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over with these nettles and thorns of iniquity, escape being afflicted with them in his conscience; for, as they cover the face of his vineyard through his sloth now, so will they cover the face of his conscience in the day of judgment. For profession and conscience cannot be separated long: if a man then shall make profession without conscience of God's honor in his conversation, his profession and conscience will meet in the day of his visitation. Nor will he whose condition this shall be, be able to ward off the guilt and sting of a slothful and bad conversation from covering the face of his conscience, by retaining in his profession the name of Jesus Christ; for naming and professing the name of Christ will, instead of salving such a conscience, put venom, sting, and keenness into those nettles and thorns that then shall be spread over the face of such consciences. I beseech you, consider this, namely, that the man that professeth the name of Christ and yet liveth a wicked life, is the greatest enemy that God has in the world, and consequently one that God will most eminently set his face against.
THE FRUITLESS PROFESSOR.
Barren-fig-tree, thou art not licensed by thy profession, nor by the Lord of the vineyard, to bear these clusters of Gomorrah; neither shall the vineyard, nor thy being crowded among the trees there, shelter thee from the sight of the eye of God. Many make religion their cloak and Christ their stalking-horse, and by that means cover themselves and hide their own wickedness from men: but God seeth their hearts, hath his print upon the heels of their feet, and pondereth all their goings; and at last, when their iniquity is found to be hateful, he will either smite them with hardness of heart and so leave them, or awaken them to bring forth fruit. Fruit he looks for, seeks, and expects, O thou barren fig-tree.
But what, come into the presence of God to sin!
What, come into the presence of God to hide thy sin! Alas, man, the church is God's garden, and Christ Jesus is the great Apostle and High-priest of our profession. What, come into the house that is called by his name, into the place where his honor dwelleth, where his eyes and heart are continually-what, come there to sin, to hide thy sin, to cloak thy sin! His plants are an orchard with pleasant fruits; and every time he goeth into his garden, it is "to see the fruits of the valley," and to see if the vines flourish and if the pomegranates bud.
Yea, he came seeking fruit on this fig-tree. The church is the place of God's delight, where he ever desires to be; there he is night and day. He is there to seek for fruit, to seek for fruit of all and every tree in the garden. Wherefore assure thyself, O fruitless one, that thy ways must needs be open before the eyes of the Lord. black sheep is soon espied, although in company with many; it is taken with the first cast of the eye; its different color still betrays it. I say, therefore, a church and a profession are not places where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves from God, that seeks for fruit: “My vineyard," saith God, "which is mine, is before me." Song 8:12; Psa. 26:8; 1 Kings, 9:3; Song 4: 13-15.
Barren soul, how many showers of grace, how many dews from heaven, hast thou enjoyed! How many times have the silver streams of the city of God run gliding by thy roots, to cause thee to bring forth fruit! These showers and streams, and the drops that hang upon thy boughs, will all be accounted for; and will they not testify against thee, that thou oughtest of right to be burned? Hear and tremble, O thou barren professor !
When a man seeks for fruit on a tree, he goes round it and round it, now looking into this bough and then into that; he peeps into the inmost boughs and the lowermost
boughs, if perhaps fruit may be thereon. God will look into all thy boughs.
There is a man that hath a hundred trees in his vineyard, and at the time of the season he walketh into his vineyard to see how the trees flourish; and as he goes and views and pries and observes how they are hung with fruit, behold, he cometh to one where he findeth naught but leaves. Now he makes a stand, looks upon it again and again; he looks also here and there, above and below; and if, after all this seeking, he finds nothing but leaves thereon, then he begins to cast in his mind how he may know this tree next year, what stands next it, or how far it is off the hedge; but if there be nothing there that may be as a mark to know it by, then he takes his hook and giveth it a private mark, saying, Go thy way, fruitless fig-tree, thou hast spent this season in vain.
Yet doth he not cut it down-"I will try it another year; may be this was not a hitting season." Therefore he comes again next year to see if now it have fruit; but as he found it before, so he finds it now, barren, barren, every year barren; he looks again, but finds no fruit. Now he begins to have second thoughts. How, neither hit last year nor this! Surely the barrenness is not in the season, sure the fault is in the tree; however, I will spare it this year also, but will give it a second mark; and, it may be, he toucheth it with a hot iron, because he begins to be angry.
Well, at the third season he comes again for fruit, but the third year is like the first and second, no fruit yet; it only cumbereth the ground. What now must be done with this fig-tree? Why, the Lord will lop its boughs with terror; yea, the thickets of those professors with iron. I have waited, saith God, these three years; I have missed of fruit these three years; it hath been a cumber-ground these three years; cut it down. Precept hath been upon pre
cept, and line upon line, one year after another, for these three years, but no fruit can be seen; I find none: fetch out the axe.
'Lord, let it alone this year also." Here is astonishing grace indeed; astonishing grace, that the Lord Jesus should concern himself with a barren fig-tree; that he should step in to stop the blow from a barren fig-tree! True, he stopped the blow but for a time; but why did he stop it at all? Why did he not fetch out the axe? Why did he not do execution? Why did he not cut it down?
Barren fig-tree, it is well for thee that there is a Jesus at God's right hand, a Jesus of that largeness of pity to have compassion for a barren fig-tree; else justice had never let thee alone to cumber the ground, as thou hast done.
See the care, the love, the labor, and way which the Lord Jesus, the dresser of the vineyard, is fain to take with thee, if haply thou mayest be made fruitful.
"Lord, let it alone this year." Lord, a little longer; let us not lose a soul for want of means. I will try, I will see if I can make it fruitful; I will not beg a long life, nor that it might still be barren, and so provoke thee. I beg for the sake of the soul, the immortal soul; Lord, spare it one year only, one year longer, this year also; if I do any good to it, it will be in little time. Thou shalt not be overwearied with waiting; one year and then—
Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear what a striving there is between the vinedresser and the husbandman for thy life?
"Cut it down," says one; "Lord, spare it," says the other. "It is a cumber-ground," saith the Father; " One year longer," prays the Son: "let it alone this year also."
'Till I shall dig about it and dung it." I doubt if it is not too much ground-bound. "The love of this world and
the deceitfulness of riches" lie too close to the roots of the heart of this professor. The love of riches, the love of honors, the love of pleasures, are the thorns that choke the word; how then can there be fruit brought forth to God?
Barren fig-tree, see how the Lord Jesus by these words suggests the cause of thy fruitlessness of soul. The things of this world lie too close to thy heart; the earth and its things have bound up thy roots; thou art an earth-bound soul, thou art wrapped up in thick clay. "If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him;" how then can he be fruitful in the vineyard?
This kept Judas from the fruit of caring for the poor. This kept Demas from the fruit of self-denial. And this kept Ananias and Sapphira his wife from the goodly fruit of sincerity and truth. 1 John, 2:15, 16; John 12:6; 2 Tim. 4:10; Acts 5:5-10; 1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
"And if it bear fruit, well." And if the outlay of all my labor doth make this fig-tree fruitful, I shall count my time, my labor, and means, well bestowed upon it; and thou also, O my God, shalt be therewith much delighted; for thou art gracious and merciful, and repentest thee of the evil which thou threatenest to bring upon a people.
These words therefore inform us, that if a barren figtree, a barren professor, shall now at last bring forth fruit to God, it shall go well with that professor, it shall go well with that poor soul. His former barrenness, his former tempting of God, his abuse of God's patience and longsuffering, his misspending year after year, shall now be all forgiven him. Yea, God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will now pass by and forget all, and say, "Well done," at the last.
"And if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." There is nothing more exasperating to the mind of a man,