THE DOOM AND DOWNFALL OF THE FRUITLESS PROFESSOR: SHOWING, THAT THE DAY OF GRACE MAY BE PAST WITH HIM LONG BEFORE HIS LIFE IS ENDED; THE SIGNS ALSO BY WHICH SUCH MISERABLE
MORTALS MAY BE KNOWN. BY JOHN BUNYAN ‘Who being dead, yet speaketh.’—Hebrews 11:4
London: Printed for J. Robinson, at the Golden Lion, in St. Paul’s Churchyard, 1688.
This Title has a broad Black Border.
ADVERTISEMENT BY THE EDITOR. This solemn, searching, awful treatise, was published by Bunyan in 1682; but does not appear to have been reprinted until a very few months after his decease, which so unexpectedly took place in 1688. Although we have sought with all possible diligence, no copy of the first edition has been discovered; we have made use of a fine copy of the second edition, in possession of that thorough Bunyanite, my kind friend, R. B. Sherring, of Bristol. The third edition, 1692, is in the British Museum. Added to these posthumous publications appeared, for the first time, ‘An Exhortation to Peace and Unity,’ which will be found at the end of our second volume. In the advertisement to that treatise are stated, at some length, my reasons for concluding that it was not written by Bunyan, although inserted in all the editions of his collected works. That opinion is now more fully confirmed, by the discovery of Bunyan’s own list of his works, published just before his death, in 1688, and in which that exhortation is not inserted. I was also much pleased to find that the same conclusion was arrived at by that highly intelligent Baptist minister, Mr. Robert Robinson. His reasons are given at some length, concluding with, ‘it is evident that Bunyan never wrote this piece.’ Why it was, after Bunyan’s death, published with his ‘Barren Fig-tree,’ is one of those hidden mysteries of darkness and of wickedness that I cannot discover. The beautiful parable from which Bunyan selected his text, represents an enclosed ground, in which, among others, a fig-tree had been planted. It was not an enclosure similar to some of the vineyards of France or Germany, exclusively devoted to the growth of the vine, but a garden in which fruits were cultivated, such as grapes, figs, or pomegranates. It was in such a vineyard, thus retired from the world, that Nathaniel poured out his heart in prayer, when our Lord in spirit witnessed, unseen, these devotional exercises, and soon afterwards rewarded him with open approbation (John 1:48). In these secluded pleasant spots the Easterns spend much of their time, under their own vines or fig-trees, sheltered from the world and from the oppressive heat of the sun—a fit emblem of a church of Christ. In this vineyard stood a fig-tree—by nature remarkable for fruitfulness—but it is barren. No inquiry is made as to how it came there, but the order is given, ‘Cut it down.’ The dresser of the garden intercedes, and means are tried to make it fruitful, but in vain. At last it is cut down as a cumber-ground and burnt. This vineyard or garden represents a gospel church; the fig-tree a member—a barren, fruitless professor. ‘It matters not how he got there,’ if he bears no fruit he must be cut down and away to the fire.
To illustrate so awful a subject this treatise was written, and it is intensely solemn. God, whose omniscience penetrates through every disguise, himself examines every tree in the garden, yea, every bough. Wooden and earthy professor, your detection is sure; appearances that deceive the world and the church cannot deceive God. ‘He will be with thee in thy bed fruits—thy midnight fruits—thy closet fruits—thy family fruits—they conversation fruits.’ Professor, solemnly examine yourself; ‘in proportion to your fruitfulness will be your blessedness.’ ‘Naked and open are all things to his eye.’ Can it be imagined that those ‘that paint themselves did ever repent of their pride?’ ‘How seemingly self-denying are some of these creeping things.’ ‘Is there no place will serve to fit those for hell but the church, the vineyard of God?’ ‘It is not the place where the worker of iniquity can hide himself or his sins from God.’ May such be detected before they go hence to the fire. While there is a disposition to seek grace all are invited to come; but when salvation by Christ is abandoned, there is no other refuge, although sought with tears. Reader, may the deeply impressive language of Bunyan sink profoundly into our hearts. We need no splendid angel nor hideous demon to reveal to us the realities of the world to come. ‘If we hear not Moses and the prophets,’ as set forth by Bunyan in this treatise, ‘neither should we be persuaded though one rose from the dead’ to declare these solemn truths (Luke 16:31).
TO THE READER. COURTEOUS READER,
I have written to thee now about the Barren Fig-tree, or how it will fare with the fruitless professor that standeth in the vineyard of God. Of what complexion thou art I cannot certainly divine; but the parable tells thee that the cumber-ground must be cut down. A cumber-ground professor is not only a provocation to God, a stumbling-block to the world, and a blemish to religion, but a snare to his own soul also. ‘Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds, yet he shall perish for ever, like his own dung; they which have seen him shall say, Where is he?’ (Job 20:6,7).
Now ‘they count it pleasure to riot in the daytime.’ But what will they do when the axe is fetched out? (2 Peter 2:13,14).
The tree whose fruit withereth is reckoned a tree without fruit, a tree twice dead, one that must be ‘plucked up by the roots’ (Jude 12).
O thou cumber-ground, God expects fruit, God will come seeking fruit shortly.
My exhortation, therefore, is to professors that they look to it, that they take heed.
The barren fig-tree in the vineyard, and the bramble in the wood, are both prepared for the fire.
Profession is not a covert to hide from the eye of God; nor will it palliate the revengeful threatening of his justice; he will command to cut it down shortly.
The church, and a profession, are the best of places for the upright, but the worst in the world for the cumber-ground. He must be cast, as profane, out of the mount of God: cast, I say, over the wall of the vineyard, there to wither; thence to be gathered and burned. ‘It had ben better for them not to have known the way of righteousness’ (2 Peter 2:21). And yet if they had not, they had been damned; but it is better to go to hell without, than in, or from under a profession. These ‘shall receive greater damnation’ (Luke 20:47).
If thou be a professor, read and tremble: if thou be profane, do so likewise. For if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinners appear? Cumber-ground, take heed of the axe! Barren fig-tree, beware of the fire!
But I will keep thee no longer out of the book. Christ Jesus, the dresser of the vineyard, take care of thee, dig about thee, and dung thee, that thou mayest bear fruit; that when the Lord of the vineyard cometh with his axe to seek for fruit, or pronounce the sentence of damnation on the barren fig-tree, thou mayest escape that judgment. The cumber-ground must to the wood-pile, and thence to the fire. Farewell.
Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus in sincerity. Amen.
THE BARREN FIG-TREE,
THE DOOM AND DOWNFALL OF THE FRUITLESS PROFESSOR. ‘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 THE 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.’—LUKE 13:6-9.
At the beginning of this chapter we read how some of the Jews came to Jesus Christ, to tell him of the cruelty of Pontius Pilate, in mingling the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices. A heathenish and prodigious act; for therein he showed, not only his malice against the Jewish nation, but also against their worship, and consequently their God. An action, I say, not only heathenish, but prodigious also; for the Lord Jesus, paraphrasing upon this fact of his, teacheth the Jews, that without repentance ‘they should all likewise perish.’ ‘Likewise,’ that is by the hand and rage of the Roman empire. Neither should they be more able to avoid the stroke, than were those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell, and slew them (Luke 13:1-5). The fulfilling of which prophecy, for their hardness of heart, and impenitency, was in the days of Titus, son of Vespasian, about forty years after the death of Christ. Then, I say, were these Jews, and their city, both environed round on every side, wherein both they and it, to amazement, were miserably overthrown. God gave them sword and famine, pestilence and blood, for their outrage against the Son of his love. So wrath ‘came upon them to the uttermost’ (1 Thess 2:16). Now, to prevent their old and foolish salvo, which they always had in readiness against such prophecies and denunciations of judgment, the Lord Jesus presents them with this parable, in which he emphatically shows them that their cry of being the temple of the Lord, and of their being the children of Abraham, &c., and their being the church of God, would not stand them in any stead. As who should say, It may be you think to help yourselves against this my prophecy of your utter and unavoidable overthrow, by the interest which you have in your outward privileges. But all these will fail you; for what think you? ‘A certain man had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard, and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.’ This is your case! The Jewish land is God’s vineyard; I know it; and I know also, that you are the fig-trees. But behold, there wanteth the main thing, fruit; for the sake, and in expectation of which, he set this vineyard with trees. Now, seeing the fruit is not found amongst you, the fruit, I say, for the sake of which he did at first plant this vineyard, what remains but that in justice he command to cut you down as those that cumber the ground, that he may plant himself another vineyard? ‘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?’ This therefore must be your end, although you are planted in the garden of God; for the barrenness and unfruitfulness of your hearts and lives you must be cut off, yea, rooted up, and cast out of the vineyard.
In parables there are two things to be taken notice of, and to be inquired into of them that read. First, The metaphors made use of. Second, The doctrine or mysteries couched under such metaphors.
The metaphors in this parable are, 1. A certain man; 2. A vineyard; 3. A fig-tree, barren or fruitless; 4. A dresser; 5. Three years; 6. Digging and dunging, &c.
The doctrine, or mystery, couched under these words is to show us what is like to become of a fruitless or formal professor. For, 1. By the man in the parable is meant God the Father (Luke 15:11). 2. By the vineyard, his church (Isa 5:7). 3. By the fig-tree, a professor. 4. By the dresser, the Lord Jesus. 5. By the fig-tree’s barrenness, the professor’s fruitlessness. 6. By the three years, the patience of God that for a time he extendeth to barren professors. 7. This calling to the dresser of the vineyard to cut it down, is to show the outcries of justice against fruitless professors. 8. The dresser’s interceding is to show how the Lord Jesus steps in, and takes hold of the head of his Father’s axe, to stop, or at least to defer, the present execution of a barren fig-tree. 9. The dresser’s desire to try to make the fig-tree fruitful, is to show you how unwilling he is that even a barren fig-tree should yet be barren, and perish. 10. His digging about it, and dunging of it, is to show his willingness to apply gospel helps to this barren professor, if haply he may be fruitful. 11. The supposition that the fig-tree may yet continue fruitless, is to show, that when Christ Jesus hath done all, there are some professors will abide barren and fruitless. 12. The determination upon this supposition, at last to cut it down, is a certain prediction of such professor’s unavoidable and eternal damnation.
But to take this parable into pieces, and to discourse more particularly, though with all brevity, upon all the parts thereof.
‘A certain MAN had a fig-tree planted in his vineyard.’ The MAN, I told you, is to present us with God the Father; by which similitude he is often set out in the New Testament.
Observe then, that it is no new thing, if you find in God’s church barren fig-trees, fruitless professors; even as here you see is a tree, a fruitless tree, a fruitless fig-tree in the vineyard. Fruit is not so easily brought forth as a profession is got into; it is easy for a man to clothe himself with a fair show in the flesh, to word it, and say, Be thou warmed and filled with the best. It is no hard thing to do these with other things; but to be fruitful, to bring forth fruit to God, this doth not every tree, no not every fig-tree that stands in the vineyard of God. Those words also, ‘Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away,’ assert the same thing (John 15:2). There are branches in Christ, in Christ’s body mystical, which is his church, his vineyard, that bear not fruit, wherefore the hand of God is to take them away: I looked for grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes, that is, no fruit at all that was acceptable with God (Isa 5:4). Again, ‘Israel is an empty vine, he bringeth forth fruit unto himself,’ none to God; he is without fruit to God (Hosea 10:1). All these, with many more, show us the truth of the observation, and that God’s church may be cumbered with fruitless fig-trees, with barren professors.
Had a FIG-TREE. Although there be in God’s church that be barren and fruitless; yet, as I said, to see to, they are like the rest of the trees, even a fig-tree. It was not an oak, nor a willow, nor a thorn, nor a bramble; but a FIG-TREE. ‘they come unto thee as the people cometh’ (Eze 33:31). ‘They delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God. They ask of me the ordinances of justice, they take delight in approaching to God,’ and yet but barren, fruitless, and unprofitable professors (Isa 58:2-4). Judas also was one of the twelve, a disciple, an apostle, a preacher, an officer, yea, and such a one as none of the eleven mistrusted, but preferred before themselves, each one crying out, ‘Is it I? Is it I?’ (Mark 14:19). None of them, as we read of (John 6:70), mistrusting Judas; yet he in Christ’s eye was the barren fig-tree, a devil, a fruitless professor. The foolish virgins also went forth of the world with the other, had lamps, and light, and were awakened with the other; yea, had boldness to go forth, when the midnight cry was made, with the other; and thought that they could have looked Christ in the face, when he sat upon the throne of judgment, with the other; and yet but foolish, but barren fig-trees, but fruitless professors. ‘Many,’ saith Christ, ‘will say unto me in that day,’ this and that, and will also talk of many wonderful works; yet, behold, he finds nothing in them but the fruits of unrighteousness (Matt 7:22,23). They were altogether barren and fruitless professors.
Had a fig-tree PLANTED. This word PLANTED doth also reach far; it supposeth one taken out of its natural soil, or removed from the place it grew in once; one that seemed to be called, awakened; and not only so, but by strong hand carried from the world to the church; from nature to grace; from sin to godliness. ‘Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt; thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it’ (Psa 80:8). Of some of the branches of this vine were there unfruitful professors.
It must be concluded, therefore, that this professor, that remaineth notwithstanding fruitless, is, as to the view and judgment of the church, rightly brought in thither, to wit, by confession of faith, of sin, and a show of repentance and regeneration; thus false brethren creep in unawares! All these things this word planted intimateth; yea, further, that the church is satisfied with them, consents they should abide in the garden, and counteth them sound as the rest. But before God, in the sight of God, they are graceless professors, barren and fruitless fig-trees.
Therefore it is one thing to be in the church, or in a profession; and another to be of the church, and to belong to that kingdom that is prepared for the saint, that is so indeed. Otherwise, ‘Being planted, shall it prosper? shall it not utterly wither, when the east-wind toucheth it? It shall wither in the furrows where it grew’ (Eze 17:10).
Had a fig-tree planted in HIS vineyard. In HIS vineyard. Hypocrites, with rotten hearts, are not afraid to come before God in Sion. These words therefore suggest unto us a prodigious kind of boldness and hardened fearlessness. For what presumption higher, and what attempt more desperate, than for a man that wanteth grace, and the true knowledge of God, to crowd himself, in that condition, into the house or church of God; or to make profession of, and desire that the name of God should be called upon him?
For the man that maketh a profession of the religion of Jesus Christ, that man hath, as it were, put the name of God upon himself, and is called and reckoned now, how fruitless soever before God or men, the man that hath to do with God, the man that God owneth, and will stand for. This man, I say, by his profession, suggesteth this to all that know him to be such a professor. Men merely natural, I mean men that have not got the devilish art of hypocrisy, are afraid to think of doing thus. ‘And of the rest durst no man join himself to them; but the people magnified them’ (Acts 5:13). And, indeed, it displeaseth God. ‘Ye have brought,’ saith he, ‘men uncircumcised into my sanctuary’ (Eze 44:7). And again, ‘When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?’ saith God (Isa 1:12). They have therefore learned this boldness of none in the visible world, they only took it of the devil, for he, and he only, with these his disciples, attempt to present themselves in the church before God. ‘The tares are the children of the wicked one.’ The tares, that is, the hypocrites, that are Satan’s brood, the generation of vipers, that cannot escape the damnation of hell.
HAD a fig-tree planted in his vineyard. He doth not say, He planted a fig-tree, but there was a fig-tree there; he HAD, or found a fig-tree planted in his vineyard.
The great God will now acknowledge the barren fig-tree, or barren professor, to be his workmanship, or a tree of his bringing in, only the text saith, he had one there. This is much like that in Matthew 15:13—’Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up.’ Here again are plants in his vineyard which God will not acknowledge to be of his planting; and he seems to suggest that in his vineyard are many such. Every plant, or all those plants or professors, that are got into the assembly of the saints, or into the profession of their religion, without God and his grace, ‘shall be rooted up.’
‘And when the King came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on the wedding-garment. And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having a wedding-garment?’ (Matt 22:11,12). Here is one so cunning and crafty that he beguiled all the guests; he got and kept in the church even until the King himself came in to see the guests; but his subtilty got him nothing; it did not blind the eyes of the King; it did not pervert the judgment of the righteous. ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither?’ did overtake him at last; even a public rejection; the King discovered him in the face of all present. ‘How camest thou in hither?’ My Father did not bring thee hither; I did not bring thee hither; my Spirit did not bring thee hither; thou art not of the heavenly Father’s planting. ‘How camest thou in hither?’ He that ‘entereth not by the door, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber’ (John 10:1). This text also is full and plain to our purpose; for this man came not in by the door, yet got into the church; he got in by climbing; he broke in at the windows; he got something of the light and glory of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in his head; and so, hardy wretch that he was, he presumed to crowd himself among the children. But how is this resented? What saith the King of him? Why, this is his sign, ‘the same is a thief and a robber.’ See ye here also, if all they be owned as the planting of God that get into his church or profession of his name.
‘Had a fig-tree.’ Had one without a wedding-garment, had a thief in his garden, at his wedding, in his house. These climbed up some other way. There are many ways to get into the church of God, and profession of his name, besides, and without an entering by the door.
1. There is the way of lying and dissembling, and at this gap the Gibeonites got in (Josh 9 &c).
2. There is sometimes falseness among some pastors, either for the sake of carnal relations, or the like; at this hole Tobiah, the enemy of God, got in (Neh 13:4-9).
3. There is sometimes negligence, and too much uncircumspectness in the whole church; thus the uncircumcised got in (Eze 44:7,8).
4. Sometimes, again, let the church be never so circumspect, yet these have so much help from the devil that they beguile them all, and so get in. These are of the sort of thieves that Paul complains of, ‘False brethren, that are brought in unawares’ (Gal 2:4). Jude also cries out of these, ‘Certain men crept in unawares’ (Jude 4). Crept in! What, were they so lowly? A voluntary humility, a neglecting of the body, not in any humour (Col 2:23). O! how seemingly self-denying are some of these ‘creeping things,’ that yet are to be held, (as we shall know them) an abomination to Israel (Lev 11:43,44).
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour (2 Tim 2:20). By these words the apostle seems to take it for granted, that as there hath been, so there still will be these kind of fig-trees, these barren professors in the house, when all men have done what they can; even as in a great house there are always vessels to dishonour, as well as those to honour and glory; vessels of wood and of earth, as well as of silver and gold. So, then, there must be wooden professors in the garden of God, there must be earthy, earthen professors in his vineyard; but that methinks is the biting word, ‘and some to dishonour’ (Rom 9:21,22). That to the Romans is dreadful, but this seems to go beyond it; that speaks but of the reprobate in general, but this of such and such in particular; that speaks of their hardening but in the common way, but this that they must be suffered to creep into the church, there to fit themselves for their place, their own place, the place prepared for them of this sort only (Acts 1:25). As the Lord Jesus said once of the Pharisees, These ‘shall receive greater damnation’ (Luke 20:47).
Barren fig-tree, fruitless professor, hast thou heard all these things? Hast thou considered that this fig-tree is not acknowledged of God to be his, but is denied to be of his planting, and of his bringing unto his wedding? Dost not thou see that thou art called a thief and a robber, that hast either climbed up to, or crept in at another place than the door? Dost thou not hear that there will be in God’s house wooden and earthly professors, and that no place will serve to fit those for hell but the house, the church, the vineyard of God? Barren fig-tree, fruitless Christian, do not thine ears tingle?