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undiminished, the authority of Jesus must probably have been weakened by these seeming doubts; but it could hardly fail to be diminished, when his hearers reflected, that he himself had pointed out Jesus as the true Messiah2. Indeed it is impossible to suppose, that impostors, who had already borne frequent and decisive testimony to the claims of one another, would have acted in such a way, as to appear forgetful of their assertions, or dissatisfied with their truth3. What w^ ere the motives that influenced John is uncertain. He was, probably, desirous of conquering the prejudices of his disciples, and of convincing them, that their master was the messenger of him, who was truly the Messiah. They found him in a dungeon; — they saw a tyrant, fixing the doom which was to
2 It cannot justly be objected that John might have sent the message purposely to betray Jesus, by involving him in difficulties and exposing him to suspicion. To have disclosed the plot to Herod might, indeed, have led to his release from imprisonment, but to communicate it to an indignant people could only terminate in the disgrace and punishment of one, who had a decided participation in its iniquity.
3 "IIoXAoi e<TKai/Sa\i^ovTo iid Tt}v,TUv jua0ijTMK Tov lwdvvov epniTtjaiv, t\v mpoor\veyK.av Tu Xjoi'o-tw."—Photius.
Justin Martyr thought that John entertained doubts. Tertullian supposed that the spirit of prophecy had been then withdrawn from him. Others have imagined that the Baptist was desirous of ascertaining, whether he, who was performing so many miracles, was the person, to whom he had borne witness. Le Clerc is favourable to the opinion of those who believe it proceeded from want of fixed conviction, "Videtur Joannes Baptista, qui dudum erat in carcere, subdubitasse de Jesu Christo, quia videbat ejus prsedictionis et miraculorum eum exitum non fuisse, qui a Messia expectabatur; omnia enim eodem modo, ac antea, se habebant." Annotat.
destroy their last hopes;—they were probably sinking under despondency and distrust. It was his endeavour, therefore, to reassure their faint resolutions, and to settle their wavering faith. Himself too might need consolation;—he was in solitary confinement; the cup of bitterness was fast rising to his lips, and the scene of life was soon to fade from his sight. In this season of awful uncertainty, when the terrors of reflection force themselves into the mind, and the voice of conscience is awakened; — when mockery turns into alarm, and uneasiness swells into despair; — while the lukewarm, tormented by fears and anguish, see the shadows of guilt grow larger and deeper, as the evening of life declines; even the, virtuous and the zealous look forward to the confidence of certainty and peace of spirit—to chase away the unavoidable terrors that sit on the margin of the grave. Such, perhaps, were his feelings. He was anxious to end his days with a full assurance, that his eyes had seen his salvation,—the promised Messiah.—But, whatever were his motives, an expedient, so likely to destroy their joint credit, could only have proceeded from a consciousness of sincerity; for sincerity alone is regardless of suspicion.
VI. Had any confederacy existed between John and Jesus, had the former undertaken to prepare the way which the latter had marked out, it is probable, that either all the disciples of the Baptist would have followed Christ, or none. We find, on the contrary, that only some attended him, and many felt surprised at the difference of their manner, and made it the ground of frequent objections. This wears an appearance of improbability on the supposition of imposture:— but, if we look upon them as undesigning and unconnected, we derive a new argument of integrity, in that he seems not to have used exhortations, but to have left them to the exercise of reason, and the evidence of truth.
Our limits will not allow us to pursue this investigation to the length which it admits: we shall merely touch upon a few more particulars which furnish so many additional proofs of the divine mission of John and of Jesus, as they continually redouble the improbability of collusion.—
Deceivers would take every opportunity of supporting their assumed character, and publishing their peculiar pretensions. — When the priests came to John, to put the question, "Art thou Elias ?"—an impostor, naturally expecting such an enquiry, would have collected all the proofs on which his commission rested, and entered into a copious explanation of the right meaning of the prophecies respecting the expected Elias -.—but John contented himself with answering, according to their notion,—" I am not."—The apparent tendency of this reply was to impugn his claims, and to weaken, if not destroy, his authority. But the1 inconsistency still increases. John denies, that he was Elias,—yet Jesus emphatically affirms, that he was "Elias, which was for to come."— This seeming contradiction has been already explained; but with regard to its probable effect, it was little fitted to obviate objections, and bears no indication of connivance and artifice.—How then could they be joint impostors?
Again, John publicly calls Jesus the "Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world1/'— probably alluding to the daily sacrifice of a piacular victim. The obvious interpretation of such expressions, must have led to the expectation, that Jesus would, at some time, be put to death. But this account was inconsistent with the general notions of the Messiah, and, at first sight, irreconcilable with the prophetic declarations delivered at his birth,—that he should sit on the throne of his father David. Surely a deceiver would not choose a circumstance which alone might cause the rejection of his colleague. Surely an aspirer to the dominion of the popular mind would not be anxious to impress his hearers with a belief, that the partner of his cares, and the object of his admiration, was at last to be destroyed by a violent death.—How then could they be joint impostors?
Lastly, when the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders demanded of our Saviour, by whose authority he prohibited all traffic in the temple, and when "all the people were very attentive to hear him," we find he made no appeal to the testimony of John the Baptist. Yet it appears not that he was forgetful of this evidence, since he asked them concerning the origin of his baptism :—" whence was it? from heaven, or of men?" A confederate in deceit, instead of barely mentioning the name of the Baptist, in order to silence the Jews, and to
John i. 29.
make no defence, would have enlarged on John's declarations in a full defence, and seized that opportunity of establishing the credibility of his mission, and the divine nature of his authority. But here we see none of the expedients of fraud, none of the operations of ordinary artifice.— How then, we ask, could they be joint impostors2?"
Indeed, had any imposture existed, it. seems probable, that he, who assumed the character of the Messiah, would have endeavoured to show his superiority over the forerunner, by a marked distinction of birth, garb, carriage, and behaviour. Hence, it would have been natural for John to have personated the first, and Jesus the second. John was remarkable, as St. Chrysostom3 has observed, for the splendour of his birth, being descended from families of the priesthood: but
* "We cannot accuse him of acting under-hand with Jesus Christ, for we do not find any correspondence kept between them: one of them was the son of a priest, the other of a carpenter's wife: the one dwelt in Judaea, the other in Galilee; the one concealed himself, whilst the other's reputation had got him a great many disciples. The disciples of the one were very jealous of the disciples of the other, and endeavoured to inspire their master with the jealousy they possessed themselves." Allix's Reflections, &c—L'Abbe Le Pluche has stated a. scheme of concerted imposture which some have supposed to have existed between Jesus Christ and John the Baptist.— See The Truth of the Gospel Demonstrated, Vol. I. p. 289— Dr. W. Bell has treated the subject at considerable length in his * Enquiry into the Divine Missions of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ:' to which elaborate work the Author is indebted for the line of argument pursued in many parts of this Essay.
3 Horn. xvi.