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…
1. It cutteth the Sabbath-breaker to hear his profaneness still cried out upon; it cutteth the adulterer to hear his viciousness continually found fault with; it cutteth the drunkard to hear his excess so often threatened; it cutteth the rioter and voluptuous liver, that his course should ever and anon be so eagerly reproved. And so, in the other particulars, it doth even enrage men's hearts that the Word of God cloth so meet with them, as it were, at every turn; and it causeth many to come to hear it no more than they needs must, because, though they set a face upon it, and would make themselves and others believe that it is not so; yet this same sharp axe of the Word, when the edge thereof is turned towards them, doth strike some wound or other into them almost at every sermon. So that as Scripture hath avouched it, so common use will not suffer it to be untrue, that the ministry of the Word is a sharp axe, which hath a biting edge, and cutteth and pierceth where it goeth. The use of it, in a word, is to justify and to maintain to the faces of all gainsayers that that very Word which they hear daily, and which they would fain make themselves and others believe is but an idle word, is indeed and in truth the very Word of God.
2. Another thing in the axe is, that as it cuts, so it frameth and fashioneth the hearers to a place in the spiritual building in God's Church. And as a crooked and knobby tree must first be hewn and squared, and cut again and again, before it can sort with the rest of the building, so must we also be even cast, as it were, in a new mould, and transformed into a new shape, before we can have a place in God's spiritual house. There is a great deal of crookedness and corruption must be pared from us; we must pass under the workman's tool before we can be an habitation of God by His Spirit. Now, the means to frame us to become fit for the Lord's building is the public ministry of His Word. By it the Lord cloth lop off the superfluity of our corruption; thereby He doth smooth us and make us plain and compact, and join us in, as it were, by certain mortices and joints with the rest of that holy frame, that being once fast coupled unto it, He may preserve us ever unto Himself. Therefore we find in Scripture that as the Church of God was never destitute of this workmanship, so likewise those whom His pleasure was to bring into the society of His chosen — they were framed thereby, and first felt the power and edge of the Word before they were linked together with God's people.
3. It followeth, an axe put to the root of the trees; that is (as I have expounded it), urged and applied to men's consciences, laid and pressed to the hearts of the hearers, For look what the root is unto the rest of the tree; the same is the heart to the whole man. Nathan the prophet laid the axe to the root when he told David, "Thou art the man." So did Elias, when he said to Ahab, "It is thou and thy father's house that have troubled Israel." So did Amos, when he preached at Bethel, the king's own chapel, the destruction of the king's own house. So did Hanani, when he said plainly to the king that he had done foolishly not to rest upon the Lord. So did Zachariah, when he told Joash he should not prosper if he forsook the Lord. So did John the Baptist, when he spake directly to the Pharisees, and called them a viperous generation, and when he told Herod to his face he might not have his brother's wife. So did Christ, when He preached woe to the Scribes and Pharisees, "Woe to Chorazin and Bethsaida." So did Peter, when he told the Jews, "You, I say, have crucified and slain the Lord of life." So did Paul, when he called them "foolish Galatians." It is to no purpose, as it were, to stand hacking at the branches, and to strike here and there upon the outward rind; but a man must go to the root, and knock at the door of every man's conscience, that every soul may tremble, and men at the least may be convinced against the day of reckoning. "If thou doest not well," saith God unto Cain, "sin lieth at the door." Sin is like a cruel beast, which lieth sleeping at the door of every man's heart. It must be awaked and stirred up, that men may see their danger.
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.