" Lord, let it alone this year also."— Luke xiii. 8.
" Lord, let it alone this year also." — Thus pleads
the vine-dresser with the master of the vineyard
on behalf of the barren fig tree. The parable is the
Lord's, and known to you all. For three years the
master had come to this tree seeking fruit, but had
found none. It had been planted in the vineyard, and
well cared for. The spade had been applied at its
roots and the pruning knife at its branches. The
refreshing showers had fallen from the skies, and the
sunHght had streamed upon it from the heavens. It
had shared the vigorous hfe of the earth in the spring
time, and the genial warmth of the summer; but still
the autumns came and went, and no fruit was forth-
coming. Then said the master : Why doth it cumber
the ground ? why should it remain here extracting the
nourishment from the earth which might otherwise go
EW YEAR. 105
to the vines around about, and come out in shining
clusters of fruit, or taking up room which might be
occupied by a productive tree ? Cut it down — cut it
down, said the master. Ah, Lord, pleads the vine
dresser, " 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."
Whatever may have been the special application of
this parable to the Jewish nation, when it was uttered
by our Savior, the principles which it involves or
announces are for all nations and for all time. There
were some people there who had told him of the Gal-
ileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacri-
fices. There was a popular notion among the Jews
that signal calamity betokened some special sinfulness
on the part of the sufferers. And to this notion our
Lord at once addresses himself, saying unto them :
" 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 like-
wise perish." Then came the parable of the barren
fig tree, to illustrate the necessity of timely repent
Quite frequently in the sacred Scriptures are men
compared to trees. You will remember the simple
and significant imagery of the first Psalm ; " Blessed
is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the un-
godly whose delight is in the law of
the Lord , ... He shall be like a tree planted by
the rivers of water, that bringeth forth fruit in his
season ; his leaf also shall not wither ; and whatsoever
he doeth shall prosper." You will remember, too, the
imagery employed by the Lord in his last discourse to
his disciples : "I am the vine, ye are the branches.
He that abide th in me, and I in him, the same bring-
eth forth much fruit." (John xv. 5.)
The point and significance of the parallel lie obvi-
ously in this, that both have the capacities for growth
and improvement. Both are so constituted and organ-
ized as to bring forth fruit as the result of their
organization. Both have outward helps toward the
development of inward powers.
ote the process of growth in a tree. — Transverse
section of the trunk shows concentric rings, which mark
the annual growths. ote the process of growth in a
man. — Layers of habit are annually deposited.
Fruit is the final expression and last result of the
vigor and life of the tree, — that to which every prior
process of budding and blossoming was preparatory
and subordinate. Fruit (of works) is the final expres-
sion and last result of the inward life and vigor of the
man — that to which every prior process of habit, train-
ing, culture and enlightenment was preparatory and
*^By their fruits ye shall know them," saith the
Lwd. And here we are reminded once more how the
Savior, in his first notable discourse (on the mount)
as in his last, adduces trees as fit symbols or images of
men. " Ye shall know them by their fruits," he says,
" Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of this-
EW YEAR. 107
ties? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good
fruit ; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit,
(^Mat. vii. 16-17.)
Estimated with reference ';o the agent, the fruits of
human hfe are of three kinds, viz : evil works, or
works whereof the motive is evil ; dead works, or works
whereof the motive is not good, although the results
to others may be good ; and good works, or works
whereof the motive is pure, good and godlike. Keeping
this rule in mind, the thoughtful soul may be helped
to a knowledge of itself, and of the character of its
In the parable from which our text is taken, justice
makes its demand — its just demand. The master of
the vineyard seeks for fruit where he had a full and
just right to expect it. Then mercy intervenes in the
words of the vine-dresser : " Lord, let it alone this
year also."
We would lift the parable with the principle it
involves, and the lesson it conveys, out of its local and
transient limitations, and apply it to ourselves and our
own times. This is the first Sunday of the new year.
We begin this year with emphatic lessons of God's pro-
vidence sounding in our ears. I need not refer again
to the events which I noticed on last Sunday evening,
farther than to say that rarely have the uncertainty
and the perishable nature of earthly riches been more
clearly demonstrated than in the events of the year
just closed. Fortunes have melted away or fallen away
like snow from our housetops. ow all of us know
that the race for riches is the great race of this age
and this con^' lent. In Europe other prizes are sought
as well as wealth. Th ^re, there are more prizes for am-
bition of various sorts, and amongst the more numerous
leisured class to be found there, there is a more general
race after mere pleasure. All the circumstances of this
newer continent present wealth as the leading object
to fire the hearts and move the hands of the mass of
men here. The young man is drawn into the common
vortex of desire, and though the Bible proverb warns
him that innocence cannot well consist with haste to
be rich — " He that maketh haste to be rich shall not
be innocent," — (^Prov. xxviii. 20,) — ^yet he girds him-
self for the race for riches as if these were the chief aim
of living. Had the Lord said " by their fruits of gold
and silver, of houses and lands, of stocks and secu-
rities, are my disciples to be known," men could not
pursue these things with more prominence and sted-
fastness than they commonly do. But the events of
the past year have very clearly shown us that the race
is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong
in this strife. For the strongest have been brought
low, and the swiftest have been suddenly tripped up.
In view of such occurrences, then, may we not well
pause, and ask ourselves whether, after all, this strife
for wealth is worth the trouble ? Whether it is really
the best use we can make of life to seek this thing as
the first thing ? Or, whether, without neglecting this,
or leaving it out of sight, there may not be a higher
aim for us as the chief aim of life — some treasures
EW YEAR. 109
which are more lasting in their nature than the trea-
sures of earthly riches ?
Or, without keeping in view any such special occur-
rences, but simply regarding the rolling years of time
as they go and come in constant succession, and con-
sidering the use to which we put these years, and the
demands which justly lie against us for the opportu-
nities they afford to us, and the privileges they bring
towards the growth and development of a true and
fruit-bearing life, may we not well pause and question
ourselves whether we have borne such fruit as ought
in justice to satisfy the demands of the master of the
vineyard ? Each of us stands as a tree in the great
vineyard, and from each of us fruit is expected. As
the old years go and the new years come — as year
after year the fruit is sought — the fruit of endowment
and of privilege — is the fruit found ? Ah, friends, let
us remember our responsibilities, nor prove faithless to
the great and sacred trust which has been committed
to our charge. For surely life is a trust. Consider
what man is ; — his faculties ; — his privileges. And con-
sider, especially, the helps the Christian man has
towards spiritual growth.
So far as the true end of life is concerned, how
many of us are fulfilling it, even to the satisfaction of
himself, in his more serious moods ? If the master
should come and say, year after year have I sought
the required fruit on this tree but have found none,
what plea could we put in against being condemned as
cumberers of the ground ? What is our fruit ? What
110 . SERMO VII.
its measure ? What its quality ? Take the most
favorable aspect of the case. We have been guilty
of no great sins, let us say. o open or flagrant
transgressions rise up before our vision to scare us by
their awful forms. It is not, however, such sins as
these, only, that give pain to the true and sensitive
conscience. o. The good and struggling man, with
loyal heart and tender conscience, will say still, what
a good and struggling man with right loyal heart and
tender conscience once so well wrote : —
" It is not what my hands have done,
That weighs my spirit down,
That casts a shadow o'er the sun.
And over earth a frown ;
It is not any heinous guilt,
Or vice by men abhorred ;
For fair the fame that I have built,
A fair life's just reward ;
And men would wonder if they knew
How sad I feel with sins so few.
" They judge of actions which they see
Brought out before the sun ;
But conscience brings reproach to me
For what I've left undone, —
For opportunities of good
In folly thrown away,
For hours misspent in solitude,
Forgetfulness to pray,—
And thousand more omitted things
Whose memory fills my breast with stings."
; H. Ware, Jun.
I have called this the most favorable aspect of the
case, when conscience reproves us only for what we
have left undone — when our sins have been those of
passiveness or neglect. We scarcely require to be
reminded that sins other than these He at our doors —
sins of active desire and insubordinate temper, the
withering sins of the thankless heart and the repining
spirit, the corroding sins of avarice and covetousness,
the destroying sins of sensuahsm and the common
worldly lusts which evermore press us — such sins as
these beset us all more or less, and sap the proper
vitality of our being. They rob us of the power of bear-
ing fruit, and render us speechless in the presence of
the master.
As year after year rolls past, and the new year
comes, justice makes its demand that we bring forth
fruit — simple justice, awful justice, justice bearing the
majesty of divine sanction. The talents have been
given, and it demands the return of adequate use and
faithful service. Lacking the return, and in default of
fruit, mercy intervenes, dear mercy, patient mercy,
mercy the darling attribute of God — mercy intervenes,
and the pleading is heard, " Lord, let it alone this
year also."
I see before me young men and maidens, and
matured men and women ; — tender children, too, I see
before me, the hope of many a parent's heart. In every
form I see, whether of young or old, I see that which
contains a germ capable of celestial growth, a power
capable of putting forth blossom and fruit unto ever-
lasting life. I might easily sketch out a plan of fruit-
bearing life for each and for all. But it is not sketches
or plans that any of us require. We all know enough
to make plans for ourselves. Our first and pressing
want is the devout and patient spirit, the persistent
and unwearying purpose, which give vitality and pro-
ductiveness to any plan of life. But this is to be
obtained only by sincere seeking of the soul after God,
and enthroning the things of his kingdom and right-
eousness in the first place in our affections and
regards. We have all entered on another year. Shall
we bring forth fruit therein ? or, shall we bring forth
none ?

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