Luke 3:17

Those who are far up the social. heights are usually under a strong temptation to climb to the very summit. We do not know how strong the temptation may have been to John to assume or to attempt the part of the Messiah. Popularity is very exciting and ensnaring; it leads men to prefer claims and to adopt measures which, on lower ground and in calmer mood, they would not have entertained for a moment. But John's mind never lost its balance in the tumult of great professional success. Unlike most men, he seems to have stood prosperity better than adversity (see Matthew 11:2, 3). He does not appear to have wavered for a moment in his fidelity to the Lord whose way he came to prepare; he always retained a true estimate of himself, his work, and his Master. In this respect he was as wise as he was true, and we cannot do better than emulate his wisdom.

I. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OURSELVES. John knew that in personal worth and dignity he was not for a moment to be compared with Jesus. That great Prophet whom he was preceding was "One mightier than himself," One for whom he was not worthy to discharge the meanest office which the slave renders his master. In cherishing this thought he was both fight and wise. There is the truest wisdom in humility. To mistake ourselves, to think ourselves greater or worthier than we are, is to do ourselves the greatest injury and wrong.

1. It is to offend God and to draw down some sign of his serious displeasure (James 4:6).

2. It is to incur the disapproval and hostility of our fellow-men; for there is nothing that our neighbors more thoroughly dislike our part than an exaggerated notion of our own importance.

3. It is in itself an evil and perilous condition, in which we are open to the worst attacks of our spiritual enemies. On the other hand, humility is acceptable to God, approved of man, and safe.

II. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR POSITION and of the work we have to do in the world. John clearly recognized, and very distinctly declared, that his mission in the world was one altogether and immeasurably inferior to that of Christ; to those who would not have been surprised to learn that he claimed to be the Messiah he made it known that he was doing that which was slight and small in comparison with the work of Christ. It is indeed a good and a wise thing for us to aspire to do all that God gives us the capacity and the opportunity to do. But let us take great care that we do not, from pride or vain-glory, go beyond that boundary-line. If we do we shall make a serious and possibly even a calamitous mistake. Many that have done excellent service and have had great joy in the doing it when they have worked within the range of their powers, have done grievous mischief and have suffered sad trouble when they have attempted that which was beyond them. Nothing but injury to others, damage to the cause of God, and sorrow for ourselves can arise from an over-estimate of the position we are able to fill.

III. A TRUE ESTIMATE OF OUR LORD. That Mighty One who was coming should do the very greatest things. He would:

1. Act with direct Divine energy upon the souls of men - "baptize with the Holy Ghost."

2. Utter truth which should have great testing and cleansing power; his fan would "throughly purge his floor" homily on Luke 2:34).

3. Make a final distinction between the true and the false: "He will gather the wheat into his garner," etc. No man who cares for his own spiritual and eternal interests can afford to disregard the words or the work of this great Prophet that was to come, that has come, that "is now exalted a Prince and Savior," giving redemption and eternal life to all who seek his grace and live in his service. - C.

Whose fan is in His hand
I. THE THRESHING-FLOOR MAY DE PROPERLY REGARDED AS THE CHURCH, INTO WHICH ALL PROFESSORS ARE GATHERED; or, even in a wider sense still, it may include all those who, though they have made no public profession of faith in Christ, yet secretly hold some theory of Christianity which they deem sufficient for themselves; or, even a step further, it may and does include those who respect Christ and build their own schemes of salvation. Indeed it includes every man who says, " By this creed, or by this philosophy, or by this life, I will abide the issue of eternity." Thus we see how wide this threshing-floor is, and that in fact, while it is true that Christ came not to condemn the world, but to save it, the very salvation that He brings and so freely offers to all condemns and blows away the rejected as chaff.

II. THE FAN IN HIS HAND MAY SUGGEST TO US THE INSTRUMENT BY WHICH HE PURGES HIS FLOOR, SEPARATING THE CHAFF FROM THE WHEAT. Christ had no sooner come and entered upon His public ministry than He began to "purge His floor."

1. His Word acts as a fan. Many of the multitudes that followed Jesus took offence at His words, as witness John 2:60. Many who approach the floor of Christ are swept away before they fairly come by His words; one cannot bear salvation by grace, another is blown away by the new birth, another by this and by that doctrine.

2. But there are others who are not blown away by the Word. When you hear them talk you wonder at their severe and unflinching orthodoxy. For such Christ has another fan. It is one that tests the character: the new birth. Many a chaffy professor of orthodoxy is blown away by this; for even if they do not recognize it themselves, others see how surely they are separated.

3. Still this is brought to another trial. Many say "Oh, yes; I know even the day and the hour of my regeneration." Well! if it is so, the fruits of your new birth will be seen in a new life. Salvation means separation from sin. The demand for a holy life oftentimes proves too much for the chaffy professor who can relate a glowing experience, and he is swept from the floor and heaped up with the rest of the chaff.

4. Again, the Master comes with the fan of affliction, and tries His wheat, as He did Job. There is much meaning in the words, "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved."

III. THUS IT IS THAT THIS PURGING PROCESS IS GOING ON ALL THE TIME, AND CONSTANTLY WE FIND THE CHAFF BLOWN AWAY. HOW many drop out of our churches, and go we know not where I But still much chaff remains among the wheat, and doubtless will remain until He come again, and then the floor will be thoroughly purged; the hail of that day will sweep away every refuge of lies, every hypocrite's cloak will be rent off, every self-deceived one will be undeceived, and the sheep shall be separated from the goats, the chaff from the wheat. "The wheat will He gather into His garner," &c. Who shall abide the day of His coming?

(G. F. Pentecost, D. D.)

What were the characteristics of the revolution which Christianity wrought in the world?

I. IT WAS DESTRUCTIVE. It proclaimed war against the principles opposed to it. There are certain times in history when a great shock is necessary, and those are the greatest men who can see this and boldly risk the danger. There are times when it is too late to expect that the world can be saved by the instillation of good, times when the chaff is so multitudinous and so rotten that the wheat is in a double danger, the danger of being lost, the danger of being corrupted. The only thing then is to burn up the chaff at once with a fire which will not touch the wheat. Christ saw that the time had come, that the whole world of Jews and heathens was so choked up with chaff that a slow process would be ruin. He seized the moment, He accepted its dangers, and He sent forth ideas which flew along like flame, consuming, destroying, but also assimilating.

II. But if Christianity was destructive as a revolution IT was ALSO PRESERVATIVE. If Christ sent forth ideas which consumed the chaff, He sent them forth also to gather the wheat into the garner. No noble feeling, or true thought, either in Judaism, or heathenism, perished. They were taken up and woven into the new fabric, e.g., Roman law, culture, architecture — religion.

III. Its third element was A CIVILIZING POWER. Neither Greek science nor Roman culture had power to spread beyond themselves. It was of the first importance that some civilizing influence should arise which should permit of free development — which should save the world from the dilemma of being made altogether in the Roman pattern, or of remaining in barbarism. This was the work of Christianity, and it was done by its ministers, in the first place, not as apostles of culture, but as persons who spoke to the common wants of the spirit of man. The missionary spirit was the product of love to Christ. The civilization of the barbarians was the product of the missionary spirit. We also have our revolutions. That which is true about the great movements of the world is not without its personal interest to us, nor without its analogies in our life. The inner revolutions also, if it is towards God, is



(3)civilizing, or sanctifying to the whole man.

(Stopford A. Brooke, M. A.)

Ecce Homo.
Christ did not go out of His way to choose His followers; the call itself was the fan He bore in His hand. That call imposed upon men the necessity of making a great resolution, of sacrificing a good deal. On the other hand, what did it offer? What equivalent could be expected by those who made the sacrifice? The call, which had acted as a test upon some directly by requiring from them an effort which they were not prepared to make, would winnow away others more gradually as soon as it was understood to offer no prospects which could tempt a worldly mind. In this way, without excluding any, Christ suffered the unworthy to exclude themselves. He kept them aloof by offering them nothing which they could find attractive. And all those who found Christ's call attractive were such as were worthy to receive it. Such a winnowing of men as He accomplished is not unique in its kind. Every high-minded leader who gathers followers round him for any great purpose, when he calls to selfsacrifice and has no worldly rewards to offer, does something similar. And, therefore, in tracing the history of many other movements which have agitated great numbers, we are often reminded of those parables of Christ that begin, "The kingdom of heaven is like ." The quality which carries a man through the ordeal is faith. Such then, is the new test, and it will be found the only one which could answer Christ's purpose. Every other good quality which we may wish to make the test of a man implies either too little or too much.

(Ecce Homo.)

A hidden fire burns perpetually upon the hearth of the world. Scientific men call it by the hard name of eremacausis, which means quiet, or slow burning. We see its effects in the fading of leaves, in the rusting of iron, and in the mantling of the rosy blush upon the cheek of youth. Every tree is a burning bush. In autumn this great conflagration becomes especially manifest. Every blade of grass in the fields and every leaf in the woodlands is cast into the great oven of nature; and the bright colours of their fading are literally the flames of their consuming. By this autumn-fire God every year purges the floor of nature. All effete substances that have served their purpose in the old form are burnt up, and only what has the promise of life and usefulness passes scathless through the ordeal. The straw and the chaff are consumed, and the wheat remains. As God thus purges His floor in nature, so He does in grace. We have a striking example of the effect of this autumn-fire in the removal of the effete things of the Levitical institution. The Mosaic dispensation had become dead ripe. Jesus came in the autumn of the world, when all things had grown ripe and old, and all growth had closed. He came to gather in the harvest of all previous dispensations. He came to cast fire upon the earth, to burn up the chaff of withered and effete institutions. His was a fiery baptism, which thoroughly purged His floor — which consumed the stubble and the withered foliage of the old growth that had served its purpose in the religious culture of a former age, and prepared them for being worked up into the new developments of the springtime of grace. The baptism of John was a process at purification; but it was only a baptism of water. Water can only remove superficial impurities; it cannot take away what is ingrained; it can cleanse surface and accidental or temporary stains, but it cannot change the nature of anything. And so the baptism of John could produce ceremonial purity, but it could not cleanse the sinful heart, or transform the erring and polluted mind. The baptism of Jesus, on the other hand, was a baptism of fire, and fire penetrates every substance submitted to its action, and changes it into its own nature. The fire of life in nature burns up all its decay and prepares it for new growth. And so in the fulness of time Jesus passed like an autumn fire over all the dead products of human attainment, thoroughly purging His floor. He caused, by the same fire of grace, to grow in spring freshness and beauty that fruit which is unto holiness, and whose end is everlasting life. But not once only in the end of the world did Jesus come to purge His floor with this sacred fire. He is coming continually, and His fire of purification is unquenchable. In each of these partial and temporary consumings He anticipates and foreshadows what He will do in the great and final judgment. In each human heart this sacred autumn fire of purification is burning as a vestal flame. To each human being the apostolic precept is uttered, "Quench not the Spirit," put not out the heavenly fire.

(H. Macmillan, D. D.)

A fan is a certain instrument which the husbandman uses to cleanse, or purge his corn from the chaff, evil seeds, and all filth whatsoever. Now John Baptist alludes to such an instrument as this.

1. By Christ's fan is meant His Word, His holy gospel, especially the doctrine thereof; it is by this He cleanses and purges His floor. "Now you are clean through the word I have spoken unto you."

2. The dispensation of God's providence: for this was also a fan in Christ's hand, by which He fanned away those unbelieving Jews, and so purged His floor; I mean, the time was now come that their national, legal, and external church-state must be pulled down and dissolved, the dispensation was changed, the priesthood changed, and right of Church membership changed. So that unless they receive Christ, believe in Christ, and are found gracious persons, fit wheat for Christ's spiritual garner or gospel Church (which is built up of lively stones), as chaff the gospel dispensation like a fan purges them out.

3. Christ hath also another fan in His hand, viz., the fan of Church discipline. And many persons falling into sin, are purged like chaff out of His floor thereby.(1) Sometimes some evil and corrupt persons, who get among God's people (or into His Church) and pass awhile for wheat, i.e., for gracious persons, yet in time God suffers them to fall into one temptation or another, by which means they are fanned away. The holy Jesus by His wise providence, making a discovery of them, and their evil tempers and dispositions.(2) Others, whom Christ would have purged out of His Church, may be suffered to such in some evil, corrupt, and dangerous principle, or errors in fundamentals, like that of "Hymeneus and Alexander" (1 Timothy 1:20); whose errors being discovered are purged out.(3) Also many fall into notorious and scandalous sins, and are purged out by this fan. Also(4) some who are chaff, or unsound Christians, may be suffered to take up undue offences against the Church, or Churches to whom they do belong, and by giving way to temptation, they may become unreconcilable, magnifying their own wisdom and self-conceitedness, so by a secret hand of God be discovered and purged out.

4. Jesus Christ hath also another fan in His hand to purge His floor, or cleanse His wheat from the chaff, filth, and defilement of sin, namely the Holy Spirit; and by this means He cleanses and purifies, in a gracious manner, the souls of His own people: "Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God" (1 Corinthians 6:11). What filthy creatures wore those Corinthians, before the Lord Jesus by His Spirit had purged and sanctified them. Faith, of the operation of God, is a most excellent grace; it is by faith in the blood of Christ that we come to be purged from the guilt of sin; faith applying His merits and righteousness unto the soul in justification; and such is the nature thereof, that it makes holy the hearts and lives of all such persons in whom it is by the Spirit wrought or infused in sanctification; "And hath put no difference between them and us, purifying their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:9). Yea, it cleanseth them "from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, that they may perfect holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7:1). But let me tell you that the Spirit and grace of Christ, in this respect, is as a fan, and rather to cleanse the saints, by purging out the chaff of corruption, which naturally is in their hearts and lives, than to purge hypocrites and false professors out of the Church, and to that I principally refer here.

5. Moreover, Christ hath the fan of persecution, or the sufferings of the cross, and all other afflictions which He brings upon His people, which He uses to purge and purify their souls, and His Churches too. And from hence afflictions are compared to a refiner's fire: "He shall sit as a refiner's fire, and purifier of silver." He, that is, the Messiah, i.e., our Lord Jesus Christ; this His work, viz., to purge His people, who in this place are compared to silver and gold, that is refined; as in my text they are likened unto wheat. In this He is compared to a refiner, and hath His furnace; in the other to a husbandman, and so hath His fan. Both these texts allude to the same thing, and doing the same work, namely, to sever and separate the clean from the unclean, the gold from the dross, the chaff from the wheat.

(Benjamin Keach.)

Scripture abounds with comparisons drawn from the various occupations of the husbandman, e.g., threshing and winnowing (Isaiah 21:10; Jeremiah 15:7). The visible Church may be considered as Christ's floor here On this floor, or in the visible Church, there is a mixture of wheat and chaff — of really believing and holy people, with hypocrites and ungodly persons. A separation, however, will be made between them. Christ is omniscient to discriminate character; and omnipotent to put His will into execution. He distinguishes and separates characters —

(1)by the doctrines of His Word;

(2)by the dispensations of His providence;

(3)by the convictions of His Spirit.By these means, a considerable distinction and discovery of character is made even now, and it will be completed at the Judgment.

(James Foote, M. A.)

How well it fits Him, and He it!Could Satan's clutches snatch the fan, what work would he make! He would winnow in a tempest, yea, in a whirlwind, and blow the best away. Had man the fan in his hand, especially in distracted times, out goes for chaff all opposite to the opinions of his party. But the fan is in so good a hand it cannot be mended. Only His hand who knows hearts is proper for that employment.

(Thomas Fuller.)

I. 'Tis supposed in the text, that good and evil are really different in kind, absolutely and intrinsically, essentially and in the nature of things. This appears in the similitude under which good and bad men are here represented, of wheat and chaff; which are not mere external arbitrary denominations, but things in their whole nature and kind really and essentially different. The whole foundation of religion, and of God's governing the world at all, as a moral governor, relies entirely upon this principle — that every man is, as to his moral character, what his own behaviour and practice makes him, really and intrinsically, and by as certain and determinate a distinction; as wheat and chaff are, by their real and proper natures, different from each other.

II. A distinct declaration, that the great design of God, as in every dispensation of religion in general, so in the gospel more particularly, is to separate the evil from the good by proper trials; and that this design will be effectually accomplished by Christ — in the present life partly, and to certain degrees; in the future life perfectly, totally, and finally. By temptations, therefore, of all kinds, is the sincerity of men's virtue distinguished in the present life.

III. From hence (I say) arises one obvious and general inference, of great extent and of the highest importance-that whatever doctrine in religion has any tendency to persuade men, or make them imagine that they can be in any degree the better for their profession of the gospel of Christ, any otherwise than as their knowledge of the gospel of Christ makes them to be better and more virtuous men: that is, in the language of my text, whatever tends to persuade men that chaff may pass for wheat, while it continues to be only chaff, is a direct mockery of God, and deceit upon themselves. "Little children," says the apostle, "let no man deceive you: he that doeth righteousness is righteous."

(S. Clarke, D. D.)

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