84. But John had marked limitations. He knew well the righteousness of God; he knew, and, in effect, proclaimed God’s readiness to forgive them that would turn from their wicked ways; he knew the simplicity as well as the exceeding breadth of the divine commandment; but beyond one flash of insight (John i. 29-36), which did not avail to remould his thought, he did not know the yearning love of God which seeks to save. It is not strange that he did not. Some of the prophets had more knowledge of it than he, his own favorite Isaiah knew more of it than he, but it was not the thought of John’s day. The wonder is that the Baptist so far freed himself from current thought; yet he did not belong to the new order. He thundered as from Sinai. The simplest child that has learned from the heart its “Our Father” has reached a higher knowledge and entered a higher privilege (Matt. xi. 11). John’s self-effacement, wonderful as it was, fell short of discipleship to his greater successor; in fact, at a much later time there was still a circle of disciples of the Baptist who kept themselves separate from the church (Acts xix. 1-7). He was doubtless too strenuous a man readily to become a follower. He could yield his place with unapproachable grace, but he remained the prophet of the wilderness still. He seemed to belong consciously to the old order, and, by the very circumstances ordained of God who sent him, he could not be of those who, sitting at Jesus’ feet, learned to surrender to him their preconceptions and hopes, and in heart, if not in word, to say, “To whom shall we go, thou hast the words of eternal life?” (John vi. 68).
The Messianic Call
Matt. iii. 13 TO iv. 11; Mark i. 9-13; Luke iii. 21, 22; iv. 1-13; John i. 30-34
85. In the circle about John all classes of the people were represented: Pharisees and Sadducees, jealous of innovation and apprehensive of popular excitement; publicans and soldiers, interested in the new preacher or touched in conscience; outcasts who came in penitence, and devout souls in consecration. The wonder of the new message was carried throughout the land and brought great multitudes to the Jordan. Jesus in Nazareth heard it, and recognized in John a revival of the long-silent prophetic voice. The summons appealed to his loyalty to God’s truth, and after the multitudes had been baptized (Luke iii. 21) he too sought the prophet of the wilderness.
86. The connection which Luke mentions (i. 36) between the families of Jesus and John had not led to any intimacy between the two young men. John certainly did not know of his kinsman’s mission (John i. 31), nor was his conception of the Messiah such that he would look for its fulfilment in one like Jesus (Matt. iii. 10-12). One thing, however, was clear as soon as they met,—John recognized in Jesus one holier than himself (Matt. iii. 14). With a prophet’s spiritual insight he read the character of Jesus at a glance, and although that character did not prove him to be the Messiah, it prepared John for the revelation which was soon to follow.