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Now, all that are planted in the church of God, are, in name, such trees as should have their sap in them, that is, faith and love, and bear answerable fruits ; they are called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. He himself knows who are indeed such, and knows that the rest can bear no such fruit ; yet in regard of outward dispensations and their own profession, he speaks after the manner of men; he comes and seeks fruit. Men who think they may live in the face of the church, and make use of ber ordinances, and yet be as excusably barren of all the fruits of holiness, as if they grew upon a common heath, it is strange they should not conceive their own folly, and know that God reckons otherwise, and according to the ground be hath set them in, and the manuring he bestows on them, looks for some suitable fruit.
But most men are thus--they consider not what they are; they think it a kind of impertinent importunity, to press them to holivess, to meekness, to bearing wrongs, to heavenly-mindedness, to spiritual activity, and usefulness to others. Why, it is strange. What think ye, my brethren, are we Christians, or are we not? We have a vame that we are active, and are dead. Congregations are filled with such; and when the Lord comes and seeks fruit, in the greatest part he finds none. If lies, oaths, and cursings were the fruits, there are enough of these; but zeal for God, love to our brethren, self-denial, humility, if these be they, alas ! where are they? so much preaching, sabbaths, fasts, and covenants : and where is fruit, the fruits of the Spirit? O there are empty leaves, and some promising greenness, but the most belie the hope they give! And we of this land, who are engaged so high, what could bare been done more for us? Though lying far north, yet have we much of the gospel sun-shine, and are bound by our own promise, and covenant, and solemn oath to God, to be more fruitful. Yet this is still broken. Who that had seen our first meltings into tears, or fair buds of stirring zeal, could have imagined we should have beeu so barren?
Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard. Now, the conference with the vine-dresser about it, though that is much for the fulness of the parable, yet may imply God's imparting of his thoughts concerning bis church to his faithful ministers. Such are included under that name here. For he blames not the vine-dresser as negligent, but complains of the barrenness of the tree. In the cutting down, there may be some pointing at church censure, but, I conceive, it is rather to express God's purpose concerning the barren tree, than to give order or command about it. Doubtless the Lord would have his vine-dressers sensible of the fruitlessness of his trees, though it be not by any notable neglect on their part.
These three years. This expresses the great patience of God, that spares so long, and speaks not of cutting down at the very first. Thus of long time hath he waited on many of us, many more years than to the strict number here named; on how many of us a great part of our lifetime! Whence is it that we are not afraid of this word here sounding, as it were, in our ears, Cut it down: why cumbereth it the ground? As if he should say, It takes up room, and does no good, yea, hinders and prejudices others, as all ungodly fruitless persons in the Church of God do ; cut it down.
The vine-dresser entreats and obtains one year more. This the faithful laborers of God will not fail to do. To preaching to his people, they will join much prayer for them, that they may be made fruitful, and mean time be spared, and not perish in their unfruitfulness. They will double their endeavours in the sense of that danger; to all other pains will add this, the watering of them with tears, God is gracious, and easy to be entreated, and forbears yet, and waits. O! it is not too late. Any of you that at length are stirred up to any real desires of fruitfulness to him, I dare give you warrant to be confi. dent, not only of his forbearing upon such a desire, but of his favorable acceptance of it as a good sign, yea, as already a beginning of fruit. Indeed in case of people's remaining barren after all, the end will be to be cut down ; and to every fruitless aud godless person amongst you, it is not long to that day; it will be upon you before you are aware. As John preached, 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.
God is taking his axe, as it were, and fetching his stroke at you, and you know not how soon it may light, and you be cut down, and cut off from all bopes for ever, never to see a day of grace more, nor hear a sermon more; cut down and cast into the fire to buro, and that never to end. O for some soul to be rescued, were it even now! O! to-day, to-day, if you will hear his roice, harden not your hearts !
Real Christians, though not altogether barren (that is impossible) yet are not so plentifully fruitful; there is little of the increase of God, such as he may be invited to his garden for, such as the vine-dressers may rejoice in, yea, the Master himself. The Lord maketh a kind of boast of us, as men will do of trees in their gardens, that they have much fruit, though possibly having a meaner appearance and show than most of the rest. O what a joy and glory were it to our God, to have unobserved obscure Christians abounding in sweet spiritual fruits, laden with fruit, and hanging down the head, stooping the lower, still the more humble for it; referring all to himself, living to him, doing all for him! But, alas! we are empty vines, bringing forth fruit to ourselves, serving our own wills and bumours, and barren to him. But for this end are we planted in the house of God, and ingrafted into the Son of God, that blessed living Root, to be fruitful to his praise. It is his credit ; Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples, John xv, 8.
Now for this are requisite, first, much prayer; for though here he speaks as an ordinary master, yet it is his secret influence which does all; From me is thy fruit found ; and prayer draws down that-secondly, much faith in Christ, living to him, and drawing sap from him. Such as do all in his strength, and are much in application and attraction, shall be found the most abundant in all choice and sweet fruits ; they who abide in him, that is, who, in the very actings of faith, are more in him than many others who yet are in him. But, alas ! this is a thing of which men speak much, and know little.
JOHN XXI, 22.
What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.
Of all that ever lived on earth, the most blessed was this handful and small company our Lord chose for his constant attendants, to see his divine miracles, enjoy his sweetest company, and to hear his divine doctrine. What a holy fame of love must have burned in their hearts, who were always so near the Sun of Righteousness! It was indeed a sad hour, wherein that was eclipsed, and the Lord of life lay dead in the grave. And what a deluge of joy was in their hearts when he rose again ! And what a transport was it when they saw him ascend, and a shining cloud kissing his feet, and parting him from them! In the interval, as he had risen himself, so he is raising them from their unbelief. St. Peter, not content with a bare forsaking of his Lord, had also denied him. But he falls not a quarrelling, but speaks of love to him, and blows up these sparks of love with this threefold question, Lovest thou me? St. Peter answers fervently, but most modestly; whereupon his Lord gives bim a service suitable to his love, Feed my sheep; for which none are qualified, but they that love him. But when he grows bold to ask a question, he gets a grave check, and a holy command, What is that to thee? Follow thou me. This was a transient stumbling in one who, but lately recovered of a great disease, did not walk firmly. But it is the common track of most, to wear out their days with impertinent inquiries. There is a natural desire in men to know the things of others, and to neglect their own, and to be more concerned about things to come, than about things present. And this is the great subject of conversation. Even the weakest minds must descant upon all things; as if the weakest capacities could judge of the greatest matters, by a strange levelling of understandings, more absurd and irrational than that of fortunes! Most men are beside themselves, never at bome, but always roving. It is true, a man may live in solitude to little purpose, as Domitian catching fies in his closet. Many noisome thoughts break in upon one when alone ; so that when one converseth with bimself, it bad need be said, “ Vide ut sit cum bono viro;" Take care that you are with a good man. A man alone will be in worse company than are in all the world, if he bring not into him better company than bimself or all the world, which is, the fellowship of God and the Holy Spirit.
Yet the matters of the church seem to concern all, and so indeed they do; but every sober man must say, all truths are not alike clear, alike necessary, nor of alike concernment to every one, Christiaus should keep within their line. Whether it be the will of our great Master, that the order that hath been so long in tbe church continue in it, or not, What is that to thee? It is certainly a great error to let our zeal run out from the excellent things of religion, to matters which have little or no connexion with them. A man, though he err, if he do it calmly and meekly, may be a better man than he who is stormy and furiously orthodox. Our business is to follow Jesus, and to trace his life upon earth, and to wait bis return in the clouds. Had I a strong voice, as it is the weakest alive, yea, could I lift it up as a trumpet, I would sound a retreat from our unnatural contentions and irreligious strivings for religion. O! what are the things, we fight for, compared to the great things of God? There must be a great abatement of the inwards of religion, when it runs wholly to a scurf. God forbid any should think, that except all be according to our mind, we must break the bond of peace. If we have no kindness to our brethren, yet let us have pity on our mother, and not tear her bowels. And indeed, next to the grave and the silent shades of death, a cottage in some wilderness is to be wished for, to mourn for the pride and passion of mankind. How do the profane wretches take advantage from our breaches ! But, if there be such here, because of the weakness, folly, and passions of some men, is it folly to follow Jesus ? Are some ridiculous ? and for tbat,