In his commentary on Matthew 3:1-12, Bishop J.C. Ryle explains 5 key features of John the Baptist’s ministry. While reading through this I thought it would be helpful to write a brief summary. We live in a day of watered-down, weak preaching and false teaching. In order to be faithful to God and His Word, the Church needs to see the importance of these 5 essential features of ministry. I hope this encourages and reminds you of what true gospel ministry is.
Feature #1 – Sin and Repentance
John the Baptist did not have a weak, watered down approach to the gospel. John spoke about sin openly and plainly. Ryle says,
“He taught the absolute necessity of repentance (verse 2) before anyone can be saved; he preached that repentance must be proved by its “fruit” (verse 8); he warned his hearers not to rest on outward privileges or outward union with the church.”
This type of teaching comes from the understanding that no one does good and that all have fallen short of the mark (Psalm 53:3; Romans 3:23). Due to our sin and spiritual blindness, we need to turn to God and repent.
Feature #2 – The Lord Jesus Christ
He pointed to Christ the more powerful one. John says that he was not even worthy to carry Jesus’s sandals. In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist is seen saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Ryle writes,
“This again is the very teaching that human nature requires. We need to be sent direct to Christ: we are all ready to stop short of this; we want to rest in our union with the church, our regular use of the sacraments, and our diligent attendance on an established ministry. We need to be told the absolute necessity of union with Christ himself by faith.”
Salvation is not based on what family you are born into or the good works that you do. You cannot be saved through rituals and perfect church attendance. John knew that Jesus was the one who could save. We are saved by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Feature #3 – The Holy Spirit
John also emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note here that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a special work of Christ. Ryle says,
“There must not only be the work of Christ for us but the work of the Holy Spirit in us; there must not only be a title to heaven purchased for us by the blood of Christ, but a readiness for heaven wrought in us by the Spirit of Christ.”
Feature #4 – The Danger of Unbelief
Words such as “wrath” and “unquenchable fire” were a part of John’s vocabulary. Unfortunately, these words are not commonly used today. We love to speak of the love and mercy of God and yet fail to speak of the justice and holiness of God. Ryle pens,
“Let us be very careful on this point. It is no real kindness to keep back the terrors of the Lord. It is good for us all to be taught that it is possible to be lost forever, and that all unconverted people are hanging over the brink of the pit.”
Feature #5 – The Safety of Believers
Since we live in a fallen and corrupt world, it is important for believers to be reminded of God’s protection. Ryle comments,
“He taught that there was “a barn” for all who are Christ’s “wheat” (verse 12), and that they would be gathered together there on the day he appears.”
What an encouragement that Christ promises safety to all who believe. In the day of wrath, He will bring us to a place of protection.
Ryle ends his commentary on these verses with this:
“Let these things sink down deeply into our hearts. We live in a day of much false teaching. Let us never forget the leading features of a faithful ministry. Happy would it have been for the church of Christ if all its ministers had been more like John the Baptist!”