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What is the vine tree more than any tree.
The worthless vine doomed for the fire
Founding on old similitudes, the prophet assumes that Israel is the vine, and compares it as a tree or as wood with the other trees of the forest. It is as wood that it is put in comparison with the trees. He is studiously silent in regard to the fruit of the vine. This which gave the vine its preeminence (Judges 9:13), cannot be touched upon, for it does not exist. It is the wood of the vine only that can be compared with the other trees of the forest, the feeble, Creeping plant with the lofty trees around it. Judah never had any pretensions to be a powerful state, or to enter into competition in wealth or military resources with the kingdoms round about. As a tree among the trees, a state among the states, what was it good for? And especially now, what is it good for, when it has already been in the fire, its ends consumed and its heart charred? What is it fit for, or need it expect, but to be flung again into the fire and wholly consumed? (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Fit only for the fire
These fallen branches form the fuel which the woodman gathers for his fire. They are at once fit for the burning, for there is no sap, no resisting element of life in them; the burning fitly consummates the process of oxidation long ago begun and carried on in them. In a similar way there are in the True Vine dry and withered branches, having no share in His vitality--whose connection with Him is a purely mechanical one. They are deformities upon Him. The dispensations of God’s Providence that help to develop the growth and fruitfulness of Christ’s true disciples only wither them into greater deadness, and blanch them into greater deformity, and cause to grow upon them the noxious parasitic growths of worldly lusts. The flame of Tophet is the fit consummation of the spiritual oxidation and decay that has been going on for years. (Hugh Macmillan, D. D.)
Sin makes men worthless
Professors of religion, if they do not live up to their profession, but contradict it, if they degenerate and depart from it, are the most unprofitable creatures in the world, like the salt that has lost its savour, and is thenceforth good for nothing. Other nations were famed for valour or politics, some for war, others for trade, and retained their credit; but the Jewish nation, being famous as a holy people, when they lost their holiness and became wicked, were thenceforth good for nothing; with that they lost all their credit and usefulness, and became the most base and despicable people under the sun. Daniel and ether pious Jews were of great use in their generation; but the idolatrous Jews then, and the unbelieving Jews now, since the preaching of the Gospel, have been, and are, of no common service, not fit for any work. (M. Henry.)
Fruitful and useless
The single idea of this brief chapter is that if the vine should fail in grapes it fails altogether. There is a whole philosophy of life in that single and simple fact. The great and solemn doctrine is this, that everything is to be judged by the purpose for which it was created. Here is a school: what ideas do we associate with the word school? Reading, study, letters, arts, instruction, mental illumination, intellectual development and progress: these ideas are right, they are cognate, they are just. Does this school produce that result? No. What then? Then it is not a school: it is a place of darkness, or an asylum of ignorance; it is a corner of imprisonment, or a place of mental degradation. What do you think of this painting? It is a likeness of your dearest friend. Having given you this introduction to the painting, what will be your standard of judgment? You will at once seek your friend in it; it will not do for you to say that the drapery is beautifully painted, the foreground is excellent, and the background is superb, and everything about it of the nature of technique would please an artist of the highest degree: you are not looking in that direction, because in that direction you have no vision; the gate of that outlook is locked against you: but you know your friend, and your friend is not there. Will you purchase that picture? No. If it had been a picture only you might have bought it; but it professed to be a friend. It lies. That which, introduced to me as a work of art, might have charmed me, shocks me when it comes under false pretences. So, then, you have the same law of the fifteenth chapter of Ezekiel operating through and through your life; you keep your shop upon it, you conduct your whole business upon it: why do you shrink from applying it to yourself, your character, the result of your training? Oh that men were wise, that they were fearless enough to apply their own commonsense to their own moral condition! This standard of judgment will keep us right in estimating everything. Do you seek grapes on thorns? You are operating in the wrong direction. Do you seek figs on thistles? You will never find them. You must judge everything by its purpose, and according as a thing serves its purpose is it really good and really valuable. That standard would keep us right in all judgment if we would abide by it. Judge prayer by the same standard. What is the object of prayer? Submission to the Divine will. It is no part of my business to pray conclusively, and without leaving God any alternative, that the child’s life may be spared. The child is not mine. No man or woman has a child; the child is God’s: “All souls are Mine.” I will therefore say, Lord, I love this little child, and without it I feel as if I could not live: may I have it a while longer? No. Thy will, my God, be done. The same judgment ought to be applied to the Bible. For what should a man go to the Bible? For God. Will he find God there? On every page. You are now in the right direction, you have gone upon the proper quest; you will receive answers along that line, and doors will fly back along the whole circle of the horizon to admit you into larger liberty. In all things judge by the purpose. The Bible is a vine that grows, so to say, revelations of God. And judge men by the same standard. What is the great purpose of man? To represent God. When he fulfils that purpose he fulfils his election and calling; when he fails of that purpose, no matter what he is, he has failed to bring forth fruit unto God. How all things would be harmonised and adjusted righteously if we could receive this rule! One star differeth from another star in glory: judge each star by its weight, distance, magnitude, and relation to the whole solar system as known to us. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A parabolic picture of Israel
I. God has placed some sections of the human race under special culture.
1. This was the case with the Jews (Deuteronomy 32:32; Isaiah 1:1-31; Psalms 80:1-19; Jeremiah 2:21).
2. This is the case with Christendom.
3. This is especially the case with Great Britain.
II. Those sections of the race under special culture are, whether fruitful or unfruitful, widely distinguished from all others.
1. If fruitful they are distinguished by valuableness. What on earth is of higher value than a godly life?
2. If unfruitful, they are distinguished by worthlessness. Unless the “vine” produce grapes it is more worthless than most other trees of the forest. You cannot manufacture furniture out of it, construct ships, or build houses; unless it grows grapes it is fit for nothing but the fire.
III. The distinction between those under special culture and those who are not is recognised and retributed by God (Matthew 7:26-27). (Homilist.)
Man’s power dependent upon knowledge of God
All history has shown this parable to be true. It was the moral and religious power of the Jewish nation which was their strength. When they abandoned that, they failed. Other nations exceeded them in material resources, other minds surpassed them in philosophical acuteness and power of expression, other people are identified more surely in history with pictures of great wealth and Eastern magnificence; but through all ancient literature that wonderful people are ever appearing as the holders of a strange and powerful religion, which in some way had an influence out of all proportion to the power of the people who propagated it, which gained an influence over men of all nations and ages, and held captive, time and time again, the very conquerors of the land. The vine as a vine did a work which as a tree, as mere wood, it could not accomplish; its clusters did for the glory of God and the blessing of man what its branches never could accomplish.
I. This parable and its fulfilment lay down the principle, that what God offers is the only thing that is good for us, and that comparative failure awaits us in any other paths than those of His opening. God’s offers in this light are commands. We are free to accept them as far as our will goes, but we are bound to accept them as far as our nature goes. God, in offering, always has a tone of freest invitation; but all the time, from our own lives, if we would only hear it, there is constantly arising the loudest command to us to accept His offers. Leave out moral power, and leave out the desire of man to go upward, and what is he but the weakest and most dissatisfied creature on earth? What is this vine tree, then, more than any tree? Will men take a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon? Is it meet for any work? Understand the position of the Bible about man, and see how true it is. “What is man,” says the Psalmist, “that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him?” David said this when he considered the heavens and the moons and the stars; and surely we men, who, with all our wisdom, have never yet moved one heavenly body out of its course, and are still looking up into the heavens like little children gazing out of the window at twilight, and who feel so proud if, like those children, we can only say, “I think I see another star,” surely we are not yet ready to wipe out the record of the insignificance of man. Be proud of anything but your own power to know God, and to reach out after Him, and to aspire to be like Him in moral character, and you are wasting your life. Be humble, see how the riches of the world dwarf any fortune you may succeed in making, how the power and beauty of the inanimate or animal creation throw into the shade anything that you may accomplish, and at once you will begin to seek the true riches which God alone can give, and which man alone, of ell God’s creatures, can possess. Humility is the gate of entrance into power always. Go and sit down in the lowest seat at the world’s feast, see how other things surpass you, and then soon you will hear the voice of the master of the feast saying, Friend, go up higher. “Then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee”; then shalt thou learn thy superiority, as God’s child, over all other things in the world; then will all things be yours. For then you will begin to be God’s vine; you will develop just those things in which the vine excels,--dependence, life, and fruit.
II. We have seen that man’s strength as man, compared with the rest of creation, is in knowing God. Now let us see that it is likewise the strength of the individual man as compared with his fellow man, to know God. It is a difference in moral power that will determine for each one his place in life. That one who has high ideas, noble ambitions, lofty pictures, will succeed in life. It is not what is around us, but what is in us, that brings out our power. Every man ought to assert himself. Men and women have no right to be like so many bricks in the social structure,--all cast in one mould, all of one hue and shape. If out of our faces and in our actions there appeared the power of God’s love working upon us, if each of us appreciated the privilege of being a child in God’s family, surely it would not be so. The hope of the individual man lies in the knowledge of Christ. If you would know your own place in life, and fill it, and cease to be one of a crowd of men, get the knowledge of the Saviour, who can alone teach you of God; depend upon Him, draw your life from Him, produce your fruit for Him. Let Him deepen your moral life. Seek not the things of this life, which, if you succeed in obtaining, will only place your name a little higher or lower in a list of others who are very much like you; but strive for that knowledge of God which shall write your individual name in the Lamb’s book of life, never to be blotted out, the name of a child of God.
III. Let me make one more application of the prophet’s parable; that is, to the Christian life. Mankind is God’s great vine, and every man is a vine; but above all, those whom God has chosen constitute the great vine, the peculiar people like Israel of old, whom He has chosen to bear fruit for Himself. The object of Christianity is to do that, and it should never be used for anything else. Christian services are not to be used to please our aesthetic tastes; Christian truth is not to be a mere weak substance for us to be sentimental over; Christian churches and the attendance on them are not to be used as the stamp of social standing, or as a badge of good intentions; Christian profession is not to be a formality with which to satisfy our consciences; Christian doctrine is not to be a mere subject of discussion. Christianity is to make us better men and women; it is to make us God’s servants in all that we do; it is to make us know that He is our God, because He has sent Christ to be our Saviour; it is to raise our standard of life, and make us know that we are sinners; it is to tell us that our sins are forgiven, and to make us firm, by the love of God in us, to turn from those sins, and walk in newness of life. Let that be the way we hold our Christianity out to men, in word and in deed, as we use it thus ourselves. Such a power men need; such a power Christ alone can supply. (Arthur Brooks.)
The fruitless vine
I. A lesson of humility for all who have “tasted that the Lord is gracious.” “What is the vine tree more than any tree,” etc. In looking upon all the various trees we observe that the vine is distinguished amongst them--so that, in the old parable of Jotham, the trees waited upon the vine tree, and said unto it, “Come thou and reign over us.” But merely looking at the vine, without regard to its fruitfulness, we should not see any kingship in it over other trees. In size, form, beauty, or utility it has not the slightest advantage. We can do nothing with the wood of the vine. It is a useless plant apart from its fruitfulness. Now, beloved, this is for the humbling of God’s people. They are called God’s vine; but what are they by nature more than others? Others are as good as they; yea, some others are even greater and better than they. They, by God’s goodness, have become fruitful, having been planted in a good sell; the Lord hath trained them upon the walls of the sanctuary, and they bring forth fruit to His glory. But what are they without their God? What are they without the continual influence of the Spirit, begetting fruitfulness in them? Are they not the least among the sons of men, and the most to be despised of those that have been brought forth of women? Look upon this, believer. Dost thou exalt thyself? Oh! strange mystery, that thou, who hast borrowed everything, shouldst exalt thyself; that thou, who hast nothing of thine own, but hast still to draw upon grace, shouldst be proud; a poor dependent pensioner upon the bounty of thy Saviour, and yet proud; one who bath a life which can only live by fresh streams of life from Jesus, and yet proud!
II. A lesson of search. As the vine without its fruit is useless and worthless; so, too, the professor, without fruit, is useless and worthless; yea, he is the most useless thing in the wide world.
1. A fruitless professor.
(1) Where are we to find fruitless professors? Everywhere--down here, up there, everywhere; in pulpits and in pews.
(2) Now, shall I tell you who is a fruitless professor? The man who neglects private prayer, and does not walk with his God in public; that man whose carriage and conversation before God are hypocritical; who cheats in trade and robs in business, yet wraps it up, and comes out with a fair face, like the hypocrite with a widow’s house sticking in his throat, and says, “Lord, I thank thee I am not as other men are!” There is a man for you, who brings forth no fruit to perfection. Another one is he who lives right morally and excellently, and depends upon his works, and hopes to be saved by his righteousness: who comes before God, and asks for pardon, with a lie in his right hand, for he has brought his own self-righteousness with him. Such a man is a fruitless professor: he has brought forth no fruit. That man, again, is a fruitless professor who talks big words about high doctrine, and likes sound truth, but he does not like sound living: his pretensions are high, but not his practice.
2. Why is it that these men are fruitless, and must be cast away? The reason is, because they have no roots. Many jump into godliness as they would into a bath; but they are very glad to jump out of it again, when they find the world pays them better. And many there are who will just come and say they are the Lord’s, and they think they are, but there is no root in them, and therefore by and by their impressions pass away.
3. What is God’s estimation of a fruitless professor? It is this that he is the most useless thing in the world.
4. What is to become of this fruitless tree? When an old vine is pulled off the wall, after having brought forth no fruit, what becomes of it? You know, there is a lot of weeds raked up in a corner of the garden, and the gardener, without taking any notice of it, just throws the vine on the heap of weeds, and it is burned up. If it were any other kind of tree he would at least reserve it for chopping up to make a fire within the master’s house; but this is such an ignominious thing, he throws it away in the corner, and burns it up with the weeds. If it were a stout old oak, it might have the funeral of the yule log, with honour in its burning, and brightness in its flame; but the fruitless vine is treated with contempt, and left to smoulder with the weeds, the refuse, and the rubbish. It is a miserable thing. Just so with professors; all men that love not God must perish. But those who profess to love Him, and do not, shall perish with singular ignominy. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The end of man’s existence
I. The end of man’s existence is to love and serve God.
1. He has all the natural powers that are requisite to serve this end.
2. He is placed in circumstances that are favourable to the working out of this end.
II. This is the exclusive end of man’s existence.
1. Not wealth.
2. Not pleasure.
3. Not power.
4. Not fame.
5. Not learning.
6. Not domestic comfort.
III. Man, if he does not serve this end, is fit only to be destroyed.
1. By his destruction he will be a warning to others.
2. By his destruction he will be a monument of the Divine justice. (G. Brooks.)
The end of man’s existence
I. Man is naturally capable of yielding a most precious fruit: this fruit consists in living to God.
1. He is possessed of all the natural powers which are requisite for that purpose. He is endowed with reason and understanding, enabling him to perceive the proofs of the being of God, and to entertain just, though inadequate, conceptions of the principal attributes of His nature.
2. As we are possessed of natural powers, fitting us for the service of God, so He has bestowed upon us much care and culture, with an express view to this end.
II. This is the only end for which mankind are formed and preserved; this is the proper fruit of human nature, which admits of nothing being substituted in its room.
1. A mere selfish, voluptuous life cannot be supposed to be the proper fruit of human nature.
2. A life of social benevolence, in which the public good is preserved, without a supreme regard to God, cannot be this fruit.
(1) To do good to our fellow creatures, without regard to God, is to forget the principal relation in which we stand, and, consequently, to neglect the principal duty.
(2) The end of man’s existence cannot, with any propriety, be considered as confined to this world; but the proper end accomplished by mere social virtues is entirely confined to the present state.
(3) No collective number of men can be independent of God, more than a single individual; therefore no such collective body has a right to consult their common interest, to the neglect of God, any more than a Tingle individual to pursue his individual interest.
III. He who answers not the end of his existence is fit only to be destroyed. The barren vine may be useful as fuel, and to this purpose it is much applied in eastern countries. Thus wicked men may be useful with a subordinate kind of usefulness, by their destruction.
1. They may thereby become edifying examples of the just vengeance of God, in order to deter others.
2. They will serve to manifest those attributes of the Great Supreme which their conduct disowned, and which it seemed virtually to call in question.
(1) What blindness attaches to those who live in the total neglect of God and religion!
(2) What little room is there for that confidence which many place in correctness of deportment towards their fellow creatures, while religion is not even pretended to be the governing principle of their lives!
(3) What need have we all to examine ourselves, and seriously to inquire, whether we are yielding that fruit unto God, on which we have been insisting!
(4) How ought those to be alarmed, when the result of such examination is, that they have been hitherto utterly without fruit! (R. Hall, M. A.)
Fruit God’s primary intention
The fruit of the vine was God’s primary intention: for its wood was of no practical use: “Shall wood be taken thereof to do any work? or will men make a pin of it to hang any vessel thereon?” God divides His gifts among trees, as among men and nations. The vine is not blamed for not being a cedar--for not yielding timber for the furniture of the temple; but simply and only for not bearing its own refreshing cluster of grapes. And so with nations: so with Israel, so with England. It is not enough for our own nation to apologise for its worldliness by proving it is no worse than some other nation. God has given us as a nation our national task; by that, and that alone, are we to be judged. “We are not worse than others,” Israel said; and fell. The air has laxly been full of these selfish and self-deceiving pleas: and they are our worst danger. They are the moth and rust of conscience; they both work our decay and conceal it. “Behold, when it was whole, it was meet for no work”--that elegant, delicate vine; “how much less shall it be meet yet for any work when the fire hath devoured it, and it is burned?” A nation is prosperous, not by the appearance it makes, but by the Divine purpose it follows. Without that, growing, it decays; decayed, it is cast into the fire. Let the individual also ask--For what does God want me? He wants you not to do another’s work, but your own. Your fruit is wanted in lolls vineyard. This is too wonderful for you to know why: it is enough that He knows. If I fail to give Him what is mine to give, He cannot take anything else from me. Had He made me a thorn, I would have to blossom to His honour, white and fragrant: He would understand. But seeing He has made me a vine, I must produce vine fruit for His feast of charity. The strength of the cedar He may have given to another: He knew why. I must not trouble about cedar, or oak, or fir: I must look after the fruit He expects from me. (H. E. Lewis.)
They shall go out from one fire, and another fire shall devour them.--A man sins physically, and because the punishment comes in a subtle deterioration of the mind, he imagines he has outrun heaven’s “red lightning.” Or he sins socially, and because the fraud is not discovered, or else it is winked at, he thinks himself safe: and all the time the poison is deadening all that is fairest within him. Rather, let a man pray--even in his sin, if he can pray--that he may keep the sense of sin’s penalty. The torture of sin is better than its intoxication. (H. E. Lewis.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 15". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent