“Thou wert cut out of the Olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a Good Olive Tree” (Rom. 11:24).
The apostle Paul speaking to the gentile believers concerning their salvation in, and union to Jesus Christ, and partaking of his fullness, describes their blessedness by a figure in earthly husbandry.
Here is the story of God’s goodness toward these chosen gentiles whom God took out of the nations a people for his name (Acts 15:14). “Thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree.”
As I contemplated this picture I thought I could see in it the dealings of the Holy Ghost in bringing gentiles unto the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and the blessedness of our union to him. The whole subject embraced in this chapter I will not now touch upon, but rather tell you some things that I see in this one verse.
“A wild olive tree” (Rom. 11:17). The gentiles were likened to this. There it grows, uncared for, bearing its wild fruit, undesired, despised, wild. What are we by nature? Sinners of the gentiles, without God, without Christ, without hope in the world (Ephes. 2:12). We were alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us because of the blindness of our hearts. Vile, base, transgressors, enemies of God by wicked works, by nature children of wrath, even as others, under the curse of the law, such is the Bible description of us; wild by nature, and bearing only wild fruit. Can any branch of this wild olive tree so cultivate itself as to bring forth desirable fruit unto God? If it could what self-boasting there would be. “For if Abraham were justified by works, he hath whereof to glory; but not before God” (Rom. 4:2). The branches of a wild olive tree can only bring forth wild fruit. “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matt. 7:16).
“A wild olive tree.” Sinners. We were servants of sin, free from righteousness, we were all unrighteousness. “A wild olive tree.” Prune it, dress it, dung it, make it flourish and it is still nothing but a wild olive tree. It is in gratitude of heart and glorying in the Lord when believers join with the apostle saying, “By the grace of God I am what I am,” and the abounding riches of God’s grace are more and more felt as we look unto the rock whence we were hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence we were digged (Isaiah 51:1). Look into the abyss of sin, of condemnation, of the curse of the law. But the Lord quarried us out, hewed us from the rock, brought us up out of the hole of the pit. “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” The “lively stones” (Peter 2:5). God hews them, by the prophets, by the words of his mouth, cutting them, putting them into shape, bringing them by his divine teachings, by faith, of the operation of God unto Christ; the living foundation. Yes, child of God, he useth his iron tools upon thee, and all thy souls afflictions, all thy bitter, humbling knowledge of thyself as a sinner, all thy sighs, weeping and supplications are in the pathway unto him who is the Rock of our Salvation. The vessels of mercy are afore prepared unto Glory, and when in the last day the Lord shall descend from heaven and raise us up from the dead, immortal, incorruptible, and we shall be in spirit and soul and body blameless, in all things conformed to the image of God’s dear Son, it will still be in the adorning gratitude of our hearts our glorying to say, “By the grace of God I am what I am” (1 Cor. 15:10). “Thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature.” God knows where all his elect are in all nations and kindreds, tongues and peoples, and in the fullness of times he takes them out unto himself, he calls them by his grace, to bring them into living intimacy with Jesus Christ, the Son of his love.
God who cannot lie, promised them in Christ, their covenant Head, and ordained them unto eternal life in him before the foundation of the world (Titus 1:2; Acts 13:48). So in the set time in his counsel the Lord, the heavenly husbandman, comes in everlasting love, and his almighty gracious hand takes hold of a branch of the wild olive tree, and with his sharp knife cuts out that branch that he has taken hold of. Men may talk of laying hold of Christ, but what can they tell of being apprehended of Christ Jesus? (Phil. 3:12). No one ever was found laying hold on eternal life; no one ever fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us, unless God first laid hold of them.
“I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.”
God takes hold of the branch and cuts it out of the wild olive tree. While thus held in the hand of God, and his sharp knife is cutting us out, we cannot then realize that we are in the gracious hands of the Lord, and that all the sharp cuttings are in all graciousness, according to his purpose and grace given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
“Thou wert cut out.” Other branches were left. O my soul, what distinguishing mercy! How sovereign is the grace of God! Had not God’s electing love taken hold of thee poor sinner, and cut thee out, thou hadst still been without God, without Christ and without hope in the world. In contemplation of this my spirit is humbled before the Lord; self esteem and self pity and fleshly vaunting are suppressed, and my heart in fervent gratitude is saying, “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
“Thou wert cut out.” That sharp knife is the word of God, which is quick and powerful, sharper than any two edged sword (Heb. 4:12). It is the word that God speaks in the soul that cuts us out, takes out of the gentiles a people for his name. His word takes hold of and cuts its way into the heart and conscience of the wild olive sinner. The doctrine of the Lord cuts, sharp convictions of sin are felt, and all the sharp cutting of God’s truth are to put the quickened sinner into shape to be grafted into Christ. Watch the husbandman cutting and shaping the wild olive branch that he holds in his hand. I will say, He eyes it tenderly, his thoughts are gracious, for the Lord, the heavenly, all-wise, almighty husbandman, saith, “I will plant them in this land assuredly with my whole heart, and with my whole soul” (Jer. 32:41). I have known trees to be grafted, but though the scions were well selected, and the wisdom and skill of the husbandman were brought into requisition, yet sometimes some of the grafted scions did not live, the work of man was a failure. But when God, the Holy Ghost, takes hold and cuts out of the wild olive tree a branch, and engrafts it into Christ, the good Olive Tree, there is no failure. Every one so engrafted into Christ lives to the everlasting praise of the Lord, and not all the powers of earth and hell shall be able to undo this work of our covenant God. When the wild olive branch has been so shaped to fit into the place prepared for it, the gracious, wise husbandman put it into its place, and the cleft in The Good Olive Tree takes a firm hold of it. The Good Olive Tree was cleft for those who were cut out of the wild olive tree. This Cleft Olive Tree is our precious, wounded bleeding, crucified Savior. Moses was put into the cleft o the rock (Exodus 38:22), and the dove has her sanctuary there (Song of Solomon 2:14).
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.”
Look at that cleft in the Good Olive Tree held open to receive the branch of the wild olive tree, or rather Christ crucified, the cleft, smitten, wounded, bleeding Jesus, crucified for thee. Crucified for me? Can it be? Many give their assent unto and profess to have knowledge of points of doctrine, but what heart intimacy have you with Christ and Him crucified? O, I have felt for many years that it is all-essential to me, a poor, vile sinner, to have experimental intimacy with the crucified Jesus Christ.
The called of God are made alive to their sinnership, and to their perishing condition as transgressors of the law. In the hands of the Lord their hearts become wounded, smitten and contrite over their woes, and under the sharp cuttings of the word of God they sigh and cry unto God, and are brought with weeping and with supplications for mercy unto Christ the Redeemer. O, when a broken hearted sinner and the crucified Savior come together there is such a uniting as must be experienced to be understood. It is only poor and perishing, sick and wounded sinners who have need of, or are ever joined in faith and love to Christ crucified.
O, the cleft olive tree, the sufferings and wounds of Emmanuel speak to us the love, the mercy, the grace of God, our hearts are taken hold of by the transactions of the cross of Christ, there only we feel there can be forgiveness, healing, life, salvation for a poor perishing sinner. How precious the truth, “For the transgression of my people was he stricken.” O it is all in covenant graciousness that the Holy Ghost moves our hearts to faith in the Crucified one. He teaches us, takes of the things of Jesus and shows them unto us, and we are so wrought of the Comforter that we look to, flee for refuge to Jesus the dear Lamb of God. O, he poured out his soul unto death, he was numbered with the transgressors, and he bore the sins of many, and made intercession for transgressors. O thy heart, O Christ, was rent and cleft with sufferings for the atonement of our sins, thou wast wounded, bruised, smitten and afflicted for our iniquities. Here, at thy cross are “mercy’s streams in streams of blood.”
The wild olive branch does not graft itself into the good Olive tree, neither does the sinner, of a humble and contrite heart engraft himself into Christ crucified. For those motions of his exercised heart toward the Savior, his sighs and desires for forgiveness, his faith, his believing by which he enters into the things of Christ are all the fruits of the operations of the Spirit of Truth in the heart.
The good olive tree takes hold of the wild olive branch, and O, the smitten, bleeding Savior takes hold unto himself those for whom he suffered and died upon Calvary s Tree.
“Rock of Ages cleft for me;
Let me hide myself in Thee.”
We are put into the cleft, and are held there in love and to our comfort, health, salvation, life and growth. “Rooted and grounded in Him.” This is no fiction I am declaring. Though it be but an idle tale to some, it is not so to perishing, humble, contrite sinners who have been brought and joined to Christ crucified. Life is springing up from the cleft olive tree into the wild olive graft, so forgiveness, healing and salvation flow up into everlasting life from our precious Savior. Thus we experience that Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God. O sacred, refreshing, saving power. Thou art the Fountain of the Water of Life precious Jesus.
After the tiny, wild olive branch is put into the cleft of the good olive tree, what, then? The wise, gracious husbandman seals it with a mantle of wax, or some other suitable substance. This kind covering, protecting the graft from the storms, from the scorching heat of the sun, is all to insure, is all saying that the engrafted branch shall live by the up-flowing sap, the life of the good olive tree.
Here is something of the signification of this in Christ’s gospel. Saith the apostle, “In whom also after that ye believed ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance, until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory” (Ephes. 1:13-14). The exceeding great and precious promises, which are yea and amen in Christ Jesus, are the assurances of life to the believer, they are words of eternal life, which only the lips of Jesus can speak (John 6:68).
This mantle of wax, so kindly wrapping up the little branch and the big good tree, is also significant of the imputed righteousness of Christ, which is unto and upon all that believe. The Hebrew word “Kaphar” translated “atonement”, has the simple, gracious, meaning “to cover”. So the little, in itself, worthless, wild olive branch grafted into the good olive tree is covered with the atonement. “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11). So the thus wrapped up, covered wild olive branch can sing,
“Jesus thy blood and righteousness
My beauty are, my glorious dress;
Midst flaming worlds, in these arrayed,
With joy shall I lift up my head.”
This mantle is the taking of the wild olive into wedlock with the good Olive Tree. O how wonderful to be in eternal wedlock with the Lamb of God, Christ crucified! “Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness: yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine” (Ezek. 16:8). “He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). Ruth said to Boaz, “Spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman” (Ruth 3:9). This is love’s sealing, love’s espousal, the time of love. The Holy Ghost, by such wonderful, comforting teachings, wraps up the believer joined to Jesus Christ in the promises of the gospel, by the oath and covenant of God, by the robe of Emmanuel’s obedience, by the atonement covering, by the love of his espousal, by Christ’s words of eternal life. How assuring and comforting this is to the poor sinner. It is all teaching, convincing, sealing home to our bleeding sin-wounded, contrite hearts that we are one with Christ, joined, wedded to the Savior. Is Jesus Christ your hope? Are you “bound in the bundle of life with the Lord thy God?” (Sam. 25:29).
The called of God are sealed unto Christ until the day of redemption, and thus joined unto him our wedded name is: “The Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23:6; 33:16). O, it is so wonderful, so blessed! Our life is hid with Christ in God (Col. 3:2). >When the sinner has been brought unto, and grafted into the crucified Savior the winter is past, the gentle spring is come, the warm genial sun, and the dews of the night, and the up-springing life of Christ, the Good Olive Tree all say, “Live” (Ezek. 16:6), unto the engrafted wild olive branch, and it grows, bearing fruit unto the glory of God.
The apostle Paul in using this figure has been careful to tell us that all this spiritual, heavenly husbandry and the fruits thereof are beyond, yea, “contrary to nature.” O ye gentile sinners, one with Christ Jesus, ye are miracles of Jehovah’s grace! Thou wert cut out of the wild olive tree, yet viewed in Christ, grafted into him, “The Lord called thy name, a green olive tree, fair, and of goodly fruit” (Jer. 11-16). Though grafting a wild olive branch into a good olive tree is contrary to the practice of earthly husbandry, yet as a figure of the union of gentile sinners with Christ it sets forth one of the sacred mysteries, miracles of the gospel of the Son of God. Nothing is more dreadfully true in the life of a believer in Christ than that he is still a poor sinful creature, “Thou wert cut out of the wild olive tree.” Yes, and the believer in Jesus will say, I feel, in my flesh, that I am a wild olive branch yet, a wretched, vile sinner, who often sighs, mourns unto the Lord over the wild olive baseness of my Adamic nature.
But how can a wild olive branch, even though grafted into a good olive tree, bear goodly fruit? This is so “contrary to nature.” Yes, but it is that miracle of Grace, wrought of God, verily declared in the life of faith of that sinner, born of God, who is joined to Christ. “Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me” (Luke 8:46).
So also in all the life and growth of the believer in the Savior it is the virtue of the Spirit of Christ in the soul that animates and is the fountain of our life unto our God. Jesus Christ is our Root that beareth us; from him is derived our sap, our food; he “nourishes and cherishes the church.” Saith the apostle Paul, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). We thrive upon him for the Holy Spirit takes of the things of Christ and shows them unto us. We are favored thus to live upon Christ’s fullness, Christ is glorified in our hearts. O the innumerable sweet thoughts, glimpses, refreshings, encouragements that are ours in Jesus Christ by the ministrations of the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth. “He shall glorify me: for He shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.”
“Your life is hid with Christ in God.” This is more than a theory, it is a vital reality with true believers in the Lamb of God, and the grace of the life of Christ in the soul, is love to God and to Christ our dear Redeemer; it is sweet gratitude, trust and prayer and praise; it is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost; it is meekness, gentleness, goodness and hope, that maketh not ashamed. Thus we are exercised toward God our Savior, and we are moved in love and graciousness toward the saints in our thoughts and words and deeds. Did not our Savior say, “By their fruits ye shall know them?” And, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples,”
If then by a miracle of sovereign grace we have been cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and contrary to nature grafted into the good olive tree, so the working of this same miracle will be the life, growth, beauty and goodly fruit put forth in us. That person who is destitute of longings after righteousness and God, that one who has not thirstings after Jesus Christ, no prayers for forgiveness, no trembling at God’s word, no adoring gratitude for God’s salvation, surely such a professor of Christ’s name has no vital union with Christ.
Look also at the outward life, and enquire, Who are our bosom friends, our sought for associates? Do we love the world, the things of the world? Have there ever been any moments in our lives when our hearts in truth were saying, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world?” (Gal. 6:14). Again the scriptures speak, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal. 5:24). And, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates” (2 Cor. 13:5). How solemn and searching is the word of God!
I hope I can say I live with the dear Savior; O, I cannot live apart from him. Some give their assent to a few points of doctrine, and they are contented, but they have no heartfelt knowledge of Jesus. But I confess I am a poor, tried sinner; so often I am so sick, so plagued with my sinfulness, and the temptations of the devil, that I feel I must have some moments of heartfelt communion with Jesus. I must seek him, I must find him, I must cast myself at his feet, I will tell him how wearied, how grieved I am, that I implore his forgiveness, cleansing, healing, yes, and victory and comfort through his precious atoning blood and justifying righteousness. Without Christ I feel I am undone, as a very castaway. The day to day and year to year union of sinners called by grace to the Savior is all fruitful in this that we learn that the root beareth us, that if there is anything in us of Christ, any true worship of God, and God glorifying fruits in our conversation, the source of it all is our union with Christ crucified. “Christ liveth in me” (Gal. 2:20). Severed from him we can bear no fruit; he is our sap, our life, our All (Col. 3:11). Truly our hearts are all acquiescence to that voice that saith, “From me is thy fruit found” (Hosea 14:8). Let me continue to tell the mystery which no figures or types can ever fully tell. While love and adoration are springing up, while prayer and praise exercise my heart unto the Lord, what is this that intrudes, that mars my blessedness in Jesus, that grieves my spirit, that makes me sigh and moan and blush and cry? O, it is the dreadful consciousness that I am a sinful being. The most sacred moments are not exempt from vain thoughts, vile emotions. Ah, I loathe myself, I am base, a sinner.
“My wild olive nature discloses to view
More vileness than I can declare,
And were not the promises true,
I’m sure I should sink in despair.
Fresh succor from Christ I receive,
Who did all my conflicts foresee,
And through His rich grace I believe
He saved a sinner like me.”
Over our wild olive nature we have to bemoan ourselves. Israel knows the plague of the heart (1 Kings 8:38), and after the inward man they cry, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). This bitter, heartfelt cry is only known by believers in Jesus Christ. If we are to see the beauty of the church of God we must behold them joined to and one in Christ Jesus, the head of the church.
“Would you the church of God survey –
Its beauty, strength and harmony?
Then Christ Emmanuel see.
Where all perfections in Him meet,
There is the church of God complete;
The sum of all is He.”
It is not in the first man Adam, that we are fair and comely, but in Christ Jesus, the second man, the Lord from heaven. Here the Lord commands the blessing, even life forever more, and joined to Christ, the Lord our God saith: “I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon . They that dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall revive as the corn, and grow as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as the wine of Lebanon “ (Hosea 14:5-7).
FREDERICK W. KEENE,
Raleigh , NC