A Brief Recognition of New England’s Errand into the Wilderness
By Samuel Danforth
Excerpts from Danforth’s sermon:
Matth. 11. 7, 8, 9.
—What went ye out into the wilderness to see ? A reed shaken with
But what went ye out for to see ? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing, are in Kings houses.
But what went ye out for to see ? A Prophet ? yea, I say unto you, and more then a Prophet.
“These words are our Saviour’s Proem to his illustrious En comium of John the Baptist. John began his Ministry, not in Jerusalem, nor in any famous City of Judea, but in the Wilderness, i.e. in a woody, retired and solitary place, thereby withdrawing himself from the envy and preposterous zeal of such as were addicted to their old Traditions, and also taking the people aside from the noise and tumult of their secular occasions and businesses, which might have obstructed their ready and cheerful attendance unto his Doctrine.”
“The general Question is, What went ye out into the Wilderness to see? He saith not, Whom went ye out to hear, but what went ye out to see? Θεάσασθω. The phrase agrees to Shows and Stageplayes; plainly arguing that many of those, who seemed well-affected to John, and flock’d after him, were Theatrical Hearers, Spectators rather than Auditors; they went not to hear, but to see; they went to gaze upon a new and strange Spectacle.”
“Then the general Question is repeated, But what went ye out for to see? and a second particular Enquiry made, Was it to see a man clothed in soft raiment? This Interrogation hath also the force of a negation, q.d. Surely ye went not into the Wilderness to see a man clothed in silken and costly Apparel. The reason of this is added, Behold., they that wear soft clothing, are in Kings houses. Delicate and costly Apparel is to be expected in Princes Courts, and not in wilde Woods and Forrests. Under the negation of John’s affectation of Courtly delicacy, our Saviour sets forth another of John’s excellencies, viz. his singular gravity and sobriety, who wore rough garments, and lived on course and mean fare, Mat. 3. 4. which austere kinde of life was accommodated to the place and work of his Ministry. John Preached in the Wilderness, which was no fit place for silken and soft raiment. His work was to prepare a people for the Lord, by calling them off from worldly pomp and vanities, unto repentance and mourning for sin. His peculiar habit and diet was such as became a penitentiary Preacher.”
“Thirdly, the generall Question is reiterated, But what went ye out for to see? and a third particular Enquiry made, Was it to see a Prophet? This Interrogation is to be understood affirmatively, q.d. no doubt but it was to see a Prophet. Had not John been a rare and excellent Minister of God, you would never have gone out of your Cities into the desert to have seen him. Thus our Saviour sets forth another of John’s admirable excellencies, viz. his Prophetical Office and Function. John was not an ordinary Interpreter of the Law, much less a Teacher of Jewish Traditions, but a Prophet, one who by the extraordinary Inspiration of the holy Ghost, made known the Mysteries of Salvation, Luke 1. 76, 77.”
“All the Prophets foretold Christ’s Coming, his Sufferings and Glory, but the Baptist was his Harbinger and Forerunner, that bare the Sword before him, Proclaimed his Presence, and made room for him in the hearts of the people. All the Prophets saw Christ afar off, but the Baptist saw him present, baptized him, and applied the Types to him personally. Behold the Lamb of God. He saw and bare record that this is the Son of God, Joh. 1. 29, 34. But he that is least in the Kingdome of Heaven, is greater then John. The least Prophet in the Kingdome of Heaven, i.e. the least Minister of the Gospel since Christ’s Ascension, is greater then John; not in respect of the measure of his personal gifts, nor in respect of the manner of his Calling, but in respect of the Object of his Ministry, Christ on the Throne, having finished the work of our Redemption, and in respect of the degree of the revelation of Christ, which is far more clear and full. John shewed Christ in the flesh, and pointed to him with his finger, but the Ministers of the Gospel declare that he hath done and suffered all things necessary to our Salvation, and is risen again and set down at the right hand of God.”