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this? If you have not, then you have not done your duty to those tender spirits whom the Lord has committed to your care. You have not kept the divine command, to " teach His Word dilligently unto thy children, talking of them when thou sittest in the house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And you will need to turn over a new leaf, in this particular, in the year which is coming.
Having made these general remarks, let us now turn to a consideration of the text:"A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard." By a vineyard, in a general sense, is signified the church; but individually, it signifies man's spiritual mind. The reason is, because the vine corresponds to spiritual truth: here the Lord says,—"I am the vine," meaning that He is truth itself; and, for the same reason, the wine used in the Holy Supper signifies spiritual truth. A fig-tree signifies the natural mind, that is, the external mind, from which man speaks and acts before the world. It is said, "a fig-tree planted in the vineyard," to represent that the natural mind should be rooted in the spiritual that the words and deeds of the external man should be derived from good and truth in the internal.
And he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none." By the fruit of the fig-tree is signified good in act, the good of life and conduct. There was a vineyard; there was an abundance of knowledge of spiritual truth, but there was no corresponding goodness of life. How many a man is pictured here! How many possess the knowledge of what is right, but do not do it, do not act according to it! How many, for instance, know that it is a sin to speak ill of their neighbour, but yet, when the temptation comes, they cannot restrain their tongues, but allow themselves to tąttle, tattle about him, till, like the serpent with his prey, they slime his character all over with the poison of their lips! Hateful is this sin in the Lord's sight; angels revolt from it. It is utterly contrary to that charity which “thinketh no evil." I select this sin for illustration, because it is one of the most common sins in society. Every spiritual-minded person will be on his guard against it.
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?” In a special sense, by the fig-tree in this passage, the Lord had reference to the Jewish church. By three years is signified their whole history all their states (for the number three signifies all), that they had always been a perverse and stiff-necked people, and had perpetually disobeyed the Divine commandments, and
. Deut. vi. 6, 7.
lived evil lives. The same nation and church was typified by the figtree, mentioned in another place, which the Lord cursed, and it withered away, representing that the Jewish church was incapable of being mended, and that it would perish. But, in a general sense, every sinner is here referred to, every man of the church who knows what is right, and yet persists in wrong, every one who knows truth, but does not practise good. The warning is, that if that man does not repent and change his course, he will soon be cut off; or, whether be it sooner or later, if he does not turn from courses which he knows to be evil, he will inevitably perish in his sins and go amongst the lost. “And now," said the Lord, “ 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."*
The parable proceeds" 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." The vine-dresser who thus interceded, may be regarded as representing the Lord in the Humanity, the tender Saviour, who is ever interceding for His church, that is, who is ever seeking to bring men into a state to receive the Divine Word and Truth, and so be saved, and who took upon him that humanity in order that there might be a medium through which the Divine might reach man in his low and fallen state. For this is the meaning of intercession and mediation, in the true and spiritual sense, namely, the operation of the Lord's humanity as a medium through which the Divine influences might reach man, and through which also man might have access to the Divine. The Lord, in His divine humanity, is that true dresser of the vineyard ; He is ever watching over the members of His church, chastening and checking here, urging and stimulating there, just as the careful vine-dresser prunes some vines and props up others.
“Let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it." The Lord, in His mercy, grants us another year of probation. He will use renewed exertions to induce us to bring forth the fruits of a good life; to do what is right and refrain from what is wrong and sinful. He will seek, by a thousand methods, to withdraw us from evil courses, to help us to break up bad habits, to enable us to overcome our evil passions, to assist us to root out that particular form of sin to which each of us is specially liable ; for “every man," saith the Scripture, “ knoweth the plague of his own heart." He will strive with us; He will bring good angels about us; He will remove evil spirits from us as far as it is possible, as far as we will permit Him. But yet He will
Matt. iii. 10.
leave us our freedom; He will not, He cannot take away that, for it would be to destroy our humanity. We shall still be left at liberty to go on in sin if we are determined to do so ; we may withstand, if we will, all His gentle drawings, all the mild admonitions of attendant angels, all the good advice of the friends whom the Lord's providence places about us, to help us and to urge us to do better, and turn to the right course. All these inducements to do good we may disregard if we choose, and rush on to our destruction.
This moral liberty, wbich is given to every one, is expressed in the words—"And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down."
It is a solemn and an awful responsibility to have one's eternal state in his own hands. Yet this responsibility is laid on every one of us ; it is at once a vast privilege and a most weighty charge. To think that every individual here has it in his own power to say what shall be his eternal destiny,—what this state and condition shall be ten thousand years from this time, and ten thousand after that, and so on for ever,this is, to the reflecting mind, the sublimest and the gravest of all considerations. Whether he shall be happy or whether he shall be miserable throughout the long ages of eternity, it lies with each soul to determine for itself. Can there be a more fearful responsibility ? Not only that ; but it lies with each to-day what degree of happiness or unhappiness it will attain to; for there are innumerable and indefinite degrees of both. Every time you yield to an evil passion which you might have resisted, you put yourself back one step for ever (this is meant by the declaration, every
shall give account at the day of judgment"). Whenever you give way to a temptation which you might have overcome, you then and there cast away from
you 80 much of the joys and glories of heaven. And this is true, even supposing you are saved at last,-for to be saved is merely to pass the border line, and to reach the lowest place in heaven; but beyond and above this there are indefinite degrees of felicity, which you might have obtained had you fought the good fight more firmly. Is not this thought a great inducement to strive and struggle continually to do right,-continually to refrain from wrong;-constantly to battle with evil,—to be perpetually on the watch, that we be not overcome by temptation ? Men strive and labour hard for earthly riches and honours, which yet they may lose again to-morrow; and shall we not be willing to toil and use exertion, and exercise self-denial, when the reward is eternal glory and felicity ?
A new year is now opening before us. Let each one make solemn
resolves before the Lord to strive for the mastery of his own spirit. Let it be a first desire to see how much progress we can make this year in our regeneration,-how much evil in ourselves we can overcome and remove,-how much good we can attain. This should be the true object of ambition; not to see how much outward wealth we can acquire, the very weight of which, when gained, may only sink us deeper into the pit. Let us strive for the riches that take not to themselves wings, the glory that never fades, namely, the treasures of truth and goodness. Ere the year now opening is ended, some of us may be in the eternal world, and possibly by our own fault; for if it is found that we will not do better, the word may go forth against us, “Cut it down, why cum. breth it the ground?” But from whatever cause, it is probable that some will be removed, and on the ears of some that now hear, the sound of the tolling bells on the first Sunday of the next year will fall in vain-and the voice of the preacher who may stand in this place will be heard no more. Oh, may that spirit then be listening to the sweeter voices of angels! may it be mingling in the worship of the spiritual choirs ! may it be standing amidst the mansions of paradise ! may it have reached the glories of heaven! Amen.
THE DIVINE BENEVOLENCE IN THE LITTLE THINGS
Among the most wonderful things in Nature are unquestionably to be reckoned the Eggs of Birds and of other creatures, and the Seeds of Plants. An atom, often not so large as a grain of sand, and apparently endowed with no greater amount of living energy, expands, almost while we watch, into a lively animal, or unfolds a green point, which, nourished by the rain and sunshine, becomes the architect of a charming flower or a noble tree. Did we not behold the miracle repeated in. cessantly before our eyes, it would be difficult to believe that life could be so concentrated; but like all other grand truths, it comes before us so much as a matter of course, that we are apt to overlook its profound marvellousness, bestowing our highest and foremost admiration upon the brilliant and the sonorous,--the lightning, the awful roll of the cloudborn thunder, or the beautiful upward-streaming glory of the Aurora. No doubt these are things that deserve our deep and most reverent interest, alike on account of their incomparable grandeur as natural phenomena, and of their fine significance as emblems of realities in the inner, invisible world; but we should accustom ourselves, at the same time, to consider with an equal delight, the common, every-day occurrences by which nature is sustained, and upon which we depend for our personal and daily comfort.
“ He prayeth best, who loveth best
Each thing, both great and small,
Our Father, made them all." It is a great mistake to suppose, that to find the most striking illustrations of the Divine Love and Wisdom in the arrangements of the visible creation, we are necessitated to look at what is immense and magnificent. Just as the happiness of life does not depend upon the half-dozen memorable enjoyments that make certain years and days stand out in the annals of our past, like the green and palmy islands of the desert to the traveller, but upon the small and unconsidered blessings that come fresh and fresh every hour and every moment; so does a truly intelligent idea of the munificence, the skill, the taste,if such terms may be used, -also of the far-reaching providence that anticipates every want before it can possibly be felt, and of the ease and the infinite power of Him who holds the heavens in his hands, come less of the consideration of mighty phenomena that happen rarely and rather as exceptions, than of the daily observation of that quiet and pretty ripple of life through the tiny and tender forms of bee and butterfly, flower and fern, and feathered moss, which imparts a kind of immortality to the scenery amid which we tread, and makes us cry out, with old Isaac Walton, as he listened to the song of the nightingale“O Lord ! if these be thy gifts to thy creatures on earth, what hast thou not prepared for thy saints in heaven!”
The preservation of the vital spark in Seeds, and its sudden burst into vegetable fire when.kindled under the laws that at once protect and call it forth, is exemplified as well as we could desire, in the most ordinary operations of horticulture. When the parent plant decays, those little germs in which, with a loving farewell, it wraps up its best and strongest energies, along with incredible capacity for bright colour, and sweet smell, and grateful taste, are collected by the gardener, carefully dried, and put away; every seed, he well knows, is a storehouse of sleeping life, which, with the return of Spring, if placed where rain and sunshine can pay alternate visits, will leap into green infancy of fair blossom or wholesome vegetable. Nothing more is wanted to prove the fact; but over and above this ordinary, familiar proof, there is a class of occurrences less known than they deserve to be, which are calculated to excite our wonder to the utmost. Properly-ripened seeds, if placed in