Thomas Carlyle.

The Christian treasury, Volume 2 online

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for the old and new hang on it together at the same I
time (Whitby); but, unfortunately, no such fig trees


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are now-ar<l^7» to h^ found, and we may safely dis-
jajg, •nem among other absurdities of Jewish learn-
ing. Then, we have been told of a certain peculia-
rity of the fig tree, that it forms its fruit before put-
ting forth its leaTCS, so that this particular tree, being
full of leaves, might possibly, it is thought, have had
firnit also in a state of sufficient forwardness to be
eaten, and to satisfy the hunger of Christ; as if it
were not a matter of well-known certainty, that the
young figs remain hard and uneatable till past mid-
summer, that the tarlieH ripe are never found before
the end of June, few even before the end of July,
while the transaction here recorded took place at the
time of the passover; that is, about the beginning or
toward the middle of ApriL Yet if only seen in the
right point of view, there is no inexplicable difficulty
in the matter, and the very point which creates the
embarrassment, is fitted, and no doubt was intended,
to render the meaning of the whole more dear and

1. It must be seen at once by all who have the least
spiritual discernment, that the deed performed by our
Lord here was a symbolical transaction— a thing done,
not property for its own sake, but for the purpose of
teaching a great moral lesson. Even supposing it
had been the time of figs, and that, seeing such an
appearance of leaves on the tree, Christ might justly
have expected something on it to satisfy his hunger,
yet to betray a spirit of resentment at not finding
what he expected, by blighting the unconscious tree,
would have been unworthy even of a reasonable being,
' not to speak of the Holy One of Israel; but how
I much more, when it was not the time of figs, when
that was still at a distance of three months, and when,
of course, there was no room for any feeling of re-
sentment whatever to enter ! It is clear as day, that
the action of our Lord on the tree was altogether of
a symbolical nature, and that he never would have
done what he did, unless it had been to give, by this
outward action, a suitable and striking exhtt>ition of
some important truth. Indeed, all the works of
Christ on earth were chiefly of a prophetical or in-
structive character: they were perfonned, not for
their own sakes alone, but as the means of revealing
to the world his person and character, and the nature
and objects of his mission. Hence, when John^ dis-
ciples came inquiring whether he was indeed the Mee-
oah, the answer returned was simply, " Tell him what
things ye do hear and see.'*'' And hence, also, he
called upon his disciples to ** believe him for the very
works' sake;" and said to the Jews, " The works that
I do in my Father's name, they bear witness of me."
But if this was true of all his works, it was pre-emi-
nently true of such as were miraculous, in which there
was a display of properties manifestly and peculiariy
divine. And if we may distinguish among these, then
sorely the symbolical or teaching character must
have belonged in the highest and most emphatical
sense to the works or miracles of Christ, which were
of a more extraordinary nature than others, in per-
forming which he travelled out of his usual course,
and ^d what we cannot suppose he would have done
at all, but for the higher ends of his mission. For
what could he intend by such deeds, but to arrest

men's attention, and, as it were, compel their regacd }
to the spiritual instruction conveyed nnder the oot-
ward action? Now, this action of Christ upon the fifir
tree was of so extraordinary, so singular a nature, that
it may be said to stand alone in the history of his mira-
culous working. Tenderness and mercy breathe from
every other part of that His power displayed its divine
eneigy not only upon living and conscious beings, but
always in blessing them and d(»ng them good; here
alone did he expend it on an inanimate object, and
that for the immediate purpose, not of remedyipg an
evn that already existed, but of inflicting one that
had no existence before. By its whole character and
circamstanoee, therefore, this transaction of Christ
is marked out as one pre-eminently qrmbo l ica l a a
done, not like the rest, in part merely, but toldy to
teach a spiritual lesson of great importance and so-

2. If now we look to the time and occasion when
this miracle of blighting was wrought on the fig tree,
we shall see plainly enough what was the nature' 6f
the lesson it was designed to teach, and how ^^ro-
priate the work was at such a season. The Lord had
just entered m triun^hal procesdon into Jerusalem,
riding on an ass, according to the words of the pro-
phet, and thereby announcing himself as the Eiqg of
ZioB. In this capacity he proceeded to the temple,
the house that peculiarly belonged to him as king;
and in proof of the authority which he claimed there,
as well as of his holy indignation at the iniquity which
exalted itself in the very centre of his kingdom, he
cast out the covetous traffickers from its courts, say-
ing : ** My house shall be called the house of prayer,
but ye have made it a den of thieves." This action
also^ so unlike the usual mildness and forbearance of
Christ, was evidently symbolical, and was designed to
show what was hit sense of the state of things then
existing in the land, and what, if not q>eedi]y re-
formed, it mij^t expect &om his hand. The temple
was at that time the seat of the divine kingdom, and
as such was well fitted to represent in general the
members andinterests of the kingdom. Ev^i the rebel-
lious geneiation, whose obstinate perseverance in on
drew on the Babylonish exile, showed that they under-
stood this when they said : " The temple of the Lord,
the temple of the Lord are we." And thore can be no
doubt, that when Christ took possession of the temple
as his own, as the palace of the great King, and ex-
pelled from it the unworthy characters who were
polluting its courts, he meant to teach a lesson to the
whole nation— to declare by an outward act, that,
having withstood the preaching of John the Bojp^aat,
and refused to profit by his own instructions as &e
great Prophet of Israel, he was now ready to come
near to them in judgment, and would drive them all
from the kingdom as he drove the traffickers firam
the temple. But lest, in their infatuated blindness,
they should mistake his meaning, or not attend to the
solemn warning, he repeated the lesson on the follow-
ing day by direct instruction in the parable of the
wicked husbandmen of the vineyard, in which he
spoke so pointedly, that " the Pharisees perceived he
spoke against them ;" and which he wound up with tiie
equally explicit and startling testimony, that **the

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kingdom of Goddioaldbe ti^enfrom them, and given
to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof."—
(Matt. rri. 43.) It was on the same morning, and
as he was on his way to the temple, where he taught
this parable, that he went to the fig tree and blasted
it; 10 that the action on it stands mid-way between
the purging of the temple and the direct instruction
by the parable. And how suitably does it stand
there ! How clearly does it prochUm, in common
with the other two, the purpose for which he comes
as the King of Zi<m to his Church ! liz., to seek the
spiritual fruit which all his gracious and kindly deal-
ings toward it as well as its own £Edr professions en-
titled him to expect ! And if disappointed in this just
expectation, how certainly does it then dedare he
would cause Ins judgment to alight, to bring the out-
ward condition into fitting correspondence with the
inward— to render what teould not bear fruit, when it
fnight have done so, henceforth manifestly incapable
I of doing it— a monument of blighting, desolation, and

3. Such being the evident design, and the onli/
design of this transaction, we may surely understand
that its being done when the time of figs was not yet
come, was only to make the lesson more clear and
manifest— to render it in a manner impossible for the
people to think merely of the imfruitfulnees of the
fig tree and its blighted condition, but to force them
to see in these the higher and spiritual things they
represented. The fleshly nature of Christ, conscious
of hunger, instinctlTely prompted him to look for reUef
to the first object that seemed capable of affording it.
That the fig tree did not possess the means of doing so,
the merest child could see was no fiKult on its part —
nature had denied it the power of yielding the satis-
faction. But, ah ! then, how much more easily was
the mind carried out to think of those who might have
brought forth the expected fruit, if they had but so
willed it! And how much more forcibly was the
warning pressed upon their notice of a fearful, im-
pending visitation of judgment ! For now the action
spoke to them, not indirectly and by halves, but
directly and exclusively. Had it been the time of
figs, there would have been some excuse, at least, for
th^ looking merely to the field of nature, and
thinking only of what presented itself to the eye of
sense; but as it was, there was no mistaking the
transaction— it was a mirror in which the most un-
reflecting mind oould hardly fail to behold the solemn
and awakening truth it was designed to inculcate.
So clearly, indeed, does the symbolical here riiine
through the visible— so exclusively was that in the
eye of the evangelist, as it doubtless was also in the
eye of Christ— that he regards the tree as a living
creature, a conscious representative of the people ;
in whose condition Christ hears, as it were, their mind
expressing itself, and to whom therefore he answert
and speaks the feelings of his own. " The will of my
divine nature," he in a manner proclaimed, ** as irre-
sistibly constrains mft to seek in you, the visible
members of my kingdom, the fruits of righteousness,
as the natural instinct of hunger has impelled me to
seek here the means of a present satisfiEU^tion. But,
lo! such is the hopeless degeneracy of your state.

notwithstanding all your proud and flattering appear-
ances, that I might as soon have found in this season
of spring the fruit of mid-summer on the fig tree
before me, as that spiritual harvest from you which
I have a right to look for.. Let it, then, be your
warning monitor; see what for yoursakes I have
made it; and in its now blighted and withering c<m-
dition, behold the emblem of what the just retribution
of Heaven, if it fall, must inevitably make you."
Thus we see, that when rightly oonsidersd — that is,
viewed not in part merely, as is commonly done, but as
altogether a symbolical transaction, performed simply
for the purpose of teaching a great moral lesson —
there is no inexplicable difficulty about it. Not only
so, but the circumstance of its being done when the
time of figs was not yet, not nearly indeed come,
rather serves to help us to the real meaning of the
transaction, and might almost be regarded as a sort
of key to its right interpretation.

4. It is not to be forgotten, that while the trans-
action spoke directly to the Jews, and, as a pro-
phetical action, had its accomplishment primarily in
them, it speaks also with loud and solemn warning to
the whole professing Church of God. This is in every
age a vineyard of the Lord's planting, in which every
tree is planted for the purpose of yielding fruit to
God. Nay, so intent is the Lord on obtaining this,
and so large is the desire of his heart r^^ding it,
that he will not be content merely with some degree
ef productiveness; for he says: " Herein is my Fa-
ther glorified, that ye bring forth much fruit" Not
only are the leaves not accounted of, but a small
return is also esteemed as nothing — ^much fruit is
sought; because replenished as the Church is with
gifts of grace, this alone is glorifying to the Father,
and acceptable to the Son. Here, too, in this region
of grace it is otherwise than in the region of nature;
for the sun of grace ever shines, and its showers of
blessing ever fall, so that it is always the time for
yielding frrut to GK>d; and if not yielded through aU
the seasons of life, it can only be because the root of
the matter is not in us— we are as a field nigh unto
cursing, whose end is to be burned. Fruitless pro-
fessor, be warned in time of the perilous nature of
thy condition, and trifle not with the things of God's
mercy and judgment. Remember that both of these
mingle in his dealings toward thee; mercy, indeed,
first, but that, if slighted and abused, assuredly run-
ing into judgment. He is giving thee, as he gave
sinners in the days of his flesh, line upon line, and
warning upon warning; loath to execute the work of
judgment, and still yearning for thy salvation, he not
only plies thee with the caUs and entreaties of grace,
but turns the field of nature into a school of instmo-
tion, and shows thee there, in many an object of
blighting and desolation, the emblem of thy deserved
doom; but the judgment cannot always linger, and
suddenly, it may be by the morning dawn, will the
hour of visitation come, as it befeU this fruitless fig
tree. Awake, therefore, awake now to righteousness,
and sm not; be up and domg in the Lord's service,
leet repentance should be hid from his eyes.


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John WsLsn.— This eminent sufferer in the caose
of Christ, although he died in exile, was yet so over-
whelmed and tnmsported upon his death-bed with a
sense of the divine presence and favour, that he was
overheard exclaiming, ** O Lord, hold thy hand, it is
enough; thy servant is a clay vessel, and can hold
no more!"

Robert CunTfiNGHAM.— Among other quaint but
pious and cheering expressions upon his aeath-bed,
Cunningham said, " I see Christ standing over Death^s
head, saying, *Deal warily with my servant: loose
thou this pin, then that pin, for tins tabernacle must
be set up again.* '*

Samuel Rothekfobd. — Although he was known
to be dying, the Parliament summoned him to appear
before them at Edinburgh, to answer to the charge
of high treason— for so nis fidelity to the cause of
Christ was termed. The messengers found him in
bed. " Tell them," he said, " I have got a summons
already before a superior Judge and judicatorv; it
behoves me to answer my first summons; ana ere
your day come, I will be where few kings and great
folks come."

Jambs RBNWicK.—In retumin|^ thanks after a
slight meal, previous to his execution, he used these
remarkable words : ^ O Lord, thou hast brought me
within two hours of etemi^, and this is no matter of
terror to me more than if I were to lie down on a
bed of roses; nay, through grace, to thy praise I may
say, I never had the fear of death since I came to
this prison, but from the place where I was taken I
could have gone very composedly to the scaffold. Oh,
how can I contain this, to be within two hours of the
crown of glory?" On hearing the drums beat for
the guard to turn out, he excudmed : " Yonder the
welcome warning to my marriage; the Bridegroom
is coming; I am ready, I am ready! " Renwick,who
suffered martyrdom at the early age of twenty-six,
was the last victim of a long period of persecution
that had continued in Scotland twenty-eight years.

A TBAVELLBB ouce asscrtod to a Syrian shepherd,
that the sheep knew the dress of their master, not his
voice. The shepherd, on the other hand, asserted it
was the voice they knew. To settle the dispute, he
and the traveller exchanged dresses, and went among
the sheep. The traveller in the shepherd's dress
caUed on the sheep and tried to lead them, but " they
knew not his wic«," and never moved. On the other
hand, they ran at once at the call of their owner,
though thus disguised. (John x. 4.) — Bonar^s Mission
to the Jews.


^ The first time I entered St. Peter's I found it quite
solitary, a crowd having just dispersed from the
ceremonies of Ash -Wednesday, when the pope

< scatters adies on the heads of the cardinals. A poor
peasant came in lea<ting his little boy. He approached
the statue of St. Peter, knelt reverently before it,
crossed himself, repeated a praver, rose and kissed
the toe, and then lifted the child to it, who kissed it

I also. This done, he left the church. I looked with

' pity on that child, and I thought of the Protestant

family and the Sabbath school. The statue is placed
on a pedestal breast high. The time I was there the
pope entered with his Swiss guard, foUowed hv a
smte of ecclesiastics of various grades. He in uke
manner knelt before his bronze predecessor, prayed,
and kissed the toe— an edifying example to ma ftock.
He has plenty of imitators m this. The peasant and
the pope were the first instances of my witnessing that
piece of devotion. The toe is worn half away by ,
wiping and kissing. He finished his devotions b^ore
the high altar. There was no mudc or audible prayer ;
the service was only mental or in whispers, the pope
alone performing. Among his priestly followers,
who knelt behind him, and movea when he mored, '
I noticed whispering and levity even when upon their
knees. An English Puseyite clergyman present re-
marked to me that he often observed a want of
seriousness and decorum in the priests of Rome in
their devotions — ^whereat he felt a little scandalized, ^
but not apparently stumbled. He believed in the >
Romish Church, he said, but not her " errors." The '
errors of Rome! What, and how many may th^
be, in the judgment of a Puseyite ? I imagine Pam
would need but two brackets to include them all —
one at the beginning of the book, and the other at the
end.—Mttcheirs ^ Notes from over the Sea.^ ,


Luther's maxim was admirable, ^^Berie errase est
hene sttiduisse — He studies well who prays welL *' i
Prayer is the best kind of study; first in itself, and
second, because it guides and regulates all other \
study. No man can, study aright, who does not study j
with prayer. " Not to read or study at all," says
Quesnel, '*is to tempt God; and to do nothing hut
study, is to forget the ministry ; to study only to glory |
in one's knowledge, is a shameful vanity; to study in
search of the means to flatter sinners, is a deplorable
prevarication; but to store one's mind with the know-
ledge proper to the saints by study and by prayer,
and to diffuse that knowledge in solid instructions and
practical exhortations— this is to be a prudent, sealous,
and laborious minister."

Add to this the remark of Bishop Wilkins as to the
communication of one's studies to others. What is
thorough and prayerful, will be plain. ** The greatest
learning is to be seen in the greatest plainness. The
more clearly we understand anything ourselves, the
more easily can we expound it to others." Studies
that are gained in prayer are most useful to ourselves,
and most edifying to others. Studies gained in prayer,
though concerned with the highest mysteries, are
always simple and plain.


Not as the world loves, doth God love. They love
to-day, and hate to-morrow ; wearmg their friends
like flowers, which we may behold in their bosoms
whilst they are fresh and sweet, but soon they wither, |
and soon they are laid aside. Whereas the love of ;
God to his people is everlasting, and he wears them
as a Mgnet unon his right han<5 which he will never j
part with. Kot as the world gives, doth God give. |
Then give liberallv, and repent suddenly, but " the :
^s and calling of God are without repentance."— j

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Tb« lot la cast into tbe Up ; tout the whole

thereof to of the Lord.-— Pbov. xtI. 33.
And bj chaoce there came down a certain priett that

way: and when he mw him he paned by on the other

iide."— LuKB X. 31.

* By ekaneeP And so oven Holy "Writ knows of
\anee. Men are sometimes caatious in ^peak-
ing of accident, but sorely the bare wotd ean
have no sin in it, since our Saviour has used it.
But what is accident ! A divinity, a fate, aside
from or superior to the Almighty Father of
heaven and earth! It cannot be. No; it is
nothing but a word which we ordinarily use
when our sagacity is unable to unite the chain
between cause and effect; it is more the name
for something in tUj than for anything in the
nature of things. Effects which do not appear to
be the result of plan and design we ^^l aoci-
dentaL ..Thus we speak of accidents, when
anything happens which man did not predeter-
mine, as where our Lord says, that the ^ priest
by chance came down that way;" and here the
word has its proper signification.

But we speak still again of accident when
it seems to us that something happens contrary
to the divine plan and design; and there the
word is nothing but a word. We talk of im-
cettUy when the decrepit old man dies in the
weakness of his age, after both windows that
look out upon the world of sense— the dull eyes
— are closed, and the door- of the mouth is but
seldom opened, and the hoary head has long
wwn the livery of the grave; we acknowledge
then a plan and design, since the fruit is
gathered after it has beoome ripe, and the
labourer is called from the field because his
instrument is worn out. But let the f/<nUh be
torn away unexpectedly, and by a casual cir-
cumstance, perhaps the falling of a stone from
the roof— let the beautiful casket be crushed
ere yet the spirit it contains has had time to
unfold its impnlsea— then it is we speak of oo-
eident, for we see there no divine inUntion.

Again, the son of Jakeh affirmed that Is was
*' more brutish than any manf* aad yet I could
tell of many men in comparison of whom Agur
might have sparod himsdf that idle fancy, espe-
cially those teachers who imagine that the
boundary of all thou^t and all Igiowledge is
where their penetration blinks and b^ins to

fail them. We children of men were pitiable
indeed, if everything we did not see had on that
account no being. No; in a world of which it
is recorded, ** Thou hast ordered all things in
measure, number, and weight," there can be no
place for accident. The lot may be cast into
the lap strangely, by invisible or by visible
hands — suddenly, or in such a way that men
can mark its coming—from this side or that,
from beneath or from above, sparingly or
bountifully; yet the whole disposing thereof is
of the Lord still. So long as we are in a school
where we are baffled, as upon other points, so
upon the great problem of imperfection, surely
in God's world accident must play an impor-
tant part for us; and as we are informed that
in this world all things are ordered in measure,
number, and weight, we may believe the
declaration, though unable to substantiate it.
Those ttupid souls, on the one hand, who are
not given to calculating and measuring even in
plain, ordinary transactions, must certainly in
the vast economy of the world, find chance meet-
ing them at every comer. And as, on the other
hsLDd, there are men vain enough really to think
that wh^*e their wits are brought to a stand,
that is about the end of all knowledge, it is no
wonder if the feet of such wise people are every
moment stumbling upon accident, since they
are better satisfied that you should consider the
wisdom that made the world imperfect, than
their own. He who conceives vanity shall
bring fortb a lie.

Is it not a strange thing that so much effort
is needful to persuade men that the great day
will disclose a measure, and number, and
weight, in many an accidental and fortuitous
ooourrenoe, when even these days on earth so
often and variously served as much! There
travelled once upon a certain, road two men, of
whom one was the finst friend of accident, and <
aigued for it powerfully. The other, who be- '
lieved in that wisdom which orders all things'
in measure, number, and weight, remarked to '
his philosophic companion, how upon the right
side of the road the trees grew vigorously and
beautifully, while upon the left they were
stinted and sickly; — a manifest freak of acci>
dent. It was a plain case to our philosopher :

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Online LibraryThomas CarlyleThe Christian treasury, Volume 2 → online text (page 97 of 145)