John the Baptist preached that this Kingdom, predicted by the Prophets, was "nigh at hand."
PROPOSITION 38. John the Baptist preached that this Kingdom, predicted by the Prophets, was “nigh at hand.”
This Kingdom was to be offered to the Jewish nation, and John’s mission was to prepare the nation for its acceptance. However men may explain the Kingdom itself, the fact stated is not disputed.
Obs. 1. But right here, at the very beginning of the New Test. narrative, pious and good men, under a mistaken view of the Kingdom to which John’s preaching does not correspond, endeavor to lessen the knowledge and the importance of John. This is done by misapplying a passage of Scripture, so that the idea is boldly advanced that John’s teaching, in comparison with what is now taught, is of comparative little value. One commentator even informs us that the lowest teacher in the church—a Sunday-school teacher is mentioned—stands higher than John. So long as men can degrade a heaven-appointed preacher of the Kingdom to so low a scale in knowledge and standing, it is vain to expect them to give us a consistent and scriptural view of the Kingdom of God.[*]
Note. Before proceeding, it is necessary to vindicate the standing of the first N. Test. preacher from the disparaging views announced by Barnes (the commentat or alluded to), Scott, Clarke, Nast, and others, and found in almost every Life of Christ. It is a gross mistake to make (as Farrar, Life of Christ, vol. 1, p. 294) “the humblest child of the New Covenant more richly endowed than the greatest prophet of the Old.” Lange,Matt. 11:7–15, gives several interpretations, all more or less defective. Dr. Schaff, foot-note to Lange’s Com., Matt. 3:1, unable to follow the wild interpretations usually presented, justly makes the comparison one of “standpoint and official station,” but hampered by the idea of its being still in some way related to the present church weakens its force. Jones, Notes on Scripture (p. 65), gives the best comment and interpretation that we have seen consistent with fact and the analogy of Scripture. Hengstenberg (Christol., B. 3, S. 460) defends the higher character, etc., of John. The passage referred to, supposed to teach the low standard of John in comparison with believers of this dispensation, is found in Matt. 11:11 and Luke 7:28: “Verily, I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist; notwithstanding he that is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Our Saviour, undoubtedly, refers to the Kingdom of heaven as it will be established at His Second Advent, as our Propositions tend to show, for the church is only preparative to that still future, coming Kingdom, in which the least that inherits is greater in official standing, more highly honored, than John was in his official position. Leaving what follows to indicate the truthfulness of this application of a perverted passage, it may be only added: it certainly requires great assurance for any one, teacher or not, to assert, from the language of Jesus, that he is, or that his fellows are, superior to John, in view of John’s character, inspiration, and mission. Admitting fully the blessings, privileges, and increased knowledge of some things that we now enjoy, yet a little reflection over the constant attendance of the Holy Spirit, the sublimity of that authoritative preaching by which he commanded all to repent, the consciousness of His being a Forerunner of the Messiah, the spotless character maintained, the faithfulness unto death, should cause persons to suspect, at once, that reference is made to those who actually inherit the Kingdom; who have actually become, and realize their honor and glory as kings and priests; who will then be greater than John in every respect, while John, also, in that Kingdom will occupy a still higher position than the one sustained at the First Advent. (Comp. following Propositions.) Fairbairn (Typology, p. 48) accords with the present general view that “the most eminent in spiritual light and privilege before were still decidedly inferior even to the less distinguished members of the Messiah’s Kingdom” (i.e. according to his view of the Kingdom, the present Church). But feeling a certain incongruity in such an application (which so unjustly contrasts, an inspired man with uninspired), he gives us the following note which speaks for itself: “Matt. 11:11, where it is said respecting John the Baptist ‘notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven, is greater than he.’ The older English versions retain the comparative, and rendered ‘he that is less in the Kingdom of heaven’ (Wycliffe, Tyndale, Cranmer, the Geneva); and so also Winer, Greek Gr., § 36, 3, ‘he who occupies some lower place in the kingdom of heaven.’ Lightfoot, Hengstenberg, and many others approve of this milder sense, as it may be called; but Alford in his recent Com. adheres still to the stronger ‘the least;’ and so does Steir in his ‘Reden Jesu,’ who in illustrating the thought, goes so far as to say, ‘a mere child that knows the catechism, and can say the Lord’s prayer, both knows and possesses more than the Old Test. can give, and so far stands higher and nearer to God than John the Baptist.’ One cannot but feel that this is putting something like a strain on our Lord’s declaration.” Fairbairn indeed relaxes “the strain” somewhat, but continues it.
Obs. 2. Others, again, in the way of eulogizing John as a preacher of the coming Kingdom, exalt him beyond what the language and facts will bear. Thus e.g. Judge Jones (Notes) correctly rejecting the interpretation of Barnes, etc., adds: “None greater than he will ever appear till all things shall be restored, and the Kingdom of God shall come.” The language of Jesus, however, only says that none greater had arisen to that time, and we have no authority to continue the comparison down to the Sec. Advent. The apostles were also preachers of this Kingdom, also specially called, specially inspired, etc., and are specially honored as the founders of the Ch. Church. So also Oosterzee (Theol. N. Test., p. 37) informs us that in John “prophetism attains its point of culmination.” But this is opposed to fact: others prophesied after John, as e.g. Paul in Thess., Jesus in lengthy and remarkable predictions, and John the Revelator giving us the words of Jesus in the Apocalypse. John predicted but little in comparison with those who followed him.
Obs. 3. John preached “the gospel of the Kingdom,” just as Jesus, the twelve, and the seventy afterward preached it. Attention is simply directed to this, because some assert that there is no preaching of the Gospel unless a crucified Redeemer is proclaimed. But we have here and previous to the death of Jesus the gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed to the nation.
Obs. 4. Some able writers (as e.g. Bernard, Bampton Lectures, “The Progress of Doctrine,” Lec. 2) take the position that “The Gospel, considered as fact, was begun at the Incarnation and completed at the Resurrection; but the Gospel, considered as Doctrine, began from the first preaching of Jesus, and was completed in the dispensation of the Spirit.” This is, however, too circumscriptive; for the Gospel was announced previously to the preaching of Jesus by John, and was contained in the Old Test. The facts pertaining to the Gospel extend beyond the resurrection, even to Christ’s present exaltation, through this intermediate period down to the Second Advent. To make the Gospel perfect, faith must accept as facts (owing to certainty and assurance of fulfilment) things that are future. The Gospel could be no Gospel to the Gentiles until their calling and adoption was divinely assumed and demonstrated, i.e. in an official manner. The Gospel, when employed as a general term to embrace all that relates to Salvation, cannot be thus circumscribed; in particulars (as e.g. relating to call of Gentiles, to the Person or Life of Jesus, etc.) it may be limited.