Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father…
What fruits arc meet for repentance? To that question let me reply with a parable. You remember that as our Lord went from Bethany to Jerusalem He saw a fig-tree by the wayside, full of leaves, and came to it that He might eat of its fruit. But when He reached it, He found nothing but leaves on it. The conscious tree withered beneath His rebuke. This story is familiar to you all: but perhaps you did not know that three other fig-trees were growing hard by, near enough to hear what passed between Christ and the fruitless tree, and to mark how it withered beneath His curse. Yet there were such trees, or we shall assume that there were. And being observant and reflective trees they were very much alarmed to see that "the axe was laid to the roots of the trees," and that " every tree which brought not forth good fruit would be hewn down and cast into the fire." They said among themselves: "We, indeed, have some fruits; but, oh, how fowl We will do better next year, lest we should likewise perish." The seasons passed; the winds blew, the rains fell, the sun shone; and now, at last, "the time of figs" has come round again. We take the road to Bethany, to see how these three trees have kept their purpose of amendment.
1. We approach the first tree; and looking at it attentively, we are surprised and grieved to find that, though it is thick with broad tender leaves, it has but little fruit, and that but poor. We say, "How is this?" And the tree replies, "I waited day after day, month after month, and no prophet passed this way. Why should I trouble myself? I have done more than last year. I have some fruits to show, and many leaves. Why should I not be content? No prophet will ever pass this way again; or if a prophet should come, I have done enough to save myself from his curse." This tree has not brought forth fruits meet for repentance; for it has done nothing from love, and very little from fear.
2. We advance to the second tree; and on this also we find only a few figs: but they are very large and good. We do not for a moment mistake it for a cumberer of the ground; its few but large fruits show plainly through the leaves. Yet the tree wears an aspect of sadness, and waits with some apprehension to hear what we have to say to it. Noting its aspect of settled grief, we do not ask, "Why are your fruits so few when your purpose was so earnest? " We say, "Be not sad and discouraged O tree, because you have borne but little fruit; rather be glad that your fruit is so fine and sweet. You will do more and better next year, if you hold fast to your purpose of amendment, and soon your fruit will be as abundant as it is good." This tree has brought forth fruits meet for repentance; for it has done well, and is sorry that it has not done better.
3. We pass on to the third tree; and on this we find much fruit indeed, but its fruit is exceedingly various in quality; some of the figs are large and sweet, but some are so small and rude that there is little chance of their being brought to perfection. In haste to prevent us from giving it more than its due, it says, "It grieves me that my fruit, which is so abundant, is yet so poor. I have discovered in myself, since I resolved to amend, both a power that I knew not of, and an impotence which I did not suspect. I did not know I could do so much as I have done; but I did think that what I could do, that I should do well. Power is mine; alas, that I should so have wasted it! but, alas, weakness is also mine; and though I can do much, I do it but to little purpose!" This third tree, like the second, has brought forth fruits meet for repentance; for it has done much and would fain have done better: and, therefore, we bid it be of good heart, and leave it with good hope that, as it has already borne much fruit, so, in due time, all its fruit will become perfect.
4. But here some humble soul may cry out, "Alas, sir, I am no fruit-tree! I am but as a thorn or a brier. Have you no word of comfort, or promise for me?" Surely I have. "Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir-tree," &c. In the kingdom and garden of Christ strange transformations take place. However wild and barren your nature may be, if you crave comfort and promise, that is, if you honestly desire to amend, there is a power in Christ capable of making you better. You are repenting of the past; and He will show you how, in the future, even you may " bring forth fruits meet for repentance."
(T. T. Lynch.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
WEB: Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and don't begin to say among yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father;' for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones!