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Messiah: but John warns them, in the next verse, of national judgments.
10. And now also the axe is laid unto the root, or rather, “lieth at the root,' of the trees, being put there ready for use; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.
The national calamities with which you are threatened are no light evils, but such as, if you do not repent, shall be like cutting up the tree by the roots: for as barren trees, which bring forth no fruit, are hewn down and cast into the fire, so shall it be with you, if you perform not good works; your kingdom shall be overthrown, and the inhabitants of the land utterly extirpated.
11. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, that is, upon the
profession of repentance which you make, but he that cometh after me is mightier or, “ hath more power,” than I; whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the holy Ghost and with fire:
John here speaks of his successor, who was to come from God, or to have a special divine commission, after him; telling the Jews that the power and authority of this eminent personage would be so much greater than his own that he was not worthy to perform for him the meanest office which a slave
performs for his master, that of taking up and carrying away his shoes, when he has put them off. “By repentance and amendment of life you may escape the destruction of which I have been speaking: to this repentance I have endeavoured to lead you by my preaching and baptism; but in no other way; for to those of you who become his disciples he will communicate the holy spirit in the most plentiful manner, as water is poured out in baptism, agreeably to the language of God by the prophet Joel, (ii
. 28)“ I will pour forth of my spirit npon all flesh;" but those who continue impenitent and persist in their vices he will baptize with fire, that is, with those dreadful calamities which will fall on the unbelieving part of the nation at the destruction of your city and state, and which may well be represented by a baptism with fire.”
Whatever causes calamity and destruction, is, in Scripture, called a fire; thus the tongue is a fire, and God is a consuming fire. It is the remark of Sir Isaac Newton, in his Observations upon the Prophecies*, that in the prophetic stile, burning any thing with fireis put for the consuming thereof by war. That it is to such a calamity John refers, when he says that Christ should baptize with fire, and not to the holy spirit's descending upon the apostles upon the day of pentecost, in cloven tongues of fire, as has been usually supposed, seems evident, because the appearance of the cloven fiery tongues was only a circumstance accompanying the baptism of the spirit, but not a distinct baptism, of itself; and when Christ quotes this prediction of John to his disciples, after his resurrection, he drops the latter clause, and says simply “for John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the holy Spirit not many days hence;" leaving out the words, and with firez for they were not the persons to be baptized with fire, but a very different class of people.t
12. Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, or <
granary,” but will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Parti, Ch. 2. p. 18. Ed. 1733. | Acts i. 5. Theol. Rep. V. i. 396. Wakefield's Sily. Crit. pt. č.p. 65.
In this whole verse the destruction of Jerusalem is expressed in the terms of husbandmen. The fan was a winnowing instrument, which separated the chaff from the wheat. The grain thus cleansed was put into the granary, to be preserved from the injuries of the weather, and the chaff had fire put to it, to prevent it from being blown back into the threshing floor; and that fire burnt on, till it consumed the chaff, without being quenched. In the same manner as the husbandman acted towards his corn, so would Christ act with respect to the Jews. They are called his floor, because he was sent immediately to them: by the purity of his doctrine he would separate the good from the bad. The worthless part of the nation, disliking that excellent system of religion which he introduced, would reject him; but the virtuous part of the people would believe in him. The former are to be visited with the most terrible judgments, which are expressed in prophetic language by inextinguishable fire: (See Isa. xli. 16:) which prophecy was fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans: but the Christians were preserved in safety; having, in conformity with the warnings and directions of Christ, retired from the city, when it was besieged.
1. In the character of John the Baptist, we see an excellent example of simplicity, integrityand humility.
Although sent to announce the greatest event that ever took place in the world, and the most welcome intelligence to the Jews, he assumes to himself none of that outward pomp or magnificence which might be suitable to his design, and give proper lustre to his embassy in the eyes of the Jews; but appears, to proclaim this good news, in the ordinary garb and with
the simple diet, of his countrymen and neighbours. Many of his wealthy attendants were able to provide for him in both these respects more sumptuously, and would probably have been better pleased with his message, if he had accepted their assistance for this purpose: but he chose to continue this plain mode of living, lest he should encourage in men's minds improper notions of the new kingdom which was at hand, or excite a suspicion that he assumed the character of a divine messenger, from some motive different from that of obeying the command of God. Happy are those who, like hiin, can deny themselves the superfluities of life, when it is necessary to promote the interests of religion! Let us learn from his character not to judge of men by their dress or external appearance: under a mean garb there may be true worth and a character of uncommon virtue. Let the ministers of religion, in particular, learn that outward splendour is not necessary to the success of their labours: neither the forerunner of Christ, nor the Saviour himself, nor any of his apostles, set any value upon these advantages; yet they were all successful preachers: they trusted rather to the evidence and importance of what they taught than to their own external appearance; and so may all those who are employed in inculcating the same important truths: outward show, however it may be calculated to captivate the ignorant, awakens in more discerning minds a suspicion that there is some defect which this show is necessary to hide, or that those who affect it have nothing else to recommend them.
In the freedom with which John censured the Pharisees and Sadducees we see his courage and his integrity: he did not court the favour of these powerful sects, by concealing their vices or flattering their prejudices; however favourable such a conduct might have been to his own ease, or the success of his mission; he gives them their true character in plain words, and exposes the weak subterfuges by which they imposed upon themselves. The same intrepidity led him afterward to censure persons of much higher rank, and proved at length the cause of his death: but let us not condemn it as rashness: it was the natural consequence of the excellence of his own character, which made him incapable of beholding great vice without severe reprehension, and furnishes us with a proof of the truth of his other declarations in the office of a divine messenger, which almost supplies the place of miracles.
He well knew that the splendid works of his successor would eclipse his own fame: yet he speaks of him in the highest terms of praise, but of himself in modest and even degrading language; thus shewing that he was free from the jealousy of little minds, and that his humility was equal to his courage.
2. How thankful should we be that the kingdom of heaven is already come among us! John was sent to tell the Jews that it was at hand; and such a message from heaven ought to have been received by them with sentiments of the warmest gratitude to that being from whom it came: but we have enjoyed the benefits of this divine institution, and find them to be much greater than it was possible for us previously to have supposed. Let us rejoice in this new administration of grace and mercy among mankind; let us trace with pious gratitude and admiration the various steps which were taken by infinite wisdom to introduce it, and earnestly pray that the prosperity and enlargement of this kingdom may be advanced in the world, till it shall cover the whole earth, and be raised to the highest pitch of glory.
S. We see that, to receive the benefits of this kingdom, it is necessary that we repent and bring forth fruits suitable to the profession which we make of repentance. It is not our being descended from pious ancestors, or submitting to religious ordinances, whether baptism or the Lord's supper, or trusting to the merits of another, although much greater than Abraham, that will secure to us the divine favour, without a good life. The Jews have long since tried the efficacy of such means, and found them insufficient; nor can ve expect to be more successful in making the same trial, Reformation and amendment of life are absolutely ne cessary to our salvation: if we have not already brought