No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
doeth righteousness is righteous." We have here -
I. THE FOUNDATION-TRUTH on which our Lord's word is built, viz. that life is the outcome of character; that as men are so they will live. "A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good," etc. Granted that a man is sound at heart, it is certain that he will spend a good life, that he will shrink from the evil and pursue and practise the holy thing. Granted that a man is radically corrupt, it is certain that his life will be unworthy and sinful. Character must come forth into conduct; behaviour is the manifestation of the secret spring which is within the soul. "A good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit," etc.
II. THE APPARENT EXCEPTIONS, which are only apparent, and not real. If this be true, we want to know how it is, on the one hand,
(1) that men we feel sure are bad at heart are found living lives that are blameless and even devout; and how it is, on the other hand, (2)that men we feel sure are sound at heart deviate so often from the straight line of propriety. The answer to this question is manifold.
1. It must be remembered that much of that which seems goodness of life, and which seems as if it must have come from a true heart, is not real goodness - it is only pretence. Hypocrisy, the affectation of piety and virtue, is not a good fruit, though it may look very much like it; it is no more "good fruit" in the garden of the Lord than poisonous berries are good fruit on the trees or shrubs of our visible garden.
2. And it must also be taken into account that much of that which seems like departure from moral excellence, and which seems as if it cannot have proceeded from the good heart, is not really "evil;" it is either mannerism that is only skin-deep, to be regretted indeed, but not to be confounded with essential moral evil; or it is undeveloped, struggling righteousness, the crude and imperfect attempt of a soul that is moving upwards from below; there is many a slip and many a false step, but then there is much honourable effort and much spiritual earnestness recognized and owned by the patient Father of spirits.
III. THE PRACTICAL CONCLUSION for which we must be prepared. "Every tree is known by his own fruit." "By their fruits ye shall know them." Men must form their judgment about us; and they must judge us by the lives they witness. If, therefore, we do not manifest a Christian temper and a loving spirit, if righteous principles are not visible in our daily dealings, if we do not give evidence of caring more for truth and for God and for the establishment of his holy kingdom on the earth than we care for our own temporal prosperity or present enjoyment, - we must not complain if men count us among the ungodly. Our godliness, our spirituality, our rectitude, ought to shine forth clearly and unmistakably from our daily life.
IV. THE PRACTICAL TRUTH which we must apply to ourselves - that, if we would live a life of uprightness in the sight of God, we must be right at heart in his esteem. It must be out of the fulness of our soul that we do right actions; it must be out of "the abundance of the heart that our mouth must speak" his praise and his truth; or our proprieties of behaviour and our suitableness of language will weigh nothing whatever in his balances. The first thing for every man to do is to become right in his own heart with God; to return in spirit unto him; to go to him in humility and in faith; to find mercy of him in Jesus Christ, and, having thus entered into sonship, to live the life of filial obedience to his Word; then and thus will the good tree bring forth good fruit. - C.
For a good tree bringeth not forth corrupt fruit; neither a corrupt tree bringeth forth good fruit.
(J. C,. Hare.)
(R. Cudworth, D. D.)
1. Man's only real property.
2. The only measure of man's real worth.
3. The only earthly product man will bear to another world.
4. The source whence springs lasting weal or woe.
I. It is a vital source of action.
II. It is either radically corrupt or good.
III. When corrupt, generally disguised.
IV. When disguised, may, and should be detected.
(Dr. Thomas.)False reputation of trees: — The upas tree once had a bad name, as its leaves were supposed to exhale a poison, which, spreading over a wide region, was fatal to man and beast.. But scientific investigation has shown that the tree is harmless, and that its reputation is due to its growing in a bad neighbourhood. The tree grows in volcanic valleys in Java, which are noted for their desolation. It is the only green thing in a region where death seems to reign. But the fatal poison comes not from the tree, but from the gases of the volcano, amid which the upas thrives though all other vegetable forms perish. Another tree, the Eucalyptus, has enjoyed undue credit, as the upas has suffered undue odium. This tree was said to exhale from its leaves healthful influences, which made it an antidote to many forms of malaria. It belongs to Australia, and it was noticed that in its neighbourhood malarial fevers were unknown. This fact caused it to be planted in some of the worst malarial districts of Italy, and there, too, fevers gradually disappeared. The inference seemed inevitable that its foliage exerted some occult influence which prevented malaria. But science, by careful examinations, explains the mystery in a new way. The tree is such a great absorbent of water that its roots easily drain marshy land. It destroys malaria, not by giving out healthful influences, but by absorbing the moisture which creates the disease. It is believed that the terrible Campagna of Rome can be made healthy by the draining power of the Eucalyptus.
(A. Craig.)— The subject of my lecture this evening is, The truth of Christianity proved by its fruits.
I. I begin, then, by showing WHAT EFFECT CHRISTIANITY HAS HAD ON LIBERTY. What was the state of matters in regard to liberty in the Roman Empire in the days of the apostles? When we look at Roman society, we see that there was no recognition of individual liberty as a natural right, and that a most debasing slavery had obtained gigantic proportions. In the city of Rome there was a population of 1,610,000, and of that number 900,000 were slaves: that is to say, that of every five persons in the capital three were slaves. And if we take the whole of the empire, then Gibbon's deliberate opinion is that "the slaves were at least equal in number to the free inhabitants of the Roman world"; and the entire population he estimates at 120,000,000; so that there were, as stated in a previous lecture, 60,000,000 slaves. Their numbers were recruited, not wholly, indeed, but largely from war. The Romans made slaves of those whom they captured. And how were they treated? In its mildest form, slavery is a galling burden; but Roman slavery was noted for its cruelty. The slaves were the absolute property of their master. He could treat them as he chose, so that, as it has been said, "a dog with us has more rights than a Roman slave had." Tholuck, in his work on the "Nature and Moral Influence of Heathenism," gives the following description of their treatment: "A scanty and disgusting dress, and dog-skin cap, distinguished them from all the rest of the inhabitants. Those who were too strong had to be weakened by various kinds of ill-treatment; and if the masters did not do this, they became themselves liable to a penalty. Every slave received annually a certain number of stripes to remind him that he was a slave. Hymns of a nobler kind they were not allowed to sing, but only gay and sensual songs. TO complete their degradation, they were sometimes compelled to sing songs in disgrace and ridicule of themselves; and to the same purpose they were also compelled to perform indecent dances. In order to make the sons of the Spartans loathe the vice of drunkenness, the slaves were compelled to intoxicate themselves in public assemblies. When they became too numerous, they were murdered clandestinely; every year at a certain period the young Spartans, clad in armour, used to hunt them, and to prevent their increase they were killed with daggers." Christianity is thus in its very essence hostile to slavery; and this was one reason why the educated heathen opposed it so bitterly. But this was what it did; and hence the social change it accomplished. It undermined and threw down this monster evil of Roman slavery. As early as the time of Trajan, A.D. 98-117, one Hermes, who had embraced Christianity, liberated 1250 of his slaves; and even under Domitian, who reigned before him, A.D. 81-96, a prefect of Rome, called Cromacius, "liberated 1400 slaves, who had been baptized, and said unto them: 'Those who begin to be the children of God ought no longer to be the slaves of men.'" That was the way in which it began to work, and as the gospel leaven widened its area, slavery disappeared. Through their contact with the Mahommedans in the fifteenth century, the Portuguese began to traffic in slaves; and you know to what the traffic grew, how it spread over the colonies, and continued to hold its ground in spite of Christian influence. But the gospel has also proved itself victorious here. It was through the power of Christian principle that Great Britain, at a vast pecuniary sacrifice, washed her hands of all complicity with the evil in her colonies.
II. I next proceed to show WHAT EFFECT CHRISTIANITY HAS HAD ON LABOUR But let us see what change Christianity has wrought on the industrial life. It gave no countenance to the old Roman idea that labour was unbecoming a free man. To labour was in a sense to pray; work was worship. And its civilizing power is especially striking when we look at what it has wrought in our own time in heathen lands. When Christianity has been fairly rooted in heathen soil, its inhabitants are lifted up to the plane of a new and civilized life. They begin to clothe themselves, to build proper houses, to cultivate the land, and to develop all its resources. This is the effect of their new belief; this is one practical shape which Christianity takes in them, when it has been received in the love of it. And so commerce has followed in the wake of the missionary enterprise. Some have spoken contemptuously of the expenditure on Christian missions, as if it were a waste of money. But I hold that, even on the low ground of purely worldly profit, they pay themselves many times over in commercial gain, and I adduce the following facts in proof: — The Basutos in South Africa are now beginning to dress decently, to cultivate the land, and to build proper villages, and they have created a traffic of £150,000 a year. And every year English goods find their way to Kuruman to the value of £75,000, where, according to Dr. Moffat, scarcely a pocket handkerchief, or string of beads, or other trifle was bought. In Samoa, in the Pacific, where the people have nearly all become Christians, the imports reach the value of £50,000 and the exports £100,000, and all this within fifty years. Before that time there was almost no trade with the island. An American clergyman has calculated, on the ground of statistical data, that the traffic originated by means of the mission repays tenfold the capital expended. But can we not give the heathen our civilization without our Christianity? I most emphatically answer, No; for, as it has been well said, "no nation can appropriate the fruits of Christian civilization apart from its roots."
III. The next point with which I propose to deal is THE INFLUENCE OF CHRISTIANITY ON FAMILY AND SOCIAL LIFE. But let us now turn to the marvellous and beneficent change effected by Christianity. It has lifted up woman, and made her, as a moral and spiritual being, man's equal in privilege. Home life under the influence of Christianity became a new thing, nobler than what had ever existed under heathenism. Moreover, Christianity defined and hallowed the relations of parents and children. And in confirmation of this, I would adduce one or two facts from the records of modern missions in savage lands. "In the Polynesian Islands," says Dr. War-neck, "Christianity has the undeniable merit — that it has suppressed cannibalism, human sacrifice, and child murder, ameliorated the family life, restrained drunkenness, and wherever it has got a footing has led to the orderly establishment of rights... The weapons of war and instruments of death may be seen hanging from the rafters of their humble cottages, covered with dust and become unusable, or they are converted into tools of industry, or they are given to visitors as useless curiosities." That is how Christianity has affected those who were living in a savage state. I give another quotation, containing the confession of a Christian who had been a cannibal, and from it you will see what has been in his case the gospel's power. It was a sacramental day at the mission church. "When I approached the table," he says, "I did net know beside whom I should have to kneel. Then I suddenly saw I was beside the man who, some years ago, slew my father, and drank his blood, and whom I then swore I would kill the first time that I should see him. Now think what I felt when I suddenly knelt beside him. It came upon me with terrible power, and I could not prevent it, and so I went back to my seat. Arrived there, I saw in the spirit the upper sanctuary, and seemed to hear a voice, 'Thereby shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another.' That made a deep impression on me, and at the same time I thought I saw another sight — a Cross and a Man nailed thereon, and I heard Him say, 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.' Then I went back to the altar." All this will show you what great and beneficent changes Christianity has wrought in family and social life, and what evidence is thus furnished of its being a stream from the fountain of Divine love.
IV. I proceed now to show HOW CHRISTIANITY HAS AFFECTED THE INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL LIFE. There has been high intellectual culture without Christianity. In pagan Greece and Rome, as we have seen, it reached a lofty eminence. But neither the ancient religions, nor any philosophic teaching, nor any literary culture, could so transform the heart as to ennoble the moral life of society. The ancient religions did not even attempt this. When morality was taught, it was the philosophers who stepped forward and not the priest. The old mythologies were demoralizing. The gods were represented as fighting with one another, and goddesses as engaging in intrigues; and thus the conscience of the people who believed in this was debauched. But what have been the intellectual and moral fruits of the gospel? Christ came not only to free men from guilt, but from corruption. It is the religious teaching of Christianity which gives power to its moral teaching. As the natural sun not only gives us light but heat to quicken life, so from Christ, the Sun of Righteousness, come those Divine rays which vitalize while they enlighten. And if we turn to the New Hebrides, we find the evidence to the regenerating power of Christianity equally striking. Take Aneityum, one of the group. In 1848 this was its condition, according to the Rev. J. G. Paten, the devoted missionary who has long laboured, and is still labouring, there: "Every widow was strangled to death the moment her husband died; infanticide was common; and children destroyed their parents when long sick or aged. Neighbouring tribes were often at war with each other; and all the killed were feasted on by the conquerors." But now the whole population of this island, then 3,500, has been led to embrace Christianity. "Heathen practices have been abolished; churches built; family worship established; and the Sabbath has become a day of rest." And they have sent 150 of their best and ablest men and women as teachers to the other islands. They have paid £1,400 for printing the Bible, and will contribute £200 this year (1885) for the support of the gospel. I should like to have been able to deal more fully with the influence of Christianity on the believer in all his varied circumstances; but I have drawn so long on your attention that I must close.
(A. Oliver, B. A.)
(C. H. Spurgeon.)— A youth who had been carefully brought up in the fear of God, and had been a Sunday-school teacher, and a frequent speaker in small meetings, went to college to study for the ministry. There he was led to become a Freethinker. It took a good while to do, but in course of time he did not even believe in a God. In this way he lived about a year, hiding the truth from friends as well as he could. One day, in the class-room, there came a thought into his mind which he could not get rid of. "What kind of man are you now as compared with what you were when a Christian?" Reason and conscience combined m answering: "A worse man every way. As a Christian you were a better man to your parents and to others; you lived a worthier, nobler, and more unselfish life; your unbelief has lowered you in every respect: what produces the best life must be the right creed." The Father, whose loving heart had thus spoken to him, was not far away, speedily received him back as a wanderer made welcome, and in due time sent him out to preach the faith he had once denied.
(Dr. Cuyler.)octrine: — The general principle laid down here is, that the truth of a doctrine, a system of doctrine, is to be tested by the life and conduct of its professors. Stated thus broadly, the rule commends itself at once to the common sense of men, partly in consequence of the truth contained in it, and partly from its being mistaken for a statement that the effect of a practical doctrine upon the life of its professor is the true test of the hold which that doctrine has upon his mind. This is something quite different from the truth or falsehood of the doctrine in itself. A life which would be conclusive as to a man's sincerity might be no proof at all of his doctrinal soundness.
I. THESE TWO QUESTIONS, THEN, MUST BE KEPT DISTINCT from one another in the inquiry suggested by the text, viz., how the rule that good conduct is evidence of sound doctrine must be understood when we come to apply it to the different cases in which, as we shall see presently, we need great caution in its application.
1. All the difficulties that meet us are contained in this one, viz., that men who hold sound doctrines lead bad lives, and men who hold unsound doctrines lead good lives. This is a useless weapon in controversies between conflicting creeds, because there never has been a religious party without discreditable adherents. Its tendency is, not to establish any doctrine as superior to any other, but to produce an indifference to doctrine altogether. It tends also to engender the belief that it is no matter what any one believes if iris life be such as to call for no unfavourable comment.
2. Time enough to refute this view when people apply it to other matters as well as to religion. Conventionalisms in society, &c.
3. The question is not as to the value of the fruit or its desirableness; but as to its use in enabling us to judge of the doctrine from which it springs. For this we must take into consideration something more than the mere fact of its being good when presented to us for examination.
4. Our Lord assumes, in those who were to apply the test, a knowledge of the natural productions of trees, i.e., a knowledge of the tendency of particular doctrines, as a necessary qualification for judging how far practice, presented in connection with them, may be regarded as attesting their truth.
5. The fruit by which we may judge of a tree must be its legitimate fruit and its habitual, or average, fruit.
II. Bearing this in mind, let us APPLY THE RULE OF THE TEXT TO SOME OF THOSE CASES IN WHICH WE MIGHT BE LED ASTRAY BY A WANT OF SUFFICIENT CAUTION.
1. There are trees artificially covered, for an occasion, with fruits by which, obviously, the tree could not be "known." A fir-tree, adorned for an occasion with oranges, could assuredly not be known by them. Its power of producing oranges could not be known. So, impulsive and exceptional acts of kindness and benevolence on the part of persons without any definite belief at all furnish so tests as to the practical creed of those by whom they are performed, from the circumstance that they are impulsive and exceptional.
2. When conduct, undeniably good, is found constantly to attend upon the holding of doctrines which legitimately should issue in what was positively bad, or in nothing practical whatever, we are in danger of accepting the doctrines on beholding the fruit. This is as though a mountain-ash had been engrafted with a cutting of a pear-tree, and a person, from seeing the fruit, and knowing that it grew upon a particular stock in the present instance, should thence conclude that in all cases the same stock might be expected to bear the same fruit, and that the surest way to produce an abundance of pears would be to secure the multiplication of mountain-ash trees! In such cases, though the fruit is habitual, it is not legitimate.
3. A third kind of conduct which is constantly appealed to as attesting the truth of doctrine is that which may be likened to fruit produced by means of unusually stimulating culture, and in very high temperature. Extraordinary means have been used, and an extraordinary produce is the result; and its worthlessness as a test is the fact that it is extraordinary.
III. The rule remains thus: That WHEN CONDUCT, LEGITIMATELY FOLLOWING FROM DOCTRINE HELD, IS GOOD — HABITUALLY GOOD — THAT DOCTRINE IS TRUTH; that where there is genuine piety, self-denial, humility, where what the New Testament calls the "fruits of the Spirit" are found in place, in proportion, in constancy, the doctrines of which they are the lawful consequences are true.
1. To this it will at once be said that the spirit of the New Testament teaching has manifested itself in the lives of men whose creeds were widely different, and even avowedly antagonistic. True; but between a man's "creed" in the sense of the document of his Church or sect and his "creed" in the sense of his working belief there is often a wide difference. If the lives of many men are worse than their pure creed, the lives of others may be better than their corrupt one. In the creed which produces a life like that sketched out in the New Testament there is undoubtedly some of the essential truth of the New Testament doctrine; and it is from this that the practice springs.
2. There are many whose hearts are better than their heads; who will do what is right, while they maintain what is wrong; or who will hold at the same time two doctrines subversive of one another, without being aware of it. They live by truth while they profess with it a great deal of falsehood.
3. It is true, then, that men of different religious professions will produce the genuine fruits of righteousness by which the trees may be " known." But these are not the produce of the different creeds; but of such parts of each of them as agreed in being essential truth. They are the fruits of gardens stocked very differently — some of them full of tempting and poisonous shrubs, through which few could pass without harm — but still the fruits of the same tree in each garden. In a garden bad on the whole, good fruit may be found, and it may be spoken of as the fruit of that garden. In a garden good on the whole, evil fruit may be pointed out; but "a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them; of thorns men do not gather figs, nor of a bramble-bush gather they grapes." Conclusion: For the most part men will apply the test of the text inconsiderately, and decide for or against doctrines on insufficient grounds. They will be won to a creed, or turned away from it, by the exceptional conduct of its professors. Much is it to be wished that men had sufficient grounds for their belief, and had them capable of ready production; but a very little experience will dispel any large expectations we may have formed in this direction. And, therefore, so long as men will judge of doctrines by individual instances among their professors, and the more men do this, the more important is the conduct of each individual Christian.
(J. C. Coglilan, D. D.)
1. At the head of all we must place love. Really trying to do God's will; showing kindness to brethren; trying to lead others to God. A Christian cannot be selfish.
2. Another fruit for which God looks in a Christian's life is humility. Every act and word of Christ's earthly life teaches this. The longer we go to His school, and the more we know of the way of godliness, the humbler we become.
3. Another fruit God expects to find in the lives of His people is forgetfulness of self.
(H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M. A.)
I. IT IS POSSIBLE TO ASCERTAIN OUR REAL STATE AND CHARACTER. Who has any difficulty in settling whether it is day or night? whether he enjoys sound health or pines on a bed of sickness? whether he is a free man or a slave? No man could mistake a Briton sitting under the tree of liberty which was planted by the hands of our fathers and watered with their blood for the man who stands up weeping in the auction-mart, to be sold with his master's cattle, or crouches in the rice-swamp, bleeding under his master's lash. Degraded by a system that curses both man and master, the black man may be content to eat the bread and wear the brand of bondage. Still he, as much as we do, knows the difference between fetters and freedom; he feels that he is a slave, and I feel that I am free. Even so may we know whether we belong to the class of saints or to that of sinners; for sin is darkness, sickness, bondage.
II. OUR RELIGIOUS PROFESSION IS NOT ALWAYS A TEST OF OUR STATE.
I. It may be a test in certain circumstances. Look, e.g., at two men on parade. They wear the same dress and arms; and both, the result of drill and discipline, have acquired such a martial air that you cannot tell which is the hero and which the coward. But change the scene. Leave the parade-ground for the field of battle; and when, as bugles sound the charge, I see, through clouds of smoke and amid the clash of arms, the sword of one flashing, and his plume dancing in the very front of the fight, while his comrade, pale and paralyzed with fear, is only borne forward in the tumult like a seaweed on the rushing billow — how easy now to tell beneath whose martial dress there beats a soldier's heart! So, though the profession does net prove the possession of religion in a time of peace, show me a man, like the soldier following his colours into the thick of battle, who holds fast the profession of his faith in the face of obloquy, of persecution, of death itself, and there is little room to doubt that his piety is genuine — that he has the root of the matter in him.
2. The profession of religion is not a test of the reality of religion in our times. Like flowers which close their leaves whenever it rains, or birds that seek shelter and their nests when storms rise, there are Christians so timid by natural constitution, that they shrink from scorn, and could as soon face a battery of cannon as the jeers and laughter of the ungodly. Granting this, still it is true that, where there is no profession of serious religion, we have little reason to expect its reality. Perhaps there never was a time when the mere profession of religion was a less satisfactory test of its reality than at present. There have been dark and evil days, and these not long gone, when religion was, if I may so express myself, at a discount: piety was not fashionable: profane swearing and deep drinking were the accomplishments of a gentleman; the man who assembled his household for prayer was accounted a hypocrite, the woman who did so a fool: missionary societies were repudiated by the courts of the Church, and eyed with suspicion by the officers of the Crown; Robert Haldane was denied an opportunity of consecrating his fortune to the cause of Christ in India; Carey and Marshman, while seeking to convert the Hindoos, were driven from the British territories, and had to seek protection from a foreign Power; and such as formed missionary associations launched them on society with the anxieties and prayers of her who, cradling her infant in an ark of bulrushes, committed him to the waters of the Nile and the providence of her God. Power, rank, fashion, science, literature, and mammon were all arrayed in arms against everything that appeared in the form and breathed the spirit of a devoted piety. Thank God, it is not so now I He has touched the heart of the Egyptian, and she has adopted the outcast as her son. From holes and caves of the earth, religion has found her way into palaces and the mansions of the great and noble. Science has become a priestess at her altar. Literature has courted her alliance. Infidelity assumes even a Christian-like disguise. Iniquity, as ashamed, is made to hide her face. The tide has turned; and those who now make a profession of zealous and active piety find themselves no longer opposed to the stream and spirit of the age. This is a subject of gratitude. Yet it suggests caution in judging of ourselves; and warns us to take care, since a profession of religion is rather fashionable than otherwise, that in making it we are not the creatures of fashion, but new creatures in Jesus Christ. Hence the necessity for trying ourselves by such a test as ray text suggests. The tree is known, not by its leaves, nor we by our professions; not by its blossoms, nor we by the promises of which they are lovely images; but by its fruit, and we by those things which the fruit represents — our hearts and habits, our true life and character. "The tree is known by its fruits; moreover, every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire."
III. THE TRUE EVIDENCE OF OUR STATE IS TO BE FOUND IN OUR HEART AND HABITS. We have often sat in judgment on others; it is of more consequence that we form a right estimate of ourselves. In attempting to form a correct estimate of our own state and character — in the words of the Greek sage, to know ourselves — let us bring to this solemn task all the care and the conscientiousness with which a jury weigh the evidence in a case of life and death. They return from their room to the court to give in a verdict, amid breathless silence, which sends him whom they left pale and trembling at the bar to liberty or to the gallows; yet, sacred as human life is, on our judgment here hangs a more momentous issue. A mistake there may send a man to the scaffold, but one here to perdition; that involves the life of the body, this of the immortal soul. Judges sometimes find it difficult to know how to shape their charge, and juries how to shape their verdicts — the evidence is conflicting — not clear either way. The case is obscure, perplexing; perhaps a bloody mystery, from which no hand but God's can raise the veil. But light and darkness, life and death, are not more unlike than the heart and habits of believers, on the one hand, and those of unbelievers, on the other; and with such a catalogue of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit as Paul has given us, how can it be difficult for a man to settle under which of these two classes his are to be ranked — with which they most closely correspond? A man may fancy himself possessed of talents which he has not, and a woman of beauty which she has not. But with all our strong bias to form a favourable and flattering opinion of ourselves, each "to think more highly of himself than he ought to think," it seems as impossible for a man who is an adulterer, a fornicator, unclean, a drunkard, whose bosom burns with unholy and hateful passions, to imagine himself virtuous, as to mistake night for day, a bloated, fetid corpse for one in the bloom and rosy beauty of her youth. It is often only by a careful application of delicate tests that the chemist discovers a deadly poison or a precious metal; but how easy is it by a few simple questions to bring out our real character! Have you suffered a heavy wrong, for example, at the hands of another? You remember it. But where? Is it at the throne of grace, and to pray with Him whose blood fell alike on the head of foe and friend, "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do"? Again, when you think of perishing souls, is yours the spirit of Cain or of Christ? Can you no more stand by with folded hands to see sinners perishing than men drowning? Are you moved by such generous impulse as draws the hurrying crowd to the pool where one is sinking, and moves some brave man, at the jeopardy of life, to leap in and pluck him from the jaws of death? There is no better evidence that we have received the nature as well as the name of Christ than an anxious wish to save lost souls, and a sympathy with the joy of angels over every sinner that is converted.
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
(T. Guthrie, D. D.)
1. One reason, then, why we ought to be careful to notice our actions is, because they help us to read ourselves. We may have succeeded in persuading ourselves that we are very kindly and charitably disposed towards others; many a man goes on fancying this to be the case, year after year, simply trusting to his own feeling that he is so. But now, let him just try himself by this simple practical test: let him ask himself, What kind and charitable actions have I performed within the last day, or week, or month? and if, in putting this question to himself, he finds that, with all his warmth and kindness of heart, he has done nothing in the way of helping his poor and distressed neighbours, he must confess that he is very much mistaken in the estimate which he has hitherto formed of himself.
2. Not only do our actions show us exactly what we are, but they also materially contribute to make us what we are; over and above the impression which they receive from the heart which originates them, they themselves in turn react upon the heart. Take, e.g., the case of a boy who feels very much tempted to take something that does not belong to him. No doubt the very indulgence in such a thought is highly dishonest in itself; still, there is something in the very act of stealing, when he at last comes to it, that puts him in a worse state than he was in before. He has now actually committed himself to what he might still have drawn back from only a few minutes since; he has set his seal to what was before only melted wax, already softened indeed, and quite fitted to receive the impression, still not moulded as yet into any defined and permanent shape.
3. A third and last reason why we must attend carefully to the deeds which proceed from our hearts, as well as to our hearts themselves, is, that our deeds will form the standard by which we shall all be judged at the last day (Revelation 20:11, 12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). What the body is to the soul, so are our deeds to the heart out of which they spring; our deeds are the bodies in which our hearts and desires show themselves and clothe themselves. And as our bodies form a real part of ourselves, so do our actions; as our bodies obey the direction of our souls, so do our actions; as our bodies will rise again at the last day, so our actions, too, will rise again along with them, and will be judged along with them.
(Henry Harris, B. D.)I. We observe of a tree, THAT WHAT IT IS BY NATURE IT WILL, IF LEFT TO ITSELF, EVER REMAIN. The thorn will continue a thorn, the bramble-bush will ever be a bramble-bush. If you go and seek for fruit on either, you will be disappointed, and the prickly branches may wound your hands. No mere pruning of the tree or fertilizing of the soil around its roots will alter its nature.
II. Having thus seen that the natural man, when left to himself, must ever continue unproductive in good works pleasing and acceptable to God, LET US NOW OBSERVE THE WORK OF GRACE IN THE HEART FOLLOWING UPON REPENTANCE, AND CAUSING AMENDMENT OF LIFE. "Every tree is known by his own fruit." The wild vine, the wild olive, the wild apple, bear each a semblance of fruit. So in the natural man there may be a semblance of good works. Moral virtues, amiable qualities, a noble disposition, adorn the character of many an unrenewed nature, spring from many an unconverted heart. Moral excellencies and Christian graces often so nearly resemble each other, that they are confounded together in the estimation of man, but never in the judgment of God. Our Saviour said of the Pharisees, who rested upon an outward appearance of holiness," Every plant which My heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up." When a bud or graft has been made upon a wild tree, all which springs from that scion resembles the parent stem from which it was taken. The rose will have the same colour, fragrance, and shape; the apple will have the same taste and form. The beauty of the flower and the sweetness of the fruit are owing, not to the nature of the stock, but to the character of the graft made upon it. And yet the roots and stem of the wild tree are in a measure necessary and conducive to the fruitfulness of the graft. The sap, in being conveyed through a new branch, undergoes such a change, that it is made to produce fragrant and beautiful flowers or fine and luscious fruit. So with the converted man who has been united by living faith to Jesus: by union to his Saviour his moral virtues become Christian graces. There is the same brain, the same heart, in their material properties, but all the thoughts, feelings, and desires which they originate flow through a renewed nature, and become changed in principle and action. Even the very passions which expended themselves in vice and lust, now flowing through the pure channel of a sanctified mind and will, breathe the fragrance and assume the loveliness of heaven-born virtues. In gardening, we can perceive and understand how the process of grafting is carried on. The bud or shoot is made so to adhere to the stock on which it is placed, that it unites to the stem, and grows into it and with it; the flow of the sap passes on unchecked, and produces growth and fertility to the scion. It is by the closeness of the union, and the assimilation of the parts, that life is maintained, and vegetation proceeds. In spiritual things, we know that it is by our union to Christ that the life of faith and the fruits of righteousness are produced, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. The practical application of our subject leads to the personal inquiry, "What fruit do I bear?" The vitality of our spiritual life depends upon our union with Christ.
(S. Charlesworth, M. A.)
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