An Advent Autobiography.
John 1: 19-28.
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that Prophet? And he answered, No. Then said they 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 the prophet Esaias. And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? John answered them saying, I baptize with water, but there standeth One among you whom ye know not, He it is who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Sanctify us, O Lord, through Thy truth; Thy Word is truth. Amen
Beloved in Christ: –
John the Baptist said of Jesus Christ, “He shall increase and I shall decrease.” Like the morning star which begins to decrease as soon as the sun rises in the East, so John the Baptist, the great morning star of history, begins to decrease when Jesus Christ, the Son of Righteousness, with healing in his wings, begins to rise in the East. John decreased: Jesus increased, and as people begin to wake up when the morning star is shining and about to go down, and the sun begins to rise, so there was a general stir in all the world about the time that Jesus Christ arose and John began to go down. No wonder that the whole city of Jerusalem poured out and went down to the river Jordan; no wonder that all Judea began to run down the valley; no wonder that all the surrounding countries, as if drawn by a magnet, went down to that valley, until the multitudes were surrounding the greatest man that ever lived, when he began to decrease and the Son of God began to increase. It is no wonder, either, that the Sanhedrin, that great Supreme Court, should send an embassy to inquire as to who it was that was causing such a stir. It is perfectly legitimate and right that a church court, or a church council, or a congregation, if you please, should be absolutely certain who it is that is preaching the Gospel in their midst. I know of no better rule for every congregation to adopt than to be very careful and to inquire into the very nature and person of him who preaches the Gospel. I was somewhat surprised and at the same time gratified very recently to discover really how much this congregation did inquire and search before they extended their call to their present pastor. It was right, and not only right, but I should urge upon you from this day forward, to be very inquisitive, find out all you can about it, and if you discover that his character is not what it should be, if you discover that he does not preach the true Word of God, put him out. You have no right to be careless about religion; you have no right to be careless about him who preaches to you the Word of God. There is a movement on foot in this city now, to have a great revival. Well, if four or five churches must go together to fill the house of God, it is about time they are having a revival. If it takes four or five congregations to fill one house of God, it shows that they are just about as dead as they can be. I told you a year ago that the kind of revival to have in every church, is one that begins on the first day of January and ends on the last day of December, and I leave it to you this morning whether my prophecy is not true, that every church should not be satisfied until it fills up all its pews with the children of God and with sinners who should be converted. When we remember that all the people of Mansfield cannot begin to get into all our churches, it is a shame for the preachers and a shame for the Christian people that every house of God is not filled to overflowing, at least when there is good weather. And so I say this Sanhedrin, though it consisted of Levites and Jews and Pharisees, was perfectly correct in sending an embassy down to the valley of the Jordan to find out who that was that was causing such a stir. I am glad that John in his reply gave us such a beautiful
I call your attention, then, this morning to an Advent Autobiography, in which he first of all shows us his negative life. John does not hesitate to give them the two views of himself. I remember one morning going with my father into a certain woods to cut down a straight tree for a certain purpose; I remember, too, the discussion that took place between me and my good father. I said the tree was straight, and he said that it was crooked. I remember, furthermore, that when he came around where I was, he said it was straight, and when I walked around where he was, I declared it as crooked. In other words, it depended entirely upon which side we were looking at that tree; and therefore, when you want the true biography of any man, you must not only know what he is, but what he is not. You must look at him from two standpoints. John recognized the right of the Sanhedrin to inquire into his character and his calling, and therefore he tells them, first of all, what he is not.
“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? and he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.”
In these words we learn, first of all that John the Baptist was not the Christ. John had such a wonderful power that day, that if he had just encouraged that Sanhedrin the least, they would have made him king. They were looking for a king, who was to be a universal king. They were waiting patiently for one who should take the government in his hands, and take it away again from the Romans and give it to the Jews, and through them to the world. They were ready, and if John had given them the least encouragement, they would have exclaimed to John, “God save the King!” But no, he was humble, so humble that he said at once, I am not the Christ.
Not only might he have been proclaimed king that day, but he might have been worshiped. They had in their hearts the question, Is this man the great prophet? Is this not possibly the Messiah himself, and inasmuch as the people came from all directions and surrounded him, and there was such a power in him they had never recognized before, if John had simply said, I am the Christ, that whole multitude would have fallen down and worshiped him as the king of heaven. But he said, No, I am not the Christ; you cannot make a king of me; you cannot worship me, and, says John, I will not give Satan one moment’s time to put a pride in my heart that will ruin me.
There was a time when the angels of God were all holy, but it came into the heart of one that he might rule, and he said, I will rule, and the result was that he became a Satan instead of an angel; that he became a serpent instead of a servant at the throne, and John, recognizing this fact, lost no time. Human nature is very treacherous, and some men are weak, and when the devil tempts them, they stop and wait, until they are ruined. Consequently, John, recognizing the weakness of human nature, did not lose a single moment, but confessed, and denied not, but confessed, I am not true Christ.
John might have appeared that day before them as the great prophet Elijah.
And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? (Elias is the form used in the Septuagint for the other name, Elijah, meaning the same.) In other words, Art thou Elijah, if not the Christ? This Sanhedrin was not ignorant concerning these matters. They had studied the Old Testament, and especially the last verses. In Malachi 4: 5 they had read this prophecy: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” Furthermore, they had not forgotten the first chapter of Luke, where we have the record of Gabriel meeting the father and mother of John, when he declared, I will send you John in the spirit and power of Elijah, So we will notice, please, that there was promised to the world an Elijah, and this Sanhedrin had a perfect right to inquire whether this was not the Elijah, and there is no question about the fact that he was. The Word of God tells us in the 17th chapter of Matthew: “And his disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come? And Jesus answered and said unto them, Elias truly shall first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you that Elias is come already, and they knew him not, but have done unto him whatsoever they listed. Likewise shall also the Son of man suffer of them. Then the disciples understood that he spake unto them of John the Baptist.”
In other words, my dear friends, John the Baptist was Elijah the Restorer, but he was not the person of Elijah of Old, and consequently, in true humility, when they asked him, if he were Elijah, he said No. We are not surprised, either, that the Sanhedrin believed he was Elijah. Let us not forget the similarity between Elijah of Old and John the Baptist; let us not forget that both of them were men of the wilderness; let us not forget that both of them were very plain men; let us not forget that both of them were orators; let us not forget that Elijah on Mt. Carmel was just as great as John the Baptist down along the Jordan. Let us not forget that the last day that Elijah was here on earth he had spent some time in Jericho, and Elisha followed him; they went down to the river and there he struck the waters, and they were parted and he went over to the other side; let us not forget that while talking there to Elisha on the other side of the Jordan, all at once there came a fiery chariot and Elijah was taken up to heaven, taken up to heaven with Elisha crying after him; let us not forget that in the very place from which Elijah left the earth, John the Baptist was preaching this day. No wonder they thought this was Elijah. These things were done in Bethabara (or beyond Bethany) beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing. Can you blame the Sanhedrin for believing that this was actually Elijah? And yet he said, No, I am not Elias.
Now I will show you who I am.
And so John the Baptist does not hesitate to tell us who he is. In the first place he says, I want you to understand I am a poor humble preacher. “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” I am only a voice. I am a poor, humble preacher, not fit to put myself between you and your Savior; I do not care what kind of garments I wear; I do not care what kind of an appearance I make; I do not care to be lifted up by the people and be called the prophet Elijah, or anything else; if I could I would hide my very sight, but there is one thing I would have you understand, that is, that I have a voice; that I have a God-given voice, and that with this God-given voice I will cry to the people and make them see Him who is greater than I am, Jesus Christ!
Not only would I not put myself between you and Christ, but I would have you to understand that I am not a city preacher. I am a voice in the wilderness. I have no garments like you Pharisees and scribes up there in the city of Jerusalem. You do not see me walking the streets of the great city up there; you do not see me a man of pride; a man of fame; a man who is known by the world at large; but I would have you understand that I am down in the wilderness, and this wilderness is too good for me; I am only a voice; and only a voice in the wilderness; a poor country preacher, that is all I am; that is what I am.
I am not even fit to be a servant of Jesus Christ who is coming. I would have you understand that there is one among you whom you do not know, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose. If you want to know who I am, I will tell you in one word, that I feel myself so little and so humble so unfit to be a servant of my great Master, that if I could I would lie down and let him put His feet upon me, for I am not worthy to stand on a level with his sandal strings, – that is who I am. Oh, my dear friends, the true height of man in this world is the lowest humility.
Furthermore, says John, I not only am a poor, humble preacher, but I am a faithful preacher.
I am in the ministry for no other purpose than to give my whole soul and my whole time to this office. In other words, I am not only a voice, but I am a voice crying in the wilderness. I am intensely in earnest. I would have you understand that God has given me a voice and I am bound to make every man hear on every hill-top, in every valley; I am bound with this voice of mine to call, and call, and call upon poor humanity to prepare for the coming King, that no man, when this voice is silent, may be able to stand before the judgment bar of God and say, I did not know how to be saved. Oh, there is a secret in this confession of John; he had studied the Gospel on his knees. I know from my own experience that when a man gives his time to anything else but the ministry he is bound to fail. For five long years, nearly wearing out my life in other causes, my poor church suffered because I was not like John the Baptist, giving my voice to the ministry and nothing else but the ministry. That is what I am, says John; I am faithful to my God and my Shepherd.
Not only did I give my whole voice to my Savior, but I tell you, Sanhedrin, if you want to know who I am, I am a man who studies to please God, and God only. “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” Make straight the way! That is what God wants of his ministry, – not to try to go up this little hill to please that man, and down this little valley to please the other. Says John the Baptist, You are the greatest power in the church today up there in Jerusalem; you have got your Pharisees; you have got your priests; you have got your Levites, and you think you are going to heaven because you are so good. I want you to understand that I am a minister of the gospel and do not care about the Sanhedrin or for any man; I want you to understand that when I am preaching today, I love your souls and love them dearly, but I will not say a word to praise you. You are a generation of vipers, and who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? In other words, you will notice that some of the hills are very steep, and some of the valleys very deep, but if you will follow the road from here to Jerusalem you will find that some of your hills have been cut down and some of your valleys filled up in order that you may go straight to Jerusalem, and, John says, I warn you sinners, I warn you Pharisees, I warn you scribes, that unless you repent of your sins you will be damned and every one of you will perish. That is making the way straight, and that is what I am. My dear friends, we need a ministry today willing to cut the path straight; that does not listen to this man or to that man, but alone to God’s Word. In this enlightened age, with as many Christians as we have in every city, like our own, filled with ungodly saloons and brothels, ruining and damning immortal souls, it is time that somebody is cutting a straight path; time that people of God are letting the people know that the man who drinks himself to death is going to hell; it is time to let people know that the man who hands the drink over the bar to make drunkards will be damned as well as the man who drinks; it is time to let people know that the man who owns the building and rents it for the ungodly purpose is as much to be damned as the man who is in the business. No man on earth is better than his business; and no man who will rent his house for a bad purpose is any better than the worst person there. So what we need in the pulpits of God today are John the Baptists who are ready to say positively, I will tell you what I am, I fear neither man nor devil, and unless from today forth you repent of your sins and be baptized, you will be damned! That is what I am!
Not only did he tell them he was faithful to God, I will have you to understand, said he, that I am not only faithful, but I make diligent use of the means of grace. “And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him and said unto him, why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Eli as, neither that prophet. John answered them, saying, I baptize with water but there standeth one among you whom ye know not; he it is who coming after me is preferred before me; whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.”
In these words we discover very clearly that John the Baptist did not deliver a message of his own, but a message of his God. In this same chapter we read these words: There was a man sent from God whose name was John. The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all men through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.”
Now, says John the Baptist, I am a man of God; I have been called of my God to come here and preach and I am not delivering a message of my own, but to bear witness of Him who is the great Light of the world; and I would have you understand that I believe the Old Testament that I am he who was sent, as said the prophet; I believe every chapter in the Bible and every verse, and I preach God’s Word and God’s Word only. And not only that, but I would have you understand that I believe in the Paschal Lamb; I believe that the Old Testament doctrine is going to pass over into the New; I believe in Him who is standing before our very doors, whom ye do not know; who in Himself will have baptism; who in Himself will have the Lord’s Supper, and who in Himself has shown back in me a connecting link between the old covenant and the new; and if you want to know who I am, I would have you understand that today I have baptized the Lord Jesus Christ; that I have baptized your Savior; that I have baptized a multitude of people; I do not say that I have immersed them, but simply say, I baptize with water, and with water I can baptize down at the river Jordan or upon the hill; what I have done is in the name of God, and I have God’s authority, and unless you repent and be baptized, you cannot be saved. That is who I am.
True to the means of grace. Brethren, that is, after all, what you must ask for. Not what man thinks; not what this one or that may have in his mind, but what does the Lord God teach. You know the message of God and the Word as connected with water in baptism, and with the bread and the wine in the Lord’s Supper; these are the means of grace through which God comes to you, and it is those things which I preach to you, and that is what I am. And that is what John the Baptist was.
In the third place he tells us that he is a good evangelist.
Let us not for a single moment imagine that John was only a preacher of the law; John told them more than the law. When the Sanhedrin sent word to him to find out who he was, his answer included these three facts:
a. – I bring you good news concerning One whom you do not know; whom you think to be far away; when in fact, He is right in your midst.
“But there standeth one among you who ye do not know.” In other words, the Israelites were all looking for a coming Messiah; they were all looking for Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, but they imagined he was far away yet. Oh, says John, You ask me who I am. I bring you the good news that the Christ who was born over there beyond the Jordan, in Bethlehem, when I was only six months old, is your Messiah; today I am about 30 years and six months, and he is about 30; he is standing right in your presence and he is the Son of God and the only Savior you will ever see. That is who I am.
b. – Not only do I preach One whom ye do not know and who is in your midst, but I preach unto you one who is younger than I am, and still older.
Possibly the people thought that John the Baptist must be crazy that day to claim that there is one here who is younger than he is and yet older. “He it is who coming after me is preferred before me.” Oh, what a wonderful truth in those few words. Says John the Baptist, I would have you to understand that long before I was born, long before the waters flowed down this Jordan, long before these hills and valleys existed, long before there was a city of Jerusalem, long before there was an Abraham, long before there was an Adam, there was One in all eternity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, who said, “Let us make man in our image;” that One who was before me is the same one that is born of Mary, born six months after I was born of Elizabeth, younger than I am as man but God from all eternity. I am the gospel preacher, the good news bringer, the evangelist. That is who I am.
c. – Your savior is here.
Not only that great fact, but, says he, the very reason I have been preaching to you today, has undoubtedly stirred up your souls; I have made you, by the love of God, feel your sins; I have made you feel miserable; I know that you do not know what to do next, but I would call your attention to the fact that I bring you good news; if you will come here tomorrow I will show you One whom some of you have never seen; if you will come here tomorrow I will show you One who is able to take your sins and bear them away; I will show you One who has lived among you; I will show you One who came to Bethlehem on that first great Christmas, and He is with us yet; I will show you One who is going to begin the ministry now, and has already been tempted; One who is going to do some mighty wonders in your midst; I am going to decrease and he is going to increase; I will go down into the prison and he will go up on the cross; I am nothing but a poor, insignificant messenger of God and will lose my head; but he who is coming after me will lay down his life on Calvary; he is going to conquer death; he is going as a conqueror to the very gates of hell; is going to ascend to heaven, and is coming back to judge the quick and the dead, and we shall all stand before God; you think many people are standing around me, but when the graves shall give up their dead, when the oceans shall give up their dead, when all the living and all the dead that ever were, or ever shall be, shall stand before Him, then you will see Who it is that I will proclaim unto you tomorrow. I am the great evangelist. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!” Now go home and tell the Sanhedrin who I am. Amen.
Our heavenly Father, we thank Thee for this opportunity of hearing Thy great truth as it is in Thy Word, and we pray Thee that Thou wilt give us the true spirit of Elijah and of John the Baptist to tell Thy Word plainly, so that all the people may hear it, to their eternal good. We thank Thee that Thou hast seen fit to send so many immortal souls into Thy house this rainy morning. As the showers fell from heaven this morning to give us the promise of future harvests, we pray Thee that Thou wilt let that Holy Spirit in great blessing shower down upon us in Thy temple at this hour. As we go to our respective homes today, may we take the message to those who could not be with us, and if it be Thy good will, Heavenly Father, help us to return this evening to learn more and more of Thy gracious Word. And if any in this house this morning have heard, or even preached, for the last time, may these words of truth concerning the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world, make us forever Thine. All this we ask in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.