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hope (so to speak) that the Jewish nation would at length yield the fruits of righteousness and true holiness, before He resolved to remove it from its place. He had tried with them one means after another, but all in vain. He had, as it were, pruned the trees by many a sharp infliction, and cut off many an unfruitful branch, while He still withheld His hand from felling the trees themselves. “What more," He says, “could have been done to My vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes 3 ?” At length the time came when He resolved to remove the trees out of their place; to take away from the Jews the kingdom of God, and give it to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof. The axe was to be laid to the root of the trees. We know how fearfully the event, thus figuratively described, was accomplished, when the temple was burnt, and the city taken by Titus, the Roman general; and how afterwards when the nation rebelled against their conquerors, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by Hadrian, and the miserable people who survived were sold in vast numbers as slaves.
Thus the time will come with every “unprofitables" servant of God, when the patience and forbearance of God will be at length exhausted, and instead of trying any longer the effect of His fatherly chastisements, He will issue the awful sentence, “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” In the parable already alluded to, we find indeed that a respite was granted to the fruitless fig-tree at the intercession of the dresser of the vineyard; who said, “ 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.” Which of us can tell how often, when the axe was laid to the root, and the sentence for his removal was about to be executed, he
3 Isa. v. 4.
4 Matt. xxi. 43.
5 Philem. 11.
may have owed another precious period of probation to the intercession of his gracious Saviour ? Who has not too much reason to own that he is a mere cumberer of the ground, ill repaying the continued care of the Heavenly Husbandman, and taking up room in the vineyard, which might be occupied far more to the glory of God, and far more usefully to man? How often has God as it were pruned or chastened us, with the hope that we might at length bear the fruits which He looks for ! Let us beware, lest we provoke Him at length to lay His axe to the root. It may yet be “ well” with us in time, and in eternity, if we use to good purpose the interval which is won for us by the mediation of our blessed Intercessor; but if we neglect this opportunity, as we have neglected so many before, it is too likely that He may refrain from pleading for us again. If it bear not fruit, “then after that thou shalt cut it down.” Remember that what He wants is fruit, not leaves : and that however rich may be the foliage, in other words however high the profession, it is utterly worthless in His sight, if there be not the true fruits of repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ.
VII.-BREAD CAST UPON THE WATERS.
“ Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days."
Eccles. xi. 1.-See also Isa. xxxii. 20. Prov. xi. 25. Matt. x. 42. 2 Cor. ix. 8–10.
It is said (see Sir John Chardin's note on Isa. xxxii. 20, quoted by Bishop Lowth) that in eastern countries, where rice is cultivated as a principal article of food, it is sown upon the waters, and that before sowing it, they cause the ground (while still covered with water) to be trodden by oxen, horses, and asses, which go midleg deep. This is the way for preparing the ground for sowing; and as the rice is sown on the water, so it springs up through the water, and the height of its stem is generally in proportion to the depth of the water on the surface of the soil.
It seems probable, that the preacher alludes to this, or some similar mode of sowing the grain which is used for food, when he bids us cast our bread upon the waters; assuring us that we shall find it after many days. He is evidently enforcing a liberal distribution of our worldly goods to the relief of our poorer brethren; and he encourages us to distribute freely, by reminding us that the seed (or bread) which is cast by the sower on the waters, is not lost; but bears its fruit in due season. It seems indeed to be lost. It seems an act of waste and folly, for such as can ill afford to suffer any loss, to cast their precious grain upon a marshy ground, or on what appears to be only a sterile plain of water, in which the good seed must perish. “ After many days,” however, the bright green of the tender plant is seen above the watery waste; and the sower finds his bread with abundant increase.
Thus it is, that in the eyes of an unbelieving world it seems waste and loss to expend in the relief of strangers, or for the spiritual benefit perhaps of the unconverted heathen, the money that has been painfully earned and laid up for coming years. To such it seems waste and folly to expend more than is absolutely necessary in the erection of churches; and when an earnest and reverent piety is anxious to distinguish the house of God from common buildings, by whatever may render it less unworthy of its sacred purpose, we too often hear a censure cast on what is termed an useless expenditure. We should learn that nothing is wasted or lost, by which relief is administered to the sorrows and sufferings of our brethren, or by which a reverent and instructed zeal delights in show
6 Mark xiv. 4.
ing forth the praise and glory of God. Whatever is thus expended, is indeed like the seed cast upon the waters which is found after many days. The relief which you gave in secret to a stranger, whom you never thought of seeing again, shall be blessed not only to him, but still more surely to yourself. You shall find it after many days. And the same may be said of the word of good advice, which you gave “ in season to some one with whom you chanced to have brief intercourse; or the prayer which you offered for him; or the endeavour which you made to comfort him in his grief. Nothing of all this is lost or wasted. Still less shall any effort fail of due fruit, by which you have shown forth your love to Christ your Saviour, your affectionate reverence for His Church, your sense of the value of immortal souls. Every such instance of faith and love shall sooner or later be found” exceeding joy; and in some unlooked for manner shall spring forth, to your unspeakable comfort. Be diligent in thus sowing beside all waters, or (however unpromising may be the risk) in casting your bread upon the waters. Be afraid only of losing an opportunity of doing good.
“ The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and
go down to the potter's house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 7 house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are ye in mine hand, O house of Israel." Jer. xviii. 1–6.-See also Job x. 9. Isa. xlv. 9; lxiv. 8. Rom. ix. 21.
The prophet was commanded to observe the potter while engaged in his humble work, in order that he might learn a lesson of the Divine Sovereignty and
and be the better able to teach it to his country
When the potter takes the clay into his hands, he has the most absolute power over it, to mould it as it may seem good unto him. Whether it shall be moulded into some noble and graceful form, or into a mean and comparatively worthless vessel, depends entirely on his own pleasure. Who can blame him, if he be pleased to fashion it either to honour, or to dishonour ? Or if he should change his purpose concerning the clay that is in his hands, even while he is in the act of moulding it, the form and purpose of the vessel which he is fashioning, may be changed in a moment, according to his will and pleasure. Or, if the vessel is marred under his hands, he makes it at once into another vessel; nor can any one question his right to deal with it, in such a way as his own sense of what is fitting may lead him to adopt.
This similitude is often used in Holy Scripture; because it helps us to understand our own meanness, and the Divine Sovereignty. We are as clay in His hands. He formed us of the dust; and He had the most absolute right to form us as vessels to honour or to dishonour, and to endue us with powers of mind and body of such extent, capacity, and efficiency, as might seem good unto Him. He had a right to determine the duration and conditions of our being, to appoint the bounds of our habitations, and all the circumstances on which our happiness and welfare in any degree depend. He was pleased to create man in His own image as a vessel unto honour; a little lower indeed than the angels, but still endued with noble faculties, and crowned with dominion over the other works of His hands on the face of this lower world. And when man “marred” this Divine image and beauty by his own sinful folly, God had the most absolute right either at once to “dash him in pieces as a potter's vessel,” or to continue his existence, and appoint him a new probation, on such conditions as He might see