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J Plea for 1859.
In wishing to all—which I do with all my heart--a happy new year, I feel myself driven at once back again to the old story. When I say driven back again, I do not mean to imply a plea of guilty to having wandered essentially away from it, but only that in seeking a prescription for ensuring happiness, it is quite vain to go to any other source than to the gospel of the gra :e of God.
Let me then address to you a few words, as not inapjiropriate to such a season based on the parable of the barren fig-tree.
LUKE xiii. chap., 6, 7, 8, and 9 verses. • He spake also this parable ; 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 this fig-tree, and find none : cut it down; why cum
bereth it the ground? 8. And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall
dig about it, and dung it: 9. And if it bear fruit--well : and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it
But the application of these verses under review, which it becomes us to make to-day, is a personal one to ourselves. And there is probably no one present now, who, on a candid retrospect of the past year, will not find himself more or less pointedly concerned in the lessons they convey. It seems to have a somewhat peculiar reference to persons in our position. For if we observe the figure of the text we find that the tree is represented as being planted in the vineyard. It had the
advantage of being within the range of systematic cultivation, was favoured, we may suppose, by the auxiliaries of climate, as well as of attention--and the owner had a right to expect that, with such beneficial influences as these to promote fertility, the care He had bestowed upon the nurture of the tree should be rewarded by a fruitful harvest. We may surely aptly estimate our obligations by the aid of this emblem. Placed in a land favoured above all others by the light of truth,— living in days when the beams of the Sun of Righteousness may be almost seen to melt the clouds of bygone darkness as they retreat beneath the brightening horizon-mingling together as professedly Christian communities in the bonds of a common faith, assembling beneath the sound of a preached gospel, and instructed by the precepts of an unfettered Bible, we may surely trace some analogy between our own position and that of the treo which the Master planted in His vineyard. If, then, the advantages attendant on the situation of the fig-tree entitled the Master to look for a crop of fruit from its branches, do not the opportunities we enjoy, the numberless tokens of Divine care and cultivation which have been lavished upon us, entail upon us an obligation to render to the Master in whose vineyard we are planted, some fruit as the return for His fostering care.
There are many in a mixed audience like this who have testified their appreciation of this care by making a public profession of allegiance to the Master of the vineyard, thus bringing themselves more emphatically into the vineyard— by ackowledging the hand that planted them there. While we have thuslet us remind one another—while we have thus increased our privileges, we have at the same time augmented our responsibilities. God expects fruit as the result of profession. We must not be content with producing mere blossoms to be carried away by the first idle wind, but we must see to it that the blossoms which we show in the shape of the pleasant secondary virtues which so much adorn the character, are but the mere signs of that deeper and more puissant element which produces the real and vital fruits of the spirit.
But in many cases profession fails to produce the fruit of which it ought to be the germ. And when the Master looks upon His tree He finds it barren and unfruitful. He comes therefore and makes a complaint and demands the destruction of the unfruitful tree.
Let us look for a moment at the complaint which He makes.
(1) He alleges that the tree has borne no fruit. The very fact of its having been planted in His vineyard entitled Him to expect fruit from it, but it bears none. It has perhaps been transplanted thither from some cold and dreary region where it could not flourish, or where its growth was impeded. And the Master seeing with compassion its drooping boughs and withered leaves, removes it to the more genial enclosure of His own vineyard. The gentle breezes rustle through it with their reviving breath, the cheering showers fall upon its tender offshoots, and the glowing sun smiles down from Heaven on its weakened tendrils, yet still it bears no fruit. It is surrounded by other trees wbose laden branches bend beneath their teeming load, and stands alone in the fair garden yielding no return for all the care bestowed upon it.
Now suffer me familiarly to ask, or let us ask each other or ourselves, what should we do if we found on visiting the garden on which we had lavished much anxious care and cultivation one tree which never yielded fruit, but defied our solicitude and mocked our efforts. Common sense would prompt us out of regard for the general appearance of the place, and the well-being of surrounding trees to destroy it root and branch.
And now, is there any one amongst us this afternoon long familiar with the sound of truth, nurtured, perhaps, amidst influences conducive to its growth within the heart, who has been removed, possibly, from among scenes which have been a stumbling-block in his path ; and brought away from evil society into a higher, a holier, and more heavenly climate,—who has been transplanted from the wilderness to the vineyard, -taken from amidst the brambles of corrupt and worldly associations. and grafted in amongst the fruitful followers of our Lord Jesus Christ;-is there any one who, from these outward influences round about him, has felt induced publicly, by profession, to
recognise his position in the vineyard, and who yet, on a candid survey of himself, feels his conscience assuring him, that if the Master were to come to visit His plantation, He would not find one fruit or germ of promise even, bearing testimony to His care, His constancy, and His love. Conscience does tell such a tale to many, whether they acknowledge it or no And it tells something like it to us all : it brings our performances into sad and humiliating contrast with our professions, and shews the measure of our fruit to bear but a small proportion to God's care over us ; and it tells us too that it is only of the Lord's mercy that we are not consumed.
(2) But the Master of the vineyard not only complains that the tree bears no fruit, but that He has waited long in the hopes of its revival, but in vain.
As though conscious of all the little impediments which might prevent or hinder the growth of fruit the first year, He kindly and patiently waits a second ; and again restrains the disappointment he feels at the continued barrenness of the tree, and suffers it still to stand in the vineyard, willing yet to hope for its future improvement.
Thus it is with our Heavenly Father towards the children of men. “He knows their frame: he remembers that they are but dust.” He continually “bears with their manners in the wilderness,” proving himself in truth "slow to anger, and of great mercy.” He has kept our feet from falling, and our souls from the gates of the grave through another year. How many times He has been well nigh tempted, during our follies, our indifference, and our sins, to cut us down as cumberers of the ground during the past year, a conscientious retrospect of our course may partially reveal to us.
Can any one of us here to-day say from his heart that he has deserved the least of the mercies of his past life ; or that he should have been unjustly dealt with if he had been cut off and cast away as an unprofitable servant at any hour of the seasons that are gone. Can the best of us regard himself as having had any
God for the tender mercies of the seasons past, or refrain from the reflection that the retrospect of his life suggests, that, viewed in comparison with God's love and forbearance towards him, his own returns have been cold and ungrateful ; and that, so far from rendering due and worthy service to the Most High, it has been utterly misspent and abused.
This is the season at which He may be supposed to visit His vineyard to see where are the fruitful and where the barren plants. If He were to come in amongst us to-night, where are the most fruitful branches? How much more fruitful would He find us, as Christians, than in days and months that are past ? How much more unity and brotherly love would He find amongst uis? How much more self-depial-how much more absorption in spiritual aims, singleness of purpose, zeal for His honour, forgetfulness of self, indifference, about human praise, consecration to His cause, - how much fruit of this kind would He find clustering amongst us? However much He found, it would all be through His care and forbearance with us that such fruit was produced, and it can bear no adequate proportion to the cost at which it has been nourished. Still, if a retrospect of collective progress, as societies shews us any advances made in depth of devotion--in increase of number — let us take courage for the future, and resolve that we will still continue to seek in yet larger supplies the influences which have hitherto sustained us.
But there are amongst us barren branches — branches whose very leaves are mildewed and blighted by the vapours of the world, and the noxious mists of selfishness and sin. On such unfruitful branches the Great Master is now gazing. Perhaps He finds them just in the same dull, lifeless state which they have for many years presented. Perhaps He misses some germs of promise that He once perceived in them, and which led Him to suffer them to remain untouched, if haply the care and mercy of another season might warm them into life and vigour. brother youth, let us ask each other are any of us conscious of having lost any interest in holy things which we remember to have felt in years gone by. Have we withdrawn our hand, or relaxed our application, from the plough to which we had formerly betaken ourselves? Are the motives by which we are actuated in what we do for God less pure and disinterested than