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than to find all his kindness and favor slighted; neither is the Lord Jesus so provoked with any thing, as when sinners abuse his means of grace. If it be barren and fruitless under my gospel, if it turn my grace into wantonness, if, after digging and dunging and waiting, it yet remain unfruitful, I will let thee cut it down.
Gospel-means applied are the last remedy for a barren · professor; if the gospel, if the grace of the gospel will not do, there can be nothing expected but, "Cut it down.”
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets and stonest them that are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would. not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate." Matt. 23:37, 38.
Yet it cannot be but that this Lord Jesus, who at first did put a stop to the execution of his Father's justice, because he desired to try more means with the fig-tree-it cannot be but that a heart so full of compassion as his, should be touched to behold this professor must now be cut down. “And when he was come near, he beheld the city and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes."
When Christ giveth thee over, there is no intercessor, no mediator, no more sacrifice for sin; all is gone but judgment, but the axe, but "a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries." Heb. 10:26-28.
The day of grace ends with some men before God takes them out of this world. Now, then, I would show you by some signs how you may know that the day of grace is ended, or near to ending with the barren professor.
First sign. The day of grace is like to be past, when a professor hath withstood, abused, and worn out God's pa
tience then he is in danger; this is a provocation; now 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 cf Zion, they are at ease and secure, saying, like Agag, Surely the bitterness of death is past: I am well; I 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 an evil beginning. God comes for fruit. 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's sake. 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. O, how ungodly men, that are 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 figtree no longer.
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 smites him with pains in his body, with headache, heartache, 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 busy 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. 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, 0 spare me 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 little 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 thy 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 how much behindhand; one may see if a man be but a little laid aside, that you have neither wisdom nor prudence to order things. And now, instead of seeking to spend the rest of his time for God, he doubleth his diligence after this world. Alas, he saith, 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 speedily executed, therefore the heart of this poor creature is fully set in him to do evil.
These things proving ineffectual, God takes hold of his
axe again, sends death to a wife, to a child, to his cattle. I will blast him, cross him, disappoint him, cast him down; and will set myself against him in all that he putteth his hand unto. At this the 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 labors, 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.
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, a while 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 counsels, and were brought low for their iniquities." Now they seem to be thankful again, and are as if they resolved to be godly indeed. Now they read, they pray, they go to meetings, and seem to be serious for a while; but at last they forget. Their lusts prick them, suitable temptations present themselves; wherefore, they return to their own crooked ways again.
Yet again, the Lord will not leave this barren professor, Luke 13:6-9, but will take up his axe again, and will put him under a more heart-searching 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 tree. 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 set forth evidently, now is grace displayed sweetly; now, now are the