The Lord testifies of John

The Lord testifies of John

John Baptist’s question. Jesus’ Testimony to him.

(The Gospel History, Section 46)

And when the messengers of John were departed, as they went their way, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to behold? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts. But what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,

Behold, I send my messenger before thy face,
Who shall prepare thy way before thee.

Verily I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not arisen a greater than John the Baptist: yet he that is but little in the kingdom of God is greater than he. And from the days of John until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if ye are willing to receive it, this is Elijah, which is to come. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear. And all the people when they heard, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John. But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God, being not baptized of him. Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation, and to what are they like? They are like unto children that sit in the marketplace and call one to another; which say, We piped unto you, and ye did not dance; we wailed, and ye did not weep. For John the Baptist is come eating no bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil. The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners! And Wisdom is justified of all her children.

The Lord testifies of John

(The Saviour of the World, Vol III Book I Poem VI)

What went ye out to wilderness to see?
Reed shaken with the wind? A man whose words
Sway this way, that way, lightly moved by breath
Of popular favour, will of priests or kings?
I tell you, nay: This man spake only truth,
Nor swerved for any fear or any hope;
Nor spake the facile word should please the crowd!”
Not unsubstantial reed,—a mighty tree,
The Baptist stood, to weather every blast;
His roots deep-seated, forehead raised aloft,
And arms widespread to shelter multitudes!

“But what then, to behold, did ye come forth?
Man in soft raiment clothed, whose easy days
Are delicately nurtured? Such as these
Dwell not in wilderness, but, in kings’ courts,
Apparelled gorgeously, they sun themselves!
I tell you, nay; the man ye went to see
Was he who no man owed, for all his need
The wilderness supplied; who took no heed,—
What shall I eat? what drink? where lie to-night?
Nor prized his life for any vain delight;
Whose strivings of the spirit kept him hid
In wilderness till God should come and bid.
For what indeed was’t ye went out to see?
A prophet of the Lord? yea, right were ye;
Ye knew by every sign a prophet, sent,
Witness to bear for God; the folk to chide
For their backsliding ways:

But John is more!

Prophets full many have to Israel cried;
But John is he of whom this word is writ,—
‘Behold, My messenger before Thy face,
Thy way before Thee to prepare, I send.’
The King discerned he, one among a crowd,
Nor thought him worthy to unloose the shoes
Of Him, the Coming One! His office, great,
For great of heart is he, for great work fit;
I tell you, I who know, that among men
Of woman born, no greater hath arisen
Than John the Baptist; see ye honour him!

“Greater than any born of woman is he,
But there be others, of the Spirit born;
Wherefore, for all his greatness, mark ye this,—
One little in the Kingdom is more than he!
What meaneth this? ye ask, What Kingdom, then?
God’s Kingdom is in heart of every man
Who yields undoubting fealty to the Son:
Outside are many righteous; none of these,
Greater than John the Baptist! But, see ye,
Not John himself could bear continual fret
Of things not understood, nor doubt at all!
Blessèd the man who saith, ‘Lo, I believe,
Groping in darkness, yet, do I believe!’
Nor suffereth any cloud to hide the King.

“Ye think, to take the Kingdom, easy task;
That any Jew who knows Messias come
Is straightway in the Kingdom when it comes:
Look you, the Kingdom’s not for any man,
Nor for the Jews, to see it when it comes;
The Kingdom is among you, nor see ye,
Because your eyes are sealed. The man who sees
Looks not for pomp of kings nor any state,
Nor frets him, as doth John, that shows of power
Befitting kings are tardy; seeing the King,
His eyes are lightened; scale of values new
Orders his thoughts; what was of highest worth,
E’en praise and gifts of kings, are to him nought;
And that he cared not for, nor knew it were,
Lo, that his sole desire and all his praise!
Shout of a King in midst of his hid life,
Rule of a King in all his quiet days,
Service of King at all hours calling him,—
A man in the Kingdom hath he room for more?

“Joy of the kingdom is exceeding great;
But never happy State but hath its foes,
Hind’ring who would come in. Kingdom of God
Is not for th’ easy man: in other States,
The man would prosper labours day and night,
Pushes his cause, pleases, and serves and waits
On him who grace dispenseth, the crowned head!
The Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence
From days of John till now; who hath eyes to see,
He pusheth strenuous in; the violent man
Taketh his heaven by force! ‘Wherein,’ say ye,
‘Shall men use violence in this hidden life?
Nay, we are ready to take arms for Thee
And drive the Roman hence! What more wouldst have?’

“But I would have you fight another war
With other foes at the gate—such foe as John,
Much honoured, well-beloved, hath quailed before!
Ye shall not doubt, though all men disbelieve,
Ye shall not fear, though earth’s foundations shake,—
Ye, who are of the Kingdom! Keep ye faith
Though all the world beleaguer you with doubts
And terrors manifold; full violent be
To seize and hold in face of all assaults
The goods of the Kingdom ye have eyes to see!

“I tell you no new thing: the prophets all,
The Law ye hold by, witnessed until John,
These things I tell you; greater, he, than all!
Till John, the truth, an ever-gath’ring stream
Rolled with increasing volume down the years,
Each prophet adding that word told to him:
But John—he saw fulfilment! ‘Lo,’ he said,
‘The Lamb of God that taketh all men’s sins!’
Ye wait Elijah, as the prophet saith?
Will ye receive it? The word hath been fulfilled,
And John, the Elijah of expectancy!
He that hath ears to hear, now let him hear.”

The people praised God who had given John—
Of whom were they baptized. Who have done well
Are ready to do better; glad, they heard
While Jesus spake of John; the Pharisees,
And they who taught the Law, would none of him;
That first rejection forced them still reject
Christ’s word of the Kingdom violently attacked;
City should be beleaguered four-score years,
Should many hundred years be trenched about—
New generations coming to th’ assault
With arms each of its age; behoves who keep,
Attack, defend, provision as they may;
But sit at ease? Not for a single day!
The violent keep the City; strong ones take;
The siege is without truce; Watchman, awake!

The Lord beheld the crowd and knew their mind:
With fickle malice, praise they John, to blame
Jesus the Christ; or praise Christ to defame
The ways of John: “To what then are they like,
Men of this age, whereunto shall I liken
Their moods unstable, their ill-ordered thoughts?
Like children are they in the market-place
Calling, each row to each, Ye will not play!
We piped to you, and, lo, ye would not dance!
We mourned to you, ye did not weep in turn!”
(Good that He watched the children at their play,
Our Lord so tender-sweet with little ones:)
“So is your mind, ye men of Israel!
For John the Baptist came, eating no bread
(The common food of men), nor drinking wine;
A man whom none might blame for any grace
He did his flesh: ye say, A devil hath he!
The Son of man is come; He eats and drinks,
As all men eat and drink; no separate life,
But common life of men ye see Him live:
Behold, say ye, man, gluttonous, given to wine!
Nor pause to speak the truth or know the truth:
Fickle opinion sways you,—floating light
As thistledown o’er every gathered crowd,
Tending this way or that at breath of each!
‘Then, Which is right,’ say ye, ‘hard life, denied
By a man’s will of every common ease
That falls in his way as berries to the birds,
Or his, who, like a bird, takes and goes on,
Nourished for flight and stirred to gracious song?’
Nay, both are right, nor any rule of life
Shall ease you of your labour of free choice!
Whatso a man doth well, that is well done;
Who walketh lowly with his God shall act
As his own heart doth move; for, justified
Is Wisdom of her children—this and that!”

St. Luke vii. 24-35.
St. Matthew xi. 6-19.