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And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.'-Matt. iii, 10.
THESE Wordswere addressed by the forerunner of Christ, to the Pharisees and Sadducees, who came to his baptism; and it is worthy of notice that to them, in particular, he thus spake. We are informed in verses 5, 6, that Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan went out to him, and were baptized in Jordan, confessing their sins. Now to this vast multitude, this greatest among prophets, said nothing reproachful. They came to him, humble and contrite, confessing their sins; and he stood like a kind shepherd who carefully folds his flocks, received them to his baptism, and encouraged them in their good work of reformation. But when he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees, who felt that they had no sins to confess, and were confident that they were entitled to all the ordinances of righteousness, both because they had Abraham to their father, and also that they were
righteous in the sight of God, to whom they could appeal on account of their fasting twice a week, and their paying tithes of all their possessions, he exclaimed, 'O generation of vipers! who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance; and think not to say within yourselves, we have Abraham to our father; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.' This was the same generation of vipers whom Jesus, as we find in Matt. xxiii, 33, thus addressed: 'Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell?' As we have no information that John, in his ministry, ever addressed such language to the common people, so we are not informed that Jesus ever held such language in his communications to the multitudes assembled to hear him. But on the scribes and Pharisees, whom he called hypocrites, he denounced the woes of which we read in the New Testament.
'And now also the are is laid at the root of the trees.' Ye Pharisees and Sadducees, ye generation of vipers, great have been your advantages; great have been your pretensions to holiness of life; much have ye despised others; but your fruit is evil; ye are as trees which have received much attention, and have been sufficiently manured and watered, but whose fruit is bad. Long has the owner waited, often has he come to find fruit, and as often has received such fruit only as was offensive. Long has he delayed what I see is now at hand. I see his axe lie at the root.
Therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.' Unless ye immediately repent and bring forth fruit meet for re
pentance, ye must be cut down as cumberers of the ground. That this is the sense of the text is evident from the following, Luke xiii. first two paragraphs, particularly the second, which reads thus: 'He spake also this parable: a certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground? And he, answering, said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that, thou shall cut it down.'
'The wrath to come,' of which John spake, when he said, 'who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come,' is described by Jesus in Luke xxi. 22, 23, 24. Speaking of the destruction of the Jews and their city, he said,' For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But wo unto them that are with child, and to them that give suck, in those days! For there shall be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the gentiles, until the times of the gentiles be fulfilled.
John adds, verse 11, 'I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance; but he that cometh after me, is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear; he shall baptize you with the holy ghost, (spirit) and with fire.'
John here acknowledges that the power to execute the judgments which were soon to fall on those whom
he addressed, belonged not to himself, but to him who was to come after him, who was mightier than he. The emblems used in these Scriptures are remarkably beautiful and instructive. The water used by John, seemed to indicate how easy it was to remove the blots and stains of sin, by repentance. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance.' As uncleanness which slightly adheres to garments may be removed by the use of water, so now, the gentle spirit of mercy seems waiting for you to throw off your guilt by repentance. But if this favorable opportunity be neglected-if this easy method be refused, mightier power than I possess has the axe at the root of the trees. In room of gentle means, those which are as violent as wind and fire, will rush upon you, unrestrained and unquenchable. Wakefield renders this
11th verse somewhat different from the common version. He says, ' he shall baptize you in a holy wind and in a fire;' and it is certainly very evident that means which would be more harsh and severe than those used by John, were intended. When spots and stains are indelible, when they defy the gentle operations of water, a power more subtle and penetrating must be employed. As the most unyielding trees of the forest are prostrated by wind, and as crude metals are tried by fire, so the most hardened sinners, the unyielding impenitent Pharisees and Sadducees must be brought to yield to the severity of those awful judgments, which were then gathering, like dark clouds, over a people whose sins seemed to call aloud for them.
Should the reader question whether it be reasonable to use the word wind in place of ghost, he is informed that the word in the Greek Testament, ren