The Review and Herald

82/1902

January 14, 1873

Life and Mission of John

EGW

As John looked forward to the ministry and miracles of Christ, he appealed to the people, “saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He was successful in his ministry. Persons of all rank, high and low, rich and poor, submitted to the requirements of the prophet, as necessary for them in order to participate in the kingdom he came to declare. Many of the scribes and Pharisees came to him, confessing their sins, and were baptized of him in Jordan. The confessions made by the Pharisees astonished the prophet; for they had exalted themselves as better than other men, and had maintained a high opinion of their own piety and worthiness. As they sought to obtain remission of their sins, and revealed the secrets of their lives, which had been covered from the eyes of men, the prophet was amazed. “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance. And think not to say 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.” RH January 14, 1873, par. 1

The whole Jewish nation seemed to be affected by the mission of John. The threatenings of God on account of their sins, repeated by the prophet, for a time alarmed them. John knew that they cherished the idea that, because they were of the seed of Abraham, they were securely established in the favor of God, while their course of action was abhorred of him. Their conduct was, in many respects, even worse than that of the heathen nations to whom they felt so much superior. The prophet faithfully presented to them the ability of God to raise up those who would take their place, and would become more worthy children of Abraham. He told them plainly that God was not dependent upon them to fulfill his purposes; for he could provide ways and means independent of them to carry forward his great work which was to be accomplished in purity and righteousness. John further adds: “And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” He impresses upon them that the value of the tree is ascertained by the fruit it produces. Though a tree may bear an exalted name, yet if it produces no fruit, or if its fruit is unworthy of the name, the name will avail nothing in saving the tree from destruction. “Of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble bush gather they grapes.” RH January 14, 1873, par. 2

The prophet of God was impressed by the Holy Spirit that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees who asked baptism had no true convictions of their sins. They had selfish motives. They thought that if they should become friends of the prophet, they would stand a better chance to be personally favored of the coming Prince. In their blindness they believed that he was to set up a temporal kingdom, and bestow honors and riches upon his subjects. RH January 14, 1873, par. 3

John rebuked their selfish pride and avarice. He warned them of their unbelief, and condemned their hypocrisy. He told them that they had not fulfilled the conditions of the covenant on their part, which would entitle them to the promises God made to a faithful and obedient people. Their proud boasts of being children of Abraham did not make them really such. Their exhibitions of pride, their arrogance, jealousy, selfishness, and cruelty, stamped their characters as a generation of vipers, rather than the children of obedient and just Abraham. Their wicked works had disqualified them to claim the promises God made to the children of Abraham. John assured them that God would raise up children unto Abraham from the very stones, to whom he could fulfill his promise, rather than to depend on the natural children of Abraham who had neglected the light God had given them, and had become hardened by selfish ambition and wicked unbelief. He told them that if they were really the children of Abraham, they would do the works of their father Abraham. They would have Abraham's faith, love, and obedience. But they did not bear this fruit. They had no claim to Abraham as their father, or the promises God made to the seed of Abraham. “Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” While they were professing to be God's commandment keeping people, their works denied their faith, and without true repentance for their sins they would have no part in the kingdom of Christ. Justice, benevolence, mercy, and the love of God would characterize the lives of his commandment-keeping people. Unless these fruits were seen in their daily life, all their profession was of no more value than chaff which would be devoted to the fire of destruction. RH January 14, 1873, par. 4

The Jews had deceived themselves by misinterpreting the words of the Lord through his prophets, of his eternal favor to his people Israel. RH January 14, 1873, par. 5

“Thus saith the Lord, which giveth the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divideth the sea when the waves thereof roar; the Lord of hosts is his name: If those ordinances depart from before me, saith the Lord, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before me forever. Thus saith the Lord: If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah 31:35-37. RH January 14, 1873, par. 6

These words the Jews applied to themselves. And because God had shown them so great favor and mercy, they flattered themselves that, notwithstanding their sins and iniquities, he would still retain them as his favored people, and shower especial blessings upon them. They misapplied the words of Jeremiah, and depended for their salvation upon being called the children of Abraham. If they had indeed been worthy of the name of Abraham's children, they would have followed the righteous example of their father Abraham, and would have done the works of Abraham. RH January 14, 1873, par. 7

This has been the danger of the people of God in all ages; and especially is this the danger of those living near the close of time. We are cited by the apostle to the unbelief, blindness, rebellion, and repeated sins of the Hebrews, as a warning. Paul plainly states that “all these things happened unto them for ensamples; and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” If, in these last days of peril, for the encouragement of persons in responsible positions, God in mercy gives them a testimony of favor, they frequently become lifted up, and lose sight of their frailties and weaknesses, and rely upon their own judgment, flattering themselves that God cannot accomplish his work without their especial aid. They trust in their own wisdom; and the Lord permits them, for a time, to apparently prosper, to reveal the weakness and folly of the natural heart. But the Lord will, in his own time, and in his own way, bring down the pride and folly of these deceived ones, and show to them their true condition. If they will accept the humiliation, and by confession and sincere repentance, turn unto the Lord, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, he will renew his love to them. But if they shut their eyes to their own sins, as did the Jews, and choose their own ways, the Lord will give them up to blindness of mind, and hardness of heart, that they cannot discern the things of the Spirit of God. RH January 14, 1873, par. 8

God cannot do much for man, because he misinterprets his blessings, and concludes that he is favored on account of some goodness in himself. It is not safe to speak in the praise of mortals; for they cannot bear it. Satan has the special work to do of flattering poor souls, and he needs not the help of the Lord's servants in this matter. How few realize the weakness of human nature and the subtlety of Satan. Many in these last days are preparing themselves for affliction and sorrow, or for complete separation from the favor of God, because of their pride and self-righteousness. They will fall, through self-exaltation. RH January 14, 1873, par. 9

The prophet John impressed upon the people the necessity of their profession being accompanied with good works. Their words and actions would be their fruit, and would determine the character of the tree. If their works were evil, the truth of God would testify against them. God would in no wise excuse sin in a people who had been enlightened, even if he had, in their days of faithfulness and purity, loved them, and given them especial promises. These promises and blessings were always upon condition of obedience upon their part. RH January 14, 1873, par. 10

The Lord pronounced, by the mouth of Moses, blessings upon the obedient, and curses upon the disobedient. “Ye shall make you no idols,” was the command of God. “Ye shall keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary. I am the Lord. If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them; then I will give you rain in due season, and the land shall yield her increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.” Many and great blessings are enumerated, which God would bestow; and then, above all the other blessings, he promised, “I will set my tabernacle among you; and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people.” “But if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; and if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant, I also will do this unto you: I will even appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart; and ye shall sow your seed in vain; for your enemies shall eat it. And I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies. They that hate you shall reign over you, and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.” RH January 14, 1873, par. 11

The Jews were experiencing the fulfillment of the threatened curse of God for their departure from him, and for their iniquity; yet they did not lay these things to heart, and afflict their souls before God. A people that hated them ruled over them. They were claiming the blessings God had promised to confer upon them should they be obedient and faithful. But at the very time they were suffering under the curse of God because of disobedience. John declared to them that unless they bore fruit, they would be hewn down and cast into the fire. RH January 14, 1873, par. 12

He specified the fruit they were required to bear in order to become the subjects of Christ's kingdom; which were works of love, mercy, and benevolence. They must have virtuous characters. These fruits would be the result of genuine repentance and faith. If blessed with plenty, and they saw others destitute, they should divide with them. They must be workers. “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise. Then came also publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master, what shall we do? And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you. And the soldiers likewise demanded of him, saying, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages.” RH January 14, 1873, par. 13

John gave his disciples lessons in practical godliness. He showed them that true goodness, honesty, and fidelity, must be seen in their daily life, and that they should be actuated by unselfish principles, or they would be no better than common sinners. RH January 14, 1873, par. 14

Unless others should be made better within the sphere of their influence, they would be like the fruitless tree. Their wealth was not to be used merely for selfish purposes. They were to relieve the wants of the destitute, and to make free-will offerings to God to advance the interests of his cause. They should not abuse their privileges, to oppress, but should shield the defenseless, redress the wrongs of the injured, and thus give a noble example of benevolence, compassion, and virtue, to those who were inferior and dependent. If they made no change in their conduct, but continued to be extravagant, selfish, and void of principle, they would correctly represent the tree bearing no good fruit. This lesson is applicable to all Christians. The followers of Christ should evidence to the world a change in their life for the better, and by their good works show the transforming influence of the Spirit of God upon their hearts. But there are many who bear no fruit to the glory of God; they give no evidence of a radical change in their life. Although they make high profession, they have not felt the necessity of obtaining a personal experience for themselves, by engaging in Christian duties with hearts of love, intensified by their new and holy obligations, feeling a weight of their responsibility in doing their Master's work with readiness and diligence. RH January 14, 1873, par. 15

The people thought that John might be the promised Messiah. His life was unselfish, and marked with humility and self-denial. His teachings, exhortations, and reproofs, were fervent, sincere, and courageous. In his mission, he turned not to the right or to the left to court the favors or applause of any. He did not aspire to worldly honor or worldly dignity, but was humble in heart and life, and did not assume honors that did not belong to him. He assured his followers that he was not the Christ. RH January 14, 1873, par. 16

John, as a prophet, stood forth as God's representative, to show the connection between the law and prophets, and the Christian dispensation. His work and ministry pointed back to the law and the prophets, while he, at the same time, pointed the people forward to Christ, as the Saviour of the world. He raised his voice and cried to the people, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” RH January 14, 1873, par. 17

Multitudes followed this singular prophet from place to place, and many sacrificed all to obey his instruction. Kings, and the noble of the earth, were attracted to this prophet of God, and heard him gladly. As John saw that the attention of the people was directed to him, thinking that he might be the Coming One, he sought every opportunity to direct the attention of the people to One mightier than himself. RH January 14, 1873, par. 18