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…
I. THE ROOT. That which bears up the branches, and on which the trees and branches stand and grow.
1. The root, then, was the covenant God made with Abraham and his natural seed or offspring, which covenant did, in a mystical sense, as clearly bear up the national church of Israel and all the trees (i.e., members or branches thereof) as common natural root doth the tree or trees growing out of it.
2. By the root may also be intended the foundation of all the Jews' hopes, confidence, and outward privileges.
3. By root, in a more remote sense, may be meant the state and standing of every ungodly, unbelieving, and impenitent person.
II. THE TREES. Men and women, but chiefly the seed of the stock of Abraham, according to the flesh, of whom the national church of the Jews was made up, and did consist; as also, all wicked and unbelieving persons whatsoever, who embrace not the offers of grace in the gospel, or believe not in Jesus Christ.
III. THE AXE.
1. The dispensation of God's providence, or time. Time is pictured with a scythe, but then man is compared to grass; but it may be pictured with an axe, since men are compared to trees; a scythe is no fit instrument to cut down trees.
2. The axe also may refer to the gospel: the Word of God is an axe to hew and square some persons for God's spiritual building, and to cut down others also, as trees that are rotten, and bear no good fruit; "Therefore," saith the Lord, "I have hewn them by the prophets"; and what follows, mark it, "I have slain them by the words of My mouth" (Hosea 6:5).
3. The axe may refer to men, whom God makes use of, as instruments in His hand, to cut down and destroy a wicked and God-provoking people; hence wicked rulers and kings, whom God raises up, as instruments in His hand, to chastise and cut clown a rebellious people, are called "His sword, and the rod of His wrath and indignation" (Psalm 17:14).
4. By the axe may in general be meant God's wrath; however it is, or may be executed, or upon whom, wrath will sooner or later cut down all the ungodly, both false Churches and tyrannical powers of the earth, and all who continue in unbelief and in rebellion against God. The laying the axe to the root discovers the final fall and ruin of sinners, whether considered as a Church or as particular persons; dig up or cut down the root, and down falls the body and all the branches of the tree. Or are you self-righteous persons? Do you build on your own righteousness, like the Jews and hypocritical Pharisees? If so, the axe will cut you down also. You must bring forth good fruit, every soul of you, or perish; and this you cannot do till your hearts are changed, and so you become good trees. Make the tree good, and then the fruit will be good; "an evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit," &c. All works of regenerate persons — yea, their religious duties — are but dead works, not good fruits; nor can they bring forth good fruits unless they are planted by faith into Jesus Christ. Nay, I must tell you that gospel-holiness will not save us; it must be the righteousness of God by faith.
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.