Matthew 3:10
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.
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(10) Now.—Rather, already. The present of an act no longer future.

The ax is laid unto the root of the trees.—The symbolism which saw in “trees” the representatives of human characters, of nations, and institutions, had been recognised in Isaiah’s parable of the vine (Isaiah 5:1-7), in Jeremiah’s of the vine and the olive (Jeremiah 2:21; Jeremiah 11:16), and the Baptist’s application of it was but a natural extension. Judgments that were only partial or corrective were as the pruning of the branches (John 15:2). Now the axe was laid to the root, and the alternative was preservation or destruction. For the unfruitful tree there was the doom of fire.

Matthew 3:10. And now, also, the axe, &c. — To enforce his exhortation, he informs them that they had no time to delay their repentance, because the patience of God was very near exhausted, and come to an end with respect to them. His judgments were at hand and ready to be inflicted, so that, if they continued unfruitful, notwithstanding the extraordinary means that were now to be tried with them, destruction would speedily overtake them; as if he had said, God now once more offers you his grace in and through his Son, which, if you refuse, he will no longer bear with you. You think of national deliverances, but I am sent to warn you of national judgments; judgments, which even now hang over your heads, and are ready to fall upon you if you still continue barren, or do not bring forth good fruit: for I assure you, the hand of God is lifted up to strike the fatal blow. There is an allusion in the words to a woodman, who, having marked a tree for excision, lays his axe at the root of it, till he puts off his upper garment, and then immediately goes to work to cut it down. Therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit — Every one that, while he professes to be one of God’s people, contradicts that profession by a wicked life, or by the neglect of vital and practical religion, is cut down, &c. — Instantly, without further delay; and cast into the fire — Of hell: a prediction this, 1st, of that dreadful destruction which, within the short period of forty-four years, came, by the Romans, upon the whole Jewish nation; as if he had said, The Babylonians formerly lopped off your branches, but now the tree shall be cut down; your commonwealth shall be destroyed, and your temple, city, and nation totally ruined: and, 2dly, it is a prediction of that particular destruction which shall soon overtake all that reject the counsel of God against themselves, or, as the apostle expresses it, that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

3:7-12 To make application to the souls of the hearers, is the life of preaching; so it was of John's preaching. The Pharisees laid their chief stress on outward observances, neglecting the weightier matters of the moral law, and the spiritual meaning of their legal ceremonies. Others of them were detestable hypocrites, making their pretences to holiness a cloak for iniquity. The Sadducees ran into the opposite extreme, denying the existence of spirits, and a future state. They were the scornful infidels of that time and country. There is a wrath to come. It is the great concern of every one to flee from that wrath. God, who delights not in our ruin, has warned us; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. And those are not worthy of the name of penitents, or their privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, yet persist in them. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under the greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of sin, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others. Here is a word of caution, not to trust in outward privileges. There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt to say within themselves, to put aside the convincing, commanding power of the word of God. Multitudes, by resting in the honours and mere advantages of their being members of an outward church, come short of heaven. Here is a word of terror to the careless and secure. Our corrupt hearts cannot be made to produce good fruit, unless the regenerating Spirit of Christ graft the good word of God upon them. And every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in outward professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down and cast into the fire of God's wrath, the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for? If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel. John shows the design and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were now speedily to expect. No outward forms can make us clean. No ordinances, by whomsoever administered, or after whatever mode, can supply the want of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. The purifying and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit alone can produce that purity of heart, and those holy affections, which accompany salvation. It is Christ who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit sent upon the apostles, Ac 2:4. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, given to those that ask him, Lu 11:13; Joh 7:38,39; see Ac 11:16. Observe here, the outward church is Christ's floor, Isa 21:10. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light and empty, useless and worthless, carried about with every wind; these are mixed, good and bad, in the same outward communion. There is a day coming when the wheat and chaff shall be separated. The last judgment will be the distinguishing day, when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. In heaven the saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff among them. Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will certainly be the portion and punishment of hypocrites and unbelievers. Here life and death, good and evil, are set before us: according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.The axe is laid at the root of the tree - Laying the axe at the root of a tree is intended to denote that the tree is to be cut down. It was not merely to be trimmed, or to be cut about the limbs, but the very tree itself was to be struck. That is, a searching, trying kind of preaching has been commenced. A kingdom of justice is to be set up. Principles and conduct are to be investigated. No art, no dissimulation, will be successful: People are to be tried by their lives, not by birth or profession. They who are not found to bear this test are to be rejected. The very root shall feel the blow, and the fruitless tree shall fall. This is a beautiful and very striking figure of speech, and a very direct threatening of future wrath. John regarded them as making a fair and promising profession, as trees in blossom do. But he told them, also, that they should bear fruit as well as flowers. Their professions of repentance were not enough. They should show, by a holy life, that their profession was genuine. 10. And now also—And even already.

the axe is laid unto—"lieth at."

the root of the trees—as it were ready to strike: an expressive figure of impending judgment, only to be averted in the way next described.

therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire—Language so personal and individual as this can scarcely be understood of any national judgment like the approaching destruction of Jerusalem, with the breaking up of the Jewish polity and the extrusion of the chosen people from their peculiar privileges which followed it; though this would serve as the dark shadow, cast before, of a more terrible retribution to come. The "fire," which in another verse is called "unquenchable," can be no other than that future "torment" of the impenitent whose "smoke ascendeth up for ever and ever," and which by the Judge Himself is styled "everlasting punishment" (Mt 25:46). What a strength, too, of just indignation is in that word "cast" or "flung into the fire!"

The third Gospel here adds the following important particulars in Lu 3:10-16.

Lu 3:10:

And the people—the multitudes.

asked him, saying, What shall we do then?—that is, to show the sincerity of our repentance.

Lu 3:11:

He answereth and saith unto them, He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat—provisions, victuals.

let him do likewise—This is directed against the reigning avarice and selfishness. (Compare the corresponding precepts of the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 5:40-42).

Lu 3:12:

Then came also the publicans to be baptized, and said unto him, Master—Teacher.

what shall we do?—In what special way is the genuineness of our repentance to be manifested?

Lu 3:13:

And he said unto them, Exact no more than that which is appointed you—This is directed against that extortion which made the publicans a byword. (See on [1214]Mt 5:46; [1215]Lu 15:1).

Lu 3:14:

And the soldiers—rather, "And soldiers"—the word means "soldiers on active duty."

likewise demanded—asked.

A prediction, as some think, of that dreadful destruction which within a few years came by the Romans upon the whole Jewish nation. The sense is, The vengeance of God is very near to be revealed, men must repent now or never, for

every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire; judgment now is as nigh unto men, as the tree is to falling, to the root of which the axe is already applied: whether it be to be understood of the judgment common to all unbelievers, all that know not God, and obey not the gospel of Christ, as 2 Thessalonians 1:8,9, or the particular destruction of this nation of the Jews. I shall not determine, though I rather judge the latter probable. The latter part of the text is made use of by our Saviour, Matthew 7:19, in the latter part of his sermon upon the mount. It letteth us know, that it is not improper, nor dissonant to the style of John Baptist, and Christ, and others the most eminent first gospel preachers, to press repentance, faith, and holiness of life, from arguments of terror.

And now also the axe is laid,.... These words may be rendered, "for now also", and contain in them a reason why they might expect future wrath; why they should bring forth good fruit; and why they should not trust to nor plead their descent from Abraham, because "the axe is now laid": by which is meant, not the Gospel which now began to be preached by John; though this was like an axe laid to the root of, and which cut down, their pride and vanity, their self-confidence and glorying in their righteousness, holiness, carnal wisdom, and fleshly privileges: but rather; the axe of God's judgment and vengeance is here designed, which, because of the certainty and near approach of it, is said to be "now laid"; and that not to some of the branches only, to lop them off, to take away from the Jews some particular privileges, but "to the root" of all their privileges, civil and ecclesiastical; even the covenant which God had made with that people as a nation, who was now about to write "Lo Ammi" upon them; so that henceforward they would have nothing to expect from their being the seed of Abraham, Israelites, or circumcised persons. The time was just at hand, when the Lord would take his "staff Beauty and cut it asunder, that he might break the covenant he had made with all the people", Zechariah 11:10 in a short time their civil polity and church state would be both at an end. The Romans, who were already among them and over them, would very quickly come upon them, and cut them off root and branch; and utterly destroy their temple, city, and nation: and this ruin and destruction was levelled not at a single tree, a single person, or family only, as Jesse's, or any others, but at the root

of the trees: of all the trees of the whole body of the people; for the covenant which was made with them all being broke, and which was their hedge and fence, they were all exposed to the wild boar of the forest.

Therefore every tree, every individual person, though one of Abraham's children, and made never such a fair show in the

flesh, which bringeth not forth good fruit; does not perform good works from a right principle, to a right end, such as are meet for repentance; particularly, does not believe in the Messiah now ready to be revealed, which is the main and principal work; and does not continue so doing, and thus believing,

is hewn down and cast into the fire. Temporal ruin and destruction shall come upon him; he shall not escape divine vengeance here, and shall be cast into everlasting burnings hereafter; which is quite contrary to a notion of theirs, that "by the merits of Abraham", the Israelites shall be delivered from the fire of hell (d).

(d) Zohar in Exod. fol. 34. 4.

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.
Matthew 3:10. Already, however (it is then high time), is the decision near at hand, according to which the unworthy are excluded from Messiah’s kingdom, and are consigned to Gehenna.

In ἤδη is contained the thought that the hearers did not yet expect this state of things; see Baeumlein, Partik. p. 139; the presents ἐκκόπτεται and βάλλεται denote what is to happen at once and certainly, with demonstrative definiteness, not the general idea: is accustomed to be hewn down, against which οὖν is decisive (in answer to Fritzsche), the meaning of which is: “that, as a consequence of this, the axe, etc., every tree will be, and so on.” See upon the present, Dissen, ad Pind. Nem. iv. 39 f., p. 401.

Matthew 3:10. ἤδη δὲ ἡ ἀξίνηκεῖται: judgment is at hand. The axe has been placed (κεῖμαι = perfect passive of τίθημι) at the root of the tree to lay it low as hopelessly barren. This is the doom of every non-productive fruit tree.—ἐκκόπτεται: the present tense, expressive not so much of the usual practice (Fritzsche) as of the near inevitable event.—μὴ ποιοῦν καρπὸν καλὸν, in case it produce not (μὴ conditional) good fruit, not merely fruit of some kind. degenerate, unpalatable.—εἰς πῦρ βάλλεται: useless for any other purpose except to be firewood, as the wood of many fruit trees is.

10. which bringeth not forth] Lit. if it bring not forth.

fruit] The Oriental values trees only as productive of fruit, all others are cut down as cumberers of the ground. He lays his axe literally at the root. Land and Book, p. 341.

the fire] Rather, fire, there is no definite article in the original.

Matthew 3:10. Ἤδη δὲ, but now) Placed in opposition[126] to μελλόυσης, which is to come, in Matthew 3:7.—καὶ, κ.τ.λ., also, etc) Where grace manifests itself, there also is wrath shown to the ungrateful. It is not only possible that you should be punished, but also punishment is nigh at hand.—τὴν ῥίζαν, the root) The axe was aimed not merely at the branches, but at the root itself.—τῶν δὲνδρων, of the trees) i.e. the Jews (see Luke 13:7-9), in comparison with whom the Gentiles were mere stones.—κεῖται, lies) Although the blow has not yet begun to be struck.—ἑκκόπτεται, is being cut down) The present tense is used, to show that there will be no delay.—πῦρ, fire) See Hebrews 6:8.

[126] In Matthew 3:7 he spoke of the wrath of God as future, as yet to come; he now speaks of it as already present, or close at hand.—(I. B.)

Verse 10. - And now also; Revised Version, and even now. "And" (δὲ), slightly adversative. In contrast to the delay supposed in ver. 9 a, preparations have already been made for your destruction. The axe is laid; Revised Version, is the axe laid; bringing out more emphatically its present position. The American Revisers propose, "the axe lieth at," avoiding the suggestion of an agent; but κεῖμαι often implies one, being used of vessels set ready for use; e.g. John 2:6; John 19:29 (cf. Revelation 4:2). Unto (πρὸς); brought near to (Thayer, s.v., 1:2, a). Therefore. The axe is lying there, therefore every useless tree is sure to be cut down (cf. Winer, 40:2, a). Every tree, etc.; even the noblest (Weiss). However good the tree ought to be, from the character of its original stock (you claim to be Abraham's children, ver. 9), yet, if it does not bear good fruit, it is cut down (Matthew 7:19, note). Into the fire (εἰς πῦρ). Not into a fire prepared with a definite purpose, nor into any one fire pictured as burning (Matthew 17:15; cf. τὸ πῦρ, John 15:6), but into fire generally, which may be in many different places. Worthless trees are only for burning. (For thought, cf. Hebrews 6:8.) Matthew 3:10Is laid (καῖται)

Not, is applied, as "She layeth her hands to the spindle" (Proverbs 31:19), but is lying.

Is hewn down and east

The present tense is graphic, denoting what is to happen at once and certainly.

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