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BY TRACTS FOR THE TIME
St. John iii. 30.
" He must increase, but I must decrease."
No doubt, St. John the Baptist is in a particular sense an example
for the Clergy, more than for other Christians, As he was sent
to prepare the way for our Lord's first coming, so they are sent to
prepare the way for His second. They, as he, are to go before
Christ, in the spirit and power of Elias, to make ready a people
prepared for Him.
Many parts, therefore, of his character and conduct, are a direct
pattern for those only, who were sent as he was ; they do not so
immediately concern others, who have no such trust.
As, for example, his " boldly rebuking vice," which is mentioned
in the Collect for the day as one remarkable part of his character,
and which he practised both towards the Scribes and Phari-
sees, when he called them a generation of vipers ; and in warning
Herod of the consequences, if he took his brother's wife to be his
own. In this St. John was a pattern, first and chiefly, for the
Ministers of Christ : for it is they who have a direct commission
from Him to call people to account for their sins, and to judge
them, for a while, in His stead. But he is also a pattern for all
who are in any way trusted with the government of others, as
kings, masters, elders, friends who can advise. Those whose
station calls on them to do good by reproving, must try to do it
139 SELF-DENYING LOYALTY TO CHRIST.
as St. John did, faithfully, discreetly, and boldly : still, as I said,
it is the calling of Christ's Ministers especially. And the same
raav be said of all other parts of the Baptist's example. He set
a copy in the first place for Priests. But in that sense in which
all Christians are Priests, appointed to offer up themselves, their
souls and bodies, for a living sacrifice to God Almighty, and to
prepare, each in his station, the way of Christ : in that sense
the Baptist's example was meant for all, and ought to be followed
by all. Observe how he in his calling made ready His Saviour's
way, and let us in our several callings endeavour to make ready
our Judge's way.
And above all, let us try to enter into the spirit of that deep
and affectionate loyalty, if I may call it so, to our Lord, which is
every where to be seen in the holy Baptist's character. I mean
his not thinking of himself, but of his Master ; giving up every
thing to His glory ; rejoicing, as he went on, to find that Jesus
Christ every day was showing Himself more and more glorious
above him, and throwing him quite, as people sav, into the shade.
This is the feeling which St. John expresses in the text, on com-
plaint having been made to him by some of his own disciples,
" Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to Whom thou
barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come
unto Him." They said it in the way of complaint, thinking it
hard that their master should be surpassed, and thought less of, in
consequence of the rising of this new Prophet, of "Whom as vet
they knew hardly any thing. Upon this, Christ's faithful servant
and forerunner took occasion to utter, in express words, that
which in reality all his ministry had been bearing witness of, that
he had no power, no glory, no holiness of his own ; he was but a
servant, ministering, for a time, to One Who was unspeakably,
immeasurably greater than himself. " A man," a mere man such
as I am, he tells them, "can receive nothing, except it be given
him from above." I am such an one, and I must not go beyond
my commission. " Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said I
am not the Christ, but am sent before Him." He takes up his
disciples' word which they had just used, saying, " He to Whom
thou barest witness." And he says, " If I bare witness to Him
then, do not cxiicct me to contradict that witness now. On the
contrary, I tell you, that in the great work of God, which is
SELF-DENYING LOYALTY TO CHHIST. 131
about to begin, the setting up of the kingdom of Heaven, there
is the same kind of difFerence between Him and me, as in a
marriage between the bridegroom and the bridegroom's friend :
*' He that hath the bride is the bridegroom ; but the friend of the
bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly
because of the bridegroom's voice : this my joy, therefore, is
fulfilled." " Every day," St. John seems to tell them, " I have
more and more of the same kind of satisfaction, which a true
disinterested friend of any man has in his friend's happy marriage.
Every day I rejoice more and more in feeling that I am nothing,
and that He is all ; that He must increase, but T must decrease."
This is what I mean by St. John's loyal feeling ; His deep and
constant devotion of himself to our Lord ; the deeper and more
constant, as he had, in the eye of the world and the flesh, to lose
something by our Lord's being honoured. His " burning and
shining light" was to be, in comparison, put out and to disap-
pear, like a star, or rather like a lamp, when the sun arises. And
he is glad and thankful to have it so : like Jonathan, who truly
rejoiced in seeing David by degrees mounting up to the kingdom,
which, according to earthly ways of thinking, Jonathan might
have looked for himself.
This loyal and self-devoted feeling, St. John here expresses in
words ; but his whole life and conduct before had expressed it, to
a considerate mind, quite as clearly. Even before His birth, it
was provided that he should give signification of such a devout
mind. When Elizabeth, being with child of him, was visited bv
the Blessed Virgin, just after the Conception of our Lord, this
great miracle happened ; that " as soon as the voice of Mary's
salutation sounded in Elizabeth's ears, the babe leaped in her
womb for joy." This token he gave of the Holy Ghost, with
which he was filled, even from his mother's womb, that even then,
before his birth, he did homage, and showed forth devotion to our
Saviour. It was a type and ensample of what he should be, what
all faithful Christians should be, as long as they live in the world :
they should sacrifice and devote themselves entirely to the glory
and honour of Him who came to die for them.
Accordingly, when St. John's time came to preach and to bap-
tize, all his doctrine ran upon this ; that neither his preaching
nor his baptism was any thing at all in itself, but only to prepare
132 SELF-DENYING LOYALTY TO CHRIST.
the way for the perfect Gospel, the Spiritual Baptism, which Jesus
Christ should set up afterwards. " The Kingdom of Heaven is
at hand :" it is not come, it is only near. " I am not the Christ,
but am sent before Him." " I baptize you with water, but He
shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost." He is " mightier than
I." " His shoes' latchet I am not worthy to stoop down and
unloose." " He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and
It may seem again suitable to this dutiful temper of mind, that
St. John, when the people asked him what they should do, re-
ferred them always to the plainest and simplest duties, the very
thing, as it were, which came next in each man's way ; saying to
the common sort, " He that hath two coats, let him impart to
him that hath none ; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise."
Again, to the publicans, " Exact no more than that which is ap-
pointed you ;" and to the soldiers, " Do violence to no man." In
every instance, the advice which he gives was as plain and simple
as could be, not at all leading them to think of him, nor of any
particular wisdom or goodness that was in him, but only to glorify
God in their stations by sincere obedience.
So again, the Baptist never shrank from showing people the
severe side of the truth. " The wrath to come." " the unquench-
able fire," " the axe laid to the root of the trees :" — these are the
things of which he continually kept putting people in mind :
but these are not the subjects on which he would have delighted
to dwell, had he desired to please and attract his hearers, or to
obtain personal influence and authority with them.
But in this respect, as in all others, the Forerunner of Christ
was like His Apostles after Him : he preached not himself, but
Christ Jesus the Lord.
One who was so minded would of course be greatly astonished,
not to say shocked, at our Lord's coming to be baptized of him ;
and we know how St. John shrank from it. "I have need to be
baptized of Thee, and comest Thou to me .''" It would seem to
him quite a turning of things upside down : knowing, as he had
done from the beginning, that Christ was to increase, and he to
decrease. He might not indeed yet positively know, that this
was the Son of God ; yet he might know enough to make him, in
some measure, douljt and muse. Who and how great He might
SKLF-DENYING LOYALTY TO CHRIST. 133
prove. And this being so, he could not endure the thought of
putting himself at all before Him.
Then, after our Lord had been baptized, and the holy Baptist
knew for certain, that "this is He which baptizeth with the Holt
Ghost," see how he rejoiced on every occasion to make Him
known, to spread His glory, to cause all men, and especially his
own disciples, to come near and believe in Christ. Another per-
son, though he might for duty's sake send men away from himself
to our Lord, might yet perhaps feel more or less troubled at doing
so ; it might be an act of self-denial to him ; but St. John's be-
haviour every where shows that it was the very joy of his heart to
do so, the very purpose for which he lived, the object which he
had always in view. Therefore he loses no time, but the very
next day he makes haste to show our Lord to his disciples, with
that mysterious saying, " Behold the Lamb of God :" words
which, to the world's end, will bring with them the remembrance
of this great Saint to all well-instructed Christians, and will en-
courage them, forgetting their own ease and glory, to press on,
and do their very best by example first, and then in other ways,
to honour Christ crucified, and make Him better known to their
Finally, in the last of his trials, his imprisonment through the
malice of Herodias, we find him still of the same mind, still careful
to turn all, as well as he could, to the preparing of Christ's way ;
still anxious to put himself down, and to exalt his Master and
Saviour. For this purpose, having " heard in the prison the
works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples" with the question,
" Art Thou He that should come, or look we for another ?" He
could not be ignorant Who Jesus was, after what he had seen at
His Baptism : but no doubt his intention was, to show his dis-
ciples the truth concerning Him. Thus he died, as he had lived,
pointing out Jesus to men.
Now there is one point in particular which we may well learn
this day, from considering St. John Baptist's character ; namely,
that in such measure as we are duly preparing to meet Christ,
when He comes to be our Judge, in the same measure we shall be
stiU practising to humble ourselves more and more ; — to think less
of what we do or have done, and more of Him and His great un-
speakable mercies. We shall no longer anxiously and grudgingly
VOL. VI. L
134 SELF-DENYING LOYALTY TO CHRIST.
count the moments, the minutes, the hours, which we spend on
serving Christ in His Church, but every httle time we can win
for that holy employment, away from the world, we shall reckon
it clear gain. The more we can give, the more yet shall we con-
trive to spare : every step in any kind of Holiness will be to us
like a step upwards in a high mountain, revealing to our sight
fresh blessings and fresh duties, beyond what we had ever dreamed
of, until the last and most blessed step of all shall land us in the
Paradise of God ; there, with the blessed Baptist, and all the
Saints, to await the full revelation of that kingdom, for which,
By God's help, we shall have truly tried to prepare ourselves.
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