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This miracle was wrought upon the Monday of the week of Passion. On the Sunday of Palms our blessed Lord had made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and in the evening-since even now his hour, though close at hand, was not altogether come-he retired from the snares and perils of the city to the safer Bethany, to the house probably of those sisters whom he had so lately enriched with a restored brother, and there passed the night. On the morning of Monday, as he was returning from Bethany to his ministry in the city very early, indeed before sunrise, the word against the fig-tree was spoken. That same evening he with his disciples went back to Bethany to lodge there, but probably at so late an hour that the darkness prevented these from marking the effects which had followed upon that word. It was not till the morning of Tuesday that “they saw the fig-tree dried up from the roots.” Such is the exact order of the circumstances, in the telling of which St. Mark shows himself a more accurate observer of times than the first Evangelist;-not, indeed, that this gives him any superiority; our advantage is that we have both narrations:—St. Matthew's, who was concerned for the inner idea, and hurried on to that, omitting circumstances which came between, that he might present the whole event at a single glance, in a single picture, without the historical perspective, of which he at no time takes so much note, his gifts and his aim being different;-and also St. Mark's, who was concerned likewise for the picturesque setting forth of the truth in its external details, as it was linked with times and with places, as it gradually unfolded itself before the eyes of men.
But while such differences as these are easily set at one, and they who enhance them into difficulties are the true Pharisees of history, straining at gnats and swallowing camels, there are other and undoubted difficulties in this narrative, and those not unworthy of consideration. And this first, that our Lord, knowing as by his divine power he must, that there were no figs upon that tree, should yet have gone to seek them there, should have made to his disciples as though he had expected to find them. It might be anxiously asked in what way this was consistent with the perfectness of sincerity and truth. Slight as would have been the deceit, yet, if it was such, it would trouble the clearness of our image of him, whom we conceive of as the absolute Lord of truth. It is again perplexing, that he should have treated the tree as a moral agent, punishing it as though unfruitfulness was any guilt upon its part. This would be in itself perplexing, but becomes infinitely more so by the notice which St. Mark inserts, and which indeed our acquaintance with the order of the natural year would, without this notice, have suggested, that it was not then the time of figs: so that at the time when they could not seasonably be expected, he sought, and was displeased at failing to find them. For, whatever the under-meaning might have been in treating the tree as a moral agent, and granting that to have been entirely justified, yet does it seem again entirely lost and obscured, when it was thus put out of the power of the tree to be other. wise than it was, namely, without fruit. For the symbol must needs be carried through: if by a figure we attribute guilt to the tree for not having fruit, we must be consistent, and show that it might have had such,--that there was no just and sufficient excuse why it should have been without this.
Upon the first point, that the Lord went to the tree, appearing to expect that he should find fruit upon it, and yet knowing that he should find none, deceiving thereby those who were with him, who no doubt believed that what he professed to look for, he expected to find, it is sufficient to observe that a similar charge might be made against all figurative teaching, whether by word or by deed: for in all such there is a worshipping of truth in the spirit and not in the letter; often a forsaking it in the letter, for the better honoring and establishing of it in the spirit. A parable is told as true, and though the facts are feigned, yet is true, because of the deeper truth which sustains the outward fabric of the story; it is true, because it is the shrine of truth, and be. cause the truth which it enshrines looks through and through it. Even so a symbolic action is done as real, as meaning something; and yet, although not meaning the thing which it professes to mean, is no deception, since it means something infinitely higher and deeper, of which the lower action is a type, and in which that lower is lost and swallowed up; transfigured and transformed by the higher, whereof it is made the vehicle. What was it, for instance, here, if Christ meant not really to look for fruit on that tree, being aware that it had none? yet he did mean to show how it would fare with a man or with a nation, when God came looking from it for the fruits of righteousness, and found nothing but the abundant leaves of a boastful yet empty profession.* As regards the second objection, that he should have put forth his anger on a tree, the real objection lying at the root of this in many minds oftentimes is, that he should have put forth his anger at all; that God should ever show himself as a punishing God; that there should be any such thing as the wrath of the Lamb, as the giving account of advantages, as a dreadful day. But seeing that such things are, how needful that men should not forget it: yet they might have forgot it, as far as the teaching of the miracles went, but for this one —all the others being miracles of help and of healing. And even the severity of this, with what mercy was it tempered He did not, like Moses and Elijah, make the assertion of God's holiness and his hatred of evil at the cost of many lives, but only at the cost of a single unfeeling tree. His miracles of mercy were unnumbered, and on men; his miracle of judgment was but one, and on a tree.f
* Augustine (Quaest. Evang, l. 2, c. 51): Non enim omne quod fingimus mendacium est: sed quando id fingimus, quod nihil significat, tune est mendacium. Cúm autem fictionostra refertur ad aliquam significationem, nonest mendacium, sed aliqua figura veritatis. Alioquin omnia quae à sapientibus et sanctis viris, vel etiam ab ipso Domino figurate dicta sunt, mendacia deputabunter, quia secundúm usitatum intellectum non subsistit veritas talibus dictis .... Sicut autem dicta, ita etiam facta finguntur sine mendacio ad aliquam rem significandam; unde est etiam illud Domini quod in fici arbore quaesivit fructum eo tempore, quo illa poma nondum essent. Non enim dubium estillam inquisitionem non fuisse veram; quivis enim hominum sciret, sinon divinitate, vel tempore, poma illam arborem non habere. Fictio igitur quae ad aliquam veritatem refertur, figura est; quae non refertur, mendacium est. Cf. Serm. 89, 4–6: Quaerit intelligentem, non facit errantem. + Hilary (Comm. in Matth., in loc.): In eo quidem bonitatis Dominicae argumentum reperiemus. Nam ubi offerre voluit procuratae à se salutis exemplum, virtutis sua potestatem in humanis corporibus exercuit: spem futurorum et animae salutem curis praesentium aegritudinum commendans:... nunc veró, ubi in contumaces formam severitatis constituebat, futuri speciem damno arboris indicavit, ut infidelitatis periculum, sine detrimento eorum in quorum redemptionem venerat, doceretur. Thus, too, Grotius: Clementissimus Dominus, quum innumeris miraculis sua in nos aeterna beneficia figurăsset, severitatem judicii, quod infrugiferos homines manet, uno duntaxat signo, iddue non in homine, sed in non sensură arbore, adumbravit; ut certi essemus bonorum operum sterilitatem gratiae faecundantis ademptione puniri. Theophylact But then, say some, it was unjust to deal thus with a tree at all, since that, being incapable of good or of evil, was as little a fit object of blame as of praise, of punishment as reward. But this very objection does, in truth, imply that it was not unjust, that the tree was a thing, which might therefore lawfully be used merely as a means for ends lying beyond itself. Man is the prince of creation, and all things else are to serve him, and then rightly fulfil their subordinate uses when they do serve him, in their life or in their death, yielding unto him fruit, or warning him in a figure what shall be the curse and penalty of unfruitfulness." Christ did not attribute moral responsibilities to the tree, when he smote it because of its unfruitfulness, but he did attribute to it a fitness for representing moral qualities.* All our language concerning trees, a good tree, a bad tree, a tree which ought to bear, is exactly the same continual transfer to them of moral qualities, and a witness for the natural fitness of the Lord's language, the language indeed of an act, rather than of words. By his word, however, (Luke xiii. 6–9, f) he had already in some sort prepared his disciples
brings out in the same way the ot?avôpotia of this miracle; impaivet oth rô 6évôpov, iva adopovian duffpostovo. * Witsius (Meletem Leiden., p. 414) expresses this excellently well: At quid tandem commisit infelix arbor, ob quam rem tam inopinato mulctaretur exitio Si verborum proprietatem sectemur, omnino nihil. Creaturae enim rationis expertes, uti virtutis ac vitii, ita et praemsii ac poenae, proprié et stricte loquentes, incapaces sunt. Potest tamen in creaturis istis aliquid existere, quod, analogica et symbolică quâdam ratione, et vitio et poenae respondeat. Defectus fructuum in arbore casteroquin generosá, succulentå, bene plantatá, frondosa, multa pollicente, symbolice respondet vitio animi degenerantis, luxuriosi, ingrati, simulati, superbi, verá tamen virtute destituti; subitanea arboris ex imprecatione Christi arefactio, quá tollitur quidquid in arbore videbatur esse boni, analogiam quandam habet cum justissimá Christi vindicta, quá in eos animadvertit, qui benignitate suá abutuntur. Quemadmodum igitur peccata ista hominum verè merentur poenam, ita kar' dwazoyiav dici potest, arborem, ita uti descripsimus comparatam, mereri exitium. # It is very noticeable that the only times that the fig-tree appears prominently in the New Testament, it appears as the symbol of evil; here and at Luke xiii. 6. Isidore of Pelusium (in CRAMER's Catena, in loc.) refers to the old tradition, that it was the tree of temptation in Paradise. For traditions of impurity connected with it, see TERTULLIAN, De Pudicit., c. 6. Buffon calls it arbre indécent; for explanation of which see a learned note in SEPP's Leben Jesu, v. 3, p. 225, seq. Bernard (In Cant. Serm, 60, 8): Maledicit ficulneae pro eo quod non invenit in ea fructum. Bene ficus, quae boná licet Patriarcharum radice prodierit, nunquam tamen in altum proficere, numquam se humo attollere voluit, numquam respondere radici proceritate ramorum, generositate florum, focunditate fructuum. Male prorsus tibi cum tuà radice convenit, arbor pusilla, tortuosa, nodosa. Radix enim sancta. Quid ea dignum tuis apparet in ramis? The Greek proverbial expressions askivoc dviso, a poor strengthless man, atown &mukovpia, unhelpful help, supply further parallels.
for understanding and interpreting his act; and the not unfrequent use of this very symbol in the Old Testament, as at Hos. ix. 10; Joel i. 7, must have likewise helped them to this. But allowing all this, do not the words of St. Mark, “for the time of figs was not yet,” acquit the tree even of this figurative guilt; does not the fact thus mentioned defeat the symbol, and put it, so to speak, in contradiction with itself?—does it not perplex us as regards our Lord's conduct, that he should have looked for figs, when they could not have been there;—that he should have been as though indignant, when he did not find them? The simplest, and as it appears to me, the entirely satisfying explanation of this difficulty is the following. At that early period of the year, March or April, neither leaves nor fruit were naturally to be looked for on a fig-tree, (the passages often quoted to the contrary not making out, as I think, their point,”) nor in ordinary circum
* Moreover, all the explanations which go to prove that, according to the natural order of things, in a climate like that of Palestine, there might have been, even at this early time of the year, figs on that tree, either winter figs which had survived till spring, or the early figs of spring themselves, all these, ingenious as they often are, yet seem to me beside the matter. For without entering further into the question, whether they prove their point or not, they shatter upon that of Yûo #v Kapòc aikov, of St. Mark: from which it is plain that no such calculation of probabilities brought the Lord thither, but those abnormal leaves, which he counted might have been accompanied with abnormal fruit. Four or five dealings with these words have been proposed, by which it is sought to make them not mean that which they bear upon their front, and so to disencumber the passage of difficulties, with which otherwise, according to the ordinary interpretations, it is laden. To begin then with the worst, it is, I think, that which places a note of interrogation at the end of these words, and makes the sacred historian to burst out in an exclamation of wonder at the barrenness of the fig-tree—“For was it not the time of figs f" But this sort of passionate narration—this supplying the reader with his feelings ready made, his wonder, his abhorrence, his admiration—is that, the uniform absence of which is, perhaps, one of the very most striking features of the Gospel narratives, and which, therefore, it is impossible could have found place here. To pass on to one scarcely better, though certainly more ingenious; it is that which Daniel Heinsius first proposed, and to which Knatchbull, Gataker, and others, have assented. His help is in a different pointing and accenting of the passage, as thus, où yā9 #v, kalpoc, askov’ “for where he was, it was the season of figs,”—in the mild climate of Judaea, where, as we know, the fruits of the earth ripened nearly a month earlier than in Galilee. But all MSS. and ancient versions are opposed to this view of the passage; and to expressibiloci by of yao #v is a very questionable proceeding. Deyling (Obss. Sac., v. 3, p. 277) supports an explanation which is preferable to this. He makes of = otro, and kaipoc = tempus colligendi fructis, the time for the gathering the figs. Their harvest had not yet arrived; therefore the Lord could reasonably have looked for some upon the tree; and the words will be an explanation, not of the words “he found nothing but leaves,” immediately going before, but of his earlier mentioned going to the tree, expecting to find fruit thereon. This explanation has