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LUKE xiii. 6-9.
He spake also this parable: A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard: and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he, answering, said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down."
It is a wise ordination by our great Creator, that the outward works of His hands should have a fixed relation to the mind of man. In this way they are full of use: they call forth good states, and help them forward, or they give admonition and reproof. The changing seasons, as they mirror forth man's regeneration, either help him into harmony therewith, or they reprove him for his backward state. The changes themselves are to plead with him against continuing in evil, and urge him to proceed in the heavenward way. They tell him that this world is not his resting-place.
Such thoughts as these arise in our minds at our entrance on a new year. We see their truth at such a time. The close of one year and the commencement of another, is an important period in life. It rouses man up, calls home his thoughts, and disposes them to seriousness. turns him to serious reflections as to his state of mind, his progress in newness of life, or to the sad truth that he is still at ease in Zion, and wedded to his evils. Happy are such reflections if they make a salutary impression; if they produce a real change; if they melt the heart by thoughts of the Divine goodness to man, in prolonging his stay on the earth from year to year, in spite of his barren state of heart and mind, and his want of gratitude. Happy are such solemn thoughts when they lead to a change of purpose and a better state. At this time we, my brethren, are called to such reflections as these. We have now entered on a new year. We are called to think upon our present position as candidates for eternal life. We are to consider the use we have made and are making of our time on the earth; of the means we possess for good; of our progress heavenward, and our fitness, even now, for the bliss which awaits us hereafter. Let us, then, consider these things. Let us think on them in connection with the Divine goodness towards us in seeking so much and at all times to promote our best interests, and with the Divine forbearance towards us in not dealing with us according to our sins, but according to his mercy. Let us consider them from a passage in the Divine Word, appropriate to the
subject. A passage which seems suitable is that respecting the fig-tree in the vineyard, which cumbered the ground. It has been already given as a text.
This passage is a parable. It is like each of the other parables, a factitious history, embodying matter which relates to the Lord and his church. It is a pleasing mode of conveying instruction. Coming thus to our senses through natural images, it has a reality and fixedness not found in a language of abstract and common terms, and it is easy of apprehension. Another use in this mode of instruction is, that while it conveys doctrine in an obvious way to those who are disposed for its reception, still it hides it from the minds of those who would only profane it if they saw it clearly. Hence, our Lord, when asked the reason why He taught the people in parables, replied-" Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God; but to others in parables, that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.” "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them." (Luke viii. 10; Matt. xiii. 15.) Here He means, lest the people should commit profanation. But He was willing, when alone with His disciples, to explain to them His parables.
"A certain man," saith our text, "had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard." This certain man is evidently the Lord Himself, and the vineyard is His church. He uses a vineyard in various places to represent His church. For instance, we read in Isaiah, that the Lord had a vineyard, which the prophet describes, and describes what He did to it; and he adds—“ The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel,” (v. 7.) which house is a type of His church. By the vineyard let out to husbandmen, which the Lord describes in the Gospel, he evidently means His church. By the fig-tree in the vineyard the men of the church are meant, who should bring forth the fruit of righteous living. Often we find men described as trees in the Word, and good men to fruit-bearing trees; for instance, the Lord saith to His disciples, "Herein is my Father glorified that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John xv. 8.) The Lord saith by the prophet-" All the trees of the field shall know that I, the Lord, have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish." (Ezek. xvii. 24.) The trees here evidently mean men. The fig-tree of our text, therefore, images a man or men of the church. Fruit on such a tree means goodness in man, or
the good of life, especially what we call natural good. The Lord requires man to become good, or live a good life, as much as the owner of a vineyard wishes his trees to bring forth fruit. He required it of Israel's people, and always requires it of the men of His church. He comes to the fig-tree seeking fruit thereon. He came hungering to a fig-tree which he saw in the way, and on finding only leaves thereon, he cursed it, and it withered away, in which act we are to see an image of the mere professional Christian,-one in mere doctrine or faith only, and learn how he cannot stand in judgment before the Son of Man. This coming to the fig-tree in our text has reference, first, to the Lord visiting the Jewish people, and next, in the spiritual sense, to his visiting the church at all times. He visited his typical church by sending to it messengers and prophets, who were rejected, and at last he came Himself, and was rejected and crucified. Then, when every means had failed, He abolished that dispensation, and established a spiritual church among the Gentiles. He visits this church also, or comes to the men of it, seeking fruit on every fig-tree; in other words, His Divine Eye inspects every heart and mind, requiring every one to "yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness."
The text goes on to shew us how the Lord acts with those who are but as barren trees in the vineyard :-" Then said he to the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come, seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none." We now come to consider the Lord in two characters, one as the owner, and the other as the dresser of the vineyard. In the former He is as a king, and in the latter as a priest; the two set forth His Divine Essentials of truth and good. The vinedresser here must mean the same as the husbandman in the parable of the vine and its branches, in which the Lord saith-" My Father is the husbandman." We know that the term Father refers to the Lord as Divine Love or Good, and the term Son to the Divine Wisdom or Truth. We know that the Lord calls Himself Son of Man as to the Word, or as to Truth in the Humanity, and that as the Son of Man he judges the world. The Son of Man, or Truth apart from Good, would judge to condemnation; but Jesus saith-" If I judge, my judgment is true, for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me," (John viii. 16.) implying that true or righteous judgment is not done from Truth alone, but from Truth with Good, which Good is meant by Father. This Good would save and be merciful, and do everything possible for the good of man. Our text sets this beautifully forth. The owner of the vineyard would cut the fig-tree down; but no, the vine-dresser would not consent. Lord," said he, "let it alone this year also, till I dig
about it and dung it.' Here is shewn how the Lord will not condemn, but will act from love; will still shew his goodness and mercy to sinful man. "He is slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. "He is good
to all, and his tender mercies are over all His works." The vine-dresser would still spare the fig-tree, and dig about it, and dung it; and so will the Lord spare man, and work and strive with him, until everything is done for his salvation. The Lord did not cast off the Jewish people; He did not leave them, but they left Him; He stretched out His hands all the day long to a gainsaying and rebellious people; and at length came Himself in the flesh to save them; and only after they had rejected this His crowning mercy, did He establish His church among the Gentiles. As the vine-dresser digs about the fig-tree, loosening the soil, that he may give new life to it, so did the Lord remove the preponderating power of evil, and bring new divine influences to the hearts and minds of men. But all in vain, as regarded the Jewish church. The fig-tree would not bear fruit, and at length it was suffered to perish. The same Divine work is done at all times in the church. comes to every member thereof; He is with him in the truths of His Word; He stands at the door and knocks; He requires every one, as a tree in His vineyard, to " bear much fruit." He knocks at the door of every heart, and nothing of man's ingratitude can send Him away. He will not leave man, but will shew forbearance and mercy, and do all that can be done to him for his salvation. He says by the prophet—“ What could there have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?" (Is. v. 4.) This is a solemn appeal to the church, and it fully vindicates the Divine character and doings with men. He uses all means, and ceases not to use them, till every hope, and every ray of hope is past, and then the tree must cumber the ground no longer. "Let it alone this year also, till I dig about it, and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”
How deeply interesting and important is the teaching of our text! We, my brethren, should take it deeply to heart, for it comes addressed to all and each of us. The Lord has created us for heaven, and placed us here on earth for a time to prepare for that kingdom, by walking in the heavenward way. He has gifted us with every means for realizing this great end of our existence. His Word is in our hands, and we have faculties and powers for understanding and practising its precepts. What love and wisdom, what glorious things are contained in His Word! He, our God, has also redeemed us, and He watches, in his Providence, continually over us. He is with us to save us individually from sin, We have but to submit ourselves, and all will be
and create us anew.
well. But while we see how the Lord is long-suffering and slow to anger, we see also that barren trees are not always to cumber the ground; not always shall they stay to mar the vineyard. The wicked are to cease out of the land. was but for a time that the dresser of He said "If it bear fruit, well; and
the vineyard spared the fig tree.
Their leaf also shall not wither,
if not, then, after that, thou shalt cut it down." The same mercy which spared it for a season, would not and could not spare it for ever. The wicked must go to their own place. But the good shall inherit the land: the fruit-bearing trees shall endure for ever. Their fruit shall remain, and they shall go on and flourish. They are planted by the waters, and shall bring forth fruit in their season. and whatsoever they do shall prosper. at length shall bear fruit for ever in the paradise of God. Our text, as I have said, is appropriate at the present time. A new year has opened npon us. How short the past year appears to us! It is gone, and is now as a tale that is told. How swiftly time passes away! We look back on our past years, and say, How short they have been! How short is human life! How full of cares and troubles ! How uncertain, changing, and perishing are all things human! "Man is as the grass which groweth up. In the morning it flourisheth and groweth up; in the evening it is cut down and withereth." Our time is short, and yet the work before us is great and important. Swiftly and silently the time may pass away, but it is fraught with lasting consequences. We are working for eternity. We are sowing now, to reap hereafter; and as we sow, even so shall we reap. Time, then, how precious! Ask a dying man its value. Ask what he would give to be able to redeem the time he has misspent.
These are solemn thoughts. They are truths: and it is also true that too many of us are still wasting time away. We have done but little of life's true duties. We have been cumberers of the ground; as barren trees we have been; and the Owner of the vineyard has come to us year by year seeking fruit, and found none, and He might justly have cut short our days. But no! Let it alone another year." Thus has our heavenly Father dealt with us, and here we are still examples of His mercy. We have now been spared another year; but at this hour we know not how long we shall experience these tender mercies. We know not what a day may bring forth.
Let us renew our vows this day. Let us dedicate ourselves to the Lord with new earnestness. And let us do it from motives not of interest only, but of gratitude; yea, more especially of gratitude to the Lord, who, as a tender Father, is ever seeking to save and to bless us.