Friday, February 18, 2011

That We Were All Like John The Baptist

I have been reading through J.C. Ryle's Expository Thoughts on the Gospels and this morning I came to Matthew 3:1-12 where Bishop Ryle wrote about John the Baptist. The thing that I like about his writings is that he makes them so practical for our everyday application, and today was no different. In this section he looks at the ministry of John the Baptist and uses it to say that this is what a Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ should look like, but I think we can also apply this to ourselves as well and say that when we witness this is what we should look like.

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
          “The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
          ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’ ”
Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” 
Matthew 3:1-12
Of these verses J.C. Ryle wrote:

These verses describe the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a ministry that deserves close attention. Few preachers ever produced such effects. "There went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan." None ever received such praise from the great Head of the Church. Jesus calls him "a burning and a shining light." The great Bishop of souls Himself declares, that "among those who are born of women there has not arisen one greater than John the Baptist." Let us then study the leading features of his ministry.

John the Baptist spoke plainly about sin. He taught the absolute necessity of "repentance," before any one can be saved. He preached that repentance must be proved by its "fruits." He warned men not to rest on outward privileges, or outward union with the church.

This is just the teaching that we all need. We are naturally dead, and blind, and asleep in spiritual things. We are ready to content ourselves with a mere formal religion, and to flatter ourselves, that if we go to church we shall be saved. We need to be told, that except we "repent and are converted" we shall all perish.

John the Baptist spoke plainly about our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught people that one far "mightier than himself" was coming among them. He was nothing more than a servant--the Coming One was the King. He himself could only "baptize with water"--the Coming One could "baptize with the Holy Spirit," take away sins, and would one day judge the world.

This again is the very teaching that human nature requires. We need to be sent direct to Christ. We are all ready to stop short of this. We want to rest in our union with the church, regular use of the sacraments, and diligent attendance on an established ministry. We ought to be told the absolute necessity of union with Christ Himself by faith. He is the appointed fountain of mercy, grace, life, and peace. We must each have personal dealings with Him about our souls. What do we know of the Lord Jesus? What have we got from Him? These are the questions on which our salvation hinges.

John the Baptist spoke plainly about the Holy Spirit. He preached that there was such a thing as the baptism of the Holy Spirit. He taught that it was the special office of the Lord Jesus to give it to men.

This again is a teaching which we greatly require. We need to be told that forgiveness of sin is not the only thing necessary to salvation. There is another thing yet; and that is the baptizing of our hearts by the Holy Spirit. There must not only be the work of Christ FOR us, but the work of the Holy Spirit IN us. There must not only be a title to heaven by the blood of Christ, but a preparedness for heaven wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ. Let us never rest until we know something by experience of the baptism of the Spirit. The baptism of water is a great privilege. But let us see to it that we have also the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

John the Baptist spoke plainly about the dreadful danger of the impenitent and unbelieving. He told his hearers that there was a "wrath to come." He preached of an "unquenchable fire," in which the chaff would one day be burned.

This again is a teaching which is deeply important. We need to be straitly warned, that it is no light matter whether we repent or not. We need to be reminded, that there is a hell as well as a heaven, and an everlasting punishment for the wicked, as well as everlasting life for the godly. We are fearfully apt to forget this. We talk of the love and mercy of God, and we do not remember sufficiently His justness and holiness. Let us be very careful on this point. It is no real kindness to keep back the terrors of the Lord. It is good for us all to be taught that it is possible to be lost forever, and that all unconverted people are hanging over the brink of the pit.

In the last place, John the Baptist spoke plainly about the safety of true believers. He taught, that there was "a barn" for all who are Christ's wheat, and that they would be gathered together there in the day of his appearing.

This again is a teaching which human nature greatly requires. The best of believers need much encouragement. They are yet in the body. They live in a wicked world. They are often tempted by the devil. They ought to be often reminded, that Jesus will never leave them nor forsake them. He will guide them safely through this life, and at length give them eternal glory. They shall be hidden in the day of wrath. They shall be safe as Noah in the ark.

Let these things sink down deeply into our hearts. We live in a day of much false teaching. Let us never forget the leading features of a faithful ministry. Happy would it have been for the Church of Christ, if all its ministers had been more like John the Baptist!

J.C. Ryle

Think how different our churches would be if our pastors spoke plainly about sin, about the Lord Jesus Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about the dreadful danger of the impenitent and unbelieving, and about  the safety of true believers instead of spending week after week trying to entertain us. And I am not laying the blame of the current state of the church on our pastors alone, we are just as much to blame because we have allowed the church in America to become what it is today; we are the ones who attend and who support them with our offerings. If we would embrace the message of John the Baptist in our own lives, and live it out, we would see a dramatic shift in the modern church, and we would see a return to this kind of Biblical teaching.

And that is my prayer today.
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