ON THE PARABLE OF THE BARREN FIG TREE. LUKE xiii.
Consider first, that all Christians are like trees planted in the vineyard of Christ, and that he expects of them all that they should bring forth fruit, each one in his kind. He will not be content with their making a fair show with beautiful leaves, nor yet with the bringing forth a meaner sort of fruit, unworthy of his vineyard; but he requires that they should bring forth good fruit, and declares, (Matt. vii. 19.) ‘that every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit shall be cut down, and shall be cast into the fire.’ This sentence, than, stands against all such trees as are barren in our Lord’s vineyard; yes, the axe is already laid at the root of them all, (Matt. iii. 10.) However, as we see in the parable of the fig-tree, God, in his great patience and mercy, bears with them for a while, and suspends the execution of the sentence, in hopes of their coming in time to bring forth good fruit, till, after repeated disappointments, he lets the sentence take place; and suddenly cuts them down to be the fuel of a fire that shall never be extinguished. See here, my soul, and dread the sad consequences of continuing to be a barren tree in the vineyard of our Lord, and despising the riches of his goodness, and his patience and long suffering, with which he waits so long, in hopes of good fruit.
Consider 2ndly, as to thy own particular, how much thou owest to God for having planted thee in his vineyard, and for all that he has done for thee, that thou mightest be fruitful. O, how often has he visited thee during all these past years, with the dew of heaven and with the wholesome showers of his divine graces? What dressing and attention has he not daily bestowed upon thee? How early a knowledge has he given thee of himself? How often hast thou been favoured with his heavenly word, by which his divine will has been notified to thee? How often hast thou been admitted to his sacraments, the fountains of grace and life? These are great advantages indeed: these have made many trees very fruitful; these have made many great saints. But what fruits have they produced in thee? How hast thou corresponded with all these visits and favours of heaven? Hast thou not, at the best, contented thyself with the leaves of some outward performances like those of the Scribes and Pharisees, that might please the eyes of the world, without bearing any real fruits of solid Christian virtue? If so, remember what a sentence stands at present against thee, and prevent the execution of it by a speedy and hearty repentance and conversion to God, and by beginning at least to bring forth the good fruit of a new life before the time of thy reprieve expire, the term of which is unknown to thee, and may be very near at hand.
Consider 3rdly, that the fruit which God expects from thee, is not merely that thou shouldst refrain from scandalous excesses; or that thou shouldst lead a moral, honest life, as many pagans have done; or that thou shouldst frequent the public worship of the church; or any other external duties, which may be liable to be ill performed for want of a pure intention, or corrupted with pride or self-love; but the fruits which God calls for, and insists upon, are such as are solid and sound at heart; such as are never to be found in hypocrites or impostors, or any others but truly good Christians. Such are an unfeigned humility and contempt of ourselves; the mortification of our own will, of our passions and corrupt inclinations, by the virtues of obedience and self-denial; a conformity in all things with the holy will of God; sincere piety and devotion, and above all things true and perfect charity, by loving God with our whole hearts, and every neighbour, whether friend or enemy, in him and for him. These are good fruits indeed; and the trees that bring forth such fruits as these are good trees. But where these fruits are wanting, and either pride, or passion, or self-love still prevails, neither alms nor fastings, nor long prayers, nor daily frequenting the sacraments, nor speaking with the tongues of men and angels, nor prophesying, nor working of miracles, nor even raising the dead to life, will secure any tree from the dreadful judgment of being cut down, and cast into the fire.
Conclude to look well to thyself, and examine what kind of fruits thine are; and whether good and sound, and fit to be presented to the Lord of the vineyard; or at the best but wild, and sour, or rotten at heart, by the corruption of thy pride and self-conceit; and take care to purge away, whilst thou hast time, whatever either hinders the fruit from ripening, or rots and corrupts it. Thy eternal welfare absolutely depends upon thy bringing forth a store of good fruit upon which thou mayest live for ever.