And now also the ax is laid to the root of the trees: every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is hewn down…
We may learn from it, in the first place —
I. THE KIND OF FRUIT WHICH GOD REQUIRES FROM US. In our text it is called "good fruit"; and, in the eighth verse, "fruits meet for repentance." With what propriety, my brethren, are fruits like these denominated "good." They are the result of a good principle, even of that "godly sorrow" which worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of; they proceed from a good source, for they are the fruits which the Holy Spirit Himself produces in the heart and life which He controls; and they accord with the Divine revelation and with the Divine will, "for He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
II. THE MEANS WHICH GOD EMPLOYS TO RENDER US PRODUCTIVE OF THIS KIND OF FRUIT, AND WHICH SHOW HOW REASONABLE IT IS THAT HE SHOULD EXPECT IT FROM US. In the first place, God has endowed you with a capacity to produce this kind of fruit. A stone is not capable of producing the fruits of a tree, because it is destitute of vegetable life. A tree is not capable of producing the fruits of instinct and sagacity, because it is destitute of animal life. And the beasts of the field are not capable of producing the fruits of reason and of conscience, because they are destitute of intellectual and moral life. Nor are such fruits required from them. God never requires from His creatures any actions which they are naturally incapable of performing. "But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty hath given him understanding." He has endowed us with reason and with affections. You retain the ability, but you have lost the disposition, to exercise the mind aright. You may destroy the eye by which you behold the surrounding universe; you may destroy the link that binds your spirit to your mortal flesh: but your responsibility to God, and your immortality of existence, you cannot destroy, you cannot touch. Secondly: In order to enable you to bring forth this good fruit, God has supplied you with the gospel of His Son. The gospel contains also the motives to fruitfulness; and these motives are the most powerful that can be presented to the mind. And the gospel contains also the promise of that Divine influence by which fruitfulness is infallibly secured! for "He giveth His Holy Spirit to them that ask Him." Thirdly: God has visited you with various dispensations of providence, and with various convictions of conscience, all of which have been intended to direct your attention to the gospel, that thereby you might bring forth fruits meet for repentance.
III. THE CONTINUED UNFRUITFULNESS OF SOME PERSONS, NOTWITHSTANDING ALL THE MEANS WHICH THE GOD OF MERCY HAS EMPLOYED.
1. Some of these unfruitful persons are sensual and profane. Their bodies and their souls are given to sin.
2. Some of these unfruitful persons are intellectual, and moral, and amiable.
3. Some of these unfruitful persons are professors of the gospel. They are branches in the vine, but they bear no fruit.
IV. THE AXE WINCH IS LYING AT THE ROOT OF SUCH UNFRUITFUL PERSONS. "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees." This "axe" may therefore be considered as emblematical of death, at which period the character and condition of the fruitless, as well as of others, will be decided and fixed for ever.
1. The axe which is lying at your root reminds you of the patience and long-suffering of God. If you had had a servant in your family who had cared as little for you as you have cared for God, would you have continued him in your house as long as God has continued you? No, my brethren, you would not. You would have cut down the tree, and you would have dismissed the servant.
2. The axe which is lying at your root reminds you of the critical circumstances in which you are placed. Remember that, though you have not yet been hewn down, the axe is actually lying at your root. The axe has not to be prepared; it has been prepared, and sharpened. The axe has not to be brought to you from a distance; it has been brought, and is now lying at your root.
3. The axe which is lying at your root has sometimes admonished you of its being there. You have seen others fall under its influence; but have you never felt it yourself? Has the cold iron never sent its chilling influence through your frame?
V. THE AWFUL CONDITION TO WHICH SUCH UNFRUITFUL PERSONS ARE DOOMED. "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire." The nature of this condition is indescribably terrible. There is an awful peculiarity even in the death of a fruitless sinner. "He is hewn down." And the language intimates at once his own unwillingness to die, and the determined and penal manner in which his death is inflicted. The certainty that this condition will be incurred by the finally impenitent is another sentiment which our text conveys — a certainty so sure and perfect, that the event is spoken of as having actually taken place. "He is hewn down, and cast into the fire." If you die unfruitful, your destruction is as certain as your death.
(J. Alexander, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.