"He Must Increase"
[This chapter is based on John 3:22-36.]
For a time the Baptist's influence over the nation had been greater
than that of its rulers, priests, or princes. If he had announced
himself as the Messiah, and raised a revolt against Rome, priests and
people would have flocked to his standard. Every consideration that
appeals to the ambition of the world's conquerors Satan had stood ready
to urge upon John the Baptist. But with the evidence before him of his
power, he had steadfastly refused the splendid bribe. The attention
which was fixed upon him he had directed to Another.
Now he saw the tide of popularity turning away from himself to the
Saviour. Day by day the crowds about him lessened. When Jesus came from
Jerusalem to the region about Jordan, the people flocked to hear Him.
The number of His disciples increased daily. Many came for baptism, and
while Christ Himself did not baptize, He sanctioned the administration
of the ordinance by His disciples. Thus He set His seal upon the mission
of His forerunner. But the disciples of John looked with jealousy upon
the growing popularity of Jesus. They stood ready to criticize His work,
and it was not long before they found occasion. A question arose between
them and the Jews as to whether baptism availed to cleanse the soul from
sin; they maintained that the baptism of Jesus differed essentially from
that of John. Soon they were in dispute with Christ's disciples in
regard to the form of words proper to use at baptism, and finally as to
the right of the latter to baptize at all.
The disciples of John came to him with their grievances, saying,
"Rabbi, He that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou bearest
witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to Him."
Through these words, Satan brought temptation upon John. Though John's
mission seemed about to close, it was still possible for him to hinder
the work of Christ. If he had sympathized with himself, and expressed
grief or disappointment at being superseded, he would have sown the
seeds of dissension, would have encouraged envy and jealousy, and would
seriously have impeded the progress of the gospel.
John had by nature the faults and weaknesses common to humanity, but
the touch of divine love had transformed him. He dwelt in an atmosphere
uncontaminated with selfishness and ambition, and far above the miasma
of jealousy. He manifested no sympathy with the dissatisfaction of his
disciples, but showed how clearly he understood his relation to the
Messiah, and how gladly he welcomed the One for whom he had prepared the
He 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 hath the bride is the bridegroom:
but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him,
rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice." John
represented himself as the friend who acted as a messenger between the
betrothed parties, preparing the way for the marriage. When the
bridegroom had received his bride, the mission of the friend was
fulfilled. He rejoiced in the happiness of those whose union he had
promoted. So John had been called to direct the people to Jesus, and it
was his joy to witness the success of the Saviour's work. He said,
"This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must
Looking in faith to the Redeemer, John had risen to the height of
self-abnegation. He sought not to attract men to himself, but to lift
their thoughts higher and still higher, until they should rest upon the
Lamb of God. He himself had been only a voice, a cry in the wilderness.
Now with joy he accepted silence and obscurity, that the eyes of all
might be turned to the Light of life.
Those who are true to their calling as messengers for God will not
seek honor for themselves. Love for self will be swallowed up in love
for Christ. No rivalry will mar the precious cause of the gospel. They
will recognize that it is their work to proclaim, as did John the
Baptist, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the
world." John 1:29. They will lift up Jesus, and with Him humanity
will be lifted up. "Thus saith the high and lofty One that
inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy
place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive
the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite
ones." Isa. 57:15.
The soul of the prophet, emptied of self, was filled with the light
of the divine. As he witnessed to the Saviour's glory, his words were
almost a counterpart of those that Christ Himself had spoken in His
interview with Nicodemus. John said, "He that cometh from above is
above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the
earth: He that cometh from heaven is above all. . . . For He whom God
hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by
measure unto Him." Christ could say, "I seek not Mine own
will, but the will of the Father which hath sent Me." John 5:30. To
Him it is declared, "Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated
iniquity; therefore God, even Thy God, hath anointed Thee with the oil
of gladness above Thy fellows." Heb. 1:9. The Father "giveth
not the Spirit by measure unto Him."
So with the followers of Christ. We can receive of heaven's light
only as we are willing to be emptied of self. We cannot discern the
character of God, or accept Christ by faith, unless we consent to the
bringing into captivity of every thought to the obedience of Christ. To
all who do this the Holy Spirit is given without measure. In Christ
"dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in Him ye are
made full." Col. 2:9, 10, R. V.
The disciples of John had declared that all men were coming to
Christ; but with clearer insight, John said, "No man receiveth His
witness;" so few were ready to accept Him as the Saviour from sin.
But "he that hath received His witness hath set his seal to this,
that God is true." John 3:33, R. V. "He that believeth on the
Son hath everlasting life." No need of disputation as to whether
Christ's baptism or John's purified from sin. It is the grace of Christ
that gives life to the soul. Apart from Christ, baptism, like any other
service, is a worthless form. "He that believeth not the Son shall
not see life."
The success of Christ's work, which the Baptist had received with
such joy, was reported also to the authorities at Jerusalem. The priests
and rabbis had been jealous of John's influence as they saw the people
leaving the synagogues and flocking to the wilderness; but here was One
who had still greater power to attract the multitudes. Those leaders in
Israel were not willing to say with John, "He must increase, but I
must decrease." They arose with a new determination to put an end
to the work that was drawing the people away from them.
Jesus knew that they would spare no effort to create a division
between His own disciples and those of John. He knew that the storm was
gathering which would sweep away one of the greatest prophets ever given
to the world. Wishing to avoid all occasion for misunderstanding or
dissension, He quietly ceased His labors, and withdrew to Galilee. We
also, while loyal to truth, should try to avoid all that may lead to
discord and misapprehension. For whenever these arise, they result in
the loss of souls. Whenever circumstances occur that threaten to cause
division, we should follow the example of Jesus and of John the Baptist.
John had been called to lead out as a reformer. Because of this, his
disciples were in danger of fixing their attention upon him, feeling
that the success of the work depended upon his labors, and losing sight
of the fact that he was only an instrument through which God had
wrought. But the work of John was not sufficient to lay the foundation
of the Christian church. When he had fulfilled his mission, another work
was to be done, which his testimony could not accomplish. His disciples
did not understand this. When they saw Christ coming in to take the
work, they were jealous and dissatisfied.
The same dangers still exist. God calls a man to do a certain work;
and when he has carried it as far as he is qualified to take it, the
Lord brings in others, to carry it still farther. But, like John's
disciples, many feel that the success of the work depends on the first
laborer. Attention is fixed upon the human instead of the divine,
jealousy comes in, and the work of God is marred. The one thus unduly
honored is tempted to cherish self-confidence. He does not realize his
dependence on God. The people are taught to rely on man for guidance,
and thus they fall into error, and are led away from God.
The work of God is not to bear the image and superscription of man.
From time to time the Lord will bring in different agencies, through
whom His purpose can best be accomplished. Happy are they who are
willing for self to be humbled, saying with John the Baptist, "He
must increase, but I must decrease."
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