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Matthew 3:12

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Whose fan is in his hand - The Romans are here termed God's fan, as, in Matthew 3:10, they were called his axe, and, in Matthew 22:7, they are termed his troops or armies.

The winnowing fan of the Hindoos is square, made of split bamboo; and the corn is winnowed by waving the fan backwards with both hands - "Whose fan is in his hand."

His floor - Does not this mean the land of Judea, which had been long, as it were, the threshing-floor of the Lord? God says, he will now, by the winnowing fan (viz. the Romans) thoroughly cleanse this floor - the wheat, those who believe in the Lord Jesus, he will gather into his garner, either take to heaven from the evil to come, or put in a place of safety, as he did the Christians, by sending them to Pella, in Coelosyria, previously to the destruction of Jerusalem. But he will burn up the chaff - the disobedient and rebellions Jews, who would not come unto Christ, that they might have life.

Unquenchable fire - That cannot be extinguished by man.

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible

His fan - The word used here and rendered “fan” means a winnowing shovel instead. It was used for throwing the grain, after it was threshed, into the air, so that the chaff might be driven away by the wind. This mode of separating the grain from the chaff is still practiced in the East. It is not probable that the fan, as the term is now used, was known to the Orientals as an instrument for cleaning grain. See the notes at Isaiah 30:24.

His floor - The threshing-floor was an open space, or area, in the field, usually on an elevated part of the land, Genesis 50:10. It had no covering or walls. It was a space of ground 30 or 40 paces in diameter, and made smooth by rolling it or treading it hard. A high place was selected for the purpose of keeping it dry, and for the convenience of winnowing the grain by the wind. The grain was usually trodden out by oxen. Sometimes it was beaten with flails, as with us; and sometimes with a sharp threshing instrument, made to roll over the grain and to cut the straw at the same time. See the notes at Isaiah 41:15.

Shall purge - Shall cleanse or purify. Shall remove the chaff, etc.

The garner - The granary, or place to deposit the wheat.

Unquenchable fire - Fire that shall not be extinguished, that will utterly consume it. By the floor, here, is represented the Jewish people. By the wheat, the righteous, or the people of God. By the chaff, the wicked. They are often represented as being driven away like chaff before the wind, Job 21:18; Psalm 1:4; Isaiah 17:13; Hosea 13:13. They are also represented as chaff which the fire consumes, Isaiah 5:24. This image is often used to express judgments, Isaiah 41:15; “Thou shall thresh the mountains and beat them small, and shalt make the hills as chaff.” By the unquenchable fire is meant the eternal suffering of the wicked in hell, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9; Mark 9:48; Matthew 25:41.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
To make application to the souls of the hearers, is the life of preaching; so it was of John's preaching. The Pharisees laid their chief stress on outward observances, neglecting the weightier matters of the moral law, and the spiritual meaning of their legal ceremonies. Others of them were detestable hypocrites, making their pretences to holiness a cloak for iniquity. The Sadducees ran into the opposite extreme, denying the existence of spirits, and a future state. They were the scornful infidels of that time and country. There is a wrath to come. It is the great concern of every one to flee from that wrath. God, who delights not in our ruin, has warned us; he warns by the written word, by ministers, by conscience. And those are not worthy of the name of penitents, or their privileges, who say they are sorry for their sins, yet persist in them. It becomes penitents to be humble and low in their own eyes, to be thankful for the least mercy, patient under the greatest affliction, to be watchful against all appearances of sin, to abound in every duty, and to be charitable in judging others. Here is a word of caution, not to trust in outward privileges. There is a great deal which carnal hearts are apt to say within themselves, to put aside the convincing, commanding power of the word of God. Multitudes, by resting in the honours and mere advantages of their being members of an outward church, come short of heaven. Here is a word of terror to the careless and secure. Our corrupt hearts cannot be made to produce good fruit, unless the regenerating Spirit of Christ graft the good word of God upon them. And every tree, however high in gifts and honours, however green in outward professions and performances, if it bring not forth good fruit, the fruits meet for repentance, is hewn down and cast into the fire of God's wrath, the fittest place for barren trees: what else are they good for? If not fit for fruit, they are fit for fuel. John shows the design and intention of Christ's appearing, which they were now speedily to expect. No outward forms can make us clean. No ordinances, by whomsoever administered, or after whatever mode, can supply the want of the baptism of the Holy Ghost and of fire. The purifying and cleansing power of the Holy Spirit alone can produce that purity of heart, and those holy affections, which accompany salvation. It is Christ who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. This he did in the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit sent upon the apostles, Ac 2:4. This he does in the graces and comforts of the Spirit, given to those that ask him, Lu 11:13; Joh 7:38,39; see Ac 11:16. Observe here, the outward church is Christ's floor, Isa 21:10. True believers are as wheat, substantial, useful, and valuable; hypocrites are as chaff, light and empty, useless and worthless, carried about with every wind; these are mixed, good and bad, in the same outward communion. There is a day coming when the wheat and chaff shall be separated. The last judgment will be the distinguishing day, when saints and sinners shall be parted for ever. In heaven the saints are brought together, and no longer scattered; they are safe, and no longer exposed; separated from corrupt neighbours without, and corrupt affections within, and there is no chaff among them. Hell is the unquenchable fire, which will certainly be the portion and punishment of hypocrites and unbelievers. Here life and death, good and evil, are set before us: according as we now are in the field, we shall be then in the floor.
Ellen G. White
In Heavenly Places, 310.3

Between the worldly man and the one who is faithfully serving God there is a great gulf fixed. Upon the most momentous subjects—God and truth and eternity—their thoughts and sympathies and feelings are not in harmony. One class is ripening as wheat for the garner of God, the other as tares for the fires of destruction. How can there be unity of purpose or action between them? ... HP 310.3

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Ellen G. White
Maranatha, 204.3

An apostate church will unite with the powers of earth and hell to place upon the forehead or in the hand, the mark of the beast, and prevail upon the children of God to worship the beast and his image. They will seek to compel them to renounce their allegiance to God's law, and yield homage to the papacy. Then will come the times which will try men's souls; for the confederacy of apostasy will demand that the loyal subjects of God shall renounce the law of Jehovah, and repudiate the truth of His word. Then will the gold be separated from the dross, and it will be made apparent who are the godly, who are the loyal and true, and who are the disloyal, the dross and the tinsel. What clouds of chaff will then be borne away by the fan of God! Where now our eyes can discover only rich floors of wheat, will be chaff blown away with the fan of God. Every one who is not centered in Christ will fail to stand the test and ordeal of that day. While those who are clothed with Christ's righteousness will stand firm to truth and duty, those who have trusted in their own righteousness will be ranged under the black banner of the prince of darkness. Then it will be seen whether the choice is for Christ or Belial. Mar 204.3

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Ellen G. White
The Publishing Ministry, 170.2

Prediction Regarding a Purging of Institutions—The Lord will work to purify His church. I tell you in truth, the Lord is about to turn and overturn in the institutions called by His name. Just how soon this refining process will begin I cannot say, but it will not be long deferred. He whose fan is in His hand will cleanse His temple of its moral defilement. He will thoroughly purge His floor.—Letter 4, 1895. PM 170.2

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 554

These persons had not experienced the work of reformation, or sanctification through the truth. They were coarse and uncultivated. They had never tasted of the sweet, pure refinement of the world to come. They had never experienced, neither had their hearts been awed by, the mystery of godliness. They placed divine and eternal things upon a level with common things, and would talk of heaven and the coming of Jesus as they would of a horse. They had a superficial knowledge or theory of the truth, but further than this they were ignorant. Its principles had not taken hold of their lives and led them to an abhorrence of self. They had never viewed themselves in the light in which Paul viewed himself, which led him to see the moral defects in his character. They had never been slain by the law of God, and had not separated themselves from their impurities and defilement. It is the favorite occupation of some of this class to engage in trifling conversation and levity. This habit they contracted, and indulged upon occasions which should have been characterized by solemn meditation and devotion. In doing this, they manifested a lack of true dignity and refinement, and forfeited the esteem of sensible persons who had no knowledge of the truth. This class threw themselves into a current of temptation and kept where the enemy led them successfully, and he has so easily controlled their minds and corrupted their entire experience that in all probability they will be unable to recover themselves out of his snare and obtain a healthful experience. 2T 554.1

The fires of the day of God will consume the stubble and chaff, and there will be nothing left of any who continue in the ungodly course which they have so long loved. This class have a disrelish for the society of those whom God is truly with. Their religious experience is of so low an order that they have no part nor lot in a rational, intelligent religious experience; therefore they have despised the society of those whom God leads and is teaching. Sarcasm and irony is the stronghold of some peculiar minds of this class. They are bold and insolent, and do not regard good manners. They have no care to discriminate and render honor to whom honor is due. They manifest a proud, rebellious, defiant spirit against those who differ from their opinions. Their boisterous manners and wrong course lead the true servant of God to feel that they have resisted the efforts made for them, and he becomes disheartened in reference to laboring any further in their behalf. They engage in a contemptible triumph of exactly the same nature as that which Satan and evil angels engage in over the souls whom they secure. They have Satan and evil angels on their side to exult with them. The cases of the persons in whom this cast of character is peculiarly and strikingly developed are hopeless. They are incased in self-righteousness, and everything like refinement and elevation of character with which they are brought in contact is termed by them pride and lack of humility. Coarseness and ignorance are regarded as humility. 2T 554.2

With this class you have obtained a large share of your religious experience; therefore you are not qualified for the work of teaching the most solemn, refined, elevating, and withal the most testing message to mortals. You may reach a class of minds, but the more intelligent portion of the community will be driven further off by your labors. You have not a sufficient knowledge of even the common branches of education to be an instructor of men and women who have a wily devil on the other hand to suggest and devise ways and means to lead them from the truth. 2T 555.1

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