Next in privilege to the Bride is the friend of the Bridegroom, and this honour was happily enjoyed by John the Baptist. He it was who stood and heard the Bridegroom’s voice, and whose joy, therefore, was fulfilled. He held a high position, did this honoured forerunner of the Lord; but he held it with rare and becoming grace. More than a prophet, because he beheld the face of Him to whom the prophets had only borne a distant testimony, he declined even to accept a prophet’s name. Yet none before enjoyed such an honour as did this dear servant of Christ, and martyr to the truth.
Without referring to the record given by the three earlier evangelists, let us trace his history as presented to us in the gospel of his namesake, John the apostle.
In John 1, after reading that he was a man sent of God to bear witness to the “Light,” or, again, to the “Word become flesh,” we find him surrounded by priests and Levites of Jerusalem, who came to ask who he was. His fame had spread. The Jews of that city had heard his name, and desired to obtain his self-confession. And how favourable the opportunity now afforded for self-exaltation! How easy to gratify the taste of these interviewers by a little self-assertion! But John was proof. Indeed, one of the most striking features in this remarkable man of God was his humility—his evident and lovely self-unconsciousness. He seems to have lived so thoroughly under the spell of his Master’s work and glory, that self-interest had practically no place within him.
Hence we find that he confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
Then, “Art thou Elias?”
“I am not.”
Lastly, “Art thou a [marg.] prophet?”
Answers short and decisive, and gradually shortening from five monosyllables to three, and from three to one; just as though he had no pleasure in the matter, and hastened to close it.
“What sayest thou of thyself?” again they questioned, thus affording a fuller field for self-commendation.
He made answer, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” etc.
He says not, “I am one crying”; but, “I am the voice of one crying”; only a voice—a passing sound that fades away on the breeze—a thing the least permanent, and the most transitory. Happy sensibility! for while the voice vanishes, and leaves no form behind, yet the effect produced is proportionate to the value of the words spoken. “My words,” said a greater than John, “shall never pass away,” though He who spoke them was “cut off from the land of the living.” Hence John could report himself as only “a voice”; but that voice uttered truths that shall endure when time has passed away.
And the first great truth thus declared is, “Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.”
The second: “The same is He which baptizes with the Holy Ghost.”
The third: “This is the Son of God.”
And the fourth: “Looking upon Jesus as He walked, he says, Behold the Lamb of God!”
The first presents the results of His atonement in its complete magnitude. He is God’s Lamb, and the world’s sin-bearer. The second shows the present value of that mighty work; for “He baptiseth with the Holy Ghost” all who believe, as on Pentecost. The third gives us His personal glory as “Son of God.” And the fourth draws attention to that walk—that perfect life—the seeing which elicited the spontaneous exclamation, “Behold the lamb of God!” His very ways announced Him.
Four wondrous and imperishable truths are these, though the tongue that proclaimed them be silent in the grave. Happy voice that could give form to such glorious facts to be preserved for ever in the sacred page! That was all John sought to do, and he did it. He wrought no miracle to authenticate his words, no mighty sign to attest his mission. He only spoke; but his words contained their own evidence of Christ-honouring wisdom.
Passing on now to John 3 we see another instance of this wisdom.
A question “about purifying” had arisen between some of His disciples and the Jews. How it was settled we are not told; but it formed an occasion for the latter to come to him and tell him that “He that was with thee beyond Jordan … baptiseth, and all men come to Him.” Their object was evidently to raise in his breast a spirit of jealousy. They informed him, in substance, that the tide of his popularity was running toward his Master, and that he himself was being deserted.
How subtle! Was not the sound of their master’s feet behind them? Was not this a direct shaft of Satan? And have not mutual jealousies injured hosts of God’s servants to their shame and His dishonour?
But again this man of God was proof. First he replies that a man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven. Heaven’s free gift is man’s only grace—as heaven bestows so is the servant honoured, for he has nothing of his own.
Further he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” His star must sink before that resplendent orb; and for the tide to set in any other direction would but contravene the decree of God. “He must increase” was the sustaining power of John’s testimony, as of all others to whom God’s ways are precious.
Again he adds, “He that cometh from heaven is above all,” and thence had the Master come freighted too with all that He had heard and seen there. What mere earthly servant could testify as He? His place was unique.
And lastly he states, “The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” Given all things as to no one else; for, as Son, He was worthy of such investiture, and fitted for such honour.
Consequently, “He that believes on the Son has ever-lasting life.” To honour the Son by simple faith, and please Him by heartfelt confidence, is nothing short of everlasting life, community of mind with the Father, and, therefore, perfect blessing; whereas, “He that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” A contrast appalling indeed, but necessary. There is no via media.
And with this solemn statement closes the testimony of John the Baptist—a testimony replete with the glory of Him whose faithful messenger he was. What a chain of golden links we have thus traced out—
1st. The Lamb of God, the sin-bearer.
2nd. The Baptiser with the Holy Ghost.
3rd. The Son of God.
4th. The Lamb of God, as He walked on earth.
5th. He must increase.
6th. He that comes from heaven is above all.
7th. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.
8th. The believer in the Son possessing everlasting life, and the unbeliever exposed to the wrath of God.
This was John’s witness, as presented to us in the fourth gospel.
Now let us see a double witness rendered to John in this same gospel.
First, in John 5: 35, the Lord says of him, “He was a burning and a shining light,” for he could estimate aright the life of his forerunner. That light not only shone, it burned. He was no “reed shaken by the wind.” His life was one of power and effect, because it had one absorbing object—one grand purpose. His joy was in the joy of the Bridegroom, his pleasure was the exaltation of Christ. Hence he burned, not with zeal only, but in the condemnation of all that opposed his Master’s advancement. He had, therefore, to suffer.
Second, men said of him, “John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true” (John 10: 41).
What an enviable record! pronounced too by enemies. “All things that John spake of this man were true!” Yes; he had no miracle to endorse his sayings, no ostensible favours were heaped upon him, but all he had said of Jesus was true—all those seven or eight statements above recorded, and many besides, here now admitted as true. What greater honour could a servant of Christ desire than that his testimony to his Master be true?
The voice that uttered “the things” had passed away, but the things, yes, the “all things that he spake,” had remained. The vessel had been broken, but its treasure endured. The star had sunk beneath its horizon, but a greater Light had filled the sphere. John had decreased, but Christ had increased. The Bridegroom had the bride, and in this the Bridegroom’s friend rejoiced. That was enough for this true-hearted, self-concealing, Christ-exalting servant of God.
May the fair example he has left behind be more a model for ourselves.