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Lord, let it alone this year also.”—Luke xiii. 8.
DURING the time of Christ's ministry upon earth, he was accustomed, on many occasions, to teach his hearers by parables or similitudes; probably because they were more likely to interest their feelings, and thus to fasten upon their memories, and to be remembered when other instructions would perhaps have been forgotten. On the occasion referred to above, he endeavours to impress upon them a sense of their high privileges, and of their heavy responsibility, under the parable of a fig-tree,--not growing wild in the fields, or springing up amidst the stones, where it could have no deepness of earth, and consequently could not be expected to flourish—but a fig-tree planted in a vineyard, where there was every advantage of cultivation to be enjoyed; a vineyard over which there was a dresser or gardener appointed to watch, and prune, and water the trees, that in due time they might bring forth the expected fruit.
At the appointed time the owner comes to inspect his vineyard; he comes in hope of seeing the branches loaded with fruit, but his expectations are disappointed, for he finds nothing but leaves. He repeats his visit year after year, while this fig-tree is still pruned and dressed as before, and yet there is nothing to reward his labour. What wonder is it, then, that after repeated disappointments, he says, in hopeless despondency,“ Cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?"
Still, however, the dresser of the vineyard is anxious to give it another trial : be intercedes with the owner, saying,
Lord, let it alone this year also.” He means yet further to try it—to redouble his care, to spare no labour or expense, in order to render it a fruitful tree. Unwearied by repeated Jisappointments—hopeful still amidst all these unpromising
appearances, he will not yet abandon it in despair—it may be it will at length put forth blossoms, which will ripen into fruit; but if after all this it continues unfruitful, then, after that, it is to be cut down and cast into the fire.
Is the lesson, then, which Christ intended to convey by this parable, one which is applicable to the situation and condition of the Jews only? Is there nothing in it from which the reader of these pages may draw useful practical instruction ? Allow me to ask from you a patient and attentive perusal of the reflections which follow, and perhaps it may appear that the message and the lesson are to thee, even to thee." What time more suitable than the commencement of another year of your brief journey through the world, to institute a serious inquiry into your condition and prospects? Put not aside, then, this little monitor, till you think
shall have a more convenient time for attend. ing to it--that more convenient time may never arrive ; you know not but that to-morrow you may be in eternity!
The passage I have quoted contains a kind and gracious expostulation and intercession. “Lord, let it alone this year also !" Perhaps, on behalf of the reader of these lines, some near and valued friend, a parent or a child, a husband or a wife, a brother or a sister, is even now earnestly presenting this request. You have passed another year in criminal indifference as to your eternal state, and with all the fulness of affectionate sympathy they are saying, “ Lord, let him alone this year also; spare him yet a little longer; cut him not down in the midst of his transgressions : it may be, that before another year shall close, he will turn from his evil
ways and live.”
Suffer, then, my reader, an unknown friend to address to you a few words of solemn warning, and to plead with you on behalf of that God, to whose offers of mercy, through a Saviour, you have hitherto lent an unwilling or a careless ear. Long before the present year may close, one or other, or both of us, may be in eternity. Solemn thought! before the termination even of this year our state may be fixed for ever, without the possibility of change! But the sentence has not yet gone forth against you, my reader, and therefore I would now, in humble dependence on Him whose Spirit alone can bless this endeavour, attempt to lead you to reflect on the past, and to look forward to the future. Look back
the past! What privileges you have enjoyed! The Sabbath returning, week after week, to invite you to reflection ; the house of God, on that sacred day of rest, with open doors inviting you to enter; the book of God in your possession, in a language which you can understand, daily courting your perusal, unfolding in its blessed pages the way
of salvation so plainly, that “ he that runneth may read, and whosoever readeth may understand;" the wells of salvation open, and the Saviour himself addressing you, “ If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink ;” ministers of the gospel warning you to flee from the wrath to come; friends and relations too, perhaps, entreating you ; books and tracts in your hands, or on your shelves, containing simple statements as to the way of a sinner's acceptance, and the ground of a sinner's hope before God—all directing you to “ the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” The voice of God warning you by sickness, or by deaths in the circle of your relatives or acquaintances; by loss of property, by a diminution of your comforts or means of subsistence, showing you the insecurity of all earthly relations, and the instability of all earthly possessions, and urging you to seek a peace and joy of which the loss of every worldly thing can never deprive you.
And what, let me ask you, has been your conduct under such a profusion of mercies and privileges ? Where is now the proof that all this culture has not been bestowed in vain ? Has not Christ been calling, and have you not refused to hear? Have not his warnings failed to awaken you from your sinful indifference and slumber, and have not even his mercies lulled you into a more deep repose ? Careless, thoughtless reader! a voice has been saying, “ Escape for thy life, look not behind thee, lest thou be consumed ;"
escape from the bondage and slavery of sin, and Satan, and the world; and come, take upon you “the yoke of Christ, which is easy, and his burden, which is light;" and yet you have been like one " that lieth down in the midst of the sea, or as he that lieth on the top of a mast. They have stricken me, but I was not sick; they have beaten me, but I felt it not.” You have been, alas, alike insensible to your criminality and danger! What, reader, would have been your doom had the sentence gone forth during the year that is past, “Cut him down; why cumbereth he the ground?” Had “the king of terrors
were dead in your trespasses and sins, in a state of utter thoughtlessness as to hereafter, where should you now have been? Where, but “ lifting up your eyes in hell, being in torments ?"
Let me bring home the subject to your conscience. Has the past year ever found you in secret, humble, earnest prayer for mercy? Have you breathed the spirit or the language of David, when he says, “ Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin: create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right
Have you ever been looking to Him who is set forth in your Bible as the propitiation for sin, as God's only begotten and well-beloved Son, who gave himself a voluntary offering upon
the cross, in the room of sinners, that whosoever believeth in him might have eternal life? Have you ever offered up one prayer, through him, for the forgiveness of your sins, or the sanctification of your soul ? And is it not wonderful that, in such circumstances, the blessed God, to whom you owe all that you enjoy, has not been wearied out by your indifference, and provoked by your base ingratitude
“ Cut him down ; why cumbereth he the ground ?” What patience, what forbearance is this, that He is still dealing with you and saying, “Let him alone, I will yet have patience; I will try him yet a little longer ; I will still proclaim my love and my salvation, and it may be, e.e another year goes by, he will be drawn by the cords of my love, and will say, ' Father, I have sinned against heaven
and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son :' give me but a place amongst thy children-wash me in the fountain thou hast opened for sin-pardon, for the dear Redeemer's sake, my past ingratitude; take away my load of guilt, and make me an heir of glory, through faith in Jesus Christ thy Son."
I would, therefore, again proclaim to you the glad news, that “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” To you is the word of this salvation sent-to-day, even to-day, “ if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart,” but “turn unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon you,” even unto our God," and he will abundantly pardon.” You cannot tell that you shall be spared during another year of trial : the sentence may already have passed, “ Hew down the tree, and cut off his branches ;” and if it be so, a few more returning Sabbaths will end all your means of instruction; the ministers of God will soon cease to warn you of your danger, or to invite you to the Saviour; your Bibles, which perhaps even now are only gathering dust upon your shelves, and these little tracts which are sent to you, will no longer tell you of God's love to a perishing world; the shades of death will close around, and bring you into the presence of that Saviour who now waits to be gracious, but who will then become your impartial Judge!
Language cannot describe the fearful prospect which is before you, so long as you continue in a state of impenitency and obduracy of heart. There is a day of retribution approaching; there is an awful day awaiting the impenitent transgressor. The heavens and the earth shall pass away with a mighty noise,“ shrivelling like a parched scroll;" they shall be burnt up with fervent heat; and amidst that terrific scene shall the Son of man descend to judgment. “ Then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, when they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” “A fiery stream shall issue