26.I baptize with water. This ought to have been abundantly sufficient for the correction of their mistake, but a reproof otherwise clear is of no advantage to the deaf; for, when he sends them to Christ, and declares that Christ is present, this is a clear proof not only that he was divinely appointed to be a minister of Christ, but that he is the true Elijah, who is sent to testify that the time is come (36) for the renovation of the Church. There is a contrast here which is not fully stated; for the spiritual baptism of Christ is not expressly contrasted with the external baptism of John, but that latter clause about the baptism of the Spirit might easily be supplied, and shortly afterwards both are set down by the Evangelist.
This answer may be reduced to two heads: first, that John claims nothing for himself but what he has a right to claim, because he has Christ for the Author of his baptism, in which consists the truth of the sign; and, secondly, that he has nothing but the administration of the outward sign, while the whole power and efficacy is in the hands of Christ alone. Thus he defends his baptism so far as its truth depends on anything else; but, at the same time, by declaring that he has not the power of the Spirit, he exalts the dignity of Christ, that the eyes of men may be fixed on him alone. This is the highest and best regulated moderation, when a minister borrows from Christ whatever authority he claims for himself, in such a manner as to trace it to him, ascribing to him alone all that he possesses.
It is a foolish mistake, however, into which some people have been led, of supposing that John’ baptism was different from ours; for John does not argue here about the advantage and usefulness of his baptism, but merely compares his own person with the person of Christ. In like manner, if we were inquiring, at the present day, what part belongs to us, and what belongs to Christ, in baptism, we must acknowledge that Christ alone performs what baptism figuratively represents, and that we have nothing beyond the bare administration of the sign. There is a twofold way of speaking in Scripture about the sacraments; for sometimes it tells us that they are the laver of regeneration, (Titus 3:5;) that by them our sins are washed away, (1Pe_3:21;) that we
are in-grafted into the body of Christ, that our old man is crucified, and that we rise again to newness of life, (Rom_6:4;)
and, in those cases, Scripture joins the power of Christ with the ministry of man; as, indeed, man is nothing else than the hand of Christ. Such modes of expression show, not what man can of himself accomplish, but what Christ performs by man, and by the sign, as his instruments. But as there is a strong tendency to fall into superstition, and as men, through the pride which is natural to them, take from God the honor due to him, and basely appropriate it to themselves; so Scripture, in order to restrain this blasphemous arrogance, sometimes distinguishes ministers from Christ, as in this passage, that we may learn that ministers are nothing and can do nothing.
One standeth in the midst of you. He indirectly charges them with stupidity, in not knowing Christ, to whom their minds ought to have been earnestly directed; and he always insists earnestly on this point, that nothing can be known about his ministry, until men have come to him who is the Author of it. When he says that Christ standeth in the midst of, them, it is that he may excite their desire and their exertion to know him. The amount of what he says is, that he wishes to place himself as low as possible, lest any degree of honor improperly bestowed on him might obscure the excellence of Christ. It is probable that he had these sentences frequently in his mouth, when he saw himself immoderately extolled by the perverse opinions of men.