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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: The Gospels

Chapter 34 - Mark 11:13 - The Fruitless Life Light & Truth: The Gospels by Bonar, Horatius

Index

XXXIV.

 

The Fruitless Life.

 

"Nothing but leaves."-Mark 11:13.

 

 

     It was the eye of the Son of God that searched this tree, and made this discovery.  It must have been true that there was "nothing but leaves." Man's eye might be deceived; his could not. That which He found barren must have been really so. No fruit could be concealed from Him. And He who searched the fig tree is the searcher of souls, and the searcher of churches. "I know thy works."

     He found leaves, but nothing more. Leaves are proper to the tree, but not the main thing. They are something, but not all; nay, they are the least part of that for which the tree is made. They are ornaments; they are shade; they cover the bare branches; they protect the fruit from the sun. But they are not substitutes for fruit. Leaves and something more would have been the thing. Not fruit without leaves, nor leaves without fruit. Leaves and fruit would have been the true condition. Leaves are necessary, but not for satisfying hunger.

     It was the hunger of the Son of God that led to the discovery. He was "an hungered," for He was truly man. He thought that on this tree He would find something to satisfy his hunger. It promised well at a distance; and he judged of it at first simply as a man does who sees a thing afar off. But the verdict against the tree is, "nothing but leaves."

     (1.) It is a remarkable description. It is the least offensive way of describing barrenness. Everything is here but fruit. No exaggeration. This is Christ's simple description of a fruitless Christian. Nothing but leaves. Nothing to satisfy the hunger of the Son of God. Much that looks well; but that is all. Nothing but words! Nothing but forms!  Nothing but profession!

     (2.) It is an expression of disappointment. It was a fig tree, not a fir tree; it was not planted in the wilderness, but in a fruitful soil. There ought to have been fruit, for the harvest had not yet been gathered. Leaves are promises. As they wave in the wind, or glisten in the sunshine, they say there is fruit here. All Christian profession is a promise,-to man and to God. Christ comes to satisfy his hunger, and his verdict against the promising but fruitless professor is, "Nothing but leaves." This is the language of disappointment; as in the case of God's vine in Isaiah (v. 4), or of the fig tree planted in the vineyard (Luke 13:6).

     (3.) It is a declaration of uselessness. The purpose of the tree has not been served. It was made for fruit, and there is nothing but leaves! It was planted in a fruitful soil, in one of the pleasant Bethany hollows; but it bears no fruit. Nothing but leaves! Then (1.) Nothing to do credit to any one; to the gardener, or the garden, or the soil, or the owner, or the root itself. (2.) Nothing to be of any use to any one; all a cheat, a sham, a mockery; something for the eye, but no more; a fair outside, but useless; not perhaps a white sepulcher, but a useless growth; a well without water; a pretence, an unreality, a falsehood. (3.) Nothing to satisfy the hunger of the Son of God; He craves fruit, not leaves.

     (4.) It is a sentence of doom. Or at least it is preliminary to it. Nothing but leaves! Then wither away! Leaves and branches perish! This is the condemnation of the fruitless professor.

     This fruitless fig tree is a symbol. Though a real tree on the Bethany road, yet a symbol: of Jewish unfruitfulness; of Christian unfruitfulness; unfruitfulness in the individual and in the church; words without deeds, or deeds that contain neither life nor love, and make the doer as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.

     It is simple unfruitfulness that is represented here, as in the fig tree of the vineyard. It is not corrupt or poisonous fruit; it is not immorality or even total death; nor the twice-dead tree; nor the cloud charged with fire; nor the star shedding baleful fire; nor the whited sepulcher; but simply the absence of fruit. It is form with some show of life; a tree with foliage, with sufficient sap to produce leaves and verdure; a profession sufficiently fair to excite expectation; a fair-promising Christianity, an excellent external religion. The class described here is not that of the profligate, the scoffer, the drunkard, the theatre goer, the ball attender, the card-player, the turf-haunter, the Sabbath-breaker; but the brisk religious talker, the bustling planner, the church-frequenter, the man of the committee and the platform. The professor depicted here may be found at our communion table, among our elders, or Sabbath-school teachers, or visitors, or, perhaps, our ministers. He goes far; he promises much; he raises high expectations. Yet, after all, there is nothing but leaves! Nothing but leaves; then,

     I. Our creed is vain. It may be excellent and sound; without a crack or flaw; orthodox, ancient, evangelical; with Christ as its alpha and omega. It may be noble and venerable; the creed of apostles; the creed of primitive days; the creed of the reformation; the creed of all protestant churches; the creed of our fathers, in which we have been instructed from childhood; yet if it produce no fruit, it is vain. We may be most intelligent in our apprehension of it,-zealous in our appreciation, and defense, and propagation of it,-yet if we are without that which God calls fruit, which is the offspring of life, and love, and faith, we are but as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.  A man may say, "Lord, Lord," and yet be shut out from the kingdom.

     II. Our religion is vain. By "religion" I mean the whole of a man's transactions with God; his whole worship and service; all the ways in which his creed acts itself out. If there be nothing of what God calls fruit, his whole religious life is vain; all his religious acts, whether of devotion, or service, or benevolence, are vain. In him the whole routine of religion may be perfect and unexceptionable, and there may be no positive inconsistency to contradict this,-no irreverence, no neglect, no contempt,-yet his religion may be unfruitful.  It may look well, and promise well, yet after all there may be "nothing but leaves."

     III. Our Bible is vain. We may read it intelligently, reverently, and regularly,-we may teach it to others, in the family, the Sabbath school, the Bible class,-yet it may profit nothing. It may be relished by us sentimentally or poetically, yet find no entrance into our conscience, no dwelling in our inner man. With our Bible in our hands and on our lips there may be no life. The Bible with all its glorious gospel may be in vain. That gospel itself may be in vain.

     IV. Our churchmanship is vain. Zeal for a true church will not serve nor profit; it may sometimes cover lack of zeal for Christ. Love to a church and love to Christ are very different things. Churchmanship is not religion; it is not fruit, it is often mere "leaves."

     V. Our faith and hope are vain. What is faith if it does not shew itself in fruit? What is hope if it have no loving, living, practical manifestations? Let us see what is the nature of our faith and hope, lest after all we have "nothing but leaves."

     VI. Our whole life is vain. Not one part of it, but every part of it. All is unreal and hollow, beginning, middle, and end; the civil and social as well as the religious. It is one great unreality throughout; to bring forth nothing. All wasted!  A mere show, or shadow, or piece of acting. How sad that our whole life should be vain! Nothing but leaves!

     Woe to the fruitless! They have had all advantages, yet they bear nothing but leaves! Woe to the fruitless? The whole end of being is frustrated! Woe to the fruitless! Their whole course is a pretence, a falsehood!

     If it be so for time,-then what for eternity? There is no possibility of improving the tree hereafter. No transplantation, nor grafting, nor pruning, nor digging hereafter. It is felled and given to the fire! Or put it in this way,-eternal barrenness! How awful, how wretched!  Eternal unreality!

     Even now the axe is laid at the root, in token of coming judgment; it will soon be lifted up; it will soon smite. So that, while pointing to the cross, we point also to the axe; while telling of the husbandman, planting, pruning, manuring, we must tell also of the same husbandman, examining, condemning, cutting down. Yes, the cross is yonder, but the axe is here.

     Ah yes! these are awful words, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever! The curse of eternal barrenness! To be stripped of our green foliage as Adam of his fig leaves; to wither away! O fruitless sinner, bethink you of your doom. Bear fruit or perish!  Fulfill your promise or wither away.