Spiritual Meaning of
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THE FIG TREE IN THE VINEYARD.
He spoke 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 to the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why occupy it the ground? And he answering said to 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 you shall cut it down.
There is no mention made of man, in the original, but only of a certain one, and by this certain one is to be understood the Divine Proprietor of the spiritual vineyard-the Church, and of every fig tree in that vineyard, - which proprietor is no other than the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, or God in His Divine Humanity.
In the Sacred Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testaments, it is customary to describe the principles which constitute the Church under the figure of various kinds of trees, particularly of the olive, the vine, and the fig tree; by the olive, denoting celestial good, or the good of love and charity; by the vine, spiritual good, or the good of faith and truth; and by the fig tree, natural good, or the good of obedience; which natural good is to be regarded as the result of celestial good and spiritual good, when these latter become operative, and manifest themselves in the natural principle. By the fig tree, then, planted in the vineyard, is to be understood the natural principle of man initiated into the truths of the Church, and, specifically, the Jewish church as to the natural principle.
The expression he came, has relation to the Divine love; and sought has relation to the inquisition of the Divine wisdom. To seek fruit, therefore, on the fig tree, denotes inquiry of the Divine wisdom, grounded in the Divine love, concerning natural good in the men of the Church, specifically of the Jewish church; and by finding none is evidently to be understood that no such good was as yet produced.
By saying to the dresser of his vineyard, is to be understood thought on the occasion from Divine truth, attended with perception from the Divine good, (which is here called the dresser of the vineyard), that there as no natural good as yet produced in the Church, during any period from its commencement to its end, which term is here expressed by three years; and by the command to cut it down, is further denoted the entire consummation of natural good, in consequence, of the above unfruitfulness. It is added, Why occupy it the ground? to teach, further, the significative principle that, when there is no good in the natural principle, then the natural principle is opposed to, and destructive of, the Church. The next words manifestly imply intercession on the part of the Divine love in favour of the barren fig tree, by which is to be understood the exercise of Divine forbearance, until the men of the Church be further tried as to fruitfulness in natural good. It is, therefore, said, Let it alone for this year, till I dig about it, and dung it, which words involve a further state of probation, both as to the understanding and the will; digging having relation to the purification of the understanding by truth, and dunging having relation to the purification of the will by good, leading man to reject and eject his natural evils, which, when so rejected and ejected, become like dung which renders the earth fruitful, agreeably to which idea it is written concerning such natural evils, Do to them as to the Midianites, as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kison, which perished at Endor; they became as dung for the earth (Psalm 83:9, 10). It is, therefore, added, in conclusion, And if it bear fruit [well] and if not, then after that you shall cut it down, to denote, that as fruitfulness is the end or design of a tree, and the reason of its existence, in like manner, the production of natural good is the end or design of the natural principle, and if this end or design be not accomplished, then the natural principle destroys itself.
This parable teaches us in the first place, to distinguish between the natural principle and the spiritual principle of the Church, and to see that the former was figured by the fig tree, whilst the latter was figured by the vine, or vineyard. It teaches, further, that the natural principle was created to administer to the spiritual, and that when this administers aright, it brings forth its proper fruit of goodness, or good works, by virtue of its connection with the spiritual principle, and thus with the Divine love and wisdom which have rule in that principle. The parable teaches, in the third place, that in the Jewish church, in particular, the natural principle was never in due subordination to the spiritual, and thus never produced its proper fruit; the consequence of which was, that notwithstanding the divine patience and forbearance, and all the methods used by the Almighty to purify the natural will and natural understanding of the men of that Church, they continued rebellious to the end, never suffering the divine love and wisdom to govern and direct the lower affections and thoughts of the natural mind. Let us resolve, therefore, to take warning by this parable of divine reproof, and so to attend to the fruitfulness of the fig tree in our own vineyard, that our Heavenly Father may not be disappointed when He comes to gather its produce, but may rather find that his digging and dunging have not been in vain. Thus may we hope that our natural minds will always be kept in due subordination to our spiritual minds, and our spiritual minds to the divine mind, so that when the Lord comes and seeks fruit, He may find it, and we may never hear the terrible sentence, Cut it down; why occupy it the ground? Amen.