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Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol IX:
Epistle to Gregory and Origen's Commentary on the Gospel of John.: Chapter XXIV

Early Church Fathers  Index     

24.  John the Baptist Was Sent.  From Where?  His Soul Was Sent from a Higher Region.

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.” 4747   He who is sent is sent from somewhere to somewhere; and the careful student will, therefore, enquire from what quarter John was sent, and whither.  The “whither” is quite plain on the face of the story; he was sent to Israel, and to those who were willing to hear him when he was staying in the wilderness of Judæa and baptizing by the banks of the Jordan.  According to the deeper sense, however, he was sent into the world, the world being understood as this earthly place where men are; and the careful student will have this in view in enquiring from where John was sent.  Examining the words more closely, he will perhaps declare that as it is written of Adam, 4748 “And the Lord sent him forth out of the Paradise of pleasure to till the earth, out of which he was taken,” so also John was sent, either from heaven or from Paradise, or from some other quarter to this place on the earth.  He was sent that he might bear witness of the light.  There is, however, an objection to this interpretation, which is not to be lightly dismissed.  It is written in Isaiah: 4749   “Whom shall I send, and who will go to the people?”  The prophet answers:  “Here am I,—send me.”  He, then, who objects to that rendering of p. 340 our passage which appears to be the deeper may say that Isaiah was sent not to this world from another place, but after having seen “the Lord sitting on a throne high and lifted up,” was sent to the people, to say, “Hearing, ye shall hear and shall not understand,” and so on; and that in the same manner John, the beginning of his mission not being narrated, is sent after the analogy of the mission of Isaiah, to baptize, 4750 and to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for Him, and to bear witness of the light.  So much we have said of the first sense; and now we adduce certain solutions which help to confirm the deeper meaning about John.  In the same passage it is added, “He came for witness, to bear witness of the light.”  Now, if he came, where did he come from?  To those who find it difficult to follow us, we point to what John says afterwards of having seen the Holy Spirit as a dove descending on the Saviour.  “He that sent me,” he says, 4751 “to baptize with water, He said unto me, Upon whomsoever thou shalt see the Holy Spirit descending and abiding upon Him, the same is He that baptizeth with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”  When did He send him and give him this injunction?  The answer to this question will probably be that when He sent him to begin to baptize, then He who was dealing with him uttered this word.  But a more convincing argument for the view that John was sent from another region when he entered into the body, the one object of his entry into this life being that he should bear witness of the truth, may be drawn from the narrative of his birth.  Gabriel, when announcing to Zacharias the birth of John, and to Mary the advent of our Saviour among men, says: 4752   That John is to be “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb.”  And we have also the saying, “For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”  He who sedulously guards himself in his dealings with Scripture against forced, or casual, or capricious procedure, must necessarily assume that John’s soul was older than his body, and subsisted by itself before it was sent on the ministry of the witness of the light.  Nor must we overlook the text, “This is Elijah which is to come.” 4753   For if that general doctrine of the soul is to be received, namely, that it is not sown at the same time with the body, but is before it, and is then, for various causes, clothed with flesh and blood; then the words “sent from God” will not appear to be applicable to John alone.  The most evil of all, the man of sin, the son of perdition, is said by Paul to be sent by God: 4754   “God sendeth them a working of error that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”  But our present question may, perhaps, be solved in this way, that as every man is a man of God, simply because God created him, but not every man is called a man of God, but only he who has devoted himself to God, such as Elijah and those who are called men of God in the Scriptures, thus every man might be said in ordinary language to be sent from God, but in the absolute sense no one is to be spoken of in this way who has not entered this life for a divine ministry and in the service of the salvation of mankind.  We do not find it said of any one but the saints that he is sent by God.  It is said of Isaiah as we showed before; it is also said of Jeremiah, “To whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go”; 4755 and it is said of Ezekiel, 4756 “I send thee to nations that are rebellious and have not believed in Me.”  The examples, however, do not expressly speak of a mission from the region outside life into life, and as it is a mission into life that we are enquiring about, they may seem to have little bearing on our subject.  But there is nothing absurd in our transferring the argument derived from them to our question.  They tell us that it is only the saints, and we were speaking of them, whom God is said to send, and in this sense they may be applied to the case of those who are sent into this life.



John i. 6.


Gen. iii. 23.


Isa. 6:1, 9.


Luke i. 17.


John i. 33.


Luke 1:13, 15.


Matt. xi. 14.


2 Thess. 2:11, 12.


Jer. i. 7.


Ezek. ii. 3.

Next: Chapter XXV