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to others. You can say, "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ?"
And for what purpose has he done this? But that you should "show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light Ye were darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light"
THE BARREN FIG TREE.
(NEW YEAR'S DAY.) Lord, let it alone this year alto.—Luke xiii. 8.
It is impossible to do justice to the character, or even manner of our Saviour as a preacher. But even his enemies exclaimed, "Never man spake like this man." Much of the singular interest that he always excited in his hearers arose from his perfect acquaintance with human nature; from the tenderness of his feelings; from his improvement of present occurrences; and from his command of imagery. We have often remarked a difference between our Lord and men of erudition. When the latter avail themselves of allusions, they are ambitious of selecting those that do not so much illustrate their subject, as serve to display their reading and science: they are classical and artificial, rather than familiar and natural; and by being unintelligible to the generality of mankind, are unimpressive and useless. But all the comparisons of the latter are derived from the common scenes and operations of nature. They are such as all, however ignorant, can understand and feel. They are constantly to be met with; they become a substitute for books and teachers; they enable people, wherever they are, to teach themselves, and to find in a field, a garden, a vineyard, nothing less than the house of God, and the gate or heaven.—"He spake also this parable; A certain man had a tig tree planted m 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 shall dig about it, and dung it: and if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down."
In this parable Four things require attention. This Plantation Of The Fig Tree.
Tfflt COMPLAINT OF THE PROPRIETOR. The SENTENCE OF DESTRUCTION. The INTERCESSION OF THE VINE-DRESSER TO SUSPEND THE STROKE.
I. "A CERTAIN MAN HAD A FIG TJUB PLANTED IN HIS VINEYARD." This "CerOuU
man" denotes God. To him every thing belongs. "The earth is his, and the rubes thereof; the world and they that dwell therein." But the Church is peculiarly his, as it is called by his name, and formed to show forth his praise. It is often held forth in the Scripture by a vineyard, while the wide world is as frequently represented by a wilderness. This church, in its external and visible state, is a mixed community; so that among God's people are found wicked men; men who have indeed "a name to live, but are dead ;" and wear " the form of godliness, but deny the power thereof."
This circumstance enables us to answer a question of great importance—Who is intended by the "fig tree" planted in this vineyard ?—It cannot be a real Christian. All the truly regenerate are fruitful. They are not indeed equally, but they are rea% fruitful The good ground brought forth in one place thirty, in another sixty, in a third a hundred fold: but though it yielded in different proportion, every part of it was productive soil —The character here intended is a man placed in the external and visible church, and enjoying all the privileges of such a favoured situation. It was once the highly favoured Jew, to "whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose were the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen." It is now the highly favoured Christian, blessed with all the religious advantages of Judaism, multiplied, improved, perfected: it is now the highly favoured Briton, bom not only in a land of freedom and science, but of Gospel grace. It is thou who wast brought up in a godly family, and favoured with the prayers, the instructions, the examples, the tears of pious parents. It is thou who hast a name and a place in his sanctuary, from Sabbath to Sabbath, where "thine eyes see thy teachers: and thy ears hear a voice behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk ye in it, when you turn to the right hand, and when you turn to the left. "Blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them ; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. Few are aware of the value of such privileges.
Few consider themselves as accountable for the use of them. Few, few indeed I are concerned to improve them.—And thus we find this fig tree, though planted in a rich soil. and where nothing was wanting to make it fruitful, was all barrenness. For observe,
II. THE COMPLAINT OF THE PROPRIETOR.—
"Behold," says he to the vine-dresser, "these
three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none." Every thing here is worthy of our notice. His observation, his disappointment, his patience.
His observation: "I come seeking fruit" It marks the attention which God pays to those who are favoured with religious advantages. Indeed, he investigates all his creatures to see what is in them. "His eyes are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. His eyes are upon the ways of man, and he pondereth all his goings. There is no darkness nor shadow of death where the workers of iniquity can hide themselves." What think you of this scrutiny? Is it not an awful consideration that you always move in the view of God? That "he is about your path and your lying down, and is acquainted with all your ways? That there is not a word in your tongue but he knoweth it altogether? That he searcheth all your hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of your thoughts?"
God comes among you to see how you are carrying on your busmess; to see what you are doing with your mercies and your trials; to mark the manner in which you are filling up your relations in life; to observe the formation of your principles, and the cultivation of your tempers.
And remember, he is not, he cannot be mistaken in his conclusion. You may err in judging yourselves; you may err in judging your fellow-creatures; but his judgment is always according to truth. You judge after outward appearance, and depend on the declaration of others: but he looketh to the heart, and "needeth not that any should testify of man, for he knows what is in man." Distance of time and of place add to our embarrassment in the decision of a disputed fact: but all this is inapplicable to a Bemg that fills heaven and earth, and " with whom one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years are as one day." What does He think of you!
His disappointment: "I come seeking fruit, and find none.'" This shows us that God not only searches for fruit,but expects it from those who receive religious benefits. He knows the goodness of the soil in which you are fixed; and the degrees of culture you have received. He forgets none of your privileges, nor his pains. In his book are written all your talents, and all your opportunities. He has recorded when the Gospel came to you, and how many sermons you have heard. For these are not only mercies which you are required to acknowledge, but means which you are expected to improve: they are given for this purpose, and by this purpose you will be judged. But though his expectation be so righteous and reasonable how often is it frustrated! For what does he look after! If it were lies, oaths, slanders, drunkenness, avarice—he would find enough. If it were
leaves, the leaves of profession and appearances—he would find many. If it were blossoms the blossoms of conviction, resolution, attendance on the ordinances of religion, he would discern not a few. But it is fruit— "the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ unto the glory and praise of God, the fruits of the Spirit, which are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." And where will he find these?
His patience: "These three years I come seeking fruit, and find none." Why did he not complain the first year? Why did he not destroy it the second year? Why does he bear with it to the end of the third? Why? —To teach us that judgment is his strange work—that he delignteth in mercy; that he waiteth to be gracious; that he is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. He has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. He therefore spares as long as his perfections will allow him, and even then seems to proceed with reluctance; and his dispensations, like his word, say, "How shall I give thee np? " Yet this will be the case. For observe,
III. THE SENTENCE OF DESTRUCTION I "Cut
it down; why cumbereth it the ground? Here we see, First, that they who derive no benefit from the means of grace are detrimental. Barren trees not only yield no fruit, but encumber the ground. They take up the room of better trees, and draw off the moisture from others. All of them do this; but the injury is in proportion to their age and their size. Who can tell all the mischief resulting from a long-continued course of worldlymindedness or wickedness! Who can imagine how much evil men of ability and authority occasion by their influence; or how much good they prevent by their omissions! But every unholy professor of religion, every mere^ hearer of the word, is an enemy to the welfare of mankind and the cause of the Redeemer, as he himself has determined: "He that is not with me, is against me; and he that gathereth not with me, scatterelh." He impedes the success of the Gospel; he causes the adversaries of the Lord to blaspheme; he grieves the godly; he discourages ministers; he justifies the wicked, and makes them conclude that religion is either hypocrisy or a dream. He deprives others of spiritual advantages. He hears in vain the sermons that would convert others. He engrosses the means which would otherwise be employed upon persons who would bring forth their fruit in its season. "If the mighty works which have been done in thee," says our Saviour, speaking of Capernaum, "had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have
Xnted long ago, sitting in sackcloth and s."
a man not only preaches, but prays. He cm say with Paul, I seek not yours bnt you. He knows what it is to weep m secret places fcr their pride and unbelief, and so far is he from desiring the evil day, that he longs tn avert the dreadful blow he foresees; and fearing lest any indiflerence of his should have caused their unprofitableness, he engages to use renewed and increasing diligence in future.
But, above all, it is the language of Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant; the mediator between God and man. He makes intercession for the transgressors; he prayed for his murderers even in death: "Father, forgive them: for they know not what thev do."
First He pleads for the suspension ot" tne stroke. "Let it alone this year also." Thoa hast borne with it long, I own, already; oh! bear with it a little longer.—And why is he so desirous of sparing the sinner a little longer in this world? Because, in order to our having the grace of repentance, it is necessary that we should have space for repentance: because while there is life there is hope; bnt "when once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door," opportunity is over, importunity vain.
Secondly. He engages to use additional means to produce fertility. "Till I dig ahout it and dung it" The word shall be preached with more fervour than before. The minister shall be particular in describing his case, in alarming his fears. Friends shall warn, admonish, invite. Conscience shall awake and reprove. Disappointments shall show him the vanity of the world. Sickness shall invade his frame. Death shall enter his family and smite a connexion by his side. The day in which he lives shall be dark and cloudy. He shall hear of "distress of nations with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men's hearts failing them for fear, and after looking for those things which are comini? on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall he shaken." And can he retain his ungodliness through such a year as this!
Third. Here is the supposition of future produce. "If it bear fruit, well." The word well is not in the original: there we find nothing but an awful pause. If it bear frmt Then, it might be said, thy design
penitence. "If not—then—after that thou shalt cut it down." It not only announces the certainty of the event, but expresses his own disposition with regard to it He even craves but one year more; and confesses that, after this fresh instance of the Proprietor's patience and his own pains, lie cannot—he will not oppose the execution of the sentence. He will interpose no longer.
There is something in this tremendous beyond all expression! We see in it even the patience of the Saviour exhausted; and his mercy not indeed delighting, but acquiescing in our misery. The refuge open to us before, in every danger, is now closed. While he was our friend, we always had a resource; bet the " Lamb of God is become the Lion of the tribe of Judah;" the "great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? "
Here the parable breaks off We want to know more, but in vain. Particularly we Want to know whether another year was granted in answer to this importunity. But all is silence; wise, righteous silence; quite in agreement with the whole Scripture, which nowhere tells you that God will give you another year—another week—or even another day.
We want also to know whether, if the boon was granted, the tree became fruitful—' but all is silence. If we judge from facts in general, it remained the same. If the Gospel does not succeed at first, it frequently never succeeds at all. There is a hardening of the heart through the deceitful ness of sin; and there is also a hardening of it by the means of grace. The latter perhaps is the moot dreadful and hopeless of the two! Truths never heard may meet with the former and alarm him: but the other can hear nothing new; the cross, heaven, hell, eternity, the threatenings of the law, the promises of the Gospel—all these have expended their force upon him in vain. We know that with God all things are possible. Oh! seize this last, this trembling hope, and, seeking the Lord, "while he may be found," say, " Lord, save; I perish!"
The subject leads me to address even those of you, who are not only planted in the vineyard, but are alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is a mercy that you are not wholly barren; but must you not acknowledge that you have brought forth very little fruit? Will it bear any comparison with your profession and your advantages! To lead you back no farther than the year we have just closed. How have you redeemed your time! What additions have you made to your knowledge? What faults have' you corrected in your tempers? What good have you accomplished by your influence or by your exam?le? How have you served your generation? low have you glorified God in vour bodies 2F
and spirits! Alas! who can take a farewell glance of the departed period of time, without many a tear and many a sigh—
"What have I done for him who died
"Lord, with this guilty heart of mine,
But I must address those of you in particular who have begun a new year without a new heart Let me expostulate with you. You have long enjoyed the means of grace. The husbandman came three years to inspect this fig tree—but God has come twenty— thirty—forty—fifty—sixty—is it possible that we can go further?—Yes, even seventy years—to some of you, and yet after all has found no fruit!—You have heard of the danger of unprofitableness under religious advantages; you huve heard that" the axe is now laid to the root of the tree; and every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire." Many have been cut down during the past year m their sins: many, oh dreadful exchange! have been sent to hell from the very house of God: some perhaps less guilty than you, and to whose destruction you were the means of contributing. But you are spared, and you live to enter on another year. Ah! perhaps this is the year, the very year, for which the vinedresser has been pleading. Perhaps he has said, Grant this, and I will not ask for another hour! Perhaps upon this revolution of time all your eternal interest is suspended—and if you are not saved this year, you are lost for ever! Perhaps at the end of this year, if you are not removed from this world, you may be abandoned of God, who, as you would have none of him, will give you up to your own heart's lust, to walk in your own counsel.
One thing is certain: "there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest; and therefore, whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" And since you know not what will be even "on the morrow," pray, with David, "Lord, so teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
And what is wisdom? Wisdom is a relative thing; and this is so true, that what would be wise for one man to do, would be folly in another. The question then is, What would be a wise part to act, considering the circumstances in which you are placed? Now what does common souse teach us in other cases! If a man has an important journey to take, llis wisdom consists in preparing for it If a marl be in imminent danger from an overhanging precipice, he would do wisely to flee. If a man be labouring under a threaten