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That the reconciliation or atonement answers certain demands of divine justice, as a preparatory work to the salvation of sippers, in the manner it is commonly held, we can hardly conceive to be supported by scripture and reason. Our heavenly Father needs no propitiatory sacrifice to make him more merciful. No atonement can be necessary to make him our friend who never was our enemy, and who commended his love towards us in that wbilę we were sioners his Son died for us. The work of reconciliation or atonement, is therefore made the immediate cause of salvation, embracing the effectual means leading thereto, as the effect of divine mercy and not the
But let us understand the atopement in what point of view we may, the Apostle is careful to argue in favour of the actual salvation of all who are reconciled by the death of Christ. Instead of being much less probable, from acknowledged premises, that God would save all men by the life of Christ, than it was in ages past, that he would reconcile them by his death, as in fact he has, he considers the strength of the conclusion to be MUCH MORE.
Interpretation of Parables. No. 2. The axe laid unto the root of the trees.-MATT. iii. 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.” Three things demand particular attention..
1. The root of the trees.
III. The trees being bewn down, and cast into the fire.
1. The root of the trees. By trees, we are to understand primarily, the Jews, to whom John spake, or the generation in which he lived. This will be made evident by casting an eye on the preceding contexte Observe: “ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to bis baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance : And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees." What is more evident than that these Pharisees apd Sadducees, are in the first place, called vipers, on account of their enmity to the cause of Jesus ? In the next place, they are called these stones, as possessing hard and unyielding dispositions ; and lastly, trees, bringing forth evil fruit, or exhibiting evil practices. In giving the Pharisees and Sadducees the character of corrupt trees, the harbinger of Jesus directly opposed their opinion concerning themselves. They are represented as priding themselves in the notion that Abraham was their father, though their conduct and his were at such direct variance. Sinful, evil, or covetous practices were intended, by the fruit which was not good. The quality of trees depends on the root; for, “ if the root be holy, so are the branches” and the fruit. In several other passages, especially in the discourses of our Lord, the same characters have a similar representation, and their conduct is called the fruit of corrupt trees.
And the reader will easily discover that their evil heart was considered the root of the trees. Speaking of the blasphemy of the Jews,in ascribing the miracle of casting out devils, to power of their prince, Jesus adds : “ Either make the tree good and its fruit good; or make the tree corrupt and its fruit corrupt : for the tree is known by its fruit. O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things ? for out of the abundance of the hegr! the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth good things, and an evil man, out of the evil treasure bringeth fortb evil things.” Matt. xii. 33, 34, 35. Here the same people, as in our text, are called trees, and the heart is the root from which their evil fruit proceeds. The same which is first denominated a good tree, is next called a good man ; and the corrupt tree is the evil man. This being admitted it will follow of necessity, that the heart, from which proceeds all virtue and vice, is the root of the trees. The same representation is continued and enlarged, in the fifteenth chapter of the same Evangelist. “Out of the heart proceedeth evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornication, thefts, false witness, blasphemies," and St. Mark adds, “ covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, pride, foolishness : all these come from within and defile the
Mark vii. 21, 22, 23. The whole moral character depends on the heart, in voluntary actions. Hence, for the same reason that the Jews were called trees, the disposition of heart by which they acted, was called the root of those trees. And it may remove some obstacles, in the path of sincere inquirers, to observe, that the word heart, is generally used in the singular number in the scriptures, even when applied to many ; which answers to the word root, (not roots) in the parable we are endeavoring to interpret. Thus: “He shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers." • For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Examine this point for yourselves.
2. The axe is laid to the root of the trees. The word axe, is to be defined by analogy; and it represents the doctrine of Jesus or the word of God. By this, they were to be hewn down, and finally subdued. The truth or doctrine of Christ, was directed to the heart, and designed to effect a reformation in the feelings and conduct. No reformation in profession was necessary ; for the Pharisees were ready to be baptized of John in Jordan, confessing their sins, if he would allow them to persist in a similar course as before.
They would call Jesus Master, if he would indulge them in the sinful practices before mentioned. The externals, the pomp and show of religion, without the reality, was congenial with their feelings. But when a doctrine was taught which demanded the exercises of the new heart, or of sanctified affections, they were offended. Their religion, which, in its primitive simplicity and spirituality, possessed many valuable traits, and exhibited a good degree of glory, degenerated, through a lapse of ages, into mere profession, or formal worship. The light of the commandments was overshadowed and obscured by the clouds of tradition. Idolizing an observance of the Sabbath ; Jeaning on the payment of certain tithes, as upon a staff of promise, though, at most, of minor consequence; professing a scrupulous exactness for the formula of religiod, with various other practices equally heartless and destitute of real virtue, the Jews would have been easily converted to christianity, had it not been for their wilful blindness, and their being “accustomed to evil.” Like all other selt-formed sectarians, they worshipped an idol of their own invention, and practised upon his supposed plan of moral equity and justice. Covetousness, enmity, deception, cruelty, idolatry, hypocrisy and partiality, were the seven dcmons which they possessed, as a church, and the natural fruits of which, their conduct, as individuals, exhibited a harvest. To their heart the doctrine of the Lamb was applied; and from his character the most benevolent consequences may be inferred.
This doctrine is, in the scriptures, variously represented. In several places it is called a sword, by which as a Prince, he will overcome his foes and save his people. “The sword of the spirit, wbich is the word of God." “Out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword.” " I will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” The same thing is intended by the sword above de
ribed, and the axe, in our text : the doctrine of the Lord Jesus, or the word of truth is evidently meant.
3. The trees hewn down and cast into the fire. Το understand the words trees, fruit, axe, and root, figuratively, or, as commonly used in parables, renders it indispensable that the word fire, be understood in the same way. Now the same truth which yields the peaceable fruits of righteousness to its possessors, is the fire of hell to its opposers. Those heavenly discourses of our Lord, which imparted the bread of life to his sincere followers, were often known to kindle a raging fame in the combustible passions of his enemies; a flame, not less productive of pain and anguish, than it was destructive of chaff and rubbish. This truth, like the natural elements by wbich it is represented, is capable of giving pleasure or pain. Its tendency is, to destroy every thing impure and destructible. This fire is the light of the world, affording the highest consolation to the believers in Jesus ; but it burns with sevenfold heat, in the condemnation of the wilful workers of iniquity. Speaking of the condemnation of unbelievers, the scripture saith ;
56 And this is the condemnation : That light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." The evil deeds here spoken of, are synonymous with the fruits that are not good, mentioned in the parable. The light, by which these works of iniquity are exposed, and which excites hatred on that account, is the same as the ate and the fire. The workers of iniquity hate the light of the world, and endeavor to avoid being exposed by its illumination. Therefore, we may fairly inser, that the manifestation of their criminality, is a source of the most pungent reproofs, and great mental pain. " Whatsoever maketh manifest is light. And every man's work shall be made manifest ; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire ; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." The benevolent effect which this