The Barren Fig Tree
In the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree Jesus said, "Behold these three years I come seeking fruit on the fig-tree and find none. Cut it down, why does it use up the ground?"(Luke 13:7). When high privileges are afforded, either to individuals or to nations, great improvements are expected, and the expectation being founded on the fitness of things, is highly reasonable. Trees which are planted in a good soil should bear more fruit, and of a better quality, than those which grow in barren deserts; and by parity of reason, men who are placed in favourable circumstances should bear much good fruit The design of our Lord in this parable vvas to reprove the Jews, who notwithstanding their unparalleled privileges, had not brought forth fruit to the glory of God and also to warn them of that punishment which divine justice was about to inflict upon them as a sinful nation and as a fallen church. he measure of their iniquity w-as nearly full; but the punishment was delayed through the intercession of the Vinedresser. We shall endeavour to explain and to illustrate this parable, under the following general heads. .
I. The fig tree planted in a vineyard, denotes the moral and Religious Privileges of the Jewish Church.
That church was planted in a sacred enclosure; and that enclosure was the protection of Almighty God. Their most potent enemies could not break in upon them, either- by force or fraud, without his permission. Had not that been the case, the numerous and powerful nations by which they were surrounded would have torn them up by the roots. And the New Covenant Church of Christ is now protected by the same power. This is a fact of great importance to true believers; and an encouragement under every threatening danger. The soil in which the Jews were planted, like that of a rich vineyard, was a fine emblem of their privileges. Those privileges included a revelation of the Divine will in the holy Scriptures of the Old Testament; ceremonial laws, which pointed to the Messiah; a moral law which laid down the duties of morality; and judicial laws for the regulation of national affairs. But Christians surpass the Jews in privileges. They have the holy Scriptures of the Old Testament and the New; enlightened preachers, and a pure spiritual worship. Both churches have been highly favored, though in different degrees ; and both have had means of abundant fruitfulness. But besides the sacred enclosure and the fruitful soil, great pains were taken with the Jewish church by God the Vine-dresser. He taught them the right and good way; he warned them of danger; and he guided tnem in the path of duty. The same things have been done for the Church of God by the ministry of the Word and by the guidence of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Lord may say as in the days of old, " What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?"( Isaiah 5:4)..
II. He who planted the fig tree in his vineyard , and appointed the Vinve-dresseer to watch over it expected it to bear f ruit.
When we consider what God did for the Jews and what he has done for Christians, we conclude that he might expect fruit both from the one and the other. But what kind of fruit does he expect ? This may be determined by the privileges which he confers; for he does not reap where he has not sown, nor does he gather where he has not scattered. On this principle he does not expect any fruit but such as we are able to bear. This we shall illustrate by the following observations. When he gives men light to discover their sins and follies, he expects them to bring forth fruit "worthy of repentance;" and that implies a sorrow for sin and a turning to God. Without repentance, the light which shines upon a sinner produces no good results but adds to his guilt and punishment, both in this world and that which is to come. This awful truth was often declared to the Jews by the holy Prophets ; and it is announced to us by our faithful Ministers. True penitents are expected to bear the fruit of a living faith. Without this, the light of the Gospel shines on them in vain; and after all the offers of grace they remain in their sins. We cannot believe without the guidance of the Holy Spirit; but his help is always at hand when we desire to repose confidence in the Savior of the worldl; and when we put forth our feeble strength in this important work he enables us to believe with the heart unto righteousness.
As Christians we are expected to bear all the fruits of piety. These fruits include prayer and praise ; reverence and love; trust and confidence; a pure spiritual worship; and every other duty that we owe to God. If we neglect these, we are like the barren fig tree, and mere cumberers of the ground. Under the influence of grace we should bear the fruit of holy tempers, such as humility, meekness, patience, gentleness, and love. These have always been expected in professors of true religion, whether Jews or Christians; and where they are wanting there is no genuine religion in the soul. It is a contradiction in terms, to say, A man is good but he has a bad temper; for if his tempers are not brought under the control of God's favor he is not a new creature in Christ Jesus The fruit of good words or holy conversation has always been expected from those persons who have been planted in the vineyard of the Lord. Their conversation on religious subjects should be instructive and edifying; and when they converse on other subjects their words should be those of truth and soberness. But lastly they should bear the fruits of righteousness, mercy, and general benevolence. They should render to every man his due; pity and relieve the sons and daughters of affliction; and do good to all men. Then they may, "be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord," and he eis glorified in he fruit which they bear"(Isaiah 61:3}.
III. But the Planter of the Fig Tree souight fruit thereon, three successive years and found none.
His eyes look on every fig tree in the vineyard to see whether it be fruitful or barren, ; and to lay aside the figure he knows the state and conduct of every religious professor. The thoughts, tempers, and conduct of all lie open to his sight; and to suppose either that he is ignorant of human conduct or indifferent about it is a dangerous error The three years in which he sought fruit are differently applied. are differently applied. Some apply the three years in which he sought fruit are differently applied. Some apply them to three periods in the Jewish history namely, that which passed before the Babylonian captivity, that which esxtended from the captivity to the coming of John the Baptist, and that which extended from the appearance of John to the death of Christ, but thils is fanciful. Others apply these years to the pupblic ministry of Christ, but this is objecitionable. The fact is this; the fig tree generally bears fruit within three years after it has been planted, and the meanaing is the Jews had bfeen so long barren that there was no hope of their fritfuolness. Fruit had been sought in the Jewish church, but it had not been found. They had leaves or an outward professon but no frujit. This was the case with many individuals and indeed with the nation in general. And this is the case with many professors in the New Testament church. What good fruit have we brought forth? We have had opportunities and we have made resolutions, but we have remained barren. But what are the causes of barrenness? We should know these and put a way the cause that the effect may cease. One cause of baarrenness is unbelief. We do not give entire credit to Divine Revelation; we do not trust Christ. We doubt the proimises of God, and we disbelieve his threatenings. This has a deadly influence both our inward and outward religion., and this evil heaart of unbelief in departing from the living God must be taken away before we can be fruitful in holiness. Barrenness is caused by the indulgence of pride When we think and speak highly of ourselves and desire others to think and speak highly of us, we bring forth no good fruit. In this state we love the praise of men more than the praise of God, and what we call our good works are done to be seen of men. In this vain show and hypocritical display we remain barren and unfruitful. Another cause of barranness is improper company. When we voluntrily mix with sinners, we fall into sin for, "evil communications corrupt good habits. ."(I Cor. 15:33) The example of sinful men corrupts the heart and life, draws the affections from God and heaven, and leaves the soul in a state of darkess and death; and when we asssociate with them we soon learn to talk as they talk and to act as they act. And a love of the world produces barrenness in the soul. When we love wealth and pleassure, rather than grace and goodness, how caan we be fruitful in works of piety and morality? Worldly proosperity has us.. When they were poor they were simple and sincere; but when the world crept in they were "corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ"( 2 Cor. 11:3)..
IV. The planter of the fig-tree orders it to be cut down because it uses up the gound.
This tree bears no fruit; it uses up the ground; "cut it down." What an awful reflection it is that the God who created us, who redeemed us, and who has blessed us should require us to be cut down! This sentence was passed upon the Jews; and it was fully executed after the lapse of a few years. They were spared a short time after the Prince of Life was crucified; but they did not repent. And die sentence will soon be passed on all unfruitful professors. Are you a barren fig-tree? Perhaps God is saying even now, "Cut it down!" Spare us, good Lord, through the intercession of your Son, and may we become fruitful in every good word and work. The barren fig tree cumbers the ground occupying the place and taking the nourishment, of a better tree. Cut it down that there may be room for a tree that may bear fruit. Thus the Jews were cut down and the Gentiles were planted in the vineyard(Romans 11); and we may be cut down that others may be planted in our place. Alas, how many trifling professors may be found who abuse privileges that might be improved by other persons! We have reason to fear that the candlestick may be removed out of this place, except we repent( Rev. 2: 5).
V. BUT THE VlNE-DRESSER INTERCEDES FOR THE FIG TREE.
The intercession of the vine-dresser is a fine representation of our Lord's intercession, both for Jews and professing Christians. Through him the Jews were spared about forty years after he departed out of the world and through him we are spared to the present hour. But while he continues to plead for us, we should "search and try our ways, and turn again to the Lord"(Lamentations 3: 40). Further means of improvement are proposed by the vine-dresser. "I shall dig about it and dung it, and if it bear fruit well: and if not, then after that you shall cut it down." Thus he strove with the Jews by the instructions, reproofs, and warnings of the holy Apostles; and thus he strives with us by the the ministry of the Word. If the Jews had brought forth fruit, all would have been well with them: they would have been spared; and God would have been glorified. And if we bear fruit, all will be well with us, our privileges will be continued; and we shall be holy and happy. But the apostolic age was the last opportunity of grace to the Jewish church, and when it passed away unimproved they were cut down; and we who are spared a little longer through the intercession of Jesus, may soon be cut down as cumberers of the ground. The cutting down of the Jewish nation and their replacement by Gentile believers is explained fully by the aposetle Paul in Romans 11 in the New Testament..
Final barrenness will lead to final ruin. When Jesus gives us up and returns from heaven, he will separate the good from the bad in the church, the bad will be shut out of heaven and shall be cast into hell. And this day our honoured but insulted Saviour will give up foever unfaithful and disobedient Christians for ever. It will be of no use to plead that we have done no harm. The question is, have we done any good? The fig -tree is cut down because.it is barren ; and we will perish for our unfruitfu]ne«. May the means which our blessed Lord is now using to make as fruitful be continued ; and may they be crowned with complete access that God may be glorified in our eternal salvation! Amen. *
* This message is a reproduction of a sermon of Jonathan Edmondson, a preacher in England in the 1800's. I agree whole heartedly with this message and recommend it highly to you.---Lonnie Branam