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But, observe, it is only a reprieve that is asked, not perpetual impunity in sin. A barren fig tree may be allowed to stand for a time, but it will not be kept after all hope of fruit from it is at an end. So, though God bear with sinners long, he will not bear with them always. "His Spirit will not always strive with man." The unfruitful, the unbelieving, impenitent, and disobedient, shall certainly be cut off at last; and the longer they are spared, and the greater the opportunities and privileges they have abused, the heavier will be their destruction. They shall be cut down, and cast into the fire. This sentence and doom all the holy creatures of God shall acknowledge to be just and right; and they shall praise God because his judgments are made manifest. Awful to think, too, the great, meritorious, and merciful Intercessor himself shall agree to let the sentence of condemnation take its course! "And if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." Surely it must add tenfold misery to the sentence, that it will be approved, nay, pronounced, that it may be executed in all its horror, by the gracious Redeemer, at that dread hour, when, in the character of judge, he shall consign the unprofitable servant to be cast into outer darkness, where there are weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In further improving this parable, I would observe,
1. That it cuts up all pleas of negative goodness. It is, indeed, part of the character of believers, that they are "blameless and harmless, the children of God, without rebuke;"* but there is a way of speaking of harmlessness quite inconsistent with that commendation. It is not unusual to hear people speaking of themselves with much self-complacency, and as having nothing to fear, because, as they imagine and say, they have done nobody any harm, and have behaved decently. This cannot be absolutely true, even in the low sense in which they use the expression. But, granting it to be true, in so far, at least, as that they have not been guilty of flagrant injustice, or mischief to their fellow-creatures, or gross, positive, and open contempt of God: have they forgotten that much more than this is required? Have they forgotten their inward depravity, and their sins of omission? Have they forgotten that God requires not only certain bad things to be avoided, but certain good things to be done?-that he requires positive obedience?—that he expects them to do all they can for his * Phil. ii. 15.
glory, and for the good of his creatures? The harmlessness of such persons is very different from the harmlessness of the children of God; for, no sooner does the apostle describe them as "blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation," than he adds, "among whom ye shine as lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." It is impossible that a man can be decent, if he be not pious, or that he can be blameless, if he be not useful. Yet it is plain that some people's ideas of goodness of character go no farther than the negative, or than that there are no very glaring, positive crimes to lay to their charge. Let them not forget that unproductiveness is decidedly criminal. A poisonous tree is, no doubt, worse than a barren tree; still, however, the barren tree will be cut down, as a cumberer of the ground.
2. This parable calls on you to examine yourselves whether you be barren, or fruitful; and to follow out the result aright, whatever it may be. It will not be difficult for most of you to ascertain whether you be living to God or to the world; and, in some cases, the consciousness of your doing the one or the other will be present to your minds, without any effort of formal inquiry. How awakening ought this parable to be to you who are in a state of natural barrenness! You are barren as to God's service, bringing no revenue of glory to him. You are barren as to the Saviour, and virtually say, "Let him find satisfaction where he may, in seeing the travail of his soul; he shall find none in us.' You are so far barren to the community, that you contribute nothing to its interest by a pious example, and spread the contagion, if not of vice, by an immoral, at least of carelessness, by a careless conduct. You are barren as to the interests of the Church; for, you care for none of these things, or directly oppose them, or meddle with them in such a way as rather to injure than benefit them. And you are barren as to yourselves; for, whatever you may acquire of worldly gain or pleasure, what real profit can there be to you in such things at last, when your everlasting welfare is neglected and forgotten? It is well if any of you are beginning to be undeceived. To such we say, "What fruit have ye of these things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of these things is death." The Lord is now looking upon you; and, if any of you say, "I have sinned, and perverted that which is right, and it profited me not; he will deliver your soul from going into the pit, and your life shall see the
light." "Turn not aside any more after vain things which cannot profit, nor deliver;" but turn at once to the Lord. Apprehend, in order to your becoming fruitful, the necessity of being united to Christ-of being ingrafted, as it were, into him; and receive him by faith. These are his own words, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me." "Without me ye can do nothing." "If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned."
But, if you are already bearing fruit unto God, there is still instruction for you here. Feel reminded what your character is, and what is expected of you: and seek to be still more fruitful. Confess your shortcomings, and be desirous to be more productive. Let the warnings presented to you in the removal of others, and in your own troubles, operate as an incitement to your greater diligence. Every branch in me," saith Christ, "that beareth not fruit, my Father taketh away; and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.' You, too, are enjoying additional advantages of culture, in the vineyard of God; that is, you are still enjoying the benefit of providences and ordinances: of you, therefore, also, a corresponding improvement is expected. See, then, that you "walk worthy of the Lord, unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God."
3. This parable calls on us all to be thankful to the Lord for sparing us hitherto. It gives this call to us without exception, and especially if any of us have been spared in the time of great danger, restored from severe sickness. It calls very plainly on the unconverted to be thankful; for where would they now have been, had they been cut off in their sins? It calls on believers, also, to be thankful for being spared, for thus they have an opportunity of doing more good, and of obtaining a more complete preparation for heaven. It becomes, therefore, every one of us to say with Hezekiah, "The grave cannot praise thee, O Lord; death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. The living, the living, he shall praise thee; as I do this day."
In the last place. Let none of us so abuse God's sparing mercy as to presume on it for the future; but let us all
improve the present season without delay, and hold ourselves in constant readiness for death. Let the ungodly remember that a reprieve is not a pardon; and therefore, instead of presuming on it to the neglect of salvation, let them improve it for the very purpose of securing their salvation, and thus expostulate with every one who can thus abuse God's goodness, "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but, after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God?" Neither let this sparing mercy be abused by believers; but let them too remember the uncertain tenure by which they hold life and all its opportunities, and be careful to improve them to the utmost, while yet they are theirs. None of us knows whether he may be "let alone" to live out this year. The angel of death is hovering around us, and God only knows who of us shall be the first victim. The axe may not even be lying at the root of the tree of our life, it may be lifted up, and about to fall with the fatal stroke. Lord, grant that we may be ready for that stroke, whenever it descends! Lord, grant that the same blow which fells our body to the earth, may dismiss our souls to heaven!
LUKE XIII. 10-17.
"And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11. And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. 12. And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity. 13. And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. 14. And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath-day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath-day. 15. The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? 16. And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbathday? 17. And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him."
DURING the whole of his public ministry, the Lord Jesus Christ was most diligent in working the work of Him that sent him. While every day of the week was employed by him in labouring for the good of the bodies and souls of men, the Sabbath was especially signalized by many of his wonderful works of mercy. On that day, he was careful to attend religious ordinances in the temple, or some of the synagogues; thereby embracing the best opportunities of usefulness, honouring the public service of God, and setting before his people, in every age, an example that they should follow his steps. We formerly read* that, when he came to Nazareth," he went into the synagogue on the Sabbathday, as his custom was:" and in the passage now under review, we are told that on a certain occasion, not particularly specified as to time, or place, "he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath." From his mode of procedure in the synagogue at Nazareth, it appears that he sometimes taught by reading and expounding a passage of Scripture; whereas, on other occasions, we find him speaking without
* Luke iv. 16. See Lecture on that passage, for an account of the institution of Synagogues.