Matthew 3:12
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.







Whose fan.
Humanity yields its twofold crop, its wheat and chaff, and keeps its terrible capacity of mixing chaff and wheat together, making them look alike. A sifter needed. — Something, then, is watered to lift the cover, to unveil the reality, to expose the things that we do and the persons that we are. Whether we want Him or not, He comes "whose fan is in His hand."

Realize, too, that the sifting work must be done not only for the truth's sake and for God's sake, but for the sake of the foolish people themselves — for the welfare of the world. Otherwise the world, cheated by the delusion, would go from bad to worse, and be deluded to destruction.

Christ prepares the way for His own great reckoning to come, by setting foreshadows of His sifting work around us where we are. Life itself moves on with the fan in its hand. So into this medley where you live there springs suddenly some new-comer. It is a providence of God. A contagious disease escapes quarantine and breaks out in the town. There is a wreck on a reef off the shore. On a Western river great waterfloods sweep away scores of houses and lives. A hundred human bodies are crushed and burned in a mass in some building. You are not hurt; but as the report strikes man after man in the neighbourhood, if you could look underneath the masks which some people from pride or policy keep over their real selves, would you not see always two sorts of men revealed? In one there is apathy, and in another there is sympathy. Here are the two sorts of men disclosed. Before, you could not have told which was which; all looked alike; but in the threshing-floor of God the winnowing has begun.

One family that you know, overtaken by misfortune, is paralysed or embittered, and goes down. Another, struck by the same blow, summons its interior strength, is sweet-tempered, hopeful, and courageous, and as it descends in style rises in spiritual stature. The season why prosperity seems to enlarge some persons and belittle others is not so much that it actually alters their dimensions as that it publishes what their dimensions are. It is a shaking of the fan.

Now and then a sharp question of right or wrong is thrust in upon a whole community in palpable shape — a question of public justice or oppression, of fair dealing between capital and labour, of chastity in literature or decency in art, of commercial honour, temperance in drinking, political integrity. Everybody must take sides, openly in act or virtually in secret choice or feeling. This new truth has the fan in its hand. It sifts your gay society, getting souls in position for their judgment. At certain historical epochs great characters arrive. They utter one of these great truths, and stand out or fight for it. They are not judges of men, but sifters of men. Every one of them has a fan in the hand.

There is no privacy for character in the universe. The righteousness of God has arranged it that we shall live surrounded by a system of detectives and exposures, and all the uniforms and costumes and cosmetics and masks and escapes of that public stage, society, will not baffle them. This life is the beginning, though not the end, of judgment.

It is inwrought benignantly into the silent and steady operation of the truth. Truth itself is a dividing power.

To me it establishes faith, and makes the awful doctrine of retribution reasonable, to see the law wrought into the whole fabric of Nature around us and the very constitution of man. Even in the orchards and gardens there is a visible economy of discrimination, of rejection, of judgment. Bad fruit drops off and is cast away by the same hand that gathers and garners the good. Sow chaff and grain together if you choose; the chaff rots, while the vital seeds sprout and grow and yield "some thirty, some sixty, some an hundred." Why not so when we come up to the immortal wheat?

(Bishop Huntingdon.)

1. Christ is the universal Judge; "His fan is in His hand." He possesses authority, discrimination, and impartiality, — the three grand qualifications for this office.

(M. Henry.)

I. In the Christian Church there is a MIXTURE of nominal and real Christians. Parable of the Tares. Of the Wedding Garment. Judas. Ananias and Sapphira. The false are the careless or indifferent. The self-righteous or sentimental; the hollow-hearted or hypocritical. The true are penitents, believers, new creatures.

II. The Head of the Church KNOWS THE TRUE CHARACTER OF ALL its members. Seven churches of Asia. "I know thy works." Intimate and exact knowledge of His own people.

III. The Head of the Church WILL SEPARATE the precious from the vile. By His doctrine — providential dealings — Satanic temptations — fire of persecution.

IV. THE FINAL DOOM of all the mem-bets of the Church will correspond to their character. The wheat to the garner, The chaff to the fire.

1. Examine yourselves.

2. Prepare for judgment.

(Anon.)

I. The Two GREAT CLASSES into which the world is divided. Two only. In the eyes of men many. Either believers or unbelievers. No third class.

II. WHEN THESE TWO CLASSES WILL BE SEPARATED. Not yet. When Christ comes!

III. The PORTION OF CHRIST'S PEOPLE.

IV. The portion of those WHO ARE NOT CHRIST'S.

(J. C. Ryle.)

By the wheat is evidently intended those whose characters are useful; by the chaff those who are worthless. Wheat is valuable because it answers the purpose of the cultivator, which is to produce food for himself and others; so those persons are useful who answer the ends for which God has placed them here. God has placed us here to glorify Him: —

1. By our exercising suitable dispositions towards Him;

2. By cultivating every virtue;

3. By our doing good to others.From this description of the wheat we may easily infer the character of those who resemble the chaff.

1. If those are the wheat who exercise suitable dispositions towards God, those are the chaff who are without such dispositions.

2. If those are the wheat who are seeking the perfection of their nature, then those are the chaff who neglect to seek it.

3. If those are the wheat who labour for the temporal and spiritual welfare of their fellow-creatures, those are the chaff who live chiefly to please themselves.

4. If those are the wheat who glorify God by believing in Christ, then those are the chaff who remain in unbelief.

5. To which of these two classes do we belong?

(B. W. Noel, M. A.)Good and evil are really different in kind, absolutely and intrinsically, essentially and in the nature of things:

I. By the free choice of will, and the practice consequent upon such a choice, real virtue or vice can be acquired.

II. Every man is as to his moral character what his own behaviour and practice make him. By as certain and determinate a distinction as wheat and chaff are, of their real and proper natures, different from each other.

III. God in all His commandments really desires to bring men by the habitual practice of virtue to a state by which they can become capable of His eternal happiness in the enjoyment of His unchangeable favour. Therefore the good must be separated from the evil surely and thoroughly, if we would win salvation.

(Samuel Clarke, D. D.)

And let me remind you how like the chaff is to the wheat, how like the mere professor is to the saint. Of what colour is the chaff? Precisely the same as that of the wheat. And what is its form? Exactly that of the wheat. And where is it found? Not blowing about the highway, but in close contact with the wheat. It is upon us that this sifting trial is to pass; and it matters not how perfect may be our resemblance to the saints, if there be a resemblance and nothing more.

(P. B. Power.)

I have seen a field here, and a field there, stand thick with corn — a hedge or two has separated them. At the proper season the reapers entered; soon the earth was disburdened, and the grain was conveyed to its destined resting-place, where, blended together in the barn or the stack, it could not be known that a hedge had ever separated this corn from that. Thus it is with the Church. Here it grows, as it were, in different fields, and even, maybe, by different hedges. By and by, when the harvest is come, all God's wheat shall be gathered into the garner, without one single mark to distinguish that once they differed in outward circumstantials of form and order.

(Toplady.)

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