RELIGION IS IN THE LIFE.
6Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8” ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ “(LUKE XIII. 6-9.)
The “certain man” is the Lord, the Owner of the human vineyard, The vineyard is the Church, in which Divine truths are planted, and brought to practical fruit. “For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His pleasant plant:” Individually, the vineyard is the Church set up in each man’s understanding.
A tree represents a principle implanted in the mind. The leaves represent knowledges, things known, in the memory.” The blossoms represent the sentiments, or ideas in, the thought. And the fruits represent the matured principles, in the life, the good works, which are the outworkings, or fruits, of the man’s principles. Many kinds of trees are mentioned in the Scriptures, especially the olive, the vine and the fig. These three trees represent the three great characteristic divisions, or phases, of human life, called, in the terminology of the New-Church, the celestial, spiritual and natural degrees. These are degrees differing in kind, or quality.
In the celestial condition, represented by the olive, the man IS governed by a love of good, and by love to the Lord as Divine Good. The man loves good; and he does good, willingly, from love. In the spiritual, or middle degree, represented by the grape-vine, the love of truth is the controlling affection. The man sees the truth of things, rather than their good. And he sees and knows God as the Divine Truth. And, in the natural, or lowest degree of life, represented by the fig, the man regards actions, rather than principles. He does good from a sense of duty, in obedience to the Lord’s commandments.
The fig thus represents the lowest, or outmost, degree of human life. All men are in the natural degree, by birth; but the spiritual and celestial degrees are developed in the “new birth” of the regeneration. The natural degree relates to the outward life, and to the affections and thoughts that dwell upon that life. Every man continues to be in the natural degree, as far as his outward life is concerned; but, with those who become spiritual, or celestial, a new degree of life is developed in addition to, and above, or within, the natural degree. Every man carries within him the germs of the spiritual and celestial degrees, which may be opened and developed.
In the natural-minded man, the interior degrees are not opened to his consciousness, even when he is regenerating. And his regeneration brings him into a good and orderly natural life, in obedience to the commandments of the Lord. Then his natural goodness will contain, within it, a germ of interior goodness. It will be natural good from a spiritual origin, and held in connection with the heavens. He will be regenerated, as far as his consciousness extends; but his mind will not enjoy the distinctive experience of the spiritual or celestial degree.
Thus, even if a man is merely a natural man, he may become a regenerate natural man. He may keep the Lord’s commandments, and thus “enter into life,” according to the degree of his openness to heaven. But, if he does not keep the commandments, he will be evil, no matter how much he may know about the truth, as doctrine. And a man who knows, but does not obey, the teachings of the Lord, is a barren fig-tree, bearing ” nothing but leaves.”
THE JEWISH CHURCH.
This was the general condition of the Jewish Church, at the time of the Lord’s first coming. The Jewish Church was of an outward, natural character. It was, in fact, not a Church, but merely a representative of a Church, its outward rites and ceremonies being figures of the mental
life of a real and spiritual Church. But the Jewish Church, though external, should have been in the love and practice of natural good. It had the Divine commandments, and connection with the heavens, through the prophets. The Lord was continually speaking to Israel, in His holy Word, in its literal sense. Thus, the Jews had knowledges of truth, represented by the leaves of the tree. “And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations;” i. e., the truths were for practice, that men might be healed of their evils.
But the Jewish, national fig-tree bore leaves, only. When the Lord carne to the Jewish Church, He brought a judgment upon that dispensation. When He carne to that tree, He found nothing upon it that could satisfy His Divine hunger for the righteousness of His people. He found nothing but flourishing knowledges, with inward and outward barrenness, as to any practical goodness. And by such knowledges no spiritual manhood could be built up.
COMING AND SEEKING
The owner of the vineyard “came and sought” fruit on the fig-tree. “Came” expresses the approach of the Divine Love, and “sought” represents the effort of the Divine Wisdom, to bring good to men, and thus to find good in men. These two expressions are not merely careless repetitions, nor are they accidental. The Word of the Lord is a communication to men, from the Lord, and it expresses the qualities of His Love and of His Wisdom. And, often, in the letter of the Scriptures, a third expression is added, relating to His Divine Power, ” He hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to the bound.” These Divine qualities, though united in the Lord, are separated in the thought of men, There is no Divine wrath. God is Love ; and His Love is within every manifestation of His Wisdom and of His Power.
Historically, the parable relates to the Jews; but personally it applies to each individual man who is in the condition represented by the barren fig-tree; i. e., who is full of knowledges of doctrine, but barren of any practical good in life; the merely nominal Christian, who does not live as Jesus lived; who, perhaps, makes a display of outward piety, but does not keep the Lord’s commandments. And yet the Lord, as in the parable, tries to save every man, even the worst. He gives every man every opportunity that can possibly be of any use to him.
The Divine Truth declares every such unproductive man to be already condemned. “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 cumbereth it the ground?” Thus, the Divine Truth expresses condemnation of evil. But the Divine Love, in its Divine Providence, always seeks to save every man. The Divine Providence is the vine-dresser.
These persons, the owner and the vine-dresser, are spoken of as two, to express the different aspects in which men see the Divine Truth and the Divine Providence; but, in the Lord, these are one. Providence is the care exercised from the Divine Love, through the Divine Wisdom, and by the Divine Power. Thus, though men see, that, in their evil conditions, the Divine Truth condemns their condition, yet they are taught that the Divine Providence is always operating to the uttermost, to save all men.
And so the vine-dresser said to the owner, “Lord, 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.”
As the fig-tree represents natural good, good in the outward life, therefore, when this is genuine good, done from good motives, it is from a spiritual origin. Then, the flourishing fig-tree represents the natural man, or the natural mind of man, instructed in the truths of the
Church; and whose leaves are knowledges, and whose fruits are the practical good works of a holy life. But when men do works that are good in outward form, but are hypocritical in spirit, their good works are “evil figs, which cannot be eaten, they are so evil.” And when a man, beginning to do good acts, ceases doing good, and does evil, from policy, during a temptation, he is “even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.”
The chief characteristic of a fruit-tree is its fruit; and so, with man, the chief point is his good, the actual fruits of his principles. In this good, as in the fruit, is the life principle, the seed, which shall produce more good fruit. And so, every man, like “every tree, is known by his fruit.” “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringcth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.”
This is a very plain statement of the principle that whatever is in a man, will work itself out in his life. “Herein is My Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.” In Isaiah, the good are spoken of as “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He lllight be glorified.” And, in the first Psalm, it is said of the good man, “And he shall be like a tree, planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf, also, shall not wither ; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
The effort of the Divine Providence, as the vinedresser, is to care for the spiritual fruits of the vine of spiritual truth, and also to do all that can be done to develop good fruit from every fig-tree, in men’s minds.
The lord of the vineyard had looked for fruit, from the .tree, for three years. Three represents a state of fulness, or completeness, in regard to truth. In the Jewish Church, and in the individual man represented by this fig-tree, there was no genuine good, in either of the three departments of the minds life, the will, the understanding, and the conduct. That tree was filling up the measure of its character. And so the Lord knew it would have to be cut down; but, before cutting it down, every opportunity would be given for a change in its character.
The unfruitful fig-tree is cut down, spiritually, when the natural man is destroyed by his own evils. In the vineyard, there is sunlight, heat and moisture and the vine-dresser’s care; and, if there be any good in the fig-tree, it should bear fruit. So, in the Church, a man has every opportunity to do good, The Church is open to him, with all its privileges, its sacraments, and the Word of the Lord. And the man must be at fault, if, amid all these advantages, he bears “nothing but leaves,” and remains unfruitful of any practical good.
CUMBERING THE GROUND.
The unfruitful fig-tree is said to cumber the ground; i, e., to be in the way, keeping the ground idle, when the same space would support a good tree. And, when the man of the Church is unfruitful in good, he performs no good use. He is not useful, himself, and, he stands in the way of others, who might be of use, where he wastes time; and he injures others by his bad example. But, as long as there is any opportunity for the useless man to repent, or, indirectly, to serve any use to others, the Lord’s Providence operates upon him, as a vine-dresser.
TO DIG, TO MANURE, ETC.
To dig about the tree, means to instruct the mind; to help the man to investigate ; and thus to remove the obstacles that prevent the warmth of love and the light of truth from reaching the man’s mind, To manure it, is to allow the mind to be assailed by evil, in temptation, so
that the man may, through temptation, be lead to repent, and to reform. The manure, as rejected material, signifies evil; but the evils of the devils may be made, like manure, to serve a good purpose to others, in temptation.
And yet the evil men will not repent, even if given opportunity. But their life may serve as a warning to others. The Jews, long ago disbanded as a nation, or a Church, have been allowed to remain for. centuries, with their characteristics still prominent; perhaps for the good of others, as well as for their own possible good. We notice that the lord of the vineyard did not reply to the vine-dresser; which indicates that there was no hope of the Jewish Church, as a Church. And in the parallel passage in Matthew, the record states that “the fig-tree withered away.”
This tree had as much of the heat and light of the sun as other trees had, and yet it remained unproductive. And so it is with men ; both spiritually and naturally the Lord “makes His sun to shine on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.”
THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN.
The kingdom of heaven is all about us, everywhere. It is the inward kingdom of love, wisdom and goodness. Like the kingdom of light, it is all about the blind man, but he is not conscious of its presence; he is not open to it; and he cannot use its blessings. The whole heavens are working for us, in ardent love, to lead us into a heavenly character. Every truth of the Lord’s Word calls to us, in His name, saying, “Come unto Me, and I will give you rest.” Perhaps we know what we ought to do, but we have not, as yet, put down our evils to an extent sufficient to make good fruit grow on our fig-trees.
If so, the Divine Providence will have to come to our unproductive trees, and dig about them, and manure them, as a last hope of helping them. The Lord will give us further instruction, by means of the Church, and by many practical ways, in daily life. And He will permit us to fall into temptations, that we may recognize our real states, and may repent and reform.
The growth of a tree is not by mere change, but by a well-defined plan. A tree must have something to grow from, some starting-point, some seed, or root. So, in our minds, all growth must have something as a starting-point, some seed of truth, some principle, which can take
root in our minds.. And, as the tree grows, by a definite plan, or law of life, so every truth grows, in our minds, by a well-defined heavenly law of order. It grows from knowledge deposited in the memory, to doctrine understood, and to truth recognized, and to principle loved, and then to good fruit, in our daily life. And it cannot grow to fruit, except through this process. .
Ag-ain, as -the tree must be placed amid conditions of growth, so the truth, in our minds, must be given every opportunity to be warmed by our love; lighted by our wisdom, and protected by our care; i. e., we must do our part to keep it in condition to receive the Lord’s love, wisdom and care. And it must be cared for, continually, to keep up the conditions of growth, and to keep away the weeds, and other enemies, Then we shall not be useless, unproductive trees, cumbering the ground which better men and women might more usefully occupy.
Author: Edward Craig Mitchell 1887