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dered ghost is ПvμT which may be rendered spirit, wind, breath, or ghost. See Parkhurst on Пvμa.
These instructive figures used by John, were also used by the ancient prophets. As an example, see Isaiah iv. 4. 'When the Lord shall have washed away the filth of the daughter of Zion, and shall have purged the blood of Jerusalem from the midst thereof, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning.' Again, chap. xxvii, 8, 9. He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind. By this, therefore, shall the iniquity of Jacob be purged; and this is all the fruit to take away his sin.'
As it is a thing well known that the foregoing parable has generally been applied, by christian commentators, very differently from the application, made in these notes, it is thought expedient to enlarge this edition by candidly considering suitable evidences by which the subject may be the more easily judged of.
The same reason which renders an illustration of this particular subject necessary, requires an illustration also of notes on other parables, which I propose the execution of, in as plain, impartial and scriptural a manner as God, by his grace, may assist me to do.
In my labors on this very important subject, I think it advisable to state the common use which has been made of the text, in as plain and concise a manner as is convenient; seek for the relation between the common explanation and the text with the context; consider suitable arguments to show the impropriety of the common application, and also to show the consistency
of the notes with the text, context and the general tenor of the gospel.
The doctrine of a future and eternal state of unmerciful punishment, having obtained almost universal assent in the christian church for many centuries, many of the parables spoken by our Saviour, as well as many other passages of scripture, have been generally used to prove and enforce that sentiment; among which this parable spoken by the forerunner of Christ is found.
I said a future and eternal state of unmerciful punishment; for surely that punishment which is never to end, cannot be said to be administered in mercy, even by those who think they can see such punishment to be consistent with divine justice.
Agreeably to this doctrine, it has been generally supposed that the true meaning of the above text is, that by trees is meant righteous and wicked men, and that every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit, signifieth every wicked man who bringeth not forth the fruits of righteousness. Hewing those trees down and casting them into the fire, signifieth the cutting off of the wicked from all their enjoyments, and casting them into the before-mentioned state of future, eternal, unmerciful punishment.
Let us now look for the relation between the above explanation, and the text with the context. Why are the trees which bring not forth good fruit, hewn down and cast into the fire? Answer, because they did not bring forth good fruit, but evil fruit. This is the natural sense of the text. What is the evil fruit produced by those trees which are to be cast into the fire? Answer, sin. To this answer none will object. Now look carefully: Will the cutting off of the wicked
from all possible comforts, and consigning them to future, eternal, unmerciful punishment, cause them to cease from bringing forth evil fruit, and to bring forth good fruit? Answer, no; for that punishment which weans the creature from sin, and inclines him to righteousness, is by no means unmerciful, nor can it be endless. And surely it does not require a very critical investigation to show the impropriety of hewing down and burning trees, because they bring forth evil fruit, if this hewing them down and burning them, will in no degree prevent their bringing forth this evil fruit.
"Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner: but he will burn up the chaff with un quenchable fire.'-Matt. iii, 12.
As these words are a continuation of what we have before noticed of John's address to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and are the conclusion thereof, they ought not to have been separated as a distinct parable. However, as they were thus disposed in former editions of the notes, they are so placed in this.
It may be well to bring into one view the several emblems which are found in this address, all which seem to be used to set forth the severe trials and judgments which were soon to come on the Jews. First the cutting down of trees which bring not forth good fruit, and the casting of them into a fire. Second, the baptizing of the people, not in the mild element of water, but in wind and fire. Third, the fanning of wheat, by which the chaff is separated from the
grain, that the wheat may be gathered into the garner. Fourth, the burning up of chaff with unquenchable fire.
All these emblems were unquestionably designed to represent those political and religious commotions, those terrible judgments and trials which finally overthrew the Jewish nation, destroyed their city and temple, and dispersed them among all nations: also, that spirit of light and divine wisdom, by which all that seemed confusion, was efficiently directed so as to result in the establishment of the gospel in the world, and the building up of the religion of Jesus among The subversion of the Jewish polity, the overthrow and dispersion of the nation, constituted no greater change in the political system, than did the doctrine and religion of Christianity in the ecclesiastical. False doctrines and spurious traditions were separated from divine truth, as the fan separates the chaff from the wheat; and they were consumed as chaff is consumed in the fire.
This work was suggested by the Saviour, as we read Matt. xv, concerning a controversy between him and the scribes and Pharisees of Jerusalem. His disciples informed him that he had offended his opposers; to which he replied verse 13, 'Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up!'
By the use of emblems similar to those we have noticed, the prophet Malachi represented the same great and astonishing events. See chapter iii, first three verses: 'Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But
who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.' Again chapter iv, first three verses: 'For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven: and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. But unto you that fear my name shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings; and ye shall go forth, and grow up as calves of the stall. And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet, in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.'
The common use which has been made of this parable, is the same which has been made of the former; and it is evident that they were both spoken on one subject, and that their meaning is similar.
But that they give no support to the doctrine of an hereafter eternal state of misery, will quickly be discovered, if we are candid enough to begin our investigation by asking whether there be any proof that the author of these passages had reference to a future state? This question being before us, let us be careful that it be correctly answered, before we allow ourselves to draw conclusions which we may find it difficult to justify.
Nothing seems more evident than that John was speaking of a dispensation of wrath and tribulation