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.
~ Leviticus 19:23
Then I will command my blessing upon you in the sixth year, and it shall bring forth fruit for three years.
~ Leviticus 25:21
Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
~ Romans 2:4-5
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
~ Exodus 32:10
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:
~ Daniel 4:14
And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.
~ Luke 3:9
Signs of Being Past Grace, by John Bunyan. The following contains an excerpt from his work, “The Barren Fig Tree, The Doom and Downfall of the Fruitless Professor”.
Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?
~ Luke 13:7
Now, then, to show you, by some signs, how you may know that the day of grace is ended, or near to ending, with the barren professor; and after that thou shalt cut it down. He that hath stood it out against God, and that hath withstood all those means for fruit that God hath used for the making of him, if it might have been, a fruitful tree in his garden, he is in this danger; and this indeed is the sum of the parable. The fig-tree here mentioned was blessed with the application of means, had time allowed it to receive the nourishment; but it outstood, withstood, overstood all, all that the husbandman did, all that the vinedresser did.
But a little distinctly to particularize in four or five particulars.
First sign. The day of grace is like to be past, when a professor hath withstood, abused, and worn out God’s patience, then he is in danger; this is a provocation; then God cries, ‘Cut it down.’ There are some men that steal into a profession nobody knows how, even as this fig-tree was brought into the vineyard by other hands than God’s; and there they abide lifeless, graceless, careless, and without any good conscience to God at all. Perhaps they came in for the loaves, for a trade, for credit, for a blind; or it may be to stifle and choke the checks and grinding pangs of an awakened and disquieted conscience. Now, having obtained their purpose, like the sinners of Sion, they are at ease and secure; saying like Agag, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past’ (1 Sam 15:22); I am well, shall be saved, and go to heaven. Thus in these vain conceits they spend a year, two, or three; not remembering that at every season of grace, and at every opportunity of the gospel the Lord comes seeking fruit. Well, sinner, well, barren fig-tree, this is but a coarse beginning: God comes for fruit.
1. What have I here? saith God; what a fig-tree is this, that hath stood this year in my vineyard, and brought me forth no fruit? I will cry unto him, Professor, barren fig-tree, be fruitful! I look for fruit, I expect fruit, I must have fruit; therefore bethink thyself! At these the professor pauses; but these are words, not blows, therefore off goes this consideration from the heart. When God comes the next year, he finds him still as he was, a barren, fruitless cumber-ground. And now again he complains, here are two years gone, and no fruit appears; well, I will defer mine anger. ‘For my name sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off,’ as yet (Isa 48:9). I will wait, I will yet wait to be gracious. But this helps not, this hath not the least influence upon the barren fig-tree. Tush, saith he, here is no threatening: God is merciful, he will defer his anger, he waits to be gracious, I am not yet afraid (Isa 30:18). O! how ungodly men, that are at unawares crept into the vineyard, how do they turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness! Well, he comes the third year for fruit, as he did before, but still he finds but a barren fig-tree; no fruit. Now, he cries out again, O thou dresser of my vineyard, come hither; here is a fig-tree hath stood these three years in my vineyard, and hath at every season disappointed my expectation; for I have looked for fruit in vain; ‘Cut it down,’ my patience is worn out, I shall wait on this fig-tree no longer.
2. And now he begins to shake the fig-tree with his threatenings: Fetch out the axe! Now the axe is death; death therefore is called for. Death, come smite me this fig-tree. And withal the Lord shakes this sinner, and whirls him upon a sick-bed, saying, Take him, death, he hath abused my patience and forbearance, not remembering that it should have led him to repentance, and to the fruits thereof. Death, fetch away this fig-tree to the fire, fetch this barren professor to hell! At this death comes with grim looks into the chamber; yea, and hell follows with him to the bedside, and both stare this professor in the face, yea, begin to lay hands upon him; one smiting him with pains in his body, with headache, heart-ache, backache, shortness of breath, fainting, qualms, trembling of joints, stopping at the chest, and almost all the symptoms of a man past all recovery. Now, while death is thus tormenting the body, hell is doing with the mind and conscience, striking them with its pains, casting sparks of fire in thither, wounding with sorrows, and fears of everlasting damnation, the spirit of this poor creature.(18) And now he begins to bethink himself, and to cry to God for mercy; Lord, spare me! Lord, spare me! Nay, saith God, you have been a provocation to me these three years.
How many times have you disappointed me? How many seasons have you spent in vain? How many sermons and other mercies did I, of my patience, afford you? but to no purpose at all. Take him, death! O! good Lord, saith the sinner, spare me but this once; raise me but this once. Indeed I have been a barren professor, and have stood to no purpose at all in thy vineyard; but spare! O spare this one time, I beseech thee, and I will be better! Away, away you will not; I have tried you these three years already; you are naught; if I should recover you again, you would be as bad as you were before. And all this talk is while death stands by. The sinner cries again, Good Lord, try me this once; let me get up again this once, and see if I do not mend. But will you promise me to mend? Yes, indeed, Lord, and vow it too; I will never be so bad again; I will be better. Well, saith God, death, let this professor alone for this time; I will try him a while longer; he hath promised, he hath vowed, that he will amend his ways. It may be he will mind to keep his promises. Vows are solemn things; it may be he may fear to break his vows. Arise from off they bed. And now God lays down his axe. At this the poor creature is very thankful, praises God, and fawns upon him, shows as if he did it heartily, and calls to others to thank him too. He therefore riseth, as one would think, to be a new creature indeed. But by that he hath put on his clothes, is come down from his bed, and ventured into the yard or shop, and there sees how all things are gone to sixes and sevens, he begins to have second thoughts, and says to his folks, What have you all been doing? How are all things out of order? I am I cannot tell what behind hand. One may see, if a man be but a little a to side, that you have neither wisdom nor prudence to order things.(19) And now, instead of seeking to spend the rest of his time to God, he doubleth his diligence after this world. Alas! all must not be lost; we must have provident care. And thus, quite forgetting the sorrows of death, the pains of hell, the promises and vows which he made to God to be better; because judgment was not now speedily executed, therefore the heart of this poor creature is fully set in him to do evil.
3. These things proving ineffectual, God takes hold of his axe again, sends death to a wife, to a child, to his cattle, ‘Your young men have I slain, and taken away your horses’ (Amos 4:9,10). I will blast him, cross him, disappoint him, and cast him down, and will set myself against him in all that he putteth his hand unto. At this the poor barren professor cries out again, Lord, I have sinned; spare me once more, I beseech thee. O take not away the desire of mine eyes; spare my children, bless me in my labours, and I will mend and be better. No, saith God, you lied to me last time, I will trust you in this no longer; and withal he tumbleth the wife, the child, the estate into a grave. And then returns to his place, till this professor more unfeignedly acknowledgeth his offence (Hosea 5:14,15).
At this the poor creature is afflicted and distressed, rends his clothes, and begins to call the breaking of his promise and vows to mind; he mourns and prays, and like Ahab, awhile walks softly at the remembrance of the justness of the hand of God upon him. And now he renews his promises: Lord, try me this one time more; take off thy hand and see; they go far that never turn. Well, God spareth him again, sets down his axe again. ‘Many times he did deliver them, but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity’ (Psa 106:43). Now they seem to be thankful again, and are as if they were resolved to be godly indeed. Now they read, they pray, they go to meetings, and seem to be serious a pretty while, but at last they forget. Their lusts prick them, suitable temptations present themselves; wherefore they turn to their own crooked ways again. ‘When he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned and inquired early after God’; ‘nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongue’ (Psa 78:34-36).
4. Yet again, the Lord will not leave this professor, but will take up his axe again, and will put him under a more heartsearching ministry, a ministry that shall search him, and turn him over and over; a ministry that shall meet with him, as Elijah met with Ahab, in all his acts of wickedness, and now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees. Besides, this ministry doth not only search the heart, but presenteth the sinner with the golden rays of the glorious gospel; now is Christ Jesus s set forth evidently, now is grace displayed sweetly; now, now are the promises broken like boxes of ointment, to the perfuming of the whole room! But, alas! there is yet no fruit on this fig-tree. While his heart is searching, he wrangles; while the glorious grace of the gospel is unveiling, this professor wags and is wanton, gathers up some scraps thereof; ‘Tastes the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come’; ‘drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon him’ (Heb 6:3-8; Jude 4). But bringeth not forth fruit meet for him whose gospel it is; ‘Takes no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart’ (2 Kings 10:31). But counteth that the glory of the gospel consisteth in talk and show, and that our obedience thereto is a matter of speculation; that good works lie in good words; and if they can finely talk, they think they bravely please God. They think the kingdom of God consisteth only in word, not in power; and thus proveth ineffectual this fourth means also.
(18) Bunyan’s tongue and pen are here fired by his vivid imagination of eternal realities. With such burning words, we need no messenger from the invisible world to alarm the consciences of sinners. What angel could arouse more powerfully, alarmingly, convincingly, the poor sinner, than the whole of this chain of reasoning.–Ed.
(19) This picture is drawn by a master hand: the master is laid by for a season; or, as Bunyan quaintly expresses it, ‘a little a to side’: when raised from affliction earthly affairs absorb his attention, and he forgets his good resolves. According to the old rhyme:– ‘The devil was sick, the devil a saint would be The devil to well, the devil a saint was he.’–Ed.