When first the Lord planted me in this very fruitful hill I enjoyed a season of fruitfulness. I did indeed! My soul was filled with love and adoring gratitude to the glorious God of our salvation. Such seasons, this vineyard of mine, has many, many times been blessed with under the tender care of the Comforter; but these times of prosperity have declined, sometimes gradually, and sometimes in a moment; and adversity has set in, but surely there has been no such adversity as that which now has brought my vineyard into such desolation. Ah, my pride and self-wisdom have been my ruin. Instead of living in sweet confidence upon Jesus Christ and him crucified, and looking to the Holy Spirit to minister to my needy soul the riches of God’s grace, I thought I could dress and keep my own vineyard, and add other adornments than those with which the heavenly Husbandman had decked this vineyard. These vain thoughts lodged within me; and the Lord, who is a jealous God, knowing the naughtiness of my heart, said, “Because thou hast forsaken the God of thy salvation, and hast not been mindful of the Rock of thy strength, therefore, thou shalt plant pleasant plants, and shalt set it with strange slips: in the day shalt thou make thy plant to grow, and in the morning shalt thou make thy seed to flourish; but the harvest shall be a heap in the day of grief and of desperate sorrow” (Isaiah 17:10-11). I have been foolish, like Israel of old. They vainly imagined they might better their estate by borrowing customs and notions from the aliens, till at length they fell to practicing the abominable idolatries of the uncircumcised nations that surrounded them. “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the Lord hath spoken: I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (Isaiah 1:2). The only principles that yield health and prosperity to the vineyard of the Lord, are such as spring from Jehovah’s sovereign grace. If then “grace fills the garden of the Lord with blooming joys of heaven”, is it any marvel that my sacred heavenly joys have declined when I have attempted to introduce my own fleshly works and inventions into the husbandry of this vineyard? The Galatian brethren began in the Spirit, and ran well; their vineyard flourished while Jesus was the only recognized keeper. But when they thought to be perfected by the flesh, instead of perfection their blessedness vanished (Gal. 4:15). So it has befallen my vineyard.
Fleshly works and carnal doctrine, yea, anything contrary to sound doctrine, introduced into the vineyard, no matter how pleasant these plants may appear they are “strange slips”, and will in due season only mar the beauty of the vineyard of Jehovah’s grace, and bitter will the harvest be. “For he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting”. When churches suffer the introduction of strange slips, unregenerate persons, worldly devices, practices, doctrines, then like poor me their vineyard will be in a sad plight. Had any one told me after I trust the Holy Spirit first led me into the covenant of grace, and feasted me upon the doctrine of eternal love, election, predestination, of effectual calling, particular redemption; and the preservation of all the redeemed unto the inheritance of eternal glory, by the gracious work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, that I should in any degree think that any thought or work of mine could add to the work of God. I should have been indignant. In those days my vineyard flourished; daily, hourly, the Savior walked in the midst of the vineyard; his presence I felt, his tender care, his smiles, his kind sayings, made my heart rejoice; and I could sing in those days, “I am my Beloved’s and his desire is toward me” (Solomon’s Song 7:10).
Arminianism in all its hues and shapes I detested, and I thought no such thing would ever be discovered in me. I imagined I was entirely free from such vile God-dishonoring creature exalting principles. But I had to learn that my fleshly heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked. I became proud, elated somewhat. I thought I stood so well and was so firmly founded upon the truth of the doctrine of the grace of God, that I should never degenerate in thought or word or deed from the truth. Oh that I had given heed to the counsel of the Apostle Paul, “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall”. I can see, dear children of God, that I became lifted up with pride in my knowledge of the doctrine of Christ. I thought I certainly knew something, and a great deal more, than many of the folks around me. I said within myself, I am rooted now in the truth, and see no fear of doubts and fears approaching me. One day I thought, with my knowledge of the scriptures, how can I have any doubts? I shall never be at a loss, let come what will. It is with trouble of soul that I relate these things to you, beloved of God. Ah, I have been and am a miserable vile wretch; and yet I will confess I feel a sweet hope, to which I cling, and which holds me up, that I am a monument of grace, and a sinner saved by Jesus’ blood.
Well, at the time about which I am now endeavoring to tell you, when I thought I knew so much, I had thoughts invade my soul, that it did not matter much if I did indulge myself in the lusts of my flesh; for I said to myself, God has loved me from everlasting, and he will rest in his love, and I will confide in his immutable love. He knows all my sins, past and future. I can not add to their number; and in the covenant ordered in all things and sure the Father laid them all on the Lamb, and he hath atoned for them, and they will never be charged against me. I will not utter all the presumptuous and awful thoughts and hellish reasonings that I had. Many of these plants were pleasant to my vile flesh with its affections and lusts. Ah, they were strange slips, and desperate grief and sorrow was my harvest.
As I pour forth the story of my woes, of the miseries of my vineyard, may it be an example of warning to you.
The Lord by his gracious, but unseen, and at that time unacknowledged power, kept me from outwardly living after the flesh; but my thoughts. O! these vain, vile thoughts, noxious seeds, vile weeds, wild vines, seemed to spread themselves all over my vineyard. The days and moments of my life were pestered with them, my flesh lusted after them, and from my spirit my joy and my happiness declined, my communion with the Lord seemed cut off, and I, after the inward man, felt as though a pining sickness was wasting away my life. “The cottage was left.” Ah, I need not tell you the consequences. As you gaze around upon my vineyard it will tell you its own story. You see it is all grown over with briers and thorns which have sprung up, and I find it is beyond my strength and skill to keep them down out of sight.
Through those gaps in the fence the wild boar out of the wood has entered (Psalm 80:12-13), and has so ravaged and wasted my vineyard that I have been brought well nigh to utter despair. Alas! I am such a wretched husbandman, I am sure I can never repair the damage of that ruthless beast of the field. If my longed-for Savior would only return and take up His abode in a lonesome cottage, then soon this vineyard would, flourish again. Some of you, babes in grace, that are yet upon the breast (Isaiah 28:9), may look with astonishment upon this scene of degeneration, and in your hearts are yet enquiring how it all came about. Oh that I could tell you in simplicity, and that you might be instructed by my story. Of our beloved and precious Savior it is written, “His mouth (palate) is most sweet” (Song 5:16). When, therefore, I was found bringing forth so abundantly such fleshly, wild, sour grapes, I became as a degenerate plant of a strange vine unto him (Jer. 2:21). In my degenerate state outward forms have been attended to, prayer and praise have been upon my lips, but somehow, I could not tell how, my heart seemed unmoved, as though it were dead to vital, spiritual religion.
All such mere lip services are unpalatable, sour grapes, to the dear Savior. “His mouth is most sweet.” Only those clusters of the vine that are brought forth under his own heavenly husbandry are sweet unto him. “From me is thy fruit found” (Hosea 14:8). “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit; for without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
I feel, dear children of God, that the Lord in his chastenings has given me over to well nigh utter desolation, or such abounding evils could not so assail and abound in me. Hear what the God of Israel said, “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; and 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” (Jer. 5:5-6). This was spoken concerning typical Israel; and during the small moments that the Lord hid his face from them, and the cottage was left in the vineyard, disorders, evils and miseries abounded throughout the land. Then also the alien nations on every side, plucked and vexed and wasted them exceedingly.
“Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers, yea, upon all the houses of joy in the joyous city: because the palaces shall be forsaken: the multitude of the city shall be left; the forts and towers shall be for dens forever, a joy of wild asses, a pasture of flocks; until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest. Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field” (Isaiah 32:13-16). I found when my beloved keeper had withdrawn himself and was gone that my vineyard was uncared for, it was neither pruned nor digged, and the “strange slips” that I had brought into the vineyard grew rapidly and overran the vines that are the planting of the Holy Spirit.
The fruits of the Spirit, such as love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, seemed to be choked out of existence by those wild, strange, speculative doctrines that in my carnal reasonings and inquisitiveness I had searched out and invented. “Pleasant plants” I thought them to be, but sour grapes are what they brought forth. Only in the outmost and uppermost branches of the true vines, out of the reach of the boar out of the wood, and all the enemies of my vineyard, a few of the sweet grapes could be found.
Ah, as I wander around my destroyed vineyard; my soul desiring the first ripe fruit, I stretch forth my hands after these “gleaning grapes” (Isaiah 17:6), and I a poor sinner am suffered to glean and taste these few remaining grapes, I feel my bitter lot is sweetened, and I indulge the thought that Jesus will again return and visit this vine. Briers and thorns sprang up as I have told you, in my vineyard. This, as I now know, is always the result when we neglect through the Spirit to mortify the deeds of the body and live (Rom. 8:13). As my self-consequence and better knowledge of the doctrine of Christ had led me on to a very fleshly state of mind, briers and thorns everywhere appeared. I was astonished. I little thought such things were in me. “He made me feel the hidden evils of my heart.”
While I was living in sweet dependence upon, and in hourly communion with Jesus Christ, his teaching was the mattock continually digging and keeping under, in subjection the lusts of my flesh (Isaiah 7:25). Then they were all hidden. But O! I have learned I am vile; I am the chief of sinners. As I look upon these briers and thorns, vile imaginations that, at times, spread themselves over all, I say to myself, Can the Spirit of God dwell in a sinner like me? Instead of my vineyard having the smell of the field that the Lord hath blessed (Gen 27:27), I fear that the Lord hath rejected me, and I am nigh unto cursing, whose end is to be burned (Heb. 6:8). That wild beast, the devil, has made dreadful havoc by his inroads into my vineyard. While I lived by faith in sweet confidence in the covenant ordered in all things and sure, I was so hedged about that Satan could not touch me (I John 5:13). I felt in my faith that I was “fenced in with Jehovah’s shalls and wills, firm as the everlasting hills”.
Then I was lowly in my own eyes, and the lovely Redeemer was the exalted One. We read that Satan answered the Lord, and said, “Doth Job fear God for naught? Hast thou not made an hedge about him, and about his house, and all that he hath on very side”.
He had tried every side, and found the Lord’s hedge confront him, and Job he could not touch.
Thus I believed my vineyard to be hedged about.
‘Twas fixed by God, and o’er the brake
No fiend of hell could flee;
‘Twas deep as the infernal lake,
And high as God’s decree.
In vain the tempter summoned all
His black infernal crew;
They ne’er could cause this fence to fall,
Or force a passage through.
But when deceived by self and pride, and my poor heart was turned aside from the simplicity of Christ, then I feelingly lost the comforting security that my hedge afforded me, and I felt as though my vineyard was turned into a common wilderness for the beasts of the field to ravage, and whosoever passed by might pluck away my few remaining clusters (Psalm 80:13; 89:40-41). O how Satan, with his temptations, has endeavored to root up and to rend my vines. All my hope, all my soul’s experience of divine things, he has tried to devour and lay waste. There have been seasons when it seemed I was his lawful prey, and there was none to deliver. His cruel insinuations and questionings that he has thrust into my soul have been like the boar out of the wood devouring the few vines yet remaining in my vineyard.
My hope seemed almost gone; yet in my lowest and most trodden down condition there have been found (from the hidden life, which I trust is in my soul) sighs and moans over my sad and deplorable case, and some faint yet quenchless desires after those happy days when “Jesus all the day long was my joy and my song”.
During some of my desolate moments I have suffered beneath satanic tauntings, saying, Where is now thy God, thine immutable Friend?
How about your believing that all things are governed according to the unalterable decrees of God, and of all things working together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose? Where is now your heart’s fixed rest in the everlasting love of God? Where is his love to you now? All that passes by pluck my vines and mock at my sabbaths (Lam. 1:7). Ah, you are wearied of my sad story of the valley of Achor (Hosea 2:15), and you are enquiring, Is there any hope of the restoration of this vineyard? Can it ever flourish again? “Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 4:6). O! I have hope. In the depths of my heart I have been thinking upon the name of the Lord. I have been musing upon his immutability, his oath, and his precious promises which never were forfeited yet. I see in my low estate an evil heart of unbelief has wrought much mischief in my vineyard. I have been too ready to listen to Satan’s base insinuations against the God of love.
The Lord hath said, “For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer”. And again, it is written, and “the scripture can not be broken. The Lord shall comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places; he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.” O blessed be the Lord there are a few “gleaning grapes” yet to be found. He will return. My heart tells me he will, He will expel all the intruders, and he will build up the hedge by precious faith in my soul, and by his grace he will subdue the briers and thorns.
Oh come beloved Savior; take up thine abode in the cottage, and care for this vineyard again. Command the clouds that they “pour me down a living and life-giving stream”. Oh let there be “showers of blessing” (Ezek. 34:26). And lest any hurt this vineyard, keep it night and day. Then shall my vines with the tender grapes give a good smell, and the praise shall all be Thine. Amen.
FREDERICK W. KEENE,
THE LONE PILGRIM,
Volume 3, No. 34,