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But now! Oh what a change! John was a prisoner. Instead of the wild life of the wilderness, he dwelt within the narrow walls of a fortress. Instead of the free desert air, he breathed the heavy gloom of a prison, and the eager multitude had fallen away. Nothing remained to him but the visits of a few disheartened followers, and they might at any moment be forbidden! Was it any wonder that his spirit was cast down? And though he had known Christ, and did still know him, was it wonderful that some misgivings should cross his mind, and that in his lonely prison he felt so far away that he seemed to be forgotten, and needed the assurance from Christ himself, that he had not been mistaken in believing that He really was He that should come to be the hope of all who put their trust in him? And so he sent messengers to Jesus, to ask that question, upon which so much depended; and they, scarce believing that the man to whom they were sent, and of whom such wonderful things were spoken, was the Messiah, yet went at once, and with their eyes they saw, and with their ears they heard, enough to convince them that Jesus was in truth He that should come, and that there was no need to look for another. Go, tell John," said our blessed Lord, " what things ye have seen and heard."
He knew how sorely John was tried; He pitied his weakness, and sent him this message of comfort, this assurance that every word that God had spoken of the Messiah was true; and He added besides, a blessing for him, and for all who should not be offended because the Saviour came not to save from earthly trouble,―came not to give worldly greatness, but the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me," but shall believe that all the splendid promises of the Messiah's kingdom are true; though my condition here is lowly, though calmly and quietly I follow my course of mercy and love to mankind, caring nothing for worldly honours, and re
fusing to place myself at the head of the people as an earthly king.*
Now it is very possible that we, who read these things, may be cast down in spirit, even as John and his disciples were. There are many things that depress the body and the mind, besides the walls of a prison. Ill health-loneliness-the loss of friends-the sudden disappointment of our hopes, these, and even lowness of spirits, that comes we know not how, may be to us what the change from the freedom of the desert was to the Baptist John.
A cloud comes, we know not why, over the brightness of our faith, and even when we most need the comfort of certainty, a doubt rises, a misgiving, that, perhaps, after all, we have fixed our hope, our trust, in what will fail us at the last. Oh, there is no grief like this! It is a dark shadow that wraps the very soul in gloom. For it there is but one cure, to send, as John the Baptist did, to Jesus. Like him we are divided from Him. We cannot see Him; we cannot hear Him. Perhaps even the terrible doubt has come upon us, whether He is indeed the Saviour we had hoped; still let us send to Him, that is, let us take the written word which tells of all He said and did, and on our knees ask for the answer. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; He will send an answer of peace into our souls, He will give us the certainty that He is the only and the sufficient Saviour, and that it were needless as well as hopeless to look for another.†
* Milman's History of Christianity, Vol. i. 231.
To those who are really in a prison.
It is possible that these lines may be read by some, who are like John the Baptist, really in a prison, but it is not likely they are there, as he was, for well doing. I fear that, with the sorrows of imprisonment, they must bear the worse grief of a guilty conscience. To them I would say, O do not for this believe that you are shut out from Christ. No walls can hide from him, no bolts, no bars, can shut out his pitying love. He is the same now as He was while on earth. Send then to him a message; ask your minister to pray for you, and
O God, our Saviour, we bless thee that thou art "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever;" and that in darkness and in doubt we may still send to thee for assurance of thy truth. Thou dost declare thine Almighty power most chiefly in shewing mercy and pity;"* have mercy upon us thy sinful creatures, and when by reason of the weakness of our nature our souls seem to be very far off from thee, and misgivings arise in our hearts, oh, do thou then draw near to us in thy tender love and pity. Send us, by thy Spirit, a message of peace, that our faith may become the brighter for our sorrow; that the voices of the prophets, who told of thee before thy coming; that the wonderful works done by thee, whilst thou wert on earth; and, above all, the change wrought out by thee on our own hearts from the love of sin to the desire of holiness, may all assure us that thou art He who should come, who has come, and who will come again to receive unto thyself all who trust in thee. Amen.
LUKE Vii. 24. "And when the messengers of John were departed, Jesus began to speak unto the people concerning John, (He asked them) What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?”
above all, pray for yourselves.
Seek in his word for the assurance of his love and power, and you shall find that He is the very Saviour you need, that He can deliver you from the bonds of sin, that He can heal the sickness of your bodies and of your souls. and that to you who are poor indeed He will make known the gospel, the glad good news of pardon and peace.
* Collect for the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.
They had gone in crowds from every part into the far wilderness. Why did they go? Surely they had a reason; it could not be to see the reeds, on the banks of Jordan, shaken by the wind!
They had gone forth in great numbers, as men throng to gaze upon some royal show. Had they expected to find in the wilderness some prince, or some prince's favourite, dressed out in all the finery of a court?
Verse 25. "What went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they (that wear soft clothing) which are gorgeously apparelled, (finely dressed,) and live delicately, are in kings' courts,"
They knew that John, whom they went to see and hear, dwelt among the rocks instead of in a palace; that instead of robes of silks and velvets, his dress was of the camel's hair. What was the reason why they sought him? Our Lord repeats the question.
MATTHEW Xi. 9--11. "But what went ye out for to see? A Prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
Had they indeed gone in crowds to the far-off wilderness to see and hear John because he was a prophet? If this were their motive, they had done well; for John was a prophet, and more than a prophet. Not only had he foretold the Messiah's kingdom, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and had pointed out the Messiah, the Lamb of God, saying, "This is He;" but the prophets of old had foretold John's own coming to prepare the
way for his Lord.* It was John of whom the prophet Malachi had written in the words our Lord repeated to the people"Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." The Lord Jesus repeats these words as a promise from the Father to the Son, while the words of Malachi, spoken by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, are, "before my face," "before me," the Father speaking of himself. In this manner did the Lord Jesus show that He looked upon himself, the Son, as one with God the Father, and that with them mine and thine had the same sense. †
As for John, he was the greatest man that had yet been born; greater than all the prophets, than all the holy men that had been before him; but nevertheless, Jesus added, that the least in the kingdom of God was greater than he. Did this mean that the least of those who had already passed into glory was greater than the greatest who yet remained on earth? This is, no doubt, true; for can the knowledge, or the happiness, or the holiness, of the wisest and best on earth be equal to that of the youngest child, or of the most ignorant man or woman already in heaven?
But there was another meaning, and it concerns us who are still in this world to know it. It is this, that (great as John the Baptist was) the least of those who were called upon by Jesus to establish His kingdom on earth were greater than he, because they were more fully taught by the Spirit of God, and to them were revealed those things the holy men of old had desired to understand, but never had fully understood.
Yet more; the very least, the very humblest, Christian now has greater advantages than John the Baptist had, for he can look back upon the Messiah's finished work, and know as
* John the Baptist filled up the space between the Covenant in the Old Testament and the Covenant in the New Testament. He made, as it were, the link that fitted on the one to the other. See Olshausen, Vol. iii. 57.
† See note in Scott's Bible on this verse.