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which was soon to fall on those whom he addressed. He was not speaking of the ordinary course of divine providence with man. But according to the use which has been made, by christian divines, of these parables, John meant nothing by the wrath to come only such wrath as always had been executed on the wicked, as fast as they left this mortal state. Furthermore, when he said,' And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees,' what he meant, was, that the axe had always laid thus at the life of man, to cut him down by death, since the first transgression. Also, when he said, '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 unquenchable fire,' he meant that the one who was to come after him, who was mightier than himself, was soon going to do what he had always been doing; that is, cutting the brittle thread of life and sending good men to heaven, and wicked men to hell. To reconcile the language which the forerunner of Jesus used in these parables, with the use which has been made of them, seems impossible.
If we examine the strong figure used in the parable of burning up chaff with unquenchable fire, we shall at once see that it could have no allusion to an eternal duration of punishment. That which is burned up does not continue. What could more unfitly represent immortal beings enduring endless burnings, than the burning up of chaff?
These parables seem to represent the nation of the Jews by an orchard, into which the owner is about to enter, for the purpose of removing all the trees which are but an incumbrance to the ground. Also, by a threshing floor, which a husbandman is about to purge with his fan. The time was then at hand, when John
addressed this language to the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the history, both sacred and profane, of that people in those times, fully justifies its use. When Jesus addressed this same class whom John addressed in these parables, as recorded Matt. xxiii, he was careful to inform them, that the woes of which he spake, would certainly come upon that generation. See verse 33, &c. 'Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers! how can ye escape the damnation of hell? (yɛɛns.) Wherefore behold! I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city; that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel, unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, all these things shall come upon this generation.' Nothing is more evident than that Jesus here spake, not of things of eternity, but of things of time; not of things of another world, but of things appertaining to the present. With this fact his lament for Jerusalem evidently agrees: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
'Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.'—Matt. v, 13.
1. As will be shown in notes on another parable in this chapter, Christ represented the operation of the Holy Spirit by fire, under the similitude of salt.* So in this parable he speaks of his disciples as answering the same purpose to the earth, by which we understand mankind at large, that the fire or divine salt did to them.
2. He shows how unprofitable they would be in their holy calling, should they depart from the spirit of that fire by which he would baptize them, by the worthlessness of salt when it had lost its savor.
3. That instead of their having power over their adversaries, and wisdom to silence gainsayers, they would themselves be overcome by them, is meant by salt being cast out, and trodden under foot of men.
* The reader will keep in mind the severe dispensation, which John the baptist represented by a baptism with a holy wind or fire, as noticed in what was written on the two former parables. As the author's views respecting this subject are some what different now, from what they were when he first wrote his Notes on the parables; and as he has accordingly varied the exposition of the two first, and rendered their application as he now understands them; he desires the reader duly to notice that what is written on this and on parable V, respecting salt and fire should be understood to agree with the nature of the before mentioned baptism. This dispensation, the author now believes, comprehends all the awful sufferings which God, in judgment, sent on the people of Israel; all the fiery searchings of divine truth, which operated to remove the errors of those benighted times; all the divine operations of the spirit of the gospel, by which the people were purified and cleansed, and made meet subjects of heaven. But in former editions of this work, the aense of these parables was restricted to the refining and quickening operations of the divine spirit.
Agreeably with the above notes, we may consider, 1. The important character of the true ministers of the gospel.
2. Their liability to lose that influence among men which renders them profitable in the ministry.
3. The disrespect with which a ministry is justly treated, which is destitute of the savor of the word of salvation.
1. As it is the nature of salt to save, preserve, and season, so is the true and faithful ministry of the gospel efficacious to save men from sin, to preserve them in uncorruptible purity, and to bring them into that proper temperament of mind by which they are acceptable sacrifices unto God through Jesus Christ.
The use of salt is seen, in the directions given concerning sacrifices in Lev. ii, 13. And every oblation of thy meat-offering thou shalt season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God to be lacking from thy meat-offering: with all thine offerings thou shalt offer salt.' This salt is the divine power of the covenant of God to save from sin, and reconcile the sinner to God, as may be seen by Rom. xv, 16, that I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable, being sanctified by the Holy Ghost.' The Holy Ghost is therefore the salt of the everlasting covenant ordered, and in all things sure.
2. A departure from the simplicity of the gospel of God, disallowing the power of the salt of the covenant to sanctify and season the sacrifice, setting up creeds,
modes and forms as necessary unto salvation, leading proselytes to depend on a righteousness of their own for acceptance with God, is undoubtedly meant by the ministers of the word losing their savor, and becoming good for nothing. Such has been the melancholy falling away of the christian ministry, and such, for a long time, has been the unprofitableness of their labors. There is no room for misjudging in this case; for the multitudes who have been proselyted by them, have discovered as much unholiness as the old Gentiles did before the gospel was preached by the apostles. This is witnessed by the cruel persecutions at the head of which has ever been found a carnal ministry, imposing creeds and carnal ordinances on men, of their own invention. And the great want of charity and brotherly kindness among the different orders of the clergy of this country, too plainly shows their want of that salt of the covenant of God; while the ill will and injurious bigotry of professors in general, too plainly discover that they imitate their leaders.
These observations are not designed to represent that there are no instances, even in all denominations, of faithful evangelical ministers of the word; but it is very evident that this class is by far the minority.
In departing from the power of the gospel covenant, the christian clergy have acted the part which the prophet Ezekiel accuses the shepherds of Israel of acting. See xxxiv, 4. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.' With unreasonable, unscriptural, and cruel doctrines and ecclesiastical disciplines, have the sheep of Christ been