Taken and adapted from, “The Barren Fig Tree: The Doom and Downfall of the Fruitless Professor”
Showing, that the day of grace may be past with him long before his life is ended. The signs also by which such miserable mortals may be known.
Written by John Bunyan, of “Pilgrims Progress”
[This is a very solemn and searching treatise, and I know that it will not sit well with many professing Christians today. Most will not finish this piece because it will be too disquieting to the mind; too disagreeable to their spiritual digestion. They would desire to only have gentle milk. For there are many that wish to embrace only the goodness and the “lightness” of the Gospel, little realizing, that the Gospel light shines most brightly and most diligently into the doom and gloom of sin, and to the troubled conscience. Why, you may well ask? it is because men wish only to see themselves in the good; either that they are successful in whatever station of life they are occupied, or in the acquirement of wealth, however they may have so attained it. But here, Bunyan strips all that away. And by pure biblical application, endeavors to demonstrate the danger and impending doom of those who may have perhaps tasted of the grace of God, but have not embraced the Gospel fully.
Do not seek to critique this passage contextually upon its incidental thoughts, as you would dissect part of some small object under a microscope, –though in context Bunyan’s thoughts would well withstand such an examination. Instead, look at this passage as upon the whole, letting it sweep through you, as with a spiritual broom, cleaning into the darker corners of your conscience, and let it work upon you, causing you, like the Disciples to ask, “Lord is it I?” If you do so, then perhaps you will be successful in uncovering some hidden idol –some idol carefully preserved and put away. But do not stop at its examination, take this idol out and immediately give it to the Lord.
And if, by some action of Providence, you are reading this work, and do not know if whether or not you are in the family of God, do not wait, confess all sins before God, –everything. And then, let the Lord Jesus heal you from your grievous sins, and all manner of darkness that inhabits you, and let him keep you unto Himself.
“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” –MWP]
SIGNS OF THE SINNER BEING PAST GRACE
Now, then, to show you, by some signs, how you may know that the day of grace is ended, or near to ending, with the barren professor; and after that thou shalt cut it down. He that hath stood it out against God, and that hath withstood all those means for fruit that God hath used for the making of him, if it might have been, a fruitful tree in his garden, he is in this danger; and this indeed is the sum of the parable. The fig-tree here mentioned was blessed with the application of means, had time allowed it to receive the nourishment; but it outstood, withstood, overstood all, all that the husbandman did, all that the vine-dresser did.
But let me distinctly to particularize in four or five particulars.
First sign. The day of grace is like to be past, when a professor hath withstood, abused, and worn out God’s patience, then he is in danger; this is a provocation; then God cries, ‘Cut it down.’ There are some men that steal into a profession nobody knows how, even as this fig-tree was brought into the vineyard by other hands than God’s; and there they abide lifeless, graceless, careless, and without any good conscience to God at all. Perhaps they came in for the loaves, for a trade, for credit, for a blind; or it may be to stifle and choke the checks and grinding pangs of an awakened and disquieted conscience. Now, having obtained their purpose, like the sinners of Sion, they are at ease and secure; saying like Agag, ‘Surely the bitterness of death is past’ (1 Sam 15:22); I am well, shall be saved, and go to heaven. Thus in these vain conceits they spend a year, two, or three; not remembering that at every season of grace, and at every opportunity of the gospel the Lord comes seeking fruit. Well, sinner, well, barren fig-tree, this is but a coarse beginning: God comes for fruit.
- What have I here? saith God; what a fig-tree is this, that hath stood this year in my vineyard, and brought me forth no fruit? I will cry unto him, Professor, barren fig-tree, be fruitful! I look for fruit, I expect fruit, I must have fruit; therefore bethink thyself! At these the professor pauses; but these are words, not blows, therefore off goes this consideration from the heart. When God comes the next year, he finds him still as he was, a barren, fruitless cumber-ground. And now again he complains, here are two years gone, and no fruit appears; well, I will defer mine anger. ‘For my name sake will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off,’ as yet (Isa 48:9). I will wait, I will yet wait to be gracious. But this helps not, this hath not the least influence upon the barren fig-tree. Tush, saith he, here is no threatening: God is merciful, he will defer his anger, he waits to be gracious, I am not yet afraid (Isa 30:18). O! how ungodly men, that are at unawares crept into the vineyard, how do they turn the grace of our God into lasciviousness! Well, he comes the third year for fruit, as he did before, but still he finds but a barren fig-tree; no fruit. Now, he cries out again, O thou dresser of my vineyard, come hither; here is a fig-tree hath stood these three years in my vineyard, and hath at every season disappointed my expectation; for I have looked for fruit in vain; ‘Cut it down,’ my patience is worn out, I shall wait on this fig-tree no longer.
- And now he begins to shake the fig-tree with his threatenings: Fetch out the axe! Now the axe is death; death therefore is called for. Death, come smite me this fig-tree. And withal the Lord shakes this sinner, and whirls him upon a sick-bed, saying, Take him, death, he hath abused my patience and forbearance, not remembering that it should have led him to repentance, and to the fruits thereof. Death, fetch away this fig-tree to the fire, fetch this barren professor to hell! At this death comes with grim looks into the chamber; yea, and hell follows with him to the bedside, and both stare this professor in the face, yea, begin to lay hands upon him; one smiting him with pains in his body, with headache, heart-ache, back-ache, shortness of breath, fainting, qualms, trembling of joints, stopping at the chest, and almost all the symptoms of a man past all recovery. Now, while death is thus tormenting the body, hell is doing with the mind and conscience, striking them with its pains, casting sparks of fire in thither, wounding with sorrows, and fears of everlasting damnation, the spirit of this poor creature. And now he begins to bethink himself, and to cry to God for mercy; Lord, spare me! Lord, spare me! Nay, saith God, you have been a provocation to me these three years. How many times have you disappointed me? How many seasons have you spent in vain? How many sermons and other mercies did I, of my patience, afford you? but to no purpose at all. Take him, death! O! good Lord, saith the sinner, spare me but this once; raise me but this once. Indeed I have been a barren professor, and have stood to no purpose at all in thy vineyard; but spare! O spare this one time, I beseech thee, and I will be better! Away, away you will not; I have tried you these three years already; you are naught; if I should recover you again, you would be as bad as you were before. And all this talk is while death stands by. The sinner cries again, Good Lord, try me this once; let me get up again this once, and see if I do not mend. But will you promise me to mend? Yes, indeed, Lord, and vow it too; I will never be so bad again; I will be better. Well, saith God, death, let this professor alone for this time; I will try him a while longer; he hath promised, he hath vowed, that he will amend his ways. It may be he will mind to keep his promises. Vows are solemn things; it may be he may fear to break his vows. Arise from off they bed. And now God lays down his axe. At this the poor creature is very thankful, praises God, and fawns upon him, shows as if he did it heartily, and calls to others to thank him too. He therefore riseth, as one would think, to be a new creature indeed. But by that he hath put on his clothes, is come down from his bed, and ventured into the yard or shop, and there sees how all things are gone to sixes and sevens, he begins to have second thoughts, and says to his folks, What have you all been doing? How are all things out of order? I am I cannot tell what behind hand. One may see, if a man be but a little a to side, that you have neither wisdom nor prudence to order things. And now, instead of seeking to spend the rest of his time to God, he doubleth his diligence after this world. Alas! all must not be lost; we must have provident care. And thus, quite forgetting the sorrows of death, the pains of hell, the promises and vows which he made to God to be better; because judgment was not now speedily executed, therefore the heart of this poor creature is fully set in him to do evil.
- These things proving ineffectual, God takes hold of his axe again, sends death to a wife, to a child, to his cattle, ‘Your young men have I slain, – and taken away your horses’ (Amos 4:9,10). I will blast him, cross him, disappoint him, and cast him down, and will set myself against him in all that he putteth his hand unto. At this the poor barren professor cries out again, Lord, I have sinned; spare me once more, I beseech thee. O take not away the desire of mine eyes; spare my children, bless me in my labours, and I will mend and be better. No, saith God, you lied to me last time, I will trust you in this no longer; and withal he tumbleth the wife, the child, the estate into a grave. And then returns to his place, till this professor more unfeignedly acknowledgeth his offence (Hosea 5:14,15). At this the poor creature is afflicted and distressed, rends his clothes, and begins to call the breaking of his promise and vows to mind; he mourns and prays, and like Ahab, awhile walks softly at the remembrance of the justness of the hand of God upon him. And now he renews his promises: Lord, try me this one time more; take off thy hand and see; they go far that never turn. Well, God spareth him again, sets down his axe again. ‘Many times he did deliver them, but they provoked him with their counsel, and were brought low for their iniquity’ (Psa 106:43). Now they seem to be thankful again, and are as if they were resolved to be godly indeed. Now they read, they pray, they go to meetings, and seem to be serious a pretty while, but at last they forget. Their lusts prick them, suitable temptations present themselves; wherefore they turn to their own crooked ways again. ‘When he slew them, then they sought him, and they returned and inquired early after God’; ‘nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongue’ (Psa 78:34-36).
- Yet again, the Lord will not leave this professor, but will take up his axe again, and will put him under a more heart- searching ministry, a ministry that shall search him, and turn him over and over; a ministry that shall meet with him, as Elijah met with Ahab, in all his acts of wickedness, and now the axe is laid to the roots of the trees. Besides, this ministry doth not only search the heart, but presenteth the sinner with the golden rays of the glorious gospel; now is Christ Jesus s set forth evidently, now is grace displayed sweetly; now, now are the promises broken like boxes of ointment, to the perfuming of the whole room! But, alas! there is yet no fruit on this fig-tree. While his heart is searching, he wrangles; while the glorious grace of the gospel is unveiling, this professor wags and is wanton, gathers up some scraps thereof; ‘Tastes the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come’; ‘drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon him’ (Heb 6:3-8; Jude 4). But bringeth not forth fruit meet for him whose gospel it is; ‘Takes no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart’ (2 Kings 10:31). But counteth that the glory of the gospel consisteth in talk and show, and that our obedience thereto is a matter of speculation; that good works lie in good words; and if they can finely talk, they think they bravely please God. They think the kingdom of God consisteth only in word, not in power; and thus proveth ineffectual this fourth means also.
- Well, now the axe begins to be heaved higher, for now indeed God is ready to smite the sinner; yet before he will strike the stroke, he will try one way more at the last, and if that misseth, down goes the fig-tree! Now this last way is to tug and strive with this professor by his Spirit. Wherefore the Spirit of the Lord is now come to him; but not always to strive with man (Gen 6:3). Yet a while he will strive with him, he will awaken, he will convince, he will call to remembrance former sins, former judgments, the breach of former vows and promises, the misspending of former days; he will also present persuasive arguments, encouraging promises, dreadful judgments, the shortness of time to repent in; and that there is hope if he come. Further, he will show him the certainty of death, and of the judgment to come; yea, he will pull and strive with this sinner; but, behold, the mischief now lies here, here is tugging and striving on both sides. The Spirit convinces, the man turns a deaf ear to God; the Spirit saith, Receive my instruction and live, but the man pulls away his shoulder; the Spirit shows him whither he is going, but the man closeth his eyes against it; the Spirit offereth violence, the man strives and resists; they have ‘done despite unto the Spirit of grace’ (Heb 10:29). The Spirit parlieth a second time, and urgeth reasons of a new nature, but the sinner answereth, No, I have loved strangers, and after them I will go (Amos 4:6-12). At this God’s fury comes up into his face: now he comes out of his holy place, and is terrible; now he sweareth in his wrath they shall never enter into his rest (Heb 3:11). I exercised towards you my patience, yet you have not turned unto me, saith the Lord. I smote you in your person, in your relations, in your estate, yet you have not returned unto me, saith the Lord. ‘In thy filthiness is lewdness, because I have purged thee, and thou wast not purged; thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I cause my fury to rest upon thee’ (Eze 24:13). ‘Cut it down, why doth it cumber the ground?’
The second sign. That such a professor is almost, if not quite, past grace, is, when God hath given him over, or lets him alone, and suffers him to do anything, and that without control, helpeth him not either in works of holiness, or in straits and difficulties. ‘Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone’ (Hosea 4:17). Woe be to them when I depart from them. I will laugh at their calamities, and will mock when their fear cometh (Prov 1:24-29).
Barren fig-tree, thou hast heretofore been digged about, and dunged; God’s mattock hath heretofore been at thy roots; gospel-dung hath heretofore been applied to thee; thou hast heretofore been strove with, convinced, awakened, made to taste and see, and cry, O the blessedness! Thou hast heretofore been met with under the word; thy heart hath melted, thy spirit hath fallen, thy soul hath trembled, and thou hast felt something of the power of the gospel. But thou hast sinned, thou hast provoked the eyes of his glory, thy iniquity is found to be hateful, and now perhaps God hath left thee, given thee up, and lets thee alone. Heretofore thou wast tender; thy conscience startled at the temptation to wickedness, for thou wert taken off from ‘the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’ (2 Peter 2:20-22). But that very vomit that once thou wert turned from, now thou lappest up– with the dog in the proverb–again; and that very mire that once thou seemedst to be washed from, in that very mire thou now art tumbling afresh. But to particularize, there are three signs of a man’s being given over of God.
- When he is let alone in sinning, when the reins of his lusts are loosed, and he given up to them. ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient: being filled with all unrighteousness’ (Rom 1:28,29). Seest thou a man that heretofore had the knowledge of God, and that had some awe of Majesty upon him: I say, seest thou such an one sporting himself in his own deceivings, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and walking after his own ungodly lusts? (Rom 1:30-31). His ‘judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and his damnation slumbereth not’ (2 Peter 2:13). Dost thou hear, barren professor? It is astonishing to see how those that once seemed ‘sons of the morning,’ and were making preparations for eternal life, now at last, for the rottenness of their hearts, by the just judgment of God, to be permitted, being past feeling, to give ‘themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness’ (Eph 4:18,19). A great number of such were in the first gospel-days; against whom Peter, and Jude, and John, pronounce the heavy judgment of God. Peter and Jude couple them with the fallen angels, and John forbids that prayer be made for them, because that is happened unto them that hath happened to the fallen angels that fell, who, for forsaking their first state, and for leaving ‘their own habitation,’ are ‘reserved in everlasting chains under darkness, unto the judgment of the great day’ (Jude 5,6; 2 Peter 2:3-8). Barren fig-tree, dost thou hear? (1.) These are beyond all mercy! (2.) These are beyond all promises! (3.) These are beyond all hopes of repentance! (4.) These have no intercessor, nor any more share in a sacrifice for sin! (5.) For these there remains nothing but a fearful looking for of judgment! (6.) Wherefore these are the true fugitives and vagabonds, that being left of God, of Christ, of grace, and of the promise, and being beyond all hope, wander and straggle to and fro, even as the devil, their associate, until their time shall come to die, or until they descend in battle and perish!
- Wherefore they are let alone in hearing. If these at any time come under the word, there is for them no God, no savour of the means of grace, no stirrings of heart, no pity for themselves, no love to their own salvation. Let them look on this hand or that, there they see such effects of the word in others as produceth signs of repentance, and love to God and his Christ. These men only have their backs bowed down alway (Rom 11:10). These men only have the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, to this very day. Wherefore as they go to the place of the Holy, so they come from the place of the Holy, and soon are forgotten in the places where they so did (Eccl 8:10). Only they reap this damage, ‘They treasure up wrath against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God’ (Rom 2:3-5). Look to it, barren professor!
- If he be visited after the common way of mankind, either with sickness, distress, or any mind of calamity, still no God appeareth, no sanctifying hand of God, no special mercy is mixed with the affliction. But he falls sick, and grows well, like the beast; or is under distress, as Saul, who when he was engaged by the Philistines was forsaken and left of God, ‘And the Philistines gathered themselves together, and came and pitched in Shunem, and Saul gathered all Israel together, and they pitched in Gilboa. And when Saul saw the host of the Philistines he was afraid, and his heart greatly trembled. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets’ (1 Sam 28:4-6). The Lord answered him no more; he had done with him, cast him off, and rejected him, and left him to stand and fall with his sins, by himself. But of this more in the conclusion: therefore I here forbear.
- These men may go whither they will, do what they will; they may range from opinion to opinion, from notion to notion, from sect to sect, but are steadfast nowhere; they are left to their own uncertainties, they have not grace to establish their hearts; and though some of them have boasted themselves of this liberty, yet Jude calls them ‘wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever’ (Jude 13). They are left, as I told you before, to be fugitives and vagabonds in the earth, to wander everywhere, but to abide nowhere, until they shall descend to their own place, with Cain and Judas, men of the same fate with themselves (Acts 1:25).
A third sign that such a professor is quite past grace is, when his heart is grown so hard, so stony, and impenetrable, that nothing will pierce it. Barren fig-tree, dost thou consider? a hard and impenitent heart is the curse of God! A heart that cannot repent, is instead of all plagues at once; and hence it is that God said of Pharaoh, when he spake of delivering him up in the greatness of his anger, ‘I will at this time,’ saith he, ‘send all my plagues upon thine heart’ (Exo 9:14).
To some men that have grievously sinned under a profession of the gospel, God giveth this token of his displeasure; they are denied the power of repentance, their heart is bound, they cannot repent; it is impossible that they should ever repent, should they live a thousand years. It is impossible for those fall-aways to be renewed again unto repentance, ‘seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame’ (Heb 6:4-6). Now, to have the heart so hardened, so judicially hardened, this is as a bar put in by the Lord God against the salvation of this sinner. This was the burden of Spira’s complaint, ‘I cannot do it! O! how I cannot do it!’
This man sees what he hath done, what should help him, and what will become of him; yet he cannot repent; he pulled away his shoulder before, he stopped his ears before, he shut up his eyes before, and in that very posture God left him, and so he stands to this very day. I have had a fancy, that Lot’s wife, when she was turned into a pillar of salt, stood yet looking over her shoulder, or else with her face towards Sodom; as the judgment caught her, so it bound her, and left her a monument of God’s anger to after generations (Gen 19:26).
We read of some that are seared with a hot iron, and that are past feeling; for so seared persons in seared parts are. Their conscience is seared (1 Tim 4:2). The conscience is the thing that must be touched with feeling, fear, and remorse, if ever any good be done with the sinner. How then can any good be done to those whose conscience is worse than that? that is, fast asleep in sin (Eph 4:19). For that conscience that is fast asleep, may yet be effectually awakened and saved; but that conscience that is seared, dried, as it were, into a cinder, can never have sense, feeling, or the least regret in this world. Barren fig-tree, hearken, judicial hardening is dreadful! There is a difference betwixt that hardness of heart that is incident to all men, and that which comes upon some as a signal or special judgment of God. And although all kinds of hardness of heart, in some sense may be called a judgment, yet to be hardened with this second kind, is a judgment peculiar only to them that perish; hardness that is sent as a punishment for the abuse of light received, for a reward of apostacy. This judicial hardness is discovered from that which is incident to all men, in these particulars:–
- It is a hardness that comes after some great light received, because of some great sin committed against that light, and the grace that gave it. Such hardness as Pharaoh had, after the Lord had wrought wondrously before him; such hardness as the Gentiles had, a hardness which darkened the heart, a hardness which made their minds reprobate. This hardness is also the same with that the Hebrews are cautioned to beware of, a hardness that is caused by unbelief, and a departing from the living God; a hardness completed through the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:7, &c). Such as that in the provocation, of whom God sware, that they should not enter into his rest. It was this kind of hardness also, that both Cain, and Ishmael, and Esau, were hardened with, after they had committed their great transgressions.
- It is the greatest kind of hardness; and hence they are said to be harder than a rock, or than an adamant, that is, harder than flint; so hard, that nothing can enter (Jer 5:3; Zech 7:12).
- It is a hardness given in much anger, and that to bind the soul up in an impossibility of repentance.
- It is a hardness, therefore, which is incurable, of which a man must die and be damned. Barren professor, hearken to this.
A fourth sign that such a professor is quite past grace, is, when he fortifies his hard heart against the tenor of God’s word (Job 9:4, etc.) This is called hardening themselves against God, and turning of the Spirit against them. As thus, when after a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus, and of the doctrine that is according to godliness, they shall embolden themselves in courses of sin, by promising themselves that they shall have life and salvation notwithstanding. Barren professor, hearken to this! This man is called, ‘a root that beareth gall and wormwood,’ or a poisonful herb, such an one as is abominated of God, yea, the abhorred of his soul. For this man saith, ‘I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination’ or stubbornness ‘of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst’; an opinion flat against the whole Word of God, yea, against the very nature of God himself (Deut 29:18,19). Wherefore he adds, ‘Then the anger of the Lord, and his jealousy, shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in God’s book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven’ (Deut 19:20).
Yea, that man shall not fail to be effectually destroyed, saith the text: ‘The Lord shall separate that man unto evil, out of all the tribes of Israel, according to all the curses of the covenant’ (Deut 19:21). He shall separate him unto evil; he shall give him up, he shall leave him to his heart; he shall separate him to that or those that will assuredly be too hard for him.
Now this judgment is much effected when God hath given a man up unto Satan, and hath given Satan leave, without fail, to complete his destruction. I say, when God hath given Satan leave effectually to complete his destruction; for all that are delivered up unto Satan have not, nor do not come to this end. But that is the man whom God shall separate to evil, and shall leave in the hands of Satan, to complete, without fail, his destruction.
Thus he served Ahab, a man that sold himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord. ‘And the Lord said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-Gilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him. And the Lord said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also; go forth, and do so’ (1 Kings 21:25, 22:20-22). Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail; do thy will, I leave him in thy hand, go forth, and do so.
Wherefore, in these judgments the Lord doth much concern himself for the management thereof, because of the provocation wherewith they have provoked him. This is the man whose ruin contriveth, and bringeth to pass by his own contrivance: ‘I also will choose their delusions’ for them; ‘I will bring their fears upon them’ (Isa 66:4). I will choose their devices, or the wickednesses that their hearts are contriving of. I, even I, will cause them to be accepted of, and delightful to them. But who are they that must thus be feared? Why, those among professors that have chosen their own ways, those whose soul delighteth in their abominations. Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved: for this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
‘God shall send them.’ It is a great word! Yea, God shall send them strong delusions; delusions that shall do: that shall make them believe a lie. Why so? ‘That they all might be damned,’ every one of them, ‘who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness’ (2 Thess 2:10- 12).
There is nothing more provoking to the Lord, than for a man to promise when God threateneth; for a man to delight of conceit that he shall be safe, and yet to be more wicked than in former days, this man’s soul abhorreth the truth of God; no marvel, therefore, if God’s soul abhorreth him; he hath invented a way contrary to God, to bring about his own salvation; no marvel, therefore, if God invent a way to bring about this man’s damnation: and seeing that these rebels are at this point, we shall have peace; God will see whose word will stand, his or theirs.
A fifth sign of a man being past grace is, when he shall at this scoff, and inwardly grin and fret against the Lord, secretly purposing to continue his course, and put all to the venture, despising the messengers of the Lord. ‘He that despised Moses’ law, died without mercy; – of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?’ &c. (Heb 10:28). Wherefore, against these despisers God hath set himself, and foretold that they shall not believe, but perish: ‘Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in nowise believe, though a man declare it unto you’ (Acts 13:41).
After that thou shalt cut it down.
Thus far we have treated of the barren fig-tree, or fruitless professor, with some signs to know him by; whereto is added also some signs of one who neither will nor can, by any means, be fruitful, but they must miserably perish. Now, being come to the time of execution, I shall speak a word to that also; ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’
PROPOSITION SECOND: The death or cutting down of such men will be dreadful.
Christ, at last, turns the barren fig-tree over to the justice of God, shakes his hands of him, and gives him up to the fire for his unprofitableness. ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’
Two things are here to be considered:
First. The executioner; thou, the great, the dreadful, the eternal God. These words, therefore, as I have already said, signify that Christ the Mediator, through whom alone salvation comes, and by whom alone execution hath been deferred, now giveth up the soul, forbears to speak one syllable more for him, or to do the least act of grace further, to try for his recovery; but delivereth him up to that fearful dispensation, ‘to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31).
Second. The second to be considered is, The instrument by which this execution is done, and that is death, compared here to an axe; and forasmuch as the tree is not felled at one blow, therefore the strokes are here continued, till all the blows be struck at it that are requisite for its felling: for now cutting time, and cutting work, is come; cutting must be his portion till he be cut down. ‘After that thou shalt cut it down.’ Death, I say, is the axe, which God often useth, therewith to take the barren fig-tree out of the vineyard, out of a profession, and also out of the world at once. But this axe is now new ground, it cometh well-edged to the roots of this barren fig-tree. It hath been whetted by sin, by the law, and by a formal profession, and therefore must, and will make deep gashes, not only in the natural life, but in the heart and conscience also of this professor: ‘The wages of sin is death,’ ‘the sting of death is sin’ (Rom 6:23; 1 Cor 15:56). Wherefore death comes not to this man as he doth to saints, muzzled, or without his sting, but with open mouth, in all his strength; yea, he sends his first-born, which is guilt, to devour his strength, and to bring him to the king of terrors (Job 18:13,14).
But to give you, in a few particulars, the manner of this man’s dying.
- Now he hath his fruitless fruits beleaguer him round his bed, together with all the bands and legions of his other wickedness. ‘His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins’ (Prov 5:22).
- Now some terrible discovery of God is made out unto him, to the perplexing and terrifying of his guilty conscience. ‘God shall cast upon him, and not spare’; and he shall be ‘afraid of that which is high’ (Job 27:22; Eccl 12:5).
- The dark entry he is to go through will be a sore amazement to him; for ‘fears shall be in the way’ (Eccl 12:5). Yea, terrors will take hold on him, when he shall see the yawning jaws of death to gape upon him, and the doors of the shadow of death open to give him passage out of the world. Now, who will meet me in this dark entry? how shall I pass through this dark entry into another world?
- For by reason of guilt, and a shaking conscience, his life will hang in continual doubt before him, and he shall be afraid day and night, and shall have no assurance of his life (Deut 28:66,67).
- Now also want will come up against him; he will come up like an armed man. This is a terrible army to him that is graceless in heart, and fruitless in life. This WANT will continually cry in thine ears, Here is a new birth wanting, a new heart, and a new spirit wanting; here is faith wanting; here is love and repentance wanting; here is the fear of God wanting, and a good conversation wanting: ‘Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting’ (Dan 5:27).
- Together with these standeth by the companions of death, death and hell, death and evils, death and endless torment in the everlasting flames of devouring fire. ‘When God cometh up unto the people he will invade them with his troops’ (Hab 3:16).
But how will this man die? Can his heart now endure, or can his hands be strong? (Eze 22:14).
(1.) God, and Christ, and pity, have left him. Sin against light, against mercy, and the long-suffering of God, is come up against him; his hope and confidence now lie a-dying by him, and his conscience totters and shakes continually within him!
(2.) Death is at his work, cutting of him down, hewing both bark and heart, both body and soul asunder. The man groans, but death hears him not; he looks ghastly, carefully, dejectedly; he sighs, he sweats, he trembles, but death matters nothing.
(3.) Fearful cogitations haunt him, misgivings, direful apprehensions of God, terrify him. Now he hath time to think what the loss of heaven will be, and what the torments of hell will be: now he looks no way but he is frighted.
(4.) Now would he live, but may not; he would live, though it were but the life of a bed-rid man, but he must not. He that cuts him down sways him as the feller of wood sways the tottering tree; now this way, then that, at last a root breaks, a heart-string, an eye-string, sweeps asunder.
(5.) And now, could the soul be annihilated, or brought to nothing, how happy would it count itself, but it sees that may not be. Wherefore it is put to a wonderful strait; stay in the body it may not, go out of the body it dares not. Life is going, the blood settles in the flesh, and the lungs being no more able to draw breath through the nostrils, at last out goes the weary trembling soul, which is immediately seized by devils, who lay lurking in every hole in the chamber for that very purpose. His friends take care of the body, wrap it up in the sheet or coffin, but the soul is out of their thought and reach, going down to the chambers of death.
I had thought to have enlarged, but I forbear. God, who teaches man to profit, bless this brief and plain discourse to thy soul, who yet standest a professor in the land of the living, among the trees of his garden. Amen.