Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner…
It is not possible to think that John could have referred to what we call "hell-fire" - the punishment-fires of the next life. And we need have no definite opinions concerning the nature of that fire in order to understand John's figure here. Speaking of Messiah's actual present work in souls, he calls it a "baptism of fire," and he further remarks on its severity and continuity. His baptism of water was but of a temporary and symbolical character. Christ's baptism of fire would be permanent and spiritually real - a fire that would go on burning until all the world's evil was burned up. As illustration, note that "every year all effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up in the autumn fire of nature, and only what has promise of life and usefulness passes scatheless through the ordeal. This flaming besom of nature's fire sweeps from sight in the most obscure nooks, as well as in the most open places, the impurities of death and decay, in order to prepare the stage for fresh life and new growth."
I. THE SEVERITY OF CHRIST'S WORK. Apparently John's seems to be more arresting and severe; but really it does not prove to be so. There is all the difference between "washing off" and "burning out." The very forces themselves, "water," "fire," suggest the distinction. Repentance seems severe; the after-time resolute dealing with sin and rooting it out is much more severe. Christian keeping on is much more stern than Christian beginning. Illustrate by the Book of Revelation. The living Christ is actually present in his Churches, and at work, making them altogether white; and all the forces, famine, war, commotions, disease, etc., are the fires in which he is burning away the dross, and making the silver shine perfectly white. He were no true friend of sinners if he withheld necessary severity.
II. THE CONTINUITY OF CHRIST'S WORK. What is presented to thought is, that nothing will check or stop the Divine fire-cleansing. That it will stop when its work is done is assumed. The fire will keep on consuming as long as there is anything to consume, but no one conceives evil to be eternal. Christ will burn on until his burning work is needed no more. - R.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.