9 Parable of the Trees

<< Judges 9: The Parable of the Trees >>

8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us. 9But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness , wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 10And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us. 11But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees? 12Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us. 13And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees? 14Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. 15And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon. JUDGES IX

This divine parable is full of interest. It is the oldest complete example of a parable blending with literal history. The early chapters of Genesis are divine allegories, entirely describing the spiritual states of mankind — in form historical, but in substance entirely spiritual. But here we have, in the midst of real history, a manifest parable ; both the history and the parable, however, containing in their spiritual sense, those divine thoughts which constitute the especial excellency of a revelation from God : “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” — Isa. lv. 8, 9.

But this parable is highly interesting in its literal bearing. And I cannot too much impress upon my hearers the truth, that spiritual sense of the Word is not instead of the letter, not a substitute for it, but is within it, like a soul. All that the most devoted admirer of the letter can learn from it, we also learn. Its historical facts and moral lessons we fully accept and appreciate. They are a lamp unto our feet. They shew us God in history. They disclose the final triumph of virtue, and the curse crime in the lowest sphere of things, and prove that justice rules in this lower world eventually, as it forms the habitation of God’s throne above. When we have obtained from the literal senseall that any one else can obtain, and in many respects even more; for the spiritual sense gives us often a clue to decide on points in the letter, otherwise dark and doubtful ; then we can rise by the wonderful law of correspondences into the inner garden of heavenly wisdom. The divine parable before us will illustrate all these important points of view.

It was spoken by Jotham, the youngest son of Gideon, to expose the unworthy conduct of the Israelites, and to arrest them in their course. His father had won the gratitude and admiration of his countrymen. He had delivered them from famine and from slavery. They had seen that God was with him. His efforts were crowned with complete success. And if we strive to realize the picture of a land down- trodden and crashed by a combination of enemies, before whose united strength resistance seems hopeless — pining in misery, a prey to insult and degradation — its altars and homes desecrated, and its fields wasted; and then see these foes vanquished and broken, flying before the defenders of their land, their liberty, and their laws, we may have some conception of the joyful acclamations with which he would be hailed when returning from victory. The air would be filled with his name. The men would exultingly point to their chief. The women would bring their children out to feast their eyes on their deliverer, and to lisp his praises. Such was Gideon to his countrymen. He was their hero. He was their temporal saviour. They offered to make him their king, and to fix the succession to his children. But Gideon was a truly great man. He desired that his country should be free, ruled only by God. He returned his countrymen this answer, ” I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you : the Lord shall rule over you.” — Judges viii. 22. Oh! that this feeling were universal ; that none desired to rule, but all to serve. The love of serving is the spirit of heaven : ” Are they not all ministering spirits.” It is the spirit of the Lord Jesus. ” I am amongst you as He that serveth.” It is the spirit of happiness and peace. Where all serve, all are happy. In this spirit, therefore, Gideon replied, and his words are deserving of letters of gold, or to be written still more nobly— engraven upon all hearts— ” I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you : the Lord shall rule over you.”

During the forty years of Gideon’s after-life, Israel dwelt in peace : he guiding his countrymen as a valued counsellor and judge. The land smiled in plenty. After his death, however, a son of his, by a concubine, moved by low ambition, induced the Israelites to conspire with him to have him for their king, and in carrying out this conspiracy, he slew all the sons of his fathers born in marriage, except one, the youngest, Jotham, who escaped; and from the top of an eminence, while his enemies were at bay, he uttered this parable to exhibit their ingratitude, and to warn them of its fatal end. The olive, the vine, and the fig-tree, in the metaphorical application, would be his father, his brethren, and himself, none of whom would be king. The bramble would be Abimelech, who would either reign or destroy, and who would in the end, as the parable teaches, introduce so wretched a system, as to entail upon himself and people mutual destruction. And so it happened. And such is the eternal law. Evil slays the wicked. The empire founded upon treachery and murder is rotten at its core. He whose throne is reached through falsehood and blood, who has no foundation of virtue, and right, and worth to rest upon, must continue to cement with fresh crime the edifice he has reared, and so to add to the fire of vengeance that is secretly gathering around him, until at length additional blow breaks the cover, under which it has been smouldering, and it bursts upon the wicked tyrant and destroys, as it with this Abimelech, both reign and life. Then judgment is manifest, even upon the earth. Then it is visibly seen that “Most High ruleth in the kingdoms of men ;” “whose works are truth, and His ways judgment: and those that walk in pride, He is able to abase.”

Such is the lesson yielded by this parable in its letter, as a warning against that destructive ambition which has so often desolated the earth, in ancient and in modem times. May its voice ever be remembered by us, who though not likely to exercise terrible principle on the stage of the wide world, where kingdoms are the stake for which men struggle, yet in the narrower sphere of a society, or in our homes, may cherish a similar disposition, and bury ourselves in an equal ruin. May it be our portion humbly to work out the designs of love : to help, to succour, and to serve ; to subdue self, and to promote peaceful improvement : ” Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be the children of God.”

Before quitting this part of the subject, allow me to call your attention to the difference between metaphor and correspondence. Metaphor is a certain likeness which is perceived by the mind, between two natural things which have in other respects no connection with one another. Correspondence is the analogy which exists between two things, one spiritual and the other natural, and which answer to one another in all their uses and in all respects. We must go further, and attempt to show that in all cases of true and complete correspondences, the spiritual is to the natural as the cause to the effect, the soul to the body ; but upon this we cannot now enlarge. We have dwelt upon the parable as a metaphor. The olive tree stands in this respect for Gideon. Like him, it was most valuable and honoured, lad like him, it would not reign. In other respects there was no connection or relation between them, and both were natural visible objects. We come now to the spiritual sense of the parable, and to bring this out we must employ, not metaphor, but CORRESPONDENCE.

PERCEPTIONS, or acknowledged principles of truth or error, grow up in the mind like trees in the soil, and answer to trees in all their progress. Instruction is like seed. Instruction in divine things is the seed of all that is great and good in the soul. “The seed,” the Divine Saviour “said, ” is the Word of God.” — Luke viii. 11. If we watch the reception and growth of knowledge in the mind, until it becomes a clear and enlarged view, and at length a productive principle, we shall discern the closest analogy to the progression of a tree from seed to fruit. Let us take for our example a good tree, which will of course correspond to a good principle. There is first the seed taken from the great storehouse or granary of heaven — the sacred Scriptures. But this will only grow in suitable soil. The good ground, said the Lord, is an honest and good heart. If it be received into this ground, and cherished by the warmth of that early innocence, and those soft impressions for good, which the Lord deposits in every infant soul, it will soon show signs of life. The germs will be signs of those trees of righteousness of which the prophet speaks : ” the branches of the planting of Jehovah.” — Isa. lxii. 2. But heat and light must descend from the sun upon trees to make them grow ; and love must warm, and wisdom must illuminate, the mind ; both coming from the sun of righteousness ; or its trees will make no progress. And this is done when the heart opens itself, in private or public devotion, and we lie in the sun-light of heaven. Rain, too, is wanted to refresh and invigorate earth’s plants from time to time, and so is it with the plants of heaven : “My doctrine shall drop as the rain,” said Moses, ” it shall distil as the dew ; as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” — Deut. xxxii. 2.

When these conditions are attended to, a growth of principle takes place, in complete correspondence with the growth of trees. First are seen young thoughts, like leaves, induced by the literal sense of the Word. We think of the historical incidents recorded there, and how we should have acted had we taken part in them, and draw conclusions of comfort, direction, and instruction, which evince both life and progress, next, come those more beautiful reflections, which arise when we perceive everlasting side of things, and are the product of the spiritual sense the Word : when the earthly Canaan is acknowledged as the mirror of the heavenly one, and we ourselves Israelites, seeking states of purity and peace, such as reign in the homes of the blessed. These higher thoughts are the blossoms of the trees of the soul. And when these contemplations are followed by the actual virtues of a Christian life — when the justice which seeks to honour every claim of right— -the charity which feels and acts for the good of others, even beyond the rigid line of law–when the piety which delights in adoring the Giver of all good, are beheld in the daily walk in life, at home, in business, and at church, then we can appreciate the divine words, “a good bringeth forth good fruit.”

It is true, all persons who receive the seed of heavenly things, do not bring them forth to perfection. Some produce leaves, and there stop ; these are they who learn and think about the natural meaning of the Scriptures and go no farther. Others produce blossoms, and appear beautiful for a time, but no fruit follows; these are they who meditate and speak of heavenly things, are at times even eloquent in their praise of them : but they are different from those wise ancients who said, ” We do not speak great things, we do them ; they speak great things, but will not do them.” Even the differences in the quality of fruit have also their correspondence. Some persons, in the good they do, are not sufficiently humble and pure-minded ; these are like those trees whose fruits are wanting in that rich, luscious, and delightful flavour which constitutes the perfection of fruit. While there are others who bring forth their fruit in due season, in due quantity, and of the most agreeable quality. Such, are they who are ever ready at the calls of duty and of mercy ; orderly, kind, upright, and good ; and in every good they are enabled to perform, delight to acknowledge the whole power to have come from that great Saviour who said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches; without Me ye can do nothing.”

Such is the correspondence of trees. And it is from this correspondence we find them continually used in the sacred Scriptures in a spiritual manner. ” The trees of the Lord,” said the , ” are full of sap,” — Psalm civ. 16. ” The righteous shall flourish like the palm-tree : he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age ; they shall be fat and flourishing ; to show thatthe Lord is upright : He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.” — Psalm xcii. 12 — 15. Nothing can be more beautiful, or more instructive, than such a lesson seen in the light of correspondences. The fruitful palm, and the majestic cedar, are the principles which involve love to the Lord, and an enlightened faith in Him. These are planted in the the house of the Lord when they are grounded in the regenerate heart, where the Divine Love delights to dwell. When they are in the affections, they still for ever expand in increasing wisdom and intelligence — they flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they will still be ever young from their immortal character. They will be fat and green ; or, in other words, they will confer the richest blessings within the soul, and the freshest truths to illustrate the onward march of life, and to show the ever springing abundance of the eternal source of every excellent. The trees of which the prophet speaks, when describing the full blessing of the redeemed, can be no other than the exalted perceptions of the soul rejoicing in the glorious goodness which has accomplished its full salvation. ” For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace : the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree, and instead of the briar shall come up the myrtle tree:and it shall be to the Lord for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” — Isa. Iv. 12, 13.

Regarded in their spiritual character, trees form a profitable theme for devout meditation at all times, especially in spring when all nature is full of promise.

” Think, think, O my soul, what a lesson for thee.
The bough may bloom fair, yet quite barren the tree,
While planted I am in this garden below,
Some fruit, if but little, some fruit I must show,
Lest He that hath planted should say with a frown,
The axe to the root, cut the cumberer down.
My season for bearing, not long can it last.
And I know not how nearly that season is past :
Let it pass; earth is not my favourite clime.
Nor skilful the hand of the gardener. Time ;
Heaven, heaven is the clime, and once plant me but there,
O how shall I bloom, and what fruit shall I bear :
In the Planter’s own garden, beneath His own eye.
My leaf shall not wither, my fruit shall not die.
By the fountain of life I shall flourishing stand.
Transplanted by love, with the gentlest hand.”

In our text, however, we have not only the subject of trees in general placed before us, but three trees in general placed before us, but three trees especially are singled out as valuable, but declining to reign,—the olive, the fig-tree, and the vine: and one as worthless determined to rule or to destroy — the bramble. Let as examine these singly ; and first, the olive. It is the tree most esteemed in Eastern countries, and especially in Palestine. Its wood yields a precious gum, its fruits are delightful and nutritious, and its oil, which is as it were the essence of the fruit pressed out, is used in food, also to give light, as holy oil in the offerings of worship. When Canaan was described as to its richest blessings by Moses, it was called a land of olive-oil and honey (Deut. Viii. 8. Its admirable character is expressed also in our text : ” Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees ? ” Or, as it should be rendered, Should I leave my fatness, which God and man honour in me?

The oil of the tree, which was used in the sanctuary, both with the offering and for the holy light, is said therefore to be honoured by God ; and from its uses, and its eminent value for food and healing purposes, is also said to be honoured by men.

As trees correspond to truths perceived as principles in the mind, the most worthy tree will correspond to the most valuable principle, that is the wisdom which teaches love to the Lord. This principle when it has grown up in the soul, and given us to know true character of our Heavenly Father, — shows us that He is not only loving, but love itself, infinite love, unutterably tender, unchangeably merciful, good to all, whose tender mercies are over all His works. This is the celestial olive-tree which yields the oil, honoured both by God and man. How soothing is the gentle influence which flows down into the soul of him who has come to a full perception of the love of God. It generates the the divine likeness in him. He loves God who is love itself, and that love fills him with a tender regard for his brother, the child of God. The love of God and the love of our neighbour, or strictly speaking, the wisdom conjoined with these two principles, are called the two olive-trees, which stand before the Lord of the whole earth (Zec. iv. 11 — 14). He who is in the grand principles of love to God and charity to man, dwelleth in God and God in him. He is ever interiorly in the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The two olive-trees are called “two witnesses ” in the Book of Revelation xi. 4 ; and they are indeed the best witnesses for God in the human soul. They give us to know the spirit of heaven ; they testify of the tenderness, the sweetness, the pity, the joy, and the blessedness of the love of God, by the qualities they diffuse through us. The leaf even of the olive became the emblem of peace among all nations, and the oil, of the holy influence of love, diffusing softness and joy into our whole being. How much we need this holy oil! Our selfishness by nature makes us hard, cold, severe and sometimes bitter and cruel. But, when the oil of heavenly love descends from the interiors of the soul, and infuses itself into eveiy affection and thought, it gives a softness, and at the same time, interior joy and peace, which to others is unknown. The Psalmist said, ” Thou hast anointed my head with oil : my cup runneth over;” and the prophet speaking of the same holy principle being imparted to the regenerate Christian, describes it as the ” oil of joy for mourning ” (Isa. lxi. 3).

Without this oil of love there cannot long be the light of faith ; hence, in the Gospel, ” The five foolish virgins who took no oil in their vessels,” are represented as rising from their slumbers and carelessness, and running to the wise with the despairing cry, “Give us of your oil, for our lamps are gone out” (Matt xxv. 8).

It is of the olive-tree corresponding to the interior wisdom which conjoins the soul and its God together, and through which holy love descends, that we are informed in our text it refused to be king over the trees. The Divine Word teaches us by this, that the spirit of rule is opposed to the spirit of love. Love desires to aid, to serve, to bless, but not to rule. If placed in positions of government and responsibility, it accepts them that it may minister, not that it may reign. If it were to enter into the desire of ruling, it would lose its fatness, or in other words, its richness and its joy. In the lower world, all strive to rule and all are wretched ; in the heavenly world all strive to serve, and all are happy. God honours the disinterested love of serving ; it is like his own. When he came into the world. He came to be the servant of all. He ministers to the whole universe and ministers unseen. He ministers to the worm and to the feeblest thing that lives. They cannot know the author of their bliss, but He blesses them ; they all wait upon Him, and He gives them their meat in due season. He opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. He blesses them unseen and unknown. Such is the Divine Love, such is heavenly love from Him. It is innocent as a little child — it will not think of ruling, but rejoices in the blessedness of serving ; and God honours it, and men honour it, while they behold it ever striving to serve, and ever striving to be lowly. O may this spirit be ours, my beloved hearers, so may we in truth take up the words of the Psalmist, ” I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the mercy of God, for ever and ever” Ps. lii. 8. The fig-tree is next brought under notice, and is often introduced in the sacred volume. It was one of the most common fruit trees in Palestine, growing often on the way-side. It corresponds therefore to the natural perception which teaches the the ordinary virtues of daily life. The Word, as it was known in the letter by the Jews, was a fig-tree. You will recollect the incident recorded of the Lord, on His visit to Jerusalem. He saw a fig-tree in the way, He came to it, and found nothing thereon but leaves only, and said unto it, ” Let no fruit grow on thee, henceforward, for ever.”

This seems very strange conduct of the Saviour, especially as we are told in Mark that the time of figs was not, unless we bear in mind the correspondence of the fig-tree, and likewise the fact that fruit comes on this tree BEFORE THE LEAF. Hence, if it were in fulll leaf, and there was no fruit, it was clear there would be none. The truth that teaches obedience is the lowest essential truth of the Church. And we ought to practice obedience first from regard to our parents, and by command of the Lord ; afterwards we shall be able to see and state the reasons for it. The fruit first, the leaf after. The Jewish Church at its end was all leaf^ and no fruit ; all profession, and no practice : and hence it was that the time had come for the church to be removed from them, and given to a better people. The Lord said to Nathaniel, ” When thou wast under the fig-tree I saw thee; “language which intimates that Nathaniel was not only one who had a fig-tree, but who made the truth, meant by the fig-tree, his ruling principle : he was under it. The Lord always calls such to be the commencement of a new Church. They are Israelites indeed.

But even the common virtues of life, to be genuine, must be operated from the love of dominion. It is not always so. But unless this be really the case, there is no sweetness in doing good. Our good in fact is not good, but self in a disguise. A person will sometimes be liberal in his support of charities. He will profess the utmost sympathy for the poor. He will be generous in his support of public institutions for education and general improvement. His fig-tree seems to bear fine fruit, and yet it is quite possible that the love of applause, the desire to be paid by the suffrages of his fellow-citizens, being given to confer upon him political power, may be his aim. And if so, his figs have no sweetness, and are not good fruit. And, oh, what is the applause of men compared with the sweetness of heaven! What are fruits worth if there are only gilded dust! The apostle says truly, “though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth nothing! — 1 Cor. xiii. 3. Oh certainly it profiteth nothing! What profiteth the noise of a mob, the hollow applause of the vain and self-seeking, who will cry Hosanna to-day, and crucify their Lord to-morrow, when there is not the sweetness of the approval of conscience and of heaven in it ? Our figs, in such case, are like those bad figs the prophet saw in vision, — ” Evil figs which cannot be eaten, they are so evil.” — Jer. xxiv. 8. Such then is the lesson conveyed in the reply of the fig-tree spiritually understood. Should I forsake my sweetness and my good fruit to go and be promoted over the trees ? And when we are ever tempted, my beloved hearers, to make the virtues of outward life a mere stepping stone to power, may our reply be ever the same. Should we leave the sweetness of heavenly virtue, and the real goodness of works which will abide the scrutiny of eternity, for the empty pageantry of place and power, sought only from the love of rule, and entailing bitterness here, and misery hereafter.

“Then said the trees unto the vine. Come thou and reign over us. Vines correspond to the truths of faith. The Church, especially as to its principles of faith, is commonly called in the Scriptures a vineyard. The reason is, no doubt, that the influence of principles of true faith is to the mind what wine is to the body, — it strengthens the exhausted and cheers the weary. There is a beautiful use of the vines in this respect in Isaiah: ” My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill : and he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein : and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes.” — Isa. v.1, 2. A little lower we are informed, ” The vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant.” — Ver. 7. The choicest vine is that faith which joins us to the Saviour. He implants this faith in the hearts of those who seek him, and gives them power to bring forth fruit that yields new wine. His love energizes it, purifies it, and enriches it. He is the source of faith, the author and finisher of it (Heb. xii. 2). “I am the vine,” He says, “ye are the branches ; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit : for without me ye can do nothing.” The influence of faith is as wine to the soul. There are times when the spirit is faint, and weary with the toil of life. Dejec-tion depresses the mind, and the pilgrim in the valley of gloom and care is ready to sink, but faith comes and whispers, Courag help is near.

The use of the wine in the Sacred Word, as the corresponding image of cheering truth, is quite common in both Testaments.”Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters ; and he that no money, come ye, buy and eat : yea, come buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.” — Isa. lv. 1. Here, undoubtedly, the truth which purifies is meant by water ; that which cheers, by wine ; while the simpler lessons of religion, which are adapted to babes in Christ, are signified by milk. Truths of duty and intelligence purify the life, and quench the thirst like water; but truths which speak of Divine Love, of salvation, and of heaven, refresh and elevate the soul like wine. In a prophecy of the book of Joel, respecting the time when the New Jerusalem would be the Church of mankind, there is a beautiful use of the term wine : ” And it shall come to pass in that day, that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk.” — Chap. iii. 18. That is, in that day, when knowing that God is love, that heaven is a kingdom where love reigns, and whose joys all flow from that blessed principle being wrought out in all its arrangements ; when men are able with an enlightened eye to see that Divine Providence forms all ordinations, and suffers all its permissions, from a spirit of its tenderness to us, to guard us as far as possible from harm, and introduce us as far as possible to happiness ; the soul’s inmost feelings of adoration and gratitude rise like mountains within, blessing their Creator, Redeemer, and Eternal Friend, and seeking for ever to be sunned by the light and the love of His divine countenance. From these mountains shall run down wine. Who can despair with an infinite helper ? Who can fear with angels of love around him ? There are more that be us than all that be against us : Why then should we faint or despair? A God of love has created and prepared us for our work. His creation consists of innumerable channels, through which His benevolence descends. Loving friends are around, and a heaven of love before us. All things cheer us on. The mountains run down with new wine.

The vine, in our text, speaks of its wine as cheering God and man. And when we perceive that wine is the emblem of encouraging truth, we appreciate the force of the divine words. For when man is cheered by truth, and saved, God rejoices with with him. The same wine that cheers man, cheers God. The new wine, which should be put into new bottles, was the new spiritual tidings the Lord brought into the world, and which should be received into renewed minds. The new fruit of the vine which the Lord Jesus would drink in the Father’s kingdom with His disciples, is the new unfolding of the spirit of the Word in which the angels delight. This is, indeed, the wine which cheers both God and man. But the vine intimates that, if she sought to be ruler over the trees, she would leave her wine. ” Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees ?” And so it is. If any one, by means of heavenly truth seeks dominion, his truth ceases to be saving. It is poison, not wine, to him. Of such it is written, ” Their wine is the poison of dragons, the cruel venom of asps.” — Deut. Xxxii. 33. When the truth which comes to make men really free,— free from sin, free from selfishness, free from falsehood, — is perverted to seduce them to slavery, no poison can be more terrible. The fallenn Church is said to make men drunk with the wine of fornication. Rev. xvii. 2. But the real vine says, ” Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, to be promoted over the trees ?” Oh no! This wine is heavenly nourishment. It exhilarates, strengthens, and consoles the soul, by all the glorious views of a sublime faith. A blessing is in it. By drinking again and again, our fainting powers are renewed for our labours of patience and love ; and after being recreated by it in all our difficulties on earth, we shall drink it new with the angels in our Father’s kingdom. What is there in ambition’s empty dreams to compare with this?

Lord, let me never turn aside.
Nor leave the path divine!
Let faith, and love, and zeal, abide;
Let patience ne’er decline.

We come now, however, to a plant of a very different character, and you will find the reply quite different.

“Then said all the trees to the bramble, Come thou and reign over us.” The reply takes it for granted that he is willing, and expresses his determination either to rule or destroy. This bramble is a low, bushy tree, with strong thorns, and whose wood is of a fiery nature, easily set in flames. It is the emblem of the lust of dominion, which is also essentially unbelieving. The ambitious man believes in nothing but himself and his cunning. He will patronize things sacred if they will help him to rule. He will take religion, and the loftier views of man’s nature, under his protection, if they will be subservient to his glorification; if not, he despises, and will do his utmost to destroy them. He is of the earth, earthy. Every thing which will contribute to earthly aggrandizement is welcome ; but he hates what will not come down to his level. Let us hear him. “If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come, and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”

What an extraordinary invitation was that! The olive, the vine, the fig-tree, the lofty cedar and all the noble trees of the forest, were to come and put themselves under the shadow of this contemptible shrub! I How ridiculous an idea! Yet it is paralleled, in all respects, by the demands of ambition. It will deign to lend its protection to divine things, only they must be subservient, and it must be chief. This principle in politicians makes religion an instrument of state policy ; the ministers of religion are a superior kind of police. But woe to the religion which stoops to it. It loses its own native life and vigour : it leaves, its oil, and its figs, and its wine. The principle in an ambitious priest uses all the semblances of earnest piety, to attain his selfish ends. He cares, however, nothing for them in themselves. He is an infidel at heart. He puts himself in the place of God. That which he cannot bend to his selfish rule, he burns to destroy. He says, like this miserable plant, ” If not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” He burns with the mad rage of frenzy against whatever will not stoop to gratify his insane whim, to rule over all things.

Those grand old trees, the cedars of Lebanon, with their lofty summits and immense branches, correspond to the exalted rational principles, which declare man’s immortality. The perceptions which soar high above the earth, which teach that human beings are not creatures of a day, but have commenced a being which will never die, these are mental cedar trees, and these are what are called upon to praise the Lord when the Psalmist exclaims, ” Praise Him, mountains and all hills, fruitful trees and all cedars.” — Pa. cxlviii. 9.

This conviction of our immortal life, this sense of being an inhabitant of two worlds, our abode in one bring only temporary, in the other for ever, is the greatest barrier against men demeaning themselves, and their religion, to the exaltation of earthly despotism. That principle would rejoice to have only tools which care for earth. The despot would, if it were possible, destroy the cedar of Lebanon. Those glorious sentiments are, however, not to be destroyed. They are immortal. The compound of low selfhood end infidelity, meant by the bramble, will destroy itself in its impurity and insanity, as Abimelech did at Thebez, but all that is orderly and divine will live on :

“Divine peace on all around,
And Joy, and happiness, and love.”

From the whole of this divine lesson, my beloved hearers, we may gather the most invaluable impressions. We cannot too strongly imbue ourselves with the conviction that all heaven breathes humility, and everything heavenly is humble.The moment any sacred principle is turned to a selfish purpose, it loses its richness, its sweetness, its holiness, and worth. Love becomes flattery, virtue hypocrisy, faith deception. The whole man becomes debased to earth, and worships the vilest idol known, defiled human selfhood, the very essence of all that is infernal. O let us shun this awful, desolating, soul-destroying sin. And, on the contrary, let us attend to Him who is at once the humblest and the highest. Bring often to mind the impressive and beautiful scene, when surrounded by His disciples, He took a little child, and placed it in the midst of them. It was the day following that of the grand scene of the Transfiguration.

The disciples generally had heard from Peter, James andJohn, of the splendour which appeared in and around the Saviour : of His face shining like the sun, and His garments so bright as no fuller on earth could equal. They had begun to speculate upon the dignities they should fill in the earthly kingdom, now, as they thought, soon to be fully realized in human grandeur. The high and holy, and yet the meek and lowly. One, knew their thoughts, and when they came to Him, ” Jesus called a little child unto Him, and set him in in the midst of them, and said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom heaven.” — Matt, xviii. 2—4.

Let us shun the lust of dominion, as the deadliest destroyer of our purity and peace. Cherish the love of our brethren for the Lord’s sake and for theirs, and ever remember the words with which the Lord opened His wonderful sermon on the mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matt. v. 3.

The great and good Bishop of Hippo, Augustine, was once asked which was the chief virtue of the Christian religion. He answered, Humility! His questioner added, And which is the second? The bishop again replied, Humility! And which is the third, said the enquirer? And the bishop the third time said, Humility! He meant that the grace of humility in a Christian insures every other. And he was right. Man of himself is only evil. Every virtue he has is a gift from heaven. If he receives love and power to to overcome his selfish dislike of others with envy, scorn, and all their horrid brood, a grateful thankfulness is due, not a spirit of boasting. If he is proud of it, and seeks to rule by it, he has already defiled it ; it has lost its fatness, it is no longer of heaven. O make me humble! Should be the Christian’s daily prayer. ‘Tis the want of this celestial grace, which chiefly divides men, repels them from one another, each thinking himself better than the rest, and making of his gifts and graces even crimes. What have we that we have not received? The more we have, the more we owe. Let us, then, never dare to prostitute the graces which should deepen our lowliness into means to heighten our pride. An angel turns away from praises, and points upward. It is an invaluable privilege to be in the Lord’s kingdom; a privilege to be enabled to do something for it. Let us enjoy our mercies and be grateful. And for every increase of our blessings let us say, ” O give thanks unto the Lord ; for He is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” — Ps. cxviii. 29.

The want of humility is the greatest barrier to our progress in truth. When self and pride are within us, we shun new truths because they are contrary to our former opinions. We are too proud to learn. Even the truth we have is not loved because it is true, but because it is our opinion ; and was received first because it was the opinion of our fathers. Such persuasions, however, are not wine; they are vinegar. The vine with us, has left its wine, and become a worthless stock, And, except for its wine, the vine is the least valuable of trees. The Lord guides the meek in judgment. He teaches the meek (Psalm xxv. 9). The eye, jaundiced by prejudice, discolours the light of heaven. Whoever will advance in the truth let him pray for a humble love of truth, because it is true. Meekness, meekness, meekness! this is the grace that keeps the channels from heaven open. And when at any time faith would whisper, that in virtue of our intelligence, our talents, or our gifts, we should aspire to be king among the trees, let our reply ever be, “ We are unprofitable servants, when we have done all.” “Should I leave my wine, that cheereth God and man?” Should I forsake those beautiful outpourings of heavenly wisdom, with which my cup has often run over, — those holy lessons of faith which have cheered, consoled, elevated and blessed me so often, those high and pure unfoldings from the divine vine which have blessed the angelic thirst within me, and given me a foretaste of the new wine which is drunk in my Father’s kingdom ? No, never, Lord! keep me like thyself meek and lowly. Give me the grace at all times to lay up my “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal.” Do thou, Divine Tree of Life, reign alone in my garden; and when my little paradise has rejoiced and bloomed, and borne ripe fruit in the sunshine of Thy countenance on earth, transplant it, O Gardener Divine, to the glorious plains of thy celestial kingdom.

Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)