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our present imperfections will permit; the second person in the veil of humanity ; the third in the shape or with the motion of the dove; but as the first kept his primitive state, and, as to the Israelites, he gave notice
way of caution, “ Ye saw no shape, but ye heard a voice ;” so now also God the Father gave testimony to his Holy Son, and appeared only in a voice without any visible representment.
BISHOP JEREMY TAYLOR.
No such pre
Among the peculiarities which distinguish the most perfect dispensation of revealed religion, was the fact that its Author and Finisher was introduced to his work of mercy to man by a special harbinger. paration had Divine wisdom judged necessary to any preceding disclosure of truth or authority. This honour was reserved till God should “ bring the First Begotten into the world.”
This arrangement was a particular topic of prophecy; and that, not the Sovereign only, but his servant and herald likewise, was predicted. We have the words complete, and no one disputes their authenticity.—Luke i. 15, 17.—xliii. lxxvi.
The Sovereign thus announced and introduced, is THE LORD God of Israel, The Most High, THE LORD Jehovah of the prophets. Can honesty of interpretation require any more? Is not the obedience of faith, which is the characteristic of every real Christian, satisfied that the Christ, whom John proclaimed in the wilderness, is God JEHOVAH, The Most High ? The language of Elizabeth implies that she had so understood the prophecy of her husband; and that the same spirit of faith was given to her, by which she saw in the child to be born to Mary, him whom she owned as her Lord. Indeed, it is expressly recorded that, on this occasion, “ Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
The faithful herald proclaimed the dignity of his Lord and Master, not only by declaring that he was greater and mightier than himself, but by giving instances of the exertion of his power. John had baptized by the symbolical use of water : the Messiah was actually to confer the blessing thus signified, that Divine influence which would produce and nourish all piety and religion ; “ He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Neither can the subsequent hesitation of John (Matt. xi. 3.) be admitted as any bar to our interpretation of the testimony which he was inspired to bear. We have no reason to think that he was raised above the current opinion of his countrymen, that the reign of the Messiah would be established with temporal authority and power, exercised for the vindication of the injured and the deliverance of the oppressed. But his message to Jesus may be justly regarded as the utterance of complaint and remonstrance, rather than of serious doubt: “ If thou art indeed the Hope and Deliverer of Israel, why dost thou permit thine enemies to triumph ? Why dost thou forsake thy faithful messenger, and leave him to pine in chains and misery?"
But in this very message of embarrassment and despondency, we find an important circumstance of reference to prophecy : “ Art thou He that should come,”—the coming one ? Now this was a part of the descriptions of the Messiah occurring in the Old Testament: the Shiloh that should come, -God, who would come and save,—the Adonai Jehovah, who would come to feed his flock,—the Lord, who would suddenly come to his temple, the Angel of the covenant. The Messiah, in the estimation of John, was distinctively the coming one ; but the prophetic passages which speak of the great expected advent, connect it with plain attributions of the names of Deity to that coming one.
DR. J. P. SMITH. Jesus came after John in order of time, but was immensely superior to him in dignity, authority, and excellency; insomuch that John was not worthy to loose or carry his sandals, or to perform the lowest menial service for him, who would baptize them “ with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” The descent of the Holy Ghost on the day of Pentecost, in the form
fiery tongues lighting on the apostles, with the effects produced on their minds and by their ministry, was a remarkable fulfilment of this prediction ; yet this baptism “ by the Holy Spirit and by fire” was vouchsafed comparatively to few of those who believed in Christ ; but the language of John evidently denotes a general benefit.
All other persons whom John baptized o confessed their sins;" but Jesus went up straightway from the water :" And immediately while he was praying, “ the heavens were opened,” and the Holy Spirit “ descended like a dove," the emblem of purity, gentleness, and love, “ and lighted upon him,” probably both in the form and with the hovering motion of a dove. This extraordinary appearance was seen by John as well as by our Lord; but it is not said that any of the people were present. This visible descent of the Holy Spirit upon Christ, was token of his being endued with his sacred influences without measure, to qualify him, as man, for every part of his mediatorial work; and to be communicated to his people from him, as the head of the Church. At the same time a voice was heard from heaven, God the Father himself acknowledging Jesus as his beloved Son, in whose person and mediation he was satisfied. At the baptism of our Lord there was a manifestation of the three persons in the sacred Trinity, acting in their proper relations according to the economy of our redemption. The Father appointing and sealing the Son to be the Mediator; the Son solemnly accepting the designation, and entering upon his work; and the Holy Spirit descending on him, as through his mediation communicated to his people, to apply his salvation to their souls.
The most eminent saints have always been the most humble; they have had the most abasing thoughts of themselves, and the most exalted apprehensions of the glory and excellency of Christ; they have felt the need of his atoning blood and sanctifying Spirit more than others; and have thought the meanest place in his service too high and honourable for them.
Thus may we wait for the supply of the Spirit of Christ to make us fruitful in the works of righteousness, to evince our union with him, and to be in us “ the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God,” accepted in “ his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased.” But let us remember, that the Spirit of Christ resembles the gentle, loving dove, and not any fierce bird of prey: furious contests, therefore, cannot spring from his influence; nay, they banish him from our hearts and assemblies, they weaken the evidences of our adoption, and mar our comfort.
“ For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance ;” and by abounding in these, we best glorify the God of our salvation, to whose service we were devoted, when“ baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” to whom be glory for evermore. Amen.
Rev. T. Scott.
Observe, The Spirit of God descended, and lighted on him. In the beginning of the old world, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters - Gen. i. 20.: so here, in the beginning of this new world, Christ, as God, needed not to receive the Holy Ghost, but it was foretold that the Spirit of the Lord should rest upon him Isai. lxi. 1, and here he did so : for 1. He was to be a prophet, and prophets always spoke by the Spirit of God, who came upon them : Christ was to execute his prophetic office, not by his Divine nature, (saith Dr. Whitby,) but by the afflatus of the Holy Spirit. 2. He was to be the head of the church, and the Spirit descended upon him, by him to be derived to all believers, in his gifts, graces, and comforts : Christ received gifts for men, that he might give gifts to men.
He descended on him like a dove. If there must be a bodily shape, (Luke iii. 22,) it must not be that of a man, for the being seen in fashion as a man was peculiar to the Second Person ; none therefore more fit than the shape of one of the fowls of heaven, heaven being now opened; and of all fowl none so significant as the dove. 1. The Spirit of Christ is a dovelike spirit ; not like a silly dove without heart,—(Hos. vii. 2.) but like an innocent dove without gall. The Spirit descended, not in the shape of an eagle, which is, though a royal bird, yet a bird of prey, but in the shape of a dove, than which no creature more harmless and inoffensive. Such was the Spirit of Christ, he shall not strive, nor cry; such must Christians be, harmless as doves. 2. The dove was the only fowl that was offered in sacrifice Lev. i. 14.; and Christ by the Spirit, the eternal Spirit, offered himself without spot to God. 3. The tidings of the decrease of Noah's flood were brought by a dove, with an olive leaf in her mouth ; fitly therefore are the glad tidings of peace with God brought by his Spirit as a dove.
Rev. M. HENRY.
We behold a peculiar honour put upon Jesus at the conclusion of the ordinance. The solemnity was closed, but he remained in prayer; and immediately, while he looked up, the heavens were opened over his head, and the Spirit visibly descended upon him, resembling a dove, perhaps in shape, as well as its hovering motion. This was like an inauguration of the Saviour, when he was about to enter on his public work, and an intimation, that, as “ the Anointed of God,” he received the most extraordinary influences of the Holy Ghost.
If we be solicitous to obtain for ourselves a testimony of the favour of heaven, let us learn from our Lord to expect it in answer to fervent prayer. And we may be the more emboldened to present our supplications in the name of Jesus, since, as we have seen, he is consecrated to, and accepted in, his mediatorial office. “ The residue of the Spirit” is with him; for “ he has received gifts for men.” We may rejoice and triumph that the Father is well pleased in him, as our surety and Advocate.
Rev. T. Robinson.
Let us remember in how distinguishing a sense Jesus is the Christ, the anointed of God, to whom the Father hath not given the Spirit by measure, but hath poured it out upon him in the most abundant degree. Let us trace the workings of this Spirit in Jesus, not only as a Spirit of miraculous power, but of the richest grace and holiness ; earnestly praying that this holy unction may, from Christ our head, descend upon our souls. May his enlivening Spirit kindle its sacred flame there, with such vigour, that many waters may not be able to quench it, nor floods of temptation and corruption to drown it.
Behold God's beloved Son in whom he is well pleased! As such let us honour and love him, and as such let our souls acquiesce in him, as in every respect such a Saviour as our wishes might have asked and our necessities required. With what amazement should we reflect upon it, that the blessed Jesus, though so early ripened for the most extensive services, should live in retirement even till his thirtieth year. That he deferred his ministry so long, should teach us not to thrust ourselves forward to public stations till we are qualified for them, and plainly discover a Divine call: that he deferred it no longer should be an engagement to us to avoid delays, and to give God the prime of our life.
What really concerns us, is the importance here ascribed to the work of Redemption, in which all the three persons of the Trinity are interested and engaged. The Father “ sends his only begotten Son, that all that believe in him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” The Son consents; and has just set the first example to mankind, that “ it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness." The Holy Ghost descends visibly upon him, and intimates in what power he came, and what virtue might be expected to attend his ministry, and to establish his religion. And all this “ for us men and for our salvation !” How great must be the value of the soul, in behalf of which so much was done!
We, who read the narrative, are the objects of this gracious interposition. Do we feel it as we ought? Strive daily to improve your sense of it, and exalt your gratitude by meditation and prayer. Contemplate the mercy of God, till his Spirit descends more and more upon you, and leaves his dove-like image upon your hearts, the emblem and characteristic of the religion of Christ, which is peace with God, and meekness towards men !
Bishop J. B. SUMNER.