I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Augustus Toplady (1740–1778)
From Justice’s consuming flame,
Saviour, I fly to thee;
O look not on me as I am,
But as I fain would be.
Deserted in the way I lie,
No cure for me is found:
Thou, good Samaritan, pass by,
And bind up every wound.
O may I in the final day
At thy right-hand appear!
Take thou my sins out of the way,
Who didst the burden bear.
What though the fiery serpent’s bite
Hath poisoned ev’ry vein—
I’ll not despair, but keep in sight
The wounds of Jesus slain.
My soul thou wilt from death retrieve,
For sorrow grant me joy,
Thy power is mightier to save
Than Satan’s to destroy.
—The Complete Works of Augustus Toplady (Sprinkle Publications, 1987).
John the Baptist Witnesses Concerning Christ
31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
On one account, this passage deserves the special attention of all devout readers of the Bible. It contains the last testimony of John the Baptist concerning our Lord Jesus Christ. That faithful man of God was the same at the end of his ministry that he was at the beginning—the same in his views of self,—the same in his views of Christ. Happy is that church whose ministers are as steady, bold, and constant to one thing, as John the Baptist!
We have, firstly, in these verses, a humbling example of the petty jealousies and party-spirit which may exist among professors of religion. We are told, that the disciples of John the Baptist were offended, because the ministry of Jesus began to attract more attention than that of their master. “They came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold the same baptizeth, and all men come to him.”
The spirit exhibited in this complaint, is unhappily too common in the Churches of Christ. The succession of these complainers has never failed. There are never lacking religions professors who care far more for the increase of their own party, than for the increase of true Christianity; and who cannot rejoice in the spread of religion, if it spreads anywhere except within their own denomination. There is a generation which can see no good being done, except in the ranks of its own congregations; and which seems ready to shut men out of heaven, if they will not enter therein under their banner.
The true Christian must watch and pray against the spirit here manifested by John’s disciples. It is very insidious, very contagious, and very injurious to the cause of religion. Nothing so defiles Christianity and gives the enemies of truth such occasion to blaspheme, as jealousy and party-spirit among Christians. Wherever there is real grace, we should be ready and willing to acknowledge it, even though it may be outside our own pale. We should strive to say with the apostle, “If Christ be preached, I rejoice, yea! and will rejoice.” (Phil. i. 18.) If good is done, we ought to be thankful, though it even may not be done in what we think the best way. If souls are saved, we ought to be glad, whatever be the means that God may think fit to employ.
We have, secondly, in these verses, a splendid pattern of true and godly humility. We see in John the Baptist a very different spirit from that displayed by his disciples. He begins by laying down the great principle, that acceptance with man is a special gift of God; and that we must therefore not presume to find fault, when others have more acceptance than ourselves. “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.” He goes on to remind his followers of his repeated declaration, that one greater than himself was coming;— “I said, I am not the Christ.” He tells those who his office compared to that of Christ, is that of the bridegroom’s friend, compared to the bridegroom. And finally, he solemnly affirms, that Christ must and will become greater and greater, and that he himself must become less and less important, until, like a star eclipsed by the rising sun, he has completely disappeared.
A frame of mind like this, is the highest degree of grace to which mortal man can attain. The greatest saint in the sight of God, is the man who is most thoroughly “clothed with humility.” (1 Peter v. 5.) Would we know the prime secret of being men of the stamp of Abraham, and Moses, and Job, and David, and Daniel, and St. Paul, and John the Baptist? They were all eminently humble men. Living at different ages, and enjoying very different degrees of light, in this matter at least they were all agreed. In themselves they saw nothing but sin and weakness. To God they gave all the praise of what they were. Let us walk in their steps. Let us covet earnestly the best gifts; but above all, let us covet humility. The way to true honour is to be humble. No man ever was so praised by Christ, as the very man who says here, “I must decrease,” the humble John the Baptist.
We have, thirdly, in these verses, an instructive declaration of Christ’s honour and dignity. John the Baptist teaches his disciples once more, the true greatness of the Person whose growing popularity offended them. Once more, and perhaps for the last time, he proclaims Him as one worthy of all honour and praise. He uses one striking expression after another, to convey a correct idea of the majesty of Christ. He speaks of Him as “the bridegroom” of the Church,—as “him that comes from above,”—as “him whom God has sent,”—as “him to whom the Spirit is given without measure,”—as Him “whom the Father loves,” and into “whose hands all things are given,”—to believe in whom is life everlasting, and to reject whom is eternal ruin. Each of these phrases is full of deep meaning, and would supply matter for a long sermon. All show the depth and height of John’s spiritual attainments. More honourable things are nowhere written concerning Jesus, than these verses recorded as spoken by John the Baptist.
Let us endeavor in life and death, to hold the same views of the Lord Jesus, to which John here gives expression. We can never make too much of Christ. Our thoughts about the Church, the ministry, and the sacraments, may easily become too high and extravagant. We can never have too high thoughts about Christ, can never love Him too much, trust Him too implicitly, lay too much weight upon Him, and speak too highly in His praise. He is worthy of all the honour that we can give Him. He will be all in heaven. Let us see to it, that He is all in our hearts on earth.
We have, lastly, in these verses, a broad assertion of the nearness and presentness of the salvation of true Christians. John the Baptist declares, “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.” He is not intended to look forward with a sick heart to a far distant privilege. He “hath” everlasting life as soon as he believes. Pardon, peace, and a complete title to Heaven, are an immediate possession. They become a believer’s own, from the very moment he puts faith in Christ. They will not be more completely his own, if he lives to the age of Methuselah.
The truth before us, is one of the most glorious privileges of the Gospel. There are no works to be done, no conditions to be fulfilled, no price to be paid, no wearing years of probation to be passed, before a sinner can be accepted with God. Let him only believe on Christ, and he is at once forgiven. Salvation is close to the chief of sinners. Let him only repent and believe, and this day it is his own. By Christ all that believe are at once justified from all things.
Let us leave the whole passage with one grave and heart-searching thought. If faith in Christ brings with it present and immediate privileges, to remain unbelieving is to be in a state of tremendous peril. If heaven is very near to the believer, hell must be very near to the unbeliever. The greater the mercy that the Lord Jesus offers, the greater will be the guilt of those who neglect and reject it. “He that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.