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THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGI)OM.
THE FIG TREE.
St. MATTHEW, xxiv., 32 to 34th v.-- _“ Now learn a parable of the fig tree : When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled.
The analogy between nature and grace is constantly brought before our minds in the Holy Scriptures. That we may learn from things visible the invisible things of God is the great principle on which he has constructed the whole of creation. The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon, is a similar analogy to what our blessed Saviour gives us here, desiring us to look to the fig tree as a parable, mystical teaching of how we may discern the signs of the times respecting his own ing, and the end of the world.
Amongst the visible things thus setting forth the character of God's dealings the Fig tree occupies a very prominent place in Scripture. It had a peculiar con
nection with the Jewish ceremonial : at the budding of the Fig the Passover took place, and at the ripening of the fruit was Pentecost. The one typifying the death of the Lamb, the beginning of the budding of life to a guilty world; the other, the out pouring of the Spirit, the perfecting of those fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
The Fig tree has a remarkable peculiarity which distinguishes it from other trees, in that its fruit and its leaves grow together: and here again it is peculiarly qualified to instruct us in the character of the christian. We cannot see the budding forth of the leaf without a corresponding putting forth of the fruit. As the leaf grows the fruit grows. The leaf is the appointed emblem in scripture for doctrine, the fruit being the result of these doctrines : and we cannot with heaven-taught eyes look upon the Fig tree in this point of view without having indeed a deep lesson of heavenly instruction. From the first moment that a christian doctrine is put forth by any believer, at that same moment a corresponding fruit should be seen, and as the leaf does not put forth its perfection at once, and as the fruit does not put forth its perfection at once, but both grow together, so we have a right to expect from nim who has the beginning of a christian doctrine, to have also the beginning of a christian fruit, and that both may grow together : so that in this also we may learn a parable of the Fig tree.
We find the Fig tree also occupying a prominent place in the last weeks of our blessed Saviour's life on earth. He was going into Jerusalem ; he had spent his night at the Mount of Olives; there was a multitude of Fig-trees in the way, and he saw one tree that had leaves ; it was at a distance, and he could not therefore discern whether there was any fruit upon it or not, he saw the appearance of leaves upon the tree, and went to it, but found no fruit, and he cursed that Fig tree as a warning voice to the nation among whom he was. We could not understand that action of our blessed Saviour's, if we did not know that the leaf and the fruit should always grow together in the Fig tree. Christ did not wither the other trees, because we are told that the time of fruit was not yet. He did not expect it, but where he found the leaf there he expected the fruit. And was not this exactly the way in which the Lord dealt with the world. He came down from heaven to earth, and there was one appointed antitype, of the Jewish people, the Fig tree.
They had abundantly the leaf of profession of divine truth, but when Christ came to them he found no fruit, their grapes were grapes of Sodom, and their clusters were clusters of Gomorrah : and because they had the leaf of profession without the fruit of the spirit, He said, let no fruit grow on thee henceforth for ever. He did not do so to the Gentile nations, their time of fruit had not then come. That one nation only 'stood out amongst the rest of the nations of the world as that one tree stood out amongst the rest. In this then we have another occasion of learning a parable of the Fig tree.
If from these of our Lord we turn to the ancient prophets, we have in the 24th chap. of Jeremiah, the Fig-tree brought before us as God's appointed emblem of the Jewish people until their final restoration. We read there in the 1st and 2nd verses, “ The Lord shewed me, and, behold, two baskets of Figs were set before the temple of the Lord, after that Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon had carried away captive Jeconiah, the son of Jehoiakim, King of Judah, and the Princes of Judah, with the carpenters and smiths, from Jerusalem, and had brought them to Babylon. One basket had very good Figs, even like the Figs that are first ripe; and the other basket had very naughty Figs, which could not be eaten, they were so bad." We have the explanation of these two baskets of Figs, in the 5th verse,
Thus saith the Lord, the God of Israel, Like these good Figs, so will I acknowledge them that are carried away captive of Judah, whom I have sent out of this place into the land of the Chaldeans for their good. For I will set mine eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them again to this land: and I will build them, and not pull them down, and I will plant them, and not pluck them up. And I will give them an heart to know me, that I am the Lord ; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: for they shall return unto me with their whole heart."
And as there was in our Saviour's days the blasted Fig tree to manifest the awful condition of the same nation, so is it here in the 8th to the 10th verses, “And as the evil figs which cannot be eaten, they are so evil; surely thus saith the Lord, So will I give Zedekiah the King of Judah, and his princes, and the residue of Jerusalem, that remain in this land, and them that dwell in the land of Egypt; And I will deliver them to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth, for their hurt, to be a reproach and a proverb, a taunt and a curse, in all the places whither I shall drive them. And I will send the sword, the famine, and the pestilence among them, till they be consumed from off the land that I gave unto them and to their fathers.” It was therefore no new figure when our
Lord addressed his disciples on the Mount of Olives, and said, “Now learn a parable of the Fig tree:" as if he had said, If you would know the impending judgment and the distant blessings that belong to your people, look to the Fig tree, and look to the prophets that speak of it, and you shall obtain heavenly instruction.
Perhaps the most beautiful example of the application of the visible things of nature to the prophetic unfolding of the working of divine grace to be found in the bible, is in the 2nd chap. of the Canticles, from the 8th to the 13th verses, where we have the signs of the times brought before us under these natural figures and emblems. "The voice of my beloved ! behold he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart, behold he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows shewing himself through the lattice. My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The Fig tree putteth forth her green Figs, and the Vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away." Here we have the bride hearing her beloved's voice, and she knows that voice, and rejoices in it, and exclaims, It is the voice of my beloved, behold he cometh ! It is not the first coming of Christ when he was to be as a lamb slain, crucified for our sakes : but it is his second coming when he was to be like the roe and the young hart, the Hebrew word tzebee, a roe is used for glory and beauty, for strength, and fertility, and blessings. It is in this point of view that the Bride is represented as saying,