Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedges, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it.
~ Psalm 80:8-13
Now will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?
~ Isaiah 5:1-4
Yet I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?
~ Jeremiah 2:21
Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall yet again take root downward, and bear fruit upward.
~ John 15:16, 2 Kings 19:30
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
~ Galatians 5:23-22
Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
~ Philippians 4:17
Of Christ Seeking Fruit, and Finding None, by David Clarkson. The following contains an excerpt from his work.
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.
— Luke XIII. 6.
These words are part of a parable, the occasion of which we may find in the former verses. Some there present told Jesus what had befallen those Galileans, whom Pilate had slain at the altar, and sacrificed them while they were sacrificing; and so mingled their blood with the blood of the beasts that they were killing for sacrifice.
He, willing they should make good use hereof, would have them to apprehend the danger themselves were in, and thereupon to break off their sins by repentance, lest some such sudden stroke falling upon them, they should perish in impenitency.
And because he foresaw they might evade this, by imagining they were in no such danger, upon a supposition they were in no such guilt as those Galileans, he shews them the vanity of these imaginations, and tells them plainly, they had guilt enough upon them to ruin them, unless they did repent, ver. 2, 3. And, that he might make the deeper impression on them, he repeats it under another instance of like nature, ver. 4, 5, as if he had said, Do not think yourselves secure, upon a conceit that your sins are less than theirs, who were thus surprised by death and judgment; you have sin enough to destroy you, unless you prevent it by repentance.
And having told them that, unless they repented, they should also perish, it might be inquired, how they should perish? To which he seems to answer by this parable: they would perish, as this fig-tree did, which being planted in a commodious place (a vineyard), and having all advantages to render it fruitful, yet continued barren; whereupon the owner of it, after all means used to improve it, and the exercise of patience year after year, in expectation of some fruit, meeting with nothing but disappointments, resolves it shall cumber the ground no longer, but gives order to have it cut down.
This is the sum of the parable; and the åróồocis, the meaning of it, is this: those persons who are planted under the means of grace, and have all helps and advantages requisite to make them spiritually fruitful, they ought to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. The Lord, who has so planted and privileged them, expects it of them; and if they answer not his expectation, he may bear with them for some years, while his servants, those who labour in his vineyard, the ministers of the gospel, are taking pains with them, and using all means proper for their improvement; but if, after all this, they continue still barren, he will have them cut down; they shall have a standing no longer in his vineyard; no more care and pains shall be lost upon them; they shall not encumber the ground any longer, nor possess the place, on which others being planted, would bring forth fruit; in time, they shall be destroyed.
The words I have pitched on are the beginning of the parable, which affords us this Observation; Those who enjoy the means of fruitfulness should bring forth fruit; those who are planted in the Lord’s vineyard, and have a standing under the means of grace, should be fruitful.
This is clear in the words, and indeed in every part of this parable.
1. They are planted in the vineyard for this purpose. That is the proper place for fruit-trees; another place than the vineyard would serve them, if they were not set there for fruit.
2. The Lord, who gives them place here, expects it. He is said to come and seek fruit, ver. 6, 7. It is that which he has just cause to look for.
3. He heinously resents it when he finds no fruit, and expresses his resentment to the dresser of his vineyard. It is an abuse of his patience; the longer he bears with such barrenness, the more it is abused. It is a provocation that he will not bear long with. After three years’ forbearance, ho passes that severe sentence, cut it down.
4. It is an injury to the place where they stand. They cumber the ground, that is the reason of the sentence, ver. 7. It takes up that room which might be better employed; it sucks away that moisture which would make others fruitful; it overdrops the plants that are under it, hinders the sprending and fruitfulness of others. A better improvement might be made of the ground; it is a loss to the owner of the vineyard, when such a plant is suffered, zarugyst; which may signify the spending the heart of the ground to no purpose, ver. 7.
5. Those who have most tenderness for such, can have no ground to seek! a long forbearance of this barrenness. The dresser of the vineyard will venture to beg no more forbearance than one year, after that he yields it up to excision, vers. 8, 9.
6. All labour and pains, all care and culture, in digging about and dunging it, is lost upon it. Those whom the Lord employs to use all means for their improvement, have nothing left them in the issue, but occasion of sad complaint, that they have laboured in vain, spent their strength for nought, Isa. xlix. 4.
7. Such will certainly be ruined. – Where fruit is not found, nothing can be expected but cutting down. The lord of the vineyard will not spare them, and the dressers of the vineyard will not longer intercede for them. All in a little while agree in that fatal conclusion, cut it down.
All these, and each of them, make it evident, that those who are planted under the means of grace, are highly concerned to bring forth fruit.
The most pertinent and profitable inquiry, for further clearing of this truth, will be, what fruits it is they should bring forth? What we are to understand by fruit, and that fruitfulness which is so much our duty? And of this I shall give you an account by the quality, quantity, and continuance of it. To these heads we may reduce those severals, whereby the Scriptures express to us what this fruit is.
I. For quality. It must be good fruit. Grapes, not wild grapes’ (as the prophet expresseth in a parable very like to this, Isa. v. 2, 4). Wild grapes are for the wilderness, not for the Lord’s vineyard, Mat. iii. 10, and vii. 19. Good fruits are acts of goodness; taking acts largely, as comprising words, thoughts, actions, motions inward and outward. Acts of goodness opposed to sinful acts; as Basil, έργα δικαιοσύνης αντικείμενα τη pagrią: good acts, opposite to what is evil and sinful. Now bonum est et integris causis, that acts may be good, there must be a concurrence of all the causes requisite to make them good, and constitute their goodness. And these causes we have specified in Scripture, which I shall briefly touch.
1. As to the efficient. Good fruits are called “fruits of the Spirit,’ Gal. v. 22, Eph. v. 9; such fruits as the Spirit of grace helps us to bring forth, by sanctifying the heart, which else is no soil fit to bring forth good fruit, and influencing, moving in it, and acting it when it is sanctified. The fruits of the flesh, the fruits of our own spirit, as they are carnal, selfish, and earthly, are no good fruits. The fruits of the Spirit are good fruits, and those only.
2. As to their matter and form. Good fruits are such as are called fruits of holiness and righteousness. They are acts of holiness, Rom. vi. 22, taken in that latitude, as comprising godliness, sobriety, and righteousness, according to the apostle’s distribution, Titus ii. 12. Then we bring forth good fruits, when we live soberly, righteously, and godly.’ Acts of piety towards God, and acts of justice towards men, and acts of sobriety to wards ourselves, are the good fruits we should bring forth.
These are called ‘fruits of righteousness;’ that word being also taken largely, as containing all that we owe to God, to others, to ourselves, 2 Cor. ix. 10, Heb. xii. 11, James iii. 18.
And as to the form. Then they are good fruits, when produced in a way and manner conformable to the rule of holiness; when thoughts, and inclinations, and designs, and affections, and words, and actions, are ordered by that rule, then we bring forth fruit unto holiness. When we think, and intend, and affect, and speak, and act in such a manner as the rule of righteousness requires, then we bring forth the fruits of righteousness, the good fruits which we ought to bring forth.
3. As to the end. Good fruit is such as is brought forth unto God, Rom. vii. 4; then we bring forth fruit to God, when what we think, and speak, and act, is in reference to him, out of obedience to his will, with an intent to serve him, out of a desire to please him, with a design to honour him. When the serving, and pleasing, and glorifying, and enjoying of God is the end of all; a special goodness is hereby derived upon all our fruit, it is then brought forth unto God. When we bring forth fruit unto sin, unto the flesh, unto the world, that is cursed fruit. When we bring forth fruit to ourselves, that is no fruit in God’s account. Accordingly Israel is called an empty vine, because she brought forth fruit to herself, Hosea u. 1. They are empty trees that have no other fruit; it is none, or as good as none, no good fruit that is brought forth to ourselves; that is only good which is brought forth to God.
More particularly, that it may be good fruit, it must be.
(1.) Real. A show, an appearance of fruit will not suffice. If it be not renl, it has not a metaphysical goodness, much less a moral or spiritual. The fig treo in the gospel made some show of fruit; but Christ finding none upon it really, he cursed it, and it withered, Mat. xxi. 19. It must not be like the apples of Sodom, which has nothing to commend it, but only a fair outside. Fair appearances may delude men, and pass for better fruit with them than that which is good indeed. But God is not, cannot be mocked; it is he that comes to seek fruit, and it is not the fairest shows will satisfy him, it must be real.
(2.) It must be such as imports a change of the soul, that brings it forth. Mat. iii. 8; ačiov tis para vías, fruit worthy of another mind, another sou. than he had before. Athanasius explains the word by uratibalar riy you ů To Xuxo cods to dyadov, a change of the mind from evil to good, Mat. vii. 17, 18, Luke vi. 43. The tree, i.e. the heart, must be good before it can bring forth good fruit; but naturally it is an evil and corrupt tree, and grows wild, it must be transplanted into another soil, or engraffed into another stock, that the nature and quality of it may be changed, that its fruit may be good, else that which it brings forth will be wild grapes, corrupt fruits, not such as the lord of the vineyard comes to look for. Your natures must be changed, your hearts must be renewed, your souls must be taken off from the old stock wherein ye were born, and have continued, and engraffed into Christ ere your fruit can be good, John xv. 4.5. The old soil of nature brings forth nothing but briars and thorns, such as is near unto cursing, whose end will be burning’ (as the apostle, Heb. vi.); or at best, it brings forth nothing but fine weeds. The best thoughts and actions of an unregenerate person, how goodly or specious soever they may seem to himself or others, are but splendida peccata, gilded evils, or sins of a better gloss. The soil of your natures must be quite altered by renewing grace, before it can produce anything good in the account of God. Regeneration is as necessary before good fruit indeed, as natural life is before action. You must be born again before you can bear good fruit.
(3.) It must be distinguishing fruit; such as no tree can bring forth but those that are good, and such as will make their goodness apparent, Mat. vii. 16, 20; such as may approve ye to God and your own consciences, to be trees of righteousness, the planted of the Lord, and such as may make this known to men too, so far as by visible acts it may be known; such as may carry a conviction with them to the consciences of others, that you are indeed what you profess yourselves to be, such as will leave them no just exception against it, 1 Peter iii. 16.
Such fruits as no formalist, no hypocrite, no mere moralist can show; something singular, that you may not be nonplussed with that question, What singular thing do ye?
Something more, something above and beyond, not only what the men of the world do, but what common professors can reach. Such, by which you may be known to be not only new creatures, but of some proficiency in the knowledge of Christ, and the course of practical godliness, according to your standing. Such as will demonstrate to the world, that you are holy, humble, mortified, self-denying public-spirited, heavenly-minded, truly crucified to the world; and have not only a form, but the power of godliness, that you do not only profess this, but are thus.
(4.) Seasonable. That it may be good fruit, it must be brought forth in due season,’ Ps. i., Mat. xxi. 41. The lord of the vineyard looks for fruit in his season, Mark xii. 2, Luke xx. 10. There is a season for everything Eccles. iii. 1, and then, if ever, it is good; good words are good fruit, when in season, Isa. 1. 4. Prov. xxv. 11. But there is a time when they are not good fruit, and that is the time the apostle speaks of, James ii. 15, 16. Good words alone are not at this time good fruits; in such a case they are not in season, for this is the season for good works. So good thoughts are good fruit, when in season, when we are called to meditation, but not when we are called to prayer; then they are not good, because that is not their season.
That is most acceptable fruit, which is in due season, Num. xxviii. 2. The best offerings, if unseasonable, would be unacceptable. Even the actings and exercise of grace, if it be not in season, will not be good fruit. Patience, when we are provoked, is good; but not when we hear God blasphemed. Spiritual rejoicing is excellent fruit, but not while we are called to mourning.
The actings of grace have a more particular goodness in their proper seasons. Faith in hard trials, patience in tribulation, meekness in provocations, contentment in wants, courage in dangers, humility in the midst of applause, crucifiedness to the world, in abundance of it, in a confluence of riches and delights: here they are excellent fruit; this is their season.
(5.) Sound. A fair skin is not enough to commend fruit for good, if it be rotten within. And so is our fruit, if the inward temper and motions of the heart be not correspondent to the outward actions and expressions. If we use the words of a prayer, but the heart prays not, the soul is not in motion towards God, the affections go not along with our confessions or petitions. Or if we praise God, but make not melody in our hearts, the soul exalts him not, the mind has no high apprehensions of him, no inward motions of love and delight, while our lips speak his praise. This is to draw near unto God with our mouths only,’ Isa. xxix. 13. The fruit is not sound, if the heart be not in it. You offer to God but the parings or the picture of fruit, without this; which is to mock God, not to offer the fruit he desires.
when we speak of heavenly or spiritual things, without a spiritual sense of what we speak; when we relieve our brethren, but without inward affection or compassions to them; when we put the outward conversation in some handsome order, but neglect the temper and posture of the inward man: this is but such fruit as the Pharisees did bear, Mat. xxiii. 25-28. Whatsoever appear in your words and actions, if the heart tolerate unruly passions, or harbour unmortified lusts, or give free way to selfish, carnal, earthly inclinations, your fruit cannot be sound at heart; you may please yourselves or others with it, but God will never count it good; if it have the outward shape of fruit, yet there is worms and vermin in it, which make it good for nought.
II. For the quantity. It ought to be much, John xv. 5, 8. There should be —
1. A fulness of fruit. Those that enjoy the means, must not only bring forth fruit, but be fruitful; should bear abundance. Heart and life should be filled with it, Philip. i. 11. You count not that a fruitful tree, when one or two branches only bear fruit, and the rest have nothing but leaves, or when each branch has a fig or two; but when all the boughs are full. It is not fruitfulness when there are two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, or four or five in the outmost branches,’ as the expression is, Isa. xvii. 6. Every branch should have fruit, and should bear some plenty of it. Both heart and life should bear fruit, and every branch of both; every power of the soul, and every part of the life, must bring forth plenty, abundance of it: Philip. iv, 17, fruit that may abound. The mind should be filled with knowledge, and taken up with good thoughts. The heart should bring forth good inclinations, holy intentions, spiritual affections, all the graces of the Spirit, and should abound therein. Love, upon which the other affections depend, should abound, Philip. i. 9, 1 Thes. iii. 12. And we must abound in every grace, if we would be fruitful, 2 Pet. i. 5-8. Un. less we will be barren and unfruitful, these graces, all of them, must not only be in us, but abound.
And there must be fruit in the outmost branches too, in the conversation; this should be full of fruits, ready to bring forth every good word and work, James iii. 17.
Scriptural knowledge and good thoughts are but some fruit in the upper. most branch. If the other boughs be bare, the tree is far from being fruitful inclinations, purposes, desires, are but as some berries in the middle boughs. A tree may be barren for all these. And good words or works are but fruit in the outmost branches. A tree is not full of fruit, and so not fruitful, if all the main branches do not bear and bring forth plenty. Mind, and heart, and life, must bring forth fruit in some abundance. Knowledge should abound in the mind; holy affections and spiritual graces should abound in the heart; and out of the abundance of the heart’ should the mouth speak,’ and all other parts act for God, so as to be always abounding in the work of the Lord.”
2. A proportionableness to the means of fruitfulness, to the plenty and power of them. So much as will answer the care and pains is taken with them. If a man take more pains, and be at more charge in opening tho roots of a tree, and dunging it, and pruning it, in fencing and watering it, and it bring forth less or no more fruit than another that has no such care and pains taken with it, it will searce pass for a good, a fruitful tree. That is barren ground, which brings forth less, after all care and culture, than that which has less tillage.
Those who enjoy the gospel in great light, power; who have the mysteries of it clearly discovered, practically enforced, and brought home to mind, conscience, will, affections, so as the light, force, and influence of it may reach the whole man, the whole life, and have this continued many years; if they bring not forth more fruit than such as have the gospel, but not with such advantages, under a less powerful and advantageous ministry of it, they are wofully defective in fruit-bearing; for we are told, Luke xii. 48, ‘mon expect more from those to whom they have committed much.’ And so does the Lord; and those that answer not his expectation, in a case where reason and equity amongst mea do justify it, are sinfully defective in the quantity of what they bring forth.
It cannot be well resented, if the Lord reap sparingly where he sows bountifully. When the Jews sowed much, and brought in little, Hag. i. 6, there was a judgment, a curse in it, and so some guilt and provocation. So may the Lord’s husbandmen judge, those that labour in his vineyard; when they improve all their skin, run all hazards, take all pains, spare no cost, are ready to spend and be spent for the improvement of souls, and yet it comes to little, here is some curse upon the ground, or such barrenness as deserves a curse. If he who as I have told you on another occasion) received five talents, bad but gained three, or made no more improvement thereof than be that received but one, he would scarce have been counted a profitable servant. The improvement should be answerable to what is received.
It is true, all that are good ground bring not forth fruit alike, some thirty fold, some sixty, some an hundred. If thirty be answerable to the means of fruitfulness, it may be an argument of good ground; but if sixty be but brought forth, where means are used sufficient to improve it for bearing an hundredfold, the ground may be under the censure of barren.
8. An increase. Those who enjoy the means of fruitfulness, must grow more and more fruitful. The longer they stand in the vineyard, and continue under the means of grace, the more fruit they should bear. You expect not much of a tree the first year; but after it is of standing to bear, you expect it should every year increase in fruitfulness, and bring forth more and more.
So the Lord expects from us. Our proficiency and fruitfulness should be according to our standing. The longer we continue under the means of grace, the more fruitful should we be; there should be an advance and increase of fruit every year, John xv. 2.
There must be a growth in knowledge, in grace, 2 Pet. iii. 18; a growth in faith, in charity, 2 Thes. i. 3. There must be more acts of grace; it should be more in exercise; and the actings of it should be more and moro strong and vigorous.
There must be a growth in good works too, a walking on therein, Eph. ii. The longer standing, the more good we should do; we should do good to more, and do them more good; the branches should spread, and the fruits extend to the refreshing of more.
That which is little at first, must grow much; and that which is now much will not be enough, unless it grow more. It will not be sufficient, that we abound in knowledge, in holiness, in good works, or any fruits of righteousness, unless we abound more and more, 1 Thes. iv. 1. We must abound more and more in all things wherein we ongbt to walk, and whereby we may please God, i.e. in all pleasing fruit. A tree that bears no more in after years than it did the first, you will not esteem a good or a fruitful tree, Ps. xcii. 13, 14, still, yet more.
4. Variety. Their fruit must not only be much of some sort, but of every Bort. They must not only abound in some kind of fruit, but must bring forth fruits of all kinds. It is enough to make another tree fruitful, that it bears much fruit of one sort, but a tree of righteousness is not fruitful unless it bring forth all the fruits of righteousness, of what sort and kind Boever. It must be so far like that tree of life, Rev. xxii. 2, which bears twelve manner of fruits. It must bring forth all manner of fruits which become the gospel; not light and knowledge only, but heat and affection; not some only, but all holy affections: not some acts of holiness only, but the exercise of every grace in all its variety of actings, so that all grace may abound; not inward thoughts and motions only, but outward acts of goodDess, and all sorts thereof; not some good works, but every good work,’ Col. i. 10, 11. He that is fruitful indeed is fruitful in every good thought, in every holy affection, every heavenly grace, and in every good work, and labours to abound therein, 2 Cor. ir. 8. Not only in every good work, but every good thing, 2 Cor. viii. 7.
III. For continuance. It must be lasting fruit. Of which in three particulars.
1. The fruit they bear must continue. It must not wither and come to nothing before the Lord of the vineyard come to reap it. The apostle Jude speaks of some trees whose fruit withereth,’ and in the next words says, they are trees without fruit,’ Jude, ver. 12. So that withering fruit is no fruit in the language and account of the Spirit of God; and trees that bear no other fruit are barren, i.e. trees without fruit. Such was that fruit brought forth in the thorny ground, Mat. xiii. 7, and that in the stony ground, ver. 5, 6. Such fruit are good thoughts when they are not realised upon the heart or in the life. Thoughts of good things that never come to good, and convictions that vanish too soon, fall short of conversion in the unregenerate, and of reformation in others. Such are good inclinations, purposes, desires, that are not pursued into action; and good affections and resolutions, that never come into execution. As when a person has some thoughts and intentions of leaving an evil way, a course of worldliness, or lukewarmness, or slothfulness, or intemperance, or Sabbath breaking, but the pleasure, ense, or advantage which Satan or his own deceitful heart promises him in such a way, stifles them in the birth, so that they never see the light; or when one inclines or purposes to betake himself to that strict way of godliness which the gospel calls him to, but persecution, or fear of sufferings, nips those resolutions in the bud; or when some good motions and affections are raised by the word, but when the sermon is ended, the cares of the world, riches, pleasures, Luke viii., of this life, or some such quench-coal, extinguishes them; or when sickness, affliction, or apprehensions of death and judgment, brings them to serious reflections upon the evil of former ways, and some intentions to abandon them and take a new course, but upon recovery of health, and the removal of God’s hand, fear vanishes, and those impressions wear off, and all good motions prove but agrisomnia, as a dream, which he forgets when he awakes, and minds no more, however it affected him when it was working in his fancy.
Whatsoever it is that thus springs up, but continues not till it be ripened, how good soever it seem, what hopes soever it gives, it is not such fruit as the Lord expects. Thus vanishing, it leaves those who bear it unfruitful. Mat. xiii. 22. They are not fruitful who bring not fruit to perfection, Luke viii. 14, Tipogen, a word used of women that go their full time, do not miscarry nor bring forth abortives. She that still miscarries, and brings not forth live children, will be a childless woman, how often soever she conceive. And so will he that brings not forth lasting fruit be a barren and fruitless person, how fair soever he bud.
2. They must continue bearing fruit. The good ground did approve itself to be good, because it brought forth fruit with patience,’ Luke viii. 15; i unouosi, which may as well be rendered according to the import of the word, and more congruously as to the sense of the expression, with perseverance. They only are good and fruitful ground, who persevere and hold out in boar. ing fruit. A tree that bears the first year, but afterwards brings forth little or nothing, may be cut down amongst those that do but cumber the ground. The Galatians, who made a fair show of fruit at first, but afterwards inter roitted, are bewailed by the apostle as barren, and such on whom he had lost his labour, Gal. iv. 11.
3. They must be bearing it always; not only semper, as a tree that fails not of fruit once a year, but ad semper, as if a tree should bear fruit all the year long. Some tell us of a fig-tree in Palestine that never was without leaves or without fruit on it, and that it was such a tree which is mentioned, Mark xi. 13, though that degenerated, and was then fruitless. Those of the Lord’s planting should be like the best of those fig-trees, on whom fruit might be found all the year round. Their season for fruit is not only autumn or summer, but every quarter, every month, every day, every hour; whenever they are found without fruit they are culpably barren. All time whatsoever, every moment, is their season for fruit-bearing; and the Lord looks for it not only once a year, but every part of the year, and may proceed against them when ever he finds it not, though he come and look for it every hour. Every part of a Christian’s life, when he is in a capacity to think, or speak, or act, is a fruit season; and every thought, word, and action should be fruit unto God in one respect or other, else he cannot answer it, 1 Cor. x. 31. It is good fruit that glorifies God, and nothing else. Whatsoever we do, not only in religious, but civil and natural actions, it should glorify God; and therefore whatever we do should be good fruit. God is most glorified when we bring forth much fruit, John xv. And when whatever we do is fruit unto God, then we bring forth much fruit, and bring it forth always.
Use 1. This leads us to take up a lamentation for the barrenness of the place, the unfruitfulness of the people of this land. No people under heaven that have the gospel, and the means of fruitfulness, with more advantages than we; no people from whom the Lord might expect more and better fruits than from us. But when he comes year after year seeking fruit, what does he find amongst us? How few are there in comparison that brings forth good fruit; how much fewer that bring forth much fruit; how many that bring forth little or nothing but leaves! Nay, well were it with us if the generality of this people did not, instead of good fruit, bring forth cursed fruit; instead of that which should please the Lord, bear that which is a high provocation to him.
How may the Lord take up that complaint against us which he did of old by the prophet, Isa. V., he planted us in a very fruitful hill,’ and we have turned into a Sodom. He fenced us to keep out cattle and wild beasts; and those that are fenced in are turned wild beasts, beasts of prey. He gathered out the stones thereof;’ and yet it is almost all become stony ground. He planted it with the choicest vine;’ and it is become a degenerato plant, and brings forth grapes of gail. He built a tower in the midst thereof,’ a place for the keepers of it, most convenient for oversight; and it is turned into a Babel. He made a wine-press therein, sent priests and prophets to press the people to obedience; and instead of pressing out that pleasant liquor, grateful to God and man, it is made use of to press the souls and consciences of those that are obedient. He looked for grapes, and behold, wild grapes.’ He looked for good, for choice fruit, and behold, corrupt, rotten, and poisonous fruit. He looked for such fruit as the choicest plants bring forth: but our vine is the vibe of Sodom,’ &e. Deut. xxxii. 82, 83, he looked for judgment,’ as ver. 7. He looked for the fruits of holiness, and behold, the most horrid profaneness, contempt of God, rejecting of his gospel, perverting of his ordinances, corrupting of his wor. ship, profaning of his name, of his day; superstition, atheism, infidelity, blasphemy, and overflowing perjury.
He looked for the fruits of righteousness, and behold, injustice, violence, blood-guiltiness, outrageous intemperance, brutish, impudent uncleanness. Behold, all those abominations, and more, and worse than all those for which the Lord had a controversy with degenerate Israel of old: Hosea iv. 1-3, Therefore does the land mourn,’ because the people of it do not mourn for these rebellions; therefore do those that dwell therein languish, and complain of a general consumption.
We declare our sin as Sodom; and we that should have been the best people in the world have made ourselves worse generally, and more vile than many of the heathen. Some dim, weak principles of morality prevailed more with many of them than the gospel in all its evidence and power has prevailed with thousands and thousands amongst us.
We justify those nations whom God has destroyed, those churches which he has laid desolate for their provocation. We seem to out-vie them all in wickedoess. And is there not something that aggravates our rebellions against God, and heightens the provocation of them above what can be found amongst others? Clearer light, and greater mercies, and mighty strivings with us. in the ministry of the gospel.
And besides this, the impudence, incorrigibleness, and universalness-of our unfruitfulness, shall I say? that is too mild a word–of our gross, abhorred wickedness, does testify against us.
We have got a whore’s forehead; we despise shame, we glory in our shame; we boast of that at which the sun may blush; we harden our faces as a rock; and he that would bring us to shame shall but dash himself against it. It is a shame not to bring forth good fruit, and he that speaks but of the fruits of the Spirit will be derided.
We are incorrigible. The Lord has been pruning us to prevent the bearing of this cursed fruit, and he has done it with a severe hand, has made us bleed again and again; and after all we grow wilder and wilder, and our luxuriances sprout out in greater length and number. He has laid the axe to the root of the tree,’ year after year; yea, given some terrible strokes, and threatened that he will not suffer us still to be a growing reproach to him and to his gospel; but all to no purpose; nay, he has cast many thousand fruitless branches into the fire before our eyes, and hereby shewed what the rest may expect. But what effect has all this had upon us? We seem not only past shame, but past fear. We out-dare heaven, and sin in the face of God, when he appears most terrible, when he is revealing his wrath from heaven against our sin; we set at nought his dreadfullest judgments, but rush through plague, and sword, and fire in our course of rebellion; and say, in effect, Tush! we regard not what the Almighty has done or can do to us.
And this is growing universal. All flesh, all sorts corrupting themselves. Wickedness is mounted aloft, and is subduing the nation, and having all advantages, finds little resistance; it goes on in triumph; it has been too hard for that which should make the greatest opposition; the sword of justice is turned another way; the sword of the Spirit is hid too much in corners. What can stop it? What weapon is there formed against it? Who can check its successful progress? It comes in like a mighty flood, has borne down all its banks; its roarings are as the noise of many waters; it is a deluge, and as to these nations like to prove universal.
And what will be the issue of this, what heart does not tremble that considers it? If we brought forth no fruit, none that is good, that is enough to provoke God to cut us down, as you see in this parable. But when we bring forth gall and wormwood. Deut. xxix. 18; when, instead of good fruit, our branches are full of caterpillars and vermin; when we are so far from bringing forth pleasant fruits, as we bear in abundance that which God abhors: how shall we escape? How dreadfully shall we fall! By what a terrible stroke may we expect to be cut down; and what shall secure us from it? Who shall intercede for us? The vine-dresser did plead and prevail here with the lord of the vineyard for some forbearance of the fruit. less fig-tree; but our vine-dressers, where are they? Are not thousands driven out of the vineyard? They may not dig about it, not dung it; they must use the means to prevent its ruin; and those that remain, too many of them mind something else, and content themselves with other fruits than the Lord looks for.
Oh, what, how much have we done to render our condition hopeless, and past remedy! What need is there of mourning and great lamentation! What necessity of strong cries, and great wrestlings, to prevent the woful consequences of our unfruitfulness in all that is good and desirable: our fruitfulness in all that is provoking, and in that which is most so. How highly are they concerned who bear any good fruit to bring forth still more and better, that so when the tree, the nation, is an eye-sore to God, and the very sight of it provokes him to cut it down by some astonishing strokes, yet seeing some branches well replenished with fruit that he takes pleasure in, he may yet spare the whole a little longer.
Use 2. For exhortation. If those that enjoy the means of fruitfulness ought to bring forth, then are you highly concerned to take notice of it as your duty, to be fruitful, and to comply with the Lord herein. The Lord has vouchsafed you the gospel, and the means of grace; he has planted you by the rivers of waters, in a very fruitful place; he has been a dew unto you, and has watered you with the first and latter rain; he has sent his labourers amongst you, one after another, and has employed them to dig about you, and dung and water you; to take all pains, use all means; to spend their time, their parts, their strength, themselves for this purpose; he has been pruning you by judgments and afflictions, and thereby been lopping off whatever might hinder you from being fruitful; he has warned you, by what has befallen others for their barrenness; he calls upon you by his word, by his pro vidence; he has declared it to be your duty, indeed the sum of all that he requires of you, that upon which hang all the law and the prophets. The whole duty of man, the whole duty of Christ’s disciples, is fruitfulness. And indeed, if he had never commanded it, never required it in the Scripture, never spoke one word for it, yet what he has done to you has made it your duty, a duty of greatest moment, and indispensably so. The means of fruitfulness you have enjoyed obliges you strongly to bring forth fruit, and to bring forth good fruit; the plenty of them engages you to bring forth much fruit; the continuance of them calls upon you to continue fruitful. If you answer not this call, and these engagements, you will be inexcusable; for there is nothing more equal than this which the Lord requires of you. You will involve yourselves in dreadful guilt; for there is nothing more sinful than barrenness in these circumstances. You expose yourselves, and all that is dear to you, to the greatest hazards; for there is nothing more dangerous than unfruitfulness in this case. You bereave yourselves of the blessed advantages which attend fruitfulness, or are the happy consequences of it. Let me enforce this duty on you a little more largely on you a little more largely by these considerations now pointed at —
(1.) Consider the equity of it. It is a duty grounded upon the greatest equity, that those who enjoy the means of fruitfulness should be fruitful. It is so equal, that the Lord appeals to the judgment of those from whom he requires it; the case being so clear that their own consciences cannot but give sentence in favour of it, Isa. v. 3, 4. And these inhabitants of Jerusalem to whom he refers it were parties, ver. 7. When the Lord has done all that is requisite to render a people fruitful, there needs no other judge, no other witnesses against them but their own consciences, if they be found barren. The case is so plain, a party may be trusted to give sentence in it. And is not this your case? May not the Lord say of you as he did of his vineyard of old, What could have been done more to make you fruitful, that I have not done?” If after this you bring not forth such fruit as he expects, you will be self-condemned; there will need no more evidence to cast you than what your own consciences will bring in against you; if there were no other judge to pass sentence against you, your own consciences will do it. It may be now conscience is asleep, or you are too busy to attend to its sentence; but affliction, or death, or judgment will awake it, and force you to hearken to it. And these are not far off, though you may dream so. The time is at hand, when your consciences will justify the Lord in his severest proceedings against you for barrenness. Set thyself before the judgment-seat of Christ, where thou must shortly stand; and suppose he should demand of thee, Where could I expect fruit, if not in the place where thou wast planted? Where should I look for fruit, but in my vineyard? Should I look for it in the wilderness? From whom should I expect more and better fruit than from thee, to whom I vouchsafed the means of fruitfulness with greatest advantages?