John 1:19
When our Lord Jesus came into this world, he did not come as one isolated from the race he designed to save. He condescended to take his place - the most honourable place - in a long and illustrious succession. He superseded the last prophet of the old dispensation; he commissioned the first prophets of the new. The herald and forerunner of our Lord perfectly comprehended his own relation to his Master, and felt it a dignity to occupy a position of Divine appointment, although a position of inferiority, in respect to him. The query put to John by the leaders of the Jewish Church at Jerusalem was natural and proper; it was evidence of the interest which John's mission was exciting in the land; and it gave the Baptist an opportunity of both declaring himself and witnessing to his Lord.

I. JOHN'S DISCLAIMER. No doubt there was an expectation, general and eager, of One who, in accordance with Hebrew prophecy, should be the Deliverer and Ruler of God's people Israel. From varying motives - in some cases with spiritual yearning, in other cases with political expectation - the Jews turned anxiously towards every personage of distinction and influence who arose among the people. Thus they turned to John, whose character was austere and inflexible as that of a Hebrew seer, and whose popular power was manifest from the multitude of his adherents and admirers. In these circumstances, John's first duty was to give an unequivocal answer to the inquiry of the Jews. This inquiry was pointed and particular. Was John Elias, again visiting the people who revered him as one of their holiest and mightiest saints? There was something in his appearance, his habits, his speech, that suggested this possibility. Or was he "the prophet," less definitely designated? Or could it be that he was none other than the Messiah? The times were ripe for the advent of the promised Deliverer; John evidently possessed a spiritual authority, a popular power, such as Israel had not seen for many a generation. To every such inquiry John had only one answer: "I am not." In this disclaimer we recognize both the intelligence and the candour of the forerunner. A weak mind might have been overpowered by interest so profound and widespread. A self-seeking and ambitious mind might have taken advantage of such an opportunity to assert a personal authority and to climb to the throne of power. John was superior to such temptations. Though greater than others born of women, he did not aspire to a position for which God had not destined him. In fact, he was too great to wish to be aught but the herald and the servant of him who was to come.

II. JOHN'S CLAIM. A just and admirable modesty was not, indeed never is, inconsistent with a due assertion of position and duties assigned by God. He who knows what God has sent him into the world to do, will neither depreciate his own work nor envy another's. The claim made by John was very remarkable. He affirmed himself to be:

1. A fulfilment of prophecy. The circumstances of his birth and education, taken in conjunction with certain declarations of Old Testament Scripture, must have suggested to John that he held a place in the revealed counsels of eternal wisdom.

2. A voice. Often had God spoken to Israel. In John he spake yet again. To him it was given to utter by human lips the thoughts of the Divine mind. Not that this was mechanical function; John's whole soul was inflamed with the grandeur and the burning necessity of that message of repentance which he was called upon to deliver to his fellow countrymen. Nothing but the conviction that his voice was the expression of Divine thought, that he was summoning men in God's Name to a higher life of righteousness and faith, could have animated him to discharge his ministry with such amazing boldness. Nor could any other conviction have overcome the difficulty he must at first have felt in publicly witnessing that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ.

3. A herald, and one preparing the way of a great Successor. It was his to make straight the Lord's way. It was his to announce the Messiah's approach, and to direct the attention of Israel to the coming in lowly guise of Israel's King. It was his. to subside into comparative insignificance, to withdraw from publicity, in order that he might make room for One whose presence would bring the realization of the brightest hopes and the most fervent prayers. It was his to administer the humbler baptism with water - the symbol of a better baptism to be conferred by Christ, even that with the Holy Spirit.


1. Learn the completeness and harmony of the Divine plan. The revelation of God proceeds upon an order which may be recognized both by the intellect and by the heart of man. The wisdom of the Eternal arranges that all preparation shall be made for the appearance of the world's Saviour; the morning star heralds the rising of the Sun of Righteousness. God's ways in grace are as regular and as orderly as his ways in providence.

2. Learn the dignity and preciousness of Immanuel. One so honourable as the Baptist yet deemed himself unworthy to serve the meek and lowly . Jesus - to act as his meanest attendant. Lowly was his attitude, and reverent his words, when the Son of God drew near. Surely he, who was so regarded and so heralded, demands our homage and deserves our love. - T.

The record of John.

1. He confessed I am not the Christ. This is a hard saying for human nature. Though death is working in every part, it will be its own saviour if it can. Man may be willing to take the reform of John wherewith to gild his own pretensions, but he is offended with the idea that he needs salvation at the hands of another. But there is no hope for him until he confesses it.

2. He confessed that he was not Elias nor any of the prophets. He came, indeed, in the spirit and power of Elias (Matthew 11:14), and was "more than a prophet": but not in their sense. Ah! the deceitfulness of the human heart! To have such popular preachers, to be united to such a mighty Church — this pleases the natural man. But John's example teaches us to renounce all prophets, save only as they set Christ forth.

3. He confessed he was not worthy to perform the most menial cruces for Christ. The greatest of men sink into nothing before the glory of Christ. And if such was John's unworthiness, considering who he was, what is ours, considering who we are?


1. He bore witness to Christ's preexistence, and therefore to His divinity.

2. To His coming after him, and therefore to His humanity.

3. To His real presence, and any one searching for Him can find Him now in His Word and sacraments; and He is present now as then, as the Messiah, with all His Messianic blessings.

4. To his atonement (ver. 29).


1. We are to give heed to the testimony of Christ's heralds.

(1)Those who speak to us in the Scriptures;

(2)Those who minister in sacred things;

2. We must set ourselves to work in Christ's way;

(1)By repentance (ver. 23);

(2)By faith (ver. 29).

(J. A. Seiss, D. D.)

I. BY WHOM MADE. John: on the testimony of the Evangelist (ver. 19) and his own (ver. 23).

1. The Evangelist's estimate of John was high (ver. 6, 7). The dignity of his person, the nobility of his character, the elevation of his calling (comp. Proverbs 32:2).

2. His estimate of himself was low (ver. 23); an obscure desert preacher, an echo sounding through moral wastes, an insignificant forerunner, a water baptizer who could not touch the impure heart. This language revealed the essential humility of his nature (John 3:20; cf. Philippians 2:3), the felt loneliness of his position (John 3:26; cf. Kings 1 Kings 19:10), his feebleness (John 3:27; cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9, 10), the fruitlessness of his mission (ver. 25).

II. WHEN DELIVERED. On the occasion of the Embassy and after the Baptism. It was —

1. Timely: given at the moment required (1 Peter 3:15).

2. Prompt: without hesitation or reluctance, knowing that he had nothing to conceal or to be ashamed of (2 Timothy 1:8.)

3. Consistent: the same to the legates and to the populace (Matthew 5:37; Corinthians 1:8.)

4. Final (Hebrews 10:2; John 3:6).

III. TO WHOM ADDRESSED. The deputation from Jerusalem (ver. 19).

1. Composed of Priests and Levites, who would keep each other in countenance, and perhaps overawe the desert prophet by their combined importance.

2. Prompted by growing excitement in the Temple authorities at John's popularity. Perhaps hastened by report of Christ's baptism. Those who enter on evil courses are easily alarmed (Job 18:7-11.) Rulers governing by force or fraud are afraid of democratic commotions.

3. Instructed to ask who the Baptist was. Public men must expect to be criticized and questioned out of jealousy, fear, and even hate.

IV. OF WHAT COMPOSED. Of his testimony concerning himself.

1. Negatively:

(1)Not the Christ concerning whom he volunteers no information (Proverbs 29:11; Ecclesiastes 3:7);

(2)Not Elias, i.e, in the sense they meant; although he was Elias in the sense of Malachi (ver. 5), and Christ (Matthew 11:14);

(3)Not the prophet: neither Moses nor Jeremiah (Job 10:21; Zechariah 1:5.)

2. Positively:

(1)A voice in the wilderness;

(2)A herald of Jehovah.

(3)A baptizer;

(4)A servant of Christ.Learn:

1. The best qualifications for a witness of Christ — humility and courage.

2. The secret of success in life — to know who oneself is not as well as who oneself is.

3. The inferiority of all Christ's servants to himself.

(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)


1. there was something in the man that called it forth. Speaking generally, every man is an enigma. Many men, however, go through life without being challenged. Men of the regulation type, whose individuality never strikes you — such men have an easy time of it and give others no trouble. There are others whose strong and striking individuality is an intolerable nuisance to a slumbering, self-complacent society — heroes, reformers, martyrs. Such was John. No one could mistake him for any one else. Hence he was put on his defence and cross-examined.

2. There was something in the times that called forth this question. The world was throbbing with expectation. Heathen religion and philosophy ended in a query. The lost deity of Athens was a note of interrogation. The Jews had grown weary of the stereotyped platitudes of the Rabbis. Men could not help contrasting these days with those of the prophet. And now John came with words of living fire, and thousands exclaimed, "this is the Prophet." The phylactured class looked profound and shook their heads. Others responded, "No amount of head shaking will account for this miracle of a man: While you shake your head he is shaking multitudes." It was natural that the spirit of inquiry awakened by him should be first exercised upon him.

II. A GREAT ANSWER. It is not difficult to give our estimate of other men, but very difficult for a man of delicate feeling to estimate himself, and most difficult to a man of John's popularity. If there be any littleness in him it will show itself now. John had summed up other people; what about his estimate of himself! An exaggerated estimate had been formed of him. Will he have genius and modesty enough to correct it? Yes.

1. He answers negatively, and brushes away all exaggerations.

2. He answers in the affirmative

(1)concerning himself. Isaiah had only noticed the voice and message. John would not do otherwise

(2)concerning Him for whom he had been mistaken. Every true preacher finds his way from every question to Christ.

(a)He is near;

(b)He stands. Not one who hurries through like a passing stranger;

(c)He is unrecognized;

(d)He is the Lamb of God.

(David Davies.)

It was no affair of his to determine his own latitude and longitude in the chart of the world's history. That was for his cotemporaries to do, not for him. That was their responsibility, not his. It was for him not to be thinking about himself and what he might possibly be, but to do his work, to fulfil his mission, to bear his testimony.

1. You cannot have forgotten how our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, being tempted in the wilderness, took up, in opposition to the tempter, not any special or exceptional ground such as He might claim as Messiah and Son of God, but common human ground, such as any poor tempted, suffering mortal may stand on and be safe. The language of the evangelist reveals his profound sense of the difficulty of the situation and of the nobleness of the Baptist's demeanour in it: "He confessed, and denied not: but confessed, I am not the Christ." It was so easy to equivocate, to give an ambiguous answer; so hard to return a decisive, resolute, unhesitating "no." The false prophet would have returned a very different answer. The true prophet must take up common human ground, and so be help and strength to his sinful, suffering, tempted fellow-men. "Is the way of the Lord straight, or not? Is every obstacle removed out of his path, every offence out of His kingdom? If not, then it is my duty, and yours, to help to make it straight. This is all that I profess or claim to do. Necessity is laid upon me, and do it I must."

2. But again — there is a shadow of loneliness and isolation in the reply, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness." And so it must always be when the circumstances are at all similar. John the Baptist was far in advance of his cotemporaries; was at a far higher spiritual level than they. There was only One who could thoroughly under stand, appreciate, and sympathize with him — his Master and ours, Jesus Christ. If your work is the fruit of real conviction, if it is inspired by true ideas, the work will live, the ideas will triumph, will spread and propagate themselves and mould other minds — on a small scale it may be, and in a very humble way — until it shall be a surprise even to yourself to witness it. John's work lives even to this day. His thoughts still mould us.

3. And, once more, there is a feeling of hope and joy in the reply, as well as a shadow of loneliness and isolation. John the Baptist could not forget, any more than we can, that the words which he selected to describe his work are imbedded in a passage of which this is the opening strain: "Comfort ye, comfort ye, My people, saith your God." True prophet and earnest worker for God that he was, he could not but find joy in his work, for the work's own sake, as well as sorrow. For it is the very nature of such work to bring both joy and sorrow. It is so still. Whatever be the work which is given us to do, whatever be the path of duty for us, if we will but throw ourselves heartily into the one, and tread the other firmly and diligently, hope and interest and joy are sure to spring up around us. In some way or other the work is sure to bring a multitude of wholesome human interests along with it.

(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)

The work of John and its results would seem to have come up formally before the Sanhedrim, and this mission was born of their professional dealing with the matter. They had suffered him to go on for some time without taking any public notice of him, Gamaliel-like thinking. If this be of man, it will come to nought; if of God, it will prove itself. And so the resolution probably was: Wait and take the winning side. I suppose they looked upon the Forerunner as one who was going up like a rocket and would come down as a stick. They do not send a deputation till they must. They did not like this interloper, but comforted themselves with the thought that the worst would soon blow over, and that the enthusiasm, too fierce to last, would soon cool down. At length, when they found that it was not to be pooh-poohed, they said, "We must see to the bottom of this." But it would not have been dignified to come to examine into matters themselves, so they sent a deputation to obtain an account of who John was and what he was about.

(A. B. Grosart, D. D.)

though of considerable antiquity, was not of Mosaic origin, nor was it called by that name until the days of Antipater and Herod. In the time of Christ it was composed of seventy-one members, chosen from —

1. The chief priests and their families, the officiating high priest being president;

2. The elders, including both priests and laymen, and

3. The scribes, professional jurists, or experts in law. The court resembled that of Jehoshaphat's time (2 Chronicles 19:8-11), and possessed the power of judging a tribe, a false prophet, and a chief priest. It was not so much a theological court, to whose jurisdiction belonged all offences against the theocratical principles of the State, as the supreme native tribunal of Judea, to which all matters were referred that could not be dealt with in inferior courts, or that were not reserved by the Procurator. In the exercise of its judicial capacity, therefore (Deuteronomy 18:12), these emissaries were sent to inquire into John's credentials as a prophet.

(T. Whitelaw, D. D.)

This may be regarded as a temptation of John corresponding to the simultaneous temptation of Christ. John refused the titles in which the hierarchical party expressed their false views, even as Christ refused to satisfy their expectations by the assumption of external power.

(Canon Westcott.)Is it a little thing to have a deputation waiting upon you from the capital, in whose heart there is evidently a very special expectation, and to hear them say, "Who art thou?" in a tone which seems to imply "We shall not be surprised if thou dost reveal thyself as the very light we have been expecting." This temptation often seizes a man, and, extending himself beyond his proper function and calling by flattering persuasions, the result is self-mortification and ignominy; and he who might have done something really good goes out of the world having mis-spent his little day. When a man says, "I claim infallibility," and, whether at Rome or in London, he commits the most grievous sins, though he wear the holiest of names. Look at John, see how the great men crowd round him. It never occurred to him that he was some great one. Hence the subtlety of these tempting flatteries. But he baffled them, and kept them at arm's length. He would have no compliments, and declined the illustrious titles that were offered him one by one. But this was not enough. John did not stop at the half truth. A man may resist a temptation to lie, and yet conceal the whole of the truth he has been commissioned to tell. If John was not the Christ, but knew who the Christ was, it was not enough for him to decline the Messiahship. He must declare the Christ. This he did with a promptness, clearness, and fulness that puts many a so-called evangelical ministry to the blush. Hence John came out unscathed, and was rewarded by one of the greatest eulogies ever pronounced by Christ on man.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

It was by no accident that these were mentioned. John was of the national priesthood, and thus descended from the Levites. It is just possible therefore that relatives or family friends being turned for the nonce into deputies, he might be more easily persuaded to fall in harmony with that foregone conclusion to which they would guide him. Thus a disturbing element of personal relationship would enter into the temptation to assert himself, and to surcease his lowly subordination of himself to that "other" Christ who could by no possibility be accepted by these temporal Messiah-expecting Jews.The botanist, in his rambles along the lanes and among the hedgerows, passes by hundreds of flowers without pausing to look at them. A momentary glance is enough. He has seen so many of the same kind before. But now and then he sees a flower which invites his curiosity. He takes his pocket lens, and, with many a keen, scrutinizing, gaze he asks, "What art thou? What sayest thou of thyself." This was the principle in which these religious scientists came to John. He did not belong to their schools, and had not been classified in their catalogue of men and professions. In what niche could he be placed? Such a man is an awkward one for classification. He is a class in himself. He cannot be bracketed with others.A gentleman heard two distinguished ministers one Sunday. Recording his experience, he said: "In the morning I could not see the Master for the man; in the evening I could not see the man for the Master."A member of Ebenezer Erskine's congregation recorded that having gone once to that godly man to express his admiration and gratitude for a particular sermon, Mr. Erskine accepted gratefully the latter but dismissed the former peremptorily, and asked with kindling eye, "Did the sermon lead you to Christ? If never before did you then and there give yourself to Jesus Christ?" The preacher's fidelity was painful at the moment, and was resented; but after reflection led the visitor to acknowledge that, but for the preacher's turning away the conversation from praise of the sermon to Jesus Christ, he would have been little or nothing the better for it. As it was he was sent to Christ. The pointed question set him thinking and praying, and he never rested until he had given himself to the Lord Jesus.

(A. B. Grosart, D. D.)

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