You shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?…
(Eighth Sunday after Trinity.)
S. MATT. vii.16.
"Ye shall know them by their fruits."
The religion of Jesus Christ is one of deeds, not words; a life of action, not of dreaming. Our Lord warns us to beware of any form of religion, in ourselves or others, which does not bring forth good fruit. God does not look for the leaves of profession, or the blossoms of promise, He looks for fruit unto holiness. We may profess to believe in Jesus Christ, we may say the Creed without a mistake, we may read our Bible, and say our prayers, and yet, if our lives are bad, all our religion is vain. If we would know whether we are being led by the Holy Spirit, we must see if we are bringing forth fruits of the Spirit. If we would discover if the works of a clock are right, we look at the hands. So, by our words and deeds we shall show whether our hearts are right with God. A religion of the lips is worth nothing. We may cry, "Lord, Lord," in our place in Church, we may repeat the words which speak of the Will of God, and utter pious wishes when we sing chant or hymn, and all the while we may be far off from the Kingdom of Heaven, because we are not in our lives doing the will of our Father which is in Heaven. If we are selfish, self-willed, proud, lovers of our own selves, our religion is but the sheep's clothing covering the wolfish heart, or the white paint hiding the corruption of the sepulchre. It is easy enough to assume the character and manner of a Christian, but to live the Christian life is not so easy. A man can make a sham diamond in a very short time, but the real gem must lie for ages in the earth before it can sparkle with perfect purity. We have far too many of these quickly made Christians amongst us, who have never brought forth fruits meet for repentance, nor gone through the fire of trial, and sorrow, and self-sacrifice. Do not trust to feelings, or words, in yourselves or others, look at your life; a real and a false diamond are very much alike, and yet there is all the difference in the world in their value.
"If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." My brothers, who is our leader and guide, the Holy Spirit, or our own will? How shall we know? By our fruits. They tell us that whenever the holy saint David, of Wales, stood up to preach, there came a milk-white dove, and sat upon his shoulder. It is a serious question for you and me, for preacher and people, does the White Dove perch on my shoulder as I preach? Does the Holy Ghost descend like a dove on you who hear? Men of business, anxious workers, is the White Dove with you in your factory, your farm, your office? Mothers and fathers, young men and maidens, is there a place in your home where the Holy Spirit may come, and continually dwell?
Let us look into our lives very closely, and see whether we are mistaking outward form for true religion, words and professions for holiness, leaves for fruit. What are some of the fruits which God looks for in the life of a Christian? At the head of all, I think, we must place love. Ah! you will say to me, -- I only wish I could love God more. It is so hard to love One whom we cannot see. I worship God, I try to keep His commandments, but I am not sure that I love God. My brother, my sister, let not your heart be troubled. If you really try to do God's Will it is a proof of your love. "If ye love Me, keep My commandments." "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar. We know that we do know Him if we keep His commandments." You can show your love to God by showing love and kindness to your brethren. By kindly judgments of another's fault; by gentle words of comfort, of pity, or of warning; by tender hands stretched out to bring back the wandering sheep; by loving acts of charity to the sick and suffering; by care for the poor bruised reeds of this rough world, you can show your love for God, who is the source of all love. If we love God we shall try to lead others to Him. A true Christian cannot be selfish. Think of the example you set to others. Is it a good one, a strong one, a light shining before men so that they can see your good works? At the battle of Tel-el-Keber our troops had no sufficient plans of the ground. The General therefore ordered a young naval officer to lead the Highland Brigade by the light of the stars to their destined post. When the fight began the Highlanders were ready, and among the first to fall was their young leader. The victory was gained, and the General hastened to the tent of his wounded officer. The dying man smiled as he raised his trembling hand to his commander, and looking him in the face said, "General, didn't I lead them straight?" My brothers, we are leading our fellow men by the example of our lives, the question is, are we leading them straight?
Another fruit for which God looks in a Christian's life is humility. Every act and word of our Saviour's earthly life teaches us to be humble. Let the haughty, the proud, the self-satisfied man, open his Gospel, and he will find a reproof to his pride on every page. Let him bend his head, and bow his stiff knee before the Almighty God, cradled in a manger, fasting in the desert, homeless, friendless, silent before His foes, stripped, mocked and beaten, dying upon the Cross. Go, my brother, and bow your head at Gethsemane; go, kneel before the Cross of Calvary, and ask God to make you humble. The longer a true Christian lives the more humble-minded he becomes. A young man, just starting in life, holds his head high, and is inclined to look down on others. But as he journeys on through the world, learning by experience, his head grows bent and lowly. So is it with Christ's people. The longer we go to His School, and the more we know of the way of godliness, the humbler we become. Like S. Paul, we count not that we have attained the mark, we only press forward towards it. We begin with shame to take the lowest place, we learn to consider others better than ourselves, and to say to our Lord, "I am not worthy that Thou shouldest come under my roof." As the laden fruit tree bends its branches nearest to the earth, and the fullest ears of corn hang lowest, so the holiest man is ever the humblest. In a certain city abroad every child found begging in the streets is taken to a charitable asylum. Before he is washed, and dressed anew, his portrait is taken as he stands in his beggar's rags. When his education is finished, this picture is given to the child, and he is made to promise that he will keep it all his life, that he may be reminded what he was, and what great things have been done for him. It is good for us to remember, my brothers, what we were: helpless wanderers in this world, clothed in filthy rags of sin; and we must remember, too, what God has done for us. How He has redeemed us from our slavery, making us His own children by adoption, washing us in the Blood of Christ which cleanseth from all sin, and giving us the white robe of holiness. Who is there who, thinking upon these things, can be other than humble? Let us examine ourselves, and see whether we are bringing forth that fruit. We preach humility to others, we expect to see it in others' lives, are we humble ourselves? Have we learnt to walk humbly with our God?
Another fruit which God expects in the lives of His people is forgetfulness of self. Have you stayed to calculate how much of your time is occupied in thinking and talking of yourselves? In some houses they line the rooms with looking glasses, so that wherever you turn you see a reflection of yourself. My brethren, some of us pass all our lives in such a room; we are for ever contemplating our own selves. We spend our time in looking into a mirror that we may see our beauty, our cleverness, our fine clothing. One glass reflects our pleasures and amusements, another our sorrows and misfortunes. But every inch of space is so filled with self that there is no room for another's joys or sorrows, and, above all, there is no room for Jesus. Let us strive by God's grace to get away from self, and the eternal thinking and talking of our own concerns. Even Jesus Christ pleased not Himself, and believe me, we are no Christians unless we are trying to forget ourselves, and to deny ourselves. We must be crucified with Christ if we are to reign with Him, and alas for us if we cannot show the marks of the nails where we have been fastened to our cross. My brethren, these are serious thoughts for us all. By our fruits, and by them only, we shall be known. If our lives show no love, no humility, no self-sacrifice, no patience, no meekness, how shall we stand when the great day of ingathering comes? Often the Dresser of the Vineyard has looked upon some of us, seeking fruit, and finding none, and we know not how soon the sentence may go forth, "Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground."
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?