Matthew 3:6. And were baptized of him in Jordan Namely, those that were awakened to repentance. It has been questioned by many, whether John baptized these immense multitudes by dipping them in Jordan? In answer to which it has been observed, “that such prodigious numbers could hardly be baptized by immerging their whole bodies under water: nor can we think they were provided with change of raiment for it, which was scarce practicable for such vast multitudes. And yet they could not be immerged naked with modesty, nor in their wearing apparel with safety.” It has been thought, therefore, “that they stood in ranks on the edge of the river, and that John, passing along before them, cast water on their heads, or faces, by which means, he might baptize many thousands in a day.” This, it must be confessed, most naturally signified Christ’s baptizing them with the Holy Ghost and with fire, which John spoke of as prefigured by his baptizing with water: and which was eminently fulfilled when the Holy Ghost sat upon the disciples, in the appearance of tongues, or flames of fire. But be this as it may: supposing that John baptized by immersion, it will not follow from hence, that immersion is essential to baptism; the washing of the soul from the guilt of sin, by the blood of Christ, or from the power and pollution of sin, by the Spirit of God, (the things signified by baptism,) being expressed by sprinkling or pouring water on a person, as well as by plunging him in it. See Isaiah 44:3; Ezekiel 36:25; Colossians 2:12. And as Cyprian observes, in his 76th Epistle to Magnus: “Baptism is rather of the mind by faith, than of the body by immersion in water: this being only a visible sign of an invisible baptism.” It is admired by some, that this practice of John did not excite more stir, and meet with more opposition among the Jews. But it must be observed, that baptizing was not a ceremony entirely new. For, “there were two kinds of baptism in use among the Jews; one was that of the priests at their consecration, Leviticus 8:6; the other was that of the heathens proselyted to the Jewish religion. It was, therefore, no unheard-of rite which the Messiah’s harbinger made use of. His countrymen were well acquainted both with the thing itself and its signification. They knew that it denoted some great change, either in the opinions or practices of those who submitted to it, and implied a promise of acceptance with God. Moreover, they had been led by a passage in their sacred books, Zechariah 13:1, to expect, that either the Messiah himself, or some of his attendants, would baptize; as is evident from the question which the messengers of the Sanhedrim put to the Baptist, John 1:25: Why baptizest thou, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias? They must have known, therefore, that John’s baptism represented purification both of heart and life, as necessary even to Jews themselves, before they could become the subjects of so holy a prince as the Messiah; and that it was a solemn obligation, binding those who received it to lead such lives. Hence, as Dr. Whitby observes, they are mistaken who think John’s baptism the same in kind with that which Christ afterward instituted, for admission of disciples into his Church. The difference between the two was considerable: 1st, John did not baptize either in the name of Christ, or of the Holy Ghost; much less did he baptize them with the Holy Ghost, a circumstance mentioned by himself, as what remarkably distinguished Christ’s baptism from his. 2, They who were baptized with John’s baptism did not profess their faith in the Messiah as actually come, neither did they receive his baptism, in testimony of their entertaining that belief; for after having administered it he exhorted his disciples to believe on Him who was to come. Therefore his baptism could not initiate men into the Christian Church, as appears likewise by the apostles’ rebaptizing some who had been baptized by John. Acts 19:4; Act 5:3 d, John’s was the baptism of repentance, whereby all that had a sense of their sins, and professed repentance, were promised pardon, and exhorted to believe in the Messiah, who was soon to appear. Or, it was a washing with water, to show the Jews that they must be cleansed, not only from their prejudices and vices, but that they must relinquish Judaism in order to their becoming fit members of the Messiah’s kingdom.” Macknight. Indeed, John, properly speaking, was not a gospel minister, nor his ministry a gospel ministry; for that state of the Church was not then begun; but, as he was a middle person between both testaments, greater than the prophets, less than a gospel minister, Matthew 11:11; Matthew 11:13, so his ministry was a sort of middle ministry, the chief drift whereof was to prepare people to receive Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah: in order whereunto he laboured to convince them of their sins, and their need of a Saviour, by preaching repentance, Matthew 3:2; and pointed out the Messiah to them, John 1:29; and baptized them as a sign of repentance, on their part, and an assurance of pardon on God’s part. John’s baptism, therefore, was only a temporary sacrament or institution, set up upon a particular occasion; which, as it agreed with Christ’s in the external sign, so was perfected by his. See Grotius. Confessing their sins Acknowledging their offences, and condemning their former lives, and that freely and of their own accord: for it does not appear that the Baptist required them to do it. It is not said whether this confession was made to God or man: but it is probable it was to both: only, so far as it was made to John, it must have been merely general. For how could one man have sufficed to hearken to a particular confession of all the offences of this immense multitude made secretly in his ears. It seems to have been like the confessions recorded in the Old Testament; (see Ezra 9:0.; Nehemiah 9:0.; Daniel 9:0.;) and that made by the high priest on the day of atonement, Leviticus 16:21. They acknowledged in words their sinfulness and guilt, professed repentance for, and a detestation of all their sins, and submitted to be baptized in token of their being convinced of their need of pardon and purification. And it must be observed, that this was the confession, not of persons who had been baptized, concerning sins committed after baptism, but of those who were to be baptized. It therefore differs widely from, and gives no countenance to, the auricular confession of the Church of Rome.
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