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? And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. He cried aloud, and said thus, Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches, shake off his leaves, and scatter his fruit: let the beasts get away from under it, and the fowls from his branches:
~ Jeremiah 2:21, Leviticus 19:23, Daniel 4:14
Should we again break thy commandments, and join in affinity with the people of these abominations? wouldest not thou be angry with us till thou hadst consumed us, so that there should be no remnant nor escaping? O LORD God of Israel, thou art righteous: for we remain yet escaped, as it is this day: behold, we are before thee in our trespasses: for we cannot stand before thee because of this. But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.
~ Ezra 9:14-15, Hebrews 6:8
The Fruitless Fig Tree, by Edward Griffin.
He spoke also this parable. A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of the 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
~ Luke xiii. 6–9
In this parable the vineyard represents the visible Church, and in a larger sense the world. The trees are the members of the visible Church, and in a larger sense mankind in general. The planter and owner of the vineyard is God. The dresser is the Lord Jesus Christ. The first idea suggested by the parable is, that men are placed in this world for no other end than to bring forth fruit to God. For what other end are fig trees planted in the vineyard but to bring forth fruit? You were not sent into the world to buy and sell and get gain. The only reason why you are here rather than not here, is, that you may have an opportunity to serve your Creator and Master.
Another idea suggested is, that God has an absolute right to all the services which men are capable of rendering. Shall not he that planted the vineyard eat the fruit thereof.” Has not he who created the materials of which you were made, and then formed them into men, and breathed into them immortal souls; and created the world, and placed men in it, and owns it all; has he not a right to all the services which you can possibly render? Can you be justified in living to yourselves a single hour?
Another idea is, that to render his vineyard fruitful God has appointed one to dress it. This dresser, the Lord Jesus Christ, waters his trees with the dews of heaven, fences round them with his protecting providence, prunes them by affliction, and supports them when they are ready to fall, until he can lift his hand to heaven and say, “What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?” He has made a full revelation of God and of a future state,_of man’s duties, ruin, and recovery. He has given his word and ordinances; he has sent out his Spirit; he has filled the world with expostulations and entreaties; until it can be said, If they hear not these, neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
Another idea is, that God attentively watches men to see if they are fruitful. The owner of the vineyard is represented as coming year after year; that is, as often as fruit was to be expected. God attentively observes men as often as they have an opportunity to perform public or private worship, to hear a sermon, to drop a word of instruction, to relieve the poor, or to cast their gifts into his treasury. On such occasions he fixes his eye upon them as though they were the only objects of his attention. And as he is always expecting fruit, he always watches them. His eyes follow them into every corner. If a sinful deed is done in darkness, if a vain word is uttered in secret, if an unhallowed thought lurks in the heart, lo he knoweth it altogether.
We are further taught that there are some trees in God’s vineyard on which, when he comes year after year seeking fruit, he finds none. Every unregenerate man is of this description. Though his life may be regular towards his fellow men, though he may observe the forms of devotion, and even transact with covenants and sacraments, yet as his heart is always under the dominion of selfishness, he never brings forth any fruit which a holy God can approve. There are many who not only do not bring forth good fruit, but are constantly bringing forth bad fruit. They profane the sabbath, they take the name of God in vain, they reproach religion and its professors, they are wholly buried up in the world. A hundred times a day they violate the rule to do to others as they would have others do to them. How certain that such do not answer the end for which they were sent into the world. If a fig tree, that is good for nothing but its fruit, remains barren, it answers no part of the purpose for which it was planted. It is utterly useless. It cumbers the ground. It stands in the way and exhausts the soil. It is fit for nothing but to be cut down and cast into the fire.
So those who do nothing for God are only an encumbrance on the face of the earth, a grief to Christians and a stumbling block to sinners. Some of them, by their turbulent passions, keep the world in commotion, and all of them, by their vain and careless lives, spread a moral pestilence around them. And since they will not do any good, they are fit for nothing but to feed the flames which will enlighten the universe into the knowledge of divine justice. Unless they are made of some use in this way, their existence will prove a curse to the universe.
We are further taught that God, wearied out with coming year after year seeking fruit and finding none, at length raises his hand to cut the sinner down, and would send him quick into hell, but that the Mediator steps in and pleads, Father, spare him a little longer, and I will try some more powerful means for such a time: if he bears fruit, well; if not, then after that thou shalt cut him down. Now then the matter is fairly at issue. The trial is begun, in view of heaven and earth, which is to decide his destiny for eternity. It is to be for a limited time; after which, if he remains unfruitful, he will be destroyed without remedy. Awful crisis! Angels look down snd tremble for the issue. Here is one put upon his last trial whom Christ seeks to reclaim by affliction. He teaches him, as Gideon taught the men of Succoth, with briers and thorns. His affairs go wrong, or his health fails, or his friends die. This is the only means selected for the final experiment. If it succeeds, well; if not, he is irrecoverably lost. Here is another put upon his last trial whom the Saviour seeks to render fruitful by more ample means of instruction and impression. He puts religious books into his hands. He stirs up Christians to entreat him. He gives him more frequent opportunities to attend religious meetings. These are perhaps the only means chosen for the great experiment. If they avail, well; if not, he is forever lost.
Here is a third put upon his last trial to whom Christ presents the example of others pressing into the kingdom of heaven. He shows him a revival of religion, with all its solemn attestations and appeals. If this brings him to stretch out his hands to a passing Saviour, the trial is happily ended; if not, his doom is unalterably fixed.
Here is a fourth put upon his last trial whom the Saviour plies with still more powerful means. He is awakened by the Spirit of God. His danger, guilt, and ruin are laid open before him. Perhaps he knows not what ails him, and little thinks that the Spirit of God is making the last decisive experiment upon him. How it will issue no man can tell. Many go back from every stage of conviction and plunge into a deeper hell. If all this light and entreaty can bring him to repentance, well; but if he can hold out against the calls of heaven a little longer, he will be left where an angel’s voice could not break his slumbers. He will either be cut down like the fig tree in the vineyard, or, like that by the way side, will be smitten with the curse of perpetual barrenness, and left to grow drier and drier to feed a fiercer flame.
Here is a fifth put upon his last trial on whom the Saviour employs all these means. He sends afflictions upon him, he multiplies the means of instruction and impression, he shows him others pressing into the kingdom of heaven, and he convinces him of sin. He seems determined to make one more thorough experiment upon him. If all this avails, well; if not, the wretch is lost for eternity. Infinite mercy, interpose and decide the matter favourably! After the dresser of the vineyard has dug around the fig tree and manured it, if it will not bear fruit then, what more can be done? It is proved to be incorrigibly barren, and is good for nothing but to feed the flames.
Let it be considered that the time of this last trial is short and precisely limited. The request was, “Let it alone this year.” The probation was only during one season of fruit, just long enough to make one more fair experiment. The moment is fixed in every case when the last trial shall end. That moment may arrive before another morning. And if the trial has continued for weeks, and especially if the persons exercised have struggled against the calls, or suffered business or trifling cares to divert them, the evidence of their incorrigibleness may be the sooner obtained, and the trial may be now near a close. God of mercy, compel them to seize the critical moment before it is forever too late. And when the last trial is closed and their incorrigible barrenness is evinced, why should they not be cut down and cast into the fire? They never will bear fruit. They will only remain cumberers of the ground. Why should they be spared? It is reasonable that barren fig trees, after all hope of their fruitfulness is gone, should be removed out of the way, and, since they can be of no other use, should be made fuel for the fire. And if fruitless men had any ingenuousness in them, they would not desire to be left to cumber God’s ground. If they will not do any good, they ought not to wish to do hurt.
There are exceptions to every general rule. Not all who have passed the last trial without effect are instantly cut down. Some are left to stand as dry trees with which no further cultivation is to be used. They are abandoned by the Spirit and left only to treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. So that in one sense they are in a more awful condition than though they were in hell. The reason of their being spared is distinctly stated in these tremendous words: “What if God, willing to show his wrath and make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” They are left to fill up the measure of their iniquity, that the power of God may appear in their more tremendous ruin. Awful thought! After God has held up the heavens for six thousand years, as though nothing had been done, he has occasion to show his power by the blows he inflicts on his enemies. It is not indeed every one who is distinctly called that is put upon his last trial. But the following are among the symptoms, though not infallible symptoms, that the experiment is final. If the man is advanced in years, there is great reason to think that the trial is the last. Few seem to be called in after the middle of life; and if at that age a special call is rejected, there is little prospect of another. If the person has formerly lived in revivals of religion, and made a mock of them, or even neglected to improve them, it is likely that this is his last trial; that God, seeing so much evidence of incorrigibleness, had lifted his hand to cut him down, when the Intercessor stepped in and pleaded, Spare him one more season, and I will try another and a more decisive experiment upon him. If he bears fruit, well; if not, then after that thou shalt cut him down. If the person has formerly rejected many calls, and now at length is assailed by another more earnest than the rest, it is a symptom that it is the last. It looks as though Christ was determined to try once for all what could be done. Awful crisis? If when we stand over a friend in the turning point of a dangerous fever, and see nature struggling between death and life, we anxiously watch every symptom, how can we do otherwise in the present case?
I would now address myself, in the most solemn manner, to the different classes who have reason to think themselves on their last trial for eternity. But I feel utterly unable to reach the magnitude of the subject. I would fain come at your conscience and heart, but I know not how to bring the whole subject with me. Stretch all your powers to encompass it yourselves, while I only suggest a few imperfect hints. Are there any present who have resisted the calls of God all their days, and are now exercised with affliction? Justice, wearied out by your long delay, had raised the sword to cut you down, when mercy pleaded you off for one more trial. Perhaps the new cultivation was to consist wholly of affliction, how long or how heavy is yet to be determined. If your present sufferings are not sufficient, and good is intended for you, they will be increased. But if they finally fail of producing the effect, and this proves the last trial, you are eternally gone. Up and press into the kingdom of heaven before it is forever closed.
Are there any present under the special calls of the Spirit? Here my anxieties become intense. There is reason to apprehend that this is the last trial with you; that exhausted patience had raised the sword to cut you down, when compassion interposed and pleaded you off for one more season. After the word has gone out, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” can you expect another trial? This season is likely to be short, and it is precisely limited. It may end before the setting sun. And if it end unsuccessfully, and prove the last, you must either be speedly sent to hell, or be left to prepare for a heavier doom. How will this infinitely important season appear to you at the
judgment of the great day? I beseech you to regard it with fear and trembling.
Are there any present who informer revivals were stupid and mockers, but are now awakened? Justice had raised the sword to cut you down, when mercy pleaded you off for one more trial. And have you not reason to think that this is the last! God has used his most powerful means with you, and what more can he do? And when all means fail, will not the proof of your incorrigible barrenness be obtained. And then that word may be fulfilled, “He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” O submit before you leave your seats.
Are there any present who were formerly awakened by the Spirit of God, but returned to stupidity, and are now awakened again? How few are thus favoured the second time. And considering the many calls which you have received from the word and providence of God, from parents and instructors, can you reasonably expect another trial? Immortal creatures, it is too late to trifle with these infinite concerns. It is distraction to delay another moment.
I would next apply the subject to those who were formerly awakened, but cannot now be moved by all that is passing before their eyes. I am at a loss how to consider your case; whether to regard you as still under trial, and these means as sent to make one more experiment upon you, or to view you as abandoned of God and left only to fill up the measure of your iniquity. While you remain stupid there is not a particle of evidence that you are not abandoned. And if you can continue thus through the present revival, the evidence will be great that this is your fearful condition. But if not abandoned already, there is every reason to think that this is your last trial. Sleep a little longer and your case will be unalterably fixed, and you must inevitably make your bed in hell.
I would next apply the subject to those who were unmoved in former revivals and remain unmoved in this. I have two things to say of your case. The first is, that you have had abundant outward means. The second is, that God is not obliged to send his Spirit when men reject his other calls. Should he close your probation to-day you could not complain. It is by no means certain therefore but that, months ago, he raised his hand to cut you down, and mercy pleaded you off for one final experiment. If so, and this fails, you will either be soon cut down or left to treasure up wrath against the day of wrath. For millions of worlds I would not be in your condition a single day. Where is your reason? Are you resolved to go out of the world sleeping? If so the pains of hell will awaken you to purpose.
I would next apply the subject to those who have lived along with an uncertain hope, without acknowledging Christ before the world, or taking a decided part for him, or bringing forth fruit. There is solemn reason to believe that all the calls of God and all the motions of his Spirit have received nothing from you but resistance. Dare any of you then conclude that this is not your last trial? Cast away that delusive hope, and lay yourselves down at the feet of Christ, and there die that you may be made alive.
I will next apply the subject to unfruitful professors. The Church is emphatically the vineyard of God, and you are pre-eminently barren trees in the vineyard. So many years has God come seeking fruit on you and found none. Justice long ago would have cut you down, but mercy pleaded you off for one more trial. There is reason to think that this is the last. And when all hope of your fruitfulness is gone, God may say, Cut them down, why cumber they my ground? This stroke will be more likely to fall on you than on those who are out of the Church. The husbandman, though he lets dry trees stand awhile in his common field, will not long suffer them in the midst of his vineyard.
I will lastly apply the subject to all who are out of Christ and have not passed their last trial. By this gracious visitation you are all brought to a solemn crisis. There is reason to think that some of you in this season will pass your final trial; and all who remain unfruitful after this, will stand a greater chance for perdition than they ever did before. Could one of you think it strange if this should prove the last trial with you? Have you not had and misimproved as many means as you have reason to think the generality of men do before they are given over? If the trial has been upon you for some time, and you have remained stupid, the proof of your incorrigibleness may be the sooner obtained, and the trial may be now drawing to a close. I put this question to you in the name of God: Will you improve the present season and live, or will you run the dreadful hazard of throwing away the price now in your hands? Heaven and earth unite in crying to you, Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near. Not always will he be near; not always will he be to be found. When your doom is once sealed, then he will no longer be near. When you have shot the gulph, no hope will visit you more; no sabbath will dawn upon you there; no mercy-seat will send out its inviting voice; no season of prayer will ever return. How will you then look back upon these assemblies in the house of God? how to these gracious visitations of the Spirit, when your hands had almost hold of the thresh old of heaven? How will it rend your hearts to hear him say, “Because I have called and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsel and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh.”—But I have done. My heart is ready to break, but it is nothing to what you will feel. For God himself has said, “If thou scornest thou alone shalt bear it.” We can now weep over you and almost die in your death; but then—you alone must bear it. Amen.