|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
3:1-14 The scope and design of John's ministry were, to bring the people from their sins, and to their Saviour. He came preaching, not a sect, or party, but a profession; the sign or ceremony was washing with water. By the words here used John preached the necessity of repentance, in order to the remission of sins, and that the baptism of water was an outward sign of that inward cleansing and renewal of heart, which attend, or are the effects of true repentance, as well as a profession of it. Here is the fulfilling of the Scriptures, Isa 40:3, in the ministry of John. When way is made for the gospel into the heart, by taking down high thoughts, and bringing them into obedience to Christ, by levelling the soul, and removing all that hinders us in the way of Christ and his grace, then preparation is made to welcome the salvation of God. Here are general warnings and exhortations which John gave. The guilty, corrupted race of mankind is become a generation of vipers; hateful to God, and hating one another. There is no way of fleeing from the wrath to come, but by repentance; and by the change of our way the change of our mind must be shown. If we are not really holy, both in heart and life, our profession of religion and relation to God and his church, will stand us in no stead at all; the sorer will our destruction be, if we do not bring forth fruits meet for repentance. John the Baptist gave instructions to several sorts of persons. Those that profess and promise repentance, must show it by reformation, according to their places and conditions. The gospel requires mercy, not sacrifice; and its design is, to engage us to do all the good we can, and to be just to all men. And the same principle which leads men to forego unjust gain, leads to restore that which is gained by wrong. John tells the soldiers their duty. Men should be cautioned against the temptations of their employments. These answers declared the present duty of the inquirers, and at once formed a test of their sincerity. As none can or will accept Christ's salvation without true repentance, so the evidence and effects of this repentance are here marked out.
Verse 9. - And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. This intensifies the statement respecting the power of God to raise up, out of the very river shingle at their feet, children who should inherit the glorious promises made to Abraham. Nay, more, the Divine Woodman had already laid the axe at the root of the tree of Israel; its hours, as the peculiar people, were indeed numbered. Let these, who said they were willing to wash and be clean, be ready and bring forth fruit worthy of their high calling and the lofty prerogative of which they boasted. The last of the prophets, from his lonely watch-tower of unerring insight into the future, saw the awful coming doom of the loved city, the scattering and captivity of the remnant of the chosen people. Within forty years of that time would the fatal axe, now lying at the root of the tree, be lifted. In uttering this stern prophetic saying, we believe John was gazing at the storm gathering round Jerusalem, which in A.D. swept away city and temple, and destroyed the existence of Israel as a nation. When he preached it was about A.D. -32
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees,.... Not only to Jesse's family, which as a root in a dry ground, and to Jerusalem, the metropolis of the nation; but to the root of the vain boasting of every Jew; their descent from Abraham, the covenant made with him, their ecclesiastical state and civil polity, all which would quickly be at an end: the Romans were now among them, the axe in God's hand; by means of whom, utter ruin and destruction would be brought upon their nation, city, and temple:
every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire; See Gill on Matthew 3:10.
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