And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.
I. THE DIGNITY OF TRUTH.
1. It seems easy for John to have confessed and denied not. But here is a people ripe for Christ. They had been expecting Him for four hundred years. Moreover, no sooner did John appear than there was a tendency in the whole nation to recognize him as the Christ. They ask expecting an affirmative. For in John they recognize a born leader, a man which met the traditional conception of what the Messiah was to be. The ball was at his feet; the sceptre within his grasp; the hermit of the desert may to-morrow be a king. One word decides the future, but the hardest temptation — that to power — is resisted.
2. It was not easy for John to resist; is it easy for us? How many are content to appear just as and what they are? There are very few who are not ready to appear more learned, clever, innocent, and better off than we really are, if our fellows will only give us credit for it. How much need there is for absolute truth telling in social life! When a man hates another he generally says what he means; but to speak truth at all times, in the ordinary dealings of life, even though admiring deputations leave us and in spite of neglect and pain, this is difficult.
3. This reality was the secret of John's power.
(1) He was trained for it in the desert. He had been face to face with God and had learned to pray, think, act for himself without "consulting any but his conscience and his God." He had accustomed himself, too, to self-denial and to do without enervating luxuries and dissipating companionships. The desert enters too little into the curriculum of our education.
(2) The evidence of John's reality was his popularity. This position may seem doubtful, because we often find that a man's popularity is in inverse proportion to his sincerity. Yet men love reality. John's preaching was direct, personal, frank, hard hitting; and yet the crowd was always there: the homely citizen, the publican, the warrior, the Pharisee, all swept into the vortex of this man's influence, and the reason was John's reality. At heart the world hates humbug; and it is this religious manliness that we want to-day. The Church has grown afraid of plain speaking, and her apologetic "hope I don't intrude" the world listens to with disguised contempt and dismisses with easy scorn.
II. THE GRANDEUR OF SELF REPRESSION.
1. This a rare gift in the great scramble of life, where every man sets his heart upon a common prize. Here is a great, powerful, popular man swaying a nation, and yet at the very crisis of victory obliterates himself in favour of another.
2. Thus early in history we are taught that Christ must be all in all. They called John "the Baptist"; but John dismissed the title. He said, "No, there is another baptism in comparison with which mine is nothing." We are not Wesleyans, Baptists, Churchmen — these are ephemeral distinctions which men set up. When the Master comes, all such distinctions die. We are Christians only. And when we begin to decrease into nothingness, when our poor getting on, our thirst for power, is swept out of us and there is left nothing but the desire that Christ shall shine — then there is increase for the Church.
3. Christ and John — how near they stand together; yet how far apart! Christ like John could be stern. It was to John's murderer that Christ uttered the one purely contemptuous expression that ever passed His lips. John like Christ could be gentle. The most beautiful thing ever said of Christ was said by this stern ascetic. But John was not Jesus; and he confessed it.
(W. J. Dawson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.