John the Baptist was not ignorant of the Kingdom that he preached.
PROPOSITION 39. John the Baptist was not ignorant of the Kingdom that he preached.
The prevailing view, indorsed by a multitude of eminent theologians, is that John was ignorant of, i.e., did not understand the nature of, the Kingdom he proclaimed. Numerous works proceed to tell us how “low” and “carnal” John’s ideas were, without perceiving the fatal flaw introduced; without realizing that they are actually sapping the very foundations of inspiration, and giving to infidelity its strongest weapons against the divine origin of Christianity.[*]
Note. The ablest writers, under the preconceived view that a subsequent change was substituted in the idea of the Kingdom, do gross injustice to John the Baptist. Thus e.g. Ebrard (Gospel History, p. 283) makes John totally ignorant of the Kingdom and of “the formation of a compact ‘Kingdom of Christ’ ”—and “he received no revelation from God on this matter, but was left to his own conclusions,”—also making John less “in insight” than any member of the present church. A multitude of quotations, expressing the same idea, could readily be gathered.
Obs. 1. Any theory of the Kingdom which makes the first great preacher of the Kingdom—a preacher specially prepared, sent, and inspired—ignorant of the leading subject that he was delegated, specifically commissioned to announce, is not only open to the gravest suspicion, but ought to be rejected as unworthy of God.
Obs. 2. What was John’s conception of the Messiah’s Kingdom? Let those who consider John to be mistaken inform us, and let the reader judge for himself whether it is not the very idea of the Kingdom embraced in the grammatical sense of the prophets (Prop. 21), and in a restored Theoeratic-Davidic Kingdom. Thus e.g. Neander (Life of Christ, ch. 2, s. 40) truthfully admits that “he expects this Kingdom to be visible,” “existing in communion with the divine life, with the Messiah as its visible King; so that, what had not been the case before, the idea of the Theocracy and its manifestation should precisely correspond to each other,” and “his expectations of a visible realization of the Theocracy shows him as yet upon Old Test. ground.” That is, John expected the restoration of the Theocracy in an exalted manner under the Messiah, just as the prophets plainly predicted. Was he mistaken in this conception? Many say that he was, simply because such a conception was not realized at the First Advent, and down to the present day no such Kingdom has existed, and, therefore, take it for granted, that he misapprehended the nature of the Kingdom; that the church must be the Kingdom intended; that the prophecies pertaining to the restored Theocracy must be spiritualized to suit the present church, etc., thus overlooking the fact, clearly given, that for certain reasons (which will hereafter be given in detail) the very Kingdom preached and anticipated by John was postponed. Instead of allowing God’s Word to speak, and having faith in it that it will yet be fulfilled as written, this lack of faith, based on a supposed never to be realized fulfilment, is made the measure of John’s preaching and of God’s Divine Purpose. Is it wise or prudent?[*]
Note. So weak and insignificant is John’s preaching, so Jewish in its nature and intent, in the estimation of many, that it is passed by without comment, or even notice, in books where we naturally, from the subject discussed, seek to find it, as illustrated, e.g. in Pres. Edwards’s His. of Redemption. Books giving a history of Christ, and including that of John the Baptist, are very careful not to touch the preaching of the Kingdom, or to inform us what Kingdom he proclaimed, but waive the whole matter by telling us, in general phrases, that John endeavored to prepare the people for the coming Messiah, as exemplified, e.g. in Fleetwood’s Life of Christ. Commentators, with lack of fairness and candor, pass by the real facts (as they will be shown in following Propositions) of John’s preaching of the Kingdom, and present such a modernized version of the language, as if that accurately represented John’s belief, that they impose upon the ignorant and unwary reader, as shown, e.g. in Barnes’s Notes on Matt. 3:2. Thus the Baptist suffers from neglect, from the slights of believers, and from the inserting a meaning into his language that he never for a moment entertained.
Obs. 3. If John is specially called to preach this Kingdom, and yet labors under delusion, gross error respecting its nature, we ask, Whom, then, can we trust? Let the reader ponder these facts: that this John was consecrated to the ministerial office from the womb (Luke 1:15); that for this purpose he was brought forth beyond the ordinary course of nature (Luke 1:18); that he was under such Divine guidance as (Luke 1:15, etc.) to be “filled with the Holy Ghost”; constituted “the prophet of the Highest”; “to give knowledge of salvation”; and (John. 1:7) to be “a witness of the light”;—and then is it credible, even supposable, that such a Prophet and Witness, thus filled with the Spirit, should grossly blunder in declaring the leading subject of his preaching, the Kingdom of heaven? Yet such is the opinion of multitudes, learned and unlearned, while infidels laugh and sneer at this practically acknowledged lowering of a divinely commissioned preacher of the Kingdom. Surely, if this is so, viz., that he misapprehended the Kingdom, then upon what does his credibility as a prophet depend? If mistaken in the most vital part of his mission, why was he not in error concerning the rest? Now, against all such dishonoring theories, we take the ground, sustained both by Scripture and the Primitive Church view, that he was not mistaken in his preaching; that he knew full well what Kingdom he was to tender to the Jewish nation, far better than the multitude which denies its correctness; and that if such a Kingdom, as he believed in and proclaimed, was not realized, we must allow the Scriptures themselves to assign the reasons for such a delay. This, indeed, requires faith, but it is a faith abundantly sustained by facts.
Obs. 4. There is something inconsistent in Neander and others opposing the idea of the Kingdom embraced in the preaching of John and the disciples, as being an imperfect conception of its nature, etc., and yet in their development theory, when the world is renewed, they have, to all intents and purposes, virtually the same notion expressed. Thus e.g. Neander: “In fine, the end of this development appears to be (though not, indeed, simply as its natural result) a complete realization of the Divine Kingdom which Christ established in its outward manifestation, fully answering to its idea; a perfect world dominion of Christ and of His organs, a world purified and transformed, to become the seat of His universal Empire.” Why, then, so strenuously reject and oppose John’s idea of the Kingdom, an outward visible Kingdom, resulting in a world dominion, etc., if their own attached notion, in place of it, is ultimately at its consummation to bring this to pass?
Obs. 5. The reader will find, in looking over authors, interpreters, etc., that many of them, whilst having much to say about John’s preaching repentance, omit, as a tender subject beset with difficulties, all allusions to his preaching the Kingdom, although repentance is only described as a means for attaining to the Kingdom. The greater is sacrificed to the lesser, or else, with their church-kingdom theory prejudging the case, and not knowing how to reconcile John’s preaching with his special call, etc., they simply let it alone. But other expositors and writers approach the subject frankly, and candidly tell us what were the views of John, confirming Neander’s opinion (Obs. 2). Thus e.g. Meyer (Com. Matt. 3:2) acknowledges that he did, in his idea of the Messianic Kingdom, embrace “the political element.” The author of Ecce Homo admits that he “meant that the Theocracy was to be restored.” Reuss (His. Ch. Theol., p. 124) says, “After all, John the Baptist was still a Jew; he looked for the brilliant and august inauguration of the Kingdom which he had proclaimed with so much fervor and devotedness,” etc., i.e. a Jewish Kingdom, such as the grammatical sense of the prophecies conveyed. Such testimonies could be multiplied, but these are sufficient. Others refer to this matter in a half-apologetic tone, a lamely explanatory manner, that only makes the defect the more glaring. Thus e.g. Olshausen (Com. Matt. 2:3) says: “If now we ask in what sense John the Baptist may have understood the Kingdom, it is most probable that in his relation to the law, he conceived of it with the generality and indeterminateness of the Old Test., but without incorporating with the idea anything false. We may concede a certain affinity between John’s notions of the Messiah’s Kingdom and those that prevailed among the people.” This extract speaks for itself and needs no comment, seeing that the “indeterminateness” is with Olshausen and not with John or the Old Test. Van Oosterzee, (Theol. N. Test., s. 7), while apparently avoiding the main point (i.e. the Kingdom preached by John), refers to his preaching in this way: “Nevertheless, compared with the teaching of the Lord and His apostles, is the testimony of John the Baptist relatively poor, and not essentially raised above the standpoint of the Old Test.” We gratefully and heartily accept of the standpoint assigned to John, and will prove from Scripture (not assertion or assumption) that John’s testimony and conception was the truth, confirmed by covenant and the oath of the Almighty, and therefore relatively and inexpressibly rich.
Obs. 6. Those, of course, who assume that the weakest believer who now attempts to preach the Kingdom of God is far greater than John (Prop. 38, Obs. 1) have no hesitancy in rejecting John’s views of the Kingdom. John, being less than the least in this dispensation (e.g. Fairbairn, On Proph., p. 163), it follows that every believer can tell us far better what the Kingdom is than John was able, although specially called to preach it. If this is so, how comes it that the great and learned theologians of this dispensation present us so many definitions and meanings, several kinds of kingdoms, etc., and that there is such a lack of uniformity of belief among them? If all are greater preachers than John, if they have more knowledge and clearer conceptions, why, then, do we not find them expressed? (comp. Prop. 3). Fairness to John requires that we should accept of his preaching until it is proven to be erroneous; simple assertion, however repeated by the learned, does not condemn him.[*]
Note. As an illustration how recent Roman Catholic writers treat the subject, ignoring its difficulties pertaining to their Church-Kingdom view, we present the two following: Dr. Alzog (Univ. Ch. His., vol. 1, p. 147), speaking of John, says: “He, unlike them (i.e. other prophets), did not put off to an indefinite future the amelioration which be promised, but proclaimed that the Kingdom of God was already among men, and that the least in the kingdom of heaven (i.e. the Church) was greater than he.” Dr. Rutter (Life of Jesus, p. 99), after telling us that John said, “Do penance, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” pronounces the Kingdom to be “that inward and spiritual reign which begins here on earth by faith showing its charity and good works, and which will attain its utmost completion in heaven by the perfection of charity; a reign which consists in this, that Almighty God, having, through Jesus Christ, destroyed the empire of the devil over the hearts of men, sovereignly reigns there in this life by knowledge and love, and in the next life by the sights and enjoyment of the divine essence, which constitutes our external happiness.” Comp. Props. 19, 20, 21, 22, 37, 41, etc., and also 90 to 109. The same view is held by a multitude of Protestants, although such a Kingdom has no resemblance whatever to the covenanted and oath-bound one.