Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 6, 1952
NUMBER 43, PAGE 1,3c

The Work Of John The Baptist

Roy E. Cogdill

John did not come for the purpose of inaugurating Christianity; he did not come for the purpose of establishing the church of the Lord; he did not come for the purpose of "introducing" the, kingdom of God. John came only as a forerunner to prepare the way for Christ. This is definitely taught in both the Old Testament and the New. Isaiah declared, "The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed." (Isa. 40:8, 4)

John was not a road-builder or construction engineer; Isaiah was not talking in literal terms, but he used this figure or comparison to teach that John was simply to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. We seem to remember that the work or ministry of John was altogether a work of preparation. The fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy can be read in Matthew, "In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, And saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. 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 straight." (Matt. 3:1-3) It cannot be questioned then that John was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy.

Isaiah was not the only one who told of the work of John. Here are the words of Malachi, "Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple." (Mal. 3:1) That this prophecy had John in view is evident from Mark's quotation of it, "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee." (Mark 1:1, 2) Thus Mark affirms that Malachi was talking about John.

John's Testimony

A careful study of the testimony that John himself bore will reveal that he did not himself consider that he had come into the world to inaugurate any permanent movement. He did not come to preach a permanent gospel, but only a gospel of preparation. "Repent ye," he said, "for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." This was in preparation for the Lord; it was not to build some institution, to found the church, or to establish the kingdom. These things were for the Lord to do—not John. John was simply getting the people ready for Christ.

John said, "There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose." (Mark 1:7) This is the Baptist's own estimate of his worth in comparison to that of the Christ for whom he was getting the people ready. He was completely unworthy—so much so that it would not even be fitting for him to unlace the shoes on the feet of the Christ. Completely in harmony with thin attitude is the statement of John the Baptist in another place, "John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that bath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease." (John 3:27-30) These words were spoken by John when certain of the Jews came to him (evidently trying to arouse envy or jealousy in him against Christ) and informed him that Jesus was baptizing "and all men come unto him." But John would not be moved to envy. Rather he rejoiced greatly at the news they brought. Par from feeling that he had been displaced by Jesus, he regarded Christ's success as the crowning glory of his own work; that was the very thing he wanted and had worked for.

John And The Church

John compared himself to the friend, and Christ to the bridegroom. The church is the bride, is married to Christ, and was built by Christ rather than by John. There are many people who seem to have the idea that the church is married to John, the friend of the bridegroom, rather than to Christ himself. They want to call the church after the name of John, rather than after the name of Christ—honoring the friend of the bridegroom rather than the groom himself. They hold to the opinion that John began the religion of the Lord, preached the gospel, and established the church. But John himself would correct them if they would but listen to his testimony. He had no such delusion or misunderstanding as to his place in the divine economy.

John was the only one of his kind, the last messenger of God's grace to the Jewish nation. It was his mission to call the Jews unto repentance, that their attitude toward God might be corrected, and that they might be ready to believe in Christ when Christ should be manifested or made known unto them. Hence, John said, "I must decrease, hut he must increase."

The preeminence ought to be given to Christ, and not to John. For it was Christ who built the church, not John; it was Christ who established the kingdom, not John; it is into the name of Christ we are baptized, not into the name of John; it is by the law of Christ we are to live and be judged, not by the preaching of John. John's work was preparatory; Christ came as a fulfillment. The Bible is clear and positive in teaching this.