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2. And saying, repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand :
This is the substance of what he delivered: for he explained; no doubt, more fully than in these few words the purpose of his mission. The kingdom of heaven means the same thing as the kingdom of God; heaven being put for God, because it is conceived to be his seat or palace. In describing the Christian dispensation under the Messiah by the character of the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, an allusion was probably intended to the words of the prophet Daniel (ii. 44.) who says “the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed,” and in another place, (vii. 14.) after speaking of the son of man or Messiah, "and there was given him dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all people, nations and languages should receive him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” As the greatest blessings were expected whenever this kingdom was established, the Jews would see the propriety of removing every obstacle which might prevent their enjoying them; an evil which would necessarily arise from their sins. John therefore requires them to repent, that is, to be sorry for their sins, and to reform their lives, if they wished to partake of the benefits of the Messiah's kingdom. After this account of the message of the baptist, there follows an observation of the evangelist Matthew upon his character, as corresponding with a prediction of one of the prophets.
3. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying “the voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths strait.”
This quotation from the prophet Isaiah is introduced to shew the reason why John appeared in the wiie
derness; because it had been already foretold of the forerunner of the Messiah. Although he was sent to prepare the way for Christ, by announcing the approach of the kingdom of heaven, and exhorting men to repent, yet this was in reality preparing the way for God; since Christ was his messenger and representątive, and God manifested himself by him in an extraprdinary manner to the world.
4. And the same John had his raiment of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.
John, living in the wilderness, contented himself with such plain and simple food as the place afforded, and as was usually eaten by the inhabitants of those regions; with honey, which was to be found in the cavities of trees or the clefts of rocks; and with locusts, which are frequently used in the east, and not esteemed unpleasant food. In this diet there was nothing of excessive rigour or an ostentatious departure from common forms of living, bụt the usual plainness and simplicity of the country. The same thing may be observed with respect to his raiment, which was a cloth made of camel's hair, fastened round him with a girdle, which, we are told by travellers, is still the ordinary dress of that part of Palestine. The reason why his dress and diet are so particularly noticed, seems to be not so much on account of any singularity which they possessed in that part of the country, as either to mark the resemblance between him and the prophet Elijah, by whose name he was called in Malachi iv. 5. and who is described (2 Kings, i. 8.) as an hairy man with a leatheện girdle, (Providence wisely ordaining that he who was to come in the spirit and power of Elias should aļso come in the same clothing) or to shew how different his dress and diet were from that splendid appears ance which men in general, and the Jews in particular, might expect in that great prophet who was to foretel the approach of the kingdom of the Messiah.*
5. Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan,
The uneasiness of the people under the Roman yoke made them expect with great impatience the coming of the Messiah, from whom they looked for not only deliverance from a foreign power, but likewise conquest and universal monarchy: this was probably the reason why so great a concourse of people from all quarters attended the preaching of John, who foretold the approach of that event.
6. And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins.
The Jews baptized all proselytes from idolatry to their religion, because, by joining the people of God, they came from an impure into a holy state; and John by using this religious ceremony, intimated that the Jews, though already in covenant with God, had so entirely departed from the practice of true piety, that they were in a condition as impure as that of idolaters, and that, like them, their whole course of life ought to be changed, before they could hope to be saved. He required from those who were baptized by him a confession of their sins, either of their sins in general, or, if their crimes had been of an extraordinary nature, a confession of their particular offences; that they might receive from him advice adapted to their particular situations in life; such as we find hiin giving to the publicans and soldiers.
7. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his
* Harmer's Obs. V. 1. p. 295. V. 2. p. 487.
+ Luke iii. 12–15.
baptism, he said unto them O generation of vipers, or as the words would be better rendered, “O brood of vipers,” who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come ?
'The Pharisees were a sect among the Jews that pretended to a more exact observance of the law than the rest of their nation: they received all the books of the Old Testament as divine, but looked upon the traditions of the elders as of great authority, if not of equal authority with them: they believed that the soul is immortal; that there will be a resurrection of the dead; and that there is to be a future state of rewards and punishinents. The Pharisees were the most numerous as well as the strictest sect among the Jews, and were so much in esteemn with the common people that all things in religion were ordered as they directed. How wicked they were, there will be occasion to observe in other parts of the gospel.
The Sadducees were another sect among the Jews, and very different from the Pharisees; for they denied the immortality of the soul and a future state of recompence: they said that the soul died with the body, and that there is no resurrection or spirit; they rejected all the traditions of the elders, of which the Pharisees were so tenacious; and it has been thought by many that they received no books of the Old Testament as canonical and divine but the five books of Mo ses. They, however, expected a Messiah as the other Jews did: they were but few in number, chiefly the rich and men in power. Many of these two sects came to the baptism of John: but a majority of each were probably unbelievers in him; for it is said expressly of the Pharisees by Luke, (vii. So that they had not been baptized by John; and in another place it is intimated that they did not acknowledge that his baptism came from heaven. These sects John compares to broods of vipers; a subtle and malicious creature----a character which, it appears from the history, was extremely well suited to them: he also expresse
his surprise that they should do a thing corresponding so little with their temper and inclinations as to come to his baptism, in order to avoid the impending punishment in the destruction of the Jewish state, which I suppose to be referred to by the wrath to come.
8. Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance,
Since you have been warned, bring forth such good works, (which, every where in the New Testament, are called fruits) as become a sincere repentance. - 9. And think not to say, rather, “ say not,”. within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
The Jews valued themselves highly on account of their relation to their ancestor Abraham, for whose sake they supposed themselves secure of the divine favour, and safe from danger as a nation. It is the object of John the Baptist, therefore, as it was afterwards of Jesus Christ and of the apostle Paul, to remove from their minds this ill-founded pride and hope of impunity, which was the greatest obstacle to the cultivation of right dispositions and to all reformation of manners;----telling them that they were by no means so secure of continuing the peculiar people of God as they imagined; for that God was able to raise children' to Abraham from the most inanimate parts of nature; as he had already raised seed to him from one as good as dead, and that he would rather do so than shew favour to them while they continued to disobey his laws. In these words there may be an aļlusion to the call of the Gentiles, who, by their faith and obedi
ham, but from whom the Jews would expect those virtues no sooner than from stocks and stones. The · Jews had looked for national deliverance by the