John Baptist and the Deputation

John Baptist and the Deputation

John Baptist of Jesus and of himself. The Lamb of God.

(The Gospel History, from Sections 18 and 19)

John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

And this is the witness of John, when the Jews sent unto him from Jerusalem priests and Levites to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; and he confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not. Art thou the prophet? And he answered, No. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. And they had been sent from the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, neither Elijah, neither the prophet? John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not, even he that cometh after me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethany beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.

On the morrow he seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is become before me: for he was before me. And I knew him not; but that he should be made manifest to Israel, for this cause came I baptizing with water. And John bare witness, saying, I have beheld the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven; and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, he said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and abiding upon him, the same is he that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit. And I have seen, and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.

Again on the morrow John was standing, and two of his disciples; and he looked upon Jesus as he walked, and saith, Behold, the Lamb of God! And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.

John Baptist and the Deputation

(The Saviour of the World, Vol I Book II Poem IX)

John, who had seen the sign of the Anointing,
Bare witness to the people, cried aloud,—
“He is come, that One of whom I said to you,
That He who cometh after is before
Preferred, for He before me was; or e’er
God made the worlds, then was He beside Him.
He is become before me” (well for John Baptist!)
“In all the acts and choosings of my days:
How could I please myself, He, there to please?”

His fulness filleth all things, filleth us;
Grace upon grace He showereth on our days:
The touch of God’s continual kindnesses,
The little tender things He doth for each,
With scarce a pause to thank Him in: all these
Are of Him, who but late stood in our midst!
The law was given by Moses: all men know
That labour up the ladder of perfection,
Step gained to-day, and three steps lost to-morrow:
But grace and truth, these by Christ Jesus came;—
Recurrence always of God’s loving-kindness;
Insight, the power to see Him as He is,
And, in the strength of truth, to put Him first,
For He is before us—in all, preferred.
No man at any time hath seen High God:
The Son who lay in His bosom hath declared Him,
And this His witness— “full of grace and truth.”

Now the rulers of the people heard of John:
The Church at Jerusalem judged that it behoved
To make inquiry, Was he the Coming One?
Credentials of a prophet carried he—
A message, working in the people’s hearts;
His dress, his hermit-life, these all, a prophet’s:
Nay, might he be in truth the very Christ?
“Anyway, we of the temple should search this thing.”
So they sent a deputation to the spot
Where John all day baptized in Jordan, Priests
And Levites from Jerusalem, Pharisees.
As men charged with a mission, straight to the point,
They went: “Who art thou?” John, reading their thought,
Denied not, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
Still might he prophecy fulfil; they ask,
“Art thou Elias?” remembering how the books
Of the prophets closed with, Behold, I will send
Elijah, the prophet, to you before the coming
Of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. “I am not,”
Said John; for teachers sent from God are slow
To recognise their own significance;
How believe that they were thought of from of old?
One query more from these astute inquirers:—
“Art thou that prophet?”—the prophet like to him,
Who should, like him, lead and command the people,
That Moses spake of. “No,” again said John,
Nor paused to ponder if indeed he were
Thus honoured by God’s purpose long before.
The baffled questioners become displeased:
What right had he, without or call or sanction,
To preach to the people with authority?
“Who art thou, then? What sayest thou of thyself?
That we may answer take to them who sent us!”
John answered by an image, drawn from the East,
Familiar to his hearers, used by the prophets.
When Eastern monarch would on journey go,
His heralds go before, and cry, “Make ready!”
And he, who reaps, or sows, or tills the soil,
Must leave his work, go, labour on the road
The king will travel—filling up the ruts,
Lowering hillocks, making straight the crooked:—
The Baptist tells his mission: not the Christ,—
“I am the voice,” saith he, “of one who cries
In wilderness, Make straight the Lord’s highway,
As saith Esaias, the prophet.”

Each of us

In some sort is a voice, each speaks a name;
By faithful work, true word, we utter—God;
Our own poor name, in slipshod work, vain speech.
But otherwise the Baptist! No person, he,
With ends of his own to attain, only a voice
Whose single purpose is to speak one message!
Not lost upon these learnèd, his allusion,
But, petulant, they ask him, “Why baptize,
If neither Christ, nor Elias, nor yet that prophet?”
John answered them, “I but baptize with water,
As any Rabbi might his following:
But while ye question me, there standeth One,
The King I come to herald, in your midst.”
(Had John that instant seen the gracious Presence,
Returned to Bethabara after many days?)
“Ye know Him not; eyes have ye and see not;
But He it is who cometh after me
And is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet
I am not worthy to stoop down and loose.”
No more of that day know we:—what report
They carried back to the great Sanhedrin,
Or had John speech with Jesus at the Pool.

Had John fulfilled his debt to God and the world
When he proclaimed their King to the waiting Jews?
The morrow found him standing by the Pool,
That baptistery of his, with multitude
Hanging, as always, on his word. Behold,
Drawing majestic towards them, that meek Man,
Form luminous to him, blank to the rest;
And, as a searchlight thrown on ship at night
Shows up crew, cordage, every separate plank,—
A flash of the Spirit lit up all the past
And all the future for the prophet’s eye!
“Behold the Lamb of God!” he cried, and the word
Expounded all the history of the Jews
Since that black night when out of Egypt came they;
Fulfilled the hope of the nation—deliverance
By sacrifice,—and here, the Paschal Lamb!
Did John indeed interpret his own word,
Momentous, awful, fraught with pain and bliss?

But, more, he saw in this his hour of Vision
A larger hope than Jewish mind yet held—
“That taketh away the sins of all the world!”
“Taketh,” with a continual act of taking,
Till all the sin in me, the sin in you,
The black sin in the world that hope dismays,
Shall all be taken away, and “There shall be
No more sin.” All this saw John as he beheld
A Man standing in the midst. Yet once again,
Must John declare the precedence of Christ,
That law of every court—the King goes first:
“First in regard of me,” first thought of all
Thoughts harbouring in my mind, for whom have I
In heaven but thee? in earth, who shall compare?

Another law of the spirit’s subtle life
Was given John to declare—“He must increase
And I must decrease”—hope of Christian hearts,
That evermore shall Christ be more and more,
And I, unworthy I, be less and less!
In expansion of great moment, John tells how,—
“I knew Him not, but that He should be known
To Israel came I, baptizing with water.”

Was it another witnessing, or that same?—
“I beheld the Spirit descend as a dove
From heaven, and it abode on Him: I knew
Him not; but He that sent me to baptize
With water gave this sign to me: ‘Even He
On whom thou seest the Spirit descend
And abide on Him, is He that shall baptize
With the Holy Spirit.’ This thing I have seen,
So bear I witness, This the Son of God”!

The Sign of the Dove! What might it mean to John?
He knew the sign of the sun, traversing heaven,
The signs of the former and the latter rains,
Knew every leaf inscribed with the name of God;
That all things bore the meanings of the Almighty
For him who knew to discern the seasons’ signs.
The dove that returned to Noah, spake it not
The homing instinct of the human soul
That finds no place but in God? The tenderness
Of cooing mate to mate—that mystery
Of the Bridegroom and His Bride—Christ and His Church,
Ineffable in married tenderness?
Abiding love, unruffled gentleness
And quietness and confidence and peace,
And constancy of one who sticketh close,—
These things John saw, for all men see as much.
By the sign of the dove, John knew the Christ:
Even so may we; where Christ is, there the Spirit
Broodeth content, constant in holy glee;—
For, “He baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.”

Again, upon the morrow, was John standing,
While two of his disciples talked with him,
At that old tryst of the Pool. He raised his eyes,
And looking upon Jesus as He walked
Toward the place of cleansing, cried aloud,
“Behold the Lamb of God!” And they who heard
That living word believed, and followed Him.
Nor envy nor desertion’s bitter pang
Troubled the prophet’s soul, able to see,
“He must, indeed, increase, and I grow less!”

Behold, now, washed with water, with Holy Ghost
Anointed, tempered in temptation’s forge,
Proclaimed by herald King before the people,
Witnessed by prophet, very Lamb of God,
Acknowledged of the Father, His own Son
Begotten, in whom fully pleased is He;—
With all these signs now see we Christ go forth,
For Redemption of mankind to energise,
Strivings of sinners against Himself to bear,
To Labours, Passion, Death upon the Cross!

St. John i. 15–28.
“Behold the Lamb of God.”—St. John i. 29–37.

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