Preaching of John Baptist

Preaching of John Baptist

Preaching of John the Baptist.

(The Gospel History, Section 15)

The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judæa, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituræa and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness of Judæa. And he came into all the region round about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance unto remission of sins; and saying, Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he of whom it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the Prophet, saying,

Behold I send my messenger before thy face
Who shall prepare thy way;
The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
Make ye ready the way of the Lord,
Make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
And every mountain and hill shall be brought low;
And the crooked shall become straight,
And the rough ways smooth;
And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

Now John himself had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins, and his food was locusts and wild honey. And there went out to him all the country of Judæa, and all they of Jerusalem, and all the region round about Jordan: and they were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said unto them and unto the multitudes that went out to be baptized of him, Ye offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 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. And even now is the axe also laid to the root of the tree: every tree therefore that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. And the multitudes asked him, saying, What then must we do? And he answered and said unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath food, let him do likewise. And there came also publicans to be baptized, and they said unto him, Master, what must we do? And he said unto them, Extort no more than that which is appointed you. And soldiers also asked him, saying, And we, what must we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, neither exact anything wrongfully; and be content with your wages.

And as the people were in expectation, and all men reasoned in their hearts concerning John, whether haply he were the Christ, John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but there cometh after me he that is mightier than I, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, throughly to cleanse his threshing-floor, and to gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn up with unquenchable fire.

With many other exhortations therefore preached he good tidings unto the people; but Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things which Herod had done, added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.

Preaching of John Baptist

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

Christ Jesus, Son of the Most High, His gospel,
Beginning at time fixed by several signs:—
Tiberias Cæsar’s reign in its fifteenth year;
Of Judæa, Pontius Pilate, governor;
Herod, tetrarch of Galilee; his brother
Philip, of the regions of Ituræa;
Caiaphas and Annas, both high priests;—
These things being so, behold, the word of God
Came to that John, the son of Zacharias,
Who dwelt in the wilderness, waiting on Him.

A figure he on whom men’s eyes were fixed:
Had they not read the prophets, knew they not
Raiment of camel’s hair, and leathern belt,
And such spare meat as wilderness might yield?
So all men smote upon their breasts and cried,
“Behold, a prophet of the Lord in Israel!”
And up and down he went, round about Jordan;
His message one, with meanings several
For each soul of the multitudes that heard—
All they of Jerusalem, of Judæa, all
The country, too, and the region about Jordan:—
One word they came to hear: “Repent! Repent!
Repent, that all your sin be put away!
Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!
Repent, and be ye washed, that ye be clean!”

And as he spake, men bethought them how Esaias
Had cried, “Behold, before Thy face I send
My messenger, who shall prepare Thy way!”
His voice, crying in the wilderness, men hear:—
“Make ready the way! Make ready the way!
Make straight His paths: fill up each hollow place;
Mountains and hills bring low; make crooked straight,
And all the rough ways smooth, that ye may see,
Ye, and all flesh, the salvation of our God!”
Proud men remembered each his meannesses,
Low men bethought them of their God, and stood
Upright before the heavens; men of crooked ways
Would fain be simple; and the violent man
Grew meek, and washed, and put away his sin.

Men came to Jordan (to the bathing Pool),
And each one told the sin that hurt him most—
The little loathsome sin that spoiled a life—
The hate, the greed, the malice, the pretence,
Mean gains, oppressive ways! But who is this?
The haughty Sadducee, who cares for none,
Scoffing alike at penalties and hopes
And present dealings of Almighty God!
What doth he here? He peeps half-furtive round,
To see who sees him,—here be many such!
What power constrains these to the Baptist’s feet,
What speech shatters the fabric of their thought,
These godless men of the court? Those others, too,
Less conspicuous for soft raiment, arrogant
In piety, broad hem, phylactery,
Features composed to scorn of all the rest,
The common people who know not the law?
By every sign, we know them Pharisees.
Now, will John say soft things to men of repute,
His rugged speech grow courtly these to win?
He scans the crowd with eyes in desert trained
To see from afar; notes these unwonted hearers;
An image from the desert leaps to mind—
From fire of brushwood, how the flames drive forth
The viperous brood, that else had hidden lain—
And straight he hurls it at them; all might hear;
For these the shaft, and these alone it reached:—
“Offspring of vipers, ye, who bade you flee
From God’s hot wrath pursuing! What do ye here?
Ye come to be baptized? Go, bring forth fruit
Of Godward turning in your hollow lives!
Children of Abraham are ye? What of that?
True seed of Abraham walk as Abraham walked:
But ye! Nay, of the very stones of the waste
More worthy seed to Abraham shall God raise!
See ye yon hollow tree dead to the core,
With never fruit or leaf to praise its God?
Such tree are ye, and lo, the axe is laid
To your roots! Haste ye, and bring forth good fruit,
Or be hewn down and cast into the flames!”
How received, those great ones of the nation,
The preacher’s biting words? Savour of life,
Extracted they, or of death? Nay, none may know.

But the multitude, fear-stricken, beat their breasts;
“What must we do, then? What, then, must we do?”
And, all his rigour turned to gentleness,
Straight counsels gave he, apt for simple lives:
“He of you that two coats doth own, let him
Give one to a man that hath none; he that hath bread,
Let him have pity likewise.” Moanings ceased
And cries; nor arms waved more, nor hands clenched close;
Escape from the intolerable Wrath,
How simple for these simple! They came and washed;
Baptized of John in Jordan, strong became,
Fearful to sin again against the law—
Another law than that their scribes had taught.

The very publicans took heart of grace;
They, hated of the people, asked of him
“What, master, must we do?” Straight on the place
His finger lays the preacher: “Extort no more,
When ye the taxes gather, than the sum
Appointed to be paid: so, make you clean.”
The soldiers, men of violence, tarried last,
(Sooth, what had they to do with penitence?)—
Their hardihood prevailing, out they came:—
“And we, good master, what would’st have us do?”
A threefold devoir layeth the preacher here:—
“Ye turbulent, from whom nor goods are safe
Nor life itself, high paid, yet grudging still,
In these things mend your ways: do hurt to none,
Nor take from any wrongfully; let wage,
Fair-earned, content you.” Cheered in heart, they came
To John for baptism, no longer chid by fear—
“Place for repentance can rough soldier find?”

In expectation, all the people waited;
The innumerous multitudes that day by day
Thronged to the Jordan pool, by Bethabara,
To hear the Baptist preach; endure the rending
Of old familiar habitudes of soul
That new birth doth entail, the piteous weeping,
Wailing as of the lost; the healing, cleansing,
Of John’s baptism, wherefrom they came out meek
As little children, washed, and of good hope.

But, bitter searching to cast out the unclean,
What was it more than that purifying
Their houses go through for the Paschal Feast?
All leaven is removed, but what of that
Were there no Paschal Lamb to bless the board?
The multitudes, expectant, knew them cleansed
But to make ready: what then of Messias?
A whisper went about of awe and fear—
What if this John himself were very Christ?—
Had he not drawn them as no man could draw,
Had made them turn their backs on shameful things
And get them ready for the kingdom of God!
The murmur grew, and reached the prophet’s ear:
How easy for a man to judge himself
As others judge him, by success! Why not
He, as well as another, Christ of God?
How beyond measure God had blessed the words
He spake to the people! Might he be the Sent One?
Not for least moment was the prophet’s eye
Dazzled by glamour of his own success:
He, what was he! He gazed beyond himself
Looking for One who was coming: he, too, felt
The throbbing excitation of the people;
And he said to them all, “I indeed baptize
With water to repentance, but there cometh”
(Still hear we not the words, see the rapt gaze
Of the prophet as he spake?)—“there cometh One
After me that is mightier than I,
The latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy
To stoop down and unloose as mean-born slave;
He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost
With fire of love and might for righteous living.
He goes as thresher forth with fan in hand;
And as He swings His mighty flail about,
Behold, the chaff flies off in whirling waste,
But grain remains to reward the labouring Thresher;
He gathers, diligent, wheat into garner,
The chaff with fire unquenchable He’ll burn!
See, to’t, ye light ones, cleansed indeed by water,
But with no weight of purpose, strong resolve.”

A new thought took the multitude away,—
Christ is indeed at hand, is come for judgment!—
And each searched heart to find or wheat or chaff.

St. Luke iii. 1–18, &c.
St. Matthew iii. 1–12.
St. Mark i. 1–8.

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