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"But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism,' he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come.'-MATT. III. 7.
The parallel place is Luke iii. 7. These words of the Baptist have evident reference to a tremendous temporal calamity, about to be experienced by the Jewish nation. This fact is so very obvious, that almost all the commentators of note, have admitted it. The phrase "wrath to come' has been of much service to certain zealous preachers, who have thought men might be more easily persuaded to embrace their faith by means of terror than otherwise. Such have unhesitatingly used this phrase, and even quoted this text, as descriptive of torments after death.
But that this use of the passage
is unauthorized, their own standard writers being judges, may be seen from the following quotations :
1. PEARCE. The wrath to come,mi. e. the punishment to come in the destruction of the Jewish state. Com. in
2. HAMMOND. 'Oye, that are more like to broods of venemous creatures, than to the progeny of Abraham, who hath admonished you to make use of this means to escape the destruction approaching.' Para. in loc. See also Hammond's note on Matt. iii. 2. already quoted.
3. CLARKE. "The wrath to come. The desolation which was about to fall on the Jewish nation for their wickedness, and threatened them in the last words of their own scriptures. See Mala. iv. 6. This wrath or curse was coming : they did not prevent it by turning to God, and receiving the Messiah, and therefore the wrath of God came upon them to the uttermost. Let him that readeth, understand.' Com. in loc.
4. LIGHTFOOT. • To fly from the wrath to come. These words respect the very last words in the Old Testament,
lest I come, and smite the earth with a curse, Mala. iv. 6. and denote the most miserable destruction of the nation, and now almost ready to fall upon them. The receiving of John's baptism signed, and fenced those that received it from the ruin that was just coming. To this belongs that of St. Pet. 1 Epist. iii. 20, 21, in that manner as Noah and his sons were by water delivered from the flood, so also baptism now, the antitype of that type, saveth us, from the deluge of divine indignation, which in a short time is to overthrow the Jewish nation. Those that are baptized are said to fly from the wrath to come ; that is, the wrath of God, that was not long hence to destroy the nation by a most sad overthrow.' Heb. et Talm. Exerc. in loc.
Baptism was, besides other tendencies of it, as a badge, whereby those, that received it and stuck to it, were marked out for safety and preservation against that destruction, that was to come upon that nation for unbelief. Therefore Jobn construes their coming to be baptized their • fleeing from the wrath to come :' and Peter, (1 Epist. iii. 21,) in the same sense,
say, that · baptism doth now save :' as the ark had done in the destruction of the old world, so this from the destruction now coming: and to his admonition to repent, and be baptized,' he addeth, save yourselves from this untoward generation.' Acts ii. 40. Harm. Evan. Sect. it.
5. KENRICK. “These sects, (the Pharisees and Sadducees,) John compares to broods of vipers ; a subtle and malicious creature-a character which, it appears from history, was extremely well suited to them: he also expresses his surprise, that they should do a thing corresponding so little with their temper and inclinations, as to come to his baptism, in order to avoid the impending punishment in the destruction of the Jewish state, which I suppose to be referred to by the wrath to come. Eco pos. in loc.
Such are some of the testimonies in relation to the phrase "wrath to come,' furnished by commentators, who were most undoubting believers in a state of misery after death. If divines at the present day would
thus explain this and the kindred phrases which occur in the scriptures, they might as effectually advance the cause of truth, and fewer weak minds would become delirious through fear of endless misery.
• 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.'-Matt. 111. 10.
The parallel place is Luke iii. 9. Under the figure of cutting down trees and casting them into the fire, the Baptist represents the severe judgment about to be executed on the Jewish nation, which he had before denominated the wrath to come.' This figure had in ancient times been used by the prophets, (See Isa. x 33, 34. Jer. xlvi. 22, 23. Ezek. xxxi. 3, 10—12.. and was therefore very intelligible to the Jews. I need not go into the arguments in proof that this application of the passage is correct, inasmuch as there is such a universal agreement on the subject among standard commentators. In sermons and exhortations, a different interpretation is often given, but few are found willing to risk their reputation for biblical knowledge, by disputing publicly, what is so abundantly asserted in the following extracts :
1. HAMMOND. . But now are God's judgments come home to this people, and ready to seize upon the whole nation, and shall actually fall upon every unreformed sinner among you.' Para. in loc.
2. Pearce. Vengeance it about to be taken upon the Jewish nation, ver. 17. and Matt. lii. 10.' Com. in Luke jii. 9.
3. 'ASSEMBLY'S ANNOTATIONS. See on Matt. iii. 10. The metaphor showed them that the instruments of their destruction (such as were Titus and Vespasian)
were near, and should quickly execute, except they repented,' &c. Annot. in Luke iii. 9.
4. Poole's ANNOTATIONS. • A prediction as some think of that dreadful destruction, which within a few years came, by the Romans, upon the whole Jewish nation. 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, or of the particular destruction of this nation of the Jews, I shall not determine, though I rather judge the latter probable.' Annot. in loc.
5. BEAUSOBRE AND LENFANT. See Isa. x. 33, 34. In this place John the Baptist predicts the entire destruction of the Temple, the City, and the Nation, which came to pass about forty years after the death of Jesus Christ.' Com. in loc.
6. Ligh'FOOT. • These words seem to be taken from Isa. x. 33, 44. The destruction of the nation was to proceed from the Romans, who had now a great while held them under the yoke. The axe now laid to the root of the tree, shall certainly cut it down, if, from this last dressing by the gospel, it bears not fruit. In the Talmud, those words of Isaiah are applied to the destruction of the city.' Heb. et Talm. Exerc. in loc.
Again the same writer says,—This phrase may be understood as comparing the ruin of the Jews here threatened, with those desolations they had felt before : For then, as at the captivity of Babylon, for example, they were not utterly cut off from their land forever, but had a promise of returning, and returned, and were planted there again ; but now, the vengeance threatened must strike at the very root, and quite destroy them from being a nation forever, and from all hope of returning to their country any more. By the axe being now laid to the root of the trees, may fitly be understood-1. The certainty of their desolation; and—2. The nearness; in that the instrument of their destruction was already prepared, and brought close to them, the Romans that should ruin their city and nation, being already masters and rulers over them.' Harm. of Evan. Sec. ix.
7. Clarke. It was customary with the prophets, to represent the kingdoms, nations, and individuals, whose ruin they predicted, under the notion of forests and trees,
doomed to be cut down. See Jer. xlvi. 22, 23. Ezek. xxxi. 3, 11, 12. The Baptist follows the same metaphor; the Jewish nation is the tree, and the Romans the axe, which, by the just judgment of God, was speedily to cut it down. It has been well observed, that there is an allusion here to a woodman, who, having marked a tree for excision, lays his axe at its root, and strips off his outer garment, that he may wield his blows more powerfully ; and that his work may be quickly performed. For about sixty years before the coming of Christ, this axe had been lying at the root of the Jewish tree, Judea having been made a province to the Roman empire, from the time that Pompey took the city of Jerusalem, during the contentions of the two brothers Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, which was about sixty three years before the coming of Christ. See Josephus Antiq. l. xiv. c. 1–5. But as the country might be still considered as in the hands of the Jews, though subject to the Romans, and God had waited on them now, nearly ninety years from the above time, expecting them to bring forth fruit, and none was yet produced; but he kept the Romans, as an axe, lying at the root of this tree, who were ready to cut it down the moment God gave them the commission.' Com. in loc.
8. KENRICK. The national calamities with which you are threatened, are no light evils, but such as, if you do not repent, shall be like cutting up the tree by the roots : for as barren trees, which bring forth no fruit, are hewn down and cast into the fire, so shall it be with you, if you perform not good works; your kingdom shall be overthrown, and the inhabitants of the land utterly extirpated.' Expos. in loc.
I here remark, once for all, that I have not been anxious to multiply authorities on those passages which, like this, contain parables. For an exposition of the true meaning of this class of texts, the reader is referred to 'Notes on the Parables,' by Rev. H. Ballou, and
Notes and Illustrations of the Parables,' by Rev. T. Whittemore. Of the work last named, I understand a new, and much improved edition is to be published forthwith. In the former edition several testimonies