Luk_13:7-9. 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.
PERSONS, who can least bear a scrutiny themselves, are apt to pass the severest censures upon others. But we can never form a just estimate of men’s characters from the dispensations of Providence towards them; nor, though our conclusions were more certain, would it become us to place ourselves on the seat of judgment: we are far more concerned to prepare for the account which we ourselves must render unto God. Such was the advice which our Lord gave to his censorious hearers: he bade them repent of their own sins instead of presuming to judge others [Note: ver. 1–5.], and enforced his admonition with an apposite and instructive parable. We shall inquire,
In what respects we resemble a barren fig-tree?
Humiliating as the comparison before us is, it is but too just. We have enjoyed every advantage that could conduce to fruitfulness—
[The fig-tree is represented as planted in a vineyard where the soil was good, and every attention was paid to it. Thus we have not been left in the open field of the heathen world: we have been planted in the enclosed vineyard of God’s Church. His word and ordinances have been regularly administered to us: we have participated both the stated and occasional labours of his ministers; nor has any thing been wanting which could render us fruitful. God may appeal respecting us, as he did respecting his Church of old: “What could I have done more for them than I have done [Note: Isa_5:4.]?”]
Yet notwithstanding all our advantages, we have hitherto been found barren—
[For three successive years was the fig-tree destitute of fruit: and have not we been barren a much longer time? The fruits which God expects are repentance, faith, and obedience [Note: Mat_3:8. Luk_18:8 and Php_1:11.]: but have we mourned over our sins with deep contrition? — — — Have we fled to Christ as the only refuge and hope of lost sinners? — — — Have we presented ourselves to him a holy and living sacrifice? — — — Has it been the labour and ambition of our souls to abound in these fruits? Have we not even to this hour been “barren and unfruitful in the knowledge of Christ?”Have we not rather, as cumberers of the ground, been prejudicial to those around us? Have not those who have been planted near us, reason to complain that they have been retarded by us, rather than furthered, in the spiritual life? Surely too many of us deserve the name once given to Israel of old [Note: Hos_10:1.]; “Israel is an empty vine, (a barren fig-tree,) that bringeth forth fruit to itself alone, and none at all to God.”]
We may justly wonder therefore that we are suffered to occupy our respective places, and inquire,
Whence it is that, notwithstanding our unfruitfulness, we have been spared to this time?
We are not spared because our state is inoffensive to God—
[The owner of the vineyard noticed all the pains bestowed on the fig-tree, and felt his disappointment greater every successive year: hence he spake of its unfruitfulness with astonishment and indignation [Note: “Behold—Why,” &c. convey these ideas very forcibly.]. And must not the heavenly vine-dresser wonder, that in the midst of so many advantages we remain unfruitful? And has he not declared that unprofitable servants are objects of his utter abhorrence [Note: Mat_25:26; Mat_25:30.].]
Much less are we spared because we are better than others—
[Doubtless there are degrees of sinfulness and guilt: as among men, so in the sight of God, there are some worse than others. But what good can be in him who answers no one end of his creation? The description given of such persons by the prophet is strictly just [Note: Eze_15:2-4.]. (There is scarcely any thing in the creation so worthless as the wood of a barren vine.) And to them may be addressed those humiliating words of Moses; “Not for your sakes have these mercies been vouchsafed to you; for ye are a stiff-necked people [Note: Deu_9:4-6.].”]
The intercession of Christ is the true reason of God’s forbearance towards us—
[The fig-tree was spared only at the request of “the vinedresser.” The order given would certainly have been executed, if he had not obtained a respite: and little do we think how often death has had a commission to cut us down. Surely our continued provocations must often have incensed our God against us: but, as in former times, he often revoked his word at the urgent request of his servant Moses; [Note: Exo_32:10-11; Exo_32:14.] so beyond a doubt has the Psalmist’s declaration been often verified in our great Advocate and Intercessor, “He has stood in the gap, to turn away God’s indignation, lest he should destroy us [Note: Psa_106:23.].”]
The respite however which is yet prolonged, will not last for ever. Know therefore,
What doom we must expect if we still continue barren—
God will deal with every man according to his works. If now at last we begin to bear fruit it will be well—
[The vine-dresser undertook to bestow still greater culture on the fig-tree, and intimated that, if his labours should succeed, it would be a source of much satisfaction to him. But how much more is this true in reference to our souls! At this moment we may consider the trench digging, and the manure applied to us. And what a source of comfort will it be, if these means be blessed with success! The owner of the vineyard, the dresser of it, yea, and the inferior labourers too, will greatly rejoice [Note: Luk_15:5-7; Luk_15:10.]. And what a blessing will it be to the tree itself! Instead of being cut down as useless, we shall be an ornament to the vineyard; nor will God himself disdain to regale himself with our fruit [Note: Son_4:10.]. In due season, too, we shall be transplanted to that richer vineyard above, and bring forth fruit to God’s glory for evermore. Yes, our past unfruitfulness should be no obstruction to our bliss; but joy and honour shall be our everlasting portion.]
But if the culture be still in vain, we must be speedily cut down—
[The intercessor himself approved of this in reference to the fig-tree: and can any thing else be expected by those whom the Gospel does not profit? Can any think that they shall be left to cumber the ground for ever? Must not even the patience of God himself be at last exhausted? Shall He not ere long definitively say, Cut them down? Must we not then be consigned over to everlasting burnings? And must not our Intercessor, yea, our own souls also, approve the sentence? Let every one then attend to the warning given to the antediluvian world, “My Spirit shall not alway strive with man [Note: Gen_6:3.]:” and let not one amongst us defer till the morrow, what, if left undone, must involve him in everlasting ruin.]
How thankful should we be to our great Advocate and Intercessor!
[Many since the last year have been cut off by death. What a mercy should we esteem it that we have been spared! How dreadful must our state have now been if we had been taken unprepared! We should have been irrevocably doomed to dwell with the fallen angels; nor should we ever have heard one more offer of mercy from our offended God. Let us then bless and adore our Lord for this distinguishing favour; and let his love constrain us to turn unto him with our whole hearts [Note: 2Pe_1:5-8.].]
How earnest should we be in improving the present moment!
[Many are dead who lately seemed as likely to live as ourselves: but, when their time was come, they could not resist the stroke of death; nor can any who are now alive, tell how long a respite shall be granted them. It is probable that many of us will be gone before the expiration of this year [Note: Perhaps one in thirty or forty.]; and whenever the fixed period shall arrive, all intercessions will be in vain. Let us then redeem the time with all earnestness and zeal, and accomplish the great work, before the night cometh to terminate our labours.]