christ, as having a greater testimony than John the Baptist, makes His answer by words and deeds, saying,
Go and tell John those things which you do hear and see; the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. On this passage I shall, if God permit, enlarge in its proper place. Here, however, it might be asked reasonably enough why John gives such an answer to the question put to him. The priests and levites do not ask him,
Are you the Christ? but
Who are you? and the Baptist’s reply to this question should have been,
I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The proper reply to the question,
Are you the Christ? is,
I am not the Christ; and to the question,
Who are you?—
The voice of one crying in the wilderness. To this we may say that he probably discerned in the question of the priests and levites a cautious reverence, which led them to hint the idea in their minds that he who was baptizing might be the Christ, but withheld them from openly saying so, which might have been presumptuous. He quite naturally, therefore, proceeds in the first place to remove any false impressions they might have taken up about him, and declares publicly the true state of the matter,
I am not the Christ. Their second question, and also their third, show that they had conceived some such surmise about him. They supposed that he might be that second in honour to whom their hopes pointed, namely, Elijah, who held with them the next position after Christ; and so when John had answered,
I am not the Christ, they asked,
What then? Are you Elijah? And he said,
I am not. They wish to know, in the third place, if he is the prophet, and on his answer,
No, they have no longer any name to give the personage whose advent they expected, and they say,
Who are you, then, that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What do you say of yourself? Their meaning is:
You are not, you say, any of those personages whose advent Israel hopes and expects, and who you are, to baptize as you do, we do not know; tell us, therefore, so that we may report to those who sent us to get light upon this point. We add, as it has some bearing on the context, that the people were moved by the thought that the period of Christ’s advent was near. It was in a manner imminent in the years from the birth of Jesus and a little before, down to the publication of the preaching. Hence it was, in all likelihood, that as the scribes and lawyers had deduced the time from Holy Scripture and were expecting the Coming One, the idea was taken up by Theudas, who came forward as the Messiah and brought together a considerable multitude, and after him by the famous Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing. Acts 5:36-37 Thus the coming of the Messiah was more warmly expected and discussed, and it was natural enough for the Jews to send priests and levites from Jerusalem to John, to ask him,
Who are you? and learn if he professed to be the Christ.
These, then, are the parallel passages of the four; let us try to see as clearly as we can what is the purport of each and wherein they differ from each other. And we will begin with Matthew, who is reported by tradition to have published his Gospel before the others, to the Hebrews, those, namely, of the circumcision who believed. I, he says, baptize you with water unto repentance, purifying you, as it were, and turning you away from evil courses and calling you to repentance; for I am come to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him, and by my baptism of repentance to prepare the ground for Him who is to come after me, and who will thus benefit you much more effectively and powerfully than my strength could. For His baptism is not that of the body only; He fills the penitent with the Holy Ghost, and His diviner fire does away with everything material and consumes everything that is earthy, not only from him who admits it to his life, but even from him who hears of it from those who have it. So much stronger than I is He who is coming after me, that I am not able to bear even the outskirts of the powers round Him which are furthest from Him (they are not open and exposed, so that any one could see them), nor even to bear those who support them. I know not of which I should speak. Should I speak of my own great weakness, which is not able to bear even these things about Christ which in comparison with the greater things in Him are least, or should I speak of His transcendent Deity, greater than all the world? If I who have received such grace, as to be thought worthy of prophecy predicting my arrival in this human life, in the words, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” and “Behold I send my messenger before thy face;” if I whose birth Gabriel who stands before God announced to my father so advanced in years, so much against his expectation, I at whose name Zacharias recovered his voice and was enabled to use it to prophesy, I to whom my Lord bears witness that among them that are born of women there is none greater than I, I am not able so much as to bear His shoes! And if not His shoes, what can be said about His garments? Who is so great as to be able to guard His coat? Who can suppose that He can understand the meaning contained in His tunic which is without seam from the top because it is woven throughout? It is to be observed that while the four represent John as declaring himself to have come to baptize with water, Matthew alone adds the words “to repentance,” teaching that the benefit of baptism is connected with the intention of the baptized person; to him who repents it is salutary, but to him who comes to it without repentance it will turn to greater condemnation. And here we must note that as the wonderful works done by the Saviour in the cures He wrought, which are symbolical of those who at any time are set free by the word of God from any sickness or disease, though they were done to the body and brought a bodily relief, yet also called those who were benefited by them to an exercise of faith, so the washing with water which is symbolic of the soul cleansing herself from every stain of wickedness, is no less in itself to him who yields himself to the divine power of the invocation of the Adorable Trinity, the beginning and source of divine gifts; for “there are diversities of gifts.” This view receives confirmation from the narrative recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, which shows the Spirit to have descended so manifestly on those who receive baptism, after the water had prepared the way for him in those who properly approached the rite. Simon Magus, astonished at what he saw, desired to receive from Peter this gift, but though it was a good thing he desired, he thought to attain it by the mammon of unrighteousness. We next remark in passing that the baptism of John was inferior to the baptism of Jesus which was given through His disciples. Those persons in the Acts4910 who were baptized to John’s baptism and who had not heard if there was any Holy Ghost are baptized over again by the Apostle. Regeneration did not take place with John, but with Jesus through His disciples it does so, and what is called the laver of regeneration takes place with renewal of the Spirit; for the Spirit now comes in addition since it comes from God and is over and above the water and does not come to all after the water. So far, then, our examination of the statements in the Gospel according to Matthew.