Axe of God

For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
~ Luke 23:31

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
~ Hebrews 10:28-31

And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
~ Isaiah 5:2-7

For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Those that be planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing;
~ Jeremiah 17:8, John 15:2, Psalm 92:13-14

See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven:
~ Hebrews 12:25

Upon Matthew 3:10, by James Renwick. Sermon 24.

And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: Therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
~ Matthew 3:10

The gospel is an inestimable treasure, and is made up of many rare and choice rubies of great price, far beyond the chiefest pearls and precious stones, that the world can afford. What can the heart of man devise or desire, but it is to be found in the field of the gospel: But though it be such an inestimable and matchless treasure, yet how few are there that attain to any thing of the knowledge of the worth thereof. Ay! how few get the knowledge of the worth thereof. How few are there that get such knowledge of this pearl, that makes them sell all that they have, and buy it. But woe and wrath will be to you, if ye get not good of this gospel; better for you ye had been born in that place of the world, where the gospel was never preached, nor heard tell of; and in a place where Christ and salvation had not been freely offered and holden forth to you. But now Christ hath been freely offered to you in the gospel; and yet ye are not the better thereof; but slight the same: Yea, ye slight Christ and his offers; and woe will be to you in so doing. Would ye know the great sin of this age, and the great sin of Scotland? It is even this, they have not put that esteem upon the gospel, that they ought to have done. And this declares, that before ye lose any thing, or put any thing in hazard for it, ye will rather part with Christ, and with all his free offers in the gospel. What ails our lairds that they come not, out to hear the gospel preached? They dare not for fear of losing their estates: But many will lose their souls in saving their estates: And curse the day that ever they were lords or lairds: For, by saving their lands and honours, they will lose their immortal souls. There is a great profession, and many professors in this generation: But oh? we fear, few have received Christ into their hearts. What is the sin wherefore the great God is contending with us at this time? It is even this, he hath fully and freely offered his Son Jesus Christ to us in the gospel and we have slighted and despised him: This is the great sin of Scotland, we have slighted and undervalued the Son of God. He hath been there many years knocking at the door of our hearts, but few have opened and letten him in, which is the great sin wherefore he hath been contending with us these many years past. But woe will be to thee, that holds this king at the door, and still declares by thy practice, that thou wilt have none of him: For he cares not what ye profess, as long as your practice speaks the contrary.

Now John the Baptist, Christ’s fore-runner, comes forth here and preaches, and there comes forth a great multitude (as there is here this day) to hear him; many whereof are in Hell this day: And we fear it be so with many of you; for your countenance declares, that ye are an obdurate and an impenitent generation. Here, John deals very freely with this generation, that he was sent unto, by calling them a generation of vipers, and forewarning them of their danger: And – O! that we might be so with you, that so we might be free of your blood. Bring forth, says he, fruit meet for repentance; and then the argument he makes use of, is this, The axe is laid to the root of the trees; and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire: Even, as it he had said, The axe of God’s wrath is laid to the root of every professor, and these professors, who bring not forth good fruit, shall be hewn down and cast into Hell. Many of you think not much of the hearing of preachings; but there is not a preaching that ye hear, that ye are not wrought upon by, to make you forsake your sin and to draw near unto God; but it is a stroke given you with this axe, to take the life of your souls. Now stroke this Sabbath, and if ye get a preaching the next Sabbath, it is another stroke; and so one stroke after another, till at length ye plunge down into the fire of Hell. Now in these words which I have read, we have,

1. The condition of these, who are under the means of grace and salvation, and never bettered thereby: The axe is laid to the root of all such trees, and is ready to cut them down: The justice of God is standing with the axe of God’s wrath, ready to hew you down: And we fear it be so with the most part of you, ye that are the dry and withered professors, that have come there many years, to follow after ordinances, and are never profited thereby, and have never been pursued to leave of, and forsake your sins. O set about this work of holiness and righteousness! (which is meant by the good fruit) for the axe is ready to cut you down. When David saw the destroying angel standing over against Jerusalem, with a sword drawn in his hand, David thought that a fearful sight: But we tell you, and warn you of it, the great God is marching on the forefront of his host, coming against Scotland, and will take vengeance upon all that have been slighters of his Son Christ Jesus.

II. We have in these words, The Lord’s impartial dealing with all these persons, every man and every woman, great and small, rich and poor; no exception of persons with him; for, whoever they be, that he finds barren and fruitless, they shall be hewn down, and cast into the fire. Power and moying among men, causes this person, and the other person get favour, and be spared, but it will not be so with him; for there will be no respect of persons with him: But, be who they will, be they rich be they poor, be they old be they young, none shall be spared, that will be found fruitless and barren souls. If ye be found an old stock without fruit, ye shall be hewn down and cast into the fire of Hell.

III. We have that in the words, which makes persons the objects of God’s wrath; and it is this, Even the want of good fruit.

IV. We have the sentence they get, They are hewn down and cast into the fire. The sentence is past already; we have all gotten the sentence, and if we get not faith and repentance, there is no recalling of the sentence again, no eviting of burning in Hell to all eternity. This shall be the lot of all barren souls.

V. The fifth thing we have to take notice of here, is, The dreadfulness of the punishment, that shall be inflicted upon the barren trees: If it were but such a punishment, wherewith men punish, to have a leg or an arm, or though it were the head cut off, that were but an ordinary punishment, it were nothing to bide it: But they will be hewn down, and cast into Hell’s fire.

VI, And lastly, We have the duration of this misery and torment: If it were for an hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand years, and then to be delivered out of it, there would be some ground of comfort; but there is no escaping, or out-winning through all eternity: And there the worm will never die, and the fire will never be quenched. If ye knew and believed your hazard, there would be another sort of a stir amongst you than there is: The father would say to the child, What will we do, child, if we be cast into Hell, and there be tormented through all eternity? The husband would say to the wife, and the wife to the husband, What will we do, if we be thrown down to Hell, and there tormented through eternity? But, Oh! there are few such fears, and few such questions, we apprehend amongst you.

We had occasion elsewhere, to speak to the first two of these things observed from the words: Now we come to the third observation, which is this, what makes persons the objects of God’s wrath? We tell you from the Lord, there are many in that unquenchable fire of Hell, that findeth the truth of it to their sad experience, that did as little look for it as any of you do, that are now tormented with the torments that we are telling you of; they are roasting and tormenting in these flames of Hell: And what is the reason of it? If ye had access to commune with them, they would tell you, that their unbelief and turning to God from the evil of their ways, and not bringing forth fruit unto God, was the cause of all their misery. Now, what is the main and the only thing that exposes people to this sad and miserable condition? We answer, That it is for the want of good fruit. The ground that is oft rained upon, and bringeth not forth good fruit, is near to cursing, and the end to be burnt: and we fear it be so with you in this place of the country; Galloway hath been often watered with the gospel, when other places have been dry; so, if ye bring not forth good fruit, ye are near to cursing. Ye may read Luke xiii. 6, 7, 8, 9. which is supposed to be a conference betwixt mercy and justice; justice pleading to have vengeance executed, mercy crying, spare them till they get another shower of ordinances; spare them till they get another offer of Christ, and of salvation through him; and then, if they embrace him not, and bring not forth fruit to his praise, I shall plead for them no more, but shall give you leave to execute wrath and vengeance upon them. It is even as a gardener were going through his orchard, and where he finds a dry and withered branch he takes his hedging knife, and cuts it from the tree, and brings it in, and casts it on the fire; and so shall it be with every one that brings not forth good fruit, they shall be cut down and cast into the fire of Hell. But it may be, ye will say, seeing good fruit is so absolutely necessary, what is requisite to the bringing forth of good fruit? In answer to this,

I. I shall speak somewhat concerning that.

II. I shall speak to some assertions from this doctrine, against some of the errors that we are like to have to do with in our day and time.

And, III. I shall make application.

1. Now for the first. What is requisite to the bringing forth of good fruit? saith the trembling soul. O! is there any such among you this day? But in answer to this, we say these things are necessary:

1. It is requisite that the tree be good, Would ye bring forth good fruit? I must tell you, the tree must be good, before the fruit be good; for a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. But ye may say, What is it to have the tree good? I will tell you it is this: Ye must be transplanted, We grow all in a very base and barren soil, so long as we are in the state of nature. Ye that are in this state, (and, Oh! we fear, there be many such here,) so long as ye continue in it, your most holy performances are like the cutting off a dog’s neck, and the murdering of men, Isa. 66:3. So, till ye be taken out of the old stock of nature, and planted in the new and living vine Christ Jesus, ye cannot bring forth any good fruit: Let you multiply as many duties as ye please, tho’ ye should pray, till your knees fail under you; and though ye should deal all that ye have to the poor, let you do never so many good works, they will be to no purpose, so long as ye are in the state of nature. Therefore shall we ask all of you these questions, Are ye in the state of nature, or in the state of grace? Are ye converted, or unconverted? Are ye in Christ, or out of Christ? Are ye servants unto God, or are ye servants unto Satan? O! will ye ask these, and such like questions at yourselves, and at one another; for, if ye be in a state of nature, all your performances are but adding sin to sin: Therefore, arise and cry, night and day, unto the great husbandman, That he would come and cut you off the old stock, that ye have long grown upon, and plant you in. to his blessed Son Jesus Christ, who is the true and living vine. John xv. I am the vine, Ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit. This is the union that is betwixt Christ and his people, and all the members of his mystical body; and let me tell you, if ye be strangers to this union, ye are strangers to partaking of the benefits of his death and sufferings; ye are strangers to the having and entertaining of communion and fellowship with him here; and if ye be so, ye shall be debarred from having any communion and fellowship with him to all eternity.

Now, what is to be planted in this noble and living vine, but to believe in his name? As ye have it, John vi. 56. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him: That is, to eat his flesh and drink his blood by faith. It is nothing else then, but believing in his name. So long then, as ye are strangers to closing with Christ, upon his own terms, all your prayers, and all your coming to preachings, is but the heaping up of wrath upon your own heads. Therefore we advise you, to labour to know what it is, to be ingrafted in the true and living vine, that so ye may bring forth good fruit; for till then, all the fruit that ye bring forth, will be but evil fruit. Oh!, many as ill tree is here this day; but few good. Oh! that ye would cry mightily to God, That he would send forth his Spirit, to convince you of sin and misery. And, Oh! that ye would be all disquieted, and find no rest in your consciences, from the sight and sense of sin and misery, till ye be necessitated to flee, by faith, unto Jesus Christ, and get the union made up betwixt him and your souls.

2. It is requisite for the bringing forth good fruit, that it be according to the word of God. Your fruit must be according to his will revealed in his word; they that cast at his word, from being their rule, be their shews and pretences what they will, they have nothing of that, which he will account good fruit. Whatever be the blind zeal of Papists and Quakers, as it hath not a ground in the word of God, so it, is but ill fruit in his sight. Therefore let the will and command in his word be eyed by you in all that you do, and then it will be looked on as good fruit.

3. It is requisite to the bringing forth good fruit, that it please God. We fear many of you please yourselves, because ministers and other professors are pleased with you. Oh! many in these lands, at this time, are greatly deceiving themselves, by pleasing themselves with that, which is not pleasing to God. Your wares must be such as please the merchant; of which you may see in that word, Heb. xiii. 16. But to do good, and to communicate, forget not; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. For it is that which is pleasing to him, that is good fruit. But some of you may be questioning within yourselves, and saying, of if I knew what fruit would please him? In answer to this, I would say,

(1) What ye do must be done in faith, Heb. xi. 6. without faith it is impossible to please him.’ Luther says, “they that go about to please God without faith, go about to “please him with sin.” Then if ye would please God, ye must first be believers; ye must accept of Christ, and close with him by faith; and then, if once ye were in him, ye shall be fit for performing such duties, as will be pleasing to him; but never till then.

(2) If ye would bring forth fruit well pleasing to God, then whatever duties, ye go about, ye must go about them with a dependence upon Jesus Christ. We fear many of you go about your prayers without Christ, and then they are but sin: ye that go to him in your own strength, without depending upon Jesus Christ, you and your prayers will be both rejected; for, he is our high priest who makes atonement for us. So ye must go to God through Christ, and depend upon him for acceptance, both to your person and performances; and then will ye be well-pleasing to God; but not till then. O but it be sad, that so many of you should live so long under ordinances, and yet remain ignorant of the way to obtain salvation.

(3.) If ye would bring forth good fruit, such as will be well-pleasing unto God, then ye must get all your furniture from Christ, for going about all your duties. Whenever ye go to prayer, either by yourselves, or with others, look to him for furniture, and then will your duties be well pleasing to his Father, and so be looked upon as good fruit. But, O! many have ground to mourn for their duties, as well as for their sins, because they go about them in their own strength,

(4.) Would ye bring forth good fruit? then whatever ye do, ye must eye the glory of God in it, 1 Cor. x. 31. Whether therefore ye eat or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. See then, that whatever ye do, ye have a warrant for it in his word, and do it in faith, with an eye to his glory, and then it will be accepted of, as good fruit.

(5.) Would ye bring forth good fruit? then labour to have your duties flowing from a principle of love to God. We fear a natural conscience puts many of you to your prayers, and brings you forth to your meetings. Who of you dare say, that it is love to him, and to his ordinances, that brings you forth to preachings? And, who of you does love constrain to rise up in the morning, and to go to your knees to seek the Lord? And, who of you does love constrain to read his word, and to meditate upon it? And, who of you does love constrain to supply his distressed members in their necessities? Ye may try yourselves, if it be so with you: But oh! we fear, that fear of Hell puts many to their duty; because the natural conscience will not let the soul have peace, till it go about duties. But love to God, and making conscience in obeying his commandments, must put you to your duty, or no acceptance with God for you; for otherwise ye will not be looked upon, as these that bring forth good fruit.

4. It is requisite to the bringing forth of good fruit, that there be an honest heart, such as the psalmist prays for, Psal. cxix. 80. Let my heart be found in thy statutes, that I be not ashamed. O! many play the hypocrite with God; they draw near with their mouths, and do honour him with their lips, when their hearts are far removed from him; such fruit as that will not please God. Who of you dare say, That you are not hypocrites? Are your hearts present with God, as your bodies are present here? And are you sending up your hearts to God by prayer? If it be so, that ye are darting up ejaculations to him in the time of his worship, etc., it is well; ye may have ground to hope, that ye are of these that are bringing forth good fruit.” But, are ye of these, that are satisfying themselves with bringing their bodies here, and letting their hearts go with the fool’s eyes, through the ends of the earth? Then remember that word that ye have, Mal. i. 14. But cursed be the deceiver, which hath in his flock a male, and voweth and sacrificeth unto the Lord a corrupt thing. O but sincerity be much worth in the sight of the Lord! David says, Psal. cxxxix. 23. Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any wicked way in me. If ye be not upright and sincere before God, your fruit is not good fruit.

5. Also it is requisite, if ye would bring forth good fruit, that ye bring forth fruit in season, Psal. i. 3. But ye may say, What is it to bring forth fruit in season? I answer, if ye would bring forth fruit in season, ye must not confound duties: As for instance, when ye are hearing preaching, as ye are doing now, ye must not be muttering and praying; for hearing the word preached is one duty, and prayer is another. And ye must go about your spiritual duties in their season, and your civil duties in their season. Indeed it is seasonable, that the first road ye go in the morning, be to God to pour out your hearts before him and then read his word, and meditate upon it, and pray for his blessing upon it, and labour to keep your hearts with God through the day. And upon the Sabbath day, search out your idols, and endeavour to get a stroke upon them, that sin may be subdued under you: And search out your wants, and lay them out before the Lord that he may supply them; for these are seasonable fruits unto the Lord. But, O! how many are there that satisfy themselves with the bare form of duties, and press not for the power and life of godliness. How many are there, that satisfy themselves with a few words in the morning and evening, to quiet their guilty consciences, without any sense of the evil of sin, or need that they are in of Christ, or any spiritual life upon their soul, and take no care to keep their hearts through the day, but can let faith and conscience flee upon every small temptation? These are very evil and unseasonable fruits. O but there are very few, who bear and bring forth seasonable fruit in this day we live in! But, O study to make your calling and election sure, now when the Lord is threatening to make an end of us by his judgments! I charge all of you to be at pains about this. What if this as of his wrath hew you down before you get your calling and election made sure: And then, what shall your misery be, but eternal separation from his presence! O! will ye remember, that although many are called, yet few are chosen. Many are called by the outward call of the gospel, but few are called by the inward call of the Spirit. O! rest not till ye get it made sure, that ye belong to the Lord; for I fear, that if the devil had his own from amongst you, we would be but a very small company. Therefore make this sure, that ye are brought from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God. But, O! we fear, that many of you have sit your time; therefore delay no longer, for if death find you in the state of nature, then there will be no remedy for you; but ye shall be hewn down with this axe of God’s justice; and cast into the fire of Hell, out of which there will be no redemption. The Lord make you consider it in time, and to him be praise. Amen.