And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of thy countenance. For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.
~ Psalm 80:15-16, Malachi 4:1
Son of man, What is the vine tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned. Is it meet for any work? Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work: how much less shall it be meet yet for any work, when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned? Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; As the vine tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And I will set my face against them; they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them; and ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I set my face against them.
~ Ezekiel 15:2-7
When the boughs thereof are withered, they shall be broken off: the women come, and set them on fire: for it is a people of no understanding: therefore he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will shew them no favour. And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. And presently the fig tree withered away.
~ Isaiah 27:11, Matthew 21:19
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.
~ John 15:16
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
~ John 15:4
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
~ 1 Peter 4:17-18, Hebrews 6:8
Upon Matthew 3:10, by James Renwick. Sermon 25.
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
~ Matthew 3:10
Where will ye all be ere it be long? Truly ere thirty or forty years go about, the most part of us will be in little bulk; for we will be either in heaven or hell. Ye are now well gathered out, and ye sit close, but ere it be long, we shall be as far sundry as Lazarus and Dives were. Many of you get leave to eat and drink, and keep company with the righteous, but ere many years run, ye shall be as far sundry as Lazarus and the rich glutton are. Should ye not be taken up to know, where your eternal dwellings will be? Many are taken up with houses and lands, to get an inheritance made sure to themselves and others; and many in seeking and keeping the world, lose their immortal souls. But, oh! how few are seeking the house which is not made with hands, that is eternal in the heavens? 2 Cor. 5. 1. O! where will the most part of you be, ere it be long? We fear ye will be burning in the flames of God’s wrath. Many of you are living at peace and ease now, but if ye bring not forth other sort of fruit than ye have done, ere long ye shall be burning in the flames of God’s wrath: And this is an evidence of it, that we see that ye are no more concerned at the hearing of this, than if ye were brute beasts. O, that we knew what would prevail with you! If we knew what would do it, we would even venture our flesh and our blood for you. Tho’ there be but one thing needful, O! how few of you choose that good part, that part that cannot be taken from you? Oh! many Marthas in this day, (though it be a very evil time) that are taken up with nothing but the house, and the corn, and the cattle. But, Oh! who is minding the one thing necessary? Oh! sirs, ye have but one soul to keep, and will ye lose that? Will ye be at no pains to save your immortal souls? Are ye resolved, say what we will, that ye will go on in a course of sin, forgetting God, and your own soul’s salvation? God is crying to you, hold your hand; and we are crying to you, will ye not turn from your transgressions, by salting and mourning, and supplication? O! where will we find you in the last day? The greatest part of you, we fear, will be set among the goats in that day. O! will ye be prevailed with, to turn from your sins and iniquities? O if it were in the power of our hand, we would fain have you taking warning to flee from the wrath which is to come.
Now remember the text, The axe is laid to the root of every tree; and if ye bring not forth good fruit, ye are nearer the hewing down than ever ye were before. Ye know not when this axe will be lifted up, and give you the last stroke: Ye know not, but this night your souls shall be required at your hands. O! are ye ready sirs? Little know many of you how near your day of counting with your judge is: Ye know not, but within twenty-four hours, ye shall be standing before your Judge. O! but ye have great need to get your peace made up with God, and your debt discharged. We fear that there are but few of you, that have ever counted with God. Why come ye not, and why flee ye not to the cautioner to be discharged? O! how much debt are ye owing, and yet ye sleep sound. Think ye not that justice will call you to an account; yea, ye shall be called to an account for the least item that ye are guilty of. And if ye die undischarged of your debt, then ye will be cast into the hopeless prison, out of which ye will never escape to all eternity.
Now, there is no less than life and death lying at the stake; but I shall not weary you with discourse: Ye are wearied of God, and he is wearied of you, and it is like ye will get your will. He hath been long threatening to take away the gospel from you; and he hath kept something of it with you, after other places have been deprived of it: And now we see ye are wearied of it, and this will cause him to take it from you also. And, woe will be to you, if he depart from you, Hos. ix. 12. It is like, that ye will be brought to that, which Israel was brought to of old, to be without teaching priests. Now, what will ye do with this word, as ye have with many other words? We think the Lord is saying, As I live, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Why will ye die? Why will ye not turn; I would spare you, notwithstanding of all the evil that ye have done, and notwithstanding of all your former barrenness. Or he is saying, I will leave you without excuse, in the day when I count with you. What then will ye do with this word? Isa. Iv. 10, 11 For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not hither, but watereth the earth; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please. The word shall not return void; for if it seal not up salvation to you, it shall seal up your damnation.
Ye may remember what we were left upon in the forenoon, which was this, That the trees, which bear not good fruit, are ready to be hewn down, and cast into the fire; and that they are trees appointed and prepared for burning. Alas! that there are so many that have brought so much ill fruit forth. What hath been the fruit, that many of you have brought forth? Are there not among you Sabbath-breaking, worldly-mindedness, drunkenness, uncleanness, lying, filthy speaking, and many of these sins, of which the Apostle Paul tells, That they which do such things, shall not inherit the kingdom of God, Gal, v. 21. It is also told you who they are, that shall not inherit the kingdom of heaven, 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. Know ye not, that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God Rev. xxii. 15. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie, The wicked are compared to dogs: cursed Cain was a dishonour to his father, but ye have been a dishonour to God, whom ye should have glorified. It is not leaves that will do your turn; it is not a profession that will do your turn, but ye must also have good fruit. The foolish virgins had fair leaves; but when the bridegroom came, they were kept out, because they had not good fruits.
We told you what was requisite to the bringing forth good fruit. And you may remember that this was one thing requisite, that good fruit be brought forth in season; your fruit must be seasonable as to the time; young folk should bring forth good fruit in their youth, as good Josiah did, for he brought forth good fruit in his tender age; and John the Baptist began soon to seek the Lord, old men and old women, ye that are old withered stocks, it is a hundred to one.
I ever we bring forth good fruit all your days: But will ye go to God, and pray him to give you the sense of the evil of your sins; and go to the Prince exalted, the Lord Jesus Christ. and pray him to give you repentance, and the free remission of sins: O! will ye remember, that there is no repentance in the grave, where ye are going: Therefore, if ye get not repentance and the remission of sin here, ye will undoubtedly perish. O but ye have need to mourn, for the many ill spent days and nights that are gone over your heads, and for much ill fruit that ye have brought forth! We told you to give all diligence to make your calling and election sure; for this is a fruit that is well pleasing to God, and profitable to yourselves, and that which will yield you comfort at your dying day, when no other thing can give you pleasure and satisfaction: For, if this be wanting, when ye must count with God, no other thing will give you solid peace. Therefore delay not this great business. Another fruit is watchfulness; a duty much called for, now when the Lord is threatening to turn all things upside down. After that Christ had foretold the destruction that was coming upon the temple and Jerusalem, he gives this exhortation, Luke xxi, 36. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be counted worthy to escape all these things, that shall come to pass, and to stand before the son of man. But ye may say, What should we watch against? I answer, ye should watch against the sins, snares, and errors of the time. Be still upon your watch-tower, that the enemy get not an advantage against you; for he is still going about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Also watch unto prayer, watch unto reading, watch unto hearing, yea, watch unto all duties; for ye that are strangers to watchfulness, ye are strangers to all the duties of Christianity. Therefore watch at all times, in all places, and among all company. David kept his mouth with a bridle when the wicked was before him. O but ye have great need to watch, when among wicked persons! ye that have any name or shew of piety, when ye join with the wicked in their sin, ye harden them in their sin, and bring an evil report upon the truth. Also, we would have you much in secret prayer; for that is a good fruit, and a seasonable fruit for this time: If ever there was a time to draw near to God by prayer, it is now, when all things are threatening desolation. See what the apostle says, 1 Peter iv. 7. But the end of all things is at hand, be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer. O my friends! this is a time, wherein ye are called to be much in secret prayer. We have that charity for several of you, that ye make conscience of this duty morning and evening. But, O! who is wrestling with the Lord as Jacob did? This is a time wherein we have all need to be much in prayer, and to wrestle with the Lord in it.
Another good fruit is sobriety: Woe to them that are drinking their wine in bowls, and are forgetting the affliction of Joseph. Woe to them that are now surfeiting and satisfying themselves with the creatures, and are forgetting the afflictions of the Lord’s people! Then ye that are professors live soberly as to the use of meat and drink; for this is a part of the duty of sobriety. Be also sober in apparel; there is a pertinent Scripture for this, which you may read, Isaiah iii. 16 to the end of the chapter. And consider what is said, ver. 24. And it shall come to pass instead of sweet smell there shall be stink, &c. There the Lord threatens to give them stink instead of perfumes; and we fear that many of you spend more time be twixt the comb and the glass than ye do at your prayers; as an honest man said, when he was coming up the street, and looking in at the window he sees one dressing herself, and when he sees her go so often back and forward to the glass, he came away weeping, and one meeting him wondered to see him in that posture, thinking that he had gotten some sad news; and asked what ailed him? I have (said he) seen one taking more pains and care for her body than I have taken for my soul. Be sober in expressions, that is another part of this duty: It is a shame to hear the expression of some professors and their discourses, so that there is little difference betwixt them and the profane So then sobriety in meat, drink, apparel, and expressions is good fruit. Micah vii. 8. He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good: and what doth the Lord require of thee; but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? Also to mourn with the mourners of Zion, is a good fruit, Lam. i. 12. Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, where with the Lord hash afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger. O then! would ye bring forth seasonable fruit, in the time ye live in? then sympathise with Zion in this day of her affliction. Would ye be spared in the day of the Lord’s fierce wrath? then mourn for your sins and the sins of the land. Read the ninth chapter of Ezekiel; and ye will find that when the men with the slaughter-weapons went through to destroy, they got a commission to spare all that were marked; and there were none marked but the mourners only; and there were passed by and spared. O but Isaiah and Jeremiah’s frame would be a suitable frame for us this day that we live in! O but weeping and mourning and supplication, day and night, were a suitable frame for us this day! There are many things that call for it; threatened judgments and wrath, that we may fear, shall come upon us, call for it; all things call for it; but, O! we fear that there be but few of you that are crying to the Prince exalted for repentance and remission of sin. O cry to him that he would power the spirit of prayer and supplication upon you, that ye may cry to him day and night, that he would spare a remnant and not make a full end! for it may be, ere all be done, that a cottage in a wilderness would be thought a sweet lodging. The time is like to come, and not long to it, that the top of a mountain would be thought a sweet dwelling place. It will be your wisdom therefore, to prepare for that day.
Another seasonable fruit this day, is self-denial: This is seasonable fruit, to be denied to the world, and all creature comforts: There are great pains taken in keeping them, and, by keeping them many lose their immortal souls: But it is very like, that we will be all alike in worldly things ere it be long: Ye that have any thing of the world be denied to it; loose your grips of it; for, if it be not fo, it will make you lose your souls.
Another thing requisite for bringing forth good fruit, and that is universal fruitfulness; both inside branches, and outside branches must be fruitful: There are many that have a fair outside, that inwardly are full of enmity and wickedness; and many that ye would think had fruit on the Sabbath, but through the week care not what they do; but will cheat, and back-bite their neighbours; and some will separate the two tables of the law: They seem to have respect to the first; their duty to God; but, when they come to the second, to the performing of their duty to their neighbour, in that they fail; and thereby they cause the way of truth to be evil spoken of. And others, who seem to show some respect to the second table of the law, yet have no respect to the first. But if ye bring forth good fruit, ye must have a universal respect to all God’s commandments, and all your members must be fruitful therein: Your tongue that hath been employed for Satan, must now be employed for God. Your coming forth to preachings will not do your turn; many come out to the preachings upon the Sabbath, that through the week their tongues will go like bells with cursing and swearing. Lord save us from such professors! Also, your head, your hands, and your feet and all your other members, must all be employed in the service of God; for if ye live in the omission of any known duty, or in the practice of any known sin, it will sink you down to hell.
Another thing that is requisite to the bringing forth of good fruit is this, ye must be constant in bringing forth fruit; It must not be by fits and starts, ye must be constant, and continue in your duty to the end, if ye would be saved. O! how many had been touched at preaching, and have something like a real work upon their soul, who soon have turned like the dog to the vomit, to live again in their old sins. Many in Scotland flourished fair, when these days began, that are now but withered branches: But, if ye be trees of God’s planting, he will make out this to you, that is in Psalm xcii. 13, 14. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord, shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall fill bring forth fruit in old age; they fall be fat and flourishing. Ye should think upon these things, as things that concern you very near, Observe again,
1. That although good works be very necessary, yet they have no hand in our justification, as the papists say, but we are justified only by free grace.
2. Though good works be necessary, yet they cannot merit pardon of sin, nor salvation; for this we must expect for his free mercies sake; as you have it in Neh. ix. 31. Nevertheless for thy great mercies sake, thou didst not utterly consume them. And Psalm cvi. 8. Nevertheless, he saved them for his name’s sake: That he might make his mighty power to be known. Our good works can merit no good thing to us; for any good works that any body works, they are wrought by the Spirit of God: But it is not easy for persons to quit their own righteousness, and to lay hold alone upon the merits and righteousness of Jesus Christ.
3. Though good works be not meritorious, yet the Lord is pleased to reward our good works, through Christ.
4. Although natural men go about good works, yet they are but an abomination in the light of God; as ye have it in Prov. xv. 8. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord.