Spare It This Year Also
This chapter is based on
the following verses:
CHRIST in His teaching linked with the
warning of judgment the invitation of mercy. "The Son of man is not come," He
said, "to destroy men's lives, but to save them." Luke 9:56. "God sent not
His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be
saved." John 3:17. His mission of mercy in its relation to God's justice and judgment
is illustrated in the parable of the barren fig tree.
Christ had been warning the
people of the coming of the kingdom of God, and He had sharply rebuked their ignorance and
indifference. The signs in the sky, which foretold the weather, they were quick to read;
but the signs of the times, which so clearly pointed to His mission, were not discerned.
But men were as ready then as
men are now to conclude that they themselves are the favorites of heaven, and that the
message of reproof is meant for another. The hearers told Jesus of an event which had just
caused great excitement. Some of the measures of Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea,
had given offense to the people. There had
been a popular tumult in Jerusalem, and Pilate
had attempted to quell this by violence. On one occasion his soldiers had even invaded the
precincts of the temple, and had cut down some Galilean pilgrims in the very act of
slaying their sacrifices. The Jews regarded calamity as a judgment on account of the
sufferer's sin, and those who told of this act of violence did so with secret
satisfaction. In their view their own good fortune proved them to be much better, and
therefore more favored by God, than were these Galileans. They expected to hear from Jesus
words of condemnation for these men, who, they doubted not, richly deserved their
The disciples of Christ did
not venture to express their ideas until they had heard the opinion of their Master. He
had given them pointed lessons in reference to judging other men's characters, and
measuring retribution according to their finite judgment. Yet they looked for Christ to
denounce these men as sinners above others. Great was their surprise at His answer.
Turning to the multitude, the
Saviour said, "Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans,
because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay; but, except ye repent, ye shall all
likewise perish." These startling calamities were designed to lead them to humble
their hearts, and to repent of their sins. The storm of vengeance was gathering, which was
soon to burst upon all who had not found a refuge in Christ.
As Jesus talked with the
disciples and the multitude, He looked forward with prophetic glance and saw Jerusalem
besieged with armies. He heard the tramp of the aliens marching against the chosen city
and saw the thousands upon thousands perishing in the siege. Many of the Jews were, like
those Galileans, slain in the temple courts, in the very act of offering sacrifice. The
calamities that had fallen
upon individuals were warnings from God to a nation equally
guilty. "Except ye repent," said Jesus,"ye shall all likewise perish."
For a little time the day of probation lingered for them. There was still time for them to
know the things that belonged to their peace.
"A certain man," He
continued, "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 this fig-tree, and find none: cut it down; why
cumbereth it the ground?"
Christ's hearers could not
misunderstand the application of His words. David had sung of Israel as the vine brought
out of Egypt. Isaiah had written, "The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of
Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant." Isa. 5:7. The generation to whom
the Saviour had come were represented by the fig tree in the Lord's vineyard--within the
circle of His special care and blessing.
God's purpose toward His
people, and the glorious possibilities before them, had been set forth in the beautiful
words, "That they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord,
that He might be glorified," Isa. 61:3. The dying Jacob, under the Spirit of
inspiration, had said of his best-loved son, "Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a
fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall." And he said, "The
God of thy Father" "shall help thee," the Almighty "shall bless thee
with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under." Gen. 49:22,
25. So God had planted Israel as a goodly vine by the wells of life. He had made His
vineyard "in a very fruitful hill." He had "fenced it, and gathered out the
stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine." Isa. 5:1, 2.
"And He looked that it
should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes." Isa. 5:2. The people of
Christ's day made a greater show of piety than did the Jews of earlier ages, but they were
even more destitute of the sweet graces of the Spirit of God. The precious fruits of
character that made the life of Joseph so fragrant and beautiful, were not manifest in the
God in His Son had been
seeking fruit, and had found none. Israel was a cumberer of the ground. Its very existence
was a curse; for it filled the place in the vineyard that a fruitful tree might fill. It
robbed the world of the blessings that God designed to give. The Israelites had
misrepresented God among the nations. They were not merely useless, but a decided
hindrance. To a great degree their religion was misleading, and wrought ruin instead of
In the parable the dresser of
the vineyard does not question the sentence that the tree, if it remained fruitless,
should be cut down; but he knows and shares the owner's interest in that barren tree.
Nothing could give him greater joy than to see its growth and fruitfulness. He responds to
the desire of the owner, saying, "Let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about
it and dung it; and if it bear fruit, well."
The gardener does not refuse
to minister to so unpromising a plant. He stands ready to give it still greater care.
He will make its surroundings most favorable, and will lavish upon it every attention.
The owner and the dresser of
the vineyard are one in their interest in the fig tree. So the Father and the Son were one
in their love for the chosen people. Christ was saying to His hearers that increased
opportunities would be given them. Every means that the love of God could devise would be
put in operation that they might become trees of righteousness, bringing forth fruit for
the blessing of the world.
Jesus did not in the parable
tell the result of the gardener's work. At that point His story was cut short. Its
conclusion rested with the generation that heard His words. To them the solemn warning was
given. "If not, then after that thou shalt cut it down." Upon them it depended
whether the irrevocable words should be spoken. The day of wrath was near. In the
calamities that had already befallen Israel, the owner of the vineyard was mercifully
forewarning them of the destruction of the unfruitful tree.
The warning sounds down along
the line to us in this generation. Are you, O careless heart, a fruitless tree in the
Lord's vineyard? Shall the words of doom erelong be spoken of you? How long have you
received His gifts? How long has He watched and waited for a return of love? Planted in
His vineyard, under the watchful care of the gardener, what privileges are yours! How
often has the tender gospel message thrilled your heart! You have taken the name of
Christ, you are outwardly a member of the church which is His body, and yet you are
conscious of no living connection with the great heart of love. The tide of His life does
not flow through you. The sweet graces of His character, "the fruits of the
Spirit," are not seen in your life.
The barren tree receives the
rain and the sunshine and the gardener's care. It draws nourishment from the soil. But its
unproductive boughs only darken the ground, so that fruit-bearing plants cannot flourish
in its shadow. So God's gifts, lavished on you, convey no blessing to the world. You are
robbing others of privileges that, but for you, might be theirs.
You realize, though it may be
but dimly, that you are a cumberer of the ground. Yet in His great mercy God has not cut
you down. He does not look coldly upon you. He does not turn away with indifference, or
leave you to destruction. Looking upon you He cries, as He cried so
many centuries ago
concerning Israel, "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee,
Israel? . . . I will not execute the fierceness of Mine anger. I will not return to
destroy Ephraim; for I am God, and not man." Hosea 11:8, 9. The pitying Saviour is
saying concerning you, Spare it this year also, till I shall dig about it and dress it.
With what unwearied love did
Christ minister to Israel during the period of added probation. Upon the cross He prayed,
"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." Luke 23:24. After His
ascension the gospel was preached first at Jerusalem. There the Holy Spirit was poured
out. There the first gospel church revealed the power of the risen Saviour. There
Stephen--"his face as it had been the face of an angel" (Acts 6:15)--bore his
testimony and laid down his life. All that heaven itself could give was bestowed.
"What could have been done more to My vineyard," Christ said, "that I have
not done in it?" Isa. 5:4. So His care and labor for you are not lessened, but
increased. Still He says, "I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest
any hurt it, I will keep it night and day." Isa. 27:3.
"If it bear fruit, well;
and if not, then after that"--
The heart that does not
respond to divine agencies becomes hardened until it is no longer susceptible to the
influence of the Holy Spirit. Then it is that the word is spoken, "Cut it down; why
cumbereth it the ground?"
Today He invites you: "O
Israel, return unto the Lord thy God. . . . I will heal their backsliding, I will love
them freely. . . . I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall grow as the lily, and cast
forth his roots as Lebanon. . . . They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they
shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine. . . . From Me is thy fruit found."