He spoke also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.…
That the Church is a spiritual vineyard is a truth that hath strong confirmation from Scripture. In the Old Testament we find it so styled (Psalm 80:8, 9, 15; Song of Solomon 8:11, 12; Isaiah 5:1, 7; Jeremiah 2:21). The like in the New (Matthew 20:1, 2, and Matthew 21:28,33; Mark 12:1; Luke 20:10). But why is it resembled to a vineyard, rather than to another thing? It is compared to many other things in Scripture, besides a vineyard, as to a house, to an orchard, to a garden enclosed, to a field in tillage, to a threshing-floor, &c. But of all other resemblances of earthly things none doth so fully express and set forth the nature and condition of the Church as this of a vineyard, which, that it may appear the better, let us take notice of some particulars, wherein this spiritual vineyard, the Church, doth hold resemblance with the other.
1. A vineyard is a place separated and enclosed from other grounds. No vineyard is naturally a vineyard; hand and heart must go to make it so. The Church is called and separated from the world, both in life and conversation, as appears, Leviticus 20:24, 26; Numbers 23:9; Deuteronomy 14:2; John 15:19.
2. No vineyard is in its perfect glory so soon as it is taken in. Her plants being set, come not presently to perfection and growth, but by degrees. So it is with the Church (Ephesians 4:11, 12). Divers workmen and labourers are ordained to be employed about it, for the perfection of it, even after it is planted.
3. A vineyard, when it flourisheth and is come to some perfection, is a place of great delight, both in respect of the pleasant smell that it yieldeth, and comfortable shadow that it affordeth; so is the Church (Hosea 14:6, 7). "The smell of it is like unto a field that the Lord hath blessed." Her vines and tender grapes give a good smell (Song of Solomon 2:13, 14). Her graces are compared to things most sweet (Song of Solomon 4:13, 14).
4. To a vineyard it may be compared in respect of the fertility or fruitfulness thereof. It bears much fruit, and fruit of the best kind. A vineyard is stored with divers plants (one plant maketh not a vineyard); and those plants are laden with fruits, they bring forth in bunches and clusters, and not a berry here and another there, but the load is such that the branches bear, that it seems many times to exceed the strength of the branch that bears them. The Church is fertile of children; there are multitudes of them that believe. So fruitful is the Church of children as that she wonders at her own increase, and saith, "The place is too strait for me: give place to me that I may dwell. Who hath begotten me these, seeing I have lost my children and am left desolate" (Isaiah 49:19, 20; Isaiah 54:1). And as a vineyard is more fruitful than any other plantation, so it yieldeth the best fruit of any other. No fruit is more delectable to the taste, nor more comfortable to the heart, than that which comes from the grape. And what fruit can be compared with the fruit that a Christian bears? All other fruit that grows without this fence is but sour and bitter, seem it never so fair and glorious to the eye, yet it is but hedge fruit, or like unto the grapes of Sodom and clusters of Gomorrah (Deuteronomy 32:32).
5. A vineyard is a well-ordered place, there the hillocks may be seen equally swelling, the stakes pitched in a good height and distance, the vines handsomely pruned, the ground cleanly kept, and well hoed, all things are well ordered in it. And so is it in the Church, insomuch that Balaam himself could not but admire at it, and in a rapture cry out, "How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israeli As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river's side," etc. (Numbers 24:5, 6.)
6. To a vineyard the Church may be compared, in respect of the imbecility and weakness of it. No possession, said Cato, requires more pains about it than a vineyard cloth. Corn comes up and grows alone of itself, without the husbandman's care (Mark 4:17). But the vine is a frail kind of plant, it must be supported, sheltered, daily dressed and attended, else it soon waxeth luxurious, and is in danger to grow wild, after it once waxeth wanton.
7. A vineyard is very subject to be annoyed and wasted by the beasts of the wood and foxes of the field, which love to burrow under it, and delight to be cropping and pilling of her plants, and eating of her grapes, as Solomon intimates (Song of Solomon 2:15). So is the Church, her enemies are many that conspire against her (Psalm 83:2-13).
Parallel VersesKJV: He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.