1. From this subject we may learn who are, and who are not, the real preachers of the gospel, the true ministers of Jesus Christ. You need not be told that among those who claim this title great differences prevail. Some preach one thing, and some another; and it is of infinite importance, of no less importance than your everlasting happiness, that you should be able to ascertain who are right; who are the true guides whom God hath appointed to conduct you to heaven. By attending carefully to the conduct and character of John the Baptist, you may learn how to do this.
2. We know that he was divinely commissioned and taught; for we are told that he was a man sent from God; that he was a prophet and more than a prophet. We may therefore conclude that all, who are sent of God to preach the gospel, will resemble John in their preaching. And what did he preach?
3. I answer, he preached repentance toward God. ‘I, indeed,’ says he, ‘baptize you with water unto repentance.’ ‘In those days,’ says the evangelist, ‘came John the Baptist preaching and saying, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ This he preached to all classes and characters alike. He also taught his hearers to manifest their repentance by a corresponding life: ‘Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance; for the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.’
4. But while he inculcated repentance, he taught his hearers not to trust to their penitence, nor to baptism, nor to any outward privileges for salvation, but to Christ alone. To exalt Christ and turn the attention of sinners to him, seems to have been the great object which he always kept in view. Especially was he careful to teach his disciples that he could not himself save them. All who came to him he sent to Christ. He seems to have considered himself only as a waymark, whose business it was to stand with extended finger and point to the Saviour, crying, ‘Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world.’ He told the people that they should believe on him who should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. In all his preaching still he held up Christ to view as all in all, and like St. Paul testified to all his hearers of every description, repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
5. That they might know how repentance and faith were to be obtained, he taught them the necessity of divine influence, of being baptized with the Holy Ghost as a purifying fire; and informed them that Christ alone could baptize them in this manner; that without this they would be no better than chaff, and as such would be burnt up with unquenchable fire.
6. Thus he made Christ the whole subject matter of his preaching, and represented him as the beginning and ending, the author and finisher of our faith. Thus then will all preach who, like John, are sent of God. They will determine to know and to make known nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified, and will teach all men to honour the Son even as they honour the Father. They will not seek their own glory but the glory of Christ. They will strive to draw disciples not to themselves but to him, and will feel no apprehension of exalting or teaching others to exalt him too highly. Nor will they fail to insist much on the necessity of divine influences, of being baptized with the Holy Ghost, saying with our Saviour, ‘Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit he cannot see the kingdom of God.’
7. In the second place, all true ministers of the gospel will imitate John in their temper and conduct; especially in his humility. Highly honoured and distinguished as he was, you see how meanly he speaks of himself in comparison with Christ. He felt his need, as a sinner, of being baptized with his baptism. He felt unworthy to stoop down and loose the lachet of his shoes, a plain intimation of his readiness to cast himself and all that he possessed at his Saviour’s feet. Similar will be the temper of all who truly preach the gospel. They will learn of their Master to be meek and lowly in heart; and though, in consequence of his removal from this world, they cannot perform menial services for himself in person, yet they will be ready, in imitation of him who washed his disciples’ feet, to perform the meanest and most laborious offices of kindness for the lowest of his followers.
8. Such, my friends, will be the mode of preaching, such the temper and conduct of the true ministers of Christ. When you find such you may safely follow them, for they are the followers of John, of the apostles, and of Christ; and those who refuse to follow such guides would have refused to follow Christ and his apostles, had they lived in their day.