John came to baptize. He told everyone to repent. Evangelist F. B. Meyer explains the baptism of repentance all must undergo to follow Christ.

St-John-the-Baptist-Sees-Jesus-from-Afar_James-Tissot_Brooklyn-Museum_994x650
“Saint John the Baptist Sees Jesus from Afar” (circa 1886-94) by James Tissot

“John has a ministry with all men. He represents a phase of teaching and influence through which we must pass if we are properly to discover and appreciate the grace of Christ. With us, too, a preparatory work has to be done. There are mountains and hills of pride and self-will that have to be leveled, crooked and devious ways that have to be straightened . . . before we can fully behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. In proportion to the thoroughness and permanence of our repentance will be our glad realization of the fullness and glory of the Lamb of God.”

“Repentance, according to the literal rendering of the Greek word, is ‘a change of mind.’ Perhaps we should rather say, it is a change in the attitude of the will. The unrepentant soul chooses its own way, regardless of the law of God. . . . But in repentance the soul changes its attitude. It no longer refuses the yoke of God’s will . . . but yields to it, or is willing to yield. There is a compunction, a sense of the hollowness of all created things, a relenting, a wistful yearning after the true life, and ultimately a turning from darkness to light.”

“In its beginning there may be no sense of gladness or reconciliation with God, but just the consciousness that certain ways of life are wrong, mistaken, hurtful, and grieving to God; and the desire, which becomes the determination, to turn from them, to seek Him who formed the mountains and created the wind.”

Repentance and Faith, Turning From and Turning To

“Repentance may be accounted as the other side of faith. They are the two sides of the same coin, the two aspects of the same act. If the act of the soul which brings it into right relation with God is described as a turning round, to go in the reverse direction to that in which it had been traveling, then repentance stands for its desire and choice to turn from sin, and faith for its desire and choice to turn to God. We must be willing to turn from sin and our own righteousness; that is repentance. We must be willing to be saved by God, in his own way, and must come to Him for that purpose; that is faith.”

“We need to turn from our own righteousnesses as well as from our sins. . . . You must turn away from your own efforts to save yourself. These are, in the words of the prophet, but ‘filthy rags.’ Nothing, apart from the Savior and his work, can avail the soul, which must meet the scrutiny of eternal justice and purity.”

Accepting Christ’s Claims, or Standing at the Brink

“Repentance is produced sometimes and specially by the presentation of the claims of Christ. We suddenly awake to realize what He is, how He loves, how much we are missing, the gross ingratitude with which we respond to his agony and bloody sweat, his cross and suffering, the beauty of his character, the strength of his claims.”

“At other times repentance is wrought by the preaching of John the Baptist. We hear of the axe laid at the root of the trees, and the unquenchable fire for the consuming of the chaff, and the heart trembles. Then we are led to the brink of the precipice, and compelled to see the point at which the primrose path we are traveling ends in the fatal abyss. . . . It is at such a time as this that the soul sees the entire fabric of its vain confidences and hopes crumbling like a cloud-palace, and turns from it all . . . to find Jesus standing with the resurrection glory on his face and radiant love in his eyes.”

“We repent once, but are penitents always. We repent in the will; we are penitent in the heart. We repent, and believe the Gospel; we believe the Gospel of the Son of Man, and as we look on Him, whom our sins have pierced, we mourn. We repent when we obey his call to come unto Him and live; we are penitent as we stand behind Him weeping, and begin to wash his feet with our tears, and to wipe them with the hair of our head.”

The Signs and Symptoms: Confession

“If John the Baptist has never wrought his work in you, be sure to open your heart to his piercing voice. Let him fulfill his ministry. See that you do not reject the counsel of God, as it proceeds from his lips; but expose your soul to its searching scrutiny, and allow it to have free and uninterrupted course. He comes to prepare the way of the Lord, and to make through the desert of our nature a highway for our God.”

“There are signs and symptoms of repentance. The first is confession. ‘They were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins’. . . . The formalist confessed that the whited sepulcher of his religious observances concealed a mass of putrefaction. The skeptic confessed that his refusal of religion was largely due to his hatred of the demands of God’s holy law. The multitudes confessed that they had been selfish and sensual, shutting up their compassions, and refusing clothing and food to the needy. . . . The notoriously evil liver confessed that he had lain in wait for blood, and destroyed the innocent and helpless for gain or hate. The air was laden with their cries and sighs, who beheld their sin for the first time in the light of eternity and of its inevitable doom.”

“Confession is an essential sign of a genuine repentance, and without it forgiveness is impossible. ‘He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper; but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.’ ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ So long as we keep silence, our bones wax old through our inward anguish; we are burnt by the fire of slow fever. . . . But on confession there is immediate relief.”

The Signs and Symptoms: Fruit Worthy of Repentance

“Upon that river’s brink, men not only confessed to God, but probably also to one another. Lifelong feuds were reconciled; old quarrels were settled; frank words of apology and forgiveness were exchanged; hands grasped hands for the first time after years of alienation and strife.”

“Confession should not be made to God alone, when sins are in question which have injured and alienated others. If our brother has aught against us, we must find him out, while our gift is left unpresented at the altar, and first be reconciled to him. We must write the letter, or speak the word; we must make honorable reparation and amends.”

“‘Bring forth, therefore, fruit worthy of repentance,’ said John, with some indignation, as he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism. He insisted that practical and vital religion was not a rule, but a life; not outward ritual, but a principle; not works, but fruit — and he demanded that the genuineness of repentance should be attested by appropriate fruit. ‘Do men gather grapes of thorns, and figs of thistles?’ . . . You will never get right with God till you are right with man. It is not enough to confess wrongdoing; you must be prepared to make amends so far as lies in your power. Sin is not a light thing, and it must be dealt with, root and branch.”

The Signs and Symptoms: A Baptism of Repentance

“‘They were baptized . . . confessing their sins.’ The cleansing property of water has given it a religious significance from most remote antiquity. Men have conceived of sin as a foul stain upon the heart, and have couched their petitions for its removal in words derived from its use. . . . ‘Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.’ They have longed to feel that as the body was washed clean, so the soul was freed from stain. In some cases this thought has assumed a gross and material form; and men have attributed to the water of certain rivers . . . the mysterious power of cleansing away sin.”

“There was no trace of this, however, in John’s teaching. It was not baptism unto remission, but unto repentance. It was the expression and symbol of the soul’s desire and intention, so far as it knew, to confess and renounce its sins, as the necessary condition of obtaining the Divine forgiveness.”

“In his hands the rite assumed altogether novel and important functions. It meant death and burial as far as the past was concerned; and resurrection to a new and better future. Forgetting and dying to the things that were behind, the soul was urged to realize the meaning of this symbolic act, and to press on and up to better things; assured as it did so that God had accepted its confession and choice, and was waiting to receive it graciously and love it freely.”

Excerpts from john the baptist by F. B. Meyer (morgan & scott, 1900)

One thought

  1. The gospel in action: What mountains and hills of pride and self-will had to be leveled in you, what crooked and devious ways straightened, what ruggedness of character smoothed, before you could behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?

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