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THE BAPTIST EXHORTS TO REPENTANCE.
LUKE iii. 1-14.
(Matt. iii. 1-12. Mark i. 1-8.)
1. Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituræa and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
2. Annas and Caiaphas being the high priest, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
3. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
4. As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; 2
6. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
7. Then said he to the multitude that came forth to be
The law of Moses appointed one high priest. Annas had held the office eleven years, when he was deposed by the Roman governor, and succeeded by his son-in-law Caiaphas. Probably the authority of Annas was still respected by the people, and he is on that account mentioned here conjointly with Caiaphas. 2 Isa. xl. 3; lii. 10.
baptized of him, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
8. Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance; and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
9. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
10. And the people asked him, saying, What shall we do then?
11. He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat let him do likewise.
It is a satisfactory sign, when people's minds are so far moved upon the subject of religion, as to inquire in earnest, what shall we do then? If there is wrath to come, how shall we flee from it? If there is a kingdom prepared for the righteous, how shall we enter it?
The Holy Spirit had in this way carried the words of John the Baptist to the hearts of some of his hearers. And the people asked him, what shall we do then?
This phrase, the people, must have included many different characters: by whom, if they meant to serve God, much must be hereafter done which they had not done hitherto, and much left undone which they had been used to do. But John gave a reply, which, so far as it went, must be suitable to all. He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. They must lay aside their selfishness. They must live no longer, as men without religion
do commonly live, for themselves alone, but for God and their fellow-creatures. They must consider how they can impart to others a share of the blessings they enjoy.
You will ask, perhaps, Is this precept to be literally followed? Certainly not. The nature of mankind and of the world in which they are placed would make that impossible. But, doubtless, the words mean this-and less than this, they cannot mean, that we should be ready to do good unto all men, according to their wants and our opportunities. They furnish a general rule of kindness and charitable feeling, suited not to one class of people alone, but to all people: to every one who has more of this world's goods than his neighbour. "For whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him!"
12. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
13. And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you.
The publicans employed under the authority of the Roman government to collect the taxes, were odious both on account of their office and their character. Tribute is always unpopular, and especially that which is paid to a foreign government. Therefore their office was odious. And because it was so, few would take it, except those who were careless of men's opinion, and had no reputation to lose. On this account it was made a reproach 3 1 John iii. 17.
against our Lord, that he sat down "with publicans and sinners."
Some of these came also to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do?
John did not answer, Lay down your office, and seek another business. They often did practise extortion. But it was not necessary that they should. So he enjoined them to remain in their situation, doing their duty in it. Exact no more than is appointed you. Use no fraud, no injustice. You have much temptation to those offences. Perhaps you have committed them. If your desire is from henceforth to serve God, and continue in his favour, follow such practices no more.
This leads to an useful consideration. There are no conditions in life without temptations. Satan takes advantage of these, to pervert and destroy. People are apt to believe, that if they were in different circumstances, they should be safe. But in no circumstances could they avoid danger, unless they could escape from themselves. And the real duty is, to pursue a Christian course in the station to which every man belongs: to shun the particular evils which beset us, whether in riches or in poverty, in business or in leisure: to keep the golden rule in view, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
In the same spirit, therefore, as when he exhorted the publicans to exact no more than was required, the Baptist would exhort those who were much occupied in worldly business:-Ye are tempted to be "careful and troubled about many things. One thing is needful." Whilst ye attend to the daily
concerns of this present world, remember that one most needful thing.
He would exhort others, who had less call for active labour:-Idleness is the parent of sin. Find out for yourselves some useful employment, in which you may serve God. He has given to all a work, the management of their own hearts. Neglect it not.
He might say to another, who was depressed by poverty: You are tempted to murmur; you are tempted to relieve your wants by dishonest means. Resist these evils; and "cast your care upon God, for he careth for you."
To another, who was "rich in this world," he might say:-Your temptation is to luxury, to selfish enjoyment. Do not indulge such a state of heart and practice. Remember that the wrath of God is revealed against the man who says within himself, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry."
In this manner Scripture warns us to watch and take heed against the dangers of our particular condition in life, and to make them a mean, through the grace of God, of "working out our salvation."
14. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.
This too is to be remarked. The Baptist knew that the soldier's life was unfavourable to piety. But he also knew, that it was not inconsistent with it that piety might be found in soldiers. We have