“Take us the foxes.”
Modern poets, however celebrated, derive their highest inspiration from the powers of their imagination, and their elegance of style from the gifts of nature; but the poetry of the scriptures hath its inspiration from the Holy Ghost; and while the former may charm the ear, and transport the natural man, only that which derives its inspiration from the throne of God can elevate, cheer, refresh, instruct and transport the new and spiritual man, which, after God, is created in righteousness and true holiness. The vain attempts of men to reach or imitate the sublime inspiration of Moses, Deborah, Hannah, David and Solomon have only demonstrated the groveling weakness of the noblest powers of nature as contrasted with the wisdom, power and excellent glory of heavenly and divine things. The songs of those heaven-inspired writers to which we have alluded, with all their force and beauty, cannot surpass the song of songs, which is Solomon’s. In this song of songs is condensed the beauty, the glory, and the whole substance of the songs of all the inspired writers in the Book of God.
To the natural man whose limited conceptions can only contemplate the letter or the literal application of the figures employed in this divine song, its spiritual excellency is, and must forever be, entirely concealed, for to the natural man it is not given to know the things of the Spirit of God, which are spiritually discerned. But the Spirit of God, which dwells in those who are born of the Spirit, searches all things; yea, the deep things of God. When by revelation of that Spirit which inspired the sacred verse we are enabled to perceive Christ and his church portrayed in and throughout this song, the figures employed have a powerful significance and melting effect upon the children of God, who alone can learn the song or enter into the divine inspiration of the theme. The figure presented in the verse referred to at the head of this article presents the church of Christ as a lovely fruit bearing vine, laden with delicious clusters of tender grapes. When exposed to depredation and robbery by cunning and insidious foes, which are what the foxes are to the vines which bear tender grapes, the fruits of the Spirit in the church and in the saints are put in danger.
In John 15:1, Christ says, “I am the true vine; my Father is the husbandman,” and in verse 5 he says, “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” That is, Christ in the church is the true vine, or the real substance of all the figures employed to set him forth in his relation to and identity with his church. The Father, by the pen of Isaiah, declares himself to be the Husbandman, or Keeper of the vineyard, saying, “I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day (Isaiah 27:3).” Christ, as the true vine, includes all the legitimate branches, whether developed or still to be developed. Like the figure of a perfect body, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ (I Corinthians 12:12).” So, as the true vine is one and hath many branches, and all the branches of that one vine, being many, are one vine, so also is Christ, as the true vine, of which his Father is the husbandman or the keeper.
This vine, which in the song is called “Our vine,” is in John 16 called the true vine, not only to identify it as the substance to which the types, shadows and figures of the Old Testament pointed, but also to distinguish it from all false vines, or anti-christs. Moses describes another vine which he says is “the vine of Sodom, and of the fields of Gomorrali; their grapes are of gall, and their clusters bitter; their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps (Deuteronomy 32:32,33).” That is the false vine or false church - the anti-christian church, whose fruits, or grapes, have always been as gall and bitterness to the Lord’s portion, which is described in the 9th to 12th verses of the same chapter. Whenever any of those whom the Lord claims as his portion have been allured by the glitter of Babylon’s golden cup to taste its sparkling contents, they have become intoxicated, inflamed and inoculated with the poison of dragons and cruel venom of asps. So poisoned that they speak with the voice of dragons, calling for blood and being infected with the deadly poison of asps, they become cruel, and brother will deliver up his brother to be put to death. For it is said: “They make God’s people howl, and his name is continually blasphemed.” How painfully have we witnessed the corrupting effects of this intoxicating cup, this maddening venom of those with whom we have formerly taken sweet counsel; but having imbibed the anti-christian spirit, have joined the clamor of anti-christ, exulting in the shedding of blood, and profanely professing to thank God for fields of slaughter, and expressing the most heartless and cruel desire for the torturing of helpless captives, and even giving sentence of vengeance on those whom they still recognize as brethren, because they cease not to protest against such cruelty, and plead for peace on earth and good will towards men. Surely these are not very little foxes. Alas! how they rob the vine of its tender grapes. How truly the apostles admonish the saints, saying, “Ye cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of devils (I Corinthians 10:21).” “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be (James 3:8-10).” “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore, come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and I will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and my daughters, saith the Lord Almighty (II Corinthians 6:14-18).”
But as our object in this article is to take, or at least to point out some of the little foxes , we will not now stop to chase those which are so fully grown as to be plainly discerned by every eye, only as they cross our track we ask permission to tree them as we pass on; for if we mistake not, they are as numerous in our day as they were among the Philistine’s corn when Samson sent forth three hundred of them with fire brands tied between each pair in days of old; nor are they less mischievous and annoying to the tender fruits of the choice vine than they were then to the standing corn of the Philistines. See Judges 15:4,5.
Having attempted to show that the true vine in our subject is Christ and his branches, or members, if we are correct in the application of the figure, then the tender grapes, or fruits of the vine, must be those described by the apostle in Galatians 5:22,23. “But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance; against such there is no law.” What a rich cluster is here! How sweet, how pleasant and how refreshing to the saints; but yet how tender. It is like the cluster which Joshua and Caleb brought from Eshcol, as a specimen of the fruits of the goodly land in Numbers 13:23. Such grapes cannot be gathered of thorns, nor such figs from thistles. See Luke 6:44. None but the true and living vine can bear such fruit, for it is the fruit of the Spirit. Nor can even the legitimate branches of the true vine bring forth such fruit, except they abide in the vine (John 15:4-11). The precious fruit that clusters upon this vine are so tender that great care should be taken that the thievish foxes spoil them not.
As we have understood the tender grapes to represent the fruits of the Spirit, so we are constrained to consider the lusts, or works of the flesh to be the little, sly, thievish foxes which spoil, or rob the vine. Paul has classified these little foxes and calls them by their respective names. “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revilings, and such like, of which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).” These foxes all burrow in the carnal, depraved nature of even the saints, and take advantage of every unguarded moment to rob the saints of the enjoyment of the precious and delicious fruits of the Spirit. The first grape named in the cluster is love, and the whole pack of cunning foxes are ever ready to pounce upon it, and although they cannot utterly destroy it, yet they can, and too often do rob the saints to a great extent of the sweet enjoyment of it. They cannot destroy it; for “I am persuaded,” says Paul, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38,39).” Yet, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold (Matthew 24:12).” There are no less than eight of the aforenamed foxes in deadly opposition to this love, which is named as the first of the whole cluster of grapes from the true vine. Hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, envyings, and murders are the most deadly assailants of Christian love of all the pack which lurk around the vine. Will any experienced Christian who reads this article fail to remember times and places when the sweetness of their early love, to at least some of the dear saints, has been checked and chilled by wrath, strife, sedition or envy? Happy indeed must be that child of grace whose love burns with uninterrupted glow to all the dear members of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let loose these hungry foxes upon the vine with their fire brands of discord tied between them, and not only the love, but also the joy and peace of the assaulted saint will decline. Instead of joy, sorrow wrings his heart; turmoil instead of peace; precipitancy, impatience, and even rashness will usurp the placid seat of long-suffering and gentleness. Envy, with forked tongue, scatters her poisonous whispers, with which she kindles the fires of hell among the saints of God; and the malicious spirit of murder from the deepest fountain of that carnal mind which is enmity to God, breathes out threatenings and death to spoil our vine of its tender grapes. The strife and confusion engendered by the assault of the foxes upon the tender fruits of the vine dares even attack that faith which overcomes the world. The furious din of war within the child of God so much disturbs his confidence and hope in God that doubts and fears arise in regard to his interest in Christ. Can it be possible, in astonishment he cries, that one in whose nature swarms such hosts of implacable enemies to godliness can be a subject of saving grace? How dwelleth the love of God in such an one? Our faith often quails when thus beset with doubts.
These lusts of the flesh which war against the soul are like foxes because they are sly, cunning, artful and insidious, demanding of us vigilant care and watchfulness. The peace, unity and harmony of churches, as well as individual Christians, is often interrupted by the little foxes, and some of them so small as to be regarded harmless. An experience of more than half a century as a member of the Baptist church, and more than forty-five years in the ministry, has afforded much opportunity to observe the spoiling of our vine by foxes, some of which were apparently of the smallest size. Churches we have known once flourishing and fruit-bearing, have become infested with little cunning foxes, whose diminitiveness has shielded them from being taken, have done more mischief than ravening wolves or roaring lions, for the latter would have been boldly resisted and every inch of the ground resolutely disputed. A little error in preaching has been thought too trivial to elicit objection. Or, if objected to, some foxy method has been employed to make the delinquent an offender for a word. Instead of a kind brotherly interview and calm investigation, a sly fox insinuates himself into the counsel, and the offended brother takes upon himself the responsibility to let his brethren know how wise and far-seeing he is in detecting errors, gets one after another of the members by the button and slyly insinuates to them that there is something wrong with the preacher or pastor still perhaps smiling pleasantly when in his presence. Presently the church is astonished to find there are parties in the church, and these parties seldom, if ever, fail to imbibe bitter and hostile feelings one towards another, until the vine is robbed of its delicious fruit, and biting and devouring takes the place of love and fellowship. This, although regarded as a little fox, is capable of doing great mischief.
So also when a brother or a sister is overtaken in a fault; or is supposed to have erred; instead of heeding the command of Christ, “You that are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness,” as the laws of Christ direct; the unbridled tongue of gossip, and exaggeration spreads the fault abroad to the disparagement of the supposed offender until the whole church is made to suffer, and the vine is sadly spoiled. In short, any departure in doctrine, discipline, in faith or practice, from the well defined laws and order of the church of Christ is a fox that, however little, ought to be taken. They are so sly and cunning it may be hard to trap them; nevertheless the duty is upon us; for the word says, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.” It is astonishing to observe how very small a fox can mar the concord and fellowship of the children of God; a cold look, an averted eye, an unkind word, an inconsiderate expression by word or act; like a barbed iron sinks deep in the hearts of some of the tender lambs of the fold. Those whom we love the most can wound the deepest; we are wont to say with the psalmist, “If it had been an enemy, I could have borne it.” The grapes or fruits of the Spirit in the children of God are so very tender and sensitive that their peace and comfort is greatly spoiled by whatever tends to disturb the vine. When we have gained a fellowship for and learned to love and confide in those whom we esteem as the excellent ones of the earth, in whom is all our delight, the smallest fox that can shake our confidence in those whom we so dearly love, dashes our choicest cup of happiness, and robs us of our sweetest social enjoyment. In a spiritual frame of mind, we look upon our kindred in Christ as being better than ourselves; and desire to copy their virtues; but we hear or see something in their conversation or walk which savors more of the world than of Christ, showing up more the corruption of their fleshly nature than of their spiritual life, it dampens our joys and fills the soul with grief and sorrow. Seeing then that our vines have tender grapes how important it is that we should heed the admonition of our text and take us the foxes; the little foxes that spoil the vines.
But how shall we take them? Are they not sly, crafty and hard to be caught or taken? One of the slyest and most mischievous of them all burrows even in the Christian’s mouth. “Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among the members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: but the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:5-8).” Some foxes may be tamed, but this unruly evil cannot be tamed by man; the divine rule commands us to bridle it. And the apostle James declares to us that if any man among us seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion in vain. See James 1:26. The psalmist, although so highly favored of the Lord, found it necessary to use this method of discipline. “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me (Psalm 39:1).” A bridle is used to guide, restrain, and subjugate, and render manageable that which is naturally inclined to be vicious or refractory; as James says, “Behold we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us: and we turn about their whole body (James 3:3).” Thus we are instructed how this little fox is to be taken; or brought into subjection. We can make nothing but a fox of it; but let it be bridled, watched, guarded, and kept in subjection, by all who desire that the goodly vine may flourish, and the tender grapes be spared from spoliation.
All the carnal passions of our nature may also be regarded as foxes, to be taken, suppressed and brought into subjection to the law of the spirit of life. Our love should be directed to those things which are lovely, pure, peaceable, gentle, and holy; and not suffered to rest on that which is earthly, sensual and devilish. Our hatred should be confined to that which is hateful to God We may freely hate sin, and every abomination which we see in ourselves or others; we may hate the garment that is spotted with the flesh. But let it not rankle in the vine among the tender grapes. Better far for the child of grace that his right hand should forget its cunning, and the tongue cleave to the roof of his mouth, than that he should not prefer Jerusalem above his chief joy.
Avarice is a mischievous fox. Take him; for covetousness is idolatry, and nothing is more fatally injurious to the vines which bear the tender grapes. It proceeds from a craven selfishness, the very opposite of that spirit which should lead us to love God supremely, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Jealousy is a very wicked fox; it is cruel as the grave; the coals thereof are coals of fire which hath a most vehement heat. What wretched work this little green eyed fox makes among the tender grapes. Envious, selfish and cruel. It would monopolize the favor, the esteem, and even all the spiritual gifts of the church of God, and seek to disparage the virtues, gifts, reputation and esteem of others. Such foxes should be taken and not allowed to disturb the precious vine.
Self-conceit and self-confidence may be detected among the small foxes, but they sometimes grow to gigantic size, so as to require much room; but it is very annoying to the vine and injurious to the tender clusters. Those who become infected with this fox are soon found to be wiser than seven men that can render a reason. They consider themselves to be the men, and doubt not that wisdom will die with them. They are “heady, high minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof; from such turn away, for of this sort are they which creep into houses, etc. (II Timothy 3:4-6).”
Among the foxes of larger size which are exceeding hurtful to the vine and make much trouble and disorder, are some of the “Diotrephes” breed. They love to have the pre-eminence. See III John 9,10. No vine can flourish or church enjoy peace and union, harmony and fellowship where they bear the sway. Like the ancient Pharisees, they love the uppermost seats, and are famous for making parties in the churches and schisms in the body of Christ. Let them be marked and avoided, for saith the apostle: “Mark them which cause division and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them; for they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16: 17,18).”
We might point out many other foxes which infest the vines, and which ought to be taken and secured from spoiling the vine, but time and space would fail to speak of them all.
In view of the numerous wild beasts of the field which pluck and seek to devour the lovely vine, and spoil the tender grapes, and of our impotency to resist all their depredations, let us, with the inspired psalmist devoutly pray: “Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts, look down from heaven, and behold and visit this vine, and the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself (Psalm 80:14,15).”
August 1, 1865.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 6
Pages 215 - 224