"He has laid waste my vine, and barked my fig tree; He has stripped it bare and thrown it away!" Joel 1:7
There will be memory in Heaven. Will Noah ever forget the Ark, or Abraham Mount Moriah, or Jacob his wrestling with the angel? No — never! Will Joseph ever forget the pit and the prison, or Moses the passage of the Red Sea, or the woman of Samaria the conversation at Jacob's well? No — never! Will Mary and Martha ever forget the village of Bethany, or Peter Christ's look in Pilate's Hall, or Paul the road to Damascus, or John the Isle of Patmos? No — never!
Now, one of the uses to which memory will be applied in the heavenly state, will be to review the wisdom and goodness, condescension and truth — which have guided our life in the present world. Let us, then, for a few moments, take something like a review of the discipline of life with which we are familiar in a greater or less degree.
EVERY MAN HAS A FIG-TREE. We very early become proprietors. We all have our fig-trees — all — whether born in a workhouse, or begotten in a palace.
What is a fig-tree? Something that we love; something that we are fond of; something that sends a living joy through the warm heart whenever we think of it. The fig-tree of one man is an ample fortune; of another, buoyant health; of another, success in business; of another, a beloved relative; of another, a lovely child; of another, a happy home.
The fig-tree of the infant is a choice toy.
The fig-tree of the child is a favorite companion.
The fig-tree of the studious youth is a school prize and college honors.
The fig-tree of the young man is a beautiful day-dream of future years.
The fig-tree of the groom is his bride.
The fig-tree of the bride is her husband.
The fig-tree of the mother is her first-born.
The fig-tree of the father is an only daughter.
The fig-trees under which we each sit are different in size, in foliage, and in fruit — but every man has a fig-tree! Some of our fellow-creatures are so poor, and their life from the cradle to the grave such a struggle with misery — that we would hardly have thought that they could have had a fig-tree. But they have. The human heart was made to love, and love it will, in spite of poverty, humiliation, and sorrow.
What is meant by barking of the fig-tree? Stripping it, peeling it, laying it bare and bleeding — and then the glorious fig-tree withers and dies. And so when . . .
this ample fortune is reduced, or
this buoyant health is shattered, or
this surprising success is reversed, or
these brilliant prospects are clouded, or
that beloved relative droops and dies, or
that darling child is snatched from our embrace, or
that happy home is turned into a house of mourning
— then have we the reality of which the saying is the picture — the barking of the fig-tree!
Have you not seen . . .
the infant's toy broken, and
the child's companion die, and
the betrothed married to another, and
the bride carried to her tomb, and
the husband left a widower, and
the wife become a widow, and
the first-born carried away by death, and
the only son become a miserable prodigal?
You have seen all this, and you have heard the voice of an infant, and of a child, and of a youth, and of an adult, say, "He has barked my fig-tree!"
Every man is liable to have his fig-tree barked. Are there no exceptions here? None!
If special friendship with God could have spared his fig-tree — then Abraham would not have heard the command to offer his son.
If distinguished honor could have spared his fig-tree — then David would not have entered his palace, saying, "O Absalom, my son Absalom, would to God that I had died instead of you!"
Or if pre-eminent usefulness could have spared his fig-tree — then Paul would not have felt his keen thorn in the flesh.
"There is no discharge in this war!" "Every heart knows its own bitterness!" There is not one, the fairest, and youngest, richest, and healthiest — whose feet, sooner or later, will not have to pass through the deep waters of the Divine chastisement.
Pain and sorrow;
disappointment and temptation;
death and judgment
— await us all.
But how are we prepared to meet them? Is it in reliance upon our own strength of will, or our own righteousness of life? If so, then, alas, for our souls! The feeble reed will snap beneath the hand that leans upon it! The foundation of sand will sink beneath the storm! The frail anchor will give way when the tempest of judgment comes, and leave us amid the swelling floods of the great day, like a vessel that has drifted from its anchorage — the helpless prey of every wave.
WHY does God bark our fig-tree? There are many wise and gracious purposes.
One purpose is to promote consideration. "When times are bad — CONSIDER!" Ecclesiastes 7:14
The great sin, danger, folly, and ruin of men is, that they will not think. They will hear, read, admire, applaud — but they will not think. Now, when God has a purpose of mercy towards any, He seems to say, "I am resolved that he shall think, and I will send him that which will make him think!" Then comes the barking of the fig-tree. Then follows, thinking upon hitherto forgotten subjects — the divine, the spiritual, the eternal. "Now, I see!" says the stricken one, "that there is no friend, like the friend that sticks closer than a brother. There is no refuge of my soul, like Jesus! There is no rock, like the rock of ages! There is no treasure like heavenly treasure! Fig-trees, farewell! I will flee away from you to God my Savior, my everlasting home."
For the most part, we refuse to listen to God in the time of health and prosperity. In the garden where flowers are blooming beautifully, and trees are waving freshly — we have seldom an ear for the voice of Him who pencilled every leaf and feathered every bough. But when the flowers are all withered, the trees are stripped, and the garden is but a grave of what once it held — the most worldly mind is for a time subdued into listening to God. It is as though God had been hidden by the deep rich foliage — but he could now be seen, when the blight and the storm have done their stern office.
And is it so that the beloved of our hearts must die, before we can live. Must bough after bough of fragrant blossom and pleasant fruit be severed; must the fig-tree be barked before we are led to give to God our hearts, and to Christ our service. Yes, it is even so. The loss of wife, or children, or property, or health — has often resulted in untold blessings to the loser. It has produced in him pious thoughtfulness, and the eternal Spirit has made it the means and occasion of his conversion to God.
When God barks our fig-tree — it is to open the Scriptures to our hearts. But are not preachers and commentators, the best interpreters of Scripture? Nay, heart-break is the deepest teacher. What a different book is the Bible when the fig-tree is in its prime — from what it is when barked and withered! How different when the mind is at ease is that passage, "Cast your burden on the Lord" — from what it is when crushed with a load of care! And when surrounded by friends and helpers, how different is that passage, "I will never leave you nor forsake you!" — from what it is when deserted of all and left alone. How different when the family circle is unbroken is the voice from Heaven, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord!" — from what it is when death has made a gap in it. How much more power and life and peace in one case, than in the other.
Who does not know how the Bible appears to open itself in the season of trouble. Its pages seem a hundredfold more irradiated, when we have to darken our windows because death has crossed our doors — than when the full unclouded sun has poured upon us all its light.
The Bible may be called a handbook for the afflicted. Nothing is better calculated to soothe sorrow and alleviate distress, than its devout perusal. The greater part of it would be insipid to a man who never passed through trouble of any kind, for there would be in it comparatively little personally interesting to him.
Set a man who knows nothing of trouble to preach a sermon on the words, "Deep calls unto deep; at the noise of your waterfalls all your waves and your billows are gone over me!" Set a man who never prayed in his life, who never lost a friend, who was never in any circumstances of deep sorrow and affliction, to give an exposition of the words, "You have covered your face with a cloud, so that my prayer should not pass through."
But let God by some terrible providence "bark his fig-tree" — let a big cloud gather over his head — make him feel that he cannot bring his dead child back to life — that his wife will not hear him as she lies in her coffin — that he cannot build his house again that was burnt down last night — then he will understand the meaning of that lamentation, "You have covered your face with a cloud, that my prayer should not pass through," and its relation to his own state. This is a glorious result of affliction.
The fig-tree is barked to teach heavenly mindedness. Fig trees drag down the heart to earth, and keep it there. I have heard, indeed, says the worldly mind, of a beautiful country where the righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their father, and I have listened to the pilgrims on the road to it singing —
"There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints immortal reign;
Infinite day excludes the night,
And pleasures banish pain!"
But as long as I have my fig-tree, I am content with earth, and have no inclination to soar away to higher and purer regions. Then comes the barking of the fig-tree, and along with it a total change of sentiment, for then the confession is, "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us!" This is the way in which God teaches heavenly-mindedness to His children.
Who does not know how, in proportion, as tie after tie has been broken, as branch after branch has been cut off — the soul of the Christian will often soar heavenward as though on new wings — his worldly attachments proving themselves the only encumbrances, so that the place where he was stripped of them, becomes the place where he mounts nearest to the throne of the Eternal God!
When God barks our fig-tree, it is to encourage sympathy. What a beautiful trait is compassion in the character of the Christian! How much of the loveliness of Jesus would disappear, were the tenderness to be withdrawn from it! How Jesus molds us into the pattern of His own tenderness by barking our fig-tree, for then we learn to "weep with those who weep," to be "a brother born for adversity," and delicately to handle the wounds of others, having felt the same ourselves.
Who was the most tender-hearted member of the Christian Church? Was it not Paul? Where did he learn his sympathy? Was it not from his own sufferings?
Nay, where did Jesus learn to sympathize with His people? Was it in the heights of glory? Rather when He was led as a lamb to the slaughter — when in the darkness of the ninth hour He said, " My God, my God, why have You forsaken me!"
The barking of our fig-tree gives us a tender sympathy with fellow-sufferers, which mere knowledge can never give. And, oh, how differently sympathy is felt when it rises out of felt experience, from the mere sympathy of kind fellow-feeling.
Christian reader, the gospel affords the richest consolations when our fig-tree has been barked. It tells us that it is barked through the agency of Divine providence, "HE has barked my fig-tree!"
Does God bark our fig-tree wantonly? The great are sometimes wanton; but wantonness can exist only where there is wickedness, and He who is said to bark the fig-tree is Holy, Holy, Holy! Carefulness in the treatment of all things, is one of the characteristics of the Divine conduct.
Does God bark our fig-tree cruelly? Impossible, because God is Love. Can a mother find pleasure in the sufferings of her first-born? Will she break the toys of her babe, merely to see him weep? Will she put wormwood into the food of her child, merely to see him loathe it? Will she rob her boy of all his pleasures, merely to vex him?
This is possible — but it is impossible that our God — for the mere sake of afflicting us, or for any pleasure which He could have in our pain — should bark our fig-tree.
Can God bark our fig-tree ignorantly? He who formed the eye — shall He not see? He who teaches man knowledge — does He not know? He sees our fig-tree even when it is a sunny thought, and a pleasant imagination, and a golden hope. And if He strips it — it is not as when an animal is slain by a random shot, or by a stray arrow; but as when a piece of intricate work is taken to pieces by a skillful workman. God's eye is fully upon the object, when He barks the fig-tree.
Can God bark our fig-tree unwisely? Nay, He has an end — a right and a good end — and the very manner of his doing it is perfect.
This barking of the fig-tree is part of His plan, and harmonizes with all His working from the beginning and forever. Sometimes we can see the end of the Lord — and sometimes we can see it within ourselves. The owner of the fig-tree has . . .
made too much of it,
esteemed it too highly,
felt too dependent upon it,
rejoiced in it too fully,
given his heart too much to it, and
has allowed it to screen God and Heaven from his view! He has looked too much at the traced shadow of the fig-tree upon the earth — and too little through the fig-tree to the blue heavens and to the sun beyond. He has sat under its shadow — when he should have been up and busy with work beyond it. He has confined himself to the fruit of this tree — when other provision has been made for his enjoyment and sustenance. He has felt this tree to be his all — and to correct this evil, God has barked his fig-tree.
If the end of the Lord is not CORRECTION, it may be PREVENTION. The tree may be barked . . .
lest it should screen God and Heaven from our sight,
lest we should try to rest under its shadow,
lest we should try to live by it alone,
or as preparation for some blessed estate — for the enjoyment of which this barking our fig-tree is the necessary training.
Reader, learn to see a Father's hand, yes, a Father's heart in every affliction! It is not a vindictive enemy who has chastened you — but a loving friend! It is not an unfeeling stranger — but a tender Father. He with a gentle, tender hand, has barked your fig-tree. No enemy has done it. It is no accident. God has done it. God has barked my fig-tree, and God is Love to His redeemed people.
Also, never forget that there is reserved for you a glorious tree that never fades — the tree of life! "And he showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations." Revelation 22:1-2
Therefore, account nothing safe until you reach that world in which no tree of pleasure dies, where every tree is a tree of rich and boundless LIFE.
While here on earth, learn to say, "Whom have I in Heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever!" Psalm 73:25-26
"Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word." Psalm 119:67
"And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.' Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" Hebrews 12:5-7
"As a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you." Deuteronomy 8:5
"For affliction does not come from the dust, nor does trouble spring from the ground. Yet man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward." Job 5:6-7
"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." Hebrews 12:11
"Blessed is the man whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal." Job 5:17-18
"It is Your hand, my God!
My sorrow comes from Thee,
I bow beneath Your chastening rod;
'Tis love that bruises me!
"I would not murmur, Lord,
Before You I am dumb!
Lest I should breath one murmuring word,
To You for help I come.
"My God! Your name is love,
A Father's hand is Thine;
With tearful eye, I look above,
And cry, 'Your will be mine.'
"I know Your will is right,
Though it may seem severe;
Your path is still unsullied light,
Though dark it oft appear.
"Jesus for me has died;
Your Son You did not spare,
His pierced hands, His bleeding side,
Your love for me declare!
"Here my poor heart can rest,
My God! it cleaves to Thee;
Your will is love, Your end is blessed,
All work for good to me!"