Chapter 86


The Parable of the Barren Fig Tree


ŇHe 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. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.Ó

(Luke 13:6-9)


            If we would understand this parable correctly, it must be read in the context of verses 1-5. Read in its context, it is obvious that this parable was addressed by our Lord to the Jewish nation. God gave the Jewish people great privileges and advantages, by which they should have known and served him, by which they should have known and believed the Lord Jesus Christ. They and they alone had all the privileges of divine revelation. They professed to be the people of God. But the very things that should have been their salvation became their ruin — their religion! Because they refused GodŐs revelation, the Lord God cut them down in judgment and cast them off (Romans 11).


            Year after year, for three years, the Lord Jesus walked among them, showed himself by miracle after miracle, told them plainly who he is, and taught in their temple and synagogues. Yet, they despised him, rejected him, and refused to believe him. At last, he left them to themselves, utterly desolate (Matthew 23:37-38).


Addressed to Us


            But it is a very grave mistake to imagine, as many do, that that is the end of our LordŐs purpose in this parable. This parable is specifically addressed to you and me. Its intent is the awakening of all who enjoy the means of grace and the privilege of hearing the gospel, professing to be his people. May God give us grace to hear the parable as though it had just come from our LordŐs lips and was spoken directly to us. As C. H. Spurgeon wrote, ŇThe parable is so simple that it needs no explanation, and therefore our Lord Jesus has not given any.Ó


GodŐs Vineyard


            The gospel church is GodŐs garden and vineyard. That is the picture the Lord God gives of his church and kingdom by the prophet Isaiah.


ŇNow will I sing to my wellbeloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.Ó

(Isaiah 5:1-7)


            Because the Lord God has given us the privilege of sitting under the sound of the gospel, it is our responsibility to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20 - 6:1). Yet, many who hear the gospel faithfully preached to them are yet without fruit toward God. You will notice in the parable that the man who owned the vineyard looked for fruit (singular) on the fig tree, not fruits (plural).


            The fruit God looks for in men is faith in Christ, nothing else (Acts 16:31; Mark 16:16; John 3:16-19, 36; Romans 10:9-13). This fruit is not the produce of manŐs imaginary free will, but the fruit of GodŐs free grace in Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, the gift and operation of God the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 1:29; Colossians 2:12).


      Many there are who hear the gospel and even profess faith in Christ, but make for themselves a refuge of lies that will soon fall upon them and crush them down into hell. Professing they believe on the Lord Jesus, they look to their baptism, their church membership, their good works, the good opinion of others about them, their knowledge, or their religious experience to give them peace and hope before God. Soon, that refuge of lies will be swept away (Isaiah 28:14-20). Judgment is GodŐs strange work (Isaiah 28:21); but he will perform it. In the eyes of proud men, it may appear to be a strange act for the God of all grace; but it will be the act of God that casts unbelieving sinners headlong into eternal hell.


A Set Time


            There is a period of time set and determined by God beyond which he will not tolerate the insult of your obstinate unbelief. — ŇBehold today is the day of salvation!Ó Many seek to avoid every thought of personal responsibility before God. Many there are who imagine that the assertion of manŐs responsibility to believe the gospel is a repudiation of divine sovereignty. But the Scriptures are crystal clear in this matter. If you perish in unbelief, all the blame is yours. If you are saved, all the praise is GodŐs. Unbelief is manŐs work. The gift of faith is GodŐs work.

Is it possible for a man or women to so willfully and persistently rebel against God and deny the claims of Christ in the gospel that God will refuse to be gracious to them? Is it possible for men and women to sin away the day of grace, while they still go on living in this world? That is precisely the message of this parable.


Listen to what God himself says about the matter. God says to you and me, ŇTurn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.Ó Surely, we cannot mistake the meaning of those words. Anyone in all the world who, hearing the gospel of Christ, repents and believes shall be saved. If you will turn to him, if you will call upon him, if you will believe him, Christ will save you. But if you refuse to hear and believe God, be warned. God will not take it lightly. The Lord God saysÉ


ŇBecause I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hands and no man regarded; but ye have set at naught all my counsels and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as a desolation and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own ways and be filled with their own devices...But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from the fear of evil.Ó

(Proverbs 1:23-33)


We have GodŐs own word for it. If we obey his call in the gospel, he will save us. If we despise his calls, if we persistently stop our ears to the voice of God in the gospel, he will pass upon us an irreversible sentence of eternal ruin, even while we live upon the earth. And when he throws the impenitent soul into hell, the wicked will forever eat of the fruit of their own ways. They will at last get what they asked for when they said ŇI want nothing to do with Christ.Ó


There are many ways in which men and women are called and warned by God. God calls all men to himself in creation. — ŇFor the invisible things of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuseÓ (Romans 1:20). GodŐs being, power, and wisdom are plainly revealed to all men in creationŐs handiwork.


No one can honestly deny that fact. God calls all men to himself by conscience as well. ŇThe law is written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witnessÓ (Romans 2:14-15). Your conscience is GodŐs witness of himself in your soul.


God warns all men of judgment to come by his acts of providence. Every time you see pictures of starving children in Ethiopia, every time you get sick, every time you have an automobile accident or a close brush with death, every time you visit a hospital or a funeral parlor, God is speaking to you by his acts of providence. He is saying to you, ŇIt is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgmentÓ (Hebrews 9:27). He is saying to you, Sinner, Ňprepare to meet thy GodÓ (Amos 4:12).


And God calls men and women to faith in Christ and warns them of his justice and sure judgment to come by the preaching of the gospel. He sends his servants into the world with this great commission: — ŇGo ye into all the worlds and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damnedÓ (Mark 16:15-16). If you obey GodŐs call and trust the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall be saved. If you refuse, you shall be damned. — ŇToday if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heartÓ (Hebrews 3:7-8).

Yet, the Word of God makes it clear that, there are many who can and do refuse GodŐs gracious warnings and earnest calls to repentance. They willfully sin against the light God has given them, harden their hearts, and refuse to hear his voice. And, when they do, God shuts the door of mercy against them! Men and women were still alive when God shut the door of the ark. And I dare say that there are many walking on earth today against whom God has shut the door of salvation and grace. For them, the day of grace is gone. They cannot be saved. They must perish. God help you. Be wise. Do not trifle with the gospel (Luke 13:24-25; Jeremiah 7:16; Hosea 4:17; Matthew 13:12-16; 2 Corinthians 2:15-17).


Judgment Sure


            The judgment of God is sure. Barren, fruitless souls are not only useless themselves, they are a hindrance to others. They cumber the ground, spoil the soil and, like the Pharisees, not only refuse to enter the strait gate, but prevent others from entering.


            Faithful pastors, faithful gospel preachers, earnestly intercede with God, laboring earnestly for the souls of men and seeking GodŐs mercy on their behalf, that he might spare even the barren soul that deserves to be cut down (v. 8; Joel 2:17; Romans 9:3; 10:1); but you must believe. You must trust the Lord Jesus Christ. The only thing that will save you from the axe of divine justice is that the God of all grace may so work in you by his Spirit that he brings forth in you, by the new creation of grace, the fruit of faith in Christ. Yes, this faith is the gift and work and operation of God the Holy Spirit; but this faith is your responsibility. You must believe on the Son of God. If you believe, salvation is yours.


            Every soul without the fruit of faith toward God, like the barren fig tree, shall be destroyed. There is a law in the Book of Deuteronomy that relates to this. The barren, fruitless tree is fit for nothing but fire. You can only use a fig tree for two things: food or fuel. It is good for nothing else (Deuteronomy 20:19-20). Whether you believe or believe not, whether you are saved or damned, our God does well, and we will acquiesce in his goodness (Romans 3:3-4). GodŐs purpose will be accomplished. GodŐs elect will be saved. GodŐs glory will be manifest. And GodŐs justice will be vindicated.






Don Fortner



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