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Exposition of John Chapter 4 - Christ's Forerunner - John 1:19-34

Exposition of John Chapter 4 - Christ's Forerunner - John 1:19-34

Chapter Four

Christ’s Forerunner

John 1:19–34

Following our usual custom, we begin by submitting an Analysis of the passage which is to be before us. In it we have:—

1.   The Jews’ inquiry of John, and his answers, John 1:19–26,

(1)  “Who art thou?” Not the Christ: 19, 20.

(2)  “Art thou Elijah?” No: 21.

(3)  “Art thou that prophet?” No: 21.

(4)  “What sayest thou of thyself?” A “voice:” 22, 23.

(5)  “Why baptizeth thou?” To prepare the way for Christ: 24–26.

2.   John’s witness concerning Christ: John 1:27.

3.   Location of the Conference, John 1:28.

4.   John proclaims Christ as God’s “Lamb,” John 1:29.

5.   The purpose of John’s baptism, John 1:30–31.

6.   John tells of the Spirit descending on Christ at His baptism, and foretells that Christ shall baptize with the Spirit, John 1:32, 33.

7.   John owns Christ’s Deity, John 1:34.

Even a hurried reading of these verses will make it evident that the personage which stands out most conspicuously in them is John the Baptist. Moreover, we do not have to study this passage very closely to discover that, the person and the witness of the Lord’s forerunner are brought before us here in a manner entirely different from what we find in the first three Gospels. No hint is given that his raiment was “of camel’s hair,” that he had “a leathern girdle about his loins,” or that “his meat was locusts and wild honey.” Nothing is recorded of his stern Call to Repentance, nor is anything said of his announcement that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” These things were foreign to the design of the Holy Spirit in this fourth Gospel. Again; instead of referring to the Lord Jesus as the One “whose fan is in his hand,” and of the One who “will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into his garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), he points to Him as “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” And this is most significant and blessed to those who have been divinely taught to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

Without doubt John the Baptist is, in several respects, one of the most remarkable characters that is brought before us in the Bible. He was the subject of Old Testament prophecy (Isa. 40); his birth was due to the direct and miraculous intervention of God (Luke 1:7, 13); he was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15); he was a man sent from God” (John 1:6); he was sent to prepare the way of the Lord (Matthew 3:3). Of him the Lord said, “Among them that are born of women there has not risen a greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11); the reference being to his positional “greatness,” as the forerunner of the Messiah: to him was accorded the high honor of baptizing the Lord Jesus. That Christ was referring to the positional “greatness” of John is clear from His next words, “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” To have a place in the kingdom of heaven will be a more exalted position than to be heralding the King outside of it, as John was. This, we take it is the key to that word in John 14:28, where we find the Lord Jesus saying, “My Father is greater than I”—greater not in His person, but in His position; for, at the time the Savior uttered those words He was in the place of subjection, as God’s “Servant.”

Our passage opens by telling of a deputation of priests and Levites being sent from Jerusalem to enquire of John as to who he was: “And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” (John 1:19). Nothing like this is found in the other Gospels, but it is in striking accord with the character and scope of the fourth Gospel, which deals with spiritual rather than dispensational relationships. The incident before us brings out the spiritual ignorance of the religious leaders among the Jews. In fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord’s forerunner had appeared in the wilderness, but, lacking in spiritual discernment, the leaders in Jerusalem knew not who he was. Accordingly, their messengers came and enquired of John, “Who art thou?” Multitudes of people were flocking to this strange preacher in the wilderness, and many had been baptized by him. A great stir had been made, so much so that “men mused in their hearts of John, whether he were Christ, or not” (Luke 3:15), and the religious leaders in Jerusalem were compelled to take note of it; therefore, did they send a deputation to wait upon John, to find out who he really was, and to enquire into his credentials.

“And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). These words give plain intimation of the Spirit in which the priests and Levites must have approached John, as also of the design of “the Jews” who had sent them. To them the Baptist was an interloper. He was outside the religious systems of that day. He had not been trained in the schools of the Rabbins, he had held no position of honor in the temple ministrations, and he was not identified with either the Pharisees, the Sadducees, or the Herodians. From whence then had he received his authority? Who had commissioned him to go forth bidding men to “Repent.” By what right did he baptize people? One can imagine the tone in which they said to John, “Who art thou?” No doubt they expected to intimidate him. This seems clear from the fact that we are here told, “and he confessed, and denied not.” He boldly stood his ground. Neither the dignity of those who had sent this embassy to John, nor their threatening frowns, moved him at all. “He confessed, and denied not.” May like courage be found in us when we are challenged with an “Who art thou?”

“But confessed, I am not the Christ.” Having taken the firm stand he had, did Satan now tempt him to go to the other extreme? Failing to intimidate him, did the enemy now seek to make him boastfully exaggerate? Christ had not then been openly manifested: John was the one before the public eye, as we read in Mark 1:5, “And there went out unto him all the land of Judea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan” (Mark 1:5). Now that the multitudes were flocking to him, and many had become his disciples (cf. John 1:35), why not announce that he was the Messiah himself! But he instantly banished such wicked and presumptuous thoughts, if such were presented by Satan to his mind, as most likely they were, or, why tell us that he “confessed I am not the Christ?” May God deliver us from the evil spirit of boasting, and keep us from ever claiming to be anything more than what we really are—sinners saved by grace.

“And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elijah? And he saith, I am not” (John 1:21). Why should they have asked John if he were Elijah? The answer is, Because there was a general expectation among the Jews at that time that Elijah would again appear on earth. That this was so, is dear from a number of passages in the Gospels. For instance, when the Lord asked His disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” they answered, “Some say that thou art John the Baptist (who had been slain in the interval), some Elijah, and others Jeremiah, or one of the prophets” (Matthew 16:13, 14). Again; as the Lord Jesus and His disciples came down from the Mount of Transfiguration, He said unto them, “Tell the vision to no man until the Son of man be raised from the dead.” Then, we read, “His disciples asked him, saying, Why then say the scribes that Elijah must first come?” (Matthew 17:9, 10). The expectation of the Jews had a scriptural foundation, for the last verses of the Old Testament say, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5, 6). This prophecy has reference to the return to earth of Elijah, to perform a ministry just before the second advent of Christ, similar in character to that of John the Baptist before the first public appearing of Christ.

When asked, “Art thou Elijah?” John replied, emphatically, “I am not.” John had much in common with the Tishbite, and his work was very similar in character to the yet future work of Elijah; nevertheless, he was not Elijah himself. He went before Christ “in the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), bemuse he came “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Next, John’s interrogators asked him, “Art thou that prophet?” (John 1:21). What “prophet?” we may well enquire. And the answer is, The “prophet” predicted through Moses. The prediction is recorded in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18: “The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken … I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” This was one of the many Messianic prophecies given in the Old Testament times, which received its fulfillment in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Art thou that prophet?” John was asked; and, again, he answered, “No.”

“Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” (John 1:22). Searching questions were these—“Who art thou?”; “what sayest thou of thyself?” John might have answered, and answered truthfully, “I am the son of Zacharias the priest. I am one who has been filled with the Holy Spirit from my birth.” Or, he might have replied, “I am the most remarkable character ever raised up by God and sent unto Israel.” “What sayest thou of thyself?” Ah! that was indeed a searching question, and both writer and reader may well learn a lesson from John’s reply, and seek grace to emulate his lovely modesty—a lesson much needed in these days of Laodicean boasting.

“He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaiah” (John 1:23). Here was John’s answer. “What sayest thou of thyself?” “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,” he said. Becoming humility was this. Humility is of great price in the sight of God, and has had a prominent place in the men whom He has used. Paul, the greatest of the apostles, confessed himself “less than the least of all saints” (Eph. 3:8). And John here confesses much the same thing, when he referred to himself as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” Reader, what reply would you make to such a query—“What sayest thou of thyself?” Surely you would not answer, “I am an eminent saint of God: I am living on a very exalted plane of spirituality: I am one who has been much used of God.” Such self-exaltation would show you had learned little from Him who was “meek and lowly in heart,” and would evidence a spirit far from that which should cause us to own that, after all, we are only “unprofitable servants” (Luke 17:10).

When John referred to himself as “the voice,” he employed the very term which the Holy Spirit had used of him seven hundred years previously, when speaking through Isaiah the prophet—“The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isa. 40:3). And we cannot but believe this appellation was selected with Divine discrimination. In a former chapter, when commenting upon the titles of the Lord Jesus, found in John 1:7—“The light”—we called attention to the fact that Christ referred to His forerunner (in evident contrast from Himself as “the light”) as “the lamp that burneth and shineth” (John 5:35, R.V.). And so here, we are satisfied that another contrast is pointed. Christ is “the Word;” John was but “the voice.” What, then, are the thoughts suggested by this figurative title?

In the first place, the word exists (in the mind) before the voice articulates it. Such was the relation between Christ and His forerunner. It is true that John was the first to appear before the public eye; yet, as the “Word,” Christ had existed from all eternity. Second, the voice is simply the vehicle or medium by which the word is expressed or made known. Such was John. The object of his mission and the purpose of his ministry was to bear witness to “the Word.” Again, the voice is simply heard but not seen. John was not seeking to display himself. His work was to get men to listen to his God-given message in order that they might behold “the Lamb.” May the Lord today make more of His servants John-like; just “voices,” heard but not seen! Finally, we may add, that the word endures after the voice is silent. The voice of John has long since been stilled by death, but “the Word” abideth forever. Appropriately, then, was the one who introduced the Messiah to Israel, termed the “voice.” What wonderful depths there are in the Scriptures! How much is contained in a single word! And how this calls for prolonged meditation and humble prayer!

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness.” What a position for the Messiah’s forerunner to occupy! Surely his place was in Jerusalem. Why then did not John cry in the temple? Why, because Jehovah was no more there in the temple. Judaism was but a hollow shell: outward form there was, but no life within. It was to a nation of legalists, Pharisee ridden, who neither manifested Abraham’s faith nor produced his works, that John came. God would not own the self-righteous formalism of the Jews. Therefore, the one “sent of God” appeared outside the religious systems and circles of that day. But why did John preach “in the wilderness?” Because the “wilderness” symbolized the spiritual barrenness of the Jewish nation. John could only mourn over that which was not of God, and everything about him was in keeping with this: his food was that which he found in the wilderness, and his prophet’s garment testified to the failure that was evident on every hand.

“And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?” (John 1:24, 25). This final question put to John by the embassy from Jerusalem confirms what we have said upon verse 20. The religious leaders among the Jews were disputing John’s right to preach, and challenging his authority to baptize. He had received no commission from the Sanhedrin, hence “why baptizest thou?” John does not appear to have answered the last question directly, instead, he turns to them and speaks of Christ.

“John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not” (John 1:26). John continued to stand his ground: he would not deny that he baptized with water, or more correctly, in water, but he sought to get them occupied with something of greater importance than a symbolical rite. There is much to be learned from John’s answer here. These men were raising questions about baptism, while as yet they were utter strangers to Christ Himself—how like many today! Of what use was it to discuss with these Pharisee—commissioned “priests and Levites” the “why” of baptism, when they were yet in their sins? Well would it be for the Lord’s servants and those engaged in personal work for Christ, to carefully heed what is before us here. People are willing to argue about side issues, while the vital and central Issue remains undecided! And only too often the Christian worker follows them into “By-path meadow.” What is needed is for us to ignore all irrelevant quibbles, and press upon the lost the claims of Christ and their need of accepting Him as their Lord and Savior.

“There standeth one among you, whom ye know not.” How this exposed Israel’s2 condition! How this revealed their spiritual ignorance! And how tragically true, in principle, is this today. Even in this so-called Christian land, while many have heard about Christ, yet in how many circles, yes, and in religious circles too, we may say, “there standeth one among you, whom ye know not!” O the spiritual blindness of the natural man. Christ, by His Spirit, stands in the midst of many a congregation, unseen and unknown.

“He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose” (John 1:27). What a noble testimony was this! How these words of John bring out the Divine glory of the One he heralded! Remember who he was. No ordinary man was John the Baptist. The subject of Old Testament prophecy, the son of a priest, born as the result of the direct intervention of God’s power, filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb, engaged in a ministry which drew great multitudes unto him, and yet he looked up to Christ as standing on a plane infinitely higher than the one he occupied, as a Being from another world, as One before whom he was not worthy to stoop down and unloose His shoes. He could find no expression strong enough to define the difference which separated him from the One who was “preferred before” him. Again we say, How these words of John bring out the Divine glory of the One he heralded!

“These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing” (John 1:28). There is, of course, some good reason why the Holy Spirit has been pleased to tell us where this conference took place, whether we are able to discover it or not. Doubtless, the key to its significance is found in the meaning of the proper nouns here recorded. Unfortunately, there is some variation in the spelling of “Bethabara” in the Greek manuscripts; but with Gesenius, the renowned Hebrew scholar, we are firmly inclined to believe this place is identical with “Bethbarah” mentioned in Judges 7:24, and which signifies “House of Passage,” which was so named to memorialize the crossing of the Jordan in the days of Joshua. It was here, then, (apparently) at a place whose name signified “house of passage,” beyond Jordan, the symbol of death, that John was baptizing as the forerunner of Christ. The meaning of this should not be hard to find. The significance of these names correspond closely with the religious position that John himself occupied, and with the character of his mission. Separated as he was from Judaism, those who responded to his call to repent, and were baptized of him confessing their sins, passed out of the apostate Jewish system, and took their place with the little remnant who were “prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17). Well, then, was the place where John was baptizing named “Bethbarah”—House of Passage.

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold, the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “Behold the lamb of God:” the connection in which these words are found should be carefully noted. It was the day following the meeting between John and the Jerusalem delegation, a meeting which evidently occurred in the presence of others also, for John continues “this is he of whom I said, after me cometh a man which is preferred before me,” which is a word for word reference to what he had said to those who had interrogated him on the previous day—see verse 27; when he had also declared to those priests and Levites “which were sent of the Pharisees” (verse 24), “there standeth one among you, whom ye know not.”

“Behold the lamb of God.” The force of this Call was deeply significant when viewed in the light of its setting. The Pharisees were looking for a “prophet,” and they desired a “king” who should deliver them from the Roman yoke, but they had no yearnings for a Savior-priest. The questions asked of John betrayed the hearts of those who put them. They appeared to be in doubt as to whether or not the Baptist was the long promised Messiah, so they asked him, “Art thou Elijah? Art thou that prophet?” But, be it noted, no enquiry was made as to whether he was the one who should deliver them “from the wrath to come!” One would have naturally expected these priests and Levites to have asked about the sacrifice, but no; apparently they had no sense of sin! It was under these circumstances that the forerunner of Christ announced Him as “the lamb of God,” not as “the word of God,” not as “the Christ of God,” but as THE LAMB. It was the Spirit of God presenting the Lord Jesus to Israel in the very office and character in which they stood in deepest need of Him. They would have welcomed Him on the throne, but they must first accept Him on the altar. And is it any different today? Christ as an Elijah—a Social Reformer—will be tolerated; and Christ as a Prophet, as a Teacher of ethics, will receive respect. But what the world needs first and foremost is the Christ of the Cross, where the Lamb of God offered Himself as a sacrifice for sin.

“Behold the lamb of God.” There before John stood the One whom all the sacrifices of Old Testament times had foreshadowed. It is exceedingly striking to observe the progressive order followed by God in the teaching of Scripture concerning “the lamb.” First, in Genesis 4, we have the Lamb typified in the firstlings of the flock slain by Abel in sacrifice. Second, we have the Lamb prophesied in Genesis 22:8 where Abraham said to Isaac, “God will provide himself a lamb.” Third, in Exodus 12, we have the Lamb slain and its blood applied. Fourth, in Isaiah 53:7, we have the Lamb personified: here for the first time we learn that the Lamb would be a Man. Fifth, in John 1:29, we have the Lamb identified, learning who He was. Sixth, in Revelation 5, we have the Lamb magnified by the hosts of heaven. Seventh, in the last chapter of the Bible we have the Lamb glorified, seated upon the eternal throne of God, Revelation 22:1. Once more; mark the orderly development in the scope of the sacrifices. In Genesis 4 sacrifice is offered for the individual—Abel. In Exodus 12 the sacrifice avails for the whole household. In Leviticus 16, on the annual Day of Atonement, the sacrifice was efficacious for the entire nation. But here in John 1:29 it is “Behold the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world”—Gentiles are embraced as well as Jews!

“Behold the lamb of God.” What are the thoughts suggested by this title? It points to His moral perfections, His sinlessness, for He was the “lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). It tells of His gentleness, His voluntary offering Himself to God on our behalf—He was “led” (not driven) as “a lamb to the slaughter” (Acts 8:32, R.V.). But, more especially, and particularly, this title of our Lord speaks of sacrifice—He was “the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world,” and this could only be through death, for “without shedding of blood is no remission.” There was only one way by which sin could be taken away, and that was by death. “Sin” here signifies guilt (condemnation) as in Hebrews 9:26; and “the world” refers to the world of believers, for it is only those who are in Christ for whom there is now “no condemnation” (Rom. 8:1); it is the world of believers, as contrasted from “the world of the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:5).

“This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me, for he was before me. And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” (John 1:30, 31). Here for the third time John declares that Christ was “preferred before him”—(see verses 15, 27, 30). It affirmed His pre-existence: it was a witness to His eternality. Then John tells of the purpose of his baptism. It was to make Christ “manifest” to Israel. It was to prepare a people for Him. This people was prepared by them taking the place of sinners before God (Mark 1:5), and that is why John baptized in Jordan, the river of death; for, being baptized in Jordan, they acknowledged that death was their due. In this, John’s baptism differs from Christian baptism. In Christian baptism the believer does not confess that death is his due, but he shows forth the fact that he has already died, died to sin, died with Christ (Rom. 6:3, 4).

“And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him” (John 1:32). This has reference, of course, to the occasion when Christ Himself was baptized of John in the Jordan, when the Father testified to His pleasure, in the Son, and when the Spirit descended upon Him as a dove. It manifested the character of the One on whom He came. The “dove” is the bird of love and sorrow: apt symbol, then, of Christ. The love expressed the sorrow, and the sorrow told out the depths of His love. Thus did the heavenly Dove bear witness to Christ. When the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples on the Day of Pentecost, we read “there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them” (Acts 2:3). “Fire,” uniformly signifies Divine judgment. There was that in the disciples which needed to be judged—the evil nature still remained within them. But, there was nothing in the Holy One of God that needed judging; hence, did the Holy Spirit descend upon Him like a dove!

“And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Spirit” (John 1:33). The word “remaining” is rendered “abiding” in the R.V., and this is one of the characteristic words of the fourth Gospel. The other three Gospels all make mention of the Lord Jesus being anointed by the Holy Spirit, but John is the only one that says the Spirit “abode” upon Him. The Holy Spirit did not come upon Him, and then leave again, as with the prophets of old—He “abode” on Christ. This term has to do with the Divine side of things, and speaks of fellowship. We have the same word again in John 14:10, “Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? The words that I say unto you, I speak not from myself, but the Father abiding in me doeth his works” (R.V.). So, in John 15, where the Lord Jesus speaks of the fundamental requirement in spiritual fruit-bearing—fellowship with Himself—He says, “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit” (John 15:5 R.V.). That Christ shall “baptize with (or ‘in’) the Holy Spirit” was another proof of His Godhood.

“And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:34). Here the witness of John the Baptist to the person of Christ terminates. It is to be noted that the forerunner bore a seven-fold witness to the excellency of the One he heralded. First, he testified to His pre-existence—“He was before me,” verse 15. Second, He testified to His Lordship, verse 23. Third, he testified to His immeasurable superiority—“I am not worthy to unloose” His “shoe’s latchet,” verse 27. Fourth, he testified to His sacrificial work—“Behold the lamb,” verse 29. Fifth, he testified to His moral perfections—“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him,” verse 32. Sixth, he testified to His Divine right to baptize with the Holy Spirit, verse 33. Seventh, he testified to His Divine Sonship, verse 34.

The questions below concern the passage which we shall expound in the next chapter, namely, John 1:35–51, and to prepare our readers for it we ask them to give these questions their prayerful and careful study:—

1.   Why did Christ ask the two disciples of John, “What seek ye?” John 1:38.

2.   What is signified by their reply, “Where dwellest thou?” John 1:38.

3.   What important practical truth is incorporated in John 1:40, 41?

4.   What blessed truth is illustrated by “findeth” in John 1:43?

5.   What is meant by, “in whom is no guile?” John 1:47.

6.   What attribute of Christ does John 1:48 demonstrate?

7.   To what does Christ refer in John 1:51?[1]

 

 

2 “We must not, however, limit this picture to Israel, for it is equally applicable and pertinent to sinners of the Gentiles too. Israel in the flesh was only a sample of fallen man as such. What we have here is a pointed and solemn delineation of human depravity … its normal application is to the whole of Adam’s fallen race. Let every reader see here a portrait of what he or she is by nature. The picture is not a flattering one we know. No, it is drawn by one who searches the innermost recesses of the human heart, and is presented here to humble us.” (A.W.P.). And so all through.

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 49–61). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Psalm 20

Psalm 20

Psalm 20

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion; Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah. Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel. We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the LORD fulfil all thy petitions. Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright. Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call.” (Psalm 20, AV)

A prayer for the use of the ancient church in time of war. Addressing her visible head, she wishes him divine assistance and success, ver. 2–6 (1–5), and expresses a strong confidence that God will answer her petition, ver. 7–9 (6–8), which she then repeats and sums up in conclusion, ver. 10 (9).

There is no trace of this psalm having been composed with reference to any particular occasion, its contents being perfectly appropriate to every case in which the chosen people, under their theocratic head, engaged in war against the enemies of God and Israel.

To the Chief Musician. Written for his use and entrusted to him for execution. As in all other cases, this inscription shews the psalm to have been written, not for the expression of mere personal feelings, but to be a vehicle of pious sentiment to the collective body of God’s people.—A Psalm by David. The correctness of this statement is not only free from any positive objection, but confirmed by the whole tone and style of the performance, as well as by its intimate connection with the next psalm. See below, on Ps. 21:1.

2 (1). Jehovah hear thee in the day of trouble! The name of Jacob’s God exalt thee! The name of God, the revelation of his nature in his acts. “May those divine attributes, which have been so often manifested in the experience of the chosen people, be exercised for thy protection. See above, on Ps. 5:12 (11).—The God of Jacob, of the patriarch so called, and of his seed. See Mat. 22:32.—Exalt thee, raise thee beyond the reach of danger. See above, on Ps. 9:10 (9), 18:3, 49 (2, 48).

3 (2). (May Jehovah) send thee help from (his) sanctuary, and from Zion sustain thee. The mention of Zion and the sanctuary shews that Jehovah is appealed to as the king of his people, and as such not only able but bound by covenant to afford them aid. See below, on ver. 10 (9). Sustain thee, hold thee up, the same verb that is used in Ps. 18:36 (35). Both verbs may also be translated as simple futures, will send, will sustain; but see below.

4 (3). (May Jehovah) remember all thy gifts and accept thy offering. Selah. The word remember in the first clause seems to involve an allusion to the memorial (אַזְכָּרָה), a name given in the sacrificial ritual to that part of the vegetable offering which was burnt upon the altar. See Lev. 2:2, 6:8 (15).—The word translated gifts, although properly generic, is specially used to denote the vegetable offerings of the law, while the word translated offering is the technical name of the principal animal sacrifice. They are put together to describe these two species of obligation. Compare Ps. 40:7 (6), Jer. 17:26, Dan. 9:27.—The verb translated accept means elsewhere to make fat (Ps. 23:5), or to remove the ashes of the altar. (Exod. 27:3, Num. 4:13). Some give it here the sense of turning into ashes or consuming, others that of pronouncing fat, and therefore fit for sacrifice. In either case acceptance is implied. The optative form of the verb in the original seems to confirm the sense already put upon the foregoing futures. From this verse it has been inferred, with some probability, that the whole psalm was specially intended to be used at the sacrifice offered by the Israelites before a campaign or a battle. (See 1 Sam. 13:9, 10). To this some add the supposition, that the selah, in the verse before us, marks the pause in the performance of the psalm, during which the sacrifice was actually offered. See above, on Ps. 3:3 (2).

5 (4). (May he) give thee according to thy heart, and all thy counsel (or design) fulfil. This is not a vague wish for success in general, but a prayer for success on the particular occasion when the psalm was to be used.—Thy heart, thy desire. Thy counsel, the plan which thou hast formed and undertaken to execute in God’s name, and for the protection or deliverance of his people.

6 (5). May we rejoice in thy deliverance, and in the name of our God display a banner! May Jehovah fulfil all thy petitions! The phrase thy deliverance may mean that wrought or that experienced by thee. In all probability both ideas are included. In the name of our God, and therefore not as a mere secular triumph. The second verb (נִדְגֹּל) seems to be connected with a noun (דָּגָל) used by Moses to denote the banners under which the four great divisions of the host marched through the wilderness (Num. 1:52, 2:2, 3, 10, 18, 25, 10:14). Hence the conjectural translation, “may we set up (or display) a banner.” But as the participle of the same verb seems, in the only other place where it occurs (Song of Sol. 5:10), to signify distinguished or exalted, others follow the Septuagint and Vulgate in translating, may we be lifted up or magnified.—The last clause is a comprehensive prayer, equivalent in meaning to ver. 5 (4) above, and including not merely what had been expressly specified, but all that the theocratic sovereign might desire or attempt in conformity with God’s will, whether known to the whole body of his followers or not. This clause concludes the first division of the psalm by recurring to the theme with which it opens, and with which again the whole psalm closes. See below, on ver. 10 (9).

7 (6). Now I know that Jehovah has saved his Anointedhe will hear him from his holy heavenswith the saving strength of his right hand. What was asked in the foregoing context is here said to be already granted. Hence some imagine that a battle or other decisive event must be supposed to intervene. But this, besides being highly improbable and forced in so brief a composition, is forbidden by the immediate recurrence to the future form, he will hear. A far more natural solution is, that this verse expresses a sudden conviction or assurance that the preceding prayers are to be answered. As if he had said: “Such are my requests, and I know that Jehovah has already granted them, so that in his purpose and to the eye of faith, his Anointed is already safe, and has already triumphed.” The change to the first person singular does not indicate a different speaker, but merely puts what follows into the mouth of each individual believer, or of the whole body viewed as an ideal person.

The second member of the sentence may be best explained as a parenthesis, leaving the third to be construed directly with the first, as in the version above given. In this verse we have two examples of a common Hebrew idiom, one of them a very strong one. The phrase translated from his holy heavens might seem to mean the heavens of his holiness; but the true construction is his heavens of holiness, i.e. the heavens where the Holy One resides, and from which his assistance must proceed. See above, on Ps. 2:6, 11:4. The attribute of holiness is mentioned to exalt still further the divine and sacred nature of the warfare and the victory to which the psalm relates. Another example of the Hebrew idiom before referred to is the saving strength of his right hand, which literally rendered is the strengths of the salvation of his right hand. The plural strengths may either be intensive, or refer to the various exertions of the power here described. The right hand has the same sense as in Ps. 18:36 (35). Here, as in Ps. 18:51 (50), His Messiah or Anointed One includes the whole succession of genuine theocratic kings, not excepting him whose representatives they were, and in whom the royal line was at the same time closed and made perpetual.

8 (7). These in chariots and these in horses, and we in the name of Jehovah our God, will glory. All the objects are connected by the same preposition with the same verb, namely, that at the end of the sentence. In order to retain the preposition, which must otherwise be varied, and thereby obscure the structure of the sentence, the verb glory, which is construed with the preposition in, has been substituted for the strict sense of the verb, we will cause to be remembered, i.e. mention or commemorate. See Exod. 23:13, Amos 6:10, Isa. 48:1, 63:7. The insertion of the verb trust, in the English versions of the first clause, is entirely gratuitous. These and these is the Hebrew idiom for some and others. Compare this to this, in Exod. 14:20, Isa. 6:3.—The verb, in the case before us, may have been selected in allusion to the cognate form in ver. 4 (3) above. “As God has remembered thy offerings, so we will cause his name to be remembered.”—Our God is again emphatic and significant, as shewing that the whole psalm has reference to the covenant relation between God and his people represented by their theocratic sovereign. With the contrast in this verse compare 1 Sam. 17:45, Isa. 31:3, Ps. 33:16, 17.

9 (8). They have bowed and fallen, and we have risen and stood upright. Here, as in ver. 7 (6), the past tense expresses the certainty of the event, or rather the confidence with which it is expected. The emphatic they at the beginning means the enemies and oppressors of God’s people. We have arisen seems to imply a previous prostration and subjection.—The last verb occurs only here in this form, which is properly reflexive, and may be explained to mean, we have straightened ourselves up.

10 (9). Jehovah, save! Let the King hear us in the day we call, or still more closely, in the day of our calling. The Septuagint and Vulgate make the king a part of the first clause: “Jehovah, save the king” (Domine salvum fac regem). But this not only violates the masoretic accents, which, though not ultimately binding, are entitled to respect as a traditional authority, but separates the verb in the last clause from its subject, so that both the ancient versions just referred to have been under the necessity of changing the third into the second person (hear us). The first clause is besides more expressive and emphatic without the king than with it. Nothing could be more pregnant or sonorous than the laconic prayer, Jehovah, save! The object is, of course, to be supplied from ver 7 (6), and from the tenor of the whole psalm. The other construction, it is true, enables us to make the King of this verse the same person with the Anointed of ver. 7 (6). But far from any disadvantage, there is great force and beauty, in referring the expected blessing to the true King of Israel, whom David and his followers only represented. See Deut. 33:5, Ps. 48:3 (2), Mat. 5:35.—By taking the last verb as a future proper (the King will hear us) the psalm may be made to close with a promise, or rather with a confident anticipation of God’s blessing. Most interpreters, however, prefer to make it optative, and thus to let the psalm conclude as it began, with an expression of intense desire.[1]

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 92–95). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Exposition of John Chapter 3 - Christ: The Word Incarnate John 1:14-18

Exposition of John Chapter 3 - Christ: The Word Incarnate John 1:14-18

Chapter Three

Christ: the Word Incarnate

John 1:14–18

We first submit a brief Analysis of the passage which is to be before us—John 1:14–18. We have here:—

1.   Christ’s Incarnation—“The word became flesh”: John 1:14.

2.   Christ’s Earthly sojourn—“And tabernacled among us:” John 1:14.

3.   Christ’s Essential Glory—“As of the only Begotten:” John 1:14.

4.   Christ’s Supreme excellency—“Preferred before:” John 1:15.

5.   Christ’s Divine sufficiency—“His fullness:” John 1:16.

6.   Christ’s Moral perfections—“Grace and truth:” John 1:17.

7.   Christ’s Wondrous revelation—Made known “the Father:” John 1:18.

“And the word was made (became) flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). The Infinite became finite. The Invisible became tangible. The Transcendent became imminent. That which was far off drew nigh. That which was beyond the reach of the human mind became that which could be beholden within the realm of human life. Here we are permitted to see through a veil that, which unveiled, would have blinded us. “The word became flesh:” He became what He was not previously. He did not cease to be God, but He became Man.

“And the word became flesh.” The plain meaning of these words is, that our Divine Savior took upon Him human nature. He became a real Man, yet a sinless, perfect Man. As Man He was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26). This union of the two natures in the Person of Christ is one of the mysteries of our faith—“Without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16). It needs to be carefully stated. “The word” was His Divine title; “became flesh” speaks of His holy humanity. He was, and is, the God-man, yet the Divine and human in Him were never confounded. His Deity, though veiled, was never laid aside; His humanity, though sinless, was a real humanity; for as incarnate, He “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). As “the word” then, He is the Son of God; as “flesh,” the Son of man.

This union of the two natures in the Person of Christ was necessary in order to fit Him for the office of Mediator. Three great ends were accomplished by God becoming incarnate, by the Word being made flesh. First, it was now possible for Him to die. Second, He can now be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Third, He has left us an example, that we should follow His steps.

This duality of nature was plainly intimated in Old Testament prediction. Prophecy sometimes represented the coming Messiah as human, sometimes as Divine. He was to be the woman’s “seed” (Gen. 3:15); a “prophet” like unto Moses (see Deuteronomy 18:18); a lineal descendant of David (see 2 Samuel 7:12); Jehovah’s “Servant” (Isa. 42:1); a “Man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). Yet, on the other hand, He was to be “the Branch of the Lord, beautiful and glorious” (Isa. 4:2); He was “the wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Father of the ages, the Prince of peace” (Isa. 9:6). As Jehovah He was to come suddenly to His temple (see Malachi 3:1). The One who was to be born in Bethlehem and be Ruler in Israel, was the One “whose goings forth had been from the days of eternity” (Mic. 5:2). How were those two different sets of prophecy to be harmonized? John 1:14 is the answer. The One born at Bethlehem was the Divine and eternal Word. The Incarnation does not mean that God dwelt in a man, but that God became Man. He became what He was not previously, though He never ceased to be all that He was before. The Babe of Bethlehem was Immanuel—God with us.

“And the word became flesh.” It is the design of John’s Gospel to bring this out in a special way. The miracles recorded therein illustrate and demonstrate this in a peculiar manner. For example: He turns the water into wine—but how? He, Himself, did nothing but speak the word. He gave His command to the servants and the transformation was wrought. Again; the nobleman’s son was sick. The father came to the Lord Jesus and besought Him to journey to his home and heal his boy. What was our Lord’s response? “Jesus said unto him, Go thy way, thy son liveth” (John 4:50), and the miracle was performed. Again; an impotent man was lying by the porch of Bethesda. He desired some one to put him into the pool, but while he was waiting another stepped in before him, and was healed. Then the Lord Jesus passed that way and saw him. What happened? “Jesus saith unto him, Rise,” etc. The word of power went forth, and the sufferer was made whole. Once more: consider the case of Lazarus, recorded only by John. In the raising of the daughter of Jairus, Christ took the damsel by the hand; when He restored to life the widow’s son of Nain, He touched the bier. But in bringing Lazarus from the dead He did nothing except speak the word, “Lazarus, come forth.” In all of these miracles we see the Word at work. The One who had become flesh and tabernacled among men was eternal and omnipotent—“the great God (the Word) and our Savior (became flesh) Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13).

“And dwelt (tabernacled) among us.” He pitched His tent on earth for thirty-three years. There is here a latent reference to the tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness. That tabernacle had a typical significance: it forshadowed God the Son incarnate. Almost everything about the tabernacle adumbrated the Word made flesh. Many and varied are the correspondences between the type and the Anti-type. We notice a few of the more conspicuous.

1.   The “tabernacle” was a temporary appointment. In this it differed from the temple of Solomon, which was a permanent structure. The tabernacle was merely a tent, a temporary convenience, something that was suited to be moved about from place to place during the journeyings of the children of Israel. So it was when our blessed Lord tabernacled here among men. His stay was but a brief one—less than forty years; and, like the type, He abode not long in any one place, but was constantly on the move—unwearied in the activity of His love.

2.   The “tabernacle” was for use in the wilderness. After Israel settled in Canaan, the tabernacle was superseded by the temple. But during the time of their pilgrimage from Egypt to the promised land, the tabernacle was God’s appointed provision for them. The wilderness strikingly foreshadowed the conditions amid which the eternal Word tabernacled among men at His first advent. The wilderness home of the tabernacle unmistakably foreshadowed the manger-cradle, the Nazarite-carpenter’s bench, the “nowhere” for the Son of man to lay His head, the borrowed tomb for His sepulcher. A careful study of the chronology of the Pentateuch seems to indicate that Israel used the tabernacle in the wilderness rather less than thirty-five years!

3.   Outwardly the “tabernacle” was mean, humble, and unattractive in appearance. Altogether unlike the costly and magnificent temple of Solomon, there was nothing in the externals of the tabernacle to please the carnal eye. Nothing but plain boards and skins. So it was at the Incarnation. The Divine majesty of our Lord was hidden beneath a veil of flesh. He came, unattended by any imposing retinue of angels. To the unbelieving gaze of Israel He had no form nor comeliness; and when they beheld Him, their unanointed eyes saw in Him no beauty that they should desire Him.

4.   The “tabernacle” was God’s dwelling place. It was there, in the midst of Israel’s camp, He took up His abode. There, between the cherubim upon the mercy-seat He made His throne. In the holy of holies He manifested His presence by means of the Shekinah glory. And during the thirty-three years that the Word tabernacled among men, God had His dwelling place in Palestine. The holy of holies received its anti-typical fulfillment in the Person of the Holy One of God. Just as the Shekinah dwelt between the two cherubim, so on the mount of transfiguration the glory of the God-man flashed forth from between two men—Moses and Elijah. “We beheld his glory” is the language of the tabernacle type.

5.   The “tabernacle” was, therefore, the place where God met with men. It was termed “the tent of meeting.” If an Israelite desired to draw near unto Jehovah He had to come to the door of the tabernacle. When giving instructions to Moses concerning the making of the tabernacle and its furniture, God said, “And thou shalt put the mercy seat above upon the ark; and in the ark thou shalt put the testimony that I shall give thee. And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee” (Ex. 25:21, 22). How perfect is this lovely type! Christ is the meeting place between God and men. No man cometh unto the Father but by Him (see John 14:16). There is but one Mediator between God and men—the Man Christ Jesus (see 1 Timothy 2:5). He is the One who spans the gulf between deity and humanity, because He is Himself both God and Man.

6.   The “tabernacle” was the center of Israel’s camp. In the immediate vicinity of the tabernacle dwelt the Levites, the priestly tribe: “But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle” (Num. 1:50), and around the Levites were grouped the twelve tribes, three on either side—see Numbers 2. Again; we read, that when Israel’s camp was to be moved from one place to another, “Then the tabernacle of the congregation shall set forward with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camp” (Num. 2:17). And, once more, “And Moses went out, and told the people the words of the Lord, and gathered the seventy men of the elders of the people, and set them round about the tabernacle. And the Lord came down in a cloud and spake unto him” (Num. 11:24, 25). How striking is this! The tabernacle was the great gathering center. As such it was a beautiful foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus. He is our great gathering-center. And His precious promise is, that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20).

7.   The “tabernacle” was the place where the Law was preserved. The first two tables of stone, on which Jehovah had inscribed the ten commandments were broken (see Exodus 32:19); but the second set were deposited in the ark in the tabernacle for safe keeping (see Deuteronomy 10:2–5). It was only there, within the holy of holies, the tablets of the Law were preserved intact. How this, again, speaks to us of Christ! He it was that said, “Lo, I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:7, 8). Throughout His perfect life He preserved in thought, word and deed, the Divine Decalogue, honoring and magnifying God’s Law.

8.   The “tabernacle” was the place where sacrifice was made. In its outer court stood the brazen altar, to which the animals were brought, and on which they were slain. There it was that blood was shed and atonement was made for sin. So it was with the Lord Jesus. He fulfilled in His own Person the typical significance of the brazen altar, as of every piece of the tabernacle furniture. The body in which He tabernacled on earth was nailed to the cruel Tree. The Cross was the altar upon which God’s Lamb was slain, where His precious blood was shed, and where complete atonement was made for sin.

9.   The “tabernacle” was the place where the priestly family was fed. “And the remainder thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat: with unleavened bread shall it be eaten in the holy place; in the court of the tabernacle of the congregation they shall eat it … The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it: in the holy place shall it be eaten” (Lev. 6:16, 26). How deeply significant are these scriptures in their typical import! And how they speak to us of Christ as the Food of God’s priestly family today, that is, all believers (see 1 Peter 2:5). He is the Bread of Life. He is the One upon whom our souls delight to feed.

10. The “tabernacle” was the place of worship. To it the pious Israelite brought his offerings. To it he turned when he desired to worship Jehovah. From its door the Voice of the Lord was heard. Within its courts the priests ministered in their sacred service. And so it was with the Anti-type. It is “by him” we are to offer unto God a sacrifice of praise (see Hebrews 13:15). It is in Him, and by Him, alone, that we can worship the Father. It is through Him we have access to the throne of grace.

Thus we see how fully and how perfectly the tabernacle of old foreshadowed the Person of our blessed Lord, and why the Holy Spirit, when announcing the Incarnation, said, “And the word became flesh, and tabernacled among us.” Before passing on to the next clause of John 1:14, it should be pointed out that there is a series of striking contrasts between the wilderness tabernacle and Solomon’s temple in their respective foreshadowings of Christ.

(1) The tabernacle foreshadowed Christ in His first advent; the temple looks forward to Christ at His second advent.

(2) The tabernacle was first, historically; the temple was not built until long afterwards.

(3) The tabernacle was but a temporary erection; the temple was a permanent structure.

(4) The tabernacle was erected by Moses the prophet (which was the office Christ filled during His first advent); the temple was built by Solomon the king (which is the office Christ will fill at His second advent).

(5) The tabernacle was used in the wilderness—speaking of Christ’s humiliation; the temple was built in Jerusalem, the “city of the great King” (Matthew 5:35)—speaking of Christ’s future glorification.

(6) The numeral which figured most prominently in the tabernacle was five, which speaks of grace, and grace was what characterized the earthly ministry of Christ at His first advent; but the leading numeral in the temple was twelve which speaks of government, for Christ shall rule and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.

(7) The tabernacle was unattractive in its externals—so when Christ was here before He was as “a root out of a dry ground;” but the temple was renowned for its outward magnificence—so Christ when He returns shall come in power and great glory.

And we beheld his glory.” “We beheld” refers, directly, to the first disciples, yet it is the blessed experience of all believers today. “But we all … beholding, as in a glass (mirror) the glory of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18). The term used in both of these verses seems to point a contrast. In John 12:41 we read, “These things said Isaiah, when he saw his glory, and spake of him,” the reference being to Isaiah 6. The Old Testament celebrities only had occasional and passing glimpses of God’s glory. But, in contrast from these who only “saw,” we—believers of this dispensation—“behold his glory.” But more particularly, there is a contrast here between the beholding and the non-beholding of God’s glory: the Shekinah glory abode in the holy of holies, and therefore, was hidden. But we, now, “behold” the Divine glory.

“We beheld his glory.” What is meant by this? Ah! who is competent to answer. Eternity itself will be too short to exhaustively explore this theme. The glories of our Lord are infinite, for in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. No subject ought to be dearer to the heart of a believer. Briefly defined, “We beheld his glory” signifies His supreme excellency, His personal perfections. For the purpose of general classification we may say the “glories” of our Savior are fourfold, each of which is capable of being subdivided indefinitely. First, there are His essential “glories,” as the Son of God; these are His Divine perfections, as for example, His Omnipotence. Second, there are His moral “glories,” and these are His human perfections, as for example, His meekness. Third, there are His official “glories,” and these are His mediatorial perfections, as for example, His priesthood. Fourth, there are His acquired “glories,” and these are the reward for what He has done. Probably the first three of these are spoken of in our text.

First, “We beheld his glory” refers to His essential “glory,” or Divine perfections. This is clear from the words which follow: “The glory as of the only begotten of the Father.” From the beginning to the end of His earthly life and ministry the Deity of the Lord Jesus was plainly evidenced. His supernatural birth, His personal excellencies, His matchless teaching, His wondrous miracles, His death and resurrection, all proclaimed Him as the Son of God. But it is to be noted that these words, “we beheld his glory,” follow immediately after the words “tabernacled” among men. We cannot but believe there is here a further reference to the tabernacle. In the tabernacle, in the holy of holies, Jehovah made His throne upon the mercy seat, and the evidence of His presence there was the Shekinah glory, frequently termed “the cloud.” When the tabernacle had been completed, and Jehovah took possession of it, we read, “then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34). It was the same at the completion of Solomon’s temple: “The cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord had filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10, 11). Here “the cloud” and “the glory” are clearly identified. The Shekinah glory, then, was the standing sign of God’s presence in the midst of Israel. Hence, after Israel’s apostasy, and when the Lord was turning away from them, we are told, “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city” (Ezek. 11:23). Therefore, when we read, “The Word … tabernacled among men, and we beheld his glory” it was the proof that none other than Jehovah was again in Israel’s midst. And it is a remarkable fact, to which we have never seen attention called, that at either extremity of the Word’s tabernacling among men the Shekinah glory was evidenced. Immediately following His birth we are told, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid” (Luke 2:8, 9). And, at His departure from this world, we read “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9)—not “clouds,” but “a cloud! We beheld his glory,” then, refers, first, to His Divine glory.

Second, there also seems to be a reference here to His official “glory,” which was exhibited upon the Holy Mount. In 2 Peter 1:16 we read, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” The reference is to the Transfiguration, for the next verse goes on to say, “For he received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” It is the use of the word “glory” here which seems to link the transfiguration-scene with John 1:14. This is confirmed by the fact that on the Mount, “while he yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them” (Matthew 17:5).

Third, there is also a clear reference in John 1:14 to the moral “glory” or perfections of the God-Man, for after saying “we beheld his glory,” John immediately adds (omitting the parenthesis) “full of grace and truth.” What marvelous grace we behold in that wondrous descent from heaven’s throne to Bethlehem’s manger! It had been an act of infinite condescension if the One who was the Object of angelic worship had deigned to come down to this earth and reign over it as King; but that He should appear in weakness, that He should voluntarily choose poverty, that He should become a helpless Babe—such grace is altogether beyond our ken; such matchless love passeth knowledge. O that we may never lose our sense of wonderment at the infinite condescension of God’s Son.

In His marvelous stoop we behold His glory. Greatness is never so glorious as when it takes the place of lowliness. Power is never so attractive as when it is placed at the disposal of others. Might is never so triumphant as when it sets aside its own prerogatives. Sovereignty is never so winsome as when it is seen in the place of service. And, may we not say it reverently, Deity had never appeared so glorious as when It hung upon a maiden’s breast! Yes, we behold His glory—the glory of an infinite condescension, the glory of a matchless grace, the glory of a fathomless love.

Concerning the acquired “glories” of our Lord we cannot now treat at length. These include the various rewards bestowed upon Him by the Father after the successful completion of the work which had been committed into His hands. It is of these acquired glories Isaiah speaks, when, after treating of the voluntary humiliation and death of the Savior, he gives us to hear the Father saying of Christ, “Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death” (Isa. 53:12). It is of these acquired glories the Holy Spirit speaks in Philippians 2, where after telling of our Lord’s obedience even unto the death of the Cross, He declares, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name” (Phil. 2:9). And so we might continue. But how unspeakably blessed to know, that at the close of our great High Priest’s prayer, recorded in John 17, we find Him saying, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me” (verse 24)!

Before we pass on to the next verse we would point out that there is an intimate connection between the one which has just been before us (see v. 14) and the opening verse of the chapter. Verse 14 is really an explanation and amplification of verse 1. There are three statements in each which exactly correspond, and the latter throw light on the former. First, “in the beginning was the word,” and that is something that transcends our comprehension; but “and the word became flesh” brings Him within reach of our sense. Second “and the word was with God,” and again we are unable to understand; but the Word “tabernacled among us,” and we may draw near and behold. Third, “and the word was God,” and again we are in the realm of the Infinite; but “full of grace and truth,” and here are two essential facts concerning God which come within the range of our vision. Thus by coupling together verses 1 and 14 (reading the verses in between as a parenthesis) we have a statement which is, probably, the most comprehensive in its sweep, the profoundest in its depths, and yet the simplest in its terms to be found between the covers of the Bible. Put these verses side by side:—

(1)  “In the beginning was the word:”

(a)  “And the word became flesh” tells of the beginning of His human life.

(2)  “And the word was with God”

(b) “And tabernacled among us” shows Him with men.

(3)  “And the word was God

(c)  “Full of grace and truth,” and this tells what God is.

“John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me” (John 1:15). Concerning the ministry and testimony of John the Baptist we shall have more to say in our next chapter, D.V., so upon this verse we offer only two very brief remarks. First, we find that here the Lord’s forerunner bears witness to Christ’s supreme excellency: “He that cometh after me is preferred before me,” he declares, which, in the Greek, signifies Christ had His being “before” John. Second, “For he was before me.” But, historically, John the Baptist was born into this world six months before the Savior was. When, then, the Baptist says Christ “was before” him, he is referring to His eternal existence, and, therefore, bears witness to His deity.

“And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace” (John 1:16). The word “fullness” is still another term in this important passage which brings out the absolute Deity of the Savior. It is the same word which is found in Colossians 1:19 and 2:9—“For it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell; … For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” The Greek preposition “ek” signifies “out of.” Out of the Divine fullness have all we (believers) “received.” What is it we have “received” from Christ? Ah, what is it we have not “received!” It is out of His inexhaustible “fullness” we have “received.” From Him we have “received” life (see John 10:28); peace (John 14:27); joy (John 15:11); God’s own Word (John 17:14); the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). There is laid up in Christ, as in a great storehouse, all that the believer needs both for time and for eternity.

“And grace for grace.” Bishop Ryle tells us the Greek preposition here may be translated two different ways, and suggests the following thoughts. First, we have received “grace upon grace,” that is, God’s favors heaped up, one upon another. Second, “grace for grace,” that is, new grace to supply old grace; grace sufficient to meet every recurring need.

“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). A contrast is drawn between what was “given” by Moses, and what “came” by Jesus Christ; for “grace and truth” were not merely “given,” they “came by Jesus Christ,” came in all their fullness, came in their glorious perfections. The Law was “given” to Moses, for it was not his own; but “grace and truth” were not “given” to Christ, for these were His own essential perfections. On looking into this contrast we must bear in mind that the great point here is the manifestation of God: God as He was manifested through the Law, and God as He was made known by the Only Begotten Son.

Was not the Law “truth?” Yes, so far as it went. It announced what God righteously demanded of men, and therefore, what men ought to be according to God’s mind. It has often been said, the Law is a transcript of God’s mind. But how inadequate such a statement is! Did the Law reveal what God is? Did it display all His attributes? If it did, there would be nothing more to learn of God than what the Law made known.

Did the Law tell out the grace of God? No; indeed. The Law was holy, and the commandment holy, just, and good. It demanded obedience; it required the strictest doing and continuance of all things written in it. And the only alternative was death. Inflexible in its claims, it remitted no part of its penalty. He that despised it “died without mercy,” and, “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (Heb. 10:28; see Hebrews 2:2). Such a Law could never justify a sinner. For this it was never given.

The inevitable effect of the Law when received by the unsaved is just that which was produced at Sinai, to whom it first came: “And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). “Now therefore why should we die? for this great fire will consume us: if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, then we shall die” (Deut. 5:25). Why such terror? Because “they could not endure that which was commanded” (Heb. 12:20). This terror was the testimony which the Law extorts from every sinner, to whom it is brought home as God’s Law; it is “the ministration of condemnation, and of death” (2 Cor. 3:7, 9). It has a “glory,” indeed, but it is the glory of thunder and lightning, of fire, of blackness, and of darkness, and the sound of the trumpet, and of the voice of words, which only bring terror to the guilty conscience. But, blessed be God, there is “a glory that excelleth” (2 Cor. 3:10).

Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.” The “glory that excelleth” is the glory of “the word that became flesh, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.” The Law revealed God’s justice, but it did not make known His mercy; it testified to His righteousness, but it did not exhibit His grace. It was God’s “truth,” but not the full truth about God Himself. “By the law is the knowledge of sin;” we never read “by the law is the knowledge of God.” No; the “law entered that the offense might abound,” “sin by the commandment became exceeding sinful.” It made known the heinousness of sin; it condemned the sinner, but it did not fully reveal God. It exhibited His righteous hatred of sin and His holy determination to punish it: it exposed the guilt and corruption of the sinner, but for ought it could tell him, it left him to his doom. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3, 4).

“Grace and truth.” These are fitly and inseparably joined together. We cannot have the one without having the other. There are many who do not like salvation by grace, and there are those who would tolerate grace if they could have it without the truth. The Nazarenes could “wonder” at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth, but as soon as Christ pressed the truth upon them, they “were filled with wrath,” and sought to “cast him down headlong from the brow of the hill whereon their city was built” (Luke 4:29). Such, too, was the condition of those who sought Him for “the meat that perisheth.” They were willing to profit from His grace, but when He told them the truth some “murmured” at Him, others were “offended,” and “many of his disciples went back and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). And in our own day, there are many who admire the grace which came by Jesus Christ, and would consent to be saved by it, provided this could be without the intrusion of the truth. But this cannot be. Those who reject the truth, reject grace.

There is, in Romans 5:21, another sentence which is closely parallel, and really, an amplification of these words “grace and truth”—“Grace reigns through righteousness, unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” The grace which saves sinners is no mere moral weakness such as is often to be found in human government. Nor is “the righteousness of God,” through which grace reigns, some mere semblance of justice. No; on the Cross Christ was “set forth a propitiation (a perfect satisfaction to the broken Law) through faith in his blood, to declare his (God’s) righteousness for the remission of sins” (Rom. 3:25). Grace does not ignore the Law, or set aside its requirements; nay verily, “it establishes the law” (Rom. 3:31): establishes it because inseparably linked with “truth;” establishes it because it reigns “through righteousness,” not at the expense of it; establishes it because grace tells of a Substitute who kept the Law for and endured the death penalty on behalf of all who receive Him as their Lord and Savior; and establishes it by bringing the redeemed to “delight” in the Law.

But was there no “grace and truth” before Jesus Christ came? Assuredly there was. God dealt according to “grace and truth” with our first parents immediately after their transgression—it was grace that sought them, and provided them with a covering; as it was truth that pronounced sentence upon them, and expelled them from the garden. God dealt according to “grace and truth” with Israel on the passover night in Egypt: it was grace that provided shelter for them beneath the blood; it was truth that righteously demanded the death of an innocent substitute in their stead. But “grace and truth” were never fully revealed till the Savior Himself appeared. By Him they “came:” in Him they were personified, magnified, glorified.

And now let us notice a few contrasts between Law and Grace:

1.   Law addresses men as members of the old creation; Grace makes men members of a new creation.

2.   Law manifested what was in Man-sin; Grace manifests what is in God-Love.

3.   Law demanded righteousness from men; Grace brings righteousness to men.

4.   Law sentences a living man to death; Grace brings a dead man to life.

5.   Law speaks of what men must do for God; Grace tells of what Christ has done for men.

6.   Law gives a knowledge of sin; Grace puts away sin.

7.   Law brought God out to men; Grace brings men in to God.

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). This verse terminates the Introduction to John’s Gospel, and summarizes the whole of the first eighteen verses of John 1. Christ has “declared”—told out, revealed, unveiled, displayed the Father; and the One who has done this is “the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father.” The “bosom of the Father” speaks of proximity to, personal intimacy with, and the enjoyment of the Father’s love. And, in becoming flesh, the Son did not leave this place of inseparable union. It is not the “Son which was,” but “which is in the bosom of the Father.” He retained the same intimacy with the Father, entirely unimpaired by the Incarnation. Nothing in the slightest degree detracted from His own personal glory, or from the nearness and oneness to the Father which He had enjoyed with Him from all eternity. How we ought, then, to honor, reverence, and worship the Lord Jesus!

But a further word on this verse is called for. A remarkable contrast is pointed. In the past, God, in the fullness of His glory, was unmanifested—“No man” had seen Him; but now, God is fully revealed—the Son has “declared” Him. Perhaps this contrast may be made clearer to our readers if we refer to two passages in the Old Testament and compare them with two passages in the New Testament.

In 1 Kings 8:12 we read, “Then spake Solomon, The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.” Again, “Clouds and darkness are round about him” (Ps. 97:2). These verses tell not what God is in Himself, but declare that under the Law He was not revealed. What could be known of a person who dwelt in “thick darkness!” But now turn to 1 Peter 2:9, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Ah, how blessed this is. Again, we read in 1 John 1:5, 7, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all … but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another.” And this, because the Father has been fully “declared” by our adorable Savior.

Once more: turn to Exodus 33:18—“And he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory.” This was the earnest request of Moses. But was it granted? Read on, “And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shall stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of a rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hind, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.” Character is not declared in a person’s “back parts” but in his face! That Moses saw not the face, but only the back parts of Jehovah, was in perfect accord with the dispensation of Law in which he lived. How profoundly thankful should we be that the dispensation of Law has passed, and that we live in the full light of the dispensation of Grace! How deeply grateful should we be, that we look not on the back parts of Jehovah “for God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). May grace be given us to magnify and adorn that superlative grace which has brought us out of darkness into marvelous light, because the God whom no man hath seen at any time has been fully “declared” by the Son.

We conclude, once more, by drawing up a number of questions on the passage which will be before us in the next chapter (John 1:19–34), so that the interested reader, who desires to “Search the Scriptures” may give them careful study in the interval.

1.   Why did the Jews ask John if he were Elijah, John 1:21?

2.   What “prophet” did they refer to in John 1:21?

3.   What are the thoughts suggested by “voice” in John 1:23?

4.   Why did John cry “in the wilderness” rather than in the temple, John 1:23?

5.   “Whom ye know not,” John 1:26—What did this prove?

6.   What are the thoughts suggested by the Savior’s title “The Lamb of God,” John 1:29?

7.   Why did the Holy Spirit descend on Christ as a “dove,” John 1:32?[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 32–48). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Exposition of John Chapter 2 - Christ, The Eternal Word John 1:1-13

Exposition of John Chapter 2 - Christ, The Eternal Word John 1:1-13

Chapter Two

Christ, the Eternal Word

John 1:1–13

In the last chapter we stated, “Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so, every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhood of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary, who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before ‘the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).”

That John’s Gospel does present the Deity of the Savior is at once apparent from the opening words of the first chapter. The Holy Spirit has, as it were, placed the key right over the entrance, for the introductory verses of this fourth Gospel present the Lord Jesus Christ in Divine relationships and unveil His essential glories. Before we attempt an exposition of this profound passage we shall first submit an analysis of its contents. In these first thirteen verses of John 1 we have set forth:—

1.   The Relation of Christ to Time—“In the beginning,” therefore, Eternal: John 1:1.

2.   The Relation of Christ to the Godhead—“With God,” therefore, One of the Holy Trinity: John 1:1.

3.   The Relation of Christ to the Holy Trinity—“God was the Word”—the Revealer: John 1:1.

4.   The Relation of Christ to the Universe—“All things were made by him”—the Creator: John 1:3.

5.   The Relation of Christ to Men—Their “Light”: John 1:4, 5.

6.   The Relation of John the Baptist to Christ—“Witness” of His Deity: John 1:6–9.

7.   The Reception which Christ met here: John 1:10–13.

(a)  The world knew him not”: John 1:10.

(b) “His own (Israel) received him not”: John 1:11.

(c)  A company born of God “received him”: John 1:12, 13.

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:1–3). How entirely different is this from the opening verses of the other Gospels! John opens by immediately presenting Christ not as the Son of David, nor as the Son of man, but as the Son of God. John takes us back to the beginning, and shows that the Lord Jesus had no beginning. John goes behind creation and shows that the Savior was Himself the Creator. Every clause in these verses calls for our most careful and prayerful attention.

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.” Here we enter a realm which transcends the finite mind, and where speculation is profane. “In the beginning” is something we are unable to comprehend: it is one of those matchless sweeps of inspiration which rises above the level of human thought. “In the beginning was the word,” and we are equally unable to grasp the final meaning of this. A “word” is an expression: by words we articulate our speech. The Word of God, then, is Deity expressing itself in audible terms. And yet, when we have said this, how much there is that we leave unsaid! “And the word was with God,” and this intimates His separate personality, and shows His relation to the other Persons of the blessed Trinity. But how sadly incapacitated are we for meditating upon the relations which exist between the different Persons of the Godhead. “And God was the word.” Not only was Christ the Revealer of God, but He always was, and ever remains, none other than God Himself. Not only was our Savior the One through whom, and by whom, the Deity expressed itself in audible terms, but He was Himself co-equal with the Father and the Spirit. Let us now approach the Throne of grace and there seek the mercy and grace we so sorely need to help us as we turn now to take a closer look at these verses.

“Our God and Father, in the name of Thy dear Son, we pray Thee that Thy Holy Spirit may now take of the things of Christ and show them unto us: to the praise of the glory of Thy grace. Amen.”

In THE BEGINNING,” or, more literally, “in beginning,” for there is no article in the Greek. In what “beginning?” There are various “beginnings” referred to in the New Testament. There is the “beginning” of “the world” (Matthew 24:21); of “the gospel of Jesus Christ” (Mark 1:1); of “sorrows” (Mark 13:8); of “miracles” (or “signs”), (John 2:11), etc. But the “beginning” mentioned in John 1:1 clearly antedates all these “beginnings.” The “beginning” of John 1:1 precedes the making of the “all things” of John 1:3. It is then, the beginning of creation, the beginning of time. This earth of ours is old, how old we do not know, possibly millions of years. But “the word” was before all things. He was not only from the beginning, but He was “in the beginning.”

“In beginning:” the absence of the definite article is designed to carry us back to the most remote point that can be imagined. If then, He was before all creation, and He was, for “all things were made by him;” if He was “in the beginning,” then He was Himself without beginning, which is only the negative way of saying He was eternal. In perfect accord with this we find, that in His prayer recorded in John 17, He said, “And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.” As, then, the Word was “in the beginning,” and if in the beginning, eternal, and as none but God Himself is eternal, the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus is conclusively established.

WAS the word.” There are two separate words in the Greek which, in this passage, are both rendered “was”: the one means to exist, the other to come into being. The latter word (egeneto) is used in John 1:3 which, literally rendered, reads, “all things through him came into being, and without him came into being not even one (thing) which has come into being;” and again we have this word “egeneto” in John 1:6 where we read, “there was (became to be) a man sent from God, whose name was John;” and again in John 1:14, “And the word was made (became) flesh.” But here in John 1:1 and John 1:2 it is “the word (ito) with God.” As the Word He did not come into being, or begin to be, but He was “with God” from all eternity. It is noteworthy that the Holy Spirit uses this word “ito,” which signifies that the Son personally subsisted, no less than four times in the first two verses of John 1. Unlike John the Baptist who “became (egeneto) a man,” the “word” was (ito), that is, existed with God before time began.

Was THE WORD.” The reference here is to the Second Person in the Holy Trinity, the Son of God. But why is the Lord Jesus Christ designated “the word?” What is the exact force and significance of this title? The first passage which occurs to our minds as throwing light on this question is the opening statement in the Epistle to the Hebrews: “God who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son.” Here we learn that Christ is the final spokesman of God. Closely connected with this is the Savior’s title found in Revelation 1:8—“I am Alpha and Omega,” which intimates that He is God’s alphabet, the One who spells out Deity, the One who utters all God has to say. Even clearer, perhaps, is the testimony of John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The word “declared” means tell out, cf. Acts 15:14, and 21:19; it is translated “told” in Luke 24:35. Putting together these three passages we learn that Christ is the One who is the Spokesman of God, and One who spelled out the Deity, the One who has declared or told forth the Father.

Christ, then, is the One who has made the incomprehensible God intelligible. The force of this title of His found in John 1:1, may be discovered by comparing it with that name which is given to the Holy Scriptures—“the Word of God.” What are the Scriptures? They are the Word of God. And what does that mean? This: the Scriptures reveal God’s mind, express His will, make known His perfections, and lay bare His heart. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done for the Father. But let us enter a little more into detail:—

(a) A “word” is a medium of manifestation. I have in my mind a thought, but others know not its nature. But the moment I clothe that thought in words it becomes cognizable. Words, then, make objective unseen thoughts. This is precisely what the Lord Jesus has done. As the Word, Christ has made manifest the invisible God.

(b) A “word” is a means of communication. By means of words I transmit information to others. By words I express myself, make known my will, and impart knowledge. So Christ, as the Word, is the Divine Transmitter, communicating to us the life and love of God.

(c) A “word” is a method of revelation. By his words a speaker exhibits both his intellectual caliber and his moral character. By our words we shall be justified, and by our words we shall be condemned. And Christ, as the Word, reveals the attributes and perfections of God. How fully has Christ revealed God! He displayed His power, He manifested His wisdom, He exhibited His holiness, He made known His grace, He unveiled His heart. In Christ, and nowhere else, is God fully and finally told out.

And the word was WITH GOD.” This preposition “with” seems to suggest two thoughts. First, the Word was in the presence of God. As we read, “Enoch walked with God,” that is, he lived in fellowship with God. There is a beautiful verse in Proverbs 8 which throws its light on the meaning of “with” in John 1:1, and reveals the blessed relation which obtained from all eternity between the Word and God. The passage begins at Proverbs 8:22 where “wisdom” is personified. It tells us of the happy fellowship which existed between the Word and God before ever the world was. In Proverbs 8:30 we read, “Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him.” In addition to the two thoughts just suggested, we may add that the Greek preposition “pros” here translated “with” is sometimes rendered “toward,” but most frequently “unto.” The Word was toward or unto God. One has significantly said, “The word rendered with denotes a perpetual tendency, as it were, of the Son to the Father, in unity of essence.”

That it is here said “the word was with God” tells of His separate personality: He was not “in” God, but “with” God. Now, mark here the marvelous accuracy of Scripture. It is not said, “the word was with the Father” as we might have expected, but “the word was with God.” The name “God” is common to the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, whereas “the Father” is the special title of the first Person only. Had it said “the word was with the Father,” the Holy Spirit had been excluded; but “with God” takes in the Word dwelling in eternal fellowship with both the Father and the Spirit. Observe, too, it does not say, And God was with God,” for while there is plurality of Persons in the Godhead, there is but “one God,” therefore the minute accuracy of “the WORD was with God.”

And the word WAS GOD,” or, more literally, “and God was the word.” Lest the figurative expression “the word” should convey to us an inadequate conception of the Divine glories of Christ, the Holy Spirit goes on to say, “and the word was with God,” which denoted His separate personality, and intimated His essential relation to the Godhead. And, as though that were not strong enough, the Holy Spirit expressly adds, “and God was the word.” Who could express God save Him who is God! The Word was not an emanation of God, but God Himself made manifest. Not only the revealer of God, but God Himself revealed. A more emphatic and unequivocal affirmation of the absolute Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ it is impossible to conceive.

“The same was in the beginning with God.” The “same,” that is, the Word; “was,” that is, subsisted, not began to be; “in the beginning,” that is, before time commenced; “with God,” that is, as a distinct Personality. That it is here repeated Christ was “with God,” seems to be intended as a repudiation of the early Gnostic heresy that Christ was only an idea or ideal IN the mind of God from eternity, duly made manifest in time—a horrible heresy which is being reechoed in our own day. It is not said that the Word was in God; He was, eternally, “with God.”

Before we pass on to the next verse, let us seek to make practical application of what has been before us, and at the same time answer the third of the seven questions asked at the close of the previous chapter; “How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or—how?” A more important question we cannot consider. What conception have you formed, dear reader, of the Being, Personality, and Character, of God? Before the Lord Jesus came to this earth, the world was without the knowledge of the true and living God. To say that God is revealed in nature is true, yet it is a statement which needs qualifying. Nature reveals the existence of God, but how little it tells of His character. Nature manifests His natural attributes—His power, His wisdom, His immutability, etc.; but what does nature say to us of His moral attributes—His justice, His holiness, His grace, His love? Nature, as such knows no mercy and shows no pity. If a blind saint unwittingly steps over the edge of a precipice he meets with the same fate as if a vile murderer had been hurled over it. If I break nature’s laws, no matter how sincere may be my subsequent repentance, there is no escaping the penalty. Nature conceals as well as reveals God. The ancients had “nature” before them, and what did they learn of God? Let that altar, which the Apostle Paul beheld in one of the chief centers of ancient learning and culture make answer—“to the Unknown God” is what he found inscribed thereon!

It is only in Christ that God is fully told out. Nature is no longer as it left the Creator’s hands: it is under the Curse, and how could that which is imperfect be a perfect medium for revealing God? But the Lord Jesus Christ is the Holy One. He was God, the Son, manifest in flesh. And so fully and so perfectly did He reveal God, He could say, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). Here, then, is the answer to our question, and here is the practical value of what is before us in these opening verses of John’s Gospel. If the believer would enter into a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God, he must prayerfully study the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures! Let this be made our chief business, our great delight, to reverently scrutinize and meditate upon the excellencies of our Divine Savior as they are displayed upon the pages of Holy Writ, then, and only then, shall we “increase in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). The “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” is seen only “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).

“All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). How this brings out, again, the absolute deity of Christ! Here creation is ascribed to Him, and none but God can create. Man, with all his boasting, is unable to bring into existence a single blade of grass. Observe, that the whole of creation is here ascribed to the Word—“all things were made by him.” This would not be true if He were Himself a creature, even though the first and the highest creature. But nothing is excepted—“all things were made by him.” Just as He was before all things, and therefore, eternal; so was He the Originator of all things, and therefore, omnipotent.

“In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). This follows logically from what has been said in the previous verse. If Christ created all things He must be the Fountain of life. He is the Life-Giver. We understand “life” to be used here in its widest sense. Creature life is found in God, for “in him we live and move and have our being”; spiritual life or eternal life, and resurrection life, are also found “in Him.” If it be objected that the Greek word for “life” here is “zoe,” and that zoe has exclusive reference to spiritual life, we answer, Not always: see Luke 12:15; Luke 16:25 (translated “life-time”), Acts 17:25, etc., where, in each case, “zoe” has reference to human (natural) life, as such. Thus, “zoe” includes within its scope all “life.”

And the Life was THE LIGHT of men.” What are we to understand by this? Notice two things: this statement in verse 4 follows immediately after the declaration that “all things were made” by Christ, so that it is creatures, as such, which are here in view; second, it is “men,” as men, not only believers, which are here referred to. The “life” here is one of the Divine titles of the Lord Jesus, hence, it is equivalent to saying, “God was the light of men.” It speaks of the relation which Christ sustains to men, all men—He is their “light.” This is confirmed by what we read in verse 9, “That was the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” In what sense, then, is Christ as “the life” the “light of men?” We answer, In that which renders men accountable creatures. Every rational man is morally enlightened. All rational men “show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness” (Rom. 2:15). It is this “light,” which lightens every man that cometh into the world, that constitutes them responsible human beings. The Greek word for “light” in John 1:4 is “phos,” and that it is not restricted to spiritual illumination is plainly evident from its usage in Matthew 6:23, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness,” and also see Luke 11:35; Acts 16:29, etc.

Let no reader infer from what has been said that we are among the number who believe the unscriptural theory that there is in every man a spark of Divine life, which needs only to be fanned, to become a flame. No, we expressly repudiate any such satanic lie. By nature, spiritually, he is “dead in trespasses and sins.” Yet, notwithstanding, the natural man is a responsible being before God, to Whom he shall give an account of himself; responsible, because the work of God’s law is written in his heart, his conscience also bearing witness, and this, we take it, is the “light” which is referred to in John 1:4, and the “lighteneth” in John 1:9.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). This gives us still another of the Divine titles of Christ. In verse 1 He is spoken of as “the word.” In verse 3 as the Maker of all things. In verse 4 as “the life.” Now, in verse 5 as “the light.” With this should be compared 1 John 1:5 where we read “God is light.” The conclusion, then, is irresistible, the proof complete and final, that the Lord Jesus is none other than God, the second Person in the Holy Trinity.

The “Englishman’s Greek New Testament” renders the last clause of John 1:5 as follows—“and the light in the darkness appears, and the darkness it apprehended not.” This tells us of the effects of the Fall. Every man that comes into this world is lightened by his Creator, but the natural man disregards this light, he repels it, and in consequence, is plunged into darkness. Instead of the natural man “living up to the light he has” (which none ever did) he “loves darkness rather than light” (John 3:19). The unregenerate man, then, is like one that is blind—he is in the dark. Proof of this appears in the fact that “the Light in the darkness appears, and the darkness apprehended it not.” All other darkness yields to and fades away before light, but here “the darkness” is so impenetrable and hopeless, it neither apprehends nor comprehends. What a fearful and solemn indictment of fallen human nature! And how evident it is that nothing short of a miracle of saving grace can ever bring one “out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.”

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). The change of subject here is most abrupt. From “the Word” who was God, the Holy Spirit now turns to speak of the forerunner of Christ. He is referred to as “a man,” to show us, by way of contrast, that the One to Whom he bore witness was more than Man. This man was “sent from God,” so is every man who bears faithful witness to the Person of Christ. The name of this man was “John” which, as etymologists tell us, signifies “the gift of God.”

“The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the light, that all through him might believe” (John 1:7). John came to bear witness of “the light.” Weigh well these words: they are solemn, pathetic, tragic. Perhaps their force will be the more evident if we ask a question: When the sun is shining in all its beauty, who are the ones that are unconscious of the fact? Who need to be told it is shining? The blind! How tragic, then, when we read that God sent John to “bear witness of the light.” How pathetic that there should be any need for this! How solemn the statement that men have to be told “the light” is now in their midst. What a revelation of man’s fallen condition. The Light shone in the darkness, but the darkness comprehended it not. Therefore, did God send John to bear witness of the Light. God would not allow His beloved Son to come here unrecognized and unheralded. As soon as He was born into this world, He sent the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds to proclaim Him, and just before His public ministry began, John appeared bidding Israel to receive Him.

“The same came for a witness.” This defines the character of the preacher’s office. He is a “witness,” and a witness is one who knows what he says and says what he knows. He deals not with speculations, he speaks not of his own opinions, but he testifies to what he knows to be the truth.

“To bear witness of the light.” This should ever be the aim of the preacher: to get his hearers to look away from himself to Another. He is not to testify of himself, nor about himself, but he is to “preach Christ” (1 Cor. 1:23). This is the message the Spirit of God will own, for Christ has said of Him, “He shall glorify me” (John 16:14).

“That all through him might believe.” “That” means “in order that.” “To bear witness” defines the character of the preacher’s office: to “bear witness of the light” makes known the preacher’s theme; that “all through him might believe” speaks of the design of his ministry. Men become believers through receiving the testimony of God’s witness. The “all” is the same as in John 6:45.

“He was not that light, but was sent to bear witness of that light” (John 1:8). No, John himself was not “that light,” for “light” like “life” is to be found only in God. Apart from God all is darkness, profound and unrelieved. Even the believer has no light in himself. What saith the Scriptures? “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye the light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8). There is a statement found in John 5:35 which, as it stands in the A.V., conflicts with what is said here in John 1:8. In verse 35 when speaking of John, Christ said, “He was a burning and shining light,” but the Greek word used here is entirely different from that translated “light” in John 1:8, and in the R.V. it is correctly translated “He was the lamp that burneth and shineth.” This word used of John, correctly translated “lamp,” points a striking contrast between the forerunner and Christ as “the light.” A lamp has no inherent light of its own—it has to be supplied! A “lamp” has to be carried by another! A “lamp” soon burns out: in a few hours it ceases to shine.

“That was the true light, which lighteth every man which cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Bishop Ryle in his most excellent notes on John’s Gospel, has suggested that the adjective “true” has here at least a fourfold reference. First, Christ, is the “true light” as the Undeceiving Light. Satan himself, we read, “is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14), but he appears as such only to deceive. But Christ is the true Light in contrast from all the false lights which are in the world. Second, as the “true light,” Christ is the Real Light. The real light in contrast from the dim and shaded light which was conveyed through the types and shadows of the Old Testament ritual. Third, as the “true light” Christ is the Underived Light: there are lesser lights which are borrowed and reflected, as the moon from the sun, but Christ’s “light” is His own essential and underived glory. Fourth, as the “true light,” Christ is the Supereminent Light, in contrast from all that is ordinary and common. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another of the stars; but all other lights pale before Him who is “the light.” The latter part of this ninth verse need not detain us now, having already received our consideration under the exposition of verse four. The light which “every man” has by nature is the light and reason and conscience.

“He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (John 1:10). “He was in the world” refers, we believe, to His incarnation and the thirty-three years during which He tabernacled among men. Then it is said “and the world was made by him.” This is to magnify the Divine glory of the One who had become incarnate, and to emphasize the tragedy of what follows, “and the world knew him not.”

“He was in the world.” Who was? None other than the One who had made it. And how was He received? The great Creator was about to appear: will not a thrill of glad expectancy run around the world? He is coming not to judge, but to save. He is to appear not as a haughty Despot, but as a Man “holy, harmless, undefiled;” not to be ministered unto, but to minister. Will not such an One receive a hearty welcome? Alas, “the world knew him not.” Full of their own schemes and pursuits, they thought nothing of Him. Unspeakably tragic is this, yet something even more pathetic follows.

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11). How appropriate are the terms here used: note the nice distinction: “He was in the world” and, therefore, within the reach of inquiry. But to the seed of Abraham He “came,” knocking as it were, at their door for admission; but “they received him not.” The world is charged with ignorance, but Israel with unbelief, yea, with a positive refusal of Him. Instead of welcoming the Heavenly Visitant, they drove Him from their door, and even banished Him from the earth. Who would have supposed that a people whose believing ancestors had been eagerly awaiting the appearance of the Messiah for long ages past, would have rejected Him when He came among them! Yet so it was: and should any ask, How could these things be? we answer, This very thing was expressly foretold by their own prophet, that He should possess neither form nor comeliness in their eyes, and when they should see Him there would be no beauty that they should desire Him. Ah! would it have been any wonder if He had turned away from such ingrates in disgust! What blessed subjection to the Father’s will, and what wondrous love for sinners, that He remained on earth in order that He might later die the death of the Cross!

But if the world “knew him not,” and Israel “received him not,” was the purpose of God defeated? No, indeed, for that could not be. The counsel of the Lord “shall stand”: (Prov. 19:21). The marvelous condescension of the Son could not be in vain. So, we read, “but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (verse 12). This tells us of the human side of salvation, what is required of sinners. Salvation comes to the sinner through “receiving” Christ, that is, by “believing on his name.” There is a slight distinction between these two things, though in substance they are one. Believing, respects Christ as He is exhibited by the Gospel testimony: it is the personal acceptance as truth of what God has said concerning His Son. Receiving, views Christ as presented to us as God’s Gift, presented to us for our acceptance. And “as many as,” no matter whether they be Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, illiterate or learned, receive Christ as their own personal Savior, to them is given the power or right to become the sons (better “children”) of God.

But who receive Him thus? Not all by any means. Only a few. And is this left to chance? Far from it. As the following verse goes on to state, “which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). This explains to us why the few “receive” Christ. It is because they are born of God. Just as verse 12 gives us the human side, so verse 13 gives us the Divine. The Divine side is the new birth: and the taking place of the new birth is “not of blood,” that is to say, it is not a matter of heredity, for regeneration does not run in the veins; “nor of the will of the flesh,” the will of the natural man is opposed to God, and he has no will Godward until he has been born again; “nor of the will of man,” that is to say, the new birth is not brought about by the well-meant efforts of friends, nor by the persuasive powers of the preacher; “but of God.” The new birth is a Divine work. It is accomplished by the Holy Spirit applying the Word in living power to the heart. The reception Christ met during the days of His earthly ministry is the same still: the world “knows him not;” Israel “receives him not;” but a little company do receive him, and who these are Acts 13:48 tells us—“as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” And here we must stop.

Preparatory to our next chapter, we are anxious that the reader should study the following questions:

1.   In John 1:14 the word “dwelt” signifies “tabernacled.” The Word tabernacled among men. It points us back to the Tabernacle of Israel in the wilderness. In what respects did the Tabernacle of old typify and foreshadow Christ?

2.   “We beheld his glory” (John 1:14): what is meant by this? what “glory?” At least a threefold “glory.”

3.   In what sense was Christ “before” John the Baptist (John 1:15)?

4.   What is the meaning of John 1:16?

5.   Why are we told that the law was given by Moses, but that grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17)?

6.   Was there any “grace and truth” before Jesus Christ came? If so, what is meant by them coming by Jesus Christ?

7.   How many contrasts can you draw between Law and Grace?[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 17–30). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Exposition of John Chapter 1 Introduction

Exposition of John Chapter 1 Introduction

Foreword

John’s is undoubtedly the general favorite of the four Gospels. There is more in it which relates directly to the Family of God, than in the others. It presents Christ to us as the Son of God, the Shepherd of His sheep, the Food of His people. It records much that is not found in the other three.

Preachers, Sunday school teachers, and many others of the Lord’s people, have long desired a complete work on the fourth Gospel: a work which takes it up verse by verse; a work which gives real help on difficult passages; a work which can be read and re-read with profit and delight. It has long been our desire to provide such a work, and we are now permitted to present it to the Christian public.

This is no hasty production. The author has already donated fifteen years of special study to John’s Gospel. He has taught this book to five different classes in the course of as many pastorates, besides lecturing on it frequently from the Bible Conference platform. He has diligently sought to do two things: obtain from God the meaning of the text, and how to apply its lessons most effectively to his hearers and readers.

This complete exposition comprises three volumes. It is not a dry commentary, nor a ponderous production silted only to seminary students. It avoids the technical, and aims at the practical. It is designed for those who crave spiritual food. It will appeal not to the intellectuals but to the spiritually minded.

At the close of each chapter will be found a list of questions which bear on the passage to be expounded in the chapter that follows. We hope that many readers will give them a careful and prayerful study before turning to note our answers. Our aim is not merely to give help on the understanding of God’s word, but to promote the personal study of it by others.

May the God of all grace deign to use these efforts to open up His Word and magnify His Son to the stimulation and edification of many of His dear people.

May, 1923 Arthur W. Pink

Chapter One

Introduction

It is our purpose to give (D. V.) a verse by verse exposition of the fourth Gospel in the course of this series of studies, but before turning to the opening verses of chapter 1 it will be necessary to consider John’s Gospel as a whole, with the endeavor of discovering its scope, its central theme, and its relation to the other three Gospels. We shall not waste the reader’s time by entering into a discussion as to who wrote this fourth Gospel, as to where John was when he wrote it, nor as to the probable date when it was written. These may be points of academical interest, but they provide no food for the soul, nor do they afford any help to an understanding of this section of the Bible, and these are the two chief things we desire to accomplish. Our aim is to open up the Scriptures in such a way that the reader will be able to enter into the meaning of what God has recorded for our learning in this part of His Holy Word, and to edify those who are members of the Household of Faith.

The four Gospels deal with the earthly life of the Savior, but each one presents Him in an entirely different character. Matthew portrays the Lord Jesus as the Son of David, the Heir of Israel’s throne, the King of the Jews; and everything in his Gospel contributes to this central theme. In Mark, Christ is seen as the Servant of Jehovah, the perfect Workman of God; and everything in this second Gospel brings out the characteristics of His service and the manner in which He served. Luke treats of the humanity of the Savior, and presents Him as the perfect Man, contrasting Him from the sinful sons of men. The fourth Gospel views Him as the Heavenly One come down to earth, the eternal Son of the Father made flesh and tabernacling among men, and from start to finish this is the one dominant truth which is steadily held in view.

As we turn to the fourth Gospel we come to entirely different ground from that which is traversed in the other three. It is true, the period of time covered by it is the same as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, some of the incidents treated of by the “Synoptics” come before us here, and He who has occupied the central position in the narratives of the first three Evangelists is the same One that is made pre-eminent by John; but otherwise, everything is entirely new. The viewpoint of this fourth Gospel is more elevated than that of the others; its contents bring into view spiritual relationships rather than human ties; and, higher glories are revealed as touching the peerless Person of the Savior. In each of the first three Gospels Christ is viewed in human relationships, but not so in John. The purpose of this fourth Gospel is to show that the One who was born in a manger and afterward died on the Cross had higher glories than those of King, that He who humbled Himself to take the Servant place was, previously, “equal with God,” that the One who became the Son of Man was none other than, and ever remains, the Only Begotten of the Father.

Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhood of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this Book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Here is a theme worthy of our most prayerful attention. If the Holy Spirit took such marked care to guard the perfections of our Lord’s humanity—seen for example, in the words of the angel to Mary “that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee,” “made in the likeness of sin’s flesh,” etc.—equally so has the Inspirer of the Scriptures seen to it that there is no uncertainty touching the Divine Sonship of our Savior. Just as the Old Testament prophets made known that the Coming One should be a Man, a perfect Man, so did Messianic prediction give plain intimation that He should be more than a man. Through Isaiah God foretold, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Through Micah He declared, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity.” Through Zechariah He said, “Awake, O Sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Through the Psalmist He announced, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And again, when looking forward to the second advent, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (or, ‘brought thee forth’).” In these days of wide-spread departure from the faith, it cannot be insisted upon too strongly or too frequently that the Lord Jesus is none other than the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In keeping with the special theme of this fourth Gospel, it is here we have the full unveiling of Christ’s Divine glories. It is here that we behold Him dwelling with God before time began and before ever the creature was formed (1:1, 2). It is here that He is denominated “The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is here we read of John the Baptist bearing record “that this is the Son of God” (1:34). It is here that we read “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory” (2:11). It is here we are told that the Savior said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). It is here we learn that “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (3:35). It is in this Gospel we hear Christ saying, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (5:21–23). It is here we find Him declaring, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). It is here He affirmed “I and my Father are One” (10:30). It is here He testifies “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9).

Before we take up John’s Gospel in detail, a few words should also be said concerning the scope of the fourth Gospel. It must be evident at once that this is quite different from the other three. There, Christ is seen in human relationships, and as connected with an earthly people; but here He is viewed in a Divine relationship, and as connected with a heavenly people. It is true the mystery of the “Body” is not unfolded here—that is found only in what the Apostle Paul wrote as he was moved by the Holy Spirit—rather is it the Family relationship which is here in view: the Son of God together with the sons of God. It is also true that the “heavenly calling,” as such, is not fully unfolded here, yet are there plain intimations of it, as a careful study of it makes apparent. In the first three Gospels Christ is seen connected with the Jews, proclaiming the Messianic kingdom, a proclamation which ceased, however, as soon as it became evident that the nation had rejected Him. But here in John’s Gospel His rejection is anticipated from the beginning, for in the very first chapter we are told, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The limitations which obtain in connection with much which is found in the first three Gospels does not, therefore, obtain in John’s. Again, in John’s Gospel the Savior is displayed as the Son of God, and as such He can be known only by believers. On this plane, then, the Jew has no priority. The Jew’s claim upon Christ was purely a fleshly one (arising from the fact that He was “the Son of David”), whereas believers are related to the Son of God by spiritual union.

As there may be some of our readers who have been influenced by ultra-dispensational teaching we deem it well to here call attention to other points which help to fix the true dispensational bearings and scope of this fourth Gospel. There are those who make no distinction between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics, and who insist that this fourth Gospel is entirely Jewish, and has nothing but a remote application to believers of the present dispensation. But this, we are assured, is a serious mistake. John’s Gospel, like his Epistles, concerns the family of God. In proof of this we request the reader to weigh carefully the following points:

First, in 1:11–13 we read, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

From these verses we may notice three things: first, the Jews as a nation rejected the Sent One of the Father, they “received him not;” second, a company did “receive him,” even those that “believed on his name”; third, this company are here designated “the sons of God,” who were “born … of God.” There is nothing which in any wise resembles this in the other Gospels. Here only, in the four Gospels, is the truth of the new birth brought before us. And it is by new birth we enter the family of God. As, then, the family of God reaches out beyond Jewish believers, and takes in all Gentile believers too, we submit that John’s Gospel cannot be restricted to the twelve-tribed people.

Second, after stating that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father (which is a glory that none but believers behold!), full of grace and truth,” and after summarizing John the Baptist’s witness to the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit through the Evangelist goes on to say, “and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. Surely this verse alone establishes the point of who it is that is here being addressed. The Jewish nation never received “of his fullness”—that can be predicated of believers only. The “all we” of verse 16 is the “as many as” received Him, to them gave He power to become “the sons of God” of verse 12.

Third, in the tenth chapter of John, we read that the Savior said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 14, 15). Immediately following this He went on to say, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (v. 16). Who were these “other sheep?” Before we can answer this, we must ascertain who were the “sheep” referred to by Christ in the first fifteen verses of this chapter. As to who they were there can be only one answer: they were not the nation of Israel as such, for they had “received him not”; no, they were the little company who had “received him,” who had “believed on his name.” But Christ goes on to speak of a future company of believers, “other sheep I have (speaking as God who calleth those things which be not as though they were: Rom. 4:17), them also I must bring.” Clearly, the “other sheep” which had not been brought into the fold at the time the Savior then spake, were believers from among the Gentiles, and these, together with the Jewish believers, should be “one fold” (or, better “one flock”), which is the equivalent of one family, the family of God.

Fourth, in John 11:49–52 we read, “and one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” This was a remarkable prophecy, and contained far more in it than Caiaphas was aware. It made known the Divine purpose in the death of the Savior and revealed what was to be the outcome of the great Sacrifice. It looked out far beyond the bounds of Judaism, including within its range believing sinners from the Gentiles. The “children of God that were scattered abroad” were the elect found among all nations. That they were here termed “children of God” while viewed as still “scattered abroad,” gives us the Divine viewpoint, being parallel with “other sheep I have.” But what we desire to call special attention to is the declaration that these believers from among the Gentiles were to be “gathered together in one,” not into one “body” (for as previously said, the body does not fall within the scope of John’s writings), but one family, the family of God.

Fifth, in John 14:2, 3 we read that Christ said to His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.” How entirely different this is from anything that is to be found in the first three Gospels scarcely needs to be pointed out. In them, reference is invariably made to the coming of “the Son of man,” but here it is the rapture of the saints to heaven, and the taking of them to be where Christ now is that is expressly mentioned. And manifestly this can in no wise be limited to Jewish believers.

Sixth, without attempting to develop this point at any length it should be noticed that the relation which the Holy Spirit sustains to believers in this Gospel is entirely different from what is before us in the first three. Here only do we read of being “born of the Spirit” (3:5). Here only is He denominated their “Comforter” or Advocate (see John 14:16); and here only do we read of Him “abiding forever” with believers (see John 14:16).

Seventh, the High Priestly prayer of the Savior which is recorded in John 17, and found nowhere else in the Gospels, shows plainly that more than Jewish believers are here contemplated, and evidences the wider scope of this fourth Gospel. Here we find the Savior saying, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” The “as many as thou hast given him” takes in the whole family of God. Again, in verse 20 the Lord Jesus says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word:” the “these” evidently refers to Jewish believers, while the “them also” looked forward to Gentile believers. Finally, His words in verse 22, “and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” shows, once more, that the whole family of God was here before Him.

In bringing this chapter to a close we want to prepare the reader for the second of the series. In the next chapter we shall (D.V.) take up the first section of the opening chapter, and it is our earnest desire that many of our readers will make these verses the subject of prayerful study and meditation. The Bible teacher who becomes a substitute for diligent study on the part of those who hear him is a hindrance and not a help. The business of the teacher is to turn people to the searching of the Scriptures for themselves, stimulating their interest in the Sacred Word, and instructing them how to go about it. With this end in view, it will be our aim to prepare a series of questions at the close of each chapter bearing on the passage to be expounded in the succeeding one, so that the reader may study it for himself. Below are seven questions on the passage for the portion we shall take up in the next lesson, and we earnestly urge our readers to study the first thirteen verses of John 1, and to concentrate upon the points raised by our questions.

1.   What “beginning” is referred to in John 1:1?

2.   How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or—how?

3.   Why is the Lord Jesus here termed “The Word?” What is the exact force and significance of this title?

4.   What is the meaning of John 1:4—“The Life was the Light of men?”

5.   The fact that the Savior is termed “the Light” in 1:7, teaches us what?

6.   What does John 1:12 teach concerning what a sinner must do to be saved?

7.   What is the exact meaning of each clause in 1:3?

Pray over and meditate much upon each of these questions, and above all “Search the Scriptures” to find God’s answers. Answers to these questions will be found in the next chapter, in the course of our exposition of John 1:1–13.[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 7–16). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

Foreword

John’s is undoubtedly the general favorite of the four Gospels. There is more in it which relates directly to the Family of God, than in the others. It presents Christ to us as the Son of God, the Shepherd of His sheep, the Food of His people. It records much that is not found in the other three.

Preachers, Sunday school teachers, and many others of the Lord’s people, have long desired a complete work on the fourth Gospel: a work which takes it up verse by verse; a work which gives real help on difficult passages; a work which can be read and re-read with profit and delight. It has long been our desire to provide such a work, and we are now permitted to present it to the Christian public.

This is no hasty production. The author has already donated fifteen years of special study to John’s Gospel. He has taught this book to five different classes in the course of as many pastorates, besides lecturing on it frequently from the Bible Conference platform. He has diligently sought to do two things: obtain from God the meaning of the text, and how to apply its lessons most effectively to his hearers and readers.

This complete exposition comprises three volumes. It is not a dry commentary, nor a ponderous production silted only to seminary students. It avoids the technical, and aims at the practical. It is designed for those who crave spiritual food. It will appeal not to the intellectuals but to the spiritually minded.

At the close of each chapter will be found a list of questions which bear on the passage to be expounded in the chapter that follows. We hope that many readers will give them a careful and prayerful study before turning to note our answers. Our aim is not merely to give help on the understanding of God’s word, but to promote the personal study of it by others.

May the God of all grace deign to use these efforts to open up His Word and magnify His Son to the stimulation and edification of many of His dear people.

May, 1923 Arthur W. Pink

Chapter One

Introduction

It is our purpose to give (D. V.) a verse by verse exposition of the fourth Gospel in the course of this series of studies, but before turning to the opening verses of chapter 1 it will be necessary to consider John’s Gospel as a whole, with the endeavor of discovering its scope, its central theme, and its relation to the other three Gospels. We shall not waste the reader’s time by entering into a discussion as to who wrote this fourth Gospel, as to where John was when he wrote it, nor as to the probable date when it was written. These may be points of academical interest, but they provide no food for the soul, nor do they afford any help to an understanding of this section of the Bible, and these are the two chief things we desire to accomplish. Our aim is to open up the Scriptures in such a way that the reader will be able to enter into the meaning of what God has recorded for our learning in this part of His Holy Word, and to edify those who are members of the Household of Faith.

The four Gospels deal with the earthly life of the Savior, but each one presents Him in an entirely different character. Matthew portrays the Lord Jesus as the Son of David, the Heir of Israel’s throne, the King of the Jews; and everything in his Gospel contributes to this central theme. In Mark, Christ is seen as the Servant of Jehovah, the perfect Workman of God; and everything in this second Gospel brings out the characteristics of His service and the manner in which He served. Luke treats of the humanity of the Savior, and presents Him as the perfect Man, contrasting Him from the sinful sons of men. The fourth Gospel views Him as the Heavenly One come down to earth, the eternal Son of the Father made flesh and tabernacling among men, and from start to finish this is the one dominant truth which is steadily held in view.

As we turn to the fourth Gospel we come to entirely different ground from that which is traversed in the other three. It is true, the period of time covered by it is the same as in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, some of the incidents treated of by the “Synoptics” come before us here, and He who has occupied the central position in the narratives of the first three Evangelists is the same One that is made pre-eminent by John; but otherwise, everything is entirely new. The viewpoint of this fourth Gospel is more elevated than that of the others; its contents bring into view spiritual relationships rather than human ties; and, higher glories are revealed as touching the peerless Person of the Savior. In each of the first three Gospels Christ is viewed in human relationships, but not so in John. The purpose of this fourth Gospel is to show that the One who was born in a manger and afterward died on the Cross had higher glories than those of King, that He who humbled Himself to take the Servant place was, previously, “equal with God,” that the One who became the Son of Man was none other than, and ever remains, the Only Begotten of the Father.

Each book of the Bible has a prominent and dominant theme which is peculiar to itself. Just as each member in the human body has its own particular function, so every book in the Bible has its own special purpose and mission. The theme of John’s Gospel is the Deity of the Savior. Here, as nowhere else in Scripture so fully, the Godhood of Christ is presented to our view. That which is outstanding in this fourth Gospel is the Divine Sonship of the Lord Jesus. In this Book we are shown that the One who was heralded by the angels to the Bethlehem shepherds, who walked this earth for thirty-three years, who was crucified at Calvary who rose in triumph from the grave, and who forty days later departed from these scenes, was none other than the Lord of Glory. The evidence for this is overwhelming, the proofs almost without number, and the effect of contemplating them must be to bow our hearts in worship before “the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Here is a theme worthy of our most prayerful attention. If the Holy Spirit took such marked care to guard the perfections of our Lord’s humanity—seen for example, in the words of the angel to Mary “that Holy Thing which shall be born of thee,” “made in the likeness of sin’s flesh,” etc.—equally so has the Inspirer of the Scriptures seen to it that there is no uncertainty touching the Divine Sonship of our Savior. Just as the Old Testament prophets made known that the Coming One should be a Man, a perfect Man, so did Messianic prediction give plain intimation that He should be more than a man. Through Isaiah God foretold, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” Through Micah He declared, “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be Ruler in Israel; Whose goings forth have been from the days of eternity.” Through Zechariah He said, “Awake, O Sword, against my Shepherd, and against the man that is my Fellow, saith the Lord of Hosts: smite the Shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered.” Through the Psalmist He announced, “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” And again, when looking forward to the second advent, “Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee (or, ‘brought thee forth’).” In these days of wide-spread departure from the faith, it cannot be insisted upon too strongly or too frequently that the Lord Jesus is none other than the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In keeping with the special theme of this fourth Gospel, it is here we have the full unveiling of Christ’s Divine glories. It is here that we behold Him dwelling with God before time began and before ever the creature was formed (1:1, 2). It is here that He is denominated “The only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14). It is here we read of John the Baptist bearing record “that this is the Son of God” (1:34). It is here that we read “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory” (2:11). It is here we are told that the Savior said “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (2:19). It is here we learn that “The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand” (3:35). It is in this Gospel we hear Christ saying, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will. For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: that all should honor the Son, even as they honor the Father” (5:21–23). It is here we find Him declaring, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). It is here He affirmed “I and my Father are One” (10:30). It is here He testifies “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9).

Before we take up John’s Gospel in detail, a few words should also be said concerning the scope of the fourth Gospel. It must be evident at once that this is quite different from the other three. There, Christ is seen in human relationships, and as connected with an earthly people; but here He is viewed in a Divine relationship, and as connected with a heavenly people. It is true the mystery of the “Body” is not unfolded here—that is found only in what the Apostle Paul wrote as he was moved by the Holy Spirit—rather is it the Family relationship which is here in view: the Son of God together with the sons of God. It is also true that the “heavenly calling,” as such, is not fully unfolded here, yet are there plain intimations of it, as a careful study of it makes apparent. In the first three Gospels Christ is seen connected with the Jews, proclaiming the Messianic kingdom, a proclamation which ceased, however, as soon as it became evident that the nation had rejected Him. But here in John’s Gospel His rejection is anticipated from the beginning, for in the very first chapter we are told, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” The limitations which obtain in connection with much which is found in the first three Gospels does not, therefore, obtain in John’s. Again, in John’s Gospel the Savior is displayed as the Son of God, and as such He can be known only by believers. On this plane, then, the Jew has no priority. The Jew’s claim upon Christ was purely a fleshly one (arising from the fact that He was “the Son of David”), whereas believers are related to the Son of God by spiritual union.

As there may be some of our readers who have been influenced by ultra-dispensational teaching we deem it well to here call attention to other points which help to fix the true dispensational bearings and scope of this fourth Gospel. There are those who make no distinction between John’s Gospel and the Synoptics, and who insist that this fourth Gospel is entirely Jewish, and has nothing but a remote application to believers of the present dispensation. But this, we are assured, is a serious mistake. John’s Gospel, like his Epistles, concerns the family of God. In proof of this we request the reader to weigh carefully the following points:

First, in 1:11–13 we read, “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

From these verses we may notice three things: first, the Jews as a nation rejected the Sent One of the Father, they “received him not;” second, a company did “receive him,” even those that “believed on his name”; third, this company are here designated “the sons of God,” who were “born … of God.” There is nothing which in any wise resembles this in the other Gospels. Here only, in the four Gospels, is the truth of the new birth brought before us. And it is by new birth we enter the family of God. As, then, the family of God reaches out beyond Jewish believers, and takes in all Gentile believers too, we submit that John’s Gospel cannot be restricted to the twelve-tribed people.

Second, after stating that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us, “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father (which is a glory that none but believers behold!), full of grace and truth,” and after summarizing John the Baptist’s witness to the Person of Christ, the Holy Spirit through the Evangelist goes on to say, “and of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace. Surely this verse alone establishes the point of who it is that is here being addressed. The Jewish nation never received “of his fullness”—that can be predicated of believers only. The “all we” of verse 16 is the “as many as” received Him, to them gave He power to become “the sons of God” of verse 12.

Third, in the tenth chapter of John, we read that the Savior said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 14, 15). Immediately following this He went on to say, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (v. 16). Who were these “other sheep?” Before we can answer this, we must ascertain who were the “sheep” referred to by Christ in the first fifteen verses of this chapter. As to who they were there can be only one answer: they were not the nation of Israel as such, for they had “received him not”; no, they were the little company who had “received him,” who had “believed on his name.” But Christ goes on to speak of a future company of believers, “other sheep I have (speaking as God who calleth those things which be not as though they were: Rom. 4:17), them also I must bring.” Clearly, the “other sheep” which had not been brought into the fold at the time the Savior then spake, were believers from among the Gentiles, and these, together with the Jewish believers, should be “one fold” (or, better “one flock”), which is the equivalent of one family, the family of God.

Fourth, in John 11:49–52 we read, “and one of them, named Caiaphas, being the high priest that same year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation, and not for that nation only, but that also he should gather together in one the children of God that were scattered abroad.” This was a remarkable prophecy, and contained far more in it than Caiaphas was aware. It made known the Divine purpose in the death of the Savior and revealed what was to be the outcome of the great Sacrifice. It looked out far beyond the bounds of Judaism, including within its range believing sinners from the Gentiles. The “children of God that were scattered abroad” were the elect found among all nations. That they were here termed “children of God” while viewed as still “scattered abroad,” gives us the Divine viewpoint, being parallel with “other sheep I have.” But what we desire to call special attention to is the declaration that these believers from among the Gentiles were to be “gathered together in one,” not into one “body” (for as previously said, the body does not fall within the scope of John’s writings), but one family, the family of God.

Fifth, in John 14:2, 3 we read that Christ said to His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.” How entirely different this is from anything that is to be found in the first three Gospels scarcely needs to be pointed out. In them, reference is invariably made to the coming of “the Son of man,” but here it is the rapture of the saints to heaven, and the taking of them to be where Christ now is that is expressly mentioned. And manifestly this can in no wise be limited to Jewish believers.

Sixth, without attempting to develop this point at any length it should be noticed that the relation which the Holy Spirit sustains to believers in this Gospel is entirely different from what is before us in the first three. Here only do we read of being “born of the Spirit” (3:5). Here only is He denominated their “Comforter” or Advocate (see John 14:16); and here only do we read of Him “abiding forever” with believers (see John 14:16).

Seventh, the High Priestly prayer of the Savior which is recorded in John 17, and found nowhere else in the Gospels, shows plainly that more than Jewish believers are here contemplated, and evidences the wider scope of this fourth Gospel. Here we find the Savior saying, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: as thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.” The “as many as thou hast given him” takes in the whole family of God. Again, in verse 20 the Lord Jesus says, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word:” the “these” evidently refers to Jewish believers, while the “them also” looked forward to Gentile believers. Finally, His words in verse 22, “and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” shows, once more, that the whole family of God was here before Him.

In bringing this chapter to a close we want to prepare the reader for the second of the series. In the next chapter we shall (D.V.) take up the first section of the opening chapter, and it is our earnest desire that many of our readers will make these verses the subject of prayerful study and meditation. The Bible teacher who becomes a substitute for diligent study on the part of those who hear him is a hindrance and not a help. The business of the teacher is to turn people to the searching of the Scriptures for themselves, stimulating their interest in the Sacred Word, and instructing them how to go about it. With this end in view, it will be our aim to prepare a series of questions at the close of each chapter bearing on the passage to be expounded in the succeeding one, so that the reader may study it for himself. Below are seven questions on the passage for the portion we shall take up in the next lesson, and we earnestly urge our readers to study the first thirteen verses of John 1, and to concentrate upon the points raised by our questions.

1.   What “beginning” is referred to in John 1:1?

2.   How may I obtain a better, deeper, fuller knowledge of God Himself? By studying nature? By prayer? By studying Scripture? Or—how?

3.   Why is the Lord Jesus here termed “The Word?” What is the exact force and significance of this title?

4.   What is the meaning of John 1:4—“The Life was the Light of men?”

5.   The fact that the Savior is termed “the Light” in 1:7, teaches us what?

6.   What does John 1:12 teach concerning what a sinner must do to be saved?

7.   What is the exact meaning of each clause in 1:3?

Pray over and meditate much upon each of these questions, and above all “Search the Scriptures” to find God’s answers. Answers to these questions will be found in the next chapter, in the course of our exposition of John 1:1–13.[1]

 

 

[1] Pink, A. W. (1923–1945). Exposition of the Gospel of John (pp. 7–16). Swengel, PA: Bible Truth Depot. (Public Domain)

The Nature of True Religion

The Nature of True Religion

The Nature of True Religion

1 Thess. 5:16–18. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

THE just union of personal and relative duties is the brightest ornament of the Christian profession. The discharge of either will be imperfect, if it be not united with an attention to the other. As beauty in the human body consists not in the exquisite formation of any single feature, but in the just symmetry and configuration of the whole frame, so the perfection of a Christian character consists not in an exclusive attention to any one duty, but in a due regard to all duties, civil and religious, social and personal.

St. Paul has been giving directions respecting the duties we owe to each other as a Christian societya. He now descends from the social to the personal duties; stating at the same time both the grounds on which they stand, and the indispensable necessity of attending to them.

Taking his directions in a comprehensive and united view, we learn that religion is,

I.    A spiritual service—

Many, like the Pharisees of old, suppose it consists in a formal attendance on ordinances, and an external decency of conduct. But true religion is inward and spiritual. It calls forth the strongest energies of the soul. It enables a person to maintain a holy intercourse with God in secret. St. Paul himself describes it as consisting, not in outward ceremonies of any kind, but in a devotedness of heart and soul to Godb, and declares that no man can be a Christian indeed, who does not possess and manifest this elevated state of mindc. How earnestly then should we examine whether we be thus continually waiting upon God in the exercise of prayer and praise!

II.   A rational service—

Spiritual religion is too often deemed enthusiasm. Indeed, if we interpreted the text literally and in the strictest sense of the words, we should make religion impracticable and absurd; but, when properly explained, it enjoins nothing but what is highly reasonable. It requires us to live in the stated and devout exercise of public, social, and private prayer; and to maintain such a sense of our own unworthiness, as excites a lively gratitude for every mercy we enjoy, and stimulates to an unwearied admiration of the Divine goodness: and can any thing be more reasonable than such a state? Should not they, whose iniquities are so great, and whose wants so numerous, be frequently employed in imploring mercy and grace in the time of need? And they, who are daily loaded with benefits, be daily blessing and adoring their Benefactor? Such a service is expressly called a “reasonable serviced.” To do otherwise were surely most unreasonable: nor are any people more irrational than they who pour contempt on these holy exercises from an affected regard for rational religion.

III.  A delightful service—

Many are prejudiced against spiritual religion, as though it must of necessity deprive them of all the comforts of life. Certain it is that it will rob them of all the pleasures of sin: but it will afford them infinitely richer pleasures in its steade. What can be more delightful than to maintain “fellowship with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ?” Can there be any melancholy arising from incessant praises and thanksgivings? Were the first converts, or the Samaritans, or the jailor, rendered melancholy by the acquisition of religionf? Many are made melancholy by false views of religion; but none are by just and scriptural apprehensions of it. In proportion as we live in the exercise of it, we resemble the glorified saints and angels.

Such being the nature of true religion, we will endeavor to enforce the practice of it—

The will of God should be the law of all his creatures; and his will respecting us is fully revealed. It is his earnest desire that we should live in the enjoyment of himself. “He willeth not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live.” It is moreover his authoritative command that we should love and serve him: it is his command to all, whether rich or poor, learned or unlearned. None are so high as to be exempt from this duty, nor any so situated as to be incapable of performing it. The heart may be lifted up in prayer and praise even when we are occupied in the service of the world. Let all then know God’s will respecting them. We must delight ourselves in communion with God. O let us be like-minded with our heavenly Father! Let us say, this shall be my will also. From henceforth let us “watch unto prayer and thanksgiving with all perseverance:” let us be ashamed that we have so long resisted the Divine will; and let us so live in obedience to it on earth, that we may have our portion with those who are praising him incessantly in heaven.[1]

 

 

a ver. 14.

b Rom. 14:17.

c Phil. 3:3. and Rom. 2:28, 29.

d Rom. 12:1.

e Prov. 3:17. This is not true of formal, but only of inward and spiritual religion.

f Acts 2:46. and 8:8. and 16:34.

[1] Simeon, C. (1833). Horae Homileticae: Philippians to 1 Timothy (Vol. 18, pp. 349–351). London: Holdsworth and Ball. (Public Domain)

Choose Life

Choose Life

A new principle: faith laying hold of the spirit of the law and turning the heart to Jehovah

WE must now dwell a little on this last point. Chapter 30 furnishes us with an important principle. It supposes that the people have already incurred the consequences of disobedience, and they are seen as driven out of the land, and strangers among distant nations. The law could not be followed out in such a case; and, indeed, the violation of the law had even then produced its fruits.

But then quite a new principle is introduced: the return of the hearts of the people to Jehovah, and obedience, one must add, in spirit. Thereupon Jehovah brings them back into their land, and blesses them in it. The curse is put on their enemies; and they are to observe in the land the ordinances of Jehovah, enjoying anew His full blessing; for the commandment was neither in heaven, nor beyond the seas, but in the mouth and in the heart. This was not the new covenant, but faith laying hold of the spirit of the law in principle, and turning the heart towards Jehovah, when the law was externally impracticable.

The principle of the return of the heart when under the curse of the law

The establishment of the new covenant, based on this return of the heart, at a time appointed of God, will be something well defined. Here we have the principle of their return when under the curse of the law they had broken. Hence, the apostle quotes this passage for the basis of the principle, as a testimony given to what righteousness by faith was, applying it to Christ Himself—the return of the heart to the object and end of the law, when judgment was on them for its violation, and hope of righteousness by its accomplishment impossible—how Christ was the end of the law for righteousness. The principle is found here. The apostle brings in Christ as the true accomplishment of it. At the end of the chapter, Moses declares that he has now set before them the good and the evil, and that they would have to bear the consequence of their choice.[1]

 

 

[1] Darby, J. N. (2008). Synopsis of the books of the Bible: Genesis to 2 Chronicles. (pp. 340–341). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. (Public Domain)

Psalm 19

Psalm 19

“To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19, AV)

This psalm consists of three parts. The subject of the first is God’s revelation of himself in his material works, ver. 2–7 (1–6). That of the second is the still more glorious revelation of himself in his law, ver. 8–11 (7–10). The third shews the bearing of these truths upon the personal character and interest of the writer, and of all who are partakers of his faith, ver. 12–15 (11–14).

The object of the psalm is not to contrast the moral and material revelations, but rather to identify their author and their subject. The doctrinal sum of the whole composition is, that the same God who reared the frame of nature is the giver of a law, and that this law is in all respects worthy of its author.

1. To the Chief Musician, a Psalm by David. The form of this inscription is the same as that of Ps. 13. Its historical correctness is attested by its position in the Psalter, its resemblance to Ps. 8, and its peculiar style and spirit.

2 (1). The heavens (are) telling the glory of God, and the work of his hands (is) the firmament declaring. The participles are expressive of continued action. The glory of God is the sum of his revealed perfections (compare Ps. 24:7–10, 29:3, Rom. 1:20. The expanse or firmament is used as an equivalent to heaven, even in the history of the creation, Gen. 1:8. To declare the work of his hands is to shew what he can do and has actually done. The common version handywork means nothing more than handwork; to take handy as an epithet of praise is a vulgar error.

3 (2). Day to day shall pour out speech, and night to night shall utter knowledge. Both verbs are peculiar to the poetical dialect and books of the Old Testament. Pour out, in a copious ever-gushing stream. As the participles of ver. 2 (1) express constant action, so the futures here imply continuance in all time to come. Speech means the declaration of God’s glory, and knowledge the knowledge of the same great object. The idea of perpetual testimony is conveyed by the figure of one day and night following another as witnesses in unbroken succession.

4 (3). There is no speech, and there are no words; not at all is their voice heard. As the first clause might have seemed to contradict the first clause of ver. 3 (2), the Psalmist adds no words, to shew that he here uses speech in the strict sense of articulate language.—The first word of the last clause is properly a noun, meaning cessation or defect, non-entity, and here used as a more emphatic negative, expressed in the translation by the phrase not at all.—Their voice might either be referred exclusively to the heaven and firmament of ver. 2 (1), or extended to the day and night of ver. 3 (2). But the first is the true construction, as appears from the next verse. The absence of articulate language, far from weakening the testimony, makes it stronger. Even without speech or words, the heavens testify of God to all men. This construction of the sentence is much simpler, as well as more exact, than the ancient one, retained in the common version, “there is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard,” or that preferred by others, “it is not a speech or language whose voice is not heard.” The true sense is given in the margin of the English Bible.

5 (4.) In all the earth has gone out their line, and in the end of the world (are) their words. For the sun he has pitched a tent in them. The word rendered line always means a measuring line, and in Jer. 31:39 is combined in that sense with the same verb as here. The idea is, that their province or domain is co-extensive with the earth, and that they speak with authority even in its remotest parts.—Words may also be construed with the verb of the first clause, but it will then be necessary to translate the preposition to. The explanation of line as meaning the string of a musical instrument, and then the sound which it produces, although favoured by the ancient versions, is entirely at variance with Hebrew usage. The subject of the verb in the last clause is the name of God expressed in ver. 2 (1) above.—Pitched a tent, provided a dwelling, or without a figure, assigned a place. In them must refer to the heavens mentioned in ver. 2 (1), which makes it probable that all the plural pronouns in the intervening clauses have the same antecedent. The sun is introduced in this sentence probably because his apparent course is a measure of the wide domain described in the first clause. It must be co-extensive with the earth, because the sun which visits the whole earth has his habitation in the sky. The boundless extension of the heavens and their testimony is used by Paul (Rom. 10:18) to signify the general diffusion of the gospel, and the same thing might have taught the earlier Jews that their exclusive privileges were granted only for a time, and as a means to a more glorious end.

6 (5). And he (is) as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; he rejoices as a mighty man to run a race. The second simile has reference to the sun’s daily course, the first to his vigorous and cheerful reappearance after the darkness of the night. By a fine transition, the general idea of a tent or dwelling is here exchanged for the specific one of a nuptial couch or chamber. Rejoices, literally will rejoice, forever as he now does.

7 (6). From the end of the heavens (is) his outgoing, and his circuit even to the ends of them, and there is none (or nothing) hidden from his heat. What is said in ver. 5 (4) of the heavens is here said of the sun, to wit, that his domain is coextensive with the earth or habitable world. The last clause is added to shew that it is not an ineffective presence, but one to be felt as well as seen. The sun’s heat is mentioned, not in contrast with his light, but as its inseparable adjunct.—The plural ends seems to be added to the singular in order to exhaust the meaning, or at least to strengthen the expression. The word translated circuit includes the idea of return to a starting-point. The Hebrew preposition properly means up to (or down to) their very extremity.

8 (7). The law of Jehovah is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of Jehovah is sure, making wise the simple. The God, whose glory is thus shewn forth by the material creation, is the author of a spiritual law, which the Psalmist now describes in the next three verses, by six characteristic names, six qualifying epithets, and six moral effects produced by it. In the verse before us, besides the usual term law, it is called God’s testimony, i.e. the testimony which he bears for truth and against iniquity. It is described as perfect, i.e. free from all defect or blemish, and as sure, i.e. definite, decided, and infallible. Its two effects, mentioned in this verse. are, first, that of restoring the soul, i.e. the life and spirits exhausted by calamity. See below, on Ps. 23:3, and compare Ruth. 4:15, Lam. 1:11, 16. The effect of converting the soul would not have been attributed to the law in this connection, where the writer is describing the affections cherished towards the law by men already converted, which removes all apparent inconsistency with Paul’s representation of the law as working death, and at the same time the necessity of making the law mean the gospel, or in any other way departing from the obvious and usual import of the Hebrew word. The other effect ascribed to the law is that of making wise the simple, not the foolish, in the strong sense in which that term is applied to the ungodly—see above, on Ps. 14:1—but those imperfectly enlightened and still needing spiritual guidance, a description applicable, more or less, to all believers. It is a singular fact, that while this usage of the Hebrew word is peculiar to David, Solomon constantly applies it to the culpable simplicity of unconverted men. (See Ps. 116:6, 119:130, Prov. 1:22, 7:7, 9:4, 14:15, &c.)—In like manner Paul describes the “sacred scriptures” as able to make wise unto salvation, 2 Tim. 3:15.

9 (8). The statutes of Jehovah (are) right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of Jehovah is pure, enlightening the eyes. The words translated statute and commandment differ very slightly from each other, the one expressing more distinctly the idea of a charge or commission, the other that of a prescription or direction. There is also no great difference between the epithets applied in this verse to the law of God, which is right, as being an exact expression of his rectitude, and pure, as being free from all taint of injustice or iniquity. The first effect described is that of rejoicing the heart, to wit, the heart loving righteousness, and consequently desirous of knowing what is right by knowing what is acceptable to God, and what required by him. The other effect, enlightening the eyes, is understood by some of intellectual illumination with respect to spiritual things. But it is more agreeable to Hebrew usage to suppose an allusion to the dimness of the eyes produced by extreme weakness and approaching death, recovery from which is figuratively represented as an enlightening of the eyes. See above, on Ps. 13:4 (3), and compare Ps. 34:6 (5). The figure, thus explained, bears a strong resemblance to restoring the soul in the preceding verse, the one referring rather to the sense, and the other to the life itself.

10 (9). The fear of Jehovah is clean, standing for ever; the judgments of Jehovah are truth, they are righteous altogether. As the fear of Jehovah, in its proper sense, would here be out of place, and as the law was designed to teach men how to fear the Lord (Deut. 17:19), the phrase may here be understood as a description of the law viewed in reference to this peculiar purpose, the fear of the Lord being put for that which leads or teaches men to fear him, a sense which the expression is supposed to have in several other places. See Ps. 34:12 (11), Prov. 1:29, 2:5, 15:33.—Standing forever, of perpetual obligation. Even Christ came not to destroy, but to fulfil. See Mat. 5:17, 18. With the form of expression here compare Ps. 33:11, 112:3.—Judgments are properly judicial decisions, but are here put, as in Ps. 18:23 (22), for all God’s requisitions. They are truth (itself) may be a strong expression, meaning they are perfectly and absolutely true; but as this would make the last clause little more than a tautology, the first phrase may be understood to mean that they are really that which they purport and claim to be, and therefore must be righteous altogether, i.e. all, without exception, righteous, which is tantamount, in fact, though not in form, to wholly or completely righteous.

11 (10). (Judgments) to be desired more than gold, and much fine gold; and sweeter than honey and the dropping of the combs. The description of the law of God is wound up by comparing it to the costliest and sweetest substance in common use. The sense of the passive participle is like that in Ps. 18:4 (3). Its plural form, and the article prefixed to it in Hebrew, shew that it is to be construed with judgments, and that the sentence is continued from the foregoing verse, as in Ps. 18:31 (30), 33 (32), 34 (33), 35 (34), 48 (47), 51 (50).—The Hebrew answering to fine gold is a single word (פָּז), not used in prose, and by some supposed to mean solid or massive gold, but according to a more probable etymology denoting purified or fine gold. The combination here used is found also in Ps. 119:127. See also Prov. 8:19, and compare Ps. 21:4 (3), below. To make the resemblance of the clauses perfect, the usual word for honey is followed by a beautiful periphrasis, denoting that kind which was most highly valued, The ideas expressed by both comparisons are those of value and delightfulness.—As the preceding verses describe what the law is in itself and in its general effects, so this seems to express what it is to the Psalmist’s apprehensions and affections, thus affording a transition from the comprehensive doctrines of the foregoing context to the practical and personal approbation of those doctrines, which now follows and concludes the psalm.

12 (11). Moreover, thy servant is enlightened by them; in keeping them there is much reward. The verb in the first clause is used with special reference to admonition and warning against danger. See Eccles. 4:13, Exod. 33:4, 5, 6, Eccles. 12:12. The plural suffixes have reference to judgments in ver. 10 (9) above.—Reward is here used not to signify a recompense earned in strict justice, but a gratuity bestowed. The spirit of the passage is the same as in 1 Cor. 15:19, 1 Tim. 4:8. The phrase thy servant brings the general doctrines of the foregoing context into personal application to the writer.

13 (12). Errors who shall understand? Clear thou me from hidden ones! The word translated errors is akin to one sometimes used in the Law to denote sins of inadvertence, error, or infirmity, as distinguished from deliberate, willful, and high-handed sins, such as are deprecated in the next verse. See Lev. 4:2–27, Num. 15:27. Against such sins no wisdom or vigilance can wholly guard.—The word translated clear is also borrowed from the Law, and means not so much to cleanse by renovation of the heart, as to acquit by a judicial sentence. See Exod. 34:7, Num. 14:18. Such an acquittal, in the case of sinners against God, involves the idea of a free forgiveness.

14 (13). Also from presumptuous (ones) withhold thy servant; then shall I be perfect and be clear from much transgression. As he prays for the forgiveness of his inadvertent sins, so he prays for the prevention of deliberate ones. The Hebrew word (זֵדִים) properly denotes proud men, but seems to be here applied to sins by a strong personification. The use of the verbal root and its derivatives in the Old Testament may be seen by comparing Exod. 21:14, Deut. 17:12, 18:22, 1 Sam. 17:28.—To be perfect has the same sense as in Ps. 18:24–26 (23–25). That it does not there mean sinless perfection is confirmed by the language of the verse before us.—The great transgression, as if referring to some one particular offence, is not the true sense of the Hebrew phrase, which is indefinite and perfectly analogous to that rendered much (or great) reward in ver. 12 (11) above.

15 (14). (Then) shall be for acceptance (or acceptable) the sayings of my mouth, and the thought of my heart before thee, Jehovah, my rock and my redeemer. The simplest and most obvious construction of the Hebrew sentence makes it a direct continuation of the last clause of ver. 14 (13), and like it an anticipation of the happy effects to be expected from an answer to the foregoing prayers. If his sins of ignorance could be forgiven, and the deliberate sins, to which his natural corruption prompts him, hindered by divine grace, he might hope not only to avoid much guilt but to be the object of God’s favor. As this confident anticipation really involves a wish that it may be fulfilled, there is little real difference between the construction above given and the common version: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable, &c. It is much more natural, however, to connect the words before thee with my meditation, which immediately precedes, than with the first words of the verse as in the English Bible. What I think in thy presence is then joined with the words of my mouth, to express all prayer, whether clothed in words or not. See above, on Ps. 5:2 (1). The prayer or expectation of acceptance in this clause derives peculiar beauty from the obvious allusion to the frequent use of the same Hebrew phrase (לְרָצוֹן) in the law of Moses, to denote the acceptance of the sacrificial offerings, or rather the acceptance of the offerer on account of them. See Exod. 28:38, Lev. 19:5, 7, 22:19, 20, 29, 23:11, Isa. 56:7, 60:7, Rom. 12:1. This allusion also serves to suggest the idea, not conveyed by a translation, of atonement, expiation, as the ground of the acceptance which the Psalmist hopes or prays for.[1]

 

 

[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 87–92). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

Jesus is Your Hope, Refuge and Peace Today

Jesus is Your Hope, Refuge and Peace Today

Many Americans today are very troubled about the circumstances they are facing now and in foreseeable future. The Christian knows intellectually that the answer is in Jesus Christ or God, questions; "What will that look like?" "How do I know that He will see me through?"

When Jesus saved you, He also promised to always be with you, "I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:20). This promise has not changed. It is as true as the day that said it.

JESUS IS YOUR HOPE

There are two kinds of hope. There is a hope that the future will turn out fine. One hopes that what they did or said was acceptable.

Biblical hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised; its strength in His faithfulness. "… God, desiring even more to demonstrate to the heirs of the promise the fact that His purpose is unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to hold firmly to the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable" (Hebrews 6:17 – 19 ). "… And hope does not disappoint" (Romans 5:5).

The apostle Paul later reiterates the source of our hope, "For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the abridgment of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Romans 15:4).

JESUS IS YOUR REFUGE

Over the years people have sought ways to protect themselves from disaster. Bomb shelters were built in the 50s for protection from an atomic bomb attack. Other stocked up on freeze-dried food for when normal food supplies are unavailable.

Currently, the rich are establishing a safe haven to stash their wealth. Others are buying cyber money for when the US dollar is the devaluated.

There is a year or more weight to buy generators to power electricity, for when the electric power grids break down and no local electrical power is available. Solar power is only reliable as long as the batteries last and must be replaced.

All these attempts to find refuge in the list above, plus a myriad of others, provide extremely limited protection from disaster. However, God himself is the better way of protection. The psalmist said, "The Lord helps them and rescues them; He rescues them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him" (Psalm 37:4). "How great is your goodness, which You have stored up for those fear You, which You have performed for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of mankind" (Psalms 31:19)!

Jesus is there for you! "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you may take refuge; His faithfulness as a shield and wall" (Psalms 91:4).

JESUS IS YOUR PEACE

Jesus promises, "Peace I leave you, My peace I give you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor fearful" (John 14:27). This piece is available to all who belong to him by faith without exception.

Biblical peace is relational. It is not dependent upon good or evil circumstances. Biblical peace is dependent upon the Lord Jesus Christ and His love, care and protection for His people.

Many capable Christians do not experience Jesus’ piece since they depend upon themselves rather than depending upon Jesus to be the daily source of life and purpose. They want Jesus to help them accomplish their agendas: spiritual, personal and secular, rather than cooperate with him in His direction and purpose for their lives.

The writer of Hebrews identifies one’s preoccupation with themselves, "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have" (Hebrews 13:5). However, if you entrust yourself to Jesus’ control, "He himself has said, ‘I will never desert you nor will I never abandon you’" (Hebrews 13:5).

As you entrust yourself to Jesus, who will never desert you nor abandon you, you will always experience His peace. If you choose not to entrust yourself to Him you will experience all kinds of fears and anxieties.

Jesus comforts you with this promise, "These things I have spoken to you so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

The apostle Paul, who experience all kinds of adversities and conflicts concludes, "And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

Jesus is your HOPE, REFUGE and PEACE today and forever!

"Now may the God of peace who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, that is, Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen" (Hebrews 13:20 – 21).

About the Author:

Pastor Bingham is the founder of CupBearers, and was for 17 years a missionary with Cadence International and has been the Pastor of Rocky Mountain Evangelical Free Church for 32 years.  He also served on the CMF Board of Directors for several years. 

Shepherding Grace Ministries

PO Box 1930

Englewood, CO 80150-1930

http://www.ShepherdingGrace.org

The Barren Fig Tree

The Barren Fig Tree

The Barren Fig Tree

ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR

This solemn, searching, awful treatise, was published by Bunyan in 1682; but does not appear to have been reprinted until a very few months after his decease, which so unexpectedly took place in 1688. Although we have sought with all possible diligence, no copy of the first edition has been discovered; we have made use of a fine copy of the second edition, in possession of that thorough Bunyanite, my kind friend, R. B. Sherring, of Bristol. The third edition, 1692, is in the British Museum. Added to these posthumous publications appeared, for the first time, ‘An Exhortation to Peace and Unity,’ which will be found at the end of our second volume. In the advertisement to that treatise are stated, at some length, my reasons for concluding that it was not written by Bunyan, although inserted in all the editions of his collected works. That opinion is now more fully confirmed, by the discovery of Bunyan’s own list of his works, published just before his death, in 1688, and in which that exhortation is not inserted. I was also much pleased to find that the same conclusion was arrived at by that highly intelligent Baptist minister, Mr. Robert Robinson. His reasons are given at some length, concluding with, ‘it is evident that Bunyan never wrote this piece.’1 Why it was, after Bunyan’s death, published with his ‘Barren Fig-tree,’ is one of those hidden mysteries of darkness and of wickedness that I cannot discover. The beautiful parable from which Bunyan selected his text, represents an enclosed ground, in which, among others, a fig-tree had been planted. It was not an enclosure similar to some of the vineyards of France or Germany, exclusively devoted to the growth of the vine, but a garden in which fruits were cultivated, such as grapes, figs, or pomegranates. It was in such a vineyard, thus retired from the world, that Nathaniel poured out his heart in prayer, when our Lord in spirit witnessed, unseen, these devotional exercises, and soon afterwards rewarded him with open approbation (John 1:48). In these secluded pleasant spots the Easterns spend much of their time, under their own vines or fig-trees, sheltered from the world and from the oppressive heat of the sun—a fit emblem of a church of Christ. In this vineyard stood a fig-tree—by nature remarkable for fruitfulness—but it is barren. No inquiry is made as to how it came there, but the order is given, ‘Cut it down.’ The dresser of the garden intercedes, and means are tried to make it fruitful, but in vain. At last it is cut down as a cumber-ground and burnt. This vineyard or garden represents a gospel church; the fig-tree a member—a barren, fruitless professor. ‘It matters not how he got there,’ if he bears no fruit he must be cut down and away to the fire.

To illustrate so awful a subject this treatise was written, and it is intensely solemn. God, whose omniscience penetrates through every disguise, himself examines every tree in the garden, yea, every bough. Wooden and earthy professor, your detection is sure; appearances that deceive the world and the church cannot deceive God. ‘He will be with thee in thy bed fruits—thy midnight fruits—thy closet fruits—thy family fruits—they conversation fruits.’ Professor, solemnly examine yourself; ‘in proportion to your fruitfulness will be your blessedness.’ ‘Naked and open are all things to his eye.’ Can it be imagined that those ‘that paint themselves did ever repent of their pride?’ ‘How seemingly self-denying are some of these creeping things.’ ‘Is there no place will serve to fit those for hell but the church, the vineyard of God?’ ‘It is not the place where the worker of iniquity can hide himself or his sins from God.’ May such be detected before they go hence to the fire. While there is a disposition to seek grace all are invited to come; but when salvation by Christ is abandoned, there is no other refuge, although sought with tears. Reader, may the deeply impressive language of Bunyan sink profoundly into our hearts. We need no splendid angel nor hideous demon to reveal to us the realities of the world to come. ‘If we hear not Moses and the prophets,’ as set forth by Bunyan in this treatise, ‘neither should we be persuaded though one rose from the dead’ to declare these solemn truths (Luke 16:31).

GEO OFFOR.

TO THE READER

Courteous Reader,

I have written to thee now about the Barren Fig-tree, or how it will fare with the fruitless professor that standeth in the vineyard of God. Of what complexion thou art I cannot certainly divine; but the parable tells thee that the cumber-ground must be cut down. A cumber-ground professor is not only a provocation to God, a stumbling-block to the world, and a blemish to religion, but a snare to his own soul also. ‘Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever, like his own dung; they which have seen him shall say, Where is he?’ (Job 20:6, 7).

Now ‘they count it pleasure to riot in the daytime.’ But what will they do when the axe is fetched out? (2 Peter 2:13, 14).

The tree whose fruit withereth is reckoned a tree without fruit, a tree twice dead, one that must be ‘plucked up by the roots’ (Jude 12).

O thou cumber-ground, God expects fruit, God will come seeking fruit shortly.

My exhortation, therefore, is to professors that they look to it, that they take heed.

The barren fig-tree in the vineyard, and the bramble in the wood, are both prepared for the fire.

Profession is not a covert to hide from the eye of God; nor will it palliate the revengeful threatening of his justice; he will command to cut it down shortly.

The church, and a profession, are the best of places for the upright, but the worst in the world for the cumber-ground. He must be cast, as profane, out of the mount of God: cast, I say, over the wall of the vineyard, there to wither; thence to be gathered and burned. ‘It had ben better for them not to have known the way of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:21). And yet if they had not, they had been damned; but it is better to go to hell without, than in, or from under a profession. These ‘shall receive greater damnation’ (Luke 20:47).

If thou be a professor, read and tremble: if thou be profane, do so likewise. For if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinners appear? Cumber-ground, take heed of the axe! Barren fig-tree, beware of the fire!

But I will keep thee no longer out of the book. Christ Jesus, the dresser of the vineyard, take care of thee, dig about thee, and dung thee, that thou mayest bear fruit; that when the Lord of the vineyard cometh with his axe to seek for fruit, or pronounce the sentence of damnation on the barren fig-tree, thou mayest escape that judgment. The cumber-ground must to the wood-pile, and thence to the fire. Farewell.

Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus in sincerity. Amen.

JOHN BUNYAN

THE BARREN FIG-TREE

or

THE DOOM AND DOWNFALL OF THE FRUITLESS PROFESSOR

‘A CERTAIN MAN HAD A FIG-TREE PLANTED IN HIS VINEYARD; AND HE CAME AND SOUGHT FRUIT THEREON, AND FOUND NONE. THEN SAID HE UNTO THE DRESSER OF HIS VINEYARD, BEHOLD, THESE THREE YEARS I COME SEEKING FRUIT ON THE FIG-TREE, AND FIND NONE: CUT IT DOWN; WHY CUMBERETH IT THE GROUND? 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.’—LUKE 13:6–9.

At the beginning of this chapter we read how some of the Jews came to Jesus Christ, to tell him of the cruelty of Pontius Pilate, in mingling the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices. A heathenish and prodigious act; for therein he showed, not only his malice against the Jewish nation, but also against their worship, and consequently their God. An action, I say, not only heathenish, but prodigious also; for the Lord Jesus, paraphrasing upon this fact of his, teacheth the Jews, that without repentance ‘they should all likewise perish.’ ‘Likewise,’ that is by the hand and rage of the Roman empire. Neither should they be more able to avoid the stroke, than were those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them (Luke 13:1–5). The fulfilling of which prophecy, for their hardness of heart, and impenitency, was in the days of Titus, son of Vespasian, about forty years after the death of Christ. Then, I say, were these Jews, and their city, both environed round on every side, wherein both they and it, to amazement, were miserably overthrown. God gave them sword and famine, pestilence and blood, for their outrage against the Son of his love. So wrath ‘came upon them to the uttermost’ (1 Thess 2:16).2

Now, to prevent their old and foolish salvo, which they always had in readiness against such prophecies and denunciations of judgment, the Lord Jesus presents them with this parable, in which he emphatically shows them that their cry of being the temple of the Lord, and of their being the children of Abraham, &c., and their being the church of God, would not stand them in any stead. As who should say, It may be you think to help yourselves against this my prophecy of your utter and unavoidable overthrow, by the interest which you have in your outward privileges. But all these will fail you; for what think you? ‘A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.’ This is your case! The Jewish land is God’s vineyard; I know it; and I know also, that you are the fig-trees. But behold, there wanteth the main thing, fruit; for the sake, and in expectation of which, he set this vineyard with trees. Now, seeing the fruit is not found amongst you, the fruit, I say, for the sake of which he did at first plant this vineyard, what remains but that in justice he command to cut you down as those that cumber the ground, that he may plant himself another vineyard? ‘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?’ This therefore must be your end, although you are planted in the garden of God; for the barrenness and unfruitfulness of your hearts and lives you must be cut off, yea, rooted up, and cast out of the vineyard.

In parables there are two things to be taken notice of, and to be inquired into of them that read. First, The metaphors made use of. Second, The doctrine or mysteries couched under such metaphors.

The metaphors in this parable are, 1. A certain man; 2. A vineyard; 3. A fig-tree, barren or fruitless; 4. A dresser; 5. Three years; 6. Digging and dunging, &c.

The doctrine, or mystery, couched under these words is to show us what is like to become of a fruitless or formal professor. For, 1. By the man in the parable is meant God the Father (Luke 15:11). 2. By the vineyard, his church (Isa 5:7). 3. By the fig-tree, a professor. 4. By the dresser, the Lord Jesus. 5. By the fig-tree’s barrenness, the professor’s fruitlessness. 6. By the three years, the patience of God that for a time he extendeth to barren professors. 7. This calling to the dresser of the vineyard to cut it down, is to show the outcries of justice against fruitless professors. 8. The dresser’s interceding is to show how the Lord Jesus steps in, and takes hold of the head of his Father’s axe, to stop, or at least to defer, the present execution of a barren fig-tree. 9. The dresser’s desire to try to make the fig-tree fruitful, is to show you how unwilling he is that even a barren fig-tree should yet be barren, and perish. 10. His digging about it, and dunging of it, is to show his willingness to apply gospel helps to this barren professor, if haply he may be fruitful. 11. The supposition that the fig-tree may yet continue fruitless, is to show, that when Christ Jesus hath done all, there are some professors will abide barren and fruitless. 12. The determination upon this supposition, at last to cut it down, is a certain prediction of such professor’s unavoidable and eternal damnation.

But to take this parable into pieces, and to discourse more particularly, though with all brevity, upon all the parts thereof.

A certain MAN had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard

The MAN, I told you, is to present us with God the Father; by which similitude he is often set out in the New Testament.

Observe then, that it is no new thing, if you find in God’s church barren fig-trees, fruitless professors; even as here you see is a tree, a fruitless tree, a fruitless fig-tree in the vineyard.3 Fruit is not so easily brought forth as a profession is got into; it is easy for a man to clothe himself with a fair show in the flesh, to word it, and say, Be thou warmed and filled with the best. It is no hard thing to do these with other things; but to be fruitful, to bring forth fruit to God, this doth not every tree, no not every fig-tree that stands in the vineyard of God. Those words also, ‘Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away,’ assert the same thing (John 15:2). There are branches in Christ, in Christ’s body mystical, which is his church, his vineyard, that bear not fruit, wherefore the hand of God is to take them away: I looked for grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes, that is, no fruit at all that was acceptable with God (Isa 5:4). Again, ‘Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself,’ none to God; he is without fruit to God (Hosea 10:1). All these, with many more, show us the truth of the observation, and that God’s church may be cumbered with fruitless fig-trees, with barren professors.

Had a FIG-TREE

Although there be in God’s church that be barren and fruitless; yet, as I said, to see to, they are like the rest of the trees, even a fig-tree. It was not an oak, nor a willow, nor a thorn, nor a bramble; but a FIG-TREE. ‘they come unto thee as the people cometh’ (Eze 33:31). ‘They delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God. They ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching to God,’ and yet but barren, fruitless, and unprofitable professors (Isa 58:2–4). Judas also was one of the twelve, a disciple, an apostle, a preacher, an officer, yea, and such a one as none of the eleven mistrusted, but preferred before themselves, each one crying out, ‘Is it I? Is it I?’ (Mark 14:19). None of them, as we read of (John 6:70), mistrusting Judas; yet he in Christ’s eye was the barren fig-tree, a devil, a fruitless professor. The foolish virgins also went forth of the world with the other, had lamps, and light, and were awakened with the other; yea, had boldness to go forth, when the midnight cry was made, with the other; and thought that they could have looked Christ in the face, when he sat upon the throne of judgment, with the other; and yet but foolish, but barren fig-trees, but fruitless professors. ‘Many,’ saith Christ, ‘will say unto me in that day,’ this and that, and will also talk of many wonderful works; yet, behold, he finds nothing in them but the fruits of unrighteousness (Matt 7:22, 23). They were altogether barren and fruitless professors.

Had a fig-tree PLANTED

This word PLANTED doth also reach far; it supposeth one taken out of its natural soil, or removed from the place it grew in once; one that seemed to be called, awakened; and not only so, but by strong hand carried from the world to the church; from nature to grace; from sin to godliness. ‘Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it’ (Psa 80:8). Of some of the branches of this vine were there unfruitful professors.

It must be concluded, therefore, that this professor, that remaineth notwithstanding fruitless, is, as to the view and judgment of the church, rightly brought in thither, to wit, by confession of faith, of sin, and a show of repentance and regeneration; thus false brethren creep in unawares!4 All these things this word planted intimateth; yea, further, that the church is satisfied with them, consents they should abide in the garden, and counteth them sound as the rest. But before God, in the sight of God, they are graceless professors, barren and fruitless fig-trees.

Therefore it is one thing to be in the church, or in a profession; and another to be of the church, and to belong to that kingdom that is prepared for the saint, that is so indeed. Otherwise, ‘Being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east-wind toucheth it? It shall wither in the furrows where it grew’ (Eze 17:10).

Had a fig-tree planted in HIS vineyard

In HIS vineyard. Hypocrites, with rotten hearts, are not afraid to come before God in Sion. These words therefore suggest unto us a prodigious kind of boldness and hardened fearlessness. For what presumption higher, and what attempt more desperate, than for a man that wanteth grace, and the true knowledge of God, to crowd himself, in that condition, into the house or church of God; or to make profession of, and desire that the name of God should be called upon him?

For the man that maketh a profession of the religion of Jesus Christ, that man hath, as it were, put the name of God upon himself, and is called and reckoned now, how fruitless soever before God or men, the man that hath to do with God, the man that God owneth, and will stand for. This man, I say, by his profession, suggesteth this to all that know him to be such a professor. Men merely natural, I mean men that have not got the devilish art of hypocrisy, are afraid to think of doing thus. ‘And of the rest durst no man join himself to them; but the people magnified them’ (Acts 5:13). And, indeed, it displeaseth God. ‘Ye have brought,’ saith he, ‘men uncircumcised into my sanctuary’ (Eze 44:7). And again, ‘When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?’ saith God (Isa 1:12). They have therefore learned this boldness of none in the visible world, they only took it of the devil, for he, and he only, with these his disciples, attempt to present themselves in the church before God. ‘The tares are the children of the wicked one.’ The tares, that is, the hypocrites, that are Satan’s brood, the generation of vipers, that cannot escape the damnation of hell.

HAD a fig-tree planted in his vineyard

He doth not say, He planted a fig-tree, but there was a fig-tree there; he HAD, or found a fig-tree planted in his vineyard.

The great God will now acknowledge the barren fig-tree, or barren professor, to be his workmanship, or a tree of his bringing in, only the text saith, he had one there. This is much like that in Matthew 15:13—’Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.’ Here again are plants in his vineyard which God will not acknowledge to be of his planting; and he seems to suggest that in his vineyard are many such. Every plant, or all those plants or professors, that are got into the assembly of the saints, or into the profession of their religion, without God and his grace, ‘shall be rooted up.’

‘And when the King came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on the wedding-garment. And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment?’ (Matt 22:11, 12). Here is one so cunning and crafty that he beguiled all the guests; he got and kept in the church even until the King himself came in to see the guests; but his subtilty got him nothing; it did not blind the eyes of the King; it did not pervert the judgment of the righteous. ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither?’ did overtake him at last; even a public rejection; the King discovered him in the face of all present. ‘How camest thou in hither?’ My Father did not bring thee hither; I did not bring thee hither; my Spirit did not bring thee hither; thou art not of the heavenly Father’s planting. ‘How camest thou in hither?’ He that ‘entereth not by the door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’ (John 10:1). This text also is full and plain to our purpose; for this man came not in by the door, yet got into the church; he got in by climbing; he broke in at the windows; he got something of the light and glory of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in his head; and so, hardy wretch that he was, he presumed to crowd himself among the children. But how is this resented? What saith the King of him? Why, this is his sign, ‘the same is a thief and a robber.’ See ye here also, if all they be owned as the planting of God that get into his church or profession of his name.

‘Had a fig-tree.’ Had one without a wedding-garment, had a thief in his garden, at his wedding, in his house. These climbed up some other way. There are many ways to get into the church of God, and profession of his name, besides, and without an entering by the door.

1. There is the way of lying and dissembling, and at this gap the Gibeonites got in (Josh 9 &c).

2. There is sometimes falseness among some pastors, either for the sake of carnal relations, or the like; at this hole Tobiah, the enemy of God, got in (Neh 13:4–9).

3. There is sometimes negligence, and too much uncircumspectness in the whole church; thus the uncircumcised got in (Eze 44:7, 8).

4. Sometimes, again, let the church be never so circumspect, yet these have so much help from the devil that they beguile them all, and so get in. These are of the sort of thieves that Paul complains of, ‘False brethren, that are brought in unawares’ (Gal 2:4). Jude also cries out of these, ‘Certain men crept in unawares’ (Jude 4). Crept in! What, were they so lowly? A voluntary humility, a neglecting of the body, not in any humour (Col 2:23).5 O! how seemingly self-denying are some of these ‘creeping things,’ that yet are to be held, (as we shall know them) an abomination to Israel (Lev 11:43, 44).

But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour (2 Tim 2:20). By these words the apostle seems to take it for granted, that as there hath been, so there still will be these kind of fig-trees, these barren professors in the house, when all men have done what they can; even as in a great house there are always vessels to dishonour, as well as those to honour and glory; vessels of wood and of earth, as well as of silver and gold. So, then, there must be wooden professors in the garden of God, there must be earthy, earthen professors in his vineyard; but that methinks is the biting word, ‘and some to dishonour’ (Rom 9:21, 22). That to the Romans is dreadful, but this seems to go beyond it; that speaks but of the reprobate in general, but this of such and such in particular; that speaks of their hardening but in the common way, but this that they must be suffered to creep into the church, there to fit themselves for their place, their own place, the place prepared for them of this sort only (Acts 1:25). As the Lord Jesus said once of the Pharisees, These ‘shall receive greater damnation’ (Luke 20:47).

Barren fig-tree, fruitless professor, hast thou heard all these things? Hast thou considered that this fig-tree is not acknowledged of God to be his, but is denied to be of his planting, and of his bringing unto his wedding? Dost not thou see that thou art called a thief and a robber, that hast either climbed up to, or crept in at another place than the door? Dost thou not hear that there will be in God’s house wooden and earthly professors, and that no place will serve to fit those for hell but the house, the church, the vineyard of God? Barren fig-tree, fruitless Christian, do not thine ears tingle?

And HE came and sought fruit thereon

When a man hath got a profession, and is crowded into the church and house of God, the question is not now, Hath he life, hath he right principles? but, Hath he fruit? HE came seeking fruit thereon. It mattereth not who brought thee in hither, whether God or the devil, or thine own vain-glorious heart; but hast thou fruit? Dost thou bring forth fruit unto God? And, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of’ the Lord Jesus ‘Christ depart from iniquity’ (2 Tim 2:19). He doth not say, And let every one that hath grace, or let those that have the Spirit of God; but, ‘Let every one that nameth the name of’ the Lord Jesus ‘Christ depart form iniquity.’

What do men meddle with religion for? Why do they call themselves by the name of the Lord Jesus, if they have not the grace of God, if they have not the Spirit of Christ? God, therefore, expecteth fruit. What do they do in the vineyard? Let them work, or get them out; the vineyard must have labourers in it. ‘Son, go WORK to-day in my vineyard’ (Matt 21:28). Wherefore, want of grace and want of Spirit will not keep God from seeking fruit. ‘And he came and sought fruit thereon’ (Luke 13:6, 8:8). He requireth that which he seemeth to have. Every man in the vineyard and house of God promiseth himself, professeth to others, and would have all men take it for granted, that a heavenly principle is in him, why then should not God seek fruit?

As for them, therefore, that will retain the name of Christians, fearing God, and yet make no conscience of bringing forth fruit to him, he saith to such, Away! ‘As for you,—Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me,’ &c. (Eze 20:39). Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? God expecteth fruit, God calls for fruit, yea, God will shortly come seeking fruit on this barren fig-tree. Barren fig-tree, either bear fruit, or go out of the vineyard; and yet then thy case will be unspeakably damnable. Yea, let me add, if thou shalt neither bear fruit nor depart, God will take his name out of thy mouth (Jer 44:26). He will have fruit. And I say further, if thou wilt do neither, yet God in justice and righteousness will still come for fruit. And it will be in vain for thee to count this austerity. He will reap where he hath not sowed, and gather where he hath not strewed (Matt 25:24–26). Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear?

Quest. What if a man have no grace?

Answ. Yes, seeing he hath a profession.

And he came and sought fruit THEREON

A church, then, and a profession, are not places where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves and sins from God. Some of old thought that because they could cry, ‘The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ that therefore they were delivered, or had a dispensation to do the abominations which they committed, as some in our days; for who, say they, have a right to the creatures, if not Christians, if not professors, if not church members? And, from this conclusion, let go the reins of their inordinate affections after pride, ambition, gluttony; pampering themselves without fear (Jude 12), daubing themselves with the lust-provoking fashions of the times; to walk with stretched out necks, naked breasts, frizzled fore-tops, wanton gestures, in gorgeous apparel, mixed with gold and pearl, and costly array.6 I will not here make inspection into their lives, their carriages at home, in their corners and secret holes; but certainly, persons thus spirited, thus principled, and thus inclined, have but empty boughs, boughs that want the fruit that God expects, and that God will come down to seek.

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, 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 my name! into the place where mine honour dwelleth! (Psa 26:8). Where mine eyes and heart are continually! (1 Kings 9:3). What! come there to sin, to hide thy sin, to cloak thy sin! His plants are an orchard with pleasant fruits (Cant 4:13). And every time he goeth into his garden, it is to see the fruits of the valley, and to ‘see if the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded.’

Yea, saith he, 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. One black sheep is soon espied, although in company with many; that is taken with the first cast of the eye; its different colour 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’ (Cant 8:12).

And he came and sought fruit thereon, AND FOUND NONE

Barren fig-tree, hearken; the continual non-bearing of fruit is a dreadful sign that thou art to come to a dreadful end, as the winding up of this parable concludeth.

‘AND FOUND NONE.’ None at all, or none to God’s liking; for when he saith, ‘He came seeking fruit thereon,’ he means ‘fruit meet for God,’ pleasant fruit, fruit good and sweet (Heb 6). Alas! it is not any fruit will serve; bad fruit is counted none. ‘Every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire’ (Matt 3:10).

First. There is a fruit among professors that withers, and so never comes to be ripe; a fruit that is smitten in the growth, and comes not to maturity; and this is reckoned no fruit. This fruit those professors bear that have many fair beginnings, or blossoms; that make many fair offers of repentance and amendment; that begin to pray, to resolve, and to break off their sins by righteousness, but stop at those beginnings, and bring not fruit forth to perfection. This man’s fruit is withered, wrinkled, smitten fruit, and is in effect no fruit at all.

Second. There is a hasty fruit, such as is the ‘corn upon the house-top’ (Psa 129:6); or that which springs up on the dung-hill, that runs up suddenly, violently, with great stalks and big show, and yet at last proves empty of kernel. This fruit is to be found in those professors that on a sudden are so awakened, so convinced, and so affected with their condition that they shake the whole family, the endship,7 the whole town. For a while they cry hastily, vehemently, dolefully, mournfully, and yet all is but a pang, an agony, a fit, they bring not forth fruit with patience. These are called those hasty fruits that ‘shall be a fading flower’ (Isa 28:4).

Third. There is a fruit that is vile and ill-tasted, how long soever it be in growing; the root is dried, and cannot convey a sufficiency of sap to the branches, to ripen the fruit (Jer 24). These are the fruits of such professors whose hearts are estranged from communion with the Holy Ghost, whose fruit groweth from themselves, from their parts, gifts, strength of wit, natural or moral principles. These, notwithstanding they bring forth fruit, are called empty vines, such as bring not forth fruit to God. ‘Their root is dried up, they shall bear no fruit; yea, though they bring forth, yet will I slay even the beloved fruit of their womb’ (Hosea 9:16).

Fourth. There is a fruit that is wild. ‘I looked for grapes and it brought forth wild grapes’ (Isa 5:4). I observe, that as there are trees and herbs that are wholly right and noble, fit indeed for the vineyard; so there are also their semblance, but wild; not right, but ignoble. There is the grape, and the wild grape; the vine, and the wild vine; the rose, and canker rose; flowers and wild flowers; the apple, and the wild apple which we call the crab. Now, fruit from these wild things, however they may please the children to play with, yet the prudent and grave count them of little or no value. There are also in the world a generation of professors that, notwithstanding their profession, are wild by nature; yea, such as were never cut out, or off, from the wild olive-tree, nor never yet planted into the good olive-tree. Now, these can bring nothing forth but wild olive berries, they cannot bring forth fruit unto God. Such are all those that have lightly taken up a profession, and crept into the vineyard without a new birth, and the blessing of regeneration.

Fifth. There is also untimely fruit: ‘Even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs’ (Rev 6:13). Fruit out of season, and so no fruit to God’s liking. There are two sorts of professors subject to bring forth untimely fruit: 1. They that bring forth fruit too soon; 2. They that bring forth fruit too late.

1. They that bring forth too soon. They are such as at present receive the Word with joy; and anon, before they have root downwards, they thrust forth upwards; but having not root, when the sun ariseth, they are smitten, and miserably die without fruit. These professors are those light and inconsiderate ones that think nothing but peace will attend the gospel; and so anon rejoice at the tidings, without foreseeing the evil. Wherefore, when the evil comes, being unarmed, and so not able to stand any longer, they die, and are withered, and bring forth no fruit. ‘He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the Word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while; for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the Word, by and by he is offended’ (Matt 13:20, 21). There is, in Isaiah 28:4, mention made of some ‘whose glorious beauty shall be a fading flower,’ because it is ‘fruit before the summer.’ Both these are untimely fruit.

2. They also bring forth untimely fruit that stay till the season is over. God will have his fruit in his season; I say, he will receive them of such men as shall render them to him in their seasons (Matt 21:41). The missing of the season is dangerous; staying till the door is shut is dangerous (Matt 25:10, 11). Many there be that come not till the flood of God’s anger is raised, and too deep for them to wade through; ‘Surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him’ (Psa 32:6). Esau AFTERWARDS is fearful: ‘For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears’ (Heb 12:17).

So the children of Israel, they brought to God the fruits of obedience too late; their ‘Lo, we be here’ came too late (Num 14:40–42); their ‘We will go up’ came too late (Num 14:40–44). The Lord had sworn before, ‘that they should not possess the land’ (Matt 25:10, 27:5). All these are such as bring forth untimely fruit (Heb 12:17; Luke 13:25–27). It is the hard hap of the reprobate to do all things too late; to be sensible of his want of grace too late; to be sorry for sin too late; to seek repentance too late; to ask for mercy, and to desire to go to glory too late.

Thus you see, 1. That fruit smitten in the growth, that withereth, and that comes not to maturity, is no fruit. 2. That hasty fruit, such as ‘the grass upon the house-top,’ withereth also before it groweth up, and is no fruit (Psa 129:6). 3. That the fruit that is vile, and ill-tasted, is no fruit. That wild fruit, wild grapes, are no fruit (Rev 6). That untimely fruit, such as comes too soon, or that comes too late, such as come not in their season, are no fruit.

And he came and sought FRUIT thereon, and found none

Nothing will do but fruit; he looked for grapes. ‘When the time of the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the husbandmen, that they might receive the fruits of it’ (Matt 21:34).

Quest. But what fruit doth God expect?

Answ. Good fruit. ‘Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down’ (Matt 7:19). Now, before the fruit can be good, the tree must be good; for good fruit makes not a good tree, but a ‘good tree bringeth forth good fruit. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?’ A man must be good, else he can bring forth no good fruit; he must have righteousness imputed, that he may stand good in God;’s sight from the curse of his law; he must have a principle of righteousness in his soul, else how should he bring forth good fruits? and hence it is, that a Christian’s fruits are called ‘the fruits of the Spirit, the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ’ (Gal 5:22, 23; Phil 1:11). The fruits of the Spirit, therefore the Spirit must be there; the fruits of righteousness, therefore righteousness must first be there. But to particularize in a few things briefly:—

First. God expecteth fruit that will answer, and be worthy of the repentance which thou feignest thyself to have. Every one in a profession, and that hath crowded into the vineyard, pretendeth to repentance; now of every such soul, God expecteth that the fruits of repentance be found to attend them. ‘Bring forth, therefore, fruits meet for repentance,’ or answerable to thy profession of the doctrine of repentance (Matt 3:8). Barren fig-tree, seeing thou art a professor, and art got into the vineyard, thou standest before the Lord of the vineyard as one of the trees of the garden; wherefore he looketh for fruit from thee, as from the rest of the trees in the vineyard; fruits, I say, and such as may declare thee in heart and life one that hath made sound profession of repentance. By thy profession thou hast said, I am sensible of the evil of sin. Now then, live such a life as declares that thou art sensible of the evil of sin. By thy profession thou hast said, I am sorry for my sin. Why, then, live such a life as may declare this sorrow. By thy profession thou hast said, I am ashamed of my sin; yea, but live such a life, that men by that may see thy shame for sin (Psa 38:18; Jer 31:19). By thy profession thou sayest, I have turned from, left off, and am become an enemy to every appearance of evil (1 Thess 5:22). Ah! but doth thy life and conversation declare thee to be such an one? Take heed, barren fig-tree, lest thy life should give thy profession the lie. I say again, take heed, for God himself will come for fruit. ‘And he sought fruit thereon.’

You have some professors that are only saints before men when they are abroad, but are devils and vipers at home; saints by profession, but devils by practice; saints in word, but sinners in heart and life. These men may have the profession, but they want the fruits that become repentance.8

Barren fig-tree, can it be imagined that those that paint themselves did ever repent of their pride? or that those that pursue this world did ever repent of their covetousness? or that those that walk with wanton eyes did ever repent of their fleshly lusts? Where, barren fig-tree, is the fruit of these people’s repentance? Nay, do they not rather declare to the world that they have repented of their profession? Their fruits look as if they had. Their pride saith they have repented of their humility. Their covetousness declareth that they are weary of depending upon God; and doth not thy wanton actions declare that thou abhorrest chastity? Where is thy fruit, barren fig-tree? Repentance is not only a sorrow, and a shame for, but a turning from sin to God; it is called ‘repentance from dead works’ (Heb 6:1). Hast thou that ‘godly sorrow’ that ‘worketh repentance to salvation, not to be repented of?’ (2 Cor 7:10, 11). How dost thou show thy carefulness, and clearing of thyself; thy indignation against sin; they fear of offending; thy vehement desire to walk with God; thy zeal for his name and glory in the world? And what revenge hast thou in thy heart against every thought of disobedience?

But where is the fruit of this repentance? Where is thy watching, thy fasting, thy praying against the remainders of corruption? Where is thy self-abhorrence, thy blushing before God, for the sin that is yet behind? Where is thy tenderness of the name of God and his ways? Where is thy self-denial and contentment? How dost thou show before men the truth of thy turning to God? Hast thou ‘renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness?’ Canst thou commend thyself ‘to every man’s conscience in the sight of God?’ (2 Cor 4:2).

Second. God expecteth fruits that shall answer that faith which thou makest profession of. The professor that is got into the vineyard of God doth feign that he hath the faith, the faith most holy, the faith of God’s elect. Ah! but where are thy fruits, barren fig-tree? The faith of the Romans was ‘spoken of throughout the whole world’ (Rom 1:8). And the Thessalonians’ faith grew exceedingly (2 Thess 1:3).

Thou professest to believe thou hast a share in another world: hast thou let got THIS, barren fig-tree? Thou professest thou believest in Christ: is he thy joy, and the life of thy soul? Yea, what conformity unto him, to his sorrows and sufferings? What resemblance hath his crying, and groaning, and bleeding, and dying, wrought in thee? Dost thou ‘bear about in thy body the dying of the Lord Jesus?’ and is also the life of Jesus ‘made manifest in thy mortal body?’ (2 Cor 4:10, 11). Barren fig-tree, ‘show me thy faith by thy works.’ ‘Show out of a good conversation thy works with meekness of wisdom’ (James 2:18, 3:13). What fruit, barren fig-tree, what degree of heart holiness? for faith purifies the heart (Acts 15:9). What love to the Lord Jesus? for ‘faith worketh by love’ (Gal 5:6).

Third. God expecteth fruits according to the seasons of grace thou art under, according to the rain that cometh upon thee. Perhaps thou art planted in a good soil, by great waters, that thou mightest bring forth branches, and bear fruit; that thou mightest be a goodly vine or fig-tree. Shall he not therefore seek for fruit, for fruit answerable to the means? Barren fig-tree, God expects it, and will find it too, if ever he bless thee. ‘For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned’ (Heb 6:7, 8).

Barren soul, how many showers of grace, how many dews from heaven, 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! Fruits that become thy profession of the gospel, the God of heaven expecteth. The gospel hath in it the forgiveness of sins, the kingdom of heaven, and eternal life; but what fruit hath thy profession of a belief of these things put forth in thy heart and life? Hast thou given thyself to the Lord? and is all that thou hast to be ventured for his name in this world? Dost thou walk like one that is bought with a price, even with the price of precious blood?

Fourth. The fruit that God expecteth is such as is meet for himself; fruit that may glorify God. God’s trees are trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified; fruit that tasteth of heaven, abundance of such fruit. For ‘herein,’ saith Christ, ‘is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit’ (John 15:8). Fruits of all kinds, new and old; the fruits of the Spirit are in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth. Fruits before the world, fruits before the saints, fruits before God, fruits before angels.

O my brethren, ‘what manner of persons ought we to be,’ who have subscribed to the Lord, and have called ourselves by the name of Israel? ‘One shall say I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel’ (Isa 44:5). Barren fig-tree, hast thou subscribed, hast thou called thyself by the name of Jacob, and surnamed thyself by the name of Israel? All this thou pretendest to, who art got into the vineyard, who art placed among the trees of the garden of God. God doth therefore look for such fruit as is worthy of his name, as is meet for him; as the apostle saith, ‘we should walk worthy of God’; that is, so as we may show in every place that the presence of God is with us, his fear in us, and his majesty and authority upon our actions. Fruits meet for him, such a dependence upon him, such trust in his word, such satisfaction in his presence, such a trusting of him with all my concerns, and such delight in the enjoyment of him, that may demonstrate that his fear is in my heart, that my soul is wrapped up in his things, and that my body, and soul, and estate, and all, are in truth, through his grace, at his dispose, fruit meet for him. Hearty thanks, and blessing God for Jesus Christ, for his good word, for his free grace, for the discovery of himself in Christ to the soul, secret longing after another world, fruit meet for him. Liberality to the poor saints, to the poor world; a life in word and deed exemplary; a patient and quiet enduring of all things, till I have done and suffered the whole will of God, which he hath appointed for me. ‘That on the good ground are they which, in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience’ (Luke 8:15). This is bringing forth fruit unto God; having our ‘fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life’ (Rom 7:4, 6:22, 14:8).

Fifth. The Lord expects fruit becoming the vineyard of God. ‘The vineyard,’ saith he, ‘in a very fruitful hill’: witness the fruit brought forth in all ages (Isa 5:1). The most barren trees that ever grew in the wood of this world, when planted in this vineyard by the God of heaven, what fruit to Godward have they brought forth! ‘Abel offered the more excellent sacrifice’ (Heb 11:4). Enoch walked with God three hundred years (Heb 11:5). Noah, by his life of faith, ‘condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith’ (Heb 11:7). Abraham left his country, and went out after God, not knowing whither he went (Heb 11:8). Moses left a kingdom, and run the hazard of the wrath of the king, for the love he had to God and Christ. What shall I say of them who had trials, ‘not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection? They were stoned; they were sawn asunder; were tempted; were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented’ (Heb 11:35–37). Peter left his father, ship, and nets (Matt 4:18–20). Paul turned off from the feet of Gamaliel. Men brought their goods and possessions (the price of them) and cast it down at the apostle’s feet (Acts 19:18–20). And others brought their books together, and burned them; curious books, though they were worth fifty thousand pieces of silver. I could add how many willingly offered themselves in all ages, and their all, for the worthy name of the Lord Jesus, to be racked, starved, hanged, burned, drowned, pulled in pieces, and a thousand calamities.9 Barren fig-tree, the vineyard of God hath been a fruitful place. What dost thou there? What dost thou bear? God expects fruit according to, or becoming the soil of the vineyard.

Sixth. The fruit which God expecteth is such as becometh God’s husbandry and labour. The vineyard is God’s husbandry, or tillage. ‘I am the true vine, ‘saith Christ, ‘and my Father is the husbandman’ (John 15:1). And again, ‘Ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building’ (1 Cor 3:9). The vineyard; God fences it, God gathereth out the stones, God builds the tower, and the wine-press in the midst thereof. Here is labour, here is protection, here is removing of hindrances, here is convenient purgation, and all that there might be fruit.

Barren fig-tree, what fruit hast thou? Hast thou fruit becoming the care of God, the protection of God, the wisdom of God, the patience and husbandry of God? It is the fruit of the vineyard that is either the shame or the praise of the husbandman. ‘I went by the field of the slothful,’ saith Solomon, ‘and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof’ (Prov 24:30–32).

Barren fig-tree, if men should make a judgment of the care, and pains, and labour of God in his church, by the fruit that thou bringest forth, what might they say? Is he not slothful, is not he careless, is he not without discretion? O! thy thorns, thy nettles, thy barren heart and barren life, is a continual provocation to the eyes of his glory, as likewise a dishonour to the glory of his grace.

Barren fig-tree, hast thou heard all these things? I will add yet one more.

‘And he came and sought fruit thereon

The question is not now, What thou thinkest of thyself, nor what all the people of God think of thee, but what thou shalt be found in that day when God shall search thy boughs for fruit? When Sodom was to be searched for righteous men, God would not, in that matter, trust his faithful servant Abraham; but still, as Abraham interceded, God answered, ‘If I find fifty,—or forty and five there, I will not destroy the city’ (Gen 18:20–28). Barren fig-tree, what sayest thou? God will come down to see, God will make search for fruit himself.

‘And he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of the vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig-tree, and find none; cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?’

These words are the effects of God’s search into the boughs of a barren fig-tree; he sought fruit, and found none—none to his liking, none pleasant and good. Therefore, first, he complains of the want thereof to the dresser; calls him to come, and see, and take notice of the tree; then signifieth his pleasure: he will have it removed, taken away, cut down from cumbering the ground.

Observe, The barren fig-tree is the object of God’s displeasure; God cannot bear with a fruitless professor.

THEN said he, &c.

THEN, after this provocation; then, after he had sought and found no fruit, then. This word, THEN, doth show us a kind of an inward disquietness; as he saith also in another place, upon a like provocation. ‘THEN the anger of the Lord, and his jealousy, shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven’ (Deut 29:18–20).

THEN; it intimateth that he was now come to a point, to a resolution what to do with this fig-tree. ‘Then said he to the dresser of this vineyard,’ that is, to Jesus Christ, ‘behold,’ as much as to say, come hither, here is a fig-tree in my vineyard, here is a professor in my church, that is barren, that beareth no fruit.

Observe, However the barren professor thinks of himself on earth, the Lord cries out in heaven against him. ‘And now go to, I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and I will break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down’ (Isa 5:5).

‘Behold, THESE THREE YEARS I come seeking fruit’

Observe, ‘THESE THREE YEARS.’ God cries out that this patience is abused, that his forbearance is abused. Behold, these three years I have waited, forborne; these three years I have deferred mine anger. ‘Therefore will I stretch out my hand against thee, and destroy thee; I am weary with repenting’ (Jer 15:6). ‘These three years.’ Observe, God layeth up all the time; I say, a remembrance of all the time that a barren fig-tree, or a fruitless professor, misspendeth in this world. As he saith also of Israel of old, ‘forty years long was I grieved with this generation’ (Psa 95:10).

‘These three years,’ &c. These three seasons: Observe, God remembers how many seasons thou hast misspent: for these three years signify so many seasons. And when the time of fruit drew nigh, that is, about the season they begin to be ripe, or that according to the season might so have been. Barren fig-tree, thou hast had time, seasons, sermons, ministers, afflictions, judgments, mercies, and what not; and yet hast not been fruitful. Thou hast had awakenings, reproofs, threatenings, comforts, and yet hast not been fruitful. Thou hast had patterns, examples, citations, provocations, and yet has not been fruitful. Well, God hath laid up thy three years with himself. He remembers every time, every season, every sermon, every minister, affliction, judgment, mercy, awakening, pattern, example, citation, provocation; he remembers all. As he said of Israel of old, ‘They have tempted me now these ten times, and have not hearkened to my voice’ (Num 14:22). And again, ‘I remember all their wickedness’ (Hosea 7:2).

‘These three years,’ &c. He seeks for the fruit of every season. He will not that any of his sermons, ministers, afflictions, judgments, or mercies, should be lost, or stand for insignificant things; he will have according to the benefit bestowed. (2 Chron 32:24, 25). He hath not done without a cause all that he hath done, and therefore he looketh for fruit (Eze 14:23). Look to it, barren fig-tree.10

I came ‘SEEKING’ fruit

Observe, This word ‘SEEKING’ signifies a narrow search; for 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 peeks into the inmost boughs, and the lowermost boughs, if perhaps fruit may be thereon. Barren fig-tree, God will look into all thy boughs, he will be with thee in thy bed-fruits, thy midnight-fruits, thy closet-fruits, thy family-fruits, thy conversation-fruits, to see if there be any among all these that are fit for, or worthy of the name of the God of heaven. He sees ‘what the ancients of the house of Israel do in the dark’ (Eze 8:12). ‘All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do’ (Heb 4:12, 13).

Seeking fruit on ‘THIS’ fig-tree

I told you before, that he keeps in remembrance the times and seasons that the barren professor had wickedly misspent. Now, forasmuch as he also pointeth out the fig-tree, THIS fig-tree, it showeth that the barren professor, above all professors, is a continual odium in the eyes of God. This fig-tree, ‘this man Coniah’ (Jer 22:28). This people draw nigh me with their mouth, but have removed their hearts far from me. God knows who they are among all the thousands of Israel that are the barren and fruitless professors; his lot will fall upon the head of Achan, though he be hid among six hundred thousand men. ‘And he brought his household, man by man, and Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zera, of the tribe of Judah, was taken’ (Josh 7:17, 18). This is the Achan, this is the fig-tree, this is the barren professor!

There is a man 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 prys, and observes how they are hanged 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—’And the Lord set a mark upon Cain’ (Gen 4), saying, Go thy ways, 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 hitting11 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 precept, 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! I am sure THIS is the fig-tree, I know it from the first year; barrenness was its sign then, barrenness is its sign now; make it fit for the fire! Behold, ‘now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is hewn down, and cast into the fire’ (Matt 3:10).

Observe, my brethren, God’s heart cannot stand towards a barren fig-tree. You know thus it is with yourselves. If you have a tree in your orchard or vineyard that doth only cumber the ground, you cannot look upon that tree with pleasure, with complacency and delight. No; if you do but go by it, if you do but cast your eye upon it: yea, if you do but think of that tree, you threaten it in your heart, saying, I will hew thee down shortly; I will to the fire with thee shortly: and it is in vain for any to think of persuading of you to show favour to the barren fig-tree; and if they should persuade, your answer is irresistible, It yields me no profit, it takes up room and doth no good; a better may grow in its room.

Cut it down

Thus, when the godly among the Jews made prayers that rebellious Israel might not be cast out of the vineyard, what saith the answer of God? (Jer 14:17). ‘Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my mind could not be toward this people’: wherefore ‘cast them out of my sight, and let them go forth’ (Jer 15:1).

What a resolution is here! Moses and Samuel could do almost anything with God in prayer. How many times did Moses by prayer turn away God’s judgments from even Pharaoh himself! yea, how many times did he by prayer preserve Israel, when in the wilderness, from the anger and wrath of God! (Psa 106:23). Samuel is reckoned excellent this way, yea, so excellent, that when Israel had done that fearful thing as to reject the Lord, and choose them another king, he prayed, and the Lord spared, and forgave them (1 Sam 12). But yet neither Moses nor Samuel can save a barren fig-tree. No; though Moses and Samuel stood before me, that is, pleading, arguing, interceding, supplicating, and beseeching, yet could they not incline mine heart to this people.

Cut it down

‘Ay, but Lord, it is a fig-tree, a fig-tree!’ If it was a thorn, or a bramble, or a thistle, the matter would not be much; but it is a fig-tree, or a vine. Well, but mark the answer of God, ‘Son of man, What is the vine-tree more than any tree, or than a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?’ (Eze 15:2, 3). If trees that are set, or planted for fruit, bring not forth that fruit, there is betwixt them and the trees of the forest no betterment at all, unless the betterment lieth in the trees of the wood, for they are fit to build withal; but a fig-tree, or a vine, if they bring not forth fruit, yea, good fruit, they are fit for nothing at all, but to be cut down and prepared for the fire; and so the prophet goes on, ‘Behold, it is cast into the fire for fuel.’ If it serve not for fruit it will serve for fuel, and so ‘the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burnt.’

Ay, but these fig-trees and vines are church-members, inhabiters of Jerusalem. So was the fig-tree mentioned in the text. But what answer hath God prepared for these objections? Why, ‘Thus saith the Lord God, As the vine-tree among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel; so will I give the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will set my face against them, they shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them’ (Eze 15:6, 7).

Cut it down

The woman that delighteth in her garden, if she have a slip there, suppose, if it was fruitful, she would not take five pounds for it; yet if it bear no fruit, if it wither, and dwindle, and die, and turn cumber-ground only, it may not stand in her garden. Gardens and vineyards are places for fruit, for fruit according to the nature of the plant or flowers. Suppose such a slip as I told you of before should be in your garden, and there die, would you let it abide in your garden? No; away with it, away with it! The woman comes into her garden towards the spring, where first she gives it a slight cast with her eye, then she sets to gathering out the weeds, and nettles, and stones; takes a besom and sweeps the walks; this done, she falls to prying into her herbs and slips, to see if they live, to see if they are likely to grow. Now, if she comes to one that is dead, that she is confident will not grow, up she pulls that, and makes to the heap of rubbish with it, where she despisingly casts it down, and valueth it no more than a nettle, or a weed, or than the dust she hath swept out of her walks. Yea, if any that see her should say, Why do you so? the answer is ready. It is dead, it is dead at root; if I had let it stand it would but have cumbered the ground. The strange slips, and also the dead ones, they must be ‘a heap in the day of grief, and of desperate sorrow’ (Isa 17:10, 11).

Cut it down

There are two manner of cuttings down; First. When a man is cast out of the vineyard. Second. When a man is cast out of the world.

First. When a man is cast out of the vineyard. And that is done two ways; 1. By an immediate hand of God. 2. By the church’s due execution of the laws and censures which Christ for that purpose has left with his church.

1. God cuts down the barren fig-tree by an immediate hand, smiting his roots, blasting his branches, and so takes him away from among his people. ‘Every branch,’ saith Christ, ‘that beareth not fruit in me, he,’ my Father, ‘taketh away’ (John 15:2). He taketh him out of the church, he taketh him away from the godly. There are two things by which God taketh the barren professor from among the children of God: (1.) Strong delusions. (2.) Open profaneness.

(1.) By strong delusion; such as beguile the soul with damnable doctrines, that swerve from faith and godliness, ‘They have chosen their own ways,’ saith God, ‘and their soul delighteth in their abominations. I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them’ (Isa 66:3, 4). I will smite them with blindness, and hardness of heart, and failing of eyes; and will also suffer the tempter to tempt and affect his hellish designs upon them. ‘God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness’ (2 Thess 2:10–12).

(2.) Sometimes God takes away a barren professor by open profaneness. There is one hath taken up a profession of that worthy name, the Lord Jesus Christ; but this profession is but a cloak; he secretly practiseth wickedness. He is a glutton, a drunkard, or covetous, or unclean. Well, saith God, I will loose the reins of this professor; I will give him up to his vile affections; I will loose the reins of his lusts before him; he shall be entangled with his beastly lusts; he shall be overcome of ungodly company. Thus they that turn aside to their own crooked ways ‘the Lord shall lead them forth with the workers of iniquity’ (Psa 125:5). This is God’s hand immediately; God is now dealing with this man himself. Barren fig-tree, hearken! Thou art crowded into a profession, art got among the godly, and there art a scandal to the holy and glorious gospel; but withal so cunning that, like the sons of Zeruiah, thou art too hard for the church; she knows not how to deal with thee. Well, saith God, I will deal with that man myself, ‘I will answer that man by myself.’ He that sets up his idols in his heart, and puts the stumbling-block of his iniquity before his face, and yet comes and appears before me, ‘I will set my face against that man, and will make him a sign and a proverb: and I will cut him off from the midst of my people; and ye shall know that I am the Lord’ (Eze 14:7, 8). But,

2. God doth sometimes cut down the barren fig-tree by the church, by the church’s due execution of the laws and censures which Christ for that purpose hath left with his church. This is the meaning of that in Matthew 18; 1 Corinthians 5: and that in 1 Timothy 1:20 upon which now I shall not enlarge, But which way soever God dealeth with thee, O thou barren fig-tree, whither by himself immediately, or by his church, it amounts to one and the same; for if timely repentance prevent not, the end of that soul is damnation. They are blasted, and withered, and gathered by men, God’s enemies; and at last being cast into the fire burning must be their end. ‘That which beareth thorns and briars is nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned’ (Heb 6:8).

Second. And, again, sometimes by ‘Cut it down’ God means, cast it out of the world. Thus he cut down Nadab and Abihu, when he burned them up with fire from heaven. Thus he cut down Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, when he made the earth to swallow them up (Num 3:4, 16:31–33). Thus he cut down Saul, when he gave him up to fall upon the edge of his own sword, and died (1 Sam 31:4). Thus he cut down Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, when he struck them down dead in the midst of the congregation (Acts 5:5, 10). I might here also discourse of Absalom, Ahithophel, and Judas, who were all three hanged: the first by God’s revenging hand, the others were given up of God to be their own executioners. These were barren and unprofitable fig-trees, such as God took no pleasure in, therefore he commanded to cut them down. The Psalmist saith, ‘He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living, and in his wrath’ (Psa 58:9). Barren fig-tree, hearken! God calls for the axe, his sword; bring it hither; here is a barren professor. Cut him down, why cumbereth he the ground?

Why cumbereth it the ground?

By these words the Lord suggesteth reasons of his displeasure against the barren fig-tree; it cumbereth the ground. The Holy Ghost doth not only take an argument from its barrenness, but because it is a cumber-ground, therefore cut it down; wherefore it must needs be a provocation. 1. Because, as much as in him lieth, he disappointeth the design of God in planting his vineyard; I looked that it should bring forth fruit. 2. It hath also abused his patience, his long-suffering, his three years’ patience. 3. It hath also abused his labour, his pains, his care, and providence of protection and preservation: for he hedges his vineyard, and walls it about. Cumber-ground, all these things thou abusest! He waters his vineyard, and looks to it night and day; but all these things thou hast abused.

Further, there are other reasons of God’s displeasure; as,

First. A cumber-ground is a very mock and reproach of religion, a mock and reproach to the ways of God, to the people of God, to the Word of God, and to the name of religion. It is expected of all hands, that all the trees in the garden of God should be fruitful: God expects fruit, the church expects fruit, the world, even the world, concludes that professors should be fruitful in good works; I say, the world expecteth that professors should be better than themselves. But, barren fig-tree, thou disappointest all. Nay, hast thou not learned the wicked ones thy ways? Hast thou not learned them to be more wicked by thy example?—but that is by the by. Barren fig-tree, thou hast disappointed others, and must be disappointed thyself! ‘Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?’

Second. The barren fig-tree takes up the room where a better tree might stand; I say, it takes up the room, it keeps, so long as it stand where it doth; a fruitful tree out of that place, and therefore it must be cut down. Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? Because the Jews stood fruitless in the vineyard, therefore, saith God, ‘The kingdom of God shall be taken from you,’ and given to a nation that shall render him their fruits in their season (Matt 21:33–41). The Jews for their barrenness were cut down, and more fruitful people put in their room. As Samuel also said to barren Saul, ‘The Lord hath rent the kingdom from thee, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine that is better than thou’ (1 Sam 15:28). The unprofitable servant must be cast out, must be cut down (Matt 25:27).

Cumber-ground, how many hopeful, inclinable, forward people, hast thou by thy fruitless and unprofitable life, kept out of the vineyard of God? For thy sake have the people stumbled at religion; by thy life have they been kept from the love of their own salvation. Thou hast been also a means of hardening others, and of quenching and killing weak beginnings. Well, barren fig-tree, look to thyself, thou wilt not go to heaven thyself, and them that would, thou hinderest; thou must not always cumber the ground, nor always hinder the salvation of others. Thou shalt be cut down, and another shall be planted in thy room.

Third. The cumber-ground is a sucker; he draws away the heart and nourishment from the other trees. Were the cumber ground cut down, the others would be more fruitful; he draws away that fatness of the ground to himself, that would make the others more hearty and fruitful. ‘One sinner destroyeth much good’ (Eccl 9:18).

The cumber-ground is a very drone in the hive, that eats up the honey that should feed the labouring bee; he is a thief in the candle, that wasteth the tallow, but giveth no light; he is the unsavoury salt, that is fit for nought but the dunghill. Look to it, barren fig-tree!

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 (vv 8, 9).

These are the words of the dresser of the vineyard, who, I told you, is Jesus Christ, for he made intercession for the transgressors. And they contain a petition presented to an offended justice, praying, that a little more time and patience might be exercised towards the barren cumber-ground fig-tree.

In this petition there are six things considerable: 1. That justice might be deferred. O that justice might be deferred! ‘Lord, let it alone,’ &c., a while longer. 2. Here is time prefixed, as a space to try if more means will cure a barren fig-tree. ‘Lord, let it alone this year also.’ 3. The means to help it are propounded, ‘until I shall dig about it, and dung it.’12 4. Here is also an insinuation of a supposition, that, by thus doing, God’s expectation may be answered; ‘and if it bear fruit, well.’ 5. Here is a supposition that the barren fig-tree may yet abide barren, when Christ hath done what he will unto it; ‘and if it bear fruit,’ &c. 6. Here is at last a resolution, that if thou continue barren, hewing days will come upon thee; ‘and if it bear fruit, well; and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.’ But to proceed according to my former method, by way of exposition.

Lord, let it alone this year also

Here is astonishing grace indeed! astonishing grace, I say, 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 not he fetch out the axe? Why did he not do execution? Why did not he 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 bowels, as to have compassion for a barren fig-tree, else justice had never let thee alone to cumber the ground as thou hast done! When Israel also had sinned against God, down they had gone, but that Moses stood in the breach. ‘Let me alone,’ said God to him, ‘that I may consume them’ in a moment, ‘and I will make of thee a great nation’ (Exo 32:10). Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? Thou knowest not how oft the hand of Divine justice hath been up to strike, and how many years since thou hadst been cut down, had not Jesus caught hold of his Father’s axe. Let me alone, let me fetch my blow, or ‘Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?’ Wilt thou not hear yet, barren fig-tree? Wilt thou provoke still? Thou hast wearied men, and provoked the justice of God! And ‘will ye weary my God also?’ (Isa 7:13).

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 over wearied with waiting; one year and then.

Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear what a striving there is between the vine-dresser and the husbandman, for thy life? ‘Cut it down,’ says one; ‘Lord, spare it,’ saith 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

The Lord Jesus by these words supposeth two things, as causes of the want of fruit in a barren fig-tree; and two things he supposeth as a remedy.

The things that are a cause of want of fruit are, First. It is earth-bound. Lord, the fig-tree is earth-bound. Second. A want of warmer means, of fatter means. Wherefore, accordingly, he propoundeth to loosen the earth; to dig about it. And then to supply it with dung.

‘To dig about it, and dung it. Lord, let it alone this year also, until I shall dig about it.’ I doubt it is 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 (Luke 14). The love of riches, the love of honours, the love of pleasures, are the thorns that choke the word. ‘For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father,’ but enmity to God; how then, where these things bind up the heart, can there be fruit brought forth to God? (1 John 2:15, 16). Barren fig-tree, see how the Lord Jesus, by these very words, suggesteth the cause of thy fruitfulessness of soul! The things of this world lie too close to thy heart; the earth with 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 (John 12:6). This kept Demas from the fruit of self-denial (2 Tim 4:10). And this kept Ananias and Sapphira his wife from the goodly fruit of sincerity and truth (Acts 5:5, 10). What shall I say? These are ‘foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition; for the love of money is the root of all evil.’ How then can good fruit grow from such a root, the root of all evil? ‘Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows’ (1 Tim 6:9, 10). It is an evil root, nay, it is the root of all evil. How then can the professor that hath such a root, or a root wrapped up in such earthly things, as the lusts, and pleasures, and vanities of this world, bring forth fruit to God?

Till I shall ‘DIG’ about it

Lord, I will loose his roots, I will dig up this earth, I will lay his roots bare; my hand shall be upon him by sickness, by disappointments, by cross providences; I will dig about him until he stands shaking and tottering; until he be ready to fall; then, if ever, he will seek to take faster hold. Thus, I say, deals the Lord Jesus ofttimes with the barren professor; he diggeth about him, he smiteth one blow at his heart, another blow at his lusts, a third at his pleasures, a fourth at his comforts, another at his self-conceitedness. Thus he diggeth about him; this is the way to take bad earth from his roots, and to loosen his roots from the earth. Barren fig-tree, see here the care, the love, the labour, and way, which the Lord Jesus, the dresser of the vineyard, is fain to take with thee, if haply thou mayest be made fruitful.13

Till I shall dig about it, and ‘DUNG’ it

As the earth, by binding the roots too closely, may hinder the tree’s being fruitful, so the want of better means may be also a cause thereof. And this is more than intimated by the dresser of the vineyard; ‘Till I shall dig about it and dung it.’ I will supply it with a more fruitful ministry, with a warmer word; I will give them pastors after mine own heart; I will dung them. You know dung is a more warm, more fat, more hearty, and succouring matter than is commonly the place in which trees are planted.

‘I will dig about it, and dung it.’ I will bring it under a heart-awakening ministry; the means of grace shall be fat and good: I will also visit it with heart-awakening, heart-warming, heart-encouraging considerations; I will apply warm dung to his roots; I will strive with him by my Spirit, and give him some tastes of the heavenly gift, and the power of the world to come. I am loth to lose him for want of digging. ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it and dung it.’

And if it bear fruit, WELL

And if the fruits of all my labour doth make this fig-tree fruitful, I shall count my time, my labour, 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 fig-tree, 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 long-suffering, his mis-spending year after year, shall now be all forgiven him. Yea, God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, will not pass by and forget all, and say, ‘Well done,’ at the last. When I say to the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if he then do that which is lawful and right, if he walk in the statutes of life, without committing iniquity, he shall surely live, he shall not die (Eze 33).

Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? the axe is laid to thy roots, the Lord Jesus prays God to spare thee. Hath he been digging about thee? Hath he been dunging of thee? O barren fig-tree, now thou art come to the point; if thou shalt now become good, if thou shalt, after a gracious manner, suck in the gospel-dung, and if thou shalt bring forth fruit unto God, well; but if not, the fire is the last! fruit, or the fire; fruit, or the fire, barren fig-tree! ‘If it bear fruit, well.’14

And if not, THEN after that thou shalt cut it down

The Lord Jesus, by this if, giveth us to understand that there is a generation of professors in the world that are incurable, that will not, that cannot repent, nor be profited by the means of grace. A generation, I say, that will retain a profession, but will not bring forth fruit; a generation that will wear out the patience of God, time and tide, threatenings and intercessions, judgments and mercies, and after all will be unfruitful.

O the desperate wickedness that is in thy heart! Barren professor, dost thou hear? the Lord Jesus stands yet in doubt about thee; there is an IF stands yet in the way. I say, the Lord Jesus stands yet in doubt about thee, whether or no, at last, thou wilt be good; whether he may not labour in vain; whether his digging and dunging will come to more than lost labour; ‘I gave her space to repent,—and she repented not’ (Rev 2:21). I digged about it, I dunged it; I gained time, and supplied it with means; but I laboured herein in vain, and spent my strength for nought, and in vain! Dost thou hear, barren fig-tree? there is yet a question, Whether it may be well with thy soul at last?

And if not, THEN after that thou shalt cut it down.

There is nothing more exasperating to the mind of a man than to find all his kindness and favour slighted; neither is the Lord Jesus so provoked with anything, 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, is 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. ‘Then after that thou shalt cut it down.’ ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!’ Therefore ‘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; I say, it cannot be, but that a heart so full of compassion as his is 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 which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes’ (Luke 19:41, 42).

After that thou shalt cut it down

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, 27).

Barren fig-tree, take heed that thou comest not to these last words, for these words are a give up, a cast up, a cast up of a cast away; ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’ They are as much as if Christ had said, Father, I begged for more time for this barren professor; I begged until I should dig about it, and dung it. But now, Father, the time is out, the year is ended, the summer is ended, and no good done! I have also tried with my means, with the gospel, I have digged about it; I have laid also the fat and hearty dung of the gospel to it, but all comes to nothing. Father, I deliver up this professor to thee again; I have done; I have done all; I have done praying and endeavouring; I will hold the head of thine axe no longer. Take him into the hands of justice; do justice; do the law; I will never beg for him more. ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’ ‘Woe also to them when I depart from them!’ (Hosea 9:12). Now is this professor left naked indeed; naked to God, naked to Satan, naked to sin, naked to the law, naked to death, naked to hell, naked to judgment, and naked to the gripes of a guilty conscience, and to the torment of that worm that never dies, and to that fire that never shall be quenched. ‘See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not, who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven’ (Heb 12:25).

From this brief pass through this parable, you have these two general observations:—First. That even then when the justice of God cries out, I cannot endure to wait on this barren professor any longer, then Jesus Christ intercedes for a little more patience, and a little more striving with this professor, if possible he may make him a fruitful professor. ‘Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well,’ &c. Second. There are some professors whose day of grace will end with, Cut it down, with judgment; when Christ, by his means, hath been used for their salvation.

First. The first of these observations I shall pass, and not meddle at all therewith; but shall briefly speak to the

Second, to wit, that there are some professors whose day of grace will end with, Cut it down, with judgment, when Christ, by his means, hath been used for their salvation.

This the apostle showeth in that third chapter of his Epistle to the Hebrews, where he tells us that the people of the Jews, after a forty years’ patience and endeavour to do them good by the means appointed for that purpose, their end was to be cut down, or excluded the land of promise, for their final incredulity. ‘So we see that they could not enter in, because of unbelief.’ ‘Wherefore,’ saith he, ‘I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do alway err in their heart, and they have not known my ways; so I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest.’ As who should say, I would they should have entered in, and for that purpose I brought them out of Egypt, led them through the sea, and taught them in the wilderness, but they did not answer my work nor designs in that matter; wherefore they shall not, I swear they shall not. ‘I sware in my wrath, they shall not enter into my rest.’ Here is cutting down with judgment. So again, he saith, ‘As I have sworn in my wrath, If they shall enter into my rest; although the works were finished from the foundation of the world’ (Heb 4:4, 5). This word ‘if’ is the same with ‘they shall not,’ in the chapter before. And where he saith, ‘Although the works were finished from the foundation of the world,’ he giveth us to understand that what preparations soever are made for the salvation of sinners, and of how long continuance soever they are, yet the God-tempting, God-provoking and fruitless professor, is like to go without a share therein, ‘although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.’ ‘I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that believed not. And the angels that kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day’ (Jude 5, 6). Here is an instance to purpose, an instance of men and angels: men saved out of the land of Egypt, and in their journey towards Canaan, the type of heaven, cut down; angels created and placed in the heavens in great estate and principality; yet both these, because unfruitful to God in their places, were cut down—the men destroyed by God, for so saith the text, and the ‘angels reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day.’

Now, in my handling of this point, I shall discourse of the cutting down, or the judgment here denounced, as it respecteth the doing of it by God’s hand immediately, and that too with respect to his casting them out of the world, and not as it respecteth an act of the church, &c. And as to this cutting down, or judgment, it must be concluded, that it cannot be before the day of grace be past with the fig-tree; but according to the observation, there are some professors whose day of grace will end with, Cut it down; and according to the words of the text, ‘Then,’ after that, ‘thou shalt cut it down.’ ‘After that,’ that is, after all my attempts and endeavours to make it fruitful, after I have left it, given it over, done with it, and have resolved to bestow no more days of grace, opportunities of grace, and means of grace upon it, then, ‘after that,’ thou shalt cut it down.

Besides, the giving up of the fig-tree is before the execution. Execution is not always presently upon the sentence given; for, after that, a convenient time is thought on, and then is cutting down. And so it is here in the text. The decree, that he shall perish, is gathered from its continuing fruitless quite through the last year—from its continuing fruitless at the end of all endeavours. But cutting down is not yet, for that comes with an afterward. ‘Then, after that, thou shalt cut it down.’

So then, that I may orderly proceed with the observation, I must lay down these two propositions:—PROPOSITION FIRST. That the day of grace ends with some men before God takes them out of this world. And, PROPOSITION SECOND. The death, or cutting down of such men, will be dreadful. For this ‘Cut it down,’ when it is understood in the largest sense, as here indeed it ought, it showeth not only the wrath of God against a man’s life in this world, but his wrath against him, body and soul; and is as much as to say, Cut him off from all the privileges and benefits that come by grace, both in this world and that which is to come. But to proceed:

PROPOSITION FIRST.—The day of grace ends with some men before God taketh them out of the world. I shall give you some instances of this, and so go on to the last proposition.

First. I shall instance Cain. Cain was a professor, a sacrificer, a worshipper of God, yea, the first worshipper that we read of after the fall; but his grapes were wild ones. His works were evil; he did not do what he did from true gospel motives, therefore God disallowed his work (Gen 4:3–8). At this his countenance falls, wherefore he envies his brother, disputes him, takes his opportunity, and kills him. Now, in that day that he did this act were the heavens closed up against him, and that himself did smartingly and fearfully feel when God made inquisition for the blood of Abel. ‘And now art thou cursed,’ said God, ‘from the earth; which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand,’ &c. ‘And Cain said, My punishment is greater than I can bear.’ Mine iniquity is greater than that it may be forgiven. ‘Behold thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth, and from thy face shall I be hid’ (Gen 4:9–14). Now thou art cursed, saith God. Thou hast driven me out this day, saith Cain, and from thy face shall I be hid. I shall never more have hope in thee, smile from thee, nor expect mercy at thy hand. Thus, therefore, Cain’s day of grace ended; and the heavens, with God’s own heart, were shut up against him; yet after this he lived long. Cutting down was not come yet; after this he lived to marry a wife, to beget a cursed brood, to build a city, and what else I know not; all which could not be quickly done; wherefore Cain might live after the day of grace was past with him several hundred of years (Gen 4:10–17).

Second. I shall instance Ishmael. Ishmael was a professor, was brought up in Abraham’s family, and was circumcised at thirteen years of age (Gen 16:12, 17:25, 26). But he was the son of the bond-woman, he brought not forth good fruit; he was a wild professor. For all his religion, he would scoff at those that were better than himself. Well, upon a day his brother Isaac was weaned, at which time his father made a feast, and rejoiced before the Lord, for that he had given him the promised son; at this Ishmael mocked them, their son, and godly rejoicing. Then came the Spirit of God upon Sarah, and she cried, Cast him out, ‘cast out this bond-woman and her son; for the son of this bond-woman shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac’ (Gen 21:9–11). Now Paul to the Galatians makes this casting out to be, not only a casting out of Abraham’s family, but a casting out also from a lot with the saints in heaven (Gal 4:29–31). Also Moses giveth us a notable proof thereof, in saying, that when he died he was gathered to his people—his people by his mother’s side; for he was reckoned from her, the son of Hagar, the son of the bond-woman (Gen 25:17). Now, she came of the Egyptians, so that he was gathered when he died, notwithstanding his profession, to the place that Pharaoh and his host were gathered to, who were drowned in the Red Sea; these were his people, and he was of them, both by nature and disposition, by persecuting as they did (Gen 21:9).15 But now, when did the day of grace end with this man? Observe, and I will show you. Ishmael was thirteen years old when he was circumcised, and then was Abraham ninety years old and nine (Gen 17:24–26). The next year Isaac was born; so that Ishmael was now fourteen years of age. Now, when Isaac was weaned, suppose he sucked four years, by that account, the day of grace must be ended with Ishmael by that time he was eighteen years old (Gen 25:12, &c.). For that day he mocked; that day it was said, ‘Cast him out’; and of that casting out the apostle makes what I have said. Beware, ye young barren professors! Now, Ishmael lived a hundred and nineteen years after this, in great tranquility and honour with men. After this he also begat twelve princes, even after his day of grace was past.

Third. I shall instance Esau (Gen 25:27, &c.). Esau also was a professor; he was born unto Isaac, and circumcised according to the custom. But Esau was a gamesome professor, a huntsman, a man of the field; also he was wedded to his lusts, which he did also venture to keep, rather than the birthright. Well, upon a day, when he came from hunting, and was faint, he sold his birthright to Jacob, his brother. Now the birthright, in those days, had the promise and blessing annexed to it. Yea, they were so entailed in this, that the one could not go without the other; wherefore the apostle’s caution is here of weight. Take heed, saith he, ‘lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected; for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears’ (Heb 12:16, 17). Now, the ending of Esau’s day of grace is to be reckoned from his selling of his birthright; for there the apostle points it, lest there be among you any that, like Esau, sells his birthright: for then goes hence the blessing also.

But Esau sold his birthright long before his death. Twenty years after this Jacob was with Laban, and when he returned home, his brother Esau met him (Gen 31:41, 32:4). Further, after this, when Jacob dwelt again some time with his father, then Jacob and Esau buried him. I suppose he might live above forty, yea, for ought I know, above fourscore years after he had sold his birthright, and so consequently had put himself out of the grace of God (Gen 35:28, 29).16

Three things I would further note upon these three professors.

1. Cain, an angry professor; Ishmael, a mocking one; Esau, a lustful, gamesome one. Three symptoms of a barren professor; for he that can be angry, and that can mock, and that can indulge his lusts, cannot bring forth fruit to God.

2. The day of grace ended with these professors at that time when they committed some grievous sin. Cain’s, when he killed his brother; Ishmael’s, when he mocked at Isaac; and Esau’s, when, out of love to his lusts, he despised and sold his birthright. Beware, barren professor! thou mayest do that in half a quarter of an hour, from the evil of which thou mayest not be delivered for ever and ever.17

3. Yet these three, after their day of grace was over, lived better lives, as to outward things, than ever they did before. Cain, after this, was lord of a city (Gen 4:17). Ishmael was, after this, father of twelve princes (Gen 25:16). And Esau, after this, told his brother, ‘I have enough, my brother, keep that thou hast unto thyself’ (Gen 33:8, 9). Ease and peace, and a prosperous life in outwards, is no sign of the favour of God to a barren and fruitless professor, but rather of his wrath; that thereby he may be capable to treasure up more wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Let this much serve for the proof of the first proposition, namely, That the day of grace ends with some men before God takes them out of the world.

signs of being past grace

Now, then, to show you, by some signs, how you may know that the day of grace is ended, or near to ending, with the barren professor; and after that thou shalt cut it down. He that hath stood it out against God, and that hath withstood all those means for fruit that God hath used for the making of him, if it might have been, a fruitful tree in his garden, he is in this danger; and this indeed is the sum of the parable. The fig-tree here mentioned was blessed with the application of means, had time allowed it to receive the nourishment; but it outstood, withstood, overstood all, all that the husbandman did, all that the vine-dresser did.

But a little distinctly to particularize in four or five particulars.

First sign. The day of grace is like to be past, when a professor hath withstood, abused, and worn out God’s patience, then he is in danger; this is a provocation; then 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 of Sion, they are at ease and secure; saying like Agag, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past’ (1 Sam 15:22); I am well, 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 a coarse beginning: God comes for fruit.

1. 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 sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off,’ as yet (Isa 48:9). I will wait, 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 (Isa 30:18). O! how ungodly men, that are at 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 fig-tree no longer.

2. 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 smiting him with pains in his body, with headache, heart-ache, back-ache, 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 doing 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.18 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! O spare 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 while 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 they 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 what behind hand. One may see, if a man be but a little a to side, that you have neither wisdom nor prudence to order things.19 And now, instead of seeking to spend the rest of his time to God, he doubleth his diligence after this world. Alas! 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 now speedily executed, therefore the heart of this poor creature is fully set in him to do evil.

3. These things proving ineffectual, God takes hold of his axe again, sends death to a wife, to a child, to his cattle, ‘Your young men have I slain,—and taken away your horses’ (Amos 4:9, 10). I will blast him, cross him, disappoint him, and cast him down, and will set myself against him in all that he putteth his hand unto. 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 labours, 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. And then returns to his place, till this professor more unfeignedly acknowledgeth his offence (Hosea 5:14, 15).

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, awhile 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 counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity’ (Psa 106:43). Now they seem to be thankful again, and are as if they were resolved to be godly indeed. Now they read, they pray, they go to meetings, and seem to be serious a pretty while, but at last they forget. Their lusts prick them, suitable temptations present themselves; wherefore they turn to their own crooked ways again. ‘When he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned and inquired early after God’; ‘nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongue’ (Psa 78:34–36).

4. Yet again, the Lord will not leave this professor, 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 trees. 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 s set forth evidently, now is grace displayed sweetly; now, now are the promises broken like boxes of ointment, to the perfuming of the whole room! But, alas! there is yet no fruit on this fig-tree. While his heart is searching, he wrangles; while the glorious grace of the gospel is unveiling, this professor wags and is wanton, gathers up some scraps thereof; ‘Tastes the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come’; ‘drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon him’ (Heb 6:3–8; Jude 4). But bringeth not forth fruit meet for him whose gospel it is; ‘Takes no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart’ (2 Kings 10:31). But counteth that the glory of the gospel consisteth in talk and show, and that our obedience thereto is a matter of speculation; that good works lie in good words; and if they can finely talk, they think they bravely please God. They think the kingdom of God consisteth only in word, not in power; and thus proveth ineffectual this fourth means also.

5. Well, now the axe begins to be heaved higher, for now indeed God is ready to smite the sinner; yet before he will strike the stroke, he will try one way more at the last, and if that misseth, down goes the fig-tree! Now this last way is to tug and strive with this professor by his Spirit. Wherefore the Spirit of the Lord is now come to him; but not always to strive with man (Gen 6:3). Yet a while he will strive with him, he will awaken, he will convince, he will call to remembrance former sins, former judgments, the breach of former vows and promises, the misspending of former days; he will also present persuasive arguments, encouraging promises, dreadful judgments, the shortness of time to repent in; and that there is hope if he come. Further, he will show him the certainty of death, and of the judgment to come; yea, he will pull and strive with this sinner; but, behold, the mischief now lies here, here is tugging and striving on both sides. The Spirit convinces, the man turns a deaf ear to God; the Spirit saith, Receive my instruction and live, but the man pulls away his shoulder; the Spirit shows him whither he is going, but the man closeth his eyes against it; the Spirit offereth violence, the man strives and resists; they have ‘done despite unto the Spirit of grace’ (Heb 10:29). The Spirit parlieth a second time, and urgeth reasons of a new nature, but the sinner answereth, No, I have loved strangers, and after them I will go (Amos 4:6–12). At this God’s fury comes up into his face: now he comes out of his holy place, and is terrible; now he sweareth in his wrath they shall never enter into his rest (Heb 3:11). I exercised towards you my patience, yet you have not turned unto me, saith the Lord. I smote you in your person, in your relations, in your estate, yet you have not returned unto me, saith the Lord. ‘In thy filthiness is lewdness, because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged; thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I cause my fury to rest upon thee’ (Eze 24:13). ‘Cut it down, why doth it cumber the ground?’

The second sign. That such a professor is almost, if not quite, past grace, is, when God hath given him over, or lets him alone, and suffers him to do anything, and that without control, helpeth him not either in works of holiness, or in straits and difficulties. ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone’ (Hosea 4:17). Woe be to them when I depart from them. I will laugh at their calamities, and will mock when their fear cometh (Prov 1:24–29).

Barren fig-tree, thou hast heretofore been digged about, and dunged; God’s mattock hath heretofore been at thy roots; gospel-dung hath heretofore been applied to thee; thou hast heretofore been strove with, convinced, awakened, made to taste and see, and cry, O the blessedness! Thou hast heretofore been met with under the word; thy heart hath melted, thy spirit hath fallen, thy soul hath trembled, and thou hast felt something of the power of the gospel. But thou hast sinned, thou hast provoked the eyes of his glory, thy iniquity is found to be hateful, and now perhaps God hath left thee, given thee up, and lets thee alone. Heretofore thou wast tender; thy conscience startled at the temptation to wickedness, for thou wert taken off from ‘the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 2:20–22). But that very vomit that once thou wert turned from, now thou lappest up—with the dog in the proverb—again; and that very mire that once thou seemedst to be washed from, in that very mire thou now art tumbling afresh. But to particularize, there are three signs of a man’s being given over of God.

1. When he is let alone in sinning, when the reins of his lusts are loosed, and he given up to them. ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient: being filled with all unrighteousness’ (Rom 1:28, 29). Seest thou a man that heretofore had the knowledge of God, and that had some awe of Majesty upon him: I say, seest thou such an one sporting himself in his own deceivings, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and walking after his own ungodly lusts? (Rom 1:30–31). His ‘judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and his damnation slumbereth not’ (2 Peter 2:13). Dost thou hear, barren professor? It is astonishing to see how those that once seemed ‘sons of the morning,’ and were making preparations for eternal life, now at last, for the rottenness of their hearts, by the just judgment of God, to be permitted, being past feeling, to give ‘themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness’ (Eph 4:18, 19). A great number of such were in the first gospel-days; against whom Peter, and Jude, and John, pronounce the heavy judgment of God. Peter and Jude couple them with the fallen angels, and John forbids that prayer be made for them, because that is happened unto them that hath happened to the fallen angels that fell, who, for forsaking their first state, and for leaving ‘their own habitation,’ are ‘reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day’ (Jude 5, 6; 2 Peter 2:3–8). Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? (1.) These are beyond all mercy! (2.) These are beyond all promises! (3.) These are beyond all hopes of repentance! (4.) These have no intercessor, nor any more share in a sacrifice for sin! (5.) For these there remains nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment! (6.) Wherefore these are the true fugitives and vagabonds, that being left of God, of Christ, of grace, and of the promise, and being beyond all hope, wander and straggle to and fro, even as the devil, their associate, until their time shall come to die, or until they descend in battle and perish!

2. Wherefore they are let alone in hearing. If these at any time come under the word, there is for them no God, no savour of the means of grace, no stirrings of heart, no pity for themselves, no love to their own salvation. Let them look on this hand or that, there they see such effects of the word in others as produceth signs of repentance, and love to God and his Christ. These men only have their backs bowed down alway (Rom 11:10). These men only have the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, to this very day. Wherefore as they go to the place of the Holy, so they come from the place of the Holy, and soon are forgotten in the places where they so did (Eccl 8:10). Only they reap this damage, ‘They treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ (Rom 2:3–5). Look to it, barren professor!

3. If he be visited after the common way of mankind, either with sickness, distress, or any mind of calamity, still no God appeareth, no sanctifying hand of God, no special mercy is mixed with the affliction. But he falls sick, and grows well, like the beast; or is under distress, as Saul, who when he was engaged by the Philistines was forsaken and left of God, ‘And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem, and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets’ (1 Sam 28:4–6). The Lord answered him no more; he had done with him, cast him off, and rejected him, and left him to stand and fall with his sins, by himself. But of this more in the conclusion: therefore I here forbear.

4. These men may go whither they will, do what they will; they may range from opinion to opinion, from notion to notion, from sect to sect, but are steadfast nowhere; they are left to their own uncertainties, they have not grace to establish their hearts; and though some of them have boasted themselves of this liberty, yet Jude calls them ‘wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever’ (Jude 13). They are left, as I told you before, to be fugitives and vagabonds in the earth, to wander everywhere, but to abide nowhere, until they shall descend to their own place, with Cain and Judas, men of the same fate with themselves (Acts 1:25).

A third sign that such a professor is quite past grace is, when his heart is grown so hard, so stony, and impenetrable, that nothing will pierce it. Barren fig-tree, dost thou consider? a hard and impenitent heart is the curse of God! A heart that cannot repent, is instead of all plagues at once; and hence it is that God said of Pharaoh, when he spake of delivering him up in the greatness of his anger, ‘I will at this time,’ saith he, ‘send all my plagues upon thine heart’ (Exo 9:14).

To some men that have grievously sinned under a profession of the gospel, God giveth this token of his displeasure; they are denied the power of repentance, their heart is bound, they cannot repent; it is impossible that they should ever repent, should they live a thousand years. It is impossible for those fall-aways to be renewed again unto repentance, ‘seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame’ (Heb 6:4–6). Now, to have the heart so hardened, so judicially hardened, this is as a bar put in by the Lord God against the salvation of this sinner. This was the burden of Spira’s complaint, ‘I cannot do it! O! how I cannot do it!’20

This man sees what he hath done, what should help him, and what will become of him; yet he cannot repent; he pulled away his shoulder before, he stopped his ears before, he shut up his eyes before, and in that very posture God left him, and so he stands to this very day. I have had a fancy, that Lot’s wife, when she was turned into a pillar of salt, stood yet looking over her shoulder, or else with her face towards Sodom; as the judgment caught her, so it bound her, and left her a monument of God’s anger to after generations (Gen 19:26).

We read of some that are seared with a hot iron, and that are past feeling; for so seared persons in seared parts are. Their conscience is seared (1 Tim 4:2). The conscience is the thing that must be touched with feeling, fear, and remorse, if ever any good be done with the sinner. How then can any good be done to those whose conscience is worse than that? that is, fast asleep in sin (Eph 4:19). For that conscience that is fast asleep, may yet be effectually awakened and saved; but that conscience that is seared, dried, as it were, into a cinder, can never have sense, feeling, or the least regret in this world. Barren fig-tree, hearken, judicial hardening is dreadful! There is a difference betwixt that hardness of heart that is incident to all men, and that which comes upon some as a signal or special judgment of God. And although all kinds of hardness of heart, in some sense may be called a judgment, yet to be hardened with this second kind, is a judgment peculiar only to them that perish; hardness that is sent as a punishment for the abuse of light received, for a reward of apostacy. This judicial hardness is discovered from that which is incident to all men, in these particulars:—

1. It is a hardness that comes after some great light received, because of some great sin committed against that light, and the grace that gave it. Such hardness as Pharaoh had, after the Lord had wrought wondrously before him; such hardness as the Gentiles had, a hardness which darkened the heart, a hardness which made their minds reprobate. This hardness is also the same with that the Hebrews are cautioned to beware of, a hardness that is caused by unbelief, and a departing from the living God; a hardness completed through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:7, &c). Such as that in the provocation, of whom God sware, that they should not enter into his rest. It was this kind of hardness also, that both Cain, and Ishmael, and Esau, were hardened with, after they had committed their great transgressions.

2. It is the greatest kind of hardness; and hence they are said to be harder than a rock, or than an adamant, that is, harder than flint; so hard, that nothing can enter (Jer 5:3; Zech 7:12).

3. It is a hardness given in much anger, and that to bind the soul up in an impossibility of repentance.

4. It is a hardness, therefore, which is incurable, of which a man must die and be damned. Barren professor, hearken to this.

A fourth sign that such a professor is quite past grace, is, when he fortifies his hard heart against the tenor of God’s word (Job 9:4, &c.) This is called hardening themselves against God, and turning of the Spirit against them. As thus, when after a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus, and of the doctrine that is according to godliness, they shall embolden themselves in courses of sin, by promising themselves that they shall have life and salvation notwithstanding. Barren professor, hearken to this! This man is called, ‘a root that beareth gall and wormwood,’ or a poisonful herb, such an one as is abominated of God, yea, the abhorred of his soul. For this man saith, ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination’ or stubbornness ‘of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst’; an opinion flat against the whole Word of God, yea, against the very nature of God himself (Deut 29:18, 19). Wherefore he adds, ‘Then the anger of the Lord, and his jealousy, shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in God’s book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven’ (Deut 19:20).

Yea, that man shall not fail to be effectually destroyed, saith the text: ‘The Lord shall separate that man unto evil, out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant’ (Deut 19:21). He shall separate him unto evil; he shall give him up, he shall leave him to his heart; he shall separate him to that or those that will assuredly be too hard for him.

Now this judgment is much effected when God hath given a man up unto Satan, and hath given Satan leave, without fail, to complete his destruction. I say, when God hath given Satan leave effectually to complete his destruction; for all that are delivered up unto Satan have not, nor do not come to this end. But that is the man whom God shall separate to evil, and shall leave in the hands of Satan, to complete, without fail, his destruction.

Thus he served Ahab, a man that sold himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord. ‘And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also; go forth, and do so’ (1 Kings 21:25, 22:20–22). Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail; do thy will, I leave him in thy hand, go forth, and do so.

Wherefore, in these judgments the Lord doth much concern himself for the management thereof, because of the provocation wherewith they have provoked him. This is the man whose ruin contriveth, and bringeth to pass by his own contrivance: ‘I also will choose their delusions’ for them; ‘I will bring their fears upon them’ (Isa 66:4). I will choose their devices, or the wickednesses that their hearts are contriving of. I, even I, will cause them to be accepted of, and delightful to them. But who are they that must thus be feared? Why, those among professors that have chosen their own ways, those whose soul delighteth in their abominations. Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved: for this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

‘God shall send them.’ It is a great word! Yea, God shall send them strong delusions; delusions that shall do: that shall make them believe a lie. Why so? ‘That they all might be damned,’ every one of them, ‘who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness’ (2 Thess 2:10–12).

There is nothing more provoking to the Lord, than for a man to promise when God threateneth; for a man to delight of conceit that he shall be safe, and yet to be more wicked than in former days, this man’s soul abhorreth the truth of God; no marvel, therefore, if God’s soul abhorreth him; he hath invented a way contrary to God, to bring about his own salvation; no marvel, therefore, if God invent a way to bring about this man’s damnation: and seeing that these rebels are at this point, we shall have peace; God will see whose word will stand, his or theirs.

A fifth sign of a man being past grace is, when he shall at this scoff, and inwardly grin and fret against the Lord, secretly purposing to continue his course, and put all to the venture, despising the messengers of the Lord. ‘He that despised Moses’ law, died without mercy;—of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?’ &c. (Heb 10:28). Wherefore, against these despisers God hath set himself, and foretold that they shall not believe, but perish: ‘Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in nowise believe, though a man declare it unto you’ (Acts 13:41).

After that thou shalt cut it down

Thus far we have treated of the barren fig-tree, or fruitless professor, with some signs to know him by; whereto is added also some signs of one who neither will nor can, by any means, be fruitful, but they must miserably perish. Now, being come to the time of execution, I shall speak a word to that also; ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’

[PROPOSITION SECOND. The death or cutting down of such men will be dreadful.]

Christ, at last, turns the barren fig-tree over to the justice of God, shakes his hands of him, and gives him up to the fire for his unprofitableness. ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’

Two things are here to be considered:

First. The executioner; thou, the great, the dreadful, the eternal God. These words, therefore, as I have already said, signify that Christ the Mediator, through whom alone salvation comes, and by whom alone execution hath been deferred, now giveth up the soul, forbears to speak one syllable more for him, or to do the least act of grace further, to try for his recovery; but delivereth him up to that fearful dispensation, ‘to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31).

Second. The second to be considered is, The instrument by which this execution is done, and that is death, compared here to an axe; and forasmuch as the tree is not felled at one blow, therefore the strokes are here continued, till all the blows be struck at it that are requisite for its felling: for now cutting time, and cutting work, is come; cutting must be his portion till he be cut down. ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’ Death, I say, is the axe, which God often useth, therewith to take the barren fig-tree out of the vineyard, out of a profession, and also out of the world at once. But this axe is now new ground, it cometh well-edged to the roots of this barren fig-tree. It hath been whetted by sin, by the law, and by a formal profession, and therefore must, and will make deep gashes, not only in the natural life, but in the heart and conscience also of this professor: ‘The wages of sin is death,’ ‘the sting of death is sin’ (Rom 6:23; 1 Cor 15:56). Wherefore death comes not to this man as he doth to saints, muzzled, or without his sting, but with open mouth, in all his strength; yea, he sends his first-born, which is guilt, to devour his strength, and to bring him to the king of terrors (Job 18:13, 14).

But to give you, in a few particulars, the manner of this man’s dying.

1. Now he hath his fruitless fruits beleaguer him round his bed, together with all the bands and legions of his other wickedness. ‘His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins’ (Prov 5:22).

2. Now some terrible discovery of God is made out unto him, to the perplexing and terrifying of his guilty conscience. ‘God shall cast upon him, and not spare’; and he shall be ‘afraid of that which is high’ (Job 27:22; Eccl 12:5).

3. The dark entry he is to go through will be a sore amazement to him; for ‘fears shall be in the way’ (Eccl 12:5). Yea, terrors will take hold on him, when he shall see the yawning jaws of death to gape upon him, and the doors of the shadow of death open to give him passage out of the world. Now, who will meet me in this dark entry? how shall I pass through this dark entry into another world?

4. For by reason of guilt, and a shaking conscience, his life will hang in continual doubt before him, and he shall be afraid day and night, and shall have no assurance of his life (Deut 28:66, 67).

5. Now also want will come up against him; he will come up like an armed man. This is a terrible army to him that is graceless in heart, and fruitless in life. This WANT will continually cry in thine ears, Here is a new birth wanting, a new heart, and a new spirit wanting; here is faith wanting; here is love and repentance wanting; here is the fear of God wanting, and a good conversation wanting: ‘Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting’ (Dan 5:27).

6. Together with these standeth by the companions of death, death and hell, death and evils, death and endless torment in the everlasting flames of devouring fire. ‘When God cometh up unto the people he will invade them with his troops’ (Hab 3:16).

But how will this man die? Can his heart now endure, or can his hands be strong? (Eze 22:14).

(1.) God, and Christ, and pity, have left him. Sin against light, against mercy, and the long-suffering of God, is come up against him; his hope and confidence now lie a-dying by him, and his conscience totters and shakes continually within him!

(2.) Death is at his work, cutting of him down, hewing both bark and heart, both body and soul asunder. The man groans, but death hears him not; he looks ghastly, carefully, dejectedly; he sighs, he sweats, he trembles, but death matters nothing.

(3.) Fearful cogitations haunt him, misgivings, direful apprehensions of God, terrify him. Now he hath time to think what the loss of heaven will be, and what the torments of hell will be: now he looks no way but he is frighted.

(4.) Now would he live, but may not; he would live, though it were but the life of a bed-rid man, but he must not. He that cuts him down sways him as the feller of wood sways the tottering tree; now this way, then that, at last a root breaks, a heart-string, an eye-string, sweeps asunder.

(5.) And now, could the soul be annihilated, or brought to nothing, how happy would it count itself, but it sees that may not be. Wherefore it is put to a wonderful strait; stay in the body it may not, go out of the body it dares not. Life is going, the blood settles in the flesh, and the lungs being no more able to draw breath through the nostrils, at last out goes the weary trembling soul, which is immediately seized by devils, who lay lurking in every hole in the chamber for that very purpose. His friends take care of the body, wrap it up in the sheet or coffin, but the soul is out of their thought and reach, going down to the chambers of death.

I had thought to have enlarged, but I forbear. God, who teaches man to profit, bless this brief and plain discourse to thy soul, who yet standest a professor in the land of the living, among the trees of his[1]

 

 

1 General Doctrine of Toleration, 8vo, 1781.

2 This awful destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans is narrated by Josephus in his sixth book of the Jewish Wars, in language that makes nature shudder. Multitudes had assembled to celebrate the passover when the invading army beleaguered the city; a frightful famine soon filled it with desolation: this, with fire and sword, miserably destroyed one million, three hundred and thirty-seven thousand, four hundred and ninety Jews, while the Christians fled before the siege, and escaped to the mountains. Well might the sun vail his face at that atrocious deed, which was so quickly followed by such awful punishment.—Ed.

3 Reader, do not imagine that this was peculiar to Bunyan’s days; look not upon your neighbours to find an example, but search your own heart—’Lord, is it I?’ and strive and pray that you may bring forth more fruit.—Ed.

4 The mode of admitting a member to church-fellowship, among the Baptists, was and now is by introducing the trembling convert to a private meeting of the whole church, that they may hear why the union is sought, how the soul became alarmed, and fled for refuge to Christ, with the grounds of hope; inquiries having been previously made into Christian character and godliness. If, with all these precautions, a barren professor gains admittance, the punishment is not upon the garden, but upon the barren tree.—Ed.

5 ‘Humour,’ the temper or disposition of mind. Not out of love to humility, but these creeping things pretend to be humble, to gain some sinister end.—Ed.

6 However strange it may appear, it is true that the Ranters, in Bunyan’s time, used these arguments, and those so graphically put into the mouth of Bye-ends, in the Pilgrim, to justify their nonconformity to Christ. The tom-fooleries and extravagancies of dress introduced by Charles II, are here justly and contemptuously described. The ladies’ head-dresses, called ‘frizzled fore-tops,’ became so extravagant, that a barber used high steps to enable him to dress a lady’s head!—Ed.

7 A word not to be found in our dictionaries, being local and almost obsolete. It means a division, end, or border of a town or village.—Ed.

8 See the character of Talkative, in the Pilgrim’s Progress. ‘His house is as empty of religion as the white of an egg is of savour. There is in his house neither prayer, nor sign of repentance for sin. He is the very stain, reproach, and shame of religion. Thus say the common people that know him, A saint abroad and a devil at home.’—Ed.

9 How great is the mercy that those horrid barbarities, perpetrated upon peaceful Christians, are now only heard of in those distance parts of Satan’s empire, China and Madagascar! Has the enmity of the human heart by nature changed? No; but the number of Christians has so vastly increased with a civilizing influence, as to change the face of society. What a paradise will this earth become when Christ shall reign in every heart!—Ed.

10 In the midst of these faithful admonitions, we venture to remark that, according to Lightfoot, so valuable was the fig-tree that it was never destroyed until means were carefully used to restore its fruitfulness, and that the use of these means occupied a period of three years. This illustrates the wisdom of our Lord in selecting the fig-tree as the principal object presented to view in his parable. It is a most valuable tree-capable of bearing much fruit; still, after every trial, if it remains barren, it must be cut down as a cumber-ground, and sent to the fire.—Ed.

11 A ‘hit,’ in some parts of the country, is used to express a good crop. A ‘hitting season’ means a fruitful season.—Ed.

12 This mode of infusing new vigour into plants and trees is thus described in the Gemara—’They lay dung in their gardens, to soften the earth. They dig about the roots of their trees, and sprinkle ashes, and pluck up suckers, and make a smoke beneath to kill vermin.’—Ed.

13 Among the superstitions of the ancients, Michaelis states that both the Greeks and Asiatics had a superstition that a tree might be rendered fruitful by striking it, at the intercession of a friend, three times with the back of an axe.—Ed.

14 However painfully unpleasant these terms may appear to eyes or ears polite, it is a homely but just representation, and calculated to make a lasting impression on every reader. Afflictions, trials, crosses, are used as a means of creating or reviving spiritual life, as manure is applied to vegetation.—Ed.

15 Mahomet professed descent from Ishmael, and that he came to revive the religion which God had revealed to Abraham, who taught it to Ishmael. Mahometanism is the religion of the outcast of God.—Ed.

16 Bunyan had been haunted with the temptation ‘to sell and part with Christ,’ and, under a fear that he had fallen under that temptation, the case of Esau made a dreadful impression upon his soul; extreme horror and anguish seized upon his spirit; ‘he was like a man bereft of life and bound over to eternal punishment,’ for two years. At length, after an awful storm, he found peace in the promise, ‘his blood cleanseth from ALL sins,’ and a proof that he had not sold Christ.—See Grace Abounding, No. 139–160.

17 How solemn a thought! What an appeal to perpetual watchfulness. Why have I not made shipwreck of faith? Most emphatically may we reply, Because God has sustained my soul.—Ed.

18 Bunyan’s tongue and pen are here fired by his vivid imagination of eternal realities. With such burning words, we need no messenger from the invisible world to alarm the consciences of sinners. What angel could arouse more powerfully, alarmingly, convincingly, the poor sinner, than the whole of this chain of reasoning.—Ed.

19 This picture is drawn by a master hand: the master is laid by for a season; or, as Bunyan quaintly expresses it, ‘a little a to side’: when raised from affliction earthly affairs absorb his attention, and he forgets his good resolves. According to the old rhyme:-

‘The devil was sick, the devil a saint would be

The devil to well, the devil a saint was he.’—Ed.

20 This is referred to in the Pilgrim, at the Interpreter’s house, by the representation of a man in an iron cage, who says, ‘I cannot get out, O now I cannot!’ The awful account of Spira’s despair must have made a strong impression upon Bunyan’s mind. It commences with a poem.

‘Here see a soul that’s all despair; a man

All hell; a spirit all wounds; who can

A wounded spirit bear?

Reader, would’st see, what may you never feel

Despair, racks, torments, whips of burning steel!

Behold, the man’s the furnace, in whose heart

Sin hath created hell; O in each part

What flames appear:

His thoughts all stings; words, swords;

Brimstone his breath;

His eyes flames; wishes curses, life a death;

A thousand deaths live in him, he not dead;

A breathing corpse in living, scalding lead.’

Fearful Estate of Francis Spira.—Ed.

[1] Geo Offor. (2006). Advertisement by the Editor. In The Barren Fig-Tree (Vol. 3, pp. 560–585). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. (Public Domain)

 


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