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out of my mouth. Be not deceived ; God is not mocked : for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also
reap. What then remains, my hearers generally, but to exhort you to bring your worldly condition to the test of this equitable rule; and now, in this the seed time, every one of us for eternity, to seek the good seed of the kingdom to be sown in our hearts ; and to cultivate it carefully in our lives, that the fruit may be unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, unto him be glory in the Church, by CHRIST Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. AMEN.
THE UNFRUITFUL FIG TREE.
LUKE xiü. 7.
" Then said he to 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 ?"
The immediate connexion of the subjects in some of our LORD's discourses, as recorded by the Evangelists, is discernible only by careful and diligent consideration of the context. of this the conversation, of which my text forms a part, may serve for an example.
The lesson we should all learn from it is obvious enough ; but the connexion it has with the fate of those Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with that of their sacrifices, and of those on whom the tower of Siloam fell (respecting which events our LORD was discoursing with his disciples) is not so evident. The transitionfrom an exhortation to repentance grounded on the sudden and unlooked for destruction which overtook them, to the patience of God with delaying sinners—to be profitably applied by us, requires to be carefully considered and brought home to individual condition. But when thus considered, as it is more striking in its application, and calculated to make a more serious impression upon the conscience of the man; so is it nearer to that divine blessing, that supernatural energy of conviction, which makes the word of God life and power to our souls.
The use I would make of this observation at the entrance of my discourse is two fold.
First, to draw your attention in general to the very serious injury to your souls, which arises from mere cursory reading of the Scriptures ; by which I mean such a reading of them as is unconnected with a deeply felt personal interest in what they contain. God's message to mankind is not only a revelation of his will to the world in general, but a special and personal communication to each particular individual who is called into being under the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. From this alone can any individual derive satisfactory information of his actual condition, of his obligations to God, of the duties required in return, and of the sanctions by which they are enforced. To read it, then, as a mere fund of general information, as something important perhaps, but not special and personal, not as a direct communication from heaven to him who peruses it, is at the very outset to make the word of God of none effect. And to this cause, I am verily persuaded, it is owing that numbers who admit the divine authority of the Scriptures, and have read their Bibles, have yet derived no profit from the word of life. Yet in assigning this as the cause why so many rational beings, with his message in their hands, are yet at a distance from God, and as careless and negligent of the interests of eternity as if the present life were the boundary of their existence, I would not be understood as meaning to exclude the many other causes which combine with superhuinan power against the soul; but, according to my experience, to place the one I have mentioned in the front rank, as that by which all the others are increased in their power, and finally established in their dominion over us. Show me the man who has read his Bible only as a general communication to mankind, and I will show you the man who has laid it aside, and has no concern with religion. He may, indeed, be externally respectful to its forms occasionally, and be one who is amiable and estimable for the life that now is; but for the great and ulterior purpose of our present being, he is the fig tree on which there is nothing but leaves. But show me the man who has received and read his Bible as a conmunication from heaven to himself, and I will show you the man who continues in that word—who is a Christian by open profession and by practice, and is the fig tree which has fruit as well as leaves.
The next use I would make of the introductory observation on my text is, to warn you against a very common cause of disregard and inattention in reading the Scriptures, growing out of the peculiar manner in which the instruction they contain is expressed
The moral of a parable and the similitude and application of a figure require attention and reflection on the part of the hearer to render them profitable. If, therefore, either from some fancied obscurity in the allusion, or from some assumed difficulty in the application, we neglect altogether or misapply the instruction thus given, we stand justly chargeable with all the consequences which must follow. That enmity and opposition to religion which is the mark of the natural man; his inaptitude to discern the things of the Spirit of God, of which he is advertised ; with the powerful influence of present and sensible things, against which he is most earnestly warned; all conspire to urge him to an escape from the just and direct application of what can colourably be evaded in the warning and instruction of the Scriptures. And though this ruinous disposition of mind is met at the moment by the verdict of conscience-by the inward misgivings of the heart, that it is a false and forced conclusion we have come to, yet by what thousands of accountable and immortal beings, who are to be judged too by this very word, is this ruinous delusion followed! It is, indeed, true, my hearers, that the Scriptures themselves form a part of our trial; they are so framed, that we may draw from them the wisdom of salvation, or pervert them to destruction; and in this respect they stand on the same ground with all the other provisions of God's mercy and goodness to moral beings. This circumstance, therefore, so far from lessening the obligation we are under to use all diligence to acquaint ourselves with the mind of the Spirit, increases it by the full amount of all those awful consequences which await our failure or success in this primary duty.
That it was designedly and of wise purpose, and not merely in compliance with the figurative style of language common to the Eastern nations, that our Lord delivered his instructions to the people in parables and figures of known and visible things, we have his own declaration in two instances, and both of them so expressed as to require careful consideration in order to their being rightly understood.
The first is in these words : Therefore speak I to them in parables, because they seeing, see not; and hearing, they hear not, neither do they understand. This reproach and reproof, so often objected by our Lord to the Scribes and Pharisees in particular, and to the whole Jewish people in general, was not occasioned by any want of natural parts or faculties, but because of their want of a disposition and readiness to receive instruction. The one would have been a pitiable defect for which they could not be held answerable; but the other evidenced such a proud contempt of truth and right, such a perverse neglect of their highest interests, as rendered them and all others of a similar disposition worthy to be given over to their own ignorance and conceit.
The next declaration of our LORD is expressed in language still more remarkable : All these things are done in parables, that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. From which we are to understand—not that it was the design of Christ to impede the salvation of those who heard him by the manner in which he framed his instructions-No! God forbid ! for that would be to contradict the express and declared purpose for which he came into the world; but the meaning is, that he chose to deliver his doctrine in such a manner that those only who were really desirous to know the will of God, and disposed to do it when known-who were anxious to be informed, and willing to search for instruction in righteousness as for hid treasure—might receive and profit by his teaching, while the careless and negligent, the proud, conceited, and incorrigible should reap the fruit of their wilful perverseness in remaining blind and deaf to all his instructions and exhortations. And this explanation of our Saviour's declarations, as on the one hand it clears them from all contradiction in the terms, and relieves us from deriving any impious doctrine therefrom ; so on the other hand I trust it will convince all who hear me, that something more than mere reading the Scriptures is necessary to derive from them the saving knowledge with which they are stored, and enforce that consideration and earnest inquiry into their true meaning and application which it is the object of these introductory observations to excite. Their connexion with and bearing upon the subject will appear from the more particular consideration of the text, to which I now proceed.