Jeremiah 17:10 God declares, as one of the signs of his omniscient, heart-searching power, that he can not only recompense each individual according to his ways, but "according to the fruit of his doings. In Jeremiah 21:14 a similar declaration is addressed to the royal house of David: I will punish you according to the fruit of your doings." And in Jeremiah 32:17-19 the prophet expresses his admiration at the discriminating omnipotence of God - "great in counsel, and mighty in work: for thine eyes are open upon the ways of the sons of men: to give unto every one according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings." Our text calls for exposition and admits of illustration.
I. EXPOSITION. An act is one thing; the fruit of that act is another thing. By fruit we understand that which is the natural result of the acts we perform. Those natural results under the reign of moral law we might foresee. Acts, like trees, bring forth fruit "after their kind." For such fruit we are held responsible. Responsibility varies according to knowledge acquired or attainable. A child's falsehood, though fraught with lifelong disasters, is lees criminal than the less injurious lie of an adult. But we cannot disconnect our acts and their fruit. We cannot kill them in the seed, or nip them in the bud, or blight them in the flower; they will bear fruit of some kind. We are not held responsible for what we may call the accidental issues of our acts Our good may be evil spoken of. The most unjustifiable inferences may be drawn from our words or deeds. Our Lord's teaching has been the occasion of discord in families and strife in states (Matthew 10:34-36). St. Paul's doctrine was perverted (Romans 3:8). A clear judgment is needed to discern what will be the natural effect of our conduct. We may not, dare not, leave our influence on others out of the account. We must use the enlightening Word, and pray for the aid of the illuminating Spirit, that we may acquire an enlightened conscience. And then we must seek so to live that the fruit of our doings will bring honour to God and be for our own "praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ."
II. ILLUSTRATION. Our first class of illustrations will be those in which the fruit of our doings, like the fruit of the tree in the garden, is "good ' and "pleasant to the eyes," and "to Be desired" as food for the soul,, through all eternity.
1. The life and work of Jesus Christ. The "good Master" "went about doing good." He did the will of him that sent him, and in doing it "became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," What is the fruit of these doings? Eternity alone can reveal. His reward will be according to it - according to the glory brought to God and the blessedness to men (Isaiah 53:11, 12).
2. The characters and labours of devoted servants of Christ. The life and work of Christ is a pattern and an encouragement to all his followers (Luke 6:40). Sow now the seed of Christian bring and doing. It may seem to be lost, like the seed cast on the surface of flooded lands, but you shall find it after many days. You may die without seeing the fruitage in this life; you may rest from your labours, but your works will follow you (Galatians 6:7-9). Incidents confirming this frequently come to light. At a Unitarian anniversary in New England a few years ago, one of the ministers, speaking of the small results of his work, added, "It must be remembered where my field is. The Connecticut valley is the home of Jonathan Edwards, and though he has been dead a century, he is a great name and a power for orthodoxy through all that country today." A devoted Pastor, Rev. Thomas Hall, laboured for twenty-seven years at Heckmondwike, Yorkshire amid great discouragement because he saw so little fruit from his labours. His successor could report that for a long time after his death most of those who were added to the fellowship of the Curch acknowledged their indebtedness to their deceased pastor for their first religious impressions or some other special spiritual help. Take courage, fellow labourers. If you seem to have laboured in vain, you can add, "My judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God" (Isaiah 49:4). He will recompense you according to the natural results of your life's work, "the fruit of your doings" (Isaiah 3:10). Yet this fruit must vary with the quality of our work (see this lesson taught in 1 Corinthians 3:8-15). But the truth of our text has its shady as well as its sunny side.
3. A nation will be recompensed according to its national sins and the fruit of them. Illust.: Great Britain and the opium traffic. Even national repentance and reformation may not avert some of the disastrous consequences of past transgressions. Colonial slavery has left some of its foul stains on the present generation.
4. Sinners must await "the harvest which is the end of the world before they can receive the just recompense of their deeds. William Cowper, in a letter to John Newton, alluding to the translation of Homer on which he was engaged, says very truly, An author had need narrowly to watch his pen, lest a line should escape it which by possibility may do mischief when he has been long dead and buried. What we have done when we have written a book will never be known till the day of judgment; then the account will be liquidated, and all the good that it has occasioned will witness either for or against us." Homer himself supplies an illustration of this. We are told it was the 'Iliad' that did much to mould the character of Alexander of Macedon. The life of Alexander was the inspiration of two other notorious warriors - Julius Caesar and Charles XII. of Sweden. In contrast to the posthumous influence of Jonathan Edwards, there stands on record the baneful effect on a village in Berkshire of the infidel, wit, and libertine, Lord Bolingbroke. He died in 1751; but he had so poisoned the minds of the poor villagers against religion, that three quarters of a century afterwards "the fruit of his doings" was most distinctly to be traced. Nor need our acts be flagrantly evil to bring forth bitter fruit. The neglect of duty tends to make others neglect it, and thus to leave that duty altogether undone. The neglect of "assembling ourselves together" in public worship tends to the dissolution of such assemblies and the abandonment of such worship. The fruit of secret discipleship would be the dying out of Christian Churches. What can be the fruit of sin but sorrow, suffering, loss? "The harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow" (Isaiah 17:11). Even though sin be forgiven through repentance and faith, the consequences of misused or wasted years will remain. And as those consequences, ever widening, cannot be summed up till the great day of God, "we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Let us therefore "make it our aim... to be well pleasing unto him" (2 Corinthians 5:9, 10). - E.S.P.
For the fruit of their doings
Homilist.Assuming it to be a fact that man's ruin is evermore the fruit of his own conduct, three things must follow —
I. THAT HIS MISERY WILL BE IDENTIFIED WITH REMORSE. Morally it is impossible for a man to ascribe his ruin to his organisation, to circumstances, or to any force over which he has no control. He must feel that he has brought it on himself.
II. THAT IN HIS SUFFERINGS HE MUST VINDICATE THE DIVINE CHARACTER. "Just and right art Thou," etc. As fruit answers to seed, as echoes to sound, their calamities answer to their conduct.
III. THAT HIS SALVATION FROM RUIN REQUIRES A CHANGE OF LIFE.
IV. THAT CHRISTIANITY IS THE ONLY SYSTEM THAT CAN MEET HIS CASE. The mission of Christianity is to change the heart, to renew the life, and effect a spiritual reformation. This it is designed to do, this it is fitted to do; and no other system on earth is capable of accomplishing this work.
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