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9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.


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Matthew 3:9. And think not to say within yourselves. Luke 3:8. And begin not to say within yourselves. As the import of both phrases is undoubtedly the same, it is easy to ascertain what John meant. Till hypocrites are hard pressed, they either sleep in their sins, or indulge in licentious mirth.268268     “Ils s'endorment toujours en leurs vices, ou s'egayent comme chevaux eschappez.” — “They sleep always in their sins, or indulge in merriment, like horses let loose.” But when they are summoned to the tribunal of God, they eagerly seek for some subterfuge or concealment, or some covering to interpose between God and them. John’s address to the Pharisees and Sadducees amounts to this: Now that I have sharply upbraided you, do not, as persons of your stamp are wont to do endeavor to find a remedy in an empty and deceitful title.”

He thus tears from them the wicked confidence, by which they had been bewitched. The covenant, which God had made with Abraham, was employed by them as a shield to defend a bad conscience: not that they rested their salvation on the person of one man, but that God had adopted all the posterity of Abraham. Meanwhile, they did not consider, that none are entitled to be regarded as belonging to “the seed of Abraham,” (John 8:33,) but those who follow his faith, and that without faith the covenant of God has no influence whatever in procuring salvation. And even the little word, in yourselves, is not without meaning: for though they did not boast in words, that they were Abraham’s children, yet they were inwardly delighted with this title, as hypocrites are not ashamed to practice grosser impositions on God than on men.

God is able. The Jews flattered themselves with nearly the same pretenses, as are now brought forward insolently by the Papists. “There must be some Church in the world; because it is the will of God that he be acknowledged, and his name invoked, in the world. But the Church can be nowhere else than among us, to whom God has entrusted his covenant.”269269     “D'autant que le Seigneur nous a ordonnez gardiens de son alliance.” — “Because the Lord has appointed us guardians of his covenant.” This arrogance was chiefly displayed by the high priests, and by others who had any share of government or authority. The common people were treated by them as profane and accursed,(John 7:49,) and they looked upon themselves as the holy first-fruits; just as, in our own day, mitred Bishops, Abbots, Canons, Monks, Sorbonnists, and every description of Priests, glorying in the proud title of Clergy, regard the Laity with contempt. This error, of relying too much on the promise of God, John exposes and refutes, by saying that, though God passes by them, he will not want a Church.

The meaning of the words, therefore, is: “God has made an everlasting covenant with Abraham and his seed. In one point you are mistaken. While you are worse than bastards,270270     “Quum sitis plus quam degeneres.” — “Combien qu' a la verite vous soyez pires que bastards.” you imagine that you are the only children of Abraham. But God will raise up elsewhere a new seed of Abraham, which does not now appear.” He says in the dative case, children To ABRAHAM, (τῶ ᾿Αβραὰμ,) to inform us, that the promise of God will not fail, and that Abraham, who relied on it, was not deceived, though his seed be not found in you. Thus from the beginning of the world the Lord has been faithful to his servants, and has never failed to fulfill the promise which he made to them, that he would extend mercy to their children, though he rejected hypocrites. Some imagine, that John spoke of the calling of the Gentiles. This appears to me to be without foundation: but as proud men did not believe it to be possible that the Church should be removed to another place, he reminds them, that God has in his power ways of preserving his Church, which they did not think of, any more than they believed that he could create children out of stones.

Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9. And now also the axe. After having stripped hypocrites of the covering of a vain confidence, John announces the approaching judgment of God. He had formerly said that, though they were rejected, God would not want a people: and he now adds, that God is just about to drive out unworthy persons from the Church, as barren trees are wont to be cut down. His statement amounts to this, that God has already displayed his power for purifying the Church. The grace of God is never manifested for the salvation of the godly, till his judgment first appears for the destruction of the world: and for two reasons; because God then separates his own people from the reprobate, and because his wrath is kindled anew by the ingratitude of the world. So that we have no reason to wonder, if the preaching of the gospel and the coming of Christ laid the axe for cutting down barren trees, or if the same causes271271     “Ces deux choses mesme;” — “these very two things.” daily advance the wrath of God against the wicked.




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