Call to Worship May 27 2018

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Luke

J.C. Ryle Luke 13:6-9

“We learn first from this passage — that where God gives spiritual privileges, He expects proportionate returns.

Our Lord teaches this lesson, by comparing the Jewish Church of His day to a ‘fig tree planted in a vineyard.’ This was exactly the position of Israel in the world. They were separated from other nations by the Mosaic laws and ordinances, no less than by the situation of their land. They were favored with revelations of God, which were granted to no other people. Things were done for them, which were never done for Egypt, or Nineveh, or Babylon, or Greece, or Rome. It was only just and right, that they should bear fruit to God’s praise. It might reasonably be expected, that there would be more faith, and penitence, and holiness, and godliness in Israel — than among the heathen. This is what God looked for. The owner of the fig tree ‘came seeking fruit.’

But if we mean to get the full benefit of the parable before us — then we must look beyond the Jewish Church. We must look to the Christian churches. They have light, and truth, and doctrines, and precepts — of which the heathen never hear. How great is their responsibility! Is it not just and right, that God should expect fruit from them?

We must look to our own hearts. We live in a land of Bibles, and liberty, and Gospel preaching. How vast are the advantages we enjoy — compared to the Chinese and Hindu! Never let us forget that God expects fruit from us!

We learn, secondly, from this passage — that it is a most dangerous thing to be unfruitful under great religious privileges.

The manner in which our Lord conveys this lesson to us is deeply impressive. He shows us the owner of the barren fig tree complaining that it bore no fruit, ‘These three years I have come seeking fruit — and find none.’ He describes him as even ordering the destruction of the tree as a useless cumberer of the ground, ‘Cut it down; why does it cumber the ground?’ He brings in the dresser of the vineyard pleading for the fig tree, that it may be spared a little longer, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also.’ And He concludes the parable by putting these solemn words into the vine-dresser’s mouth, ‘If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not — then cut it down!’

There is a plain warning here to all professing churches of Christ. If their ministers do not teach sound doctrine, and their members do not live holy lives — then they are in imminent peril of destruction. God is every year observing them, and taking account of all their ways. They may abound in ceremonial religion. They may be covered with the leaves of forms, and services, and ordinances. But if they are destitute of the fruits of the Spirit — then they are reckoned to be useless cumberers of the ground. Unless they repent — they will be cut down.

It was so with the Jewish Church forty years after our Lord’s ascension. It will be so yet with many others, it may be feared, before the end comes. The ax is lying near the root of many an unfruitful Church. The sentence will yet go forth, ‘Cut it down!’

There is a plainer warning still in the passage, for all unconverted professing Christians. There are many in every congregation who hear the Gospel — who are literally hanging over the brink of the bottomless pit! They have lived for years in the best part of God’s vineyard — and yet borne no fruit. They have heard the Gospel preached faithfully for hundreds of Sundays — yet have never embraced it, and taken up the cross, and followed Christ. They do not perhaps run into open sin. But they do nothing for God’s glory. There is nothing positive about their religion. Of each of these the Lord of the vineyard might say with truth, ‘I come for these many years seeking fruit on this tree — and have found none. It only cumbers the ground. Cut it down!’

There are myriads of respectable professing Christians in this plight. They have not the least idea, how near they are to destruction. Never let us forget, that to be content with sitting in the congregation and hearing sermons, while we bear no fruit in our lives — is conduct which is most offensive to God. It provokes Him to cut us off suddenly, and that without remedy!

We learn, lastly, from this parable — what an infinite debt we all owe to God’s mercy and Christ’s intercession. It seems impossible to draw any other lesson from the earnest pleading of the vine-dresser, ‘Lord, let it alone this year also.’ Surely we see here, as in a looking-glass — the loving kindness of God, and the mediation of Christ.

Mercy has been truly called the darling attribute of God. Power, justice, purity, holiness, wisdom, unchangeableness — are all parts of God’s character, and have all been manifested to the world in a thousand ways, both in His works and in His Word. But if there is one of His attributes which He is pleased to exhibit to man more clearly than others — beyond doubt, that attribute is His mercy. He is a God who ‘delights in mercy.’ (Micah 7:18.)

Divine mercy founded on the mediation of a coming Savior. Divine mercy was the cause why Adam and Eve were not cast down to Hell, in the day that they fell. Divine mercy has been the cause why God has borne so long with this sin-laden world, and not come down to judgment. Divine mercy is even now the cause why unconverted sinners are so long spared, and not cut off in their sins.

We have probably not the least conception how much we all owe to God’s mercy. The last day will prove that all mankind were debtors to God’s mercy, and Christ’s mediation. Even those who are finally lost, will discover to their shame — that it was ‘of the Lord’s mercies, they were not consumed’ long before they died. As for those who are saved — covenant-mercy will be all their plea!

Are we fruitful — or unfruitful? This, after all, is the question which concerns us most. What does God see in us year after year? Let us take heed so to live — that He may see fruit in us.”